Thomas M. Winger
Concordia Publishing House 895pp hbk £40
St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, surely, appeals to Catholics as one of the most illuminating of his Epistles. In it, Marriage is related to Christ and his Church, thus beautifully illuminating both Ecclesiology and Matrimony. We read of the breaking down of the wall of division between Jew and Gentile, which makes the Catholic Church the One New Temple of God. In an age in which gender, apparently, is up for grabs, Ephesians reminds us that all earthly Fatherhood is rooted in that of the One Father. We are moved by Paul’s argument as he moves from the unities of one Spirit, one body, one hope, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father, to the great vision of attaining to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. We learn about the cosmic battle in which we are currently engaged, against principalities, powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
But – there is a fly in this beautiful ointment. Although our laity (being simple folk) assume that this document is by Paul because it says it is, we clergy – with our professional training in the intricacies of Modern Biblical Studies – know far better. Modern scholarship has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ephesians is a piece of pseudepigraphy – that is, it says that it was written by an admirer of Paul and given his name so as to enhance its authority. With the confidence of a well-informed elite, we murmur knowingly about the ‘deuteropauline’ writings.
Nearly a century ago, Ronald Knox argued brilliantly in his satires that ‘Modern Biblical Scholarship’ is an emperor with a very dubious new suit. Thomas Winger has written a fine commentary on Ephesians which clinically detaches every stitch of clothing from the person of the posturing tyrant. It is a long commentary; but it is an essential point of reference for anybody who desires to take Pauline Studies seriously. Catholics may very occasionally feel that they have wandered into an unfamiliar world, because Dr Wingeris a confessional Lutheran unafraid of mentioning the Augsburg Confession – but not too often. In the divide between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘liberals’ which slices through the middle of all modern ecclesial bodies, Winger is on the side of the angels. His work will strengthen all biblical Christians in their adherence to the Holy Scriptures and their ability to be fed by them.
Pseudepigraphy? ‘Modern scholars’ chatter cheerfully about this as if it were a common convention of the first Christian centuries. Winger demolishes this nonsense with a deft exposition of a passage in Tertullian, and backs this up by a demonstration that when St Ignatius wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he deliberately followed and echoed Paul’s earlier letter to that Church. This proves that, when Ignatius wrote, the Ephesian Christians would recognise his allusions to the Letter, which they undoubtedly still kept in their Church Book Cupboard (cf Martin Hengel’s still important 2000 book on The Four Gospels); it also proves that in the early Christian world people did not need to resort to ‘pseudepigraphy’ in order to give authority to what they wrote. And it demonstrates that there are still things to be detected about the first century of the Church’s life which ‘Modern Biblical Scholarship’ failed to see because it was looking for the wrong things in the wrong places, and for the wrong motives.
Another breath of fresh air is provided by what Winger writes on ‘Orality’ – the function of written texts in a fundamentally ‘oral’ culture. In centuries long before the profound revolution initiated by the invention of printing, writing was not used as a replacement for speaking but as its companion and aid: as ‘the script for an oral production.’ This can be fundamental to a re-examination of what biblical texts really are. Loveday Alexander at Sheffield University picked up on this in the 1990s, and classicists like Rosalind Thomas have worked in the same field.
Of course, Winger does review all the old ‘problems,’ from the textual crux in the first verse to the relationship between the teaching Paul gives in Ephesians and what he writes in his other Letters. But this book is far from being a tired revisiting of old controversies. Readers will be very surprised how much new there is to say.