A Syntactic Mess in Ephesians 1

Carl Conrad has said it a few times in the past week or so and I have to say I agree with him. Ephesians 1.3-14 is a mess. You don’t notice it too much in the first verses of the sentence, but verse 13 sticks out like a sore thumb. Its enough to give you a headache. Lincoln’s reference to this verse as “anacoluthon” is a definite understatement.

ἐν ᾧ καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀκούσαντες τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς σωτηρίας ὑμῶν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ πιστεύσαντες ἐσφραγίσθητε τῷ πνεύματι τῆς ἐπαγγελίας τῷ ἁγίῳ

Lit. “…in whom, you also, having heard the word of truth, the proclamation of your salvation, in whom you also have believed, have been sealed with (by?) the Holy Spirit of promise (the promised Holy Spirit?).

I’ve made bold the main cause of this awkwardness – an awkwardness that even literal translations remove, well some do anyway. Often times we seen literal translations turning smooth Greek into awkward English, but here the ESV at least turn awkward Greek into smooth (relatively) English by changing the relative pronouns to personal pronouns.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…

But you have to appreciate the consistency of the NAS, which seems to me to be just as convoluted as the Greek:

The NASU renders it as:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise…

If I’m reading the punctuation correctly, what I see is this:

In Him, you also … you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise…

Not only do they repeat the subject of the sentence twice, but they also for some reason seen both of the phrases “in him” as modifying “sealed.” If grammar in general has well-formedness conditions, it seems to me that the NASB has done a great job in breaking them.

Then again, so does the Greek, so who am I to complain? Besides, for some reason that was the NASB’s goal. Perhaps I’ll have to do a series on ungrammatical sentences in that translation.

4 thoughts on “A Syntactic Mess in Ephesians 1

  1. Yep. Even good translations can’t really disguise or overcome the awkwardness of this. One major problem here is the honest-to-goodness helpless vagueness of the connective ἐν ᾧ. Probably the nearest English comparable word is “whereby.” BDAG s.v. πιστεύω (1.a.ε) notes the difficulties of construing this verb with an ἐν-phrase.
    But the problems of Eph 1:3-14 do not lie in the individual clauses or verses (verse-divisions are useless, of course) but in the logic of their sequence and interdependence.

  2. Good point.

    Its interesting that most of the translations that smooth over this verse do so by connection the second ἐν ᾧ to πιστεύω. The NASB is the exception here.

  3. Could the second ἐν ᾧ be understood inanimately as “in it” or “in which”, i.e. in the gospel? In that case ἐν ᾧ καὶ πιστεύσαντες could be a parenthetical relative clause “in which you also believed”.

  4. Peter, I’ve wondered about that myself, actually. The masculine and neuter forms are both the same, so it could just as easily modify εὐαγγέλιον

    But that still doesn’t get around the issue Carl pointed out that πιστεύσαντες doesn’t typically take an ἐν argument.

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