At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul urges his audience, and in fact all believers, "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." He lists five characteristics of those who walk in that manner:
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, Ephesians 4:2 NASB
We are to walk like this in order to, "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Paul takes this phrase and begins to speak to that unity. As we saw last time, this is an organic, spiritual unity founded on seven essential unifying factors related to the three members of the Trinity (4:4-6). The same unity that the Father, Son, and Spirit share is the same unity that the church actually has.
But now he is moving away from that corporate unity, and he begins looking at believers individually, "to each one of us." Now he speaks to each Christian that makes up the Church of Yeshua, which is the body of Christ. Verses 7-16 are a distinct unity within the section as a whole (verses 1-16); this is seen by the presence of "each one" in verses 7 and 16 forming an inclusio.
These are not the easiest verses in Ephesians to understand. There are some difficult interpretive matters where godly scholars disagree. But, the overall theme is fairly clear. Paul is showing that Yeshua is the ascended, victorious Lord over all, and that He has sovereignly given various spiritual gifts to His church so that "He might fill all things" (4:10).
So the subject here is spiritual gifts. From our perspective, spiritual gifts are not a subject that we associate with unity; just the opposite. This brings up the need to talk here about audience relevance. We know that the Scriptures were written for us, but not to us. That brings up the question: What in the Scripture applies to us and what doesn't? From my perspective, unless I have strong reason not to, I apply the principles of the New Testament to believers today. For example, I think we, twenty first century American Christians, are to walk worthy, I think we are to be humble, to love one another, to put others before our selves. To me these things are timeless. But there is much in the New Testament that does not apply to us because we do not live in the Transition Period. Our text for today is case in point. I don't believe that spiritual gifts are available today. Before I try to defend that statement, let's define what exactly is a spiritual gift. What would your definition of a spiritual gift be? My definition is: A spiritual gift is a God-given capacity through which the Holy Spirit supernaturally ministers to the Church. I get this from what Paul says about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:7 NASB
Manifestation is phanerosis and has the basic idea of: "making known, clear, or evident." This is what a spiritual gift is; it is a manifestation of the spirit—it is not your normal, natural abilities, it is a supernatural function.
Spiritual gifts were not natural abilities or talents. Natural abilities and talents are shared by believer and unbeliever alike. An unbeliever can be a great musician, or have a good memory for names, but spiritual gifts came only as a result of salvation. Spiritual gifts were supernatural enablements given by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ministry.
There are basically three positions today in the Church on Spiritual gifts:
1. All the gifts are for all believers today. This is the Pentecostal/Charismatic position. 2. Some of the gifts have been removed, the miraculous ones, the other gifts are for all believers today. This would be the Baptist and Reformed position.
3. All of the gifts have been removed, there are no spiritual gifts today. This would be my position, and that of most Preterists.
The issue of whether or not all of the spiritual gifts are for today has caused much debate and strife in the body of Christ. There are biblically based groups who say that if you speak in tongues, then you are under demonic control and are not saved. On the other hand, there are groups who say that if you do not speak in tongues, then you are not saved.
Let's talk first about the Pentecostal/Charismatic position that all the gifts are still operative today. They say that if it happened in the New Testament, it should be happening in the Church today. Are miracles the norm in Christianity? One Pentecostal pastor writes, "The responsibility of the Church to serve others did not end in A.D.70, nor did its responsibility to reach others. A Pentecostal Church ought to manifest the supernatural."
I would agree with that if the supernatural that is manifested is love. I think that biblical love is supernatural:
"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Luke 6:27 NASB
This is not natural, it is supernatural. And in this way the Church should manifest the supernatural.
The introduction of a new revelation brought the need of miracles to authenticate the message and the messengers. Miracles were God's testimony that those bringing in the new revelations were indeed His official representatives.
Are the modern Charismatic gifts the same as we see in the New Testament? I submit to you that there is a definite lack of similarity. For example: Are lame men who never walked healed so that they can jump up and walk and leap? Do missionaries blind their opponents as Paul did? Do preachers preach the Word to a foreign speaking audience who hear what he is saying in their own language? No, preachers today use an interpreter. Do Church leaders discern hypocrisy and pronounce the immediate death of members? Do evangelists amaze an entire city with miracles as did Philip? Are there entire multitudes healed by merely being in the shadow of the healer? No! So I think that the position that all gifts are functioning today is wrong. What happened in the early Church is not happening today.
