Saturday, September 16, 2023

Who wrote the letter to the Ephesians

 Recently I heard a Bible discussion where the speaker remarked that "scholars believe Paul wasn't the author of Ephesians, that it was someone, a disciple perhaps, who worked closely with him."  She didn't suggest an alternative but just went on with the examination of author, audience, culture and context. Although it's not an unusual theory (it's even in the preface of my NRSV that way), I suspect "higher criticism."  I no longer keep any of those books on my shelves, but I still have my grandfather's Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed (1910), and since it's primarily an 18th and 19th century scholarly exercise, I decided to take a look.  Sure enough, there it was, however the author pretty much debunked it.  In a nutshell, higher criticism denies the supernatural nature of scripture, particularly the Old Testament, and develops theories for anything it can't understand. It's hard to believe that any of these "scholar" were believers. There were hints of this in the 17th century, but the Germans really ran with it in the 19th century, and pretty much split seminaries and denominations.  The article I found was very long, but here's the essence.  I underlined the most simple and easy to understand.  It's sort of like the theory that someone else wrote Shakespeare, but he sure was good at it.

"Objections to the genuineness of Ephesians have been urged since the early part of the 19th century. The influence of Schleiermacher, whose pupil Leonhard Usteri in his Entwickelung der paulinischen Lehrbegriffs (1824) expressed strong doubts as to Ephesians, carried weight. He held that Tychicus was the author. De Wette first (1826) doubted, then (1843) denied that the epistle was by Paul. The chief attack came, however, from Baur (1845) and his colleagues of the Tübingen school. Against the genuineness have appeared Ewald, Renan, Hausrath, Hilgenfeld, Ritschl, Pfleiderer, Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, von Soden, Schmiedel, von Dobschütz and many others. On the other hand, the epistle has been defended by Bleek, Neander, Reuss, B. Weiss, Meyer, Sabatier, Lightfoot, Hort, Sanday, Bacon, Jülicher, Harnack, Zahn and many others. In recent years a tendency has been apparent among critics to accept Ephesians as a genuine work of Paul. This has followed the somewhat stronger reaction in favour of Colossians.

Before speaking of the more fundamental grounds urged for the rejection of Ephesians, we may look at various points of detail which are of less significance.

(1) The style has unquestionably a slow and lumbering movement, in marked contrast with the quick effectiveness of Romans and Galatians. The sentences are much longer and less vivacious, as any one can see by a superficial examination. But nevertheless there are parts of the earlier epistles where the same tendency appears (e.g. Rom. iii. 23-26), and on the whole the style shows Paul’s familiar traits. (2) The vocabulary is said to be peculiar. But it can be shown to be no more so than that of Galatians (Zahn, Einleitung, i. pp. 365 ff.). On the other hand, some words characteristic of Paul’s use appear (notably διό, five times), and the most recent and careful investigation of Paul’s vocabulary (Nägeli, Wortschatz der paulinischen Briefe, 1905) concludes that the evidence speaks for Pauline authorship. (3) Certain phrases have aroused suspicion, for instance, “the devil” (vi. 11, instead of Paul’s usual term “Satan”); “his holy apostles and prophets” (iii. 5, as smacking of later fulsomeness); “I Paul” (iii. 1); “unto me, who am less than the least of all the saints” (iii. 8, as exaggerated). But these cases, when properly understood and calmly viewed, do not carry conviction against the epistle. (4) The relation of Ephesians to Colossians would be a serious difficulty only if Colossians were held to be not by Paul. Those who hold to the genuineness of Colossians find it easier to explain the resemblances as the product of the free working of the same mind, than as due to a deliberate imitator. Holtzmann’s elaborate and very ingenious theory (1872) that Colossians has been expanded, on the basis of a shorter letter of Paul, by the same later hand which had previously written the whole of Ephesians, has not met with favour from recent scholars.

