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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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This whole chapter is a prayer, but between the first and second words of it, Paul made a characteristic digression in which he gave further teaching on the mystery of redemption (Ephesians 3:1-13), concluding this part of the letter with what has been called "the boldest prayer ever prayed" (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Verse 1

For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles …

Actually, Paul’s prayer began back in Ephesians 1:15; and following several digressions, he was about to resume it here; but he hardly got started before going into another digression on the mystery of Christ.

For this cause … The thought will be resumed in these same words in Ephesians 3:14.

I Paul … Some radical and irresponsible critics of the New Testament affirm that these words were forged to this epistle by some later author who passed it off as having been written by Paul; but no believer in Christ could possibly have been guilty of such fraud and deception. The utter poverty of such an allegation is so obvious that some of the scholars who accept such a monstrous opinion feel called upon to explain how such a thing could have happened. This is typical of such "explanations":

It was published under Paul’s name as a tribute of love and admiration by a disciple of great gifts, deeply imbued with the mind and spirit of the great apostle … (he wrote) to give expression to ideas of Christ and of the church which had been developing in the apostle’s mind (!) … he would feel that he was no more than the vehicle of his master’s (!) thoughts and therefore might legitimately address the church in his name.(F1)

Such a canard as that makes out no acceptable justification for the fraud, deception, dishonesty and wickedness of imposing a document upon Christian people as having been written by Paul, when it wasn’t. It is hard to make a judgment regarding the greater immorality, whether it pertains to the alleged deceiver the critics would make the author of Ephesians, or to the critics themselves who are morally capable of alleging such nonsense as the justification of such a sin. Comments like that cited above tell us far more about critics than they do of the authorship of Ephesians, thus: (1) Such comment shows that the critics approve of such deceptions, enabling them to speak in glowing terms of the true fidelity and devotion of such alleged deceivers. (2) It shows that their conception of morality is compatible with such fraud. It could be done (indeed was done, they say) "legitimately"! (3) It raises the question of how much "legitimate fraud" the critics themselves have perpetrated in their devious efforts to cast reflection and discredit upon the New Testament. If people do not believe God’s word, let them say so; but may they also have the courage to spare us who believe it the kind of result to human intelligence inherent in a proposition like that quoted above.

Paul, the prisoner of Christ … As Barclay said, "A single word or idea can send Paul’s thoughts off at a tangent"(F2); and the bare mention of his being a prisoner triggered a whole galaxy of related thoughts, giving us another marvelous Pauline digression. The writing of this epistle is beyond forgery, imitation, or counterfeiting. Paul alone could have written this epistle. When Paul wrote this, he was awaiting trial under Nero, and in all probability fully aware of the ultimate martyrdom that awaited him; but there is no word of complaint here. In fact, he is not Nero’s prisoner at all, but the prisoner of Christ! When Paul suffered, from whatever cause, it was all for Christ. How noble was that soul which lived in such a climate of personal loyalty and devotion to the Lord! As Barclay put it, "The Christian has always a double life and a double address."(F3) To all outward appearance Paul was a prisoner of the Roman government, but that is not the way Paul looked at it, at all. He thought of himself as suffering and being imprisoned for the sake of Christ. This thought of the origin of his imprisonment ended with Paul’s being freed for a while.

In behalf of you Gentiles … Beare denied that this could be "a real mode of address" by Paul; but such an opinion betrays ignorance of what Paul was saying. The use of "you" with Gentiles was not for the purpose of addressing the whole Gentile creation, but for the purpose of limiting the meaning of "in behalf of," restricting it primarily to his Gentile converts. It was Paul’s standing up for the truth that Gentiles should be brought into the Lord’s church without regard to the Jews and the Law of Moses that precipitated the savage hatred of him on the part of unconverted Israel. It was friendship for Trophimus, a Gentile, which resulted in the false charges against him in the temple, that first brought him into the power of the Roman government. In a very real sense, every Gentile on earth is indebted to Paul for the salvation which we have received in Christ. As Barclay truly said, "Had there been no Paul, it is quite conceivable that there would have been no world-wide Christianity, and that we would not be Christians today."(F4) Paul’s great mission, assigned by Christ who called him to the apostleship, was to "the Gentiles." That is what is in view here. It was precisely that Gentile thing which formed so important an element of the Great Mystery that dominated the rest of this parenthesis.

