Ephesians 4:2-3

"with all humility and gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" ESV. maintain/terein.

Ephesians 4:13

"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,". attain/katantesomen.

A. How do "maintain" and "attain" compare?

B. Is maintain particularly relevant to "unity of the Spirit" in contrast to attaining being used for "the unity of the faith"?

C. Does the unity of the Spirit only ever need maintaining and never attaining?

  • @Nigel Thanks for your concern. No I wanted to concentrate on maintain/terein. It seems that so many things grow in Christian lives but unity of the Spirit is possibly complete which we cannot add to or receive more of.
    – C. Stroud
    Sep 5, 2022 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


In Ephesians 4, verse 3 speaks of "the unity of the Spirit" and verse 13 speaks of "the unity of the faith". It's worth noting that in the first instance it is unity of the [Holy] Spirit that brings unity, while in the second instance it is the [true] faith that brings unity. Looking at the Greek for "unity" will be helpful prior to looking at the Greek for "maintain" and "attain".

In both verses it is henotes which means exactly what it says. There is unity of the Spirit, and there is unity of the faith. Now, is this unity to be maintained in verse 3 but attained in verse 13?

A Verse 3 does not use any Greek word for 'maintain' but one that can either mean 'observe' or 'keep' (tereo). Only if one took the word 'observe' to mean 'maintain' could it be claimed that verse 3 speaks of maintaining the unity of the Spirit But that Greek word only occurs in Titus 3:6 & 14 - "...be careful to maintain good works... learn to maintain good works". However, tereo in 4:3 has the sense of holding on to something (not doing something), therefore 'keep' is the correct sense. This ensures that nobody comes away with the wrong idea that unity of the Spirit is something we can maintain by our own endeavours. The unity of the Spirit eternally exists in the Godhead, and is the gifted portion of all who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. This means that 3:4 conveys the meaning of our needing to hold on to what we have been given.

Then, in 4:13 we see a difference with counsel regarding Christians and the unity of the faith. We can 'arrive at' or 'come' to this state of unity of the faith (katantesomen). That takes time, requiring maturity (which certainly takes time). It is something of a journey with a destination. Full faith. Total faith. Full unity. Total unity. Lapses may occur along the way, but lost ground can be made up, by God's grace.

B As shown in the A answer, maintaining is not really suitable for verse 3, otherwise the Greek word for maintaining would have been used. It was not, but was chosen for Titus 3:8 & 14.

C The unity of the Spirit is given - it is a gift, to be held on to, in appreciation of who it is that now indwells us.


The operative verb Eph 4:3 is τηρέω (téreó) which occurs 71 times in the NT and which BDAG give the following definition:

  1. to retain in custody, keep watch over, guard, eg, Matt 27:36, 54, Acts 16:23, 12:5, 24:23, 25:4, 21, Matt 28:4
  2. to cause a state, condition or activity to continue, keep hold reserve, preserve someone or something
  • (a) for a definite purpose or suitable time, eg, John 2:10, 12:7, Acts 25:21a, 1 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 2:4, 9, 17, 3:7, Jude 6b, 13.
  • (b) keep, etc, unharmed or undisturbed, eg, John 14:21, 1 John 5:18, 1 Cor 7:37, 1 Thess 6:14, 1 Tim 5:22, 2 Cor 11:9, James 1:27, 1 Thess 5:23, John 17:11f, Jude 21, 1.
  • (c) of holding on to something so as not to give it up or lose it, eg, Eph 4:3, 2 Tim 4:7, Rev 16:15, 1 John 5:18, Jude 6a.
  • (d) of being protective, eg, John 17:15, Rev 3:10b
  1. to persist in obedience, keep, observe, fulfill, pay attention to, especially of law and teaching, eg, Matt 23:3, Acts 21:25, 15:5, James 2:10, Matt 28:20, 19:17, John 14:15, 21, 15:10, ab, 1 John 2:3f, 3:22, 24, 5:3, Rev 12:17, 14:12, observe the Sabbath John 9:6, keep the fast Mark 9:7, the word John 8:51, 55, 14:23, 15:20ab, 17:6, 1 John 2:5, Rev 3:8, John 14:24, Rev 22:7, 9, 2:26.

Note that in Eph 4:3, the meaning is 2(c) above.

However, in Eph 4:13 we have a related by different word, καταντάω (katantaó) which, according to BDAG has this definition:

  1. to get to a geographical destination, come (to), arrive (at), reach, eg, acts 13:51, 16:1, 18:19, 24, 21:7, 25:17, 27:12, 28:13, 20:15.
  2. to reach a condition or goal, figurative extension of 1 arrive at, attain, meet
  • (a) arrive at something, so that one come to possess it, attain (to) something, eg, Eph 4:13, Acts 26:7, Phil 3:11
  • (b) The person does not come to something, but something comes to the person, eg, 1 Cor 14:36, 10:11.

Thus, the meaning in Eph 4:13 is 2(a) above.

Unity of ther Spirit

The phrase "Unity of the Spirit" only ever occurs in Eph 4:3 and nowhere else in the NT, where the verse reads (BLB):

being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;

The verb translated "diligent" here is σπουδάζω (spoudazó) to which BDAG give three basic meanings; but the third and last of these is pertinent here: 3. to be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous/eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious, eg, Gal 2:10, Eph 4:3, 1 Thess 2:17, 2 Tim 2:15, Heb 4:11, 2 Peter 1:10, 15, 3:14.

These references of this verb include being eager for the following things:

  • remembering the poor (Gal 2:10)
  • keeping the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3)
  • Paul's eagerness to see people face to face (1 Thess 2:17)
  • present ourselves approved by God (2 Tim 2:15)
  • to enter God's Sabbath rest (Heb 4:11)
  • to make our election sure (2 Peter 1:10)
  • Paul's eagerness to have to people remember what they were taught
  • to be found by Him in peace, without spot and without blemish (2 Peter 3:14)

Thus, Eph 4:3 clearly teaches us that we must be eager and diligent to keep/maintain the unity of the Spirit, ie, to be motivated and listen to what the Spirit tells and teaches us, John 16:13, etc. Paul discusses this at length in Rom 8 -

4 so that the righteous standard of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you. ...

... 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Unity of the Faith

Similarly, the phrase "unity of the faith" is unique to Eph 4:13. However, note the difference in its use contrasted with "unity of the Spirit"

  • Eph 4:3 - keep/maintain the unity of the Spirit
  • Eph 4:13 - until we reach the unity of the faith

Thus, unity of the Spirit is something we have now but unity of the faith and full knowledge of the Son of God is something that will only be attained in the future; ie, something that we strive towards until "perfection" (Eph 1:17) at the consummation of the ages.

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