Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
I. IN CHURCHLY RELATIONS AND OBLIGATIONS, Ephesians 4:1 to Ephesians 5:21.
1. To be a holy and efficient Church, 1-16.
a. In holy unity of spirit, Ephesians 4:1-6.
1. I—St. Paul’s powerful Ego again. Note Ephesians 3:1.
Therefore— In view of this sublime divine side of your redeemed churchdom.
Walk worthy… vocation… called—Had he been addressing sinners he would have exhorted them to enter by faith into the number of God’s elect, and by obedience to the divine call to be numbered among the called. But this they have done. They are elect and the called. He can, therefore, only exhort them to walk worthy of the vocation (and vocation signifies calling) wherewith they were called. They are called as once Gentiles into the spiritual Israel, and called as once sinners into the elect Church. Perseverance and not apostasy, perfectness and not defectiveness, is their now high and holy obligation. Walk here implies Christian activity; just as in Ephesians 2:2 it designates energetic, depraved activity. Dr. Clarke suggests a contrast between the apostles’ confinement to passive duty in prison and their freedom to walk in active Christian life. The antithesis is beautiful, but was imagined by the commentator, not by the apostle. Dr. Eadie’s calling the suggestion “a stroke of very miserable wit” is a “stroke” of very uncandid criticism. The simple-hearted and great-hearted Adam Clarke had not the slightest intention of “wit,” but of beautiful practical reflection.
2. With—It must be specially noted that St. Paul here specifies the virtues conducive to the unity which he is preparing to enforce.
Lowliness—The reverse of the love of “pre-eminence,” imputed by St. John to Diotrephes, (3 John 1:9,) the greatest of all sources of dissension in Churches. Chrysostom truly says that it is a self-undervaluation, even under consciousness of higher worth. The greater the man, the truer the magnanimity that consents to become nothing in order to common unity.
Trench, Alford, and Eadie very inconsiderately deny this statement of Chrysostom; the last going even so far as to say that such a lowliness would be mere simulation. Not at all. The apostle does not prescribe a false intellectual self-estimate, or a pretended one. He prescribes a temper and a will, which, while truly conscious of an entire superiority in fact existing, is willing, for holy ends, to accept a lowly estimate or “a back seat.”
Meekness, with longsuffering—As lowliness implies a cheerful submission to a lower rank, so meekness implies a serene self-possession under immediate insult or injury, and longsuffering a calm endurance under the pressure of permanent wrong. These are passive virtues, which paganism underrated, and Christianity, if it did not first transmute into virtues, did yet bring out into a new and beautiful lustre. Though passive virtues, they imply in their true nature greater strength of character, and greater real magnanimity, often, than the more showy and turbulent heroisms. Having these virtues in full possession, then forbearing one another will be easy. The forbearing will be the simple manifestation of the three antecedent graces of the heart. And when this forbearing is truly exercised, the true result is what the apostle is here preparing for, divine unity.
3. Endeavouring—Zealously aiming.
Unity of the Spirit—That unity of love which the Spirit inspires and creates. Bond, consisting of peace. Peace is the very girdle and tie which binds the bundle.
4. There is—The italics show that these words are supplied by the translators. Like the “for” supplied by Eadie, they weaken the sense. Thus far Paul has been preparing the Ephesians for the unity; he now points to the high centres of unity their Christianity presents, and abruptly exclaims, One body, one faith, etc. Seven times is the word one repeated to show them how perfect is their ideal oneness.
One Spirit—Forming the higher soul of the one body. It is the infinite Spirit so animating all their finite spirits as to centralize them into one body, and give that body life and power.
One hope—The single blessed hope in Christ, by which they joyfully anticipate a glorious eternity.
5. One Lord—To whom, as centre, head, and author of our entire salvation one faith unites us, that faith expressed and confirmed by one baptism. Thus one faith supposes a creed. That is, it assumes that Christianity is not only a life but a doctrine. It has its central fundamental truths which must be embraced in this one faith. By these truths believed, and firmly held, men are led to, and united to, Christ as their Saviour. Besides these fundamental truths, by which Christianity is formed and a man becomes “a believer,” there are, doubtless, many truths and many beliefs held by many Christians not necessary to the very existence of the one faith. But we must not give ready heed to teachers who declaim against “doctrines” and “the creeds,” as if truth and sound doctrine were not vital to the reality of our Christianity.
One baptism—One affusion by the Spirit, symbolized by water, declaring to the world our living one faith in the one Lord.
6. One God—Again St. Paul takes care to fasten our salvation to Him who is above all heavens. He is dealing with late worshippers of Diana or Jupiter. This salvation hangs not from these idols. Nor is it a mere earthly system with no heaven-connected cord. It is bound to the throne of the Infinite.
