Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ephesians 4 and Psalm 68 (take two)

 I'll hit 'Publish' after I've written the content this time!

'Don't try this at home' is sometimes good advice when looking at Paul's use of the OT. Of course what Paul says is right because he's inspired and all. But let's face it, his application of many passages is... well... imaginative.

I've always been stumped by Paul's use of Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4. The context is a discussion on Christian unity - particularly between Jews and Gentiles:

 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“ When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”
(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascendedfar above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; ...

The quote comes from Psalm 68. Psalm 68 is a Davidic psalm with a strong us and them thing happening. God will protect, provide prosperity, and carry the burdens of his people. His enemies however, will perish, melt like wax, get smashed up etc. Half way through, there's a picture of a victorious king marching home with a pile of captives from whom he receives treasures - tributes. Everyone gives him gifts - even those who hate him.

You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives;
You have received gifts among men,

This is the verse that Paul quotes. Notice the difference? David says 'He received gifts.' Paul says 'He gave gifts.' Kinda different.

Here's a theory. Paul knew what the original said and (at least some) of his readers would have too. He wasn't trying to deceive. He changed it intentionally to highlight the difference between then and now. Post cross, it's no longer an us vs them situation. Christ's ascension as victorious king is good news for the nations! They don't need to resentfully pay taxes to this new ruler. He makes them his own people, breaks down the walls of hostility between them and others in his kingdom. He showers themwith gifts!

What do you think?


  1. I agree, but it's still only half an answer, isn't it? Having a 'I can fib when it enables me to make a great theological point' is a bit of a can of worms, even if they knew he was fibbing.

    Here's a counter. Perhaps Paul is referring not just to 68:18, but also 68:35. And now that v. 18 has happened ('he ascended'), we're seeing v. 35 ('he gave gifts to men')?

  2. I think you're onto something in the "post-cross" idea. My sense of Paul's use of the OT is that he quotes passages to illustrate, rather than to "prove" his point. It is more in the nature of a literary allusion.

  3. Sniff...I was only trying to help...I'll go cry in the corner now... ;-)

  4. I agree with Anthony's initial comment (on the first, empty post). Apparently the Hebrew word translated in Ps. 68:18 as ‘take’ or ‘receive’ may also support the sense of ‘bring’ , so it might be rendered as ‘He brings gifts to men’. It seems that several ancient translations do so (the Targum and the Arabic and Syriac versions of the OT) and Paul in Eph 4. Both translations might be regarded as legitimate. The context, too, gives a hint. One takes spoil (the context is of a conqueror) in order to distribute it to others (e.g. 1 Sam 30:18-25). This is not only an OT idea. The Lord Jesus himself talks of it as a reality of his victory over sin and sinners (Matthew 5:5, Mark 3:27, Luke 20:16, Matt. 25:28-30).