TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER TO EPHESIANS WITH COMMENT
EPHESIANS 2: 1 ff
And you were dead through the crimes and sins that marked your way of living by the standards of this world, swayed by the Ruler of the Powers of the Air – the Spirit that is now working among those who refuse obedience to God. All of us once went along with them in our flesh and blood desires, acting on the decisions of our bodies and minds: we were by nature, children subject to God’s fatherly anger, like the rest. But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he has loved us – we were dead in our crimes-has made us alive with Messiah- by his kindness you have been rescued – and raised us up with him, and made us sit together in the heavens, in Messiah Jesus. He did this so that in the world to come he might show the over-the-top wealth of his kindness towards us in Messiah Jesus. For you have been rescued by kindness through trust; it is not your own doing but the gift of God; it is not a reward for work done, in case anyone thinks of boasting about it. Rather, we are his handiwork, created in Messiah Jesus for a good way of life, which God has prepared in advance, so that we could walk in it.
Barbara Hepworth, handiwork
Notice that the primarily gentile members of the church assemblies are assumed to share the state of sinfulness confessed by the Jewish members. Obviously faithful Jews were used to a form of religion which emphasised the condition of sinfulness before the holy God. But the automatic assumption that gentiles were as bad or worse may owe more to prejudice than observation. Paul in his Letter to Romans noted that virtuous gentiles were “a law to themselves.” He went on however to assert that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s splendour,” – the splendour seen in Jesus Messiah- making sinfulness a fundamental state of humanity. We all fall short of the splendour of Jesus, because, as this author points out, we are “swayed by the Ruler of the Powers of the Air.”
Belief in spiritual powers that influenced/ ruled worldly events and people was common in the Roman Empire. Rulers on earth, for example, were assumed to have controllers/ protectors in the heavenly realm. At least two of the main currents of early Christianity, deriving from Paul and John, saw these powers as agents of Satan. The book of The Revelation for example, saw the Roman Empire itself as a demonic power.
In the case of this author, the spiritual powers are able to gain control of human beings through the compliance of their victims, who allow themselves to live at a purely “flesh and blood” level, as if they were not spiritual beings who belong to God. The author suggests that this makes human beings “dead” because the divine link which constitutes their true life is absent. Moreover, the God rejected by his/her own children is angry towards them, passionately opposed to their wilful diminishing of their own lives. This anger however issues in the sending of Messiah Jesus into the world, as an expression of mercy and kindness, offering not only forgiveness of sin, but also a share in the splendour of Jesus’ risen life. The person of faith lives in two spheres; that of the world, where she battles against the powers of evil; that of the heavens, where she is victorious in Jesus.
The kindness of God in his/her rescue of human beings is spelt out by the author; no one can earn this rescue, which is initiated by God, but it requires trust and cooperation. Our works do not buy us this rescue, but we are the work of God, through Jesus, enabled to walk in the way which God has prepared for us. The balance of divine initiative and human response is well imagined in this passage.