Review: Ephesians (BECNT)

Ephesians BECNT

Frank Thielman is the Presbyterian Professor of Divinity of the New Testament at Beeson Divinity. He is well known for his work on the Law and it’s relation to the Christian believer, along with his Theology of the NT, commentary of Philippians, and his contribution to the Commentary of the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament on Ephesians.

Each section in this volume (and all BECNT volumes) can be divided up into four ways:

  1. An short summary introduction, presented in a gray-shaded box (making it easy to recognize).
  2. Exegesis and Exposition, where a translation of the text is given along with its meaning.
  3. A concluding summary, also in a gray-shaded box for easy recognition.
  4. Additional Notes, not given in every section, but usually deals with textual criticism and linguistics.
    1. I usually never read these sections since I’m neither a textual critic not a Greek reader, but I was surprised at how interesting some of the notes were in Thielman’s volume.  In many cases they’re more like extended footnotes dealing with theological matters in the text, rather than which manuscript is more original (important in it’s own right)

Thielman is careful in his exegesis, looking beyond the most recent of commentators to those of the nineteeneth and twentieth centuries, even down to the early church. Besides having taught the Greek text of Ephesians at BDS and being committed to his own studies, Thielman remains up-to-date on ancient primary sources and secondary literature from Greco-Roman history on culture, and he consistently looks back to find the meaning of particularly difficult words. Yet in all of this, he doesn’t rely so heavily on them that he misses the influence of the OT (and the works of Second Temple Period Judaism).

The Chocolate Milk

While I own only the volumes on Mark, Luke, John, and this one, I was surprised at how easy this volume was to read. The BECNT series is academic. I like that and I expect them to be so. Academic means good information, but not always easy on the eyes. But for the pastor, the student, or the layman (however you define that term), there is plenty of depth here to be explored. In-text citations are much fewer in number (especially when compared to the John volume). Really, the majority of in-text references are Scriptural! This volume is quite easy to read, especially since the author is not focusing on redactional criticism, or the thoughts of all of commentators (neither of which are bad, but footnotes are a godsend). That aside, this is still an exegetical (read: dense) commentary, so the term “easy” is relative. But it is “easier” than other commentaries I’ve come across.

Thielman’s Views

1.1; Ephesians is not pseudonymous as many say. Paul is the author (my post here).

1.7; Acknowledging the intense debate, Thielman takes the phrase “redemption through his blood” to mean that “in the death of Christ, God came powerfully to the rescue of his people just as he had done in former times when he rescued them from the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and other nations” (60), while also giving credence to the meaning that redeeming one from slavery was done at a high price.

2.14-18; Thielman doesn’t believe that the “dividing wall” that was “broken down” should be linked with the Temple wall that separated the Court of the Gentiles. Rather, Paul is speaking about Christ breaking down the Torah Law. This isn’t to mean it has no relevance for believers, as it glorifies God and shows his good character. But we are not bound to following it to the minutia. Christ has fulfilled the Law. When Christ died on the cross, he set the Law aside and “created a new people unified across ethnic barriers” (173). He reconciled to God all those who believe in he gospel (being Jew and Gentile).

3.6; Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ are made one people. They both share in the promise given to Abraham, and share equal status before God.

4.11-12; Some of the gifts Christ gave to the church were the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers. Pastors and teachers are different offices (though both gifts can be held by one person). Not every teacher is a pastor/shepherd. They were given to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. It is not the five aforementioned offices who do all of the work. Those who are gifted work together with “those whom they equip… to build up the body of Christ” (280).

5.5-7; Paul is talking about the present inheritance of the kingdom of God (though not excluding the future inheritance). The Messiah is presently reigning with God, and his enemies are beneath his feet. We are to now be imitators of God, not partakers with the world, those still walking according to the course of this world.

6.5-9; Paul is not neutral toward slavery. In fact, believing masters should follow after Jesus’ words that he who is greatest must be servant of all (my post here).

The Spoiled Milk

While there is an important OT focus in this commentary, sometimes Thielman doesn’t make all of the connections. In wanting to write a post about the connections between Isaiah 59.16-21 and Ephesians 6.1-20 (we put on the armour of God), I looked up what Thielman had to say. Yet, while in Isa. 59 the armour of God is worn by YHWH and it aids in an offensive attack, here in Eph. 6 it is “used to defend a position” and is worn by believers (425). Thielman says, “The differences between the imagery in Isaiah and Paul’s use of it here probably mean that he is not providing a commentary in Isa. 11:5 and 59:17 but developing the imagery in his own way” (425). Is this the case? I am no scholar, but couldn’t it be that God is now doing battle through his church? In Isaiah 59 God sees that there is no justice and puts on his armour to fight. Now, the Ephesian believers have put on Christ, the new man, and they are to expose the works of darkness (5.11) that the unbeliever may be saved.

There are a few other examples like this. Regardless, these examples are minor. They are not a significant hindrance to this volume.

Recommended?

Yes. Thielman is careful in his exegesis and gives a solid, evangelical commentary which is important for such a difficult and grammatically-ambiguous book as Ephesians. Thielman keeps his eyes on the rest of the text being faithful to remind us of what has come before and what will come after. As with the BECNT volumes, Knowledge of the Greek language gives you an upper hand in using this volume to its fullest, but it is not necessary. Being slightly longer than O’Brien’s volume [PNTC] and half as long as Hoehner, Thielman would be in good company with both. While not as applicable as O’Brien, Hoehner, or Arnold, a student of Ephesians would benefit from having Thielman on his bookshelf. We need more solid, evangelical commentaries on Ephesians, and Thielman does an excellent job of filling up what is lacking.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2010)
  • Amazon: US // UK
  • PDF excerpt found here

[Special thanks to Mark at SPCK and Trinity at Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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