The Baptist or Reformed position holds that some of the gifts have passed away and some of them are still here. They make a distinction between what they call Permanent edifying gifts and Temporary foundational and sign gifts. The Bible has no text to say there are temporary gifts and permanent gifts. But the Scriptures do indicate that at least certain gifts were temporary:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 1 Corinthians 13:8 NASB
So the text clearly says that tongues will cease at some point in time. And there are several Scriptures that hint at the fact that the signs and wonders were temporary:
how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Hebrews 2:3-4 NASB
In Hebrews 2:3 the main verb is past tense and the participle is relative in time to the main verb, "was confirmed." The signs, wonders, and miracles are referred to as being in the past—at the time of the writing. All this was past at the time Hebrews was written.
Are these gifts still given to believers? Most believers would say, "Yes." If spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, then when the Spirit manifests Himself in teaching, that teaching would always be true, accurate teaching and would never change. Does that make sense? Yahweh never changes, so the Spirit's teaching would never alter. If I had the gift of teaching, would I teach Futurism and then later teach Preterism? Or Arminenism and later teach Calvinism? If teaching is a manifestation of the Spirit, the person with the gift would never change what they taught. And those in the first century never did change what they taught.
The third position and the one that I hold is that all the gifts ended in A.D. 70. Let me attempt to support my position. If we are going to correctly understand the New Testament, we must understand "The Transition Period." But I would say that most Christians have never heard of the Transition Period and have no clue as to what it is.
The Transition Period began on Pentecost in A.D. 30, with the birth of the Church, and it ended at the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70, which ended the Old Covenant Age. During the Transition Period the Church was growing from infancy to maturity. Yahweh worked in the growing Church through miraculous gifts and spoke to His prophets to bring His Church to maturity. A spiritual house was being built in which Yahweh would dwell. This was a time of change and growth, it was a time of transformation from the Old to the New. The old things of Judaism, the Old Covenant, faded out very slowly, and the New Covenant gradually phased in. It was a changing of the ages.
All through the New Testament we see these two ages in contrast: "this age" and the "age to come":
"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 NASB
The CJB says, "neither in the `olam hazeh' nor in the `olam haba.'" Jewish theology maintains thattime was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age (olam hazeh) and the Messianic Age (olam haba). The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "olam haba," which means: "the world to come."
The word "come" at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: "about to be." We could translate this: "the age about to come" (in the first century). So the writers of the New Testament saw the "olam haba" as very near:
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:21 NASB
Here again we see the two ages and again the CJB says:
"Far above every ruler, authority, power, dominion or any other name that can be named either in the 'olam hazeh' or in the 'olam haba.'" Ephesians 1:21 CJB
So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, "this age" and "the age to come." The understanding of these two ages and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible. The ages didn't change over night, there was a Transition Period of forty years. During this forty years the "this age" was fading away and "the age to come" was developing.
The New Testament writers lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers the "age to come" was future, but it was very near, because "this age" was about to end:Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10:11 NASB
Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon "them" (the first century saints). "This age" was about to end.
We now live in what was to the first century saints the "age to come." When most Christians read in the New Testament and see the words "the age to come," they think of a yet future (to us) age. But the New Testament writers were referring to the Christian Age. We live in what was to them the "age to come" (the New Covenant Age).
Since the "this age" of the Bible ended in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Lord, we must be in the "age to come." And since the "this age" ended in A.D. 70, there are things in the Bible that applied to the saints who lived in the Transition Period, but do not apply to us.
Paul is writing to saints during the Transition Period, during this time the gifts were still operating, they ended at the end of the age. We do not have, and therefore do not need, spiritual gifts today.
There is a lot of confusion today about spiritual gifts; do you know why that is? It's because they were for the last days, and when the last days ended, so did the gifts. This is why so many believers have no clue as to what their gifts are; they don't have any.
