The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 3, Paul and Deconstruction

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Part 1, Part 2

A final noteworthy point, in consideration of household codes, is the fact that the call to peace between Jew and Gentile mirrors Paul’s later call for peace between husband and wife; child and parent; and master and slave. Yoder argues that the household codes promote peace and, at the same time, undermines its own hierarchical structures. In the same way, Paul applies the principles revealed through the mystery of Christ to the barriers dividing Jews and Gentiles, arguing that they are to be dismantled when they fail to establish unity, the very principle on which they were founded. Given Yoder’s argument, there is a clear parallel between the performative function of the household codes and the work of the mystery, which Paul is called to administer.

Household codes embody the tension between unity and the temptation to undermine destructive modes of identification. On the one hand, household codes as explained by Yoder, have an inner egalitarian logic that undermine hierarchical power structures, while on the other, they promote cohesive relations between members of society. Paul negotiates a fine line, arguing that Christ subverts identity structure, and encourages believers to identify as a determinate group or person. A well functioning community requires its members to make determinate decisions regarding ethics and identity. Without these decisions, the unity Paul desires to see made present in the world would remain an abstract principle. Yet, these determinate actions must also be suspended when they fail to live up to the principle of unity, which they endeavor to embody. Thanks to the power of Christ, movement is now possible between determinate actions and the principles they make present. Identities are not decreed by fate or immune to change, rather they must be negotiated in a context, responding to historical needs of a community or individual. Continue reading

The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 2, The Egalitarian Mystery

Part 1Part 3

This post outlines egalitarian movement in the first half of Ephesians and addresses the contradiction between such a movement and the patriarchal emphasis in the household code at the end of the epistle. Three observations are made which help explain this difficulty. First, Paul’s sees it has his mission to reveal the consequences of what he identifies as “the mystery.” The consequences of this mystery relativize modes of identity formation. Second, this mystery serve as a temptation to undermine oppressive systems by empowering the disenfranchised. Finally, it is argued that the household codes are an attempt, by Paul, to walk a fine line between holding identities open to critique, while at the same time encouraging unity.

In an effort to support the claim that the mystery revealed by Christ possesses the power to relativize fixed identity structures, we will begin in Chapter one, with Paul’s complex doxology. For exegetical purposes, I have divided the doxology into five sections:

(a) 1.4-5: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–
(b) 1.6-7: To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,
(c) 1.8: in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
(d) 1.9: And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
(e) 1.10: to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
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The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 1, in Conversation with Yoder

On March 14th I’ll be presenting a paper titled, “Ephesians and the Household Code: a Conversation with John H. Yoder” at TST’s Advanced Degree Students’ Association Theology Conference. I plan on posting a version of this paper here in four parts.

As a preface, in addition to the influence of Yoder, my treatment of both the household codes and the mystery found in Ephesians, is informed by a tension schematized by Derrida in many different ways throughout his work. In both Ephesians and Yoder’s treatment of household codes, this tension is revealed between the need for a determinate identity and the need to hold identities open to reevaluation and change. In Ephesians, Paul encourages a mode of negotiating or living in this tension that fosters health rather than death.

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5.23-24

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I have attended a number of weddings where couples include a reference to this verse in their vows, stressing that the woman shall submit to her husband. Ironically, more times than not, if my newly-wed friends were honest with each other, they would admit the inverse is true of the power dynamics in their relationship. Yet, I still find the inclusion of such a misogynistic sentiment a tad disturbing. These verses are associated with what biblical scholars call Haustafeln, that is, the New Testament (NT) household codes; and they have been an enduring conflict for biblical interpreters throughout the modern era. From abolitionism to women suffrage, household codes have garnered a variety of (sometimes contradictory) interpretations, having been read as oppressive and liberating. Since these verses continue to impact Christian communities, they require repeated readings that consider their past, present, and future relevance.

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Caputo’s The Insistence of God, Chapter 5 and A Childhood Identity

BookThis last semester I’ve been involved in a reading group exploring Caputo’s new book, The Insistence of God, with Jim Olthuis, Author, philosopher, professor, and rollerblader. Last week, Dean, a fellow student who also has a blog and has written about our reading group (his blog is so good I encourage you to stop reading this and head over there), brought our attention to Caputo’s decision to focus on the topic of religion. Caputo gives two related reasons for focusing on religion, even though, according to him, he could just as easily focus on being and finitude. First, religion is more important and less obscure for American culture than being and finitude. Second, Caputo’s own embeddedness in this tradition provokes him to take up his heritage. This interesting (and on some levels disingenuous) rhetorical move, motivated me to think about chapter five without explicitly referencing religion. What does it look like when we remove religion from the discussion?

Perhaps we can have this conversation using an example from my childhood. Back then, I found myself in a context that encouraged competition and sport. This context both enabled and limited me. It limited me in the sense that it determined the perspective through which I saw the world, one full of winners and losers. As unhealthy as this perspective can be, it was a large influence on my choice to self-identify as an athlete. In addition to limiting self-understanding, my competitive social context afforded me the opportunity to learn how to play with others, to lead, and even on the rare occasion, to lose gracefully.

The finite nature of my historical perspective hid from me the “event” taking place in the name athlete. At the age of eighteen, I unexpectedly blew out my knee, an injury that forced me to see the world from a new perspective. The injury made me skeptical (or atheistic) of my own confessed identity. Although I had matured as an athlete, this identity did not fully contain the truth of who I was—past, present, and future. Dogmatically holding on to the name “athlete” would have been detrimental to my own development and a poor expression of self-love. Continue reading