Book Review: The Bible Unfiltered (Michael Heiser)

Heiser is slowly becoming a household name. Heiser has 6,000 subscribers on YouTube, His podcast (Naked Bible Podcast) has 3,000 followers (on Facebook), and as of November 2016 it was ranked in iTunes’ Top Thirty most listened to Christian podcasts. I’ve reviewed I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, The Unseen Realm, and his popular-level version Supernatural.

Heiser’s newest book, The Bible Unfiltered, similar to I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, is made up of some of his contributions to Faithlife’s Bible Study Magazine. It consists of three parts: (1) Interpreting the Bible Responsibly and interpretations on (2) the Old Testament and (3) the New Testament.

Being Responsible

I’ve been listening to Heiser’s podcast for a few years now, and the bass line to all of his songs is understanding the Bible through the lens of the people who wrote it, especially those in the Old Testament (which is Heiser’s academic focus). He says God “prepared and chose men to accomplish that task [that of revealing and clarifying God’s thoughts, character, and purposes], not to insert obstacles to that task. This means that those of us living thousands of years after the words of Scripture were written face a predicament. We come from a different world. We did not share life with them. We are not of one mind in a multitude of ways” (2).

We are blessed to have Bible translations in many of our languages. We have the opportunity to read and understand the Word every day. But communication requires more than knowing the same language. It requires knowing the concepts, wordplays, and word connotations. The Bible is perplexing; in order to understand it we must know the biblical worldview.

The Bible isn’t here to give us a spiritual buzz. There’s more to know then just the four Gospels and Paul’s letters. “Knowing what all its [the Bible’s] parts mean will give us a deeper appreciation for the salvation history of God’s people, and the character of God” (9). We all have flawed thinking. We ought to request help from the Spirit “to expose flawed thinking” and get to work to understand God’s word so that we may know him (10). The Bible is not set in the modern world. There is a lot of supernatural elements that modern readers think are too weird (see my posts on The Unseen Realm). The biblical authors believed the world was flat and covered by a solid dome (a “firmament”). Heiser plainly says that God did not set forth men to write his Word to teach us science. That was not his intention, and to read the Bible as a science textbook is to misread the Bible.

Can’t we just read the Bible literally? To use an analogy similar to Heiser’s, if I said, “My nose is running,” what am I saying? Is my nose physically running? Did it hit a home run? How does my wife’s stocking have a run? If my car is running on empty, where are its legs? In all of these statements, the meaning is plain… if you are a part of the culture. If you are not, these idioms make little sense. In Heiser’s analogy with water, he says, “‘Water’ can be used metaphorically for a life source, purification, transformation, motion, or danger. The metaphors work because of the physical properties of water—and still describe real things. Non-literal doesn’t mean ‘not real’” (31).

Heiser emphasizes actual Bible study, not just biblical memorization (though he doesn’t downplay that either—for an example, see my post on James 2.19). He gives an example on how not to misinterpret prophecy with the difficult text from James’ use of Amos 9.11–12 in Acts 15.16–18.

The Old and New Testaments

In the Old Testament section, Heiser looks at the possible meaning of Yahweh’s name (though, unfortunately, the Hebrew is transliterated and no Hebrew text is given, which makes it more difficult to follow the argument). He looks at why the slave is brought before “elohim” in Exodus 21.1–6 but not Deuteronomy 15.12–18; the Angel of the Lord, his literary ambiguity with Yahweh, and Jesus who has “the name.” The secret things that belong to the Lord of Deuteronomy 29.29 are often misunderstood. God knows all things, and never tells us not to study the Bible to know deep things.

For many readers biblical readers, events that happen at trees don’t seem significant; Heiser unveils the importance of the ancient notion of sacred trees. He looks at some texts in Job to show that angels aren’t perfect, and that wasn’t a hidden fact to humans.

In the New Testament, Heiser examines Mark’s story of the demon-possessed swine and how the cultural notion of cosmic geography tells tells us a lot about this event. In Markan studies, everyone has to deal with the last section of Mark—is it original? Heiser bypasses this question and asks if exorcism is for everyone? There are different spiritual gifts, and we shouldn’t assume that all the gifts mentioned here will be handed out to all Christians. Heiser looks at another angle on what John may have been thinking when he said that “the Word was God,” what cosmological ideas James had in mind when he wrote that God was the Father of lights, and what demons believe about God? Of course, there is much more that I could say, but the book is short so I shouldn’t say too much, but Heiser’s many years of study come out again in this book to make the word become fresh again.


I like Heiser’s works because he not only knows the primary OT and ANE literature, but he’s up to date on much of current scholarship, while still remaining clever and not following trends because they’re popular (he takes a lot of minority views, e.g., rebellious divine beings in Psalm 82, and a rebellious divine being—and not Adam—in the background of Ezekiel 28). Although he has admitted he’s less of an innovator and more one who collects others’ ideas and brings them to the popular level, he still brings plenty to the table. Listeners of Heiser’s podcast will be familiar with a good portion of Part One, and at least some of the ideas in Parts Two and Three. The chapters are short and usually leave me wanting more, but it gives me just enough of a taste that it creates a desire in me to study more. If the Bible actually is this interesting (and it is), then I want to study it even more than I already do. If it creates that same desire in you, then it is well worth it.


  • Author: Michael S. Heiser
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (October 4, 2017)

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Book Review: James (EEC), William Varner


Besides being one of the administrators to a number of “nerdy” Facebook groups (I should add that they are wonderful groups which have helpful discussions on biblical languages and theology), William Varner is a Professor of Bible & Greek at The Master’s College and Seminary (where John MacArthur serves as President).

In the EEC series, “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights (even 20 years from now). 

Though highly neglected for much of church history, the “last forty years . . . have witnessed both James and the writing attributed to him emerging into the brightness of a new day for Jacobean scholarship” (1). There have been at least thirty major commentaries since the 1970s. Why do we need another commentary on such a small letter? To quote Varner, “I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because ‘God yet has light to spring forth from His word,’” and “the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages” (1, fn 4).

Varner believes James to have been both the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church, the Jerusalem church and of the entire Jesus movement. The letter was written in Jerusalem in the mid-to-late 40s AD for Jewish-Christian congregations “in or around Syria” (18). Some of James’ main themes are God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and eschatology. Both a kingdom and a judgment are waiting for us in the future, but also a part of that future kingdom is here now. We have the King’s “royal law” (2.8) now, and we experience the “new birth” (1.18) now too.


The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes (for more detail, check out my review on the Ephesians volume). Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.

