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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Ephesians 3

Verses 1-99

Ch. 3:1 13. He would pursue the subject of the Temple, but digresses to say more of the world-wide scope of the Gospel

For this cause ] With such a present and such a future for my reason, motive, hope. Here begins a sentence broken immediately by a great digression. Where is it resumed? At ver. 8, or at ver. 13, or at ver. 14? On the whole we decide for the latter, not only because the identical phrase “for this cause” recurs there, but because the thought of the Indweller, and the Foundation (“ grounded ,” ver. 17), recurs there also. It is thus as if the Apostle had been just about to pray that the great Lord of the Temple might take a new (an ever new) possession of the Edifice preparing for Him; but had been diverted, by the designation he gives himself, to speak at large of his Gentile commission. For a parenthesis on the like scale see the latter half of Romans 5:0 . Such deviations into side-fields of pregnant thought are characteristic of some minds of high calibre; and we are never to forget that while it is everywhere the Inspirer who speaks through the Apostle, He as truly uses the Apostle’s type of mind as He uses the Greek type of language to be His perfect vehicle of expression.

I Paul ] For a similar emphatic Ego , cp. 2 Corinthians 10:1 ; Galatians 5:2 ; Colossians 1:23 ; Philemon 1:19 . (1 Thessalonians 2:18 is not quite in point, nor the passages, Colossians 4:18 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:17 ; where he speaks of his autograph name.) The motive here seems to be the profound personal interest of the Apostle in his great commission, brought to the surface by the statement he has just made of the grandeur of its issue in the completion of the Temple of the Universal Church. “It is I, positively I, who am, wonderful to say, chief minister in the process.” And there may also be the emphasis of intense personal interest in the Ephesian converts; a loving pressure, so to speak, of his personality upon theirs. On the “ self-consciousness ” of St Paul, see Howson, Character of St Paul , Lect. II.

the prisoner of Jesus Christ ] So Philemon 1:9 ; 2 Timothy 1:8 ; and below, 4:1, with an interesting difference, which see. Our Epistle thus stands grouped with Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 2 Timothy, as an Epistle written from prison. “ Of Jesus Christ : under all aspects of life Paul belongs to Christ. Whatever he is, does, or suffers, it is as Christ’s property . There is also an obvious reference to the fact that his imprisonment was for Christ’s cause; but this is not all.

for you ] On behalf of you . See Acts 22:21 for illustration. His imprisonment, due to Jewish hostility, was thus ultimately due to his assertion of the free welcome of the Gentiles to Messiah’s covenant. Acts 15:0 records the crisis within the Church which corresponded to this assault from without.

2. If ye have heard of ] Lit. if so be that ye heard of . This phrase occasions the question, Could this Epistle have been addressed to a Church familiar with St Paul? And it has thus seemed, to some extreme critics, an argument against the genuineness of the Epistle, a lapsus plumœ on the part of a fabricator; and, in very different quarters, an argument against the special destination to Ephesus (see Introduction , ch. 3). Not here to notice the anti-Pauline inference it is enough to say of the anti-Ephesian that it proves too much. What was known of Paul in the Ephesian Church would practically be known of him throughout the missions of Asia (see Acts 19:10 , Acts 19:26 ), so that the phrase remains as difficult as before. The true account of it, surely, is that it is a phrase of almost irony, an allusion to well-known fact under the disguise of hypothesis. His Gentile commission was no new thing, and was widely known, when this clause was written; but a natural and beautiful rhetoric prefers to treat it as if possibly obscure or forgotten. That St Paul had never been silent at Ephesus on the subject appears from Acts 19:8 , Acts 19:9 , where we see him withdrawing the converts from the synagogue.

the dispensation ] The stewardship . For the figure, cp. 1 Corinthians 4:1 , 1 Corinthians 4:2 , 1 Corinthians 4:9 :17; Colossians 1:25 ; 1 Peter 4:10 .

the grace of God which is given me ] Such is the grammatical connexion; not the “stewardship” but the “grace” is the thing given. And the “grace” is explained by Romans 1:5 (“grace and apostleship”) and below, ver. 7, 8. It was the loving gift of commission and inspiration to preach Christ among the Gentiles. For similar allusions to his life-work cp. Acts 22:21 , Acts 22:26 :17, Acts 22:18 ; Romans 1:5 , Romans 1:11 :13; Galatians 2:2 , Galatians 2:9 .

3. by revelation ] Probably at or about the time of his conversion. Acts 26:17 , Acts 26:18 , indicates that the Lord then and there gave him the special commission, and it is likely that a period of special and direct Divine instruction followed, perhaps in “Arabia” (Galatians 1:17 ). See Galatians 1:11 , &c. for the positive assertion that “his gospel” was a direct revelation, and the connexion of this with events at and just after the conversion. Perhaps visions such as St Peter’s (Acts 10:0 ) entered into the process. It is a wonderful paradox, yet deeply truth-like, that the great champion of Pharisaism should have been chosen to be the Apostle of the heathen. For the phrase, “by revelation,” cp. Romans 16:25 (Greek); Galatians 2:2 ; and for St Paul’s claim to be a recipient of revelations, 2 Corinthians 12:1 , 2 Corinthians 12:7 ; Galatians 1:16 .

he made known ] Better, was made known .

the mystery ] Explained below, ver. 5, 6, as being the long-kept secret of the absolutely equal welcome to Christ of the Gentile with the Jew. On the word “ mystery ,” see note on 1:9.

as I wrote afore ] The reference is to previous passages in this Epistle; 1:9, &c., 2:11, &c. English idiom would say, as I have written afore .

