Ephesians 1:17-19a
In this text, Paul prays for the Ephesians:


17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 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, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  (NIV)

17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.  (NASB)

17  «i/na» «o» «qeo\v» «tou» «kuri/ou» «hmwn» «Ihsou"» «Xristou",» «o» «path\r» «thv» «do/chv,» «dw/h|» «umin» «pneuma» «sofi/av» «kai\» «apokalu/yewv» «en» «epignw/sei» «autou,» 18  «pefwtisme/nouv» «tou\v» «ofqalmou\v» «thv» «kardi/av» «umwn» «eiv» «to\» «eide/nai» «uma"» «ti/v» «estin» «h» «elpi\"v» «th"v» «klh/sewv"» «autou",» «ti/v» «o» «plouto"v» «th"v» «do/chv" «th"v» «klhronomi/a"v» «autou=» «en» «toi"v» «agi/oiv",» 19  «kai\» «ti/» «to\» «uperba/llon «me/geqov"» «th"v» «duna/mewv"» «autou"» «ei"v» «hma"v» «tou\"v» «pisteu/ontav"»  (IBS)

In attempting to understand a passage, one of the first things that ought to be considered is the historical context. There are two important facts that have a bearing upon the circumstances surrounding this letter. First, the most significant early manuscripts do not have "in Ephesus" in the greeting in Ephesians 1:1. Second, while Paul was quite familiar with the church in Ephesus (having lived there for several years on multiple occassions), it is evident that Paul doesn't know his intended readers personally. For example, could Ephesians 1:15 and 3:2 have been written to a church he planted, to Christians that he formerly ministered to in person?. Consider the following reference on this question:

The words en Efesw| are absent from several important witnesses ... as well as from manuscripts mentioned by Basil and the text used by Origen. Certain internal features of the letter ... have led many commentators to suggest that this letter was intended as an encyclical, copies being sent to various churches, of which that at Ephesus was the chief (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 3rd Edition, United Bible Societies, 1975, p. 601).

The letter "to the Ephesians" was probably a circular letter to churches in the region of Ephesus. Paul's intent is to help solidify the faith of Christians of those to whom he is writing, This observation is very relevant to the understanding of this particular text at hand.

Let us now consider the specific text in question-- what exactly is it that Paul is praying for?

Parsing and Translation

Since this passage is fairly complex, it may be beneficial to examine the parsing and translation of this passage.

Original Text
Part of Speech
Dictionary Form, meaning
17  i/na
ina, in order that
in order that
o» «qeo\v" article noun
theos, God
Masculine Nominative singular
tou kuri/ou
kurios- lord
Masculine Genitive Singular
of the Lord
pronoun ego- I
Genitive Plural 1st person
of us
Ihsou» «Xristou
Jesus Christ
Masculine Genitive Singular
of Jesus Christ
o» «path\r
article noun
pateer- father
Masculine Nominative Singular
The father
th"» «do/ch"v,
article-noun doxa- brightness, radiance, splendor
Feminine Genitive Singular
dw/h|» verb
didomai- give
2 Aorist Active Subjunctive 3rd person singular
(he/she/it) may give
pronoun su- you
Dative 2nd person plural
pneuma» noun
pneuma- spirit or Spirit
Neuter Singular Accusative
sophia- wisdom
Feminine Singular Genitive
apokalupsis- revelation, disclosure
also see Eph 3:3, Gal 1:12, 1 Cor 14:6, 1 Cor 1:7
Feminine Singular Genitive
en preposition
en- in, with
epignosis- insight, knowledge
see also Eph 4:13, Phil 1:13, Col 1:9-10
Feminine Dative Singular
autos- self, he/she/it
Masculine Singular Genitive 3rd person
of him
18  «pefwtisme/nouv"
photizo- intransitive- shine upon someone, transitive- give light to, light up
see also Eph 3:9, Heb 6:4,
Intransitive; Perfect Participle Passive Plural Masculine Accusative
be enlightened
tou"\v» «ofqalmou\v"
ophthalmos- eye
Masculine Plural Accusative
the eyes
th"v» «kardi/av" article-noun
kardia- heart
Feminine Singular Genitive
of the heart
su- you Genitive 2nd person Plural
preposition eis- to, towards none
o- the
Neuter Singular Accusative
verb- infinitive
oida- know
Perfect Active Accusative to know
su- you Accusative 2nd Person Plural your
interrogative article
tis- anyone, anything; someone, something; many a one or thing Masculine Singular Nominative which
estin verb
eimi- to be
Indicative Present Active 3rd Person Singular (he/she/it) is
h» «elpi\v"
elpis- hope
Feminine Singular Nominative the hope
th"v» «klh/sewv"
article-noun klesis- call, station
see also Eph 4:1, 4:4, Heb 3:1
Feminine Singular Genitive
of the calling
autos- self, he/she/it Masculine Genitive 3rd Person Singular
of he/she/it
interrogative article tis- anyone, anything; someone, something; many a one or thing Masculine Singular Nominative
«o» «ploutov"
article-noun ploutos- riches
Masculine Singular Nominative
the riches
th" «do/chv»"
article-noun doxee- glory
see also Phil 4:19, Col 1:27
Feminine Singular Genitive
of glory
thv"» «klhronomi/av"
article-noun kleronomia- inheritance, possession, property, salvation
see also Eph 1:14, 5:5, 1 Pt 1:4
Feminine Singular Genitive of inheritance
autos- self, he/she/it Masculine Genitive 3rd Person Singular of he/she/it
preposition en- in, with none
toi"v» «agi/oiv"
article-adjective hagia- saint, holy one
Masculine Plural Dative
the saints
19  «kai\»
kai- and
interrogative article tis- anyone, anything; someone, something; many a one or thing
Neuter Singular Nominative
to\» uperba/llon
article-participle huperballo- go beyond, surpass, outdo;
the participle- surpassing, extraordinary, outstanding
see also Eph 2:7, 3:19
Neuter Singular Present Participle Active Nominative
the surpassing
megethos- greatness, size
Neuter Singular Nominative
th" duna/mewv"
article-noun dunamis- power
Feminine Singular Dative
autou pronoun
autos- self, he/she/it Masculine Genitive 3rd Person Singular of he/she/it
eiv" preposition
eis- to, towards
1st Person Plural Accusative
tou\v"» «pisteu/ontav"
article-participle pisteuo, believe (believing one)
Present Participle 1st Person Plural Masculine Nominative
believing ones

Author's Translation
... in order that the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in insight of him that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order to know the hope of your station which is the riches of the glorious inheritance with the saints and his surpassingly great power towards us believing ones.

