[K:NWTS 26/1 (May 2011): 45-48]

Book Review

Frank Thielman, Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010. 520 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 978-0-8010-2683-6. $44.99.

Thielman is Professor at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and offers a fresh commentary on Paul's epistle. Happily, he endorses Pauline authorship of the letter (pp. 1-5), safely side-stepping the minefield of faddish liberal fundamentalist pseudonymity. In defense of the apostolic authorship, Thielman cites the work of Terry L. Wilder, Pseudonymity, the New Testament, and Deception: An Inquiry into Intention and Reception (2004). Our readers should also be aware of the more recent contribution of Wilder in which he extends the focus of the discussion to the Pastoral Epistles. Fashionable contemporary New Testament higher-critical fundamentalism dismisses the Pauline authorship of 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus, even as they refuse Ephesians to the inspired apostle. Wilder rises to the defense of Pauline authorship for the former in "Pseudonymity, the New Testament, and the Pastoral Epistles," A. J. Kosterberger and T. L. Wilder, eds., Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul's Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (2010) 28-51. We may safely obviate the dilemma of pseudonymity for the servants of Christ—which is (!obviously!!), "thou shalt not bear false witness"; a precept written on the heart of the divinely commissioned apostle as a new covenant messenger of God (cf. Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10).

Any respectable commentary must navigate the wasps nest of opposition to the inclusion of "in Ephesus" in the text of the epistle's initial verse. Thielman's review of the textual transmission (and omission) discussion is a model of succinctness (11-16). And happily, once more, he concludes in favor of retaining the phrase.

The section on why Paul wrote the letter (19-28) contains several salient explorations of the cultural clash between Christianity and the (Roman) emperor cult. To this, he adds reflections on the confusion of Christianity with Judaism which are worth pondering. All of this arising from recent explorations of the socio-political ethos of the cities in which Paul ministered. That Paul's gospel sparked a clash with pagan culture as well as Jewish culture (both of which were dominated by a religious ethos) is a given. And the union with Christ motif of Ephesians is an all-sufficient remedy and solace in such a context (as it remains in the neo-paganism of post-modern culture). Still, this reviewer demurs where Thielman makes too much of the separation between Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian bodies in Ephesus (28). Such a rigid separation appears to belie the new thing God has done by uniting Jew and Gentile in the one life of grace which is in Christ Jesus.

Sampling some litmus texts as a clue to the excellence of this commentary, we note that Thielman's ordination as a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) minister (he is, in fact, Presbyterian Professor of Divinity at Samford) is not happily contradicted by his exegesis of Eph. 1:5-7. The predestinarian strain of the apostle's words are decidedly deterministic as "from before the foundation of the world" confirms. No wobbly Arminianism here, even as it is not found in the inspired apostle. I am not suggesting that Thielman's ecclesiastical commitments have determined his exegesis; rather, his exegesis has directed him to a denomination which embraces the "system of doctrine" taught in the Westminster Standards—a system of doctrine which endorses the apostle's doctrine of predestination and the determination of the divine decree from eternity. While this may be a decretum horrible to the modern and post-modern mind, it was not to the apostle, nor to the Holy Spirit who inspired the apostle, nor to the Augustinian-Reformed forebears who have bowed their reverent and over-awed minds and hearts before it. "To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"—to me! to me! (as Augustine poignantly and humbly confessed), and that from before the foundation of the world. Praise his sovereign name, electing decree and effecting power!

On the controverted "redemption through his blood" (1:7), Theilman sides with Leon Morris and Herman Ridderbos for a satisfaction-of-debt (or payment-of-debt) paradigm. Still (is this a failure of nerve?), he wants to nuance the concept to a more "metaphorical" notion of deliverance or rescue and hence leaves a slight crack in the door for those bitterly opposed to a deity who demands precisely what he (Thielman) has exegetically endorsed, i.e., what I would label the penal satisfactory doctrine of the atonement.

