Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

Because of the descriptions of the false teachers in the background of 1 Timothy and Titus, scholars often suggest the letters were written well into the second century. There is some similarity between the description in Titus to the followers of Marcion (explaining why Marcion would not have accepted the books as authentically Pauline) or an early form of Montanism. Montanism was a charismatic revival of the middle/late second century and the Pastorals Epistles do not mention the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit.

Other scholars suggest the description of the false teachers is “generic.” There is no specific threat to the churches overseen by Timothy and Titus, but this is the sort of generic anti-heretic language which could be applied to any number of churches. This is similar to modern political rhetoric, Republicans always accuse Democrats as favoring “tax and spend” and Democrats always accuse Republicans of being in the pocket of the NRA. Whether those things are true or not about a given politician, the accusation will almost always be made. In Titus, Paul could be laying out a laundry list of the typical things his opponents have said and done, whether he has a specific false teacher in mind.

Could the be a an early form of Gnosticism or Montanism? This is always possible, depending on the definition of “proto.” The mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish asceticism that becomes Gnosticism later in the second century may have its roots in the very churches planted by Paul. But the false teachings that the writer is dealing with is not at all close to the Gnostic teachings of the second century. To argue against “foolish myths and genealogies” as Paul does here is applicable in the first century as much as the second (or third or twenty-first!)

Regardless of the source of false teachers in Ephesus and Crete, Paul provides a three-step method for dealing with these troublemakers. The steps seem reasonably clear, but it is hard to know how to use them in a contemporary context. Paul is not describing a medieval excommunication or some sort of strange shunning-ritual. He wants his churches to be unified around a core yet also to preserve some diversity within the members of the church. How does this work?

The first step is to avoid teachings which create quarrels and dissensions. This cannot include the core elements of the Faith, the things Paul has already defined as “sound doctrine” in Titus 3. What things might be considered “divisive” our context? Paul is talking about drawing lines which include some and exclude others. to a large extent, the modern church has dealt with this by dividing up into a wide range of denominations. This would be intentionally divisive attitude designed to cause quarrels in the church. I have occasionally been asked to preach at conservative a church which used the King James Bible only; if I intentionally preached out of a NIV Bible, the congregation would be so angry they would never hear a single word I said. Imagine if I were asked to preach in a Christian Reformed church and did a classic dispenstionalist sermon on the Rapture!

Second, if there is a person who cannot set their divisiveness aside, then they are to be warned. The text says the false teacher “stirs up dissension,” indicating they are looking for an opportunity to argue over his special doctrine. This too becomes a difficult to apply in a modern context since people want to share their views in a welcoming and affirming environment. But the divisive person is not discussing an issue in order to gain a clearer understanding, they are pushing their agenda in order to make coverts to their fringe position. I understand what it is like to have a view out of step with the majority and I try not to be divisive on the issues I know will cause people to be upset.

Last, if the person continues to stir up dissension, then the church is to shun the person as a false teacher. This is very controversial since ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.” Paul seems very prejudiced and arrogant to force someone who believes differently out of the church! “Shun the heretic” has a positively medieval sound to it which most modern people would like to avoid. We want to have open and honest discussions about our differences and come to a respectful understanding whether we agree or not. But for Paul, the presence of someone teaching unhealthy doctrine or advocating impure practices in the church can only damage the church.

Most likely these steps will look different in different cultures (African churches vs. American churches, for example). I have been a university professor for many years, and every once in a while I have a student who seems to want to argue about everything I say. It is not that they want to learn anything new, they just like to debate and argue (and probably waste class time so the test gets postponed). In a few cases the student was not interested in an open discussion of new ideas, they wanted to shut down anything they disagreed with and force their ideas on the group. I can think of examples from the most Fundamentalist students ever to the hyper-Calvinist (and one really odd Arminian). Although I have yet to shun a student, I have asked them to realize they are not in debate club and other students want to learn.

