Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Notes on Colossians and Ephesians

This post combines readings on Colossians and Ephesians, two letters with much in common.

  • Paul and Timothy write Colossians from prison to keep the Colossians from being caught up in a Jewish "philosophy," which was not a philosophy as we think of it but was basically a form of Judaism.
  • It was either a "syncretistic" form of Judaism involving worshipping angels or, as I think more likely, a "mystical" form of Judaism that wanted to worship with the angels
  • But like in Galatia, it would push the Gentile Colossian church to observe the Jewish Sabbath and perhaps follow food laws.
  • Paul's response is to point out the superiority of Christ over the angels and, indeed, all the creation. The Christ-hymn of Colossians 1:15-20 makes the point emphatically.
  • Then chapters 3-4 give the new heavenly ethic, in contrast to the earthly one of the Jewish philosophy (quite shocking rhetoric since much of the Jewish "philosophy" is more or less about keeping the Jewish Law, which makes us wonder if Paul's prison situation left Timothy to do more of the writing than Paul in this letter).  The heavenly ethic includes putting to death the earthly nature and putting on a new self.
  • The "household codes" of 3:18-4:1 are very similar to the structures of the non-believing world at the time (cf. Aristotle's Politics). They are not uniquely Christian in their specific content but rather embodiments of the principle to respect those in authority in your world. In the kingdom of God, there is not "male and female" and there is neither slave nor free. 
  • A number of key early Christians are mentioned in the closing greeting: Luke, Barnabas, Mark, and Onesimus, and we also hear of a lost Pauline letter to the Laodiceans.
  • I agree with the introduction they give, that it is not likely that Ephesians was written specifically to Ephesus. I know that messes with our traditions but Truth is bigger than traditions. The biggest reason to me is that Paul could never have written Ephesians 3:2 to a place he had just spent three years. So it is no surprise that the earliest copies we have of Ephesians don't have the words "at Ephesus" in them. 
  • The main proposals for destination include: 1) that Ephesians is the lost letter to the Laodiceans, 2) that Ephesians was a circular letter, sent to the whole region of, say, Asia, or 3) that Ephesians was written some time after Paul's death as a literary device to summarize his teaching, perhaps even as a cover letter for the collection of his writings (Edgar Goodspeed).
  • Ephesians is very similar to Colossians in structure and content, which might be taken as support for #1 above. Ephesians seems to be a generalized, broadened version of Colossians.
  • The main theme of Ephesians is the unity of the church, primarily meaning the unity of Gentile and Jewish believers. As the introduction says, the audience is Gentile.
  • There is a lot of imagery of the church in Ephesians. Paul usually talks about the church in reference to local congregations but Ephesians talks about the big Church, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (meaning New Testament prophets, I think).
  • Ephesians 4 begins the second half, the "how to live" section. It is Ephesians' version of the turn at Colossians 3. More here about the unity of the church: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all...
  • Ephesians 5-6 have an expanded version of the household codes in Colossians. Colossians understandably emphasizes the slavery part, since Onesimus had been alienated from his master, Philemon. Ephesians emphasizes the husband part to celebrate how Christ loved the church.
  • Finally, Ephesians 6 gives us the armor of God passage many of us learned as children.
Some personal take-aways:
  • One of the key verses in the New Testament for me is Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
  • So many nuggets in Ephesians: "In your anger, do not sin. Don't let the sun go down on your anger" (Eph. 4:26). "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you" (4:32). Things to teach your children and remind yourself of often. 
  • Things to sing in here--the church's one foundation, is Jesus Christ the Lord... I understand worship styles are cultural, but I can't think of any modern ditty that comes close to the depth of the words of this hymn. 

No comments: