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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ephesians 3

 

 

Verse 1

3. This blessed renovation was under Paul’s Gentile apostleship, instrumentally, Ephesians 3:1-13.

1. For—Paul began his letter with the broad, universal elect, chap. 1; he next narrows to his Ephesian converts, chap. 2; and now, chap. 3, he comes to a point in his own Ego. At this point he starts with fervent prayer in their behalf; but the mention of his apostleship carries him out into a full expatiation of thirteen verses upon that glorious office; and when that excursion is finished, the actual record of his prayer begins at the fourteenth verse.

For this cause—In view of your blessed transition from heathenism to Christ, as pictured in the last paragraph.

I Paul—And doubtless no human name so thrilled their hearts at the utterance as this I Paul. It is uttered in the majestic style of their apostle, who, however humble in himself, is authoritative in his divine office.

Prisoner… Christ— Not Cesar’s, but literally Christ’s prisoner. In every phase of life he is Christ’s.

The reader, casting his eye down to Ephesians 3:14, will there find for this cause resumed, and the apostolic prayer offered. But here, starting at this point from the word Gentiles, Paul first states the call of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:2-6; next, his own divine commission as their apostle, 7-9; and last, what the mission imports, 10-12.


Verse 2

2. If ye have heard—The best commentators, as Meyer, Alford, Ellicott, Eadie, etc., agree that the Greek for this if implies no doubt of their having heard, but rather assumption that they had, namely, from Paul himself during his two years’ ministry at Ephesus.


Verse 3

3. By revelation—At his powerful conversion, as narrated in Acts ix; but the revelation is detailed in his own statement, in Acts 26:16-20.

The mystery—The fact heretofore held, undisclosed, in only the foreknowledge of God.

Wrote afore—Above wrote, in Ephesians 3:11.

In few words—In brief. The same phrase, εν ολιγω, as used by Agrippa and by Paul, (Acts 26:28,) and means smallness of amount.


Verse 4

4. When ye attentively read it as a sample of my gospel, ye may be able to appreciate my insight. The mystery of, or concerning the Christ or Messiah.


Verse 5

5. Other ages, or dispensations preceding this, as the patriarchal, the Mosaic, the prophetic.

Not made known—Of the same mystery, Paul affirms (Romans 16:25-26) that it “was kept secret since the world began,” but “now is made manifest,” and “made known to all nations.” In his apostleship was enclosed the mystery of God.

The sons of men— Who, with all their natural powers, could never discover it.

As it is now— Beautiful predictions are recorded in the prophets of future good to the Gentiles. But the disclosure was not then made as it is now, when it forms the great theme and event of this newly opened age.

Prophets—Clearly the New Testament prophets, as in Ephesians 2:20. And these are holy as truly as the prophets of old, who were set apart for revelation to men.


Verse 6

6. What this mystery is he now expresses.

The Gentiles—All nations besides the sons of Abraham: for both in language and in action St. Paul showed his wonderful prophetic comprehension of the vastness of his apostleship, as including (Romans 16:26) all nations. This called him east and west, and moved him to make Rome his capital. And this indicates, too, that he understood not that the probationary age was to be closed by a speedy advent of Christ, but believed himself to stand at the threshold of a new dispensation of the universal gospel to mankind for ages.

Fellow heirs… partakers—Our English feebly represents the apostle’s Greek. We render it, The Gentiles be co-heirs, co-embodied, and co-sharers. The Jews had so interpreted the prophets as to assume that Jerusalem should be imperial instead of Rome, and the subjugated Gentiles should be their subjects and servants. But to Paul is revealed a new and better gospel. There is to be no political conquest. Simply the antagonism of ages is to be removed, and all the world stand equal under the Christ.

Promise—The promise of a universal Saviour, first given in Paradise, repeated to Abraham, and re-echoed by the prophets of old.


Verse 7

7. This stupendous mystery brings us again to the apostle’s Ego.

Minister—Not an originator or composer, but a mere servitor, an agent in distributing.

