Help! What are the Controversial/Debated Issues in Ephesians?

I am currently reviewing an Ephesians commentary and I am just now through the introduction and getting into the commentary notes. Writing a review of a commentary is very difficult because there is so much information and it is more of a reference work than a monograph (how do you review a dictionary, for example?). There are many things to mention regarding Ephesians in general – authorship, purposes for the text, “Paul and Politics” issues, engaging with the “New Perspective,” etc… I will, of course, treat these issues.

What about the commentary text itself? For any of you more familiar with the history of scholarship on Ephesians, what are the key debated texts and issues of interpretation? I have some idea (esp in view of similar issues in Colossians), but I thought I would throw the question out there.

Again: what are the most debated texts and issues in Ephesians? (My own interest is in the use of the OT, and also the purpose and theological perspective of the household code.)

May 2012 Expository Times with NT Wright article on current Pauline Scholarship

See here. NT Wright’s article “Paul in Current Anglophone Scholarship” is a nice, short survey of trends in Pauline research from someone who has had a massive influence on it. He defends his views on the New Perspective. He jabs apocalyptic scholars. He wonders about the possibilities of comparing Paul with the ancient philosophers. He hopes for a more robust approach to studying Paul theologically. It is a very easy and interesting read.

My favorite comment: responding to Pamela Eisenbaum’s book entitled Paul was Not a Christian (because Christianity had not formalized), Wright quips (saying something like): no, he wasn’t; and Moses wasn’t a Jew…

He has very high praise for Richard Hays and Wayne Meeks. I am proud to say my buddy Ben Blackwell gets honorable mention – probably the one of the only person mentioned in the article who graduated from his/her PhD in the last couple of years (though Justin Hardin receives mention as well, way to go Justin!; and Matthew Novenson [now at Edinburgh, thesis monograph in 2012] gets special note for his work on Paul’s view of Jesus as Messiah.)


Craig Evans New Matthew Commentary (Review)

A few weeks ago I mentioned the release of Craig Evans’ Matthew volume in the New Cambridge Bible Commentary Series (2012; ed. Witherington). Having now read the commentary, I am happy to commend it to students, pastors, and scholars interested in this Gospel as well as Jesus studies.

Obviously, this commentary is consistent with Evans’ previous work – Jesus is best understood within his Jewish background and context, the Gospels offer reliable historical portrayals of the life of Jesus, etc… (see esp p. 10). In terms of his overall approach to Matthew, he follows a traditional view of the Synoptic Gospels with Mark preceding Matthew, and the latter redactionally re-working Mark towards his own theological interests. Evans presumes the existence and influence of Q.

While he does not hammer the point too hard, he makes a reasonable hypothesis regarding the purpose and background of Matthew: “Matthew is still in the Jewish community, struggling to convince a skeptical synagogue that Jesus really is Israel’s Messiah, that his teaching really does measure up to the righteous requirements of the Law of Moses, and that his death and resurrection really have fulfilled prophecy” (p. 6). He goes on to state that there is still some signs of the parting of the ways: “Matthew seems to have written his Gospel in a time of transition, when he and his primary readers, most of whom were ethnically Jewish but were evangelizing Gentiles, had been driven out of the synagogue and had begun to form a community of faith distinct from it” (pp. 6-7).

One of the central issues of interpretation of Matthew I was interested in was the evangelist’s use of the OT. Evans makes frequent, though brief, statements in this regard. First of all, Evans notes Matthew’s particular interest in typology: “Matthew sees biblical history repeating itself, which is what typology is all about — the conviction that God will act in the future the way he acted in he past” (p. 47). Evans is careful to argue, though, that if certain interpretive techniques (like Midrash) were used by Matthew, that does not mean he made up stories about Jesus simply to connect him to OT stories. He uses the miraculous conception and virginal birth as an example. Is it really possible that these Jesus stories were fabricated out of a reading of Isa 7:14?

There is no history of interpretation that anticipates either a miraculous conception or a messianic identity of the child in Isaiah 7. Neither was there an expectation that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin (p. 63).

Evans also underscores that Jesus did not directly threaten or challenge Torah. Part of Matthew’s purpose in writing is to show that “Jesus was not a lawbreaker and did not encourage his followers to break the law” (p. 113). So why does he seem so critical of Jewish leaders and their own attitudes towards the law? In view of Matt 7:13-14, Evans explains, “one can either interpret the Law according to what it really teaches and what it really requires, or one can make a sham of it; one can practice one’s piety with integrity and sincerity, or one can play the role of an actor whose piety in intended to win the praise of humans, not God” (pp 170-171)

The real value of this commentary, though most comments are all-too-short, revolves around Evans’ encyclopedic knowledge of early Jewish, Rabbinic, and Greco-Roman literature and how Jesus’ life and teachings fit into this context. Here are some of the comments he makes that caught my attention.

