Studies in Ephesians
with Chris Lang
Why study the Bible? The Word is power:
Creation occurred by God's word: "by the word of God the heavens existed long ago, " (2 Pet 3:5) "Let there be light", "Let there be an expanse ," This is also why the Word of God is referred to as a sword in Ephesians (6:17) and in Hebrews (4:12).
If we are going to use this powerful tool, lets learn to use it properly, "as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." This is what were doing here.
Introduction to Inductive Method:
Art vs. Science
People want a cut and dry method to extract meaning from Gods word as though they were following a manual for building a deck. The problem is Gods word isnt designed this way. There is no manual; there are only guidelines. This is because interpretation isnt a science. There are methods we can follow to help us come to right conclusions but methods will only get us part of the way there. There is an art to interpreting the Bible. It requires skill, finesse, insight, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
(2 Peter 1:20,21) But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Class exercises are a dynamic process. I dont have all the answers; rather, I gain insight from your approach as well. You may feel overwhelmed at the beginning; hang in there.
Approaching a book for study
Preliminary assessment: What kind of book is this?
Biblical interpretation really begins with a thorough understanding of the Bible as a whole. But we gain that understanding bit by bit. No one starts out interpreting the Bible with a full-blown knowledge of all its parts. While it is true that the Bible builds upon itself and that later revelation often refers to what was written earlier, much of the New Testament was written to those who were not entirely biblically literate. Much of the NT is simplified and explained for us because it is largely written with a Gentile audience in mind.
You have already answered a few questions as you begin to use this worksheet. Youve decided that this book is a letter or an epistle. Whats the difference? An epistle is a kind of letter, but whereas a letter is usually written to a specific individual, such as Timothy, an epistle is written to a wider audience, such as the church in Galatia. But the most important thing to understand is that this kind of writing is occasional. By that we mean that there were specific circumstances which brought about the writing of this letter. It is written by an individual at a certain time and place usually in response to some event, question or occasion that has presented itself. For instance, the epistle to the Galatians is written in response to pressing concerns about harmful influences in the church. If we discern what situation occasioned the writing of the epistle were studying, weve gone a long way toward understanding the meaning of the book were studying.
Because Ephesians is an epistle youve answered another question as to where it is situated within Gods redemptive plan. It is clearly after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and is written to help us understand more fully the meaning of those events and apply them to daily life.
Epistles: unique challenges/characteristics
Terse: As opposed to narrative.
Occasional: What's the occasion?
Audience Specific: It wasnt written to us directly. That doesnt mean that it doesnt apply to us or that Paul didnt have in mind the universal church when he wrote.
Inductive Study Worksheet: Epistles
Author, Audience, Third Party
General Overview: Read through the book completely
The logic of beginning with overview:
The purpose of beginning by reading the entire book is that it gives you an understanding of where the author is heading. Once you know where the author is going, youll have a better understanding of how he builds his argument. Without getting a sense of the whole we tend to misuse the parts. We cannot really understand the parts of a text in isolation from each other. This is the error of proof-texting or wrenching a passage out of its context and applying it to a situation. (Example: James 2:14,24 "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has not works? Can that faith save him? You see that a man justified by works, and not by faith alone." Luther's response. Passage hinges on "justification.") If we have not taken the time to understand the context, we will be guilty of this error by default. However, if we have taken the time to attempt to understand the whole, our ability to understand the parts will be greatly enhanced.
In order to understand a specific passage of scripture we need to see the broader context. We call this the inductive-deductive approach to understand scripture. It is really just a reflection of how understanding occurs in general; that is, we tend to see the parts in terms of the whole. And we understand the whole as made up of various parts. When we approach the biblical interpretation in this way it allows us to have a system of checks and balances. The way this works is that we read a passage such as 1 John 3:6:
"No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him."
Those who want to prove that Christians no longer sin have used this passage. When we read this passage we may immediately question our salvation in Christ because our experience does not conform to this passage. We could waste a lot of time trying to interpret this passage out of its context. It is only when we are able to see the entire scope of John's epistle and attempt to harmonize this passage with the rest of his letter that we gain any clarity on what he is saying. So what has happened is that we have reasoned from the bottom up (what does this passage say) and from the top down (what does the rest of the book say: does our understanding of the theme fit the individual passages). We put together the whole in terms of the parts and the parts in terms of the whole.