4. may understand ] R.V., can perceive ; and so better.

my knowledge ] Better, intelligence, understanding (R. V.). The thought is, not any laudation of the Apostle’s intellect, but substantiation of his God-granted insight, verified by the spiritual reader, and resulting in further confidence on the reader’s part.

of Christ ] The great Secret was bound up with His work (2:14) and His glory (1:10). As to experience, its essence was “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ). See also Colossians 1:27 ; where, probably, read “the mystery of God, [which mystery is] Christ.”

5. ages ] Better, generations . The reference (see next words) is to human time, and the periods before the Gospel.

unto the sons of men ] A designedly large phrase; mankind in general, both inside and outside the Jewish pale. Outside, the secret was wholly unknown; inside, it was only dimly and sparingly intimated, though certainly intimated (cp. Acts 13:47 ; Romans 15:8-12 ). That it was in some measure revealed is suggested by the phrase here, “ As it is now &c.” On the present scale, in the present mode, it was not then revealed; but not therefore quite concealed. But the O.T. hints were after all little more than prepared materials for N.T. revelation.

his holy apostles and prophets ] On the “prophets,” see note on 2:20. The recipients are called “holy” to mark their special nearness to, and knowledge of, the revealing God, and so the absolute truth of their report.

by the Spirit ] Lit., and better, in [the] Spirit . They were “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10 ) while receiving the knowledge of the great mystery. The Holy Ghost possessed them, that He might inform them.

6. That the Gentiles , &c.] It is well to pause over a passage like this, and reflect that what seems now to be an axiom of religious thought, the equality of mankind in view of the offer of salvation, was once an immense and long-withheld discovery. See above, on 2:11.

should be ] Better, are ; in the plan of God, now disclosed.

fellowheirs ] Cp. Romans 8:17 ; Galatians 3:29 , Galatians 4:7 . They are the children of God and brethren of Christ, equally with Jewish believers, and so equally heirs of their Father’s kingdom; “joint-heirs with Christ” of “the better country, that is the heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16 ).

of the same body ] Better, fellow-members , a version which preserves the likeness of the two Greek words represented by this expression and “fellowheirs” respectively. On “the body,” see notes on 2:16.

partakers ] Fellow-partakers , R.V., still preserving the similarities of the Greek.

his promise ] See on 2:12. Read, the promise .

in Christ ] Only in vital union with Christ was the promise to be inherited. It was inextricably involved in Him.

by the gospel ] Better, by means of the Gospel ; the instrument by which the Divine Plan of Gentile incorporation is to be made actual. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:15 , “I begot you by means of the Gospel.” See also Romans 10:8-15 , Romans 10:16 :25, 26.

7. a minister ] Diāconos , a worker, helper. Cp. Colossians 1:23 . The word implies activity and subordination. “I” here is not emphatic.

according to the gift , &c.] See above on ver. 2. The “gift” includes the commission and the inspiration. His “ministry,” both in field and in effect, was “according to” this great gift.

given ] I.e. (by the best attested reading) the grace which was given. So R.V. “the gift of that grace which was given.”

by the effectual working &c.] Read certainly, according to the working , &c. For similar phrases cp. 1:19; Philippians 3:21 ; and esp. Colossians 1:29 , where, as here, he speaks of working “according to” a power experienced by himself. A comma should be read before this second “according to.” The statement is that he “became a minister, according to,” in a way explained by, two things, a Divine Gift, and a Divine working Power. Observe the recognition, at once restful and energizing, that the actual movements of the power of God were the force behind all his apostolic activity. “By Him he moves, in Him he lives.” Cp. besides Colossians 1:29 just cited, 1 Corinthians 15:10 ; 2 Corinthians 3:5 , 2 Corinthians 3:4 :7, 2 Corinthians 3:12 :9, 2 Corinthians 3:10 ; Galatians 2:20 ; Philippians 4:13 ; Colossians 1:11 .

8. Unto me ] A slight pause and new start here occurs in the long parenthesis. The thought of his commission, and of the Divine power which enabled him, leads by contrast to the thought of the personal insignificance and unworthiness of the subject of that power, in view of the field and of the message.

less than the least ] One Greek word, and that a unique one. It is a comparative-superlative; “more least,” “leaster,” where “lesser” would be the regular form. The holy intensity of thought breaks the bounds of accidence. For the sentiment no flight of rhetoric, but the strong and true result of a profound view of the glory and mercy of Christ cp. 1 Corinthians 15:9 ; 1 Timothy 1:15 , 1 Timothy 1:16 .

this grace ] See on ver. 2 above.

among ] Better, unto .

unsearchable ] Lit., “ not to be tracked by footprints ,” a deeply suggestive word. In N.T. the word occurs only here and Romans 11:33 (A.V., “ past finding out ”). In the LXX. it appears thrice, in the Book of Job; 5:9, 9:10, 34:24.

riches ] See on 1:7 for St Paul’s love of this and kindred words.

