Ephesians as the “Quintessence” of Paulinism?

I have already noted some initial comments about James D. G. (“Jimmy”) Dunn’s new book Beginning from Jerusalem, volume 2 of his trilogy “Christianity in The Making.” I want to continue making a few other observations

Unlike some other scholars who don’t think Paul wrote Ephesians, Dunn is quite fond of Ephesians (“one of the most attractive documents in the NT” [p. 1106]), agreeing with the well-known comment of F.F. Bruce (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, ch. 36) that Ephesians is the “quintessence of Paulinism.” Dunn is so fond of Ephesians because he believe it captures the essential movement and message of the first Christian communities more fully (30-70 CE; see, e.g., his conclusion to the book on p. 1175), perhaps, than any other NT document: the unity of Gentiles and Jews in Christ (pp. 1109-1115 plus a beautiful footnote [#398] on p. 489[*see below]). Dunn believes that Ephesians 1-3 eloquently expresses what Paul was “all about.” In addition, its high view of the church, together with its emphasis on being in Christ and on the Spirit, makes “Ephesians a fitting tribute to Paul and fully deserving of the accolade of providing ‘the quintessence of Paulinism’” (p. 1122).

*Dunn, p. 489, n. 308, commenting on Romans and Ephesians:

“The surmounting of these ancient hostilities [between Jews and Gentiles] was not merely a by-product of the gospel, far less a distraction from the true meaning of the gospel, but the climactic achievement of the gospel, the completion of God’s purposes from the beginning of time.”

What do the rest of you think of all this?

7 Responses to “Ephesians as the “Quintessence” of Paulinism?”

  1. Sean says:

    This is good stuff. Reminds me of something similar Wright noted about reading Romans and Galatians from the perspective of Ephesians. It’s a pity Ephesians is thought to be pseudonymous, for it would make a great conversation partner between the undisputed “seven”. I’ve always thought Ephesians is what you get when Romans has been understood/implemented – a united church with the dividing walls destroyed, and a new people in Christ emerge.

  2. Angela says:

    Hi, Michael,
    I do think Dunn’s insights are right on.
    Ephesians 1-3 is a potent summary of Paul’s points in Romans. Just like Romans, Ephesians exposes the raging undercurrents of power struggles and how God’s rule inverts the oppressive powers [of exclusion]. Again, Ephesians and Romans reflect how God’s rule gives joint mercy to both Jews and Gentiles. Even still, in both Romans and Ephesians, Paul gives an answer to a mystery which was lodged in the crescendoing movement of God’s purposeful rule— unity of a community of heirs bound together in one body that is Christ.

  3. Barry says:

    I have always loved Ephesians as well. That being said, I have started reading ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ by Bart Ehrman and I am definitely moving away from my previously held beliefs about the bible.

    I do not come to all the conclusions that Bart does, but I have come to the conclusion that I cannot ignore the arguments he raises and be honest with myself as a seeker of truth.

    Regardless of whether if Paul wrote Ephesians or not, this does not negate the fact, in my mind anyway, that “Ephesians [is] a fitting tribute to Paul and fully deserving of the accolade of providing ‘the quintessence of Paulinism’”.

  4. Brian LePort says:

    I like what Sean says. Eph. is a great example of the outworking of Rom. I agree with Dunn that the Jew-Gentile issue is prominent and I think we should even add Colossians to this discussion, esp. 1:18, 26-27.

  5. MJG says:

    Sorry to be slow in responding, all. I’ve beenat North Park Seminary attending the Lund Lectures and then the annual Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture on the theme of conversion—all excellent.

    I have always loved Ephesians and lean toward all that’s been said about it and on its behalf. I always recommend it to students and others as a good epistle for a first Bbile study or preaching series.

    Barry, I’m not sure exactly what Bart says about Ephesians, but if Paul did not write it (I think he did, with a secretary), he could have, maybe should have! BTW, Bart and I are old friends from Princeton days. We team-taught together as Bruce Metzger’s assistants and as summer Greek instructors. We were also neighbors and both delivered the NY Times at 5 am to put food on the table while doing all of that—as PhD students.

  6. Barry says:

    Personally, I do not know whether Paul wrote Ephesians or not. But let me say that I believe that if these letters were not written by Paul, they were not written to subvert his teaching either. They would seem to have been written in a form of honor.

    However I have become excited by historical criticism. When we can come out from the fear that if Ephesians is not written by Paul, scripture is diminished; or when we can recognize the contradictions between the synoptic gospels – let alone their contradictions with John; then I believe the scriptures truely bursts with life. I find more value in scripture that is inspired by God but written in humanity as its authors struggle to portray their understanding, and share their relationship with the God of Creation.

    Quickly, what Bart is looking at is:
    1- the fact that there are countless examples of counterfeit authorship occurring at this time (both with in the religious writings as well as outside)
    2- the writing style of Eph and Col is radically different than Paul’s other writings. (10% of sentences in these two letters are over 50 words and are complexly structured – Philippians and Galatians each have just 1 sentence of that length)
    3- the theology is more advanced/different in Col and Eph. Specifically baptism. In Romans Paul labors over the fact that though we have died with Christ we WILL BE raised with him in the resurrection. Col and Eph state that we have been raised ALREADY and are seated with him in heavenly places.

    These arguments may not be overwhelming, but they should not be ignored as they would normally be enough to point to counterfeit writings except when it comes to THE SCRIPTURES. I am not learned in historical criticism and I have not heard the counter arguments, so I have to hold judgment. But before reading ‘Jesus, Interrupted’, I would have dismissed Bart’s claims of non-Paulian authorship as liberal propaganda!

  7. MJG says:

    Barry: I have no opposition to historical investigations, and I believe Ephesians is inspired Scripture whether or not Paul wrote it. But some of Bart’s arguments are a bit dated.

    (1) is true but proves nothing about Col and Eph.

    (2) does not get us far because (a) styles can change over time and in different circumstances and (b) different secretaries have different styles. It may be that Paul’s secretary for Col and Eph had more freedom; he/she may have even written up Paul’s major thoughts in his or her own style.

    (3) is questionable; there is much more realized (or at least inaugurated) eschatology in the undisputed letters than is generally recognized, and more future eschatology in Col and Eph than is usually noted. Furthermore, specifically on the note of resurrection and glorification, Rom 6 DOES speak of present resurrection (to new life), and Rom 8:30 (probably) and 2 Cor 3:18 (definitely) refer to present glorification. So the differences may be more of style than of substance.

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