1. Evans notes that Mary’s husband, Joseph, had a number of important dreams. Evans connects this to “Joseph the dreamer” in Genesis.

2. Evans takes a more negative view of the magi. They are not holy wise men coming to worship Jesus.

3. “Let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus is not disrespecting a son’s desire to bury is recently dead father. Rather, this perhaps refers to “the Jewish custom of gathering and reburying the bones of the deceased one year after death and primary burial” (p. 194).

4. Beatitudes – Evans notes the striking similarities with Isaiah 61:1-11 – mourning, inheritance, righteousness, being filled, etc…He refers to the beatitudes, then, as an exposition of this prophetic text.

5. Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection. Is this Easter faith imported back into the life of Jesus? Evans thinks not. Jesus watched the condemnation and execution of John the Baptist happen during his ministry. He could see the expected outcome of his own preaching and actions. What about his resurrection? Evans thinks that it is likely he already believed in the resurrection from the dead – especially that he would be vindicated by God. It is unclear whether he imagined to be raised up independently.

I could go on and on (the commentary is littered with my markings and underlining of a wide variety of interesting parallels and interpretations). However, I should also mention a few weaknesses and omissions in this commentary. First of all, I was very surprised that Evans did not include in his introduction a discussion of genre. This has become a very critical point of interpretation as the view on genre determines things like historicity, purpose, and the way a theological reading might be accomplished.

Secondly, sometimes his redactional views seem rather rigid – Matthew is always fixing up and re-working Mark. This raises many questions. For example, did Matthew disagree with Mark? Were these corrections?

Thirdly, while I really enjoyed reading his contextual parallels, he rarely takes time to explain the significance of these comparative texts. Was Jesus influenced by them? Was his teaching unique or conventional?

Fourthly, the few times he commented on Greek verbal issues, he worked from a view that tense is equivalent to and indicative of time or continuity of action (which Stanley Porter would object to; see p. 87). Because grammatical comments are not a point of focus in the commentary, this is not that big of a deal, but it did irk me on the rare occasions I saw it.

Finally, he almost never draws out the theological significance of the interpretations he offers. Perhaps this is a constraint of the series itself (where it is about historical interpretation, not theological analysis). Still, I know Evans has opinions on these matters and I kept hoping for more “Therefore…” in the commentary. Again, it could be that he simply could not do this in view of his writing assignment.


I am really happy to have this volume by Craig Evans. When it comes to defending the historical reliability of the gospels, there are few folks more competent than Evans and he does so without seeming like a close-minded fundamentalist. He really thinks and acts like a true historian and that is why he is so well-respected, even by those who disagree with him. This commentary works best as a reference work, to wrap your head around the Jewish background and context of Jesus’ life and teachings. You will need to turn elsewhere for helps with theological views and application for life and ministry (I recommend Keener, Senior, Hagner, and France). Also, for $35.00 the price is not bad for a 500+ page commentary. So, even though there are a wide number of commentaries on Matthew available, this one is worthy of attention.

New issues of Catalyst (with articles by Dale Allison and Roger Olsen)

I really enjoying reading the brief, but informative, articles in the Methodist periodical Catalyst. The March 2012 issue features a piece by Dale Allison on “The Study of the Historical Jesus and Human Memory” – a nice summary of where Allison stands on Jesus research.

The April 2012 issue has a contribution by Roger Olsen on “An Arminian Account of Free Will.”

As always, an excellent collection of essays!

Book Notice: FS for Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (CBQMS)

I just came across the advertisement for a FS for Jerome Murphy-O’Connor called Celebrating Paul (CBQMS; ed. P. Spitaler, 2011). After scouring the internet I finally found the table of content with the list of contributors and it is really impressive – a testament to the legacy of JMOC’s scholarship (esp on 1-2 Corinthians).

I have set in bold the essays I am seriously interesting in reading.

The significance of the Pauline writings / Joseph A. Fitzmeyer –
Divisions are necessary (1 Corinthians 11:19) / Jerome Murphy-O’Connor –
In search of the historical Paul / James D.G. Dunn –
“I rate all things as loss” : Paul’s puzzling accounting system : Judaism as loss or the re-evaluation of all things in Christ? / William S. Campbell –
Paul and the Jewish tradition : the ideology of the Shema / Mark D. Nanos –
Paul, a change agent : model for the twenty-first century / John J. Pilch –
Paul’s four discourses about sin / Stanley K. Stowers –
Adam and Christ in the Pauline Epistles / Pheme Perkins –
Living in newness of life : Paul’s understanding of the moral life / Frank J. Matera –
Ecocentric or anthropocentric? : a reading of Romans 8:18-25 / Jan Lambrecht –
“Set apart for the gospel” (Romans 1:1) : Paul’s self-introduction in the letter to the Romans / Ekkehard W. Stegemann –
Adam, Christ, and the law in Romans 5-8 / Brendan Byrne –
[Nomos, agapē], and [charismata] in Paul’s writings / Helmut Koester –
Interpreting Romans 11:14 : what is at stake? / Jean-Noël Aletti –
Reinterpreting Romans 13 within its broader context / Robert Jewett –
“To the Jew first” (Romans 1:16) : Paul’s defense of Jewish privilege in Romans / Gregory Tatum –
Paul, ritual purity, and the ritual baths south of the Temple Mount (Acts 21:15-28) / David E. Aune –
Where have all my siblings gone? : a reflection on the use of kinship language in the Pastoral Epistles / Raymond F. Collins –
Augustine’s Pauline method : 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as a case study / Thomas F. Martin.

