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Divine Passives and Seminary Education (Eph 3:19) — Mondays with Mounce 247

Categories Mondays with Mounce

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 damning. 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?


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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