Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Ephesians 3:10

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

[Before I finish my review of Mr. Armstrong’s chapter on the church, I thought that I would exegete two other commonly used texts in support of high church-ism, Ephesians 3:10 and Matthew 18:17. Though they are not cited in Mr. Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses, I have seen them used by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists in the past, and so, I believe that it would be helpful to include them in this series.]

Ephesians 3:10

“…so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” –Ephesians 3:10 NASB

Issue Raised: Is the Church the Infallible Guide for God’s Truth?

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists will sometimes cite this text to support the notion that God gives His truth and its infallible interpretation only through the Church (here being defined as the church hierarchy of priests and bishops in the case of Roman Catholicism and the universal church as a whole in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy), but does this verse really say that?

Context

First, before exegeting this passage, it would be helpful to display its fuller context:

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” –Ephesians 3:1-10

Exegesis

The Epistle to the Ephesians was written by Paul, not to battle a specific heresy, but as some believe, to simply broaden the horizons of his readers. It explains the eternal purposes of God’s actions in history and salvation and the implications of these things for both the Church and the individual.

In chapter one, Paul discussed the mystery of the eternal predestination of God’s chosen (1:3-12, 17-19a), their eschatological sealing by the Holy Spirit (1:13-14), and Christ’s victory over death and dominion over all things (1:19b-23).

In chapter two, the apostle wrote about the former state of Christians (and the current state of all who are unbelievers) being by nature children of wrath and how God, in his love and mercy, decided to save us in Christ by grace through faith so that we might live in holiness (2:1-10). He then speaks of how, through the work of Christ on the cross (2:13-18), He (i.e. Christ) brought together both Jew and Gentile into one church (2:11-19) which is likened unto a holy temple of which Christ is the corner stone upon which it is built (2:19-22).

This brings us to chapter three which starts off with:

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you;” –Ephesians 3:1-2

Here, Paul, being under house arrest and having suffered many terrible afflictions in obedience to Christ’s calling of him as a steward of God’s grace (i.e. an apostle), explains that he has endured all of this for the sake of the Gentiles (cf. 2 Timothy 2:10) of which he was commissioned to.

“…that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;” –Ephesians 3:3-5

Paul explains that his calling unto the Gentiles was because of the mystery revealed to him in Christ.

What is a mystery? That question is answered in verse 5. It is a truth which God has kept secret in the past but which has now been revealed (see also 3:9, Matthew 13:11, Romans 11:25, 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Colossians 1:26, 4:3, Revelation 10:7, etc.; cf. Hebrews 1:1-2, Jude 3).

What is this mystery? In general, it refers to everything that he stated in chapters one and two, but more specifically, he identifies it in the next verse:

“…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” –Ephesians 3:6

Here, Paul is specifically identifying “the mystery of Christ” in verse 4 with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant of grace. Although the predestination of individuals is a mystery that was revealed to Paul (1:9) and the means by which Christ builds His Church one redeemed sinner at a time (2:1-10), the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles which he spoke of before in 2:11-22 is what is in view here. As my study Bible notes:

“The repetition of [“fellow”] indicates the unique aspect of the mystery that was not previously known: the equality and mutuality that Gentiles had with Jews in the church, the one body. That Gentiles would turn to the God of Israel and be saved was prophesied in the OT (see Rom 15:9-12); that they would come into an organic unity with believing Jews on an equal footing was unexpected.”
-Kenneth L. Barker et al., The Zondervan NASB Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), p.1721.

“…of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.” –Ephesians 3:7

Paul was, by God’s power, made the instrument of the unveiling of this glorious mystery.

“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” –Ephesians 3:8-10

Here, Paul sums up what he said in verses 1-7. Paul was commissioned to preach the gospel of the grace of God to the Gentiles, and their inclusion into this covenant of grace unveils God’s plan which he had kept hidden until the church age.

Why did God do all this? It was so that His eschatological wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16) might now be shown forth to all the spiritual powers which control the happenings of men on earth (Daniel 10:10-13, Ephesians 1:21, 2:2, 6:12, Colossians 2:15).

In other words, the inclusion of men from all the nations of the earth into one church (Revelation 5:9) was Christ’s proclamation and display of victory over the devil and his angels who had for the longest time ruled the gentiles and kept them in the darkness of their ignorance (Acts 26:18, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, 6:12, 2 Timothy 2:26, 1 John 5:19, Revelation 12:9). Because He has created “all things” (v.9), this is part of His exaltation in which “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church…” (emphasis mine; Ephesians 1:22). In the unveiling of this mystery, Christ is reclaiming in victory what is His by right as Creator.

Conclusion

Ephesians 3:10 does not refer to the church being the infallible interpreter through which God distributes his Truth. That would be a classical case of verse isolation (see the intro., part f.). Rather, it refers to God’s eschatological wisdom being displayed through the inclusion of the gentiles into the covenant of grace. This is His display of victory to the evil spiritual forces which once ruled the gentiles and kept them in ignorance but now are being and have been subjected to the rule of Christ.

15 comments:

orthodox said...