The talents and abilities that we have come from God and are to be used for His glory. God providentially leads, guides, and uses us for His glory. Spiritual Gifts were for the age of immaturity; they are no longer needed or given.
Alright, now that we understand that Paul's audience is a first century audience, and that spiritual gifts are not part of the age we live in, let's look at our text:But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Ephesians 4:7 NASB
The uniform interpretation of this verse is that Christ has given different spiritual gifts to different believers. But this verse does not say that; this meaning must be imported from the parallel passages of 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, and the immediate context of verse 11:And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, Ephesians 4:11 NASB
These are gifts given to the first century church to minister to the body.
"Grace was given"—the word "grace" in our text is from the Greek word charis, which is an abstract noun and is very general. But when an abstract noun has an article, as it does here, a particular aspect of the noun is stressed. In this context, it is referring to an enablement given to each believer to empower them for ministry. It is very closely connected with charisma, which is a grace gift. Paul uses these two terms side by side in 1 Corinthians 1:4 and 7 and in:Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; Romans 12:6 NASB
The Greek word here for "gifts" is charisma, which means: "gift of grace." And the word "grace" is from charis. So we see that Paul uses charisma (grace gift) as a particular manifestation of Yahweh's enabling charis (grace).
So I think we can conclude that Ephesians 4:7 is talking about spiritual gifts. Paul is not referring to the grace that saves, but to the grace that equips each believer for service and ministry. The context shows that this is what he has in mind (v. 9-16).But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Ephesians 4:7 NASB
"But to each one"—in verses 4-6 the word "one" has been used in relation to a sevenfold unity of the body of Christ; now it refers to the individuals, "each one." So we have a shift from the one body to the individual members of that body. "Each one of us" refers to those first century believers and Paul.
Paul is telling them that if they have received Yahweh's gracious gift of salvation, they have also received His gracious spiritual gift to use for His glory. This means that every single individual in the first century body of Christ had a specific spiritual gift.
This leads pastors and commentators who don't understand the Transition Period to say that all believers today have a spiritual gift. One commentator writes, "God has given each one of us a spiritual gift. And it is our responsibility to know that gift, and to exercise it in the body of Christ." This can be very frustrating to believers today as they try to figure out what their gift is when they don't have one.
"According to the measure of Christ's gift"—the word "measure" is the Greek word "metron" from which we get metric or meter. It has to do with quantity. In other words, each one of them had a measured out gift, a certain quantity. The word "gift" is dorea; it's a word that emphasizes the freeness of it. Dorea—it's a free gift; they didn't earn it; they were given it, and it was measured out by the determining purpose of Christ.Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN." Ephesians 4:8 NASB
"Therefore it says"—What is "it"? This most likely implies: "Scripture says," although for Paul, "Scripture says," "Yahweh says," and "David says" are simply different ways of expressing the same thing. When Scripture speaks, Yahweh speaks.
Paul is quoting Psalm 68:18. There has been much ink spilled over this verse and there are a myriad of different opinions on what this Psalm originally meant. This Psalm is considered as textually and exegetically the most difficult and obscure of all the Psalms. On top of that there is also much discussion as to why Paul did not quote it exactly. If you compare the Hebrew Masoretic Text with the LXX, you will find that they are identical. But in the Greek of Ephesians 4:8 Paul made six changes from the LXX. And the discussions on this go on and on, I'll spare you the details. Let's first look at the Psalm and then look at Paul's changes.
