A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 4:17-19. a). The pagan life.

But what is the origin of the darkness of heathen minds, when God himself is light, and he is continuously speaking to mankind through his creation, and both heaven and earth declare his glory? It is *due to their hardness of heart*, says Paul. The word he uses is *porosis*, and on its derivation and history Armitage Robinson supplies a long additional note. Poros was ‘a kind of marble’ or in medical writers a ‘callus’ or a ‘bony formation on the joints’. Hence the verb *poroun* meant to petrify, to become hard and therefore insensible, and even (when ‘transferred from the organs of feeling to the organ of sight’) blind. But in his view, it does not mean ‘stubbornness’. It is rather ‘intellectual obtuseness, not the steeling of the will’. He examines the eight New Testament occurrences of the word and then concludes: ‘Obtuseness, or a dulling of the faculty of perception equivalent to moral blindness, always gives an appropriate sense. On the other hand, the context never decisively favours the meaning “hardness”, and this meaning seems sometimes quite out of place.’ So, he opts for ‘blindness’, as does the AV in this verse, as ‘the least misleading rendering.

Despite the careful arguing of his case, however, Armitage Robinson has not carried the translators and commentators with him. Certainly Mark 3:5 (where Jesus ‘looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart’) seems to imply a willful obtuseness. Coming back to our Ephesians text, NEB translates it ‘their minds have grown hard as stone’, GNB uses the word ‘stubborn’, and J.H. Houlden comments: ‘Pagan immorality is seen as willful and culpable…, the result of their deliberate refusal of the moral light available to them in their own thought and conscience.’ It is true that in biblical usage ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ cannot be separated, since the heart includes our capacity to think and understand. Nevertheless, there is real distinction between ‘ignorance’ and ‘hardness’ or ‘obstinacy’.

If we put Paul’s expressions together, noting carefully their logical connections (especially *because of* and *due to*, both translating *dia*), he seems to be depicting the terrible downward path of evil, which begins with an obstinate rejection of God’s known truth. First comes *their hardness of heart*, then *their ignorance*, being *darkened in their understanding*, next and consequently they are *alienated from the life of God*, since he turns away from them, until finally *they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness*. NEB has ‘They stop at nothing to satisfy their foul desire’. Thus hardness of heart leads first to darkness of mind, then to deadness of soul under the judgment of God, and finally to recklessness of life. Having lost all sensitivity, people lose all self-control. It is exactly the sequence which Paul elaborates in the latter part of Romans 1. Comparative tables may help to demonstrate this:

Romans 1:18-32                            Ephesians 4:17-19

Stage 1: Obstinacy

18 ‘Men…by their wickedness      18 ‘Due to their hardness
suppress the truth’                        (porosis) of heart’
21 ‘Although they knew God they did
not honour him as God’
28 ‘ They did not see fit to
acknowledge God’

Stage 2: Darkness

21  ‘They became futile in           17  ‘The futility of their
their thinking and their                 minds’
senseless minds were                18a  ‘They are darkened in
darkened’                                     their understanding’
22   ‘They became fools’             18b  ‘The ignorance that is
28   ‘A base mind’                         in them’

Stage 3: Death or judgment

24  ‘Therefore God gave them     18  ‘They are…alienated
up                                                  from the life of God’
26  ‘For this reason God
gave them up’
28  ‘God gave them up’

Stag 4: Recklessness

God gave them up to-                 19  ‘They have become
24  ‘Impurity’                                callous and have given
26  ‘Dishonourable passions’       themselves up to
27  ‘Shameless acts’                    licentiousness
28  ‘Improper conduct’                  (aselgeia, meaning
29-31 ‘All manner of                      public indecency of a
wickedness…’                                shameless kind), greedy
to practise every kind
of uncleanness’.

Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:20-24 b). The Christian life.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.