The Greek text of Eph. 5:18 states,
ΙΗ καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι TR, 1550
which may be translated as,
Do not be drunk with wine, in which there is riot, but rather, be filled ... the Spirit.
Review of English Translations
The majority of English versions translate πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι as “be filled with the Spirit.”1
John Paul Heil wrote,2
The clause ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι in Eph. 5:18b has been predominantly translated “but be filled with the Spirit” to convey that the Spirit is the content with which the audience is to be filled.
Young’s Literal Translation translates it as “be filled in the Spirit,” while the New English Translation translates it as “be filled by the Spirit.”
- “be filled with the Spirit” interprets ἐν πνεύματι as a dative of content
- “be filled by the Spirit” interprets ἐν πνεύματι as an instrumental dative
- “be filled in the Spirit” interprets ἐν πνεύματι as a dative of sphere
Analysis of Syntax
Two clauses oppose one another by means of the conjunction ἀλλὰ:
- μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ (“Do not be drunk with wine”)
- πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι (“Be filled ... the Spirit”)
First, note that the former clause lacks a preposition preceding οἴνῳ, while the latter clause precedes πνεύματι by the preposition ἐν. This seems to suggest that the author did not intend to convey an exact antithesis (i.e., Do not be drunk with that, but be filled with this.”)
Regarding the verb πληρόω, the thing of or with which another thing is filled (i.e., the content) is declined in the genitive case.3 There are also a few instances where it is declined in the dative case.4 However, there do not appear to be any instances where it is declined in the dative case and preceded by the preposition ἐν. Therefore, to translate ἐν πνεύματι as a dative of content seems to be without precedent—at least in the Greek New Testament.
Thayer (translating Wilke) classifies ἐν πνεύματι in Eph. 5:18 as a dative of the instrument (a.k.a. instrumental dative);5 likewise, Meyer.6 However, Alford classifies it as both a dative of content and dative of sphere,7
but also ‘in:’ let this be the region in, and the ingredient with which you are filled... emphasis mine
However, in his article, John Paul Heil wrote,8
...I propose that Eph 5:18b is best translated “but be filled in the Spirit.” According to this interpretation, the audience is the subject of “being filled,” Christ is the implied agent of the “filling,” the implied content of the filling is the gifts of Christ’s love, and the preposition “in” (ἐν) refers to being within the dynamic realm or sphere established and characterized by having been given the Spirit. emphasis mine
Alford, Henry. The Greek Testament. Vol. 3. Boston: Lee, 1878.
Heil, John Paul. “Ephesians 5:18b: ‘But Be Filled in the Spirit.’” Catholic Bible Quarterly. July 2007: Vol. 69, Issue 3.
Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Ephesians. Trans. Dickson, William P. New York: Funk, 1884.
Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry.Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.
1 ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, RSV
2 p. 506
3 Luke 2:40 (TR); Acts 2:28, 13:52; Rom. 15:13, 15:14; 2 Tim. 1:4
4 Luke 2:40 (NA28); Rom. 1:29; 2 Cor. 7:4
5 p. 517, 1.
6 p. 505
7 p. 134