Lectionary Year A
March 10, 2002
Ephesians 5:8-14

Step II: Disposition

A. Genre

(PC)Ephesians is in the form of a letter. The form of Pauline letters is: Opening, Thanksgiving or Blessing, Body, Paraenesis, and Closing. Our pericope falls within the paraenesis of the letter, the ethical instruction based on the previous materials in the Body of the letter. The imperatives in verses 8, 11 (two imperatives), and 14 (two imperatives) are clues that this section is paraenetic. These are injunctions regarding community behavior. Paul often uses traditional materials in his paraenesis, and thus we have a hymn fragment in verse 14, which is set off by dio legw. There is considerable speculation regarding the source of the hymn - there are reverberations of Isaiah 60:1 and 26:19 - but most scholars consider the fragment as part of an early Christian baptismal hymn.

It is also possible to read Ephesians utilizing classical Greek rhetorical categories: exordium, narratio, exhortatio, and peroratio. In this case, our pericope falls within the exhortatio, which draws out the implications of the narratio. It is certainly true that Ephesians has a definite rhetorical strategy, and these categories may help us analyze the movement of the argument contained therein.

(CB) Although only seven verses in length, there appear to be several genre at play in the subject pericope. Overall, it appears to be one of instruction, bordering on an urgent plea or exhortation to do the things that are good, or of the light, now that one is "in the Lord." Similarly, the text speaks to counter the earlier vices of darkness, those of the "sons of disobedience" listed in the preceding pericope. Finally, the ending of the pericope is offset in the Nestle-Aland text, thus indicating its probable use as a hymn or other liturgical speech. If this pericope is considered in the overall context as a message of instruction, the liturgical piece could be one, perhaps learned as part of a baptismal catechesis, that reminds "those in the Lord" what it means to be faithful to that commitment.
It should be noted that the author of Ephesians uses contrasting imagery to make his or her point. Of interest is the use of light verses dark and fruit verses unfruitful. These literary devices will be explored in further theological detail in Step IV, Historical Context.

B. Personal Interaction

(CB)Why does the author say that we were once "darkness" verses "in darkness" or "in the dark?" Is this a quality of humanity's inherent character verses the workings of culture? Is it both?

What does it mean to walk in the light? What was that about then? What does that look like today?

Can it be said that the light is meant to be Christological? Why doesn't the author use "Christ" instead of Lord?

What is the significance of the light/dark imagery? Does it follow the Johannine understanding or is there more packed into the imagery?

Why does the lectionary exclude the preceding pericope, beginning in verse 3, that provides the laundry list of the "sons of disobedience?" Is it too messy for the contemporary audience? Do we put on blinders to the culture that surrounds us?

What is going on with the fruit/unfruitful language, especially as it appears to be tied to the positive virtues of good, righteousness, and truth?

How do we know what is pleasing to the Lord? How can we speak for God?

What does the author mean by exposing the unfruitful works of darkness? Is it enough to pull back the layers or is this a confrontational invitation? Is there a corollary between attitude and action implied? Do our actions speak louder than our words?

Is a lifestyle that embraces goodness, righteousness, and truth enough to expose the darkness?" Why is it shameful even to speak of the things they do in secret?

What does it mean that anything that becomes visible is light? Is this a reference to revelation, where there is an instant where the veil is pulled back and we may be invited to view the mystery of God?

What is the purpose and meaning of verse 14? Where did it come from? What are the parallels, if any? How do sleep and death and Christ and light fit together?

C. Organization

(CB)As with any exegetical undertaking, there are more questions raised in the text than can be adequately addressed. Many of these questions are questions of Context to be explored in Step IV of this paper. The contextual issues to be explored include Primitive Christianity, Old Testament and Judaism, and the Hellenistic World. Specifically, questions regarding light verses dark imagery will be explored throughout the history of tradition for its theological relevance to the audience to whom it was intended.

| Return to Gospel text listings | Return to Epistle text listings |
| Return to Old Testament listings | Return to Psalm listings |
| User response form |