The missional purpose of the letter to the Ephesians
Van Aarde, Timothy Alexander
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The thesis reports an investigation of the letter to the Ephesians, on the hypothesis that the letter has a missionary purpose, presenting a missionary strategy for the church. A survey of the data regarding the letter’s socio-historic context brought to light that although the society in Ephesus and Asia Minor was basically Greek, the Jewish component of the population was constantly increasing. The church in Ephesus featured an almost opposite composition: it basically consisted of Jewish members with an ever increasing number of Gentile believers. Since mission to the Gentiles did not form part of the Jewish thinking, Paul wrote his letter i.e. to convince his (Jewish) readers that they had a mission calling regarding the Gentiles and to accept Gentile believers equally as part of the body of Christ. An analysis of the letter contents, according to its structural built-up, confirms that the letter contains such a missionary purpose. The apostle’s strategy towards convincing his readers of their mission calling features a number of arguments, often rooted in the Old Testament, to convince his Jewish readers. In these arguments the terms οἰκονομία, musterion and diakonia in the letter take a central position. First the apostle argues that the missionary task of the apostles and of the church is part God’s plan of redemption for mankind. The concept of οἰκονομία (Eph 1:10; 3:2; 3:9) is central to God’s plan. In the letter is revealed that the plan (οἰκονομία) of God consists of different phases. The first phase was that mystery (musterion) of God’s grace in Christ was made known to Paul (Eph 3:2-7). Paul in turn made known the mystery to the Church according to the diakonia that God gave to the apostles (Eph 3:8-10). The Church in turn was to make known the mystery to the nations (Eph 3:11-13The mystery of God’s plan includes that through the preaching of the gospel the nations and ethnic groups are included with the Jewish believers into the body of Christ – united in one body. Thus united into one body, the preaching of the gospel to the nations takes place through the individual members of the Church (3:10; 4:1-5:20). For this mission Dei the church is equipped by the preaching of the words by those appointed for this task (diakonia) (Eph 4:11-16). The ethical and moral transformation of individual believers was the goal of mission and also part of the execution of the mission Dei (cf. Eph 4:17-5:20). The role of the individual believer in the missio Dei begins with inner transformation (Eph 4:22-25) and the simultaneous transformation of social relationships and social structures, as i.e. portrayed in the household codes (Eph 5:20-6:9), which have a missional intent and purpose. The Holy Spirit is the source of the energy and power for transformation of social relationships and social structures (Eph 2:18, 22; 5:16-19). Thus the execution of God’s οἰκονομία for the salvation of mankind has a definite Trinitarian basis: the church is called by God to be united in the one body of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the mission Dei. This strategy, as presented in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians constitutes a sound starting point for the church in its mission to a multi-cultural society today.
- Theology