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The Epistle of Paul the Apostle
The oldest known form is the briefest, To (the) Ephesians. So in the “Subscription” to the Epistle, which see. The title as in the Authorized Version agrees with that adopted in the editions of the Greek Testament printed (1624, 1633), at Leyden by the brothers B. and A. Elzevir.
Ch. 1:1 2. Greeting
1. Paul ] See Acts 13:9 for the first occurrence of this name of the Apostle. He probably bore, from infancy, both the two names, Saul ( Saoul, Saulus ) and Paulus , the first as a Hebrew home-name, the latter for use in the Gentile world. Paulus (Paul) would thus naturally become the prevalent name during the Christian life-work of the bearer.
an apostle ] Lit., an envoy, a missionary ; in the Gospels and Acts always in the special sense of an immediate Delegate from the Saviour; except perhaps Acts 14:14 , where Barnabas bears the title. In Romans 16:7 the sense is perhaps more extended; certainly so in 2 Corinthians 8:23 . It always, however, in N. T., designates at least a sacred messenger, not excepting Philippians 2:25 , where see note in this Series. St Paul needed often to insist on the fact and rights of his apostleship in the highest sense of the word; 1 Corinthians 9:1 , 1 Corinthians 9:2 ; 2 Corinthians 12:12 ; Galatians 1:1 . See further, Appendix F.
of Jesus Christ ] Of Christ Jesus is the order in many documents. The sacred name (Jesus) and title (Christ) occur together in the Gospels five times, in the Acts often, in the Epistles perpetually. It is most important to remember that Christ is merely the Greek version of the Hebrew Messiah ( Anointed ). In the N. T. it thus constantly refers back to O. T. prophecy and to the truth (uttered by the Messiah Himself, John 4:22 ), that “salvation is of the Jews.”
by the will of God ] So, in the same connexion and position, 1 Cor., 2 Cor., Col., 2 Tim. In 1 Tim. (and Titus 1:3 ) we have “according to the commandment” of God. See Galatians 1:1 for the deep certainty of a direct Divine commission which underlay such a phrase in St Paul’s mind. He knew himself to be “a vessel of choice, to bear the name” (Acts 9:15 ) of his Lord.
saints ] Holy ones ; persons possessed of holiness, separated from sin to God. It is true that this is “the language of charitable presumption” (Pearson, Exposition of the Creed , Art. ix); when a community is thus described, St Paul does not thereby positively assert that each individual answers the description. But observe that this presumptive use of the word “saint” does not lower the true sense of the word, so as to make it properly mean, e. g., merely a member of a Christian community, a possessor of visible Church privileges.
which are at Ephesus ] “Some very ancient authorities omit at Ephesus ” (margin of Revised Version). On the question thus raised, see Introduction , ch. 4.
and to the faithful ] I. e. “the saints,” under a different aspect. For the word as used, of Christian believers, see Acts 10:45 (“the faithful of the circumcision”); 16:1 (“a faithful Jewess”); 2 Corinthians 6:15 (“the faithful with the unfaithful,” i.e. the believer with the unbeliever); Colossians 1:2 ; 1 Timothy 4:3 (“them who are faithful and know, &c.), 4:12 (“the faithful”), 5:16 (“any faithful man or faithful woman”), 6:2 (“faithful,” i.e. Christian, “masters”); Titus 1:6 . These and similar passages, and the contrast of the word “unfaithful” ( infidelis , infidel), shew that as a designation of Christians it means not trustworthy but trustful; full of faith , in the Christian sense. On its application to the community, see on “saints,” above.
in Christ Jesus ] See, for parallels to this all-important phrase, Romans 8:1 ; 1 Corinthians 15:18 ; 2 Corinthians 5:17 , &c. And compare the Lord’s language, John 6:56 , John 6:14 :20, 15:John 6:2-43.6.7 ; and the illustration given by e.g. Ephesians 5:30 . The “saints and faithful” are regarded as solidaire with their Lord, in respect both of inseparable interest, holy dearness, and oneness of spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17 ); specially the latter. The Epistle itself is a large comment on the phrase.
2. Grace be to you, and peace ] So in the opening words of Rom., 1 Cor., 2 Cor., Gal., Phil., Col., 1 Thess., 2 Thess., Philem., 1 Pet., 2 Pet., and Rev. In the Pastoral Epistles, and in 2 John, the remarkable addition “mercy” appears; in Jude, “mercy, peace, and love.” In these salutations, “Grace” is all the free and loving favour of God in its spiritual efficacy; “Peace” is specially the complacency of reconciliation with which He regards His people, but so as to imply also its results in them; repose, serenity of soul; spiritual happiness, in the largest sense. See further on 6:23, 24 below.
from God our Father ] To St Paul God is the Pater Noster of Christians, in the inner sense of their union by faith with His Son. The Scriptures, while not ignoring a universal Fatherhood of God towards mankind, always tend to put into the foreground the Fatherhood and Sonship of special connexion; that of covenant, of grace, of faith. Among many leading passages see, in N. T., John 1:12 ; Romans 8:14 , &c.; Galatians 3:26 ; 1 John 3:1 , 1 John 3:2 .
and from the Lord Jesus Christ ] He, equally with His Father, is the Giver of eternal blessing, and the Lord of the soul. Incidental phrases of this kind form a testimony to the Proper Deity of the Saviour weightier, if possible, than even that of direct dogmatic passages. They indicate the drift of the main current of apostolic belief. See further on 3:19 below.
3 14. Ascription of Praise, in view of the Election and Redemption of the Saints
3. Blessed be the God , &c.] The same Benediction occurs (verbatim in the Greek, nearly so in A. V.), 2 Corinthians 1:3 ; 1 Peter 1:3 . Observe the different motive of the same phrase in each case. The word rendered “Blessed” occurs eight times in the N. T., and always of a Divine Person. In Mark 14:61 “The Blessed” appears without an explicit Name, as often by the Rabbis.
For the sacred Formula “the God and Father of, &c.” cp. further Romans 15:6 (where the Greek, though not the A. V., is the same); and see John 20:17 ; Hebrews 1:8 , Hebrews 1:9 ; and note below, on ver. 17.
who hath blessed us ] Better, Who blessed us . The reference is to the heavenly world and the eternal purpose of God towards the saints. See just below, on “ before the foundation , &c.” This Benediction on the New Creation may be illustrated by that on the Old; Genesis 1:22 , Genesis 1:28 , Genesis 1:9 :1. It is the utterance (in whatever way) of a fixed Divine purpose of good. “When we bless God, we speak well of Him; when He blesses us, He powerfully confers blessings on us” (Scott). “ Us ”: the members of the New Race; “the saints and faithful;” those who “are Christ’s.”
with all spiritual blessings ] Better, with (lit. in ) all spiritual blessing . “ Spiritual: ” the Benediction supremely affected the “ spirit ” of its objects, not merely their externals. It bore upon their spiritual Birth (John 3:6 ); Life (Romans 8:9 , Romans 8:10 ); and Consummation (Romans 8:11 ; 1 Corinthians 15:44 ).
in heavenly places] Lit., “ in the heavenlies ”; an adjective without a noun. So below, ver. 20, and 2:6, 3:10, 6:12. The noun is rightly supplied in A. V. The region of utterance of the Blessing was heaven; the eternal abode of the Covenant-Head of the blessed ones is heaven; and the final issue of the blessing will be their own abode there “in glory.” See Hebrews 11:16 . The form of the adjective suggests not only a heavenly origin, or nature, but a heavenly locality.
in Christ ] as the Covenant-Head, Root and Source of Life, and Representative, of the saints. Cp. 2 Timothy 1:9 .
