Comp. the introduction to my Com. on Gal. (1882).
Galatians and Romans discuss the doctrines of sin and redemption, and the relation of the law and the gospel. They teach salvation by free grace and justification by faith, Christian universalism in opposition to Jewish particularism, evangelical freedom versus legalistic bondage. But Galatians is a rapid sketch and the child of deep emotion, Romans an elaborate treatise and the mature product of calm reflexion. The former Epistle is polemical against foreign intruders and seducers, the latter is irenical and composed in a serene frame of mind. The one rushes along like a mountain torrent and foaming cataract, the other flows like a majestic river through a boundless prairie; and yet it is the same river, like the Nile at the Rapids and below Cairo, or the Rhine in the Grisons and the lowlands of Germany and Holland, or the St. Lawrence at Niagara Falls and below Montreal and Quebec where it majestically branches out into the ocean.
It is a remarkable fact that the two races represented by the readers of these Epistles — the Celtic and the Latin — have far departed from the doctrines taught in them and exchanged the gospel freedom for legal bondage; thus repeating the apostasy of the sanguine, generous, impressible, mercurial, fickle-minded Galatians. The Pauline gospel was for centuries ignored, misunderstood, and (in spite of St. Augustin) cast out at last by Rome, as Christianity itself was cast out by Jerusalem of old. But the overruling wisdom of God made the rule of the papacy a training-school of the Teutonic races of the North and West for freedom; as it had turned the unbelief of the Jews to the conversion of the Gentiles. Those Epistles, more than any book of the New Testament, inspired the Reformation of the Sixteenth century, and are to this day the Gibraltar of evangelical Protestantism. Luther, under a secondary inspiration, reproduced Galatians in his war against the “Babylonian captivity of the church;” the battle for Christian freedom was won once more, and its fruits are enjoyed by nations of which neither Paul nor Luther ever heard.
The Epistle to the Galatians (Gauls, originally from the borders of the Rhine and Moselle, who had migrated to Asia Minor) was written after Paul’s second visit to them, either during his long residence in Ephesus (a.d. 54-57), or shortly afterwards on his second journey to Corinth, possibly from Corinth, certainly before the Epistle to the Romans. It was occasioned by the machinations of the Judaizing teachers who undermined his apostolic authority and misled his converts into an apostasy from the gospel of free grace to a false gospel of legal bondage, requiring circumcision as a condition of justification and full membership of the church. It is an “Apologia pro vita sua,” a personal and doctrinal self-vindication. He defends his independent apostleship (Gal 1:1-2:14), and his teaching (Gal 2:15-4:31), and closes with exhortations to hold fast to Christian freedom without abusing it, and to show the fruits of faith by holy living (Gal 5-6).
The Epistle reveals, in clear, strong colors, both the difference and the harmony among the Jewish and Gentile apostles — a difference ignored by the old orthodoxy, which sees only the harmony, and exaggerated by modern scepticism, which sees only the difference. It anticipates, in grand fundamental outlines, a conflict which is renewed from time to time in the history of different churches, and, on the largest scale, in the conflict between Petrine Romanism and Pauline Protestantism. The temporary collision of the two leading apostles in Antioch is typical of the battle of the Reformation.
At the same time Galatians is an Irenicon and sounds the key-note of a final adjustment of all doctrinal and ritualistic controversies. “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love” (Gal_5:6). “And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal_6:16).
Central Idea: Evangelical freedom.
Key-Words: For freedom Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage (Gal_5:1). A man is not justified by works of the law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal_2:16). I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live but Christ liveth in me (Gal_2:20). Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (Gal_3:13). Ye were called for freedom, only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another (Gal_5:13). Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Gal_5:16).
92. The Epistle to the Romans
On the church in Rome, see § 36; on the theology of the Ep. to the Rom., § 71.
A few weeks before his fifth and last journey to Jerusalem, Paul sent, as a forerunner of his intended personal visit, a letter to the Christians in the capital of the world, which was intended by Providence to become the Jerusalem of Christendom. Foreseeing its future importance, the apostle chose for his theme: The gospel the power of God unto salvation to every believer, the Jew first, and also the Gentile (Rom_1:16, Rom_1:17). Writing to the philosophical Greeks, he contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom of man. To the world-ruling Romans he represents Christianity as the power of God which by spiritual weapons will conquer even conquering Rome. Such a bold idea must have struck a Roman statesman as the wild dream of a visionary or madman, but it was fulfilled in the ultimate conversion of the empire after three centuries of persecution, and is still in the process of ever-growing fulfilment.
