Biblical Studies Paul

Paul’s “Longest” Sentence (Eph 1.3-14)

Eutychus… probably sleeping through Paul’s long sentence

Ephesians 1.3-14 has a long history of being “that long sentence” Paul wrote. But is it really as long as we think it is? How did Tychicus (Eph 6.21-22) read the letter aloud to the Ephesian church? Did Paul run too many races that all his sentences became run-ons?

Steven Baugh, author of the EEC volume on Ephesians, takes issue with the claim that the beginning of Ephesians is “a long sentence of 202 words” (quoting Hoehner). Baugh believes that it “makes it seem that Paul is writing an undifferentiated stream of text that gives a silent reader no break in thought.”

Before I get into a dense discussion on what these sentences would be and a bit on how it works, on the bottom of the post here I’ve written up Ephesians 1.3-14 according to how Baugh perceives Paul’s sentences were arranged. So if this gets too heavy, go to the bottom!

The Periodic Sentence

In his commentary on Ephesians, Steven Baugh spend a “considerable time in the introduction to each passage showing a suggested division of the text as it would have been perceived by the ancient audience and readers.” Baugh takes issue with the western conception of “sentences” and how we subconsciously make Paul fit our norm.

He argues that Ephesians 1.3-14 would not be “one long sentence.” Instead this “’periodic sentence’… in [Ephesians] 1:3–14, with over two hundred Greek words, is really the equivalent of an English paragraph, while the nine periods comprising this section are more like English sentences.

Ephesians has long been held as non-Pauline in many circles, so this is an important topic for Baugh. In his view it helps to affirm Pauline authorship. He states, “Ephesians looks very similar to other such periodic sentences in Romans [5.1-11, 12-21; 11.33-35] and elsewhere [2 Cor 6.14-16]….”

Some Nitty Gritty Kitty

The Greek colon (or plural, cola) was originally modeled on the dactylic hexameter (if you’re sucker for punishment, watch this video for an explanation) of epic poetry. It is also known as “heroic hexameter” and “the meter of epic.” Either should be easier to remember than dactylic hexameter

This epic meter is a form of meter or rhythmic scheme in poetry. It is associated with the meter of classical epic poetry (e.g., Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and was consequently considered to be the Grand Style of classical poetry.

A colon could be a word or two, or it could be longer. An example of a short colon would be Ephesians 4.5,

one Lord,

one faith,

one baptism.

And, to put it simply, a group of cola with a unity of thought create a period. For example, Ephesians 1.3 would look like this,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

with every blessing of the Spirit

in the high-heavenlies in Christ.

“But Everyone’s Doing It”

The trained speaker could give the period in one breath. Baugh says that “the end of the period was a place of particular focus and emphasis since there was a pause while the speaker or reader took a breath and left the last few words in the audience’s mind before starting up again.” In fact, this mindset of speech-delivery was a part of everyone’s elementary education in the Greco-Roman world. Everyone learned how to compose Greek this way.

Despite what we think about Paul’s speaking abilities based on his words in 2 Corinthians 10.10 and 11.6, Paul actually did have some education in proper speech-delivery. In 2 Corinthians Paul is stating that he isn’t as skilled as the false teachers – nor did he need to be. His authority comes from God, not from a glorious vernacular.

While Paul had skill, he was no showman. He didn’t take much interest in polishing smoothness into his speeches. Jerome said of Paul, “‘As a Hebrew of the Hebrews,’ he lacked ‘the polish of rhetorical speech, the knowledge of the proper arrangement of words and the grace of eloquence.’”

Now Baugh doesn’t delve into this weighty topic just to fill space. His analysis of the text is “literary for the sake of exegesis.” His analysis “centers on the flow, divisions, focus, and unity of these [Ephesians] texts.” Rather than using our modern ways of dividing the text (chapter-verse), they way Baugh organizes the cola and periods of Paul’s writing forms the basis of Baugh’s own interpretation “in order to take us back more closely to how an ancient text actually worked.

As you read the Ephesian text below, perhaps you could read the text aloud to have an idea of what it would be like to be in the Ephesian church hearing Paul’s words. Think about the beginning words that break the silence of each sentence, and listen to those words which hang at the end of that sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Below I have attempted to put the English text in the same order as Baugh’s Greek arrangement (which I have left out). I hope you can get an idea of how the text would sound. However, I can, at best, only give you an idea of how the text would work. Translation is a funny thing. We miss out on many word plays and literary connections in the English text. The form of the content in our English sentences are different too, as this dense quote tells us (if you can make it through this quote, you can make it through anything).

