Father Hitchcock’s Commentary on Ephesians 5:15-21
Posted by Dim Bulb on October 9, 2012
Eph 5:15. Therefore, be looking exactly how you are walking, [And do] not [walk] as unwise, but as wise.
The word “therefore” goes back beyond the results of light and darkness to the command, Be walking as children of light (Eph 5:8). And for the seventh time in this encyclical, the verb “to walk” is used of conduct. The verb “look” is used elsewhere, as in Col 4:17, Phil 3:2, by St. Paul in that same sense of “look-out,” “be on the watch.” It is employed very much as here by him in 1 Cor 3:10. But each shall be looking how he is building up. More difficult is the word, rendered “exactly.” Its meaning is sufficiently plain, though its derivation is not certain. St Paul employs the adjective akribes, in its superlative form, of the Pharisees, Acts 26:5. because they were most exact, accurate and scrupulous in obedience to the Jewish Law. And the meaning, “exactly,” suits the adverb akrib0s on its other occurrences in Matt 11:8, Luke 1:3. Acts 18:25 and 1 Thess 5:2.
But the difficulty of the word has regard to its position. If it should be placed before “how,” then the readers must look exactly. If after “how,” then they must walk exactly. After much hesitation, we have decided to place it before “how” for two reasons. First of all, that reading would be able to explain the alternative one. For if the original text was akribos pos, “exactly how,” then the pos could easily be omitted, as by the Ethiopic version, in copying or translating a manuscript, which did not separate the words. Afterwards, pos could be restored, and that as easily before as after akribos, if the scribe did not see that the verb “be looking” is modified by “exactly,” as “walking” is modified by the line that follows.
Then some of the testimony for placing “exactly” before “how” is very ancient. It includes the Bohairic version, made for northern Egypt about 200 or 250, and Origen, head of the Alexandrian School in 203, his text being given in Cramer’s Catenæ of 1842, vi., 195, 196. These are supported by the two Neutral uncials, the Sinaitic Aleph and the Vatican B. both probably of Caesarea and the year 331. Then there are the opening words of St. Chrysostom’s homily xix. on Ephesians, delivered before 398. and containing this reading twice. There are also cursives. 17, of Cent, ix, or x., 31, 73 and 80, of Cent, xi., and 118, of Cent. xii.
In favour of reading “how exactly,” there are first of all Victorinus and Ambrosiaster at Rome about 360, Lucifer of Cagliari, p. 195, who died in 371, and St. Jerome’s Vulgate of 385 and commentary of 388. Early in the fifth century, there are five witnesses, the Alexandrian uncial A, Pelagius, who wrote his commentaries on St. Paul at Rome before 410, the Syaiac Peshitta of 411, Theodoret of Syrian Cyrus, consecrated about 423, and the Armenian version, made after 431. In the sixth century, we have the Greek in Claromontanus D. In the seventh century, we find the Harclean Sjoiac of 616, and the second corrector of the Sinaitic, א. In the ninth century, we have the Western uncials, Sangerman E, which is a copy of D, the Augien F and its twin the Boemerian G, with their Old Latin versions, f and g. And to these we must add the Porphyrian P and the Syrian uncials, the Moscovian K and Angelic L.
Now the line, Not as unwise, but as wise (Eph 5:15b), has the subjective negative, me (μη), because it is dependent on the command, which we attempt to make explicit by rendering the words, [And do] not [walk] as unwise, but as wise. Here the emphasis is on the theoretical aspect; but this view is enlarged to include the practical, when the Apostle forbids his readers to be “senseless.” the two words, “unwise” and “senseless,” completing one another. So he adds,
Buying out the season for yourselves, Because the days are evil—On account of this [need to walk so], do not be becoming senseless, But comprehend what [is] the will of the Lord (Eph 5:16-17).
