15-Ephesians

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Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

a.d. 60 – 62

by Paul, under house arrest, from Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47. An Uncertain Letter to Ephesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third of Paul’s four captivity epistles is likewise related to the previous two, but not with such close links as exist between Colossians and Philemon. But that Ephesians is assumed to be written at or about the same time, uses similar terminology, was written to another church in the same general region, and was apparently also delivered by Tychicus (note the similarity between Eph. 6:21 and Col. 4:7), is certainly enough to bind the three letters inextricably to one another.

Yet interestingly, it is these very connections and similarities that have raised doubts since the earliest days of the church about the Pauline authenticity of Ephesians. The chief reason for skepticism is that it is too similar to Colossians, possibly dependent upon it.

I do not happen to see this as a problem. Whenever I am writing, I tend to cluster material according to what I am thinking about at the time. Similar characters tend to appear in successive books, as do similar themes, even occasionally plot twists and story lines. If I am writing a novel where I am developing a certain spiritual theme, it is only a matter of time before I will wake up early one morning and suddenly I am ten pages into a non-fiction book on the same topic.

Therefore, I view it as the most natural thing in the world that Paul, having written to either the Colossians or the Ephesians, planning to have Tychicus deliver the letter, would think, “Ah, I’ll write to my friends at Ephesus too.” (Or Colossae, as the case may be.) Nor do I find it surprising that he would find himself still thinking along similar lines, and might even consult the other letter which was still sitting right in front of him. That the themes and phraseologies are similar, as a writer myself, I find the most natural thing in the world. That there exists no other such occurance in the Pauline corpus has no bearing on it; Paul was in a unique situation during his imprisonment. Why could that circumstance not have given rise to a unique connection between these two letters?

Nevertheless, there has been considerable scholarly and critical doubt about Ephesians through the years. It is not merely limited to liberal debunkers but comes from all across the spectrum. Donald Guthrie notes: “To many this is one of Paul’s most moving Epistles and yet to others it is only a reproduction of Pauline themes by another mind.” (New Testament Introduction, p. 479) Some of this skepticism is related to the similarity to Colossians, some to the uniquenesses (peculiarly non-Pauline words and style) of Ephesians which seem to point to a later time and different authorship.

The brief analysis that follows truly is brief. I occasionally cringe when I use that word, imagining readers thinking, “Is he kidding!” Because “brief” to me might be fifty pages, when my brain is trying to distill and reduce a thousand pages of thought. I have had to learn (painfully) through the years that editors and sons and readers (and even occasionally wives, though not too often!) are thinking more in terms of a paragraph or a page when they hear that word. On the other side of it, I worry that true experts in these regions, perhaps those pastors among you and others who have studied some of these books in more depth than I have, will think my analysis too superficial. My desire is always to analyze a point from every conceivable angle and present every possible option. It is with extreme effort that I remind myself that such detail is often neither appropriate nor necessary. But even with that reminder, it remains difficult for me skip over certain aspects of the various arguments about these and other biblical books. You would scarcely believe the detail some commentaries engage in! In the end, whether the scholars among you are completely satisfied, I must limit myself to the brevity of the following.

 

observations on ephesians

 

The thoughts and remarks of several commentators place the problem of Ephesians, its circumstances and authorship, succinctly before us.

Victor Paul Furnish writes:

 

Among the NT letters no 2 exhibit such a complex tangle of formal, verbal, and theological agreements and disagreements as Col. and Eph. These writings not only deal with many of the same themes, employ a similar theological vocabulary, and draw on a common fund of Christian hymnody; there are numerous and impressive instances in which, apparently, there is literary dependence of one on the other…

On the other hand there are also significant differences. Some of these involve subtle changes of wording, as a careful study of the passages will show. It is also noteworthy that, while OT passages are never cited in Col. and there are only a few insignificant allusions to the OT, important OT allusions abound in Eph…Moreover, while Eph. is dominated by the author’s concern to define the true nature of the church, the thought of Col. is controlled by an attempt to counteract some false teaching which has sprung up in Colossae. Thus, while Eph. is a general tractate addressed to the church at large, Col. is occasioned by a particular problem and directed to a specific situation.

