Sunday, June 14, 2009

Quote / Misquote

Ephesians 4v7-13
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
We looked at this passage in housegroup this week. I've read it before, but don't think I'd ever checked back to the OT passage that Paul quotes here. This time I did and found it says this:

Psalm 68v18
When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious—that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.
Now hang on! Paul says that God gave gifts to men, but the original says that God received gifts from men. This is really bad. If I heard a preacher making such a mistake today I wouldn't rate them very highly! Paul has a point to make about God giving gifts, but he can't find an OT verse to support his claim, so he misquotes one... entirely changing the sense of the verse.

Oh, and there is nothing in the original passage about descending either. The image is of the triumph of a conquering king receiving tribute from his enemies.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? I'm bamboozled.


Mike Arthur said...

Eagerly awaiting a response on this too if it comes!

Markio said...

As am I. How about this misquote in Mark 2:25-27

25 And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?

the priest from whom David received the bread is named in 1 Samuel 21 as Abimelech, not Abiathar. Abiathar is Abimelech’s son.

Ricky Carvel said...


I'm less concerned about that misquote than the Ephesians one.

For a start, we actually don't know who wrote Mark (tradition tells us it was 'John Mark' but we don't know with any certainty). The author of the written document may not have been there (John Mark almost certainly wasn't), so the author is quoting a story he was told about a thing Jesus said. If the author isn't that well versed in the OT, this is an easy mistake to make - merely muddling some names, not changing the sense of the verse.

Paul ('pharisee of pharisees' who should know his OT very well) is not quoting someone else, he's making the statement himself. So we have no degrees of separation between the author and the original statement.

So its really sloppy.

And I'd go as far as to declare it (i.e. a bit of the bible) as being not-infallible!


Markio said...

I see your point, and if Paul was as well schooled as he claims to have been, what concerns me is this line of thought:

Paul knew the OT reference.
Paul knew the Ephesian Church wouldn't.

I don't like where that thought leads, is it right to bend an OT prophesy that much to make it fit your point? Where would the line be?

We must be missing something...?

Jamie said...

Mmmm. Halt the feeding frenzy a while!

This is quite a well-known one. I remember thinking about it some time back, but can't actually call the details to mind. I have some commentaries and will try and look it up - remind me on Sun/Mon if I have forgotten.

I think that the basic line taken by many commentators is that Paul is using pretty-much-correctly the image of the triumphant general receiving tribute which then gets distributed among his followers (hence it is from the Lord's *enemies* that the tribute is received in Ps 68, and to the Lord's *followers* that the gifts are given in Eph 4). There's an interesting question here about why Jesus's vindication ("ascended") should be the cause of the giving of gifts - i.e. why it is that the Holy Spirit's gifts could not be given until Jesus had been vindicated (note that the same issues occurs - from memory - in John 7 where the narrator comments that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified). I think that if we could get this connection straight, and I can't quite crack it straight off now, we would have the answer to the logic of the Eph 4 passage.
But I'd have thought that the prospects of that look good, given a bit of sustained interpretative effort.

Btw, the descended bit is easy - Paul's point, I think, is simply the obviously correct point that ascending implies that you start off lower down that you finish up! In the case of the Lord, that is interesting and worthy of comment ... the kind of comment Paul then offers.

(Mon update) Just checked John Stott (Bible Speaks Today commentary) on this passage. He has a bunch of suggestions including the ones above.

Perhaps his most significant additions are the following (a) the "gave gifts" reading of Ps68 is already current in Syriac and Aramaic translations, so Paul may simply be following those variants, (b) the Hebrew verb in Ps68 usually translated "received" can also mean "brought".

As I suggested initially, he presses the idea that even as usually translated, Ps68 already *implies* the distribution of gifts. These latter two points raise the possibility that this may even be what Ps 68.18 explicitly *states*.

(I can't lay my hands immediately in other commentaries but I'm sure I've read NT Wright on this - and I think he has both a scholarly commentary and a "Paul for Everyone" on Eph. This sounds like just the kind of passage where he'd have something interesting to say.)

