Ephesians 4.7-10

[1] Therefore, as a prisoner in the Lord, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you received [2] with all humility and gentleness with composure, showing patience to one another in love, [3] zealously protecting the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [4] The body is one and the Spirit is one, just like all of you were also called in one hope of your calling:

[5] One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
[6] God is one and father of all.
He is in all and through and in all.

7 Ἐνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
[7] But grace was given to each one of us individually as much as Christ measured out to be given.

8 διὸ λέγει·
[8] That is why it says,

ἀναβὰς εἰς ὕψος
When ascending to the heights,

ᾐχμαλώτευσεν αἰχμαλωσίαν,
he led the captives captive,

ἔδωκεν δόματα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.
He gave gifts to men

9 τὸ δὲ ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν,
[9] But what does “he ascends” mean

εἰ μὴ ὅτι καὶ κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα [μέρη] τῆς γῆς;
if not that he also descended into the lower part that is the earth?

10 ὁ καταβὰς αὐτός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ ἀναβὰς ὑπεράνω πάντων τῶν οὐρανῶν,
[10] The very one who descended is also the one who ascended above the heavens,

ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα.
so that he might fill all things.

Beginning in verse seven, Paul begins a new independent clause. He continues a trend we have seen numerous times in thus far, pairing a cognate verb and noun pair: εδόθη (was given) with δωρεας (gift). The meaning of this clause was rather hard to capture clearly. A simply word for word translation was unnecessarily confusing: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the portion/measure of the gift of Christ.”

The prepositional phrase “according…” is particularly challenging. The idea is that Christ has measured out portions of grace for each person. This is probably best explained with the τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς being a genitive of source: “the portion derived from the gift.” Then the second genitive δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ (gift of Christ) is likely understood as a subjective genitive: “the gift that Christ gave.” I hope I’ve captured both of these above.

The following clause, διὸ λέγει introduces what is probably a quote from Ps 68:18, though perhaps indirectly. The MT and the LXX read “receive gifts from men,” not “give.” Some think that the Paul adapted the last line, other think this is a early hymn derived from Psalm 68, and still others believe that the difference is a variant reading for the verse lost from the manuscripts we have today. Regarding the introductory phrase, based on its other two occurrences in the New Testament, the phrase is consistently used to introduce quotes from texts that the audience are aware and that their connection to the present context ought to be obvious. With that said, the connection is not necessarily obvious to the modern reader who lacks the author and audience’s shared knowledge and context. the translation “that is why it say” seems to best explain the connection. Specifically, the topic of giving gifts is the focus.

But since examining that issue is beyond our purposes presently, let’s look at the structure. First in the quotation we have a adverbial participle. Most likely a temporal reference is intended, “When he ascended to the heights…” The participle is dependent upon the following clause, “he led the captives captive. The clause is made up of only two words, the verb and its object: ᾐχμαλώτευσεν αἰχμαλωσίαν. Here we have a cognate accusative, where the accusative direct object is a cognate of the verb, according to Wallace, the point of this construction is emphasis (189).

The following clause is also independent: “He gave gifts to men.” As we noted above, this clause is distinctly different from the LXX and MT, which say that he received, not gave, gifts.

Verse nine takes the form of a question that is blended with a conditional clause. “τὸ δὲ ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν” is another rare construction used to introduce quotes, where a finite verb takes an article to mark it as the subject of the clause (cf. Matt 19.18), formally it reads as, “What is “he ascended”?

But this question also functions are the apodosis of a conditional construction. Generally, the protasis comes first (the “if” part), but here it comes second. In the protasis, though, we find an ellipsis of the verb. The clause relies upon the apodosis for its verb. It takes the copula, “εστιν,” which gives us something like: “But what is “he ascended” if it is not that he also descended…” The point is rather clear – For Christ to ascend, he must descend first. It can’t mean anything else.

All of this brings us to one of the major questions of interpretation for these section of Ephesians. To where is Christ descending? Hell? Earth? My translation makes my view on this issue rather clear – Paul is not talking about hell.

It should be noted that my translation “the lower part that is the earth” does not maintain the plural μέρη (parts) for a consistent English rendering. Such a shift from plural “parts” to singular “earth” may be acceptable in Greek, but it makes for awkward English.

Note also that there is a difficult textual issue about whether μέρη is even part of the original text – an issue that I have not examined presently.

The person who descended and ascended are the very same according to verse 10. The idea of the verse is quite clear, but the syntax of the clause has no consensus. The question is one regarding the order of constituents and which words are a part of which noun phrases.

Most obviously, there are at least two noun phrases, each has an participle functioning adverbial. Less obvious is the function of the pronoun αὐτός and what noun phrase contains it.

On the one hand the αὐτός could be part of the NP subject such as it is rendered in the NET, “He, the very one who descended…” In this view, the pronoun is an emphatic subject noted by the phrase, “the very one.”

But on the other hand, the αὐτός could be viewed as part of the NP object. This is the view taken by the (T)NIV, “He who descended is the the very one who ascended.” In this view, the αὐτός could also be translated with the English “the same.” “The one who descended is also the same one who ascended.” This understanding is found in the ISV and HCSB.

It seems more likely that the αὐτός functions as part of the NP subject. There are two reasons for this. First, if it is part of the NP object, then the NP is divided in half by the verb – a highly unlikely happening. Secondly, the only other possibility would be if και were functioning as a comparative rather than a connective conjunction: “The one who descended is the same as the one who ascended.” But this function of και (in spite of the HCSB’s rendering) is unambiguously found only when used with other comparatives (cf. BDAG, definition 2c). Thus the verse would look like this in a tree diagram:


The final subordinate clause, “ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα,” functions to show the purpose (and of course the result) of Christ’s descent and ascent. This is an both a Christological and eschatological statement that should remind the reader of Ephesians 1.23. The point is that because did both, he fills all.

[7] But grace was given to each one of us as much as Christ measured out to be given. [8] That is why it says,

When ascending to the heights,
He led the captives captive,
He gave gifts to men

[9] But what does “he ascends” mean if not that he also descended into the lower part that is the earth? [10] The very one who descended is also the one who ascended above the heavens, so that he might fill all things.

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