Clinton Arnold is professor of New Testament language and literature at Talbot School of Theology. He is also the general editor of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. He’s the guy pictured in this post that explains 7 reasons you might like this commentary series. In order to not just write the series preface, but to show us how it’s done, Arnold has written the Ephesians volume for this series, and it just might be my new favorite one for preaching and teaching. And I’m saying that as someone who took a semester long class on Ephesians, wrote some commentary on 2 sections of the book myself, and became intimately involved with the volumes by O’Brien, Hoehner, Best, Lincoln, and Bruce.
As far as layout goes, I really like the overall flow of commentaries in this series. Arnold has his hands full with introductory matters, but he digs right in and deals with the issues surrounding the letter’s destination and setting. He provides a good case for Ephesus being the originally intended destination (23-29) and then he unpacks the background cultural context for Ephesus, especially sensitive to magic and folk belief (something he is known for as a specialist). He then gives this purpose statement for the book:
Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strenghtening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote a great unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into a great conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display. (45)
Then, he gets into the thorny question of authorship. For the average Christian, this probably seems pretty straightforward, but those of us who have been to seminary are all too aware that all the trendy critical scholars are too smart to believe Paul wrote Ephesians (or Colossians and the Pastorals for that matter). I thought the reasons against Pauline authorship were dumb when I first came across them, and now several years later, I think they are still pretty dumb. However, Arnold is a more patient man than I, and he spends considerable time (46-50) giving his 7 point case for why Paul wrote Ephesians. The remainder of the introductory section deals with less intense matters (relationship to Colossians, genre, rhetoric).
After taking care of introductory matters, Arnold breaks Ephesians up into 16 “chapters” and then includes a final section on the theology of Ephesians. Each of these chapters follows this micro-structure:
- Literary Context
- Main Idea
- Translation and Graphical Layout
- Exegetical Outline
- Explanation of the Text
- Theology in Application
Typically, the first 5 of these takes up about the first 3-4 pages of the chapter and the bulk of the focus is on exegeting the text itself (as it should be). Arnold proceeds through a given section of Ephesians clause by clause, depending on how he has exegetically outlined the passage. At the end, he provides several applications and theological reflection.
One thing I noticed that is a bit different in Arnold’s approach (compared to the first volume in the series on James) is that he is a little more rigorous in stating concrete applications. Whereas in other volumes, the theology in application might be just extended theological discussion, Arnold starts each subsection with an italicized application point that he then elaborates on. As an example, this past Sunday our sermon text was Ephesians 1:15-23. One of Arnold’s applications from this section is “pray regularly that fellow believers will be enabled by the Spirit to understand the vastness of God’s power for them” (123), which he then unpacks further. I found that this is extremely useful in teaching the book, especially in small group contexts. Arnold provides not only rigorous exegesis of the passage, but 2-4 concrete takeaways that pretty much anybody can get their mind around.
In general, I don’t have any major criticisms of this particular volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament series. I do have one complaint about the series as a whole, and that’s the table of contents. The contents usually look like this:
- Series Introduction
- Author’s Preface
- Introduction to ____________
- Select Bibliography
- Theology of ____________
- Scripture and Apocrypha Index
- Index of Other Ancient Literature
- Subject Index
- Author Index
What is not immediately obvious is that the Commentary section is actually, in this case, 16 separate chapters. While everything else about this series is extremely helpful, the table of contents isn’t. There is actually a glaring error in the Galatians TOC, but I’ll tell you about it when I review it.
As far as strengths, as I’ve said before, I’m really partial to the layout of these commentaries. It follows closely the exegetical method I was taught, so I feel very at home. What I think you might find particularly helpful then is to know the strengths of this particular Ephesians commentary when compared against other volumes.
For starters, Arnold is the go-to guy when it comes to background issues related to folk belief, magic, and spiritual beings. This flavors his whole commentary and gives a perspective you won’t find much of in other otherwise high quality volumes. In addition, Arnold uses on of his “In Depth” sidebars to discuss the meaning of the terms of principalities, authorities, powers, and dominions (112-14).
By far though his most relevant “In Depth” sidebars all have to do with the household codes. I was somewhat surprised by this, and speaking as one who wrote a commentary on this section of Ephesians for a Greek class, I found much value and insight here. Arnold covers these topics:
- The Instructions to Family Members in Ephesians in Light of Ancient Household Codes (369-372)
- The Role of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor (372-379, worth the price of the book)
- God’s Covenant Relationship With His People Depicted as Marriage (384-386)
- Why It Is Legitimate to Apply the Teaching of This Passage to Marriages Today (407-410)
- The Distinctive Features of Roman-Era Slavery (419-422)
- Was Paul An Advocate of Slavery? (430-431)
The picture that emerges through all of these in an ancient Ephesus that is dealing with domestic issues not unlike the modern Western world. Arnold’s research on the role of women is particularly compelling, and shows that when Paul was writing there was just as much of an impulse for egalatarianism in domestic and civic roles as there is now (though confined to the elite back then). In that case, we haven’t culturally eclipsed Paul’s commands.
Overall, I really enjoyed this commentary. And like I said above, I think it might be my new favorite resource for preaching and teaching Ephesians. I was able to use it last spring on the tail end of teaching a high school boys Bible study on Ephesians. Now that we are preaching through Ephesians alongside Mars Hill at CrossPointe, I think I’ll find even more value for our weekly small group meetings. If you’re in the market for diving deeper into Ephesians, I’d highly recommend this commentary. Nothing against O’Brien (my second favorite) or Hoehner (the most exhaustive/exhausting treatment) but I think Arnold’s is the most well suited for the Bible nerd as well as the lay Christian looking for personal application from Paul’s letter.
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