Historical context: Author, audience, and third party
Read the book, noting every time the author is mentioned, every time the audience or readers are mentioned and every time anyone else is mentionedwe call them the third party. This third party is not who the letter is directed towards but they often figure prominently in why the letter was written. We identify parties in the letter in order to understand what historical circumstances motivated the authors communication. Behind this method is an assumption about the nature of epistles which weve already mentioned, that is that epistles are occasional documents, they were written to address a specific situation on a specific occasion.
Who is the third party in Galatians?
The secret of good interpretation comes by asking questions of the text, such as: What concerned the author as he wrote? What sorts of error had the readers fallen into? Are there any other groups or people being mentioned by the author that the letter is not specifically addressed to? Why does the author take the tone or approach that he does? What is motivating the author and what does he want to see changed in his audience?
What are the major themes of this letter and how is it organized? Identify words or ideas that are repeated or emphasized by the author. This will be an important guiding principle for further interpretation. It will serve as a guidepost and key to help you understand passages in the letter that may be obscure. Notice that we built our controlling theme based on our understanding of the individual passages of the book. And we will use this theme to better understand parts of the book that are more difficult. But we may find as we begin to take a closer look at specific passages that our understanding of a word or concept was incorrect and our new understanding may lead us to have to reformulate what we have identified as the controlling theme of the book. This kind of back-and-forth approach from the parts to the whole and vice versa is healthy and it allows us to have a dynamic understanding of the book that can be challenged by new information. This allows us to have a growing understanding about the meaning of a book and keeps us from being blinded by our preconceived ideas.
Themes: Ephesians Intro
Ephesians is a book that could change your life. It is one of the few books that encapsulates the gospel message in its entirety. Survive with this book alone.
There is a strong emphasis on the privileged position we enjoy in Christ; God's love for us; a contrast between our old way of life and our new way of life.
Why was this letter written?
The point of this overview is to understand why the letter was written, who wrote it and to whom. Write a paragraph summarizing your understanding of the historical circumstances to this point. Leave space in your workbook to add to or modify this material as your understanding of the book grows. Why was this letter written?
Who makes the paragraphs? Unfortunately, paragraphs are not a part of the original manuscripts. The Greeks wrote without paragraph breaks, without sentence breaks and even without word breaks! Translators have added these divisions for us and because of that, the paragraph divisions and even the sentence divisions within your Bibles are not infallible.
In order to save time, for this class we will use my paragraph divisions. As you go through my paragraph divisions to do your inductive studies, you may disagree with how Ive divided up the book. Thats fine. You can use your own as long as you can make a convincing argument that your way is right.
[A word of caution to the hair-splitters]
[Paragraph divisions are on the syllabus.]
Carefully read the paragraph in an attempt to understand the following points. This part of the study is always done in reference to the larger understanding of the book.
The goal here is to clarify the development of the author's thoughts or argument. The structure of an authors writing functions like a bodys skeleton. It is unseen when you look at the surface. And yet, it provides the framework that in large part determines the shape and size of the body. Of course, its not the only determining factor in the way a person looks. Attached to the skeleton is muscle tissuecontentthat drives the movement of the structure. Covering both the skeleton and muscular tissue is the skinapplicationthat gives final shape to the body. The skin is what gives final form to the biblical structure and content and it is what we see of a person day-to-day. But it is a reflection of the underlying content/musculature and skeletal structure.
The structure of a book or a paragraph is generally unseen by the reader until he or she begins to dissect what is being said. The importance in this is that once you begin to recognize the structure, you will better understand how things fit together. How does the author organize what he wants to communicate? The way he organizes his statements will emphasize certain points while subordinating others. This is important for us because we want to emphasize what the writer emphasizes. This usually becomes clear as we see how an author puts together his thoughts.
A. Context: literary & theological
What are the ideas or themes communicated before and after your paragraph? Where is the author coming from and where is he going? How does this passage fit into the broader context and argument of the book you are studying?
Where is the author going with the point thats being made in the passage you are studying? Is there a break in thought between what occurred previously and what occurs afterward? If so, why? Becoming a good interpreter means being able to see the flow or logic of the text. To use the analogy of the structure of a passage as a skeletal framework, this means being able to see how the bones connect with in your passage and which bones they connect to before and after your passage.
B. Main Point: What is the central claim of this passage?
In order to understand a paragraph we need to know what is the central idea or theme of the paragraph. Ask What. What does the author want his readers to understand or what does the author want his readers to do?