Commendably, Theilman has not been Klineanized on merit-grace. His exegesis of Eph. 2:4-8 is refreshingly Protestant and Reformed—as judged by the canons of the primary documents of that revolutionary era (if a revolution that takes the Scripture alone as the canon of our faith may be called a revolution—perhaps, an "about time return to primary documents" is a better term for the 16th and 17th century evangelical and Reformed rebirth). His exegesis also displays Paul's union with Christ language as undergirding this rich, free and unmerited grace. Paul, according to Thielman, allows of no merit for any reason in his declaration of grace alone. No sinner ever has anything to offer God (not even faith) so as to receive something in return (note 1 Cor. 4:7—"what do you have that you have not received?"). Applying this to sinners at Sinai, as Paul applies it to sinners generically, we recoil once more with the apostle from any Judaistic or pagan suggestion that a mere mortal from the fall of the first Adam to the return of the second Adam can earn or deserve or merit any reward or due blessing from the Triune God. Here is a ringing exegetical declaration of what Augustine, Luther and Calvin et al. declared as the heart of the Pauline gospel of sola gratia. To which we say a hearty Amen! God alone be praised!!

Thielman is aware of the indicative-imperative paradigm in assessing the Pauline ethic (303, though Victor Furnish is absent from his bibliography). Our only minor caveat here is that he does not comprehend the paradigm in eschatological relation. Geerhardus Vos as Herman Ridderbos (whom he knows) would help him further the drama of the New Testament ethic, i.e., live "now" (imperative) out of the "not yet" (indicative heaven-seated standing/position). Such is the semi-eschatological moral compass by which the New Testament believer navigates (cf. William Dennison, "Indicative and Imperative: The Basic Structure of Pauline Ethics." Calvin Theological Journal 14 [April 1979]: 55-78).

Our author has not been aculturized by the fashionable contextual 'orthodoxies' of our politically correct era. His exegesis of husband-wife (as parent-child and master-slave) relationships is pristinely Pauline and traditional (Eph. 5:21ff., pp. 370ff.). No feminism here or liberal fundamentalist reductionism to "the modern context" in order that the "ancient text" may applied contextually to us. We are living in the same era as the apostle—the era of the life, death and resurrection of the ontological Son of God who is equal and subordinate to his Father without any diminution of his person or dignity. Thielman fearlessly uses the word "submitting" (as the apostle does) and discusses "subordinate" roles in relational paradigms. He notes the household codes and mutual reciprocity displayed in the text of Paul's remarks on these multiple relational structures. We have no quibble with these perceptions. However, we miss the biblical-theological substratum of the Pauline paradigm, especially in husband-wife relations. The semi-eschatological reflection of Christ and his Bride in Christian marriages is a regeneration (after and still under the Fall) of the protological groom and bride paradigm. The protological Adam and his bride are reflected in the eschatological Adam and his Bride. What sin has alienated and disrupted (e.g., fallen women usurping authority over men in Eve-like fashion, as well as fallen men reducing women to objects of power and gratification) is now, in Christ, provisionally restored in the Christian husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church; and the Christian wife lovingly submitting to her husband as the Bride of Christ submits lovingly to her Bridegroom. We move redemptive-historically from the protological marriage (Garden) to the semi-eschatological marriage (New Testament) to the consummately eschatological marriage (Heaven, Rev. 19:9). And that is why Paul can draw Christian couples into the "mystery" of a new creation—a new creation that provisionally reflects the marriage supper of the Lamb, even now. The challenge of marriages still infected with the remainder of sin lies in the realization of this "union-with-Christ-and-his-Bride" paradigm. In heaven, that challenge will be exceeded, even as temporal marriage itself will be surpassed when all the male and female saints of God will be married unto him through the Son by the perfect in-dwelling of the Spirit. And to that we may say, "Oh, that will be glory indeed"!!

—James T. Dennison, Jr.