A Brief Look at Ephesians 4.8

Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.

“Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4.8).  This verse in Paul’s letter to the assemblies in Ephesus has gendered a few interpretations as to what he meant.  As a scholar, I have paid my dues in reading material on the Bible for the last thirty years, so I am not going to quote a bunch of commentaries and academicians.  I do not at all want to give the impression that I no longer consult them.  I do on a daily basis.  It’s just that in my fifties I am able to read, with some proficiency, the Greek text and first do my own work.  Needless to say I am aware of the two main interpretations of this verse that have held sway up to our own time.  So, not that it’s worth anything, here’s my useless two cents.

First, I want to note what Paul is quoting.  “Therefore it says” means a quotation from another source.  We find that Paul is quoting a psalm (68.18).  That psalm says, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.”  Not quite the same.  The basic text is from the Septuagint (the Greek Hebrew Bible known to Paul).  However, there are some changes.  Most are not really that important.  The one change that has been focused on is that Paul’s quotation differs from the Hebrew and the Septuagint texts in that “taken” is replaced with “given”.  We have no variations that offer us another text.  This is on Paul.  Why would he do this?  Does it matter?  Is he quoting from memory, or does he have a Septuagint of the Psalms among his scrolls?  Secondly, does it alter, deeply, the meaning?

Briefly, I do not think it alters the meaning of the psalm.  I do not think this is an example that can be used against “inspiration” of the letters of Paul.  I do not think it is a “mistake”, either, if the alteration is simply an alteration that does not affect his point.  “I have taken the high road”.  “The high road was given to me.”  My point is that I am on the high road.  If we had the opportunity to discuss with Paul why he used “given” instead of “taken”, I am sure he would give us an answer that set well within our confines of the use of quotations.  Perhaps, though, the context may bear out his point, and thus bear out the reason why the alteration was made.

In the psalm itself, the LORD is exalted and praised.  It is a lengthy “psalm of praise” to the absolute greatness of the LORD.  If you have not read it, I suggest at this point you do.  For space, I will not quote all 36 verses here.  Needless to say, the “ascent” of the LORD is his ascent to his “mountain”.  He has conquered his enemies, and none can stand before him.  It is a psalm of deliverance of the the hand of the LORD for his people.

Paul, on the other hand, is writing about something no one in their right mind would “get” from this psalm.  “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 ( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

For Paul, Christ, not the LORD, is in view.  Heaven, and not earthly Mount Zion (Jerusalem) is in view.  Now, I do not mean to dispense with the absolute profundity of Paul’s mind on this, but if he saw Christ, the son of man, as also of the same substance of God (which he did), then we have no issues here since the LORD and Christ are, in fact, “one in substance.”  So the Creeds of Christendom have stated, whether Greek, Catholic, or Protestant.  We can quickly excuse this point, then.

Second, Paul took the ascension of Jesus, the son of man, as the meaning of “ascension” in the psalm.  The LORD “descends” often enough in the Hebrew Scriptures, and he “ascends” as well.  The “descent” of Jesus, the Logos of God, the Son of God, of the same Essence, descended in the form of a man.  Again, much, much ink can be spilled here, but I will spare the reader.  Paul’s point is a logical one.  If he “ascended” then that must infer that he “descended.”  So, where did he “descend” to?  “The lower parts of the land (earth).”  It is precisely here that things get a little dicey.  To some this means “hell” – a netherworld of the spirits of the dead, both righteous and wicked (although they are separated by righteousness and wickedness).  A great deal of Hellenistic (Greek) Judaism adopted from Greek lore and legend concerning this notion. Whether Paul did is another matter.  To others this simply means that the Logos, the Second Person of the Godhead (Trinity), became a man – he descended to the lower parts of the earth itself (taking the genitive phrase here as appositive).  Huge difference.

In favor of the latter view, is that the psalm itself gives no indication whatsoever of the LORD “descended” to a netherworld region.  Second, his ascent is “far above all the heavens” which would then give us the picture of his descent “below” the heavens, in the lower parts, the earth (which is below the heavens).

There is one other place often not mentioned by commentators and that is found in Romans 10.6,7: “But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'”(that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?'”(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”  What is fascinating here is that the word, “abyss” is not found in the verse Paul quotes from (Deuteronomy 30.13).  Rather, in both the Septuagint and the Hebrew, the word is “sea”.  “Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”  Where in the world does Paul get the idea that the “abyss” is “the sea”?  If “up from the dead” simply means his resurrection from the grave and his subsequent ascent to heaven, is “abyss” equal to “the lower parts of earth itself”?