4. According as he hath chosen , &c.] Better, According as He chose , &c. The time-reference is the same as just above; to the Divine premundane deed of purpose. “ Chosen ”: out of mankind. See Romans 8:33 and its context for commentary on the idea of the word. The word “elect” (chosen) is generally used in N. T. in connexions where the highest level of Divine purposes, or spiritual privileges, is in view. In the O. T., Israel is “My people, My chosen” (Isaiah 43:20 ). In the N. T. the chosen are “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16 ; cp. Galatians 3:29 ; Romans 4:11 ). As with the Old so with the New Israel the choice is emphatically sovereign; “not according to our works” (2 Timothy 1:9 ). On the other hand, it takes effect through means; a truth perfectly harmonious with sovereign purpose, while often conveyed in the language of ordinary contingency. Cp. 2 Timothy 2:10 ; and, by way of illustration, Acts 27:22 with 31.
before the foundation of the world ] For the identical phrase, cp. John 17:24 ; 1 Peter 1:20 . “ From the foundation, &c.” occurs, among other places, Luke 11:50 ; Hebrews 4:3 , Hebrews 9:26 , where the apparent meaning is “since the beginning of human time.” But with the word “before”, as here, the context always suggests the highest reference; “before any created being began.” Cp. the parallel phrases “before the ages ( œons )” (1 Corinthians 2:7 ); “before eternal ( œonian ) times” (2 Timothy 1:9 ; Titus 1:2 ); and see Romans 16:25 . Every genuine scientific discovery of vast antiquity in material nature throws a true though faint light on the grandeur of such words of Revelation.
that we should be , &c.] This clause, taken in itself, is of ambiguous reference. It may bear either (1) on the intended personal spiritual state of the elect, whether in this life, or in the life eternal, or in both; or (2) on their intended standing , as they are viewed as “in Christ,” their Covenant Head. In the first case it would convey the undoubted truth that the intention of the electing Father is a real and universal personal holiness, perfect in this life in principle and motive (cp. e.g. Matthew 5:48 ; below, 4:24; Colossians 3:12 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ; 1 Peter 1:15 , 1 Peter 1:16 ; 1 John 3:3 , 1 John 3:6 , 1 John 3:9 ), and, in the life eternal, in attainment (cp. e.g. ch. 5:27; Romans 4:22 ; 1 John 3:2 ; Jude 1:24 ). Cp. 1 Thessalonians 4:7 (where the “ call ” closely corresponds to the “ choice ” here, as to the persons in view), and 2 Thessalonians 2:13 , a remarkable parallel. In the second case the clause would mean that the elect are to be viewed as holy and spotless because identified, for purposes of acceptance, with their absolutely holy Head and Representative, “in Whom” they stand. Cp. for illustration the whole range of passages where believers are said to have “died and risen with Christ,” in respect of atonement and justification, e.g. Romans 6:2 , &c.; Colossians 3:1 , Colossians 3:3 . (And see Article XI. of the Church of England.) On the whole the powerful argument of context decides the ambiguity for the second alternative. The thought throughout this passage is of the relation of the elect to Christ as their Head and Representative in the pre-mundane Covenant of the Father and the Son. We may explain accordingly, “that we should stand, in the judgment of eternal and absolute Holiness, accepted and satisfactory because united to Christ.” Such a truth is only one aspect, but an all-important one, of the great Truth of Salvation.
in love ] I.e., in the embrace of that Divine Love which gave, and sustains, our position (1 John 3:1 ). If we connect “in love” with the words previous (as A. V.), and explain those words as above, this must be the meaning. Many expositors, however, ancient and modern, and the important Peshito Syriac Version (cent. 2), connect “in love” with the words following; “in love having predestinated, &c.” So margin, R.V. But the cadence of the Greek is in favour of the ordinary connexion. In questions of punctuation in the Greek Testament it must be remembered that the oldest MSS. are scarcely punctuated at all, and the decision must rest accordingly with grammar, context, or the like.
5. Having predestinated us ] Again an aorist, not a perfect, in the Greek; referring to a definite past act. For the same word, in the Greek, cp. ver. 11; Acts 4:28 (E. V. “determined”); Romans 8:29 , Romans 8:30 ; 1 Corinthians 2:7 (E. V. “ordained”). It is lit. “to define, mark out, set apart, beforehand.” All idea of blind destiny must be excluded; the “pre-ordination” is the act of the Living and Holy God. But while we can thus repose upon its justice, it is none the less sovereign. And it is a cause, not an effect, of good desires and holiness in the saints.
the adoption of children ] For the (one) word rendered thus, cp. Romans 8:15 , Romans 8:23 , Romans 8:9 :4; Galatians 4:5 . The sacred truth of the filial relation of the saints to their Lord’s Father (see above on ver. 2) comes out further 3:15, 4:6, 5:1. This sonship has two aspects in the N. T.; the generative aspect, a change in the state of will, character, nature, a new birth; and, as here, the adoptive aspect, a divinely legal institution into filial position and privilege. In the eternal Idea this latter may be said to be first in order; and thus it stands here, in this account of the heavenly origin of our salvation.
by Jesus Christ ] Lit., through Jesus Christ ; Representative and Mediator. As in the Old Creation (see e.g. John 1:3 , “all things came into being through Him ” ; and cp. Hebrews 1:2 ) so in the New, the Father works through the Son, Whom He “gives,” “anoints,” “sanctifies,” “sends.”
to himself ] As the Father is the Origin of the process of Redemption, so He is continually presented as its End. See the Lord’s discourses in St John’s Gospel, passim , and e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:28 ; Philippians 2:11 . This fact makes it on the other hand the more deeply significant that the same language is used also with reference to the Son; e.g. below ch. 5:27. And cp. “ for Him,” Colossians 1:16 .
according to the good pleasure &c.] The ultimate account of all Divine procedure, from the creature’s point of view. Nothing in that Will is capricious; all is supremely wise and good. But it enfolds an “unseen universe” of reasons and causes wholly beyond our discovery; and here precisely is one main field for the legitimate exercise of faith; personal confidence as to the unknown reasons for the revealed action of a Known God. Cp. Matthew 11:26 ; 1 Corinthians 1:21 . The word rendered “good pleasure” means specially (in N. T.) deliberate beneficent resolve.
6. To the praise , &c.] I. e., that the grace of Redemption might be adored and praised in respect of that glory of God which is the harmony of His attributes, His Character. See Romans 3:23 and note in this Series. Possibly, but far less probably, the meaning is “that praise may be rendered for the (coming) glory given by His grace.”
wherein he hath made us , &c.] The tense is aorist; so that if the A.V. is otherwise retained it should be modified wherein He made , &c. But the rendering of the Greek verb is a question. It is a very rare verb, and occurs elsewhere (in N. T.) only Luke 1:28 (A. V. “highly favoured”). Analogy of verb-forms suggests the meaning “to make gracious ,” “to make ( us ) recipients of grace ,” and as the “grace” specially in view here is that of adoption and acceptance in Christ, the A. V. would thus be very nearly in point, though rather as a paraphrase than as a translation. R. V., “which He freely bestowed on us;” margin, “wherewith He endued us.”
in the beloved ] of the Father. This designation of the Son (cp. Isaiah 42:1 ; Matthew 3:17 , Matthew 3:17 :5; Mark 12:6 ; John 1:18 , John 1:17 :24; Colossians 1:3 , where lit. “the Son of His love;” &c.) is specially appropriate here, where the greatness and graciousness of salvation is in view. Cp. Romans 8:32 . “The Son, loveable in Himself, is essentially The Beloved; we, unloveable in ourselves, are accepted because of, and in, the Beloved; and if we are called beloved in our turn (ch. 5:1, &c.), it is because God sees us in His Son” (Adolphe Monod 1 1 Explication de l’ Épître aux Ephésiens (Paris, 1867); a book often referred to in these notes. ).
redemption ] Lit., “ the redemption .” The Greek article (often refusing transference into English idiom) is here probably to be represented by our redemption , as R. V. “ Redemption: ” this word and its Greek equivalent point by derivation to the idea of rescue by ransom , whatever the ransom may be. This meaning in usage often vanishes, or at least retires, as where in O. T. a deliverance by mere force is called a redemption (Exodus 6:6 , &c.). But it is always ready to assert itself as the native meaning, and certainly so here, close to the mention of the Redeemer’s blood . Cp. esp. Romans 8:24 , Romans 8:25 ; and for illustration see Matthew 20:28 ; Hebrews 9:15 ; 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 .
The order of thought at this point descends from the pre-mundane Covenant to the actual Work of Redemption; the accomplished deliverance of the saints through the Death of Christ.
through his blood ] I. e. through, by means of, His Death , viewed as the ransom-price. Cp. for the supremely important thought, Matthew 26:28 ; Acts 20:28 ; Romans 3:25 , Romans 3:5 :9; Hebrews 9:0 passim; 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 ; Revelation 5:9 , &c.
We are now (see last note) on the level of the actual state and needs of the persons contemplated in vv. 3, &c. They are found to need redemption , rescue by ransom, and the ransom must be death . In other words, their lives are forfeit , for they are sinners; and a sacrificial Death is needed, and is provided. On this great subject it is enough here to say that a careful review of N. T. passages under the word Blood will shew that the prevalent and leading ideas associated with it, in religious connexions, are expiation of guilt, ransom of person, and ratification of covenant. In all these can be traced the uniting idea of forfeiture of life as the due of sin. Cp. further the great range of passages, in both O. T. and N. T., where the Death of Christ (apart from the special phrase “His Blood ”), is seen in prophecy, history, or doctrine, as not one great Incident of His redeeming Work, but its absolute Essential.
the forgiveness of sins ] Lit., of the ( our ) trespasses . See last note but one. Observe this account of Redemption; it is Forgiveness, Remission. Not that it does not involve immensely more, both for soul (Titus 2:14 ) and body (Romans 8:3 ); but all else is so inseparably bound up with Forgiveness as its sine quâ non , (a fact which gives a colour of its own to all the rest,) that the whole is often practically identified with this great part . For illustration of this primary position of Forgiveness, cp. Matthew 26:28 ; Luke 1:77 , Luke 1:24 :47; Acts 2:38 , Acts 2:5 :31, Acts 2:10 :43, Acts 2:13 :38, Acts 2:26 :18; Colossians 1:14 . “ Sins: ” better, trespasses , as above. The original word, by derivation, means “a falling out” of the way, or the like; and is occasionally used for sin or fault in its lighter aspects. But this cannot be pressed; and very often, as here, the reference is to all kinds and degrees of sins, which are all “fallings out” of the straight line of the will of God. For this deep and universal reference of the word cp. Romans 4:25 ; 2 Corinthians 5:19 ; Colossians 2:13 . In Hebrews 6:6 the cognate verb is used to indicate very grievous sin, as apostasy. See further on 2:1 below.
the riches of his grace ] “Riches” is a frequent idea with St Paul, in reference to Divine grace and gifts. Cp. ver. 18, 2:4, 7, 3:8, 16; Romans 2:4 , Romans 2:9 :23, Romans 2:10 :12, Romans 2:11 :12, 33; 1 Corinthians 1:5 ; 2 Corinthians 8:9 , 2 Corinthians 8:9 :11; Philippians 4:19 ; Colossians 1:27 ; Colossians 2:2 .
Observe in this verse the contrasted but harmonious aspects of the gift of Redemption: it flows from a Divine wealth of love and goodness; it flows through, not any channel, but the Death of Christ.
8. Wherein he hath abounded ] Better, probably, Which He made to abound ; at the time of manifestation and impartation, the great crisis of the Gospel proclamation. This time-reference is fixed by the next verse. Ideally, and for the Church as a body, this time was one; actually, for individuals, it is the time in each case of personal illumination sealed by baptism.
in all wisdom and prudence ] In themselves, these words are of ambiguous reference. They may mean either that God largely exercised His wisdom and prudence, or that He largely gave wisdom and prudence to the saints. The context of ver. 9 favours the latter; He “made known the mystery,” in part by granting the spiritual power to read it. The word rendered “prudence” is the same as that rendered “the wisdom of the just,” Luke 1:17 ; a passage in point here. It does not occur again in N. T. On the thought and fact, cp. e.g. James 1:5 .
9. Having made known ] An aorist participle. The time-reference is to the actual revelation of the Gospel. Cp. e.g. Romans 3:21 , Romans 3:16 :25, Romans 3:26 ; 2 Timothy 1:10 . And see last note.
unto us ] the believing Church; as throughout this passage. No special reference to St Paul, or other Apostles, is intended. The “us” of ver. 9 must be identical with the “we” of vv. 11, 12.
the mystery ] I.e., as always in N. T., a truth undiscoverable except by revelation; never necessarily (as our popular use of the word may suggest) a thing unintelligible, or perplexing, in itself . In Scripture a “mystery” may be a fact which, when revealed, we cannot understand in detail, though we can know it and act upon it; such a fact as that of 1 Corinthians 15:51 , where we have it revealed that an inconceivable change will take place, at the last day, in the bodily condition of the then living saints; a change quite beyond the inferences of reason and also beyond the reach of imagination. Or it may be, as here, something much more within our understanding. But in both cases it is a thing only to be known when revealed. What this “mystery” is will be seen just below.
which he had purposed in himself ] Better, which He purposed in Him , i.e. in the Son. The “purpose” of the Father was “in the Son,” inasmuch as it was to take effect through the Son, incarnate, sacrificed, and glorified; and further, as it concerned a Church which was to be incorporated “into Christ.” The whole context illustrates this phrase. For the “purpose,” cp. ver. 11; Romans 8:28 , Romans 8:9 :11; 2 Timothy 1:9 .
10. in the dispensation , &c.] Lit., in view of the stewardship of the fulness of the seasons . The word rendered “dispensation” is lit. “stewardship, house-management.” Its special meaning here seems to be that the eternal Son is the True Steward in the great House of the Father’s spiritual Church; and that into His hands is to be put the actual government of it as it stands complete in the “fulness, or, fulfilment, of the seasons” (cp. for the phrase Galatians 4:4 ); i.e. in the great Age of the Gospel, in which the universality of the Church, long indicated and prepared for by successive “seasons,” or stages, of providence and revelation, is at length a patent fact. In other words, the Father “purposed” that His Son should be, in a supreme sense, the manifested Governor and Dispenser of the developed period of grace, of which “glory” is but the outburst and flower.
gather together in one all things in Christ ] This clause explains the clause previous; the “stewardship” was to be, in fact, the actual and manifested Headship of Christ. The Gr. may be literally represented by “that He might head up all things in Christ.” The verb is only used elsewhere (in N. T.) Romans 13:9 , where A. V. reads “it is briefly comprehended,” summed up. The element “head” in the compound verb need not appear in translation; as it does not in either A. V. or R. V. (which reads “sum up”). But the Lord is so markedly seen in this Epistle (1:22, 4:15, 5:23; and see 1 Corinthians 11:3 ; Colossians 1:18 , Colossians 1:2 :10, Colossians 1:19 ) as the Head of the Church that a special reference to the thought and word seems to us almost certain here. We render, accordingly, to sum up all things in Christ as Head . “ In Christ ” will here import a vital and organic connexion; as so often.
both which are in heaven , &c.] Here, and in the close parallel, Colossians 1:20 , the context favours the reference of “all things ” to the subjects of spiritual redemption who are in view through the whole passage; not explicitly to the Universe , in the largest sense of that word. More precisely, regenerate men are specially intended by “the things on earth,” as distinguished from “the things in heaven,” the angelic race, which also is “made subject” to the glorified Christ (1 Peter 3:22 , and see Colossians 2:10 ). The meaning here will thus be that under the supreme Headship of the Son were to be gathered, with the “elect angels” (1 Timothy 5:21 ), all “the children of God scattered abroad” (John 11:52 ); the true members of the universal Church. So, nearly, St Chrysostom interprets the passage; making the meaning to be that “both to angels and to men the Father has appointed one Head, according to the flesh, that is Christ.” (He has previously explained the verb (see last note) to mean “sum up,” “gather together;” but here recognizes an additional reference to the Headship of Christ.) See further Appendix A.
