A Commentary by John Stott
If this is the sense of *pleroma* in Ephesians 1:23, then the church is said to ‘fill’ or to ‘complete’ Christ, and Christ is represented as incomplete without it. One cannot deny that this sense is compatible with the head-body metaphor which Paul has just employed. Thus, the church is ‘the complement of Christ who the head’ (AG), ‘just as the body is the necessary complement of the head in order to make up a complete man’. Startling as this thought is, notable commentators of the past and the present have embraced it. Calvin took this view: ‘By this word “fullness” he means that our Lord Jesus Christ and even God his Father account themselves imperfect, unless we are joined to him…as if a father should say, My house seems empty to me when I do not see my child in it. A husband will say, I seem to be only half a man when my wife is not with me. After the same manner God says that he does not consider himself full and perfect, except by gathering us to himself and by making us all one with himself.’ Rather similarly William Hendriksen writes of Christ: ‘As bridegroom he is incomplete without the bride; as vine he cannot be thought of without the branches; as shepherd he is not seen without his sheep; and so also as head he finds his full expression in his body, the church.’ In the same reformed tradition Charles Hodge leans to this interpretation, and bases his decision on the linguistic evidence: ‘In every other case in which it occurs in the New Testament it (sc. *pleroma*) is used actively – *that which doth fill…* The common usage of the word in the New Testament is…clearly in favour of its being taken in an active sense here.
Further, the following principle can be translated in such a way as to support this explanation. True *pleroumenou* could be in the middle voice and so have an active sense. It is so taken by AV and RSV, ‘him who fills’. But it could equally be passive (‘who is being filled’). So the ancient versions (e.g. Latin, Syriac and Egyptian) took it , and the great Greek commentators Origen and Chrysostom. Then the active noun and the passive verb fit neatly into each other, and the church is ‘that which fills Christ who is being filled by it’. Of the more modern commentators it is Armitage Robinson who has been the most successful in popularizing this interpretation. Affirming that this is ‘perhaps the most remarkable expression in the whole epistle’, he goes on to explain it: ‘In some mysterious sense the church is that without which the Christ is not complete, but with which he is or will be complete. That is to say, he (sc. Paul) looks upon the Christ as in a sense waiting for completeness, and destined in the purpose of God to find completeness in the church.’ So he paraphrases: ‘The head finds completeness in the body: the church is the completion of the Christ: for the Christ is being *all in all fulfilled*, is moving towards a completeness absolute and all-inclusive.’