Friday, August 21, 2015

Don't Bother

Don't even bother reading this morning. Instead of sitting here [[actually lying propped up and stretched out on the bed in the Bay bedroom with my square of dark chocolate and mug of Kona on the tray beside me]] letting the magic fingers type at will, it's about what I did between 2:57 and now (it's 4:11). 

This coming Sunday is not only our last reading from Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse (John chapter 6) but also the last for our seasonal reading through Ephesians. It's the famous and appealing conclusion of the treatise:

Ephesians 6:10-20 (NRSV) 
The Whole Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians is a lovely writing; and even though I am no fan of Ephesians, it's helpful to me in trying to discern some first century development of the theology of the early Christian church. From what I read and consider sensible and reasonable (rather than some certitudinous nut slamming through a rationalization of what he already believes) it is quite clear that Paul did not write Ephesians. I write this morning mindful that except for Mark (my favorite NT writing upon which my mind is irrevocably certain) every time I study a Bible book I basically have to start over refreshing and remembering. Just so with Ephesians. 

Here's what seems to me then, as I begin refreshing and recalling. Ephesians is not written by Paul, there are too many differences in it and writings that are surely Paul's, not only in use of words but in thought and theology. Ephesians is in the NT only because the early church fathers thought Paul wrote it. Ephesians was not a letter to Ephesus but a circular treatise to the church at large. Ephesians encourages faith in Christ rather than having the faith of Christ – there's a big difference, especially from the POV of a monotheistic Pharisee, so this is a theological shift. Instead of Paul's concern about preparing for an imminent Second Coming, Ephesisns looks to the long term future. I remember but will have to explore it again and have not yet this morning, scholars saying that Ephesians is largely lifted from Colossians, itself a disputed writing as to whether Paul wrote it. The scholar I was reading this morning, who summarized Kummel, Heard, Howell-Smith, and Wallace, dates Ephesians 80 – 100 A.D. Paul's death is traditionally dated early to mid 60s.  

Why are these things important. Well, it isn't to renounce Ephesians as not Pauline and therefore to be ignored, because it's just as canonical as Romans and 1st Thessalonians, and it is just as valuable for teaching, doctrine and life. And as I look out into the heavens this dark morning and regard the planet earth as that speck of dirt in an incomprehensible vastness, these things are not important anyway. But they are important to me because they help me, as an inquirer, understand things that I'm interested in almost as much as I'm interested in automobiles. 

But not quite. Maybe if, instead of getting so excited those dark nights on the open highway in the late 1930s and early 1940s when I spotted a Packard or Pierce Arrow with a trunk-rack on the back and dual side-mounts, I went back and started over with Samuel serving God in the sanctuary, my priorities and perspectives would be other. 

But I doubt it. In my mind I still see that Packard passing us that late night before WW2, as I'm standing on the floor in the back seat of our 1935 Chevrolet, my father at the wheel and my mother in the front seat with him, traveling on dark Highway 98, speed limit 45 at night, driving home to Panama City from Pensacola. As the long, black sedan overtakes us and eases back into the lane ahead of us the excited little kid standing in the middle of the back seat shouts, "There's a Packard with a trunk-rack!!" Memories are more important to me than Ephesians any dark hour. 


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