  1. Introduction
  2. Outline
  3. Original Text
  4. Textual Notes
  5. Translation
  6. Commentary
  7. Biblical Theology Comments
  8. Application and Devotional Implications
  9. Selected Bibliography

There are also 3 excursuses at the end of the commentary.

  1. Scot McKnight’s Treatment of James 2.18
  2. James 3.1-12: Can the Tongue Really Be Controlled?
  3. Wisdom in James


Sometimes when I review a commentary, knowing that a commentary can’t do everything, I try to suggest at least one other commentary to pair the reviewed copy with. I’m not really sure who I should suggest here. Moo’s PNTC volume is a wise choice, and Blomberg’s ZECNT volume will likely have great practical points. But when I really compared them to Varner, I found Varner to have more clarity and better application.

And really, the biggest difference was something small, simple, and often overlooked in a commentary: his outline. It’s not just the outline itself that is impressive, but his argument for it. Varner believes that 3.13-18 is the “thematic peak” of James (where it brings all of the themes together), and 4.1-10 is the “hortatory peak,” a section filled with exhortations, commands, loving rebuke, and encouragement to James’ readers to cut off their friendship with the world, to stop their selfish bickering, and to humble themselves before the majestic King of glory.

Martin Luther accused James of borrowing “a few ideas from the apostles” and then afterwards he “‘threw them on paper.’ Luther thought that the organization of the book was as bad as its doctrine” (62). Many others have found James’ structure to be equally elusive. Varner shows that the leader of the Church did know what he was talking about, and it sets this commentary apart from the rest as Varner guides through the commentary, showing us the word-signs that point backwards and forwards to reveal and to herald what has been and what is to come.

Varner’s commentary is technical, but in the Grammarian Desert you will also find equally refreshing pools of theology, theology that is biblically practical. He follows the flow of James’ river of wisdom and smoothes out gnarled passages (e.g., James 4.5). This should be on your shelf. Better yet, this should be open on your desk.


  • Author: William Varner
  • Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 9, 2014)

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[Special thanks to Lexham Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

Book Review: Ephesians (EEC), S. M. Baugh


If you haven’t been able to tell, or if you haven’t seen the eight other posts I’ve written up about Baugh’s new Ephesians commentary, I’ve certainly enjoyed his new volume in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights. Unlike physical copies, the Logos volumes can be updated by their authors 20 years from now (not to downplay the physical books too much).

S. M. Baugh is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, California. He ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and he is mindful of the toils in both scholarship and the pastorate. Baugh didn’t set out to create brand new interpretations on Ephesians when he began working on this volume. Instead he used his particular interests and areas of study to illuminate the text for scholars, pastors, and students. His horde of interests include the classics, ancient history (especially Ephesus), Greek grammar, textual criticism, Greek literary composition and rhetoric, and, finally, biblical theology.

These interests come together to make a powerhouse of a commentary. As a technical commentary, this is one of the best (if not the best). But don’t think that this commentary was spit out to split hairs on Greek grammar. There is much to gain from this commentary for both the pastor and the student (see my Previous Posts below), not only the scholar.


The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes. Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.

  1. Introduction: A brief overview of the section (e.g., 2.1-10) and where Baugh gives his periodic arrangement of the Greek text for that section.
  2. Outline: A simple outline for the text.
  3. Original Text: The text as it is in Greek
  4. Textual Notes: Differences between manuscripts
  5. Translation: Baugh’s English translation
  6. Commentary: A full explanation of the text.
  7. Biblical Theology Comments: How the teaching in the text fits with the rest of the Bible, or the New Testament, or Paul’s own teaching, etc.
  8. Application and Devotional Implications: A few paragraphs on how the reader can think about the text in their own personal life, or how a pastor could preach this to his congregation.
  9. Selected Bibliography: Bibliography of books mentioned throughout the chapter

Eight Additional Exegetical Comments sections are strewn throughout this volume. A few of the subjects covered are Redemption; Magic; Faith in/of Christ; and Wine in Ephesus.

Baugh agrees that Paul is the author of this epistle, and that Ephesians is one of “generic” character. There are “no serious problems or concerns with his addressees that led Paul to write Ephesians” (31). Ephesians has a “positive” and certainly “less polemic” tone than most of Paul’s other letters (31).

Baugh believes the main theme of the letter “is easy to summarize with the phrase unity in the inaugurated new creation” (35).The church’s unity is rooted in the Triune God’s counsel and redemptive love. The Messiah has complete sovereignty over the old powers of creation, especially magic. The new creation is entering this world.


While Baugh does give a special attention to magic in Ephesus, you would do well to pair his commentary with Clinton Arnold’s ZECNT volume on Ephesians. Arnold has done a lot of work on the influence of magic in the Greco-Roman world, and his commentary is extremely skilled in putting forward the main ideas of Paul’s letter while remaining very practical too.

Those who have a handle on Greek will be the ones who benefit the most from this volume. But while Baugh certainly goes into detail into his commentary, he also agrees that “it is important to keep the theological center of ‘unity in the inaugurated new creation’ in view . . . The trees are beautiful in themselves, but the whole forest is where the vision of majesty dwells.”

Again, if you want one of the best technical commentaries on Ephesians, then you need to pick up Baugh’s commentary. 


  • Author: Steven Baugh
  • Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 27, 2016)

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What is God’s ‘Gift’ in Eph 2.8?

Ephesians 2.8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Another way to read 2.8b would be, “and this does not originate from you.” Baugh points out there is a temptation to read this as pointing to faith. This would read “this faith is not your own doing – it is the gift of God.” What is not our own doing? Is it God’s grace? Our salvation? Our faith? All of it? Baugh believes that the whole event (“being saved by grace through faith”) is God’s gift.

Rather than quoting about obscure Greek grammar, I want to look at some of the examples that Baugh gives.

Eph 5.5, For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

So who won’t inherit the kingdom of God? Those who are impure? Sexually immoral? Covetous? No, all who do those things have no inheritance in God’s kingdom.

Eph 6.1, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

What is right? The Lord is right? Children are right? It is right that they obey the Lord by obeying their parents.

Phil 1.27-28, Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

The clear sign is that they are standing firm, in one spirit, living with one mind, striving side by side, for the faith of the gospel – all together.

1 Thess 5.16-18, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

What is God’s will for our lives? To rejoice always, to pray always, to give thanks always.