Many attempts have been made to define the relationship of Col. and Eph., and the variety of current opinions suggests that the question has never gained a definitive answer; but most present views may be grouped into the 3 following: (a) Col. and Eph. are both Paul’s own, written at the same time, from prison, but for different reasons. (b) Only Col. is an authentic Pauline letter; hence the literary dependence is on the side of Eph., written by a Paulinist who in part understood but in part misunderstood—or intentionally modified and adapted—his teacher’s views. (c) Neither Col. nor Eph. is from Paul himself, though in each some of the authentic Pauline perspective survive; and Eph. appears to be one step further removed from Paul than Col. in theology and composition. (The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 856)

 

It strikes me that Furnish’s option “b” meets every difficulty satisfactorily. I am a little perplexed by all the skepticism. Same time of writing, some similar topics, some different ones, different churches, different purposes…it makes perfect sense to me. Even the unique language and style employed I do not find surprising. I have noted the changes we can observe in Paul personally. My writing has certainly changed in the years I have been writing, I hope in some ways for the better. Why would Paul’s writing not also change to reflect his maturing growth as a man and a Christian?

Nevertheless, others have noted additional options.

The New Bible Commentary: Revised, in speaking of Ephesians, notes:

 

Two features of this Epistle stand out clearly. First, except for the closing paragraph in 6:21-22 the argument and appeal of the document are strangely impersonal and indirect…His bond with his readers is that of an author to his recipients (3:4) rather than one of first-hand acquaintance.

The second feature is one of literary usage. Both choice of words and employment of a studied style mark out this Epistle as unusual in the Pauline literature. There are many words not used elsewhere in the NT, long ponderous sentences complicated by involved relative clauses, a profusion of abstract nouns, etc. These traits seem to be far removed from the style of a pastoral letter, addressed to the church at Ephesus by the apostle Paul whose letter-writing habits involve the use of rhetorical questions and a pointed, direct approach (e.g. Galatians)…

From the evidence of the writer’s unusual relationship with his addressees it becomes clear that ‘Ephesians’ is no ordinary pastoral letter sent to a specific congregation or group of churches. This fact is confirmed by the textual uncertainty in 1:1. the two words translated in the AV as ‘at Ephesus’ are lacking in the leading MSS…including the important papyrus…dated AD 200. Moreover early Christian writers endorse the view that ‘at Ephesus’ was not found in the earliest texts. Two suggestions have been offered to explain this textual irregularity. One possibility is that the letter never had a place-name but was composed as a general tract or essay…A 2nd-century scribe is thought to have supplied ‘at Ephesus’ to bring the document which later Christians claimed as a Pauline composition into conformity with the other Pauline letters…

Against this view…is the fact that, while the letter does read more like a sermon than a pastoral letter addressed to a church with specific needs, the author does have a certain group of persons in mind and speaks to them in the second person. It is more likely, then, that this document was composed as a circular letter to the churches in a wide region—Asia Minor is the most probable location—and either carried from one place to another in the area by a courier or…left by the author with a blank in the superscription, to be filled in as the messenger handed over the particular copy to the church. (p. 1105)

 

The circular letter theory is definitely plausible. Paul elsewhere tells readers to circulate letters. The many greetings and instructions and comings and goings of people he regularly mentions carry an almost implied assumption that his writings are moving about freely.

The mysterious Laodicean letter (Colossians 4:16) serves as a case in point, and has itself often been associated with Ephesians. The second century bishop Marcion (100-160) actually changed the text of Eph. 1:1 to read “to the Laociceans.” But the fact that the catholic church later declared him a heretic effectively eliminated Marcion as an authoritative voice of the early church. His “Marcionite Prologues” to the books of the New Testament, however, (those books he included, which was a much smaller list) are often cited. They are one of the earliest sources extant that discuss New Testament origins. That Marcion lived at a time when first or second hand witnesses were still alive, his heresy notwithstanding, makes him a historical figure of some importance. (The Laodicean letter has also been identified with Philemon, though the consensus among scholars is that Laodiceans has been lost.)

That Colossians and Ephesians were written at the same time, both to churches in Asia Minor, delivered by the same messenger, and with Paul giving specific instructions to the Colossians about the circulation of two letters, seems to fit perfectly with the above “circular letter” theory. Interestingly, the circular letter theory was first suggested in 1654 by our friend Archbishop Ussher (of biblical dating fame, to whom the world is indebted for the now-entrenched notion that the creation of the universe took place in a single 144-hour-span week in the year 4004 b.c.)

