By Charles H. Welch
The Hebrew word translated ‘seal’ is chotham in two forms. The Greek
The verb chatham occurs twenty-seven times. It is translated seal sixteen times, seal up six times, be sealed twice, mark once; be stopped once, and to make an end, once. The Chaldaic form of chatham occurs once, namely in Daniel 6:17 where we read ‘The king sealed it with his own signet’, where the signet is not the Hebrew chotham but the Chaldee izqa, which is so named because, being a ring it ‘surrounds’ (‘to fence in’ Isa. 5:2). There are a number of passages which show that this sealing was done by means of a ‘ring’. That the word does undoubtedly mean a ‘ring’ in the accepted sense, the many references to the rings used in the Tabernacle and its furniture will show, but the original meaning of the word tabbaath, is seen in the verb taba which means ‘to sink’ (Psa. 69:2). The primary idea therefore seems to be not so much ‘a ring’ in the sense that it encircles the finger, but an instrument, whether a ring or any other shape, that could be employed to make an impression, to sink into the clay or the wax wherewith the sealing was accomplished. The derivation of the Greek words translated ‘seal’, sphragis and sphragizo, is left undefined by most Lexicographers, but Parkhurst says that it is derived from phratto, to fence, guard or secure, as a seal does a letter. Sphragis is translated seal sixteen times in the New Testament. The verb sphragizo is translated seal twenty-two times; seal up once; set a seal once; set to one’s seal once. The earliest form of a seal is that mentioned in Job 38:14.
‘It (the earth) is changed as clay (of or by) the seal’. In the British Museum is a fine collection of cylindrical seals, which were made to revolve or roll over the clay or wax, leaving a very clearly cut impression, usually of mythological character. Several are seals belonging to Darius who sealed the den of lions into which Daniel had been thrown. The book of Job uses the word ‘seal’ as a mark of identification, in this case, by thieves, who ‘mark for themselves in day time’ the house they intend to break into at night (Job 24:16). The scales on leviathan are said to be shut up together as with a close seal and the book of Job further uses the word ‘seal’ when it speaks of sealing up the stars, sealing instruction, and sealing up the hand of every man (Job 9:7; 33:16; 37:7). He also says ‘My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and Thou sewest up mine iniquity’ (Job 14:17), where the juxtaposition of ‘seal’ and ‘sew’ indicate secure fastening. Authority is most definitely associated with the seal or signet.
So, in Genesis 41:42-44 we read
Sealing was used of treasures (Deut. 32:34) and of legal documents such as evidences of land purchase (Jer. 32:10). One of a set of seals collected by a Mr. Taylor, and which belonged to an Oriental prince, is set on the back of the patent, no man daring to affix his seal on the same side as the king’s, and Mr. Taylor thinks this gives the true meaning of 2 Timothy 2:19:
‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this motto around the seal, this inscription, "The Lord knoweth them that are His"‘. This inscription is on the enclosed, the folded side of the patent, not visible to us; whereas on the open side, the exposed part of the patent, is the counter-inscription ‘Let all who name the name of Christ depart from iniquity’; this character is conspicuous to all, and, as it were, a continuation of the former, its counterpart, and in perfect coincidence with it. The idea of a seal on the back of a document is found in the Revelation (chapter 6) and also in John 3:33: ‘He who hath received His (i.e. Christ’s) testimony, has set to, added, his seal, vouching, not properly confirming -- the veracity of God’. In the same evangelist (John 6:27) we read, ‘Him hath God the Father sealed’ (see Calmet’s Dictionary of the Bible).
The references that are of dispensational importance in the New Testament are 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30. In 2 Corinthians the reference to the seal came about this way. Paul had intended paying a visit to the Corinthians which he never fulfilled:
This passage can easily be misinterpreted. Paul does not mean that he was irresponsible and could make and break promises with impunity; what he meant was, that every one of his projected journeys was qualified with the words ‘If the Lord will’. He could not and would not make a promise that he could not alter. He would not plan according to the flesh. On the other hand he wished the Corinthians to remember that his preaching was no ‘Yea and Nay’ message, for in the preaching of Christ, there was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea.
This leads him to the subject of this article, the sealing, the confirmation, the establishing of the believer.
