Ephesians

Witherup, Ronald D

PHEME PERKINS, Ephesians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries; Nashville: Abingdon, 1997). Pp. 160. Paper $19.95.

This commentary admirably fulfills the goals set forth in this series intended for upper-level college and university students, theological students, pastors, and other nonprofessionals in biblical studies. As one has come to expect from this seasoned scholar, the book is concisely written, cogently argued, and filled with exegetical insight. Perkins directly engages the views of other scholars without getting mired in technicalities that could be a distraction for the intended audience. In a twentyseven-page introduction preceding the section-by-section commentary P. sets forth her basic stance on questions of genre, language, style, sources, theology, authorship, and context.

Perkins acknowledges that some scholars still argue for genuine Pauline authorship, but she clearly aligns herself with the majority who defend later, pseudonymous authorship. According to P, the most telling evidence that the letter is not from Paul himself lies primarily in the language, style, and theology of the letter. The author of Ephesians uses some typically Pauline vocabulary in ways that go beyond Paul’s own understanding (e.g., “mystery” referring to God’s overarching plan for the salvation of the world, “body of Christ” used in a more cosmic and universal sense, and “works” used without the qualifier “of the Law”). P. also points to the letter’s long periodic sentences, distinctive in comparison with those in Paul’s genuine letters, and to the universal understanding of church, which goes beyond Paul’s understanding of church as a local community. P. rejects any attempt to designate authorship or the community for whom the letter was written, other than to speculate that the author may have been a Hellenistic Jew familiar both with sectarian Judaism and with Greek rhetorical conventions.

The closest philosophical parallels to Ephesians are found in the Essene documents from Qumran. P. rejects the theory that “emerging Gnostic sectarianism” (p. 28) provides a backdrop for understanding Ephesians. She also denies any real link to the historical and religious situation at Ephesus, especially because of the lack of the destination “Ephesus” in many of the earliest manuscripts. In short, Ephesians is a general letter to the church at large in which the author utilizes many Pauline themes but develops them in a comprehensive theological framework for universal salvation in Christ.

In the commentary itself P. submits each literary unit to literary, exegetical, and theological or ethical investigation. P regularly draws on nonbiblical parallels, specifically from Nag Hammadi and Qumran. She includes alternative modern translations, in parentheses, in the commentary. Periodically, helpful charts illustrate parallels between Ephesians and other Pauline letters, most notably Colossians, from which much material has been copied. Also useful are P’s comments placing the extensive ethical instruction of Ephesians in the larger context of contemporary Jewish, Greek, and Roman tracts. The compact nature of the commentary does not restrict the thoroughness of the discussion, and everyone will glean something of interest.

Some readers may be disappointed to find that the interpretation of some delicate sections of the letter, such as the household code (Eph 5:22-6:9) with its admonition of a wife’s subjection to her husband, does not have a more pastoral edge to it that could help modern readers with the practical application of the text. This estimation does not imply that P’s comments are not useful. Rather, this reviewer suspects that some readers will consult such a commentary hoping to find explanations that will make the text more readily acceptable to modern minds. Then again, perhaps P’s method will have the greater (and more admirable) effect of forcing interpreters back to more serious reflection on the text itself. In that regard, every would-be exegete will benefit from this commentary, which also includes a selected bibliography, with annotations on commentaries on Ephesians, and a topical index. Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., Sulpician Provincial House, Baltimore, MD 21210

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Oct 1998

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