The subject of the parenthesis embracing verses 4 to 7 of Ephesians three


The term "The Mystery of the Christ" of Eph.3.4. occurs also in Col. 4:3., and if this passage is compared with Eph.6:18-20. it will be discerned that it is also designated "The Mystery of the Gospel". It is the selfsame mystery that is alluded to in Rom.16.25. which had been "kept in silence" during the Eonian Times, was the subject of a promise (so was not "hidden in God"), and was fully made known after Christ's resurrection, cf.2Tim. 1:9/11.. It must be clearly distinguished from The Mystery revealed after Acts 28:28., about which nothing had previously been known because it was "hidden in God", and which is the theme of verses 2, 3, 8 & 9 shown below in capitals.

The structure of these rather difficult verses should be carefully studied as set out in this format to clarify the salient features. That verse 5 is a minor parenthesis is recognised also by Fenton, Goodspeed and Chas. B. Williams in their respective versions.

NB. In v.5 "in Spirit" [en pneumati] should be understood in the same way as in Rcm.8.9.. That "grace" in v.7 is what is mentioned in Rom.15.15.; it is not to be equated with that in v.8. And "nations" in vv.6 & 8 includes the Jewish nation. (The word for Gentile is not in Ephesians)

For many years exegesis of the Ephesian Epistle has been obscured by one word which has not been understood. The word is sussOma in v.6 of ch.3, which is given above as "concorporates". This word is associated with two others having the same prefix sun, implying 'togetherness', which are sugklEronoma meaning "co-allottees", and summetocha meaning "co-partners". All three are defined as Neuter Plural Accusative Nouns in Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon. Some texts have n as the third tetter of each word but this does not affect the meaning.

Now such words by themselves are incomplete; they invite the question. Of what? And the answer is to be found in the context. It can be noted that sugklEronoma, often translated "co-heirs", has its complement in lPet.3.7.; and in Heb.11.9. it is "of the same promise". Likewise, the same Greek word in Eph.3.6. has the complement, "of the promise in Christ Jesus", which relates equally to the other two associated words. It is thus evident that sussOma can never mean either "a joint body" or "of the same body".

The Vulgate is a translation into Latin made as long ago as the 4th Century and its rendering of this verse 6 is - "gentes esse coheredes, et concorprales, et comparticipes promissionis ejus in christo jesu". It is clearly close to the form of the Greek, and with no hint of the term "joint body". Wycliffe in 1384 closely followed the Latin, and similar fidelity is found in the Spanish Antigua Version, so both convey the Greek here more accurately than many Bible translations.

In 1526 the first translation from Greek to English was made by Tyndale. But it seems that he misread sunsOma as two words, sun and sOma, which could translate as "a joint body", but never as "joint bodies", the plural being sOmata. Thus it was Tyndale who introduced this faulty term, and it has become acceptable through the King James AV followed by most other versions since, including surprisingly many RC ones. Recent versions free of this error include Moffatt and Phillips.

Expositors have seen no need to query a term that appears so compatible with the teaching of the 4th chapter of Ephesians. It has been a particular predilection with dispensationalists, who are not able to view this supposed "joint body" as other than essential to Paul's unique revelation as to the administration of grace. So they are obsessed with including it in their teaching at all costs and never check the accuracy of the term as a translation from the Greek text.

It was C.H.Welch who first identified the two distinct mysteries of Ephesians chapter three in 'Things to Come' of June 1910. He it was also who, in the Berean Expositor of April 1922, pointed out that "unto me" linked verses 3 & 8, so defining the scope of the parenthesis. He recognised rightly that the heading to Paul's digression is the mystery of Christ; yet C.H.W. just could not accept that "a joint body" could be other than part of Paul's unique mystery. So he devised a distorted structure to make it seem, contrary to accepted literary form, that verse 6 belonged outside of the parenthesis.

It may well have been due to such a misrepresentation that Otis Sellers, in 1958 in his "Study Material on Ephesians" p.22., wrote, "seeing two secrets - - has Paul juggling two subjects in the same sentence". His dilemma is understandable; yet there is no problem when sussOma is translated rightly and the parenthesis recognised as wholly dealing with the Messianic Mystery. Like C.H.W before him, O.Q.S was so obsessed with relating v. 6 to the mystery of v.3 that he is prepared to discard the distinctive Mystery of the Christ. This reverses what he in 1935 had stated, and rightly so, that, "I see plainly - - - two mysteries in Ephesians 3"; see 'Do We Wrongly Divide the Word of Truth?'.

So how can we tell that Paul is discussing two mysteries and not just one?  By observing these three features : -

(a) That the full designation does not occur in v.3 (where it would be expected if only one was involved) but does stand at the head of the parenthesis;

(b) That Paul was uncertain that his readers knew about THE MYSTERY unique to himself, but he was sure they were familiar with the mystery of the Christ and could discern his intelligence as to it from his prologue;

(c) That THE MYSTERY involved what was "unsearchable", but the Messianic Mystery was based on a "promise" to be found in Scripture, earlier hushed up as far as "the sons of men" were concerned, but not hidden from the Sons of God, as was THE MYSTERY.

The suggestion that there was only one mystery which belonged to Christ who then gave it to Paul is a conjecture made to resolve a self created problem.

To translate sugklEronoma as "joint possessors" is an acceptable alternative, but to affix to it "of a portion" not only adds what is not in the Greek, it also overlooks that what is possessed is stated in the text as "of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel - - - ".

In Seed and Bread No.60 the insertion of "secret" into verse 7 corrupts the text and belies the claim that it is "true to the Greek". That of which Paul became a servant was the gospel, and it linked with that gift of grace previously given to him, as he related in Rom.15.15-18. This last even refers to working by power as does Eph.3.7.. So that "grace" must be distinguished from the additional one mentioned in verse 8.

The English word "as", which occurs in verse 5., is ambiguous. It can mean "in the same way that", when it is an Adverb: or it can mean "because", when it is a Conjunction. But there is no such ambiguity in the Greek text, for the Conjunction represents hoti as "because" in Eph.5.16. and some 180 places in the NT; whereas the Adverb represents hOs here in Eph.3.5. and in over 300 places in the NT. So there is no doubt but that this word cannot mean "because" or "since". The majority of versions, however, punctuate this word with a comma preceding, thus ",as", by which they impose the sense of "because" and hence are not 'true to the Greek'. Some exceptions are RSV, CV, Moffatt, New World, A.S.Way and Wm.Barclay.

A valid question to ask is this : When did any apostle before Acts 28.28. show an awareness that "the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" embraced peoples of the nations also as full co-equals ? The answer is to be found in Peter's declarations in Acts 11:17-18 and 15:8-11.

This analytical commentary should not be regarded as an opinion, nor is it to be judged by anyone's Opinion. All its statements are verifiable, and they should be checked. Does it accord with what the Scripture says?  If it does then it calls for acceptance by faith.

 Maurice Lloyd [Glasgow 1994]

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