|Ephesians: A Theological Commentary on the Bible|
|Written by ANDY NAGEL|
|Tuesday, 26 June 2012 17:12|
Ephesians: A Theological Commentary on the Bible
by Allen Verhey and Joseph S. Harvard
Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky. 291 pages
reviewed by ANDY NAGEL
In “Working the Angles,” Eugene Peterson warns against exegeting like an overzealous surgeon who “makes the cuts with precision … [and] points out interesting anatomical details to the attendants around the table … He is absorbed in his work, and obviously good at it. All in all it is an impressive performance, but … the poor patient, by the time he has been sewn up, has been a long time dead on the table.”
Pastors and church members know all too well the kind of interpretive work that ends up leaving the living Word of God dead on the table, dissected by various tools of criticism. For this reason, today we are seeing a welcome renaissance of commentaries that aim to be self-consciously theological and ecclesial in approach. However, if the historical-critical risk is to operate on the biblical text like a surgeon whose interest in the details kills the patient, the risk for theological commentaries is that the Scripture is treated as a springboard, a leaping-off point on the way to other observations, ultimately leading the reader away from sustained attentiveness to the text. On balance, this commentary errs on the side of the springboard.
This is not to suggest that there is not much within it that is edifying and worthwhile. Allen Verhey, professor at Duke Divinity School, and Joseph Harvard, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Durham, N.C. — co-authors of this volume in a series of theological commentaries on the books of the Bible — rightly remind us that Ephesians is not only to be read and understood, but it is also to be performed, serving both as Scripture and as “script” for lives of faithfulness.
The ethics of Ephesians are declared to be no less binding (and freeing) than the theology: “The imperatives are not the imposition of some alien duties; they are the gospel, the power of God taking hold of lives and of the common life. They too are gospel.” Verhey and Harvard keep in central focus Ephesians’ great themes of unity, Christ’s cosmic victory and the overcoming of earthly hostilities. All this is commendable.
Still, if the themes are addressed adequately, this volume tends to lead us away from the details of the text rather than into a deeper engagement with them. In the end, one wonders when the letter to the Ephesians is taken to affirm an overall outlook commonly held by the author and audience (well-educated, mainline Protestant).
Surgery can be helpful, and springboards have their place, but in theological commentaries we need sustained attention to the complexities of the text itself.
ANDY NAGAL is associate pastor of Neelsville Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Md.