27 Dec 2006

The Holy Spirit & the Disciple in Ephesians, Pt 1

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Ephesians, Exegesis, Grace, Hermeneutics, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Spiritual Disciplines

HSThe Holy Spirit and the Disciple in Ephesians, Part 1

I am dismayed from time to time how easily some dismiss the testimony of the “word” they seek to uphold … especially about the Holy Spirit.

I will attempt to offer a more detailed study of Ephesians to show what Paul says about the Spirit. According to Paul, the Spirit actually works in the life of a Christian and that Spirit is not limited to, or chained, the written word.

I realize this will be a lengthy post so I beg your indulgence. Many offer all kinds of arguments devoid of serious exegetical study to cast aside the plain teaching of the NT that the Spirit lives and works in the lives of disciples. He does so in multiple ways, through the word and without. It is my prayer that my series of studies will encourage and bless you.

The Spirit and Prayer in Ephesians 1.15-23

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in all my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you teh Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, for above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come . . .” (Ephesians 1.15-21, NIV).

Ephesians is surely the crown jewel in Paul’s halo. Romans is often seen as the greatest of Paul’s letters but Ephesians certainly cannot be far behind. From a purely human point of view I actually enjoy reading Ephesians more than Romans. The Letter’s emphasis on Grace is great, its call to unity is needed as ever and its concern for the sanctified life is certainly something the church needs to pay more attention to. Ephesians has long complicated sentences that are pregnant with meaning.

THE PURPOSE OF EPHESIANS (i.e. Why was Ephesians Written)?

There is general agreement among scholars that the destination of “Ephesians” was the Roman province of Asia (“Ephesus” is a textual variant and is missing in p46, Origen, Sinaiticus and others). Ephesus was the principle city of Roman Asia and exerted great influence on the lives of both non-Christians and Christians in that area. Its social environment will help explain some key phrases regarding the Holy Spirit in Ephesians (though some, unbelievably, have denigrated the importance of historical context we believe it is of the utmost importance in hearing the apostle’s words).

When we spend more than a casual amount of time with Ephesians, with an eye to its first century setting, three distinct concerns (or themes) of Paul become evident and seem to dominate the Letter. FIRST, is the passion of Paul’s life, the Gentile mission. How God has reconciled and brought together, by his grace, both Jews and Gentiles into a NEW HUMANITY is a key concern of Paul’s — this is the ultimate expression of God’s redeeming work in Christ. SECOND has to do with Christ’s victory over the “powers” for the sake of the Church, with the Holy Spirit playing a key role in our participation in that victory. The THIRD finds expression in the last half of the book (4-6 and reflects his concern with #1: the “Ephesians” are to maintain the “unity of the Spirit” by the way they “walk” with God.

Spirit language abounds in Ephesians for the Spirit in the Christian is the sine qua non of Christian existence.

The Significance of the “seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (1.13-14)

Paul announces at the close of a great thanksgiving (this is a single long sentence, vv. 3-14). that God is at work! God has done great work on our behalf. God continues to do great work on our behalf. That in a nutshell is what the thanksgiving is all about: We are here because of God’s choice, action, and grace and not our own (there is not one single solitary human action in vv. 3-14 indeed there is none in the entire first half of the book through 4.1 with the exception of 2.10). At the conclusion Paul makes one last and very significant comment we — Christians — have been “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.”

The image of a “seal” is very important. “Seals” were very significant in the ancient world for a variety of reasons. Seals “authenticate,” “certify,” “mark.” Seals were also for “protection.” Most generally readily grasp the significance of the “seal” as a mark of certification or authentication (See Baur-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich [=BDAG, 3rd Edition], p.980). These concepts are in our word but do not exhaust the meaning, nor the primary reason Paul chose the word “sphragis.” The choosing of this word relates back to the second major theme of Paul in the Letter — concern for Christ’s victory over the “powers.” “Seals” in the common populace of the first century had a far more important function (to them) then business and that was their association with protection from the spirit world, fate, and magic. Ephesus was a hot-bed of magic, exorcistic, and superstition. We see this in Acts 19. 11-16, 19, 23-41.

