Studying the Bible is one of the greatest gifts God has given His people, and within that, Paul’s letter to the church in and around the city of Ephesus is one of my favourite letters for how it has so often spoken to me. ‘Studies in Ephesians’ is my attempt to share, in written form, those lessons and promises that God has revealed to me in my studies through this magnificent book.
“We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” — Ephesians 1:7-8
Translating the Bible out of its original Hebrew and Greek into modern languages must have been an overwhelming task, and I suspect there are certain passages that translators throughout the ages have rued with fists raised high. As we have already seen, Ephesians 1:3-14, while in the English represents multiple verses, was actually written as one, long, unending sentence of escalating praise and theology. One need only sit down with five modern English translations to realise that no two translators necessarily agree upon the makeup of this text – not which words to use, when to use a new paragraph, not even when to use punctuation.
For example, the NIV, and ESV all block together verses 3 to 10 as one large paragraph, whereas the NLT and HCSB splits the section in two, but not even the same way – The HCSB splits it vs. 3-6 and 7-10, and the NLT splits it 3-8 and 9-11.
We find ourselves reaching the latter half of these opening 10 (or 11, or 12) verses, and faced with an opening question – where to break things up?
There are a number of methods and explanations for each individual translator and commentator’s rationale, involving the links between the original Greek words and their surroundings. For those who will go on to study Greek, or study translations – or those who already have – no doubt this passage makes for a fun class lesson to see how many variations you end up with. For simplicity’s sake, however, I am falling back on a tried and true method, and relying on the HCSB’s translation – which paragraphs verses 7 to 10, and sticks a full stop in the middle (at the end of verse 8, before verse 9), which leaves us with:
“We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
This particular break is tremendously helpful, as it leaves us with two very clear sermons – redemption and forgiveness, followed by the revelation of God’s mystery in Christ. Despite the break, however, we are still left with a veritable wealth of theology in these two verses: words like ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’, ‘grace’ and ‘wisdom’ are resplendent with the imagery of Christianity, words that many Christians have held close to their heart. And in Paul’s mind, they are all somehow intertwined – both as “spiritual blessing in the heavens” we receive from God, but also in their interaction with one another.
It is important here to understand exactly the relationship these verses have to one another. The HCSB translation is accurate, according to many of the commentators I surveyed, though not all, but it falls short by virtue of being forced to be in English, which includes words that have multiple meanings. Without in any way attempting to undermine published translations, a paraphrase serves us well:
“We have redemption in Christ at the cost of His blood shed on the cross, which results in the forgiveness of our many sins, requiring the abundant riches of God’s grace that He chose to lavish on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”
This paraphrase represents an attempt to highlight some of the nuances, namely: that our redemption required a cost, or price be paid, namely, Christ’s death and His blood spilled for us; that our sins required the abundance of God’s grace to forgive us; and that God also blessed us with wisdom and understanding.
In his commentary on Ephesians 1:7-10, the late commentator and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, James Montgomery Boice spends the lions-share of his teaching on the idea of redemption. First, he remembers B.B. Warfield, “the distinguished professor of didactic and polemic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, who argued that “there is no one of the titles of Christ which is more precious to Christian hearts than ‘Redeemer’”, namely because Redeemer “is the name specifically of the Christ of the cross. Whenever we pronounce it, the cross is placarded before our eyes and our hearts are filled with loving remembrance not only that Christ has given us salvation, but that he paid a mighty price for it.”
He was right, for the very idea of redemption requires us to consider not just what we have received – namely, as Paul illustrated immediately, “the forgiveness of our trespasses” – but also the price with which our redemption was bought. James Montgomery Boice rails against those who are reject the word “price”:
“However, as soon as we mention the word “price” many people object, arguing that any mention of a price in regard to salvation destroys grace. “Salvation is not sold,” such persons argue. “Salvation is free. To think of God extracting a price for his forgivness is to make God cheap, begrudging, and mercenary.” Because of this reasoning some scholars have tried to change the idea of redemption from that of “buying” to mere “deliverance”, that is, to “setting someone free” without the accompanying idea of a price or ransom.”
This seems strange, however, considering the very context with which the word redemption is placed: “We have redemption in Him through His blood” (emphasis mine). Paul makes mention of a ransom and a cost, but still there are those who attempt to reject a link between the two, namely that that cost was required. In his commentary on Ephesians, R. Kent Hughes recounts “a story that has captured and informed young imaginations for years”:
“In a city on the shore of a great lake lived a small boy who loved the water and sailing. So deep was his fascination that he, with the help of his father, spent months making a beautiful model boat, which he began to sail at the water’s edge. One day a sudden gust of wind caught the tiny boat and carried it far out into the lake and out of sight. Distraught, the boy returned home inconsolable. Day after day he would walk the shores in search of his treasure, but always in vain. Then one day as he was walking through town he saw his beautiful boat—in a store window! He approached the proprietor and announced his ownership, only to be told that it was not his, for the owner had paid a local fisherman good money for the boat. If the boy wanted the boat, he would have to pay the price. And so the lad set himself to work doing anything and everything until finally he returned to the store with the money. At last, holding his precious boat in his arms, he said with great joy, “You are twice mine now—because I made you and because I bought you.”
