Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ephesians 1:1-14

Something I wrote on the beginning of Ephesians for our Young Marrieds group at Cornerstone, obviously drawing a lot on N. T. Wright:

Ephesians 1 is the introduction to the letter, which contains both the standard sections of greetings (1:1-2) and thanksgiving (1:3-23 – though some scholars think this section goes all the way through chapter 3). Like many of Paul’s letters, the introductory material also tells us about the theme of the rest of the letter, with 1:3-14 a thanksgiving to God for all that he has done for the church and 1:15-23 a prayer that the church may know all of this. Chapters 2-3 will elaborate further and the rest of the book will apply this information to how the church should conduct itself in light of all that God has done.

1:3-14, like much of Paul’s writings, draws on, highlights, and presupposes Paul’s basic story of God’s dealings with humanity culminating in Christ. If we want to understand this section fully, we need to know something of that story. The story begins with a good creation which is subjected to corruption, death, chaos, disorder, and evil as a result of the first man, Adam, the representative of humanity, and his sin against God. Adam experiences, then, what Jews would have seen as a kind of exile much like what they experienced when they were cast out of the Promised Land as a result of their own disobedience to God. This exile – the Fall – resulted in estrangement between God and humanity and animosity and estrangement within humanity as well. Sin, death, and curse have entered the world in and through humanity.

God’s rescue operation to set everything right again was to start a new humanity (the Hebrew and Greek words for “person” or “man” – ’adam and anthropos – can refer either to an individual or to humanity as a whole, as in 2:15) not subject to corruption, sin, and death and free of the curse and to set them in a new creation which is also free of these things, where all things are united under God and his rule. Instead of starting over, though, the new humanity and new creation were to be formed by rescuing the old humanity and old creation. The beginnings of this new Adam, this new humanity, were seen in the exodus and God’s redemption of Israel from their own exile in Egypt, bringing them into their inheritance as children of God. They were God’s chosen people, the beginning of God’s new humanity and new creation, tasked to be a light to the other nations so that they too could become part of the new Adam instead of remain in the old, and the Law was given as the covenant charter establishing the relationship like the commandment given to Adam long ago.

But like Adam, Israel failed and suffered curse and exile and looked forward to a restoration/ new creation/ new exodus/ full return from exile and all its effects, which would mean nothing less than the restoration of all creation and a new age, God’s kingdom, of God’s will reigning over and in all things. “Forgiveness of sins” for Israel would mean, then, restoration for both the nation and the world – and this comes through the blood of a sacrifice, Jesus acting much like the Passover lamb of the exodus (1:7, 14).

Jesus comes as the climax to this story. Jesus, as Israel’s perfect king, is the representative of his people before God. He takes on Israel’s task as its representative king and fulfills the Law and undergoes the spiritual exile, punishment, and curse due to all in order to again redeem his people from bondage, but this time to sin and death (and Satan and all the spiritual powers and oppressors), like Israel from Egypt, and, like Israel, bring them into their true inheritance, God’s kingdom in a restored world (again, 1:7, 14).

Jesus, as representative, is the true Israel, the new Adam, God’s chosen, so that whoever joins him and his people thereby becomes part of that chosen people – Christ was chosen and predestined and hence, since he represents his people and what is true of him as representative is true of them too, they also take part in that chosenness (they are God’s chosen people, his Israel) and in that glorious destiny as part of God’s new humanity (see 2:15) – the advanced guard of God’s making all things new and uniting it all under himself in Christ (thus removing the animosity of the divisions between such things as Jews and Gentiles, as in 2:11-22; 3:6) – see 1:4-5, 9-14. We were chosen or predestined “in him” or “in Christ”, a phrase which indicates that what is being said of someone is said of them in virtue of their belonging to Christ’s people as one of his followers – that is, as a member of his church.

That new creation and that kingdom of God, in Christ, has come with all its blessings – though now only in principle and in part and not yet in its fullness. Hence, Paul speaks of the church as having these blessings “in the heavenly realms” (1:3 – see also 2:6-7) – “heaven” talk often in Paul and the New Testament being used to indicate the present realities of God’s final reign over all creation, where earth and heaven are finally joined forever. Paul wants the church to see itself in terms of this story and its place within it as the new humanity made of Jew and Gentile under Christ as its representative, redeemer, and king.

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