But the more serious difficulties which to many minds still stand in the way of the acceptance of the epistle have come from the developed phase of Pauline theology which it shows, and from the general background and atmosphere of the underlying system of thought, in which the absence of the well-known earlier controversies is remarkable, while some things suggest the thought of John and a later age. Among the most important points in which the ideas and implications of Ephesians suggest an authorship and a period other than that of Paul are the following:

(a) The union of Gentiles and Jews in one body is already accomplished. (b) The Christology is more advanced, uses Alexandrian terms, and suggests the ideas of the Gospel of John. (c) The conception of the Church as the body of Christ is new. (d) There is said to be a general softening of Pauline thought in the direction of the Christianity of the 2nd century, while very many characteristic ideas of the earlier epistles are absent.

With regard to the changed state of affairs in the Church, it must be said that this can be a conclusive argument only to one who holds the view of the Tübingen scholars, that the Apostolic Age was all of a piece and was dominated solely by one controversy. The change in the situation is surely not greater than can be imagined within the lifetime of Paul. That the epistle implies as already existent a developed system of Gnostic thought such as only came into being in the 2nd century is not true, and such a date is excluded by the external evidence. As to the other points, the question is, whether the admittedly new phase of Paul’s theological thought is so different from his earlier system as to be incompatible with it. In answering this question different minds will differ. But it must remain possible that contact with new scenes and persons, and especially such controversial necessities as are exemplified in Colossians, stimulated Paul to work out more fully, under the influence of Alexandrian categories, lines of thought of which the germs and origins must be admitted to have been present in earlier epistles. It cannot be maintained that the ideas of Ephesians directly contradict either in formulation or in tendency the thought of the earlier epistles. Moreover, if Colossians be accepted as Pauline (and among other strong reasons the unquestionable genuineness of the epistle to Philemon renders it extremely difficult not to accept it), the chief matters of this more advanced Christian thought are fully legitimated for Paul.

On the other hand, the characteristics of the thought in Ephesians give some strong evidence confirmatory of the epistle’s own claim to be by Paul. (a) The writer of Eph. ii. 11-22 was a Jew, not less proud of his race than was the writer of Rom. ix.-xi. or of Phil. iii. 4 ff. (b) The centre in all the theology of the epistle is the idea of redemption. The use of Alexandrian categories is wholly governed by this interest. (c) The epistle shows the same panoramic, pictorial, dramatic conception of Christian truth which is everywhere characteristic of Paul. (d) The most fundamental elements in the system of thought do not differ from those of the earlier epistles.

The view which denies the Pauline authorship of Ephesians has to suppose the existence of a great literary artist and profound theologian, able to write an epistle worthy of Paul at his best, who, without betraying any recognizable motive, presented to the world in the name of Paul an imitation of Colossians, incredibly laborious and yet superior to the original in literary workmanship and power of thought, and bearing every appearance of earnest sincerity. It must further be supposed that the name and the very existence of this genius were totally forgotten in Christian circles fifty years after he wrote. The balance of evidence seems to lie on the side of the genuineness of the Epistle.

If Ephesians was written by Paul, it was during the period of his imprisonment, either at Caesarea or at Rome (iii. 1, iv. 1, vi. 20). At very nearly the same time he must have written Colossians and Philemon; all three were sent by Tychicus. There is no strong reason for holding that the three were written from Caesarea. For Rome speaks the greater probability of the metropolis as the place in which a fugitive slave would try to hide himself, the impression given in Colossians of possible opportunity for active mission work (Col. iv. 3, 4; cf. Acts xxviii. 30, 31), the fact that Philippians, which in a measure belongs to the same group, was pretty certainly written from Rome. As to the Christians addressed, they are evidently converts from heathenism (ii. 1, 11-13, 17 f., iii. 1, iv. 17); but they are not merely Gentile Christians at large, for Tychicus carries the letter to them, Paul has some knowledge of their special circumstances (i. 15), and they are explicitly distinguished from “all the saints” (iii. 18, vi. 18). We may most naturally think of them as the members of the churches of Asia. The letter is very likely referred to in Col. iv. 16, although this theory is not wholly free from difficulties."

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