11. In whom also we ] “We” is not emphatic. The emphasis (“also” or “even”) is on the actual attainment, not on the persons attaining. Not only was the “mystery made known to us,” but we came in fact to share its blessing.
have obtained an inheritance ] Better, were taken into the inheritance , made part of “the Lord’s portion, which is His people” (Deuteronomy 32:9 ). The Gr. verb occurs here only in N. T. and not at all in LXX. In later Church language the verb was used of ordination, reception among the clergy ( clêros, lot ; men selected by lot).
predestinated ] to this admission among the Lord’s own. On the word, see note above on ver. 5.
according to the purpose of him who worketh , &c.] The stress is not only upon the sovereignty but upon the effectuality of the Divine purpose. He Who supremely wills, going in His will upon reasons which are indeed of His own , also in fact carries out that will; so that with Him to preordain is infallibly to accomplish. The Gr. verb rendered “worketh” is a compound; lit. “ in-worketh .” The usage of the verb warns us not to press this, but on the other hand the “ in ” comes out more often than not in the usage. This suggests the explanation, “worketh in us; ” a special reference of Divine power to the process of grace in the soul and the Church. Cp. Philippians 2:13 .
12. That we should be , &c.] On the time when of this, see next note but one, at the end.
his glory ] His revealed Character, of which the Gospel of the Son is the grand illustration; being thus “the Gospel of the glory of the blissful God” (1 Timothy 1:11 ; and cp. 2 Corinthians 4:4 , “the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”).
who first trusted in Christ ] Lit. who have (or, had ) hoped beforehand in Christ . “ Trust ” here nearly represents “hope” (as perhaps quite, John 5:45 ; Romans 15:12 ); but, unless context forbids, the reference of hope to the future should always be recognized. And this is emphasized here by the “beforehand,” which in the Gr. is a part of the verb-form. What then is the precise expectation about Christ in view here? It may be either (1) that of Jewish believers, as e.g. the O. T. saints, and Symeon, &c., up to the First Advent; or (2) that of all believers up to the Second Advent; a view of Christ specially as the Coming One, in either case. Both interpretations find some support in the context. If (1) is adopted, the reference will be to Jewish believers as against Gentile, and their priority both in time and, in a certain sense, in claim, as holders of the great Messianic Hope; as if to say, “that we, who as Israelites had inherited and cherished that hope before it was fulfilled, and before it was imparted to you, should be, &c.” If (2) is adopted, the reference will be to the expectant attitude of all Christians till the Lord’s Return (cp. e.g. Romans 8:24 , Romans 8:25 , and note); at which Return they, in a final sense, will “be to the praise of His glory” (cp. 2 Thessalonians 1:10 ). To this reference we incline. The grandeur and universality of the scope of the whole passage favours it rather than the other; though it must not be forgotten on the other hand that this Epistle is often specially occupied with contrasts between Jew and Gentile. Thus paraphrase; “That we should contribute to the glory of God, at the appearing of Christ; welcomed then as the once patient and expectant believers in His promise while still it tarried.”
13. In whom ye also trusted] Here then (see last note) the thought moves from the general case of Christians to the particular case of the Ephesian Christians; “ we ” includes “ you .” The verb “trusted” is supplied by A. V. In R. V. we have: “In Whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation in Whom, having also believed, ye were sealed .” Here the second “in Whom” is treated as the resumption and repetition of the first, and the verb “ye were sealed” is connected with both. But a simpler explanation than either is possible; “ In Whom [ are ] ye also, having heard , &c.” And this adapts itself well to the repeated “in Whom”; as if to say, “In Whom you enjoy acceptance, attained by your reception of the message of salvation; in Whom further you experienced the special ‘seal’ of the Spirit” as an additional aspect of the privilege of union with Christ. But the grammatical difficulty does not affect the main import of the verse.
after that ye heard ] Better, on hearing ; without the strong suggestion of sequence of time given by A. V. On the all-importance of “hearing,” in order to salvation, cp. Romans 10:14 . The hearing may of course be literally with the ear, or not; but it must be the reception ab extra of a message, no mere result of thought or aspiration.
of truth ] Better, perhaps, of the truth ; the Eternal Verity of Christ. So often in N. T. “truth” is truth not in general but in special; spiritual truth, Christian truth (cp. John 16:13 , where lit. “He shall guide you into all the truth ”); a thing in harmony, of course, with all truth, scientific or other, but capable of being quite separately studied.
salvation ] The one place in the Epistle where the Gr. noun occurs; another noun being used 6:17; which see. On the threefold aspect of “salvation” in Scripture see on 2:5.
In whom also , &c.] Better, In Whom moreover, on believing, ye were sealed, &c. The Gr. does not forbid the rendering, “ on believing in Whom; ” but this demands an unusual construction. The Christian is here viewed as “ sealed in Christ; ” that is, as receiving a Divine attestation of his union with his Lord.
“ On believing ” : better than “ after believing,” because the Gr. does not emphasize sequence. It rather combines into one idea the facts of the faith and the seal . In experience, the latter might markedly follow the former; but not necessarily in the Divine ideal.
sealed ] So again 4:30; and cp. 2 Corinthians 1:22 . The idea of the phrase is a double one; attestation of reality (cp. John 3:33 ; Romans 4:11 ; 1 Corinthians 9:2 ), and claim of property (cp. Romans 15:28 ). “The Spirit” was at once the proof of the presence of Divine faith in the recipient, and the mark of Divine ownership over him. The latter view is the leading one in 4:30. In the Fathers, the word “seal” is a frequent equivalent for Baptism; one explanation (given by Gregory of Nazianzus, cent. 4) being that Baptism was the “badge of lordship;” the mark of the Lord’s ownership. In the N. T. however the reference is plainly to something usually subsequent to Baptism, and we turn for illustration to the Acts. There we find many cases in which baptized converts receive supernatural powers, visible (Acts 8:18 ) in their effects; which gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:14 are treated as things preeminently (in a certain sense) spiritual , the work of the Spirit . We find as a fact that these powers were conferred not in the ordinary ministry of the Church but in special connexion with the Apostles; at least, no clear case is to the contrary. So it is in Samaria (Acts 8:14-44.8.18 ); at Cæsarea (10:44 46); at Ephesus (19:5, 6). We do not find e.g. Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8:0 ) conveying these gifts. Ananias (9:17) apparently does so to Saul at Damascus; but the circumstances in that case are unique. As a fact, the possession of Spiritual Gifts, in this sense, became early rare; a phenomenon falling in with this limitation of conveyance. And in one remarkable passage (1 Corinthians 13:8 ) we have inspired intimation that they were meant to cease. On these manifestations it will be here enough to remark that it is impossible in all details to lay down a precise theory, for instance as to the demarcation of the “gifts” from the “ordinary” graces of faith, hope and love, things equally due, in their regenerate exercise, to Divine agency; while on the other hand we soon, in observation, practically reach a point where the “gifts” and the “graces” (to use convenient though inexact terms) diverge. The connexion is always close, for both are effects of the same Power; the difference is real, for the “gifts” are limited by many circumstances, and are rather means to ends than ends, while the “graces” are universal and essential in the regenerate character, and in fact constitute that character, and are thus true ends. Cp. especially 1 Corinthians 12:31 , 1 Corinthians 12:13 :1, 1 Corinthians 12:2 , 1 Corinthians 12:14 :22.
that holy Spirit of promise ] Lit. the Spirit of the promise, the Holy One ; the Personal Paraclete, the great burthen of the promises of the Son (Luke 11:13 ; John 7:39 , John 7:14 :16, John 7:26 , John 7:15 :26, &c.), and of the Father (Luke 24:49 ; Acts 1:4 , Acts 1:5 ).
