Clinton Arnold’s Commentary on Ephesians (ZECNT)

Clinton Arnold’s Commentary on Ephesians (ZECNT) June 29, 2011

Some of you may know that I am writing a commentary on Colossians (Smyth & Helwys) right now. While I am in the initial primary research phase, I am avoiding any contact with Colossians scholarship and commentaries – that will come later.

However, when Clinton Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians came out recently (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), I felt that it would be helpful to see how he interprets this cousin of Colossians. There are, of course, so many overlapping issues – I knew that Arnold would offer much in terms of talking about spiritual powers, magic, and folk religion.

Overall, I have enjoyed his commentary, the format of the commentary, and his positions on various controversial matters are well-stated, though I don’t always agree with him. I will offer some bits and pieces from the commentary below

Introduction: “This letter [of Ephesians] summarizes what it means to be a Christian better than any other book in the Bible” (p. 21)

Key issues that Ephesians deals with: 

  • assimilation ministry and the training of new believers
  • the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will
  • spiritual warfare
  • worship in the church, including the issue of diversity of form and style
  • spiritual formation
  • gender roles in marriage
  • racial reconciliation
  • God’s design and plan for the church
  • the basis and call for ecumenical unity
  • the gospel in an animistic context
  • the contextualization of theology
  • living in a context of religious pluralism
  • the gift of being an apostle
  • the gift of prophecy
  • the role of the Jewish law
  • the local church and missions
  • intercessory prayer in the Christian life
  • the nature of spiritual power
  • the ongoing work of Satan and demons
Destination: Ephesus – but it was intended “to circulate in nearby villages, and possibly to churches in cities as far away as Smyrna, Miletus, and the Maeander and Lycus valleys” (p. 29)
1 Corinthians 15:32 – Paul writes, “I fought with wild animals at Ephesus” – Arnold convincingly argues (with Guy Williams) that “within Judaism, wild animals and various kinds of beasts were often used symbolically for evil spirits. This is true even in the NT letters, where Satan is represented by Peter as a “roaring lion” (1 Pet 5:8-9)” (p. 39)
So… “Paul’s beast fight reflects the spiritual warfare struggle that Paul experienced while he attempted to reach Ephesus with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. (39).
Purpose of Ephesians – I was impressed by what Arnold had to say about the purpose of this letter. Neither does he see serious doctrinal or moral matters that need a response (like 1 Corinthians or Galatians), nor did he simply write a universal sermon about whatever and sent it off “to whom it may concern.” This letter engages in “identity formation” – a serious matter, but not reparative. Here is Arnold’s statement on purpose
Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local 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 (p. 45).
  Authorship – Arnold admits up front that he is not going to dwell on this matter, since there is already much published on it. Of course, he concludes that this document is written by Paul and all attempts to argue for pseudonymity fall short in his opinion. Two arguments that Arnold puts forward are helpful in my opinion. First, “The pseudepigraphical hypothesis cannot adequately account for the autobiographical material in the letter” (p. 46). If a false-writer was devising a false situation and context for the letter, he really seemed to go out of his way! As Arnold points out, he even describes his posture when praying (3:14)!
Secondly, while pseudepigraphical apocalyptic works were rather accepted and common in early Judaism, we cannot confidently say the same about pseudepigraphical personal letters (p. 49).
The Commentary: Notes
Overall, Arnold does a good job dealing with the various exegetical difficulties in the text. Here are some notes.
1:18 – the “holy ones” are the redeemed people, not angels.
1:21 – all terms for supernatural powers (“hostile angelic powers”) (pp.
112-115. While Arnold has really studied the folk religious beliefs and practices in Asia Minor in the ancient world and brought much light to bear on Ephesians, I feel that Arnold downplays the imperial, human counterparts to these spiritual powers. I don’t see it as either-or, but both-and. Fred Long (Asbury Seminary) is working on an Ephesians commentary (Rhetoric in Religious Antiquity series) where he has studied many inscriptions, especially bringing to bear how the terminology used in Ephesians alludes and refers to worship of the emperor. I think both perspectives need to be there.
2:2 – the “ruler of the air” is Satan – “the air” is referred to in early Judaism as a place where evil spirits reside – “Philo speaks of demons as hovering in the air (On Giants, 1.6, 8).” (132) – 1 Enoch has demons “dwelling in the clouds (15:10-11)” (132)
2:20 – the “prophets” are first century ones, not OT ones (170).
4:5 – “one Lord” – “Gentiles in the churches confessing Jesus as the one Lord would recognize that Artemis of Ephesus was not Lord regardless of the fact that she was acclaimed as such” (p. 234)
5:14 – “Get up, O sleeper…” – “The best interpretation is that Paul is here citing an early Christian hymn, which in turn had been deeply influenced by a christological interpretation of [two passages from] Isaiah” (334)
5:18 – not getting drunk on wine may be a reference to practices in association with Bacchus.
the book ends with a mini chapter on the Theology of Ephesians – brilliant! Every commentary should end like this!
In terms of secondary interaction, Arnold refers often to the work of Barth, Best, Lincoln, O’Brien, Schnackenburg, Hoehner, and Calvin.
Overall, a very useful commentary, especially for interaction with magic and folk religion contextual pointers.
Note – he forcefully defends a complementarian view of the Haustafel in Ephesians. I found his argument mediocre at best; better than in most conservative commentaries. His strongest argument is that there is a theological underpinning and analogy of Christ’s authority behind the wife-husband dynamic in Ephesians. I might ask, though, whether it is possible for Paul to give such a theological rationale, because it fits the circumstances and context, but was not meant to be universalized or without exception? Consider, in 1 Corinthians 9:14, that Paul was given not only the authority, but also the command to receive his income from his converts – a command from the Lord Jesus. However, he did not follow this in Corinth. Why would anyone not follow a command from the Lord Jesus? What compelled Paul to (temporarily or contextually?) over-turn this Dominical command?
I am not trying to be liberal (Arnold criticizes I.H. Marshall on gender issues for moving beyond what Scripture says; I think Arnold’s rebuke is uncalled for) – at least no more liberal than Paul. Just some food for thought.
I am interested in the soon-coming book by Alan Padgett: As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission (Baker, August 2011). Though the focus in this book is in church leadership (I presume), it may address Arnold’s approach to Eph’s Haustafel.
I would certainly recommend this to anyone researching Ephesians, but you could also find a good amount of the same views and thoughts, in more detail, in his many books. However, if you are commentary “collector,” this is worth the cost.
If you are looking for a single commentary to have on Ephesians (as your go-to one), I would still recommend O’Brien, Barth, or Lincoln.

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