Reading the opening of Ephesians and omitting at Ephesus takes nothing away from the sense of Paul’s greeting. Given the subject matter of the letter, God’s grand purpose for the Church, a general greeting almost feels more fitting.

This likelihood is especially credible in answer to the apparent impersonal quality of Ephesians, a city where Paul spent two to three years and with which Paul was on very intimate terms. Recall the generally accepted view that Romans 16 was actually written to the Ephesians. It is one of the most personal chapters in the whole New Testament. Might it be possible that Romans 16 was originally written as the closing “personal greetings” section of Ephesians, but somehow separated from the original letter?

Still another theory, also mentioned by Victor Paul Furnish (though at the same time rejected by him), is worth noting simply because it is interesting, and shows the lengths that will be gone to in order to come up with explanations to counter the most obvious ones.

 

Various proposals have been advanced about the purpose of Eph. One views it as a circular letter to a group of churches, but…it is not precisely comparable with the other circular letters in the NT (Gal., I Pet.)…Another…regards Eph. as a compilation of Pauline texts designed specifically to introduce the central themes of Pauline theology. According to this view the author was not Paul himself but an admiring disciple who composed Eph. as a covering letter to be circulated with Paul’s collected letters as a kind of foreword. But this view is purely hypothetical: there is no evidence that Eph. ever stood as the opening letter of the Pauline group; there is nothing within the letter itself to indicate that it was intended to introduce Paul’s thought. (The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 834)

 

 

uniqueness, peculiarities, questions

 

The specifically unique language of Ephesians is worth noting, both for interest’s sake and in order to understand why doubts remain about this letter.

The rest of the apostles are given a status of respect (2:20) that is unusual for Paul, whose normal pattern is to blow his own horn a little more loudly than the rest, while diminishing the others ( more along the lines of “their reputations mean nothing to me, God is no respecter of persons.”) While a newer gentler tone may be accounted for by Paul’s growing maturity, others perceive the “marks of early Catholicism” in this reference to the apostles as a closed group, proceeding from what feels like a more distant future vantage point than the early 60s. The phrase “his holy Apostles” (3:5) also bears the ring of future “catholic” phraseology.

Even though the author spends a great deal of time reviewing the whole Jewish-Gentile question, in general the tone is noted by many scholars to reflect a time in the church in which the place of Gentiles is settled. Indeed, the emphasis on unity is viewed from the very opposite perspective of Galatians, as directed toward Gentiles (now in the majority) in their attitude toward Jews, calling upon Gentiles to rightly honor their Jewish (“spiritual”) heritage. The positions of each group, and the respective arguments toward each, appear to scholars of this view almost to have completely reversed themselves.

The expectation of the soon return of Christ has faded. This again would argue for a time much later than the early 60s.  It may be a stretch to interpret the exhortation to growth and to the attainment of “fullness in Christ” as indicating that the author of Ephesians is no longer expecting him to come immediately. But this is one interpretation.

It is noted that in Ephesians the word Church (the capital is mine, not his) is almost entirely used in the universal sense (the reason for my upper case), while in all his other writings Paul used (as I would write it, in the lower case) “church” to apply to specific local congregations.

The main “difficulty” (so called) of Pauline authorship that is repeatedly noted by every commentator is its similarity to Colossians. “Why…” writes Victor Paul Furnish, “would Paul slavishly copy…sentences from a letter he had written earlier?”

As I noted earlier, if ideas and terms and themes were still fresh in Paul’s mind, if he felt them important…I fail to see the problem. I do such things all the time. Anyone who has read Leben and is now reading these Introductions, will have noted common material everywhere. Will some scholar or critic several hundred years from now (for the sake of argument…not that my writings will still be around!) place the two side by side and conclude, “Hmm, these writings are very similar. They must not have been written by the same person.” It strikes me as a ridiculous conclusion. I could draw upon any number of examples of similarity and cross-pollination from George MacDonald’s works as well.

