Ephesians 3.8-13

For this reason, I, Paul a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – Assuming, of course, that you heard about the administration of God’s grace being given to me for you. The mystery made known to me according to the revelation as I wrote briefly. You can refer to it and appreciate my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to humanity, as now to Christ’s holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and share the same body and partake in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of God’s grace who gave to me according to working of his power.

8 Ἐμοὶ τῷ ἐλαχιστοτέρῳ πάντων ἁγίων ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις αὕτη,
[8] This grace was given to me, the leaster of all God’s people,

τοῖς ἔθνεσιν εὐαγγελίσασθαι τὸ ἀνεξιχνίαστον πλοῦτος τοῦ Χριστοῦ
to proclaim good news to the Gentiles, the incomprehensible riches of Christ

[9] καὶ φωτίσαι [πάντας] τίς ἡ οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ ἀποκεκρυμμένου ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων ἐν τῷ θεῷ τῷ τὰ πάντα κτίσαντι,
[9] and to bring to light the whole the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things,

[10] ἵνα γνωρισθῇ νῦν ταῖς ἀρχαῖς καὶ ταῖς ἐξουσίαις  ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις  διὰ τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἡ πολυποίκιλος σοφία τοῦ θεοῦ, [11] κατὰ πρόθεσιν τῶν αἰώνων
[10] that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies through the church, [11] according to the eternal purpose

ἣν ἐποίησεν ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν,
which God accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,

[12] ἐν ἔχομεν τὴν παρρησίαν καὶ προσαγωγὴν ἐν πεποιθήσει διὰ τῆς πίστεως αὐτοῦ.
[12] in whom we have the boldness and free access in confidence through Christ’s faithfulness.

13 διὸ αἰτοῦμαι μὴ ἐγκακεῖν ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσίν μου ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, ἥτις ἐστὶν (PAI3S) δόξα ὑμῶν.
[13] Therefore, I ask you not to lose heart in my suffering on your behalf, which is your glory.

This passage picks up the “the gift of God’s grace” in verse seven. Interestingly, the subject, “ἡ χάρις αὕτη” (this grace), is found at the end of the clause. This position does not mean that the subject is less important. The subject of a clause generally occurs at the front of the clause only when introducing a new topic. Since the gift of grace has already been mentioned in verse 7, there is no need from bring it to the front.

The verb, “ἐδόθη” (was given), is just about as clear of an example of a divine passive as you can get, since God is clearly stated to be the giver in the previous verse.

It is also possible, though not necessary that the position of the object at the front is emphatic. But this has less to do with the order of the clause than to do with the fact that Paul may very well have coined a new word for the occasion in the object. The word “ἐλαχιστοτέρῳ” is generally translated something like “less than the least.” The superlative “ἐλάχιστος” (least) here has received a comparative suffix to the end “τερος.” This creates for Paul an extra bit of emphatic force to the phrase: “the leaster of all the saints.” And it is this way that I have translated it. I’m sure it sounded strange to the Greek ears as it does to ours today. And that indeed is the point.

The following clause is developed with a subordinate infinitive that picks up from the verb “was given.” Semantically, the infinitive, “εὐαγγελίσασθαι” (to proclaim good news), expresses the purpose of the main verb.

There is a question about how translate this infinitive. The lexical definition given in BDAG is “bring good news, announce good news.” The challenge is the fact that this single Greek word must be expressed by a whole English Verb Phrase, namely, the verb and its object. But in the Greek clause here has a noun phrases in the accusative (which normally functions as the direct object): τὸ ἀνεξιχνίαστον πλοῦτος τοῦ Χριστοῦ (the incomprehensible riches of Christ).

How does this accusative function with a verb that seems to already semantically contain the meaning normally expressed by the direct object, the content of the proclamation?

This question is further complicated by the fact that of the 54 times that this verb occurs in the New Testament, 18 of those occurrences have no object at all and another 23 instances have only a recipient, such as “to you.” That means that only 13 of the occurrences of this verb actually express the content of the proclamation. And translations are not consistent on this point either. There are times when the NRSV translates both, such as in Acts 8.35:

ἀνοίξας δὲ ὁ Φίλιππος τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τῆς γραφῆς ταύτης εὐηγγελίσατο (proclaim good news) αὐτῷ τὸν Ἰησοῦν (accusative – Jesus)
Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

<pBut other times the “good news” part of “proclaim good news” is dropped out:

οἱ μὲν οὖν διασπαρέντες διῆλθον εὐαγγελιζόμενοι τὸν λόγον
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word (Acts 8:4).

So there seems to be two options in translating this verb. We can leave the “good news” out and simply translate the clause as, “to preach the incomprehensible riches of Christ to the Gentiles.” Or we can view the accusative “the incomprehensible riches of Christ” as functioning in apposition to the previous clause: “to preach the good news to the Gentiles, the incomprehensible riches of Christ.” I have taken the latter course.

While in the previous verse Paul tells his readers that this grace was given to proclaim the incomprehensible “ἀνεξιχνίαστον” (incomprehensible, impossible to trace out) riches of Christ, now in verse nine, he gives the second purpose in God’s gift of grace: “and to bring to light (φωτίσαι) to everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in the God who created all things.”