The whole phrase here before us is one of the greatest in holy Scripture. It presents the truths, harmonized into one truth, of the simplicity and the infinity of the Gospel. All is centralized in Christ, the Christ of Pauline, of New Testament, theology, the Incarnate Son slain, risen, and glorified; and from that Centre diverge countless lines of application to every need of the human soul. A Gospel thus described is totally different from an ethical code, or system; and equally different from a mere growth, however sublime, of human sentiment and aspiration. It claims to be nothing less than a direct unfolding of Divine resources of love and power. See Appendix E for a remarkable incident in Christian biography, connected with this clause.

9. and to make all men see ] Lit., “ to illuminate all men .” The Latin versions have illuminare omnes . Some ancient MSS. (including the great MS. of the British Museum, and the Sinaitic), and other authorities, omit “all men.” But the external and internal evidence for retention greatly preponderates. The idea is of the Apostle as “casting bright light” on the universal scope of the Gospel, in the eyes of “all men,” no longer only of Jews. The verb is the same as that in 2 Timothy 1:10 ; where lit., “hath thrown light upon, hath illuminated , life and immortality.” Truths once in shadow are by the Gospel brought out into the sun.

the fellowship ] The true reading is undoubtedly dispensation , or stewardship . The reading represented by A.V. is probably an explanation, which crept into the text; representing very nearly the meaning of the true word. “ The dispensation of the secret” is, in effect, the world-wide distribution , through the stewards of God, of the news and the blessings of the full Gospel, so long held in reserve.

See notes above on vv. 2 6.

from the beginning of the world ] Lit., “ from the ages; ” R.V., from all ages . To define somewhat the meaning of the phrase; the great Truth in question was hidden in comparative secrecy, from the starting point of the progress of the developments (“ages”) of the Divine dealings for man, up to the actual Advent of the Messiah. We gather here that this was so not only at and after the call of Israel, but in the patriarchal age, and even in the angelic age, or ages. See below on ver. 10.

hid in God ] the great Treasury of unknown blessings.

who created all things ] Omit “ by Jesus Christ ,” with the preponderance of ancient authority. The truth of the One Creator appears here as in deep harmony with the universal scope of His Redemption. All through Scripture, in very different contexts, the truths of Creation and Redemption are seen in connexion. See a vivid illustration in Colossians 1:0 , where the Father, in and through the Son, both “creates all things,” and “reconciles all things.”

10. now ] In the great “fulness of the times;” the age of the Gospel.

the principalities and powers ] See on 1:21. Here, as there, the reference is to “governments and authorities” in the world of holy Angels. “These things angels covet to look into” (1 Peter 1:12 ); as we find them doing, for example, in the closing visions of Daniel. To their pure and powerful but still finite intelligences the work of man’s Redemption is not only a touching interest, an object of benevolent attention; it is indescribably important, as a totally new and unique revelation of the Mind and Ways of their Lord, and perhaps (though here the hints of Scripture are few and dark) as indicating how their own bliss stands secure. See some excellent pages on this last subject in The Incarnation of the Eternal Word , by the Rev. Marcus Dods, (1835) pp. 7 25.

in heavenly places] See on 1:3.

might be known ] The verb implies the gift of information ab extra . The angelic mind, like the human, needs and is capable of such information.

by the church ] Better, through . The means of information to these exalted students is God’s way of redemption and glorification for His saints of our race; His action for and in “the blessed company of all faithful people.” The thought is one to stimulate the feeblest and most solitary Christian; while yet its chief concern is with the aggregate, the community, in which the grace which works freely and primarily in the individual attains its perfect harmony and speaks to the heavenly “watchers” (Daniel 4:13 , &c.) with its full significance.

the manifold wisdom ] Lit., “ the much variegated wisdom.” The adjective is stronger (by the element “ much ,”) than that in 1 Peter 4:10 (“manifold grace ”). It occurs only here in N.T. The reference probably is to the complicated problem of man’s redemption, met and solved by the “unsearchable riches” of the work of Christ. Alike as a race and as individuals, man presented difficulties innumerable to the question, how shall God be just, and the justifier, and sanctifier, of this race? But every difficulty was, and is, met in “Christ, the Wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24 , 1 Corinthians 1:30 ).

11. according to the eternal purpose ] Lit., and better, according to the purpose of the ages . I.e. the Church, as watched by the angels, presents to them the final result (final in kind ) of the great Plan of Divine developments by which the glory of God was to be displayed in His dealings with Sin. The redeemed Church corresponds to this Plan; it is (in kind, in essence,) the realization of the Divine Idea. No other and better thing in that kind is to succeed it. The past “ages,” angelic, paradisaic, patriarchal, Mosaic, prophetic, have led up to the Universal Church, in its spiritual reality, as their goal.

in Christ Jesus our Lord ] Lit., in the Christ, Jesus our Lord . The “Purpose” was “purposed” (lit. “made”) “ in Him,” inasmuch as both Idea and Working were altogether bound up with Him. “In Christ” God was to “reconcile the world”; “in Christ” the saints were to “have redemption in His blood”; “in Him” to be “rooted and built up”; “complete in Him”; “abiding in Him”; “walking in Him”; “dying in Him” (Revelation 14:13 ); “made alive in Him” (1 Corinthians 15:22 ). Thus “in the Christ,” the Eternal and Anointed Son and Word, the Idea stood forth formed; and in that Christ, as “Jesus our Lord,” incarnate, sacrificed, glorified, the Idea is carried into realization.