Aldo Scaglione (author of The Classical Theory of Composition from its Origins to the Present) says,

Elements of rhythm, formal arrangement, and physiological division (on the basis of delivery according to breathing capacity) remained, to ancient ears, more basic than considerations of logical content and organization. Thus, for instance, both complete periods and parts… are sometimes hard for us [present-day air-breathers] to reconstruct, because they do not necessarily correspond to our sentences and clauses or even phrases—which are essentially logical and… syntactic units.

Translation and Outline

1. For the Father’s eternal, gracious purpose (1:3–6a)


(3)   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

with every blessing of the Spirit

in the high-heavenlies in Christ,


(4)   insofar as he chose us in him

before the foundation of the world

that we should be holy and blameless

before him.


In love

(5)   he predestined us for adoption

to himself through Jesus Christ

according to the good pleasure of his will

(6)   for praise of the glory of his grace,

2. For the Son’s climactic, redemptive accomplishment (1:6b–10)


which he bestowed on us in his Beloved,

(7)   in whom we have our redemption through his blood,

the forgiveness of our transgressions,

according to the riches of his grace,


(8)  which he lavished upon us

in all wisdom and insight

(9)  when he made known to us the mystery of his will

according to his good pleasure,



  which he purposed in him

(10)  for the administration of the fullness of (all) eras

  to sum up all things in the Messiah,

  the things in heaven and things on earth in him,wFor the Spirit’s


3. For the Spirit’s down payment of the new creation (1:11–14)


(11)   In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined

  according to the purpose of him who works all things

  according to the counsel of his will,

(12)   to be the praise of his glory.

  we who were the first to hope in Christ


(13)   in whom you heard the word of truth,

  the gospel of your salvation,

  in whom you believed,

  you were sealed with the Spirit of promise,


(14)  who is a down payment of our inheritance

  for redemption of his prized possession

  for the praise of his glory.

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    1. Hey Jeff, Baugh says, “Predestination to adoption is not some cold, abstract act of an impersonal God, but an act of love of an inexpressibly gracious kind “for the praise of the glory of his grace” (p. 83).

      A few pages later he says,
      Graeco-Roman adoptees were often members of the father’s extended relations. In the case of believers, God has taken the most distant foreigners to be his kin for inheritance of his whole estate. Not the deserving or good (Rom 5:7), not many well-born, powerful, or wise (1 Cor 1:26–30), but those who were “by nature” … not of his kin at all but “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) and darkened “sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:6, 8; also 4:17–24)—his helpless, wicked, sinful enemies (Rom 5:6–10) under thrall to the realm of darkness (Eph 2:1–3; Col 1:13; John 8:44; etc.). God does not place these new sons into a subordinate, inferior family; he appoints them all to become coheirs with his natural, firstborn Son, in whom the whole creation is “summarized” (v. 10) for corule over all things with him as those who have been coseated with him in the high-heavenlies (2:6; Rom 8:14–17, 29–32; cf. Gal 3:26–4:7; Col 1:12–14; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 3:21). These stupendous acts of divine grace have no parallel in Graeco-Roman society. It surpasses even the unthinkable idea of the Roman emperor adopting a slave from the most barbaric hinterlands to be the next emperor. It is no wonder that Paul exults in “praise of the glory of his grace, which he bestowed on us in his Beloved” (1:6). (p. 87)

      Simply, God chose us, and we praise him for his glorious grace. Thanks for your comment.


  1. Thanks for writing this up. At first I thought you were referring to Paul’s long sentence in prison! 🙂 Having a theological background myself, it’s always fascinating to read things like this and go deeper into the text.


  2. Wow that was deep! I enjoy looking into the Greek and Hebrew myself but that took it to a new level haha, but your explanation made the passage make sense once read. Thanks for sharing. I wish I knew some Greek so I could pick up the nuances of the language that doesn’t translate into English.


    1. I wish I knew Greek enough to see and understand all of Baugh’s nuances, but such is life. I’m glad we have scholars like Baugh who have the expertise to do work like this for us to better understand the text.


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