Purpose of the Studies—The Epistle is a Divine Scripture—Its genuineness and authenticity—Doubts on these points—Reply, and reflections on the subject.
in this and the following studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians a simple programme is before me. The purpose next my heart, in the whole series, has to do with exposition and devotion. To this sort of study our full attention will be given in the last four chapters, and not a little of it in the two preceding them. From these first it will not be felt to be absent, if the spirit and direction of thought is such as, under God, I would have it be. But the chief business of this chapter and the next will be to state and review some of the literary problems presented by the great Epistle. After this we shall attempt the discussion of its probable immediate occasion. There will then remain the work of more direct exposition, not of the Epistle as a whole, but of some of its greater topics. No words need be wasted over apologies for the inevitable imperfections of the treatment. Even in other hands than mine, eight chapters on the Ephesian Epistle must needs be fragmentary at the best.
Throughout the work may we be kept mindful, by the grace of God, what it is that we are studying. This writing is not only a document of human thought, of surpassing depth and elevation and moreover of consummate form. In it we are also in presence of 'the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.' Such from the first has this letter been to the Church of Christ; such it will be to it even to the end of days, unless the Church leaves the apostolic path for ventures and explorations without a warrant, and without a hope. The man who addresses us in these immortal pages was indeed a man; we shall trace at every turn his wonderful manhood of thought, feeling, and utterance. But then he is also everywhere the 'chosen vessel to bear his Lord's name.' Jesus Christ had gone about to mould this man, even in his days of acutest unbelief. Then at length, in open miracle, He conquered him and annexed him for His own; and then He mysteriously revealed Himself and His salvation to him; and then, as the goal of it all, He committed to him, in an unparalleled measure, the work of expounding His Gospel to the world. Did He who thus selected, and formed, and commissioned St Paul, leave him alone for one moment when he was actually engaged in the appointed work? Surely the Lord of the Prophets, whether of the Old Testament or of the New, did not deal with them as the old Deists would have us think that God deals with His creation. He did not make them, and mould them, and then let them run alone. Far different is the implication of those words, 'He that heareth you, heareth Me'; 'If they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also' (Luke 10:16; John 15:20).
So while we attend to the Epistle with all the literary insight that we can bring to it, and investigate its Pauline characteristics just as we should try to test the characteristics of a letter of Pliny's, or Bernard's, or Luther's, or Cowper's, we shall always look also on it as we should not look on those others. We shall listen to it as to the oracle of God, commanding our acceptance, and, exactly in proportion to that claim, sustaining our faith and our hope. Not all the noblest literature in the world, outside Scripture, were it rolled into one utterance, would have power to require our submission; nor therefore could it be the firm basis of our definite and final reliance. The Holy Scriptures have that power. And just there lies their everlasting difference from all other literature, actual or possible. In that remembrance comes the answer to many current confusions of thought which lurk, for instance, in loose and wandering uses of the term Inspiration. The question is one of authority. Only that word which has a right to command me has power, ultimate and adequate, to sustain me.
We approach this holy Scripture, then, as we would approach every other, above all things as the Word of God. To use the remarkable phrase of Gregory the Great, in his letter to Theodore, chief physician to the Emperor Maurice, on the duty and blessing of Bible study (Epistles, iv. xiii. 40), we come to 'learn God's heart in God's words,' cor Dei in verbis Dei. Yes, verba Dei, though also verba hominis. They are always, and as truly, 'man's words'; as truly, but not as importantly; not so as for one moment to disturb from its place the primary fact that they are the oracle of the Lord. So we thankfully use in this particular instance the words which we English pastors heard in the hour of our ordination. The Bishop then laid it upon the new presbyter 'continually to pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost, that by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures ye may wax riper and stronger in your ministry.' But now a few words on the literary preliminaries to our study; on authorship, date and destination.