12. in whom we have ] Here (see last note) is the realization. It was “purposed in Him” that we His saints should be unspeakably near to the Father; and so we now are , and angels see it.

boldness ] Lit., the (or our ) freedom of speech , the boldness of intimate intercourse . Here and there (perhaps Colossians 2:15 , where A. V. “openly”; Hebrews 10:35 ; 1 John 2:28 ; where A. V. “confidence”) the original word seems to lose its special reference to speech; but certainly not here. The saint (Hebrews 4:16 ) “comes with free utterance to the throne of grace”; to speak a child’s every thought, desire, and fear. On the definite article here (“ the boldness”) Monod remarks that it indicates “une hardiesse bien connue ”, a familiar characteristic of experience.

access ] Better, introduction ; see on 2:18.

with confidence ] Lit., and better, in . This holy confidence with God is illustrated often in the Acts, and in the Epistles. Meyer refers to Romans 8:38 &c. Still more in point is the passage just following this, and St Paul’s other prayers for his converts.

by the faith of him ] So lit, but the better English equivalent for the Greek is (R. V.) through our faith in Him . The same construction with the same meaning occurs Mark 11:22 (“have faith of God”); Romans 3:22 ; Galatians 2:16 , Galatians 2:20 ; Philippians 3:9 . See too Colossians 2:12 (“faith of the operation of God”).

Observe the persistent recurrence of the idea of faith. The entrance into one-ness with Christ is, on our side, by faith (2:8), and (here) the life lived in that sacred one-ness is realized in the exercise of faith.

13. Wherefore ] In view of the facts just recited; the welcome of Gentile believers into the true Israel, the Body of Christ, “according to the purpose of the ages,” for the instruction of holy angels, and for the saints’ own joy in intimacy with the Father. In the propagation of such a Gospel the messenger might well be willing to suffer for the sake of the converts; and they in their turn might well not be discouraged when they saw him suffer for them. These sufferings, far from indicating defeat or failure, were “their glory,” proofs that their Lord thought their incorporation into Himself worth the severest conflicts and sorrows of an Apostle. Yet the intense community of love between converts and Apostle might still tempt them to depression; and hence this request, so generous and tender.

I desire ] I. e. probably, “I desire you; I ask as a boon from you .” It is possible to explain the words of a prayer to God; but the Gr. construction does not favour this, and the much stronger phrase for prayer in the next verse is also against it. See further just below.

faint ] The same word as that e.g. Luke 18:1 ; 2 Corinthians 4:16 . The idea is relaxation and cessation of effort under weariness or pain.

It is possible to explain this clause (as R. V. margin) “that I faint not”; for the pronoun is not expressed. (In that case we should also, of course, explain “I desire,” just above, of prayer to God.) But against this view lie the thoughts that the words, “which is your glory,” would thus lose point, and, even more, that such a prayer would be a discord in a passage so full of exultation and love, while the received explanation forms on the contrary a rich and true concord in it.

your glory ] See last note but two.

14 19. The main theme resumed: prayer for the Indwelling of Christ

14. For this cause ] The same phrase as that of ver. 1. See note there. Here the broken connexion is resumed. The “permanent habitation of God” (2:22) is still in the Apostle’s mind, but in another aspect. The thought of the eternal totality, the Church glorified, gives place in a measure to that of the present individuality, the saint’s experience now and here of the consciously welcomed “permanent habitation of Christ in the heart,” with all its spiritual concomitants. The two aspects are complements of each other. Each “living Stone” (1 Peter 2:5 ) is, as it were, a miniature of the living Temple. In each of them, as if it were an integral microcosm, yet with a view not to itself only but to the final harmony of the whole, Christ works, manifests Himself, and dwells. So, as by the primary and most vital condition, is approached that “far-off divine Event, to which the whole creation moves,” 1 1 In Memoriam , at the end. (and the New Creation most directly of all,) and with which the close of ch. 2 has dealt. Meanwhile this prospect, and the present community of the saints, is not absent from this passage, in which we have the great “ Family ” (ver. 15), and “ all the saints” (ver. 18); in which plurals are used throughout; and in which the closing sentences (vv. 20, 21) point by the vastness of their language to a more than individual sphere of realization.

I bow my knees ] The attitude of prayer, Luke 22:41 ; Acts 7:60 , Acts 9:40 , Acts 20:36 , Acts 21:5 . See too Romans 14:11 ; Philippians 2:10 . The words, doubtless, do not impose a special bodily posture as a necessity in spiritual worship; physical conditions may make kneeling impossible, or undesirable, on occasion. But they do impose the spiritual attitude of which the bodily is type and expression; profound and submissive reverence, perfectly harmonious with the “boldness” and “confidence” of ver. 12. And so far as body and spirit work in concord, this recommends the corresponding bodily attitude where there is no distinct reason against it.

the Father ] The words, “ of our Lord Jesus Christ ,” are to be omitted. They appear in very ancient documents, including the Syriac and Latin versions. But the great Latin Father and critic, St Jerome (cent. 4 5), in his comment on this verse, expressly says that the “Latin copies” are in error; and the evidence of both Greek MSS. and patristic quotations preponderates for the omission.

