Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
Eph 3:1-21. His Apostolic Office to Make Known the Mystery of Christ Revealed by the Spirit: Prayer that by the Same Spirit They May Comprehend the Vast Love of Christ: Doxology Ending This Division of the Epistle.
As the first chapter treated of THE Father's office; and the second, THE Son's, so this, that of THE Spirit.
1. of Jesus Christ—Greek, "Christ Jesus." The office is the prominent thought in the latter arrangement; the person, in the former. He here marks the Messiahship of "Christ," maintained by him as the origin of his being a "prisoner," owing to the jealousy of the Jews being roused at his preaching it to the Gentiles. His very bonds were profitable to ("for" or "in behalf of you") Gentiles (Eph 3:13; 2Ti 2:10). He digresses at "For this cause," and does not complete the sentence which he had intended, until Eph 3:14, where he resumes the words, "For this cause," namely, because I know this your call of God as Gentiles (Eph 2:11-22), to be "fellow-heirs" with the Jews (Eph 3:6), "I bow my knees to" the Father of our common Saviour (Eph 3:14, 15) to confirm you in the faith by His Spirit. "I Paul," expresses the agent employed by the Spirit to enlighten them, after he had been first enlightened himself by the same Spirit (Eph 3:3-5, 9).
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
2. If—The Greek does not imply doubt: "Assuming (what I know to be the fact, namely) that ye have heard," &c. "If, as I presume," The indicative in the Greek shows that no doubt is implied: "Seeing that doubtless," &c. He by this phrase delicately reminds them of their having heard from himself, and probably from others subsequently, the fact. See Introduction, showing that these words do not disprove the address of this Epistle to the Ephesians. Compare Ac 20:17-24.
the dispensation—"The office of dispensing, as a steward, the grace of God which was (not 'is') given me to you-ward," namely, to dispense to you.
How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
3. he made known—The oldest manuscripts read, "That by revelation was the mystery (namely, of the admission of the Gentiles, Eph 3:6; 1:9) made known unto me (Ga 1:12)."
as I wrote afore—namely, in this Epistle (Eph 1:9, 10), the words of which he partly repeats.
Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
4. understand my knowledge—"perceive my understanding" [Alford], or "intelligence." "When ye read," implies that, deep as are the mysteries of this Epistle, the way for all to understand them is to read it (2Ti 3:15, 16). By perceiving his understanding of the mysteries, they, too, will be enabled to understand.
the mystery of Christ—The "mystery" is Christ Himself, once hidden, but now revealed (Col 1:27).
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
5. in other ages—Greek, "generations."
not made known—He does not say, "has not been revealed." Making known by revelation is the source of making known by preaching [Bengel]. The former was vouchsafed only to the prophets, in order that they might make known the truth so revealed to men in general.
unto the sons of men—men in their state by birth, as contrasted with those illuminated "by the Spirit" (Greek, "IN the Spirit," compare Re 1:10), Mt 16:17.
as—The mystery of the call of the Gentiles (of which Paul speaks here) was not unknown to the Old Testament prophets (Isa 56:6, 7; 49:6). But they did not know it with the same explicit distinctness "As" it has been now known (Ac 10:19, 20; 11:18-21). They probably did not know that the Gentiles were to be admitted without circumcision or that they were to be on a level with the Jews in partaking of the grace of God. The gift of "the Spirit" in its fulness was reserved for the New Testament that Christ might thereby be glorified. The epithet, "holy," marks the special consecration of the New Testament "prophets" (who are here meant) by the Spirit, compared with which even the Old Testament prophets were but "sons of men" (Eze 2:3, and elsewhere).
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
6. Translate, "That the Gentiles are," &c. "and fellow members of the same body, and fellow partakers of the (so the oldest manuscripts read, not 'His') promise, in Christ Jesus (added in the oldest manuscripts), through the Gospel." It is "in Christ Jesus" that they are made "fellow heirs" in the inheritance of God: "of the same body" under the Head, Christ Jesus; and "fellow partakers of the promise" in the communion of THE Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13; Heb 6:4). The Trinity is thus alluded to, as often elsewhere in this Epistle (Eph 2:19, 20, 22).
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
7. Whereof—"of which" Gospel.
according to—in consequence of, and in accordance with, "the gift of the grace of God."
given—"which (gift of grace) was given to me by (Greek, 'according to,' as in Eph 3:20; 1:19: as the result of, and in proportion to) the effectual working (Greek, 'energy,' or 'in-working') of His power."
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
8. am—Not merely was I in times past, but I still am the least worthy of so high an office (compare 1Ti 1:15, end).
least of all saints—not merely "of all apostles" (1Co 15:9, 10).
is—Greek, "has been given."
among—omitted in the oldest manuscripts Translate, "to announce to the Gentiles the glad tidings of the unsearchable (Job 5:9) riches," namely, of Christ's grace (Eph 1:7; 2:7). Ro 11:33, "unsearchable" as a mine inexhaustible, whose treasures can never be fully explored (Eph 3:18, 19).