The gift—Consisting of the grace, or endowment.

According to… power—As in the similar phrase in Ephesians 1:19, the reference is to the divine power exerted in accomplishing the redemptive scheme.

Paul’s apostolic endowment was bestowed in accordance with that powerful display of God’s omnipotence.


Verse 8

8. The apostle feels the overwhelming pressure of this sublime mystery resting upon his being. Like one surveying the vastness of universal space, as unfolded in astronomy, he feels what a mere speck he is. The present verse is indeed a contrast between his own littleness and the greatness of Christ’s bounty to men, which he is called to dispense.

Less than the least—An ingenious expression of the translators to give the force of the apostle’s Greek. The Greek word is a superlative least, with a comparative termination added, as if leaster; a degree below least; and so less, by one degree, than the least.

Of all saints—For which of all the saints had so “persecuted the Church of God?” 1 Corinthians 15:9. Even as late as 1 Timothy 1:13, he cannot forgive himself, how much soever God had forgiven him, that he had been “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.”

Preach among the Gentiles—Especially; as Peter among the Jews, Galatians 1:16.

Unsearchable—The Greek word derived from track; so, untrackable, untraceable.


Verse 9

9. Make… seeφωτισαι, to illuminate as to what, etc.

Fellowship—A better reading would be economy, or established plan.

From the beginning of the world—That is, from the point of time and event at which the ages or dispensations started. Ellicott precisely expresses it:

“The counsel itself was formed before the ages.” 1 Corinthians 2:7. The concealment of it dated from the ages; that is, from their starting-point.

Created all things—St. Paul here (as in Ephesians 2:8, and often elsewhere) sedulously fastens the redemptive system to God himself; not to any Gentile polytheistic god, but to the supreme God, who founded and brought into existence all things, and not the least among them, this divine scheme of bringing our entire race within the unity of his Son.


Verse 10

10. All these things—namely, the Gentile call and its apostleship—take place to the intent, or in order that, the future heavenly worlds might realize the God they have.

Principalities and powers—Note, Romans 8:38.

In heavenly—In the supernals. See note on Ephesians 1:1.

By the church—The glorious and finally glorified.

Manifold—Many-formed, variegated; showing itself around infinite complexities in bringing out the clear, the right, and the glorious.


Verse 11

11. Eternal purpose—Of reconciling the whole race in Christ, Ephesians 1:10; which purpose takes completion in the elect through faith. But the wisdom of God is manifold. As the ideal of God is not realized, so that that pure mercy is not fulfilled, thereupon he avails himself of that non-realization to unfold his attribute of justice in judgment upon sin, and thus reveals more completely his full-orbed nature.


Verse 12

12. Boldness and access—Or introduction. Both are the reverse of that fear which the consciousness of unpardoned sin produces both in our race and in our individual guilty conscience. This boldness, literally, freedom of address, is the state, gift, and enjoyment of the reconciled soul in address to God.

Access—Introduction.

Confidence—A forward trust put forth upon God. By, or through, the faith of him—Namely, Christ as its object.

We conceive that this entire verse is pictured from Oriental autocracy. We are afraid to approach the royal presence: but the monarch’s son is our patron. Fear is thereby removed. By faith in that son, as we are about to approach; we will have a freedom for speech, an introduction, in confidence of receiving our request.


Verse 13

13. Wherefore—In blessed review of the comprehensive results of this Gentile call and apostleship.

I desire—I beseech you for myself.

Faint not—Be not downcast or disheartened. There might be those who feared that the imprisonment of the apostle was a refutation of his doctrine. They might be disgusted at a cause that so poorly sustained its champion. Hence Paul alludes bravingly to his bonds; he is “an ambassador in Christ,” “the prisoner” of Christ. And hence, to inspirit them to a similar brave view, to thrill them with the same spirit, he uses these electric words.

For you—As Gentiles, and as sinners, then, he preached and suffered in their stead.

Your glory—That I and you should suffer chains and death for Christ and his elect.