15. of whom … is named ] Lit., “ out of Whom , &c.” The derivation of the “name” is from His Fatherhood.

the whole family ] Gr., patria . It is difficult to preserve in English the point of the Gr. here. “Father” and “family” have no verbal kinship, while patêr and patria have. “The whole fatherhood,” or “every fatherhood,” would scarcely convey a clear idea.

An interesting question of interpretation arises here. The Revisers render “ every family ,” or (margin) “ every fatherhood ; and in this they have the concurrence of many commentators, modern and ancient. Indeed, there could be no doubt of their rendering were the usages of Greek in the N. T. and in the classics the same; the absence here of the article before patria would be decisive in Xenophon, for example. But the law of the Gr. article is in some respects less precise in the N. T., as was observed on 2:21 (where see note); and we are at liberty here, as there, though of course with caution, to take the context into account, before surrendering the A. V.

The alternatives then are, (1) to understand the Apostle to diverge to the thought that God’s spiritual Fatherhood is the Archetype of all family unions, in earth and heaven; the source from which every other “father” draws his “name,” his title and idea; (2) to understand the Apostle to dwell on the thought of the oneness of the family union of saints and angels under the Eternal Father of Spirits Who gives “name,” designation as His children, to the whole company.

We feel the difficulty of the question. And we are willing to own that there may be communities in the heavenly world to which the idea of family may attach. But if so this is the solitary hint of it in Scripture. And meanwhile the context as a whole seems to us to plead strongly for the idea of oneness as against particularity. And the phrase “in heaven and earth,” compared with 1:10 (where carefully observe the connexion), suggests to us far rather the idea of the Great Family “gathered up” in Christ than the extraneous and new idea of many families, connected or not connected with Him. We plead accordingly for the A. V.

And we thus see presented in the passage the great truth, so characteristic of the whole Epistle the spiritual oneness of the holy Community.

It is worth observing that the word “family” was used by the Rabbis in a sense somewhat akin to the sense (thus explained) of this passage. With them “the upper family” and “the lower family” meant, respectively, the Angels and Israel. Wetstein here quotes a Rabbinic comment on Jeremiah 30:6 : “ All faces; even the faces of the upper and lower family; of the angels and of Israel.” And again; “God does nothing without counsel taken with His upper family.” This is not a perfect parallel here, where, as we take it, the idea is strictly of one united brotherhood; but it is near enough to have had, possibly, a share in moulding the phrase here. The suggestion to translate the Greek, “the whole family in heaven, and that on earth,” oversteps, we think, the limits of the grammar.

16. according to the riches of his glory ] I. e., as He can do Who is Lord of the resources of an Eternal Nature and Heavenly Kingdom. (See on 1:18 for the phrase “riches of glory” in another reference.) The glory of God is, in brief, Himself, as the Infinite and Holy One, with all results, for Himself and His creatures, of His being such.

to be strengthened ] The Gr. verb is elsewhere used with ideas of spiritual firmness and vigour (Luke 1:80 , Luke 1:2 :40; 1 Corinthians 16:13 ). So it is here. The saints are to be so strengthened as not to fear things of which nature is afraid; even the felt indwelling of the Holy One, and His absolute dominion in the inmost heart.

with might ] The power of God.

by his Spirit ] The Holy Ghost; everywhere present in the doctrine of this Epistle. He is so to deal with “the inner man” as that the presence of Christ shall be permanent in the heart. Cp. Romans 8:9 , Romans 8:10 , where observe the transition from, “the Spirit of God dwelleth in you”, to, “Christ is in you.” And see, too, the Lord’s words, John 14:16 , John 14:18 , John 14:21 , John 14:23 , John 14:16 :7, John 14:17 :11. There we find that while He is “no more in the world,” and it is “expedient that He go away,” yet “the Spirit of Truth” shall not only come, but so come that the disciples shall not be “left orphans”; their Lord shall “come to them”; His Father and He will “make Their abode” with each faithful believer. We thus get fragments of a Divine comment on the glorious passage now before us; to the effect that this Presence, this permanent Indwelling, of the Saviour, is essentially a Presence in and by the Spirit, mediated by the Spirit; not physical, or quasi-physical, or under any mode other than, and different from, a Presence through the Spirit’s agency upon the “inner man.” Where the Spirit “permanently abides,” there, and therefore, does the Saviour so abide; with just this difference, or condition, that we are to think, in the passage before us, of the indwelling Spirit as directing His agency expressly and specially in the direction of making the Saviour’s Presence a permanent reality to the “heart.”

Compare further the Seven Epistles of the Revelation, where the voice of the glorified Saviour is identified, in every instance, with that of the Spirit.

in the inner man ] Lit., “ into the inner man”; as if to say, “ deep in it”; “penetrating far into it.” “ The inner man : see for the same phrase, Romans 7:22 ; 2 Corinthians 4:16 . Here it means, practically, the regenerate human spirit. In itself, the phrase may mean no more than the invisible as against the material in man; but the three N. T. passages thus before us indicate its actual reference, in St Paul’s vocabulary, to the regenerate self.

17. that Christ may dwell ] This clause is in close connexion with the preceding. The “strengthening” is the requisite to the “dwelling”; the “dwelling” the sure sequel to the “strengthening.” See last note but one.