14. the earnest ] The Gr. word is arrhǎbôn . It appears in the LXX. (only in Genesis 38:17 , Genesis 38:18 , Genesis 38:20 ); in the later Greek classics (e.g. Aristotle); and in the Latin classics. It is Shemitic (Heb. ’êrâbhôn , Genesis 38:0 ) by derivation. See further, Additional Note, p. 164. It probably reached the Greeks and Latins through the (Shemitic) Phenician traders. By derivation it has to do with exchange , and so first means a pledge (the word used here by the ancient Latin versions) to be exchanged between two parties to an agreement first given, then on fulfilment returned. But usage brought it to the kindred meaning of an earnest; a part of a price, given as a tangible promise of the payment of the whole in time. Thus it is defined by the Greek lexicographers. It was used for the bridegroom’s betrothal-gifts to the bride; a case exactly in point here. In ecclesiastical Latin, prose and verse, it appears usually in the shortened form arra . It survives in the French arrhes , the money paid to strike a bargain. Arrhâbôn occurs elsewhere in N. T. 2 Corinthians 1:22 , 2 Corinthians 5:5 . There, as here, it denotes the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the saints, as the part-payment of their coming “weight of glory,” the inmost essence of which is the complete attainment (1 John 3:2 ) of that likeness to their Lord which the Spirit begins and developes here (2 Corinthians 3:18 ). A kindred expression is “ the firstfruits of the Spirit,” Romans 8:23 , where see note in this Series.
our inheritance ] The “enjoyment fully for ever” of God in Christ; the final Canaan of the true Israel, His “heirs” because His children (Romans 8:17 ).
until ] Better, perhaps (as the more usual meaning of the Gr.), unto ; with a view to; as the spiritual means to the glorious end.
redemption ] See note on ver. 7, and on Romans 8:23 . The saints already “have redemption,” in the radical sense of Acceptance, rescue from condemnation into sonship. But they still look forward to redemption, in the developed sense of actual emancipation from the last effects of sin, which is to come when the body is glorified along with the spirit.
the purchased possession ] The R. V. renders “ God’s own possession.” “Purchased” is an idea not necessary to the Gr. noun (though such passages as Acts 20:28 readily suggest it as a kindred idea here), which denotes simply “acquisition,” however made. The explanatory word “God” is doubtless a true interpretation. The noun is the same as that in 1 Peter 2:9 , where “peculiar” means (literally from the Gr.) “intended for (His) personal property ”. Thus the thought here is not of “glory” as the “property” of the saints, but of the saints, the Church, the New Israel (cp. Exodus 19:5 ; Psalms 135:4 ), as the property of God, to be hereafter actually “bought back” from the grave for His eternal use and pleasure.
unto the praise of His glory ] Cp. note on ver. 12. Here perhaps the word “glory” has a special reference to the manifestation of the Divine Character, as the Object of praise, in the glorified world.
15 23. Prayer, that the Saints may fully realize their Divine privileges and prospects in Christ
15. Wherefore , &c.]. The Apostle now passes from the adoring view of Divine Redemption to prayer that its treasures of grace may be realized in the whole experience and life of the saints. And this he does, as elsewhere (Colossians 1:0 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:0 ) in close connexion with thanksgiving for what they had already found 1 1 In Dean Howson’s admirable Lectures on the Character of St Paul (Lect. IV.) it is pointed out that St Paul always, in opening an Epistle, joins prayer to thanksgiving, except in Epistles (1 Cor.; Gal.) marked by a certain severity. . “ Wherefore ” : because such is the greatness of Redemption, in fact and prospect.
I also ] as well as others who have you in their hearts; a touch of gracious modesty.
heard ] in his Roman lodging, doubtless through Epaphras (Colossians 1:7 ) among others.
your faith ] More lit., the faith among you , la foi chez vous .
in the Lord Jesus ] Reposed on and in Him, as an anchor in the ground. It is questioned whether “faith,” “believe,” &c. with the preposition “in,” do not rather mean “faith, &c., maintained in and by connexion with Christ.” But there are passages which fully prove the possibility of the simple meaning given above (e.g. Mark 1:15 , where lit., “believe in the Gospel ;” and cp. in LXX. Psalms 77:0 (78) 26; Jeremiah 12:6 ); and in most passages where the construction occurs a remote and elaborate meaning would in the nature of the case be unlikely.
and love unto all the saints ] Cp. Colossians 1:4 for an exact parallel. Here, however, the reading is disputed. Some very important MSS. omit “love,” and R. V. reads accordingly “ the faith … which ye shew toward all the saints .” But the external evidence for the received reading is very strong. All the ancient Versions give it, as well as some of the oldest MSS., and the vast majority of others. And it is internally very much more likely than a phrase which is without any real parallel , and which couples together, under closely kindred terms, “faith in” Christ and “faith towards” Christians. And the parallel in Colossians 1:4 is strongly in favour of the received reading; for though it is likely enough that St Paul may have omitted in one Epistle a whole phrase which he used in the other (as in ver. 7 above, where the Colossian parallel omits “through His blood”), it is far from likely that he should have varied the easy and obvious phrase in the one for a curiously difficult one in the other. The true probability is that we have here an early mistake of transcription, due to certain phenomena in the Gr. words.
The Apostle has heard with joy of their personal trust in the Divine Redeemer, and their consequent love to all who are His; “faith working by love,” coming out, developing itself, in a life of holy love.
It is obvious that this “love to the saints” does not negative “love towards all men.” But it is love of another order, love of endearment, not only of good will; a necessary sequel of the family connexion of the saints; “ brotherly love.” The N. T. is full of this supernatural family affection. See 2 Peter 1:7 for “love” (to all men) “ added to ,” or rather “ supplied in , love to the brethren.”
16. cease not , &c.] For similar thanksgivings cp. Romans 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 1:4 ; Philippians 1:3 ; Colossians 1:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:2 , 1 Thessalonians 1:2 :13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3 , 2 Thessalonians 1:2 :13; Philemon 1:4 . The thanks were literally “unceasing” in principle, and, in practice, came out on every fit occasion.
making mention of you ] For parallels, see the contexts of the passages just quoted, and 2 Timothy 1:3 . The phrase implies the expression of individual remembrance. It might be literally “by name,” or not. How much of the Apostle’s work for his converts consisted in the holy labour of special intercessory prayer, with thanksgiving! In his Roman lodging this was the case, perhaps, even more than ever.
The recorded prayers of St Paul form in themselves one of the richest of Scripture studies. Most observable in them is their almost invariable intercessory direction. He thinks of others, not of self, upon his knees. On that which now follows Bengel remarks, “ Argumentum precum pro veris Christianis ,” “heads of prayer for true Christians.”