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
9. to make all men see—Greek, "to enlighten all" (Eph 1:18; Ps 18:28; Heb 6:4). "All" (compare Col 1:28).
fellowship—The oldest manuscripts read, "economy," or "dispensation" (compare Col 1:25, 26; and see on Eph 1:10, above). "To make all see how it hath seemed good to God at this time to dispense (through me and others, His stewards) what heretofore was a mystery." Ellicott explains it, "the arrangement," or "regulation" of the mystery (the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ) which was now to be humbly traced and acknowledged in the fact of its having secretly existed in the counsel of God, and now having been revealed to the heavenly powers by means of the Church.
from the beginning of the world—Greek, "from (the beginning of) the ages." Compare Eph 1:4; Ro 16:25; 1Co 2:7. The "ages" are the vast successive periods of time, marked by successive stages of creation and orders of beings.
in God—"hidden in" His counsels (Eph 1:9).
created all things by Jesus Christ—God's creation of the world and all things therein is the foundation of the rest of the "economy," which is freely dispensed according to the universal power of God [Bengel]. AS God created "the whole range of things" (so the Greek), physical and spiritual alike, He must have an absolute right to adjust all things as He will. Hence, we may see His right to keep the mystery of world-wide salvation in Christ "hidden in Himself," till his own good time for revealing it. The oldest manuscripts omit "by Jesus Christ."
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
10. The design of God in giving Paul grace to proclaim to the Gentiles the mystery of salvation heretofore hidden.
now—first: opposed to "hidden from the beginning of the world" (Eph 3:5).
unto the principalities and—Greek adds "the"
powers—unto the various orders of good angels primarily, as these dwell "in the heavenly places" in the highest sense; "known" to their adoring joy (1Ti 3:16; 1Pe 1:12). Secondarily, God's wisdom in redemption is made known to evil angels, who dwell "in heavenly places" in a lower sense, namely, the air (compare Eph 2:2 with Eph 6:12); "known" to their dismay (1Co 15:24; Col 2:15).
might be known—Translate, "may be known."
by the church—"by means of," or "through the Church," which is the "theater" for the display of God's manifold wisdom (Lu 15:10; 1Co 4:9): "a spectacle (Greek, 'theater') to angels." Hence, angels are but our "fellow servants" (Re 19:10).
manifold wisdom—though essentially one, as Christ is one, yet varying the economy in respect to places, times, and persons (Isa 55:8, 9; Heb 1:1). Compare 1Pe 4:10, "stewards of the manifold grace of God." Man cannot understand aright its single acts till he can survey them as a connected whole (1Co 13:12). The call of the Church is no haphazard remedy, or afterthought, but part of the eternal scheme, which, amidst manifold varieties of dispensation, is one in its end.
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
11. which he purposed—Greek, "made." Ellicott translates, "wrought."
In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
12. Translate, "our boldness and our access (Eph 2:18) in confidence through our faith in Him." Alford quotes as an instance, Ro 8:38, &c. "THE access" (Greek) implies the formal introduction into the presence of a monarch.
Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
13. "I entreat you not to be dispirited."
for you—in your behalf.
which is—rather, "which are your glory," namely, inasmuch as showing that God loved you so much, as both to give His Son for you, and to permit His apostles to suffer "tribulations" for you [Chrysostom] in preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. See on Eph 3:1, "prisoner for you Gentiles." My tribulations are your spiritual "glory," as your faith is furthered thereby (1Co 4:10).
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
14. For this cause—Resuming the thread of Eph 3:1, "For this cause." Because ye have such a standing in God's Church [Alford].
bow my knees—the proper attitude in humble prayer. Posture affects the mind, and is not therefore unimportant. See Paul's practice (Ac 20:36); and that of the Lord Himself on earth (Lu 22:41).
unto the Father—The oldest manuscripts omit "of our Lord Jesus Christ." But Vulgate and some very old authorities retain them: Eph 3:15, "From whom," in either case, refers to "the Father" (Patera), as "family" (patria, akin in sound and etymology) plainly refers to Him. Still the foundation of all sonship is in Jesus Christ.