Archeologists and historians have taught us a great deal about the common religion among those in Ephesus. The proverbial “Ephesian Letters” were magical letters that girded the crown, the girdle and the feet of the image of Artemis/Diana. These letters were often spoken or copied onto an “amulet” or “seal” and carried around by a person seeking to ward of the demonic powers [Everett Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pp. 177-183 has a nice section on magic and fate highlighting Ephesus. See also Rodney Thomas’s “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus” Restoration Quarterly 43 (2001): 155-166 makes extensive use of archeological information to inform our understanding of Eph. 1.13-14].

Here is the situation. You have a group of predominantly Gentle Christians (though magic was by no means limited to the Gentiles as Acts 19’s story of the sons of Sceva amply demonstrates) who live in a world pervaded with fear of the supernatural world. The world was not a friendly place in the eyes of common ordinary folk. It is no accident that Paul uses the word “SEAL” — a word that meant certify in business transactions or mark authentic and declared ownership — but to the ordinary folk it meant PROTECTION! Paul is saying that the Ephesians, and you and I, do not have to go through the magical arts to seek defense against the spiritual war going on around us: God has given his seal to protect us. Christians are PROTECTED by the Spirit — in Christ we have no fear of the “powers.” This dual role of authentication and protection is a cardinal teaching of Paul on the Spirit who lives with in us.

Next Paul says that the Spirit is an “arrabon” (“deposit” or “earnest” or “first installment” or “pledge”) of our inheritance. “Arrabon” is a commercial term meaning “payment of part of purchase price in advance . . . which secures the legal claim to the article in question . . . arrabon is a payment that obligates the contracting party to make further payments.” (BDAG, p.134).

This again is important both for the Ephesians, us, and current discussions. The Holy Spirit himself is given by God the Father as a “pledge” to Christians. It is not some representative or gift the Spirit bestows rather the Spirit of God himself — the Spirit who was promised has been given to Gentile Christians — indeed all Christians. Indeed in modern Greek “arrabon” has come to mean something like an engagement ring. For Gentile readers this is very important because it shows that the promise of the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible included them. The Spirit is given to us in anticipation of the greater intimacy of the eschaton.

E. J. Goodspeed’s The New Testament: An American Translation captures well the meaning of Paul:

you have been marked with the seal of the holy Spirit that was promised, which is the advance installment of our inheritance, so that we may get full possession of it; and praise his glory for it” (Eph. 1.13-14, Goodspeed).

Paul’s pastoral concern for his readers leads him to use terminology they are very familiar with and could easily comprehend. They know the symbolism of sealing so the apostle begins his instruction on the Spirit by using a potent symbol of the Holy Spirit himself. We have been SEALED in the Holy Spirit. God DEPOSITED his Spirit IN US as a guarantee of our inheritance. He did this to bring glory to his name.

What a fitting conclusion to a thanksgiving (or “berakah”) that glorifies the Father for his work. He not only chose us, adopted us, predestined us, redeemed us, he also has given us a the Holy Spirit as our seal of ownership and protection and as a pledge that we will have our full inheritance. Now that is something to give “praise to his glory” about! The opening of v. 15 links back to vv. 3-14 so it was important to look at this section “briefly.”

In the next installment we will continue our reflection on Ephesians 1 and make some concrete observations of what the text says about the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of disciples. I thank God for the “Christmas” present of the indwelling and active Spirit.

Part 2 is Here: The Holy Spirit & the Disciple, Part 2

Bobby Valentine

24 Responses to “The Holy Spirit & the Disciple in Ephesians, Pt 1”

  1. Keith Says:

    Good post, Bobby. Blessings on your new ministry, my friend.

    BTW – I’ve added you to the blog roll on my blog at http://bkeithb.blogspot.com.

  2. Joel Solliday Says:

    Excellent topic and comments, Bobby. I also think we need to more clearly affirm the Holy Spirit’s place in the Godhead.

    The Holy Spirit is mentioned along side the Father and the Son in Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. He is called “eternal” in Hebrews 9:14. He is equated with “the Most High” in Luke 1:35. He is omnipresent (“Where can I go from your Spirit?” Psalm 139:7).

    Also, eternal life comes to us from the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “The one who sows to please the Sprit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8).

    The Holy Spirit is Lord! Paul wrote, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

    One more thought. He is illusive and free! Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8).

    The Holy Spirit is best understood, not when we think we have a handle on Him, but when he has a handle on us.

  3. Steve Puckett Says:

    Seems to me the testimony of the Apostles is irrefutable evidence of the Holy Spirit living within every Christian.