We retain the translation “season” or “opportunity” for the Greek word, kairos, though some may argue that here it only means time, as chronos would do. Certainly, in the strangely similar passage, found in Theodotions Greek version of Dan 2:8. I know that you are buying out a season, expresses Nebuchadnezzar’s view that the Chaldean magicians were procuring delay. The original Aramaic means, Of a surety, I [am] knowing That you [are] buying the time, that is, gaining time, the Syriac Peshitta or Vulgate rendering the form, “you [are] asking for time.”
But even so, we need not ignore the difference between this word kairos, “season” or “opportunity,” and chronos, “time.” If we do render the former by “time,” it must be understood that it is in the sense of “time, filled with opportunity.” Butcher, in his Harvard Lectures on Greek Subjects, holds that kairos has no single or precise equivalent in any other language. He defines it as “that immediate present, which is what we make it: Time charged with opportunity, our own possession to be seized and vitalised by human energy, momentous, effectual, decisive; Time, the inert, transformed into purposeful activity.”
The ex-, prefixed to the verb “buy,” suggests “out” or “off,” not “up.” This is confirmed by the letter of the Smyrnaean Christians on the Martyrdom of Polycarp ii. 3, written soon after the martyrdom of St. Polycarp on Saturday, the 23rd of February, 155. There it is said that the martyrs were “buying off the eternal punishment for themselves by means of one hour.” We add the words “for themselves,” as we have already added “for yourselves” in translating Eph 5:16, to express the middle or reflexive form of the verb. There need not, therefore, arise any question as to the salesman. St. Chrysostom, however, before 398 a.d., in homily xix. on this epistle, suggests the persecuting pagans. Severian of Gabala, about 401. and according to Cramer’s Catena, of 1842, on this place, thinks that the time is bought out from evil men in general. And Calvin boldly said “the Devil.”
Ramsay, in his St. Paul, the Traveller p. 149, happily omits the suggestion of a salesman by translating the line, “making your market fully from the occasion”; and he uses it to show how St. Paul “advised his pupils to learn from the surrounding world everything that was worthy in it.” Seneca, in his first epistle, writes, “Gather up, and preserve the time,” the idea being repeated from his tract on the Shortness of Life i. It is interesting to note the similar thoughts of the two men at that same moment. The one man was the Semite Paul, a prisoner in his own lodging. The other was the Spaniard Seneca, owner of two millions and a half sterling, and nominally adviser, as he had been tutor, to the Emperor Nero. We have, however, pointed out that Seneca may have been a Semite, and that he was certainly influenced by Athenodorus of St. Paul’s city, Tarsus.
St. Paul has already used the expression, Buying out the season for yourselves in Eph 5:16a, and in Col 4:5, Be walking in wisdom [with regard] to the [men] without, Buying out the season for yourselves. This, Lightfoot paraphrases simply as letting no opportunity slip them of saying and doing what may further the cause of God. In the present passage, the Apostle adds, Because the days are evil (Eph 5:16b). But there is no connection with Jacob’s speech to Pharaoh, The days of the years of my life have been few and evil (Gen 47:9). For Jacob is referring to his exile with Laban and his mourning for Joseph. St. Paul, on the other hand, uses the word in its moral sense. This is more suited to the time of Nero, an evil day, Eph 6:13, growing worse till its culmination three years hence in the fire of Rome and the martyrdom of Christians.
To walk as wise, the Apostle’s readers must not become senseless, unwise in practical matters. But they must comprehend what is the will of the Lord. He had spoken of this to the Roman Christians, four years before, when he urged them, saying, But be being transformed in regard to the renewing of the intelligence. Unto the end that you may prove what [is] the will of God, [That is, what is] the good and well-pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:2).
Eph. 5:18-20. Christian Gladness.