In addition to Paul’s defense of the right of "the Gentiles" to be received "into Christ," that defense having precipitated his first arrest and imprisonment, it was predominantly Paul’s religious views on this very question which were the grounds of all of the persecutions that confronted him, both Jewish and Roman. If the Jewish hierarchy had been willing to allow Christianity as compatible in any manner with Judaism, there would have been no Roman opposition. As Martin pointed out:

If the Gentile Christians were stated to be non-Jewish, then they came under Roman laws about illegal religions; but so long as they were regarded as a Jewish sect, they were immune from such laws with their death penalty.

Thus, it was actually true that all of Paul’s persecutions, first to last, were part and parcel of his mission to the Gentiles.

Verse 2

If so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward.

If so be that ye have heard … From this, it is falsely alleged that this letter could not have been addressed to the Ephesians, since they had most certainly heard of the mystery Paul was about to emphasize. Such a view, however, is due to overlooking the true meaning of the word "if" as used here and in many other New Testament passages. MacKnight translated this place "Seeing ye have heard …"(F5) Even Beare admitted that it means "Assuming that you have heard …"(F6) Many reputable scholars translate the "if’ here as "since," or "inasmuch." William Hendriksen devoted a number of pages to a thorough study of this.(F7)

Verses 3-4

How that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ.

By revelation … Paul always emphasized that the wonderful truth he brought to people was from God, not of himself, that it was given to him by Christ, disclaiming any credit whatever as belonging to himself. Yet, it was absolutely necessary that Paul emphasize the world-shaking importance of that truth. When he implied (in the words "when ye read") that people should study his writings, it was not vainglory or egotism on his part, but the mere statement of a basic obligation every Christian has to study divine revelation in the Scriptures.

The mystery … the mystery of Christ … One cannot fail to be amused at the "problem" some scholars (?) find with this! As Foulkes said:

Mystery here is defined differently from its definition in Colossians, leading to the assertion that the difference is so great as to make common authorship impossible.(F8)

Foulkes rejected such a simplistic understanding of the mystery, asking, "Can they not be different aspects of the central revelation?"(F9) Of course, that is exactly what they are. Not merely two but a dozen complex and interlocking elements of the Great Mystery were revealed by the apostle Paul; and as for the quibbles about one element being stressed here, another there, such problems are as laughable as that of the six blind men describing the elephant. "The Mystery of Christ includes far more than the fact that Gentiles were fellow partakers with Jews of the promise in Christ Jesus."(F10) This writer has published The Mystery of Redemption(F11) containing a full discussion of this subject.

I wrote before in few words … Like many of Paul’s statements, this is capable of a number of meanings, and no one can be certain exactly what he intended. The usual understanding is that this refers to a mention of the mystery earlier in this same letter (Ephesians 1:9 f); but of course, there is nothing to keep it from referring to another letter not preserved through history. This uncertainty poses a problem, then, concerning what was intended when Paul wrote, "When ye read."

When ye read … It is not fair to leave this without calling attention to a possible meaning of this proposed by F. J. A. Hort who believed that it means, "in a semi-technical sense, the reading of the Holy Scriptures."(F12) The more radical critics have screamed themselves hoarse about such an interpretation; but it is logical, in keeping with other significant passages of the New Testament, and probably correct! Christ himself, quoting from the prophecy of Daniel, said, "Let him that readeth understand," both Matthew and Mark giving the quotation exactly as Jesus made it. The most obvious and ridiculous error supposed to support the so-called Markan theory is that of making Jesus’ quotation from Daniel a parenthesis injected by Matthew or Mark, with the accompanying conclusion that one or another of the sacred evangelists copied the other! May God deliver his children from that kind of "reasoning"! Both Matthew and Mark gave that quotation, because, in all likelihood, the admonition to Christians was constantly reiterated from the very first, requiring them to read, study and search the Scriptures daily, etc. Jesus, it will be remembered, asked the lawyer, "How readest thou?" It was, therefore, a proverb from the first with Christians that they should constantly read the Scriptures (at first, the Old Testament, and in time all of the writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets as well). In the light of these facts which cannot be denied, how naturally, Paul should have included the clause, "when ye read."

Verse 5

Which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.

The Scriptural definition of "mystery" is apparent here, the mystery being God’s plan of redeeming man, once concealed, now revealed.

