Ephesians: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

By Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Publishers, 2010.

Dr. Clinton Arnold provides excellent exegetical guidance for one who wishes to study, teach, or preach the book of Ephesians. This prison epistle is filled with a wide range of truth intended to edify believers “in Christ,” as they live “in the power of the Spirit” for “the glory of God.” To use F. F. Bruce’s phrasing, Ephesians represents “the quintessence of Paulinism,” echoing many Pauline themes in a fresh and impactful way. Yet it comes with numerous exegetical challenges. Arnold, professor of New Testament Language and Literature and now dean of Talbot School of Theology and general editor of this Zondervan series, models well what the series is intended to provide. He is a worthy guide for thoughtful engagement with this letter from the apostle Paul.

I recently used this commentary as the assigned text for my exposition course on Ephesians, so my students and I had ample exposure to it. We found it a worthy interpretive guide, which fulfills the goals of the commentary series: paragraph sections of the text are illumined with explanation of literary context, the main idea, structure, careful translation and graphical layout, an exegetical outline, and well-expressed explanation of meaning and application.

The series is designed for (but not limited to) readers who have at least moderate competency in intermediate Greek grammar. They will benefit greatly from Arnold’s careful interaction with the Greek text, though this is not a technical commentary. For individuals lacking the Greek foundation, or whose knowledge of intermediate grammar is weak, many of the grammatical discussions may be too complex or be hard to comprehend at times (e.g. 3:17a-c and its structure). They will, however, still find a great deal of benefit in this commentary.

Readers will be interested in Arnold’s views concerning the authorship and destination of Ephesians. He holds to the textual validity of “in Ephesus” in 1:1b, defending that position thoughtfully and fairly. Yet reasonably, he states that it is best “to see Ephesians as a letter that was intended in the first instance to circulate among the various local churches in the city of Ephesus, then to other churches in nearby villages, and possibly to churches in cities (further away).” He enthusiastically and skillfully supports Pauline authorship.

Each text section is placed well in its historical, cultural, and literary contexts. Arnold is widely respected for his expertise regarding “power” terminology in Ephesians, and his treatment of spiritual forces (e.g. angels and demons, magic, and folk belief—especially in Ephesian and Colossian contexts). His careful study of Ephesus and its environs and the Artemis cult provides an excellent example. In his discussion of “world powers” in 6:12, Arnold notes that “it is far more likely that Paul drew on a word for spirits that was current both in Greco-Roman and Jewish folk belief and astrology” [than to have coined the word himself] (p. 447). Understandably, he views power and spirit terminology as much more likely than an interpreter who has not studied at his depth (e.g. “Identifying the Principalities, Authorities, Powers, and dominions.”

Arnold’s structural and translational suggestions are helpful, giving a well-developed visual representation of the flow of thought in each passage. Observing the organization of the text—especially in a complex Greek text such as Ephesians—is a boon to proper interpretation and communication. This does, however, add to the book’s size and some readers will find the paper copy cumbersome, perhaps making a case for using a digital version.

Dr. Arnold explains the meaning of the biblical text very well, with an astute use of relevant contexts. He develops inter-textual connections in a refreshing way, referring to other biblical texts which shed light on the target passage or which augment its application and theological value (e.g. Paul’s becoming a servant through God’s grace in 3:7). In a refreshing way he illustrates the value of “Scripture interpreting Scripture,” or at least adding the Bible’s own color commentary. He is a dependable guide through the scores of challenging interpretive issues. For example, in 1:18 he explains his understanding of Paul’s prayer that his readers might be given “[the] Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know him.” He believes this refers to the Holy Spirit, not the human spirit.

The well-known exegetical challenge of “he gave gifts to [his] people” of 4:8 (difficult to square verbally with Psalm 68:18 in both its Hebrew and Greek wording) is handled with skill. A lengthy sidebar summarizes the discussion well and, to my mind, correctly: “By analogy to God as the triumphant Divine Warrior who, after he ascended his throne, received gifts of homage from his captives, Paul ‘depicts Christ as the triumphant Divine Warrior who, after he ascended to his throne, blesses his people with gifts.’” This is a model for addressing a very complex problem concisely and fairly, and then offering an excellent resolution.

Arnold is gracious, kind, and engaging, and portrays that spirit throughout the commentary. Informative footnotes abound. He works with a modest range of fellow commentators such as O’Brien, Hoehner, Best, Lincoln, Snodgrass, Barth, and a wide range of others, and also draws from much additional research.  The result is that the interpretive assistance of this commentary is well-honed within an evangelical context of discussion.

The “theology in application” at the end of each unit of focus offers helpful summaries. Following 11 pages of material regarding Paul’s “instructions to family members in Ephesians in light of household codes” and “the role of wives in Roman-era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” Arnold gives balanced, irenic comments on an issue widely discussed and debated today. He addresses marriage, headship, the responsibilities of wives and husbands, and what the leadership of husbands should look like. I believe this is excellent material, not just because I believe he gets it right, but because there is evidence of his having balanced the competing tensions found in common egalitarian and complementarian perspectives. He defends the application of this Ephesian text to marriages today.

The number of commentaries on any given book of the Bible continues to multiply, many with specific technical or applicational design. In my mind, this volume is well worth consideration. Dr. Clint Arnold has compiled a carefully crafted, illuminating, helpful commentary. I’ve read and used it with great profit and pleasure, and I heartily recommend it. And, in the name of full disclosure … I have personally known the author, and I highly value his integrity and competence. Thanks, Clint!


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1 Response to Ephesians: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

  1. Marty says:

    Thanks! This sounds like an important commentary to own. I appreciate the thought-ful comments. I am especially interested in the grammar discussions. Many of my current commentaries are not designed to delve into language issues. It’s nice to get your personal, and respected, recommendation since you also know the author.

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