The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
The Prison Epistles
THE PLACE OF EPHESIANS
HAVING perceived the unparalleled importance of Pauls epistles
for the present period, it will pay us to pursue our studies of the opening words of each
of his epistles.
The most vital and interesting of all
is found in the foreword to the so-called epistle to the Ephesians. We will continue to
call it Ephesians because of custom and convenience and because it is almost a
certainty that it was sent to Ephesus. But we are practically certain that it was a
circular letter addressed to all the believers in Christ Jesus, and that the
introduction has been marred by the addition of the words in Ephesus.
This was done so soon that the
evidence for its removal is largely derived from sources earlier than our best
manuscripts. So much depends on this reading that we shall present some of the facts and
reasons which lead us to leave out in Ephesus and thus read the epistle as
addressed to all the saints who are also believers in Christ Jesus.
The best manuscript we have,
Vaticanus, was originally written without in Ephesus. It was added in the
margin. This manuscript was written with great care, and it is not easy to see how the
words in Ephesus would be left out by accident.
The next best text, Sinaiticus, was
also written without in Ephesus, which was inserted by a later corrector. So
that both of the best manuscripts we have were originally written without these words.
The early and almost universal
tradition that it was sent to the Ephesians does not seem to have been based on the text
itself, for Marcion gave this epistle the title To the Laodicenes. He could
hardly have done this unless he found the epistle without the words in Ephesus
as part of the text.
No man, in the early centuries, made
as thorough a study of the text of Scripture as Origen. Living in the early part of the
third century, he was already examining manuscripts, and classified readings as occurring
in most MSS, or in the oldest MSS. He does not seem to have had
any evidence for in Ephesus, and his interpretation of the words which
are are criticized by a later writer, when the sentence had become meaningless
because the special force of the title Christ Jesus had been lost.
Basil, a writer of the fourth century,
consulted the texts of his day and reported that the older manuscripts omitted in
Ephesus, while the later ones included it. This is especially interesting, in view
of the fact that the two oldest manuscripts we have were written about the time he
conducted his investigation. They were both originally without the words, which were added
later to conform with the trend of the times.
It seems beyond any reasonable doubt,
then, that, as originally written, the words in Ephesus were not a part of the
text. Some have proposed the theory that copies were made for many places, and that one of
these, which was sent to Ephesus, contained these words. Another, sent to Laodicea, was
addressed to the Laodiceans, and so for each copy that was made. But this does not agree
with Origens rendering of the passage, and would certainly have called for some
remark by a writer early enough to see or hear of such copies.
Besides the difficulty which the
interpolation is supposed to solve is aggravated rather then removed. The real objection
to the true reading lies in the fact that it is not addressed to all saints, but only to
those who believe in Christ Jesus. The insertion of in Ephesus does not delete
this limitation but localizes it. Not all the saints in Ephesus, but only those believing
in Christ Jesus, are in view. The addition only robs the distinction between all saints,
and those who believe in Christ Jesus, of its clearness.
May we rejoice in the recovery of this
primitive truth, so that we can receive and appreciate the original reading. For those who
have never exulted in the title of His present glory, Christ Jesus, as
contrasted with Jesus Christ, the badge of His humiliation, the passage lacks
all point and purpose. But once that distinction is realized it becomes the key to unlock
the truth of the present secret economy.
We conclude then that the passage
should read, to all the saints who are also believers in Christ Jesus. We
deduce from this that it was not written to the saints of the Circumcision who knew Him
only as Jesus Christ, rejected on earth, whose glory awaits the era of His unveiling. It
was not meant to include those to whom Hebrews was addressed, or James, Peter, John or
Jude. It was confined to those to whom Paul ministered, directly or indirectly, whether by
word of mouth, or by his epistles.
