This paper was written for a class on Paul's prison epistles. As I recall, the assignment was to write a paper on a problem passage in the epistle.

NOTE: The footnotes are at the bottom of this document. One of these days, I'm going to figure out something better to do with them.


The Problems of the Passage

This particular passage of Scripture contains at least four elements which make it a problematic passage. These problem elements are: (1) changes introduced in the quotation of Psalm 68:18 in verse 8, (2) the meaning of the parenthetic statement of verses 9 and 10, (3) the question of whether those things listed in verse 11 refer to gifts or to gifted men, and (4) the relationship indicated by the Greek preposition eis in verse 12.


This passage can be outlined as follows:

I.	The Promise of Spiritual Gifts (7)

II.	The Source of Spiritual Gifts (8-10)

III.	The Nature of Spiritual Gifts (11)

IV.	The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts (12-16)


The Promise of Spiritual Gifts (v.7)

"But" introduces a contrast with the first six verses of this chapter. In those six verses, unity was stressed. There is one body, on Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God. But when it comes to spiritual gifts, there is a diversity. Therefore, the passage is introduced with a contrast.

Although spiritual gifts are diverse in nature, as we shall see in verse 11, verse 7 seems to present gifts as being diverse in measure. Paul uses similar terminology in Romans 12:38. Some have been given more grace than others. But it is made clear in this verse that every one of us has been given grace, that is, every member of the church has some spiritual gift. The apparent inference, when taking this verse along with Romans 12:6, is that the nature of one's spiritual gift or gifts is dependent upon the measure of grace which is given to that individual.

The Source of Spiritual Gifts (vv.8-lO)

These three verses show that the source of these gifts is the risen Lord Jesus Christ. While this major point is clear, these three verses present some problems which we must consider.

First, Paul makes a change in his quotation of Psalm 68:18. There it says, "Thou hast received gifts for men." Numerous solutions to this problem have been offered, and we will consider some of them below.

(1) Some, as Storr,1 have suggested that this is not a quotation of the Psalm, but a portion of a Christian hymn. But this is inconsistant with the phrase, "He saith", which is obviously a reference to God's utterance. Nor is it consistent with the obvious intent of this citation, which is to give Scriptural support to the assertion that the ascended Christ gives gifts to His church.

(2) It has been suggested that Paul did not intend a direct quotation here but, as was often the Jewish fashion, he adapted the passage to his own use (the liberals love this one).2 But the form of verse 8 is that of a direct quotation, and to say that he introduced a change in meaning to suit his needs is to deny, at least in part, the truth of Biblical inspiration.

(3) Whiston, according to Eadie,3 maintained that Paul's reading was correct, but that the Hebrew and the Septuagint had both been corrupted. This theory could be dismissed on lack of evidence coupled with the fact that it is too far-fetched to begin with.

(4) The best explanation is that the Hebrew laqach has a proleptic signification here, with the idea that Christ receives the gifts that He may give them. We see this proleptic usage of laqach in Genesis 15:9, Exodus 27:20, I Kings 17:10 and several other references in the Old Testament. A further confirmation of this view is that the Chaldee Paraphrase of Psalm 68:18 expresses the same sense as Paul does in Ephesians 4:8.4 "The apostle," explains Eadie, "as it especially suited his purpose, seizes on the latter portion of the sense, and renders -- edoke.5

A second problem presented by the quotation of Psalm 68:18 is that Psalm 68 is not Messianic, but a hymn of victory. This problem is resolved, however, by under- standing the Psalm to be typico-prophetic, that is, an historical event which is typical of a later event, and which is understood by the New Testament writer as having a prophetic character. Matthew used this form of prophesy on at least two occassions, 1:15 and 1:18, and there are other instances.6

In quoting this verse from the Psalm, Paul is demonstrating Old Testament support for the assertion that the ascended Christ gives gifts to those in His church. But the question may be asked, "Who, in Christ's fulfillment, were the captives which He led away?" Some ancient scholars have suggested that the reference is to Satan's prisoners, or the souls of the righteous who were in Hades. But such interpretations would be foreign to all other teachings of the Scriptures. The probable reference is to those enemies which Christ subjugated at the cross, namely, Satan, sin and death.7

Verses 9 and 10 comprise a parenthesis, the design of which is to show that the passage quoted form the Psalm refers to Christ. That a divine person would ascend implies a previous descent. It was Christ who descended, so it was Christ who ascended. And while it may be that God the Father sometimes descended in the Old Testament, the apostle is asserting that it was the Son who was intended by the typico-prophetic utterance of the Psalmist.

