Lectionary Year B
April 2, 2000
Step IV: Broader Context
A. PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY
(JH) Ephesus was a booming city at the time Paul wrote this epistle. There were many temples erected to deities, the most famous of which is Artemis, the beautiful. It was a center of Stoic philosophical thought. It was a commerce center, with a large port. Many famous Roman visitors came to the city, but it is also where the disciple John and Mary, mother of Jesus came after Christ's death. The theater in Ephesus held 24,000!
(JW) Adopting the dating of Ephesians around the latter part of the 1st century (after the writing of Colossians)1, helps to identify a specific period of primitive Christianity to be in dialogue with. A few decades earlier, Christianity had established its center in Jerusalem. Not long thereafter, and from Acts we learn of the persecution of the Christians which follows the death of Stephen. Stephen was stoned by the Jews, for supposedly uttering the perceived blasphemous statement; "that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us." (Acts 6:14). Many Christians flee Jerusalem.
(JW) The Apostle Paul's evangelism is to the communities of Gentiles outside of Jerusalem, however some representation of Jewish Christians is probable. Even more obvious is that the earliest Christian missionaries were those Jewish Christians fleeing Jerusalem and sharing Stephen's views, like Phillip. Still, from the Gospels we learn of great evangelism and conversions of Jews to Christianity, especially during the Apostolic Era. Consequently the intertwining of Judaism and Christian belief depicts the evolution of Christianity during this early period. Kenneth Scott Latourette writes in A History of the Expansion of Christianity", "At least some of the Jews who had become Christians might anticipate that through the Gospel the goal was at last to be reached and that the barrier between Jew and Gentile was to be broken down by both becoming 'one new man' 'in Christ Jesus' (Eph. 2:11-15). Thus the expansion of Christianity out into the Hellenistic world intertwined "syncretism, philosophies and mystery cults"2
(JW) Even more interesting is Latourette's perspective about the fusion of Judaic theology with early Christian theology. He writes, "The majority of Gentile Christians regarded the Jewish Scriptures as authoritative, thought of themselves as the true spiritual heirs of Israel, claimed for themselves the promises which the Hebrews held that Yahweh had made to them, and treasured and read repeatedly one or more of the Gospels and the letters of Paul and of others of the first-century Christians."3 Essentially, the conclusion is that Christianity offered to the Gentile, all of Judaism's promises without the stringent lifestyle requirements Jews practiced.
1 Donelson, Lewis, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, p. 59-61.
2 Latourette, p. 84.
3 Latourette, p. 84.
B. OLD TESTAMENT/JUDAISM
(JH) Paul's Ephesus epistle addresses issues regarding the separation of the Jew and the Gentile (2:11ff.) This text as a wider context is to show how all are to be united under the one Body of Christ.
(JW) Seemingly of relevance to this pericope is the Judaic understanding of health. The relationship between their concept of physical health and spiritual health is noticed in their cleanliness laws. Louis Finkelstein writes in his The JEWS Their History, Culture and Religion, "The concept of purity is of eminent importance in biblical legislation. Physical purity is put on a par with moral purity, and it is not admitted that heart and mind can be pure without cleanliness of the body."4 That the 1st century Jews were devoted to achieving purity before God, is but a foregone conclusion. The interesting notation is that the general prescription for becoming pure after having been defiled, was primarily through bathing.
(JW) Psalms 26 and 51 cite the requesting of God's washing away our sins, thus granting forgiveness of sin. The Psalms we are told in the 1st century literature and letters, were the center of Jewish worship. Hence, a logical tie to the theological understanding of the cleansing and purifying grace of Jesus Christ. Converted Jews accepted the Messianic understanding of being saved from the filth of their evil deeds and thoughts. Those that did not convert, obviously could not accept Jesus as the Messiah, their Savior.
4 Finkelstein, Louis, Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, 1949, Volume II, p. 1014.
C. HELLENISTIC WORLD
(JH) In common with most ancient peoples, the Greeks were afraid of spiritual beings that were capable of maligning them. The word for demons was actually of Greek origin. (daimon). In its earliest etymological roots, it referred to a divine being. This was translated into such words as air (aer) found in Eph 2:2. The air, particularly the lower and denser, is the region of the devil, the prince of the demons that fill the realm of the air. (New Unger's Bible Dict.)
(JW) The synagogue was the place the Gospel would first be proclaimed to the Graeco-Roman communities. Most often division would occur in these Jewish/Gentile communities and Christians would congregate in their own places of assembly. This division thus would concern the Romans, the Jews and the Christian missionaries. The notion of universalism which the Apostle Paul would be delivering (Jew and Gentile alike) seemingly threatened the proud identity of the Jewish community. The Romans had accepted the Jews as a unique people and even granted some privileges of self-government to them. The fear of loss of identity within the secular order must have been an influential factor in the ultimate Christian persecutions.
(JW) The Apostle Paul would encounter this same sort of division in the early Christian church. The threat of identity loss would surface as Christians would promote one missionary over another. Scholars have tied Ephesians to Colossians in a manner that argues a case for Ephesians being a commentary on Colossians. The focus is on the praise rendered to the faithfulness of the Jew and Gentile Christians in Colassae. The understanding of hope as the heart of the Gospel is clear in Colossians as is the focus on the power of Christ. In Ephesians the power of Christ is further expounded on and quite specifically in this pericope. The immediate text is quite germane, "...having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might..." (1:18-19).
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