How do we use this material to preserve the unity and promote diversity within a local church?

The Pastoral Epistles – The Opponents in Ephesus

One of the problems for reading the Pastoral Epistles is the identity of the “opponents” in Paul’s churches. Paul seems to have a group of elders in mind who are in rebellion against his Gospel, What is more, the opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”

Wolf Stealing Sheep

The idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thess 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel.  Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days?  I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!

But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false  teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!

Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all.  Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference  of opinion on a theological issue.  His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.

  • They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.
  • They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.
  • They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates that their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).
  • Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.

I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all. Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.

What are the Pastoral Epistles?

First and Second Timothy and Titus are usually described as “pastoral epistles.” The standard view of these three letters is that Paul is writing to individuals who he has placed in a leadership position overseeing churches. Paul Anton first called these three books as pastoral epistles by in 1726. The description has become so common that nearly every commentator on the books has described the letters as “church manuals” or “advice to young pastors.” This assumption is rarely questioned.

In the traditional view of these letters, young Reverand LovejoyTimothy has taken on additional responsibilities as a superintendent over several churches planted by Paul. First Timothy is therefore letter is personal advice to Timothy on how to organize the church, as well as other ministry related issues.The second letter written to Timothy is to ask him to come to him in Rome, and to bring Mark with him, but the pastoral emphasis is still the main theme. In Titus, the content is very similar to First Timothy, elders are described, and various potential problems are addressed.

Gordon Fee, however, has called the description of these three letters as “Pastoral Epistles” into question. As Fee notes, if these are “church manuals” they are not particularly effective ones. We end up with far more questions about the church after reading them! It seems hard to believe that such a wide variety of church structures and styles would all call upon these letters to validate their own church practice, if in fact Paul intended them to be read as “manuals for doing church.” Furthermore, he states “It is a mistaken notion to view Timothy or Titus as model pastors for a local church. The letters simply have no such intent” (147)

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in 1 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15. In the light of Paul’s speech to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35, it would appear that the purpose of the letters might very well to be false teachers in the Ephesian community.

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer

1 Timothy 3:15 …if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

These verses do not concern organizing the churches from scratch, as if Paul has done just a bit of church planting and Timothy is sent in to finish the job, like a modern evangelist with a followup team. There seems to be a serious false teaching that has caused the church at Ephesus serious problems. The problem is internal (Acts 20:30), people from the inside have begun to teach things opposed to Paul’s message. As Fee puts it, “What we learn about church order in 1 Timothy is not so much organizational as reformational” (146).

This observation may help with the most difficult problem of 1 Timothy. If Fee is correct and the problem is straying elders, does this effect the way we look at the list of qualifications for elders? What about the prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority in 1 Timothy 2:11-12?

 

 

Bibliography: Gordon D. Fee, “Reflections On Church Order In The Pastoral Epistles, With Further Reflection On The Hermeneutics Of Ad Hoc Documents.” JETS 28 (1985): 141-151.

Like a Virgin Bride – Ephesians 5:25-30

The idea that the church is the bride of Christ is common in popular thinking, especially in hymns and songs. This is based on the common metaphor drawn from the Hebrew Bible that Israel is God’s bride. Beginning in Hosea, the prophets use the metaphor of a marriage relationship frequently to describe God’s relationship to his people. This metaphor is almost entirely negative since Israel was an unfaithful bride. Jesus employs similar language as the Hebrew prophets, calling his himself a bridegroom and comparing both his current ministry and future return to a wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-12, 25:1-14).

Veiled BrideAs the idea that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people became dominant, it was quite easy to extend the metaphor of a marriage to the church. Just as the idea was common in the Hebrew Bible, so too the image of the church as the bride of Christ became pervasive in medieval theology and art. For many, the idea of the church as the bride of Christ is the dominant metaphor in their theology. But the basis for this metaphorical transfer is a replacement theology (even if it is implicit); anyone who rejects replacement theology will also think about the usefulness of this metaphor for the church.