Exegetical Clarifications and Observations
There are several phrases or terms in this passage that need to be better understood.

"A spirit" or "The Spirit" (meaning the Holy Spirit)? - There is no definite article, so on one hand the text supports "The S(s)pirit" is not in view but rather "a S(s)pirit."
- However, the use or absence of the article in Paul's writings isn't conclusive. He refers to both "a spirit" and "The Spirit" with and without articles.
- Whatever Paul is praying for, it is not the indwelling Holy Spirit, which all believers have from the point of their conversion (Eph 1:13). Why would Paul pray for these saints to possess something that they already possess? This also seems to argue against reading this as "The Spirit."
"of wisdom and revelation"
- Similar uses of terms:
    - wisdom
        - Deuteronomy 34:9- Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses laid his hands on him.
        - Isaiah 11:2- The Branch of Jesse will have the spirit of wisdom and understanding upon him
        - Daniel 5:11, 14- Daniel said to have the spirit of the gods and outstanding wisdom
        - Acts 6:3-- the Seven were to be full of the Spirit and wisdom
        - 1 Corinthians 12:8- through the Spirit, one might be given the message of wisdom
    - revelation
        - Romans 16:25,Ephesians 3:3, Galatians 1:12- Paul received his knowledge of the gospel by revelation
        - 1 Cor 14:6, Galatians 2:2- Specific revelations were used to guide and instruct the church
        - 1 Cor 1:7- The second coming of Christ was also considered a revelation of Jesus
        - "seems to refer here to the insight and discernment the Spirit brings into the mysteries of divine truth (1 Cor 2:14, 16). (A Skevington Wood, Expositors Bible Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1978 11:29)
Miraculous or not?
- This is probably not the "miraculous" gifts of wisdom and revelation (1 Cor 12:8, 14:26). The miraculous gifts would be given at the laying on of an apostle's hands (ref. Acts 8:17).
- This is likely a special spiritual attribute, a gift of God though not miraculous in its nature (ref. Acts 6:3)
- The immediate end result of this spirit is to have insight into particular things about God.
- It seems that what is intended is the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and revelation in some additional or extra manner.
"enlighten the eyes of the heart" - enlightenment- in Christian theology, often has to do with receptivity to Christ himself, the "light" (Jn 1:9, Heb 6:4, 10:32)
- eyes of the heart- a metaphor; spiritual and moral perception is in view
- The perfect participle of photizo is curious
    - Present perfect participles refer to an action that has taken place in the past and is still true at the present.
    - The idea may be that enlightenment has already taken place in conversion, but its continuing benefit is increased knowledge of God
Areas of enlightenment
- The Greek interrogative article "tis" enumerates three particular areas of this enlightenment
    - the hope of the calling
    - the glorious riches of the inheritance in the saints
    - God's surpassingly great power towards us who believe

Interpretation of the Text
So what exactly is Paul praying for here? First, the end result of his prayer would be the Ephesians knowing some particular spiritual things. This doesn't have to do with learning new objective information about Christ- this Paul could do in his writings and ministry. This points us to the means of how the Ephesians might receive these things.

Second, Paul doesn't just pray for the end result, but for a particular means towards that end-- namely, the enlightenment of their hearts and receiving of this spirit of wisdom and revelation. This enlightenment component probably has to do with spiritual and moral perception. So equipped, the hearers can then pick up on what the spirit of wisdom and revelation seeks to make known. He prays they would know certain things right now through the spirit/Spirit that they otherwise might only know through experience.

Third, this "knowing" has some very specific areas in mind-- the hope of their calling, the riches of the inheritance, and God's power towards those who believe. We might observe that these things can generally only be known through a spiritual experience or realization. "Epignosis is the fullness of knowledge acquired through personal acquaintance (Trench, pp. 268, 269)" (Wood, ibid.).

Last, these things don't have merely human origins. A Christian can't just decide one day that he wants this spirit or the end results that might come from it. These things are the answers to prayer, a function of the working of God in this specific area. Interestingly, while modern Christians are often consumed with their own spiritual growth to the exclusion of others, this is an example of a spiritual leader praying a pastoral, almost priestly prayer for those to whom he writes and not for himself.

Why would he pray such a prayer? One clear benefit of such a result is that certain Christians in these church would have an accelerated spiritual maturity. This would be especially beneficial in the young churches to which this letter would have been sent. They would know (in an experiential sense) "right now" certain things that otherwise might only be known after many years in the faith. This would benefit the church in solidifying their faith and also help them in their ministry to others.

Might we pray such a prayer today? While the completed New Testament probably gives us more objective information about Christ than the Ephesians had, nevertheless this prayer isn't about objective knowledge or information. It is primarily about experiential knowledge. In this regards, the modern believer is on an equal footing with the believers to whom Paul was writing.  Thus, it seems that such a prayer would be a reasonable prayer for us to pray for today.

Copyright © 2005 by John Engler. All rights reserved.