Ephesians. An Exegetical Commentary

By Harold W. Hoehner
Grand Rapids : Baker (2002). xxix + 930 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
14.1 (Spring 2003) : 122-124

 This monumental work which displays probing exegesis and awareness of scholarly opinion on Ephesians joins and surpasses, at least in detail, highly contributive commentaries by Peter O’Brien, Andrew Lincoln, and the 868 pages of Markus Barth. Hoehner, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary where he has taught for more than three decades, argues for Paul as the author and for including “in Ephesus” in 1:1. He writes fully on each verse with penetrating analysis and copious footnotes that draw from a massive range of expertise throughout the Christian era, including primary linguistic works and other firsthand sources.

Hoehner’s fairness to views and arguments combine with readable clarity and an adept use of such items as context, word study, grammar, setting, and customs. His work results from several trips for study abroad, a 33-page doublecolumn entry in the Bible Knowledge Commentary (1983-85), and persevering research. His drive to “turn every stone” for evidence is plain as he weighs opinions and gives seasoned logic.

Besides the introduction and commentary, excursuses probe the destination in 1:1 (“in Ephesus”), views and structure of 1:3-14, “in Christ,” election, pleroma, “mystery,” the household code, and slavery in Paul’s day. Hoehner lists commentaries, even a special bibliography on authorship (114-30), but omits a longer bibliography because it would have added another hundred pages. Other features include historical quotes on the greatness of the epistle among Paul’s writings (1-2), support for Pauline authorship with answers to six major objections, problems such as fraud in the view of a pseudonymous author, a 10-page chart on how 390 works since 1519 viewed authorship, and sections on the history of Ephesus and seven theological emphases.

On each verse, Hoehner includes the Greek wording, English rendering, then comments on each word or phrase. Explanations on 1:1-2 show why Paul could know people at Ephesus, not mention personal relations, and write the letter even when 1:15 refers to having heard of their faith and love (140-41). Attention to grammar is meticulous, as o n sealing in 1:13 -14. Hoehner relates sealing to God’s ownership of believers, who belong to Him as His heritage, as in 1:11.

Here is a sampling of other well-supported views. “Spirit” rather than “spirit” is meant in 1:17; inheritance in 1:18 is God’s, but in 1:14 that of the saints; in 1:23 God’s fullness is filling Christ and the church; in 2:8b, the demonstrative pronoun in “and that not of yourselves” refers back to 2:4-8a and more particularly 2:8a, salvation by grace through faith (Hoehner cites the demonstrative in 1:15 referring back to 1:13-14, and other examples); “mystery” in 3:3, not known by men at all in OT times but now made known is the truth that God unites saved Jews and Gentiles into one body without Gentiles having (as in OT days) to become Jews to belong (433-34). Hoehner has five supports, e.g., the “mystery” was formerly “hidden” (3:9), and a clear parallel in Col 1:26 has “but” instead of “as” in Eph 3:5.

The following are other views of the author. In 3:19 “filled up to all the fullness of God” has the preposition eis (“toward”) denoting movement toward a goal, here the goal of knowing the love of Christ. Yet saints never are as filled as God, and never are God. “Captives” (4:8) are, in biblical usage, enemies over whom God is victor (cf. Psalm 68). Captives in Ephesians 4 are Christ’s enemies (Satan, sin, death), not captives of Satan who now are redeemed captives of Christ. A text by Paul that Hoehner might include but does not is Col 2:15. The “lower parts of the earth” (Eph 4:9) are earth’s lower parts, the grave, where Christ was before ascending. In “arise from the dead” (5:14), Hoehner does not favor allusion to an OT verse (e.g., Isa 26:19; 60:1). Rather Paul refers to an early hymn of Christians about repentance/encouragement, relevant to deliverance from a walk in darkness, and rising from dead ness to walk in Christ’s light. Hoehner needs to clarify, for he says that if “believers” continue in darkness (cf. 5:3-7), they will go into eternal wrath (vv. 5-6). Since God seals genuine believers (1:13-14; 4:30) to the day of future redemption, a true believer is secure from eternal wrath. If not, this would entail a loss of salvation by continuing in sin. Church-related people who face eternal wrath are merely professing believers, not genuine. Hoehner in 5:18a sees the present imperative prohibition (“do not be drunk”) not as meaning to stop drunkenness indulged, but as not permitting drunkenness to be a habit. The believer’s behavior is to be filled (controlled) with the Holy Spirit (v. 18b).

On 6:14-17, Hoehner sees the six parts of armor in a subjective sense, a practical living of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, safety from the devil’s wiles, and the Spirit’s empowering with the Word. Prayer in vv. 18-20 is not an added part of armor but vital in all armor to gain supernatural help.

In long works, especially of this great bulk, proofing slips can occur. A few are: p. 23, “It must concluded . . .”; p. 29, “but not to enough to discount authenticity”; p. 38, “chose” in place of “choose”; p. 837, armor to “be able stand.” Tributes on jacket flaps and back cover are by recognized scholars, Clinton Arnold, E. Earle Ellis, Frank Thielman, Martin Hengel, Graham Stanton, Doug Moo, Ralph Martin, Ernest Best, Frederick Danker, I. H. Marshall, Max Turner, and Donald Hagner. A rich use of this longest exegetical commentary ever done on Ephesians will help diligent teachers, pastors, students, and lay readers to reason through issues. The price, at first prohibitive for some, is much more manageable when one watches for discounts.