Stanley Fish wrote an intriguing book called How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. In it he looks not just at writing in general, but at what makes a truly remarkable sentence. One kind of sentence he explores he labels the “subordinating” sentence in which the author adds phrases upon phrases to modify the basic content of the sentence. This is often how an author takes a relatively brief idea and explodes it in a variety of ways.
Fish must have at some point been inspired by the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 1:3-14 Paul gives us a single sentence that comes in a surprising length of 257 words, almost exactly the length of the entire Gettysburg Address. Of course, it is not merely the literary flair of the sentence that strikes us. It is the way that he takes the basic thought of “God has blessed us” (v. 3) and explores it from the widest-angle possible.
We realize that we have been blessed from eternal past to eternal future (vv. 4, 14), but also by receiving a redemption purchased by the blood of Christ (v. 7). We realize that the Father has blessed by predestining us for salvation (v. 5), the Son has blessed by dying for us (v. 7), and the Spirit has blessed us by sealing us for a future redemption beyond our wildest dreams (vv. 13-14).
All of this we receive “in Christ,” a thread that runs a dozen or so times in the passage; all of this results in “praise” of the God who has done it and the glorious grace he has lavished upon us (vv. 6, 12, 14).
And all of this is presented in a single sentence. Our English Bibles do not present it this way so that we can handle it more comfortably. But here is how the sentence would read in the English Standard Version if we change a couple spots (in brackets) to read more literally like the Greek:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before [him, in love 5 having predestined] us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the [Beloved, 7 in whom] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth, 11 in whom] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his [glory, 13 in whom] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14)
The question, of course, is not what Stanley Fish thinks of this sentence. The question is, what do you think of it? I hope it inspires in you “the praise of his glory” (v. 14).