As it hath now been revealed … All of the commentaries examined by this writer fail to see the essential limitations imposed by this clause. What Paul said here is not that the present revelation of the mystery is final and complete, but that the previous generations did not possess a revelation of it "as it hath now been revealed." Revelation 10:7 states that the mystery of God will be finished, or "is finished" in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound; and it will hardly be denied by any that this means it is not finished now! Marvelous as the Christian revelation surely is, there is no ground for people assuming conceitedly that they "know all about it."

Holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit … Far from claiming to be the unique source of God’s revelation of the great mystery, Paul here declared that the "holy apostles and prophets" of the first Christian generation (all of them) were likewise participants in having received from God this glorious revelation. Paul was both an apostle and a prophet; but Paul did not here preempt the title "holy" unto himself; but there was no honorable way in which he could have denied it to that sacred group to which he himself surely belonged. Bruce has a perceptive comment thus:

The reference to the "holy apostles and prophets" has been felt to have an impersonal ring about it, making it difficult to imagine Paul himself writing it; but the difficulty lies rather in our twentieth century English ears than in first century New Testament Greek. There is nothing formal or liturgical about Paul’s use of the adjective "holy," and nothing unnatural about the way in which he associates the other apostles and prophets with himself.(F13)

Verse 6

To wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

To wit … This has the meaning of "that is to say," or "namely." It is often used in legal documents for the purpose of introducing a detailed statement, or formal list.

Fellow heirs … fellow members … fellow-partakers … It would have been difficult indeed to have piled together three expressions more eloquent of the absolute equality of privilege and blessing to be shared and shared alike by Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Of course, the Old Testament prophets had plainly foretold the salvation of Gentiles; and, in Romans, Paul cited references from all three of the major Old Testament divisions in which there were definite and undeniable foreshadowings of his own mission to the Gentiles; "but the thing not visible in the Old Testament was that the Gentile sharing of these blessings involved the creation of `one new man’ (Ephesians 2:15),"(F14) and that there would be no separate organization for either Jews or Gentiles, both being incorporated into the one body, the church.

As Alfred Martin put it: "The mystery was not that the Gentiles should be saved — there is much in the Old Testament concerning that, particularly in Isaiah — but that they should be joined with Jews in one body!"(F15)

Verse 7

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power.

In Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 3:7 and Ephesians 3:8, Paul stressed the grace, that is the divine favor, bestowed upon him by the Father through Christ. "The apostle of the Gentiles enlarged upon the greatness of his special mission. Thrice here he calls it a grace given to him."(F16) Also compare Galatians 2:7-9 and Colossians 1:24.

Verse 8

Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, was the grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Less than the least of all saints … It is a mistake to render this "the very least of all saints,"(F17) for it was clearly Paul’s intention here to invent a word for pressing his utter rejection of any personal glory regarding the wonderful grace given. He compared a superlative, which is illegal grammatically (!); but Paul was above many of the rules so respected by people generally. "Less than the least" is similar to "more than the most" or "higher than the highest," etc. But, in this connection, what about that forger who wrote Ephesians, the one mentioned by Beare, who so loved and honored Paul, etc., etc.? What did he do to his beloved teacher with a remark like this? The falsehood inherent in the theory of pseudonymous authorship of Ephesians shines in a passage like this, like the nakedness of the king in the fable (of the invisible clothes). As Bruce said, "No disciple of Paul’s would have dreamed of giving the apostle so low a place";(F18) furthermore, it is obvious to any thoughtful person that "no Christian who ever lived" would have given Paul so low a place! That is, none except the holy apostle himself who wrote the epistle.

Unsearchable riches of Christ … The blessings of salvation in Christ are extravagantly above all human ability to evaluate them. "Usually precious things are rare, their rarity increasing their value; but here that which is most precious is boundless?(F19) The literal meaning of "unsearchable" is: "trackless, inexplorable, not in the sense that any part is inaccessible, but that the whole is too vast to be mapped out and measured."(F20) Paul’s thought in this connection was that such unsearchable riches were to be provided for all mankind through his preaching. There was a sense in which he could give such incredible wealth to everyone on earth! This was why Paul so appreciated and honored the office which God gave him, that of the apostleship.

Verse 9

And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things.

To make all men see … The message of salvation is to be preached to human beings, not angels, spirits or other non-terrestrial beings. It is important to keep this in mind in the study of the next verse.

