Monday, August 10, 2009

One Of The Reasons Why Ephesians Is Important

I referenced an article about early evidence for Paul's letter to the Ephesians in my last post. I thought I'd use the occasion to reiterate a reason for the significance of Ephesians, a reason that's seldom discussed.

Critics of Christianity often argue that the early Christians thought that Jesus had promised to return before the end of His generation, sometime well before the end of the first century. That argument has many problems, some of which I've discussed in the past. One of those problems comes from Ephesians, if the letter was written by Paul or if it was written by somebody else at an early enough date.

Paul repeats, in a passage addressing children, the Old Testament concept that children will tend to live lengthy lives on earth if they obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), suggesting that he thought it was possible for people who were only in childhood at that time to live to an old age. Those children wouldn't reach an old age until after Jesus' generation had passed. When Paul wrote Ephesians, it had been more than fifty years since Jesus' birth. Thus, if Ephesians is Pauline or even non-Pauline, but written early, it's inconsistent with the notion that the early Christians thought that Jesus had promised that His second coming would occur before the end of His generation. As Harold Hoehner notes:

"In short, Paul does not refer [in Ephesians 6:3] to a future eternal life but to a present temporal life. In the end, the same general OT principle can be applied to the NT, namely, that obeying and honoring father and mother will bring well-being and a long life on earth. Again, there are going to be exceptions to the rule but the general principle holds....Because of the promise of long life on the earth, Lincoln contends that this could not have been penned by Paul who expected an imminent parousia....This argument is not compelling, for Paul never predicted that the parousia would occur within his lifetime. Even the apostles did not presume to know the time of the parousia since Jesus had told them that even he did not know, only the Father knew (Matt 24:36 = Mark 13:32)." (Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006], p. 793)

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