This is a really odd verse in the KJV. Other translations have since made the verse more readable. However, in doing so people no longer notice the weird verse and no longer ask why or what is this verse about. So, only the Greek readers notice the language.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Eph. 4:8KJV
Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” Eph. 4:8 RSV
Once noticed, it is easy to recognize that it is a quote from Psalms 68. All the goofy ideas disappear, as one realizes the context is a resurrection/restoration passage.
Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in thy train, and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there. Psa. 68:18
Captivity captive, or Shevut shevu, is a phrase that is frequent in both the Hebrew Old Testament. In the Greek New Testament it is echmaloteusen, aichmalosian. It is like a double negative in English, where the result is a positive. The captives will be re-captives back to where they came from.
The ancient custom of taking your enemies captive seems a little strange to us. The United State of America hasn’t done it since WW2. We interned people of Japanese descent, and of course we still have Native-American reservations. But, this was common throughout history, as relocated people are less violent. Shortly after captivity, they exhibit what we now call Stockholm Syndrome, where captives identify with their captors more than their own people.
“If they sin against thee — for there is no man who does not sin — and thou art angry with them, and dost give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; yet if they lay it to heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to thee in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned, and have acted perversely and wickedly’; 1Kings 8:46-47
For the Edomites had again invaded and defeated Judah, and carried away captives. 2 Chr. 28:17
“Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abino-am. Judg. 5:12
The Lord said that captivity would be their punishment if the people did not keep their promise to follow God, and only God [Lev 26]. But, even there the captivity is stated to last for only 2520 years, a.k.a. the Full Times of the Gentiles, The Seven Times Captivity. After this time, the Lord would restore, i.e. take captivity, captive.
However, when the Jews came out of captivity in the Exodus they chose to return to it through their own rebellion. The Gentiles had always been in captivity. They never understood, nor will, of the liberty of faith in the One True God. Their pagan holidays and festivals were evil sexual extravaganzas that sometimes even included human sacrifices. In their superstition the common people were at the mercy of the pagan priests and priestesses who reported (made up) what the gods had said.
God, through Moses and Aaron, told Pharaoh to let His people go free so that they could come out of Egypt to worship Him.
In the same way Gentiles were to come out of their paganism to worship God, just as the children of Israel had come out of Egypt. Messiah did not come to the Gentiles as whole nations. One by one, Messiah comes and takes us “captivity captive.” We are returned even though we never knew we were lost. We never knew we belonged.
“Wherefore he saith, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men”. Eph. 4:8KJV