The fourth commandment will deal with a very practical matter. Faithful Christians could not take part in the civic banquets or club feasts, as these were always involved in idolatry and often in impurity. Instead, they had their agapai, or “love-feasts,” to express their brotherhood. Though such feasts were a continuation of our Lord’s Last Supper, and were followed by the Holy Eucharist, yet it was possible for Christians to forget the purpose, 1 Cor 11:17-34, and for false and unholy teachers to share the feast and degrade it, 2 Pet 2:13. Ultimately, such malpractices caused the Church to substitute fasting communion for the love-feasts, as the need of guarding against similar scandals led to communion under one kind. But while the love-feasts lasted, they were occasions of gladness; and St. Paul’s direction refers to the character of the gladness. This should be the fruit of the Spirit, Gal 5:22, and not due to the fruit of the vine. For this purpose, St. Paul takes the sentence, And be not being drunk with wine (Prov 23:31). Such was the rendering in the Greek Vulgate, according to the Alexandrian manuscript and Origen’s testimony. The Hebrew literally means, Thou Shalt not see wine when it is red. St. Paul, however, is not quoting the words as recognised Scripture. He is simply taking well-known words from a popular translation, and making them Scripture. When he adds, In which is prodigality (Eph 5:18b), it is plain that the prodigality is not in the wine, but in the being drunk with wine. Therefore, we render the words, And be not being drunk with wine, In which [drunkenness] is prodigality (Eph 5:18).
The word asotia, “prodigality,” has occasioned questioning. Some derive it from a, “not,” and sozo, “I save,” and explain it as “not to be saved.” Others refer us to Homer’s Iliad ix. 393, 424, 681, and derive the word from a, “not,” and soo. But this verb is merely the Epic form of sozo. Then, the Alcibiades iii., of Plutarch, who was a student in 66 a.d., and the Paedagogue ii. i, of the Alexandrian Clement, before 195 a.d., imply the connection of the noun with asostos, incapable of being saved.” But the derivation and the use of the word connect it with the active form of the verb, and interpret it as inability to save. It therefore means a wastrel, not a losel.
Plato’s Republic was begun before his visit to Sicily in 389 B.C. In that book, viii. 560, 561, he tells how a young man’s conceited opinions will expel his temperance as unmanliness, and his moderate expenditure as boorish illiberality, in order to enthrone Insolence as Good Education, Anarchy as Freedom, Prodigality as Magnificence, and Shamelessness as Manliness. Aristotle, whose Nicomachean Ethics were left unfinished at his death in 322 B.C., takes up the word asotia, “prodigality,” in that work, IV. i. 3-5. He says that it ought to be applied only to the wasting of one’s substance. Then he represents it as an excess, liberality being the mean, and illiberality the defect. But his protest implies that the word is commonly used of those who are incontinent and extravagant in regard to intemperance.
The Greek Vulgate of Proverbs was made after that of the Law, which was made under Ptolemy Philadelphus, 284-247 B.C., and before that of Sirach, which we date in 132 B.C. Prov 28:7, employs the word asotia for the Hebrew zol’lim, a plural participle, meaning “squandering [men],” “prodigals,” from the verb zalal, “to shake,” “to shake out,” or “pour out.” Then the Alexandrian Jew, who epitomised Jason’s History in his own Second Maccabees before Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and probably about the time of the Incarnation, uses the word, 2 Macc 6:4. Describing the pollution of the Temple under Antiochus IV., named Epiphanes, or the “Manifest” [God], in December 168 B.C., he tells of the indecent orgies, which took place in the Temple courts. And he connects the word asotia with komos, “a revel.” So it would appear that the sense of the word, against which Aristotle had protested, still prevailed.
We now reach the period of the New Testament. There the adverb is used in Luke 15:13; and the phrase, “living prodigally,” is used again by Josephus, in his Antiquities xii. 4, 8, published in 93 a.d. The noun is used in 1 Pet 4:4, written in the spring of 63, a.d. There it refers to excess in carnal and idolatrous sin. And in the autumn of 65 A.D., St. Paul will stipulate that a presbyter’s children shall not be chargeable with astoia, “prodigality,” Titus 1:6.
So we may retain the translation, “prodigality”; but at the same time, we should recognise an implication of sensuality.