Hughes notes that, “Redemption is payment of a price or ransom. The price was Christ’s own blood, and the object was our souls.” Attempting to remove the idea of a price is not only difficult and unnecessary, it devalues the work of Christ on that cross. A work that we most definitely needed. In the opening chapters of Romans, Paul sums this concept up well:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” — Romans 3:23-24
A chapter later Paul adds that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) As Peter T. O’Brien notes, redemption is linked to the forgiveness of our sins, “for it involved a rescue from God’s just judgement on our trespasses.” Hoehner notes that the Greek word used for “sins” “denote a conscious and wilful act against God’s holiness and righteousness. Human beings are held responsible for these acts of treachery against God and sin needs to be punished.” However, thankfully, as Hoehner notes that this passage “shows that as a result of redemption in Christ through his blood, God has cancelled or forgiven sins and the necessary punishment that goes with them.” John Calvin said it just as well: “God puts our sins out of his remembrance and drowns them in the depths of the sea, and, moreover, receives the payment that was offered him in the person of his only Son.”
What could have moved our God to such an action? That “He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”? (John 3:16) Well, as Jesus said in that very verse, it was because God loved the world. But there is more to it than that, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), which means love had to come hand in hand with grace.
Grace is, simply put, God’s unmerited or undeserved favour on us, who are sinners – and in this instance specifically, refers to God’s unmerited or undeserved favour in forgiving us of our sins. Grace is a broad topic throughout the Scripture, and is in and of itself a topic for an entire series of sermons. For now, I want to address one aspect of this passage which may trick some English readers.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “accordance” as “in a manner conforming with”. This conveys a great many ideas, but ideas which begin to stray away from the passage at hand. The intention of the original Greek word used was more to do with referring to the wealth of God’s grace than it did God conforming to His grace. This passage specifically says “that God’s redemption and forgiveness were not “out of” but “according to” the wealth of his grace.” The important focus here is with the depth and unlimited capacity of God’s grace, and that our forgiveness is in accordance with that wealth. Paul repeats the same concept in his letter to the Philippians, when he states that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
O’Brien states that the word in play here refers both to His actions being “in accordance with” but also “because”. So God’s grace is both the cause for our redemption but also the wellspring from which our redemption pours forth. And we needed the whole of that wellspring, for our sin was grievous, and deep, and required “the inexhaustible nature of God’s giving” to fully satisfy His corresponding justice. Charles Hodge was not wrong when he said God’s grace “is the overflowing abundance of unmerited love, inexhaustible in God and freely accessible through Christ.” But Hoehner shows that the Greek words in play require we see it also “took the wealth of God’s grace to redeem and forgive the sinner.”
Thank heavens, then, that there was such an “overflowing abundance” of grace.
Lastly is the job of correctly placing the phrase “with all wisdom and understanding.” The NIV and accompanying commentators link this phrase with the following verse: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery…” However, many commentators (including Hoehner and O’Brien) agree with the New Living Translation: “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (1:7-8, NLT) Specifically, it is better to understand “with all wisdom and understanding” to be lavished on us as part of “God’s gifts of grace.” R. Kent Hughes is more passionate: “Our English text here leads us to think that in God’s own wisdom and insight he decided to lavish us. That is not the idea at all. What is meant is that along with “redemption” and “forgiveness” and “grace” he has given us “wisdom and insight” [understanding].
The proof for this interpretation is found in the original Greek, but there are casual proofs found in Paul’s opening prayer to the Ephesians in 1:17, and in what is widely considered the parallel passage in Colossians:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. — Ephesians 1:17
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. — Colossians 1:9-10
It could be seen as a throwaway line, amidst much weightier theological issues as redemption and grace and the next verses mysteries, but we are nevertheless granted this gift of wisdom and understanding that allows us to better live in accordance with God’s will for us, and in Christ’s footsteps. This same wisdom and understanding also helps us to grasp the magnitude of the grace that is responsible for our forgiveness and salvation.
In closing, I think it worth echoing the concerns raised by B.B. Warfield, and then James Montgomery Boice, namely, that the word and idea of “redemption” is being lost, dismissed, and disregarded. Warfield observed and worried that “The words “Redeem”, “Redemption”, “Redeemer”,” were having all meaning washed out of the name. Warfield encouraged his listeners to “determine that, God helping you, you will not let [these words] die thus, if any care on your part can preserve them in life and vigor.” He continues:
But the dying of the words is not the saddest thing which we see here. The saddest thing is the dying out of the hearts of men of the things for which the words stand. … The real thing for you to settle in your minds, therefore, is whether Christ is truly a Redeemer to you, and whether you find an actual Redemption in Him, – or are you ready to deny the Master that bought you, and to count His blood an unholy thing? Do you realize that Christ is your Ransomer and has actually shed His blood for you as your ransom? Do you realize that your salvation has been bought, bought at a tremendous price, at the price of nothing less precious than blood, and that the blood of Christ, the Holy One of God? Or, go a step further: do you realize that this Christ who has thus shed His blood for you is Himself your God?
The same question should be posed to each and every one of us: is Christ truly your Redeemer?
 Ephesians, James Montgomery Boice, quoting B.B. Warfield, “’Redeemer’ and ‘Redemption’” in The Person and Work of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1950), 325, also: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_redeemer.html, accessed 23/03/2016
 Boice, p. 22
 Ephesians, Preaching the Word, R. Kent Hughes, p. 30
 Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary, Peter T. O’Brien, p. 106
 Ephesians, Hoehner, p. 208
 John Calvin, http://www.the-highway.com/Calvin_Eph4.html, accessed 23/03/2016
 http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/accordance, accessed 23/03/2016
 Ephesians, Hoehner, p. 208-9
 Ephesians, O’Brien, p. 107
 An Exposition of Ephesians, Charles Hodge, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/charleshodge/hodge_ephesians.html#chap1sect2, accessed 23/03/2016
 Hoehner, p. 209
 O’Brien, p. 107
 R. Kent Hughes, p. 33-4
 B.B. Warfield, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_redeemer.html, accessed 23/03/2016