To my knowledge, there is no modern translation of John of Damascus’s commentaries on the corpus paulinum, written in the first half of the eighth century AD. While reading his commentary on Ephesians, it occurred to me that it would not be that laborious an undertaking to work out my notes into a full translation. John’s commentary consists of short comments on the text of the New Testament. It is probably not the most exciting commentary ever written, but nonetheless it is worthwile to make a part available in English.
Here follows a first version of a translation of the comments on Ephesians 1:1-14. The edition used is R. Volk (ed.), Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos, vol. 7: Commentarii in epistulas Pauli (Patristische Texte und Studien 68; Berlin, 2013), 384-411. The Biblical text is that of the NRSV, slightly adapted.
John of Damascus
Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians
(384) (PG 95, 821) 1:1 Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ.
The main point of the epistle is to teach them about the goodness of Christ. This goodness consists of our assumption and sanctification in Him, because we have become His body and have Him as head. The cause of this grace is the goodness of God, which is praised forever. The way towards it is the forgiveness through the blood of Christ.
1:1–3 By the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as regarding the other works of God, so also regarding his own apostleship (Paul) says it is from God, brought about by Christ, because He is the power of God.
(PG 95, 824) 1:3 Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
He Himself, [Paul] says, is our blessing; that is, the gift from God in order that we enjoy the spiritual goods. The enjoyment of them is not on earth, since the blessings are also not carnal, but heaven is their eternal place.
1:4–5 Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love. He destined us for adoption as His children through Jesus Christ.
The grace of the Spirit has manifested itself now, on the one hand, but on the other hand it has existed from the beginning with God, being allotted to the elect, whom He also destined to be assistants of God through the holiness that has been given.
(385) 1:5–6 According to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He freely bestowed on us.
He freely bestowed on us, (Paul) says, having made us into sons by voluntary goodness, not by payment on the basis of our works.
1:6–8 In the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and insight.
Since the Scriptures say everywhere that He became obedient to the Father until death (Phil. 2:7), and since Christ said: ‘God, my God, why have you left me?’ (Mk. 15:34)—one should not suppose that He truly had been left, as He spoke this kind of words from our perspective—for this reason the divine Scripture proclaims everywhere that He is loved and beloved.
1:9 He has made known to us the mystery of His will.
Only in this way the grace of Christ comes towards us: through knowledge; it is not accommodated to those who are ignorant.
1:9–10 According to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.
For before the world He was well pleased with this kindness. He destined also a time for it, when He admitted the things that were predestined as a fitting end.
1:10 To gather up all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Inasmuch as Adam sinned and robbed himself from all these things, renewal happened in Christ. Of which things, then, did he rob himself? While he was uncorrupted, he ended up in corruption, and while he was immortal, he ended up in death and away from (386) paradise, outside of para|dise. (PG 95, 825) God therefore planned to gather up and to renew [all things]. And on behalf of the following the Only-begotten became a human being: in order to dissolve death, to abolish corruption, and to throw out sin, what indeed has happened when Christ came. The phrase things in heaven means that the angels had great and constant grief because of the fact that the world was sinning and was under a curse. And it is clear on the basis of the Lord’s saying that there is joy in heaven about one sinner who repents (Lk. 15:7). It means, then, that the Lord came and renewed both things on earth and things in heaven. He gave the angels rest from that grief which they were having on account of the corruption of humankind. For he lifted them up towards the previous joy, the one about the people who are saved.
1:11–12 In Him we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of His glory.
By being one with Christ, (Paul) says, we are a portion of God.
1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in Him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.
(Paul) says: You too belong to those who were known beforehand, being reconciled with Christ through obedience, through faith after having heard, and through sealing after having come to faith, which is being made like Christ through the participation in the Spirit. From whom else did they hear the word of truth than from John the evangelist? For he proclaimed [the gospel] there. That is why Paul speaks with them in a loftier manner, because they were prepared beforehand by John’s teaching [= Severian of Gabala]. For the man was very lofty in speaking about God.
1:14 Who is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of His glory.
With pledge (Paul) means the beginning of acquisition. So he says that those who have received the Spirit already have begun to be possessions of Christ and God.