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Ephesians 3:8

"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,". ESV. My emphasis. [unsearchable/anexichniaston].

  1. Are these riches of Christ "unsearchable" to all people or just some?

  2. Are all "riches of Christ" unsearchable or just some of them?

  3. Can these riches of Christ ever be described, discovered, understood or experienced? If riches of Christ can be understood in what way are they unsearchable?

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  • I am curious, why did you change "reaches of Christ" (in the quote) into "reaches in Christ"* (in your questions)? Synonyms or not, it is kind of unsettling.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 7:04
  • @virolino Thanks . I never noticed till you pointed it out. I have changed it. My fault.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 9:25
  • @C.Stroud. How, then can its truth be asserted when its truth is not understood? Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 12:40
  • @Alex Balilo So when preaching is understood in what way is it unsearchable?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 15:52

8 Answers 8

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The word should be taken as a synonym for "infinite". The picture is that someone could go through them for ever without reaching the far end and exhausting the supply of things to be discovered. That is why this adjective is applied to the noun "riches", and the combination is regarded as something valuable, worth proclaiming and preaching about. It is a promise, an assurance. The riches will never run out.

There is a similar assurance a few verses further down, when we are invited to comprehend "the breadth and length and height and depth" of the love of Christ" (v18)

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  • We comprehend "the b'and l' and height and depth" not through "human searching" but by Christ dwelling "in your hearts". Eph 3:17.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 14:13
  • @C Stroud Quite so. But that "dimensions" image still offers the thought "There is a lot of it", which is what I was looking at. The adjective "unsearchable" has the same effect. Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 14:26
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    This is a private interpretation and has no substantiation. I would prefer to see an analysis of the Greek wording in the text, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 20:38
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The operative word in Eph 3:8 is ἀνεξιχνίαστος (anexichniastos) which only orrurs in the two places in the NT, namely:

  • Rom 11:33 - O, the depth of riches, both of wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways!
  • Eph 3:8 - To me, the very least of all saints, was given this grace: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ

Note that in both cases the word is used to describe the riches of God's grace!! While we may be able to, at least partially, understand what grace is, we will NEVER understand the extend and great depths (Rom 11:33) of God's grace toward us.

[Even in the LXX, the word is used to describe wonders and qualities of God that are only knowable by God and will never be fully understood by humans or other life-forms, Job 5:9, 9:10, 34:24.]

The word ἀνεξιχνίαστος (anexichniastos) means, according to Thayer:

that cannot be traced out, that cannot be comprehended

This, unknowable riches of the depths of love and grace included acts such as:

  • the incarnation
  • Jesus' substitutionary death
  • Jesus' resurrection
  • God's infinite forgiveness toward sinners
  • etc.

Nobody will ever fully understand such measureless grace and love. Note the comments by Benson:

the unsearchable riches of Christ — Those unsearchable perfections, (Colossians 2:9,) whereby he is qualified to be the Saviour of the world, and to bestow on all who believe the greatest spiritual blessings, which are the only true riches, because they render the possessors perfectly happy. In other words, In the riches of Christ, here justly said to be unsearchable, are included, 1st, His redeeming acts; such as his incarnation, his enduring temptation, his obedience unto death, his resurrection, ascension, intercession. 2d, His saving benefits; as illumination, justification, adoption, the spirit of adoption and regeneration, the restoration of God’s image to the soul, communion with God, and eternal life. 3d, The ways and means of the application of these acts and benefits; as

  1. The properties and powers exerted by Christ, such as his wisdom, power, love, patience:
  2. The means and ordinances, as affliction, the word of God, prayer, the fellowship of saints:
  3. The graces and virtues to be exercised by us; as faith, hope, love, obedience; in all which particulars unsearchable riches are comprehended, and by which we may be unspeakably and eternally enriched.
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You ask if these riches in Christ are unsearchable (1) to all people or just some.

A person who is not searching for the riches that are to be found in Christ will never discover any of those riches. But a person trying to fathom the depths of these riches shows that, already, they are beginning to grasp something of Paul's "knowledge in the mystery of Christ... now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (verses 4 to 5). They have started on a 'journey' of discovery that will go on into eternity.

You ask (2) Are all "riches in Christ" unsearchable or just some of them?

Given that the search and the discovery has already begun for those "Gentiles [who] should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (verse 6), some of those riches are already experienced and understood, even if not fully. And, as Gentile believers entered into the wonder of "the fellowship of the mystery "(verse 9), their understanding would enlarge.

You ask (3) Can these riches in Christ ever be described, discovered, understood or experienced? If riches in Christ can be understood in what way are they unsearchable?