    Acts 5:32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

    I do wish that every Christian knew the confidence Paul wished to convey in Ephesians about our eternal security and the Spirit’s guarantee of this security.

    Hope your move is going well. We’re breathing the blessed air of Sweet Home Alabama this week.


  4. Tim Archer Says:

    Thanks for the study, Bobby.

    The old Spanish version talks about the “arras” of the Spirit; now I know where that strange word comes from. (arrabon)

    Looking forward to the rest!

    Grace and peace,

    P.S.–Joel Solliday… I don’t have your e-mail. You can write me at: cordobatim@mac.com (thanks for letting us communicate through your blog Bobby)

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Tim, It is a free service I provide, 🙂

    Bobby V

  6. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Your insights into the “seal” and “deposit” language are very good.

    One of the things that impresses me about scripture is that — while some of the power of the meaning may be lost — the intent of a “seal” (or mark of ownership and sovereign protection) and “deposit” (which anyone who has ever bought a car or a house or something on “lay away” understands_ — the meaning shines through to us today if we will only accept that God is talking and his truth exists forever.

    God Bless
    p.s. You must have a secret tobe able to do this type of writing while preparing for a move!!!

  7. Paula Harrington Says:

    I’m looking for someone to help write a Bible class curriculum and the Holy Spirit is one of my topics. Interested?? 🙂

  8. Guy Gustafson Says:

    I’ve lived in a world where the Spirit is limited to ink, paper, and leather. I’ve grown out of that in the past few years, and I’ve come to realize that the Spirit does indeed work in us. Not being educated, and not being a scholar, I have struggled to know exactly ALL that the Spirit does. Much worse than that, I’ve struggled to create a “temple” wherein the Spirit would feel welcome. I have come to this conclusion however. I don’t know exactly how photosynthesis works. I don’t know exactly how plants provide the air that I can breath. Never-the-less– I breath that air every minute of my life, without knowing all the details. I adopted the same thinking with the Holy Spirit. I don’t understand all the details, but I just let Him do what He would do in my life without denying His power or work, or limiting Him to 1200 pages of ink and paper. That’s my nickel’s worth.

  9. Matt Says:

    If the Spirit is a deposit that gives us protection, wouldn’t it need to be active in some way? I am not trying to open up the spiritual gifts in worship debate just making the point that the Spirit is in us and active in our lives.

    There have been a few times my wife and I have been going to bed and she gets a weird vibe about the room. She has asked me what I thought about spiritual forces/powers. I mentioned Ephesians and how Paul does not make light of them but how we have the Spirit of God and already have the victory over them. We have nothing to fear.

  10. Josh Says:

    Great Post… Thanks for sharing.

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Guy, I would say that was at least a dollar’s worth, 🙂 Great thoughts.

    Bobby Valentine

  12. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    “Many offer all kinds of arguments but often devoid of serious exegetical study to cast aside the plain teaching of the NT…”
    That in itself was worth the post and the read.

  13. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Don I am glad you found the essay profitable for something 🙂

    Bobby Valentine

  14. Gallagher Says:


    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoy reading yours even thougth I do not comment all the time.

    I look forward to this study on the Holy Spirit. I did a series of sermons on Ephesians this year. It was a great study for me.

    God bless…

  15. Lee Hodges Says:

    Excellent thoughts Bobby!

  16. Hurricane Willie Peppers Says:


    It has been a long time since I studied Ephesians critically, and I am recalling a comment made in a college course by our teacher on the textual variant in the greeting to those “in Ephesus.” The prof suggested the possibility that this letter was a circular or even a cover page for Paul’s collection of writings. If that is the case, Ephesians is the letter most directly written to us because it captures us in the intended audience, rather than us reading over first century shoulders. (I am not suggesting that we do not need to hear it with first century hears, just that we were as much the initial intended hearers as the folks in Ephesus.)

    I took that notion and have always run with it. Thus I have not hinged too much on Artemis/Diana or Ephesian magic etc. per se. That does not mean that I do not see a lot of relevance there, but that I see it as second order. Rather, I think Paul thought the God of the Jews had a Gentile shaped solution to the worlds problems in it being a Jewish package. That is… the Jews always were the answer to the Gentile problem, even if that was lost on generations of Jews.