I want to look at the two main interpretation that Scholars take of this Psalm. The first interpretation is found in the Aramaic Targum, which is like a commentary on the Tanakh that the Jews used from time to time. It says that this Psalm speaks of Moses on Mount Sinai, when the Law was delivered to Moses. Look at verse 7:O God, when You went forth before Your people, When You marched through the wilderness, Selah. Psalms 68:7 NASB
They say that this depicts God marching in triumph before all Israel—from Egypt, right through the Red Sea, taking them right through in deliverance into the promised land —that is God's exodus of His children, God marching before His children in triumph. Then He brings them through the Red Sea and to Sinai's Mount, where He gives them His Law and He reveals to them His great name through His righteous Law:The earth quaked; The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God; Sinai itself quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel. Psalms 68:8 NASB
If you remember within Exodus chapter 20 you read that the Mount shook, there was a great thundering and lightning, and fire and smoke, when the Law was given.The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: "Kings of armies flee, they flee, And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!" When you lie down among the sheepfolds, You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver, And its pinions with glistening gold. When the Almighty scattered the kings there, It was snowing in Zalmon. Psalms 68:11-14 NASB
Here we see that kings and armies flee while the people of God sleep beside their camp fire peacefully, in the safety of their Almighty God. Look at verses 16 to 17:Why do you look with envy, O mountains with many peaks, At the mountain which God has desired for His abode? Surely the LORD will dwell there forever. The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; The Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness. Psalms 68:16-17 NASB
This depicts God looking from the Mount of the Law, Mount Sinai, looking across to Mount Zion and Jerusalem and beginning to walk with all His people. The Psalmist says that there are tens of thousands of chariots, and He walks right up Mount Zion, up the slopes of Jerusalem in victory, leading His captives in His train, and giving gifts unto His own men:You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there. Psalms 68:18 NASB
That's the first interpretation of the Psalm, understood to be Moses and the God of Moses delivering Israel out of Egypt, and bringing them to Mount SinaiApril 6, 2014 and then to Mount Zion.
The second interpretation, many believe, is simply that this Psalm speaks of David's triumph. It is a victory hymn where David defeated his enemies in the conquest of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem— remember that Jerusalem was not always inhabited by the Jews. David, in his triumph, tramples through the Jebusites in Jerusalem, and then goes up to Mount Zion in triumph because of the victory of God. As he does so, he brings gifts to all those who have fought in the battle with him.
I see Paul borrowing from the imagery of this Psalm to picture a triumphant Christ returning from His battle on earth to the glory of the heavenly city, and He's brought with Him the trophies of His great triumph and His great victory, giving gifts to His followers.
One commentator writes, "This phrase, 'led captivity captive,' is referring to Jesus liberating the Old Testament saints. At the death of Jesus, He descended into Sheol and took these captives captive. He then took them to heaven, into the very presence of God, and vacated that part of Sheol." What's wrong with this statement? What he is talking about is the resurrection. The removal of saints from Sheol to heaven is synonymous of getting eternal life. Eternal life is life in the presence of Yahweh. The saints in Sheol were separated from Yahweh. So when did they receive this resurrection into the presence of Yahweh? Was it at Christ's death? No, it wasn't until the Second Coming, which took place at the end of the Old Covenant Age:but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. Mark 10:30 NASB
The present age became the age to come at AD 70. Until then no one went to heaven.
As I said, Paul made six changes to this verse, but most just mention one of these changes, the big question that is asked is why did Paul change "received" from Psalm 68:18 into "gave" in our text in Ephesians? Is Paul changing the text? Let me give you a couple different views:
Some claim that Paul simply misquoted the Tanakh here. I certainly don't buy that. I believe that Paul was a Rabbi with semikhah. In Yeshua's time there was a small group of what are called Rabbis with semikhah. We know of about a dozen of them by name that lived from 30 B.C to A.D. 70. They were not common, and they didn't exist in Judea.
What is a Rabbi with semikhah? They were masters of the Torah and the Haftorah. Haftorah is a Hebrew word that simply means: "the rest." They were masters of the whole Tanakh. These Rabbis knew the entire Tanakh by memory.
Some say that the original Psalm speaks of God's receiving the Levites from among Israel and then giving them back to Israel as gifts. They see Paul as having Numbers 8 and 18 in mind here. So, they say, in Paul's mind, the receiving of gifts and the giving of gifts are the same thing, and it is the giving of gifts that is the focus of what Paul is about to tell us.
This reading of "giving gifts" is also found in the Psalm 68:18 of the Syriac Peshitta, which may reflect a textual tradition different from that represented by the MT and the LXX.
There has been a tradition of Christian interpretation which has argued that the notion of "giving" was also implied in the Tanakh. The Hebrew verb rendered "receive," it is suggested, sometimes has the sense of: "to take in order to give" to someone else.