What can we glean from this? Baugh says that

All the components of the event are also referenced as originating not from human capacity or exertion but as God’s gift. This means that even the believer’s act of believing comes from God, as is said more explicitly by Paul elsewhere: ‘For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him . . . but also suffer for his sake’ (Phil 1:29) . . . Humans contribute nothing of their own to this salvation, since even believing (which the elect are indeed enabled to do) is a divine gift (cf. Rom 3:24–25). The key to this in the context of Eph 2:8 is what Paul had been driving home so forcefully up until now: Before God’s gracious intervention believers were hopelessly dead, with their wills imprisoned by nature . . . in acts that led only to transgression and sin (2:1–5a, 12). (160-161)

In his book What About Free Will?, Scott Christensen points out, “The point at which unbelievers are ‘made alive’ is when they ‘were dead,’ not when they exercised faith.”  He says “it is impossible to exercise saving faith unless God grants it as part of the gift of receiving new life (cf. Phil. 1:29)” (185).

None of these redemptive realities proceed from our own wills. It is impossible for spiritually dead people to engage in an action that is as full of spiritual life and power as exercising saving faith. God’s choosing of people to salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). This does not mean that our will is not involved later. But Paul’s point is that the exercise of faith doesn’t incite God to act with grace and save us. Rather, it is his grace that incites us to act in faith whereby we willingly receive the benefits of salvation. (185)

As Ephesians 2.10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God prepared beforehand the adoption of both Jews and Gentiles into his family. We have been prepared for good works. God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.4).


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Deserving of God’s Wrath By Nature

Ephesians 2.1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

After telling the Ephesians that they were dead in their trespasses, that they deliberately walked in their sins, they followed the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience, and they lived according to the passions of their flesh, the desires of their body and mind, just like the rest of mankind they deserved God’s wrath – by nature. They were born into it. It was natural for them to live a life that deserved God’s wrath. That’s not something you’ll hear on Dr. Phil.


And since we wouldn’t hear this from the likes of Dr. Phil, Oprah, Dr. Oz, Rob Bell, or most of the world, Baugh rightly states, “We have lost the appreciation of just how shocking v. 3f would have been” (152). As Baugh points out, Paul was a Jew “by birth and not [a] Gentile sinner.” He was a “son of Abraham” (Lk 19.9) and a “son of the kingdom” (Matt 8.12). He would not have been a “son of destruction” (Jn 17.12) or a “child of Gehenna” (Matt 23.15). He would have considered himself a child of God, not of the devil (Jn 8.39-44). He certainly wouldn’t have been like the unclean Gentiles (Gal 2.15).

Now Paul rightly understands that . . . the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, stands condemned before God apart from Christ . . . If he had simply said that “we were children of wrath,” it might be supposed that this was a state humans happened to fall into or could climb out of themselves, but when Paul says that this state belongs to all “by nature,” he is saying that all—excepting only Christ Jesus . . . were conceived in sin” (152).

We were not “dead in our trespasses,” but we still had enough good moral capacity to choose Christ. We were dead weight, and we were sinking deeper and deeper into an ocean that doesn’t give up it’s dead.

The Good News

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Eph 1.4-5).

“The Christian is an adopted son of God [see my post here] and [a] natural . . . son of divine wrath; he or she derives ‘nobility of birth’ from only the one Father” (153).

This new life we have “is inaugurated in this life by an operation of the Holy Spirit . . . who somehow mysteriously brings the believer into fellowship with the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ such that Paul can say that the believer is co-made alive,’ ‘co-raised,’ and ‘co-seated’ with Christ Jesus in the heavenly realms” (156).

This period flows out of what was said before and anticipates what will shortly be said. The church is God’s redeemed, prized possession (1:14), rescued out of thrall to the prince of the power of the air (2:2–3) and included in the host-given gifts out of the bounty of Christ’s victorious ascent to heaven (1:20–23; 3:10; 4:7–10). Hence, in v. 7 Paul says that the church will be the trophies of battle on display “in the ages to come” (157).

In Job 1.8 Yahweh, seated before his divine counsel, asks the adversary, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”” Baugh says that the church will receive a similar, but much better, recommendation. “But by being a redeemed and washed, resplendent church (5:27), Paul says more particularly that God’s heavenly sacred treasury will be filled with the ‘surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’” (157).

As Baugh remarks, and as I can attest, I usually hear (and have also taught) that God’s divine grace is defined as his “undeserved favor” toward us. Yet if we’re not careful, this can sound more like a friendly neighbor loaning sugar to the always-forgetful neighborhood.


“As this whole passage shows, God’s grace, which is emphasized here by putting it first in the colon* (v. 8a[, read about the importance here]), is actually God’s favor granted to those who deserve his wrath (v. 3). It is not just undeserved, as if the people whom God befriends were neutral. It is [an] act of immense favor bestowed on those who lie under God’s just condemnation as transgressors and sinners. Hence, a better quick definition is: ‘God’s favor despite human demerit.’”

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Ephesian Magic



Welcome to a world of lucky charms, incantations, amulets, and divination. Welcome to the daily life of an Ephesian. Acts tells us that magic was prevalent throughout the Roman world.

Acts 8.9 tells us about Simon the magician, But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.

And Luke tells us Acts 13.6 about Bar-Jesus, When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.

Yet it was in Ephesus where, after turning to Christ, “a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19.19).

It’s hard for most westerners to imagine a life (even a day) where people lived in fear of the dark, unseen forces that surrounded them. In his commentary on Ephesians, S. M. Baugh gives us a few examples into the Greco-Roman and Ephesian mind.

One of Greece’s earliest poets, Hesiod, advised people to “take nothing to eat or to wash with from uncharmed pots, for in them there is mischief” (133).

But nobody cleans a pot and calls it a day. Theophrastus said that the superstitious man “is apt to purify his house frequently, claiming Hekate has bewitched it” (133).

And while many today like turtles (I grew up with plenty in and around my house) because they’re cute, in antiquity the “discovery of a tortoise is particularly lucky, for this animal was ‘a bulwark against baneful spells’” according to the Homeric Hymns (133).

Baugh says that “[f]amous witches like Circe or Medea dot Hellenistic literature with their use of ‘noxious roots of the earth,’ the evil eye, and mystic incantations and rites too fearful even to recount” (134).

These witches were devotees of the “night-stalking Hekate.” The Hymn to Hecate describes Hakate as, “Lovely Hecate … reveling in the souls of the dead … monstrous queen … of repelling countenance.” She was a “fierce mistress of the black arts who had an active cult* throughout Asia Minor, including many references in the remains from Ephesus” (134).

Simply because one became a Christian did not mean that person was no longer tempted to believe in the effects of magic. There was always a pull to conform to the rest of society, to partake in the discussions and practices of warding off the evil spirits with various spells and amulets.