Paul is hard-pressed to describe those riches in words. All he can do is exhort believers to find out from this amazing fellowship in Christ what the breadth, length, depth and height of it is (verse 18). Yet Paul clearly has some experience of sweet fellowship with Christ, and his writings are full of this wonder. Yes, they can be discovered, experienced and understood - to a degree, this side of eternity. After all, every single person who belongs to Christ by faith (i.e. every Christian) has already entered into partaking of that privilege of being heirs with Christ (verse 6).

The last point in your last question is that to start grasping these riches through fellowship in Christ does not mean the search ends at the start! The searching out of the magnificence of fellowship in Christ just goes deeper and deeper (or, higher and higher, or wider and wider etc). And the more one experiences of this wonder, the more obvious it becomes that there is more to be experienced, and understood, as Paul said here:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12 JKV

That verse is the most succinct answer to your last query.

EDIT: "in Christ" was edited to "of Christ" but I have retained "in Christ" to make a point, namely, that all the riches of Christ are discovered once a person is found to be "in Christ" - in that union of the Holy Spirit, e.g. Eph.1:4, 6-7, 10-13 & 2:6, 100, 13 etc.

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  • "I shall know even as I am known" will be revelation[Eph 3:3] and not "our" searching +1.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 10:20
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For context, it may help to see other places where this word is used.

Reference Text (KJV)
Job 5:9 Which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number:
Psa 145:3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.
Prov 25:3 The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.
Rom 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
Eph 3:8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

Essentially, "unsearchable" indicates something that surpasses human comprehension or ability.

In the case of Ephesians 3:8, it may be understood to mean inexhaustible--riches so great we cannot fathom or comprehend them. This would be applicable to the entire sum of them ("riches" is a non-count noun: one does not have one rich and two riches), and to all people. If something is beyond comprehension, it is also beyond explanation.

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  • If unsearchable means surpassing human comprehension what is point of the preaching?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 13:54
  • We do not need to comprehend everything before we can benefit from a part of it.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 14:26
  • Thanks. Is "surpassing human comprehension" our efforts without the Holy Spirit? In John 5:39 searching does'nt give life.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 14:27
  • Searching itself may not give eternal life, but it leads to the One who does.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 14:30
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The word ἀνεξιχνίαστα (anexichniasta) is a Greek word that means "untraceable" or "impossible to unravel". It is derived from the prefix ἀν- (an-), which means "not", and the verb ἐξιχνιάζω (exichniazo), which means "to track down" or "to investigate". See Jda. 18:2; Jdg. 18:2; Ps. 138:3; Eccl. 12:9; Job 5:27; 8:8; 10:6; 13:9; 29:16; Wisdom 6:22; 9:16; Sirach 1:3; 18:6 and 24:28.

This word is often used to describe something that is mysterious, inexplicable, or beyond comprehension. It can be used in a variety of contexts, such as to describe an unsolved crime, a complex scientific phenomenon, or a difficult philosophical problem.

The word ἀνεξιχνίαστα has been used by various Greek authors throughout history, including Herodotus, Plato, and Aristotle. In modern Greek, the word is still used to describe something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.

When we search for ἀνεξιχνίαστα we will find the references: Job 5:9; 9:10; 34:24 e Rom. 11:33; and they cannot trace a safe route of meanings.

In Job 5:9;Job 9:10 and 34:24 the correlate of ἀνεξιχνίαστα is חֵ֑קֶר (a searching, a thing to be, searched out ) which corresponds to the word inconprehensibilia and innumerabiles in the Vulgate. See Jdg. 5:16; Job 5:9; 8:8; 11:7; 36:26; 38:16; Ps. 145:3; Prov. 25:3, 27; Isa. 40:28. In Isa. 40:28 the correlate of וְאֵ֣ין חֵ֑קֶר is ἐξεύρεσις.

ἐξεύρ-εσις, εως, ἡ, LSJ lexicon 1. searching out, search, HDT. 1.67. 2. 2 finding out, invention, ib. 94. 3 discovery, τοῦ ὄντος PL. Min. 315a. ἐξεύρεσιν. ἐξεύρεσις. searching out. fem acc sg. Greek morphological index (Ελληνική μορφολογικούς δείκτες). 2014.

See Histories-Book One 67:5 and 94:3; Aristeas 1:136; and Minos 3:1.

In Ps. 144:3 the correlate in the Vulgate is “invention”.

