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

Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-16

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 22, 2018

Ephesians 4:1—6:20 

The precepts of Christ follow from the doctrine of Christ as conclusions from premises, so that rightly lived the Christian life is nothing more than a vivid reflection of Christ’s teachings. So far in this Epistle the Apostle has spoken of Christians as predestined members of Christ’s mystical body, as living stones in God’s temple, and as units in the divine household, destined to a glory beyond all our imaginings. High, therefore, is their calling; and he would have them walk worthy of it. To this end he describes first in this Moral Part the general character of the Christian life as lived in mutual charity and holiness (4:1-24); then he treats of particular duties, whether pertinent to all or to individual members of the Christian family (4:25—6:9) ; and finally he illustrates the life of Christians as a warfare (vi. 10-20). See Introduction, No. VIII, B.

A Summary of Ephesians 4:1-16

The Christian life imposes on its members the obligation of preserving, by means of humility and loving forbearance, the spirit of unity which has been given them in the Holy Ghost. All have the same hope; all acknowledge one and the same Lord as their head; the same faith is common to all, expressed in one and the same Sacrament of Baptism; and finally, all have the same heavenly Father. There is a great diversity of gifts and functions in the Christian society, but the Ascended Christ is the Source of them all; and all have the one purpose, which is growth into perfect  corporate unity, so that the Church will come to express in its own life and maturity the life of Christ its divine Head.

Eph 4:1. I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you were called,

I therefore. The Apostle is now going to deduce practical conclusions from what he has been saying in the first part of the Epistle; and hence he means to say that, in view of all the blessings and privileges they enjoy as a result of their call to the faith, they ought to do what he is about to exhort.

A prisoner in the Lord, or, as he said above in 3:1, “the prisoner of Jesus Christ,” for having preached the Gospel.

Beseech you, etc. Better, according to the Greek, “exhort you, etc.” In view of the blessings they have received and of all Paul has suffered for them and other Christians, they ought to lead lives in conformity with their high dignity.

Eph 4:2. With all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity,

He now shows them practically what they must do to live lives worthy of their calling as Christians, recommending four principal virtues. They must practise: (a) “humility,” which is opposed to pride, a source of discord and the enemy of the peace of society; (b) “mildness,” which implies gentleness and submission under trial, as opposed to anger and injurious conduct; (c) “patience,” which means long-suffering and forbearance with the defects of others and with injuries received from others; (d) “charity,” or love of neighsbor, the root and supernatural spring of all the other virtues, which makes easy the practice of all the others, and without which no other virtue can be perfect.

Eph 4:3. Careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace:

Careful, etc. Behold the end to which is ordained the practice of the four virtues just mentioned, namely, “the unity of the spirit, etc.,” i.e., concord of mind and heart, of thoughts and feelings; and this unity of souls is effected by the “bond of peace,” which is the tranquility of order. This “bond (or co-bond) of peace” means the peaceful union of souls, united by Christian love. It is the peace of which our Lord spoke at the Last Supper: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, etc.” (John 14:27). Compare the present passage with its parallel in Col 3:13-15 (cf. Hitchcock, h. l.). It is more probable that “spirit” here is to be understood of concord of minds and hearts rather than of the Holy Ghost (so ST Thomas, Estius, and others).

Eph 4:4. One body and one Spirit; as you were called in one hope of your calling:

After commending the foregoing concord of souls, the Apostle goes on to consider the elements from which the unity of the Church results objectively. There are three intrinsic elements: one body, one Spirit, one hope or end of our calling; there are three extrinsic factors: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; and finally, there is one transcendent element or factor, whose universal action is exercised in three ways: one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all (ver. 4-6). Cf. Voste, h. I.

Where there is “one body” (which is Christ’s mystical body, the Church), “one Spirit,” which animates the Church (namely, the Holy Ghost), and “one hope of your calling” (which is eternal beatitude), there surely ought to exist oneness of mind and heart, as said above. Some expositors take “Spirit” in this verse to mean concord or harmony among the members of the Church; but it is more likely that it means the Holy Spirit, because there is question now of the essential constitution of the Church and of that which unites it objectively, from which subjective harmony among its members should result, as an effect from its cause.