My position here is that if Paul did change this word from "receive" to "give," he did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the ancient time when the kings received gifts as spoils of war they would share these with the people. Paul could simply be using this ancient custom to convey his point.
However you explain Paul's change of words, his overall point is that this verse about a victorious Israelite king leading his captives in triumphal procession, and receiving gifts of booty applies to the victorious, ascended Christ in relation to His Church.(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? Ephesians 4:9 NASB
In verse 9, Paul is reasoning that if Christ ascended, He first had to descend. As Yeshua explained to Nicodemus:"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. John 3:13 NASB
Yeshua claimed to have come down from heaven to this earth, sent by the Father (see John 6:33, 38, 51, 58). So when He ascended into heaven, Yeshua was returning to the place where He dwelled before the foundation of the world:"What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? John 6:62 NASB
"The lower parts of the earth"—again there is no end to the opinions that people have as to what this means. Some take it to refer to Yeshua's descent into Hades during the time between His death and resurrection (based on one interpretation of 1 Pet. 3:18-20). Many of the ancient church fathers and early writers believed that between His death and His resurrection He descended into Hades, He preached deliverance to the captives—those who trusted in God in the Old Covenant, He opened the gates and brought them to heaven.
I don't see this as talking about a speculated time spent by Yeshua in Hades, but to the fact that Yeshua came down to earth from heaven in the first place.
Some say that it could refer to the grave. Some say that it simply means: "the earth as contrasted with heaven." The NIV translates it this way and so does the Complete Jewish Bible:Now this phrase, "he went up," what can it mean if not that he first went down into the lower parts, that is, the earth? Ephesians 4:9 CJB
I see this as a reference to the incarnation, that He descended into the lower parts of the earth—in regards to His humanity and His suffering within the cross.
So the idea here is parallel to Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul states that Yeshua laid aside the glory that He had in heaven and took on the form of a bond-servant. He became obedient even to death on a cross:For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, Philippians 2:9 NASB
The words "highly exalted" are the Greek word huperupsoo it means: "to elevate to a surpassing position, to exalt beyond all others, to exalt to the highest, maximum majesty." This particular exaltation is so grand that this particular Greek word is not used anyplace else in the whole Bible.He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) Ephesians 4:10 NASB
The idea of this verse is similar to Philippians 2:9-11, but in the context of Ephesians, it takes us back to:which He brought about 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 every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:20-21 NASB
Paul goes on to say:And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:22-23 NASB
Jesus' filling all in all, or all things, refers to His sovereign rule over all.
In the context, Paul has been speaking of the attitudes which reflect Christ, and which facilitate Christian unity. The fundamental attitude is that of humility. I believe that Paul's reference to Psalm 68 has a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is to show that spiritual gifts have their origin in the victory of Christ over the death, the grave, and His enemies. The second purpose is to demonstrate that spiritual service is intimately related to humility.
I believe that this link between ascended and descended is the point of Paul's words in verses 9 and 10. What Paul is showing us is that even in our Lord's life and ministry the way "up" was "down." Christ descended in order to ascend. So, too, as our Lord taught His disciples, the way to greatness is through service:"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Matthew 23:12 NASB
I believe that this is a timeless truth that applies to us today. Yahweh exalts the humble.
"So that He might fill all things"—this is an idiom for pervasive influence and control, it refers to His sovereign rule over all. In His exalted position, Christ is "head over everything for the Church" (Ephesians 1:22).
And so, the Lord Yeshua is like a triumphant sovereign, having accomplished His work, He's ascended up on high, He's received from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit and He has poured out the Holy Spirit in that age so that every individual believer was indwelt with the Holy Spirit and given a specific spiritual gift.
I have just taken this passage in Ephesians 4 dealing with spiritual gifts and said that it does not apply to us. So am I doing damage to the Church by removing these passages? Is it damaging to seek to interpret the Scriptures correctly?
Let me be clear that this full Preterist does not believe that the Bible is just history and lacks present day application. I sure wouldn't be constantly encouraging you to read it if it wasn't relevant to us. But I do believe the Bible was written to a certain audience, which is not us. So, we must seek to understand what it means to its original audience, and then see if what it is teaching also applies to us.
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