The Descent of Christ: Eph 4:7-11 and Traditional Hebrew Imagery

By W. Hall Harris III
Grand Rapids : Baker (1998). xvii + 221 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 298-299

W. Hall Harris III is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. This work results from his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Sheffield. Every preacher is delighted when he discovers a comprehensive work on a problem-text in a biblical book that he is teaching or will be in the future. This volume should be a welcome resource for any pastor who anticipates preaching through Ephesians and having to deal with Ephesians 4:7-11.

The author has provided an extensive bibliography for further study. He has also included helpful indexes of authors and subjects. The volume is well researched and written in a most readable style.

In the appendix (198-204), “The Question of Authorship and Its Impact on This Study,” the author reviews the debate over the authorship of Ephesians from the 18th century through the end of the 20th. The author affirms Pauline authorship of the epistle (203).

He first acknowledges that the almost unanimous view in the early church was that Eph 4:9-11 referred to the belief that Christ, in the three days between his burial and resurrection, descended to the underworld and participated in various activities there. He also acknowledges that there are many who in recent years have believed that Christ’s descent referred to Christ’s coming from heaven to earth at the Incarnation. Harris discusses these two views in the first two chapters (1-63). The remainder of the book (64-197) discusses a third alternative offered by the author. He reasons that the descent occurred after the ascent and exaltation of Ephesians 4:8 and referred to the descent of Christ as the Spirit who distributed gifts (gifted leaders to His church).

One does not have to agree with the author’s conclusion to derive value from his thorough research. This reviewer found the book quite thought-provoking and complete in its coverage of the subject. It will be a welcomed help in any pastor’s library.