It remains a fact, however, that Paul describes the church as like a virgin being prepared for marriage in Ephesian 5:21-33. Christ’s love for the church is described in 5:25-26, 29. Paul cites foundational text for marriage in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 2) and draws an analogy from it. The relationship of Christ and church similar to that of the married couple – they are “one flesh” in Gen 2. Therefore there is some intimate connection between Christ and the church which can be described in similar terms.

There is something of an eschatological perspective in this bridal metaphor in Ephesian 5. Christ is the head of the church, which submits to his authority. That all things will submit to the authority of Christ is a view of the future when Christ returns (cf. Phil 2:5-11). But, on the other hand, the marriage is already in existence and there are aspects of a realized eschatology here. On the other hand, the idea of a splendid church (5:27) may imply a future eschatological element is present.

At some point in the future the church will finally be a pure and spotless bride prepared for the bridegroom at the Second Coming (the “wedding supper”). I am tempted to see this as another aspect of the already / not yet tension of Pauline eschatology, but I am not sure Paul’s topic in Ephesian 5 is eschatology at all, but rather the purity of the church in the present age.

It could therefore be argued that Paul, who took a negative approach of sexual purity (commands not do be immoral, 5:3-7), now adopts a positive argument, “reflect the love of Christ” in sexual ethics (your own partner). The “function” of the metaphor is to get the husbands to see themselves as in some ways an “ecclesial bride,” if Christ and the church are “one flesh,” and covenant loyalty is obvious and required, then the husband ought to have the same level of commitment to their wives.

So Paul does use the marriage metaphor, but he spins in the direction of a ethical teaching on the relationship of a husband and wife in their marriage relationship. How then can the church be the pure virginal bride of Christ? How does this function as a metaphor for ethical community conduct?

Not Even a Hint of Immorality – Ephesians 5:3-7

In Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul called on the one who is in Christ to “imitate God” by living out their life in the same sacrificial love with which Christ loved us when he gave up his life on the Cross as a “fragrant offering” to the Lord. Although there is no other place in the New Testament where the believer is called to imitate God, here Paul says we imitate God by living in the pattern of Christ’s self-sacrificial love.

Sexual immorality and impurity seem obvious, but Paul mentions greed in the same line. This is similar to 4:19, all three words appeared there as well.

Immorality is a generic word (πορνεία) that covers a wide range of sexual sin, often called “fornication.” As the Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once described pornography, “I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Impurity (ἀκαθαρσία) refers to anything which is filthy or corrupting, so the word is used in ethical texts for sexual sins. In 1 Enoch 10:11, for example, the sin of the angels is impurity. Paul often links filth and corruption, see 2 Cor 12:21, for example. but he does not need to define them since the meaning would be obvious to the reader.

By translating πλεονεξία as covetousness (ESV) or greed (NIV), the reader may think only of financial greed, and then wonder why greed is connected to two words which generically describe sexual sins. In classical Greek, however, this word refers to “vice pure and simple” and is among “the three most disgraceful things” (BDAG).

These vices are not even to be mentioned (looking forward to the next line), because they are not fitting for “the saints.” The verb Paul uses (ὀνομάζω) is rare, and in the passive (as it is here) can have the sense of “be known.” In Romans 15:20, for example, Paul’s desire is to preach the Gospel where “Christ is not known.” Paul’s exhortation here is that the believer is better off ignorant of these things!

For example, I do not need to know the details or experience the details personally to know that heroin addiction is not a good lifestyle choice. In the same way, Paul is simply saying the Christian does not need to dwell on the details of immorality in order to know it is not appropriate for the Christ. This has obvious implications for pornography, but also for other entertainment choices (film, music, literature). Although I would not advocate only Christian entertainment, there are some forms of entertainment which “are not fitting.”

