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The book of Ephesians is one of Paul's writings, or at least attributed to Paul. Paul develops his strong and well-articulated spiritual philosophy and theology, which he presents in this letter to the people of Ephesus. Central to an understanding of Paul's theology as it is expressed in Ephesians is the conversion of Paul and the power it had over him and his life mission. Paul's vision of Christ empowered him to preach Christ's word, and he begins the epistle with a positive and upbeat tone: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ," (Ephesians 1:3). Paul also establishes the truth of Christ as God's Son, in whom "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace," (Ephesians 1:7). Thus, the cornerstone of Paul's theology is consistent with the Christian gospel and centers around redemption and salvation.
Paul also mentions the purpose of God's plan, which he describes as a "mystery" but one that will be revealed "when the times reach their fulfillment -- to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ," (Ephesians 1:10). One statement that Paul makes in the first chapter of Ephesians relates to being "chosen" or "predestined," which shows how closely connected the speaker was to his Jewish faith, and how aware Paul remains of the interconnectedness of Jews and Christians (Ephesians 1:11). Because Ephesians is written as an epistle, Paul speaks to his audience in Ephesus directly, offering prayers as well as a cohesive theology. The epistle has a personal tone, and a personal message as well.
As Slusser (2003) points out, it is crucial to use exegetical methods when analyzing Ephesians for its theological messages. Like exegesis, "biblical theology is that discipline which seeks to understand a single author, time period, or type of literature within its historical and cultural context," (Slusser, 2003, p. 3). One of the exegetical objectives is concordance, which is especially true in the case of the Pauline writings. As Ford (2001) points out, Ephesians is "generally seen as dependent on the Letter to the Colossians…so it is especially interesting to note where the two diverge." Concordance is well over one-quarter, as "out of 2,411 words in Ephesians, 26.5% are paralleled in Colossians, once with 29 consecutive words repeated verbatim," (Ford, 2001). This could well be due to the fact that Paul was entrusted with delivering the word of God as a preacher of Christ, and might have developed speeches and epistles that he could deliver in different cities.
The theme of travel and expanding the kingdom of Christ makes its way into Ephesians in a direct way. Paul has become aware of the need to create a "body" of Christ, a Church. As Wallace (n.d.) points out, "the theme of Ephesians is 'the Church, the Body of Christ.'" This theme emerges first in the second chapter of the text. Here, Paul establishes the central metaphor of a building -- a physical church "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone," (Ephesians 2:20). The masonic imagery presages the evolution of Christianity as a concrete faith, with actual structures and buildings to house the masses of believers.
Also in Chapter 2, Paul elucidates his belief that Christians and Jews can coexist and become a "new humanity…thus making peace," (Ephesians 2:15). The Pauline vision is not multicultural, though. Paul implies that the Jews are responsible for erecting a "dividing wall of hostility," again using the metaphor of construction and building to make his point (Ephesians 2:14). Ford (2001) finds Paul's position problematic from an ethical standpoint:
"Much more could be said about this, but the main point is simple: using the language of peace and unity (with differences unified within the church), Ephesians focuses in the church the fulfillment of God's oikonomia, and runs the danger (which has been fulfilled over and over again) of the continuing Jewish community being regarded as outside or opposed to God's oikonomia and therefore to be distanced, disrespected or even eliminated."
Paul does not believe that it is theologically possible to reconcile Judaism and Christianity, because the latter is predicated on faith in Christ and the former is not. Christ is theos -- Christ is theology. Paul therefore transfers the burden placed upon the Jews as "chosen" to the Christians. By God's grace shall Christians receive glory and salvation; but Christ is a necessary prerequisite.
By Chapter four, Paul refers more definitely to the theological function of the Church as that which creates unity "through the bond of peace," (Ephesians 4:3). Wallace (n.d.) interprets the passage to mean that the "Church is to maintain the unity in practice which Christ has brought about positionally." In other words, unity in Christ enables Christ to do His will on earth. Human beings must facilitate Christ by creating a community together. Christ is the spiritual figurehead of the community, which perpetually serves Christ. Paul describes the Church as being representative of "unity of spirit" among all Christians, who communicate the "bond of peace," in God's name (Ephesians 4:3).
Paul suggests that Christian community building is a theological necessity; the Church will become a physical sign of doing God's will as well as a manifestation of that will. Bonding together in the name of Christ helps to remove the bonds of ignorance, which harden the heart. As Paul puts it, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts," (Ephesians 4:18). Paul does refer disparagingly to Jews, whose hearts were as hard as his was until his vision.
Paul also presents the moral code upon which Christian doctrine, rooted in Christ, is built. Living a good life becomes a Christian theme. It is possible that the theme of living a "good life" came from Paul's preaching in Greek lands, for it was Aristotle who wrote about the "good life" centuries earlier. Paul's doctrine was in fact blended with Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought to form the first foundation stones of the Christian Church. Furthermore, Paul's moral code was formulated in a patriarchal framework in which the woman is subordinate to the man. "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything," (Ephesians 5:24). The gender and social norms that Paul outlines in Ephesians are shown to be linked to Paul's theology, which is a hierarchical one.
Christian living is the theme of much of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians. For example, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry," has become entrenched in Christian discourse because of Paul (Ephesians 4:26). "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," (Ephesians 4:32). At this point, Paul's theology becomes Paul's code of ethics. The remainder of Paul's speech, or epistle, is concerned with Christian moral codes. Paul distinguishes these Christian moral codes from those that were insufficiently outlined in the Hebrew bible, and establishes the core vision of compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness. Although not theological issues strictly, these moral issues go hand-in-hand with the budding Christian theology.
Paul's vision established the underpinning for a theology based on revelation and inspiration. In Ephesians, Paul acknowledges his own calling by claiming that all Christians are "called" and must answer that call. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received," (Ephesians 4:1). The calling only comes from God, who is unity even in spite of the singular nature of Christ as the Son. In chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul states, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all," (Ephesians 4: 4-6). There is no qualitative difference between the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. All are one; and all are made one through the Church.
The text also reveals Paul's cosmological view of Christ's ascension. Christ ascends and descends, linking the heaven to earthly dimensions. The Church is also a realm in between heaven and earth and a bridge between the two. Paul establishes for the first time a metaphor for the building of the Christian community as representing the will of God and Christ. The church is the way Christians serve God. As he preaches to a group of Gentiles who have not yet been baptized in the name of Christ, Paul elucidates the central paradox of Christianity and Christ's life, which is that, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe," (Ephesians 4:10).…[continue]
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