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Eph. 5:32:

This is a great sacrament; but [autem / δὲ] I speak in Christ and in the church.

Some English translations say "and" instead of "but". Translating "δὲ" as "but" would seem to exclude that St. Paul is speaking of marriage being a great sacrament or mystery (mysterion) and that St. Paul is only speaking of Christ's relationship with His Church being a great mystery.

In other words: Is δὲ an adversative or copulative particle?

Erasmus thought that "but I speak…" is a parenthetic remark (Reynolds 2016 p. 738), but LSJ says "δὲ" can be used "to resume after an interruption or parenthesis".

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  • You are mixing Latin and Greek as if they were compatible; they are not. – Ruminator Apr 18 '18 at 19:17
  • @Ruminator So? St. Jerome certainly had a reason for using autem here (instead of, say, the stronger adversative sed). – Geremia Apr 18 '18 at 19:27
  • I will speculate that Paul used the word δε as an adversative particle in order to qualify that, in his discourse about marriage, he is not speaking about marriages outside Christ and outside the Church. It might be of interest to note that the Catholic Church teaches that, for marriage to be a sacrament, both spouses have to be baptized, but that there still exist other non-sacramental yet valid marriages between unbaptized people. – Pascal's Wager Apr 19 '18 at 0:59
  • @Pascal'sWager That's actually how Peter Lombard interpreted Eph. 5:32 when discussing "The conjugal goods and marriage among unbelievers" (Reynolds 2016 §11.4.9, PDF pp. 462-3). – Geremia Apr 19 '18 at 14:56
  • The word order εγω δε λεγω lends itself to a translation such as 'I, nevertheless, speak ...'. Or 'howbeit, I speak ...'. the force of which conveys that the practical matter of marriage has prompted Paul's words concerning 'mystery' and he is expressing the reason for his alluding to the mystery. – Nigel J Apr 19 '18 at 15:17
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How one approaches the δὲ in this context depends to a great extent upon the theological presuppositions one brings to the exegetical task.

From the comments and the question it appears that some have a approached the issue from a Catholic perspective, with how this deals with the Catholic sacrament of marriage.

Most Protestant scholars would argue that it is adversative in some way. For example, my Logos Lexham Greek tools suggest that it is adversative.

My exegetical summaries book suggests the following, which shows the division:

QUESTION—What is affirmed in the clause ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν ‘but I speak about Christ and the church’?

This clause is added to make clear that the reference of τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο ‘this mystery’ is to Christ and the church and not just to the institution of marriage [Alford,Calvin, Candlish, Eadie, Abbott]. Another commentator says this clause applies the words of Genesis to Christ and the church in a secondary manner, but not as its primary interpretation [New Century Bible Commentary]. The δέ ‘but’ is not simply explicative, but having a contrastive meaning, as though the writer supposed his phraseology might be interpreted in another and different way [Marcus Barth, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Eadie, Ellicott, Beare, Scott, Meyer, Bruce, Lincoln].

Glenn Graham, An Exegetical Summary of Ephesians, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 510.

Being a dispensationalist myself I would argue that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church, and Paul is using this phrase to reveal something that was previously hidden, (μυστήριον, mystery), namely that the Church is the bride of Christ. Paul does link this to the relationship between a man and his wife in verse 33, with the relationship between Christ and His church being a an example that the husband is to follow in regards to his wife.

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I would translate it as follows:

Ephesians 5:32-33 (NA28) τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο μέγα ἐστίν· ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν· πλὴν καὶ ὑμεῖς οἱ καθ’ ἕνα, ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα οὕτως ἀγαπάτω ὡς ἑαυτόν, ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα

This is a great mystery; that is to say, of Christ and the Church.1 Neverless, let each one of you invidually,2 also, love his wife in the same way, as his own self: in this way occasioning respect on the part of the wife for the husband.

It cannot be taken to mean 'that mystery of marriage was great, but I am speaking of the marriage of Christ and the Church,' either, for he was just speaking of marriage in terms of Christ and His Bride, the Church (vs. 23-30). It's better taken as a clarification of the main referent (of the great mystery), that is the supreme Marriage of Christ and the Church; what you might call a parenthetical clause.


1 That is, as a whole.

2 That is, within the 'Bride' itself.

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My scriptural scholar friend provided some insight into this question:

δὲ will typically and technically be an adversative particle, not so much a conjunction (“and” would usually translate a καὶ, which is abundant through the NT because of the mnemonic function of the Semitic conjunction behind it, וְ/wav). Here in Eph 5:32, δὲ (Ara. דין, which comes from a Hebraic consonantal root embodying the basic underlying meaning of “adjudicate,” “judgement,” “mediate”), generically translated as “but,” can also be rendered in English as adverbial forms, such as: “in fact,” “all the same,” “ also” (which is consistent with St. Jerome’s choice of autem, to my view quite appropriately), “likewise.” More on this point about St. Jerome’s quite pertinent use of autem, I would echo your remark to Ruminator that “St. Jerome certainly had a reason for using autem here (instead of, say, the stronger adversative sed).” He had indeed, owing to his keen grasp of Greek and Semitic local tongues. Yes, fascinating how, to my view, elements of vernacular Western and Eastern Aramaic dialects spoken in 4th century Palestine and beyond (essentially following the usages of Second Temple period multiple and overlapping regionalisms) linguistically and syntactically influenced to some degree upon St. Jerome’s masterly (but syntactically unconventional) use of Latin.

Based on the Pĕshīṭtā version of Eph 5:32, here is how I would literally translate it in English, strictly maintaining the Aramaic original syntax into the translation (sounding like improper English):

This Mystery great is, I also/likewise/in fact [דין] speaking am of the Messiah/Christ and of His Church.

Now, check out St. Jerome’s Vulgate text afresh:

Sacramentum hoc magnum est ego autem dico in Christo et in ecclesia.

The reason it may appear (if we just keep translating δὲ as “but”) that it suddenly “seems to exclude that St. Paul is speaking of marriage being a great sacrament,” pertains to what a true sym-bol (σύμ-βολη) by nature is and implies. The Apostle does really speak of marriage, precisely insofar as it is a mysterion/sacrament, implying thereby that the sign (= the visible earthly side of the σύμ-βολη = the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman) really signifies the other (= the invisible heavenly side of the σύμ-βολη = Christ’s ultimate relationship with His Mystical Bride, the Church).

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