Early postbiblical writers repeatedly warn their readers to stay away from the “black arts.”

In the Epistle of Barnabas 20.1, the author says, But the way of the Black One is crooked and full of a curse. For it is a way of eternal death with punishment wherein are the things that destroy men’s souls—idolatry, boldness, exaltation of power, hypocrisy… witchcraft, magic, covetousness, absence of the fear of God.”

And Didache 3.4 says, My child, be no dealer in omens, since it leads to idolatry, nor an enchanter nor an astrologer nor a magician, neither be willing to look at them; for from all these things idolatry is engendered.

In Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, he said that Christ’s incarnation “has dissolved all magic practices… and the bondage of evil and ignorance; the old kingdom of the prince of this age has been destroyed” (134).

From that time forward every sorcery and every spell was dissolved, the ignorance of wickedness vanished away, the ancient kingdom was pulled down, when God appeared in the likeness of man unto newness of everlasting life; and that which had been perfected in the counsels of God began to take effect. Thence all things were perturbed, because the abolishing of death was taken in hand.

Christ, Who Has All Things Beneath His Feet

Baugh quotes Clinton Arnold (who wrote a commentary on Ephesians) from Arnold’s book Power and Magic on the background of the Ephesians and their culture of magic. Arnold says:

God’s superior power is available to believers and is working for their best interest—he desires to mediate it to his people for their protection and growth. Believers are depicted as having been transplanted from one sphere of power (kingdom, or dominion) and placed in another. This transfer forms the basis for their access to the power of God. There is therefore no need for believers to seek any additional protection from the “powers” by any means. This would include the devising of ways to manipulate the demons or the invoking of angelic assistance. (134-35, fn 289)

This is simply one of the gifts given by the grace of God our Father which comes through faith in Christ alone. It is Christ who sits at the right hand of God (Eph 1.20). It is Christ who sits in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (1.20-21). And it is Christ who has “all things under his feet” and who is “head over all things to the church, who is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (1.22-23).

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The Father of Christ

Ephesians 1.3 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….

Ephesians 1.16-18 says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may grant you…”

In Ephesians 1, both vv3 and 17 express the genuine humanity of Christ. Paul speaks of God the Father as Jesus’ God (as does John in 20:17, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”). Was Jesus not divine?

Yet we must hold this truth with what the Bible says elsewhere of Jesus’ own divinity.

Who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [or ‘exploited’] (Phil 2.6).

What gives? Is God the “God” of Jesus? We worship Jesus, and Jesus worships the Father?

Baugh explains Paul’s idea, and it just takes a bit of knowledge of the OT. Paul speaks of Jesus’ humanity here in Ephesians for two reasons.

1. Exclusive Human Mediation

Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is no other way to get to the Father.

1 Tim 2.5, For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus

In the OT God was known by those whom he had covenanted with.

Ps 41.13, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.”

Ezek 11.22, Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.

Lk 1.68, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people

1 Kgs 18.36, And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.

Acts 3.13, The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.

But God is no longer known as “the God of Israel” or “the God of Abraham.” Now his covenant name is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Cor 1.3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (cf. 11.31)

1 Pet 1.3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Mark Seifrid remarks,

In speaking of God as “the God and Father of Jesus Christ,” Paul . . . identifies Jesus Christ with God . . . in Jesus God has revealed himself as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” As Paul makes clear shortly, all the promises of God find their Yes in him (v 20). The Christ is Jesus, the Suffering Servant of God (6:2; cf. Isa 49:8). He is the one in whom the hope the patriarchs is fulfilled. His name therefore replaces theirs and that Israel in the apostolic benediction. We know God and give him thanks only as the God of Jesus Christ. (17-18)

God is no longer a single-national God, but “the God of all nations (including Israelites) who come to the Father through the incarnate Son” (Baugh, 116).

2. Pagans

Because they lived in the Hellenistic pagan culture, the NT authors stressed Jesus’ humanity.

Acts 14.11-12 lets us catch a glimpse of this. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the leading speaker.

“The ancient Greek gods were thought to appear on earth in human guise,” says Baugh (116). Edward Schnabel states, “As the citizens hail Paul and Barnabas as deities, they would have made sure that the two ‘gods in human form’ understand that they [the citizens] have recognized them [the ‘gods’].

Schnabel tells of an ancient legend with a town neighboring Lystra,

A legend connected with neighboring Phrygia relates that two local gods, perhaps Tarchunt and Runt… —in the Greek version of the legend Zeus and Hermes—wandered through the region as human beings. Nobody provided them with hospitality until Philemon and Baucis, an older couple, shared their supplies with the unrecognized gods. The gods rewarded the couple, making them priests in the temple of Zeus, eventually transforming them into sacred trees, while inflicting judgment upon the other people.

Baugh says that of the more famous of these appearances was that of “Athena as trusted old Mentor to Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, in the Odyssey.” There is also the evidence that Artemis Ephesia was “thought to manifest her appearance to her worshipers in the Ephesian Artemisium” (116).


Yet none of these appearances are true incarnations. The gods simply appear before people (albeit in a fleshly form). Jesus was not only in a fleshly form, he was human, just like you and me.

Hebrews 2:14, Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For . . . he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” 

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What Does James 4.5 Really Say?

If you were to flip through different Bible translations and read James 4.5, you would be hard-pressed to find any that agreed with each other.

  • Does God threaten to withdraw the Holy Spirit when Christians try to be friends with the anti-God-world (NASB)?
  • Or does the Holy Spirit desire to serve God when Christians try to be friends with the world (NKJV, HCSB)?
  • Maybe the Father himself is jealous over the adulterous people who have gone astray in Jam 4.4 (The Message)?
  • Or maybe God yearns for the human spirit, and he desires that that we follow him (ESV, NIV, NLT)?
  • Or . . . maybe . . . our own spirit jealously desires the world (Jam 4.4) instead of God (Lexham English Bible, Amplified Bible)?

If you’re like me, you’re already confused.

How do we make sense of James 4.5 when very few Bible translations agree with each other? Is it really that difficult to know what James is saying? Apparently, yes, it is.

Five Questions

In his rewarding commentary on James, William Varner presents 6 questions that comes up when reading James 4:5. A few of them are below*:

  1. How should the phrase “for envy” be taken? Can God ever be said to do anything “enviously”?
  2. Is the “yearning” seen positively or is it a sinful lusting?
  3. Is the “spirit” God’s Spirit or the human spirit (and is it viewed neutrally or negatively)?
  4. Did the original read either “he dwelt” or “he caused to dwell”? (420)
  5. A fifth question would be, “Where does Scripture say this? Is James quoting a specific text, or is he speaking generally?”