S&S: Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists will sometimes cite this text to support the notion that God gives His truth and its infallible interpretation only through the Church (here being defined as the church hierarchy of priests and bishops), but does this verse really say that?

O: When are protestants going to get it through their heads that Orthodox do not define the Church, or the source of truth as being priests and bishops?

Lvka said...

When are protestants going to get it through their heads that Orthodox do not define the Church, or the source of truth as being priests and bishops?

NEVER!

Mike Burgess said...

Every time I read something like this post I have to ask, "What, if anything, was infallibly taught to you?" You will note that I did not ask what you infallibly know. I asked about the reliability of the source and the reliability of the information.

If you keep claiming that the Church was never infallible, then you adhere to a fallible Gospel. At least potentially. Eventually, you simply have to believe that someone was infallible. Someone other than Jesus, that is. And because of your rule of faith, you also have to believe that people besides the Apostles were infallible. (I say this because of Luke and Acts de minimus and possibly Hebrews, etc.) The goads against which you are kicking are the reminders that God never speaks fallibly. And these days, God speaks exclusively through people. The alternative is a burning in the bosom accompanying divine revelation to each person. And wouldn't that have been much simpler for God? Why didn't He decide to just speak to each one of us fallen humans in a direct and undeniable inner way?

Lvka said...

Well, the Protestant argument would run like this:

The documents are infallible. People handed us down these documents, of which everybody agrees they are from God. But as to their interpretation, many disagree on many different things. These documents are divinely inspired. But each guy's interpretation thereof isn't. So, I trust the documents BLINDLY. But I do NOT trust the interpretations passed down to me by various persons who handed me these documents in a BLINDLY manner, but rather DISCRIMINATIVELY, i.e., with DISCERNMENT.

That would be pretty much it, in a nutshell, I think.

Lvka said...

And when questions arise as to the very content, I look for the un-varying content, summarize it using all the reason, logic, knowledge and insight available to me to the best of my abilities and capacities, all this coupled with earnest, heart-felt prayer to God, my Father and Maker, Breather of the Bible and Enlightener of men, and just try to take it from there.

The sad fact is that other people who've been doing the self-same thing all along AS I have are arriving at totally different conclusions. But that's due to human sinfulness, weakness, inability, lack of knowledge [mine, or theirs, or both], and so on. *OR* to the fact that there's a mystery shrouding that particular thing, and the Spirit choses not to reveal it to us, because He wants us to become meeker, and not proud, ("for much knowledge leads to pride", as St. John tells us) and possibly because it's also un-essential to man's salvation.

I guess that would be a pretty accurate description of it (in a nutshell, of course).

GeneMBridges said...

If you keep claiming that the Church was never infallible, then you adhere to a fallible Gospel

1. This is a question begging assertion, for it assumes, without benefit of argument that the infallibility of Scripture depends on the Church.

But this is obviously false, since in Roman Catholic theology, the Magisterium is able to infallibly define dogma while not being itself always infallible.

2. If the infallibility of Scripture is intrinsic it is by no means a problem.

3. Your view, if true, would require an infallibilist constraint on knowledge as a whole.

Eventually, you simply have to believe that someone was infallible.

No, we only need to affirm that the Holy Spirit was infallible and that when He inspired Scripture, the product was infallible, not that the men were infallible. Scripture says that the text, not the men, were inspired.

And because of your rule of faith, you also have to believe that people besides the Apostles were infallible.

False, we only need to believe that the text is infallible and the the Holy Spirit infallibly guided the process of the collection and editing of the materials Luke used.

Note here that Mike is concentrating on men not the Holy Spirit.

The alternative is a burning in the bosom accompanying divine revelation to each person. And wouldn't that have been much simpler for God? Why didn't He decide to just speak to each one of us fallen humans in a direct and undeniable inner way?

A false alternative, as this is not what is meant by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in the WCF/LBCF2. It would help if you would consult a standard work on that subject, like that of Turretin or a more popular work by RC Sproul. I do believe his Renewing the Mind radio lecture series addressed this just yesterday.

And these days, God speaks exclusively through people.

Is this an argument for continuing revelation or this a statement about the exposition of Scripture?

If the former, where is the supporting argument?

If the latter, where is the list of infallible interpretations of Scripture from the Roman Magisterium?

When your priest preaches his homily, do you consider him "infallible?" Is that what Roman dogma teaches? I think not.

These documents are divinely inspired. But each guy's interpretation thereof isn't. So, I trust the documents BLINDLY.

Really, can you quote a representative Protestant theologian to that effect?

But let's see how this applies to Romanism.

How do you know that yours is the one true holy apostolic church? Since there are very few if any infallible interpretations of Scripture, how do you adjudicate between them? We'll find very quickly we get to a fideistic commitment to the Church.

So, I trust the Church BLINDLY. But I do NOT trust the interpretations passed down to me by various persons who handed me these documents in a BLINDLY manner, but rather DISCRIMINATIVELY, i.e., with DISCERNMENT.

Saint and Sinner said...

Are you RC's or EO's going to dispute anything in the post?

I mean, are you guys going to dispute the fact that your apologists have been using this text eisegetically?

