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writing things down…

The Question of Authorship

I am trying to utilize the append text tool of Quicksilver and so I created a file in which I can plop down thoughts about Ephesians as I go about my daily routine in the office – a routine that does not allow much time for reflections on Ephesians.  So when I created the file I thought I would jot down a few initial thoughts.  What was meant to be a quick note ended up as the following:

Authorship – Paul, pseudepigraphical, or later revision of Paul’s original – What does it matter?

If Paul – needs to be fitted into a plausible biographical and social-historical setting in the apostle’s career.  Ephesians could be key to interpreting Paul’s faith and to understanding the ways in which Paul’s ideas are recast or modified.  It seems to me though that the significance is not so much for understanding Ephesians but for understanding Paul.
If pseudepigraphon – forced to guess at what is the historical and social setting.  Must come to terms with those places that are in tension with Pauline statements elsewhere.  Again, the emphasis seems to be on understanding the author rather than understanding the text as it stands.

What does authorship matter for the course?  Well, when we encounter certain parts of the text that could be enlightened by a comparison to other Pauline epistles, we will have to ask is this development/modification by Paul himself, or is it by someone else.  Then we must ask, why the change by Paul, or by the imitator.  To what were either of these authors responding?

Does that matter?  To some extent.  However, if the emphasis is laid on the text as we have received it, the questions of authorship and historical setting are less important.  They are secondary matters of concern.  In that they might shed light on our grasp of the message of the text itself these historical/authorship issues are important enough to consider.  In that we are trying to grasp the message of the text itself, these concerns are less important than say, discourse analysis or grammatical analysis or rhetorical analysis.  Our question is, “What is the message/thrust/point of Ephesians?”  It is not “What is the message of Paul?”  We might modify our question a bit to ask “What is the message of Paul in Ephesians?” or “What is the message of the pseudepigrapher in Ephesians?”  But, we are still after the message of Ephesians.  Ultimately, I want students to always be on the lookout for answers to more missional questions – What does this text say about who God is? who the people of God are? What idea/activity/conviction does the text prompt? What is the response of the church implied by the text?  At this point, I am not concerned to answer questions like, “What is Paul’s view of who God is? who the people of God are?”, etc.

Will I disregard the authorship question altogether?  Of course not.  But, I will do my best to put it in its proper place among the many questions we can ask of Ephesians.

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1 Comment»

  Pat McCullough wrote @

I like the way you’ve stated things. I think you’ve given voice to the way I tend to feel about the issue too. I have a hypothetical question (and no answer at the moment)… If deciding that the text is a particular person, Paul for example, affects the way that we understand how Paul’s ideas are “recast and modified,” doesn’t that affect the way we interpret the corpus of Paul’s epistles?

As you know, I have the New Perspective on the brain, and it seems like our understanding of Paul’s thought affects our understanding of meaning in his letters when it comes to that debate. But I haven’t thought of it from the perspective of Ephesians at all yet.


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