July 12: Ephesians 2:18-22 (continued)

Ephesians 2:18-22, continued

Having discussed verses 18-22 in the wider context of vv. 11ff (and chaps. 1-3) in the previous note, today we will examine them in more detail. Verse 18 marks the climax of the exposition in this section, declaring that the unity of believers—Jews and Gentiles—is realized through the Spirit:

“…that through him the both (of us), in one Spirit, hold the way leading toward the Father.”
or, in a somewhat more literal rendering:
“…that through him we hold the way leading toward (Him)—the both (of us), in one Spirit—toward the Father”

To state the matter with more precision, the unity is realized through Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit. As I have mentioned repeatedly, from the Pauline standpoint, the Spirit means both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, and to be “in the Spirit” is the same as being “in Christ”. This reality of being “in the Spirit” also means that we hold, in and among us, the way “leading toward” the Father (cp. John 14:6).

In verse 19, the imagery shifts to that of a house (oi@ko$), utilizing the motif of a building—a constructed dwelling—as an illustration of this unity in the Spirit. Paul (or the author) continues alluding to the idea of the separation between Jews and Gentiles, prior to the saving work of Jesus, with the traditional contrast between the Israelite people and others (non-Israelites) who simply dwell among them. The common Hebrew term for the latter is rG@, with the comparable Greek word being pa/roiko$ (one who “houses [i.e. dwells] alonside”). This word is used in v. 19 along with ce/no$ (“foreigner, stranger”), and is contrasted with sumpoli/th$, one who lives “together with” other citizens/natives of the same city. Here is how this is phrased:

“So then, (now) no longer are you foreigners and (one)s housing alongside, but you are (resident)s together (in the) city of the holy (one)s, and (the) house-hold [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)

Believers are citizens of one city, and even belong to a single household. It is the city and house of God, residency shared by all the “holy ones” (a%gioi), both in heaven and on earth.

“(the) house (hav)ing been built upon the (foundation) set (down) of the apo/stoloi and the profh/tai, (the stone) at the top corner being (the) Anointed Yeshua himself” (v. 20)

The compound verb e)poikodome/w encapsulates the idea of a house (oi@ko$) being built upon (e)pi/) a foundation. This foundation (qeme/lio$) is literally something “set down” on the ground, at the base, in preparation of building. It is identified by the pairing “apostles and prophets” —those “se(n)t forth” (a)po/stoloi) and the “foretellers” (profh/tai), the latter term either in the sense of speaking something beforehand or speaking it before (in front of) an audience. The latter meaning more properly captures the sense of the corresponding Hebrew term ayb!n`, i.e. one functioning as a spokesperson for God, who declares His word and will to the people.

Traditionally, this pairing of apostles and prophets has been understood in terms of the unity of the new and old covenants, respectively. To be sure, early Christians held widely to the belief that the Gospel of Christ was foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and also that the inspired ministers of the Gospel functioned in a manner comparable to the Prophets of old. Paul affirms this correspondence a number of times in his letters (e.g., Rom 1:2; 16:26; 1 Thess 2:15), however it seems rather out of place to read it into the passage here. The same pairing of apostles/prophets in 3:5 rather confirms that the reference is to Christian prophets—and the pairing signifies the leading Christian ministers who possess the spiritual gifts of apostleship and prophecy. Apostles and prophets have the highest place in the ministry list in 4:11, as also in 1 Cor 12:28-29.

The apostles were the missionaries who played a leading role in the proclamation of the Gospel in a particular territory, and in the founding and maintenance of local congregations. The prophets were the primary teachers and preachers within the congregation, those who proclaimed the word and will of God to others through inspired revelation. Here it is said that such ministers serve as the foundation for all other believers, presumably in the practical sense that they are the ones, primarily, who proclaimed the Gospel message for congregations in their formative stage. This tends to contradict the illustrative language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, but follows the traditional imagery associated with the Twelve (Matt 16:18f; Gal 2:2, 6-9, etc).