17. the God of our Lord Jesus Christ ] Cp. the Saviour’s own words on the Cross, “Eli, Eli” (Matthew 27:46 ); and after Resurrection (John 20:17 ), “I ascend unto … my God.” See also John 4:22 . The Father is the God of the Son Incarnate, in a sense which, however partially, we may be said to understand. Hence in the two passages just quoted, where the Death and the Resurrection of the Incarnate One Who could not “taste death” except as Incarnate (Hebrews 2:9 ), are respectively in view, the thought is specially in point; and so also in a passage like this, where the Saviour’s exaltation after death is before us. There may also lie in the phrase here the thought that He is “the God of our Lord” in the sense of being the God revealed and known through our Lord.
the Father of glory ] Not merely “the glorious Father,” but the Father who is the Origin and King of all that is meant by eternal “glory.” Cp. the words “the Lord of glory” (James 2:1 ), used of the Son. Alford suggests that the “glory” here involves the thought of Christ as the true Shechinah, in whom the true glory of Godhead shines forth; who is thus the true “Glory of God.” But the suggestion, beautiful and true in itself, appears far-fetched here. Cp. the phrase “Father of mercies,” 2 Corinthians 1:3 , to illustrate the interpretation above.
may give ] Lit., might give . The writer records his object as it was when he last prayed.
the spirit ] R. V., “ a spirit .” The Gr. has no article, but this does not settle the question, for (not to speak of other grammatical reasons) the article is often omitted with well-known words, such as God, and Christ. And in passages where certainly “ the Holy Spirit” is meant, we have the same omission; see esp. the LXX. of Isaiah 11:2 , where lit., “ A spirit of God shall rest upon Him, a spirit of wisdom and intelligence, &c.;” a close verbal parallel to this passage. The Scripture use of the word “spirit” seems to us to favour the reference here to the Holy Spirit. The word is rarely if ever in Scripture used in the loose modern sense of “sentiment,” “tendency,” or the like, but far rather of personal spirits the spirit of man, in or out of the body; spirits, good or evil, not human; and The Spirit of God. And the idea of Gift is deeply connected with this last, very usually betokening the impartation to man, in whatever mode, of the Holy Spirit in His presence and power, whether for lower effects and purposes (as e.g. Exodus 28:3 ), or for the highest. Romans 11:8 is an exception; “God hath given them the (or a) spirit of slumber.” But even there the reference is probably to a personal spiritual agent.
It may be asked, was not the Holy Spirit already “given” to these saints? Yes, undoubtedly. But where spirit is concerned we must be cautious how we insist too much on logical inferences from forms of expression. We are not to think of the “coming” of the Spirit as a literal passage through space to a locality, but a manifestation of His power in human subjects in a new way. Similarly we are not to think of the “giving” of the Spirit as of an isolated deposit of what, once given, is now locally in possession. The first “gift” is, as it were, the first point in a series of actions of which each one may be expressed also as a gift. Not infrequently in Scripture spiritual processes are viewed as beginning at what is more precisely a point of new development.
Practically, the bearing of this passage is not greatly affected by the question of “ a ” or “ the ”. The work would in any case be immediately done by the Holy Spirit, and would take the form of a developed experience in the spirit of the Christian.
in the knowledge of him ] Precisely, in full , or thorough, knowledge ; epignôsis , more than gnôsis . The same word is used, e.g. Romans 3:20 , Romans 3:10 :2; Colossians 2:2 ; and the cognate verb, e. g. 1 Corinthians 13:12 . The tendency of the word in N. T. usage is to denote knowledge which is not merely intellectual, but of the nature of spiritual experience. “ Of Him ” : of the Father, to Whom similar pronouns throughout the passage plainly refer. To know Him (in and with the Son) is the inmost secret of “life eternal”(John 17:3 ; cp. Matthew 11:27 ). “Philosophy, taking, as it must, man for its centre, says to him, Know thyself . But the inspired Word, which alone can originate with God, is alone able to say to man, Know God ” (Monod, after Pascal).
This Divine knowledge is the region, so to speak, “ in ” which the “wisdom and unveiling” just spoken of are to grow and work.
18. The eyes , &c.] The Gr. grammar here is free, and difficult to analyse. We may explain it either, “[that He may grant you to be] enlightened in your eyes,” or, “[grant] your eyes enlightenment.” But the meaning is unmistakable, and well conveyed in A. V. For the metaphor, cp. Psalms 119:18 ; Matthew 13:15 ; John 12:40 ; Acts 26:18 ; Revelation 3:18 ; and see esp. 2 Corinthians 3:12-47.4.6 . The thought of ver. 17 is now illustrated and developed in detail.
understanding ] Read, heart . The MS. and other documentary evidence is conclusive. The word is highly significant, when we remember that “heart” in Scripture includes affections without excluding intelligence. (See further on 3:17.) The illumination is to be of that deep and subtle kind which, in the light of supreme truth , will shew the affections and will their supreme objects and attractions.
that ye may know ] as the immediate effect of the illumination. Observe, they “knew” these things already. The experience in view is novel not in kind but in degree.
what ] in its true essence, its “quiddity.”
the hope of his calling ] The eternal Prospect opened by, and connected with, the Effectual Call of Divine grace; “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13 ), resurrection-glory with the Lord. See, among the wealth of references, Psalms 16:9 ; Acts 23:6 , Acts 23:24 :15; Romans 8:24 ; Colossians 1:5 , Colossians 1:27 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:8 ; 1 Peter 1:3 , 1 Peter 1:4 ; 1 John 3:2 , 1 John 3:3 .
“ His calling ” : the Voice of Divine Grace, prevailing upon the will. This is the ruling meaning of “call,” “calling,” &c. in the Epistles; while in the Gospels it means no more necessarily than the audible invitations of the Gospel; see e.g. Matthew 22:14 . Abp Leighton, on 1 Peter 2:9 , writes of the inner call: “It is an operative word, that effects what it bids. God calls man; He works with him indeed as a reasonable creature; but sure He likewise works as Himself, as an almighty Creator. His call … doth, in a way known to Himself, twine and wind the heart which way He pleaseth.” See esp. 1 Corinthians 1:24 ; and Romans 8:28 , Romans 11:29 .
riches ] See note on ver. 7. There the “wealth” was “of grace,” here it is “of glory.” The two are of one piece, developments of one process. In this whole passage the main reference is to the eternal prospect, the life of the glorified. Cp. Romans 2:7 , Romans 2:10 , Romans 2:5 :2, 8:Romans 2:17-45.2.23 , Romans 2:9 :23; 1 Corinthians 15:43 ; 2 Corinthians 4:17 ; Philippians 3:21 , &c. See below on 3:16 for another reference of this same phrase.
his inheritance ] The same word as in ver. 14, where it is “ our inheritance”. It is the same thing from another aspect. There, the saints’ “inheritance” of heavenly glory is before us; here, the state of the glorified as the “inheritance” of the King of glory. The O. T. often describes Israel as Jehovah’s “inheritance;” “the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance,” Psalms 33:12 . In such a phrase the special thought of “ heir -ship” is not to be pressed; nor do the original words, Gr. or Heb., insist upon it. That thought is always ready , wherever context favours (as e. g. Romans 8:17 ); but the word may import no more than actual possession, however acquired. The Heb. word constantly means “possession,” merely, and is so rendered in A. V.
in the saints ] “Amongst them;” manifested in their heavenly life. The Gr. leaves us free to connect these words with either “riches of glory,” or “inheritance”; and we advocate the latter, as the far more natural construction. A fair paraphrase will be, “What is the wealth of the glory of the New Israel in the eternal Canaan, as it will be manifested in the saints”.
“ The saints :” see note on ver. 1. The ref. here is to the “all saints” of the heavenly state. Not that the word “saint” is limited to them; on the contrary, the N. T. habitually uses it of Christians in this life. It is context here (as in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ) which lifts it to the sphere of glory.