If you’d like to order the book, it is a very reasonable $25 ($20 for members of CBA).

Commending Todd Still’s Philippians Commentary (Smyth & Helwys)

I just finished reading (nearly cover-to-cover) Todd D. Still’s (Truett Seminary) commentary on Philippians and Philemon (Smyth & Helwys, 2011). Because it aims at walking readers (especially students) through the text without getting into each and every exegetical question, I didn’t feel the need to write a full-blown “review.” Let me just say that after each chapter I read, my initial inclinations about Still’s advice were confirmed and the two words that repeatedly came to my mind were: “eminently sensible.” Still has a wonderful way with words, and those words offer very well-researched and trustworthy counsel when turning to Paul’s letter to the Philippians and to Philemon.

Two elements of the commentary are particularly noteworthy. First of all, each chapter of exegetical discussion is followed by a reflection on “Connections” (as is the format for the series). Still shows avenues of thinking and application that help the interpreter bring the ancient text into the modern world. Again, solid wisdom, especially from a godly man who spends his days training pastors.

Secondly, his Smyth & Helwys volume probably has more footnotes that many of the others in the series (that I have seen). That means that, while his main text is pretty much free of references to books and articles, the footnotes offer helpful resources for following up on an issue. There is a good amount of research on Philippians out there (commentaries, articles, and monographs), and Still draws from the best of them.

In terms of his influences, he tends to dialogue with and draw especially from the work of Hooker, Bockmuehl, and Fee – all excellent commentators. His strength is in the area of socio-historical background – no doubt following closely in the footsteps of his doktorvater John Barclay.

What else is Still working on these days?  He is writing an introduction to Paul, a guide to 1 and 2 Thessalonians for T & T Clark, the PAIDEIA commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians (Baker), and a socio-rhetorical commentary on 1 Peter (Eerdmans). Yee-gads! Well, his pain is our gain!! Thanks Todd!

The Jewish Annotated New Testament (eds. A-J Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler) A Review

Oxford University Press recently published The Jewish Annotated New Testament edited by A-J Levine (Vanderbilt) and Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis). As you might suspect, the purpose of this volume is the provide scholarship on the Jewish contexts in which the NT and the community of Jesus followers arose. The book is made up of two parts: the first part is the text of the New Testament (NRSV) with introductory and study notes by Jewish scholars. The second part of the book is a mini-dictionary with a variety of entries on aspects of early Judaism and the Jewish background and contexts of the NT by the same scholars.

What first attracted me to this book was the short dictionary article in the second part by Levine called “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made About Early Judaism.” Here Levine exposes misunderstandings and common mistakes made, even by reputable NT scholars, when it comes to perspectives on early Judaism. Here is her “hit list.”

Myth #1: the Jewish law of Jesus’ time was impossible to follow (Acts 15:10). She argues, “In actuality, Jews, then and now, did not find Torah observance any more burdensome than citizens in most countries find their country’s laws today.” She also points to Jesus’ own law-obedience.

Myth #2: Jews follow Torah in order to earn God’s love or a place in heaven. This is the mistake of viewing Judaism as a merit-based religion. She points to the election of God, which was a gift in the eyes of early Jews. She admits some early Jewish texts may have taken a stronger “merits” perspective, but she urges that the majority of Jews did not think like this.

Myth #3: Purity laws were burdensome and unjust. She exposes a number of misconceptions about Jewish purity. For example, Levine points out that, in the situation of Jesus touching the woman with a flow of blood (and accepting contact with a person who is impure), this does not show that Jesus is loving, while most Jews are only concerned with purity. She explains that impurity based on menstruation could not be passed on by hand. I (Nijay) agree that OT purity laws were not burdensome and unjust. However, it could have been that some groups in society intensified the laws and extended them in unjust ways.

Myth #4: early Judaism was cruel towards women. Levine doesn’t think we should view Jesus as a radical egalitarian either. He did not have any women as members of the twelve. She admits that certain parts of Rabbinic texts reflect on women negatively, but we have much reason to believe women were treated quite well in early Judaism.

