Cracking the book

I bought a great big book some months ago that I have not opened until today, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. The main content of the book runs over a thousand pages. I read the material on Ephesians, a whopping 10 pages, written by Frank Thielman.

Even within his introductory remarks, Thielman provides some helpful remarks. He picks up on some of the softer allusions Paul makes to Genesis and to New Creation prophecies in Isaiah and Psalms. I had been searching to “place” Paul’s thought and this is precisely what I was looking for. Paul’s main teaching is not fact or theology of the New Creation, but the context of his thought surely is the New Creation.

In a way this is almost a truism, since to talk to Christians or about Christian living you must, in some sense, be speaking in the context of the New Creation. But when you become mindful of the New Creation, and its nature–not fully present yet, established by God through Christ–you have the very antidote to what was frustrating me in the Sunday school. There, the Christian life is taught as the fulfillment or completion of God’s saving work. But, mindful of God’s New Creation, we see the Christian life as a herald of the fulfillment of God’s saving work. They are very different things; for the first perspective gives us the opportunity to let God down, where the second perspective gives us the chance to lift God up in praise.

On another point, Thielman noted that “Jewish interpreters of Scripture in the Second Temple period believed that Adam’s right to rule the world had been transferred to Israel.” This immediately made me think of Joseph’s vision of the sun and stars bowing to him, and the similiar picture in Revelation of the woman with the garland of stars. I guess there is nothing new in comparing Christ to Adam, but what struck me is the dominion of creation as being part of the hope and the promise which his people inherit.

The largest scholastic controversey Thielman had to deal with was Paul’s modification of the Psalm he quotes to read “[He] gave gifts to men” (where the original reads “You received gifts from men”). Thielman mainly shows that the proposed explanations are weak; the alteration significantly changes the meaning of the phrase from it’s original use. (It would appear to me that Paul has essentially condensed vv. 19 and 20 onto the end of v. 18.) But in this discussion Thielman several times mentions the imagery of God moving from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion within the Psalm, and to me that opened up interesting possiblities about what Paul is working from when he says that the one who ascended is also the one who first descended into the lower parts of the earth–the parts lower than Mt. Sinai, if you accept the imagery.

This then brings into the Psalm a prophetic suggestion of a movement from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. There is first a remembrance of the mighty power of God revealed in the Egyptian exodus, and then a description of his even greater work whereby he overthrows the whole world. And this kind of thought is very familiar to Paul’s other writings.

Altogether I thought the commenatary was refreshing and shed some real light on what Paul was thinking on in his letter. It’s taken me a long time to open the book, but now that I have I am glad I own it.