In the exposition of his theme the apostle shows: (1) that all men are in need of salvation, being under the power of sin and exposed to the judgment of the righteous God, the Gentiles not only (Rom_1:18-32), but also the Jews, who are still more guilty, having sinned against the written law and extraordinary privileges (2:1-3:20); (2) that salvation is accomplished by Jesus Christ, his atoning death and triumphant resurrection, freely offered to all on the sole condition of faith, and applied in the successive acts of justification, sanctification, and glorification (3:21-8:17); (3) that salvation was offered first to the Jews, and, being rejected by them in unbelief, passed on to the Gentiles, but will return again to the Jews after the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in (Rom 9-11); (4) that we should show our gratitude for so great a salvation by surrendering ourselves to the service of God, which is true freedom (Rom 12-16).
The salutations in Rom_16:1-27, the remarkable variations of the manuscripts in Rom_15:33; Rom_16:20, Rom_16:24, Rom_16:27, and the omission of the words “in Rome,” Rom_1:7, Rom_1:15, in Codex G, are best explained by the conjecture that copies of the letter were also sent to Ephesus (where Aquila and Priscilla were at that time, 1Co_16:19, and again, some years afterwards, 2Ti_4:19), and perhaps to other churches with appropriate conclusions, all of which are preserved in the present form.
This letter stands justly at the head of the Pauline Epistles. It is more comprehensive and systematic than the others, and admirably adapted to the mistress of the world, which was to become also the mistress of Western Christendom. It is the most remarkable production of the most remarkable man. It is his heart. It contains his theology, theoretical and practical, for which he lived and died. It gives the clearest and fullest exposition of the doctrines of sin and grace and the best possible solution of the universal dominion of sin and death in the universal redemption by the second Adam. Without this redemption the fall is indeed the darkest enigma and irreconcilable with the idea of divine justice and goodness. Paul reverently lifts the veil from the mysteries of eternal foreknowledge and foreordination and God’s gracious designs in the winding course of history which will end at last in the triumph of his wisdom and mercy and the greatest good to mankind. Luther calls Romans “the chief book of the New Testament and the purest Gospel,” Coleridge: “the profoundest book in existence.” Meyer: “the greatest and richest of all the apostolic works,” Godet (best of all): “the cathedral of the Christian faith.”
Theme: Christianity the power of free and universal salvation, on condition of faith.
Leading Thoughts: They are all under sin (Rom_3:9). Through the law cometh the knowledge of sin (Rom_3:20). Man is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom_3:28). Being justified by faith we have (ἔχομεν or, let us have, ἔχωμεν) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom_5:1). As through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned (Rom_5:12): [so through one man righteousness entered into the world, and life through righteousness, and so life passed unto all men on condition that they believe in Christ and by faith become partakers of his righteousness]. Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more exceedingly: that as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom_5:20, Rom_5:21). Reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Rom_6:11). There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Rom_8:1). To them that love God all things work together for good (Rom_8:28). Whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son … and whom he foreordained them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified (Rom_8:29, Rom_8:30). If God is for us, who is against us (Rom_8:31)? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom_8:35)? Hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved (Rom_11:25). God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all (Rom_11:32). Of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things (Rom_11:36). Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Rom_12:1).
93. The Epistles of the Captivity
During his confinement in Rome, from a.d. 61 to 63, while waiting the issue of his trial on the charge of being “a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Act_24:5), the aged apostle composed four Epistles, to the Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. He thus turned the prison into a pulpit, sent inspiration and comfort to his distant congregations, and rendered a greater service to future ages than he could have done by active labor. He gloried in being a “prisoner of Christ.” He experienced the blessedness of persecution for righteousness’ sake (Mat_5:10), and “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” (Phi_4:7). He often refers to his bonds, and the coupling chain or hand-cuff (ἅλυσις) by which, according to Roman custom, he was with his right wrist fettered day and night to a soldier; one relieving the other and being in turn chained to the apostle, so that his imprisonment became a means for the spread of the gospel “throughout the whole praetorian guard.” He had the privilege of living in his own hired lodging (probably in the neighborhood of the praetorian camp, outside of the walls, to the northeast of Rome), and of free intercourse with his companions and distant congregations.