Thus these two clauses function in parallel to the first clause of verse eight. They are joined together with και. This grace was given to Paul for two reasons:

  1. To proclaim to the news to the nations, the incomprehensible riches of Christ
  2. To bring to light the whole plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things.

ἡ οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ ἀποκεκρυμμένου ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων ἐν τῷ θεῷ τῷ τὰ πάντα κτίσαντι

The one final note about verse nine is the two participial clauses. As a whole, the entire unit, ἡ οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ ἀποκεκρυμμένου ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων ἐν τῷ θεῷ τῷ τὰ πάντα κτίσαντι (the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages by God who created all things), is a single lengthy noun phrase comprising numerous smaller noun phrases and embedded clauses.

The head of this verbose noun phrase is “οἰκονομία” (roughly plan or administration).Thus is the plan that is to be brought to light. What follow then is a lengthy description of the plan. It is a mystery that God has until Christ hidden. Paul describes

Why such a large phrase to describe God’s plan? Most likely Paul seeks to emphasize exactly what God’s plan is. He calls it a mystery because it very different than what has been seen in the past in terms of the relationship of Jews and Gentiles. He emphasizes that it is God’s plan and is quick to point out that God is the creator of all – which includes by the way both Jews and Gentiles.

So now we must as the question, “How does verse ten, the infinitive verb and its lengthy noun phrase, fit within the structure of Paul’s argument?” To basic options exist, which have very little difference in meaning. On the one hand, this subordinate clause could be modifying the infinitive in verse nine, such that this clause expresses the result of bring light to everyone the mysterious plan hidden from ages.

On the other hand, this subordinate clause could point back all the way to the finite verb in verse eight: ἐδόθη (was given). That is, the purpose of the grace given to Paul was proclaim good news and bring God’s mysterious plan to light and the result of that gift of grace is that, “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies through the church.” This option seems best. Since the first two infinitives function as to explain verse eight, it seems likely that verse ten is functioning in the same way.

Verses, 11-12, function at a discourse level drawing this unit to a close. Specifically, the prepositional phrase,

κατὰ πρόθεσιν τῶν αἰώνων (according to the eternal purpose/plan), closes the past several verses and 11b-12 follow to modify this prepositional phrase. God’s gift of grace to Paul with the purpose and result of that gift, all conform to the standard of God’s eternal purpose and plan. The basic directional motional of the preposition κατὰ is downward. It functions here as to suggest a base or foundation. The basis (and thus the standard) for all that has been said is God’s eternal plan/purpose.

πρόθεσιν is “that which is planned in advance” (BDAG). The rest of verse 11 is devoted to describing that eternal plan. God accomplished his plan though Christ Jesus – a clear reference to the event of Jesus’ death on resurrection.

And as usual in this letter, Paul cannot help but add another “in him” clause at the end. Greek uses a relative pronoun, “in whom.” But Greek also has a very different conception of the sentence that allow such length without loosing the train of thought. This clause, has a compound object, which is why there is only one article in Greek: “τὴν παρρησίαν καὶ προσαγωγὴν (boldness and free access)”.

The big exegetical question here is whether the phrase “διὰ τῆς πίστεως αὐτοῦ” (through the faith/faithfulness of him [Christ]), should be understood as the faith we have in Christ or Christ’s faithfulness to us. Faith and faithfulness are translated from the same Greek word. Deciding whether this genitive  is subjective or objective doesn’t seem helpful here, understanding the construction as possessive is probably the best perspective: Christ’s faith/faithfulness.

And yet on the other hand, Paul never unambiguously refers to Christ’s faithfulness to the believer. The only places where it could be seen are the occurrences of this ambiguous phrase. For this reason an objective genitive (faith in Christ) is likely (Moises Silva, Philippians, on Philippians 3.9).

For the present, I will translate the phrase as a subjective genitive (Christ’s faithfulness). But this is a very tentative decision because it could go either way. I almost feel as if I’m flipping a coin. But the objection that Paul never unambiguously refers to Christ’s faithfulness does not carry enough weight. I don’t think that we can always expect Paul to be as precise with his language as we might prefer.

The final verse draws the entire section 3.1-12 to a conclusion. Paul uses διὸ (therefore) in Ephesians in two ways. Two of its five occurrence in Ephesians introduce quotes (Eph 4.8; 5.14). The other three uses mark shifts in Paul’s argument. In Ephesians 2.11, Paul used διὸ to shift from his declaration of God’s work of salvation through Christ into exhortation to remember where they as Gentiles have come from, alienation from both God’s people and God himself.

Similarly, in Ephesians 4.25, Paul uses διὸ to mark a shift in his argument: from discussing his audience’s former sinful life and their transformation in Christ to challenging them to righteous living that reflects their spiritual transformation.

In this passage Paul envelops verses 2-12 within verses 1 and 13. Verse one referred to Paul’s imprisonment and 13 here is an exhortation not to loose heart and become discouraged at the thought of Paul’s sufferings. Verses 2-12 are a necessary part of the argument here because they provide a basis and reason for Paul’s exhortation here in this verse.

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