A Rhetorical Examination of Ephesians 1:3

by Timothy L. Decker, Th.M.

To some, it is rather obvious that Ephesians 1:3 is an introductory summation of the rest of the extended sentence of vv. 3–14. By paying careful attention to the rhetorical devices and exegetical details, this becomes very apparent to the observant reader. The purpose of this short article is to investigate these features and offer an explanation as to how this enriches one’s understanding of 1:3 and the larger sentence of vv. 3–14. At the very least, it demonstrates Paul’s prowess as a writer (or at least his amanuensis).[1]

1) Rhyming and Assonance

The opening phrase of the sentence, “blessed be God,” has a euphonic quality when heard in Greek—eu-logtos ho Theos. The assonance (like-sounding vowels with rhythmic syllabification) of the vowels as well as the rhyme of the –os endings exhibits Paul’s ability to grab the attention of his readers/hearers with a forceful, aural punch. The entire phrase “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is used verbatim on two other occasions in the NT: 2 Cor. 1:3 and 1 Pet. 1:3. Paul achieved this euphony with an ellipsis of the predicate verb “is” or “be.” This pattern, observed in other places in both the OT[2]  and NT[3] has been part of the berekah formula that many scholars identify v. 3ff. to be.[4]

2) Punning

The similar sounds among the words is just the beginning. There is also an overt play on words as well with the thrice use of the eulog– root. Though English translations tend to ignore bringing the word play to surface, an acceptable translation could be, “Blessed be the God… who blesses us with every Spirit-related blessing.” Three times in the course of a few words, Paul skillfully uses the same cognate in a different grammatical forms to express both praise and blessing. More specifically, this word play is an antanaklasis – the repetition of a word with different meanings.[5] The first use of the eulog– root is an expression of praise to God. The second and third instances are blessings in which the blessed/praised God has bestowed upon those who are being blessed. “Mature Christians would have easily picked up the play on the word. The triple use of the root in v. 3 incorporating both senses is an example of [the author’s] skill as a writer.”[6]

3) Trio of Triads

Perhaps an even more remarkable display of Paul’s rhetorical finesse is in the three triadic formulae composed via morphology, themes, or syntax – a veritable trio of triads. The first triad was the triple use of the eulog- root mentioned above. The second triad is thematic. The sentence unfolds a Trinitarian motif. In fact, some scholars formulate a structure of 1:3-14 based on that theme alone.[7] Ephesians itself is known as the Trinitarian epistle.[8] It is no small coincidence that the introduction to the sentence as well as the entire epistle begins with this major theological element that is pervasive throughout the rest of the sentence and letter. In v. 3, the Father and Son are quite apparent. But the term pneumatik (“spiritual”) is best taken as a reference to things which pertain to the Spirit. For example, Arnold, while pointing out an inclusio beginning in v. 3, saw a bracketing with the word pneumatik and the explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in vv. 13-14.[9]  Such a book-ending could only be considered reasonable if pneumatik in v. 3 was a reference to the Holy Spirit in some way. Therefore the Holy Spirit-related blessing mentioned in v. 3 is later elaborated in vv. 13–14.

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