The dispensation of the mystery … Paul’s many references in the New Testament to the mystery of God, the mystery of the faith, the mystery of Christ, the great mystery, the mystery of godliness, etc., etc., are among the most interesting passages in the New Testament. Essentially, Christ himself is the mystery, a thumbnail biography of Christ actually being called the mystery in 1 Timothy 3:16, the six several items of that biography being various elements of the mystery.

Which for ages hath been hid in God … God’s plan of human redemption existed always in the purpose of God, the fact of its being hidden indicating that there were beings who might indeed have understood it if God had chosen to reveal it. "God does not owe it to anyone to explain why for a long time the mystery was concealed."(F21) It was concealed not only from the Gentiles, but also concealed from the Jews; and according to 1 Peter 1:12, it was also concealed from the angels in heaven. It was even concealed from the holy prophets of the Old Testament who were given revelations in words which they did not fully understand concerning this very mystery (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Hid in God who created all things … The reason for injecting this word about the creation would appear to be "to indicate the relation of the matter in hand to the mightiest works of God. This is no trifling matter; it connects with God’s grandest operations."(F22) In fact, all through Paul’s writings there prevails the impression that the saved in Christ are a part of infinite plans, all creation, even previous intelligent creations (as angels) being destined to share a common purpose with the redeemed when God shall sum up all things "in Christ." No pretense of being able to explain such things is affected by this writer.

Verse 10

To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God.

The fact of the gospel’s promulgation upon earth being, in some manner, for the purpose of "making known" to "principalities and powers in the heavenly places" God’s manifold wisdom has not been satisfactorily explained; at least, this student of the Scriptures has not seen any satisfactory explanation of it. We shall take a look at some of the teachings people have allegedly found in this verse:

John Locke: The governments and powers in the heavenly places are the Jewish religious leaders.

MacKnight: They are the different orders of the angels in heaven.(F23)

Calvin, Hodge, Grosheide and Lenski thought this refers to the good angels in heaven.(F24)

A. T. Robertson understood the reference as to "evil powers or fallen angels, exclusively.(F25)

Such variety of opinions suggests that the true interpretation might lie in a different direction altogether. In Ephesians 3:9, as already noted, Paul gave the purpose of gospel preaching to be that of making "all men see." Ephesians 3:10 could be nothing more than a dramatic, rhetorical burst of eloquent hyperbole, having much the same meaning as if he had written:

We shall shout the gospel message to the highest heavens and extol the glory of the church as the demonstration of God’s manifold wisdom to the highest beings in the universe!

This view has one thing in common with those already cited — it may be wrong; but at least it makes as much sense as anything else at hand on the subject. Certainly the whole subject of the impact of the gospel of Christ upon creations above and beyond our own human creation, of which so little is known, and concerning which God has not given us very much information, lies totally beyond the exploration projected for this series of commentaries.

The manifold wisdom of God … Hendriksen pointed out that the word here rendered "manifold" actually means "multicolored, or much variegated," translating the phrase, "the iridescent wisdom of God."(F26) This calls attention to the infinite diversity and sparkling beauty of the wisdom of God. Bruce favored "the many-colored wisdom of God."(F27) Since wisdom has no literal color, it is clear that Paul was speaking figuratively in this passage.

Verse 11

According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ and his having been, from all eternity, the focal center of God’s redemptive purpose are affirmed in this verse. There are also overtones of the pre-existence and Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ in this declaration.

Verse 12

In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.

This verse mistranslates the last phrase which should follow the English Revised Version (1885) margin and read "through the faith of him," that is, through the faith of Christ, meaning the faith Christ himself possessed and demonstrated. Justification as accomplished, not by sinner’s faith, but by the perfect faith and obedience of the Son of God is a subject that has been treated somewhat in depth in the commentaries on Romans and also in Galatians, to which reference is made for those wishing to pursue the subject further. See under Galatians 2:16, in this volume. There is no justification whatever for rendering this verse "through our faith in him." The Greek New Testament says no such thing. See in my Commentary on Romans, Romans 3:22 ff. Taylor, Wesley, MacKnight and many others, along with the KJV, testify to the correct translation as "faith of him," despite the fact that some who admit the true rendition still manage to deny the meaning of it!

In whom we have boldness … Like many other passages in the Pauline writings, this corresponds very closely to the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:16). Christian boldness is revealed as being at least partially the responsibility of the Christian himself to maintain it, encourage it in others, and to manifest it openly in all places and circumstances. It is the spiritual equivalent of the confidence displayed by a good athlete who "talks up a good game" with his teammates, manifesting at all times a winning attitude.

