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Ephesians 3:15: ἐξ οὗ πᾶσα πατριὰ ἐν οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς ὀνομάζεται (NA 28)

from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (ESV)

The ESV adds this footnote to the word family: Or from whom all fatherhood; the Greek word patria in verse 15 is closely related to the word for Father in verse 14

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named

In this context, how should Ephesians 3:15 be understood?

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    Understanding Roman society and the role of the pater familias would be very helpful. This is a great concise explanation from a professor of NT at Yale: youtu.be/Ecpn3bkVvv0
    – Dan
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 19:54
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    I wonder if this is relating to ancestry, genealogy, or patriarchal lineage. Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 5:15

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"Every" and not "the whole" is the correct translation here. The phrase in Greek, as you quoted, uses the word πᾶς and not ὅλος (as in ...the whole body shall be full of light - Matthew 6:22). So any exegesis based on an understanding that Paul is referring to a single family and not many families misses the mark, I think.

I do not think "fatherhood" is the correct translation here. The Greek word - πατριά - appears only in two other places in the New Testament, but it occurs over 150 times in the Greek Septuagint. In no place is it used to indicate the abstract quality of "fatherhood". It is almost always used to mean "family" and sometimes "tribe" For example:

καὶ ὁ ἄρχων οἴκου πατριᾶς τοῦ δήμου τοῦ Γεδσων Ελισαφ υἱὸς Λαηλ.

And the ruler of the household of the family of Gedson was Elisaph the son of Dael (Numbers 3:24 LXX).

The meaning of the verse is that every family and lineage on earth - Gentile and Jew alike - proceeds from the Father above, as likewise do the angels in heaven. Theophylact presents the patristic consensus:

He explains that every family [πατριά] and lineage proceeds from the Father [πατήρ] above. And the generations of men on earth he calls "families" because they are named after the founding fathers of their lineages. But in heaven, although no angel begets or is begotten of another, he also applies the name "families" to the constituent bodies and ranks of angels. Thus God the Father Himself created every family in heaven above and on earth below; and everyone called "father" derives that name from Him.*

You will find similar interpretations in the commentaries of Theodoret, Jerome, and John Chrysostom (two Greeks and a Roman educated in Greek - all 4th/5th c.).

Although I have not run across this in any commentary, it seems to me that Ephesians 3:14-15 perhaps points to the correct understanding of Matthew 23:9 (Call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven.)


* Explanation of the Epistle to the Ephesians, tr. by Christopher Stade, Chrysostom Press, 2013, pp.49-50

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  • Nice answer! Helped me understand this difficult verse. +1
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 4:07
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In the Hebrew OT, God ("ELOHIM") was called "YHVH".

In the Greek OT scriptures, he was called "the Lord" ("hO KURIOS").

In the NT scriptures, after the resurrection, Jesus was given the title "hO KURIOS" and God was called "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Christ" or "the Father" for short:

NIV Phil 2: 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name [ie: "title"] that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God [who is] the Father.

Paul is saying that every family/tribe (at least among Jews at that time) was named after the father (patrilineal).

Excursis

For the Jews, Jewishness is reckoned from the mother (matrilineal) but tribal affiliation is reckoned through the father (patrilineal). So Jesus was counted as a Jew because of his Jewish mother while he was considered to be from Judah thru Joseph, rather than his mother who was a Levite, I think.

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Looking back to the previous chapter I'd say Paul still has in mind that great family or "household of God" that spans both heaven and earth and embraces all of God's elect (including "the elect angels"):

Ephesians 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

Also I think the KJV rendition of Ephesians 3:14-15 seems to work better here because it conforms nicely to the concept of a single, universal divine family: "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named..." This paints a picture of one big happy family, as opposed to the ESV's "every family...on earth" which if taken literally would have to include, well, every family on earth—even those whose members are wicked, unholy, and profane.

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My reasons for thinking "all fatherhood" a reasonable translation of "pasa patria" are:

When the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread [Matt 4:3] the devil takes something naturally desired, bread necessary for bodily sustenance, and twists it to taunt Jesus-"If you are the Son of God..". I mention this to illustrate the devil taking something good and twisting it for his evil purposes.

John 8:44

"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires".

How can "all fatherhood" come from God if the devil is a father?

When "fatherhood" or desire for bread is in the devil's hands it is corrupted. Nuclear fision in the wrong hands produces powerful bombs for destruction, but in the right hands produces heat and light for homes. Nuclear fision and fatherhood are not bad of themselves. It depends on how they are used.

When the devil takes the good idea of children being like their father and uses it to make his children like himself that is an evil use of something which of itself is good.

"Fatherhood" is good. The idea of children belonging to and having the characteristics of their father is a beautiful idea. It comes from the beginning of humanity Luke 3:38

"the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God".

By making Adam His son God establishes fatherhood as good and any subsequent distortion of it does not discount fatherhood from itself being good.

"All fatherhood" is named from the Father being a father. The Father is the father of fatherhood which is the reason why fatherhood is named as it is.

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named".

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