Paul does not mention the place of his captivity, which extended through four years and a half (two at Caesarea, two at Rome, and six months spent on the stormy voyage and at Malta). The traditional view dates the four Epistles from the Roman captivity, and there is no good reason to depart from it. Several modern critics assign one or more to Caesarea, where he cannot be supposed to have been idle, and where he was nearer to his congregations in Asia Minor. But in Caesarea Paul looked forward to Rome and to Spain; while in the Epistles of the captivity he expresses the hope of soon visiting Colossae and Philippi. In Rome he had the best opportunity of correspondence with his distant friends, and enjoyed a degree of freedom which may have been denied him in Caesarea. In Philippians he sends greetings from converts in “Caesar’s household” (Phi_4:22), which naturally points to Rome; and the circumstances and surroundings of the other Epistles are very much alike.
Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were composed about the same time and sent by the same messengers (Tychicus and Onesimus) to Asia Minor, probably toward the close of the Roman captivity, for in Phm_1:22, he engaged a lodging in Colosae in the prospect of a speedy release and visit to the East.
Philippians we place last in the order of composition, or, at all events, in the second year of the Roman captivity; for some time must have elapsed after Paul’s arrival in Rome before the gospel could spread “throughout the whole praetorian guard” (Phi_1:13), and before the Philippians, at a distance of seven hundred miles from Rome (a full month’s journey in those days), could receive news from him and send him contributions through Epaphroditus, besides other communications which seem to have preceded the Epistle.
On the other hand, the priority of the composition of Philippians has been recently urged on purely internal evidence, namely, its doctrinal affinity with the preceding anti-Judaic Epistles; while Colossians and Ephesians presuppose the rise of the Gnostic heresy and thus form the connecting link between them and the Pastoral Epistles, in which the same heresy appears in a more matured form. But Ephesians has likewise striking affinities in thought and language with Romans in the doctrine of justification (comp. Eph_2:8, and with Rom_12:1-21, 1Co_12:1-31, 1Co_14:1-40) in the doctrine of the church. As to the heresy, Paul had predicted its rise in Asia Minor several years before in his farewell to the Ephesian elders. And, finally, the grateful and joyful tone of Philippians falls in most naturally with the lofty and glorious conception of the church of Christ as presented in Ephesians.
94. The Epistle to the Colossians
The Churches in Phrygia
The cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis are mentioned together as seats of Christian churches in the closing chapter of Colossians, and the Epistle may be considered as being addressed to all, for the apostle directs that it be read also in the churches of the Laodiceans (Col_4:13-16). They were situated within a few miles of each other in the valley of the Lycus (a tributary of the Maeander) in Phrygia on the borders of Lydia, and belonged, under the Roman rule, to the proconsular province of Asia Minor.
Laodicea was the most important of the three, and enjoyed metropolitan rank; she was destroyed by a disastrous earthquake a.d. 61 or 65, but rebuilt from her own resources without the customary aid from Rome. The church of Laodicea is the last of the seven churches addressed in the Apocalypse (Rev_3:14-22), and is described as rich and proud and lukewarm. It harbored in the middle of the fourth century (after 344) a council which passed an important act on the canon, forbidding the public reading of any but “the canonical books of the New and Old Testaments” (the list of these books is a later addition), a prohibition which was confirmed and adopted by later councils in the East and the West.
Hierapolis was a famous watering-place, surrounded by beautiful scenery, and the birthplace of the lame slave Epictetus, who, with Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, ranks among the first heathen moralists, and so closely resembles the lofty maxims of the New Testament that some writers have assumed, though without historic foundation, a passing acquaintance between him and Paul or his pupil Epaphras of Colossae. The church of Hierapolis figures in the post-apostolic age as the bishopric of Papias (a friend of Polycarp) and Apollinaris.
Colossae, once likewise famous, was at the time of Paul the smallest of the three neighboring cities, and has almost disappeared from the earth; while magnificent ruins of temples, theatres, baths, aqueducts, gymnasia, and sepulchres still testify to the former wealth and prosperity of Laodicea and Hierapolis. The church of Colossae was the least important of the churches to which Paul addressed an Epistle, and it is scarcely mentioned in post-apostolic times; but it gave rise to a heresy which shook the church in the second century, and this Epistle furnished the best remedy against it.
