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!)


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


Gregory MaGee and Jeffrey Arthurs, Ephesians (Kerux)

MaGee, Gregory S. and Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Ephesians. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 281 pp. Hb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

The Kerux commentary series pairs an exegete and a preacher. In this case, both authors have experience in both the academy and ministry. Gregory MaGee (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of biblical studies and chair of the Biblical Studies, Christian Ministries, and Philosophy Department at Taylor University. His other publications include Studying Paul’s Letters with the Mind and Heart (Kregel 2018) and Portrait of an Apostle: A Case for Paul’s Authorship of Colossians and Ephesians (Pickwick, 2013).  Jeffrey Arthurs (PhD, Purdue University) is Robinson Chair of Preaching and Communication and Dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and published Preaching with Variety (Kregel 2007) and Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture (Kregel 2012). He contributed the preaching section to the Kerux commentary on Colossians and Philemon (Kregel 2022).

MaGee and Arthurs, EphesiansIn the introduction, “at first glance there is not much to say about the authorship of the Ephesians: the apostle Paul wrote it!” (31). Nevertheless, the introduction deals with five common objections to the traditional authorship with responses for each. They suggest these arguments against Pauline authorship “fail to account for Paul’s ability to apply complex an insightful theological guidance to different settings according to the specific needs there” (33).

The authors suggest the most likely scenario is Paul wrote Ephesians shortly after Colossians and sought to articulate the same ideas in both letters. Colossians was fresh in his mind when he wrote the book of Ephesians. They briefly agree with the traditional view the book was written from Rome A.D. 60-61 as a circular letter to several churches in Asia Minor, including both Ephesus and Laodicea. MaGee deals with the textual variant in 1:1, in the body of the commentary.

The introduction also provides a brief historical background for Ephesus and Asia Minor. This section develops two major themes in the background of Ephesians, political power and magic in diaspora Jewish communities, as seen Acts 19. MaGee is guided by the work of Paul Trebilco and John Barclay throughout the commentary. Paul is writing to house churches in Asia minor, a wide network of gentile believers learning to be unified as a single body, as equal family members.

The introduction also highlights several theological themes to be found in the book of Ephesians. First, Paul main theme throughout the book is being united in Christ. Focusing on “in Christ” language in the book, the authors suggest the believer is completely identified with Christ.  Second, walking in Christ. Paul focuses on a life marked by love (5:2) and holiness (4:15; 5:8). Third, Paul develops Christ’s authority in heaven and earth in Ephesians. Although Jesus is presently ruling, in the future he will assume his comprehensive rule and restore all things 1:9-10. Fourth, the believer’s identity in Christ can be summed up under the phrase “sit, walk, stand.” The believer’s identity in Christ should shape how they live out their life and mission.

Like other volumes in this series, the body of the commentary begins with a summary of the preaching unit. MaGee distills the unit into a brief, single sentence exegetical idea and theological focus. Each section of the commentary begins with a few comments on the literary structure and connections to the larger themes of Ephesians. This is followed by detailed exegesis of the section. Greek appears without transliteration and MaGee often makes in-text citations to the standard lexical and syntactical reference works. The commentary frequently deals with syntactical issues and compares various commentaries where necessary.  He often uses sidebars labeled “translation analysis” to comparing various commentaries and modern translations, or analyze textual critical issues.

Each chapter is supplemented by sidebars offering details on cultural background. For example, a sidebar on the dividing wall of hostility connects to the Jewish temple. Here is an excellent sidebar on shared identity of Jews in the Roman world, following John Barclay and N. T. Wright. The sidebar entitled “Magnifying Caesar Augustus and Ephesus” is particularly helpful for putting Paul’s gospel in the context of the Roman world. The use of psalms 68 in Ephesians 4:8 and a longer discussion of Christ’s descent are excellent. MaGee compares two positions on the Christ’s descent and concludes Paul is referring to the incarnation (163). There is an excellent lengthy sidebar on Household Codes, comparing Ephesians to similar ideas in Greco-Roman writers. In addition to the sidebars, MaGee also contributes photographs of Ephesus to illustrate aspects of the commentary.

Following the exegesis is a brief theological focus tying the exegesis back to the theological summary of Ephesians in the introduction.

For each of the thirteen chapters, Jeffery Arthurs offers a series of preaching and teaching strategies. He first summarized the exegetical and theological sections and present a single sentence preaching idea for the unit. One of the values of the preaching section is connections to contemporary culture. Arthurs offers illustrations draw from a wide range of sources, including recent news stories, visual aids, stories, and skit suggestions, and even a reference to Bono and Kanye West (Jesus is King). He provides URLs for many of his suggestions. For many (older?) pastors, these insights will be valuable for contextualizing Ephesians for American churches. I notice there are more sidebars and charts in the preaching and teaching sections than other commentaries in this series.

Conclusion. MaGee and Arthurs commentary on Ephesians provides pastors and teachers tools to use when preparing lessons and sermons on this important book. MaGee grounds his exegesis in the culture of first century Ephesus and Arthurs brings that exegesis to life in a twenty-first century pulpit. Like others in the Kerux series, the commentary is solidly evangelical and does not stray far from traditional views on the Pauline setting for the book.

I noticed there is a footnote missing for the sidebar on page 36. The chart on page 108 seems to be duplicated on page 132.


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

Other volumes reviewed in this series:




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?