Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ephesians: Paul's Pronouns

Whilst studying in Ephesians, I've started to ask myself about the significance of Paul's pronouns in chapters 1 and 2. The en w kai umeis (in whom you also) of 1:13 is a significant feature, as is the en ois kai hmeis (among them we also) in 2:3, and also in 2:11 umeis ta ethne en sarki (you the Gentiles in the flesh).

Paul predominantly uses first person pronouns for 1:3-12; then second person for 1:13-18. He uses second person for 2:1-2, then first person for 2:3-10, then second person for 2:11-13. In Chapter 2, it is clear that to some degree the second person pronoun refers to Gentile believers. The big question is then, does the use of first person and second person pronouns in chapter 1 and the early part of chapter 2 then distinguish between Jews and Gentiles?

If so, Paul's argument looks like this:
  • God chose a people (Israel) before the foundation of the world (1:3, an expansion of a key OT truth),
  • who were predestined to adoption as sons (1:5, where adoption is seen as an eschatological privilege under the New Covenant, as it seems to be elsewhere in Paul),
  • and who received the revelation of God's will, plan and purpose (through the Law and the Prophets), with a view to (1:10 a key phrase surely) an administration suitable to the fulness of the times (this could be eschatologically conceived as the coming of the Kingdom of God with the revelation of the Messiah).
  • Thus Paul speaks of we who were the first to hope in Messiah (1:12).
Paul then goes on to explain in 1:13-14 that the Gentiles in Asia Minor have received these blessings after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of their salvation.

Isn't this the kind of argument that you might expect to precede Paul's main point in 2:13-22, that Gentiles have been incorporated into blessings which were first for the Jews, to create one new household? Then 2:1-3 also makes sense under this scheme, especially kai hmeis...ws kai oi loipoi (we too...even as the rest) in 2:3. Could 2:1-2 refer to Gentiles, 2:3 referring to Jews?

As I say, I'm starting to ask these questions and there are difficulties with such an exegesis. It could be that Paul has a more fluid thought, using pronouns interchangeably - but I have my doubts about this. I've had some discussion with Dr Mike Bird on this. Although the exegesis might be more nuanced, would there be any wider impact? The idea that salvation is first to the Jew then the Gentile is key to Paul - perhaps the main impact would be that we, as Gentiles, would need to take greater heed of the truth that we have been ingrafted into the cultivated olive tree of Israel.