The word translated ‘stablish’ is the Greek bebaioo. Its first occurrence is Mark 16:20 ‘Confirming the word with signs following’. When writing earlier to the Corinthians, Paul had associated their confirmation with ‘gifts’ (1 Cor. 1:6-8), as also in Hebrews 2:3:
‘Confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?’ (Heb. 2:3,4).
We note therefore that before Acts 28, the confirming of the believer was intimately related to the presence and witness of spiritual gifts. This is followed by the word ‘anointed’. This ‘anointing’ is spoken of by John who wrote:
The word ‘anointed’ provides us with the word ‘Christ’, and in 1
Corinthians 12:12 where Paul is speaking of the endowment of the church with
the diversity of spiritual gifts enumerated in verses 4 to 11 and again in
verse 28 he sums up the matter by saying, ‘So also is the Christ’, or as it
would be better rendered ‘So also is the Anointed’. Weymouth renders this
clause ‘So is it with the church of Christ’. When we come to the passage in
we find that ‘seal’ and ‘earnest’ are repeated, but the confirmation and
anointing are omitted. This is in line with the change of dispensation at
Acts 28. Before that dispensational boundary, spiritual and miraculous gifts
were given to the church in great diversity, constituting the whole company
an ‘anointed’. With the change, came the cessation of the gifts, and 2
Corinthians 1:21,22 is a good illustration of the passing and the permanent
in the church.
In Ephesians, the seal is no longer connected with miraculous gifts but with ‘that Holy Spirit of promise’, which in its turn is ‘the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession’.
Succeeding their deliverance from bondage, the heirs of heavenly glory, like the seed of Abraham, find a stretch of wilderness before them, and it is in this portion of their experience that we have the ‘Witness of the Spirit’. We find accordingly that hope and faith figure here (‘trust’ here in Ephesians 1:12, is ‘hope’); here also we read of the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, the seal and the earnest of the Spirit, all in view of the day of redemption and the entry into the purchased possession. The covering term here is ‘the Holy Spirit of promise’. This does not refer so much to the fact that the Holy Spirit had been promised, as to the fact that while the promised inheritance awaits the people of God, He comforts them in the wilderness interval with a spiritual anticipation of it.
To convey the meaning more exactly we might perhaps adopt the translation, ‘the holy promissory Spirit’. Just as we learn from Colossians 1:27 that the very preaching of Christ now among the Gentiles is the pledge of their hope of glory, so the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit among Gentile believers is in itself an indication that God is with them and that blessing awaits them. Both Ephesians 1:13,14 and Colossians 1:27 are ‘seals’. The thought of the holy promissory Spirit, and His relation to the actual future inheritance, can be appreciated better as we read the parallel case of Romans 8.
We have been blessed with ‘all spiritual blessings’ and have been predestinated unto the ‘adoption’. Our blessings, too, are to be enjoyed ‘in heavenly places’, but we are not yet there. Just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the heirs of promise, yet pilgrims and strangers, rejoicing in the earnest of the inheritance vouchsafed to them, but dying in faith, not having received the promises, so the church of the One Body will not enjoy its blessings until in resurrection it is found in the heavenly places at the right hand of God.
Romans 8 speaks in two places of the adoption pertaining to the dispensation of that period:
It will be seen from these passages that the ‘Spirit of adoption’ is the present pledge of the future adoption, to wit, the ‘redemption of our body’. So in Ephesians, the seal and earnest of the Spirit is the pledge of the yet future ‘redemption of the purchased possession’. Romans 8 speaks also of ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’, related to the future harvest. The holy promissory Spirit of Ephesians must be viewed in this light. It anticipates the harvest or the fulness of time.
Both ‘seal’ and ‘earnest’ are terms of commerce; they clinch a transaction, even though its fulfilment awaits completion. In the days of the earlier dispensation the seal and the earnest were accompanied by confirmatory gifts and anointing. Although these external spiritual accompaniments do not pertain to the dispensation of the Mystery, the reality of the earnest and the seal remain.
The word ‘earnest’ is the Hebrew word arrhabon in Greek characters and is translated ‘surety’ in the Old Testament. Grotius considers that the Greeks had received the word from the Phoenicians in the intercourse of trading; Hesychius explains it by prodoma, something given beforehand as a pledge. We find the word again in 2 Corinthians 5:5:
Here the Spirit is the earnest of the future resurrection, and with the parallel of Romans 8:15 and 23 in mind, we can see that the same idea of a present pledge of future possession is intended in Ephesians 1:14.