Christ : lit. “ the Christ ,” as so often in this Epistle (1:10, 12, 20, 2:5, 13, 3:4, 8, 11, 4:7, 12, 13, 20, 5:2, 5, 14, 23, 25, 6:5; besides uncertain readings). Not to press distinctions too far, we may yet point out that the Lord is here presented not specially as Jesus, but as the Messiah, in His anointed majesty as the Prophet, Priest, and King of His saints. The thought of His Presence includes that of our tenderest affections towards Him, but rises also above it. It is the Presence of the Supreme Teacher, Redeemer, and Possessor.

dwell : the Gr. verb indicates permanent abode . It is akin to the noun, 2:22; where see note. See it used 2 Peter 3:13 , of the eternal presence of Righteousness in the New Universe. It marks a residence quite different from transient or casual lodgment.

The tense is the aorist (infinitive), and the idea of the aorist is singleness of act. Accordingly, the Lord is viewed here as not merely “dwelling,” but, in a definite act, “ coming to dwell ,” “taking up abode.” The question arises, did the Apostle contemplate the Ephesians as all alike devoid of the Indwelling in question, and needing it to begin? It is difficult to grant this, in an Epistle addressed to a large community, and one evidently rich in life and love. Well-nigh every stage of spiritual development must have been represented there. Yet the aorist must have its meaning. And surely the account of it is this, that the Apostle views them each and all as ever needing, at whatever stage of spiritual life, such an access of realization and reception as should be, to what had preceded, a new Arrival and Entrance of Christ in the heart. Local images are always elastic in the spiritual sphere; and there is no contradiction thus in the thought of the permanent presence of One who is yet needed to arrive.

On the other hand there are possible stages of Christian experience in which, practically, the Lord’s “coming in to dwell,” as here, would be a thing wholly new; and many such cases, doubtless, were found at Ephesus. Not only here but throughout the N.T. the saint is viewed as meant to enjoy a prevailing, not an intermittent, intercourse with his Lord in faith and love; on habitual “access,” “confidence,” “peace and joy in believing,” and “fruit-bearing” power. Where such enjoyment does not as yet exist there is still lacking that which is in view here. True, it will be only a crude analysis that will claim to discern and decide peremptorily in such spiritual problems. But this does not alter the facts and principles of the matter in themselves.

in your hearts ] A phrase important for the interpretation of the clause. It shews that the Indwelling here is subjective rather than objective; an Indwelling conditioned by the saint’s realization. “Christ” is “in” every genuine disciple (2 Corinthians 13:5 ), in the sense of the disciple’s covenant and vital union with Him (1 Corinthians 6:15 , 1 Corinthians 6:17 ). But this was certainly the case already with the Ephesian saints. Here then we have to do not so much with fact as with grasp on fact; the reception of the (already vitally present) Lord in habitual realization by the conscience, understanding, imagination, affections, and will. For the “ heart ” in Scripture is the “seat” of all these: see e.g. Genesis 20:5 ; Deuteronomy 4:39 ; Isaiah 6:10 ; Mark 11:23 ; Luke 21:14 ; Acts 11:23 ; Romans 5:5 ; 1 Corinthians 2:9 ; James 1:26 ; 1 John 3:20 . See on 1:18. “Though all of us is a temple for Him, yet the heart is the choir, where He properly sitteth” (Bayne (cent. 17), On the Ephesians ).

by faith ] That is, trustful acceptance; holy and humble reliance upon Divine promises, such promises as those of John 14:21 , John 14:23 ; Revelation 3:20 . Observe that the Indwelling here in view is to be effectuated by means of spiritual action (God-given, as this passage has shewn, but not the less personal) on the saint’s part. And observe that it is not aspiration , but faith , that is the action. Aspiration will certainly be present, as an essential condition; there must be conscious desire. But it is faith, submissive trust in the Promiser, which is alone the effectuating and maintaining act.

Lit., “through the faith”: i.e., perhaps, “by means of your faith,” faith as exercised by you; but the article must not be pressed in translation, where an abstract principle is the noun. “The faith” in the sense of the Christian creed is manifestly not in place here, where the context is full of the idea of the actions of grace in the soul.

that ye ] Here appears the holy purpose of the experience just described. The Indwelling is to be specially in order to the attitude and the knowledge now to follow.

being rooted and grounded in love ] “ In love ” is highly emphatic by position in the Gr. Does it mean the love of God for us, or ours for God? Perhaps it is needless to seek a precise answer. “Love, generally” (Alford), is to be the region of this great experience of the soul; a sphere of which the Divine Love and the regenerate spirit’s response are, as it were, the hemispheres. But we may at least suggest, with 1:4 in mind (see note there), that the Divine Love is mainly in view. Is it quite intelligible to regard the saint’s love as the soil and basis of his saintship? For observe it is the saints themselves, not this or that in them (“ ye being rooted, &c.”), that the Love in question thus sustains and feeds.

