The descent of Christ in Ephesians 4:7-11 : an exegetical investigation with special reference to the influence of traditions about Moses associated with Psalm 68:19
This study attempts to demonstrate that the most probable interpretation of the descent of Christ in Eph. 4: 7-11 involves a descent of Christ as the Spirit who distributes gifts to his church subsequent to the ascent of Eph. 4: 8. The investigation begins with a history of the interpretation of Eph. 4: 7-11. Most modern interpreters favour either a descent to the under- world (or the grave) between Christ's death and resurrection or a descent from heaven to earth at the incarnation. Textual and grammatical problems relevant to the proposed exegesis are also discussed. A major portion of the study deals with the ascent-descent imagery associating Ps. 68: 19 (quoted in Eph. 4: 8) and Moses as found in Tg Psalms and the rabbinic literature. The author of Ephesians, had he been aware of these traditions associating Psalm 68 with Moses, would have been predisposed to think in terms of a subsequent descent, because Moses' ascent of Mt Sinai to receive the Torah was followed by his descent to distribute it as 'gifts' to men. Although it is clear that both Tg Psalms and the rabbinic literature are later than Ephesians, there is evidence from a number of early sources that such Moses-traditions were in circulation prior to the first century CE. The association of these traditions with Ps. 68: 19 as employed by the author of Ephesians appears to exist through the connection of Moses' ascent of Sinai to receive the Torah with the celebration of the Jewish feast of Pentecost on the one hand, and the Christian use of Psalm 68 in connection with Pentecost (described in Acts 2) on the other. Ps. 68: 19 was already understood to refer to the ascent of Christ and the gift of the Spirit in a layer of tradition older than Ephesians. Familiarity with the Moses-traditions connected with an ascent and descent of Sinai would have suggested a subsequent descent. Thus the author's innovation did not lie in the use of the psalm in a christological sense, nor in the introduction of a subsequent descent of Christ inferred from the ascent mentioned in Ps. 68: 19. The contribution of the author of Ephesians consisted in his identification of the ascended Christ as the Spirit who descended to distribute gifts to his church. Such an interpretation offers the best explanation of the passage in light of the evidence linking Moses-traditions of a heavenly ascent at Sinai with Pentecost and Psalm 68.