The Holy Spirit and the Disciple in Ephesians, Part 1
I am dismayed from time to time how easily some dismiss the testimony of the "word" they seek to uphold ... especially about the Holy Spirit.
I will attempt to offer a more detailed study of Ephesians to show what Paul says about the Spirit. According to Paul, the Spirit actually works in the life of a Christian and that Spirit is not limited to, or chained, the written word.
I realize this will be a lengthy post so I beg your indulgence. Many offer all kinds of arguments devoid of serious exegetical study to cast aside the plain teaching of the NT that the Spirit lives and works in the lives of disciples. He does so in multiple ways, through the word and without. It is my prayer that my series of studies will encourage and bless you.
The Spirit and Prayer in Ephesians 1.15-23
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in all my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you teh Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, for above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come . . .” (Ephesians 1.15-21, NIV).
Ephesians is surely the crown jewel in Paul's halo. Romans is often seen as the greatest of Paul’s letters but Ephesians certainly cannot be far behind. From a purely human point of view I actually enjoy reading Ephesians more than Romans. The Letter’s emphasis on Grace is great, its call to unity is needed as ever and its concern for the sanctified life is certainly something the church needs to pay more attention to. Ephesians has long complicated sentences that are pregnant with meaning.
THE PURPOSE OF EPHESIANS (i.e. Why was Ephesians Written)?
There is general agreement among scholars that the destination of “Ephesians” was the Roman province of Asia (“Ephesus” is a textual variant and is missing in p46, Origen, Sinaiticus and others). Ephesus was the principle city of Roman Asia and exerted great influence on the lives of both non-Christians and Christians in that area. Its social environment will help explain some key phrases regarding the Holy Spirit in Ephesians (though some, unbelievably, have denigrated the importance of historical context we believe it is of the utmost importance in hearing the apostle’s words).
When we spend more than a casual amount of time with Ephesians, with an eye to its first century setting, three distinct concerns (or themes) of Paul become evident and seem to dominate the Letter. FIRST, is the passion of Paul’s life, the Gentile mission. How God has reconciled and brought together, by his grace, both Jews and Gentiles into a NEW HUMANITY is a key concern of Paul’s -- this is the ultimate expression of God’s redeeming work in Christ. SECOND has to do with Christ’s victory over the “powers” for the sake of the Church, with the Holy Spirit playing a key role in our participation in that victory. The THIRD finds expression in the last half of the book (4-6 and reflects his concern with #1: the “Ephesians” are to maintain the “unity of the Spirit” by the way they “walk” with God.
Spirit language abounds in Ephesians for the Spirit in the Christian is the sine qua non of Christian existence.
The Significance of the “seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (1.13-14)
Paul announces at the close of a great thanksgiving (this is a single long sentence, vv. 3-14). that God is at work! God has done great work on our behalf. God continues to do great work on our behalf. That in a nutshell is what the thanksgiving is all about: We are here because of God’s choice, action, and grace and not our own (there is not one single solitary human action in vv. 3-14 indeed there is none in the entire first half of the book through 4.1 with the exception of 2.10). At the conclusion Paul makes one last and very significant comment we -- Christians -- have been “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.”
The image of a “seal” is very important. “Seals” were very significant in the ancient world for a variety of reasons. Seals “authenticate,” “certify,” “mark.” Seals were also for “protection.” Most generally readily grasp the significance of the “seal” as a mark of certification or authentication (See Baur-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich [=BDAG, 3rd Edition], p.980). These concepts are in our word but do not exhaust the meaning, nor the primary reason Paul chose the word “sphragis.” The choosing of this word relates back to the second major theme of Paul in the Letter -- concern for Christ’s victory over the “powers.” “Seals” in the common populace of the first century had a far more important function (to them) then business and that was their association with protection from the spirit world, fate, and magic. Ephesus was a hot-bed of magic, exorcistic, and superstition. We see this in Acts 19. 11-16, 19, 23-41.
Archeologists and historians have taught us a great deal about the common religion among those in Ephesus. The proverbial “Ephesian Letters” were magical letters that girded the crown, the girdle and the feet of the image of Artemis/Diana. These letters were often spoken or copied onto an “amulet” or “seal” and carried around by a person seeking to ward of the demonic powers [Everett Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pp. 177-183 has a nice section on magic and fate highlighting Ephesus. See also Rodney Thomas’s “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus” Restoration Quarterly 43 (2001): 155-166 makes extensive use of archeological information to inform our understanding of Eph. 1.13-14].
Here is the situation. You have a group of predominantly Gentle Christians (though magic was by no means limited to the Gentiles as Acts 19’s story of the sons of Sceva amply demonstrates) who live in a world pervaded with fear of the supernatural world. The world was not a friendly place in the eyes of common ordinary folk. It is no accident that Paul uses the word “SEAL” -- a word that meant certify in business transactions or mark authentic and declared ownership -- but to the ordinary folk it meant PROTECTION! Paul is saying that the Ephesians, and you and I, do not have to go through the magical arts to seek defense against the spiritual war going on around us: God has given his seal to protect us. Christians are PROTECTED by the Spirit -- in Christ we have no fear of the “powers.” This dual role of authentication and protection is a cardinal teaching of Paul on the Spirit who lives with in us.
Next Paul says that the Spirit is an “arrabon” (“deposit” or “earnest” or “first installment” or “pledge”) of our inheritance. “Arrabon” is a commercial term meaning “payment of part of purchase price in advance . . . which secures the legal claim to the article in question . . . arrabon is a payment that obligates the contracting party to make further payments.” (BDAG, p.134).
This again is important both for the Ephesians, us, and current discussions. The Holy Spirit himself is given by God the Father as a “pledge” to Christians. It is not some representative or gift the Spirit bestows rather the Spirit of God himself -- the Spirit who was promised has been given to Gentile Christians -- indeed all Christians. Indeed in modern Greek “arrabon” has come to mean something like an engagement ring. For Gentile readers this is very important because it shows that the promise of the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible included them. The Spirit is given to us in anticipation of the greater intimacy of the eschaton.
E. J. Goodspeed’s The New Testament: An American Translation captures well the meaning of Paul:
“you have been marked with the seal of the holy Spirit that was promised, which is the advance installment of our inheritance, so that we may get full possession of it; and praise his glory for it” (Eph. 1.13-14, Goodspeed).
Paul’s pastoral concern for his readers leads him to use terminology they are very familiar with and could easily comprehend. They know the symbolism of sealing so the apostle begins his instruction on the Spirit by using a potent symbol of the Holy Spirit himself. We have been SEALED in the Holy Spirit. God DEPOSITED his Spirit IN US as a guarantee of our inheritance. He did this to bring glory to his name.
What a fitting conclusion to a thanksgiving (or “berakah”) that glorifies the Father for his work. He not only chose us, adopted us, predestined us, redeemed us, he also has given us a the Holy Spirit as our seal of ownership and protection and as a pledge that we will have our full inheritance. Now that is something to give “praise to his glory” about! The opening of v. 15 links back to vv. 3-14 so it was important to look at this section “briefly.”
In the next installment we will continue our reflection on Ephesians 1 and make some concrete observations of what the text says about the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of disciples. I thank God for the "Christmas" present of the indwelling and active Spirit.