In his writings, Cicero used the Latin word "inventio" to refer to the process of discovering or creating something new. For Cicero, invention was a key component of the art of rhetoric, which he saw as the art of persuasion. Invention involved finding the most persuasive arguments and evidence to support a particular position, and was one of the five canons of rhetoric, along with arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Cicero believed that invention required a combination of natural ability and careful training, and he emphasized the importance of a broad education in a variety of subjects in order to develop the skills necessary for effective invention. He also believed that invention required a deep understanding of human nature, as the most persuasive arguments were those that appealed to people's emotions and desires. Overall, for Cicero, invention was the process of discovering and creating the most effective arguments and evidence to persuade others, and was a key component of the art of rhetoric.

  1. Are these riches of Christ "unsearchable" to all people or just some? only those who do not investigate.

“ In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. Psalm 10:4New International Version

  1. Are all "riches of Christ" unsearchable or just some of them?

All the riches of Christ are to be searched out.

  1. Can these riches of Christ ever be described, discovered, understood or experienced? If riches of Christ can be understood in what way are they unsearchable? Yes.

“God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man's spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” 1 Cor. 2:10-11 NET

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This post has been modified and re-edited:

What does Unsearchable mean in the unsearchable riches of Christ? Ephesians 3:8

A couple of the literal versions give a clearer meaning to the word. ◄ 421. anexichniastos. Translated more accurately as untraceable.

Literal Standard Version to me—the less than the least of all the holy ones—was given this grace, among the nations to proclaim good news—the untraceable riches of the Christ,

Young's Literal Translation to me -- the less than the least of all the saints -- was given this grace, among the nations to proclaim good news -- the untraceable riches of the Christ,

Strong's Concordance anexichniastos: that cannot be traced out.

aneksixníastos (literally, "not able to trace the steps of") – properly, impossible to "track" ("trace the steps of");

In other words, the riches of Christ, that are being revealed in scripture now in Ephesians have never been seen in the old testament scriptures. There is no trace of them.

Op, asked,

  1. Are these riches of Christ "unsearchable" to all people or just some?

Using the term, untraceable riches of Christ are written about in Ephesians and Colossians. However, to understand and perceive them, Paul prays for God to give the saints a spirit of wisdom and revelation, and to have their eyes of their heart opened . Perhaps these are some of the things that apostle Peter had a hard time understanding.

2 Are all "riches of Christ" unsearchable or just some of them?

Some of the riches of Christ, are traceable throughout the old testament scriptures.

  1. Can these riches of Christ ever be described, discovered, understood or experienced?

Yes, the riches that Paul is describing in Ephesians are the untraceable ones.They are described throughout the book of Ephesians, as well as in Colossians.

Yes, they can be understood in spirit, but will not experience some of the reality of these riches, (Christ's allotment among the saints) until actually being raised into celestial realm in the coming eons.

Yes, they can be understood, and perceived. Christ had revealed these riches to the apostle Paul through Revelation, and now he prays that the Saints will understand these transcendent blessings as well.

Paul prays for those in the faith, to have a Spirit of Revelation.

making mention of you in my prayers, 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of the glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the recognition of Him, 18the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, for your knowing what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the holy ones, Ephesians 1:18

If riches of Christ can be understood in what way are they unsearchable?

The untraceable riches of Christ can be perceived through the spirit as they are now revealed and traceable only in the Apostle Paul's letters written to the nations.

It does take a spirit of wisdom and revelation, in the realization of Him, the eyes of your heart, having been enlightened, for you to perceive what is the expectation of his calling, and with the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of his allotment among the saints. Ephesians

"The untraceable riches of Christ include celestial honors, which were not revealed before. His earthly riches can be traced throughout the previous Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. He was to be king of Israel and the ruler of the whole earth. But now we know of heavenly honors, which were here hid from us before. These are revealed at the same time that the heavenly's destiny of the body of Christ is disclosed, for it is necessary that He should have the highest place in heaven, before we would be associated with him and it's administration." Concordant, literal commentary

And to enlighten all as to the secret administration, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Ephesians 3:9

There is revealed a brand new administration that will be taking place in the celestial realm in the coming eons. This secret had never been revealed before, until Paul penned about it in Ephesians. Up until then only Israel, the chosen nation to be a light to the nations on earth, with Christ as their King. There is now revealed another administration in the heavenly realm where Christ is the head of the body of Christ.

You'll find no trace of this secret, Christs riches to the body of Christ, in the OT scripture, that's what makes it untraceable. It was concealed in God. But now it has been revealed in the very next verse. Also to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. Ephesians 3:9

These are some of Christ's untraceable riches being explained.

and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God who created all things;

So, in conclusion, the untraceable riches has now been revealed through Paul's Ephesians epistle. It does take God's Spirit of wisdom to be imparted to understand and perceive these riches for Him to open the eyes of the hearts of the saints to grasp these transcendent blessings that are revealed for the body of Christ. These riches are not for the world at large, but the spirits whom we wrestle against certainly are aware of them.