And Father of all—One of the traces of the fatherhood of God, which Gentilism had lost, is the idea that the name Jupiter is in origin Zeus-pater, God-father, or, rather, Sky-father, or Heaven-father. St. Paul restores the true fatherhood to his converted Gentiles, pointing them to the supreme Zeus-pater, whom no image could represent, and no temple hold.
Above… through… in—The threefold members are unquestionably based in the Trinitarian thought. Beginning with the baptismal form, (Matthew 28:19,) thence taking that of the benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14) and the trisagion, (Revelation 4:8,) we have models according to which Paul’s trinal clauses should certainly be interpreted. See our note on the Sacred Three, vol. ii, p. 77. The accordance of the prepositions here with the Trinitarian Persons is obvious. The Father, as original creator, is above all; the Son, as agent, or manifest God, is through all; the Spirit, as Sanctifier, is indwelling. Yet while these trinal attributes may thus symbolize the tri-personality, they may still accordantly be considered in pure reference to the one God as Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Immanent. As the Omnipotent, he is the essential force; as Omnipresent, he fills all space; as Immanent, he is the inmost basis of all substance and all existence. But we must never convert this Omnipresence, or Immanence in things, into an identity with things. For this identity with things is pantheism. It makes all things God. Pope’s lines—
“All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul,” etc.,
do truly express this divine Immanence, with great poetic beauty. They should never be charged with pantheism; they declare that God is in all things, but not that he is all things. But Emerson’s language—
“He is the axis of the star;
He is the sparkle of the spar,
He is the heart of every creature;
He is the meaning of each feature;”
identifies God with things, the Creator with the creature. It identifies God with our own persons, and thence becomes self-deification. It identifies God with stocks and stones, and thence becomes fetichism.
In you all— The you is rejected by the best readings.
b. As being gifted with Christ-bestowed ministries, Ephesians 4:7-12.
7. Unto every one—Having in the previous paragraph in spirit secured the unity of his model Church, St. Paul now attends to their individualities.
According to the measure—For this unity does not presuppose a perfect equality. It requires that each one should recognise his own measure; and should exercise his gifts, and be expected to so exercise, according to that measure.
Gift—A beautiful term to indicate that our every ability, natural, acquired, or gracious, is a divine gratuity, demanding thanks and imposing responsibilities.
8. Wherefore—In illustration of these gifts, St. Paul now quotes a passage (Psalms 68:18, where see note) in which Jehovah is represented as having ascended on high, and applies it to the ascended Christ, just mentioned as the divine giver. The psalm is a song of Jehovah’s victory, on what occasion written is not certain, but unquestionably applicable to Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. But the particular verse quoted seems to describe the triumphant Jehovah ascending Mount Zion, or some other capital, leading his captives and spoils won in battle. The He may refer to Christ, who spoke through the inspired psalmist, and thus shadowed his future triumphant ascension. Yet the same method of introducing Scripture quotation is used at Ephesians 5:14; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 3:16; and even in the Apocrypha, (1 Maccabees 7:16,) and by Philo; from all which it is clear that a divine He was reverently held as speaking, with more or less distinctness and personality, through the old Scriptures. That Jehovah-Jesus is that divine He, is strikingly stated in Revelation 19:10 : “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
When he—St. Paul, for convenience of application without changing the sense, changes thou to he.
Led captivity captive— Literal Greek, He captured a captivity; or, He captured a capture. That is, He took a body of captives. Dr. Craven, the American editor of Lange’s “Revelation,” maintains that the phrase implies simply a rescue of friends from captivity in the hands of enemies. But the Greek verb, which is rendered by the phrase led captive, or captured, must mean to reduce to captivity, not deliver from it.
Gave… men—The words of the psalm are, “He received gifts for men;” that is, to bestow upon men. Paul simply supplies the sense which the psalmist implies. The psalmist says that the ascending Jehovah took gifts for men; that is, to bestow on men; the apostle, now that the giving is being done, says, he gave gifts unto men. Yet a more literal rendering would be, “he took gifts in men;” that is, he took captives to be distributed as spoils or gifts to his followers.
9. Now—The apostle now proceeds to give an exegesis of the psalmist’s words to show their applicability. The fact that the psalmist’s Jehovah ascended, implies that he had previously descended. Now commentators decide variously the questions that naturally arise. Does St. Paul here simply quote a passage from the Psalms as we would quote a passage of poetry apt to our subject? Or, does he view Jehovah’s ascent, with its implied descent, as a fitting emblem of Christ’s descent and ascension? Or is the former a divinely appointed type of the latter? Or were the images and words imparted by the true Jehovah-Jesus to his prophet-psalmist, truly, as by a glimpse, delineating his own descent and ascension? Either of these views justifies the apostle’s language. We prefer the first. As psalmist and apostle were both endowed with the same inspiration, St. Paul assuredly gives a true meaning, if not the sole true meaning, of the psalmist’s words; nay, he had a true endowment to read a new true meaning into the old words.
