In Psalms we have:

You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there. (Psalms 68:18, ESV)

In Ephesians we have:

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8, ESV)

It appears that Paul switched "receiving gifts" to "giving gifts" and then applies it to Messiah. How did he get this reading from the text?

I assume the original context is the ascension of King David as explained in this post.

  • 1
    Simple answer is that Paul uses the OT to show his teaching are authentic but is deliberately changing the meanings. He does this often another example - Roman 11:26: And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come from Zion; He will remove godlessness from Jacob. & Isaiah 59:20-21: “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD - subtle changes that change the meaning Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 15:23

5 Answers 5


Charles Hodge, in his commentary on Ephesians gives a very good explanation of the difference in the quotation.

Hodge reasons that Paul applies the receiving of gifts in accord with the original idea of a King with plunder. A victorious king has plunder to give to his kingdom, so he switches the verb while retaining the same image and idea:

The divine writers of the New Testament, filled with the same Spirit, which moved the ancient prophets, are not tied to the mere form, but frequently give the general sense of the passages which they quote. A conqueror always distributes the spoils he takes. He receives to give. And, therefore, in depicting the Messiah as a conqueror, it is perfectly immaterial whether it is said, He received gifts, or, He gave gifts. The sense is the same. He is a conqueror laden with spoils, and able to enrich his followers. (Hodge, Ephesians, p217)

Hodge also gives a very good sense of how Paul applies this Psalm to Messiah:

The identity of the Logos or Son manifested in the flesh under the new dispensation with the manifested Jehovah of the old economy. Hence what is said of the one, is properly assumed to be said of the other. Therefore, as Moses says Jehovah led his people through the wilderness, Paul says Christ led them. 1 Cor. 10:4. As Isaiah saw the glory of Jehovah in the temple, John says he saw the glory of Christ. John 12:41. As it is written in the prophets, “As I live, saith Jehovah, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God,” Is. 45:23, Paul says, this proves that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Rom. 14:10, 11. What in Ps. 102:25, &c., is said of God as creator, and as eternal and immutable, is in Hebrews 1:10, applied to Christ. On the same principle what is said in Ps. 68:18, of Jehovah as ascending to heaven and leading captivity captive, is here said to refer to Christ.

Therefore Paul is saying as Jehovah came down to rescue Israel and ascended on his throne under King David, taking spoils of other nations and establishing his kingdom, so Messiah came down to earth, redeemed a people ascending into heaven and gave gifts to his church during pentecost.

Interestingly Alfred Edersheim, the Jewish historian, found a reference where this Psalm was in some aspects taken as Messianic:

Ps. 68:31 (32 in the Hebrew). On the words ‘Princes shall come out of Egypt,’ there is a very remarkable comment in the Talmud (Pes. 118 b) q and in Shemoth. R. on Ex. 26:15, &c. (ed. Warsh. p. 50 b), in which we are told that in the latter days all nations would bring gifts to the King Messiah, beginning with Egypt. ‘And lest it be thought that He (Messiah) would not accept it from them, the Holy One says to the Messiah: Accept from them hospitable entertainment,’ or it might be rendered, ‘Accept it from them; they have given hospitable entertainment to My son.’ (Alfred Edersheim Life and Times of Jesus, Appendix 9)


In Romans 3:4 Paul does the same kind of verb change. That is, he modifies the meaning of a verb from the Old Testament while quoting every other word verbatim from the Old Testament verses in question.

So to use the example of Romans 3:4 we see that Paul is quoting from Psalm 51:4 saying, "...and prevail when you are judged." But the same verse in the Hebrew Bible literally says, "...and prevail when you judge." Paul modifies the meaning of the verb from the Hebrew Bible to bring out more meaning.

That is, when God judges man, man (in turn) judges God. Yet Paul is not denying the primary Old Testament interpretation, and suggesting that God stops judging men, but that while God judges men, men at the same judge God, because their hearts are hardened. God will still prevail. That is the secondary interpretation as provided by Paul.

