Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Divine Passives and Seminary Education (Eph 3:19)

I came across a great “divine passive” that has some interesting implications for how we study the Bible and train our seminarians and preach to our people.

“Divine passive” is more of a theological category than grammatical. In form and basic meaning, it is simply a passive, but when God is the author of the verb, we call it a “divine passive.”

Paul prays for the Ephesians that God “may grant (δῷ, active) you to be strengthened (κραταιωθῆναι, divine passive) with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (3:16). God does the granting and the empowering.

The desired result is that “Christ may dwell (κατοικῆσαι) in your hearts through faith, rooted and grounded in love” (v 17).

The ultimate purpose (ἵνα) is that they “may be empowered (ἐξισχύσητε) to grasp with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth (τί τὸ πλάτος καὶ μῆκος καὶ ὕψος καὶ βάθος), and to know (γνῶναί τε) the love of Christ” (vv 18-19a).

The one article τὸ shows that the four dimensions are all viewed as a singular entity, i.e., Paul wants them to grasp the vastness of Christ’s love. The infinitival phrase started by γνῶναί most likely acts as the object of the four dimensions (see Hoehner); Paul is speaking of the vastness of Christ’s love. Hence, the NIV’s translation, “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (see also HCSB, who views it as God’s love).

The end result of the granting and being strengthened and dwelling and empowering and grasping is this: “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (v 19).

The Christian life is about God. It has been a long time since I have heard a sermon that makes this point. True, we are not puppets on a string; the Christian life involves our obedient response. But the granting and being strengthened and dwelling and empowering comes from God through Christ and the Spirit. Instead of the Christian life being a burden to be carried, it is a joy to be celebrated.

But what really caught my eye was Paul’s conclusion. The end purpose of all this is “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” The end of all study is to not knowledge; the end of all study is love, a love that moves through knowledge to love.

As I look at how I was trained in seminary, and at how I trained others in seminary, this verse continues to haunt me. So much of seminary is about knowledge; and true, knowledge is critical to theological and ministerial preparation. You can’t be like Jesus unless you know what he is like. A knowledge of the character and activity of God is essential. But knowledge can puff up and, if left alone, leads to “Phariseeism.”

On the other hand, zeal without knowledge (Rom 10:2) is equally damming. I remember the frustration of teaching in university where the students thought seminary was insignificant and all they wanted to do was move into ministry. I wonder where they are all now and how effective their ministries really were?

So what is the golden mean? It is to understand that God’s call on our lives is to know him, and to love him, and the path toward his love is through an ever deepening knowledge of him that moves to loving Christ himself. Anything that falls short is idolatry.

And love for Christ far surpasses knowledge of Christ in every way — in significance, power, joy, and satisfaction. Where is the brave seminary president who will throw out the failed education structures from the Enlightenment that says knowledge is the goal of education, and replace it with biblical structures that foster both a knowledge of and love for Christ?


Hi Professor Mounce, I remember reading this article a couple years ago and being extremely helped by it. I recently returned to it as I am studying Ephesians 3:14-21 again. I was curious why the conclusion in this article seemed to be that study and education are to have as their end "love FOR Christ" rather than experiencing, knowing, and enjoying Christ's love for us? Surely love for Christ is a result of Christ's love for us, but isn't the thrust of Paul's prayer that he wants Christians to know more and more Christ's great love for them? Can you help me understand why you concluded it this way?

I would have to think about it. I wasn't being this precise in my blog. Christ's love for me is primary, and my love is in response. Not sure they can be separated.