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Ephesians 4:7-10 and receiving/giving gifts

Posted by on Nov 9, 2012 in scripture | 3 comments

Ephesians 4:7-10 and receiving/giving gifts

In a previous post, “Ephesians 4:7-10 and Psalm 68:18,” I pointed out that Paul changed Psalm 68:18 when he quoted it in Ephesians 4:8. In short, he changed “receiving gifts from people” to “gave gifts to people” with the primary distinction being in the “receiving” and “giving.” Why would he do that?

I started explain one possible reason that Paul would make that change in my post “Ephesians 4:7-10 and the one who ascended to fill all things.” In that post, I pointed out that a phrase that Paul used in Ephesians 4:10 (“the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things”) reminds his readers of two statements that he previously made about Jesus and two corresponding statements that he made about them. I also hinted that I think this parenthetical statement (Ephesians 4:10) may help us understand why Paul changed Psalm 68:18 when he quoted it in Ephesians 4:8.

So, to wrap this up, in Ephesians 4:8 Paul quotes a passage in Psalm 68:18 in which the psalmist focuses on the victorious king receiving gifts. Paul specifically identifies this victorious king as Jesus Christ (in his parenthetical statement in Ephesians 4:9-10). Similarly, he has previously referred to Jesus’ victory over all things, and specifically over other authorities:

[His power] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21 ESV)

So, it’s clear that Jesus is identified as being above all in Ephesians which demonstrates why Paul would also identify him as the victorious king in the illustration from Psalm 68:18.

But, remember, we’ve also seen that Paul closely identifies the believers in Ephesus with Jesus, beginning with the important phrase “in Christ” or “in him” which he has used throughout the letter so far. Importantly, since they are “in Christ,” the Ephesians share in Jesus being raised and seated in the heavenly places (which is above all things including above all other authorities). Plus, we’ve seen that Jesus is placed above all things for the sake of the church.

Thus, continuing the illustration from Psalm 68:18, Jesus is the victorious king who receives the spoils of war – i.e., he receives gifts from men. But, given the close association between Jesus and the church in this letter, the church naturally shares in Jesus’ victory and spoils. Gifts received by Jesus as spoils are also received by the church due to that association. However, the association is still “in Christ” (and become of him) not in the church themselves. Thus, it makes sense that the “spoils” are received by Jesus due to his victory, and also given by him to the church because of the church’s association with him (being “in Christ”).

In this passage (Ephesians 4:7-11 especially), Paul is discussing the grace of God that is given to the church through the gifts given by Jesus Christ. So, Psalm 68:18 is a perfect passage to reflect this topic. Paul changes the ending of Psalm 68:18 to emphasize that Jesus both receives the spoils as the victorious king (“received from men”) and that Jesus also gives these spoils to the church (“gave to men”).

The change in wording moves the focus from Jesus receiving the gifts to Jesus giving the gifts, which is the topic of Paul’s discussion. However, the only reason that Paul is able to make this change (without changing the meaning of the text itself) is because of the close association that makes between Jesus Christ and the church.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-11-2012

    My understanding of this discrepancy was that Paul was quoting from the Septuagint. So the question really might be, why did that, or those translators, so render the passage in the Psalms?

  2. 11-11-2012


    The Septuagint text that I checked used the verb for “receive,” just like the Hebrew text. So, Paul would have seen the Hebrew verb for “receive” if he used the Hebrew text, or the Greek word for “receive” if he used the LXX. Either way, he changed the verb to “give” when he wrote Ephesians 4:8.


  3. 11-11-2012

    Nice work. All glory to God for His indescribable gift.