The evidence of early Christian writers to the Pauline authorship of the Ephesians is, I hardly need say, ample and unbroken. Ignatius, probably, in his own Ephesian Letter, shows that he had this of Paul's before him. Irenæus certainly treats it as the unquestioned work of St Paul. 'The beatified Paul,' writes he in an interesting context (v. 2, 3), 'says, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, "We are His body's limbs, of His fleshy and of His bones"; speaking thus... of the Incarnation (οἰκονομία) of the true Man.' And again (in a passage, i. 1, 8, important as an aid in deciding the translation of Ephesians 5:13, πᾶν τό φανερούμενον), he writes that St John 'called the Life of men Light, because men have been enlightened by the Life, that is to say, formed and manifested by it. This too, Paul says, πᾶν γὰρ τὸ φανερούμενον φῶς ἐστίν: 'All,' so manifestly we should render, in the quotation, as in the Epistle, 'all that is being manifested (not "all that doth make manifest") is light' As the generations passed, the reception of the Epistle was, so far as we know, absolutely undisturbed. No whisper is to be heard of a suspicion, of an objection, as to its Pauline origin, amidst all the ample freedom of the early literary controversies of the kind. Renan himself (of whom more later) remarks that probably no New Testament book is more extensively quoted by early writers.
On the other hand modern students, from more than one point of view, have questioned or denied the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Baur of Tübingen, and more recently Holtz-mann, of Strasburg, and Renan, to mention only these eminent names, will have none of it. To the school of Tübingen it presents more than one difficulty. The supposed internecine conflict of 'Paulinism' and 'anti-Paulinism,' alleged to have raged all through and beyond the apostolic generation, is practically ignored by the Epistle to the Ephesians; and surely Paul was a loyal, if not an eager, Paulinist, and could not have been quite so peaceably silent! And then the 'powers' and 'æons' of the Epistle—are not these the true dialect of Gnosticism? So Ephesians could not have been written till the Gnostics had made head a long while. The Epistle, then, is an imitative expansion of Colossians, composed long after. Or it is a pseudo-Pauline writing, borrowing by the way from Colossians, or from some older and truer Epistle to Colossæ than that which we have hitherto called Colossians. So some of the Germans. Renan's objections are more of the literary kind. He is sure it is not St Paul's own work. But he thinks, with hesitation, that it may have been written under his eye, by Tychicus or by Timothy. Wonderful to say, he finds unmerciful fault with its composition. It is une épître banale, a third-rate sort of Epistle—'diffuse, nerveless, loaded with repetitions, entangled with foreign matter, full of pleonasms and confusion' (Saint Paul, p. xviii., etc.). Dr Salmon by the way (Introduction to N.T., p. 487), with his usual common-sense, not unmingled with humour, observes that 'questions of taste cannot be settled by disputation; but a critic may well distrust his own judgment if he can see no merit in a book which has had a great success. And I do not think that there is any New Testament book which we can prove to have been earlier circulated than this, or more widely esteemed.' Renan's literary instinct does not always thus fail him. It often leads him, on its own ground, straight to the conclusions of common sense across a maze of artificial difficulties which have led scholars less practised or less gifted as original writers to doubt where no doubt is. But as the Christian reads this curiously shallow and flippant critique on the Epistle to the Ephesians, and strives, amidst his pain and shame, to be just to the critic, he has not far to go for the reason of the failure Renan's penetration, and his feeling for literary form, are in their own way wonderful. But they are spoiled even for purely literary purposes by his absolute lack of sympathy with what we Christians mean by spiritual experience. His esprit, for all the vein of melancholy which gives it what depth it has, has no affinity with 'the Spirit.' He never can get beyond the thought, at best, of 'repose in an ideal.' And this blinds him to the conspicuous richness of contents and nobility of form of the Ephesian Epistle; for both contents and expression are full to overflow of the truths which issue from the glory of the Eternal Spirit Far different is the verdict of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in whom a true spiritual insight coincided with the special gifts of a philosopher and poet; 'The Epistle to the Ephesians,' says he (in Table Talk), 'is one of the divinest compositions of man.' And it is interesting to place beside this fervent utterance the deliberately expressed conclusion of the late Dr Hort: 'In Ephesians we find no tangible evidence against St Paul's authorship.... It bears the impress of his wonderful mind.' And we recall, too, the brief energy of Lightfoot's words: 'The attempt to question the authenticity of the Epistle is quite useless; it is thoroughly Pauline.'
