23.11.09

Theories on Paul and his use of the second person plural pronoun at Ephesians 1:13

Oh heck. I'm frozen. Unable to get over a hermeneutical hurdle. I do not want my essay to get stuck on one small personal pronoun but I feel I have to come to some conclusions about it.

Paul has considered his state alongside that of the Ephesians for twelve verses now with his inclusive pronouns, 'we', 'us', 'our'...he now speaks of the seal and the pledge of the Holy Spirit and addresses believers with 'you'. Is there a specific reason? Is he addressing the Ephesians (well, that's debated so better not state that so explicitly) the believers in Asia Minor? Is he now addressing just the Gentiles but doesn't this have implications for how we read the application of the other spiritual blessings? Is this swap of pronoun an...now what was that word...which really I should know...because I was an English teacher...an anacoluthon? Fee and O'Brien say one thing. Martin and Hoehner another. Oh 'eck!

4 comments:

Doug Chaplin said...

Paul … Ephesians? :)

Seriously, I think we tend to have to start with the assumption that "we" means Jews and "you" means Gentiles – esp. in the light of chapter 2.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Yes, that is the most convincing proposition, even though it's denied by some critics. I can not see their logic, though. As long as we posit that this is a temporary distinction made for the purposes of including the Gentiles in all the Spiritual blessings, there doesn't seem to be a problem. Critics who suppose from the very beginning of the letter that 'saints' refers to Jews and 'faithful' to Gentiles seem to be setting up unhelpful distinctions, which whilst I can see their reasoning, does much to negate the unity that Paul is promoting.

Thanks Doug

Howard Pilgrim said...

Rachel, after some thought I have to respectfully disagree with you and Doug: for me it is not the most natural assumption or convincing proposition to read "we" as "we Jews" in Ephesians chapter 1, for these reasons:-

1. Greek like most languages, does not have pronouns that mark whether "we" includes or excludes the audience. This must be inferred from the context, unless it is conveyed by an explicit construction such as the "we Jews/you Gentiles" used at the start of Chapter 2. It would be a grammatical fallacy to argue that such an explicit construction determined the reference of all other occurrences of the pronoun either before or after it within the same discourse.

2. There is nothing in the verses preceding 1:13 to indicate to the Gentile audience that they are excluded from the blessed company described. On the contrary, v.13 implies their present inclusion by reminding them how they had previously been brought in.

3. The epistle does not depict Gentile converts as being brought into Israel (as though that were the referent for "we" in Ch.1) but rather both are made part of a new people, "one new humanity in place of the two" (2:15). Jews have an initial advantage (2:11-12) but they enter the people of Christ by the same means as Gentile converts - "So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father." (2:17-18)

4. Note the close parallels between 1:13 and 2:17-18. The function of the first, breaking into "you" mode, is to remind the addressees how they became part of the blessed "we", and having made that point the writer immediately reverts back to "we". The function of the second is to affirm that that process is the same for both Jews and Gentiles, those who had been near and those who had been far off.

5. The most natural reading of "we" in present tense clauses in Ch.1 is that it is used inclusively to describe the blessed state of life in Christ's body, where distinctions between Jews and Gentiles have been abolished. Otherwise you have to find some basis for specifying which of the blessings described there do not apply to Gentile Christians. You also have to explain why the writer would be making such an alienating distinction in his letter opening when he is about to argue that it has been done away with.

You did ask for comments! I hope your essay is going well.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Howard, so helpful.

Thoroughly convincing.

After reading around the verse, I have discovered such diversity.

Please contribute again - this is just the sort of engagement with the issues which helps me to grow.

The unfortunate thing about an essay of three thousand words is you could write the whole piece on just one word.

Bless u

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