“The Heavenlies” Reconsidered: Οὐρανός and =Επουράνιος in Ephesians -- By: W. Hall Harris III

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 148:589 (Jan 1991)
Article: “The Heavenlies” Reconsidered: Οὐρανός and =Επουράνιος in Ephesians
Author: W. Hall Harris III


“The Heavenlies” Reconsidered: Οὐρανός and =Επουράνιος in Ephesians

W. Hall Harris III

Associate Professor of New Testament Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas

Numerous difficulties confront the reader with regard to the usages of οὐρανός and ἐπουράνιος (both translated “heavenlies”) in Ephesians. Some of these difficulties have to do with the background of the two terms. Did a form of Hellenistic Gnosis exist in Paul’s day and if it did, to what extent did it influence his writing of Ephesians? In a number of significant works published between 1930 and 1957 Schlier argued that the Erlöser-Anthropos-Mythos gave an important clue to the understanding of Ephesians.1 This has more recently been challenged by a number of scholars, however, and the question of Gnostic influence in the letter to the Ephesians remains open, though it appears highly unlikely that such influence could be extensive as early as the mid-first century.2

Another difficulty concerns the problematic relationship between the words οὐρανός and ἐπουράνιος themselves. This is the main subject of the present study, for many scholars have assumed that the two terms have been used interchangeably as a mere stylistic variation. Traub, for example, mentions 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; and 6:12 and states that “in all these passages ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις is materially a full equivalent of the simple ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.”3 To determine whether or not such an assumption is valid, a detailed examination of the specific contexts is necessary.

Ephesians 1:3

The first occurrence of either term in Ephesians is in 1:3, in a section (1:3–14) that has long attracted the attention of scholars interested in hymnic materials in the New Testament. As long ago as 1904 Innitzer referred to Ephesians 1:3–14 as a hymn, and this classification is now generally accepted, though the section seems to defy attempts to reconstruct its original formal structure.

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