Pages 160 pages
Publisher Abingdon Press
In this volume, Pheme Perkins mines the writings from Nag Hammadi and Qumran for illuminating parallels to Ephesians, showing how a first-century audience would have heard and responded to the various parts of the letter. Under her sure guidance, contemporary readers are led to see the rhetorical power and the theological depth of this pseudonymous letter.
This book appears in the following featured collections.
- Commentaries by Female Scholars by John Dyer
- New Testament Commentaries & Monographs by Princeton Theological Seminary
A really good pastoral-theological commentary. As per the goals of the series, this is not focused on analysis of the Greek text. Perkins focuses considerable attention on the ways Ephesians is unique compared to other Pauline epistles.
In my opinion, Perkins is so bent on differentiating Ephesians from the true Pauline writings, that she distorts the picture by claiming that Ephesians differs markedly not only from Paul's style, but also on major themes like salvation. Under the section "Where Ephesians Differs: Theology, Language and Style" (pp. 20-27), she lists numerous alleged differences and discrepancies. Convinced that Ephesians is pseudepigraphal, she points out what she sees as differences between Ephesians and the genuine Pauline letters. But Perkins has surely overstated her case: " There is no more distinction between Jew and Gentile. The whole complex of linguistic formulae that the apostle created to describe the inclusion of Gentiles in the promise of salvation has vanished with hardly a trace (Schnackenburg 1991, 26-27; Lincoln and Wedderburn 1993). This shift may be grounded in rhetoric as well as theology. Mark Schoeni’s study of the “how much the more” formulae in Romans 5 discovered an important semantic distinction between using the topic “justification” and using “reconciliation.” The language of justification is structured in such a way that it discriminates and divides. It acknowledges the singular differences between Jew and Gentile. Reconciliation 'sublates and unites.' By incorporating the differentiated singularities into a greater whole, reconciliation denies their significance (Schoeni 1993, 181). Though Paul works with both reconciliation and justification, Ephesians has taken the reconciliation imagery of Rom 5:1-11 to be the Pauline understanding of salvation. Consequently, distinctions in Paul’s terminology will be overridden by unity" (21–22). Though Perkins states that Schoeni “discovered an important semantic distinction”, it appears that he did no such thing. He did not “discover” it on semantic grounds but rather assumed it for his argument on rhetorical grounds. [Marc Schoeni, “The Hyperbolic sublime as a master trope in Romans,” in Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays from the 1992 Heidelberg Conference, vol. 90, eds Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht, JSNTSS (Sheffield: JSOT, 1993), 90:180–81.] His essay does not give semantic evidence for this argument. These are actually very odd statements. First of all, what does she mean by “the language of justification”? I’m pretty sure she is not speaking about language, per se, in the sense of semantics. It appears that she means the concept of justification. She juxtaposes justification with (against) reconciliation, saying that the concept of justification “discriminates and divides,” that it acknowledges the differences between Jews and Gentiles, while reconciling them unites them and thus “denies their significance” (21–22). She seems driven to drive a wedge between Ephesians and authentic Paul and assumes that justification and reconciliation cannot be taught by the same person. This is extremely odd. For centuries orthodox doctrine has included both and found both in Paul. Perkins is surely wrong in her claim that though the genuine Pauline letters recognize a difference between Jews and Gentiles, in Ephesians these distinctions "will be overriden by unity" (22). Why can’t both be true? Who is to say that Paul did not recognize that Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ, but yet there remain ethnic and cultural differences. She states, "Ephesians never speaks of Christ coming in judgment. Its ecclesiology short-circuits such language, since the church already exists in the unity of the saints with their exalted head" (27). This is another example where Perkins drives a wedge between the genuine Paul and Ephesians, claiming that they are incompatible. Again, "Colossians limits the believers’ identification with the exalted Christ to the future coming of Christ. For Ephesians, the saints are already one with their Lord" (29). I would also have to strongly disagree with Perkins on the make up of the church in Ephesus (and/or Asia Minor as a whole): "Some interpreters lift the problematic of Gentile conversion from Pauline Epistles to explain the need for their ethical instruction in Ephesians. But though the center of the apostle’s gospel did require that both Jew and Gentile be made righteous on the same basis, through faith (Gal 2:15-21), Ephesians never deals with those concrete details of the Law that distinguish Jew and Gentile. Ephesians can refer to 'circumcision' and 'uncircumcision' as markers of the two communities (2:11) without any indication that the distinction created a problem for relationships between Jewish and Gentile Christians in their unity. Contrast Colossians where circumcision is spiritualized (2:11), and Jewish Sabbaths, holy days, and food laws are rejected (2:16-17). Ephesians 2:15 refers without difficulty to the 'law with its commandments and ordinances' abolished by the cross. Consequently, many scholars agree that the churches to which Ephesians is written cannot include an active, Jewish Christian group" (29). In my view, this is extremely reductionistic and is an example of the fallacy of the excluded middle. [Full Review]
In this concise commentary on Ephesians, Pheme Perkins carefully sets the text of the epistle against the backdrop of a wide range of comparative material from the ancient Mediterranean world. These include Essene and OT texts, ancient rhetoric, Gnostic traditions, and an array of other Jewish, Greek, Roman, and early Christian writings—particularly the earlier Pauline letters. Special attention is given to comparable sections in Colossians (the immediate source for many expressions in Ephesians) and the ways in which Ephesians extends and expands the Pauline tradition. Useful tables of comparisons (often with literal translations) are provided. Perkins illuminates significant parallels to Ephesians, showing how a first-century audience would have heard and responded to the various parts of the document. "For an audience accustomed to appropriating all written texts orally . . . multiple voices in a text were a common experience" (p.15). Particularly notable is the consistent manner in which Perkins indicates shifts in Ephesians from the metaphorical language and rhetorical aims of those traditions, thus highlighting the unique focus and purpose of the epistle. Ephesians dynamically recontextualizes and reshapes various images according to its orientation to the risen and exalted Christ. Perkins explicates the point further by emphasizing questions that Ephesians does not answer, and themes that are not developed, yet that are often read into the text. [Full Review]