14 October 2010Ephesians 1:1-10
"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." (v.3)
The letter to the Ephesians may not have been written by Paul
(the style, vocabulary and theology is significantly different from
Paul's other letters) although it develops some of his ideas.
It is not concerned with issues about Jews and Gentiles (non Jews) in the Church, and the role of the Jewish Law, but with 'Christology' - big ideas about Christ. And they don't come much bigger than in these opening verses. After a typical Pauline opening, we are taken, literally, to another dimension. This is a Christ of cosmic significance, with an appeal to a wider Gentile audience with little interest in the Jewishness of Jesus, but a great interest in ideas of 'the heavens'. Not, perhaps, our Christian idea of 'heaven' (singular), but "the heavenly places" in an astronomical and astrological sense - the domain of spiritual beings, including Christ. The heavens are where one looks for perfection and ideals; the physical world being just an imperfect reflection. These ideas come much more from Greek philosophy than from traditional Jewish thought, although cosmopolitan 1st century Jews were beginning to absorb them too.
So this is a world away from Abraham, Moses and the Jewish Law - and the world of Jesus himself. Such ideas belong to Athens, not Jerusalem.
It is in this heavenly domain that the Ephesians are to look for blessing, for their origins are to be found there "before the foundation of the world", when they were chosen to be adopted as God's children. And it is in this heavenly realm that the grace revealed in the freely given life of God's son is truly effective. Sophisticated Greeks would understand the importance of "wisdom and insight" and "mystery" - this is their religious language. And they would warm to the idea that God's ultimate purpose was to transform earthly imperfections into spiritual perfection 'in the heavens'.
I'm not sure Jesus would have understood this in this way, though.
As Christianity spread to the wider Gentile world it absorbed and adapted an increasing amount of sophisticated Greek philosophical thought, which has shaped parts of the New Testament as well as later Church thinking. How does that relate to ideas of a 'simple biblical faith'?
Should Christians be more concerned with earth or with heaven? Why? What do you think was Jesus' main concern?
Do you think Christianity should still be absorbing and adapting ideas from the cultures that surround the Church? Why? Are there any risks involved?