* I’ve taken the Greek text out for easier reading.

What is Going On Here?

In James 4.4, James rebukes his readers who have followed the wisdom of the world and who have preferred friendship with the world over friendship with and loyalty to God.

Then James brings up the Scripture which speaks to us all, and the spirit which God created in us. Varner believes that James asks two rhetorical questions. Varner says, “Such questions are not meant to search for an answer but to function as a more powerful statement” (418).

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.51.52 AM
“Three Dollars” at

Varner translates the James 4.5a as saying, “Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks to no purpose?”

He states,

if we remove from our thinking that this is a citation from Scripture, canonical or not, and read it as a question that expects a negative answer, the answer to the question would be as follows: “No, the spirit which God has caused to dwell in us . . . does not long enviously.” In other words, God did not create man this way, i.e., with a spirit that longs enviously. This is because God is the source of only good (1:13–18). (421-422)

Of course the Scripture doesn’t speak in vain. Our good God didn’t create man with a spirit that jealously desires to be better than everyone. In fact, James 4.6 tells us what God does give, “But He gives more grace.”

We must not forget what James has told us about God earlier. God tempts no one, but we are all tempted by our own desires.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (Jam 1.5).

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jam 1.17).

“God is not only associated with light rather than darkness, with stability and consistency rather than with change and alteration, but (as in 1:5) with the giving of every good and perfect gift, rather than with the attitude of grasping that is characteristic of [“desire”]” (176).

So while James’ readers (which includes us) desire, covet, quarrel, and fight amongst each other, all they (and we) have to do is ask. We can come to God and ask for what is good and right. But there’s a problem. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jam 4.3). So if I can’t go to God and get what I want, why should I ask at all?

What the “Scripture” Does Say

James’ flow of thought from 4.5-6 could be explained like this:

“Does the spirit that He has caused to dwell in us long enviously?”


Then be humble! God gives more grace. He gives you a chance to submit to him.

“God opposes proud people, but gives grace to humble ones” (Prov 3.34).


Here we have the Prouds facing off against the Humbles. If this were a football game you could already bet on the winner: the Prouds. They’re strong, they’re fast, they’re confident, and they’re not afraid to show it.

But there’s a catch here. James tells us this game is fixed. The Prouds can’t win. They won’t win because “God opposes” them. Their wisdom does not come “from above.” Instead it “is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3.15). But God does give grace to the Humbles.

In fact, the Prouds will most likely destroy themselves. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (3.16). They desire and do not have, so they murder (4.2a). What they do receive, they spend it wrongly. They spend all that they have on their passions (4.3), which give birth to sin, and when full grown, death (1.14-15).

The main message announces that “arrogant and proud people do not acknowledge their dependence on God but choose to live according to the order of the world and as enemies of God. By contrast, God gives grace to lowly people . . . who are acknowledging their dependence on God” (424).


Varner translates James 4.4-6 (below), and I’ve added some of what we talked about above and other parts of James’ to hopefully show more of James’ meaning.

James 4.4-6

You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world means enmity with God?

Do you want to be friends with the world which will pass away (1.10), which brings death (1.15), and which when it tries to do something good, its religion is useless (1.26)? Do you want to be opposed to the God who gives every good and perfect gift (1.17)?

Therefore whoever decides to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.

Q: Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks to no purpose?

A: No.

Does the spirit that He has caused to dwell in us long enviously?

A: No, God did not create us to jealously desire for other things. To yearn over and fight with people. He created us to know him, and to humbly serve and honor him as our Father who gave us life (1.18).

But He gives more grace.

God gives more grace. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands of your sin and purify your hearts. Follow God alone (4.8). Confess your sins to him and to each other (5.16).

Therefore it says, “God opposes proud people, but gives grace to humble ones.”

If you are reading this letter, you still have a chance to submit to God. Know that you live in the last days (5.3), and that the best earthly treasures are corroded and molded in the sight of God (5.2), the Judge (4.11-12). Instead, seek wisdom from God on how to live. Be pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. Make peace, and reap peace.

Varner says, “God’s people are indwelled by a spirit from God and there is no way in which that living presence is compatible with promptings of self-interest that are destructive of peace among the brothers” (426).

We the Church have been chosen (Eph 1.4) and adopted (1.5) as sons and heirs to the Father above. We were dead in our sins (2.1), we followed the course of this world (2.2), and we deserved God’s wrath (2.3). Now we are alive in Christ (2.5), created to walk in good works which God already prepared for us (2.10) who are citizens of God’s household (2.19). We are a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2.22). Christ won the victory, and he gives gifts to his people (4.8). In the end, we will, together, all see God’s face, and his name will be on all of our foreheads (Rev 22.4).

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace(Eph 1.3-6a).

Predestination has a long history of discussion (read: arguments) behind it, and it’s certainly not something that I’m going to dive head first into in this post (there are other posts for that). Instead, if you read my post about the Pauline sentence then you would have seen my arrangement of the text of Ephesians 1.3-14 on the bottom of the post. In writing about Ephesians 1.4e-6a Baugh says, “What is most remarkable about the period… is that it consists entirely of six prepositional phrases” which qualify and show the focus of the act of predestination (84).

No Dictionary Provided

You can learn a good deal about a word from it’s definition. The verb to predestine means “to make a previous determination about something or someone” (84). But you learn even more about a word by the way it is used. This is especially true when you’re learning another language.

In English, many things can run. I can run. My nose can run. You can be “in the running” for an award. If you car is almost out of gas you are “running on fumes.“ Boys in elementary (and high school) fear being told they “run like a girl.”

Or this…


Each use of run here has a different connotation from the rest, even the last one.


God’s motive: in love

Goal: for adoption

Mediation: through Jesus Christ

Interrelation of adoption: to himself

Standard governing the act: according to the good pleasure of his will

Result: for the praise of the glory of his grace

Because of God’s love, he chose those who were “dead in their sins” (2.1) to become adopted sons and daughters through his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. And it was through Jesus Christ that we would be brought to the Father, and he would become our Father.

“God’s gracious bestowal of the believer’s position as son-heir is entirely due to the Father’s own will and grace, independent of any sort of qualifications or attractiveness inherent in him or her“ (88) – qualifications we did not have.

Deuteronomy 7:6–8, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

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“Adoption as Sons Through Jesus Christ”


“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1.5).

“While [the] English ‘adoption’ is the best rendering for υἱοθεσία… this term does not convey the same connotations today as it did in a Graeco-Roman city like Ephesus” (84).