The chain of thought will thus be: “I pray that your hearts may so receive Christ as their perpetual Indweller, that you may, in this profound intimacy with Him, see and grasp your acceptance and life in the Eternal Love, manifested through Him.”

rooted and grounded : perfect participles. The second, lit. founded , recurs to the imagery of the Temple and its basis; ch. 2. The first, giving a metaphor much rarer with St Paul (Colossians 2:7 is the only close parallel), suggests the additional idea of derived life and its development. The saints are viewed both as “trees of the Lord, full of sap,” deep in the rich soil of the Love of God (cp. Psalms 1:3 , 92:12, 13; Jeremiah 17:8 ), and as constituent stones of the great Temple which rests ultimately on the same Love. Colossians 2:7 , just quoted, gives the same collocation of ideas, but with differences. The participle there rendered “built up” is present; “ being builded upon.” And “in Him ” takes the place of “in love.” This latter difference is no discrepancy; “the love of God is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:39 ).

Such, as to root and basis, is the true saint’s position. It is not created, but realized, when the experience of ver. 17 takes place in him. And the following clauses dilate on the spiritual use which he is to make of it.

18. may be able ] R. V., may be strong ; more lit. still, may get strength ; the verb being aorist, pointing to a new crisis. The idea is of a wide grasp, a mighty stretch of thought and faith, only to be made by spirits perfectly assured (ver. 17) of their footing .

to comprehend ] R. V., “ apprehend ; a minute and over-careful change. The Gr. is used ( e.g. Acts 4:13 , Acts 10:34 , Acts 25:25 ) of mental perception, or ascertainment.

with all saints ] Lit., with all the saints . For the phrase cp. 1:15, 6:18; Colossians 1:4 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ; Philemon 1:5 ; Revelation 8:3 , and perhaps 22:21. On the word “saint” see note on 1:1. The thought emphasized here is that of the great Community. The Apostle has spoken of experiences possible only in the sanctum of the individual regenerate “heart,” but he reminds the reader here that these are never to terminate in themselves. The individual, as he is never other than a “member” of Christ, is never other than a “member” of his brethren (see Romans 12:5 ). His grace and light are to be, as it were, contributions to the combined experience of the true Church, as the grace and light of the true Church are to enhance his own.

what is the breadth , &c.] The Object is left unnamed. What is it? We explain it, with Monod, as the Divine Love, which has just been named (see last on ver. 17), and is to be named (as the Love of Christ) immediately again. At least, it is that Work, Purpose, Covenant, of God in Christ which is ultimately resolved into the Eternal and Sovereign Love.

The imagery is perhaps suggested by a vastly spacious building, with its high towers and deep foundations. But may it not rather be suggested by the visible Universe itself, as if a spectator gazed from horizon to horizon, and at the boundless air above, and thought of the depths beneath his feet? We may partially illustrate the language, in any case, by such passages as Psalms 103:11 , Psalms 103:12 .

Some curiosities of interpretation attach to this verse. Severianus (cent. 4, 5), quoted by Alford, finds here an allusion to the shape of the Cross, and in it to the Lord’s Godhead (“ height ”) and Manhood (“ depth ”), and to the extent of the apostolic missions (“ length and breadth ”). St Jerome (cent. 4, 5) in his Commentary here interprets the words at some length, and finds in the “ height ” the holy angels, in the “ depth ” the evil spirits, in the “ length ” those of mankind who are on the upward path, and in the “ breadth ” those who are “sinking towards vices. For broad and ample is the way which leadeth to death .” The Calvinist Zanchius (cent. 16) adopts from Photius (cent. 9) the explanation that the reference is to “the mystery of the free salvation through Christ of the Gentiles and the whole human race”; called long , because decreed from eternity; broad , because extended to all; deep , because of the descent of Christ to Hades, and because of the resurrection of the dead; high , because Christ ascended above all heavens. (Quoted in Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum .)

19. And to know ] An aorist verb, expressing a new and decisive development of knowledge, knowledge of the spiritual kind, the intuition of the regenerate spirit, realized in its own responsive adoring love.

the love of Christ ] Who “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it” (5:25); “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ). See further Romans 8:35 , with 39; 2 Corinthians 5:14 ; Revelation 1:5 . The context favours the chief reference here of these sacred words to the Lord’s love for the true Church, without excluding, what cannot be excluded in the matter, His love, and the sense of it, for the individual saint.

which passeth knowledge ] knowledge of every sort, spiritual as much as intellectual. Here is an Object eternally transcending, while it eternally invites, the effort after a complete cognition. For ever, there is more to know. To find a reference here to heretical or unspiritual gnôsis is frigid and out of place, in a passage glowing with the highest truths in their loveliest aspects. For a similar phrase, cp. Philippians 4:7 .

The testimony of such words as these to the Nature of Christ is strong indeed, none the less so because not on the surface. No created Person, however exalted, could either be, or be commended as being, to the human spirit, an infinite object of knowledge in any aspect. “None fully knoweth the Son save the Father” (Matthew 11:27 ).

that ye might be filled ] An aorist again; indicating a crisis and new attainment. For the thought, cp. Colossians 1:9 ; “that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will”; such knowledge as to lead to “walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” See too, for kindred language, Romans 15:13 , Romans 15:14 . The idea is of a vessel connected with an abundant source external to itself, and which will be filled, up to its capacity, if the connexion is complete. The vessel is the Church, and also the saint. It may be only partially filled; it may be full every faculty of the individual, every part of life and circumstances, every member of the community, “ ful -filled with grace and heavenly benediction.” And this latter state is what the Apostle looks for. See further, on ver. 18.

