Ephesians Sentence by Sentence: 4:8

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διὸ λέγει· ἀναβὰς εἰς ὕψος ᾐχμαλώτευσεν αἰχμαλωσίαν ἔδωκεν δόματα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις. Therefore, it says, “When he ascended on high he took captive captivity, he gave gifts to men.”

Paul is here talking about what Christ has given as a gift, and he is using Scripture to support his statement. Paul is quoting from Psalm 68:19 in the Masoretic Text (MT) or Psalm 68:18 in the Septuagint (LXX). Paul did not quote either the MT or the LXX. There are significant changes between Paul’s version and both the MT and the LXX. For example, Psalm 68:18 in the LXX has the second person, as does Psalm 68:19 in the MT, whereas Paul’s version has the third person. Also, both the MT and the LXX have “receive gifts,” not “gave gifts.” The language is too similar, and yet the texts are not the same. What’s going on?

There are several theories about what Paul was doing here in Ephesians 4:8. Two of the leading theories are as follows: one, Paul is quoting an Aramaic Targum that has its rendering different from the MT and the LXX; two, Paul is utilizing midrash pesher, a practice that allows the interpreter to quote a passage of Scripture and adapt it to one’s argument while at the same time interpreting it. The first option contends that Paul was quoting an Aramaic Targum. These targums were translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. These targums came rather late, so it is likely that Paul was familiar with them and he could have used them. Midrash pesher, the second option, was not uncommon. It was an acceptable practice and is found elsewhere in the New Testament. In regards to the first option, interestingly enough, the Aramaic Targum uses “gave gifts.” It is possible that Paul was utilizing a targum. But what about the other differences? Midrash pesher seems to account for those differences. What we have here are a couple of viable possibilities. First, Paul was utilizing both targums and midrash pesher. If this is the case, then Paul was using a targum to quote from, but he adapted it to his own argument. Second, Paul was using midrash pesher alone. If this were the case, then all the differences are as a result to his adapting the text to his argument. In either case, Paul was following excepted practices and should not be considered as a poor writer who violated modern codes and ethics for quoting.

Paul introduces his quotation with a common introductory phrase: διὸ λέγει. Among others, this is one kind of phrase that Paul uses to introduce Scripture quotations. The use of the conjunction, διὸ, is to connect the gift of Christ from 4:7 to what he was about to quote. Paul is making an inference on the gift of Christ in light of Psalm 68:19.

The participle, ἀναβὰς, is temporal, but it is also contemporaneous to the verb, ᾐχμαλώτευσεν, and should be translated this way: “When he ascended on high, he took captive captivity.” This phrase, “he took captive captivity.” The greek is a fairly close rendering of the MT. The Hebrew phrase, שָׁבִיתָ שֶּׁבִי, literally, “you took captive captivity,” is rendered, “you led away captives.” Both the LXX and Paul follow this wording, so it seems best to render it here in Ephesians as “he led away captives.”

The verb ἔδωκεν is contemporary with ᾐχμαλώτευσεν; Christ gave gifts as he led away captives. To whom did he give gifts to? To ἀνθρώποις. This word does not mean “men and not women.” By “men” it means “human,” which includes both men and women. Paul was writing according to the cultural customs of his time; women simply were not addressed, generally speaking. By using ἀνθρώποις, Paul was addressing both men and women while following First Century practices. We can translate it as “men,” or, if we want to be gender inclusive, we can translate it as “humans,” which is rather awkward, or we can say, “men and women,” since this word does not exclude women.

Therefore, it says, “When he ascended on high he led away captives, he gave gifts to both men and women.”

Christ gave gifts to men and women. He led away captives. Christ is indeed victorious. Because of Christ, we are victorious. His ascension, when he sat down at the right hand of God and was placed in authority of all things, marked his supremacy over all things. We would do well to remember that Christ is supreme and is in authority over all things, which is why he can give us gifts, such as grace.