Ephesians 1:3: is, be or let?

I’m starting a sermon series on Ephesians soon. This is probably the first of a number of posts I’ll write as I think through some of the grammar and syntax of the letter/epistle.

There is no verb in verse 3.  “Εὐλογητὸς (…) ὁ θεὸς…”. This means we need to supply one in our interpretation and translation of the passage. Clearly the missing verb is a form of ειμι. But there are three options (see Hoehner):

  1. an indicative (ἐστί) – giving something like “God is blessed…” (NET, Hoehner, O’Brien)
  2. an optative (εἴη) – “Let God be praised…” (NIV, ESV)
  3. an imperative (ἔστω) – “Praise God…” (HCSB, CEB)

The NET bible has the following note to explain their decision:

There is no verb in the Greek text; either the optative (“be”) or the indicative (“is”) can be supplied. The meaning of the term [Εὐλογητὸς], the author’s intention at this point in the epistle, and the literary genre of this material must all come into play to determine which is the preferred nuance. Εὐλογητὸς as an adjective can mean either that one is praised or that one is blessed, that is, in a place of favor and benefit. The meaning “blessed” would be more naturally paired with an indicative verb here and would suggest that blessedness is an intrinsic part of God’s character. The meaning “praised” would be more naturally paired with an optative verb here and would suggest that God ought to be praised. Pauline style in the epistles generally moves from statements to obligations, expressing the reality first and then the believer’s necessary response, which would favor the indicative. However, many scholars regard Eph 1:3–14 as a berakah psalm (cf. A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians [WBC], 10–11). Rooted in the OT and Jewish worship, berakah psalms were songs of praise in which the worshiper gave praise to God; this would favor the optative (although not all scholars are agreed on this genre classification here; see H. W. Hoehner, Ephesians, 153–59, for discussion and an alternate conclusion). When considered as a whole, although a decision is difficult, the indicative seems to fit all the factors better. The author seems to be pointing to who God is and what he has done for believers in this section; the indicative more naturally fits that emphasis. Cf. also 2 Cor 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3.

The difference between the optative and imperative is slight. The former is a statement of what is permissible, the second is a call/change to do something. One states what can be done, the other states what should be done.

Although many EVV go for the optative (NIV, ESV) the commentators seem to prefer the indicative. O’Brien’s comment is useful:

Paul’s eulogies do not express a wish; the describe a fact,…as he proclaims that God is the source of blessing.”

Despite this, my preference is with the optative. I think the purpose behind the words that Paul writes is to call the Ephesian Christians to praise God because he has blessed them so. I believe the aim of this passage is not to convey information (that God is blessed) but rather to urge a right response to what God has done (“Praise be…”).

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