The Function of δέ in Ephesians – Part I

In my introduction to this topic, I discussed the basis of this little study as being an essay by Randall Buth on conjunctions in the Gospel of John. And here I intend to determine whether his model works outside John in other texts, particularly Ephesians 1.1-4.24, which is where I presently am working in my studies. Presently, I’m restricting my analysis to δέ, but I would like to eventually expand it to other conjunctions as well.

Total, there are twenty (19 in P46 & B, cf. 4.32) occurrences of δέ in eighteen verses. Eleven of those occur before 4.25.

These include: Ephesians 2.4, 13; 3.20; 4.7, 9, 11 (3), 15, 20, and 23. I’ll look at the first five of this occurrences today and the rest will be examined tomorrow.

Ephesians 2.4-5: ὁ δὲ θεὸς πλούσιος ὢν ἐν ἐλέει, διὰ τὴν πολλὴν ἀγάπην αὐτοῦ ἣν ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, 5 καὶ ὄντας ἡμᾶς νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασιν συνεζωοποίησεν τῷ Χριστῷ, — χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι
“But God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our sins – It is by grace you are saved!”

This verse introduces a new topic that stands in direct juxtaposition to the previous paragraph. In verses 1-3, Paul’s focus is on the status of his audience (though verse 3 includes himself as well) before they were saved. They were dead in their sins, following sinful desires, and children of wrath. But then, in verse four, there is a clear and significant change in topic. Previously the focus in on the Ephesians* and their past life. But now in 4, Paul shifts his focus onto God and the Ephesians present existence.

So it is clear that in this verse δέ does mark “+significant change” as Buth’s chart suggested. But is “-close connection” as clear? Well, that depends on what is mean by this phrase. And we are given a helpful description of our two “-close connection” devices (δέ and asyndeton). They “share aspects with interruptive, backgrounded and contrasting material” (156). This definition indeed fits with what we see here in Ephesians 2.4, where there is a huge contrast between the past and the present in redemptive history. And this kind of usage of δέ will appear elsewhere in this letter** later on.

Ephesians 2.13: νυνὶ δὲ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ὑμεῖς οἵ ποτε ὄντες μακρὰν ἐγενήθητε ἐγγὺς ἐν τῷ αἵματι τοῦ Χριστοῦ
“But now, in Christ we who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

In 2.13, we find the same sort of significant change and lack of connection that we saw in 2.4. In verses 11-12, Paul describes his audience as distant and separated from God’s people. But now, they have been brought near by Christ’s blood.

Ephesians 3.20-21: Τῷ δὲ δυναμένῳ ὑπὲρ πάντα ποιῆσαι ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ ὧν αἰτούμεθα ἢ νοοῦμεν κατὰ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν ἐνεργουμένην ἐν ἡμῖν, 21 αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.
“Now to him who is able to do superabundantly beyond anything that we could ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, may glory be his in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations forever and ever, Amen!”

These verses bring to close Paul’s prayer for unity and love within the church, particularly between Jews and Gentiles (cf. verse 14, where all families are described as being being named by God their father – not to mention the context of the past two chapters!)

The fact that this instances of δὲ fits the bill for Buth’s description is rather clear. We have a distinct and significant shift in content and while the closing of the prayer in doxology is rather predictable, the change is quite “interruptive” as well.

Ephesians 4.7: Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
“But grace was given to each one of us individually as much as Christ measured out to be given.”

The context of this occurrence of δέ is the beginning of Paul’s discussion of gifts. He has previously, in verses 1-6 described the unity and singularity of the body in relation to the unity and singularity of other aspects of the faith: God is one, the Spirit is one. There is one faith, one hope, one baptism, etc.

But in that singular unity, there is diversity (These verses fit very well as a sort of summary of 1 Corinthians 12.12-31). In the body, there are different gifts. And it is Christ who gives them as he determines.

So like the previous instances, we have a distinct change in content (+significant change) and we have a contrast with the preceding material (-close connection).

Ephesians 4.9: τὸ δὲ Ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν, εἰ μὴ ὅτι καὶ κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα [μέρη] τῆς γῆς;
“So what does ‘He ascends” mean, if not that he also descended into the lower [parts] that are the earth?”

Like Paul’s prayer in 3.20-21, this occurrences of δέ is also quite clear. Both “+significant change” and “-close connection” should been see in the shift from quotation back to Paul’s discourse. It could also be said that there is a contrast between verse 8’s focus on ascending and verse 9’s focus on descending, though that is not as definite. And while this does not necessarily fit Buth’s summary quoted above (“[δέ and asyndeton] share aspects with interruptive, backgrounded and contrasting material”), it does fit Buth’s description of δέ in his actual analysis, “Δέ is regularly used in background descriptions, and with interruptive, authorial comments” (150). Now if Paul’s question here in 4.9 is not an authorial comment, then I do not know what would be.

Whether it is interruptive or not is another question, though I would follow the TNIV in considering it as such along with verse 10. This is especially clear since in verses 9-10 there is no reference whatsoever to gifts, the subject of verses 7-8 and then again in verses 11ff. On that basis, I would argue that this question in verse 9 along with verse 10 is clearly an interruptive authorial comment.

Tentative Conclusions for the first occurrences of δέ in Ephesians:

Generally, Buth’s pattern holds in Ephesians, at least in these first five examples we’ve looked at, though some of them are clearer than others. I believe that is because, as English speakers, we can more easily see contrast in conjunctions as opposed to interruptive comments (or in the case of 3.20 exclamations). What is clear though, is that δέ does not mean “but.” Examples such as Ephesians 3.20 and then in 4.9 show that the contrast expressed by the English “but” does not necessarily occur in contexts where δέ appears.

(If anyone sees any typos, please let me know in the comments)


*At present, I have not come to a conclusion on whether this letter was sent to Ephesus. But it was sent somewhere and for our purposes, Ephesus is as good a place as any!

**While Ephesians has the formal characteristics of a letter, beyond its opening and closing, I would argue that it would be better classified as a sermon or homily (see commentary introductions of Witherington and Best for details).