In the Greco-Roman world, the head of the family had legal authority over all members of his family, members of all ages. However, the head could release members of his family from his legal authority through emancipation. He could also give them into a new family through adoption.

If the son had already been emancipated, the procedure was adrogatio. Adrogation, among ancient Romans, was a kind of adoption in which the person adopted was free, and consented to be adopted by another. The adopted son was no longer a member of his old family, but he was now heir “to become the head of the family of the property and persons of the new familia: ‘If a son, then an heir’ (Gal 4:7)” (86). 

Gardner says, “The initial purpose of the institution of adoption, therefore, like that of will-making, appears to have been to allow people without [house heirs] of their own to acquire someone to inherit their [property]” (86, fn 176).

Adoption served the purpose to continue the “family and… its external relations.” For example, “if the head of the family was patron of a town or of soldiers; the son inherited that position as part of his patrimony [inheritance of property]” (87).

Octavian Augustus was adopted by Julius Caesar. Through this adoption, Octavian “inherited the allegiance of his [‘father,’ Caesar’s]… soldiers, which gave him immediate resources to prosecute his bid to ‘save’ the Roman Republic by transforming it into an empire” (86, fn 177).

Ephesians 1.4-5

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Eph 1.4-5).

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1.13-14).

Due to the Father’s own grace, love, and will, all believers have become members of God’s family. Though we are not “the son of God,” we have been adopted through the Father’s Son. In the Greco-Roman world, adoption was given (at least) generally to males. Yet the Lord extends his love and grace to all.

Paul writes his letter to the Ephesian church, a church made up of not only men, but women, children, freedmen, and slaves. Even if they were treated kindly by their masters, “[s]laves in Graeco-Roman antiquity were legally not human persons” (88).

Given that we no longer live in a time where slavery runs rampant (at least, not so visibly and legally like it did in Rome), Baugh reminds us, “We have lost the momentous impact Paul’s statement would have had in its original setting” (88).

For the Christians at Ephesus who were or had been slaves, to hear that God had predestined them not just to become God’s freedmen (1 Cor 7:22) or free children (John 1:12) but through υἱοθεσία [“adoption”] to become ruling sons (whether male or female) was an astoundingly magnificent statement of God’s lavish grace, poured out upon the objects of his eternal love. (88)

God’s Love and Favor

And to state the magnitude of God’s love and favor, Baugh points out that

Graeco-Roman adoptees were often members of the father’s extended relations. In the case of believers, God has taken the most distant foreigners to be his kin for inheritance of his whole estate. Not the deserving or good (Rom 5:7), not many well-born, powerful, or wise (1 Cor 1:26–30), but those who were “by nature”… not of his kin at all but “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) and darkened “sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:6, 8; also 4:17–24)—his helpless, wicked, sinful enemies (Rom 5:6–10) under thrall to the realm of darkness (Eph 2:1–3…). God does not place these new sons into a subordinate, inferior family; he appoints them all to become coheirs with his natural, firstborn Son, in whom the whole creation is “summarized” (v. 10) for corule over all things with him as those who have been coseated with him in the high-heavenlies (2:6; Rom 8:14–17, 29–32; … Rev 3:21). These stupendous acts of divine grace have no parallel in Graeco-Roman society. It surpasses even the unthinkable idea of the Roman emperor adopting a slave from the most barbaric hinterlands to be the next emperor. It is no wonder that Paul exults in “praise of the glory of his grace, which he bestowed on us in his Beloved” (1:6). (87)

We are no longer dead in our sins (Eph 2.1), but we are alive in Christ (2.5). We are his workmanship (2.10). Christ is our peace (2.14), and we are God’s holy temple (2.21). We have a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4.24). We love the Father who dwells in incorruptibility (6.24) as we experience the beginning fulfillment of the new creation (2.11-22), which will be fulfilled at the end of the age.

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James: Brother of Jesus, Leader of the Church


Who are the major players in Acts? Peter takes up the first 12 chapters, and, including chapter 9, Saul/Paul fills in the rest of the chapters from Acts 13 to the end. Who led the church, the Jesus movement, this new people in Christ? In his commentary on James, William Varner suggests that James, the brother of Jesus, didn’t play as small of a role in the church as we often think he did.

Varner, backed with evidence from Martin Hengel and Richard Bauckham, claims,

A careful reading of Luke’s account in Acts and Paul’s comments in Galatians fully supports the idea that James was not merely a significant leader in the early church and not just the leader of the Jerusalem church, but that he was the leader of the church. The implications of this fact are significant not only for the Roman Catholic attitude toward Peter, but also for the Protestant evangelical attitude toward Paul. (8)

James the Brother of Jesus

As the argument goes, after Pentecost James quickly rose to the position of the leader of the both the Jerusalem church and of the entire Jesus movement.

In 1 Cor 15.7, the Apostle Paul tell us that James, one of Jesus’ family members who would have thought Jesus was “beside himself” (a.k.a., crazy, Mk 3.21), received a special revelation from his resurrected brother. After appearing to Peter, the Twelve, and 500 brothers at one time, Jesus then “appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” This would have been extremely startling to the once skeptical brother. Yet he does believe. We see him waiting for the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1.14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Gal 1.18-19). “Paul mentions that during his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion he saw only two of the “apostles”: Peter and James . . . From his statement about James in 1 Corinthians 15:7 and Galatians 1:19, it appears that Paul at least classed James along with the apostles” (8-9).

The Big Three

Varner points out the significance of James’ role in some of the early church’s big decisions.

In Galatians 2.1-10, Paul and Barnabbas visit James, Cephas, and John who, as Schreiner explains, “recognized the validity of the gospel proclaimed by Paul” (130).

And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Gal 2.9).

Varner says, “The order of these “pillars” should not be overlooked. James was first in order and his primacy is illustrated in Peter’s attitude toward James from at least this point onward” (9). The pillars remind Paul to “remember the poor”, and “Paul did what James requested that he do” (9).

Again, in Acts 12.17, Peter gives place to the authority of James, But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he [Peter] described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Tell these things to James and to the brothers.’”

Acts 15

When it comes to the Apostolic Council in Acts 15, Varner says that it was this situation, dealing with whether the Church should require the circumcision of Gentiles, that “make[s] it obvious that James had by then risen to be the leader of the church . . . The text is clear that James rendered the final decision as the moderator of the church council, to which the apostles and brethren agreed as also being the guidance of the Holy Spirit!” (9).

Peter explains his experience in Joppa, one which caused him to think, “If then God gave the same gift [the promised Holy Spirit] to them [Gentiles] as he gave to us [Jews] when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11.17).