It is often thought that “the abyss” is, again, this nether-region of spirits, demons and maleficent souls.  However, upon investigation in the Hebrew Scriptures, this is not the case at all.  This word is often translated as “the deep” of the earth.  In creation the Spirit dwells over the “deep” (Genesis 1.2).   In the flood of Noah, the deep of the seas bursted forth.  That is, the deep sea, its floors (earth) cracked open.  In Genesis 49.25 God will bless by the heavens above and the “deep” below.  The Hebrew uses the word that is often translated by the Greek word, “abyss” (abussos).  However, the Septuagint simply translates that God will bless “of earth.”  The abyss, then, can be seen as the “lower part of the earth” – the deep, the below the heavens, the under, the seas themselves.  Now, what is very interesting is that in Genesis 49.25, this announcement is to Joseph by Jacob, his father.  It is repeated in Deuteronomy 33.13: “And of Joseph he said: — Blessed of Jehovah is his land, By precious things of the heavens, By dew, and by the deep crouching beneath.”  However, here abussos is used in the Septuagint!  “Hast thou entred into the bottomes of the sea? or hast thou walked to seeke out the abyss?” (Job 38.16) where “sea” is in parallelism with “abyss.”  The word occurs over 90 times and the study of it is quite rewarding.  Needless to say, for our point here, “the deep” is simply “the lower parts of earth” – the sea, the realm of the created earth (in it, on it, or it itself).  [a sideline study here….if the war in heaven as seen in Revelation 12 of Michael against Satan, and Satan is hurled “into the earth” (12.9), or “Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you” (12.12); “cast into the earth” (12.13); and “the sea” in many Hebrew texts is “abyss” – the region of earthly domain under the heavens – then perhaps this is what is meant by his being “cast into the abyss” in Revelation 20.  He was cast into the earth and sea, the abyss, and instead of wreaking havoc from heaven, he wreaks havoc on earth.  Just a thought].

We have seen, then, that for Paul, and indeed the Hebrew/Septaugint, that the lower parts of the earth need mean no more than simply the creation of God under the heavens – the deep.  It need not mean some spooky, netherworld of goblins, ghosts and spooks.  Therefore, we are entirely within rational exegesis that all that he meant in Ephesians 4.8 is Jesus descent to earth, and his ascent “above all the heavens.”

In the psalm, God “receives” gifts, whereas here Christ “gives” gifts.  He has lead forth those captive under sin by “grace” and his triumph over principalities and powers, including Sin and Condemnation.  As a result, he sets free those who place their faith in him, and he “receives” these captives as his own, giving them gifts.  Paul’s change of the psalm from “receive” to “give” is not a memory lapse; rather it is assuming that he knew the Hebrew text as saying “receive”, but adds to the victory of the LORD in Christ Jesus that not only does he receive men, he gives back to them as well.  He gives the captives he has received “gifts”.  The blessings just keep on coming.

The reason he gives to those he has received is that he might “fill all things” (things below the heavens, things above the heavens).  Hear this passage again: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 ( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The very captives he has released, he now gives to them the means of grace so that his victory will extend over all the earth, below the heavens and above the heavens, filling all things with those that are His People.  Pauls’ eschatology of a future new heavens and new earth are in view here in that Christ, as head of the Assembly, gifts certain ones to spread this message of His victory, and to equip those who are captive and those who have been released from their burdens in sin.  These “offices” are held by fellow-used-to-be-captives who are now equipping other used-to-be-captives in the matters of their great victory of He Who Leads Forth the Captives.  This is the function and role of the Assembly of the saints wherever they may be found; in basements, store fronts, homes, offices, elaborate church structures, shopping malls, the agora, wherever.  The growth of the church, his people, is the means by which he is filling the world.  For this, then, we can see Paul’s constant use of “one another” in this letter.  Anyone who is too good, too sanctimonious, too right, too smug, too defeated, too bitter, too hurt, too judgmental, too loose, too sinful to “go to church” – to be with others (and, yes, that includes that hypocrite Sister Betty who gossiped about your gay son and Brother Bob who was caught cheating on his wife with a woman 20 years younger than he is), then, well, you need to be released from your captivity my friend.




Author: Samuel M. Frost, Th.D.