The reason there is no need to know these things is that they are not fitting for those who are being built into a holy Temple of God (2:20). Paul is developing a metaphor of a Temple, and individual members of the Body of Christ are part of that temple. Some behaviors simply “do not fit” into that Temple. Most Christians who have unsaved friends have experienced have experienced some sheltering, “we cannot watch that movie because Bob is a Christian.”

Standing on the Edge of an Abyss

Paul also refers to obscenity, foolish talk coarse joking are three terms found only here in the NT and are fairly self-explanatory (cf. 4:29 and Col 3:8). Filthiness (αἰσχρότης) refers to obscene talk or “obscenity,” or behavior which “behavior that flouts social and moral standards” (BDAG). Foolish talk (μωρολογία) does not refer to stupidity, but intentionally foolish speech, even “foolish gossip” (EDNT, following TDNT, 4:844; cf. 2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9). The word had a positive sense in earlier Greek literature (“adroitness of speech”), but in this context the noun is obviously negative. Crude joking (εὐτραπελία) or “base jesting,” or somewhere between “the extremes of buffoonery (βωμολοχία) and boorishness (ἀγροικία)” (BDAG).

Paul is in line with Jewish wisdom literature, and there is a remarkable parallel in the Dead Sea Scrolls Community Rule (1QS 10.21-25):

1 QS 10.21-25 I shall not retain Belial within my heart. From my mouth shall not be heard 22 foolishness or wicked deceptions; sophistries or lies shall not be found on my lips. The fruit of holiness will be on my tongue, profanity 23 shall not be found on it. With hymns shall I open my mouth and my tongue will continually recount both the just acts of God and the unfaithfulness of men until their iniquity is complete. 24 I shall remove from my lips worthless words, unclean things and plotting from the knowledge of my heart. With prudent counsel {I shall hide} /I shall recount/ knowledge, 25 and with discretion of knowledge I shall enclose him with a solid fence to maintain faithfulness and staunch judgment according to the justice of God.

These kinds of people will not inherit the kingdom of God. Although Paul says a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (the immoral will not inherit the kingdom), it is surprising to find Paul using kingdom of God as more or less equivalent to salvation.

I find this all very convicting. It seems obvious the Christian ought to avoid obvious immoral things (and there are good psychological reasons for anyone to avoid the things which are corrupting). But it is quite easy for me to tell a flippant joke or engage in gossip. For Paul, the Christian needs to be wise in their speech and not “talk like the world.” This does not mean Christians have to be boring, but it is very easy to get a laugh with a crude joke.

 

 

Bibliography: René A. López, “Paul’s Vice List in Ephesians 5:3–5,” BSac 169 (2012): 203–18; Peter W. Gosnell, “Honor and Shame Rhetoric in Ephesians,” BBR 16 (2006): 105–28; esp. 123–24.

Ephesians 2:19-22 – Growing into a Temple

Ephesians 2:19-22 is the conclusion of an argument which began in 2:11. Paul began this section by pointing out in that the gentiles were once enemies of God and totally separated from the Jews (2:11-13).  This left Gentiles without hope of salvation, especially since the hatred went both ways. There was a wall, a dividing wall of hostility, between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul may very well be thinking of the literal wall in the Temple marking off the limited access for the Gentiles to worship in the Temple.

But in 2:14-18 Paul states that through Jesus we have peace with God, the enmity between Jew and Gentile is destroyed.  What Jesus did in his body on the cross created a peace between Jew and Gentile which was unimaginable in previous ages.

Perhaps his allusion to the Temple led Paul to use a Temple metaphor in verses 19-22.  On the other hand, architectural metaphors are common in the first century.  In Galatians Gal 2:9 Paul called the apostles “pillars,” a metaphor which is repeated in Revelation. Another example is 4Q Florilegium (4Q174) describes the “holy ones” as a temple, but one that is built in the last days.  For the writer of this document, the an image of exclusion, only the holy ones are a part of the temple, and of course the holy ones include only the writer and his community.  Paul’s church, on the other hand, is inclusive.  If the true Temple of God is built from both Jews and Gentiles, then all who are in Christ are a part of this temple.