Conclusions are generally indicated by words like: thus, therefore, so, so that, hence, then, consequently. "Therefore" or "for this reason" often indicates the authors main point. Circle these kinds of words that indicate that the author is drawing a conclusion.
An imperative is a command. Often, but not always, in the epistles the main point of a passage is found in the imperative statements. The author is instructing his readers to do a certain activity or to think in a specific way. What is the author telling his audience to do?
Sometimes a passage doesnt include an imperative or doesnt have a conclusion indicator. Ask yourself what is the controlling idea of the passage. What universal truth or overarching idea accounts for all of the elements of the passage? What brings it all together?
The main point will be contained in the part of the sentence that can stand on its own. It may not be a full sentence as it is written but it could be. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is by definition a modifying statement put there to give support or give clarification to the main clause. (Review the sentences in 1:14 to identify dependent versus independent clauses.)
C. Supporting points. How is the main point supported?
In other words, why is the claim true and why should the reader do what the author says?
Youve already discerned what the main point of the passage is, now you want to identify how the author backs up that point. What theological basis or principles are given by the author to support his claim? Or what illustrations does he use to support his point? In this section we are mostly asking questions about Why. Why does he want them to do what he tells them to do? Why do they need to understand this information? Why is it important to their Christian lives? This is a key question for which we need answers.
List out the supporting points.
Indicatives are statements that claim to be true. They are often the basis for an imperative.
Connective words link a supporting idea to a main idea. They tell us the reason behind the central claim of a passage. Connective words are words such as: because, for, since, as, for this purpose, so that, in order that (1Pet4:6). These connective words connect to one of two kinds of statements: indicative statements or result clauses.
These statements indicate the kind of results the author wants to see or wants to warn us about. It is not necessarily an indicative but it is the outcome sought or hoped for. In Galatians 3:24, as we have seen Paul concludes a section on the purpose of the law with "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ. . ." He finishes this statement with the result that the Law is intended to bring about, namely, "so that we may be justified by faith." Again, in Galatians 5:16-24 Paul tells his audience to "walk by the Spirit," which is his main point. He backs up his claim by showing his readers the results of walking in the spirit as well as showing them the antithesis, which is walking according to the flesh. The desired outcome, or its antithesis, helps answer the question of why we should do what the author is telling us.
Sometimes the author gives an illustration or example to support his main point. Paul does this in Galatians by using Abraham as an example of the principle that righteousness is by faith. In 3:6 he tells the Galatians, "Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Paul uses Abraham as an example of the principle hes trying to communicate. Whenever the author quotes Scriptures, he is citing an illustration or example.
Content/ Theology: Muscle
In this section we are not as concerned with how something is said or organized as we are with what is said. This is what we normally think of as interpretation. Think again of the passage as a body. The structure or the way the body is put together is the skeletal framework. The muscle that hangs on the skeleton is its content. As weve gone through identifying the structure of the passage, weve also done some of the work in examining the content. In identifying connective words and supporting ideas, we are examining the structure. When we ask what or to whom those ideas or words refer and what they mean, we are examining the content.
In this part of our study, we will want to gain clarity on exactly what is being said and what it means. One way that we do this is by clarifying important or unfamiliar words. It is easy to get bogged down in word studies because nearly every word seems interesting. Be selective in the words you choose to study, usually one to three words in any passage is sufficient.
If youre unfamiliar with a word, maybe youve never seen the word before or maybe youve just never heard a good definition for it, take the time to look it up in a good Bible dictionary. You may be surprised at the rewards you reap by clarifying unfamiliar words.
If you're studying Galatians chapter three you may wonder what exactly Paul means by the word "blessed." This is a word that Paul draws from the Old Testament text but it is also a word that Jesus uses. With a relatively small amount of work you can discover that when Paul says "So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer" he is referring to much more than an emotional state. The word is used of the gift that would come to the Gentiles through Abraham's willingness to be used by God. It is a theologically loaded term that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that faith produces the righteousness of Abraham.
One way to determine if a word is important is if its emphasized or repeated by the author. In studying the book of Romans the word justification appears numerous times and in many different forms. If we are to understand the meaning of the book of Romans, justification would be an important concept to understand.
Another way that we decide the importance of a word is based on the role it plays in the authors thought. Does the paragraph or sentence were studying somehow hinge on an understanding of this word?