Verse 20 does, however, agree with Paul in 1 Cor 3:10-11, in affirming that Christ is the true foundation of the house/building of God. The adjective used here is a)krogoniai=o$, meaning something like “at the top corner”. Elsewhere it occurs only in the citation of Isa 28:16 in 1 Pet 2:6, where the Scripture quotation makes very much the same point (cf. also the citation of Psalm 118:22 and Isa 8:14 in vv. 7-8; cp. Mark 12:10-11 par). More than simply a reference to the foundation stone of a building, the motif seems to locate the Christ-stone as central to the entire edifice, and may more properly allude to the keystone used to top an arch (cf. Barth, p. 318, citing earlier studies by J. Jeremias).

“in whom all (the) building [oi)kodomh/], being joined (close) together, grows into (the) holy shrine [na/o$] in (the) Lord” (v. 21)

Here the “house” is specifically identified as the shrine (na/o$), i.e. Temple sanctuary, of God. This follows the longstanding tradition of referring to the Temple as the house (tyB@) of God. The term oi)kodomh/ refers specifically to the edifice or structure of a house. Paul makes use of such a Temple-motif in his letters, most notably in 1 Cor 3:16-17; cf. also 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16, and cp. the context of 1 Cor 9:13. Long before the Jerusalem Temple was actually destroyed, early Christians had already begun reinterpreting and “spiritualizing” the Temple, identifying believers in Christ—collectively and individually—as the true dwelling-place of God. We find the same emphasis, for example, in the book of Revelation (3:12; 21:22, etc), and a strong argument can be made that the entire line of thought has its origins in the Gospel traditions in which Jesus identifies himself with the Temple building (Matt 12:6; John 2:19, cp. Mk 14:58 par). A marked anti-Temple tendency can be detected, for example, in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:41-50, cf. 6:13-14), and this attitude towards the sacrificial ritual of the Temple cultus generally pervades early Christianity. At the same time, the Temple itself continued to serve as a positive symbol—not for the ritual of the old covenant, but as a metaphor depicting the presence of God’s Spirit in and among believers.

The “in whom” (e)n w!|) at the beginning of the verse refers to Jesus Christ (“[the] Anointed Yeshua”) at the close of v. 20. Similarly, the same expression (“in whom”, e)n w!|) begins verse 22, and refers to “(the) Lord” at the end of v. 21. Syntactically, v. 22 is subordinate to v. 21, but in reality these are parallel statements, referring to believers as those being “in Christ” (= “in the Lord”). Even so, we should keep in mind that the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) had a dual-usage in early Christianity, and could refer to God the Father or Jesus, interchangeably.

“in whom you also are built together into a (place) for God to put down house, in (the) Spirit.” (v. 22)

The “you also” (kai\ u(mei=$) applies to the audience of the letter as Gentile believers, alluding again to the key emphasis throughout these chapters on Jewish-Gentile unity for believers in Christ. The use of the term katoikhth/rion brings out the aspect of the Temple sanctuary as the place where God “puts down (his) house”, i.e. where he dwells. The verse (and the entire pericope) concludes with the expression “in the Spirit”, which is clearly parallel with the “in whom” (i.e. in Christ / in the Lord) at the start of vv. 21 and 22. It functions as a comprehensive reference, even if its immediate place in the syntax of the verse is somewhat ambiguous. It can be understood four different ways, according to four points of reference:

    • “you”, i.e. believers as those who are “in the Spirit”
    • “God”, that God dwells in/among believers “in the Spirit”
    • house/building—believers make up this building, but it exists and has its substance/reality “in the Spirit”
    • “built…in the Spirit”, it refers to primarily to the process of building/growth

It is difficult to isolate and give preference to just one of these aspects, but I would tend to focus on the first two as the most consistent with early Christian and Pauline tradition. That it is God’s Spirit that dwells in believers is certainly made clear by Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 and 6:19, and may be the intended point here as well, given the proximity of the expression “in the Spirit” to katoikhth/rion tou= qeou= (“a [place] for God to put down house”, i.e. “dwelling-place of God”). However, the overall theme of chapter 2 relates to the unity of believers, and that this is realized “in the Spirit”; it is perhaps best to view these concluding words here along the same lines—as the source, basis, and fundamental reality of Christian unity.

References above marked “Barth” are to Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 34 (1974).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 24

Psalm 24

This Psalm has one of the clearest liturgical settings of any in the Psalter, even if the historical situation cannot be reconstructed in detail. The superscription itself merely indicates that it is another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”, and offers no other information regarding the performance tradition. The structure of the composition is more enlightening, divided as it is into two main strophes, each of which may tell us something about how this Psalm was used in the ancient liturgy. Following an opening pair of couplets (vv. 1-2), the first strophe (of irregular meter) is comprised of vv. 3-6; the second strophe (of 3+3+3 tricola) is in vv. 7-10. A hl*s# (selah) notation comes at the end of each strophe.

VERSES 1-2

“The earth and her fullness (belongs) to YHWH,
(the) productive land, and (the one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] in her;
for He set her firmly upon the seas,
and fixed her upon (the) flowing (water)s.”

This pair of 3+3 couplets establishes YHWH as the Creator and Sovereign Lord of the universe. It is a fundamental statement of Israelite monotheism, identifying YHWH as the one supreme Deity. His position as Creator and Lord makes him worthy of worship and honor.

The “earth” (Jr#a#) is paired with the noun lb@T@, difficult to translate in English, emphasizing what the earth contains and produces (“brings forth”); for lack of a suitable alternative, I have rendered it above as “productive land”. Both terms refer to the flat disc or cylinder of the earth (or land) in the ancient Near Eastern cosmology, a geocentric view of the universe. The notice in verse 2, that YHWH set the earth firm and fixed “upon the seas / waters” is an allusion to the the primeval waters that surround the universe (Gen 1:2). This founding/fixing of the earth implies that the chaos of the primeval condition has been ‘subdued’, allowing for order to be established in creation. In ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth, this is often described and depicted in terms of the deity defeating the Sea (and its allies) in battle. While this cosmological myth-aspect is virtually absent from the Genesis Creation account, vestiges of it—i.e., of El-Yahweh’s defeat of the waters—are preserved in the poetry of the Old Testament. For the relevant examples, and the ancient background of this mythic theme, cf. my article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

VERSES 3-6

“Who shall go up on (the) mountain of YHWH,
and who shall stand in (the) standing place of His holiness?
(The one) clean of palms [i.e. hands] and pure of heart,
who has not lifted his soul to the (thing that is) empty,
and has not (bound himself) seven-fold to deceit.” (vv. 3-4)

The expression “mountain of YHWH” in the Old Testament, while also deriving from cosmological myth, typically refers to the city of Jerusalem—in particular, the ancient fortified hill-top site around which the larger city grew. This original location, a Canaanite fort-city captured by David, was known as the “city of David” and also by the name /oYx! (Zion). Like most such Canaanite walled cities of the period, it was comprised largely of the Temple-Palace complex (rather than being a residence for the populace). So it was also with “Mount Zion”, the most ancient part of Jerusalem—it had a special association with the Temple sanctuary as the dwelling place of God.

The Temple mount was thus a holy site, and no one could approach God’s dwelling in the sanctuary if they were not themselves holy. This applied principally to the priests who officiated in the Temple precincts; however, by extension, the principle of holiness and (ritual) purity related to the wider community of Israel as well. Much of the legislation in the Torah involves the preservation of ritual purity, so that sacrificial offerings and other business conducted in the precincts of the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and Temple, performed in God’s presence, would not be rendered impure and ineffective.

This purity requirement is described in verse 4, a tricolon with irregular meter (3+4+3). Any one coming into the Temple courts and sanctuary must be both ritually pure (“clean of hands”) on the outside, but also inwardly “pure of heart” (bb*l@ rB^)—that is, one’s mind and intention must be pure. The final two lines function as a couplet with synonymous parallelism, expressing purity in terms of true religion—devotion to YHWH alone. The expression “lift (up) his soul” is parallel to the verb form uB^v=n], a Niphal (reflexive) of the root ub^v*. The precise meaning of this root in the Niphal is uncertain, but is perhaps best understood in its presumed literal sense as “bind oneself seven-fold” (i.e. by an oath or vow). The nouns aw+v* (“emptiness”) and hm*r=m! (“deceit”) are also parallel; while they could simply connote wickedness in a general sense, here, as in other instances in the Psalms, they seem to carry a specific association with the worship/veneration of false deities (i.e., any deity other than YHWH).