The holy promissory Spirit, being a seal and an earnest, must have some evidences, and they are given in the context. While some may look for those signs and wonders which accompanied the baptism of the Spirit in the dispensation of the Acts period, this epistle directs us to something quieter and less spectacular -- ‘hearing’ and ‘believing’ the word of truth. At first this seems too ‘everyday’ a matter, but a consideration of what is involved, and the parallel teaching of 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6, enable us to appraise this evidence more correctly.
How did the apostle know? Had he access to the book of life or the secret counsels of the Almighty? No, he had humbler yet no less weighty evidences:
The hearing and believing in Ephesians 1:13 is the hearing and believing of the word of truth, ‘the gospel of your salvation’. While this would naturally include the acceptance of the Holy Scriptures, it means more than that here. ‘The truth’ is specific, and is contrasted with ‘the lie’ (not ‘lying’) in Ephesians 4:21-25. To hear and believe the word of ‘the truth’ was in itself a witness and pledge of future glory. The A.V. rendering of Ephesians 1:13 has given colour to a false doctrine, connected with what is known as ‘the second blessing’. The A.V. reads:
The R.V. corrects this and translates:
If the seal and the earnest had included supernatural gifts and a ‘second blessing’, we should have read of them here. They are absent, and in close conformity with the true character of our calling, the Spirit’s activities are largely associated with the Word of Truth.
This word translated ‘earnest’ is found in the Old Testament under the word ‘surety’. It corresponds with the ‘pledge’ of Genesis 38:17,18. The root idea appears to be that of mixing or mingling:
In Ezekiel 27:9,27 we find the word translated ‘occupy’ in the sense of exchange or bartering. In this sense we understand the expression, ‘Occupy, till I come’, and still speak of a man’s trade as his ‘occupation’.
The Spirit seals, and gives the earnest. He bridges the interval up to
the day of possession. The following arrangement may help us:
There is no need for the italicized word ‘trusted’, nor for the word ‘after’, as given in the A.V. of verse 13. The passage reads:
In this section governed by the Spirit, we read of ‘hearing the word’
and of ‘believing’. The truth mentioned here is not truth in general, not
even the whole truth of Scripture, it is specifically ‘the word of the truth
(i.e.), the gospel of your salvation’. The practical bearing of the truth,
the special truth preached by the apostle Paul as minister of the One Body,
is well seen by noticing all the references in Ephesians. They are 1:13;
4:21,24,25; 5:9; and 6:14. It will be seen that every reference is in a
practical setting. Some may say, chapters 4, 5 and 6 are practical, but
chapter 1 is in the doctrinal section. This is so, but we have already
pointed out that of the threefold blessings described in chapter 1, those
under the Spirit have reference to the practical outworking of the truth. It will make this fact more illuminating if we show the arrangement of the
A 1:13. The word of truth. Gospel of your salvation.
A 6:14. The girdle of truth. ‘Work out’ (A.V.) ‘have done all’.
To have heard this truth, to have believed this truth, to have been created anew, and taught of God, this is being sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. That this sealing is directly connected with the reception and outworking of the truth taught in Ephesians, is proved by a further reference to chapter 4. Following the exhortation concerning the truth in verses 21 to 25, comes a practical exposition of it, in works (28), and words (29), and then follows ‘grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’.
The terms ‘seal’ and ‘earnest’ are borrowed from the market place. The buyer puts down the earnest money, a deposit, thereby securing the goods. They are then sealed to show the new ownership, and await the day of full possession. In the passage before us, the believer is sealed, and the Holy Spirit of promise becomes the earnest of the believer’s inheritance. The ‘Holy Spirit’ is amplified by the ‘earnest’, and the ‘promise’ by the ‘purchased possession’.
The redemption that is here mentioned is not referring to the redemption which brings the deliverance from trespasses (1:7), it has in view the redemption of an inheritance. Students of Scripture will be familiar with the story of Ruth, where Boaz as kinsman-redeemer redeems the forfeited inheritance of Naomi. Ephesians 1:14 must be read in the light of this Biblical custom. The inheritance is not yet ours, but we have the earnest, the Old Testament ‘surety’ (see LXX of Genesis 44). It is a possession to be entered when our exalted hope is realized. To this, Titus 2:13,14 directs our view: