maandag 11 februari 2013

Review of: Ernest Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians (ICC), T. & T. Clark, 1998; in: Irish Theological Quarterly

Ernest Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians (ICC), T. & T. Clark, 1998.

Review in: Irish Theological Quarterly 1999 64: 313
Review door: Brendan Mcconvery
Gevonden op:

A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians (International Critical Commentary).
By Ernest Best.
Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998.
Pp. xxix+684. N.p. ISBN 0 567 08565 1.

Ernest Best’s new commentary on Ephesians is a welcome replacement for T. K. Abbot’s volume on Ephesians and Colossians, published in the original ICC series just over a century earlier (1897). By any standard, it is a masterly achievement crowning a life devoted to the study of the NT text. Professor Best has engaged with this letter over many years in a number of individual studies. A selection of these essays was published as a precursor to this commentary (Essays on Ephesians: Edinburgh, 1997). Abbott devoted 191 pages to Ephesians. Best offers us more than four times as much, including six ’detached notes’ of between two and eight pages in length on some of the more substantial exegetical issues which arise in the course of the commentary proper. Two extended essays on the Church and the letter’s moral teaching bring the volume to a close. This is probably the most thorough commentary on Ephesians to have originated in English to date.

The introductory questions on Ephesians (authorship, destination, relationship to other letters in the Pauline corpus, place and date of composition) are all thorny ones. Best weighs the evidence as judiciously and fairly as possible in his lengthy introduction. His conclusions are cautious in the main, and will not shake the foundations of standard orthodoxy. The original readers were most probably inhabitants of Asia Minor. The vocabulary and style vary slightly enough from the Hauptbriefe to ’suggest but not compel’ rejection of Pauline authorship. The treatment of the question of the ’hapax legomena’, often urged in favour of the letter’s Deutero-Pauline status, might be cited briefly as an instance of Best’s careful approach: apart from the considerable number of technical terms for military equipment demanded by the argument of 6:14-17, ’the number of hapax legomena in Ephesians is not exceptional and therefore tells us nothing of its authorship in relation to Paul’ (p. 28). The stylistic argument based on the unusually lengthy periodic sentences typical of the letter, ’like a glacier working [their] way down the valley inch by inch’, is a stronger one. Despite the new lease of life given to the secretary hypothesis in recent years by Earl Richards in particular, it cannot account adequately for the style of Ephesians, if only because the usual clues to the secretary’s presence (mention of a co-sender or of a change of handwriting) are missing. If it may be argued that its teaching on the Church is a legitimate development of the thought of the genuine Paul, Best finds the character of its moral teaching a more compelling argument in favour of pseudonymity (p. 35-6). It is, he suggests, prosaic and lacks a certain sparkle. Paul’s sharp awareness of the actual situations facing his converts lends a cutting edge to his moral discourse, lacking here. In the final page of the commentary proper (p. 621), Best sums up briefly the conclusions about the nature of the letter he has been testing out in the course of his exegesis. It was produced by someone strongly under Paul’s influence, closely associated with the author of Colossians, whose aim in writing was to deal with the inner harmony of individual Christian communities. The result is a careful balance of theology and paraenesis in the service of the cause of unity. If the moral teaching of the letter seems to lack profundity, as Best suggests, it is because petty differences among individuals are more of a threat to unity than debate about major ethical themes.

Careful exegesis of individual passages based on meticulous attention to philological and grammatical minutiae is a hall-mark of the ICC, and this is no exception. Sometimes intricately detailed, the discussion is always illuminating and not infrequently challenging easy assumptions (e.g. on mesotoichon in 2:14). With such a wealth of detail, this is no commentary for the beginning student, but it is likely to become a constant source of illumination for the teacher and theologian.

The two essays which conclude the book are provocative in the best plain-speaking tradition of the author’s Northern Presbyterian roots. He acknowledges that Reformed scholarship has usually been so preoccupied with Galatians and Romans that it has seldom had the energy to bring penetrating attention to bear on Ephesians. Catholic scholars, who find its ecclesiology more congenial, have been among its most insightful commentators, and Best is generous in his tribute. He recognises that the implicit ecclesiology of the historical Paul was probably more consistent and developed, but was never fully worked out in the passing references to the Church in the great letters. While acknowledging the impetus a renewed appreciation of the ecclesiology of Ephesians has brought to the contemporary ecumenical movement, he expresses some reservations about what he regards as the letter’s implicitly narrow view of the Church’s relationship to the world. The author, he suggests, has his eyes directed upwards and inwards, but not outwards, considering the Church as a place of light in a culture of darkness, controlled by evil supernatural forces (cf. 2:2, 6:10-17). Rudolph Schnackenburg, a leading German Catholic commentator on the letter, has also recognised how such an overly negative picture of the worldmight well encourage something of a ghetto view of the Church. The firstthree of the traditional marks of the Church are clearly evident in the letter, but what Best finds more debatable is the quality of its ’apostolicity’.The letter brings apostles and prophets into such close proximity,he argues, that if the Church is apostolic, it must perforce be’prophetic’ as well, but it is the prophetic dimension Best fails to see in the ecclesial discourse of Ephesians. ’Prophets preserve the Church from being at ease with itself, and settling down contentedly, into a routine and conservative way of life: they come from within and stir it up, directing it into new paths’ (p. 640).

Best’s critique of the ethics of Ephesians is more devastating still. He characterises it as a narrow ’church ethic’, lacking both the cutting edge and the inclusiveness of the teaching of Jesus and Paul. Its ethical narrowness is particularly plain from its Haustafel. It has an exclusively Christian household in view, it can say nothing to those in mixed or predominately pagan households: much less does it raise the possibility (as Jesus and Paul do) that one family-member’s option to join the Christian movement might well lead to a rupture in the household. There are also people within the community to whom it says nothing - the widowed or the elderly, the female slave who finds herself in a quandary in following the letter’s advice on the competing claims of husband and master. It is silent on how believers should respond to persecution, or the responsibility they owe, even through the silent evangelism of personal conduct, to those outside the household of faith. The genuine Paulines are painfully aware of the conflict created for new Christians between their unfinished business in the world and their new responsibilities in Christ but ’we find no suggestion that this might be so for the readers of Ephesians’ (p. 648). Best considers many of the letter’s generalised ethical statements to be little more than wide and imprecise statements with little ’cash value’ in practical situations. There is no arguing of cases in practical detail which is such a striking part of the discussion on marriage or idol-meat in 1 Cor., for example, and as a result everything can be seen in black and white terms. He surmises that the author’s decision not to treat the relationship of Church and the world was consciously taken. What is communicated is humdrum and conventional, an ethic for neither ascetics nor an elite of moral athletes (p. 658). It may have been, however, a moral code that suited its time. What is of lasting value in the letter, according to Best, is that all, including women, children, and slaves, are treated equally as morally responsible subjects, bound by the same standards of conduct. It is this which in the long run increased the sense of common moral identity and prepared the way for a greater equality.

We will long remain indebted to Ernest Best for the erudition and patient attention to detail which he has brought to the writing of this commentary. Not least in evidence is his thorough familiarity with the Patristic expositors of the letter cited abundantly throughout. As Best remarks, their solutions to the problems in the letter tend to be ’rediscovered’ in every generation. He is also thoroughly at home in classical Graeco-Roman sources, and they illuminate his exegesis at many points. Products of a more narrowly specialised age will admire his exegesis but can seldom hope to emulate it.


Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie posten