We are just getting into Timothy Gombis’ The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God. And this first chapter might perhaps cause the reader to pause and recognise how much of our reading of Scripture is governed by a modernist approach of extracting certain truths and arranging them in our favourite systematic theological system.
For Gombis this is the wrong way to read Ephesians:
“Conceiving of the task of Bible reading as the discovery of isolated principles in the text that need to be recognised, extracted and arranged in a systematic outline of theology leaves interpreters in a situation where there is no demand that they experience transformation.”
That is a power-packed statement worth ‘chewing on’!
What is Ephesians then? Our author’s contention is that “Ephesians has a tightly woven narrative structure that is driven by the pattern of divine warfare.”
Let me unpack somewhat this statement on the nature of Ephesians:
Narrative structure: Gombis comments that “Ephesians is not a doctrinal treatise in the scholastic sense of that term. It is, rather, a drama in which Paul portrays the powerful, reality-altering, cosmos-transforming acts of God in Christ to redeem God’s world and save God’s people for the glory of His name.” The reader needs to go with the ‘grain’ of Ephesians – there are several narratives within the Letter (Eph 2; 3) and ‘truth’ is spoken of in dramatic terms in Eph 4:15, 20f. Truth is not simply a set of facts – the church must act out (perform) the way of Jesus. In so doing we will embody the life and love of God on earth.
Pattern of divine warfare: When we think of biblical apocalyptic literature, books such as Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation will no doubt come to mind. Our author contends that Ephesians is an apocalypse in regards to its function. It gives us a heavenly interpretation of reality (see esp. Eph 1:17-19). Does Jesus appear to be the cosmic ruler of all things? Not if we interpret the world and our lives according to our own earthly vision of reality.
Additionally in the apocalyptic worldview of Ephesians, the drama unfolds on both earth and heaven – with a cast of ‘actors.’ Gombis states that “if we ignore the setting of the drama, we will not rightly understand the performance to which we are being called.”
Our author shows that the tightly woven narrative structure of the Letter is driven by the pattern of divine warfare. He highlights “the strength of His power” (Eph 1:19; 6:10) as providing an inclusio (literary bookends) of Paul’s argument. Further the thesis statement of the Letter is Eph 1:20-23:
Eph 1:20 He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.
What is Ephesians then? I agree wholeheartedly with Gombis’ summary:
“Ephesians, therefore, is also a polemic in which Paul asserts the triumph of God in Christ over the powers that rule the present evil age and explains the manner in which the people of God are to inhabit this victorious drama, letting it orient and shape their lives together as a community.”
And that necessitates the communities of God’s people to be discerning – we live in the crossover of the ages which can cause confusion unless we are shaped by Ephesians and not by this world.
How are you going with living out the drama of Ephesians?