Paul, having expanded the view of his apostolic office, (note, Ephesians 3:1,) is now ready for the apostolic prayer.


Verse 14

4. Paul’s apostolic prayer for the Ephesian Church, Ephesians 3:14-19.

14. For this cause—Resumption of his purpose of prayer at Ephesians 3:1, where see our note. The cause still remains the same, pervading alike the paragraphs Ephesians 2:11-22, and this last paragraph Ephesians 3:1-13, namely, the happy gathering of the Gentile Ephesians into Christ under Paul’s apostleship.

Bow my knees—As before them solemnly in thought assembled, Paul conceptually kneels to dedicate them as a Church to God. In this prayer he is too earnest to stand or sit, and so, in body as in spirit, he bows before God. The attitude of body is of inferior importance, except as externally impressive both upon others and upon ourselves. God, however, is as truly beneath and behind us as he is above and before us, and whatever attitude of body we assume matters not, provided our reverence is perfect. Paul says not that he prays, but gives the prayer as audible to their listening ears. Of… Christ, is omitted by the best critics as not genuine.


Verse 15

15. Whole family—It was a beautiful interpretation which made this word family include the saints on earth and their fellow-saints in heaven as all one blessed kin with Christ, their elder brother. But both the absence of the Greek article before the word and the spuriousness of the above clause exclude that meaning.

The word here rendered family, ( πατρια, patria,) is derived from the Greek and Latin πατηρ, pater, which, with our word father, are but different forms of the same words. A patria is a great kin, clan, or race, descended genetically from one primitive progenitor. So the three great patriae, or races of the earth, traced their lineage to Shem, Ham, and Japhet as their progenitors. Of every patria the father-founder is called (patria, progeny, and αρχη, arch, chief, or beginner) patriarch. St. Paul’s thought, then, is, that God is the universal Patriarch. Translating patria by the English word patriarchy, (the word patriarchy importing the progeny of the patriarch,) we may render this clause, Of whom all (or every) patriarchy in heaven and earth is named. The words then include angels above and men below. Angels are not, indeed, born; yet, as originated from God they are called “the sons of God.” The patriae in heaven are the angelic ranks and orders.

Is named—The descendants, or patria, of a patriarchal progenitor are often called by his name; and patronymic words, so called, are formed to express the patria. The patria of Japhet are Japhetidae; of Abraham, Abrahamidae. Now, though no proper name precisely parallel to these may be quoted to designate the universal patria of God, yet such a name is the true name of their nature in their divinely-originated relation. “Sons of God,” “Diogeneis,” that is, God-born, or creatures, are what God’s patria may be truly named. Most truly so named in so far as a true name expresses the nature of the thing.

We find no commentator inquiring what relevancy this fatherhood of God over all races has to St. Paul’s present train of thought. We suppose that it springs from his presenting himself in the previous paragraphs as apostle of the Gentiles. He beseeches God, the father of all races, to pour the richest blessings of the Abrahamic promise upon these Japhetidae, this Church in Japhetic and Aryan Ephesus. The drift of Paul’s prayer may be comprehended by noting that Ephesians 3:16-17 express qualifications (as might, and an indwelling Christ) for achieving (Ephesians 3:18-19) knowledge of the boundlessness of Christ’s love, and a possession of God’s fulness; concluding with a doxology expressing the unlimited power of God to do all, and more than all, we can ask.


Verse 16

16. Riches of his glory—An affluence too abounding for any one race alone. Strengthened with might—For the immense attainments of Ephesians 3:18-19. In—Rather, into; implying the inpouring of the might of the divine Father. This favours Meyer’s thought, that Paul’s prayer for their might is antithetic to their faintness, in Ephesians 3:13. Their faintness did, indeed, (as Eadie objects,) take occasion from the mere “personal wrongs” of St. Paul; nevertheless it was a spiritual weakness unmanning their whole Christian might. He might well pray, therefore, for the whole wonderful energizing expressed in the following verses; for spiritual power is in sum total what he asks.

