Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reading Through Ephesians #1 (1-3)

witheringtonThis post begins the quick read through of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians accompanied by The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, by Ben Witherington III. Ephesians is written to defend the unity of the church. There is one people of God and they should not be divided by race, status or any other criteria. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Witherington sees Ephesians as a sermon, rather than a standard epistle, which was circulated throughout the Asian region (the phrase "in Ephesus" is probably a later addition to the text). He would see it as a homily of Paul based mostly on Colossians. It is rhetoric designed to he heard and performed rather than just read. The big point of Ephesians is the unity of the church, based on shared means of entrance by grace through faith, being one "in Christ," one mission, and one Spirit, who enables the mission, with one destiny: to rule with Christ.

Paul has chosen to write such an epideictic masterpiece to Christians in Asia, using the style of Asiatic rhetoric...Though Ephesians is a general oration, it becomes a word on target by tapping into the rhetorical culture and predilections of the area. “You persuade a man only insofar as you talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his.” Paul has done this in Ephesians and done it well by his choice of style, form, and species of rhetoric. 222–223

Paul begins the sermon with a blessing on the listeners which recounts the work of all three persons of the Trinity in the salvation of all believers. Believers can have confidence in God's plan because he is the initiator and completer of salvation and thus guarantees all the promises of the kingdom.

The blessings that prompt the praise are election (1:4), predestination (1:5), redemption and forgiveness (1:7), revelation of the mystery (1:9), and being made God’s portion (1:11). This progression begins in the preexistent life of Christ and ends with the eschatological inheritance of the saints. In other words, this is a comprehensive presentation of the trajectory of salvation. Ephesians 1.1-14, 230

Christ becomes the locus of election and salvation because in Paul’s thinking the story of the people of God is whittled down to the story of Jesus the Anointed One and then built back up in the risen Christ thereafter. When Paul speaks of how a lost person gets “into Christ” he speaks on the more mundane level of preaching, hearing, responding in faith, not of God’s pre-choosing of our choices for us. This doctrine of corporate election in Christ is meant as a comfort for those who already believe, reassuring them that by God’s grace and their perseverance in the faith they can and will make the eschatological goal or finish line. Ephesians 1.1-14, 235

1.15-23 is a prayer that all believers will understand and apply what God has already done for them. The Trinity enables believers to know God and draws them into deeper relationship providing enlightenment about God's plans, ways and blessings. Christ has already defeated the powers of evil and rules over them, thus assuring believers of victory over sin and evil now and ultimately in the world to come. 

The proposition that is affirmed is that since God has placed Christ in the position of Lord over the powers, the world, and the church and since Christ is currently ruling all things for the sake of the church, the church is enabled to be the body of Christ in a dark world, fully manifesting the presence of Christ, who dwells in both the church and the world. Ephesians 1.15-23, 239

Paul is praying that God will expand and extend what the audience already knows. This is an understandable and appropriate prayer in an epideictic discourse meant to remind and reinforce existing realities and values. Ephesians 1.15-23, 241–242

He continues this idea in 2.1-10 reminding believers what happened to them at salvation. Believers were placed in "in Christ" and join him in his victory over sin, death and the powers of evil. This happened entirely by grace as we are made alive in the resurrected one, so that we could live out the lives God planned for us that include us in his kingdom. We all enter this only by faith in Christ. It is on this basis that all of us live our lives and serve in God's kingdom.

What Paul means is that by the Christian’s salvation experience we now have not only new life but power over sin which previously believers did not by nature have. He may also mean that believers have power over the powers and principalities. They can be resisted and will flee upon resistance (see 6:10–18). Thus figuratively Paul can say that “we” are already seated in the seat of power and authority in heaven, which likely means that believers have in part the power and authority “with Christ” that Christ exercises from that locale. Ephesians 2.1-10, 255

The logic is that “since God has already done so much for you, you should respond as follows.…” The language of realized eschatology is not meant to describe a fully completed salvation or even one predestined in advance. Paul is using strong language to persuade the audience of how much they have been blessed by God already, so that when he speaks of the not yet and of what they ought to do, he has a solid foundation on which to build. Ephesians 2.1-10, 256

Paul now gets to the main point of the sermon in the rest of chapter 2 and 3. The gospel's "secret" (the message that salvation is extended by grace without prejudice to the entire world through faith in Jesus Christ) places all peoples into the family of God and into one body of Christ. The dividing wall of the Torah has been broken down and fulfilled in Christ. All people are equal in their need for faith and in their status within the body of Christ. In chapter 3 he begins with his personal testimony of how he came to this understanding. God revealed to him this plan (along with the other apostles) to incorporate the Gentiles into the promises of Israel. This overcomes the desire of the dark powers to divide the world along ethnic and tribal lines. Thus, the key identifying trait of the church is unity across racial, class and status lines, and barriers broken by the love of Christ. Paul concludes the section with a prayer that Christians will trust in the Spirit to allow Christ to dwell in them through faith and that they will experience the kind of agape that Christ provides and live it out through the witness of their unity.

This entire Law, says Paul, has been annulled by the death of Christ, and the enmity and distance between peoples that it created has been destroyed by the death of Jesus in his own flesh. The purpose of this destruction was creation, creation of a new people of God composed of both Jew and Gentile, which here is called “one new person.” Thus both groups could be reconciled to God in one body of believers rather than having separate plans of salvation and reconciliation for Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 2.11-22, 260–261

This secret’s revelation spells the doom of all the plans of the powers of darkness to divide the cosmos on the basis of racial or ethnic prejudices. The overcoming of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles betokens the overcoming of all such human and cosmic barriers in this universe. Christ will reconcile and pacify all. The existence of the church heralds the victory of Christ over the cosmic powers. Ephesians 3.1-13, 267

Paul is praying for the continuing presence of Christ within the Christians through faith. The verb katoikeo signifies literally to make a home or to settle down and so has in view a more permanent presence. That Paul is praying for this for those who are already Christians means that this is not automatically the case for converts who have already experienced the presence of Christ initially in their lives. Rather this happens through faith. Indeed it is contingent on the exercise of faith, “that is, as they trust him he makes their hearts his home.” Ephesians 3.14-24, 274

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