Lower parts of the earth—By one class of commentators this phrase is made to signify simply the earth; that is, these lower grounds, consisting of earth, in contrast with the heavens above. The phrase is used nine times in the Old Testament: Ezekiel 26:20; Ezekiel 31:14; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 31:18; Ezekiel 32:18; Ezekiel 32:24; Ezekiel 26:20; Isaiah 44:12; and Psalms 63:9. Dr.
Craven shows very clearly that in none of these cases can it designate merely the earth. He seems to establish the ground held by another class of commentators, that it signifies hades; by which we understand the unseen world of human disembodied spirits. Most of the above nine texts are, it will be seen, in Ezekiel, where the phrase is in our version freely translated hell. In the passage in Psalms the phrase figuratively designates the womb, as being the dark, semi-conscious hades of the unborn soul. For it was to a dim and obscure hades that good as well as bad expected to descend under the twilight of the old dispensation. See notes on Luke 16:22-23; Luke 23:43. That our Saviour, during his three days of burial, did visit in soul the region of spirits, is clear from his own statement to the dying thief, (Luke 23:43,) and from Peter’s words, (Acts 2:27,) and, perhaps, from 1 Peter 3:19.
The lowers or nethers of the earth (for the Greek word for parts is probably not genuine) means apparently the subterranean regions. Clearly in Greek and Roman paganism, Avernus, or the abodes of the spirits of the dead, was held to be beneath the earth’s surface. Both Homer and Virgil lead their heroes through the dark gates into the under world, where are Elysium and Tartarus, and where the good and the evil receive their due awards. No such full narrative or description is found in the Old Testament. And phrases like this might, perhaps, be explained on the principle of our note on Romans 10:7. To the ancients the heavens were a vast concave above, and the earth was a vast plain below, and the two made the great whole. God and angels were above in the heavens; man below; and hades still lower—a descent into the silent shades, and so lower than the plane of which the earth’s surface is part, if not directly beneath the earth’s surface. And these rudimental conceptions, though immensely supplemented by science, are uncontradicted by science, and are still essentially true. The first half of the Eighth Psalm was as true to Newton as to David, with a stupendous amount of underlying meaning superadded. Addison, in the age of Kepler and Newton, paraphrased that psalm in the lines,
“The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.”
The poet knew that he was painting but an apparent surface of things, yet he knew that that visible or conceptual surface covers and stands for all the truths, regions, and objects underlying that surface, as discovered and revealed to us by astronomy. But see our note, next verse.
Dr. Craven, adopting an ancient but not primitive theory, supposes that Christ in his descent to hades bore the spirits of the saints up to the eternal heaven—the abode of the glorified after the resurrection. From that view we dissent. We do suppose—
1. That after Christ came, and even as his advent was drawing nigh, it began to be perceived that in the sphere of the disembodied there were not merely indiscriminate darkness and silence, but a paradise of real, yet incomplete bliss. Hence hades is in the New Testament, though really inclusive of the whole, yet usually applied only to the woful side of the spirit domain; just as the name America, though inclusive of the whole continent, is often applied to the United States alone. Usually, we say; yet probably in Acts 2:27 hades includes both.
2. That paradise is the name of the blessed side of the spirit-world until the second advent. Then, as death and hades will be merged in the lake of fire, (Revelation 20:14,) so paradise will be merged in the final abodes of the blest. Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2.
3. That after the visit of Christ to hades, the third heaven and paradise were different, and not identical, is plain from 2 Corinthians 12:4, where see notes.
10. For the purpose of identifying the Jehovah of the psalmist with Christ, Paul in Ephesians 4:9 notes that the psalmist’s ascender must have previously been a descender; now, for the purpose of showing Christ’s exaltation, he argues that the descender is the ascender. He—In the Greek emphatic, the identical he.
Above all the heavens—With the article in the Greek, the threefold heavens of the Old Testament. Note on 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. As the psalmist’s Jehovah ascends Zion, so the apostle’s Christ ascends from the depth of hades to even above the heavens. For God is truly above all heavens.
Fill all things—The Highest is omnipotent, and he takes the highest position that he may pour himself down, over and into all things, natural and supernatural. But while he fills all other things with presence and power, he fills his Church with special plenitudes and endowments.
To the questions of modern astronomy, Where are heaven, paradise, hades? we may, (in addition to our notes on 2 Corinthians 12:2-4,) give this further answer: Dr. Dawson, in his Bible and Nature, suggests that heaven, the third heaven, may be supposably located beyond the astral heaven. Assuming our starry universe to be finite, then there is a circumambient pure space, encompassing our whole starry system with its ethereal belt. There God may for us specially dwell, in the third or highest heaven, and in supremacy enthroned above all the heavens, binding the system with his power and sending his volitions as perpetual laws through and to the centre. Paradise we might then identify with the second, lower, or “astral heavens;” but the texts suggest a more limited region. Hence Byron’s conception, though sublime, is too cold and indefinite for the biblical view of the blessed abode of sainted spirits:—
“When coldness wraps this suffering clay,
Ah! whither strays the immortal mind?
It cannot die, it cannot stray.
But leaves its darkened dust behind.
Then, unembodied, doth it trace
By steps each planet’s wand’ring way?
Or fill at once the realms of space,
A thing of eyes, that all survey?”
But from the use of the word air in Ephesians 2:2, and Ephesians 6:12, (where see notes,) we should infer that the lowest, or “aerial heaven,” is the border region where the forces of paradise and lower hades blend and struggle. And thence descending, we are led to find the darker and darkest hades in the lower parts of the earth, that is, towards and in the subterranean regions. We should be inclined, therefore, to find the normal paradise in the upper margin of the aerial stratum, undivided yet distinct from the lower hades, and unexcluded from the “astral heavens.” Paradise we should view as a broad, overlying margin of pure ethereal glory, underlaid with shade, deepening to denser and still denser darkness, even, perhaps, to the subterranean centre. That centre is the lowest hades. As to the ouranos, heaven, and the gehenna, hell, beyond the resurrection, see note on 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
That the ancient and biblical idea, which located hades in the interior of the earth, finds nothing in the earth’s solidity nor in any fact of science to contradict it, is well shown in the following passage from the Unseen Universe, p. 160:—
“The deservedly famous Dr. Thomas Young has the following passage in his Lectures on Natural Philosophy: “Nor is there any thing in the unprejudiced study of physical philosophy that can induce us to doubt the existence of immaterial substances; on the contrary, we see analogies that lead us almost directly to such an opinion. The electrical fluid is supposed to be essentially different from common matter; the general medium of light and heat, according to some, or the principle of caloric, according to others, is equally distinct from it. We see forms of matter, differing in subtilty and mobility, bearing the names of solids, liquids, and gases; above these are the semi-material existences, which produce the phenomena of electricity and magnetism, and either caloric or a universal ether. Higher still, perhaps, are the causes of gravitation, and the immediate agents in attractions of all kinds, which exhibit some phenomena apparently still more remote from all that is compatible with material bodies. And of these different orders of beings the more refined and immaterial appear to pervade the grosser. It seems, therefore, natural to believe that the analogy may be continued still further until it rises into existences absolutely immaterial and spiritual. We know not but that thousands of spiritual worlds may exist unseen forever by human eyes; nor have we any reason to suppose that even the presence of matter, in a given spot, necessarily excludes these existences from it. Those who maintain that nature always teems with life, wherever living beings can be placed, may therefore speculate with freedom on the possibility of independent worlds; some existing in different parts of space, others pervading each other unseen and unknown, in the same space, and others again to which space may not be a necessary mode of existence.”
11. He gave—The fact that St. Paul here makes the gifts consist, not of the offices bestowed, but of the officers, seems to indicate that he nevertheless retained in thought the other interpretation, “he received gifts in men.” Hereby St. Paul impresses upon his Ephesians that one of the best gifts Christ bestows upon the Church is endowed leaders and inspirers. Some to be apostles—As to the apostolic office, consult notes on Matthew 10:2; Matthew 28:20; Luke 1:2; Acts 6:2-4.
Prophets— Utterers of inspired truth; whether of prediction, as Agabus (Acts 21:10) and Paul, (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12,) or of inspiration of doctrine or exhortation, as in 1 Corinthians 14:4. Every preacher of the present day who is “moved by the Holy Ghost” to his office, or in its performance, is a true New Testament prophet. And to him the success of his work in the conversion of souls and the upbuilding of the Church, as described in Ephesians 4:12-16, is a blessed proof that he is a genuine prophet.
Pastors and teachers—Are these two classes, or two functions of one class? The fact that the distinctive some covers both, has induced many commentators to hold them as one class. But it must be noted that St. Paul names the offices in the order of anti-climax, the greatest first, the least last. The distinctive some was due to the dignity of each of the first three; one some will do for the last two. And as they are very subordinate officers, history has lost their real nature. But under a similar revival in modern times, Methodism called into existence its class leaders, who are truly the under pastors of the flock, watching over the spiritual interests of a certain assigned number. The early catechists, who drilled the convert into the history of Jesus and other elementary truths of Christianity, were, very probably, these teachers. The Sunday-school teachers of the present day are, we think, justly entitled to be held their true successors.
c. All for building a compact and energetic Christian Church, Ephesians 4:12-16.
12. For—In order to: a different Greek word from the two fors following. This perfecting or fitting the saints is for two things: first, for a (not the) work of service, (not an official ministry,) so as to be a true working Church in all temporal, benevolent, and spiritual matters; and second, for the building up the Church, so that it be at once a strong edifice, and that edifice the body of Christ. The figures of architecture and of anatomy are blended.