Inner man—The spirit, in antithesis to the body, the outer man. And also, perhaps, the spirit, as the ethical Ego, in which all spiritual operations are centered, in distinction from the anima, or soul, in which the animal and secular intellectualities reside. So Romans 7:22 : “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” Yet the Holy Spirit in the inner man sheds his purifying power through body and soul as well as spirit. Note on Matthew 5:8, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

The phrase inner man is found in a similar sense in Plato; but there is no reason for supposing it borrowed by Paul directly from Plato. It was probably current among thinkers in Paul’s day, as such terms become in periods when men deeply reflect.


Verse 17

17. Christ… in your hearts—The powerful thought is, that Christ’s own spirit or temper may, by faith, or self-surrender on our part, supplant our own natural temper in our hearts, so that we may approximately live and speak as Christ would in our place.

That—In order that. Thus far he has prayed for the conditions that shall produce what follow.

Rooted and grounded—As Wordsworth finely says: “Rooted like a plant, and therefore always alive and growing; and grounded as a building, and therefore firmly established—in love.” The bishop’s words are abridged and improved from Adam Clarke.


Verse 18

18. With all saints—Inasmuch as you Gentile Ephesians are built with all other saints into the structure of a glorious Church.

Breadth, length, depth, height—These are the four geometrical dimensions of a building, or other solid or spacial object. But of what object is it that Paul is praying that his Ephesians may comprehend these dimensions? The old Greek commentators, as well as Erasmus and Grotius, refer it to our redemption—identical with the mystery of Ephesians 3:9. For although the word mystery is far back in the discourse, yet the thought, redemption, runs through its whole current. And to this redemptive mystery these geometrical distinctions have been attributed with a truth and beauty not deserving the repulse they receive from Meyer and others. The length of this redemption extends from the eternity of God’s foresight to the reconciliation of Ephesians 1:10. Its breadth is in design as broad as humanity; its depth as profound as the perdition from which it rescues us; and its height as sublime as the heaven to which it raises us. Still it must be inquired whether there be any object more supposably present at the moment to St. Paul’s mind in naming these dimensions than this redemptive mystery? Meyer, with decisive confidence, identifies the love of Christ in next verse as the object. If so, then Paul prays that they may… comprehend the dimensions of, and know, by real experience, the love of Christ. But, as Eadie justly objects, the Greek conjunction used by St. Paul does not thus unite two clauses co-ordinately. Besides, the break between Ephesians 3:18-19 is too decided.

Our division of paragraphs clearly shows, we think, to what object these dimensions belong. At Ephesians 3:14, as we have noted, the for this cause being identical with the for this cause of Ephesians 3:1, and the entire of Ephesians 3:1-13 being parenthetical, Paul’s mind reverts back to Ephesians 2:20-22, where the glorious churchly temple stands out in full view. Into this temple the intervening paragraph describes the inbuilding of his Ephesians; and the present passage prays that they may fully comprehend the blessings and glories of its structure. That the apostle has this architectural image still in view is clear from the fact that grounded—that is, based, or founded—has the same Greek word as foundation in Ephesians 3:20.


Verse 19

19. Know—As by conscious experience.

Love of Christ—His love to us as manifested in the redemption.

Passeth knowledge—The conciseness of St. Paul’s Greek justifies the rendering, that ye may know the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ. A contradiction in form in order vividly to impress the truth that the quality and surpassing amount may be apprehended, though it cannot be adequately comprehended. We know the ocean, yet the ocean immensely exceeds our knowledge.

Filled—Is the image of a temple still continued? The thought, then, naturally recurs to the filling of the temple of Solomon with the shekinah at the dedication, (2 Chronicles 5:14,) when “The glory of Jehovah filled the house of God.” St.

Paul here, as Clarke beautifully, develops the thought, dedicates the temple described in Ephesians 2:20-22, into which the Ephesians are structurally incorporated. But as this temple is a spiritual structure—a communion of living souls—so the shekinah must therein dwell in living hearts.