He does the same thing with Psalm 68:18 and Deut 30:12 in Romans 10:6-8. (All of these passages talk about descending and ascending.) That is, the Word of God descended from heaven and entered the underworld of Sheol (because he died on the cross). When he ascended on high, he plundered Sheol, which was the temporary abode of Old Testament saints. He was able to plunder the abode of the dead, because he had vanquished spiritual death. That is, when he disarmed the rulers and authorities of darkness (Col 2:15) he had actually taken away their spiritual power. He in turn has given that spiritual power to us in the New Testament era through "spiritual gifts" that we receive through the Holy Spirit. Thus we receive gifts.

So while the primary interpretation of Psalm 68:18 was the ascension of David to the throne in Zion, the secondary interpretation (as provided by Paul) was the ascension of the Son of David to the throne in the heavenly Jerusalem. In the primary interpretation, King David received earthly gifts from disobedient men. Paul does not deny the primary interpretation, because in the secondary interpretation, he says that the Son of David gives heavenly gifts to obedient men.

  • +1 - This seems very close to the answer from Hodge I posted but I lean more to his view that the decision in this context is simply God's incarnation which parallels God coming down to Israel (although he did descend further for sure). Also that the plunder is the whole church and all the blessing he obtained for her.
    – Mike
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 2:46
  • Interestingly I looked up the Romans 3:4 case and although this may be a good example, as you argue, Paul happens to be using the switch that the LXX already did. νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε - to conquer when you are judged.
    – Mike
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 5:23
  • Mike, for reference, the plunder is not "the whole church" but the spiritual power received through spiritual gifts, which are distributed freely. The context in Ephesians 4:11-13 is not the church, but spiritual gifts of the church. Satan was bound and tied, and he was plundered (ref. Luke 11:22). Our spiritual gifts are spiritual power, since they are from the Holy Spirit.
    – Joseph
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 20:17

1. Question Restatement:

In Eph. 4:8, Why does Paul translate Ps 68:18 ("to Take") - using the exact opposite term: ἔδωκεν ("to Give")?

In Psalms 68:18, לָקַ֣חְתָּ is translated into Greek, as: ἔλαβες, ("to take"):

LXX, Ps 68:18 - You have ascended on high. You have led away captives. You have received gifts [taken gifts, ἔλαβες δόματα] - among men [ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ], yes, among the rebellious also, that Yah God might dwell there.

So, Why Does Paul Use the Exact Opposite Term in Ephesians 4:8 ?

NASB, Eph. 4:8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave [ἔδωκεν] gifts to men.”

2. Clarification:

As I understand the question, it is not asking if the translation is correct, but rather how Paul came to that interpretation, specifically:

  1. Is Paul's Translation of the Text Valid?
  2. And / Or : Is Paul's Interpretation of the Text Valid?

3. Answer - Taking Gifts "For" Men, not "From" Men :

"Giving Gifts to mankind", is pragmatically equivalent to "taking gifts for mankind".

3.1. Context :

In the context of Linguistics: Paul properly employed Pragmatics - and reasonably asserts that gifts are being "given" TO mankind - based on the passage's context, specifically:

NASB, Psalms 68:10 - ... You provided in Your goodness for the poor, O God.

NASB, Psalms 68:19 - Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation.

3.2. An Unbiased Interpretation :

Paul's understanding even Parallel's Rashi's:

Rashi Commentary, Tehillim 68: - and also rebellious ones for Yah God to dwell: Also you brought about that the Holy One, blessed be He, rested in the Tabernacle of the Torah, and you took gifts from the celestial beings to give them to the sons of men, also among a people who were rebellious and were rebelling against Him and provoking Him.

It is reasonable and valid to understand that any action of "taking" actually concluded in a beneficial result - for the purpose of giving towards mankind.

4. The Hebrew בָּֽאָדָ֖ם - Means "For Men" or "Among Men":

In Psalms 68, "From Men" is miss-translated from the Hebrew: בָּֽאָדָ֖ם.

The Hebrew, בָּֽאָדָ֖ם is never once translated as "From Man", (See בָּֽאָדָ֖ם Occurrences in Hebrew).