Access … This is Paul’s word for the privilege of approaching God in prayer, of coming boldly to the throne of grace, of possessing the right to petition the Father in one’s own person through identity with the Lord Jesus Christ and needing no go-between, mediator, priest or any other person whomsoever as any kind of dispenser of spiritual privilege, or even as an aid in such things. Christians are priests unto God in Christ Jesus who is the "one mediator"; and no other mediators are needed. Not the name of any saint, nor the use of any religious device, nor the requirement of any human creed can circumvent or countermand this fundamental right of the redeemed in Christ, who without any qualification whatever have "access with boldness" unto God "in Christ Jesus." Is this through their own faith in Christ? NO, but by reason of the perfect faith and obedience of Christ, and in the meaningful sense, actually Christ, as being a part of his spiritual body.

Verse 13

Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.

What a beautiful and selfless thought is this! The rigors of a Roman prison, though somewhat tempered in Paul’s case, were nevertheless extremely galling, the very fact of being chained twenty-four hours a day to a Roman sentry was itself a terrible punishment. Paul at this time seems to have been kept, either within the vicinity of the Praetorian barracks, or within the compound that housed the royal bodyguard of the Caesars. In the final imprisonment which came some years later, Paul is thought to have been kept in a dungeon. However, the grand apostle’s thoughts were not of his own trials and sufferings, but of the intimidation that such sufferings might cause among his converts. He was not concerned about Paul, but about them! Surely, there is a love here that approaches that of the dear Saviour himself.

Verses 14-15

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

I bow my knees … Paul had begun to finish this prayer back in Ephesians 3:1, but he interrupted it for the magnificent digression regarding the great mystery in Christ; now he repeated the words, "For this cause," and completed the marvelous prayer.

The Jews often stood to pray (Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:11-13); but kneeling for prayer is often indicated in the New Testament, although it was not unknown at all in the Old Testament. Solomon knelt in the prayer of dedication for the temple (1 Kings 8:54). Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:60), Peter when he raised Dorcas (Acts 9:40), Paul on farewell occasions (Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5), and our Lord himself in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41) knelt in prayer. However, other acceptable attitudes or postures are also indicated, such as "lifting up the hands" (1 Timothy 2:8), "falling on the face" (Luke 5:12), etc.

Unto the Father … Paul here prayed to God, not as the Father of mankind, generally, but in the spiritual sense of being the spiritual Father of his children in Christ. "In the spiritual, or redemptive sense, God is definitely not the Father of all men."(F28) This is an important distinction. It is not the brotherhood of all mankind (in the sense of having the same Creator) that blesses human relationships. It is the brotherhood of man "in Christ" that brings peace and amity. "The brotherhood of man," apart from the qualifier of their being brothers "in Christ Jesus," is a sadistic joke. The Jewish-Arab conflict is a prime example of the brotherhood of man apart from Jesus Christ.

Of whom every family in heaven and on earth … The English Revised Version (1885) has changed this from the KJV renditions, "the whole family in heaven and on earth," upon textual grounds which many scholars recognize as valid. However, Blaikie, in Pulpit Commentary, dogmatically declared that there are no constraining reasons for the change. "The context requires the sense of `whole family’."(F29) He also cited examples of instances in Matthew 2:3; Luke 4:13, Acts 2:36; Acts 7:22, and Ephesians 2:21 where the absence of the article (as here) denoted the totality of a thing. As Hendriksen said, the trouble with the "every family" rendition is that there is hardly any way to know what may be meant by it. "How many families? … are the Jews a family? … the Gentiles? … do the angels form a family? … several families? etc., etc."(F30) John Wesley’s unique thought on this is quite interesting. Using the KJV rendition, he nevertheless came up with a number of different families, all one, in the sense of being God’s children. He wrote:

The whole family of angels in heaven, saints in Paradise, and believers on earth is named (of the Father), being "the children of God," a more honorable title than children of Abraham, and depending on him as the Father of the family.(F31)

Wesley’s interpretation has the advantage of explaining the passage no matter which way it is translated, and this would seem to commend it as the most probable meaning of it.

Verse 16

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.

The inward man … Clarke’s definition of the "inward man" is as good as any. He wrote:

Every man is a compound being, having a body and a soul. The outward man is that alone which is seen and considered by men. The inward man is that which stands particularly with reference to God and eternity.(F32)

All of the Ephesians whom Paul had converted had been made partakers of the Gift Ordinary of the Holy Spirit, granted to them as an earnest of their redemption at the time they were baptized into Christ (see Acts 2:38-39; Ephesians 1:13). The prayer in this verse is to the effect that the Spirit of God within them would be a source of power, more firmly establishing them in the faith.