House made of junkSeveral implications flow from this metaphor of the church as a Temple of God. If Paul has in mind the Temple in Jerusalem, then he may be thinking of the stones prepared by Herod’s stone workers.  These stones were cut and dressed so that the fit perfectly in the spot intended  If the individual believer is “like a stone” in the Temple, then we ought to find some comfort in the fact that God has prepared us for the role we play.

Second, the Temple is built on the proper foundation, the “apostles and prophets.”  It seems to me that Paul has in mind the first generation of the Church, the apostolic traditions and teachings.  But notice the “chief cornerstone” is Jesus himself.  In the traditional view, Paul is writing this letter in the early 60’s.  If is very likely that the first generation was beginning to die off.  Certainly the second generation of the church struggled with deviations in both doctrine and practice.  Using this metaphor, Paul is saying that anything not built on the foundation of the existing tradition is bound to be dangerous.

Third, the building is growing. This is a natural extension of the metaphor, since Greek and Roman buildings “grew up” as they were being built.  Like a tree, buildings start from the ground (the foundation)  and grow upward. There is a step-by-step process which must be followed over a long period of time.  The Church universal is continuing to grow, Paul says, until it is a Temple fit for God.

This third point ought to be a warning: We are continuing the process of “growing the church.”  What are we contributing to the Temple?  Is the contribution of the western Church material which strengthens and builds up the church?

Walking in Darkness – Ephesians 2:1

This is one of the best loved passages in the Pauline letters, virtually everyone knows Ephesians 2:8-9 and is able to recite it quickly. Paul describes how far separated from God the Gentiles really were, they were dead in their sin, separate from God and his people the Jews. Gentiles were unwilling and unable to respond to God, nor were they accepted by God’s people. Like the first chapter of the letter, verses 1-7 are a single sentence, the main subject/verb is “God made us alive” (v. 5).

The first words of this long sentence (124 words!) are “and you…” The pronoun “you” is accusative and the object of the verb “made alive” in verse 5. The content between the verb and the object is the state of the Gentile believers before coming to Christ. Despite the fact were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ!

Paul describes a person before they come to Christ as dead in trespasses and sins. “Being dead” describes the spiritual state of the Gentiles apart from Christ. The participle is present active, indicating this was an ongoing state.

The reason for this state of death is “trespasses and sins.” These words are used as synonyms here, although Paul uses transgression for Adam’s sin in Romans 5:12-21.In verse 3 he includes himself (and all Jews) as also living by passions of the flesh. It is not that the Gentiles are evil and damned and only the Jews are saved: all have fallen short of the glory of God. Paul’s view of salvation is therefore built on the foundation of the Old Testament’s view of sin and death. Romans 5:12-21, all who are “in Adam” die, but all who are “in Christ” will live.

The Gentiles once followed the dark spiritual forces at work in the world. There are three descriptions of the spiritual forces which once held the Gentiles in bondage to sin. The “course of this world” (ESV) or the “ways of this world” (NIV) translates αἰών as a reference to the worldview of the present time (cf. Gal 1:4, this present evil age). Paul uses the preposition κατά to express “being under the control of” in several expressions, such as “walking according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). The sense of the phrase is “conforming to a norm.” (Arnold, Ephesians, 130).  In a Jewish context, the noun can refer to eternity or history, or an age of the world history (like an era or dispensation, “this age and the age to come,” Eph 1:21, 2:7). Paul uses the word for “this age” on several occasions (1 Cor 3:18, for example).

If this is the nuance of the word, then Paul is saying the Gentile readers thought like all the other Gentiles because that is the way the all think. They are simply following the thinking of the time they were living.

