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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 4

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-32

IV 1-3 Eagerness to preserve Unity in Love— Their privileges in Christ are great; their practical daily life must reflect their vocation—noblesse oblige.

2. The first of four duties that St Paul calls for are those which Christ described as characteristic of his heart (Matthew 11:29), humility and meekness; (3) but the main concern here is an appeal for a positive eagerness (DV ’careful’) to keep intact the unity of the spirit —regarded as already existing. There is one body, and hence one spirit, regarded as distinguishable from (though of course dependent on) the Holy Spirit. The ’unity of the spirit’, then, means the mutual harmony among the members of the body. ’In the bond of peace’: there can be no union without some bond. Here the bond joining the minds together is peace (the genitive of apposition). Peace shrinks from any wilful break of union. Cf.John 14:27. Robinson (pp 92-3): ’At any rate no separation of "body" or "spirit" is contemplated: and the notion that there could be several "bodies" with a "unity of spirit" is entirely alien to the thoughts of St Paul. It is especially out of place here, as the next words show’.

4-6 The sevenfold Unity of the Church— The seven elements of this unity are arranged under three main considerations.

4. The first consideration is that we are members of one body, i.e. one visible society. This key-word implies that just as in any body there is only one principle of life and unity, so all the members of the Church should be animated by one and the same supernatural spirit, which issues from the Holy Spirit (cf. 2:22). Moreover, by reason of God’s calling, we have one and the same hope —eternal life. So we ought to journey to the same goal hand in hand.

5. The second main consideration has for its operative word, One Lord, i.e. Christ. We all have the same Lord and Master. This implies that we are all united to him by the same interior faith, and that we have the same baptism into Christ, conferred once and for all.

6. The third consideration concerns God the Father. St Paul indicates three perfections which serve unity. He is ’above all’ (no place, then, in us for pride, the source of discord); he isthroughout all—in the sense that he makes us his instruments for good (no place, then, for contempt of one’s neighbour, another potent factor of discord); he is ’in all’; cf. 2:22; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:19, etc.

7-16 Unity not uniformity— 7. Grace here does not mean sanctifying grace, but the spiritual gifts given to every one of us in view of the common good of the Church (cf. 13, 16; Romans 12:3; 1 Cor 12; 2 Corinthians 10:13).

8. To emphasize the fact that all these gifts are from God alone, the Apostle points to Christ victorious in Heaven distributing freely the gifts after his triumph on earth. He uses the LXX version of Psalms 67:19, and dwells especially on the words ’he ascended’ and ’he gave’. The psalm in its literal sense describes a triumphal procession. A rich booty is offered to Yahweh, who receives it. But the Targum on this psalm regards God as receiving presents to be given to men; hence effectively giving presents to men. So St Paul’s change from the MT and LXX ’he received’ to ’he gave’ was probably a common interpretation. In any case the Apostle uses the psalm in a typical sense. God’s distributing gifts to men typifies Christ after the Ascension enriching members of his Church with spiritual gifts. The rest of the citation is incidental. He led captivity (abstract for concrete) captive is equivalent to ’He has triumphed like a victorious king’. As St Paul mentions this only, as it were, in passing, there is no need for us to try to identify the captives.

11-13. The point he makes in his list of gifts given to members of the Church is that their aim is to enlarge the range of the unity of the Church, and to develop its intensity, until we all (as one man) attain to the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God (13a WV). Then, all of us together will become a perfect man, God’s new man, grown to manhood, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the body of Christ (13b Médebielle). Cf. 1:23.

14-16. The corollary of this is that the Christian must put into practice Christ’s teaching, especially Charity; for Christ is at once the head and the pattern of a Christian’s development. 16. Christ’s body (the Church) owes all its growth to the head (Christ). Hence (a) the solidity of the whole organism; (b) mutual dependence of the parts—each joint contributes to the working of the whole; (c) the perfection of each member—according to-the function of each limb; (d) the growth—by reason of the union with Christ. The final phrase ’in charity’ marks the principle by which the holy shrine grows.

17-24 Put off the Old Man, put on the New— 22. The old man is that corruption of heart and mind which concupiscent nature, bereft of grace, brings on man; it is the ’natural’ man as opposed to the ’spiritual’, Romans 1:18-32; Romans 6:6; 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 2:15.23. Baptized people must be constantly at work to keep fresh and new their inmost thoughts—that is the meaning of ’the spirit of your mind’. The old man was stripped off at Baptism, but the new state then created has to be carefully watched (renewed)—like the permanent way on the railway. 24. St Paul gives the chief reason for the remarks in 22-23: Baptism is a new creation (cf.2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

25-31 Examples— The sins here mentioned are against fraternal charity.

26a. ’Be angry: and sin not’ is a quotation of Psalms 4:5 according to LXX. The first clause is concessive: if we feel anger rising within us (even when the anger is righteous) we must refuse to let it master us; we must combat it externally by showing a readiness to forgive.

26b. ’Let not the sun go down upon your anger’ is a figure denoting quick pardon.

27. ’Give not place to the devil’ is perhaps a metaphor borrowed from the boxing ring.

31. Five nouns here mark the progressively strong feelings and acts of the ’old man’ when irritated. First, bitterness, i.e. sullen resentment, then anger, which is the outburst of passion; then indignation, the settled feeling of passion. Finally, abusive language (DV ’blasphemy’).

32We must copy Christ— St Paul has shown that we must co-operate with divine grace first, negatively, by putting off the old man. He now declares that we should exercise the virtues that belong to one who is baptized into Christ. 1. We are most dear children of God in Christ. A father likes to find his image in his child. 2. Christ gave his life on our behalf; his death was a voluntary expiation. The words oblation and a sacrifice are borrowed from the OT sacrifices for sin, and they are applied to the sacrifice on the Cross. ’For an odour of sweetness’ is a common biblical metaphor suggested by the smoke of incense rising to heaven. The metaphor, then, refers to a victim pleasing to God. Prat (2, p 185) says: ’It is, therefore, probable that, having in view the general idea of sacrifice, of which Jesus is the perfect antitype, he denotes by "victim" (T?s?a) the bloody sacrifice of Calvary, and by "oblation" (p??sø??) the voluntary and loving offering which Christ makes of himself to his Father. The two notions of priest and victim would, therefore, be associated here; and, as in the epistle to the Hebrews, be reunited in the person of Jesus’.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/ephesians-4.html. 1951.
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