Wedel spoke of the confusion and uncertainty many feel with regard to such a thing as the "indwelling" Spirit of God thus:

The concept of the Holy Spirit is at best vague in popular understanding; and even theologians can be puzzled by such phrases as are in this verse … And the expression, "Christ may dwell in your hearts" (next verse) can be equally puzzling.(F33)

See extended remarks on this problem under Galatians 5:23, above. There are no less than eight designations for the same Scriptural phenomenon, two of them being in these verses of 16 and 17.

Verse 17

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.

Christ dwelling in Christian hearts is one and the same thing as the Spirit’s dwelling in them. The first fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:23); and here the great result of the "indwelling Christ" is that of the Christian’s being "rooted and grounded in love." Again reference is made to the comment on this under Galatians 5:23.

Significantly, in Ephesians 3:14-17 there are references to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and although the names seem to be used almost interchangeably, yet there is a preeminence pertaining to the Father, as well as distinct differences between the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Verse 18

May be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth.

Breadth, length, … etc., of what …. ?" Beare thought it was "truth.(F34) Lipscomb believed it was the love of Christ;(F35) Adam Clarke considered it to be the "church of God";(F36) MacKnight saw in this a comparison of the church with the dimensions of the temple of Diana;(F37) the early "church fathers referred these words to the cross.(F38) From all this, it is perfectly evident that "Since Paul purposely omitted all definition, leaving the phrase in absolute generality, no answer can be perfectly satisfactory."(F39) Perhaps if we were to cite all of these possible meanings and were privileged to ask the apostle which one is correct, he might very well answer, "Why all of them, of course? Of all the things mentioned as the possible object of these words, people are unable to know the infinite dimensions of them; but Christ in our hearts can help us to understand how infinitely above people are the things of God.

Verse 19

And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God.

"The love of Christ" being made here the object of the verb "know" indicates quite clearly that "the love of Christ" is not primarily the thing under consideration in the previous verse, despite the fact of the vast majority of scholars taking exactly that position. As Blaikie said:

When "the love of Christ" is made the subject of a separate part of the prayer, and is not in the genitive, but in the objective case, governed by a verb of its own, this explanation is not to be entertained.(F40)

That ye may be filled with all the fullness of God … This is the grand climax of a prayer which reaches the most exalted heights. Paul here prayed for the Christians to whom he wrote that they might be filled with "all the fullness of God." No wonder this has been called the boldest prayer ever prayed. Dummelow was doubtless correct in interpreting this to mean: "That ye may be filled up to all the fullness of God, i.e., to the perfection of the divine attributes (Matthew 5:48).(F41) See discussion of "Perfection of Christians" under Ephesians 1:4.

Verses 20-21

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.


Exceeding abundantly … As Bruce said, "This is another one of Paul’s "super-superlatives," coined to express God’s capacity to transcend all that we ask or think."(F42) As Paul concluded the prayer, it never occurred to him that in asking God to make the Christians as perfect as God himself he had exceeded, in his request, the ability of God to grant it; on the other hand, he was convinced that God could do far more than any mortal might ask.

The power that worketh in us … Paul did not undervalue the divine nature of the power of God in human life, the same being the most remarkably powerful influence that people can know. In this marvelous doxology, Paul did not leave the church out. Great as the power of God in human life assuredly is, it works in those who are "in Christ," being particularly their endowment. Being "in Christ," is the same as being "in the church" — this is another truth that is emphasized in this doxology. It is precisely in this great truth that Protestantism has failed. All of the systems which set aside the church, or propose salvation apart from it, are disconnected, and shall always be disconnected from the mainstream of Christianity.

Over the main portal of the Central Church of Christ in Houston were engraved these words:


This is perpetually God’s will. There is no generation, however far in the future, which can be exempt from the imperative here. It is God’s will that glory to himself shall be in the church and in Christ Jesus; and people who do not consent to this are not in harmony with God’s will.

There are not two places in which to glorify God. "In the church" and "in Christ Jesus" designate the same theater of operations. Those "in Christ" are also in the church; and those not "in the church" are not "in Christ."

Amen … For comment on this, please see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 13:25.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ephesians-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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