With—The old method of interpretation, by which the Greek preposition εις was said to be put for εν, and then εν be rendered with, is properly obsolete. The preposition truly expresses into or unto. The image suggested by the phrase filling into an element, would seem to be that of filling a sponge or a vessel by plunging it into the element, as dipping a cup into the ocean and thereby filling it. The filling would imply the complete replenishment of the cup, and the into would imply the motion by which the filling is accomplished. Taking the preposition to denote unto, what would the phrase unto all the fulness of God mean? Unto would then be a preposition of measure; that ye may be filled up to the full measure of the fulness of God. But then the fulness of God surely cannot include his omniscience, or his omnipresence, so that we become endowed inwardly with the attributes of God? It is that highest plenitude of his Spirit wherewith he ever fills his true and holy Church, made up of true believers. It is to be filled with all that sanctifying plenitude of the indwelling Spirit for which our finite nature has the capacity. There is no limit in God, but in us only.


Verse 20

20. Now—This rendering of the Greek transitive particle δε is very beautiful. As if St. Paul, at the dedication of the glorious Church, had said, The dedication prayer is finished, now let the choral begin.

Unto him— Compare the doxology with which St. Paul closes the argumentative part of Romans 11:36, and still rather, that with which he closes Romans 16:25-27. These doxologies are finishing shouts of triumph. For, as we have elsewhere noted, (Romans 8:39,) St. Paul always climactically ends, after struggle, in victory and glory.

Him—Not fabulous Artemis, nor Jove, but

Him—the God of all worlds and of all ages.

Exceeding abundantly—St. Paul’s Greek piles up hyperboles to express the plenitude of the prayer-hearing Jehovah.

Ask or think—Our think is likely to be broader than our ask; but God’s able is broader than either. The Jews asked and thought a human hero-Messiah; God gave a divine Redeemer for the race. According to the divine power that worketh by his Spirit in us. It is for the rich plenitude of God within the soul that Paul has prayed.


Verse 20-21

5. Closing doxology, Ephesians 3:20-21.

If any caviller would fling in the charge that this prayer of Paul’s is extravagant, both in language and in petition, Paul will drown his voice with a burst of lofty ascription of glory to him who is able to confer immeasurably more than we can ask or even think.


Verse 21

21. Unto him—Repeated with majestic emphasis.

Be glory—Namely, an ascription of supreme adoring honour.

Throughout all ages… end— Literal Greek, into all generations of the age of ages. And here we might be surprised at generations being ascribed to the eternal ages. But the word generation designates, not a real progeny, but a time period. With the elder Hebrews a generation seems to have been a century, with the Greeks, one third of a century. (See Robinson’s Greek N.T. Lexicon on the word.) Grotius rightly says, For the purpose of magnifying, the apostle here mingles two Hebrew idioms, namely, “to generations of generations,” (as in Psalms 10:6,) and “to ages of ages,” (as in Isaiah 45:17, and elsewhere.) But it may be asked how does this phrase truly and completely express eternity?—for it appears to express not time infinite, but merely time indefinite. We may reply, that, at any rate, St. Paul here uses it for time infinite or endless, since he uses it to measure the duration of Jehovah’s glory, which must be infinite in duration.

Amen—Grotius suggests: “The Churches were accustomed to acclaim amen at such doxologies, which, that they may do, Paul gives them a lead.” A beautiful thought, confirming the idea that St. Paul conceptually dedicates his Ephesian and universal Church with this prayer and choral finishing.

And now, this glorious Church, as viewed from its divine side, is delineated, erected, finished, and dedicated with prayer and rapturous anthem.—Let us next contemplate the human side of its churchly and Christian duties.

PART SECOND.

HUMAN SIDE OF CHURCHDOM—DUTIES OF GOD’S ELECT CHURCH ON EARTH, Ephesians 4:1 to Ephesians 6:24.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ephesians 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ephesians-3.html. 1874-1909.


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