“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18)
Since I have a Greek exam coming up this Tuesday – I need to study Greek, so I thought I would use my blog to talk about what I need to know (sorry, this is somewhat technical, and boring – but it is a tool that is wonderful to have in order to better understand God’s Word).
The topic is Ephesians 5:18 – some say that grammatically Paul explicitly states “stop being drunk with wine” (implying that the Ephesians were drunk a lot). This comes mainly from an understanding proliferated by Dana and Mantey
You might possibly have even heard someone use this in a sermon (in fact I did just the other day in our seminary chapel).
The problem is this: Dana and Mantey have made the exception into the rule. They have taken something that can only be known by context and inserted it into the grammatical meaning of the present prohibitive imperative.
If we look at Ephesians as a whole we understand that it is categorized as a general epistle – it is even possible that it was a letter that was to be passed on to other churches (as the letter to the Colossians [Col. 4:16] was – this is called a “circular letter”). Only one name is mentioned (that I know of) and he is the messenger (Eph. 6:21 – “Tychicus“), not someone in Ephesus. It is a general epistle.
Therefore, because of the context, it is a misnomer to say that the negated present passive infinitive (μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ) is telling the Ephesians to stop getting drunk, but rather, since no specific situation has been called to their attention, it should be taken as a general prohibition, “make it your habit not to get drunk with wine”
Unless there is contextual evidence that the hearers were currently disobeying – there is nothing grammatically that tells us that they were
The only time we can say for certain that the hearers were doing something wrong is when it is specifically mentioned – as in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul makes a specific prohibition, to a specific situation, to a specific people – therefore we can understand that he is telling them to stop doing what they were doing. But we only know that they were doing it from the context, not from the present prohibitive imperative (there isn’t one).
The other side of the Dana and Mantey’s interpretation of the rule is that a present imperative has the nuance of “continue doing something” – but even looking at Ephesians 5:18, it wouldn’t make any sense to say “stop being drunk with wine, but continue to be filled with the Spirit” – because why should I stop getting drunk if it doesn’t prevent me from being filled with the Spirit (as see on p. 717 in Wallace)?
The best example of the Dana and Mantey interpretation failing is in John 5:8 where, based on their grammatical understanding, Jesus would be saying, “Take up your mattress and continue walking” – which obviously doesn’t make any sense.
So, what does this mean? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. I guess the main thing to remember is that context is king.
And how does the nuance of a prohibitive present imperative come out in Ephesians 5:18 – is it a strong prohabition, or just saying that the reader should not make it his habit to be drunk, but that getting drunk every once and a while is ok?
Well, I don’t think that contextually that could be true, because being drunk is contrasted with being filled, and therefore giving a motive for why you would not want to be drunk, because then you cannot be filled. But my understanding is quite limited in regards to the Greek nuance.