    That said, I see the first order being a Creational issue, and that of a restoring of Creation issue. The Jewish God is the Creator God. In Genesis, God creates the human as his crowning achievement. In 2:7, He blows His Spirit into the image bearing human form, the one that 1:26 declares has dominion over all the other creatures. Subsequent to the Fall, Jews came to see their place in the scheme of God’s plans as being the new humanity which God would give dominion to (see Dan 7 etc). However, Paul recognized that Jesus had been the true human image bearer that was given dominion etc. And those “in Him” – His Church – would now be the image bearing human figure.

    In Acts 2, as we CoCers are so familiar, the mighty rushing Spirit fills the room where the disciples are and the church is born. What we tend to miss is that that is the replay of Gen 2:7. And what is important to Paul in Ephesians, in my thinking, is that the body of Christ, the church, is a Jew/Gentile body. Thus the Artemis/Diana stuff does come into play. And so this new humanity, of which the Jews were merely a prelude and not ever intended to be ultimately exclusive to, is to have the Spirit God gave to the first man – The same Spirit that Raised the Second Man.

    If all this Spirit Giving is too much pentecost for our traditional CoC mindset, note that Jesus “breathed” on His disciples after his resurrection in John 20. This makes two givings of the Spirit and there are more. In fact Mark places on the lips of John the Baptist, in Mark 1:8, the declaration that Jesus will immerse his listeners in the Holy Spirit – a declaration that goes unfulfilled in the Gospel account unless either it was lost in the original lost ending, or unless we have misread Mark as a non-apocalyptic document.

    The wisdom and revelation also go hand in hand with Creation analysis. And knowing God is an image bearers truest goal.

    Thus, I see Paul analyzing to/for the churches at large, how that in them God is redeeming Creation or else starting His new one. And how mysterious it is that He is doing so in reconciling Jews and Gentiles in Him.

    Adios & Shalom

  17. Messianic Gentile Says:

    Great stuff.

    You are now my favorite Church of Christ blogger. You have challenged the traditional line, which has always been incredibly weak, despite rhetoric, and you make a lot more sense out of the Bible.

    Thanks for the lesson and the generous welcome.

    Many blessings…

  18. Mark Says:

    Hey Bobby,

    Fortunately, it seems that many people in churches of Christ have been placing a renewed interest in the Spirit. At the small congregation where I preach, I was surprised to learn that there’s only one “word only” person who attends. Everyone else–especially my elders–seems to have a very healthy appreciation for the importance of the Spirit in the life of Christians. It’s something we emphasize regularly, and I think this is becoming more normal in churches of Christ.

    I think we all are realizing the inadequacy of beginning in the Spirit at baptism, but being “perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:3). It is the strength of our flesh that got us in trouble in the first place! I think you were in class with me when Mac Sandlin pointed out that we need to worship “Father, Son, and Spirit”; not “Father, Son, and Bible”.

    I’m enjoying these posts, though I agree with Candle (C & L). I don’t see how in the world you find time to make posts of this length and quality when you’re in the process of moving.

  19. Bill Says:

    Excellent material here, Bobby! Last Wednesday night, I started a study of the Holy Spirit’s work during my Wednesday evening class. I’d like to share these two posts with the group, if you don’t mind. Of course, I’d let everyone know who wrote it! (See preachermike’s recent post.)

    Hope you are finding your way through the boxes…


  20. Anonymous Says:

    Nice post, thanks for sharing i m also trying to grow a blog http://www.spirtual.blogspot.com/
    i have added you on my links for link exchange.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    Howdy from Texas.

    I was just Googling arrabon and happened to find your site. I enjoyed reading this posting and will definitely come back for more in the future! You’re in my Favorites now 😉

  22. pfutrell Says:

    Most people could talk all day about God the Father and Jesus but couldn’t write two cojent paragraphs about God the Spirit..He is so uncontrolled and outside the box that most don’t like to discuss Him.. Yet, He longs to be “discovered” and activated for victorious living. But, once you find Him, you can’t go back.

  23. Unknown Says:

    Excellent thought provoking study, Bobby. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    One thought you brought to mind I had never thought of before is that no one sealed with the Holy Spirit ever became possessed by the Devil in the bible. Only some who weren’t Christians suffered this affliction. Further evidence of Divine protection? I think so!

  24. Matt Says:

    Great stuff! Authorial intent should always lead the discussion. Keep up the great work.

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