Man, אָדָ֖ם is prefixed by the preposition, בָּֽ that can mean: "In", "At", "Within", "Among", "For", etc.

Eccl. 2:24 - There is nothing better for a man (Hebrew: בָּאָדָם֙, LXX: ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ) than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.

Zechariah 8:10 - נִֽהְיָ֔ה וּשְׂכַ֥ר הַבְּהֵמָ֖ה אֵינֶ֑נָּה וְלַיּוֹצֵ֨א, (wage for a beast);

Leviticus 27:10 - יָמִ֤יר בְּהֵמָה֙ בִּבְהֵמָ֔ה וְהָֽיָה־ ה֥וּא, (Animal for animal);

Related, בָּֽאָדָ֖ם in the Context of Gen. 6:3 -

5. The Hebrew מֵֽאָדָם֙ - Means "From Man":

"From Man" in Hebrew, is actually מֵֽאָדָם֙. (See "מֵֽאָדָם֙" Occurrences in Hebrew).

NASB, Prov. 30:14 - ... To devour the afflicted from the earth And the needy from among men.

6. The Greek - "Among Men" and "For Men":

As in Hebrew, ἐν ἀνθρώποις is never once translated as "from man", (which would be like: "ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων" in the Gentive Case, (Greek Occurrences in the LXX and New Testament).

6.1. Extending the Semantic Range of the Greek, "ἐν":

Although "ἐν" can be translated as "in" or "among" - its Semantic must be extended to include "For" because the underlying Hebrew has this Semantic Range:

The Greek preposition, "ἐν" is consistently translated from the Hebrew, "בָּֽ".

And so, "בָּֽאָדָ֖ם" becomes, "ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ" - computationally, without regard for contextual meaning.

Eccl. 2:24 - There is nothing better for a man (Hebrew: בָּאָדָם֙, LXX: ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ) than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.

6.2. The Dative Case - "For Man":

The Dative Case Indicates the Recipient:

The dative case (abbreviated dat, or sometimes d when it is a core argument) is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to which something is given, as in "Maria gave Jacob a drink". Here, Jacob is an indirect dative.

The Greek LXX translates the beneficiary in the Dative Case.

NASB, 1 Chron 29:1 - for the temple is not for man [לא לאדם, οὐκ ἀνθρώπῳ], but for the Lord God [ליהוה אלהים, ἀλλ’ ἢ κυρίῳ θεῷ], (also 2 Chron 19:6)


He is likely quoting a Targum - an Aramaic paraphrase/translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Lincoln in his World Bible Commentary on Ephesians points out that "in the Targum on the Psalms the concept of receiving has been changed to that of giving in the same way as in Ephesians 4:8 - "You have ascended to heaven, that is, Moses the prophet; you have taken captivity captive, you have learnt the words of the Torah; you have given it as gifts to men." (Lincoln, WBC p. 242, 243).

  • 1
    This sounds more like a comment than a fleshed-out answer. It would help if you could provide some reference to a resource that would corroborate your statement.
    – agarza
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 2:03

Note: There is a duplicate of this question where I originally posted this response here.

I am convinced that Psalm 68 is celebrating God's deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. God led the People from slavery to greatness:

Psa 68:7  O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah:  Psa 68:8  The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

The "gifts" refers to the spoiling of Egypt described in that account:

KJV Exo 3:21  And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:  Exo 3:22  But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.

Paul is alluding to the spoiling of Egypt and the deliverance from slavery there in the victory of Christ over the world, the flesh and the devil to say that the believers did not leave their past empty handed. He is not saying they left with golden earrings though but that God filled their hands with gifts from his spirit.

Peter says the same. He says they didn't leave with gold but rather with Christ, their Passover:

1Pe 1:18  Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed [from slavery] with [gifts of] corruptible things, as silver and gold, from [the slavery to] your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;  1Pe 1:19  But with [the gift of] the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

So whereas Israel received gifts from men, God, through Christ gave to the saints apostles, prophets and the rest. 

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