There was a large Jewish population in Phrygia, since Antiochus the Great had despotically transplanted two thousand Jewish families from Babylonia and Mesopotamia to that region. It thus became, in connection with the sensuous and mystic tendency of the Phrygian character, a nursery of religious syncretism and various forms of fanaticism.
Paul and the Colossians
Paul passed twice through Phrygia, on his second and third missionary tours, but probably not through the valley of the Lycus. Luke does not say that he established churches there, and Paul himself seems to include the Colossians and Laodiceans among those who had not seen his face in the flesh. He names Epaphras, of Colossae, his “dear fellow-servant” and “fellow-prisoner,” as the teacher and faithful minister of the Christians in that place. But during his long residence in Ephesus (a.d. 54-57) and from his imprisonment he exercised a general supervision over all the churches in Asia. After his death they passed under the care of John, and in the second century they figure prominently in the Gnostic, Paschal, Chiliastic, and Montanistic controversies.
Paul heard of the condition of the church at Colossae through Epaphras, his pupil, and Onesimus, a runaway slave. He sent through Tychicus (Col_4:7) a letter to the church, which was also intended for the Laodiceans (Col_4:16); at the same time he sent through Onesimus a private letter of commendation to his master, Philemon, a member of the church of Colossae. He also directed the Colossians to procure and read “the letter from Laodicea,” which is most probably the evangelical Epistle to the Ephesians which was likewise transmitted through Tychicus. He had special reasons for writing to the Colossians and to Philemon, and a general reason for writing to all the churches in the region of Ephesus; and he took advantage of the mission of Tychicus to secure both ends. In this way the three Epistles are closely connected in time and aim. They would mutually explain and confirm one another.
The Colossian Heresy
The special reason which prompted Paul to write to the Colossians was the rise of a new heresy among them which soon afterward swelled into a mighty and dangerous movement in the ancient church, as rationalism has done in modern times. It differed from the Judaizing heresy which he opposed in Galatians and Corinthians, as Essenism differed from Phariseeism, or as legalism differs from mysticism. The Colossian heresy was an Essenic and ascetic type of Gnosticism; it derived its ritualistic and practical elements from Judaism, its speculative elements from heathenism; it retained circumcision, the observance of Sabbaths and new moons, and the distinction of meats and drinks; but it mixed with it elements of oriental mysticism and theosophy, the heathen notion of an evil principle, the worship of subordinate spirits, and an ascetic struggle for emancipation from the dominion of matter. It taught an antagonism between God and matter and interposed between them a series of angelic mediators as objects of worship. It thus contained the essential features of Gnosticism, but in its incipient and rudimental form, or a Christian Essenism in its transition to Gnosticism. In its ascetic tendency it resembles that of the weak brethren in the Roman congregation (Rom_14:5, Rom_14:6, Rom_14:21). Cerinthus, in the age of John, represents a more developed stage and forms the link between the Colossian heresy and the post-apostolic Gnosticism.
Paul refutes this false philosophy calmly and respectfully by the true doctrine of the Person of Christ, as the one Mediator between God and men, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And he meets the false asceticism based upon the dualistic principle with the doctrine of the purification of the heart by faith and love as the effectual cure of all moral evil.
The Gnostic and the Pauline Pleroma
“Pleroma” or “fulness” is an important term in Colossians and Ephesians. Paul uses it in common with the Gnostics, and this has been made an argument for the post-apostolic origin of the two Epistles. He did, of course, not borrow it from the Gnostics; for he employs it repeatedly in his other Epistles with slight variations. It must have had a fixed theological meaning, as it is not explained. It cannot be traced to Philo, who, however, uses “Logos” in a somewhat similar sense for the plenitude of Divine powers.
Paul speaks of “the pleroma of the earth,” i.e., all that fills the earth or is contained in it (1Co_10:26, 1Co_10:28, in a quotation from Psa_24:1); “the pleroma,” i.e., the fulfilment or accomplishment, “of the law,” which is love (); “the pleroma,” i.e., the fulness or abundance, “of the blessing of Christ” (Rom_15:29) “the pleroma,” or full measure, “of the time” (Gal_4:4; comp. Eph_1:10; Mar_1:15; Luk_21:24); “the pleroma of the Gentiles,” meaning their full number, or whole body, but not necessarily all individuals (Rom_11:25); “the pleroma of the Godhead,” i.e., the fulness or plenitude of all Divine attributes and energies (Col_1:19; Col_2:9); “the pleroma of Christ,” which is the church as the body of Christ (Eph_1:23; comp. Eph_3:19; Eph_4:13).
