One of the great prayers of the Bible, Ephesians 3:14-21, has as its central focus, the glory of God in the Christian and in the Church. This emphasis begins in verse 16 and ends at verse 21 and colors everything in between. But this focal point has become clouded to the point of being invisible to the casual reader. The emphasis on the phrase, “according to the riches of His glory” (New American Standard Bible, NASB) in verse 16 necessitates an examination of four interpretation issues: (1) the word order, (2) the word “glory” (δόξα), (3) the definite article (“the”) before “glory” in the Greek text, and (4) the force of the preposition “according to” and its object “riches.”
(1) Word order in Greek constitutes an important interpretation issue defining both emphasis and focus whereas in English the writer must utilize underlining, italics, bold fonts, etc. to help the reader discover focus and emphasis. Of course, none of these exist in published versions of the English Bible so that the reader is often “blinded” regarding the emphasis and focus.
The primary verb in verse 16, correctly translated “grant” in the NASB, completes the verbal idea with the infinitive complement “to be strengthened.” Normally the complementary infinitive appears in close proximity to the primary verb, but in this instance the prepositional phrase, “according to the riches of His glory,” intervenes. Placing this phrase between the verb and its complement should cause the reader to reflect on “the riches of His glory” as a central point in the prayer. Unfortunately readers of the English Bible rarely consider the rhetorical importance of word order in the Greek New Testament, and frequently English translators change the Greek word order to gain a smoother English reading. Word order constitutes an important interpretation issue and should never be ignored.
(2) The Greek word “glory” (δόξα) changed in meanings over time, and for the New Testament the significant change occurred with the translation of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). Note Kittel’s remarks (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, II, 245, TDNT),
“When the [Greek] translator of the OT first thought of using δόξα for כָּבוֹד [the Hebrew word for “glory”], he initiated a linguistic change of far-reaching significance, giving to the Greek term a distinctiveness of sense which could hardly be surpassed. Taking a word for opinion, which implies all the subjectivity and therefore all the vacillation of human views and conjectures, he made it express something absolutely objective, i.e. the reality of God.”
The reality spoken of by Kittel is the “divine nature” revealed in creation and in God’s subsequent actions (TDNT, 244). The Scriptures represent a prime source for that reality and without this self-revelation from God very little about the “divine nature” would be understood.
(3) The abstract English word “glory” as a reference to God, speaks of His “divine nature,” His self-revelation, those definable characteristics revealed in Scripture. This is especially true when the definite article accompanies the term as it does in Ephesians 3:16. Robertson writes, “Whenever the Greek article occurs, the object is certainly definite” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 756, ATR). To make definite “the glory of God” means to break away from the abstractness of the word “glory” and to reflect concretely on God’s attributes. Perhaps a paraphrase such as “the riches of the revealed attributes of God” could capture the required concreteness and lead readers to think in definitive terms.
(4) God’s self-revelation occurs in a “measureable” context. The preposition “according to” (κατὰ) functions as a “rule of measure” (ATR, 608) with its object “the riches of His glory.” The primary term “riches” in the prepositional phrase foreshadows the “measurement” language in verse 18, “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the divine nature.
In this passage Paul prays that the Ephesians might be strengthened by expanding their comprehension of the “inexhaustible” dimensions of God’s character. And those divine attributes transcend the limits of the human mind to fully capture, as the reference in verse 19 to one of those attributes openly declares, “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (NASB).
In summary, the “glory of God,” His revealed essence, can be observed throughout the prayer. Verses 16 begins the theme and verse 21 ends it with its reference to “glory” (the self-revelation of God) in the Church.” The “divine nature” should be evidenced within the individual as seen in verse 17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” and in the corporate body of the Church as prayed for in verse 19, “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Note the “measurement” concepts and their relationship to Ephesians 2:22, the Church as “a dwellingplace of God in the Spirit” (NASB).
Finally, the “inexhaustible riches” of God’s self-revelation asserts itself also in verse 20, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us . . . ” (NASB). The overriding focus in this prayer is on God’s glory, His self-revealed character. Too often this critical theological focus recedes into a dimly-lit background in commentaries and sermons, either because all the details in the text are not seen or are ignored to the detriment of both the individual Christian and the Body of Christ, the Church.