Constantine R. Campbell, The Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC)

Campbell, Constantine R. The Letter to the Ephesians. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxvi+1140 pp. Hb; $45.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Campbell is presently Professor and Research Director at the Sydney College of Divinity. He previously served as professor of New Testament studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Campbell published an exegetical survey of the “in Christ” language in Paul (Paul and Union with Christ, Zondervan 2012), and he co-edited “In Christ” in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation with Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Michael J. Thate (Eerdmans 2018). He serves as an Associate Editor of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series, and recently published Jesus v. Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2023). This new volume of the Pillar New Testament Commentary series replaces P. T. O’Brien’s 2016 commentary after the publisher concluded allegations of plagiarism were credible. Campbell dedicates this commentary to P. T. O’Brien, “Teacher, colleague, mentor.”Campbell, Ephesians

Campbell begins the thirty-four-page introduction to the commentary with a discussion of the authorship of Ephesians. He gives an overview of the discussion of this controversial topic, arguments against Pauline authorship, and some evaluation of these arguments. Notice he does not “answer the arguments.” Campbell considers these as “evaluative reflections.” He concludes, “The claim of pseudonymity depends on accepting the premise that someone else could write so convincingly as Paul that they deceived everyone in the early church (10). If true, how compelling are the differences from authentic Pauline letters?

As is well known, the destination of Ephesus is missing in some early manuscripts. An additional problem in identifying the letter’s recipients is the relationship of Ephesians to Colossians. He concludes that the letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul, inspired by his earlier letter to the Colossians. The letter was sent to churches in Asia Minor, including Ephesus. Ephesus was a regional hub and strategically important for Paul on his third missionary journey. Following Clint Arnold, he briefly surveys the importance of magic, worship, and power for understanding the letter. Concerning the setting and date of Ephesians, the traditional view is that Paul wrote from imprisonment in Rome (AD 60-62). He briefly considers the possibility of Caesarea (AD 57-59) or an otherwise unknown imprisonment in Ephesus. Campbell concludes there is no compelling reason to reject the traditional answer period. Tychicus was sent with the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon around AD 62.

What is the relationship of Ephesians and Colossians? He lists a series of similarities in themes such as the cosmic supremacy of Christ, Christ as the head of the church, and the household codes. He notices similar vocabulary not found elsewhere in Paul, and both letters use Tychicus. But, once again, following Clint Arnold, he suggests the similarities should not be overstated. Ephesians lacks a real threat from the so-called Colossian heresy.

Campbell offers a series of critical themes in the letter to the Ephesians. First, making good use of his previous work on the topic is the union with Christ, or participation in Christ. Second, Ephesians emphasizes the supremacy of Christ over every ruler (1:21, for example). Third, Ephesians famously describes salvation by God’s grace through faith (2:1-10). Fourth, Ephesians discusses Jew-Gentile relations in 2:11-22 and the unification of Jews and Gentiles into the Body of Christ (3: 1-6). Fifth, a significant theme of the book is the unity of the church and the relationships of its various members. Sixth, Ephesians 6:11-20 focuses on spiritual warfare, although the theme is present in 1:20-22. Campbell sees this as a now and not yet tension. Christ is already victorious over the spiritual forces of evil, but these stark spiritual forces continue to influence. They are not yet vanquished. Finally, following Michael Gorman, Becoming the Gospel, Campbell sees mission Dei as one of the central motifs of Paul’s letters. Citing Gorman, Campbell says, “To be in Christ is to be caught up in God’s mission and thus God’s own character- indeed, in God’s very life (29).

The commentary uses the CSB translation, with occasional modifications explained in the footnotes. Campbell’s exegesis is based on the Greek, but the commentary uses English text. This will make the commentary accessible to all readers, whether they have strong Greek skills or not. There are ample footnotes dealing with lexical and syntactical issues, although many of these notes are simply the Greek text or citations of BDAG.

In an excursus on Wives and Husbands (274-76), Campbell observes that many readers want to pigeonhole a commentary as either complementarian or egalitarian, implying that one of those views is wrong. Mea culpa: this is exactly what I did. I immediately turned his comments on Ephesians 5:20-21 to see what he does with the very difficult line “wives submit to your husbands.”

He follows recent commentaries by Arnold (ZENTC) and Cohick (NINTC) by beginning with the observation that submission in the first century was not a pejorative term. Submission needs to be understood within the context of the stratified Roman social world (242). Does submitting to one another refer to a symmetrical or asymmetrical relationship? It cannot mean “generals submit to sergeants,” for example. Many relationships are, by definition, asymmetrical (parents and children, for example). Campbell points out that relationships are always asymmetrical in the ancient world. If Ephesians has a symmetrical relationship in mind, then it is our only example.

Another controversial issue in this passage is the definition of headship in 5:22, “the husband is the head of the wife.”  Does “head” refer to authority or source? Campbell first deals with the lexical issues, including secular ancient Greek, where headship more often refers to source. Citing Moises Silva with approval, “head” does not convey authority or superior rank. “The headship of the husband is counter-culturally expressed in his self-giving love towards his wife, just as the headship of Christ is expressed through his saving the church” (251). Maybe Paul is countercultural, or perhaps he is not. Whatever the case, Ephesians 5:21-24 does not imply a return to a “1950s-style domestic bliss” (276).

I agree with Campbell’s warning that the terms complementarian and egalitarian are unfortunate and often misleading. And usually leads to some form of tribalism. It’s essential to “uphold the dignity of submission as a noble duty of all followers of Jesus” (275). And I heartily endorse his desire to respect the details of the text and “let the chips fall where they may.” This is precisely the role of sound exegesis: to shed light on the meaning of the text using the contributions of historical and social studies of the first century and all the linguistic tools available. Campbell does this, and although he is clear on his preference for these details, he allows other scholars to synthesize his exegesis into their own pigeonholes.

Conclusion. Campbell’s commentary on Ephesians is excellent and highly recommended for academics, pastors, teachers, and students. Rarely does a commentary deal with exegetical issues yet remains a pleasure to read. It is a worthy successor to O’Brien’s ill-fated Pillar commentary.

One additional note that has very little to do with the commentary. First, Campbell is an excellent jazz musician. You can stream some of his music on his website. I listened to Pirates of Piraeus while writing this review. I doubt Campbell will read this review, but Pirates of Piraeus is excellent (and I bought a copy!)


Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke

Colin Kruse, The Letter to the Romans

Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians

Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus

Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

Sigurd Grindheim, The Letter to the Hebrews

Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


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