Sunday 28 August 2011

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (5)

Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 538pp., ISBN 9780310243731.

Earlier entries:

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (1)

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (2)

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (3)

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (4)

Clinton Arnold’s Introduction to Ephesians includes a helpful section on purpose (41-46).

I remember being impressed, reading his published thesis on ‘power and magic’ in Ephesians, that he didn’t try to squeeze the whole of Ephesians into that mould; he allowed that other things were going on, that Paul was doing other things in Ephesians too. That also comes out in this section in his commentary on the purpose of Ephesians.

Ephesians, he notes, ‘is the least situational’ (41) of Paul’s letters, which has led some to be cautious about specifying a particular problem or set of problems the letter is seeking to tackle. Even so, according to Arnold, ‘if we read the text of Ephesians more closely in the light of its setting in Ephesus and western Asia Minor, we might profitably ask what kind of contingency factors or general cultural pressures do we find that may have potentially motivated Paul to write this letter’ (43), and he notes that four ‘prominent themes’ emerge:

(1) The threat of the spiritual powers should now be seen in light of the superior power of God and the power he imparts to his people. (43)

(2) The powerful cultural pressure of the animosity of Gentiles toward Jews can and must be overcome in the church on the basis of Jesus’ work of uniting both into one new community. (44)

(3) All the new Gentile believers needed encouragement and help in continuing the process of ceasing their immoral practices and appropriating a lifestyle consistent with the holiness of the God to whom they now belonged. (44)

(4) Believers need to be well-established in an understanding of their new identity in Christ and what this means for their spiritual struggle, their relationship to fellow believers, and their ability to live the virtue and moral imperatives of the Christian life. (45)

In sum, then, Arnold offers the following statement of purpose:

‘Paul wrote this letter to a large network of churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote a greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into a greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display’ (45).

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