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In Ephesians 3:5, we read how God has “now revealed [the previously hidden mystery; cp. v. 3] unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

Here the mystery is the object (the thing being revealed) and the apostles and prophets are the indirect object (being in the dative case in the Greek).

This is a question only for those with an advanced knowledge of New Testament Greek. Here the translators have assumed the dative is being used to denote an indirect object, but the dative can also be used to denote the means by which an action is accomplished (called the instrumental dative). Is it possible that the apostles and prophets here could be seen as instrumental, rather than as the indirect object, here - i.e., “God has "now revealed [the previously hidden mystery - verse 3] THROUGH [rather than TO] his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”?

This translation would allow for the prophets being referred to, to include the Old Testament prophets, in the sense that the aspects of their message which were not previously understood by them (1 Peter 1:10–12) have now been explained to us by the Spirit.

Most commentators restrict the prophets being referred to here to New Testament prophets, who are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, with some of them being named. If we have to take the dative to denote an indirect object (“TO the apostles and prophets”) this would seem to be correct (because the gospel was not fully revealed TO the Old Testament prophets) but I believe there are good scriptural grounds to think otherwise.

Therefore I am asking Greek experts, whether GRAMMATICALLY my suggested translation could be valid, because NONE of the translations use it. I am not interested in interpretations of using "to": just whether or not using “to” is definitely the ONLY acceptable translation from a lingustic, rather than from a doctrinal, point of view. (Bear in mind that if my interpretation of the dative as instrumental is acceptable, the mystery has still been revealed TO the apostles and prophets as well—although so far as the OT prophets are concerned, without their full understanding of it at the time).

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  • I'm certainly not an expert on the grammar, so I won't answer. But I find it a highly doubtful translation/interpretation since there is definitely a contrast and direct parallel made here by St. Paul between "οὐκ ἐγνωρίσθη τοῖς υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων | ὡς / vs. | νῦν ἀπεκαλύφθη τοῖς ἁγίοις ἀποστόλοις ... ἐν Πνεύματι" – Sola Gratia Jun 13 '17 at 21:41
  • The Greek dative does, indeed, have considerable scope. Daniel Wallace in his book 'Beyond the Basics' devotes a considerable section to it, which is relevant to this question. – Nigel J Feb 15 at 10:54
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There are two reasons why it is highly unlikely that the datives here are instrumental:

1) The verb αποκαλύπτω takes a direct and indirect object as you say, making a suitable nearby dative likely to be the indirect object.

2) The ἐν πνεύματι which immediately follows the datives is in itself a (prepositional) instrumental. It would be very strange to have two different sorts of instrumental next to each other like this in the same sentence.

By the way, the use of νῦν just before the words you cite would be a support for the idea of the prophets being present rather than past prophets.

  • If the dative I am querying were instrumental, this "would allow for the prophets being referred to, to include the Old Testament prophets, in the sense that the aspects of their message which were not previously understood by them (1 Peter 1:10–12) have THROUGH them [i.e. through their writings in the case of the prophets] NOW (νῦν) been explained (revealed) to us BY (ἐν) the Spirit." – Straight May 21 '17 at 23:24
  • CORRECTION: (I didn't realise edits were not possible after 5 minutes so I am rewriting my first comment with an addition here instead): If the dative I am querying were instrumental, this would allow for the prophets being referred to, to include the Old Testament prophets, in the sense that the aspects of their message which were not previously understood by them (1 Peter 1:10–12), have THROUGH them [i.e. through their writings in the case of the prophets] NOW (νῦν) been revealed [i.e. the truth previously hidden in their prophecies has now been made clear] to us BY (ἐν) the Spirit. – Straight May 21 '17 at 23:38
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    As your question was about grammar I've given you my answer from a grammatical perspective. Although I've taught Greek at college and done some Master's level NT study, I'm not the best person to comment on the theological aspect of your question. I think my answer does highlight why other translators haven't followed your interpretation, though. – harlandski May 22 '17 at 1:43
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    I'm sorry, but "it seems to work in English" is no argument for reading Greek :-) – harlandski May 22 '17 at 17:48
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    To try to be a bit more helpful: I think you need to distinguish between what is possible in NT Greek (that datives can be used as instrumental) and what is actually going on in this sentence (that dative is used for the indirect object and instrumental is expressed by en + dat). This distinction is expressed well by Saussure as langue (all possible forms and meanings of a language) and parole (how language is actually used in practice). – harlandski May 22 '17 at 18:00
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The fact that 'apostles' is mentioned first and 'prophets' second, does, in itself I would say, exclude the idea that the prophets referred to are those of antiquity, else would the prophets deserve their rightful precedence.

'Now revealed' is a present revelation and the activity, itself, (the revealing) is present.

But I do agree that 'to' or 'through' is debatable. However, the concept is not affected whichever preposition we use since they to whom revelation is given are the chosen conduits of that revelation. It came to them and we hear it through them.

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