After youve studied the important or unfamiliar words, how does your new-found appreciation for this word contribute to your understanding of the passage. Eventually well also want to ask how it affects our understanding of the book.
As you think about theological or historical contexts, think about the big picture. What other passages talk about these issues? What other passages might be relevant to the passage you are studying? Do other scriptures speak to the same issues that your passage addresses?
Does the author quote from Scripture or refer to an historical event? If so, what purpose does he quote for? It is important to always look up the passage being quoted in its original context.
This is the place to clarify or research historical or geographic references with which you are unfamiliar. A good Bible dictionary is helpful in this regard and will often provide insights into the text that you would otherwise miss.
Look up quotations from the Old Testament that the author uses. What is the context of the original statement and how does the original context bear on the authors meaning? Why does the author say what he does? If the author gives an imperative without providing a theological reason, it is important to ask what is the theological or cultural basis for the command. We have looked at how he says it and what he says, but it also important to ask why he says it. The "why" is often rooted in the nature of God.
How is the argument of the passage intended to affect the original audience in terms of actions, attitudes and convictions?
Let's recall the main point of the passage. If there is an imperative in the passage, what is author calling on his audience to do? The desired effects may be spelled out plainly by the author but it is important to pause and ask how the application relates to the historical situation of the audience. If the author is telling them to do something is it because they weren't doing it at the time? How would their circumstances relate to what they were or were not doing?
What similarities exist between the original audience and myself or my audience?
Before we can move to asking how this passage applies to my audience, or to myself, we need to examine the similarities between our situation and that of the original audience. (The analogy of skin is appropriate here because as circumstances and cultures change the application of a biblical principle will take on different manifestations. However, what does not change is the underlying structure of the author's argument--skeleton--and theological content--musculature. In fact, this underlying framework will determine the shape that our application takes in a given context. To carry this analogy further, what we want to avoid is introducing a layer of fat that distorts the theological shape and results in a culturally misappropriate application.)
Is the passage directly applicable to my audience because we are in the same situation as the original audience or is it only applicable in principle?
The reason we ask this question is because epistles are occasional documents, the writers are in the process of applying truths to specific life circumstances. Because our circumstances may differ from the original audiences, we cannot necessarily make a one-to-one correlation. Epistles can be considered "case studies" which apply biblical principles to specific situations (Ericson, LMS, p 250); in as much as our current situation mirrors that of the original audience, we can apply the passage directly.
But when our circumstances differ significantly, we often need to work from the principle being given in order to apply it to our situation.
Examples: Eph 5:18 drunk with wine/head-covering
Why is it that most women do not wear headcoverings in the church today even though Paul explicitly commands it? The reason has to do with cultural relevance. Paul was giving a practical expression of a spiritual truth, namely that we shouldin this case women shouldrespect authority. The principle of authority (1 Cor. 11:3) is tied to a spiritual truth but the way that this respect is shown is in keeping with the cultural norms. 1Cor. 11:5,14, Paul is telling the church specifically not to go against cultural norms in expressing this principle of submission to authority. However, outward expression of this principle in dress or manner is no longer relevant today because it is not something our culture practices and yet the biblical principle remains true and should find expression in the attitudes and interactions between a husband and a wife.
How is the intent of this passage relevant to my audience or myself?
Recall what the main point of the passage is. It is important to apply what the text meant to apply; often this is found in an imperative statement.
To what life issues does the passage speak? Think of specific situations in which this passage or its principle would apply in your life and be as specific as possible. We often limit our thinking to theological truths contained in the passage and then fail to apply the obvious imperatives contained in Gods word.
Structure: Outline the passage beginning with the Main Point
Structuring clauses: Ask, "What does it modify?"
Try to subordinate clauses
an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus
and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ
in the heavenly places,
4 just as he chose us in Him
before the foundation of the world
that we should be holy and blameless before Him.
5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ,
according to the kind intention of his will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace
which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace
8 which he lavished on us.
In all wisdom and insight
9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will,
according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him,
10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times,
that is the summing up of all things in Christ,
things in the heavens and things upon earth.
11 also we have obtained an inheritance,
having been predestined according to His purpose
who works all things after the counsel of His will,
12 to the end that we
who were the first to hope in Christ,
should be to the praise of his glory.
13 In him you also,
after listening to the message of truth,
the gospel of your salvation,
having also believed,
you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,
14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance
with a view to the redemption of Gods own people,
to the praise of his glory.
