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).
In 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:
- W. Creighton Marlowe and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: Wisdom Psalms
- Duane Garett and Calvin Pearson, Jeremiah and Lamentations
- Gregory MaGee and Jeffrey Arthurs, Ephesians
- Thomas Moore and Timothy D. Sprankle, Philippians
- Herbert W. Bateman IV & Steven Smith, Hebrews