Thielman on Ephesians

I’ve been reading in Frank Thielman’s new commentary on Ephesians, and I really like what I see here. It’s clearly written, learned, and meticulously grounded in the exposition of the Greek text. Here’s a quick look at some of the interpretive hot spots.

Thielman understands the letter to be the authentically written by Paul (not pseudonymous, a view that is popular among Ephesians commentators). Thielman argues that en Ephesō in verse 1:1 is the original reading, and thus he argues that the original audience really is “the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.”

In his commentary on Ephesians 5:21-33, his reading is thoroughly complementarian. KephalÄ“ denotes authority, and thus husbands are called to lead and wives to submit. He takes a different tack on the interpretation of “submitting to one another” in verse 5:21. He understands that both husbands and wives are to submit to one another, but they are to do so in different ways. Thus he maintains the Pauline notion of headship while distinguishing his view from the “mutual submission” interpretation of egalitarians.

I really like this commentary, and I can see why Doug Moo gave this endorsement:

“This commentary will join Hoehner and O’Brien as the first references on Ephesians to which I turn.”

This is a commentary that you need in your library. You can purchase it here.

27 Responses to Thielman on Ephesians

  1. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    It is true that kephale MIGHT mean authority when used as a metaphor, but it also might mean other things. Comps are making a choice in taking a possible meaning and claiming that is the meaning.

    If one stays strictly to the Eph 5 text, one can see what Christ as head does, that is, let the Bible define kephale by the way it uses the word kephale. When you do that, you see that Christ as kephale lovingly serves and sacrifices for his bride, the church; and a husband is on solid Biblical ground when he does this.

    Yet comps choose to go beyond this.

  2. Thomas Newell October 27, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Thanks Dr. Burk for posting this. I have been looking at some Ephesians commentaries and wonder if this would be a good one to add.

    Sadly with the death of the Christian bookstore it is nearly impossible now to look at a book physically before buying it.

    At this point to the debate about Kephale has become pretty silly. The egal side is basically arguing from the almost never, to the clear. Meaning, though kephale almost never appears as “source” in ancient literature in comparison to its usage as “authority” it clearly means “source” here in Ephesians. Talk about having an agenda.

  3. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    I am egal and I do not think kephale means source in Eph 5, altho that is one well attested possible meaning, contra comps.

    In Eph 5, I see Paul describing a head/body metaphor of unity pointing to Christ and the church and showing husbands, who were taught by the pagan culture and laws, to law down their lives for theirs, with nary a mention of ruling them. This makes that comp interpretation so ironic.

  4. Thomas Newell October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Its not well attested at all Donald that is the problem. Egals will cite the plural use to make their case when the singular is used in Ephesians 5. They do this because they know that the singular does not attest to “source” being used in Ephesians 5.

    We have been over this Donald so lets not start this going once more but you and are are in pretty close agreement. Husbands are to love, serve and sacrifice for their brides just as Jesus has for his. This leadership is the first to sacrifice and serve for the betterment of the wife. That is why right in Ephesians it gives husbands the command to wash their wives in the word. Men are to lead their wives; in sacrificial servant leadership that will edify them in conformity to Christ.

    I will leave it at that since we are brothers in Christ who clearly know where each other stands.

  5. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    But you are importing the idea of leadership into the text and the solution is to NOT do that.

    Also, it is Christ that washes the church with the word, not the husband. It is dangerous to map too much of what Christ does for the church to what the husband does for his wife, as God is a jealous God and does not tolerate idolatry.

    The mapping is clear, husbands are to serve their wives, to claim more is adding to the text and dangerous.

  6. Thomas Newell October 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    Not importing Donald, Christ love of his bride involved leadership, therefore it is perfectly reasonable to see that as part of the command in Eph. 5.

    You can have the last word since I am sure that Denny does not want this thread to re-hash what has already been covered endlessly on this blog.

  7. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    It may or may not be reasonable to see leadership as part of Christ’s love, but it is clear that leadership is not discussed in Eph 5, when it would have been easy for Paul to give a contextual hint that that was what he intended, like claiming Christ is Lord (an authority function), instead of saying Christ is savior (a serving function) or similar. Therefore it is a comp choice to read it as implying leadership, that is all I am claiming.

    And I choose NOT to read it that way.

