We translated Paul’s words at Ephesians 4:8 – which he was quoting from Psalm 68:18 – like this:
‘To the highest places, he has stepped up,
And he’s taken captives into captivity;
Then he gave gifts to the people.’
This is a very difficult verse for anyone to translate in both Ephesians and in the Psalms, because what the different textual sources say are all slightly different. Why? It’s probably because the wording has been updated by various editors to reflect however people spoke at the time. Which means that today, some of these versions make no sense.
The Greek sources say:
Ephesians 4:8: ‘Through/which he/is/saying Having/stepped/up into height he/led/captive captivity and gave gifts to/the people.’ – Ephesians 4:8
Psalm 68:18: ‘You/ascended into the/height, you/captured captivity, you/received gifts in people.’
So the Apostle says gifts were given to people, while the Psalm he was quoting says the gifts were in people – in other words, it could be understood that the people themselves were the gifts.
The Hebrew Masoretic version of the Psalm is even more vague:
‘you/have/ascended high, have/led captives, have/received gifts people.’
What does that mean? Well, most Bible translations figure it out in a different way, that it means gifts were from people!
So we have gifts TO people, IN people, and FROM people. Which is the correct one?
Well, we know that Paul was using an older version of Psalms than we have today, so we’re going to trust that he quoted the Psalm accurately. In that case, gifts to the people would be correct.
We can see from the context that Paul was quoting Psalm 68:18 to show how miraculous gifts were being given to the people in the congregation. So his quote is entirely in the context of his own words – so we can rule out a corruption within the text of his argument.
Indeed, the Aramaic manuscripts (and Ephesians may have been originally written in Aramaic) agree by saying lab’naynashah, meaning ‘to people,’ and not ‘in,’ or ‘from.’
The Aramaic version of the Psalm he was quoting also agrees. Tim Mitchell, the editor of Peshitta Inc, comments:
‘The Psalm version that Paul is quoting seems to be reflected in the OT Peshitta Psalms. He is either quoting from the Peshitta Psalms directly or he is quoting from the text that the Peshitta Psalms was translated from. Here is the text of the Psalm from the OT Peshitta (First Century Aramaic Bible):
‘You have ascended on high and you have captured captivity and you have given gifts to the children of men and rebels will not dwell before God.’
Also, Ephesians 4:8 from the Peshitta NT is an exact match for the Peshitta OT in this place (Original Aramaic New Testament):
‘He ascended to the heights and took captivity prisoner and he has given gifts to the children of men.’
From all of this, we can conclude that the Greek Septuagint version of the Psalm he was quoting was either mistranslated in the first place, or suffered from some corruption at some point – perhaps even in the years after Paul wrote his letter.
Some have disputed these conclusions, however, quoting a later verse in the same passage, Ephesians 4:11, in their support. The New Living Translation translates it this way:
‘Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.’
From these words, many men in positions of authority in churches have claimed that they are the gifts given to the congregation.
However, both the Aramaic and Greek words do not call these ones gifts, but instead use a verb which can mean give but can also mean place, put, grant, make, consign, or as we would say, assign. So we translate it like this:
‘Then he assigned some to be Apostles, some to be Prophets, some to be messengers of the Good News, and some to be shepherds and teachers.’
This is quite logical, as once these ones have received the gifts of the Spirit, they can then be assigned to certain roles.
We also feel compelled to point out that the Greek text doesn’t actually say that these ones were selected from among just the males in the congregations. Actually, the Greek word is anthropon, that is, people, and not aner which means males.
Yet, most other Bibles incorrectly translate anthropon as men, which gives the false impression that the gifts were given to just the males – something clearly false, as the Bible tells us that women also received the gifts of the Spirit.
The same is true of the Hebrew word used at Psalm 68:18. For that word is usually translated as men, but just like the Greek word, it also means people.
In other words, the gifts that he gave were the gifts of the Spirit, which were poured out upon all in the congregation and which created the Apostles, Prophets, and all the rest.