More convincing as a legitimate problem are the linguistics of Ephesians. It is here where “form criticism” and “textual criticism” play a vital and beneficial role in helping us understand the Scriptures more accurately. (A reminder: In this context the word “criticism” implies not censoriousness, fault-finding, or negative judgment, but rather the detailed analysis of biblical texts.) Anyone who reacts with alarm at such terms (and granted, these methods of study have tended to emerge more from liberal and revisionist schools of thought, so we must keep our wits about us at all times) does well to remember that without the form and textual critics conducting their analysis during the last several centuries, we might never have discovered that Mark was written first and formed the textual basis for Matthew and Luke. Yet what wonderful insights into the gospel story that discovery has produced, illuminating Mark as the fresh, raw, original, terse eyewitness account it is.

In this light, then, I read the following concerning Ephesians with interest, though at the end of the passage with disbelief.

 

Linguistic considerations alone are not decisive; yet note that Ephesians has almost a hundred non-Pauline words, of which some forty are unique in the NT. The influence of Gnosticism and the mystery cults has been found in the use of “the aeon of this world” (2:2), “height” and “depth,” and the group: “mystery” (not quite in the same sense as we find elsewhere in Paul), “knowledge,” “wisdom,” “mature.” Some of these are borrowed from Colossians and other Pauline letters, so that Gnostic sources are unnecessary. The word “devil” is post-Pauline…and its employment instead of “Satan”…Unusual too is the phrase “in the heavenly places,” used variously of Christ enthroned, of demonic powers, and even of Christians exalted with their Lord. This last idea cannot be taken literally, and the Pauline doctrine of the final dwelling of believers with Christ is better put at II Tim. 2:11-12. (Observe, however, that at Rom. 6:5 ff the idea is more eschatological than in Ephesians…Ephesians is far less eschatological in tone…

The Greek style has perplexed conservatives and radicals alike, with the following features: the inordinate length of the sentences (e.g., 3:1-7; 4:11-16); many relatives and participles…indirect questions; infinitives; tautological [saying the same thing twice in succession using different words—MP] genitives; abstract forms; etc. Moffatt thought this was enough to disprove Paul’s authorship; but Percy proves in detail that it is not. He takes each feature separately and has little difficulty in most cases in demonstrating that the style has parallels in the genuine Pauline letters. However, Percy fails to take account of the cumulative effect of the vocabulary; the style; the thought; and, above all, these added to the evidence that Ephesians betrays knowledge and use of every extant, canonical Pauline letter. If, indeed, Ephesians is a mosaic built up from the corpus of the genuine letters, how could the style fail to be Pauline on the whole…? Moreover, Eph. 1-3 in Greek has no equal in Paul for sustained slow sonority [resonant, full, rich, ponderous, pompous—MP]. Compared with II Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, or II Corinthians, Ephesians  is a lifeless composition! No wonder it is said by some defenders of authenticity that Paul was a poor old soul, a weary apostle, or that he had taken off on mystic wing into the sublime empyrean! (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 109)

 

What!

A lifeless composition! A weary old soul!

Are they reading the same Ephesians I am reading? Where do they get this stuff! My personal reaction as I read could not be more different!

I am simply stunned by that last statement. I include it out of mere incredulity. It is positively remarkable that people can read so many different things into the words of Scripture.

There is, too, another side to the same argument about the linguistics of Ephesians. Donald Guthrie notes: “It may here be pointed out that there are distinct affinities with Paul’s other Epistles…There are many words common to this Epistle and to the other Pauline Epistles which do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The vocabulary is, in fact, nearer to that of the earlier Pauline Epistles than its sister Epistle, Colossians.” (New Testament Introduction, pp. 480-81)

Again we have a case where the same body of evidence is cited in support of completely diverse conclusions!

 

 

 

48. A Church Knit Together in Unity

the bookends of paul’s teaching—division (galatians) and unity (ephesians)

 

It is ironic that Galatians and Ephesians come back-to-back in the canon because in truth they represent two diametrically opposite teachings, coming at the two ends of Paul’s active life of ministry.

Their impact (or lack thereof) on the future of the church subsequent to Paul’s life merit close scrutiny, and then some hard conclusions.