    That is the mapping as I see it as wife submits and husband serves, not wife submits and husband leads, as comps claim.

  8. Ryan October 27, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Leadership is discussed in the passage Donald, right there in the word Kephale. It is a dangerous to stand in kephale over the Bible and decide how WE will read it.

  9. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Ryan,

    In Eph 5 it is clear that kephale is being used as a metaphor, as is body, as the physical head on one’s neck is not being discussed. The question is what is the metaphor.

    It seems to me that comps want to claim that kephale/head MUST imply leadership, but this is not required at all, there are many metaphors for head/kephale that do not imply leadership. Hence my claim that it is a comp’s choice to read it that way.

    That head in 21st century English often does imply leadership says nothing about what it meant in the 1st century in Greek, so something can seem “clear” but actually not be so clear.

  10. Derek October 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    Plato wrote of “the head which is the most divine part and which reigns over all the parts within us”. Another Greek writer, Plutarch wrote “We affectionately call a person ‘soul’ or ‘head’ from his ruling parts.” Jewish philosopher Philo used kephale in a similar manner: “As the head in the living body is the ruling place, so Ptolemy became head among kings”. Note the metaphorical/symbolic usage of kephale to infer authority as used in these examples, as it points to a well understood Greek and Hebraic notion that the head is the member which reigns over the body.

  11. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    I have already agreed that kephale MIGHT mean leader, the question is whether it MUST mean leader when kephale is used as a metaphor.

    Here is one response to one of your 3 claims, per Suzanne’s bookshelf:

    “Saturday, June 21, 2008
    Response to the Open Letter

    1 Kephale [head]

    Dr. Grudem writes,

    Specifically, we cannot find any text where person A is called the “head’’ of person or persons B, and is not in a position of authority over that person or persons.

    One occurrence of kephale that Dr. Grudem often cites is,

    The King of Egypt is called “head” of the nation in Philo, Moses 2.30, “As the head is the ruling place in the living body, so Ptolemy became among kings.”

    The full citation for this is,

    the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head of all the kings. Moses 2:30

    Philadelphus is described as the head of all the kings, because he is the most illustrious. The kings, of whom Philadelphus was the “head,” are the other kings in the family of the Ptolemies. This reference includes Ptolemy 1 Soter, who was the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty and the father of Philadelphus.

    Philadephus was, for two years, a co-regent with his father, but he was not the authority over his father. This passage also refers to the descendants of Philadelphus, who were kings and queens after him. The king of Egypt was not the “head of the nation” as Dr. Grudem cites, nor was he the authority over the kings that he was head of.

    We can rightly say that,

    Person A, Philadelphus, was called the “head” of person B, Ptolemy Soter, and Philadelphus was not in a position of authority over his father, Ptolemy Soter. ”
    ===

    In other words, head is being used as indicating prominence as a metaphor. So you own example fails you as it shows that kephale when used as a metaphor does not always mean leader.

  12. Derek October 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    I’m well aware of Suzanne’s strained argumentation about the Philo passage. The author Philo literally says that he is “in a manner speaking” and yet Suzanne (aka Sue) relentlessly wishes to force only a narrow and literal rendering..

    Donald, normally you’re the one who criticizes others for deliberately choosing to ignore the the context and culture of the writer and audience. In this case, Thomas said it best when he said you are “arguing from the almost never, to the clear”.

  13. Donald Johnson October 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

    Did you actually read what Sue wrote? She gave the fuller text showing more of the context and showed how kephale could NOT be the same as leader in this case.

    Calling it strained is NOT an argument. An argument would look like taking even more text and showing how Sue was wrong. The way it looks like now is Grudem took some text out of context in order to try to make a point.

    I think the comps are ignoring the context of Eph 5 and ignoring the culture, this is their choice but it does not lead to a good interpretation in some cases.

    The culture (Aristotle and Roman law) taught that the paterfamilias (family father/husband) ruled his wife, but Paul never says this, he never endorses it, nothing. Paul does say a wife is to submit to her husband after establishing a general principle of submission for all believers. And one can KNOW that the SAME submission is meant in both places as Eph 5:22 gets its verb from Eph 5:21; how much clearer could Paul be except for those that refuse to see it?

