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Ephesians Online—More comments and Chapter 4

  • Posted on Feb 8, 2010

Ephesians Chapters 2 &3 Comments

Initial comments: I know some of you continue to find it difficult to comment online. I heard from Margie C. in South Africa that she had trouble as well. Please do e-mail me comments at [email protected] and I can include your thoughts. We are also having trouble with the blog posted to the Memorial website. So, we will finish out this course using this method, but move to a better program for our next topic. I love that we have folks in Baltimore AND South Africa studying Ephesians together!

Baltimore context: As those of you in the States know, Baltimore got a record-setting snow over the weekend. Howard County–where Mary Jo lives–got almost 40 inches. It looks like a good two feet plus in Baltimore City. While the Memorial Church sidewalks are plowed, many of the Bolton Hill streets are not passable. There were 30 locals at our Morning Prayer service this past Sunday. No Annual Meeting. Another snowstorm approaching Tuesday night! So, we can all feel a bit like Paul in prison—housebound is fun for a while and then cabin fever sets in! We can feel a bit walled off from our communities.

Speaking of Paul in prison: Mary Jo asked some good questions about if things were becoming rough for Christians in this period—including why Paul was in prison. In general terms, the safety of Christians depended on the Roman leadership. If the emperor was lax about Christian practices, there was peace for the Christian. If the emperor was threatened by the Christian practice to NOT pledge loyalty to the emperor, then persecutions began. Paul was preaching in public places and probably stirring up crowds which made the Roman powers nervous and which made him an easy mark. Persecutions became more common in the second century. An interesting note: Some scholars (Marcus Barth and Jerome Murphy-O’Connor have suggested that Ephesians was written by a follower of Paul from the Essene community of Qumran. The Essenes were concerned with principalities and powers as well as persecution from within the Jewish community.

Several themes in Chapter 1 through 3: The book of Ephesians is roughly divided into two sections–Chapters 1-3 and Chapters 4-6. In Chapters 1-3, Paul (or Paul’s followers) sets the theme of God’s power in Christ in the church. This theme is marked by and told through forms of prayer in Chapters 1-3. Ephesians 3:14-21 is the concluding prayer in this first section of Ephesians. Here are some interesting themes:

(1)”Rooted and Grounded:” Commentators have puzzled over this mixed-metaphor from farm and building. (3:17) Paul has used these images before when he speaks of the church or household of God “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” and “is joined together and grows into a holy temple”..”for a dwelling place of God.” (2:20-22). This is a good argument that Paul or someone who knew Paul well wrote Ephesians. The building/agriculture metaphor is cound in 1 Corinthians 3:6-15 and Colossians 2:6-7. Paul was fond of combining these two images in his uncontested letters.

(2) “Rooted and Grounded” and the “Dividing Wall”: In Ephesians, the love of Christ is not only a deeply rooted and cosmic all-powerful force, but this love breaks down walls. In Chapter Two, Paul writes: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For his is our peace; in his flesh he has made noth groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (2:13-14) What might this dividing wall be referring to? Some commentators have suggested that this was a reference to “the low barrier around the outer court of the Jerusalem temple on which notices were posted in Greek and Latin warning Gentiles against entry.” (Bonnie Thurston, Spiritual Life in the Eearly Church, p. 86) Scholar G.B. Caird finds the term to reflect a metaphor from rabbin and biblical theology. The word phragmos (“fence” or “partition”) is used in the Greek text of Isaiah 5:2 and Mark 12:1 for the hedge that God plants around his vineyard, Israel. Caird notes that in Ephesians, the metaphor may refer to God’s protective hedge which has now become a hostile, rigid, legal system under Jewish nationalism. God’s love is so powerful that even this hedge has been overcome. It is safe for Gentiles to embrace the Jewish heritage. Those in Christ are one.

(3) “Infinitely More than We Can Ask or Imagine”: Paul ends the prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 with these famous final two verses. Verses captured as the closing sentences in the Episcopal tradition of Morning Prayer. God in Christ is so powerful that everything is up for transformation. This passage harkens to the annunciation of Mary–“For nothing will be impossible with God”(Luke 1:37) as well as Romans 8:39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These are passages that give hope across the ages. Liturgically, this section of Ephesians is chosen as the reading for Ascension Day. In Feasting on the Word, Joyce Hollyday states that “Because Christ is enthroned in heaven, we can expect the earthly thrones to be vacated by the abusive, imperial rulers, just as Mary the mother of Jesus predicted 2000 years ago (see the Magnificat Luke 1). We can trust that all will unfold “according to the working of God’s great power.” (Ephesians 3:19) This is indeed part of “the hope to which God has called us.”

Cultural Ponderings: Over the Christmas holidays, I saw the blockbuster movie, Avatar. Over this snowbound weekend, I watched District Nine. Both movies speak to the earthly powers’ (and maybe heavenly powers’) destructive tendencies to the “other”. Both movies speak to the dividing walls we humans are inclined to erect again and again. Since District Nine was set in South Africa, I was wondering what our South African bloggers think of that movie. In particular, how does the love of God become all-powerful in the face of violent oppression? Is violence for violence the only answer (see Avatar especially)? How might Paul respond to those situations in a letter? Or is that just too strange to consider? How would we as Christians respond to those films?

Homework: Consider the questions above and then read Chapter Four—which begins the second half of Ephesians–the half that considers how we act as Christians in the world.