The terms “esoteric” and “exoteric” may be foreign to most saints in the church and to some scholars this may be an issue as seeing these terms are not mentioned in the bible or are used by heretical sects. The principle of these terms is used in the bible and even Christ himself taught by these same principles. People can get so critical into these terms they can miss them being used in the Word.
The word esoteric is defined as: “designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone, requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group, those within.” The next term exoteric is defined as “suitable to be imparted to the public, relating to those outside, for the common.” Understanding that these terms were used by the church and the principle of these terms were the very essence of the ministry of Messiah.
(10) And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
(11) He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
Jesus clearly shows that he has two different types of teachings for two different types of people. To the common folks, the multitudes, those without are those who are being taught parables. However, in verse 11 he says to His disciples He taught them the secrets of the kingdom. So, we see that even the way Jesus taught was discriminatory and didn’t treat everyone equally. He didn’t give the same teachings to everyone. The secrets of the kingdom were not for common people, it wasn’t for everyone. What determines whether you were part of the ones who were the ones who only heard the parables and those who heard the secrets of the kingdom?
Matthew 13:13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
The ones who do not have eyes to see and ears to hear are those who are not able to hear, nor have any understanding. Some may say “it’s not that important to understand the secrets of the kingdom,” that just tells you that you’re not His disciple, you’re not within, you are part of the multitude, the common folk. The word Holy in Hebrew is Qodesh Sdq% Sdq and it means to be set apart. In Hebrew it is related to the root word Dh% (Dh) ac: Unite co: Unit ab: Unity: The pictograph h is a picture of a wall. The d is a picture of a door. Combined these mean “wall door”. A wall separates the inside from the outside. Only through the door can one enter or exit uniting the inside with the outside. It is the root word for chı̂ydâh ( Edih) which is the word for “dark sayings” or “riddles, or proverb.” In short, we see that Messiah considered the 12 be set apart from the multitude to make them holy by the teaching the secrets or riddles of the kingdom. Through this process it would bring a unity that Messiah desired to have with them, and we and we can see that the way Yahushua prayed. In John 17:23 He prays “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” The word “one” in Hebrew is the has the same root word as dark sayings, they have the same Hebrew root in ancient Hebrew. The word one is echad (Dha) and the definition speaks of vines being united with the branch. Messiah used this idiom “I am the vine and you are the branch.”
Now the terms that were used by the Early Church are today immediately questioned if someone these days hear them because they automatically will think of an occult or some satanic rite. For one we must remember that Satan has not ability to create and everything he does is a copy or counterfeit of what God has made. The term “initiated” is a term that the Early Church was very familiar with and understood it. For one if you look at the Greek word for “mystery” (Matthew 13:11) we know it’s the word “mustērion μυστήριον “and it means: generally, mysteries, religious secrets, confided only to the initiated and not to ordinary mortals; in rabbinic writings, it denotes the mystic or hidden sense. This comes from the Thayer’s Dictionary. In the definition there is another term that is used that is frowned upon, “mystic.” If you were to call yourself a mystic in a church most would think you’re into sorcery or use a magic wand of some sort, or use magic crystals to pray and most likely should have a long flowing white beard. These are all a Western mindset of these terms. One thing that people forget is that Christianity is an Eastern religion, which is now seen and understood with Western lenses.
A mystic to the Early Church meant you understood the secrets of the Kingdom. Ignatius, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, said this “Ye are initiated into the mysteries of the Gospel with Paul, the holy, the martyred, inasmuch as he was ‘a chosen vessel;’” (1) Now this initiation was not uncommon to the Jews to understand this process because this came from the order of the High Priesthood. That was for the physical priesthood, now we are the spiritual priesthood. Ignatius has to say about that: “The priests indeed, and the ministers of the word, are good; but the High Priest is better, to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God.” (2)
So, who were these initiates and who could hear these mysteries? You had to enter in as a catechumen, a learner, for 3 years before you were allowed to even the teachings of Jesus Christ. This was the way the Early Church released their teachings as the pattern was given to them by Messiah. So here are some quotes from some Early Church Fathers concerning this process.
“These mysteries, which the Church now declares to you who are transferred from the lists of the catechumens, it is not her custom to declare to the Gentiles. For we do not declare the mysteries touching the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to a Gentile; neither do we speak of the mysteries plainly in presence of the catechumens;”
But prophecy does not employ figurative forms in the expressions for the sake of beauty of diction. But from the fact that truth appertains not to all, it is veiled in manifold ways, causing the light to arise only on those who are initiated into knowledge, who seek the truth through love. The proverb, according to the Barbarian philosophy, is called a mode of prophecy, and the parable is so called, and the enigma in addition. Further also, they are called “wisdom;” and again, as something different from it, “instruction and words of prudence,” and “turnings of words,” and “true righteousness;” and again, “teaching to direct judgment,” and “subtlety to the simple,” which is the result of training, “and perception and thought,” with which the young catechumen is imbued. (Pro_1:1-4) “He who bears these prophets, being wise, will be wiser. And the intelligent man will acquire rule, and will understand a parable and a dark saying, the words and enigmas of the wise.”
~Clement of Alexandria (4)
Origen explains the meaning of exoteric and esoteric and goes on to say that people even in their time didn’t understand the nature of those styles of teaching. As I have articulated above the essence of those styles of teachings and their characteristics and how it is the foundation of Christian teaching, based on the pattern of how Messiah taught, I will leave you with Origen explaining the meaning.
Moreover, since he frequently calls the Christian doctrine a secret system (of belief), we must confute him on this point also, since almost the entire world is better acquainted with what Christians preach than with the favorite opinions of philosophers. For who is ignorant of the statement that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He was crucified, and that His resurrection is an article of faith among many, and that a general judgment is announced to come, in which the wicked are to be punished according to their deserts, and the righteous to be duly rewarded? And yet the mystery of the resurrection, not being understood, is made a subject of ridicule among unbelievers. In these circumstances, to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system, is altogether absurd. But that there should be certain doctrines, not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric. Some of the hearers of Pythagoras were content with his ipse dixit (unproven statement); while others were taught in secret those doctrines which were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently prepared ears. Moreover, all the mysteries that are celebrated everywhere throughout Greece and barbarous countries, although held in secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain that he endeavors to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing he does not correctly understand its nature.
With this, we need to ask ourselves a very important question. “If we’re supposed to be Christ like and truly follow His example, do we even teach what he taught? Do we even teach like him?” Those are questions we need to be asking. Not “Well my denomination doesn’t believe in this” or “I never was taught to teach like this in seminary” or “Why do I even need to know this.” Well if that’s the case then, where are you? Within or Without? Clearly Messiah is only interested in those who want to be within like His 12. That’s the pattern, and He never breaks His own pattern.
1) Ignatius-Epistle to the Ephesians Ch. XII, Vol. 1
2) Ignatius-Epistle to the Philippians Ch. IX, Vol I
3) Archelaus-Acts of Disputation Vol. 6
4) Clement-Stromata Bk. 6 Ch. XV, Vol. 2
5) Origen-Against Celsus Bk. 1 Ch. VII Vol. 4