In contrast to being filled with wine, St. Paul urges, But be being filled by [the] Spirit (Eph 5:18c). The Greek phrase is literally “in spirit.” It cannot mean “with the Spirit,” for the Greek verb “fill” cannot be constructed with “in” as meaning “with.” But “in” may indicate the instrument. So the question is whether “in spirit” means “in your spiritual nature,” or “by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit.” The other occurrences of the phrase in this encyclical Eph 2:22, Eph 3:5, and Eph 6:18, as well as its less doubtful use in 1 Cor 12:3, 1 Cor 12:13, Rom 15:16, suggest the latter meaning, “by the Holy Spirit.” This is confirmed by the contrast in Acts 2:15-17, between the filling with wine and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and by that in For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking But justice and peace and joy by [the] Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
Then there follows a passage which virtually repeats one already written to the Colossians. In the earlier statement, the Apostle had said, And the peace of the Christ shall umpire in your hearts unto which [peace] you were called in one body; and be thankful [euchdristoi]. The word of the Christ shall indwell in you Richly in all wisdom. [You shall be] teaching and admonishing yourselves [that is, one another] With psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, in the grace [of God], Singing in your hearts to God. And everything whatever—if you do [it] in word or in work— [Do] all things in [the] name of [the[ Lord Jesus. Giving thanks to God [the] Father by means of Him (col 3:15-17).
Now, in his encyclical, the Apostle again insists on such spiritual recreation, saying, But be being filled by [the] Spirit, Talking to yourselves [that is, to one another] with psalms and hymns And spiritual songs, singing and harping with your hearts to the Lord. Giving thanks always on behalf of all in [the] name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to [our] God and Father (Eph 5:18c-20).
It has been happily suggested that the singing to one another implied antiphonal chanting, such as Pliny, in the autumn of 112, described in his Epistle x. 97, to the Emperor Trajan, when he told how the Christians of Pontus and Bithynia used to sing alternately to Christ as God. St. Paul, it is true, is not speaking of liturgical services, but of social gatherings. Still, the recreative character of the meetings would not be inconsistent with antiphonal and sacred song. His mention of psalms recalls those of the Old Testament and similar compositions. The hymn was strictly a rhythmical praise of God. And the songs might include any lyric, but are limited in the present case by the word “spiritual.” The verb, psallontes, which we have rendered “harping,” is the source of the word “psalm.” That noun originally meant the twanging of the harp or lute, then instrumental music, and afterwards, a song so accompanied. The verb also passed through stages, from meaning “to touch,” “to twang,” “to play a stringed instrument with the fingers” instead of a plectrum, “to play” in any wise, and finally, “to sing to a harp accompaniment.” But as the word “singing” is found in the same line in our present passage, it will be more reasonable to interpret psallontes of instrumental than of vocal music. The music, under its double form, is made “with the heart.” St. Chrysostom, who interpolates “in” from the parallel passage in Col 3:16, explains his phrase “in the heart” as heartily. But Westcott, commenting on the true Greek Text, p. 82, suggests that the outward music should be accompanied by the inward music of the heart.
The thanksgiving must be on behalf of all. The word “all” may be masculine or neuter. Theodoret, consecrated about 423, explained it of men. But St. Jerome in 388, probably following Origen,- and St. Chrysostom, between that year and 398, had interpreted it of adverse circumstances. St. Chrysostom had in an oratorical mood included even hell among such subjects for thanksgiving. We cannot, however, but recall how grand an illustration of obedience to the command was offered by his own life, his very last words being the refrain, which we can hear so often on the lips of the Irish poor, “Glory be to God for all things! Amen.”
Eph 5:21. Christian Submission.
The fifth commandment has regard to Christian submission. It seems a very short passage and out of proportion. But it is really connected with those, that follow. It supplies the verb “subordinate” to the opening sentence of the next section. And it is applied to Christian wives in Eph 5:22-33, to Christian children in Eph 6:1-4, and to Christian slaves in Eph 6:5-9. It may by contrast have suggested the great passage regarding Christian resistance, Eph 6:10-18.