19. And what is the exceeding greatness , &c.] The Gr. word rendered “exceeding” is, with its cognates, found, in the N. T., in St Paul’s writings only; a characteristic of the ardour of his style. The passages are Romans 7:13 ; 1 Corinthians 12:31 ; 2 Corinthians 1:8 , 2 Corinthians 1:3 :10, 2 Corinthians 1:4 :7, 2 Corinthians 1:17 , 2 Corinthians 1:9 :14, 2 Corinthians 1:11 :23, 2 Corinthians 1:12 :7; Galatians 1:13 ; Ephesians 2:7 , Ephesians 3:19 , and here.
his power ] exercised in the whole work of grace and glory, from regeneration onward to resurrection. Cp. for various aspects of its exercise, Romans 1:16 ; 1 Corinthians 6:14 , 1 Corinthians 6:15 :43; 2 Corinthians 4:7 , 2 Corinthians 4:12 :9, 2 Corinthians 4:13 :4; Ephesians 3:16 , Ephesians 3:20 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:11 ; 2 Timothy 1:8 ; 1 Peter 1:5 . We take its main reference here to be to the coming resurrection, believing the whole context to refer mainly to the future, and finding a special and suggestive mention of the Lord’s Resurrection just below. But the deep and strong continuity of process in the Divine work makes it impossible to restrict the reference so. The same “power that worketh in us” (3:20, see note) is that whereby we shall be glorified. See the significant words of Romans 8:11 .
to us-ward who believe ] whose “faith stands in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5 ), which gave it; and who, as believers, are now in a state of receptivity towards that power (Mark 9:23 ); and who, by faith, touch the “things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1 ) of the blessed prospect.
according to the working of his mighty power ] Lit., according to the working of the strength of His might ; a magnificent accumulation. Here is the scale by which to measure the possibilities of the Divine power; it is the surpassing victory of its exercise in the Lord’s Resurrection. See next note; and see further, on 6:10.
20. which he wrought ] The verb is aorist. Another reading, but without equal support, gives the perfect: “He hath wrought.” The time-reference is to the actual past crisis of the Lord’s exaltation.
in Christ ] In the supreme instance of Christ. Cp. “ in me ” 1 Timothy 1:16 . Olshausen (quoted by Bp Ellicott) remarks that this passage, with Philippians 2:6-50.2.11 and Colossians 1:14-51.1.19 , gives us “the entire Christology of St Paul.” In them we find His essential and glorious Deity; His eternal Sonship; His immediate action in Creation; His Headship over the created Universe; His Divine free-will in Incarnation and Humiliation; His atoning Death, “making peace by the blood of His Cross;” His Resurrection, and Exaltation as the Incarnate, by the Father’s power; His Headship over the Church, and animation of it with His Spirit. See further, Appendix J.
when he raised him ] I.e., in the act of raising Him. This was the act of almighty power, embodying the wonders at once of a triumph over the physical mystery of death, of the manifestation of an “eternal redemption” from condemnation and sin, and of the ministration of the Life of the Risen One to His people.
From another point of view the Resurrection was the act of the Son’s own will; “I have power to take it again,” John 10:18 . But where it is viewed as the Father’s acceptance of the work of the Son, or as the Father’s testimony to Him, it is always attributed to the Father as His act. Cp. Acts 2:24 , Acts 2:3 :15, Acts 2:5 :30, Acts 2:10 :40, 13:Acts 2:30-44.2.37 , Acts 2:17 :31; Romans 1:4 , Romans 1:4 :24, &c.; 1 Corinthians 6:14 ; Galatians 1:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ; Hebrews 13:20 ; 1 Peter 1:3 .
and set him at his own right hand ] The Ascension is directly recorded only thrice (Mark 16:0 ; Luke 24:0 ; Acts 1:0 ), but it is constantly taken for granted and dealt with, in the Acts and Epistles, as a fact as objective and literal as the Resurrection. Cp. Acts 2:33 , Acts 2:3 :19, Acts 2:20 , Acts 2:5 :31, Acts 2:7 :55; Romans 8:34 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25 ; Philippians 2:9 , Philippians 2:3 :20; Colossians 3:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 , 1 Thessalonians 1:4 :16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7 ; Hebrews 1:3 and passim; 1 Peter 3:22 ; Revelation 3:21 , Revelation 3:5 :6, &c.
“ His own right hand: ” the glorious metaphor betokens a share in the throne (Revelation 3:21 ), not merely session near it. From eternity the Divine Son had been “ with God” (John 1:1 ); “ beside the Father” (John 17:5 ; A.V. “ with thee”); now also as the Incarnate after Death and Resurrection He appears in the same exaltation; “the Son of Man at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55 ). In this Capacity, as well as in that of Filial Godhead, He now “reigns;” wields “all power in heaven and earth.” And this Session, like Resurrection, is the act of the Father’s accepting and glorifying will. Observe that in Scripture imagery the ascended Lord is always on the throne; “a Priest upon his throne” (Zechariah 6:13 ); not pleading before, but exalted upon, “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16 ). Cp. Psalms 110:1 , Psalms 110:4 .
in the heavenly places] See note above on ver. 3. A Region is spoken of, in which the glorified Lord locally is. Local conceptions, indeed, soon fail us in thoughts of the eternal world. But the fact of the Lord’s veritable ascended Body binds us to them, in a real degree; for where body is in question there also is locality.
far above ] The same word as in 4:10, and in Hebrews 9:5 (A. V., “over”). The Gr. does not necessarily denote distance; see Hebrews 9:5 . But the compound form admits the idea, and in St Paul’s style, especially in a passage like this, we are right to see it. The Saviour’s eminence is measured by the height of the Creator’s throne above Creation.
all principality , &c.] More strictly, all government, and authority, and power, and lordship . For similar phrases cp. Romans 8:38 ; Colossians 1:16 (a close parallel), 2:15; below, 3:10, 6:12; 1 Peter 3:22 (a close parallel). Two thoughts are conveyed; first, subordinately, the existence of orders and authorities 1 1 “The mighty kingdoms angelical,” as S. T. Coleridge ( Omniana ) has it in a sentence of extraordinary depth and beauty. in the angelic (as well as human) world; then, primarily, the imperial and absolute Headship of the Son over them all. The additional thought is given us by Colossians 1:16 that He was also, in His preexistent glory, their Creator; but this is not in definite view here, where He appears altogether as the exalted Son of Man after Death. In Romans 8:0 , Colossians 2:0 , and Ephesians 6:0 , (quoted above,) we have cognate phrases where evil powers are meant; (and see note below on 6:12, on the remarkable wording, “in the heavenly places”). But the context here is distinctly favourable to a good reference. That the Redeemer should be “exalted above” powers of evil is a thought scarcely adequate in a connexion so full of the imagery of glory as this. That He should be “exalted above” the holy Angels is fully in point. 1 Peter 3:22 is our best parallel; and cp. Revelation 5:11 , Revelation 5:12 . See also Matthew 13:41 : “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels.”
We gather from the Ep. to the Colossians that the Churches of Asia Proper were at this time in danger from a quasi-Jewish doctrine of Angel-worship, akin to the heresies afterwards known as Gnosticism. Such a fact gives special point to the phrases here. On the other hand it does not warrant the inference that St Paul repudiates all the ideas of such an Angelology. The idea of order and authority in the angelic world he surely endorses, though quite in passing.
Theories of Angelic Orders, more or less elaborate, are found in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs , cent. 1 2; Origen, cent. 3; St Ephrem Syrus, cent. 4. By far the most famous ancient treatise on the subject is the book On the Celestial Hierarchy , under the name (certainly assumed) of Dionysius the Areopagite; a book first mentioned cent. 6, from which time onwards it had a commanding influence in Christendom. (See article Dionysius in Smith’s Dict. Christ. Biography .) “Dionysius” ranked the Orders (in descending scale) in three Trines; Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominations, Virtues, Powers (Authorities); Principalities, Archangels, Angels. The titles are thus a combination of the terms Seraphim, Cherubim, Archangels, Angels, with those used by St Paul here and in Colossians 1:0 .
