The Attributive Position in Ephesians 4.18

This is a continuation of a couple things. First of all, this is part of my working through Ephesians. But also this post continues to examine the attributive position in the Greek Noun Phrase, which has already been discussed HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Ephesians 4.18 in Greek consist of two participle clauses, the second of which contains two prepositional phrases:

ὄντες ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τὴν οὖσαν ἐν αὐτοῖς, διὰ τὴν πώρωσιν τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν,

The section that concerns us here is διὰ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τὴν οὖσαν ἐν αὐτοῖς. In this PP, Paul uses a rather unusual construction. The copula is generally not even necessary here. Paul could have simply written: τὴν ἐν αὐτοῖς. As we’ve seen previously, the article nominalizing a prepositional phrase is not rare by any means. He also could have written: τὴν ἄγνοιαν αὐτῶν.

So the question that lies before us today is, “Why?” Why did Paul choose this construction?

Let’s examine some translations:

Cambridge Paragraph Bible 1873 (KJV):

18 having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

ESV (2007 text):

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Good News:

and whose minds are in the dark. They have no part in the life that God gives, for they are completely ignorant and stubborn.


They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.


darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart,


They do not understand, and they know nothing, because they refuse to listen. So they cannot have the life that God gives.

A large number of translations follow the KJV tradition with the ESV above including the TNIV, NASB, NET, & HCSB.

The rest are for the most part unique (except the ISV & NAB on this phrase).

As I see it, there are two possibilities for the syntax of this phrase. Either Paul’s words are simply awkwardly verbose Greek (such as the English, “the ignorance that is in them,” is in the KJV tradition) or Paul used a more elaborate syntactic construction in order to emphasize their ignorance.

A search shows that the construction is relatively uncommon (14 occurrences in the NT). Its found only in Acts, John, Paul’s letters, and Revelation. But half of them (7) are in Paul. Some interesting Patterns show up in Luke & Paul’s usage, we can get a better idea of what we’re looking at:

Acts 11:1
ἤκουσαν δὲ οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ οἱ ὄντες κατὰ τὴν Ἰουδαίαν ὅτι καὶ τὰ ἔθνη ἐδέξαντο τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.

Acts 11:22
ἠκούσθη δὲ ὁ λόγος εἰς τὰ ὦτα τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς οὔσης ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ περὶ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐξαπέστειλαν Βαρναβᾶν διελθεῖν ἕως Ἀντιοχείας
News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

Acts 14:13
ὅ τε ἱερεὺς τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ ὄντος πρὸ τῆς πόλεως ταύρους καὶ στέμματα ἐπὶ τοὺς πυλῶνας ἐνέγκας σὺν τοῖς ὄχλοις ἤθελεν θύειν
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

Acts 16:3
τοῦτον ἠθέλησεν ὁ Παῦλος σὺν αὐτῷ ἐξελθεῖν καὶ λαβὼν περιέτεμεν αὐτὸν διὰ τοὺς Ἰουδαίους τοὺς ὄντας ἐν τοῖς τόποις ἐκείνοις ᾔδεισαν γὰρ ἅπαντες ὅτι Ἕλλην ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ὑπῆρχεν
Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Rom 7:23
βλέπω δὲ ἕτερον νόμον ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου ἀντιστρατευόμενον τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου καὶ αἰχμαλωτίζοντά με ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τῆς ἁμαρτίας τῷ ὄντι ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου
but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Rom 16:11
ἀσπάσασθε Ἡρῳδίωνα τὸν συγγενῆ μου ἀσπάσασθε τοὺς ἐκ τῶν Ναρκίσσου τοὺς ὄντας ἐν κυρίῳ
Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.