    I have agreed that kephale MIGHT mean leader, but by itself is not determinative and that is all the comps have, a maybe with no other indication in the text. What is determinative is the immediate context on how the word is used from among the various possibilities, and all of the examples are serving examples, that is, a head is said to serve the body in Eph 5.

    Since comps choose to wear “blue” lenses, they see what is not there and claim the text is blue, but what is really blue is their choice to wear blue lenses when reading Eph 5. That is, they come to the text with comp paradigm assumptions and find a way to read the text in a comp way. So I do not think it is a totally bogus way, which is why the debate continues, the egals cannot show in this case that the comp reading is totally impossible. But this does not mean that is the way Paul intended the text to be read.

    And this is why I point out that the comp reading is a choice one makes. It is not required to be read that way. And the comp reading of Eph 5 depends on whether Paul intended kephale to imply leadership, I plan to ask him when I can, but before then comps and egals differ.

    I think the metaphor is a head/body metaphor of unity, comps think it is a metaphor of leadership for the head. Each is a choice.

  14. Derek October 27, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    Donald,
    The real question is, “did you read what Philo wrote?”

    The passage in question says this:

    … he was, in all virtues which can be displayed in government, the most excellent sovereign, not only of all those of his time, but of all that ever lived; so that even now, after the lapse of so many generations, his fame is still celebrated … in a word, the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head of all the kings.

    Philo specifically says that this guy was “in a manner”, a king among kings “not only of all those of his time, but of all that ever lived”. Philo literally goes out of his way to say that he is using literary license and is not saying that Philadelphus was LITERALLY in charge of the other kings, but he wants to leave his readers with an unmistakeable image that “this guy was like the leader of the herd”. He is communicating a concept, not the nuts and bolts of how he interacted with the other kings, which is what Sue is demanding.

  15. Donald Johnson October 28, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Yes, it is a metaphorical “head”.

    How is Philodemus the metaphorical “head” of all the Ptolemiac kings?

    How is Philodemus the “leader of the herd” of the Ptolemiac kings?

    It is because he is the MOST prominent due to his good works, he is in the forefront (head). It is not the case that they obeyed him, not the case they he was their ruler as they lived in different times.

  16. Derek October 28, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Donald, You’re on the nuts and bolts of how he interacted with the kings again. You’re missing the critical fact that he explicitly tells the reader he is using a literary license and is describing a CONCEPT the he was “in a manner”, like a “LEADER OF A HERD”. If he were speaking today, he might say that Philadelphus was an “alpha male among alpha males” or a “leader among leaders”.

  17. Donald Johnson October 28, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Derek,

    So you agree that this Philodemus example is actually a counterexample to Grudem’s claim that he cannot find any example where someone is called a kephale/head to another and is not in a position of authority to that other?

  18. Derek October 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Donald,
    What part of “in a manner” do you not understand about Philo’s text and explanation? The mechanics of his interaction with the other kings is simply not relevant here and Philo says as much. All that is needed is to understand the way a leader relates to his herd. That’s it. Read it again and more carefully and you’ll see it.

    I’ll let you have the last word, because I am confident that open minded and objective readers will see your/Sue’s comments and my rebuttal and agree that whether you’re on the egal or comp side of this debate, this is an example that validates the comp position and rendering of kephale.

  19. Sue October 29, 2010 at 2:36 am #

    Denny,

    The only honest thing to do is let people know that “leader of the herd” is a guess. The word zoon is hardly a natural fit for “herd” but means “living creature” or “animal” in the singular.

    I think you should embrace truth and let Derek know that he is not actually exegeting the Greek here.

  20. Donald Johnson October 29, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    According to Sue, Fitzmyer translates part of the Philo phrase as “as the head is the leading part in a living body, in some sense the head of kings”.

    It is clear that kephale is a metaphor in Philo and that it does not require to be seen as implying authority, contra Grudem.

  21. Derek October 29, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Sue,
    Do you have a better or more meaningful translation for the phrase? I notice that you often like to cast doubt on individual words when it doesn’t fit your agenda, but if you don’t have another meaningful AND compelling translation for the whole phrase, then objective interpreters will reasonably and likely agree that “leader of the herd” fits with the context of the passage and with the way kephale is used by other authors, as noted earlier.