In the Gnostic systems, especially that of Valentinus, “pleroma” signifies the intellectual and spiritual world, including all Divine powers or aeons, in opposition to the “kenoma,” i.e., the void, the emptiness, the material world. The distinction was based on the dualistic principle of an eternal antagonism between spirit and matter, which led the more earnest Gnostics to an extravagant asceticism, the frivolous ones to wild antinomianism. They included in the pleroma a succession of emanations from the Divine abyss, which form the links between the infinite and the finite; and they lowered the dignity of Christ by making him simply the highest of those intermediate aeons. The burden of the Gnostic speculation was always the question: Whence is the world? and whence is evil? It sought the solution in a dualism between mind and matter, the pleroma and the kenoma; but this is no solution at all.
In opposition to this error, Paul teaches, on a thoroughly monotheistic basis, that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου Col_1:15; comp. 2Co_4:4 — an expression often used by Philo as a description of the Logos, and of the personified Wisdom, in Wis. 7:26); that he is the preëxistent and incarnate pleroma or plenitude of Divine powers and attributes; that in him the whole fulness of the Godhead, that is, of the Divine nature itself, dwells bodily-wise or corporeally (σωματικῶς), as the soul dwells in the human body; and that he is the one universal and all-sufficient Mediator, through whom the whole universe of things visible and invisible, were made, in whom all things hold together (or cohere, συνέστηκεν) , and through whom the Father is pleased to reconcile all things to himself.
The Christology of Colossians approaches very closely to the Christology of John; for he represents Christ as the incarnate “Logos” or Revealer of God, who dwelt among us “full (πλήρης) of grace and truth,” and out of whose Divine “fulness” (ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ) we all have received grace for grace (Joh_1:1, Joh_1:14, Joh_1:16). Paul and John fully agree in teaching the eternal preëxistence of Christ, and his agency in the creation and preservation of the world (Col_1:15-17; Joh_1:3). According to Paul, He is “the first-born or first-begotten” of all creation (πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, Col_1:15, distinct from πρωτόκτιστος, first-created), i.e., prior and superior to the whole created world, or eternal; according to John He is “the only-begotten Son” of the Father. (ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός Joh_1:14, Joh_1:18; comp. Joh_3:16, Joh_3:18; 1Jo_4:9), before and above all created children of God. The former term denotes Christ’s unique relation to the world, the latter his unique relation to the Father.
The Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Colossians will be discussed in the next section in connection with the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Theme: Christ all in all. The true gnosis and the false gnosis. True and false asceticism.
Leading Thoughts: Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first-begotten of all creation (Col_1:15). — In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col_2:3). — In him dwelleth all the fulness (τὸ πλήρωμα) of the Godhead bodily (Col_2:9). — If ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God (Col_3:1). — When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory (Col_3:4). — Christ is all, and in all (Col_3:11). — Above all things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness (Col_3:14). — Whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col_3:17).
95. The Epistle to the Ephesians
When Paul took leave of the Ephesian Elders at Miletus, in the spring of the year 58, he earnestly and affectionately exhorted them, in view of threatening disturbances from within, to take heed unto themselves and to feed “the church of the Lord, which he acquired with his own blood.”
This strikes the key-note of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is a doctrinal and practical exposition of the idea of the church, as the house of God (Eph_2:20-22), the spotless bride of Christ (Eph_5:25-27), the mystical body of Christ (Eph_4:12-16), “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph_1:23). The pleroma of the Godhead resides in Christ corporeally; so the pleroma of Christ, the plenitude of his graces and energies, resides in the church, as his body. Christ’s fulness is God’s fulness; the church’s fulness is Christ’s fulness. God is reflected in Christ, Christ is reflected in the church.
This is an ideal conception, a celestial vision, as it were, of the church in its future state of perfection. Paul himself represents the present church militant as a gradual growth unto the complete stature of Christ’s fulness (Eph_4:13-16). We look in vain for an actual church which is free from spot or wrinkle or blemish (Eph_5:27). Even the apostolic church was full of defects, as we may learn from every Epistle of the New Testament. The church consists of individual Christians, and cannot be complete till they are complete. The body grows and matures with its several members. “It is not yet made manifest what we shall be” (1Jo_3:2).
