The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God

Timothy G. Gombis IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL November 17, 2010
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This is a helpful companion in the midst of a growing number of exegetical commentaries. While exegetically based, Gombis’s book analyzes the development of the theological themes of Ephesians. The book loosely follows the literary framework of Ephesians, but it traces the theological themes and provides application of how the story in Ephesians challenges believers today. Students can use Gombis’s work along with exegetical commentaries as a helpful synthesis of the book. Readers who do not care to access the exegetical discussions can still profit from the theological thrust of the book at a more literary level.

Gombis approaches Ephesians as a narrative for a number of reasons. First, he recognizes that Paul’s apocalyptic worldview influences his writing, even though the book is not apocalyptic genre. According to Paul the world appears to be in decay, but in reality the church serves as God’s agent for change within the culture. Second, postmodernism has raised the value of narrative as a whole. The postmodern interest in story has shifted an emphasis away from Paul to the Gospel narratives. A focus on Paul’s worldview along with the literary themes within the book provides a platform for Paul within a postmodern context. Third, this presentation significantly tightens the message of Ephesians. By developing its theological themes a unified message becomes prominent.

The Ephesians ideology presents Jesus’ triumph in the world in ironic terms. Instead of coming into triumph through domination, Christ’s triumph is through the cross. Through the cross Jesus has overcome the powers of the world to bring redemption to mankind. This triumph comes through the church. Paul’s ministry embodies the same ideology of humility. Even through his imprisonment he continued to proclaim the gospel. Though his situation looked bleak, Paul’s proclamation of the gospel was a part of God’s plan of triumph through humility. In a similar way Paul called on believers to imitate him and participate in the same narrative. Believers extend the gospel into the world by following the same humble lifestyle in a corrupt world. This narrative of humility challenges the dominate American ideologies such as triumphalism, which seeks to assert power over others through politics or other means, or consumerism, which seeks to accumulate items to establish a self-perceived identity.

Gombis’s presentation of Ephesians is compelling, but his articulation of Paul’s own eschatological role needs more development. Gombis argues that believers ought to imitate Paul’s perspective on ministry. Even though hardship characterized his ministry, through the gospel his work succeeded. Believers ought to have a similar perspective toward their ministries. However, Paul’s peculiar role within the apocalyptic narrative of the book is missing. Believers should imitate Paul’s humility and look at how God invades the culture, and yet Paul’s ministry is unique. God revealed the mystery of the church through Paul’s apostolic ministry (Eph. 3:5, 7). Part of this is to warn the present powers that a new age will soon come (6:19–20). Paul stands as a unique character between these two ages.

Gombis provides a fresh analysis of Ephesians. Two strengths of the work will benefit students of Paul. First, he includes application along with his exegesis. Some of the issues Gombis presents might date his work, for example how an advertisement in the electronic mail may impact its reader. Others are timeless, such as the problem of poverty. Yet Gombis gives a good example of how to move from exegesis to application. Second, he appreciates the book as a whole and situates each part within the larger message, thus giving a model for students to do the same.

—Benjamin I. Simpson

April 1, 2013
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2013 vol. 170 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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