The statement that Christ "descended first into the lower parts of the earth" causes us to wonder whether the apostle intended to represent Christ as descending into Hades, or if the words are to be understood as simply denoting the earth. The latter view is the more acceptable for the following three reasons: (1) this idea of descent into Hades is foreign to the meaning of Psalm 68, (2) the only descent spoken of in the context is opposed to the ascending to heaven, and (3) this opposition, as expressed in other places, refers to His descent to the earth, as in John 3:13, 8:14, and 16:28.8

We have seen, therefore, that in these three verses, Paul demonstrates that it is the ascended Christ who gives spiritual gifts to the church.

The Nature of Spiritual Gifts (v.11)

The first question to arise when considering this verse is whether Paul intends the objects of this verse to be the men themselves, or gifts given to certain men. In other words, is he saying, as Scofield contends,9 that Christ gives apostles to some churches, prophets to others, etc, or is he saying, as most commentators contend,10 that he gave some men to be apostles, some to be prophets, etc.? Are the men the gifts, or are the abilities the gifts? This question cannot be answered with a high degree of certainty, and fortunately whichever view is accepted does not have much bearing upon one's interpretation of the passage as a whole. But the context favors the idea that the gifts themselves are in view here, since it is clear from verse 8 that gifts are given to men.

Four offices are listed in this verse, which are explained briefly below.


Three things distinguished the apostle in the strict sense of the term: (1) he had witnessed the resurrection of Christ, (2) he was appointed directly by Christ, and (3) he posessed the power of working miracles. Therefore the gift of apostleship, in the strict sense, is no longer given.


A prophet was one who spoke the Word of God. Old Testament prophets were God's mouthpieces, speaking the words which He put into their mouths, and it can be assumed that there were prophets of this type in New Testament times also. But there seem to have been prophets of a secondary type also, for a prophet is defined in I Cor. 14:3 as one who "speaketh unto men to edification, to exhortation and comfort."


According to Erdman11 and Chafer,12 the evangelist of the first century was probably similar to what we would call a missionary today, that is, one who entered into unevangelized fields to preach the gospel to the lost.

Pastors and Teachers

This seems to describe two functions of the same office, since if it were two separate offices we would expect to see, "and some, pastors; and some, teachers." These men were charged with the oversight of local churches, and with giving spiritual guidance and instruction to them.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts (vv.12-16)

The relationship of the phrases of verse 12 has been questioned. There are several explanations of the relation- ship, but only three are worthy of consideration.

The first view puts all three prepositional phrases parallel to one another. Thus, this verse would be saying that Christ gave these gifts to the church for three reasons: (1) the perfecting (i.e., equipping) of the saints, (2) the work of the ministry, and (3) the edifying of the body of Christ. But the changes in the preposition, using pros before the first clause while eis stands before the other two members of the verse, indicates a different relationship.

A second view is that the last two clauses are coordinate, while the first clause contains the ultimate reason for which Christ gave teachers. "He has given teachers -- eis -- `for the work of the ministry, and -- eis -- for the edifying of his body -- pros --in order to the perfecting of His saints.'"13 But the order of thought is inverted here, and Paul's style, like his thought, tended to be more organized.

The third and most feasible view is that the two clauses introduced by eis are dependent upon that beginning with pros. Thus we would have, "For the equipping of the saints unto the work of the ministry for the purpose of the edifying of the body of Christ." The only objection raised to this view is that diakonia signifies official service, not that of the saints in general. But this is not a valid objection. Diakonia is used in Luke 10:40 and Revelation 2:19 of "unofficial" service, to use their terms. It is likely that the basis of this objection comes from the clergy-laity mentality of these authors.

Thus, we can see that the purpose of spiritual gifts is the edification of the church. The remainder of this passage expounds more upon this concept. This edification leads to unity and knowledge (v.13), and to an unshakeable faith, with adequate defense from the storms of false doctrine (v.14). The imagery of a building is used here. Under the headship of Christ, through the agency of gifted men, the individual parts are to be strengthened and joined together according to their function.


1According to Ellicott, p. 89

2Abbott p. 112

3Eadie, p. 281

4Hodge, p. 75

5Eadie, p. 282

6See Hodge, p. 76, for a detailed discussion of this.

7Ellicott, p. 90

8Hodge, p. 77

9New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1276

10Cp. Eadie, Ellicott, Alford, Abbott and Hodge.

11Erdman, p.81

12Chafer, p. 131

13Eadie, p. 308


Abbott, T.K. The Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1897.

Alford, Henry. Alford's Greek Testament. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. The Ephesian Letter. Findlay: Dunham Publishing Co., 1935.

Eadie, John. Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1955.

Ellicott, C.J. The Epistle to the Ephesians. Cambridge, 1859.

Erdman, Charles R. The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1931.

Hodge, Charles. An Exposition of Ephesians. Wilmington: Associated Publishers and Authors, 1972.

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