To anticipate the rest of the letter, Paul is saying that the time we now live is different because God has made the Gentiles alive in Christ and saved them into a new Body of Christ. To know this new age exists changes how we think and live out our lives.

But in a Hellenistic context, the word can refer to the Aeon, a ruler of the world in Greek mythology. The word appears in magical papyri and will be used in Gnosticism to refer to the real deity (O’Brien, Ephesians, 158). There are few who take this word as a reference to a deity, however, since Paul never refers to pagan gods in his other letters.  Paul has already mentioned the common Jewish two-age view of history (this age and the age to come) using this word. It is possible Paul used this word in order to evoke the Jewish idea of ages but also the Greek idea of a god.

The Gentile readers of Ephesians once lived in accordance with the “spirit of the age,” whether that is just the worldview dominant at the time or the god who controls the age.

What is the “spirit of the age” in which we once walked in a modern context? What is an example of a “pattern of thought” which controls the way we think before we came to Christ?

What are the Powers of this Age in Ephesians 1:20?

Several times in Ephesians Paul mentions rulers and authorities, powers and dominions. Most commentators observe Paul has spiritual forces in view when he uses this kind of language. By the first century, Judaism had developed a complicated view of angelic and demonic forces which operated “behind the scenes.” Sometimes these dark forces were responsible for persecution or troubles for God’s people. In Daniel, for example, an angel tells Daniel he was delayed by the “prince of Persia” (10:21) and did not escape until Michael (the prince of Israel) came to assist him. 1 Enoch 1-36 (The Book of the Watchers; see also this on Angelic Beings in 3 Enoch) offers a detailed description of demonic activity before the flood.

PAradise LostTimothy Gombis develops this view of powers and dominions as the main thesis of his book The Drama of Ephesians.This book argues Paul is using imagery of spiritual warfare drawn form the Hebrew Bible to describe what Jesus has done on the cross. Using Ephesians 1:20-23, for example, Gombis points out that Paul says Jesus was vindicated by being raised to the right hand of the father in heaven.

This is a place of authority which is far above every ruler, authority,  power and dominion.  These are spiritual forces at work in the world, the actors in the apocalyptic drama, as Gombis describes Ephesians.  Jesus has an authority which is so high above every spiritual thing in creation that it does not even make sense that human rulers should be considered as competitors to Jesus’ rule and authority!

This throne of power is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” The four terms Paul uses in this line can refer to human rulers, but in the context he has constantly used language similar to what a pagan Gentile might have used in a magical invocation of a god. These terms therefore describe spiritual rulers, authorities, powers and dominions. Since they are defeated by the power of God demonstrated in the resurrection, these are hostile, invisible powers working against God in this world (Arnold, Ephesians, 112).

This would be true in a Jewish context as well. In Daniel 10:12-14, the “prince of Persia” opposed the Gabriel when he was sent by God to deliver a message to Daniel. In the Second Temple Period, Jews developed an elaborate system of angels and demons using terms like rulers, authorities, powers and dominions to describe invisible forces at work in the world.

In fact, Jesus has been enthroned far above “every name that is named.” This is also consistent with the rest of Paul’s letters, Phil 2:9-11 makes the same point, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Naming a hostile spiritual power was an important step in gaining mastery over it. (Jesus and Legion, for example, the sons of Sceva in Ephesus, Acts 19). Paul’s claim is that the name of Jesus is more powerful than any over so-called powerful name in all of reality!

Rome, in Paul’s view of spiritual reality, does not really count for all that much.  If the “rulers of this age” are the spiritual forces behind Rome, and if those spiritual forces have already been defeated, then the Empire itself is doomed to defeat. This situation reminds me somewhat of the end of the Soviet Union.  The “union” dissolved so quickly that I imagine there were many people living in areas formerly controlled by the USSR that had no idea they were under a “new government.” I always wondered if Gorbachev went to work one morning and found his offices “under new management,” although most of his staff just kept on working as if nothing had happened!