The words seem simple enough:
Eph 5:21. [You shall be] subordinating yourselves to one another In [the] fear of Christ.
St. Jerome draws the attention of bishops to the verse. For, though his language even to the “youth,” St. Augustine, did not lack due reverence, his relations with the order were not always of the most agreeable character. Indeed, it is only natural that each of us should apply the command to those, who will not give way to us. The submission, which is evidently mutual, must be in the fear of Christ. In Acts 9:31, and in 2 Cor 5:11, we find “the fear of the
Lord.” This, of course, is not a slavish or servile fear, or a sense of terror and dread; but it is that fear or reverence of God, which is the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom, Prov 1:7, Prov 9:10.
Writing in 95 a.d., St. Clement of Rome seems to paraphrase this line in his passage:
Therefore let our whole body be being saved in Christ Jesus And let each be subordinating himself to his neighbour. According as he also was placed in his grace [or, his special ministry of grace]. Let not the strong man be careless about the weak one, But let the weak man respect the strong one.
It is worth a moment’s pause to consider the stupendous revolution, which St. Paul is voicing in the few verses before us. It is true that we cannot resolve authority with Bentham’s Principles ii. 14, into the fear of other men, nor with Paley’s Moral and Political Philosophy, at the end of its chapter on ” the Moral Sense,” into the fear of hell. Nor can we assert with Green’s Prolegomena to Ethics § 324, that “it is the very essence of moral duty to be imposed by a man on himself.” Green indeed tried to resolve that atomic doctrine pantheistically by explaining the sense of personal responsibility as due to the Infinite Spirit’s communication of Itself to the human soul, § 319. We certainly do not follow him in his attempt. Nor do we think that account of authority adequate, which is given in the Types of Ethical Theory ii. 105, though it is robed in the varied splendour of Martineau’s eloquence. There the objective authority is found within oneself, where conscience recognises a divinely ordered hierarchy among the springs of action.
No doubt, it should be man’s delight to repeat the song of McAndrew’s engines:
“Law, Orrder, Duty an’ Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!”
But a still more inspiring motive is needed for such a revolution as that, which St. Paul is proclaiming. Now, it is true that authority is embodied reason. However much old rules may be ill-fitted to the new circumstances, they did represent reason and not caprice. This is evidenced by the straits, which men will suffer in adapting an old law to a new life, the Jews offering us an interesting illustration of this every day. Ultimately, of course, the rule must claim God’s authority, but not the authority of His Will alone. It is the Nature of God that is the source of Good and Right. And whether we speak the language
of Goodness and Moral Perfection or that of Right and Law, there can be no suggestion of caprice in the Final Fount of Authority.
There is, however, an important element in the question. It is easily overlooked, though St. Paul has urged it throughout this encyclical. He has indeed compared the Church, the Catholic Society, to a Temple and to a Body. The one figure presented it statically and the other dynamically. But interwoven with those interwoven metaphors, there is always the recognition of its nature as a communion of souls with God and one another. Here, then, we may say, the great principle is not merely to be a person and to treat others as persons, but to be a person in Christ, and to treat others as persons in Christ. It is true that the degradation of a person to a thing is a wrong against the person, a crime against the State, and a sin against God. But the principle fails us now, because it is less than the truth. For it is not the degradation of a merely human and natural person, that is before us. It is the degradation of one, who partakes of the Divine Life and is a friend of God, living in union and communion with Him. In this sphere, authority then is exercised under such awful responsibility, that reflecting men have asked if a superior can be saved. For here, the indulgence of caprice or the wanton humiliation of another in the name of authority is cognate with blasphemy and sacrilege.
Under such conditions, there is nothing unduly exacting in the command:
Eph 5:21. [You shall be] subordinating yourselves to one another In [the] fear of Christ.
