Ephesians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Here are some short lectures on the epistle to the Ephesians. I take time to wrestle with the fact that Ephesians was not likely not originally penned to the city of Ephesus in addition to using the epistle to the Colossians as a literary source. This latter point, of course, directly influences the issue of Pauline authorship (which I also explore). Furthermore, Ephesians is the only epistle in the New Testament where there is no crisis being solved by the author!

Let me know in the comments below how you personally wrestle with these difficult and critical issues.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Ephesians

 

Ephesians chapters one through three

 

Ephesians chapters four through six

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Book Review (part 6: Late NT Documents) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

codex-sinaiticusIn this sixth post regarding my recap and thoughts on Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to summarize the discussion pertaining to the last of the NT documents (§39.3b-h). In this section Dunn offers his take on the introductory issues regarding the Pastorals, Hebrews, Jude, 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Revelation. One of the refreshing feelings I walked away with after reading his comments on these document is the openness Dunn willingly admits in that some questions we just do not have enough evidence to answer with certainty (and that is OK). Too often teachers and interpreters of the Bible offer hard-pressed answers when there is not enough data to facilitate such a response. Anyway, here is where Dunn comes down on these various documents:

The Pastoral Letters

Authorship: pseudonymous, based upon language, style, historical circumstances, the share opposition to the communities, the increasing institutionalization, and the crystallization of the faith into set forms.

Purpose: to ensure that the enduring structure of Paul’s churches were cherished and passed down to the next generation of believers. Dunn notes that it is not impossible that the Pastorals were written to the historical Timothy and Titus.

Date: 80-100 CE.

 

Hebrews 

Authorship: unknown, but someone strongly influenced by the Hellenistic Jewish world.

Purpose: also unknown. The reference to greetings sent from those from Italy (Heb 13:24) could indicate that it was written in Rome. Furthermore, the note that “Timothy had been set free from prison” could equally indicate that it was penned in Ephesus.  Dunn notes how the repeated emphasis on the believer’s ‘conscience’ indicates a function of strengthening the resolves of a community with the temptation of giving up/falling away.

Date: in the 80s. The fact that Hebrews speaks of the ongoing actions of the temple and its rituals is not a strong indicator of a pre-70 CE date, as even Josephus continued to speak in this manner clearly after the temple’s destruction.

 

Jude

Authorship: probably pseudonymous, perhaps representing the teachings which were known to have come from Jude. The author clearly has a knowledge of the Hebrew text rather than the LXX, suggesting a Palestinian author.

Purpose: to distribute this sermon of sorts within Palestine, with the possibility that the author is grappling with the Pauline heritage.

Date: late in the first century in light of the following: its apocalyptic character, the reference to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” the reference to the apostles in retrospect (Jude 1:17), the possibility of libertine Gnostics as the opponents, and the lack of teaching within the document. Jude must have been written prior to 2 Peter for reasons which Dunn will soon discuss.

 

2 Peter 

Authorship: Dunn thinks this document is pseudonymous as well, noting how 2 Peter seems to have used Jude as a source (similarly to Matthew’s use of Mark and Ephesians’ use of Colossians). For support of his conclusions, he uses this chart:

jude2pet jude2peter2Since 2 Peter draws upon Jude (which itself is later than Peter’s supposed date of martyrdom) then 2 Peter must have been penned by a pseudonymous author.

Purpose: unknown, and the nature of the opponents’ identity is difficult to perceive with any measure of certainty.

Date: early second century, due in part to: the concern over the delay of the parousia and the acknowledgement that Paul’s letters are recognized Scripture.

 

1-3 John

Authorship: within the Johannine school/community. 1 John makes no claim in regard to its author, while 2 and 3 John  claim to be written by “the Elder” (perhaps another John within the Apostle John’s community).

Purpose: to address schisms within the community (likely in Ephesus), which is different from the Fourth Gospel’s issue regarding how the community is to deal with the local synagogue down the street.

Date: end of first century or even beginning of the second century CE.

 

Revelation

Authorship: a Jewish prophet named John (who never claims to be the Apostle).