Samuel M. Frost has gained the recognition of his family, peers, colleagues, church members, and local community as a teacher and leader.  Samuel was raised in the Foursquare Gospel tradition and continued in the rising Charismatic Movement of the early 1980’s.  While serving in local congregations he was admitted to Liberty Christian College in Pensacola, Florida where he lived on campus for four years earning his Bachelor’s of Theology degree.  It was there under the tutelage of Dr. Dow Robinson (Summer Institutes of Linguistics), and Dr. Frank Longino (Dallas Theological Seminary) that he was motivated to pursue a career in Theology.  Dr. Robinson wrote two books on Linguistics, Workbook on Phonological Analysis (SIL, 1970) and Manuel for Bilingual Dictionaries: Textbook (SIL, 1969).  It was under these teachers’ guidance that Frost entered into his Master’s studies, being granted a scholarship for Greek I and II at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, accredited, in Cleveland, Tennessee (adjunct of Lee University).  Frost completed his study under Dr. French Arrington (The Ministry of Reconciliation, Baker Books, 1980), who used the text of J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners. Frost studied Hebrew for two years under Dr. Mark Futato (author, Beginning Biblical Hebrew, Eisenbrauns, 2003) and Dr. Bruce K. Waltke (author, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Eisenbrauns, 1990) at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida. With combined credits from PTS and RTS, Samuel completed his Master of Arts in Christian Studies and Master of Arts in Religion from Whitefield Theological Seminary in Lakeland, Florida under the direct tutelage of Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot, co-author of the well reviewed work, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism (Whitefield Media, 2005) with Dr. Gary Crampton (and Foreword by the late, Dr. D. James Kennedy).  Dr. Talbot also oversaw Samuel’s Dissertation, From the First Adam to the Second and Last Adam (2012) earning him the Magister Theologiae (Th.M.) degree.  He also helped put together A Student’s Hebrew Primer for WTS, designed and graded exams for their Hebrew Languages course. Samuel’s studies lead him into an issue in the field of Eschatology where his scholarship and unique approach in Hermeneutics garnered him recognition.  Because of the controversial nature of some of his conclusions, scholars were sharp in their disagreement with him.  Frost’s initial work, Misplaced Hope: The Origins of First and Second Century Eschatology (2002, Second Edition, 2006 Bi-Millennial Publishing), sold over four thousand units.  While arguing for the Reformation understanding of sola Scriptura as defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith, Frost’s book launched a heavily footnoted argument for a total reassessment of the doctrine known as the Second Coming of Christ.  The conclusion was that the events of the war of the Jewish nation against their Roman overlords in 66-70 C.E. formed the New Testament authors’ eschatological outlook, and went no further than their own first century generation; a view otherwise known as “full” or "hyper" Preterism.  Internationally recognized Evangelical author and speaker, Steve Wohlberg remarked, ‘On the “preterist” side today…we have such influential leaders as Gary DeMar, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., David Chilton, R.C. Sproul, Max King, James Stuart Russell, Samuel M. Frost, and John Noe.  To these scholars…the beast is not on the horizon, he’s dead” (Italics, his)” (End Time Delusions, Destiny Image Publishers, 2004, page 133).  It should be noted that only Noe, King and Frost supported the “full” Preterist position. Thomas Ice and co-author of the best selling Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye, quote Frost’s work, Misplaced Hope, as well in their book, The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming under Attack (Harvest House Publishers, 2003, page 40).  Dr. Jay E. Adams, who single handedly launched “a revolution” in Christian Counseling with his work, Competent to Counsel: An Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling, (1970, Zondervan), also wrote an analysis of Frost’s work in Preterism: Orthodox or Unorthodox? (Ministry Monographs for Modern Times, INS Publishing, 2004).  Adams wrote of Misplaced Hope as a "useful, scholarly work" (p.6 - though he disagreed with the overall thesis).  Dr. Charles E. Hill, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, wrote of Misplaced Hope that Frost, “attacks the problem of the early church in a much more thoroughgoing way than I have seen” (When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper Preterism, Ed. Keith Mathison, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2003, ‘Eschatology in the Wake of Jerusalem’s Fall’ p. 110-ff.).  There were several other works as well that took the scholarship of Frost seriously, like Ergun Caner in The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective, Eds., Steve W. Lemke and David L. Allen (B&H Publishing, 2011). Because of the controversial nature of Frost’s conclusions on these matters, it was difficult to find a denomination within the Church-at-Large to work in terms of pastoral ministry.  That situation changed when Samuel was called by a Bible study group in Saint Petersburg, Florida to found a congregation.  