The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Ephesians 3:1-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 16, 2017

THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY THROUGH THE PREACHING OF ST. PAUL

A Summary of Ephesians 3:1-13~Having spoken in the first Chapter of this Epistle of God’s eternal purpose to unite Jewish and non-Jewish peoples in the one Church of Christ, and having shown in the second Chapter how this purpose has been realized in the present period of grace with its prospect of glorious consummation in the Church Triumphant hereafter, the Apostle, according to his custom after such meditations on the wondrous ways of God, begins a prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of the “Ephesians”; but he has only begun (ver. 1a) when he is somehow reminded of his chains and what has made him a prisoner for Christ, and this causes him to digress (ver. 1b-13) to consider the part he has played in the realization of God’s eternal purpose to unite all the nations of the world in the one spiritual fold of Christ, and to unfold again the unsearchable wisdom of God hidden in the purpose of that divine mystery and age-old secret. For a parallel parenthesis see Rom 5:13-18.

Eph 3:1. For this cause, I Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles;

For this cause, a phrase repeated again in Eph 3:14, where Paul resumes his prayer; it refers back to what he has been saying in Eph 2:11-22.

I Paul is a characteristic way of introducing himself when he is about to treat matters of grave importance or defend his authority (cf. 2 Cor. 10:1; Gal. 5:2; Col. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:18; Phlm. 9, 19). St. Chrysostom would insert “am” here after Paul, so as to read: “I Paul am the prisoner, etc.” But if this were the meaning, the article before “prisoner” in Greek should be omitted. Hence, it is better with Theodoret, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and all modern interpreters to recognize the break in the sentence here and its resumption at Eph 3:14.

The prisoner, etc., i.e., a prisoner according to the will of his Master, and for the cause of his Master (Phlm. 1, 9; 2 Tim. 1:8).

For you Gentiles, i.e., on behalf of you Gentiles, for preaching to you the Messianic salvation and admitting you on a level with the Jews in the Church of Christ (cf. Acts 21:21 ff.).

Eph 3:2. If at least you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me towards you

If at least you have heard. Abbott and many others hold that these words prove that St. Paul was addressing readers personally unknown to him. Westcott thinks there is nothing in the words to sustain such a conclusion. Moule believes we have here “a phrase of almost irony, an illusion to well- known fact under the disguise of hypothesis.” Alexander says the words are expressive of gentle assurance. As a compromise, Robinson holds they mean that some, at least, of the readers were personally unknown to the Apostle. Hitchcock explains that St. Paul first had the intention of writing to the Ephesians, as he had written to the Colossians, but that his outlook changed as he wrote, embracing the Churches of the Lycus Valley and other Gentiles. Voste would translate: “Since indeed you have heard, etc.” If we explain the words as conditional, as in Eph 4:21, we still may hold that they are rhetorical,
not implying any real doubt. A few number of ancient manuscripts and some church fathers witness to the fact that this letter may not have been addressed specifically to the Ephesians since the manuscripts in question had no addressee. Some scholars believe that “Ephesians” was actually written as a circular letter, intended to be delivered and read to a number of different churches and, therefore, originally lacked a specific addressee. Some phrasing in the letter (such as the current verse and 1:15) can be taken as indicating that St Paul was not directly acquainted with the people he is writing to, but Paul was intimately acquainted with the Ephesians.

The dispensation of the grace, etc., better, “the stewardship of the grace, etc.” The Messianic Kingdom is a reign of grace, and St. Paul was designated by Christ to be His steward in dispensing the Messianic grace to the Gentiles. Cf. 1 Cor 9:17; Col 1:24-25.

Eph 3:3. How that, according to revelation, the mystery has been made known to me, as I have written above in a few words;

The Apostle now begins to explain how the mystery of grace was made known to him, that is, his apostleship among the Gentiles, as he has explained above in Eph 2:11 ff.

How. The Vulg. quoniam should be quomodo, used to indicate the object of St. Paul’s ministry, namely, that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs, etc. (ver. 6).

According to revelation, made to Paul directly on the road to Damascus at the time of hisv conversion, and elsewhere later on (Acts 9:4 ff.; Gal 1:12, 2:2; 2 Cor 12:1, 7, etc).