In Paul’s condemnation of perceived wrong opinion within the brotherhood at Antioch, and his recording of the incident in Galatians, we observe an incredible progression within his life. What had Paul himself been but a heretic of the first order—leading a widespread persecution of believers. No wonder the believers were skeptical about his conversion. “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples. But they…did not believe that he was really a disciple.” (Acts 9:26) But Barnabas stood up for him, and gradually he was accepted.

A dozen years later, Paul had himself become the most vocal voice against what he now considered “wrong” belief. The one-time heretic and persecutor had become chief of the heresy police. The man who supervised the killing of Christians, now feels it his duty to condemn his fellow Christians for an infraction of doctrine.

Paul’s conversion had certainly been remarkable. The Lord’s, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” to Peter is not so dramatic as his, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” to Paul. Paul was in a sense forgiven of “greater evil.” How is it possible, we cannot but wonder, for such a one—forgiven so much, both by God and his brother Christians!–to become utterly intolerant of those who disagreed with him?

As we look back from so many years, we cannot really discern with accuracy exactly what were the circumstances at Antioch. It may well be that Peter was wrong, we cannot know. But Paul’s speaking against him publicly was clearly contrary to the Lord’s teaching, and certainly contrary to the Lord’s prayer in John 17 for unity, which Peter would have heard. Peter also heard the Lord’s response to James and John about ambition. James saw the servanthood of his brother. But Paul witnessed neither. Therefore, he eagerly “opposed” and “condemned” those who were “wrong,” blasting them as ”false apostles.” And Paul’s condemnation was not just against any brother—it was with the very Rock, the foundation, of the Church himself.

It is not that wrongness and falsehood ought to be tolerated. Jesus also spoke out when the occasion demanded it. But how different were their reasons for speaking out. Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of sham religion. Paul condemned difference within the brotherhood. It is worse even than that…it is open condemnation within the very core of the revered Apostolic fellowship.

The first real public trial of unity in the Church was at stake in Antioch, its first major dispute. I don’t know what other conclusion to draw but that Paul, by his example, blundered in this first all-important test. A far more serious threat to the young church was set in motion by Paul’s actions than any Gnostic or false teacher or heretic would ever pose. Paul’s very words, and the seeming pride with which he spoke them, established a trend within the church leading it away from the very thing Jesus prayed that his followers would learn to exhibit to the world. Doctrinal division (based on perceived doctrinal correctness and the debate of what constitutes “right” belief) supplanted the teaching of Jesus about oneness. Relational disunity was the inevitable result. In spite of Paul’s bold assertions about his preaching, his example at Antioch had dreadful and permanent consequences.

Is it any wonder that the church of Jesus Christ has not been more effective in carrying out its Lord’s commission in almost two millennia of opportunity? It has followed the example of Paul rather than making the Lord’s prayer of John 17 its foundational means of regulating life within the body of Christ.

In the Lord’s prayer for unity we see the ideal he envisioned for his Church which he intended to be its foundation. In Galatians, before the eyes of a watching world, we see the corruption of this ideal of unified brotherhood.

Now, a dozen or perhaps more years later, as he pens Ephesians and urges the Church toward the unity which will characterize its growth into Christlikeness, I wonder whether Paul is still proud of what he did at Antioch.

There is no evidence upon which to base a conclusion other than his own teaching, and the healed relationships the years have brought. It is obvious that Paul now understands the imperative of unity. He now understands the Lord’s prayer of John 17, though he has not yet read it in John’s gospel. Therefore now, in Ephesians, as he has done in his own life, he seeks to set the record straight.

Ephesians corrects (may I be so bold?) the exampled “heresy” (false teaching) of Galatians.

Unity, Paul now declares, not doctrine or opinion, must be the mortar holding together the living stones out of which Christ’s Church is being built.

The close link of Ephesians with Colossians adds the final stamp of authority to the unity that Paul now emphasizes—he has put the teaching into practice in his own life. He is a man who lived what he taught. He has reconciled all those personal divisions he allowed to infect his relationships earlier.

One of the greatest statements, and most instructive with regard to the conclusion to this drama, are found in Paul’s poignant words in 2 Timothy, written even later: Get Mark…bring him…he is useful to me. The relationship has not only been healed, Paul’s affection for Mark is obvious. He wants him nearby in his last hour of trial. He depends on him.