“He shall take up blessing from YHWH,
and justice from (the) Mighty (One) of his salvation;
(Yes,) this (is the) circle (that is) seeking Him,
(the one)s searching for (the) face of Ya’aqob. Selah” (vv. 5-6)

The couplet in verse 5 affirms the relationship between YHWH and the one who is righteous; the covenant bond is preserved, and God will provide hk*r*B= (“blessing”) and hd*q*x= to such a person. The latter noun has a semantic range that can be hard to translate consistently; it is usually rendered “righteousness” or “justice”, but in the context of the covenant bond, it can also connote loyalty, generosity, and the like.

The concluding couplet in verse 6 is most difficult, but the (demonstrative) pronoun hz# (“this”) gives the final answer to the question in v. 3: “Who shall go up…?” — “this is who…”. However, the syntax is by no means clear; the first line is alliterative, and reads:

ovr=D) roD hz#
zeh dôr dœršô

The translation would be “this (is the) circle seeking him”, a reference, presumably, to the faithful ones (the priests?) of YHWH, parallel with the initial word of the second line, “(the one)s searching for him” (<yv!q=b^m=). The last two words are the main source of confusion, the Masoretic text apparently being in error (“your face [;yn#P*], Jacob”). Critical commentators are inclined to emend the text here, one of two ways:

    • His face [wyn`P*], Jacob”, following the Targum
    • “(the) face of the Mighty One [i.e. God] of Jacob”, assuming that yhla has dropped out of the text, following some Syriac MSS; for this expression cf. Exod 3:6, 15; Psalm 20:1; 46:7, 11 (and elsewhere in the Psalms), etc.

The latter option is to be preferred; however, it is possible that the expression “face of the God of Jacob” here is preserved by the shorthand “face of Jacob”, the MT suffix ; either being a scribal mistake or representing an emphatic/enclitic particle (yK!) that has been mispointed (cf. Dahood, p. 152). The “face” is the manifest presence of God (Exod 33:14, etc).

Verses 7-10

“Lift up your heads, (you) gates,
and be lifted up, openings of (the) distant (past),
and (the) King th(at is) worth(y) shall come!
Who (is) this King th(at is) worth(y)?
YHWH, strong and mighty,
YHWH (the) mighty (one) of battle!

Lift up your heads, (you) gates,
lift up, (you) openings of (the) distant (past),
and (the) King th(at is) worth(y) shall come!
Who (is) this King th(at is) worth(y)?
YHWH (Creator) of (the heavenly) armies—
He (is) the King th(at is) worth(y)! Selah

By all accounts this is a very old piece of poetry (10th cent. B.C., cf. Cross, pp. 91ff), perhaps older than the remainder of the Psalm. It certainly retains the ancient ritual/liturgical context much more so than the first strophe. Many commentators would associate it with a ceremonial transport of the golden box (or ark) that served as the symbolic throne and dwelling of YHWH in the Temple. It is theorized that a procession of priests and people led the ark into the Temple complex, and that these verses were recited, perhaps in alternating chorus, as accompaniment. Even if this were correct, the exact occasion remains unknown and can only be guessed at. The reference to the Creation in vv. 1-2 raises the possibility of a New Year ceremony, when YHWH takes his place in his house after his victory in battle over the primeval forces of chaos and darkness. Another possibility is that it involves a ceremony commemorating the building/founding of the Temple itself, or of the moment when the ark of God’s Presence first entered the Temple (cp. the setting of Psalm 132).

The gates/doors of the Temple (and city) are directed to “lift up” their heads in homage to YHWH as he enters. This solemn bit of ritual imagery as always seemed curious, but there is some evidence that the basic portrait is derived, in different ways, from cosmological myth. The identification of the Temple-site with the “mountain of God” confirms the correspondence between God’s dwelling in heaven and his symbolic, manifest dwelling on earth. The Semitic Creator deity °E~l (“Mighty [One]”) was thought to dwell on a great (cosmic) mountain also depicted as a (heavenly) Tent. The same basic imagery was applied to YHWH, otherwise identified with as the Creator °E~l. Any local mountain could serve as a form of the cosmic “mountain of God”, even a modest hill-top site such as Jerusalem/Zion.