Thus we open the door, long since shut
and barred and bolted, which opens into the treasuries of present truth. Ephesisans is the
charter of the church, the foundation of its faith. It is a systematic treatise on the
doctrine for today. It is to be taken fully and without reservations or restrictions. All
of Pauls epistles apply to the present, but all others contain personal or local
allusions, which we can take only in a secondary sense. The prison epistles are especially
in point, but even Philippians and Colossians contain matters of local or temporal
All of Pauls epistles are
involved in the Ephesian epistle. The accompanying prison epistles, Philippians and
Colossians, are not revelations of fresh truth, but corrective commentaries based upon
Ephesian truth. The other epistles are included in and modified by its teaching. The
Promise Epistles, written to the Thessalonians, are distinctly included in present truth
by the reference to those who have a prior expectation (Eph.1:12), the one
expectation (Eph.4:4), and the helmet, the hope of salvation (Eph.6:17).
The Preparatory Epistles, Romans,
Corinthians and Galatians, are included by the fact that we have become joint participants
of the evangel which Paul had preached (Eph.3:6), which is fully expounded in this group
of epistles. The references to righteousness (Eph.6:14) and the evangel of peace
(Eph.6:15) are pointed references to Pauls previous ministry. Thus we may take all
of Pauls writings as our present guide, with due deference to the transcendent and
ruling revelation contained in Pauls epistle to the Ephesians.
PAULS PRISON EPISTLES
realized the importance of the title, Christ Jesus in defining those who are
the recipients of the present grace, we naturally expect that the companion epistles of
Ephesians Philippians and Colossianswill enforce the same distinction. In this
we shall not be disappointed. Paul associates himself with this title as a slave in
Philippians, and as an apostle in Colossians.
Not only are they written from
one who is in Christ Jesus, but they are addressed to those in Him as well.
Philippians is to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, together with
the supervisors and servants. In Colossians there is some question as to the correct
reading. The two best manuscripts read, to the saints and faithful brethren in
Christ in Colosse. Codex Alexandrinus, however, adds His personal name, making it
possible to render the passage to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus,
in Colosse. As scribes were so much more liable to omit such a name than to add it,
the evidence of a single first-class manuscript like Alexandrinus is almost enough to
justify its insertion in the text.
Even as it is, this truth is more
pointedly exemplified in the fourth verse, where the apostle speaks of their faith
in Christ Jesus, but their love for all the saints. Their faith could not be
shared by all the saints, but this did not hinder the outflow of their love to those who
did not have the same faith. The Circumcision were to be included in the circle of their
affections, even though they could not apprehend the transcendent faith which could be
founded only on Christ in His present exaltation in the heavens, which had little appeal
to those whose expectation was anchored on earth, who looked forward to the Messiah of the
prophets. In the fifth verse this very thought is suggested by the apostle when he
describes their expectation as reserved in the heavens. It crops
out again and again, especially where the Colossians are exhorted to be concerned with
that which is above, not to that on the earth (3:2).
The remarkable statement in the
closing salutation (4:10,11) can be explained only in this light, Greeting you is
Aristarchus, my fellow captive, and Mark, cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you obtained
directions: if he should be coming to you, receive him) and Jesus, termed Justus, who
are of the Circumcision. These are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who
became a solace to me.
It is needless to insist that he had
other fellow workers who were a solace to him. What of Tychicus, who carried this letter
(4:7), of Timothy, who is one with him in writing it? But they were not fellow workers for
the kingdom of God in the sense that the Circumcision were. These three
menArtistarchus, Mark and Justuswere within that limited circle of fellowship
which Paul had with the Circumcision. Just as he gave James, Cephas and John the right
hand of fellowship many years before (Gal.2:9) so he had continued to have fellowship with
those connected with them, even though his transcendent revelations continued to widen the
gulf between them in the sphere of doctrine.
This, it seems, accounts for the
special admonition to receive Mark. Why should they not receive him? His failure as a
servant (Acts 15:37-39) was no ground for refusing fellowship. It seems clear that the
rest of the Circumcision were hardly welcome among the saints to whom Paul wrote. They
were continually stirring up strife and contending for the observance of the law of Moses,
and could not grasp the grace which gave the despised aliens a place of equality with them
(Titus 1:10; 1 Tim.1:7; Gal.5:12). In Philippians he bids the saints beware of the
maim-cision as he contemptuously calls the Circumcision, who based their prerogatives upon
a mutilation of the flesh.