The mystery, i.e., the purpose of God to save Gentiles as well as Jews through Christ (ver. 5, 6).

As I have written, etc., in this letter (Eph 1:4-14, 2:4-9, 11-22).

Eph 3:4. Whereby, as you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,

Whereby, as you read, etc. The meaning is that, as they read what he has already written in the first two Chapters of this letter, they will perceive his deep insight into God’s world-purpose as revealed in the Incarnation of His Son, namely, the salvation of the world by means of the cross and the incorporation of the Gentiles with the Chosen People.

5. Which in other generations was not known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit

Which eternal purpose and deep mystery was never before known to mankind as it is now revealed in the Gospel by means of a special revelation communicated to chosen Apostles and prophets whom the Holy Ghost has inspired and set apart in order that they may make it known to the world.

Was not known, at all to the pagan world, and was only dimly shadowed forth among the Chosen People, the most of whom did not understand it.

Sons of men is a Hebraism meaning all men.

Holy apostles, etc., i.e., men especially selected and consecrated for their supernatural work, but not necessarily sanctified personally. That there is question here only of New Testament prophets is clear from the phrase “now revealed.”

In the Spirit, i.e., in the Holy Ghost, by whom the human mediums were inspired.

6. That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and co-partners of the promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel

St. Paul now gives a brief definition of the content of the longhidden mystery in so far as it pertained to the Gentiles, namely, that God has made the Gentiles equal to the Jews as regards salvation; they are now “fellow-heirs” with the Jews to heaven, members of the same mystical body, the Church, sharers in the same high destiny “in Christ” (i.e., in vital union with Him), which was long ago promised to Abraham and his offspring (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8, 4:29; Rom 4:13, 16), and is now made manifest in the preaching of the Gospel.

His promise of the Douai should be “the promise,” according to the best Greek and Latin texts.

Eph 3:7. Of which I am made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given to me, according to the operation of his power.

The Apostle begins now to speak of the mission that has been entrusted to him, the dispensation spoken of above in Eph 3:2. He has been made a “minister” of the Gospel, not by his own choice or because of his merits, but by a gratuitous gift of divine grace, which made an Apostle out of a persecutor and gave him invincible strength to pursue his vocation. The grace here referred to was a gratia gratis data, a divine gift to be used for the benefit of others.

According to . . . according to. Note the parallelism: divine grace made him a minister of the Gospel, and divine grace sustains him in his work for the Gospel; his vocation was a divine gift, and his labors were the result of a divine operation, of God-given working power. Cf. Col. 1:29; Gal. 2:8.

Eph 3:8. To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Here and in the following verse St. Paul will speak of the purpose of his preaching.

To me. The thought of the greatness of the mission confided to him by the grace of God reminds the humble Apostle of his personal unworthiness and insignificance.

The least in the Greek is a word probably coined by the Apostle himself, which literally means “leaster,” or “more least.”

Of all the saints, i.e., of all the Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 15:8-9).

St. Paul never forgets his past life as a persecutor, and the more he realizes the greatness of the grace of God bestowed on him, the more clearly his own unworthiness appears.

To preach, etc. Behold the grace and the mission vouchsafed to Paul, to announce to the Gentile world the infinite treasures of divine truth, love and power, which God has provided for mankind through Jesus Christ.

Unsearchable, literally, “untrackable by footprints,” untraceable, a word found only here and in Rom. 11:33 in all the New Testament; it means incomprehensible. So vast are the treasures of grace hidden in the Gospel and confided to the Church that they utterly transcend our powers of understanding.

Eph 3:9. And to enlighten all men that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God, who created all things:

To enlighten, etc. Such was the further effect of Paul’s preaching of the Gospel, to make known to all men the divine plan, hidden from eternity, of saving the whole world by means of the human life, labors, sufferings, death, and glorious resurrection of the eternal Son of God made man.

All men. The Greek word is omitted by some ancient MSS. and good authorities, but the weight of authority favors its retention.

Hidden from eternity, etc. Not until the coming of Christ, the Messiah, was the divine economy relative to the salvation of men actually and completely made known; till then it was known in its fullness only to the Godhead.