In Paul’s own life, unity has replaced division. Healing and forgiveness and reconciliation have come!

The larger question, however, is…which of Paul’s two examples has the church followed? At the end of Paul’s life, is the Church listening? Or has the die of Galatians already been cast? Is it, in a sense, already too late?

Earlier I mentioned Marcion who lived early in the second century. His claim to fame rests on being one of the early Gnostics condemned by the Church as a heretic. He held a radical view of Judaism and the Old Testament and a wholesale rejection of both. He also rejected half the New Testament writings, including all the Gospels except for a scaled down version of Luke’s. He was even considered radical by Gnostic-leaning Christians.

Marcion serves as demonstration that within a generation of the Apostles (Marcion was born about the same time John died), one of the church leadership’s predominant activities had become the isolation and condemnation of wrong belief. Heresy had become a greater focal point for the growing church’s emphasis than unity.

Many will argue, of course, that this was a necessary development, that purity of belief had to be preserved, that what Paul did at Antioch was necessary and that the church had to follow that example through the years.

I do not mind confessing openly that I strongly believe otherwise.

I happen to believe that God could have seen to that end of it himself if we as a faithful body of Christ’s people had simply focused our efforts on doing what Jesus said. Might not the sheer power of our obedient example been weapon enough to combat falsehood?

We will never know.

The historic church decided upon a different course.

 

inherent unity

 

None of the analyses I quoted earlier tell the complete story of the wonderful book of Ephesians. They are concerned with the letter. But when I read the Bible, I delve into all these backgrounds for only one reason—to help me get at the spirit of the text.

What does the Holy Spirit want to convey…to me? Then what does God want me to do about it?

I deeply hope it is with such an objective that you are reading these Introductions, and with that prayer you are approaching the texts themselves as you read.

The spirit of this letter, then, tells the all-important story—it is the story of the transformation of Paul himself.

The “message” of Ephesians, though diverse and not limited to a focused single theme, largely is directed toward characterizing the Church, Christ’s body, as the Lord intends it to function, which is to produce growth toward Christlikeness (“the fullness of Christ”) in each of its members. Though I occasionally criticize translators for taking liberties with the scriptural text, there is one phrase from Ephesians that has remained with me for over thirty years, burned as a white-hot light of truth into my heart and brain from the moment I read it. I am so profoundly grateful to the translators of the New English Bible for their inspired rendition of Ephesians 4:13, which captures for me the foundationally exquisite message of this profound and wonderful book—unity, growth, maturity, and Christlikeness.

 

        So shall we all at last attain to the unity inherent in our faith and our knowledge of the Son of God—to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.

 

I know of no statement in all the New Testament that so succinctly captures the totality and essence of God’s purpose and plan for his sons and daughters. My heart literally soars every time I read those words. I too am part of that process!  God will use my own feeble and faltering attempts to obey to accomplish that wonderful and lofty objective in my life!

Unity among God’s people is the passion of my life. It has been—I hope and pray!—a signature tune in my writings that readers are aware of. When I mentioned “agenda” before, this has been one of those agenda-messages and themes, along with the Fatherhood of God, to which I feel God has commissioned me to speak without restraint. In many ways, it was a vision of unity in the body of Christ that first drew Judy and me together as Christian young people. Unity in the body of Christ formed the basis of a unique and exciting spiritual friendship even before we realized that a deep and lifelong love was beginning to grow between us as well. For all these reasons, Ephesians (and Philippians, for similar and related reasons) is an intensely personal book for us. We do not read Paul’s words here abstractly, whatever critics may say about its “abstract” tone. We read this as God himself loudly speaking some of the exact same things he has been speaking in our hearts for almost forty years.

In Ephesians Paul articulates that unity is not a mere option, not a mere by-product, not a hit-or-miss possibility…it is inherent in our faith.

It will happen.

It has to happen!

Even two thousand years of stubborn intransigent disobedience in the church cannot prevent the power of unity from one day taking over and transforming Christ’s body into a spotless bride!

If there is no unity, there is no true faith. Unity is of the very essence of what Christianity is.

Unity is inherent in our faith.