Varner says, “When James presents his opinion . . . he does not base his argument on experience but on how the prophets had affirmed this future Gentile conversion with citations from Amos 9:11–12 and Isaiah 45:21”.


Some Bible versions translate Acts 15.19 as having James say, “Therefore I conclude” or “Therefore in my judgment.” Yet Varner says that there is no reason to blunt the force of James’ words. Any Greek reader can read that James said, “Therefore, I decide.” Nobody voted on James’ “opinion.” James made the final decision, it stood firmly on the Scriptures, and everyone agreed with it (10). Although James is the leader, he is “serving as the ‘first among equals’” (10).

Obedience to James

Varner points out two more times where Paul obeyed James. First, after adding that Gentiles should not perform certain practices (Acts 15.29), Luke tells us that Paul “delivered to [the Gentiles] for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.

Secondly, Paul does what James asks him to do which was to pay the expenses of four Jewish men who were under a vow. This may have been some of the offering from the Collection (which had the purpose of showing the Gentiles’ appreciation for the Jerusalem mother church by helping them with funds). As we can see, “[f]or at least the third time, Paul did what James requested that he do” (11).

The Outsiders

Is James mentioned by anyone outside of the New Testament? Varner shows that the Jewish historian Josephus “vividly described” the “martyr death of James” which occurred in 62 AD (11). And “apart from a statement about ‘the tribe of Christians’ in the controversial Testimonium Flavianum (‘Flavian Testimony’) about Jesus, the only early Christian that Josephus mentions is James!” (11-12)

Varner mentions that statements about James’ priority were made by Clement of Alexandria, Hesychius of Jerusalem, and even The Gospel of Thomas (which, though not an authentic Gospel, may give credence to sayings about James’ role).



To quote Varner again, “If James was the leader of the early church, there are some serious implications of this fact both for Roman Catholicism and also for Protestant evangelicalism. In other words, Peter was not the original primate of the church. He was in his place under James, and he even yielded to his leadership” (13).

As much as I would prefer to quote the entire two paragraphs, I’ll refrain from doing so. But I also can’t forget about the other side, Protestant evangelicalism. James gave he church one canonical letter. Paul, thirteen. Varner doesn’t seek to tear Paul down, but “to portray Paul and his role as it is actually indicated in the NT and also by his own words. We should not miss the fact that Paul himself told us something about his role when he called himself “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9)” (13).

Paul is particularly important to the church as he was the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11.13). But he was not the leader of the church, nor did he ever claim to be. From this evidence, it would seem that it was James, not Paul or Peter, who was the leader of the Church. My one question would be how this view lines up with what Jesus said to Peter in Matt 16.18-19, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Peter would not be “the Pope,” but there is something going on here, a wordplay. One that will have to wait until later to venture into.

So, if nothing else, maybe this can give us a better perspective of James, the brother of Jesus, the leader of the church. Perhaps we’ll think deeper the next time we want to put too much emphasis on another apostle who was not deemed the “leader” of the Church in the first century AD, and when we don’t put enough emphasis on James who was the leader. 

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Homer and Paul

Simpsons Tales Domain 8

Ephesians 6.11 reads, “Put on the panoply of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the Devil.”

In his commentary on Ephesians, Steven Baugh says,

Here the “schemes”… the Ephesians are to stand against are said to originate from the Devil, the father of lies… but they are manifest directly through human false teachers and their deceitful trickery.”

These texts look back to Ephesians 4.27, “and give no opportunity to the devil,” and 4.13c-14, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Christ was won the victory and has ascended on high to the Father (Eph 4.8). Having received the promised Spirit (Acts 2.33) he gave gifts to us (Acts 2.33; Eph 1.13; 4.8). He gave people to build the church up so that we may all grow in maturity in Christ (4.11-13) and stand firm in Christ (4.14; 6.11). Since we are all a part of the body of Christ, we are to build each other up in love (4.16). And when e do anger one another, we are not to fall prey to the Devil’s schemes, but we are to remember our love for one another and forgive each other (4.25-27).

Romans 13.12 says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Baugh says that there is “also a moral and eschatological aspect to this fight.” As 1 John says, we are in the last hour (2.18), and the Day of the Lord is near (Acts 2.20; 2 Pet 3.10).

Horse Tricks

Trojan Horse

It’s possible that there is more behind this text than what we think. Jeffrey Asher has suggested that “classical and especially Homeric deceit and trickery lies behind v. 11.”

Homer was memorized in the schools, chanted at the various festivals, and expanded on or imitated in countless other works (e.g., the Aeneid), and the Homeric myths, characters, and themes form the story lines of numerous plays in antiquity, including those put on in first-century Ephesus. One of the favorite Homeric characters was Odysseus, full of wit and guile (i.e., the Trojan horse and the deception of the Cyclops in his cave).


Odysseus was the deceiver; Achilles, the hero. Apparently Achilles “was godlike in battle strength with his divinely crafted, magically charmed armor (Il. 20.268).” Asher’s view holds that “Paul is calling on the audience to imitate Achilles and the other Homeric heroes in strength and battle prowess, while through Paul’s attribution of ‘schemes’… to the Devil and his followers, he ‘labels the enemy of the believers as an unworthy foe.’”

The Christian is to put on the panoply (“armor”) of God, which is a term that refers both to armor and weapons. Paul refers to the Roman armor in 6.14 and 16-17. Albrecht Oepke believes this armor corresponds “exactly’ to the gear of contemporary Roman soldiers of Paul’s day.”

Jeffrey Asher says,

This allusion to a Roman soldier, however, would not preclude additional and even more pronounced allusions to heroic characters such as Achilles and Odysseus.… Achilles was an adaptable character who was often ‘modernized’ to meet the needs of a new literary and artistic generation.

Baugh adds,

It should be noted that there were not very many Roman legionaries in first-century Ephesus, and most would have been in undress uniform rather than in their battle gear. Ephesians more frequently saw classical Greek armor and warriors depicted in their art, architecture, and coins, which further supports Asher’s insights.

So Paul’s language would be likely to first bring to mind not real Roman soldiers, but those portrayed in Roman culture, i.e., books like Homer’s Odyssey.


To give a modern translation, Ephesians 6.11 could read “Suit up, that you may stand against the schemes of the Devil.“ Saying “Suit up” would bring to the minds of many readers the many superhero comics, cartoons, and movies that are around. It may also draw up imagery of Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, which I suppose would still work. In HIMYM, a situation goes haywire, Barney says, “Suit up!“, the group “stands firm together“ together, and by the end of the show everything is, at least somewhat, “fixed.”


