Re: Eph 5:21

From: Carlton L. Winbery (
Date: Thu May 02 1996 - 05:18:53 EDT

>I've been puzzled for quite some time by how the participle in Eph 5:21 is
>treated. I'm not real big on the label "imperatival participle," and, as
>I recall, Brooks and Winbery express discomfort with it, saying that any
>participle that can be explained otherwise should be. (I suspect that
>they all can be, but that's another issue.) If a participle is dependent
>on an imperative verb, that does not make it a special kind of participle,
>does it? I've never heard anyone call a circumstantial participle a
>"participle with indicative force."

What we were talking about in the note to which you referred on p. 152 was
what some have called a participle used "independently as an indicative."
To see participles obviously intended to convey imperatival force just read
1st Peter. It is full of them.

>It seems clear to me that there are a
>string of participles in Eph 5:19-21 that all follow from the imperative
>EUXARISTOUNTES... hUPOTASSOMENOI.... The implication of the grammar seems
>to me to be that an appropriate response to the imperative to be filled
>with the Spirit (in spirit?) would include such things as speaking to one
>another in psalms, etc., singing and making melody.., giving thanks
>always..., and being subject to one another.... Why then do the
>commentators and translators so consistently make a decisive structural
>break here, as though the "submission" bit has nothing to do with being
>careful how you walk and redeeming the time and understanding what the
>Lord's will is and being filled with the Spirit?
>The NRSV goes even further by putting 5:21 in a paragraph all by itself!
>This seems especially difficult, considering that 5:22 is an elliptical
>clause in which the verb (the process, I mean, not necessarily the form of
>the verb) must be supplied from 5:21. It seems that the structure of the
>passage is something like:
>5:15 Watch therefore...
> 16 redeeming...
>17 Do not be foolish...
>but understand...
>18 Do not get drunk...
>but be filled...
> 19 speaking...
> singing and making melody...
> 20 giving thanks...
> 21 being subject...
> 22 (wives to [their] own husbands...)
>Then the hOTI clause breaks this string, and the gives rise to an
>extended stretch of text concerning husbands and wives (or is it Christ
>and the church?). The point is that there is certainly not a clear break
>as though the writer has finished one topic and is now ready (in v. 21)
>to move on to another. He slides into it seamlessly, like he does from
>talking about husbands and wives to talking about Christ and the church
>(where did he make THAT transition?).

There is a certain continuity in all Paul's ethical instructions in chapter
5. The problem for translators is how to break it up into meaningful
paragraphs without destroying the continuity. The participles listed by
you above clearly are related to the imperative PLHROUSQE as you indicate.
They almost function as circumstantial but they still seem to have an
imperatival force.

Carlton L. Winbery
Fogleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College

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