We continue to consider Ferguson’s arguments in chapter 22 of his The Early Church and Today, vol. 1 and vol. 2, edited by Leonard Allen and Robyn Burwell. This chapter is titled “Church Music in Ephesians and Colossians.”
It astonishes me (it really does) how rarely the anti-instrumental music advocates bother to exegete Eph 5:18. I mean, the supposed “command” to sing found in Eph 5:19 is in fact a participle hanging off the clause “be filled with the Spirit.”
That is, you have no idea what the point of “singing” is until you’ve figured out the meaning of “be filled with the Spirit” because “singing” is subordinate to “be filled.”
Of course, the utter failure of the conservative Churches to exegete Eph 5:18 is partly explained by the “word only” advocates who shudder at any thought of a present, active, moving God. And so doctrine gets built and millions of believers are damned on the exegesis of a participle treated as an independent command, with no regard at all for why that participle is attached to the verb “be filled.”
10th grade grammar
Check the grammar —
(Eph 5:18-21 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(In fairness to many readers, the NIV botches the translation by starting a new sentence at “singing” — mistranslated as “sing” — and in v.21, mistranslating “submitting” as “Submit.”)
I’ve not diagrammed a sentence since the 10th grade (a very long time ago), but it’s still obvious that we have two parallel independent clauses: “And do not … debauchery” and “be filled with the Spirit …” connected with a coordinate conjunction: “but.”
The second independent clause is modified by a string of four participles, each modifying “be filled” — which is, of course and very obviously, the main idea of the sentence.
So how do the participles figure into the grammar? Well, as you might expect, some have argued that the participles should be treated as commands (“imperatives” or “imperatival participles”).
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics responds –
On a syntactical and stylistic level, this view [that the participles are imperative] does not take into account the semantic situation in which an imperatival participle is found (which, among other things, indicates that this is a very rare usage), nor the usage of dependent participles in this letter in particular (cf. Eph. 1:13-14, for example, where several dependent participles are strung along). To view any of these participles as imperatival is to view the passage from the English point of view only, ignoring the Greek.
(p. 651). It’s not a command!
He later writes,
In this text the five participles are debatable. Some have suggested means, manner, attendant circumstance, and even imperatival! … As we shall see later, attendant circumstance and imperatival participles are rarely, if ever, found in a construction such as the one in this text. … Result participles are invariably present participles that follow the main verb; as well, the idea of result here would suggest that the way in which one measures his/her success in fulfilling the command of 5:18 is by the participles that follow (notice the progressive difficulty: from speaking God’s word to being thankful for all, to being submissive to one another; such progression would, of course, immediately suggest that this filling is not instantaneous and absolute but progressive and relative). There are other arguments for the idea of result in these participles that we will have to forego. Suffice it to say here that the issue is an important one in light of the popularity and abuse of the command in Eph 5:18 (especially in evangelical circles).
(p. 639). He’s likely not even aware of the Church of Christ controversy, and yet he shows plainly that the participles are not commands but evidences of our growth in being filled with the Spirit.
How rarely does someone point out the progressive difficulty of the participles, from “addressing” to “submitting.” It’s much easier to sing the right words than to submit in the right way! This is about maturing in Christ as the Spirit slowly but persistently fills us.
It’s not that we get fired up by a great song leader or a big crowd or intense prayer. It’s not a moment of being filled. In Paul’s vocabulary, it’s a lifetime of growing fullness.
Thus, “addressing,” “singing,” “giving thanks,” and “submitting” show the results of being filled with the Spirit, indeed, the outflow of the Spirit. These are not how one becomes filled (which Eph 4 addresses), but rather the natural consequences of becoming filled, over a lifetime spent with Jesus.