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Paul’s “Long” Sentence (Eph 1.3-14)

Eutychus... probably sleeping through Paul's long sentence
Eutychus… probably fell asleep to Paul’s long sentences

Ephesians 1.3-14 has a long history of being “that long sentence” Paul wrote. But is it really as long as we think it is? How did Tychicus (Eph 6.21-22) read the letter aloud to the Ephesian church? Did Paul run too many races that all his sentences became run-ons?

Steven Baugh, author of the EEC volume on Ephesians, takes issue with the claim that the beginning of Ephesians is “a long sentence of 202 words” (quoting Hoehner). Baugh believes that it “makes it seem that Paul is writing an undifferentiated stream of text that gives a silent reader no break in thought.”

Before I get into a dense discussion on what these sentences would be and a bit on how it works, on the bottom of the post here I’ve written up Ephesians 1.3-14 according to how Baugh perceives Paul’s sentences were arranged. So if this gets too heavy, go to the bottom!

The Periodic Sentence

In his commentary on Ephesians, Steven Baugh spend a “considerable time in the introduction to each passage showing a suggested division of the text as it would have been perceived by the ancient audience and readers.” Baugh takes issue with the western conception of “sentences” and how we subconsciously make Paul fit our norm.

He argues that Ephesians 1.3-14 would not be “one long sentence.” Instead this “’periodic sentence’… in [Ephesians] 1:3–14, with over two hundred Greek words, is really the equivalent of an English paragraph, while the nine periods comprising this section are more like English sentences.

Ephesians has long been held as non-Pauline in many circles, so this is an important topic for Baugh. In his view it helps to affirm Pauline authorship. He states, “Ephesians looks very similar to other such periodic sentences in Romans [5.1-11, 12-21; 11.33-35] and elsewhere [2 Cor 6.14-16]….”

Some Nitty Gritty Kitty


The Greek colon (or plural, cola) was originally modeled on the dactylic hexameter (if you’re sucker for punishment, watch this video for an explanation) of epic poetry. It is also known as “heroic hexameter” and “the meter of epic.” Either should be easier to remember than dactylic hexameter

This epic meter is a form of meter or rhythmic scheme in poetry. It is associated with the meter of classical epic poetry (e.g., Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and was consequently considered to be the Grand Style of classical poetry.

A colon could be a word or two, or it could be longer. An example of a short colon would be Ephesians 4.5,

one Lord,

one faith,

one baptism.

And, to put it simply, a group of cola with a unity of thought create a period. For example, Ephesians 1.3 would look like this,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

with every blessing of the Spirit

in the high-heavenlies in Christ.

“But Everyone’s Doing It”

The trained speaker could give the period in one breath. Baugh says that “the end of the period was a place of particular focus and emphasis since there was a pause while the speaker or reader took a breath and left the last few words in the audience’s mind before starting up again.” In fact, this mindset of speech-delivery was a part of everyone’s elementary education in the Greco-Roman world. Everyone learned how to compose Greek this way.

Despite what we think about Paul’s speaking abilities based on his words in 2 Corinthians 10.10 and 11.6, Paul actually did have some education in proper speech-delivery. In 2 Corinthians Paul is stating that he isn’t as skilled as the false teachers – nor did he need to be. His authority comes from God, not from a glorious vernacular.

While Paul had skill, he was no showman. He didn’t take much interest in polishing smoothness into his speeches. Jerome said of Paul, “‘As a Hebrew of the Hebrews,’ he lacked ‘the polish of rhetorical speech, the knowledge of the proper arrangement of words and the grace of eloquence.’”

Now Baugh doesn’t delve into this weighty topic just to fill space. His analysis of the text is “literary for the sake of exegesis.” His analysis “centers on the flow, divisions, focus, and unity of these [Ephesians] texts.” Rather than using our modern ways of dividing the text (chapter-verse), they way Baugh organizes the cola and periods of Paul’s writing forms the basis of Baugh’s own interpretation “in order to take us back more closely to how an ancient text actually worked.

As you read the Ephesian text below, perhaps you could read the text aloud to have an idea of what it would be like to be in the Ephesian church hearing Paul’s words. Think about the beginning words that break the silence of each sentence, and listen to those words which hang at the end of that sentence.

Ephesians 1.3-14

Below I have attempted to put the English text in the same order as Baugh’s Greek arrangement (which I have left out). I hope you can get an idea of how the text would sound. However, I can, at best, only give you an idea of how the text would work. Translation is a funny thing. We miss out on many word plays and literary connections in the English text. The form of the content in our English sentences are different too, as this dense quote tells us (if you can make it through this quote, you can make it through anything).

Aldo Scaglione (author of The Classical Theory of Composition from its Origins to the Present) says,

Elements of rhythm, formal arrangement, and physiological division (on the basis of delivery according to breathing capacity) remained, to ancient ears, more basic than considerations of logical content and organization. Thus, for instance, both complete periods and parts… are sometimes hard for us [present-day air-breathers] to reconstruct, because they do not necessarily correspond to our sentences and clauses or even phrases—which are essentially logical and… syntactic units.

Translation and Outline

1. For the Father’s eternal, gracious purpose (1:3–6a)


(3)   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

with every blessing of the Spirit

in the high-heavenlies in Christ,


(4)   insofar as he chose us in him

before the foundation of the world

that we should be holy and blameless

before him.


In love

(5)   he predestined us for adoption

to himself through Jesus Christ

according to the good pleasure of his will

(6)   for praise of the glory of his grace,

2. For the Son’s climactic, redemptive accomplishment (1:6b–10)


which he bestowed on us in his Beloved,

(7)   in whom we have our redemption through his blood,

the forgiveness of our transgressions,

according to the riches of his grace,


(8)  which he lavished upon us

in all wisdom and insight

(9)  when he made known to us the mystery of his will

according to his good pleasure,



  which he purposed in him

(10)  for the administration of the fullness of (all) eras

  to sum up all things in the Messiah,

  the things in heaven and things on earth in him,wFor the Spirit’s


3. For the Spirit’s down payment of the new creation (1:11–14)


(11)   In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined

  according to the purpose of him who works all things

  according to the counsel of his will,

(12)   to be the praise of his glory.

  we who were the first to hope in Christ


(13)   in whom you heard the word of truth,

  the gospel of your salvation,

  in whom you believed,

  you were sealed with the Spirit of promise,


(14)  who is a down payment of our inheritance

  for redemption of his prized possession

  for the praise of his glory.

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