Christ Covenant Church was established in 2002 operating under the principles outlined by Presbyterian historian James Bannerman’s work, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974, original, 1869).  By-Laws and a Constitution were drawn up in the strictest manner for what was considered an “Independent” establishment of a Presbyterian Church, granted that a “call” was received and recognized by Presiding Elders duly ordained from existing and recognized denominations.  Two Elders, one ordained in the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Mike Delores), and another ordained in the Presbyterian Church of America (Dr. Kelly N. Birks, now deceased) tested and reviewed the call, ordaining Samuel on October 20th, 2002, the Twenty Second Sunday after Trinity.  Proper forms were submitted to Tallahassee, Florida with the stamp of a Notary Public Witness.  Christ Covenant Church (CCC) functioned as a local church for five years with a congregation as large as 30 members.  Frost was gaining recognition after Misplaced Hope had been published in January of that year, and conferences were hosted that included debates with another prominent "full" Preterist educator, Don K. Preston.  CCC hosted best-selling authors, Thomas Ice, and Mark Hitchcock from Dallas Theological Seminary; and Dr. James B. Jordan (Westminster Theological Seminary), well-known author/pastor in Reformed theological circles.  Frost was invited for the next several years to speak at over 25 conferences nation-wide, was featured in articles and an appearance on local news in Tampa for one of CCC’s conferences.  The Evangelical Theological Society also invited Samuel to speak at the Philadelphia conference (Frost is currently a Member of ETS as well as Society of Biblical Literature). During this time Samuel had submitted one more book, Exegetical Essays on the Resurrection of the Dead (TruthVoice, 2008; repr. JaDon Publishing, 2010); and co-wrote, House Divided: A Reformed Response to When Shall These Things Be? (Vision International, 2010).  Frost also wrote several Forewords for up and coming authors who were influenced by his teaching materials, as well as cited many times in books, lectures and academic papers.  However, because of certain aspects of Hermeneutics and Frost’s undaunted commitment to scholarship (with always a strong emphasis on the personal nature of devotional living to Christ), several challenges to the "hyper" Preterist view he espoused finally gave way, largely due to the unwavering commitment to Samuel by the Dean of Whitefield Theological Seminary, Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot, who continually challenged him.  In what shocked the "hyper" Preterist world, Samuel announced after the Summer of 2010 that he was in serious error, and departed the movement as a whole, along with Jason Bradfield, now Assistant Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida .  Christ Covenant Church had dissolved after 2007 while Samuel continued as a public speaker and writer, largely due to reasons that would unravel Frost’s commitment to "hyper" Preterism as a whole. The documentation of Frost’s departure was published by American Vision’s Founder, Gary DeMar, with a Foreword by Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry.  Why I Left Full Preterism (AV Publishing, 2012) quickly ran through its first run.  The book was later republished under the arm of Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry and is sold today (GoodBirth Ministries Publishing, 2019; though still available in Kindle form from American Vision).  Dr. Gentry also gave mention to Frost in his book, Have We Missed the Second Coming: A Critique of Hyper Preterism (Victorious Hope Publishing, 2016), noting him as "one of the most prominent" teachers within Full Preterism (135).  Dr. Keith Mathison, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida, endorsed the book as well.  Samuel has gone on to write, Daniel: Unplugged (McGahan Publishing House, 2021); The Parousia of the Son of Man (Lulu Publishing, 2019); God: As Bill Wilson Understood Him, A Theological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous (Lulu Publishing, 2017).  He is also active as a certified Chaplain with the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana, and enrolled with ICAADA (Indiana Counselor’s Association on Alcohol and Drug Abuse), and worked directly under Dr. Dennis Greene, Founder of Christian Counseling and Addictions Services, Inc., for a year.  Frost’s passion is in the education of the local church on various issues and occasionally works with Pastor Alan McCraine with the First Presbyterian Church in Lewisville, Indiana, and Bethel Presbyterian Church, Knightstown, Indiana, where he periodically is called upon to give the sermon. Samuel, with his wife, Kimberly, helped to establish Heaven’s Bread Basket food pantry that donates food items to local families in need once a month – a ministry of the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Lewisville, Indiana. Samuel also works part time at Ace Hardware in New Castle, Indiana for several years.  He has a solid, family reputation in the community, and has performed local marriages and funerals.  He also sits on the Board of the Historical Preservation Committee in New Castle. Recently, he has completed his two year quest for a Th.D from Christian Life School of Theology Global, Georgia.

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