January 26, 2011

Another Contradiction Shot Down in Flames

When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious— that you, LORD God, might dwell there. Psalms 68:18

This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” Ephesians 4:8

Someone at my church asked me, sincerely concerned about Ephesians 4:8 and why it was cross-referenced with Psalms 68:18. When you read them the main verb in Psalms 68:18 it says "receives" and the main verb in Ephesians 4:8 says "gives". Paul clearly borrows the Psalm 68 passage but the verbs are different and seem contradictory at first glance.

So what gives? Why are they "contradictory"...or are they???

First off I pose that they are not contradictory for a few reasons. Paradoxical, yes, contradictory, no. As a matter-of-fact the Ephesians passage may even be a deliberate play on words by the Apostle Paul utilizing ideas from Hebrew poetry. I had to do a little homework on this one but once you draw out a few facts the passages get interesting. At first glance they appear to refer to the same thing but are worded in a way that makes them appear contradictory. As any good Bible believer knows....this is not true as the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. So what is going on? Lets go take a look.

My first recommendation before reading this post is to orient yourself. You should really read the entirety of Ephesians and Psalms 68 for context. Ephesians is a letter and like any good letter you do not start reading a letter in the middle. Trust me, it isn't that hard. It only takes about 20 minutes.You need to get the entire feel for the letter. Same for Psalms 68. Each individual Psalm is a single interpretive unit.

Psalm 68:17-18 state:

(17) The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.
(18) When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious— that you, LORD God, might dwell there.

The key to v.18 is in the end of v17. The words "the Lord has come from Sinai into His sanctuary". Sinai signals a time after a victorious completion of the Exodus. After the wilderness wandering and conquest of Canaan the Lord returns to Heaven (so to speak) to celebrate His kingship (a la: Psalms 47:5-7). The divine warrior subjugated His enemies...and doing so has "received" tribute from conquered nations.

Now go to Ephesians and Paul's writing having read the entirety of Ephesians or at least chapter 4. What is he writing about in Chapter 4? Unity in the Body, unity in The Spirit...unity in Jesus Christ. Look closely at the text surrounding v.8 specifically...

"(4)There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (7) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (8) This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(9) What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? (10) He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) (11) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, (12) to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (13) 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." Ephesians 4:4-13 

In this unit of Ephesians the key is again the surrounding verse. The words "apportioned it" in the Greek (and other English translations is: Gift). Grace is a gift. The gift itself is in the form of Jesus' work on the cross and the message of the cross through His disciples (v.11-12) which is just another name for The Church...us.

Christ came incarnate and then ascended to Heaven (In Acts) having given gift(s) (grace/Himself through his disciples and believers [v.11]). He gave them to the world. What He is giving by giving His disciples (v.11,12)---is Himself---if only humanity would receive that gift---Him.

We would then have One Hope-One Church-One God-One Faith-One Baptism-One Father of all.

Paul is drawing a comparison to the Old Testament as a point of reference for these new Christians in Ephesus and the other cities in Asia Minor that this circular letter would've circulated to. Many of them would've formally been Jewish and understood the parallel.

This can be seen one of two ways and both are rhetorical devices used purposely by Paul.

(1) Paul is either making an antithetical statement in poetic verse---Ephesians 4:8's "gave" in relation to the Old Testament passage in Psalms 68:18's "received" of gifts. Thereby showing one side (receiving) and then showing the flip side (giving) both to reinforce the same point. A practice that was utilized quite often in Hebrew poetry---which ironically---both of these passages are....and of course Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He would've had mastery over the Old Testament that he borrowed.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. It is possible as God that the Lord can embody this duality. It is firmly based in our choice to obey or disobey though.


(2) These two passages could also be viewed as a Testament-bridging poetry - antithetical parallelism, which also shows one side and then another to drive home the point of giving and receiving gifts...with the intermediate being the division between the Old and New Testament: Jesus Christ.

A Conquering King that conquered death for His people but to gain us this eternal life He had to give His. For us to receive life He has to give. Conversely, through our behavior in obedience to the King we give Him glory through obedience. Obedience...just as Jesus was to the will of the Father. Why? For His glory.


Don and Shelly said...

Andy, we always enjoy the investigative illustrations that bring home the point.

ArtWerx said...

in the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus takes from one person (the little boy who contributed his lunch) & uses it to give to many others. we assume the boy is included in the general feasting. i guess if a rebel had his goods confiscated, he could even have them back again if he repented & didn't want to be a rebel anymore! God's not limited to what He can do, & He can communicate that to us in whatever words He wishes to inspire! :)

Healing Leaf said...

Really interesting read! I truly believe that we have to seek the correct understanding of God's word in order for us to carry out His will - His good, pleasing, and perfect will. I have been blogging about God's word of truth, check it out sometime and let me know what you think :)

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