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  • I was interested in what you put about "untraceable". But a bit confused by your, "you'll find no trace ..in Scriptures.... But now it has been revealed in the very next verse". On the face of it that sounds contradictory, can you have another look at it?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 18:43
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    @C.Stroud There in no trace In the Old Testament scriptures, it was not hidden, it was never covered, because it was never there. These particular riches of Christ had never been hinted at even in the gospels or the other apostles writing. But now what was hidden in God Is revealed in scripture written by the Apostle Paul to the nations. It is revealed to the sovereignties and authorities among the celestials as well. It is to enlighten All now that it has been revealed in scripture. God used Paul alone to reveal some things that are not anywhere else in scripture, except in his writings.
    – Sherrie
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 19:54
  • Does that help at all?
    – Sherrie
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 19:55
  • That helps me. Thanks. +1
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 20:32
  • @C.Stroud. I just modified this post since I understand your questions better and tried to give more thorough answers.
    – Sherrie
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 19:30
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The root of the word anexichniaston in Eph 3:8 is ichnos (Strong’s G2487), meaning a track or footstep (stepbible.org - click on "unsearchable" to see the word analysis). Literally, anexichniaston means “cannot be traced out” (Strong’s 421).

to me -- the less than the least of all the saints -- was given this grace, among the nations to proclaim good news -- the untraceable riches of the Christ – YLT

There are, I think, two subtly different ways that something can be considered untraceable. Something is untraceable when we cannot trace its boundaries, which means it cannot be measured. Translations that render anexichniaston as “boundless” or “immeasurable” favor this sense (biblehub.com).

Something is usually seen as untraceable when we cannot trace its path - where it comes from or where it is going. Translations that render anexichniaston as “unsearchable” or “unfathomable” lean toward this connotation. Here, unsearchable means that something is inscrutable or incomprehensible rather than that it is unable to be searched for or sought out.

When we relate Christ’s riches to the context of what Paul is teaching about the gifts of the Spirit (Eph 4:8), both connotations are applicable. We cannot tell from where the Spirit comes from or to where it is going. We cannot know, except by revelation, the mysterious workings of the Spirit (cf 1 Cor 2:9-10).

If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery… as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel – Eph 3:2-6

In Jn 3:8, Jesus is quoted as saying, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.” Though we cannot trace its path, we can hear the sound. That is, we can sense the presence of the Spirit in ourselves, and we can recognize the impact the Spirit has in our lives and communities. Specifically, Eph 4:11-13 speaks of the unity of faith, knowledge of Christ, and [spiritual] maturity.

What the saints personally experience, however, is something that surpasses human knowledge and is described by Paul in terms that reflect its boundless nature.

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Eph 3:17-19

That Christ’s riches are untraceable is not qualified in any way. However, can they to a certain extent be recognized, shared and described? Yes, and that is what Paul, with the help of the Spirit, was trying to do.

We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. – 1 Cor 2:12-13

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Can a, say, 3-years old child fathom all the benefactions his parents are lovingly acting on his behalf and are going to act? Impossible! Now, multiply this impossibility to a greatest number you can imagine and then you will get some glimpse of the impossibility for us in knowing what is the extent of the Lord’s lovingkindness on our behalf.

No, we are not totally ignorant and we know indeed that the Lord our Creator loved us more than Himself and, for our salvation, gave Himself in to the murderous hands of His enemies for being crucified. Yet, it is like to know that the Pacific Ocean exists and to even manage to dip one foot in its salty water while standing on a coast with the other foot. Still it is not the same as to know the nearly infinite variety of life forms in the Ocean, the inner mountains and volcanos, height of its frightening waves during storms etc. etc.

However, here we are not talking about the Pacific Ocean that, notwithstanding its vastness, still is finite, but about, as St Gregory the Theologian says, “like a certain Sea of [uncreated] Essence, infinite and boundless” (οἷόν τι πέλαγος οὐσίας ἄπειρον καὶ ἀόριστον /PG 36, p.333/).

So, can anything be more preposterous as to imagine that we, with our created intellects, can fathom the uncreated and the unfathomable? We can, in fact, through Grace of the Lord put ourselves on the path of divine perfection, as He Himself urges us (Matthew 5:48) to do, and enjoy the progress of knowledge in Him (John 15:15), but this process will never end for us, the creatures of God.

In fact, only three, the Father, the Son/Logos (called also Jesus Christ after the Logos’/Son’s Incarnation) and the H.Ghost have naturally the actual infinity of perfection, whereas we and angels have it not naturally, but by means of participation and in an apportioned way, and in a process of ongoing growth in the Lord, which never ends, for we proceed and progress “from power to power” (Psalm 84(83):7).

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