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The Epistle to the Ephesians (Black’s New Testament Commentaries) by John Muddiman

August 22, 2018

The Epistle to Ephesians contains powerful statements of Pauline doctrine, but many questions can be raised about its authorship and intended readership. John Muddiman’s exposition of this text explores these issues and their theological implications, deploying the latest scholarship to provide a thorough and illuminating commentary on this epistle.

Ephesians presents great difficulties for the commentator. The letter has no apparent setting and little obvious purpose. Doubts about the city of Ephesus as the destination go back to the Patristic era.

John Muddiman begins by arguing that to be able to draw conclusions about the text of Ephesians, each scholar must take a position about its Pauline or non-Pauline authorship.

He therefore offers an extensive introduction, which discusses various approaches to this question, including his own, detailing the evidence for each position. All the perspectives of major modern scholars are discussed and assessed, particularly on the question of Ephesians’ relationship to Colossians. The implications of the question of authorship for evaluating Paul’s theology are extensively discussed.

Muddiman questions the assumption that if Ephesians is not by Paul it must be wholly accounted for as an example of Post-Pauline pseudepigraphy. He explores an alternative: that it is an authentic letter subsequently edited and expanded with the aim of adjusting the Pauline tradition to meet new circumstances.

His introduction (pp. 2-54) should be read first not only because it outlines the commentary’s basic premise, methodology, and criteria for distinguishing tradition from redaction but also because its clarity is a model of scholarship. The working hypothesis is twofold. First, “Ephesians contains within it a genuine letter of Paul that has been edited and expanded by a later follower” (p. 21, see also 298). The original was addressed to the Christians in the city of Laodicia, the neighbor of Colossae, a congregation that Paul knew secondhand through its founder, Epaphras, his assistant. “Laodicians” was brief and vague, because the audience “would soon be able to read what he had written to the Colossians” (p. 235). Muddiman’s tentative reconstruction of this letter appears in an appendix (pp. 302-5). To be sure, the thesis that Ephesians is an expansion of a genuine Pauline letter is not new: it revives the proposal of Maurice Goguel back in 1935. While Goguel’s thesis was disregarded as implausible, Muddiman’s greatly improves that earlier proposal in offering a possible explanation for the supplanting of a (now lost) Pauline letter by an interpolated version in less than thirty years (pp. 20-21).

The second part of Muddiman’s basic premise supplies that explanation by identifying the Pauline redactor, his setting and purpose: he was a Jewish Christtian motivated to reconcile Pauline Gentiles with Johannine Jewish Christians in Ephesus, part of a “general programme . . . to harmonize and unify Asian Christianity against external and internal threats” (p. 40). The redactor “offers hesitant Jewish Christians the assurance that unity with Gentile churches of Paul’s foundation will not dilute or compromise their faith or reduce them to second class citizens” (p. 39). These “Johannine Jewish Christians” were not only the community of the Fourth Gospel but also the wider circle of those described in the Johannine letters and Revelation. According to Muddiman, it is this broader contextualization that best makes the main theme of Ephesians-the unity of the Church-intelligible. It has the added advantage (for the canonically inclined) of connecting disparate New Testament documents together with a common setting and purpose (resisting Roman state-persecution in Asia Minor and expulsion from the synagogue). Consequently, “Ephesians marks the beginning of that process of re-Judaizing Gentile Christianity, the rediscovery of its roots in Jewish salvation history, worship, and creation theology, that was to preserve it from the threats from Marcionite and Gnostic heresy as the second century proceeded” (D. 39). \1 1

One criterion for evaluating a commentary is the degree of success in serving its constituency. In this regard, Muddiman is successful in meeting the goals of Black’s New Testament Commentaries, above all to bring out the theological and religious message of the New Testament for the contemporary church while adhering strictly to sound scholarship and orthodox doctrine. There are, however, some problematic claims that weaken the force of his thesis. Too often the analysis operates from a conflict model of Christian origins that historical-critical scholarship no longer finds tenable: “Hellenism” versus “Judaism” (pp. 41-42, 49),

“Christian piety” versus “pagan Stoicism” (p. 186), “orthodoxy” versus “heresy” (p. 39). There are a number of factual errors, especially in the discussion of the household codes (assumed to be authentically Pauline, since they appear also in Colossians): Roman slaves could earn substantial incomes (contra p. 226); after manumission a slave remained tied to the household as a client of the former master, now patron (contra p. 253); there is no evidence that slaveholding was less common in Jewish households (contra p. 278).

Readers who already share his main presupposition-the authenticity of Colossians may find his premise about Ephesians convincing. Other readers may see his particular arguments and his overt distancing of Ephesians from any taint of forgery to be special pleading. In the end, the premise is possible, but whether probable is another matter entirely.

Black’s New Testament Commentary series presents a reliable and enlightening exposition of the New Testament for the modern reader. Written by highly respected biblical scholars under the editorial directorship of Morna D. Hooker, each commentary offers a paragraph-by-paragraph exposition based on the author’s own, fresh translation of the biblical texts.

Other features include insightful introductions to the important historical, literary, and theological issues; key terms and phrases from the translation highlighted in the commentary where they are discussed; explanations of special Greek or foreign terms; references to important primary and secondary literature; and a Scripture index.

Table of contents

Index of Scriptural references
Index of Modern Authors
Subject Index

The “hope” to which Christ has called them, Muddiman writes, is not so much “eschatolo­gical” as “voca­­tional”. It has to do with their lives as disciples

“some theological emphases in Ephesians are sufficiently different and later than Paul . . . but they sit alongside authentic expressions of Paul’s own distinctive emphases”

There’s a useful, if speculative’ reconstruction ot the lost epistle to te Laodicians a the end.