Eph 4:5. One Lord, one faith, one baptism:

In the preceding verse the Apostle considered the intrinsic elements of unity. Now he will treat of the extrinsic elements. The faithful have one leader, Christ, whom they all obey and in whom they are all united; they have the same objective law or faith in Christ, by which they accept the same truths and observe the same precepts; they have one and the same divine seal by which they are made members of the one mystical body of Christ, namely, Baptism.

Eph 4:6. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

Here we have the transcendent element of unity, “One God” (from whom we all have the same nature) “and Father of all” (uniting us all in one common brotherhood through adoption in Christ), “who is above all” things (as governing all), “and through all” (as pervading all), “and in all” (as sustaining all). It is better to understand the adjective “all” here as neuter rather than masculine (so Westcott, Robinson, Voste) ; and hence the Vulg. is arbitrary in varying from the one gender to the other. The nobis of the Vulg. is not represented in the best Greek.

Eph 4:7. But to every one of us was given grace, according to the measure of the giving of Christ.

So far the Apostle has considered the unity of the Church as to its common elements; and now he will consider that which is proper and special to individual members of the same mystical body, namely, their different gifts and functions, all of which should tend to the good of the whole (verses 7-16).

To every one of us (i.e., to each one of the faithful who make up the unity of the Church, and not to the ministers only) was given grace (i.e., the special divine help to discharge certain duties and offices in the Church, and this was done, not haphazardly confusedly, but) according to the  measure, etc. (i.e., according to the work each one was to do in the Church in fulfillment of the purpose of Christ, the Giver of that grace).

Eph 4:8. Wherefore he saith: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men.

In this and in the two following verses the Apostle shows that our Lord is indeed the distributer of the gifts spoken of in verse 7; and to prove it he quotes in the present verse Psalm 68:19, which, in its literal sense, refers to a temporal victory of the Jews over their enemies through the help of Jehovah, but in its spiritual meaning refers to the triumphal Ascension of our Lord into heaven after achieving our redemption by His victory over sin and Satan. The Psalmist is picturing Jehovah as ascending to His Sanctuary on Mt. Sion after the victory of His people, and there accepting spoil from His vanquished foes; and this is a figure of the Ascension of Christ into heaven, following the completion of the work of our redemption, and thence distributing His gifts to the faithful on the Day of Pentecost. The munificence of Jehovah to Israel prefigured the bounty of Christ bestowing His gifts on men. The Apostle is probably quoting the Psalm from memory, and so does not give the exact words either of the Hebrew or of the LXX of the Psalm.

He saith. Better, “It saith” (i.e., the Scripture says).

Captivity means “captives,” the Hebrew abstract standing for the concrete. But who are the captives in the application? If we need to seek an application for this phrase, they are (a) mankind wrested from the captivity of the evil one, Satan, or (b) the conquered evil spirits who had enslaved man until the coming of Christ.

He gave. In the Psalm we have “Thou didst receive,” a different person and a different verb; but St. Paul, speaking in the third person of our Lord, is using the words which the Psalmist addressed to Jehovah in the second person. As Jehovah received spoil from Israel’s enemies, so did our Lord receive gifts to be distributed “to men” (i.e., to the faithful).

Eph 4:9. Now that he ascended, what is it, but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

The Apostle means to say here that the Ascension of Christ into heaven presupposes His descent from heaven to this earth at the time of His Incarnation; or to the lower parts of the earth, to the Limbo of the dead, after His crucifixion; or, if we take the ascent to be previous to the descent, the meaning is that after our Lord ascended into heaven. He later descended at Pentecost through the Holy Spirit with His special gifts of grace to the faithful, or in general to take up His dwelling in the souls of the just. But St. Paul is saying that the descent was previous to the ascent, and hence we must reject opinions that suppose the contrary. We should hold, then, that the descent in question was either at the time of the Incarnation when our Lord first came to this earth (so Knabenbauer, Cajetan, and many non-Catholics), or when He visited the abode of the dead between His own death and glorious Resurrection (so St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, Estius, Voste, etc.). The latter opinion is thought to be more in harmony with: (a) Pss. 62:10; 138:15; Rom 10:7; Acts 2:27; 1 Peter 3:19, 1 Peter 4:6; (b) the context of St. Paul, for in the following verse it is said that our Lord “ascended above all the heavens,” the contrary of which would be to descend to the lowest parts of the earth: He ranged from the lowest to the highest, thus visiting all, “that he might fill all things” (ver. 10).

What is it? That is, “What does it imply?” The word “first” agrees with the context, but is of doubtful authenticity.

Eph 4:10. He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

He that descended (from heaven to earth, and even to the lower parts of the earth, though His Incarnation) is the same also that ascended, etc. (on Ascension Day, and took His seat on the right hand of the Father), that he might fill all things (by the exercise of His power and rule, and the influence of His grace, especially in His Church). The person that ascended is the same as the person that descended. The Son of God descended from heaven, taking upon Himself our human nature; and the Son of man ascended according to His human nature to the sublimity of immortal life (St. Thomas, h. l.).

Above all the heavens. These words contain no approval by St. Paul of the opinion of the Rabbins that there were seven heavens; the Apostle is merely emphasizing the supreme exaltation of the Lord. It is true that in 2 Cor 12:2, St. Paul himself speaks of the “third heaven,” but there he is most likely only referring to the immediate presence of God.

Eph 4:11. And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors,

Returning to the thought of ver. 7, after the parenthesis of ver. 8-10, the Apostle is now going to speak about the various gifts bestowed by our Lord on certain ones among the faithful, and the end to which these gifts are ordained (cf. also Rom 12:4-6; 1 Cor 12:4 ff.). It is to be noted that the various names here designate offices or functions rather than persons. Therefore, “apostles” are those who had the gift of the apostolate, and most likely included others besides the Twelve, like Paul, Barnabas, etc. (Rom 16:7).

Prophets are those who taught, instructed, and exhorted others (1 Cor 14:1-5), as well as foretellers of future events, like Agabus (Acts 11:27-28, Acts 21:10-11).

Evangelists are not necessarily those only who wrote the Gospels, but missionaries and preachers of the word among strangers and infidels (John 21:15 ff.; Acts 21:8; 2 Tim 4:5; 1 Peter 2:25).

Pastors and doctors. Before these two names in Greek there is but one article; whereas the article precedes each of the names given before in this list. From this fact St. Jerome, St. Thomas, and others have concluded that the care of souls and the office of teacher go together, that he who is a pastor ought also to be a teacher. But other commentators hold that there is question of separate functions here not necessarily to be found in the same person, just as there was above, and that St. Paul omitted the article before the last word here in his hurry to close the list (so Voste).

Eph 4:12. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ

Here the Apostle points out the end or purpose of the ministry just detailed. All those gifts and offices were “for the perfecting of the saints” (i.e., for the purpose of equipping or fitting out those on whom they were bestowed) “for the work of the ministry” (i.e., for the fulfillment of the duties they were to discharge among the faithful), thus enabling all the members of the Church to do each his full share by word, work and example towards “the edifying of the body of Christ” (i.e., towards building up and perfecting the Church, and spreading its work and influence over the world). The word rendered “perfecting” occurs here only in the New Testament, and most probably means “equipment,” “preparation.” Those who translate it in the sense of “perfection” reverse the order of the words in the verse and make “the perfecting of the saints” the end and purpose of “the work of the ministry” and “the edifying of the body of Christ.”

