16 October 2010

Ephesians 1:15-23

"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints." (v.17-18)


The first chapter of the letter to the people of Ephesus ends on a personal note, in typical 'Pauline' style. But, as we have seen in previous days, there are hints of some distinctly 'un-Pauline' ideas here...

It is worth noting that the Greek New Testament was written entirely in capital letters, so the decision about whether to put a big S or a small s in front of spirit is one that translators must make. And in verse 18 the s is certainly small. Faith here is about receiving a "spirit of wisdom and revelation" and being "enlightened" and 'knowing'. This has a lot to do with the Greek idea of religion as offering an understanding of the 'mysteries'. And this privileged understanding opens up "the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints" through the divine power that has elevated Christ to "the heavenly places", where we will one day be too, and where Christ reigns supreme over all other divine beings - "above every name that is named" - both now and in the "age to come".

Christians are uniquely privileged, because, as members of the body of Christ (another familiar Pauline image), they will inherit "all things". But this is not the body of Christ as the physical presence of Christ in the world, his life lived out in the daily lives of his people and made real in Eucharistic fellowship, but 'the body of Christ' as the ultimate cosmic reality which dominates and embraces "all things" for all eternity. This is Christianity re-branded and re-packaged for a sophisticated Greek world, far removed from its origins in Galilee and Jerusalem; a Christianity more at home in the world of Plato and Aristotle than Abraham and Moses. And it went on to conquer an empire.

To Ponder

Christianity had to adapt to survive in the wider and dominant world of Greek ideas, and the letter to the Ephesians is a good example of how that began to happen. So you could read it with little or no knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures - which is how many of us read the New Testament today. Does that matter? Why?

How does all this relate to what Jesus said and did, according to the Gospels? Is faith, for you, about following Jesus or understanding cosmic mysteries?

In what ways might Christianity need to be re-branded and re-packaged for a world that knows even less about Plato and Aristotle than about Abraham and Moses?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.