Chris HH said...

Paul spells out his "Apostolic licence" in the previous chapter:

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Eph 3:4-5 ESV)

This is not so much a licence to take the OT out of context, but to re-interpret it in its correct eternal context, which is the fullness of the revelation found in Christ.

It is thus a deliberate "twist" to show that it is the same Christ who was revealed ascending in victory and receiving gifts in the OT, as the Christ who now dispenses his gifts after his ascension the the NT.

It is an important link because the point Paul is making in Ephesians 4 is that these are not just gifts to men, but gifts of men. That is, apostles and the other ministries are not just gifted individuals; they themselves are gifts to the body from the risen Christ with the intention of bringing the Church to fullness and maturity.

Jamie said...

Ingenious, Chris, but I'm just not seeing that in Eph 3.1-6. Paul there doesn't seem to be claiming any particular authority there at all, still less any license. If you read the whole of 3.1-6, you'll see that his point in context is that his suffering is for the sake of the Gentile Ephesians (as indeed he repeats in v.7).

He makes the point by saying - "you know I'm suffering for the sake of the gospel I preach, well a reading of my brief summary of it above will show you that the inclusion of Gentiles in God's people is central to the understanding of the gospel (the mystery of Christ) for which I'm suffering".

This was something that wasn't seen by former generations (it's not obvious to me that Paul includes all OT writers in this), but has been seen now -- not (he is claiming) by him particularly, but by the Messiah's holy apostles and prophets.

In short, I don't think this passage will help give Paul any special license to re-interpret the OT in ways not consonant with its original meaning. I think the Stott-type strategies I suggested above are a better bet.

But the point about "gifts of men" is interesting. Indeed the text could be translated, "He himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, ... for the equipping of the saints for the work of service ...".

I'm quite taken with that. The point would be that the gift isn't really *to* the person who is the apostle/prophet/evangelist/pastor-teacher (or /pastor/teacher), it's a gift *of* that person *to* the saints / the body of Christ. Fits well with the general thrust of ch4.

Ricky Carvel said...

This is getting interesting, thanks guys, keep it coming!

And I am utterly convinced that the gifts given to individuals are not gifts for them to keep to themselves, but all the gifts are for the benefit of the whole body.

(By the way, Jamie, are you any particular Jamie that I might know, or just someone who surfed on in...?)

Ryan McKenzie said...

Wow, lots of interesting thoughts coming through here! It's great.

Can I say before I start that I really believe in 2 Timothy 3:16 (and 17) which says "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." It's the word ALL that I find very re-assuring.

After reading up on the topic this week I found some helpful answers in my wife's study Bible.

Ephesians 4:8-11 uses this verse to describe how the exalted Christ (who ascended after He descended) distributed gifts to His people, i.e., assigned to each of the members different ways of serving the body. The quotation in Eph. 4:8 does not quite match the Septuagint (which follows the Hebrew); i.e., Paul saying that He "gave gifts to men" rather than "receiving gifts among men".
The difference is only superficial, however: the verb "receive" (Hebrew = laqakh) can have the idea of "receive in order to give," or "to fetch". Further, after a conquest (as in the Psalm), the spoils were distributed among the leader's men. Thus the Psalm focuses on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, while Paul's adaptation of the truth of the Psalm focuses on how the conqueror distributed the spoils to His own.

Paul adapts the passage to his purposes (as NT authors sometimes do in citing the OT) to show that Christ gave gifts to His people from His spoils of victory (interestingly, ancient Syriac and Aramaic translations of Ps. 68:18 also have "gave"). The "gifts" given by Christ turn out to be the church leaders described in Eph. 4:11 "...the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers...".

I think we have to be wary of letting our thinking go down a road that leads us to believe that the Bible is fallible. I know we, as humans, are completely fallible. But the Word clearly says that the whole Bible is God-breathed, inspired by the Spirit of the living God, therefore it cannot be fallible.

What do you think?

Ricky Carvel said...


Welcome to my blog!

Thanks for your useful comments. I find that quite a plausible line of reasoning.