Thus it is evident that Paul wrote
these epistles, not to all the saints, but only to those in Christ Jesus. The saints of
the Circumcision, like Peter, never understood or appreciated the grace which is dispensed
by him (2 Peter 3:15,16).
It is always essential to note the character
in which Paul writes, and to interpret accordingly. Epaphroditus is the only apostle
mentioned in the Philippian epistle. He was their commissioner to Paul. Paul never speaks
of himself as an apostle in this letter, hence it is our wisdom to rigidly exclude this
thought and all that flows from it. When a fresh revelation of truth is presented, as in
Ephesians, a divine commission is necessary to enforce his words. We call for his
authority and demand his credentials. None of this is needed in Philippians. So he writes
in the character of a slave.
Service is the subject of the
Philippian epistle. Paul is presented as a slave, Christ takes the form of a slave and the
Philippians themselves are slaves. This should color and control the interpretation of
every passage. While Ephesians and Colossians contain no examples for us to follow, after
which we should fashion our conduct, Philippians affords four. These are living
expressions of the evangel. Holding forth the word of life is, literally,
having on the word of life or a living expression. Like the four
examples, the Philippians are exhorted to preach by means of their lives as well as their
lips. It is not the works of Christ which are presented for our imitation, but His
humiliation from the heights to the death of the cross. Likewise Paul is presented in his
descent from a fancied superiority in flesh to a place in Christ Jesus. Timothys
service and the sufferings of Epaphroditus complete the four-fold picture presented for
It is evident from the whole tenor of
the epistle that the experience of the believer in Christ Jesus is in point. Paul
details his own experience, rather than definite doctrine and we are to copy his life as
well as believe his words.
All this is suggested by the opening
words, Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
This important position is much
strengthened by the inclusion of supervisors, and servants in the salutation. These are
those who are especially responsible for the conduct of the ecclesia. Some of them may
have taught but that was not their function.
The old translation, bishops and
deacons is misleading. The control of each ecclesia was in the hands of a number of
overseers or supervisors, all of whom were directly concerned in the individuals under
their eye, not, as now, an official over many churches, or rather, over many
ministers. The minister of today has no counterpart in the divine
picture of an ecclesia as set in order by the apostle Paul.
Neither was a deacon
anything more than a servant or, better, servitor. The same term is
translated servant, minister, deacon. It denotes, not
an office of honor, above the rest of the ecclesia, but a place lower than those who are
served. It is used of those who waited on the guests at the wedding in Cana of Galilee
(John 2:5,9). This illustrates the basic meaning of the word, for it carries the thought
of serving out, dispensing. It is not so much doing things for others, as
supplying their needs. The low place of the servant is shown when our Lord advises His
ambitious disciples who wanted to be foremost, to take the lowest place. Whosoever
should be wanting to become great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever may be
wanting to be foremost among you, let him be your slave (Matt.20:26). We know of no
translation which renders this passage will be your deacon, because it
would reverse the sense, for a deacon is a position of honor above the rest when it should
be a place of servitude below them.
The spirit of true service pervades
the Philippian epistle. There is no desire for self-exaltation. All humble themselves and
are exalted by God. Christ descended from the place supreme to the cross of shame. Timothy
and Epaphroditus were true servants, unmindful of themselves but devoted to the saints.
Pauls case is especially instructive, for he, like his Master, stoops to serve. He
casts to the dogs all his physical advantages through Judaism, which were of no mean
value, because of the superiority found in Christ Jesus.
The prison epistles of Paul present
the truth for the present. The key to their correct interpretation lies in the title used
of our Lord. The teaching of the epistles themselves is tinged throughout with the truth
that they are not designed for the Circumcision, but only for those chosen out of both
Circumcision and Uncircumcision whose blessing and destiny is linked with Christ exalted
in the heavens.
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