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

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(GG/RR)This section looks at the New Testament parallels looking for similarities and differences.

The outer margins of the Nestle-Aland Text lists several parallel passages to the pericope of Ephesians 5: 8-14. John 12:36, Galatians 5:22, Romans 12: 1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:9 and 4:2, and John 3:20-21. John 12:36 tells us to "trust in the light while you have it so that you may become sons of light." This parallels Ephesians 5:8 that tells us to live as children of the light avoiding the darkness.

Galatians 5:22 says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This parallels and expands verse 9 and tells us that the light is actually the Spirit. The Greek word that is used for light is the word for Spirit. Verse 10 of the pericope reveals that having the fruit of the Spirit one can find out what it means to please the Lord. Romans 12: 1-2, states that to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God is an act of spiritual worship. By refusing to conform to the world one is transformed into a life of renewal.

John 3: 20-21 says that living by the truth brings us into the light where we can see God and all God has done through us. If we are evil, we hate the light because in it our deeds will be exposed. This parallels verse 13 and explains what visibility in the light means.

(CB)By looking to the outer margins of the Nestle-Aland text, one notes several references to other New Testament documents, six of which are strongly indicative of a common theme or expression, five of which I will address. For example, Eph. 5:8, the imperative is given to "walk as children of light" (w`j te,kna fwto.j peripatei/te). In the John text, the audience is encouraged to believe in the light while they still have the light in order that they may become "sons of the light" (i[na ui`oi. fwto.j ge,nhsqe).

In a second example, Eph. 5:9 is shown to have a strong parallel Galatians 5:22. In the subject text, discussion concerns the fruit (karpo.j) of the light being found in all goodness (avgaqwsu,nh|). In the Galatians text, we hear reference to the fruit of the Spirit (see textual criticism comments), of which goodness is included.

In regard to Eph. 5:10, two strong parallels are cited: Rom. 12:2 and II Cor. 5:9. The Ephesians texts encourage the reader/hearer to test what is pleasing to the Lord (dokima,zontej ti, evstin euva,reston). Similarly, Romans 12:2, one that also advocates living a transformed life, the reader is encouraged to test the will of God and determine what is good (dokima,zein u`ma/j ti, to. qe,lhma tou/ qeou/( to. avgaqo.n). In the II Corinthian text, one hears "whether one is at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (euva,restoi auvtw/| ei=nai).

Finally, in regards to the liturgical speech or hymn of Eph 5:14, a similar thematic element is found in Romans 13:11 when we are told that we know it is time to awaken from sleep because salvation is near. The liturgical piece in Ephesians uses the imperative for the sleeping ones to raise up out of the dead and "Christ will shine on you."

Andrew T. Lincoln, in the Word Bible Commentary: Ephesians, asserts that this is part of a baptismal hymn whereby the reader/hearer is reminded of the "summons and promise they received at baptism" (331). At the beginning of the letter, the author of Ephesians, the reader/hearer emphasizes the sovereignty of God and God's accomplishment of salvation for humanity. As a baptismal hymn, the reader remembers anew the power of the light, their transformation, their new status, and the ethical implications that result from the new life. Baptism is a significant moment. "… [I]t may will be that the call of the first two lines should now be understood not simply as issuing from the congregation to the newly baptized convert but as echoing God's call (emphasis mine, 331). Their baptism , then, signified a movement from the sleep of spiritual death into the light of life in response to the divine call." Though both divine and human agency are understood to be in relationship, it is through God's initiative that humanity is awakened and is called to respond to the divine imperative.

As a final note, though other traditions, such as the mystery religions and those of Gnostic thought, use similar concepts for initiatory rites or other instruction, Lincoln maintains that the that the early Christian heritage, the Old Testament, and Judaism provide the contextual background for this piece (332). Therefore, I will next turn to the Old Testament and Judaism for further insight.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(GG/RR)This section looks at the Old Testament parallel listings found in the Nestle-Aland text and examines the similarities and differences.

There are no parallel Old Testament listings for this pericope. However, I found a parallel listing in the Oxford Annotated Bible of Isaiah 26:19 for verse 14 of the pericope. Isaiah 26:19 says, " But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead." This pericope shows the prophecy that Ephesians 5: 14 fulfills. The parallel in Ephesians says, Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." It is Christ that is the light, the Spirit. The prophecy in Isaiah 26:19 promises us life after death, and tells us to "wake up and shout for joy". A new day, a new morning, a new life awaits you. Ephesians tells us that Christ, the light, the Spirit, is the one in whom the prophecy will be fulfilled.

(CB)The Nestle-Aland text is uncommonly silent on Old Testament parallels for this pericope. However, Strack and Billerbeck cite three references in the Mishnah that pertain to Eph. 5:14, of which Berakoth 58a and Sanhedrin 71b appear to be the best textual parallels. In Berakoth, the conversation begins, "If one sees a crowd of Israelites, he should say: Blessed is He who discerneth secrets. If he sees a crowd of heathens, he should say: Your mother shall be ashamed, etc.. Our Rabbis taught: If one sees a crowd of Israelites, he says, Blessed is He who discerneth secrets, for the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other" (359). This passage appears to better tie into the pericope of 5:11-13, however, more than to 5:14. In these passages, discussion centers on the things done in secret as being shameful and of the obligation of the reader/hearer to expose the deeds of darkness.

In the Sanhedrin conversation, the discussion centers on the dualism that exists between the wicked and the righteous and the implications of their relationship to the world. The case being discussed concerns a "stubborn and rebellious son" who is "tried on account of his ultimate destiny: Let him die innocent and let him not die guilty." The text reads: "For the death of the wicked benefits themselves and the world; of the righteous injures themselves and the world. Wine and sleep of the wicked benefit themselves and the world; of the righteous injure themselves and the world. The scattering of the wicked benefits themselves and the world; of the righteous, injures themselves and the world. The assembling of the wicked injures themselves and the world; of the righteous, benefits themselves and the world. The tranquility of the wicked injures themselves and the world; of the righteous, benefits themselves and the world (488).

In other words, when the wicked are drinking/sleeping and are scattered, their opportunity to do evil is diminished, and so forth, while on the contrary, for the righteous, the opposite is true. Though the author of Ephesians does not embrace the concept of "destiny," it is clear that there are practices or deeds that are good and those that are "of darkness." Again, the parallel best fits the pericope beginning in 5:11; however, the notion of drunkenness being tied to "sleep," of even of "ignorance" (cf. 5:8), seems one that has compelling implications for 5:14.

C. Hellenistic World

(GG/RR)I could find no reference to the Hellenistic World in the sources.

(CB)In The Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament, Boring, et. al. do not offer specific parallels to the Ephesians pericope. However, there are references to "the good," "light," and other literature regarding conversion and initiation that are relevant to this exercise. As a parallel to John 4:24, a reference to Epicetus, Discourses, 2.8.1 (55-135 CE) is given. In this discourse we see that "God is helpful; but the good also helpful. It would seem, therefore, that the true nature of the good will be found to be where we find that of God to be" (Boring, 265). In describing the attributes of God, Epicetus proclaims that the nature of God is intelligence, knowledge, and right reason, attributes in which the author of Ephesians implores of his or her audience (cf. 4:13, 5:15, etc). Epicetus, in his Stoic understanding of the universe, suggests that one, therefore, seek the true nature of the good" through one's knowledge and reason, which is part and parcel of the immanent, intelligent ordering of the universe (265).

In a Qumran text, 1QS 1:9-10, the Book of the Community Rule (2-1 BCE), we hear,
"Seek God… do what is good and right before [God}…; love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God's design, and hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in God's vengeance. (Vermes)" (B, 60).

Though used as reference to Mt. 5:43 in which Jesus gives a new understanding of love - for neighbor as well as enemy, "sons of light" as well as the command to do "good and right before [God]" seem to be a significant parallel for the Ephesians text, as well. In the verses that follow in Matthean text, the audience, implored to love their enemy that they may therefore be "sons of your Father in heaven." In the Qumran community of which the NT parallel is given, "children of light," according to Boring, are understood to be the members of the Qumran community (B, 60). "Children of darkness" includes everyone else (B,60)!

Finally, as a reference to John 5:21, 24, Boring cites a passage from Joseph and Asenth, 8:10-11. Though considered under the Hellenistic portion of this paper, the editor notes that this document is indicative of the Judaic threads that run through the New Testament. The document reads:

[The prayer of Joseph in 8:9-11:] Lord God of my father Israel, the Most High, the Powerful One of Jacob, who gave life to all [things] and called [them] from the darkness to the light, and from the error to the truth, and from the death to the life; you, Lord, bless this virgin, and renew her by your spirit, and from her anew by your hidden hand, and make her alive again by your life, and let her eat your bread of life, and drink your cup of blessing…(OTP 2:213).
Boring goes on to cite 15:5 of the same book:
Behold, from today, you will be renewed and formed anew and made alive again, and you will eat blessed bread of life, and drink a blessed cup of immortality, and anoint yourself with blessed ointment of incorruptibility (OTP 2:226).
In this way, there is indication that the pericope lends itself as a conversion/initiation ritualistic piece, "understood as a rebirth…" but which was formulated into "biblical language and thought" (B, 269). In the John text, Jesus speaks of death and new life in the Father. The parallel cited speaks of:

"being created anew and of being called into a new life, and is therefore at least analogous to being called 'out of death and into life.' All this characterizes initiation not only as a decisive turning point, but represents it as an encounter with God who, wherever one meets [God], works exclusively as the one who gives new life to the dead" (B, 269).

Therefore, in light of the language and theme, there appears to be a direct liturgical/theological tie to the Ephesians subject pericope.

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