  22. Sue October 29, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Wow! Thanks. I have been released from purgatory. I will try to be polite and conciliatory. On my blog I provide greater clarity on the meaning of zoon, and a link to the Liddell Scott lexicon.

  23. Donald Johnson October 30, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Fitzmyer is not egal and says kephale can mean leader, he just does not say it always means leader.

    If you think about the meaning of head in English, would you think that it ALWAYS means leader (one with authority) everytime it is used as a metaphor?

  24. Derek October 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Sue,
    As I said earlier, I’m content to let other readers look at what you’ve said and come to their own conclusions. I’d just like to point out a few final things – and with this, I’ll end my comments on Philo and kephale:

    1. You posted the “leader of the herd” rendering on your own blog earlier (Apr 5, 2008). You were apparently ok with the translation which I quoted from.

    2. The alternative translation you’ve offered still implies the concept of leadership.

    3. No matter what translation you read the Philo passage in, one cannot escape the fact that Philo wants the reader to understand that this guy was a king among kings – the other kings were diminished in every sense one can imagine. So of course that also includes in terms of their fame, influence, etc. It’s all part of the package. It contributes to and does not negate his degree of authority. In fact, it is much more plausible to INCLUDE (what I would assert, along with Grudem and others) the notion of leadership/authority than to EXCLUDE this notion (what you are trying to do).

    4. The comp rendering of kephale in Philo is made stronger and when one considers the quotes I offered earlier from Plato and Plutarch, especially because they speak to the symbolism behind those references.

  25. Sue October 31, 2010 at 4:36 am #

    Someone else later pointed out to me that the original translation was not literal. Fitzmeyer’s was perhaps better,

    as the head is the leading part in a living body, in some sense the head of kings [of the Ptolemaic dynasty]. (De Vita Mosis 2.5.30)

    But there are two points that do not fit Grudem’s criteria. Ptolemy is not called “head.” The word head occurs only once in this passage, for “head of the body” or “creature” of “figure.” Ptolemy is only COMPARED TO the metaphorical meaning of head. Next, he did not have authority over those over whom he was in some sense called “head.” That is a simple fact.

    Unlike English, Hebrew and Latin, there is no expression in Greek such as “head of the house” “head of the tribe” or “head of the nation” occuring before the NT except for Jephthah.

    That “head” may metaphorically mean some kind of superiority is possible. Clearly Ptolemy was thought as superior. I just don’t know if this is what Paul intended.

    I would prefer to see more study of the parts of scripture which are clear. For example, what would it mean to love others as yourself.

    If it is possible to behave in an honourable way in a marriage without exerting authority over one’s wife, why not live this way? It would be more in accord with the golden rule, treating the wife as she wants to be treated, respecting her as one who can function as an equal.

  26. Sue October 31, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Derek,

    I am being moderated so my answers are delayed by a day or two. I can’t really stay with the flow of the conversation.

    I think that Don is representing my views well as expressed on my blog. Fitzmeyer offers an alternate translation. I don’t usually feel the need for one definitive translation in any case. I am convinced that the citation from Philo does not fit with Grudem’s criteria, but Grudem does not offer a better example.

    For me, there is certainty in the meaning of the law as summed up by Christ – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This may look different in different times, for us now, it does not entail a man marrying his brothers widow. It does not mean that widows remain unmarried or that they have to be remarried. They are free to choose. We do not keep the details of the law regarding clothing, we are allowed to wear polyester blends if we wish, or cover our heads or not. We are free to eat meat, although some of us do not. A woman is free to work to earn money, or to stay at home with her children, depending on the urgent needs of the family. We have freedom to treat a woman as an equal.

    But we cannot forsake the command of Christ which identifies us as Christians, that is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Woman is the neighbour of man.

  27. TL November 1, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    “3. No matter what translation you read the Philo passage in, one cannot escape the fact that Philo wants the reader to understand that this guy was a king among kings – the other kings were diminished in every sense one can imagine. So of course that also includes in terms of their fame, influence, etc. It’s all part of the package. It contributes to and does not negate his degree of authority. In fact, it is much more plausible to INCLUDE (what I would assert, along with Grudem and others) the notion of leadership/authority than to EXCLUDE this notion (what you are trying to do).”

    Derek, is that what you think Paul is saying when he says that Junia is of note among the apostles? That it is implying that she is an “apostle among apostels”.

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