B. Main Point.
Write out the central claim in your own words. Is there one verse that most succinctly states the main point? We determine this by considering the following clues the author uses to make his point clear. Before continuing, you will want to write down the thesis statement of the passage (identify a verse). It may also be helpful to underline this in your Bible for future reference. Before continuing you should summarize the main point in your own words.
Praise God for His blessings in Christ (:3 Controlling idea)
C. Supporting Points.
Blessedlit. "good word". Paul is not so much praising God as telling us that He is worthy of praise--which he elaborate upon in following verses.
Predestined--to decide beforehand. Probably synonymous with vs. 3 "chose". The word will not yield a theological understanding, i.e., if God predestined us do we have free-will?
Redemptiondeliverance from bondage by payment of a price (or ransoming slaves, Ex 21). For us the price was high. It cost the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, "through His blood", because we were slaves to death. But God did not begrudge us this, His grace, "He lavished upon us."
Sealed--a seal denotes ownership, it is a sign which protects us. As Paul says elsewhere, "If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
This paragraph moves from eternity to eternity (O'Brien, p. 92).
Everything given to usand we have been given everything spirituallyhas been given us in Christ. We are incredibly rich, in spiritual terms. We have been given these riches because Christ has been given these riches. We receive them as mediated through Christ. Everything we receive comes "in Christ" (11x).
We receive them on three levels: past, present, and future.
"chosen for adoption". To whom does this refer? Does this refer to individuals or the church? (Chosenness also requires a response vv. 4, 13. Did God choose only those who would respond? Did God choose without regard to our response? Did God choose more generally (church: Jews & Gentiles) and our response decides whether we are included in that group? We dont know the answers to these questions. We do know that we have been chosen in God somehow and yet it is also somehow dependent on our willingness to respond to the message.)
Revelation, inheritance (:11) and redemption (:7).
Inheritance and redemption (:14)
God deserves praise and honor for what all hes given us.
Praise God! (:6, 12, 14)
Know what is true about you.
Meditating on all that God has given us, in specific detail, will produce gratitude and praise toward God. And a natural result of this would be to live our lives for His glory (but thats getting ahead of our author.) Paul is content to simply spend some time praising God.
Know whats true of us has real-life value. Meditate on these things!
God had us--He had you--in mind when he created the universe. He had determined to redeem a people to Himself before He ever laid the foundations of the world. And He knew that we would be a part of that.
He chose to adopt us. He chose too buy us out of slavery--not to sin, primarily--but to death, to redeem and forgive us. He didn't have to do this. He wasn't obligated to redeem a rebellious and obstinate and thoroughly hateful people. But He did.
And beyond that He revealed to us His will. He made Himself known so that we wouldn't be in darkness, so that we wouldn't be worshipping the gods of the skies for rain or fertility. He revealed Himself so that we wouldn't be worshipping in futility, hoping that somehow we might appease Him--that we might figure out exactly what he wants so that we can avoid His anger.
Beyond all of this, He's given us an inheritance in the spiritual realm. I recently came into an inheritance from my Grandmother, which was a nice surprise. I knew I'd get a few hundred dollars. As it turned out, it was much more than I expected. I was shocked. God's inheritance will be so much more. But it is there and it is waiting for me. And it is something I can be certain of because God has sealed me in Christ with His Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that holds me firmly in place. As a young believer, I feared that I might let go of God. I failed to realize how strong is God's grip on me. It's not just me walking through this life, making my decisions, God's Spirit moves inside me and holds me close to Himself.
How do you respond to "Praise God"? Get used to it, Rev 4. God is awesome. This is a worthy goal of a teaching. If you could do no more than inspire people to praise God for all he's done, I'd consider that successful.
Read Acts 18:18-19:41
Paragraph Study: 2:1-10; 2:11-22
For Further Reading:
Norman R. Ericson, "Interpreting the Petrine Literature" in The Literature and Meaning of Scripture, edited by Morris Inch and Hassell Bullock. Fee and Stuart, "Learning to Think Contextually" and "The Hermeneutical Questions," in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pp.43-71. Stein, "The Game of CorrespondenceEpistles," in Playing By the Rules, pp.169-186.
F. F. Bruce, Ephesians, NICNT, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1984.
Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians from The Bible Speaks Today commentary series, edited by John Stott, Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986.