The heavenly dwelling of God was itself divine, and could be conceived as living or alive. Moreover, the mountain/palace of °E~l in west Semitic (Canaanite) tradition served as the heavenly court where the gods would assemble for feasts and other important occasions. In the great Canaanite Baal Epic (tablet II, column ii [CAT col. III]), as part of the conflict between Baal-Haddu and the Sea (Yamm), messengers from the Sea appear while the gods are assembled in the mountain/palace of °E~l. The purpose of their appearance is to deliver a threatening message that Baal should be handed over as a slave to the Sea. The deities lower their heads at the sight of these fearful emissaries from the Sea, to which Baal rebukes them with an opening line nearly identical to vv. 7a, 9a of Psalm 24:

š°u °ilm r°aštkm
“Lift up your heads, (you) Mighty (one)s [i.e. gods]!”

The only difference is that in the Psalm personified gates of the heavenly dwelling take the place of the gods residing within. It is hard to imagine that the formula used in the Psalm does not stem from the same basic line of tradition. A significant point is that, in the Baal Epic, following his battle with the Sea, a great heavenly palace is constructed for Baal-Haddu comparable to that of °E~l. It is only natural that the gods would likewise “lift their heads” to greet Baal as he comes into his palace, thus affirming his kingship and rule over the universe (cp. verses 1-2 here); it is easy to see how, in an Israelite monotheistic setting, the circle of deities might be replaced by the surrounding gates of the palace.

The gates are called <l*ou, a term which can mean either the distant past or the distant future; it can connote the idea of “eternity, eternal”, and thus implies that these ‘gates’ are somehow divine, or at least have an ancient and eternal quality. It is the heavenly dwelling itself that greets YHWH on his victorious return from battle. Dahood (p. 153) notes the use of the expression “king of the gate” in the Ugaritic texts, as a title for the Canaanite king; even more so would the Creator deity deserve such a title.

The construct expression dobK*h^ El#m# deserves some comment. Literally, it means “king of the weight”, i.e. “the king of weight”. The noun dobK* has the fundamental meaning “weight”, in the sense of have a certain worth or value. It often connotes the idea of “honor”, especially when applied to God, and in such cases is typically translated as “glory” (i.e., “the king of glory”). However, in my view, the force of the ritual has to due with YHWH’s worthiness to be enthroned in his palace as king—sovereign over the universe. A proper translation of the expression might then be “the king of worth”, which preserves the construct form. Along these lines, I have opted for a rendering which is less accurate syntactically, but which, I think, better captures the sense of the passage: “the King th(at is) worth(y)”. Because of YHWH’s strength and might, demonstrated in battle against the waters of chaos, He is worthy to be recognized as King over all Creation.

It is, indeed, YHWH’s role as a warrior (“mighty [man] of battle”) that is emphasized in vv. 7-10, and the cosmological background of the ritual scene best explains this. That is to say, the primary association is with God’s victory over the primeval waters of chaos (the “Sea”), by which He established the current order of creation. The extent to which this same pattern applied to the “holy war” tradition—i.e. YHWH achieving victory for Israel over her enemies—can be debated. Certainly the expression “YHWH of the armies” (toab*x= hwhy), essentially shorthand for “…creator of the heavenly armies”, relates to God’s role as protector of Israel, who fights (with the forces of heaven) on behalf of His people. Whether the ritual setting of Psalm 24 specifically refers to the “wars of Israel” —Exodus and Conquest, etc—remains uncertain.

How do the verses of the first strophe (vv. 3-6, cf. above) fit into the ritual/liturgical context of the second? Possibly, before the procession with the ark entered the Temple precincts, there was a liturgical affirmation of the holiness and purity of the officiants (priests and people), represented in these verses. There was often a magical quality inherent in such ritual formulae—that is to say, the proper performance of the ritual was essential to its efficacy. Without the ritual affirmation of purity, the effectiveness of the entire ceremony—including the divine blessing and favor that result from it—would be put at risk. The ceremonial aspect, however, was only intended to confirm the reality of the situation—i.e., that the priests, etc, had kept themselves pure, conducting themselves in a holy and righteous manner, in accordance with the regulations of the covenant bond.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).