Lectionary Year B
July 27, 2003
Ephesians 3:14-21

Step IV: Broader Context

When reading this Sunday's pericope on Ephesians 3:14-21, the Greek word "huperballo" caught my attention as part of the phrase "gnoonai te taen huperballousan tes gnoseoos agapen tou Christou." This phrase is usually rendered "and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge [NRSV, 3:19]." [main source: Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT)]

"hyperbole" as defined in the "Webster's Third International Dictionary" (p. 1112)

excess, extravagance. from hyperballein "to exceed." from hyper + ballein "to cast, throw." extravagant exaggeration that represents something as much greater or less, better or worse, or more intense than it really is or that depicts the impossible as actual.


John 14:23
Jesus answered him: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

2 Corinthians 9:14
... while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace (Gr - dia taen huperballousan charin) of God that he has given you.

Ephesians 1:19
... what is the immeasurable greatness (ti to huperballon megethos) of his power

Ephesians 2:7
... he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace (to huperballon ploutos tes charitos autou).

Colossians 1:11
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power ...

Colossians 1:19
For in him all the fullness [of God] was pleased to dwell, (Gr - to plaerooma katoikaesai)

1 Peter 3:4
... rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God's sight.

"huperballo" in the NT

This word is only used in the Pauline corpus of the NT.
- in Ephesians used as participle in utterances pertaining to salvation events in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:19; 2:7, and 3:19 above)
- used in connection with "dunamis" (2 Cor 4:7) and "charis" (2 Cor 9:14), "ploutos" (Eph 1:7) and "doxa" (Rom 9:23; Col 1:27; Eph 3:16)

- Does the service of the glory of the new order of salvation surpass the service of the old order of salvation?
- Are the servants of this new order somehow "better" than the ones of the old order? [especially after the concentration camps and atrocities of Auschwitz in this century, this could be a "dangerous" question]


Job 15:11
Are the consolations of God too small for you, or the word that deals gently with you?
[question asked by Eliphaz, one of Job's alleged friends]

Psalm 147:4
He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

"huperballo" in Judaism

- usually rendered as "surpass"
- almost exclusively used in the Apocrypha (Sir 25:11; 2 Macc 4:24; 3 Macc 3:23; 4 Macc 4:18; et al)
- Philo uses it in noun form mainly as "highest measure, surpassing measure, over-abundance," often referring to God's grace as shown to Abraham.


The average Greek usage of the word "huperballo" can be rendered as "to throw something beyond [the target]," or as Homer usually employs it, as "to surpass somebody in the act of throwing/tossing." Hesiod makes use of this word in a more metaphorical sense as "surpass, protrude." Plato tends to employ "huperballo" as the opposite of "elleipo," thus characterizing the right behavior as the midpoint between two extremes.

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