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
15. the whole family—Alford, Middleton, and others translate, "every family": alluding to the several families in heaven and in earth supposed to exist [Theophylact, Æcumenius, in Suicer, 2.633], the apostle thus being supposed to imply that God, in His relation of Father to us His adopted children, is the great prototype of the paternal relation wherever found. But the idea that "the holy angels are bound up in spiritual families or compaternities," is nowhere else in Scripture referred to. And Ac 2:36, where the article is similarly omitted, and yet the translation is, "All the house of Israel," shows that in New Testament Greek the translation is justifiable, "all the family," or "the whole family": which accords with Scripture views, that angels and men, the saints militant and those with God, are one holy family joined under the one Father in Christ, the mediator between heaven and earth (Eph 1:10; Php 2:10). Hence angels are termed our "brethren" (Re 19:10), and "sons of God" by creation, as we are by adoption (Job 38:7). The Church is part of the grand family, or kingdom, which comprehends, besides men, the higher spiritual world, where the archetype, to the realization of which redeemed man is now tending, is already realized. This universal idea of the "kingdom" of God as one divine community, is presented to us in the Lord's Prayer. By sin men were estranged, not only from God, but from that higher spiritual world in which the kingdom of God is already realized. As Christ when He reconciled men to God, united them to one another in a divine community (joined to Himself, the one Head), breaking down the partition wall between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14), so also He joins them in communion with all those who have already attained that perfection in the kingdom of God, to which the Church on earth is aspiring (Col 1:20) [Neander].
is named—derives its origin and its name as sons of God. To be named, and to be, are one with God. To bear God's name is to belong to God as His own peculiar people (Nu 6:27; Isa 43:7; 44:5; Ro 9:25, 26).
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
16. according to—that is in abundance consonant to the riches of His glory; not "according to" the narrowness of our hearts. Col 1:11, "Strengthened with all might according to His glorious power."
by—Greek, "through"; "by means of His Spirit."
in—The Greek implies, "infused into."
the inner man—(Eph 4:22, 24; 1Pe 3:4); "the hidden man of the heart." Not predicated of unbelievers, whose inward and outward man alike are carnal. But in believers, the "inner (new) man," their true self, stands in contrast to their old man, which is attached to them as a body of death daily being mortified, but not their true self.
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
17. That—So that.
dwell—abidingly make His abode (Joh 14:23). Where the Spirit is there Christ is (Joh 14:16, 18).
by faith—Greek, "through faith," which opens the door of the heart to Jesus (Joh 3:20). It is not enough that He be on the tongue, or flit through the brain: the heart is His proper seat [Calvin]. "You being rooted and grounded in love" (compare Eph 3:19), is in the Greek connected with this clause, not with the clause, "that ye may be able to comprehend." "Rooted" is an image from a tree; "grounded" (Greek, "founder," "having your foundations resting on"), from a building (compare Notes,, see on Eph 2:20,21; Col 1:23; 2:7). Contrast Mt 13:6, 21. "Love," the first-fruit of the Spirit, flowing from Christ's love realized in the soul, was to be the basis on which should rest their further comprehension of all the vastness of Christ's love.
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
18. May be able—even still further. Greek, "May be fully able."
breadth … length … depth … height—namely, the full dimensions of the spiritual temple, answering to "the fulness of God" (Eph 3:19), to which the Church, according to its capacity, ought to correspond (compare Eph 4:10, 13) as to "the fulness of Christ." The "breadth" implies Christ's world-wide love, embracing all men: the "length," its being extended through all ages (Eph 3:21); the "depth," its profound wisdom which no creature can fathom (Ro 11:33); the "height," its being beyond the reach of any foe to deprive us of (Eph 4:8) [Bengel]. I prefer to understand "the breadth," &c., to refer to the whole of the vast mystery of free salvation in Christ for all, Gentile and Jew alike, of which Paul had been speaking (Eph 3:3-9), and of which he now prays they may have a fuller comprehension. As subsidiary to this, and the most essential part of it, he adds, "and to know the love of Christ" (Eph 3:19). Grotius understands depth and height of God's goodness raising us from the lowest depression to the greatest height.
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
19. passeth—surpasseth, exceeds. The paradox "to know … which passeth knowledge," implies that when he says "know," he does not mean that we can adequately know; all we know is, that His love exceeds far our knowledge of it, and with even our fresh accessions of knowledge hereafter, will still exceed them. Even as God's power exceeds our thoughts (Eph 3:20).
filled with—rather, as Greek, "filled even unto all the fulness of God" (this is the grand goal), that is, filled, each according to your capacity, with the divine wisdom, knowledge, and love; "even as God is full," and as Christ who dwells in your hearts, hath "all the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in Him bodily" (Col 2:9).
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
20. unto him—contrasted with ourselves and our needs. Translate, "that is able above all things (what is above all things) to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or (even) think": thought takes a wider range than prayers. The word, above, occurs thrice as often in Paul's writings, as in all the rest of the New Testament, showing the warm exuberance of Paul's spirit.
according to the power—the indwelling Spirit (Ro 8:26). He appeals to their and his experience.
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
21. Translate, "Unto Him be the glory (that is, the whole glory of the gracious dispensation of salvation just spoken of) in the Church (as the theater for the manifestation of the glory, Eph 3:10) in Christ Jesus (as in Him all the glory centers, Zec 6:13) to all the generations of eternal ages," literally, "of the age of the ages." Eternity is conceived as consisting of "ages" (these again consisting of "generations") endlessly succeeding one another.