Nevertheless, Paul’s church is not a speculation or fiction, like Plato’s Republic or Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. It is a reality in Christ, who is absolutely holy, and is spiritually and dynamically present in his church always, as the soul is present in the members of the body. And it sets before us the high standard and aim to be kept constantly in view; as Christ exhorts every one individually to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mat_5:48).
With this conception of the church is closely connected Paul’s profound and most fruitful idea of the family. He calls the relation of Christ to his church a great mystery (Eph_5:32), and represents it as the archetype of the marriage relation, whereby one man and one woman become one flesh. He therefore bases the family on new and holy ground, and makes it a miniature of the church, or the household of God. Accordingly, husbands are to love their wives even as Christ loved the church, his bride, and gave himself up for her; wives are to obey their husbands as the church is subject to Christ, the head; parents are to love their children as Christ and the church love the individual Christians; children are to love their parents as individual Christians are to love Christ and the church. The full and general realization of this domestic ideal would be heaven on earth. But how few families come up to this standard.
Ephesians and the Writings of John
Paul emphasizes the person of Christ in Colossians, the person and agency of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians. For the Holy Spirit carries on the work of Christ in the church. Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption (Eph_1:13; Eph_4:30). The spirit of wisdom and revelation imparts the knowledge of Christ (Eph_1:17; Eph_3:16). Christians should be filled with the Spirit (Eph_5:18), take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and pray in the Spirit at all seasons (Eph_6:17, Eph_6:18).
The pneumatology of Ephesians resembles that of John, as the christology of Colossians resembles the christology of John. It is the Spirit who takes out of the “fulness” of Christ, and shows it to the believer, who glorifies the Son and guides into the truth (Joh_14:17; Joh_15:26; Joh_16:13-15, etc.). Great prominence is given to the Spirit also in Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, and the Acts of the Apostles.
John does not speak of the church and its outward organization (except in the Apocalypse), but he brings Christ in as close and vital a contact with the individual disciples as Paul with the whole body. Both teach the unity of the church as a fact, and as an aim to be realized more and more by the effort of Christians, and both put the centre of unity in the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians was intended not only for the church at Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia Minor, but for all the leading churches of that district. Hence the omission of the words “in Ephesus” (Eph_1:1) in some of the oldest and best MSS. Hence, also, the absence of personal and local intelligence. The encyclical destination may be inferred also from the reference in Col_4:16 to the Epistle to the church of Laodicea, which the Colossians were to procure and to read, and which is probably identical with our canonical Epistle to the Ephesians.”
Character and Value of the Epistle
Ephesians is the most churchly book of the New Testament. But it presupposes Colossians, the most Christly of Paul’s Epistles. Its churchliness is rooted and grounded in Christliness, and has no sense whatever if separated from this root. A church without Christ would be, at best, a praying corpse (and there are such churches). Paul was at once the highest of high churchmen, the most evangelical of evangelicals, and the broadest of the broad, because most comprehensive in his grasp and furthest removed from all pedantry and bigotry of sect or party.
Ephesians is, in some respects, the most profound and difficult (though not the most important) of his Epistles. It certainly is the most spiritual and devout, composed in an exalted and transcendent state of mind, where theology rises into worship, and meditation into oration. It is the Epistle of the Heavenlies (τὰ ἐπουράνια), a solemn liturgy, an ode to Christ and his spotless bride, the Song of Songs in the New Testament. The aged apostle soared high above all earthly things to the invisible and eternal realities in heaven. From his gloomy confinement he ascended for a season to the mount of transfiguration. The prisoner of Christ, chained to a heathen soldier, was transformed into a conqueror, clad in the panoply of God, and singing a paean of victory.
The style has a corresponding rhythmical flow and overflow, and sounds at times like the swell of a majestic organ. It is very involved and presents unusual combinations, but this is owing to the pressure and grandeur of ideas; besides, we must remember that it was written in Greek, which admits of long periods and parentheses. In Eph_1:3-14 we have one sentence with no less than seven relative clauses, which rise like a thick cloud of incense higher and higher to the very throne of God.
