Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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The letter to the Ephesians is now regarded by many New Testament scholars as not being a genuine Pauline work, except in the sense that it develops elements of Pauline theology. Both the author's Greek style and his presuppositions about the church(es) he is writing to are quite different from those of the genuine letters of Paul, and the letter gives the impression of being a general encyclical rather than to a specific church. The most ancient manuscripts lack the word ‘Ephesus’ in the salutation, and the letter seems to be a compendium of Pauline ideas (similar to the letter to the Colossians). It may originally have been a covering letter to a collection of Paul's writings. It opens with a hymn of praise (1: 3–23)—virtually one long sentence—and the whole letter focuses on the elevated status of Christ, and the church's relation to him as its head: ‘therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit’ (2: 19–22). The Jerusalem temple may have fallen, and few Gentile churches related to it, but the New Testament is shot through with temple language—reifying and reconstructing it in its absence. The ‘one body’ (2: 16) is the body of Christ which is the church (1: 22; 4: 15–16) and is defined as ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all’ (4: 3–6). These are generalized formulations about a mystical entity (3: 3–10) called the church (as opposed to the churches), of which Christ is the head (as the husband is the head of the wife: 5: 23). This church is that which Christ loved, gave his life for in order to make it holy ‘That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (5: 23–7). The old dispensation of the Jewish law (‘the middle wall of partition’, 2: 14) may be gone, and the old temple destroyed, but they live on in the language of the church. Gone are the eschatological expectations so confidently asserted in 1 Thess. or in Phil. 3: 20–1; the church is now a mystical and eternal entity, and the servants of Christ will have to endure struggles ‘throughout all ages, world without end’ (3: 21). They are exhorted to ‘have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness’ (5: 11), ‘Redeeming the time, because the days are evil’ (5: 16), and not to be ‘drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit’ (5: 18). Life is a struggle, and requires the putting on of ‘the whole armour of God’ because ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’ (6: 11–12). 6: 10–18 is one of the finest pieces of military imagery in the whole New Testament.

Chapter.  607 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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