Eph 4:13. Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ;

Until does not here refer so much to time as to the ultimate purpose or end to which all the charisms in question are ordained, which end or purpose is “unity of faith” and a supernatural “knowledge of the Son of God”; so that by individual and corporate spiritual growth, effort and influence the Church may come to realize and express in her own life that mature and full-grown perfection which is in Christ her divine Head. Christ is the standard or “measure” of perfection toward which the individual Christian and the Church as a whole must tend, and which, individually and collectively, the faithful must, in so far as possible, endeavor to express here on earth. Hence “age” here refers not to the years but to the perfection of Christ.

Eph 4:14. That henceforth we would be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive;

The Apostle here states negatively what he said in a positive manner in the preceding verse; there he showed how the Church was to attain its perfection, and now he shows how it should avoid what is opposed to its perfection. We must not henceforth exhibit the mental weakness and ignorance of children, who are fickle and inconstant, subject to the influence of all the false opinions and changing novelties by which wicked, cunning, and crafty men try to lead the unwary astray.

Tossed to and fro, etc. Better, “tossed about on the waves, and carried round and round by every wind of doctrine,” as so many outside the Church are, which is not a very safe way to reach the port of salvation. “What St. Paul deprecated as the waywardness of an undisciplined child, is now glorified as free thought” (Rickaby). The Vulgate, fluctuantes et circumferamur, should read fluctuantes et circumlati, to agree with the best Greek; and in nequitia should be in fradulentia (the Greek word being a metaphor from cheating at dice).

Eph 4:15. But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ:

Instead of being deceived and led into error by evil and cunning men, we must be followers of “the truth,” i.e., we must confess, love, and practise the truths made known to us by our faith; and not only so, but our faith and works must be vivified by “charity,” or the love of God, so that “in all things,” or better, “as to all things” (i.e., as to our whole being, our entire Christian perfection), we may “grow up in him, etc.,” i.e., increase and solidify our union with Christ, our divine Head. The more we grow in perfection, the more we come to resemble in all things Jesus Christ who is the Head of the mystical body of which we are the members.

Eph 4:16. From whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly conjoined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity.

Having just spoken of Christ, the Head of the mystical body which is the Church, the Apostle now goes on to describe the growth and increase of that mystical body as it is united in charity to Christ its Head.

The words “being compacted” down to “every part” inclusive should be regarded as parenthetical, so that the main sentence reads: “From whom the whole body maketh increase, etc.” This verse affords a typical example of St. Paul’s compressed and pregnant style, where in a few words a multitude of ideas are contained. It is extremely obscure, as St. Chrysostom says, because the Apostle wants to say everything at once. We find a parallel in Col 2:19.

From whom, i.e., from Christ, the fountain whence flows the whole spiritual life of “the whole body,” which is the Church, the members of which “being compacted, etc.,” i.e., being closely and harmoniously connected, one with the other, and vitally conjoined so as to form one organic whole and act as a unit. The words “compacted” and “conjoined” are expressed by present participles in Greek, and therefore convey the idea of a living, progressive process of growth by which the Church is ever moving on in development, strength, and perfection to its final consummation in heaven.

By what every joint supplieth. Passing over several different and less likely opinions about the exact meaning of the Greek word αφης (here rendered “joint”) and επιχορηγιας (rendered “supplieth”), we may hold the most probable meaning of the Apostle to be that help descends from Christ the Head into the whole mystical body through the joints by which the various members are connected one with the other. As in the physical organism help comes from the head to the different members through the joints or connecting physical links, so in the mystical body of Christ, the Church, help is communicated from Christ the Head to the various members (to the faithful) through the joints, i.e., through the various ministries, gifts and functions spoken of above in verse 7; but the help thus supplied is not the same for each member, but is “according to the operation, etc.”-that is, it is in proportion to the power or supply of help given it by the Head, which supply or power is itself proportioned to the capacity of each member and to the work each particular member is given to perform. And all the members being thus assisted and thus operating, it happens that the whole body “maketh increase, etc.” (i.e., grows in unity, strength, and effectiveness), and all this through the vitalizing principle and power of “charity.”

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