Luther reckoned Ephesians among “the best and noblest books of the New Testament.” Witsius characterized it as a divine Epistle glowing with the flame of Christian love and the splendor of holy light. Braune says: “The exalted significance of the Epistle for all time lies in its fundamental idea: the church of Jesus Christ a creation of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, decreed from eternity, destined for eternity; it is the ethical cosmos; the family of God gathered in the world and in history and still further to be gathered, the object of his nurture and care in time and in eternity.”
These are Continental judgments. English divines are equally strong in praise of this Epistle. Coleridge calls it “the sublimest composition of man;” Alford: “the greatest and most heavenly work of one whose very imagination is peopled with things in the heavens;” Farrar: “the Epistle of the Ascension, the most sublime, the most profound, and the most advanced and final utterance of that mystery of the gospel which it was given to St. Paul for the first time to proclaim in all its fulness to the Gentile world.”
Theme: The church of Christ, the family of God, the fulness of Christ.
Leading Thoughts: God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love (Eph_1:4). In him we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Eph_1:7). He purposed to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth (Eph_1:10). God gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Eph_1:23). God, being rich in mercy, quickened us together with Christ and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus (Eph_2:4-6). By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory (Eph_2:8, Eph_2:9). Christ is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition (Eph_2:14). Ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone (Eph_2:19, Eph_2:20). Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach Unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph_3:8). That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God (Eph_3:17-19). Give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph_4:3). There is one body, and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all (Eph_4:6). He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints (Eph_4:11, Eph_4:12). Speak the truth in love (Eph_4:15). Put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth (Eph_4:24). Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for as, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell (Eph_5:1, Eph_5:2). Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord (Eph_5:22). Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it (Eph_5:25). This mystery is great; but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church (532). Children, obey your parents in the Lord (Eph_6:1). Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph_6:11).
96. Colossians and Ephesians Compared and Vindicated
The Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians were written about the same time and transmitted through the same messenger, Tychicus. They are as closely related to each other as the Epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans. They handle the same theme, Christ and his church; as Galatians and Romans discuss the same doctrines of salvation by free grace and justification by faith.
But Colossians, like Galatians, arose from a specific emergency, and is brief, terse, polemical; while Ephesians, like Romans, is expanded, calm, irenical. Colossians is directed against the incipient Gnostic (paganizing) heresy, as Galatians is directed against the Judaizing heresy. The former is anti-Essenic and anti-ascetic, the latter is anti-Pharisaic and anti-legalistic; the one deals with a speculative expansion and fantastic evaporation, the latter, with a bigoted contraction, of Christianity; yet both these tendencies, like all extremes, have points of contact and admit of strange amalgamations; and in fact the Colossian and Galatian errorists united in their ceremonial observance of circumcision and the Sabbath. Ephesians, like Romans, is an independent exposition of the positive truth, of which the heresy opposed in the other Epistles is a perversion or caricature.
Again, Colossians and Ephesians differ from each other in the modification and application of their common theme: Colossians is christological and represents Christ as the true pleroma or plenitude of the Godhead, the totality of divine attributes and powers; Ephesians is ecclesiological and exhibits the ideal church as the body of Christ, as the reflected pleroma of Christ, “the fulness of Him who filleth all in all.” Christology naturally precedes ecclesiology in the order of the system, as Christ precedes the church; and Colossians preceded Ephesians most probably, also in the order of composition, as the outline precedes the full picture; but they were not far apart, and arose from the same train of meditation.
This relationship of resemblance and contrast can be satisfactorily explained only on the assumption of the same authorship, the same time of composition, and the same group of churches endangered by the same heretical modes of thought. With Paul as the author of both everything is clear; without that assumption everything is dark and uncertain. “Non est cuiusvis hominis,” says Erasmus, “Paulinum pectus effingere; tonat, fulgurat, meras flammas loquitur Paulus.”
The genuineness of the two cognate Epistles has recently been doubted and denied, but the negative critics are by no means agreed; some surrender Ephesians but retain Colossians, others reverse the case; while Baur, always bolder and more consistent than his predecessors, rejects both.
They must stand or fall together. But they will stand. They represent, indeed, an advanced state of christological and ecclesiological knowledge in the apostolic age, but they have their roots in the older Epistles of Paul, and are brimful of his spirit. They were called forth by a new phase of error, and brought out new statements of truth with new words and phrases adapted to the case. They contain nothing that Paul could not have written consistently with his older Epistles, and there is no known pupil of Paul who could have forged such highly intellectual and spiritual letters in his name and equalled, if not out-Pauled Paul. The external testimonies are unanimous in favor of the Pauline authorship, and go as far back as Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Ignatius, and the heretical Marcion (about 140), who included both Epistles in his mutilated canon.
