The Christ Gift: A (Brief) Exegesis of Ephesians 4:7

Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

“And each one of us has been given favor according to the content of the gift of Christ” (NRQT).

The language of “gift” in Paul has recently undergone a major overhaul in light of John Barclay’s book, Paul and the Gift. While Barclay’s work centers on χάρις, here I think the use of the genitive construction τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ nicely fulfills Barclay’s proposal: χάρις is better rendered as "gift."

V.7 is the concluding statement of vv.1-7 that comprises a pericope or block of text. Beginning with παρακαλῶ, Paul exhorts his Gentile audience to live into their calling (4:1), and goes on to utilize a (possible) baptismal formula or creed that stresses unity within a corporate community by the repeated use of εἷς (“one”). Paul’s conclusion stems from all urging a community of mutualism and care in one body, and this is “according to the content of the gift of Christ.”

The issue with genitive phrase τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ is whether or not Christ is ‘possessive.’ Is Christ the actual gift given by God, or rather is the gift belonging to Christ, which in turn is given to us? Most translations and commentators render the phrase is the normal sense, “gift of Christ.” For my part, I think it could go either way, especially in light of 5:2 where Christ “hands himself over” (παρέδωκεν) or in the previous phrase in 4:23 where God “granted” (ἐχαρίσατο) to us in Christ. There are many other verses to explore, but the point is that Christ is both object and active agent in Ephesians and there does not appear to be any attempt by Paul to systematize this imagery.

How, then, does this work? I suspect both are true in various respects. Christ is given to us (4:32), and Christ as Messiah and Lord is the one who actively came for us (Phil. 2:6-8). This articular δωρεᾶς harkens back Psalm 68:18 (LXX) where God is the one who ascends the mountain and gives gifts. However, Christ is the one here to seemingly gives gifts, which also include people within the church (c.f. 4:11-12). Thus, I suspect this δωρεᾶς is Christologically oriented and Christ functions as the one who ascends and descends. In the LXX the word for gift is δόματα, a similar word to the one under consideration.

Thus, one could say that Christ is the one who gives gifts, including himself, to the people of God. He does this as the Incarnate Lord, the suffering servant, and as the victor over sin and death.

Most of all, he does this because the Messiah “loved us” (ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς: the aorist tense does not refer to a once and for all act, but to an ongoing state that has no fixed stoppage). Christ’s love and gift are linked together, and we are all called to participate in this “gift.” This 'Christ Gift' includes sacrifice and love as its currency, and for those who are bankrupt, this is indeed good news.