Ephesians 4:8

8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people."

Ephesians 4:8 Meaning and Commentary

Ephesians 4:8

Wherefore he saith
God in the Scripture, ( Psalms 68:18 )

when he ascended up on high;
which is not to be understood of Moses's ascending up to the firmament at the giving of the law, as some Jewish writers F17 interpret it; for though Moses ascended to the top of Mount Sinai, yet it is never said that he went up to the firmament of heaven; nor of David's going up to the high fortresses of his enemies, as another of those writers F18 would have it; nor of God's ascent from Mount Sinai, when he gave the law, of which there is no mention in Scripture; but of the Messiah's ascension to heaven, which may very well be signified by this phrase, "on high"; see ( Psalms 102:19 ) ( Jeremiah 25:30 ) , and which ascension is to be taken not in a figurative, but literal sense, and as real, local, and visible, as Christ's ascension to heaven was; being from Mount Olivet, attended by angels, in the sight of his apostles, after he had conversed with them from the time of his resurrection forty days; and which ascension of his was in order to fulfil the type of the high priest entering into the most holy place; and to make intercession for his people, and to send down the Spirit with his gifts and graces to them, and to make way and prepare mansions of glory for them, and receive the glory promised and due to him: in the Hebrew text it is, "thou hast ascended"; there the psalmist speaks to the Messiah, here the apostle speaks of him; though the Arabic and Ethiopic read there, "he ascended", as here:

he led captivity captive;
which is expressive of Christ's conquests and triumph over sin, Satan, the world, death, and the grave; and indeed, every spiritual enemy of his and his people, especially the devil, who leads men captive at his will, and is therefore called captivity, and his principalities and powers, whom Christ has spoiled and triumphed over; the allusion is to the public triumphs of the Romans, in which captives were led in chains, and exposed to open view F19:

and gave gifts unto men;
meaning the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and particularly such as qualify men for the work of the ministry; these he received (Mdab) , "in man"; in human nature, in that nature in which he ascended to heaven; (hleml ewdyh Mdab) , "in the man that is known above" F20, as say the Jews; and these he bestows on men, even rebellious ones, that the Lord God might dwell among them, and make them useful to others: wherefore the Jews have no reason to quarrel with the version of the apostle as they do F21; who, instead of "received gifts for" men, renders it, "gave gifts to men"; since the Messiah received in order to give, and gives in consequence of his having received them; and so Jarchi interprets the words, (Mttl) , "to give them" to the children of men; and besides, as a learned man has observed F23, one and the same Hebrew word signifies to give and to receive; to which may be added that their own Targum renders it (atbhy) , "and hast given gifts to the children of men"; and in like manner the Syriac and Arabic versions of ( Psalms 68:18 ) render the words; very likely the apostle might use the Syriac version, which is a very ancient one: it was customary at triumphs to give gifts to the soldiers F24, to which there is an allusion here.


F17 Targum & Jarchi in Psal. lxviii 18.
F18 Aben Ezra in loc.
F19 Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 6. c. 6.
F20 Zohar in Numb. fol. 61. 4.
F21 R. Isaac. Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 91.
F23 Pocock. not. Misc. p. 24.
F24 Alex. ab. Alex. ib. ut supra. (Genial. Dier. l. 6. c. 6.)

Ephesians 4:8 In-Context

6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.
8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people."
9 (When it says, "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 same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)