Purpose: to encourages believers within the seven named churches in Asia Minor to endure the social and political pressure to participate in the imperial cult. Dunn also identifies the beast with seven heads and ten horns with Roman imperial power (along with the reference to Babylon in ch. 18).

Date: in the 90s CE, although he does footnote a discussion that some scholars are now suggesting that the book could possibly be later than that.

 

In sum, Dunn seems to follow the consensus of modern critical NT scholars, carefully noting when there is not enough information to give a strong answer. He does not suggest anything too radical at this point, thus allowing his readers who are familiar with modern scholarly conclusions on these issues regarding the NT writings to follow his train of thought with relative ease.

What do you all think? Any comments in regard to Dunn’s reconstructions?

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Book Review (part 5: Pseudepigraphy) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Pseudepigraph-hpThis is the fifth installment of my recap/review of Dunn’s newest volume, Neither Jew nor GreekAfter finishing up his discussion on introductory issues regarding the four Canonical Gospels, Dunn turns to the remaining NT writings. Prior to an examination of those works, he offers a healthy and balanced discussion regarding the issue of pseudepigraphy in the NT [as a reminder, the following discussion deals with Dunn’s thoughts on the issue]. Dunn openly admits that the presence of pseudepigraphy within the NT poses a moral and a theological problem for the notion of an authoritative canon. However, he points to the large consensus within NT scholarship which currently (as of 2015) maintains that Ephesians, the Pastorals, and 2 Peter are pseudepigraphic. What follows is a summary of the various ways in which scholarship has attempted to understand the conflicting ideas of these writings within the NT:

Option one: ‘Writers in antiquity did not share our modern understanding of copyright.’ Earlier scholars used to trot this argument out, attempting to demonstrate that the understanding of intellectual ownership was different back then when compared to how we view it today. Unfortunately, the work of W. Speyer has pointed out that a manner of ownership was indeed recognized before the 1st century CE with the development of Greek culture. Passages like 2 Thes. 2:2 and Rev. 22:18 are suggested as evidence of this awareness within the pages of the NT itself.

Option two: ‘Pseudepigraphay was widely recognized as an acceptable literary device in the ancient world.’ Dunn notes that there is indeed evidence of this practice having merit with some readers, both pagan and Christian. However, he draws a distinction between not intending to deceive and the intent to deceive (and it seems that some ancients were well aware of the latter). This option seems to be the least helpful.

Option three: ‘Pseudepigraphy was acceptable when it embodied the writer’s claim to some link with the original author.’ This is an intriguing nuance to the first two options. Dunn notes that it was possible that ‘inspired’ persons could speak as the “I” of the one who inspired/possessed them in a manner which was acceptable. If this was the case, could not the authors have claimed that the Holy Spirit was influencing them in their act of pseudonymity, thus claiming authority? Dunn answers in the negative, noting that early Christianity would then be open to the charge of false prophecy. He also considers it highly questionable that this practice would actually work with the letter genre.

Option four: ‘The content of the writing was deemed as more important than its authorship.’ This argument ignores the early Church’s concern for apostolic authority and downplays the value placed upon eyewitness testimony. It would be strange to suggest that early Christians did not value authorship, as the attempts over the centuries to correctly identify the author of Hebrews prove the point.

Option five: ‘Tradition has accrued to a prominent historical figure, expanding the original oral/literary deposit by attributing further material to the original author.’ This was the primary argument by D.G.Meade in 1986. Dunn notes how Meade argued for this process within the biblical Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Solomonic corpus, Daniel, and in the Enoch traditions. He outlines this model with three shared characteristics: (1) a revered figure of the past; (2) the elaboration of that figure’s material with an acknowledged continuity; and (3) the new connection was not too distant, tenuous, or wooden. In other words, the overall motivation was to make present, contemporize, or renewedly actualize the already authoritative Petrine and Pauline traditions for the following generations.

Dunn eventually is persuaded with option five, remarking that “the developed tradition would have been recognized as sharing in the authority of the tradition’s originator and would have been accepted as also authoritative under his name.”

 

Whether readers of the Bible come to accept the notion of pseudonymity within the NT or not, it is important to honestly wrestle with the text on its own terms, as a collection of writings composed in the late first-early second centuries CE (when pseudonymous writings were aplenty).

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