The difficulties which have been urged against their Pauline origin, especially of Ephesians, are as follows:
1. The striking resemblance of the two Epistles, and the apparent repetitiousness and dependence of Ephesians on Colossians, which seem to be unworthy of such an original thinker as Paul. But this resemblance, which is more striking in the practical than in the doctrinal part, is not the resemblance between an author and an imitator, but of two compositions of the same author, written about the same time on two closely connected topics; and it is accompanied by an equally marked variety in thought and language.
2. The absence of personal and local references in Ephesians. This is, as already remarked, sufficiently explained by the encyclical character of that Epistle.
3. A number of peculiar words not found elsewhere in the Pauline Epistles. But they are admirably adapted to the new ideas, and must be expected from a mind so rich as Paul’s. Every Epistle contains some hapax legomena. The only thing which is somewhat startling is that an apostle should speak of “holy apostles and prophets” (Eph_3:5), but the term “holy” (ἅγιοι) is applied in the New Testament to all Christians, as being consecrated to God (ἁγιασμένοι, Joh_17:17), and not in the later ecclesiastical sense of a spiritual nobility. It implies no contradiction to Eph_3:8, where the author calls himself “the least of all saints” (comp. 1Co_15:9, “I am the least of the apostles”).
The only argument of any weight is the alleged post-Pauline rise of the Gnostic heresy, which is undoubtedly opposed in Colossians (not in Ephesians, at least not directly). But why should this heresy not have arisen in the apostolic age as well as the Judaizing heresy which sprung up before a.d. 50, and followed Paul everywhere? The tares spring up almost simultaneously with the wheat. Error is the shadow of truth. Simon Magus, the contemporary of Peter, and the Gnostic Cerinthus, the contemporary, of John, are certainly historic persons. Paul speaks (1Co_8:1) of a “gnosis which puffeth up,” and warned the Ephesian elders, as early as 58, of the rising of disturbing errorists from their own midst; and the Apocalypse, which the Tübingen critics assign to the year 68, certainly opposes the antinomian type of Gnosticism, the error of the Nicolaitans (Rev_2:6, Rev_2:15, Rev_2:20), which the early Fathers derived from one of the first seven deacons of Jerusalem. All the elements of Gnosticism — Ebionism, Platonism, Philoism, syncretism, asceticism, antinomianism — were extant before Christ, and it needed only a spark of Christian truth to set the inflammable material on fire. The universal sentiment of the Fathers, as far as we can trace it up to Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Polycarp found the origin of Gnosticism in the apostolic age, and called Simon Magus its father or grandfather.
Against their testimony, the isolated passage of Hegesippus, so often quoted by the negative critics, has not the weight of a feather. This credulous, inaccurate, and narrow-minded Jewish Christian writer said, according to Eusebius, that the church enjoyed profound peace, and was “a pure and uncorrupted virgin,” governed by brothers and relations of Jesus, until the age of Trajan, when, after the death of the apostles, “the knowledge falsely so called” (ψευδώνυμος γνῶσις, comp. 1Ti_6:20), openly raised its head. But he speaks of the church in Palestine, not in Asia Minor; and he was certainly mistaken in this dream of an age of absolute purity and peace. The Tübingen school itself maintains the very opposite view. Every Epistle, as well as the Acts, bears testimony to the profound agitations, parties, and evils of the church, including Jerusalem, where the first great theological controversy was fought out by the apostles themselves. But Hegesippus corrects himself, and makes a distinction between the secret working and the open and shameless manifestation of heresy. The former began, he intimates, in the apostolic age; the latter showed itself afterward. Gnosticism, like modern Rationalism, had a growth of a hundred years before it came to full maturity. A post-apostolic writer would have dealt very differently with the fully developed systems of Basilides, Valentinus, and Marcion. And yet the two short Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians strike at the roots of this error, and teach the positive truth with an originality, vigor, and depth that makes them more valuable, even as a refutation, than the five books of Irenaeus against Gnosticism, and the ten books of the Philosophumena of Hippolytus; and this patent fact is the best proof of their apostolic origin.