But. As I've said many times on this blog, I don't consider the bible as infallible. I don't see how 2 Tim 3:16 leads to that conclusion.

See my earlier blog about that verse.

Just because the inspiration of a passage comes from God, doesn't (in my opinion) mean that the human author who used the inspiration as a basis for what they wrote got every fact and quote right.

People make mistakes. And God still uses those fallible people and the fallible things they wrote for good purposes.

I've had a look at the Blue Letter Bible concordance page for the OT verse, and while the concept of 'receiving tribute in order to distribute it to others' is a possibility, it seems quite a small possibility to me.

However, if you start from the premise of the infallibility of the entire scripture, then this is the sort of reasoning you have to use to get the two passages to 'speak with one voice'.

Given all this, I think that Paul was probably more familiar with the Greek OT than the Hebrew one, and quoted that verse in the sense that he'd heard it explained.

So not a misquote on the part of Paul, but possibly a mistranslation on the part of whoever translated the Septuagint.



Jamie said...

Leaving aside the more general issue of the Bible's authority, I think we need to be precise about what we should claim in this particular verse (Eph 4.8).

I don't think it's plausible to suggest that (even with the sense "brought" for laqakh) Ps 68 *states* that the Lord gave gifts to men. It seems to me unproductive to try and squeeze this out of the translation.

The most likely way our Eph text came about seems to me to be that Paul was quoting from Aramaic versions of Ps68, in which the (mis)translation "gave" was already present. Perhaps this was the version he was most familiar with, perhaps it would have been most familiar to his readers -- just like the NIV to my generation, or the AV to my grandparents' generation.

(By the way the Aramaic is not the same as the LXX (Septuagint - a Greek translation by seventy (septuaginta) scholars) which -- so Ryan tells us -- matches the Hebrew on this verse.)

We then note that the use he makes of Ps 68.18 is entirely consistent with what is *implied* by the imagery used there. So, there is not a distortion of the original text, even if Paul does not accurately quote it (presumably from memory).

We might note that there are possibly some interesting implications for wider doctrine about scripture from this precise point. If we are looking to Eph 4.8 to tell us the correct text for Ps 68.18, we will be disappointed. It will not give us the correct answers to *those* questions. We need to pay attention to what Paul is trying to say. He is not engaged in textual criticism (i.e. reconstruction from manuscripts and sources of the wording of the OT text). So we shouldn't look to Ephesians to give us that. He *is* making a point about the Lord's purposes in the Church by his Spirit, and he *is* appealing to the authority of the OT to support his point. In these areas, it seems to me, it is quite appropriate to expect Paul's argument and assertions to stand up to scrutiny. (And, in my view, they do.)

Btw, Ricky, I'm a friend of Mike Arthur's from Edinburgh days.

Anonymous said...

To all you seekers of truth.

Observe the verses around Ps 68:18. Now turn to Exodus 25. Contemplate.

You now have truth. pursue more.

John Nicholson said...

What a difference a preposition makes.

The KJV translation contrasts with yours (NASB?): "...thou hast received gifts FOR men...."

(If I told you I was collecting money from your blog, you would be annoyed. If I told you I was collecting money FOR your blog, you would be, "About time someone supported this thing! So, when do I get a check?")

I don't believe this to be a mere semantic game. Look at the context of Ps 68, it makes tons more sense that the Lord is giving, and not merely gathering. Firstly, the Lord does not accept gifts from the rebellious; consider Cain, many other examples. Secondly, gifts from the Lord are given to all men--including the rebellious--to make us happy or powerful? to show we are special? No, so that the LORD dwells among us (in case you have ever wondered why the Lord gifted you the way He did. Take note, you guitarist).

If that doesn't convince you, the following verse nails it: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits...."

Even if Paul jumbled the words (I am not so sure), he got the meaning exactly right. Besides, you don't really need infallibility, do you?

BTW, never be ashamed of being a skeptic, best defined as someone who prefers truth over convention or doctrine. Just remember to be generous and patient with the vast majority of people, who are terribly dependent upon convention and doctrine.