Gene,

Thank you for the comments. I am on a business trip and will be gone from the blogosphere most of the time. As to Mike's comment: I will be doing a series of posts on the philosophical arguments against sola Scriptura sometime in the future.

Lvka said...

Iddunno.

Our apologets unfortunately agree with Your interpetation (which interpretation was kinda obvious and very easily arrived at).

orthodox said...

S&S: "Are you RC's or EO's going to dispute anything in the post?

I mean, are you guys going to dispute the fact that your apologists have been using this text eisegetically?"

O: Frankly, I don't understand your argument. The context involves Gentiles. So what?

I think it's instructive to quote the IVP-NT commentary , which is not catholic or orthodox:

"Some pre-Christian Jewish texts also speak of God showing the angels his power and glory through his people, and thus receiving their praise. Because these heavenly “rulers” were viewed as angels of the different nations, the unity of the church displayed the rule of God, whose authority transcended that of the angels and all earthly boundaries. On “stewardship” see comment on 3:1-2; on “ mystery “ see comment on 3:3-5. The point is that the church, a people destined to bring eternal glory to God, represents God’s ultimate purpose in history (see 1:9-12), and all Christians should find their life’s purpose in their role in that ultimate purpose (see 4:11-13)."

So according to this commentary, the verse speaks of God's authority being displayed in the unity of the Church. Sounds good to me.

In fact the NIV commentary is also instructive:

"What had been screened from the angelic hierarchy (cf. 1:21) is now to be declared through the body of Christ on earth (2:6-7). The ecclesiological implications of such a verse as this are staggering indeed (cf. 1Pe 1:12). Through the mirror of the church, the angels of heaven see the glory of God."

Hmm, the ecclesiological implications are "staggering" says this protestant commentary.

And no mention of gentiles in any commentary that I can see.

Maybe there is more to this verse that you suppose, hmm?

EgoMakarios said...

Lvka, what's wrong with blindly trusting the Scriptures but no blindly trusting those who handed down the Scriptures? The Pharisees handed down the Old Testament, but we must blindly trust the Old Testament not blindly trust the Pharisees. After all, if we trust the Pharisees we would have to cease to beleive in Jesus! If those who hand down the Scriptures are made authoritative by that fact, then we should all be Pharisees today. Seest thou not how thine argument falleth apart when proved?

orthodox said...

You would have to show that the Pharisees were the only candidate for the true people of God. Most of the Jews weren't Pharisees. In fact the word Pharisee means "separated ones".

Mike Burgess said...

Gene,

"No, we only need to affirm that the Holy Spirit was infallible and that when He inspired Scripture, the product was infallible, not that the men were infallible. Scripture says that the text, not the men, were inspired."

2 Peter 1:21 says the men were inspired (Rheims) or carried along, borne along, etc. Not the texts, the men.

How did you come by your Scriptures? Did the leaders of the Church present them as authoritative and reliable, or did God hand them down independently of the Church?

The Catholic Church also teaches that the authors of Scripture could be infallible in the writing of Scripture and fallible in other areas. Noone ever said everything St. Peter said was infallible, and the Petrine charism does not depend upon such an assertion.

My view does not require an infallibilist constraint on knowledge as a whole, if I understand you correctly. If you want to make a case that it does, please do.

The burning in the bosom comment was a reductio. In order to try to head off criticism of circularity, the Westminster divines understandably proffered a supposedly independent criterion. It has been a long time since I read Turretin on the matter, but I believe I will still take issue with him, thanks.

Mike Burgess said...

I also wanted to address your confusion concerning my comment that God speaks through men these days. This is an assertion that no Scripture is being composed. No continuing general revelation is occurring.

When a priest gives a homily, he exercises a limited and derivative authority. If my priest gives a rendering which is not in accord with the Vincentian rule of faith, then he is not exercising his authority well and is doubly liable. I don't understand why the various strata of the Magisterium are constantly isolated by Protestants to point out some supposed irreconcilable foundational problem. The fact is, I've seen numerous Protestants assert that they are the ones adhering to the Vincentian canon, while simultaneously maintaining a separate and contrary regula fide (sola scriptura).

Mike Burgess said...

Also,
The Catholic need not concede that his position is fideistic. Fideism is a reliance upon faith to the exclusion of reason, philosophical methods, science, history, etc.

Jonathan Prejean, with whom I imagine you are familiar, had a very interesting and somewhat lengthy post and comment thread which can be found here:
http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2007/08/principles-of-catholic-apologetics.html#c2277422452843706659

I hope you'll take the time to read through it. I'm sure you won't be convinced, but you'll see that the bare accusation of ultimate fideism is baseless, I hope.

Lvka said...

Makarios,

There's nothing wrong whatsoever with trusting the Scriptures blindly (who said that there's something wrong with that ??). They're God's Word, and we do that also. (But we don't restrict God's Word to the extent of the Scriptures alone -- and since when did the word "word" come to have "written word" as its primordial meaning anyway ??).

Anyway, ... don't answer that; in my two comments, I've synthesised the Protestant mind-set to the best of my abilities (as a response to repeated remarks made in previous comments), with no "puns" whatsoever, or of any sort, included.