13. St. Paul gives, in this verse, a picture of growth into churchly manhood, contrasted, in the next verse, by a picture of doctrinal childhood.
All come—That is, all attain unto three things: oneness of faith and knowledge, the perfect man, and the measure of Christ’s fulness.
14. Tossed to and fro—A metaphor from waves tossed about by the winds; billowed to and fro.
Every wind of doctrine—When we have, by a perfect knowing of Christ, attained the firmness of spiritual manhood instead of the fickleness of childhood, we possess an assurance in our position not to be disturbed by the gusts of popular scepticism or novel dogmas. Sleight, means dice; of men, who are playing a game; spiritual gamblers. Whereby they lie in wait to deceive is a very diffuse rendering. We translate the whole clause, cunning craftiness, exerted in the systemization of deception. All these full formed isms are deceptions fabricated by the craftiness of deep doctrinal gamblers, whom, if we are men (see Ephesians 4:13) and not children, we will promptly reject. For in deep religious experience, in a thorough experimental knowledge of Christ, do we attain that full assurance of faith which is proof against all scepticism.
15. Speaking the truth—Not only speaking, but in every respect being and acting in truth; or, to coin a precisely parallel participle, truthing in love. As all these isms are systems of untruth, let us be embodied truth bathed in love: for in this trueness in love is not only firmness but growth, both individual and churchly.
Into him… the head—As the great reconciler of all things in and under himself as head in Ephesians 1:10-11.
16. From this head, Christ, the whole body (as in Ephesians 1:22-23) is organized and made to grow. This is now expressed very anatomically and complexly. The word body is repeated in the first and last part of the verse. The body makes the body grow into a complete self-building in love. It does this by three things: 1. A very compact organism, which is effected by, 2. Matter of supply, and, 3. Both in proportion to the vital energy of every proportional part. To analyze these three more fully: 1. From the vitality in the head we have an organism fitly joined together and compacted. This is a very tersely expressed image of a true Church unity, to which it is of vital importance that every Church should aspire. 2. This is effected by (to change the translation) every joint of supply. This of supply qualifies the joint, and means that every joint is a supplier of strength, as if it read every strength-supplying joint. 3. And this according to the efficient vital energy in the measure or proportion of every part. Paul traces these successive points, because each presents a topic and a lesson. 1. From our Head is all our life and vigour. 2. From Him we should be a bodily unit. 3. That unit supposes a powerful jointing of part to part, and part to whole. 4. To all this efficient compactness every member, however minute or obscure, should contribute. The model Church is vital in every part. Not one can say, I am of no use, am nothing. 5. And all this is an upbuilding in love. The love of Christ is the fountain; the love to each other is the unity; the love to the surrounding world is the stream, pouring itself forth in benevolence, purities, truths, and missions of gospel power. Were St. Paul’s ideal realized, what all-conquering gospel Churches we should have! Having thus far pictured his Church in itself, Paul will now illustrate its purity by contrasts with the opposite Church of the world, of Satan, and the anti-church of Gentilism. The contrast is twofold; touching sins of the spirit and sins of the flesh.
2. To be a Church in double contrast to the anti-Church of Gentilism, Ephesians 4:17 to Ephesians 5:21.
First Contrast—Sins of the spirit, Ephesians 4:17 to Ephesians 5:3.
a. In contrast with the Gentilism which you have left, Ephesians 4:17-19.
17. I say… and testify—I declare and protest.
Therefore—In view of your being the model Church described in the last paragraph. Other is omitted by the best readings. Thereby the apostle, by a new antithesis, holds his converts as not now Gentiles but Christians.
Walk—Note, Ephesians 4:1. This outward walk springs from internal pravation, located by St. Paul in mind, understanding, inner life, and heart.
Mind— νους, equivalent to the spirit—the high intuitive faculty, the intellect in its ethical sphere, in which the theory of religion and the sense of conscientious morality dwell. Here should be the divine residence of eternal truth, God, Christ, and holiness. But with these Gentiles here is only vanity, which was a common Hebrew term for idolatry; and here with St. Paul it is a name for all the utter worthlessness of the apostate antitheism of Gentilism. And in this vanity of their highest region of intuition they walked. From that region was shed a haze and a darkness over the ground they walked.
18. Understanding—The region of the play of reasoning, the channel of the ordinary thought-current. As the intuitive power above, of these men, was filled with vanity, so the current of thought flowed in darkness.
Alienated—Foreignized, de-citizenized, as if belonging to another race from the sons of God. From the life of God—That divine regenerative life produced by the vitalizing touches, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by which we are sons of God. St. Paul’s participle, alienated, glances back to a period when they were home-born natives of the kingdom of God.
And this is true both of our humanity and of every man born into this atonement-pervaded world.