But there is much that is revolutionary in the application of the principle. St. Paul does not require the subordination of the father to the mother, child, or slave. But by establishing the larger principle, which holds each ruler to be also a subject, he influences the whole social order of the Church, and can the more easily gain smaller concessions for the family life.
It was a strangely heterogeneous body, which was formed by those Christians of metropolitan Ephesus and its friendly cities, the commercial Laodicea, Hierapolis, the fashionable watering-place, and the declining Colossae, trading in violet wool. Those Christians would include convert Jews, convert Greeks, convert Phrygians, and convert Romans! Of these, it will be sufficient for the moment to take the last, whom Vergil, their prophet, in his Æneid i. 282,
“Romans, the lords of the world, and the race, entitled to wear the toga,”
that is, the imperial robe of peace. St, Paul’s aim, as we know, was the conversion of the Roman Empire. That attained. Christian principles would permeate the subject nations.
The Roman family was regarded as in the absolute control of the head, the paterfamilias, or “father of the family.” Over his wife, he exercised the potestas manus, the “power of the hand.” It is true, as Sheldon Amos says in his Roman Civil Law p. 258, that the absoluteness or unrestricted control of the manus, or “hand,” over the wife, that of the potestas, or “power,” over the children,
and that of the dominium, or “ownership,” over the slaves, varied greatly at different times. For example, Justinian’s Institutes, published on the 21st December 533 A.D., represent a very different state of affairs from that pictured in the Institutes of Gaius, compiled between 160 and 180 A.D. And the power of the manus, or “hand,” over the wife practically ceased under Constantine and the other Christian emperors. But those changes mark the triumph of Christianity. According to the older rule, the wife was in much the same position as her children. As Shuckburgh points out in his Augustus p. 227, it became fashionable among Roman ladies to refuse the indissoluble tie, lest they should pass “into the hand” of a husband. So they were married sine manu, “without hand,” and remained subject to the patria potestas, the “paternal power,” or that of their guardians, if they were not sui juris, independent.
As to his children, the paterfamilias exercised unlimited potestas or “power.” He was sole lawgiver, judge and executioner. As Gaius confesses in his Institutes i. 55, p. 21. in Abdy and Walker’s edition, “there are scarcely any other men, who have such potestas with regard to their own children as we [Romans] have.” No restriction was made, till a law of Valentinian and Valens, about 364-375 A.D., forbade the chastisement to reach in immensum, “an enormous amount.” Until then, the law formally recognised a father’s right to punish, torture, or kill his children.
Over the slave, the paterfamilias had absolute dominium, the fullest right of “ownership.” He could use the slave as a thing in any available way. Therefore, at the merest whim of his master, or at the suggestion of his mistress, the slave could be scourged, mutilated or crucified. This power was not restricted, till a law of Antonius Pius, 138-161 A.D., held the master liable to an accusation of culpable homicide. Juvenal and other writers of the earlier period have pictured the horrors of the slave’s lot in their day. We may also remember how one newly enriched person, named Vedius Pollio, would not listen to the entreaties of the Emperor Augustus, his guest, but ordered a slave, for dropping a crystal cup, to be thrown to lampreys, which he fed on human flesh. Of such a condition, Tertullian, in his appeal to the Nations, written before his lapse in 199, offers us another illustration. He tells us, I. xvi., of a Roman child, stolen from his noble parents, carried to Asia, and after some years, brought back and exposed for sale in the slave-market in Rome. The father, ignorant of the relationship between them, buys him, subjects him to foul dishonour, and then sends him in chains to work in the fields. There the lad is discovered by the slaves, who had been his tutor and his nurse, the discovery being followed by the parents’ suicide.
Bearing these things in mind, we can read between the lines of St. Paul’s directions. He is sending the runaway slave, Onesimus. back to his master, Philemon, with a letter, which is destined to achieve much for slaves in time to come. Now in this encyclical, he insists on the submission of wives, children and slaves. But while he does so, he propagates the principles of the most revolutionary movement in the history of our race.