Readers of Paradise Lost , familiar with the majestic line,
“Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Pow’rs,”
are not always aware of its learned accuracy of allusion. The Dionysian system powerfully attracted the sublime mind of Dante. In the Paradiso , Canto xxxviii., is a grand and characteristic passage, in which Beatrice expounds the theory to Dante, as he stands, in the ninth heaven, in actual view of the Hierarchies encircling the Divine Essence:
“All, as they circle in their orders, look
Aloft; and, downward, with such sway prevail
That all with mutual impulse tend to God.
These once a mortal view beheld. Desire
In Dionysius so intensely wrought
That he, as I have done, ranged them, and named
Their orders, marshal’d in his thought.”
and every name that is named ] Cp. Philippians 2:9 , “the Name that is above every name.” To the words suggestive of celestial ranks in detail, St Paul adds this more absolutely inclusive phrase, like the “any other creature” of Romans 8:39 . “Name,” in such a phrase, is, practically, state and place of dignity. Whatever such there are, and however justly recognized (“named”), the exalted Christ sits infinitely above them.
not only in this world, but &c.] Lit. this age , aiôn . The word is used in the following passages more or less kindred, Matthew 12:32 ; Luke 16:8 ; 1 Corinthians 1:20 , 1 Corinthians 1:2 :6, 1 Corinthians 1:8 , 1 Corinthians 1:3 :18; 2 Corinthians 4:4 ; Galatians 1:4 ; 1 Timothy 6:17 ; 2 Timothy 4:10 ; Titus 2:12 . See also on 2:2 below. The root-idea of the word is duration, a period; then, by transition, the contents or condition of the period, an order of things. Here “this age” is the period of mortality, probation, preparation for “the age to come,” the spiritual and eternal régime , the final development of “the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50 ). All superhuman authorities recognized now, all that may be set up and recognized then, alike are absolutely inferior to Christ. We have here a suggestion of the truth (to which 1 Corinthians 15:28 is no real contradiction) that “of His Kingdom there shall be no end .” The eternal throne will be that “of God and of the Lamb ” (Revelation 22:1 , Revelation 22:3 ).
22. and hath put ] Lit. and did put ; at the great act of Enthronement after Resurrection. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:27 &c., where we have explicit reference to Psalms 110:1 , and in a way which suggests here the interpretation that the subjection of all things was then accomplished in the earnest , but is not to be accomplished in final act till the “destruction of death.” The phrase here carries the thought of Christ’s Lordship on from His relations to angels as their King to His attitude towards all opposition as its Conqueror.
and gave him ] “Him” is emphatic by position; He and no other is the Head.
head ] A word combining the idea of exaltation with that of the vital union necessary to an organism. The ascended Lord presides over His Church, but more He is to it the constant Cause and mighty Source of spiritual vitality. “Because He lives, it lives also.” Its organization grows from Him, and refers to Him. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:3 ; Colossians 1:18 , Colossians 1:2 :10, Colossians 1:19 ; and below, 4:15, 5:23. The idea, it will be seen, appears in this precise form (the Headship of the Body ) only in Eph. and Col.; unless 1 Corinthians 12:21 is to be added.
over all things] I.e., immeasurably beyond anything else that can seem to claim headship; any fancied Power of quasi-philosophic systems.
the church ] This great word appears here in its highest reference, the Company of human beings “called out” (as the word Ecclêsia implies) from the fallen world into vital union with the glorified Christ. The word occurs nine times in this Epistle (here, 3:10, 21 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32) and always in the same high connexion. Cp. for parallels Colossians 1:18 , Colossians 1:24 ; Hebrews 12:23 ; and, in a measure, Acts 20:28 ; 1 Corinthians 15:9 . As it stands here, the word rises above the level of visibility and external organization, and has to do supremely with direct spiritual relations between the Lord and the believing Company. In is, in fact, (see ch. 5), “the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife,” of the Revelation, only not as yet manifested in bridal splendour. It is “the called, justified, and glorified,” of Romans 8:0 ; “the Church of the Firstborn,” of Hebrews 12:0 ; “the royal priesthood, the people of possession,” of 1 Peter. All other meanings of the word Church are derived and modified from this, but this must not be modified by them. “The Church of Christ, which we properly term His body mystical, can be but one … a body mystical, because the mystery of their conjunction is removed altogether from sense. Whatsoever we read in Scripture concerning the endless love and saving mercy which God sheweth to His Church, the only proper subject thereof is this Church. Concerning this flock it is that our Lord and Saviour hath promised, ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’ They who are of this Society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not objects unto our sense; only unto God who seeth their hearts … they are clear and manifest” (Hooker, Eccles. Polity , III. 1.) See further Appendix B.
which is his body ] A metaphor which suggests not only vital union with the Head, but that the will of the Head is exercised through the members. They are His instruments . A kindred but not identical use of the metaphor appears Romans 12:5 ; “members one of another; ” and 1 Corinthians 10:17 . For closer parallels cp. Colossians 1:24 , Colossians 1:2 :19; and below, 2:16, 4:4, 12, 16, 5:23, 30.
the fulness of him , &c.] This mysterious phrase has been much discussed. On the whole the inferences have taken one or other of two main lines. The word “fulness” ( plerôma ), has been (1) explained to mean the receptacle of fulness , or filled receptacle; the vehicle, so to speak, in which the resources of the grace of Christ manifest their greatness, and which is filled by them. Among other pleas for this view is the fact that in some schools of the Gnosticism which so soon followed the apostolic age the Plerôma was the recognized term for the home , or sphere , of the great Emanations ( Æons ) of the Absolute Being ( Bythus ), and in one theory, of the Absolute Being Itself also. The word has been (2) held to mean, in all doctrinal passages of the N. T., substantially, the ideal fulness, or totality, of Divine attributes or graces; as certainly in Colossians 2:9 . Bp Lightfoot ( Colossians , pp. 323 339) discusses the word in an exhaustive essay. He shews that Plerôma cannot naturally mean (as it has been taken to mean in some passages) the thing which fills a void . It is the filled condition of a thing , whether the thing be a rent to be mended, an idea to be realized, or a prophetic plan to be “fulfilled.” He shews further that the word had acquired a technical theological meaning in St Paul’s time, probably in the Palestinian schools of Jewish thought; a meaning connected especially with the eternally realized Ideal of Godhead; the Divine Fulness. This Fulness resides (by the Father’s will, yet necessarily,) in the Eternal Son (Colossians 1:19 ); and the Son, Incarnate, Sacrificed, and Risen, is so conjoined in spiritual Union to His regenerate Church that what is true of Him is true, within sacred limits, of her. As He without measure is the Fulfilment, or Ideal, of Divine Attributes, so she in measure is the Fulfilment, or Ideal, of Divine Graces; which are, we may venture to say, the Attributes in their reception and manifestation by the regenerate Church. She is the Body through which is realized the Will of the Head, the Fulfilment in which is realized the Grace of the Head. It will be observed that the two interpretations of the word indicated in this note have an underlying connexion. See this curiously illustrated by Bp. Lightfoot ( Colossians , pp. 331, &c.), from the history of Gnostic theories.
that filleth all in all ] The reference is to the Son, Who is in view through the immediate context. His vital connexion with His true Church is such that it not only is the Receptacle of His Divine grace, but is actually pervaded everywhere by His spiritual omnipresence. The form (middle) of the verb suggests intensity and richness of action; a power which is indeed living and life-giving.
“ All in all: ” in other words, He is the Cause of all the holiness that is in all His members; whatever in them is filled with grace, He fills it. It seems needless to seek a remoter meaning, as, “filleth all things ( the universe ) with all things” (Alford).
The true Church, in its glorious Ideal, which is meanwhile its proper Reality, only not yet fully manifested, is thus presented in spiritual and eternal union with its exalted Head. The Apostle is now about to descend to the special instance of the bringing into it of its Ephesian members. Cp. Colossians 1:21 , &c.
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the Second Week after Epiphany