Ephesians Sentence by Sentence: 4:20-24

Ὑμεῖς δὲ οὐχ οὕτως ἐμάθετε τὸν Χριστόν εἴ γε αὐτὸν ἠκούσατε καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ ἐδιδάχθητε καθώς ἐστιν ἀλήθεια ἐν τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀποθέσθαι ὑμᾶς κατὰ τὴν προτέραν ἀναστροφὴν τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν φθειρόμενον κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τῆς ἀπάτης ἀνανεοῦσθαι δὲ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν καὶ ἐνδύσασθαι τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν κατὰ θεὸν κτισθέντα ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ ὁσιότητι τῇς ἀληθεῖας. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you heard him and were taught in him, since truth is in Jesus, you put away according to the former behavior, the old man which is destroyed according to the desires of deceit, but be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new man who was created according to God in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Paul is contrasting his readers and listeners with the lifestyle of the Gentiles, which he mentioned in the previous sentence. He says, “But you did not learn Christ in this way.” In other words, they did not become Christians by giving themselves over to self-abandonment, hardness of heart, or ignorance. Paul says, ” . . . if indeed you heard him and were taught in him.” This clause is somewhat of a challenge to the listeners and hearers. Paul is making them examine themselves: if indeed you heard Christ and were taught in him, you would not be giving yourselves over to ignorance and self-abandonment, which is not what Christ taught. Paul makes the inference that the Gentiles are not living in truth, for he says, “. . . since truth is in Jesus.” To hear Jesus and to be taught in Jesus is to live in truth, because truth is in Jesus. The word καθώς usually is translated “as” or “just as,” but in some cases it can have the sense of causality (“because” or “since”). Claiming that they did not learn that it was acceptable to be in ignorance and self-abandonment, confirming that those who have heard Jesus and were taught in Jesus live in truth, since truth is in Jesus, Paul begins to instruct his readers and listeners further.

Paul instructs them “to put away you.” The infinitive, ἀποθέσθαι, seems to have the force of an imperative. Linked with the teaching of Christ, ἀποθέσθαι is likely to be an indirect discourse, but the question is, should we understand it to be an imperative or indicative? If it is indicative, then it is stating something that has happened or should happen (“you were taught . . . that you should put off the old man”). But if it is imperative, then it is simply stating the command of the teaching (“you were taught . . . to put away the old man”). Since Paul has begun instructing his readers and listeners, the context lends itself to the imperatival understanding. The second infinitive, ἀνανεοῦσθαι, is imperatival (“. . . be renewed in the spirit of your mind”). This infinitive is the first in a linked pair, being attached to a third infinitive, ἐνδύσασθαι, which is joined to the second with καὶ. The first infinitive is therefore linked with the latter two as a pair. Paul is not contrasting, but rather, he is continuing his thoughts on the teaching. The readers and listeners were taught to put away the old man, which involves refreshing their mind and putting on the new man (to put away the old man is to refresh the mind and put on the new man).

What is this old man that the readers and listeners are to put off? Paul is referencing the former way of life, the former behavior that was conducted before being taught in Christ. Paul refers to this former life as the old man. Actually, “man” is ἄνθρωπον, which should be translated as “human” or “person.” Paul says that they should put away the old man because it was being destroyed according to the desires of deceit. And they also were to renew the spirit of their mind. Since they were called to unity in faith and knowledge, Paul commands them to refresh their minds. Not only should they refresh themselves, but they should also put on the new person, the one who was created by God. God created this new person in true righteousness and holiness. The genitive phrase, τῇς ἀληθεῖας, is an attributive genitive, and given the presence of καὶ, this attributive genitive gets distributed to both of the dative nouns. God created the new person in true righteousness and true holiness.

But you did not learn Christ like this, if indeed you heard him and were taught by him, because truth is in Jesus, to put away things regarding the former way of life, the old person, the one who is being destroyed for the desires of deceit, and allow your minds to be refreshed and put on the new person who was created by God in true righteousness and holiness.

Christians have been taught in the truth. As such, they should live like it. No longer should they live in erroneous ways. They should not be corrupted by deceit. Instead, there should be a noticeable difference. Christians should not be the persons they were before they came to faith in Christ. Kind of like an electronic device that gets reset, a Christian is a person who hits the reset button and becomes redesigned or reprogrammed for further operation. It involves a noticeable difference in the way the former lifestyle was carried out as compared to the new. The new lifestyle is one that God has created, and it has righteousness and holiness in mind, not corruption or deceit. Christians should be pursuing the new life. The things that were previously sought after as unbelievers need to be set aside. Christians are to be marked with new life. Specifically, Christians are to be people of the truth. They should not allow themselves to be taken captive to falsehood. They should not allow themselves to be deceived. They should test what people say to them to see if it is right. They should search Scripture and discuss with each other the words, meanings, and implications of the sermons they hear on Sundays (or Saturdays). In this way, they can keep themselves from straying off course. In this way, they can stay true to the task, and to follow God down a path of righteousness and holiness, and not down a path of corruption or deceit.

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