I understand that the ordering of words in Greek does not impact the meaning as much as it does in English. But given that ordering (and commas) does matter in English, consider the following two renderings.

  1. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ
  2. Rather, speaking the truth, in love we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

In English, the reading and meaning of the verse are impacted depending on where "in love" is placed relative to the commas.

Why am I even bringing this up? Well, I was studying this scripture and was looking at the Greek when I noticed two things.

  1. The Greek does not contain any commas
  2. The ordering as it exists in Greek suggests the possibility of two valid interpretations, given that ordering itself (as I understand it) does not have the same impact on meaning as in English

Let's take a look.

ἀληθεύοντες           δὲ     ἐν   ἀγάπῃ  αὐξήσωμεν
[speaking the truth]  [but]  [in] [love] [we should grow up]

Greek interlinear of Ephesians 4:15

ἀληθεύοντες (one Greek word for "being true" or "speaking the truth") is separated from ἐν ἀγάπῃ [in love] in the original Greek.

Now, I agree that the δὲ [but] refers to the prior verse, and so, for English, it makes more sense to place it at the beginning of the verse.

What I don't understand is where the commas come from and by what objective method they are placed in such a way as to pair ἀληθεύοντες [speaking the truth] with ἐν ἀγάπῃ [in love] instead of pairing it with αὐξήσωμεν [we should grow up]?


2 Answers 2


Because Greek is an inflected language, it is true that there are many circumstances wherein the word order does not matter in Greek but does matter in English. The Greek inflection enables us to identify which words modify which other words.

As for punctuation, it was a rather new concept when the New Testament was written. The invention of systematic punctuation is generally attributed to Aristophanes of ancient Greece, but it would be many centuries before punctuation became standard practice in written communication. Both the Old & Testaments would have been originally written without punctuation.

In English it is necessary to supply punctuation in order to understand the relationships in the sentence a sentence without punctuation may be deciphered but comes unfortunately with some degree of ambiguity whereas punctuation adds precision (see what I did there? =) )

English translators add punctuation to Biblical texts so the texts can be understood in English. While it is possible for translators to make a mistake, Greek is a precise enough language that in most cases it is readily apparent what is meant, and the correct punctuation can easily be provided.

In the case of Ephesians 4:15 I just reviewed 30 or so translations and they all agree that "in love" should be paired with "speaking the truth".

Pairing the prepositions with their respective verbs is helpful here. ἐν is the preposition accompanying the verb ἀληθεύοντες and εἰς is the preposition accompanying the verb αὐξήσωμεν. The inflection of the nouns/pronouns gives us clear pairing between prepositions and nouns/pronouns ("love" is dative & "Him" is accusative). The preposition ties the noun ἀγάπῃ to the verb ἀληθεύοντες and the pronoun αὐτὸν to the verb αὐξήσωμεν. In English we convey these relationships by creating a separation between the two ideas "speaking the truth in love" and "we should grow up into Him" via a comma.

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    – Michael16
    Mar 24 at 7:33

This reminds me of the warning "without love, it profits me nothing". You can speak the truth, and yet do it without love. Don't do this.

This seems to me to be the difference between Job and Elihu.

Job said things that were technically wrong concerning God and His Righteousness. Yet ultimately God said "Job has spoken what was right concerning me." This is because Job spoke from the heart.

On the other hand, Elihu made all the right arguments and said everything technically correctly, so He did not get in trouble with God. And yet, God did not commend him either.

The text doesn't show any of the 4 men giving Job a hug or making bandages for his wounds or loving him practically. Slinging hermeneutical arguments at your friend in his time of crisis is not as helpful as lending a hand. Ultimately, they had come to visit him and they sat a long time with him, which was a kindness from the heart in its own respect. God had mercy on them and told Job to pray for them.

TLDR; You can be right all day long, but if you have not love, it profits you nothing. Love abides forever, but knowledge will someday cease.

Now, speaking the truth with legitimate love, that's something powerful right there. That can really help someone. People will be more likely to listen to you if you help them move furniture or buy them lunch first, i.e. love them though.

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