The ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ Preaches to the Jews

It’s easy to read the NT through the same lenses we’ve always read the NT through. We all have presuppositions when we come to these familiar texts, whether we like it or not, whether we are willing to admit it or not. The following is some reflections on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I discovered a new way of reading the letter and I thought it might have something new for you as well. Grace and Peace! 

The book of Ephesians has historically been interpreted through the lens of a Gentile audience.Although the Gentile perspective is an important aspect to take in account when reading the writings of the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’, to ignore Paul’s implications for those within the Jewish tradition negates the fullness of God’s narrative for his people and Paul’s ability to communicate that very story. The Jewish people, alongside the God-fearing Gentiles who adhered to such traditions, lived with a theological belief about the remnant of Israel. It is this remnant people, spoken of in the Old Testament by prophets such as Isaiah that bring a vital layer of understanding to the letter of Ephesians, as well as to the church today.

The number of Old Testament parallels found in Ephesians is quite astounding; especially since, up until recent past, these notations have been mostly overlooked by scholars as an irrelevant piece of which to consider further. Not all of Paul’s uses of Old Testament material are used in a consistent manner through Ephesians; these references are found by use of words, allusions or quotations. The 1st century hearers of this letter, however, would have noticed these elements regardless of the rhetorical form in which it was used. So then, if the reader would have weighed their understanding of the message heavily on such Old Testament components; it is imperative readers today do likewise.

The book of Isaiah, in particular, contains a number of such references for the reader of Ephesians; such passages include, Isa. 11:5, 26:19, 26:60, 40:26, 52:1, 52:7, 57:19. Isaiah contained for the Jewish people a look back to their trip out of Egypt and points forward to the coming Messiah. It is a story of an exodus people moving towards a new exodus. Isaiah brings forth God’s hope for His remnant, and Paul points to that hope—found in Christ—through Ephesians.

This remnant theology is seen throughout the entire letter; however, the use of Isaiah is most clearly seen in Eph. 2 and 6. Paul’s quotation of Isa. 57:19 in Eph. 2:17, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near,” is one of the first more obvious texts. Paul is declaring the body of Christ to be the new temple; a temple that is not exclusive to anyone. Paul was creating the image of God’s remnant people being drawn together under the headship of Jesus Christ.

In 6:14-17, Paul instructs the church to put on the armor of God and, by doing so, to empower the believer with His strength. Each phrase Paul uses would create further imagery for the reader to understand the message he was relaying. There are five clear phrases taken from Isaiah that can be seen here:

 

Gird your loins about with truth

Isa 11:5

Eph. 6:14

The breastplate of Righteousness

Isa 59:17

Eph. 6:14

The gospel of Peace

Isa 52:7

Eph. 6:15

The helmet of Salvation

Isa 59:17

Eph. 6:17

The sword of the Spirit

Isa 49:2

Eph. 6:17

 

Paul was clearly speaking to an audience familiar with the story of Israel. He intended for his audience to identify as one of the chosen people of Israel or as to those belonging to the same remnant. Paul was making it abundantly clear that the Messiah they were looking for had arrived, that the time for a new exodus was now, and that standing firm in this truth was of utmost importance to do so.

The church in Ephesus and the church today have a common thread when the letter is read through the lens of a remnant theology; God’s story of bringing his people near, building them together as one, and accomplishing this through the blood of Jesus is happening right now. Bringing together God’s people cannot be done without first recognizing equality found in Christ. This building up cannot be done without community. The blood of Jesus is our new exodus and as the remnant of God we must stand firm together in order to fulfill our role as co-creators with God.

 

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4 thoughts on “The ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ Preaches to the Jews

  1. Impressive post! You may want to re-read and edit your first sentence though. It says “interrupted” where I think you meant to say “interpreted”.

    You could definitely take this thought further in a theological study on the resurrection from 1 Cor. 15 as well.

    Like

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