This is what happened when Jesus the Messiah, the Lord of the Universe, died and rose again. The power of the spiritual forces of this dark age was broken, but it happened in such a way the world did not really notice. But for Paul, the victory of sin, death, and the spiritual dark forces of this world has already been won.

If it is true the spiritual dark forces have already been defeated, how might that affect the way the Christian lives out their life?

 

 

Why Not Ephesians?

Ephesians is one of the books in the Pauline collection which is frequently assumed to be pseudonymous.  Despite the fact that Paul refers to himself four times in the letter (1:1, 3:1, 4:1, and 6:19-22), the majority of scholarship in the last 150 years denies the authenticity of the letter. Rather than written by the “historical Paul,” the letter was created in the late first century, perhaps as a companion to the book of Acts.

P49 Verso

While there are many variations on this argument, many introductions to Paul reject the letter as authentic on the basis of vocabulary, style, and theology.  For many, the letter does not sound enough like Romans, Galatians, or 1-2 Corinthians to be accepted as authentic.  Usually the letter of Ephesians is thought to be a post-Pauline compendium of Paul’s theology.  It was written by a disciple of Paul (“Paul’s best disciple,” Brown, 620).  Sometimes the reconstruction of the circumstances are quite complex. For example, Goodspeed suggested that Onesimus returned to Philemon, was released from his slavery and eventually became the bishop of Ephesus. After Acts was published, there was a great deal of interest in Paul, so Onesimus gathered all the various letters Paul sent to the churches of Ephesus as an introduction to Paul’s theology.  As Brown says, this is interesting but “totally a guess.”

There are some differences between Ephesians and the other Pauline letters.  For example, the common Pauline term brethren is missing (except 6:23), and the letter never calls the Jewish people “Jews” in the epistle, even though the Jews are an important part of his argument.  More surprising is the fact that the verb “to justify” is not used, even though while it is common in Galatians and Romans and might have been useful in the argument of 2:11-22.

Does it matter if Paul did not write the letter himself?  If the letter contains the actual “voice of Paul” then the letter can be considered Pauline.  By way of analogy, in the study of the Gospels there is a great deal of discussion over the words of Jesus.  When I read the words of Jesus in my ESV Bible, can I know that these are the real words of the historical Jesus?  The answer which satisfies me is that the words of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels are true “voice of Jesus,” even though they are not the actual words Jesus’ words were originally spoken in Aramaic, translated to Greek and then to English for me to read!

In the same way, even if Ephesians was not written by Paul, the true “voice of Paul” can be found in the letter.  As it happens I think Paul did write Ephesians, albeit much later in his life during his Roman house arrest.  The letter was intended to go to all the house churches in Ephesus and there is no burning problem which Paul has to address (as in Galatians or Corinthians).  This explains why the letter is generic in terms of theology and practice.

Considering Ephesians to be an authentic Pauline letter may change the way we envision Paul’s  theology.  While Romans and Galatians are concerning with justification and the struggle to define the Church as something different than Judaism, Ephesians is a witness to the universal church which includes Jews and Gentiles in “one body.”  Unity of the church seems to be Paul’s main theme in the letter.  Rather than drawing lines, Paul is arguing for unity among those who are “in Christ.”

How might taking Ephesians seriously change the way we think about various elements of Pauline Theology?

Philemon and Slavery in the First Century

There is an obvious need for a clear understanding of slavery as we approach the book of Philemon. In this post I want to summarize a few points from John Byron on slavery. The article is dealing with Paul’s metaphor of a slave, but some of the information provides an excellent entry point into the difficulties of dealing with slavery in the first century. Be sure to scan through the comments below, John Byron has interacted with this post in the past. He recently published A Week in the Life of a Slave (IVP Academic, 2019). This short book uses a novel to present the life of a slave in first century Rome. It is in the same series as Gary Burge’s A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion or James L. Papandrea, A Week in the Life of Rome.

