Blogging the NT: Ephesians 1-3

There isn’t a lot of meat in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Mostly, we get introductions, prayers and a recap of Paul’s ministry to the Gentile world.

bloggingthentThe best stuff comes in chapter 2, where the author ruminates on Christian unity and the building a universal church.

So, let’s take this opportunity to a little background on Ephesians, and the whole idea of “pseudo-Pauline.”

There is a lot of scholarly debate about whether these next few books-Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy-were actually written by the apostle Paul. There are strong arguments for each, with Ephesians having the most claim down to 2 Timothy, which seems the least likely (I’m proceeding through them in order of most to least likely.)

So if not Paul, then who?

Good question. And not one we can really answer. But I have a theory. I think, especially for books like Ephesians and Colossians that seem especially close to Paul and his thought, that a close follower or student synthesized some Pauline thought, through their own eyes, into something they could send out to churches.

And remember, assigning another’s name to something even if they didn’t write it was a fairly common thing in the ancient world. Paul’s name carried a lot of weight in the early church, and so signing something in his name was a way to gain legitimacy, and to pay tribute.

Now, the condensation of Pauline thought in these letters is not perfect by any means. The theology is a little less universal than Paul was in his letters. In their great book “The First Paul,” John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg identify three distinct “Paul’s” among the authentic and pseudo letters: radical, conservative and reactionary. The authentic letters fall into the “radical” category; Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as “conservative”; and the three pastoral epistles as “reactionary.”

Borg and Crossan justify this categorization like this:

Our purpose is not to raise a debate about the use of terms like radical, conservative, and reactionary. Rather, it is to insist that the post-Pauline pseudo-Pauline letters are anti-Pauline with regard to major aspects of his theology. They represent a taming of Paul, a domestication of Paul’s passion to the normalcy of the Roman imperial world in which he and his followers lived.

Although it is the closest to the authentic Paul, you can definitely see a taming of Paul already present in Ephesians. We’ll explore that more as we move into the meat of this letter.

Next: Ephesians 4-6

For an explanation on this series, click here.

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5 thoughts on “Blogging the NT: Ephesians 1-3

  1. Stalwart Sam

    Justin,

    If there’s one thing that my wife has hammered into my noggin is that theories must be grounded in evidence.

    So, I’m confused why there’s a debate of authorship here. You mentioned how there’s already a strong argument for Paul, yet it’s apparently not strong enough to stop you from creating an alternate explanation even though you mention the evidence is scant. Are you indulging in some intellectual exercise, or do you really doubt Paul’s ownership of this letter?

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    1. I probably could have gotten into more details of this, but chose not to for length’s sake. Basically, there is wide scholarly debate on the authenticity of this letter, among others. The argument against rests on stylistic markings first, and theological ones second. Stylistically, sentences are longer and more complex than in the authentic letters; typical Pauline greetings are uncharacteristically curtailed and different in structure; word choice is markedly different. Theologically, the outlook here is much more concerned with the universal church, rather than the local one he is writing too, in contrast to the authentic letters; the eschatology has shifted from one of an imminent return to a more far-off view; and the egalitarian nature concerning hierarchies and relationships the authentic Paul had is more subdued and tamer.

      All in all, it comes down to how convincing these are arguments are, versus the arguments for Pauline authorship, which are (and I don’t mean to be flippant here) that it has just genuinely always been understood accepted that Paul wrote it. Personally, I find the arugments against authenticity more compelling. I think a student of his probable wrote it, or at least combined and streamlined some other writings of Paul into a more “general” epistle that circulated widely; the one passed down to us happened to be addressed to Ephesus. This view has been more confirmed for me after reading through the seven undisputed letters this summer, as I definitely discern a different tone and voice in Ephesians than the others.

      Does that clarify where I’m coming from a little better?

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    2. Some primary resources for me on this topic:

      “The First Paul” by Crossan and Borg
      “The Authentic Letters of Paul” by Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy, and Schmidt
      The New Interpreters Bible Commentary
      My NRSV study Bible
      online articles, both for and against Pauline authorship

      I haven’t really kept a bibliography of sources of things I read online (I’m a dork, this is the kind of stuff I read about in my free time haha) but this gives a general gist of where I’m coming from. Believe me, I didn’t approach this with the preset idea that Pauline authorship was suspect and I wanted texts proving I’m right. This is where I’ve arrived, but I’m open to having my mind changed based on the evidence.

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      1. Stalwart Sam

        Thanks for clearing it up. I take the traditional view of the authorship, for several reasons, including 1 Corinthians 9. But as you mentioned, the evidence is scant, and doesn’t have a particularly negative impact. Onward, then.

        Liked by 1 person

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