Bengel and others discern a parallelism between the present four clauses by which the first corresponds to the third, and the second to the fourth. Thus:—
Having the understanding darkened,
Through the ignorance that is in them:
Being alienated from the life of God,
Through the callousness of their heart.
But, we may add, this whole double process of darkness through ignorance, and alienation through hardness, is the result of the vanity, in the intuitive mind, by which God has been discarded and apostasy been committed.
Blindness—Rather, hardness. The Greek term is derived from a word signifying stone, and is then applied, in surgery, to a hardening of the flesh into bone—ossification. Hence, viewing the heart as the symbolical seat of the moral emotions, the word designates a stolid insensibility to moral impressions. It forms an encasement through which the life of God cannot enter.
19. Being past feeling—The Greek verb so rendered signifies those who have had their crying spell but now are quiescent. Hence it comes to signify such as have become freed from all once-existing moral sensibility.
Lasciviousness—Unrestraint, or license of every kind. It is by no means limited to sexual license, but applies to any vice.
Uncleanness—Filth, nastiness, baseness, either material or moral. See note, Ephesians 5:3.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:3 it refers to avarice.
Greediness—Rather, covetousness; grasping after more and more gain. From our definitions of these last three words, it will be seen that we find no reference in the verse to sexual impurity, but to secular and business profligacy. We render the whole verse: Who being past all sensitiveness, (either as to obligation or to reputation) have surrendered themselves to unrestraint for accomplishment of every baseness in gain-getting. Our reasons for finding no reference to sexual license here are:
1. That subject is fully treated in Ephesians 5:3-21.
2. All the vices to be put off, (Ephesians 4:25-32,) in contrast with the present dark pictures, belong to secular business life and not to sexuality.
3. The terms used, though some of them have a sexual side, yet do not here require that meaning, while the last word, rendered greediness, fairly excludes it. It is derived from πλεος, more, and εχω, to have, and is the normal Greek word to signify gain-greed, graspingness, avarice.
In the apostle’s day, as in ours, the supremacy of the money-power, the consequent unscrupulousness and profligacy with which gain was sought, and the readiness to sell one’s self for riches, were overwhelming. The conquered East poured boundless wealth into the Roman empire, and (to use, with Paul, a sexual term) debauched the West into utter prostitution to the baseness of greed. No wonder that St. Paul should have execrated it as a base filthiness.
b. Be ye renewed from the old to the new man, Ephesians 4:20-24.
20. But—Now the vivid contrast of ye, from them; ye being emphatic; ye who have abandoned unscrupulous Gentilism. So—In accordance with these Gentile depravities.
Learned Christ—As ye were once taught this selfish worldliness. Christ is the embodiment of a new purity, unselfishness, and unworldliness.
21. Heard him—Preaching to you through his apostles. For the gospel is his living voice. As the truth is embodied in Jesus—What that truth is we are told in the next paragraph. It is the truth of the renewal from the old depravities to the new purities.
22. That—Depending on have been taught, in Ephesians 4:21. The verb is, indeed, in the infinitive, and the connexion would have been better preserved had the infinitive been retained. Having pictured the depravities of old Gentilism, 11-19, Paul contrastively adds: But not such the lessons you have received from Christ, if ye have indeed learned, as truth is embodied in him, to put off the old man of Gentile depravation, and put on the new man after God’s image.
Concerning… conversation—In regard to your former mode of moral behaviour.
Old man—Inherited from Adam, and manifested pre-eminently in Gentilism. Not merely, as Ellicott, the “personification of our whole sinful condition before regeneration;” but the personification of all our sinward tendencies derived from the fall and progressively put off by our regeneration, sanctification, and final resurrection. The term regeneration, used ordinarily and properly to designate an instantaneous act by which we are made “children of God,” does in its larger sense comprehend the entire process by which we are brought from our deepest ruin in sin to our complete final renewal in glory. This last process passes through a series of stages and progressions. In that sense our regeneration is a gradual work. Notes on 23, 24.
Is corrupt—Is being ever corrupted, sinking from inborn sinwardness to an ever deeper and deeper progression in corruption—a corruption implying ultimate utter perdition. And this becoming more and more corrupt is according to, that is, in compliance and accord with, the impulses of deceit, τας επιθυμιας της απατης, very incorrectly translated deceitful lusts. The word we render impulses designates, in Greek, any appetance or eagerness, either for good or evil, and usually has no special reference to sexual lust. The word translated deceitful is a genitive noun: of deceit. The entire phrase, then, designates the eager promptings of a natural deceitfulness within. It corresponds with gain-greed, in Ephesians 4:19, and the lying they must put away in Ephesians 4:25; and is antithetic with truth in Ephesians 4:21; Ephesians 4:25.
23. And be renewed—Connected as an infinitive verb with the infinitive put off, in last verse, and governed by taught in Ephesians 4:21; taught to put off and to be renewed, and, Ephesians 4:24, to put on. And not only are these verbs in the infinitive, but it is important to note they are in the present tense, and thereby express a continuous process: that is, taught to be putting off, and to be being renewed, and to be putting on the new man. This process looks to its absolute completion in the day of redemption, Ephesians 4:30. Spirit of your mind, Not temper of your mind. The word mind, here, is the same word as in Ephesians 4:17, where see note. Of the Gentile mind the occupant is vanity; of yours, should be Christ’s Spirit. The sense, then, is: Be ye renewed by the Spirit, that is, the indwelling occupant of your higher mind, the divine Spirit, which has expelled the former tenant, vanity.
24. After God—So Colossians 3:10. “Renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”
Created—As Ellicott well notes, in the past tense, as if the image in which we are to be being renewed was itself created at first, though our renewal be a progressive work, to be completed at “the manifestation of the sons of God,” Romans 8:19, when we are to be completely “conformed to the image of his Son” at the final “regeneration,” Matthew 20:28, when we are “children,” or rather, sons, “of the resurrection.” Luke 20:36. And here we learn wherein, in some respects, is the image of God in which Adam was first created, and in which our renewal ultimates.
Righteousness… holiness— Rectitude in our dealings with men, holiness in our relations with God; yet the latter giving a higher tone to the former than it could of itself possess. Virtue is hardly virtue until verified by piety. See note on Matthew 5:7. Ellicott well notes “a faint contrast” between righteousness here and greediness, Ephesians 4:19, (gain-greed, as we have translated it.) as well as between holiness and uncleanness, or baseness, as we have rendered it. If the entire “contrast” which we exhibit, as intended by Paul in these two paragraphs, is realized, the contrast Dr. Ellicott notices ceases to be faint. Our renderings, which exclude the reference to sexuality alone, are thereby confirmed.
True—This adjective is in the Greek a genitive noun of truth, and commentators now agree should so be rendered: righteousness and holiness of truth. Truth, then, is here contrasted with the deceit of Ephesians 4:22, where see our note. And this contrast again confirms our rendering in that verse.
c. By putting off the (five) Gentile vices, Ephesians 4:25 to Ephesians 5:2.
The five Gentile vices here are: 1. Lying, Ephesians 4:25;
2. Anger, Ephesians 4:26-27;
3. Stealing, Ephesians 4:28;
4. Ribaldry, Ephesians 4:29-30;
5. Brawling, Ephesians 4:31; and Ephesians 5:1-2.
To his warning against each vice St. Paul adds either its aggravation, as in 1 and 4; or a contrasted picture of the reverse virtue, as in 3 and 5. The contrast in Ephesians 4:5 is impressively extended.
25. Wherefore—In view of your sustaining this new contrast to your old Gentilism, put away in detail the individual Gentile vices. He is not satisfied with a conceptual contrast that may end in theory. He would root out every outward evil practice under the power of this inward renewal.
Putting—Rather, having put away; having at start renounced and stopped it.
Lying—Literally, the lie; the universal lie, outside and inside, vocal, acted, or purposed. This lie is identical with the deceit of Ephesians 4:22 and the fraud of Ephesians 4:19.
Speak—The vocal species of truth.
Members… another—Said in accordance with the general idea of the epistle—a model Church.
26. Be… angry… sin not—And if there be no sinless anger, this forbids all anger. They are welcome to any anger which violates not this proviso. And no doubt there is a sinless anger. For anger is all adverse emotion in view of any wrong done to ourself or against any law of right, and often suggesting the due punishment of the wrongdoer. The emotion is, in itself, right; is consistent with uninterrupted love; may be proportioned to the object; and it may not break the clear self-possession or Christian serenity of the man. If this be not the case there is reason to suspect sin. If there be a fierce flash of the eye, a loud and forcible utterance, and an unfitting violence of words, very likely the sin not problem has not been well worked out.
Sun… wrath—Let the tranquillizing shades of evening compose the excitement of the emotion, even though it be your duty to see that the wrong be righted. When the excitement and the sun have gone down, you will have time to revise and settle if there be not some mistake; and your decisions in view of the fact that you desire to commit yourself into the hands of God in slumber, will be passionless and pure in the sight of God.
28. Stole—In the present steals.
Steal no more—St. Paul puts the maxim in the general form, so that if there be any one in the Church who does steal he may apply it. Some have been surprised that such a person could be supposed as being in an apostolic Church. But, as Meyer suggests, if there could be a fornicator in the Corinthian Church, there might be a stealer in the Ephesian Church; and, perhaps, apologists for both question how far the laws of marriage and the laws of property were binding under the new Christianity. Dr. Eadie quotes the testimony of Eusebius, showing that throughout the eastern world a man called a thief did not at all resent it. In countries where living is easy, and the standard of living low, the laws of property are easily violated. A Spartan punished his boy who stole, not for his theft, but for his stupidity in being caught, esteeming skill in avoiding detection a greater virtue than honesty in avoiding theft. St. Paul teaches his converts that a Christian, instead of stealing from others, should work, and so be able to give unto others. He must not be a pilferer, but a benefactor.