John Byron surveys recent attempts to deal with Paul’s slavery metaphors in New Testament studies. The bulk of the article deals with a shift from the work of Bartchy in 1973 which made extensive use of Greco-Roman and Jewish legal texts to more recent sociological studies by Patterson and others. Bartchy’s view was that slavery in the first century was “decidedly benign,” while Patterson argues that slavery was equivalent to a “death experience.” Bartchy’s views have been far more influential on New Testament commentaries than Patterson’s studies, perhaps skewing the point of Paul’s metaphor of slavery. Byron’s article is a challenge to the commonly taught idea of selling one’s self into slavery to pay debts and the possibility of a better life as a slave.

This debate highlights the problem of sources. Bartchy, for example, uses legal texts to show that there was a softening of attitudes toward slaves in the first century which made the slave into something more like “employee” rather than property. There are a number of problems with using legal, as Byron points out in his conclusion. The main source for Roman Law is dated to A.D. 533, well after the first century. In addition, there is a great difference between a law and actual social attitudes. Bartchy may cite laws protecting slaves, but there is no real evidence that society accepted those laws or that authorities always enforced them.

Even in America, we know that simply having a law does not guarantee everyone obeys the law, nor does the law tell us anything about society’s attitude toward the law. Traffic laws would be a good example here. Someone studying American law could say the maximum speed on the highway is no more than 70 M.P.H., but we know this is not the case at all. In some cases, authorities may choose not to enforce a strict speed limit. The same may have been true for slavery, therefore Roman law becomes less secure for reconstructing actual practice towards slaves in the first century. Consistency in application of laws is not a forgone conclusion in the case of slavery in the world of the first century.

There are other literary sources for slavery dating to the first century which may provide some data. Philosophers are often cited as indicating a shift in society’s attitude toward slavery. As Byron notes, there is no evidence these writings reflect public sentiment. In fact, one might argue there are very few times in history where the writings of a philosopher accurately reflected the views of society as a whole! It is possible to miss the point of a philosopher by not taking a saying in context of their system of thought. For example, the oft-cited view of Seneca that masters ought to not mistreat their slaves is not an example of a softening of attitudes toward slaves but rather an example of the Stoic ethic of self-control.

References to slaves also appear in Roman satirists and in novels. These references are also problematic since they do not really say anything about the status of a slave in the society. To take sayings of Marital, for example, as indicative of the general thinking of the populace is akin to taking Jerry Seinfeld as an example of how all Americans think. Novels which portray slaves as virtuous, socially mobile, etc. are poor evidence since the slave character is usually a prince who has wrongfully been enslaved and overcomes this setback and is restored to his proper status in the end. If a novel tried to accurately describe the life of a real slave, it would not be a very interesting novel at all! Novelists and satirists do not offer a sociological opinion of the status of the slave in the first century, therefore it would be dangerous to rely too heavily on this literature in research on first century slaves.

There is much to be learned from the sociological approaches to slavery as described by Byron. These studies seem to turn the accepted view of slavery one normally encounters in a commentary on Philemon around in a completely opposite direction. The law codes are a “legal fiction” and slavery was far from a pleasant experience. If one was forced into slavery it was as if one has died. This was no mere economic decision (selling yourself into seven years of slavery to pay off a debt, for example.) The slave, at the social level, was no longer a person but rather he has become property and is no longer his own. This “dying to self” and giving up personal ownership to a master is an appealing element when looking at Paul’s use of the metaphor, but it may be more influenced by American / western values of individuality and freedom rather than that of the Greco-Roman world. Was “freedom” more important than slavery? Perhaps not, sometimes it my have been better to be a slave to a powerful person than a freedman.

How does this “background” effect the way we look at Philemon and his slave, Onesimus?

 

Bibliography:  John Byron, “Paul And The Background Of Slavery: The Status Quaestionis In New Testament Scholarship,” CBR 3.1 (2004) 116-139.