With a full stature measured by Christ himself (lit. `to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’). For ‘measure’ in this sense as full measure, i.e. ‘maximum height’ rather than an actual measurement, see on verse 7. The word translated ‘stature’ (helikia) can also mean a period of life, i.e. the prime of life or early adulthood; it then takes on connotations of age as well as size, like the English expression `grown-up’. It is clearly used of age at Heb. 11.11, but equally clearly of size at Luke 19.3. The saying of Jesus at Matt. 6.27 (cf. Luke 12.25) illustrates the ambiguity: ‘No one can by anxious thought add a cubit to his span’, which means either grow 21 inches taller or live proportio­nately longer (presumably one third) in terms of life-span. Although maturity in age is implied by the later reference to children (v. 14), link with measure may imply that the metaphor of height is intended

The later gnostic development of this metaphor for the cos dimensions of the primal Man (see above) is probably less relevant the Jewish background, though the evidence for that also comes later than the first century. The rabbis taught that Adam, who was in created ‘a perfect Man’, measured one hundred cubits in height (P lb; see Davies 1967: 45f.). After the Fall, however, he was reduced merely three. This is a neat theodicy, for if Adam had remained the God had intended him to be, he would have towered over the evils’ of the created world. Understood against this background, here risen Christ recovers that lofty stature, metaphorically speaking. literal presentation of this mythological point, see the account of resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel of Peter 10.40, see Schneem 1991-2.) The exalted Christ now has everything under his feet (cf and in him the Church attains that fullness intended from the be ‘ (cf. 1.23). In terms of age, rather than height, one might comp argument of Irenaeus (Haer. 2.22.5), based on John 8.57 (`You yet fifty years old’), that Jesus was nearing fifty when he died and `recapitulated’ (see on 1.10) the complete human experience, in full maturity (i.e. ‘a perfect Man’).

Ephesians 5:22 There is no verb present in P46 or B but the majority of other MSS have supplied the obvious one, ‘submit’, placing it either before or after the reference to husbands and in either the second (‘wives, submit’) or third person imperative (‘let wives submit’). The shorter text should probably be preferred, and then this verse will depend grammatically on verse 21: ‘Submit to one another … wives to husbands’. One then expects the sentence to conclude ‘and husbands to wives’. The motive behind the longer readings is precisely to avoid creating that unfulfilled expectation. The grammatical awkwardness of verse 22 has resulted from the editor borrowing its verb for his formulation of verse 21. He will remind us again of this opening injunction of the code later at verses 24 and 33.

26 ‘Be angry and sin not.’ The Hebrew parataxis identifies the maxim

a probable allusion to Ps. 4.4. Clearly, it does not instruct people to be angry, but means ‘When and if you get angry, do not sin’ as the following clause explains, Do not let the sun set on your angry outburst. A fit of (righteous) anger is not necessarily sinful; it is the nursing of angry resentment that is condemned. The thought in this moral sentence is thus slightly different from, and not inconsistent with, the straightfor­ward rejection of ‘bitterness, wrath and anger’ in the list of vices at 4.31. Anger is included with other vices at Gal. 5.20 and warnings against it are a standard feature of Old Testament wisdom (Prov. 15.1; Eccles. 7.9), taken over into Jewish Christian paraenesis Gas 1.19f. ; Matt. 5.22).

The word used for an angry outburst or ‘fit of temper’ is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. The Greek (parorgismos) usually means `something that provokes to anger’ rather than, as here (and Jer. 21.5 LXX), the emotion itself. Sunset of the same day is specified as the time-limit for righteous anger. A similar time-limit for the restoration of communal harmony is referred-to at Deut. 24.15 (regarding the payment of a poor man’s wages). And it is specifically applied to reconciliation after the legitimate rebuke of a fellow member of the Essene community at CD 7.2f : ‘They shall rebuke each man his brother according to the commandment, and shall bear no rancour from one day to the next.’

the theory of Christian marriage as a mystery’ (translated into Latin as sacramentum) and of the le bond created by the sacrament of holy matrimony. For theologians and canon lawyers, it was just as unthinkable to separate,,,,

a woman united as one flesh in marriage as to separate Christ Church. But this line of interpretation is a prime example of a biblical text in the wrong direction. The author’s interest is in soluble eschatological union of Christ and the Church, into human marriages may provide some kind of earthly insight — at their best, we might want to add, i.e. when they combine love and in equal measure on both sides. But when marriage is treated as a sacrament in the legal sense, the inspiring ideal of indissolubility risks degeneration into a cruel and rigid dogma and begins to serve political By keeping marriages under the control of the ecclesiastical rather the civil courts, this development was to have enormous consequences in bolstering the temporal power of the Church.

Sexual abstinence is part of military discipline in Israel’s Holy War tradition (cf. 1 Sam. 21.5); and the author has used material that underlined the danger of sexual licence at several points in the earlier section on Christian conduct (see 4.19; 5.3; 5.5; and possibly 5.12). The armour itself is allegorized in relation to qualities which every believer needs. It self-evidently is not the case that some members of the community are helmets and others shoes (contrast the head addressing the feet in the body image of 1 Cor. 12.21). The armour all belongs to one individual but it is not thereby individualist: the virtues to which it corresponds are communitarian ones, as earlier references in the letter demonstrate: truth-telling (cf. 4.25, Tor we are members one of another’); righteousness (5.9); peace (2.14); the unity of faith (4.13); and unity in the spirit (4.3).

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