with ] Lit., and better, unto , “up to.” The “fulfilling” is to be limited only by the Divine resources. Not, of course, that either Church or soul can contain the Infinite; but they can receive the whole, the plenitude, of those blessings which the Infinite One is willing and able at each moment to bestow on the finite recipient.

all the fulness of God ] I.e., as in Colossians 2:9 (and see note on 1:23), the totality of the Divine riches, whether viewed as Attributes as in God, or Graces as in us; whatever, being in Him, is spiritually communicable to the saints, the “partakers of Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ). The believing reader will find inexhaustible matter in such a phrase for thought, prayer, and faith 1 1 Observe the silent testimony of this whole paragraph against disproportioned theories of the true use of the holy Sacraments. The theme is the mode of development of Divine Life in the saint, and yet no allusion is made (here or elsewhere in the Epistle) to the Holy Communion. .

20, 21. Ascription of praise, closing a main section of the Epistle

20. Now unto him ] The Father, in Whose “glory” all things terminate. As it is of His essence to demand praise, so it is of the essence of regenerate life to yield it to Him.

that is able ] For this phrase in doxology cp. Acts 20:32 ; Romans 16:25 ; Jude 1:24 . Faith both rests and is reinvigorated in the assurance, and re-assurance, of the Divine Ability , wholly objective to the believer. Cp. Matthew 19:26 ; Romans 4:21 , Romans 4:11 :23, Romans 4:14 :4; 2 Corinthians 9:8 (a good parallel here); Philippians 3:21 ; 2 Timothy 1:2 ; Hebrews 7:25 . (In the three last passages the reference is to the Saviour.)

exceeding abundantly ] One compound word in the Greek; elsewhere, 1 Thessalonians 3:10 , and (nearly identical) 5:13. Strong expressions of largeness, excess, abundance, are deeply characteristic of St Paul.

all that we ask or think ] The word rendered “think” means more specially understand . Cp. e.g. Matthew 15:17 and above, ver. 4. So the Latin versions here; intelligimus . No narrow logic will be applied to such a clause, if we seek its true meaning. To be sure we can, if we please, “ask for,” and in a certain sense “conceive of,” infinite gifts of grace; though it is to be observed that the phrase is, not “all that we can ask ” but “all that we ask .” But the reader who studies the words in their own spirit will not perplex himself thus. He will see in them the assurance that his actual petitions and perceptions, guided and animated by Scripture and by grace, yet always fail to include all that He is able to do, in the range and depth of His working.

according to the power , &c.] The power of the indwelling Spirit. See for a remarkable parallel Colossians 1:29 , where the Apostle speaks of his own toils and wrestlings as “ according to that working of His which worketh in me in power.” There he speaks of the present and actual, here of the possible. In the saint and in the true Church resides already a Divine force capable in itself of the mightiest developments. To attain these, not a new force, but a fuller application of this force, is required.

21. glory ] Lit., and better, the glory; the glory due to the Father of the Saviour, and of the saints in Him.

in the church by Christ Jesus ] Lit., in Christ Jesus . “The glory” is ascribed “ in Him” as the Father is manifested in Him, and “in Him reconciled the world to Himself.” But very strong evidence favours the reading in the Church and in Christ Jesus . If this is adopted, and it is nearly certain, the meaning is that the reasons of eternal praise to the Father lie both in the Church and in the Saviour; in the Church, as chosen and glorified by Him, in the Saviour as His supreme and all-including Gift.

throughout all ages , &c.] Lit., unto all the generations of the age of the ages . Such is the length of prospect revealed for the Church of Christ, as the “habitation of God” (2:22). The meaning manifestly is, “to all eternity,” whatever manifestations the eternal Future may bring. This is viewed as one vast “age” ( aiôn ), the sum and circumference of ages, which ages again contain developments faintly imaged by the “generations” which make up the centuries of Time. The phrases “for ever,” or “for ever and ever,” of our A. V., usually represent the “unto the age,” or “unto the ages,” or “unto the ages of the ages,” of the Greek. The first Gr. phrase is almost confined to St John’s Gospel and Epistles; the last is distinctive of the Revelation, but it occurs also in St Paul and St Peter. St Peter (2 3:18) writes “ unto the day of the age,” the “Day” which shall usher in the Eternal State. On the word aiôn see further, last note on 1:21.

Amen ] The word is properly a Hebrew adverb (“surely”), repeatedly used as here in O. T. See Psalms 89:52 ; Jeremiah 11:5 (marg. A. V.); &c.

On the great passage thus closed Monod remarks: “This doxology, which concludes at once the Apostle’s prayer and the first part of his epistle, would be remarkable anywhere, but it is doubly so here … After the grandest promises which human language can express, the Holy Spirit here closes by declaring that all which can be expressed is infinitely below the reality which is in God.… But nothing less could answer the vast and undefined need of the heart. All that the mind can clearly grasp and the mouth articulately utter is incapable of satisfying us. And thus this close, so astonishing and unexpected, is just what we needed … But alas, if this language which is infinitely below the reality which is in God is infinitely above the reality which is in us!… To pass from Scripture to our experience, seems like a fall from heaven to earth.… The Lord teach us how to bring our experience into harmony with His promises.”

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ephesians 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/ephesians-3.html. 1896.