Working with his hands—This, rather than stealing with his fingers: for Paul points out not only the wrong, but more abundantly shows the reverse right.
The… good—Instead of the evil, namely, the theft. Laziness is the father of poverty and the grandfather of theft. Men at the present day avoid the labour of the hands, and seek for political office that they may steal plentifully and genteelly. When the standard of living is high, the temptations to theft in such forms are often very powerful, and the crime of embezzlement should be severely punished.
Give—For giving, of the result of our honest toil, is a great and honourable Christian virtue. Whether in kindness to the poor, in public endowments of educational institutes, the upbuilding of churches, or the spreading of the Gospel, there is a blessed glory in giving. If at the present day there be prodigality in living and profligacy in stealing, there is also a great and glorious liberality in giving. If this be an age of very bad men it is also an age of very good ones.
29. Corrupt—Literally, putrid, rotten, as a dead animal or vegetable body: figuratively, any indecent or debasing communication. The “idle word,” (Matthew 12:36, where see note,) the “vain words” of Ephesians 5:6, are worthless talk: this is disgusting language, as ribaldry and filthiness, which some persons think it no sin to use. While all prudery should be avoided, every Christian should disuse all degrading indecency of language.
But— Again showing the reverse right.
Edifying—Building up in knowledge, virtue, or piety.
30. And—Caution as to the consequences of the putrid communication. There is a pure, a Holy Spirit who hears.
Grieve not—It is not only a pure Spirit, but a tender, a sensitive Spirit: for all pure natures are sensitive. The modest spirit cannot bear indecency; the pure spirit cannot bear foulness: and the divine Spirit is here said to be grieved because such lips utter such words, before it is angry. Its grief, amazement, and horror precede its wrath and departure.
Ye are sealed—Repetition of same image as Ephesians 1:13, (where see note,) of a spirit-seal to the day of redemption, Ephesians 1:14, typified by attainment of Canaan, and exhibited in the central verse, Ephesians 1:10. The danger of apostasy is exemplified by this allusion to Israel, who “rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy.” Isaiah 63:10. For the Spirit bestowed upon us is itself the seal, Ephesians 1:13, and so the departure of the Spirit is the withdrawal of the seal. By that withdrawal they were sealed over to a reverse destiny. The pedantic remark of Riddle (in Schaff’s Lange) that the words imply a “logical possibility of falling” while “the more theological and soteriological statements preclude such a possibility,” seems an attempt to overrule the apostle’s purpose with his own dogma. There is not a statement in the Bible that would “preclude such a possibility.” Nor is there any reason, from experience, to doubt that such apostasies often occur in human history. Dr. Eadie says it is an appeal to their love, and not to their fear, and asks: “Which of the twain is the stronger appeal? And this is the question we put as our reply to Alford and Turner.” We answer: The appeal is made to both their love and their fear; and which is the stronger, an appeal to one or both? And so all the encouragements and warnings of Scripture are equally sincere, and by attracting to a real reward and determining by a real danger (not a factitious “logical possibility”) would, by a double force, gain us to a happiness we may freely forfeit. And that is our reply to Dr. Eadie.
31. Bitterness—The climax of wrathful terms in this verse, rising to clamour, sounds like a reminiscence of the uproar of the Ephesian mob. Acts 19.
Bitterness—This is a permanent state of virulent temper, which easily swells up into wrath and then breaks forth in anger. Then may follow outcry or clamour of the individual or the mob. This is the way of a turbulent state of society, ready for tumult.
All—This climactic rise of violence the Christian in Ephesus must put away. And this is, as Dr. Eadie happily styles it, “a genealogy of bad passions,” each begetting its successor to the end of the fierce chapter.
All—Having their base and fountain in the final κακια, (translated malice,) that is, badness, a full, deep, cherished depravity of nature, deepened by unrestrained indulgence. And this fearful Ephesian picture is an example to avoid, which our apostle will complete by a counter picture for a Christian Church in Ephesus in the following verse.
32. The and shows that this verse, together with Ephesians 5:1-2, is the completion of 31, as 30 is of 29. The therefore of the next verse, Ephesians 5:1, does not imply transition to a new paragraph.
Be ye— Rather, become ye. Thisdoes not imply, as Alford and Braune (Schaff’s Lange) imply, any particular late transgression in these respects by the Ephesian Christians, but only that their transition from Gentilism to a perfect Christianity was a perfecting process, a becoming.
Kind—The Greek word that so nearly resembled Christ (Chrestos) that pagans confounded it and Christians boasted it. Note on Acts 18:2.
As God— All in common had been forgiven, and could, therefore, mutually forgive. And in the two following verses St. Paul carries out into striking detail this following our divine model, God.
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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