Myth #5: Jesus forbids divorce because Jewish men sent away their wives “for the flimsiest of reasons.” Levine points out that some strands of Jewish teaching held to very strict standards for divorce.

Myth #6: Jesus ministers to the marginal and outcast. Levine asks: “cast out by whom? Cast out from what?” Sinners and taxcollectors, she argues, “are people who violate the welfare of the community and who have deliberately removed themselves from the common good” (503). Even gentiles are not marginalized by Judaism. The are welcome in the synagogues and temple (to a certain extent).

Myth #7: All Jews wanted a militant messiah. She makes it clear that there was no universal understanding or expectation of the Messiah. Some expected a priest, others a shepherd. She also notes that Jesus was not exactly the pacifist – he commanded his disciples to carry weapons (Luke 22:36-38). I think Levine is wise to express caution, but she downplays the overwhelming number of texts that reveal expectations of a warrior messiah.

Myth #8: Jesus invented the idea of an intimate heavenly “Father.” OT, early Jewish, and Rabbinic texts all employ the title of Father for God sometimes, Levine reminds us.

Myth #9: Jesus condemned the temple institution. Jesus never accuses the temple institution of corruption. She argues, “The vast majority of the Jewish people loved the Temple, visited it on pilgrimage festivals, protected it from Roman profanation, and mourned its destruction” (p. 504).

Myth #10: Early Judaims was narrow, clannish, and exclusivistic and Jesus invented universalism. She admits the Qumranists were sectarian, but other groups were more open and embracing.

Overall, Levine offers much food for thought. Her best points are #1, #2, #6, #9, and #10. I take a bit of an issue with #7 (militant messiah). Yes, true, views of the Messiah were varied. But there are SO many texts that anticipate a warrior that I think we can say that if there was a wider (though not universal) trend, it was the hope of a militant messiah. Even the DSS, which expect a priest like Aaron, still see the Messiah engaging in serious conflict. I think it would be nice to have a longer version of her responses, especially to the matter of Jesus and women (#4) and his relationship with outcasts (#6).

There are many great articles in the second part by scholars like Martin Goodman, Shaye Cohen, and Mark Nanos. I was more disappointed with the NRSV study notes. Most of the time they were too brief. Other times, they had nothing to do with Judaism – they were the kind of notes you would find in any academic study Bible (they just happen to be written by a Jewish scholar). Finally, the biggest concern I had with the book was the casual way that some authors dismissed the NT writers’ views as biased or historically inaccurate. While they are trying to correct anti-semitic views, do they not recognize that they are Jewish scholars correcting (mostly?) Jewish NT writers? For example, one writer declared that Mark was flat-out wrong in his interpretation of Jesus’ words in Mark 7:19 – “Thus he declared all foods clean.” It is one thing if you find Mark’s words perplexing, it is another to accuse him of distortion, sloppiness, or stupidity. I had hoped that the corrective and clarifying aspects of this volume would be more gracious.

That having been said, I am very excited to have this book and especially to read the essays in the second part – most of which are written by leading experts in early Judaism. As for the study notes, I hope to dip into Mark Nanos’ notes on Romans, Shaye Cohen’s on Galatians, and Pamela Eisenbaum’s on Hebrews. Also, the price (Amazon: $23) is not bad for a book from Oxford!

Morna Hooker on Adam-Typology in the Philippian Christ-Hymn (2:5-11)

Commentators on Philippians have long debated whether we should (and can) read Adam typology into the Christ Hymn of Philippians (2:5-11). Is Christ an anti-Adam in this story? Many scholars err on the side of caution – there is no clear verbal parallel between Phil 2 and Genesis 1-3. It would be typological and thematic, but it is not a perfect comparison/contrast because Adam was (only) human, Jesus was more than human. In that sense, we wouldn’t be looking at apples and apples.

I appreciate the caveats and we should not over-blow the potential parallels, but I am still convinced (with Wright and M. Hooker) that it would have been hard for Torah-aware readers not to think about Adam (whether Paul, the author, or the readers the letter was sent to). Thus, I find Hooker’s interpretation convincing overall, despite lack of verbal connections and the obvious differences between Jesus and Adam.

“The relationship between Adam and Christ is not that of two successive competitors in a task, the first of whom fails while the second succeeds. Rather, Christ has to undo the failure of Adam, reverse his disobedience, and bring life where Adam brought death. Christ is thus greater than Adam…Christ is the true ‘image of God,’ after whom Christians are now being re-created, while Adam is the distorted copy, whose disobedience resulted in humanity’s becoming enslaved to sin and death.” (“Philippians” NIB, 504-5).
What are the liabilities of this reading, other than potentially taking too many hermeneutical liberties with the text?