1 Cor 1:2
τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ κλητοῖς ἁγίοις σὺν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐπικαλουμένοις τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ αὐτῶν καὶ ἡμῶν
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

2 Cor 1:1
Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ καὶ Τιμόθεος ὁ ἀδελφός τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ σὺν τοῖς ἁγίοις πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Ἀχαί̈ᾳ
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:

Eph 1:1
Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ἐφέσῳ καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Eph 4:18
ἐσκοτωμένοι τῇ διανοίᾳ ὄντες ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τὴν οὖσαν ἐν αὐτοῖς διὰ τὴν πώρωσιν τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.

1 Thess 2:14
ὑμεῖς γὰρ μιμηταὶ ἐγενήθητε ἀδελφοί τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν οὐσῶν ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ὅτι τὰ αὐτὰ ἐπάθετε καὶ ὑμεῖς ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων συμφυλετῶν καθὼς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews,

[UPDATE] After a comment from TC, I decided to search those some texts outside the New Testament to see if we could find more instances of this construction. It doesn’t look like this construction is necessarily Pauline, I would say that its simply a Greek construction for denoting location. It occurs 55 times in the LXX and also 4 times in the Apostolic Fathers:

From the LXX we also see occurrences of this construction used with locations very consistently:

2 Kings 23:16: εἶδεν τοὺς τάφους τοὺς ὄντας ἐκεῖ ἐν τῇ πόλει
He saw the tombs that were there on the hillside

Lev 1:8: vἐπὶ τοῦ πυρὸς τὰ ὄντα ἐπὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου
on the wood that is burning on the altar.

Since there are only 4 in the Apostolic Fathers, I’ll list them all:

Herm, Sim. V, ii, 4: πάσας τὰς βοτάνας τὰς οὔσας ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι ἐξέτιλλε
[He] pulled out all the weeds that were in the vineyard

Herm, Vis. V, 5:

1 Clem 55.5: καὶ τοῦ λαοῦ τοῦ ὄντος ἐν συγκλεισμῷ
and of her besieged people [lit: and of her people that are in the encirclement]

Ign Magn, Title: τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τὴν οὖσαν ἐν Μαγνησίᾳ τῇ πρὸς Μαιάνδρῳ
to the church at Magnesia on the Maeander

The fourth is an exception:

Herm, Vis. V, 5: αὐτὰ τὰ κεφάλαια τὰ ὄντα ὑμῖν σύμφορα
the most important points, those useful to you

But it should be noted that unlike the rest of the examples above, the participle of this one is not followed by a prepositional phrase. Also the fact that it occurs in the Fathers is rather clear evidence that this is not merely the LXX’s influence on Paul, Luke, & John.

Speaking of which, here are the occurrences in John’s Gospel & Revelation:

There’s only one occurrence in John 12:17 and its the same kind of thing: “the crowd that had been with him” (ὁ ὄχλος ὁ ὢν μετʼ αὐτοῦ).

The Revelation occurrences are almost identical and are a very different animal than what we have above: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (ὁ θεός ὁ ὢν) in 1.18 and Lord God Almighty, who are and who were…” (ὁ παντοκράτωρ ὁ ὢν)


What stands out here? Consistently, the construction is used when referring to a physical location and there is always a following prepositional phrase denoting that location. I would also suggest that instances such as Romans 7.23; 16.11; and Eph 4.18 are all figurative extensions of that principle.

Thus in our original verse, Ephesians 4.18, both my initially suggested possibilities were wrong. Paul’s use of this construction has less to do with emphasis or awkwardness and have everything to do with the conceptual metaphor of walking that begins in 4.17 and continues throughout chapters 4 & 5 of Ephesians. Just like walk is a metaphorical description of life, Paul uses this locative construction here to describe where these unbelieving gentiles are in their walk.

If this is correct, the goal of a quality translation of this passage as a whole (i.e. 4.17ff. should not retain the form, but it should retain this metaphor of walking on the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness as often as it occurs and if possible in this verse as well. This should be done on the basis of both Paul’s flow of thought and also in light of the important connections this metaphor has with both the OT Wisdom and Prophetic traditions from which Paul is pulling his ideas.