Who created all things. The Apostle adds this to remind his readers that He who was able to create all things through the Son in the beginning is now able to redeem all through the Son. Some lesser authorities add, “by means of Jesus Christ,” which may be rejected as a gloss, Cf. Col. 1:25-27 for a parallel passage to verses 8 and 9 here.

Eph 3:10. That now the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church,

As it was the purpose of the preaching of Paul to make known to the nations the revelation of the mystery hidden in God from eternity (ver. 8-9), so in turn was it the purpose of that revelation to make known to the world the unsearchable riches of the Messiah and His stewardship, hidden from the beginning in the Creator (ver. 10-11), that is, “that now” (in contrast to the ages that preceded the coming of the Christ) “the manifold wisdom of God, etc.” (i.e., the many-sided and infinitely varied wisdom of God in providing for the salvation of man through the Incarnation of the Son of God) might be made known through the Church to the world of angelic intelligences, including both the good and the evil angels.

Now (Vulg. nunc), omitted in the Douai, is expressed in the Greek.

Manifold. Literally, “much variegated.” The word is found here only in the New Testament.

Principalities and powers, i.e., good and bad angels, according to St. Chrysostom and the evidence of Eph 6:12 below (cf. also Eph 1:21 above).

In the heavenly places. See on Eph 1:3. Through the church, in which the divided human family has been united, and which contains and dispenses the treasures of grace, thus continuing the work of the Redeemer till the end of time in the sight of men and angels. “It is by no means repugnant that through the work of Christ, which the Church continues and carries out to the end of the present world, the infinite riches of the wisdom and mercy of the Redeemer should be successively manifested to the angels themselves” (St. Thomas, h. 1.).

Eph 3:11. According to the eternal purpose, which he made in Christ Jesus, our Lord:

According to the eternal purpose, etc., literally, “according to the purpose of the ages, etc.” The manifold wisdom of God was hidden in the eternal purpose; and that purpose, running through the whole course of the ages, has now been “made” (i.e., realized) in “Christ Jesus, our Lord,” sacrificed, risen, and enthroned forever as the center and Sovereign of the universe; and with the realization of the purpose the multifarious wisdom of God has been made known in part already, and is continually being unfolded to men and angels down to the end of the world. It is disputed whether the words, “which he made,” refer to the decree which God made from eternity regarding future ages, etc., or to the execution of that decree in time; but the context seems to favor the latter explanation.

Eph 3:12. In whom we have boldness, and access with confidence by the faith of him.

St. Paul has just discussed the purpose of God’s revelation made known through the preaching of that revelation, which was to disclose to heavenly intelligences the manifold wisdom of God, as realized in Christ. Now, in verses 12-13, he will treat of the consequences of that same revelation. The first of these consequences is that in Christ, that is, by reason of our mystical union with Him, “we have boldness, etc.,” i.e., we now enjoy freedom of speech and
communication with the Father, “and access” (i.e., introduction) to Him, not in fear, but in confidence (Rom. 8:38 ff.), and this through the faith we have in Christ.

The faith of him means the faith we have “in Him,” as we know from similar constructions in Mark 11:22; Gal. 2:16, 3:22; Rom. 3:22, 26; Phil. 3:9.

Eph 3:13. Wherefore I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

Another consequence of the revelation preached by Paul is the sufferings it brought upon him; but here he prays that his readers may not grow remiss and faint-hearted as a result of the afflictions he has to endure for preaching the Gospel to them; for his sufferings are their glory, inasmuch as they are an evidence of God’s love for them, since God was willing to permit His Apostle to endure so much for their sakes: the privileges they enjoy and the afflictions Paul has undergone that they might have those privileges indicate how dear they are to God.

Wherefore, i.e., in view of your dignity and privileges, resulting from God’s eternal decree realized in Christ.

I pray. This is more probably to be understood of a real prayer to God for the Apostle’s readers, as we gather from the similar use of the verb in Eph. 3:20 and Col. 1:9.

Not to faint should not be interpreted as applying to the Apostle himself, who gloried in his tribulations and declared that nothing could separate him from the love of Christ (Rom. 5:3, 8:38-39; 2 Cor. 12:10; Col. 1:24), but to his readers, to whose glory it was that he had to suffer, and who therefore should not be discouraged.

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