Let me call in another honoured voice, long silent now, the voice of one who had truly steeped his mind in that of St Paul. 'To all the difficulties of authorship,' says Howson (Character of St Paul, p. 146, note), 'there is the one sweeping reply, that no one but St Paul could have been the writer.' And the reply is as pertinent, from the literary point of view, as it is certainly sweeping. Who could have been the writer, the writer of this long-acknowledged masterpiece of thought and soul, if not St Paul?
It was a piece of authorship certainly old when Irenæus lived. So it must have been produced within the first century, or only just outside it.
Who then, between the Apostles and Irenæus, was this man who wrote it? It must have been a personage in whom were united at once a large versatility of expression, a great power of close and suggestive reasoning, a heart capable of conceiving and expounding on the one hand the most rapturous views of the glory of Christ, and on the other hand of enforcing the homeliest details of Christian morals—(let us observe with the utmost attention that coincidence). And all this he possessed, on the hypothesis, along with a feeling for truth and honour so extremely low that he could set himself to construct his message under a false name, and to throw over it, or rather into it, the glamour of a personated experience and affection; with the apparent intention of an absolute and permanent concealment of himself; which, in effect, he has perfectly achieved. This would be an astonishing person at any age and in any region in the history of letters. But, on the hypothesis, this rare being was found within the narrow and comparatively uncultured circles of the primeval Church. A man with a fine genius for literary personation (although literary personation is an art which, if I do not mistake, has never been practised with anything like mature skill till quite modern times) must have existed then and there—and must have lain, in that small field, altogether invisible to his coevals. Aye, and a greater paradox still; he must have been at once a consummate fabricator (and has the public opinion of any age thought fabrication, for whatever ends, a thing to honour?) and a man capable of writing things about the work and glory of Christ, and the Christian's path of transparent righteousness, which have been ever since treasured as spiritual wealth by the Church of God. Is not the hypothesis of truth, and of St Paul, the more credible? And it is the only alternative.
I have dwelt at some little length on this point, not only for the sake of the immediate topic, but because it is a typical matter. In the present state of Scriptural study, under conditions often quite inevitable, and some of them beneficial, an intense critical attention is directed to the literary and historical minutiæ of the holy Books. Now this makes it often necessary to resolve with special decision not to forget the forest in its trees; to stand back deliberately, and to ask whether the passage, the chapter, the book, the Testament, in its total, answers to alleged unfavourable deductions from the details. It is necessary sometimes to remember, in a direction not always noticed, that the Book of God was written, whenever and wherever, by men; not instantly to draw the conclusion, which seems to be the first thought now when the human aspect of Scripture is in view, that humanum est errare. Rather, we have to remember that it is human to have a conscience and a heart; and that there are evidences of the soundness or otherwise of a writing which cannot be fully seen where that is forgotten.
Further, to repeat what has been hinted already, it seems to be forgotten sometimes that the personation of the past in fabricated narrative, and the personation of character and experience in fabricated compositions of other kinds, is, in the history of literature, a process which only the latest ages have developed into anything like commanding success; I mean the sort of success which will resist a simple literary scrutiny. Men of the keenest critical faculty in some directions, and with the amplest literary equipment, may yet however forget this. The evidence for date and authorship seems to be sometimes studied as if the whole matter were one of abstractions and unembodied principles, and as if no human soul, or souls, were in the midst of it. So in this instance; to criticize the credentials of the Epistle to the Ephesians without the gravest and most sympathetic thought upon the implied morale of the man, whoever he was, who wrote it, must ensure fallacies in the conclusion. It would be an instance of a species of idolon, which is, I think, by no means uncommon—the idolon bibliothecœ. To exorcise it, we must know the human soul, and use our knowledge. And also, where it haunts the precincts of religion, we must, to banish it indeed, know the God of the Prophets and the Apostles, and use our knowledge of Him in life.
—Grace and Godliness