Which is why the doctrinal, structural, organization called the “church” is not Christianity, nor is even accurately representative of Christianity. Because as Christie-Murray said, Schism is the first cousin of heresy, and the church is schism. Schism and division and doctrinal disputation are the very life-blood of the church as it exists in the world.

This “church” of schism and division is not the Church Paul is speaking of in Ephesians.

Paul is here articulating a vision of the upper-case Church, the true Church, the Church that is the living, breathing, body of Christ, a Church of individual living stones. As I read Paul’s description in Ephesians of what God will and is making of us, I am enraptured beyond words, carried away, as MacDonald says of the Lord’s prayer of John 17, by the absolute wonder and glory of the thing! As I write at this moment, my fingers are racing, my body perspiring, my heart caught up as Paul might say to the third heaven in the mere contemplation of that unity inherent in our faith that will one day be revealed and fulfilled as the whole spiritual building of Ephesians 2:21–of which we are the living stones!–is bonded together and grows into a holy temple as a spiritual dwelling for God.

I can scarcely contain the joy of anticipation at the thought of it! I want to jump ahead to 1 Peter, where the theme of this spiritual dwelling of God’s building is brought to a climax by none other than dear Peter himself! But all things in their due season.

It all fits together, and everything proceeds out of the unity inherent in our faith. The message of Deuteronomy is so prominent here as well, climaxed and brought to completion in Ephesians, then fulfilled in Philippians 2:10-11. The land must be claimed and taken before the temple can be built. Our hearts are the land and we must claim them for the purposes of God, that he may then make of us living stones, fit to be joined and knit together, the world over, spanning the centuries, all of us, heedless of doctrines and schisms, God’s Spirit making us one, building us into a mighty living temple, a spiritual dwelling for God!

The heart swells! I really love this book!

God, accomplish your work in us and among us!

 

a summary of paul’s high ephesians vision

 

I have tried (sometimes with difficulty) not to engage in word-for-word analysis of the texts before we read them. I will try not to carry this present discussion beyond the point where you can respond in your own way. But I simply must set down for those who may not have a copy of the New English Bible available the glory of Paul’s progression here as that translation so beautifully phrases it:

 

        He has made known to us his hidden purpose…to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, all in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ. (1:9-10)…

        Thus you are no longer aliens in a foreign land, but fellow-citizens with God’s people, members of God’s household. You are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the foundation-stone. In him the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you too are being built with all the rest into a spiritual dwelling for God… (2:19-22)

        With deep roots and firm foundations, may you be strong to grasp, with all God’s people, what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know it, though it is beyond knowledge. So may you attain to fullness of being, the fullness of God himself… (3:17-19)

        Spare no effort to make fast with the bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives. There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…(4:3-6) And these were his gifts…to equip God’s people for work in his service, to the building up of the body of Christ. So shall we all at last attain to the unity inherent in our faith and our knowledge of the Son of God—to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ. We are no longer to be children…we shall fully grow up into Christ. He is the head, and on him the whole body depends. Bonded and knit together by every constituent joint, the whole frame grows through the due activity of each part, and builds itself up in love… (4:11-14; 15-16)

        Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it, to consecrate it, cleansing it by water and word, so that he might present the church to himself all glorious, with no stain or wrinkle or anything of the sort, but holy and without blemish. (5:25-27)

 

What an absolute masterpiece of inspiration!

Ephesians yet includes, I must also admit, some of Paul’s less attractive signature tunes—predestination, God’s wrath, references to his work with the Gentiles. Along with, what I called in the Introduction to Colossians, a forward-looking vision of the Church, there remains here the backward-looking strain of Gentile freedom and the Jewish question. These particular parts of Ephesians tend to read like “yesterday’s news.” Yet in their own way, they increase, in my view, the tone of authenticity. And even for a harsh critic like me, these are overshadowed by the brilliance of the high vision of unity, Christlikeness, and the growth of the church into a bride without spot or blemish.

At this point, I don’t really care who wrote Ephesians! Whoever it was knew God, knew God’s heart, knew God’s purpose among his people, and knew what the Church truly was and where the Lord was taking it! Having said this, however, to me it sounds exactly like Paul…the best of Paul, and not impersonal and stiff and formal at all.

 

 

SEE NOTE IN MY SMALL NAS NT AT END OF THESS ABOUT PAUL’S GROWTH