Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14 (text at the bottom of post)
As God’s chosen people, we are to give praise to God. This is what Paul reminded the Church after his greeting, and it is also a good reminder for us to give praise to God and to live a praiseful life.
Reading verses 3-14, we might be overwhelmed by the seemingly many things that Paul was talking about, so it is good to realize that all those verses make just one sentence in the original Greek,1 but it is often translated as shorter sentences in English. 2
To understand what this long sentence is saying, we temporily remove all the qualifiers, modifiers, subordinate clauses and participles. We are then left with the main clause of the sentence, which is rather simple and is found is the beginning of verse 3: “Praise be to God!” The rest of the sentence describes how wonderful and glorious God’s grace is and that He is worthy of all our praises.
So Paul is calling the church and believers to praise God, and such calling is a consistent teaching of Paul (and of the Bible, of course). We see this message about giving praises and thanks to God repeated a few times in this short letter: God is to receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Eph 3:21), and a spirit-filled christian is to make music from our heart to the Lord and to give thanks to Him for everything (Eph 5:19-20). To the Church of Colossae, Paul says that a person who truly knows God gives thanks for His calling and salvation (Col 1:10-12).
But knowing is not the same as doing, so let us take some time to actually praise God! We can praise God for who He is, praise Him for our salvation, and praise Him for things that He has done for us in our lives. Let us echo what the psalmist says, “Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psa 147:1 NIV)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment–to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 TNIV)
PS: Remember that the book of Ephesians is a letter and we should read in large units. What we are doing in this article is not taking a unit and reading just the “Praise be to God” part. Rather, we are reading the whole unit (verses 3-14), and noticing that it is a long sentence, we analyze and find the main clause of the sentence.3
You can skip this part if you are not concerned with interpretation details or are not doing bible interpreting yourself at this point.
It is actually quite a jump from the greeting directly to the long praise without mentioning any personal connection, especially if it was a letter to the Church of Ephesus in which Paul had spent a long time. Usually in the opening of Paul’s letter, Paul described some connection between him and the recipients of his letter. This was done partly for fellowship and partly for identification of himself.
For example, in the letter to the Philippians, he mentioned his joy for their participation in the work of the gospel. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he mentioned his feeling when he first arrived there. Even in the letter to the church in Colossae, a place where Paul had never visited, he mentioned his joy of hearing that the gospel had reached the Colossians.
The silence and “impersonal nature” of this book is due to the fact that the letter was likely meant to be a circular letter, that is, a letter to be circulated and read by different churches. We know that circulating Paul’s letter was common, and Paul himself instructed it.4 Early and reliable manuscripts of the book of Ephesians do not have the words “in Ephesus,” but all other manuscripts have them. There was also some arguments in the early Church that the letter was written to the Church of Laodicea.5 All evidences combined, it seems that the original letter was meant to be circular (hence almost no personal or geographical details), but at least one copy had been sent to the church in Ephesus (hence the words “in Ephesus” in many manuscripts).6
Therefore in interpreting this letter, we only need to be aware of the general geography around Ephesus and Paul’s missionary journeys in a broad sense, and our interpretation should not rely heavily on details from the city of Ephesus itself.
- It is the longest sentence in the Bible. ↩
- This is because direct translation into one sentence is difficult. Among other things, this long sentence makes use of relative clauses, participles, prepositional phrases, all of which are inflected according to number, gender, and case. These inflections make long sentence easier to construct without ambiguity in Greek but not as easy in English. ↩
- This has to be done in Greek, or others’ writings have to be consulted, but it is done for you here. ↩
- “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” (Col 4:16 NIV) ↩
- Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 2002), 532. ↩
- For a detailed discussion, see Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 42, (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1990), 1-4. ↩
Thank you for your “examination” and being a bridge here– particularly appreciating you to point out that the main clause of this sentence, as even I knew this is a very long sentence before, I didn’t know as to what the main purpose is for this long sentence with so many things.
Now it is clear to me “Praise be to God!” is the main clause of the sentence, and the rest of the sentence describes how wonderful and glorious God’s grace is and that He is worthy of all our praises (the 3rd paragraph here). In the subsequent posts, you further articulate the rest of the sentence.
Since most of people like me don’t know the original language, Greek, the main purpose seems to be not apparent as it is with several sentences in translation.
Thus with a clear understanding, it not only helps me to know what Paul intended here, and definitely helps me how to apply to my daily life, e.g., remember to praise Him and why we praise Him!
Thanks for your comment, Anna. What you wrote is directly related to the purpose of my writing. It is nice to hear such feedback!