Friday, August 11, 2006

Whose Inheritance is it Anyway?

Since I haven't posted anything original in a few months, I thought it was high time. This summer I've been meeting on Wednesday mornings with a teenage guy I taught Greek to last school year. I thought the best way to introduce him to syntax was by reading the text with him and commenting as we go (go figure, what a novel approach...I know you're thinking I'm a radical). We chose the book of Ephesians (since I was familiar with it from my exegesis course last spring) and have been meeting at Starbucks Wed. mornings for about and hour to an hour and a half working through the Greek text (my kind of Bible Study and discipleship - studying the text in the agora!).

We were discussing Paul's prayer at the end of Chapter 1 recently, and I brought his attention to the inheritance in verse 18. The text reads:

pefwtisme,nouj tou.j ovfqalmou.j th/j kardi,aj Îu`mw/nÐ eivj to. eivde,nai u`ma/j ti,j evstin h` evlpi.j th/j klh,sewj auvtou/( ti,j o` plou/toj th/j do,xhj th/j klhronomi,aj auvtou/ evn toi/j a`gi,oij
- Ephesians 1:18

A few interpreters have emphasized the fact that the inheritance spoken of here is His inheritance, not ours. Personally, I think the syntax is flexible and could go either way (even in English). Without going into a detailed argument let me briefly give you my thought on the matter. First of all, every other time Paul speaks of an inheritance in Ephesians and Colossians (Eph 1:11, 1:14, 5:5, Col 1:12 and 3:24), he is speaking of the inheritance we receive. Second, the other three aspects of the prayer are directed towards us (true it is His calling, but we are the ones who receive his calling; likewise, His power is toward us). Finally, I have a hard time understanding Paul as praying that the believers would understand the wealth of God’s inheritance. I assume this would imply that the believers are God’s inheritance; does this mean that Paul wants them to know how valuable they are (as God’s inheritance)? This sounds more to me like a self-esteem psychology rather than Pauline theology. I think it is probably better to understand the phrase, “His inheritance” as the inheritance that has its source in Him. So the inheritance is ours (we will receive it) but its value or wealth lies in the fact that it comes from God. If this helps you –great! If you think I’m nit-picking or being overly technical, that's fine too. That's the beauty of syntax (with a healthy dash of postmodernism)!


Luther's Stein said...

Hey man,

How did you get the greek font to show?

Pitchford said...

Does it show up for you? On my computer it's just a garbled mess. I had to break out my UBS -- er, that is, my TR -- alright, I admit it was my UBS -- just to make any sense of it.

Is there some font I can download on my computer in order for it to show up correctly?

MOsborne20 said...

i disagree wholeheartedly, but thanks for the post!

NWMihelis said...

Cut and pasted from bibleworks into word and then from word to blogger.

You may need bibleworks

Come on you punk, you've gotta at least explain why and offer a more satisfying interpretation (or at least try) :-)

MOsborne20 said...

Mihelis, I knew you were going to call me a punk. I was just waiting for the invitation to "try" to do some artful exegesis as opposed to your scientific syntax!

According to your interpretation the following phrase "in the saints" would be incredibly awkward. You would render it, "The inheritance that has its source in God in the saints." That does not make sense to me.

I grant you that the other times Paul refers to "inheritance" it refers to our inheritance, but let's not get carried away and commit any exegetical fallacies! Your second argument shoots itself in the foot. It is his calling, his inheritance, and his power. Paul is praying that we would know/experience all of what God has done.

It seems better to understand this concept in light of the OT people of God and the larger context of Ephesians.
1.) The OT people of God: numerous times in the OT God calls the nation of Israel his purchased possession. This language is analogous to the "inheritance" concept. In fact, Paul echoes this concept by using the same term found in the LXX.
In Ephesians 1:14 Paul says that the Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the "peripoisews"- purchased possession. The same word used in the LXX in Malachi 3:17 that speaks of Israel as God's special possession. A synonym is used in Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, & 26:18. These texts call Israel God's special treasure. I would argue that the concepts of "inheritance" and "special treasure" are analogous with one significant difference. We receive our inheritance by grace. God purchased his with the blood of His Son, and is waiting to finally redeem it (Eph. 4:30). This accords with the larger context of Ephesians and the theology of Paul, in that, the church is the new people of God made of Jews and Gentiles, and it is His purchased inheritance.

2.) The larger context of Ephesians: as I noted I think your interpretation makes the following phrase "in the saints" awkward. In the other understanding this phrase fits better. The book of Ephesians (as you know) is about God's work in Christ through the church, or the saints as he calls us in 1:18. One of the primary themes is the role and function of the church. Therefore, it is totally natural that Paul would pray that God would open their eyes to see the glory that He displays through the church. This has great application to us today. We are so busy looking for the glory of God in all the wrong places. The primary place God displays His glory (3:22) is through his purchased inheritance (i.e. his people). It is through these people that we come to understand the full love of God (3:18). His gifts to us are people (4:11). And it is the people of God united who are able to stand against the forces of Satan (6:10). Thus, Paul wants us to have the same view of God's people as God does. He views us as His special treasure- the inheritance He is going to claim on the day of redemption. If that is how God views us then how can we view each other differently? Paul prays that we would come to know God's people as the treasure they really are. If you think that's psychobabble self-esteem, I must respectfully disagree!

NWMihelis said...

Okay, maybe psychobabble was an overstatement and though I agree with what you've said about purchased possesion and special treasure, calling those phrases analogous to inheritance may also be a slight overstatement as well. It screws up the metaphor... a father doesn't inherit from his children (though he may purchase a possesion or own a treasure), the children find their inheritance in the Father. If the antecedent was the Messiah, then sure...the nations ARE his inheritance (which would also comport nicely with Ephesian theology).

I'm not so sure the second argument shoots itself in the foot. The heel maybe...perhaps a big toe :-) but if the calling and power have their source in Him, then it would only be appropriate (but admittedly not necessary) to find a third parallel; namely the source.

Finally, your comment regarding en hagios are duely noted. I admit it is indeed awkward on my reading, though I would suggest a bit smoother if allowing en to have it's semantic range. "with" or "among" would be less akward, though perhaps still not a perfect fit.

Regardless, you certainly stand with good company. If I recall correctly (but don't quote me) I think Lincoln, O'Brien and Hoehner were all in agreement with your observations. But hey, if you can't come up with something new these days, no one wants to read it anyway :-)

NWMihelis said...


The second paragraph above should have ended with "namely the inheritance."

I guess I should use the preview function more often.

David said...

Please allow my late entrance into the fracas.

Paul prays that the Ephesians might know three things
1. the hope of the calling of [the Father]
2. the riches of the glory of the inheritance of [the Father] in/with/by the saints
3. the exceeding greatness of the power of [the Father] for us who beieve

Regarding the first, this is certainly not "the Father's calling" as in "the Father was called," but it is our calling. This genetive should be taken as Subjective. The Father calls. Thus, the Ephesian believer is the one whose calling it truly is.
Regarding the third parallel statement, "the power of the Father" this is certainly a different genetive: perhaps a genetive of power (joke), or a genetive of Source. So, in a sense here the genetive is possessive in that the power is sourced in God, yet just here Paul makes it clear that the power is FOR US. Even though it is God's power, Paul's point is not that we see God's Power, but that we see God's Power that is now, in Christ, working For Us! Thus, the Ephesian believer is the one who has working in him [God's power]. It is the Ephesian's calling, and it is the Ephesian's [power of God].
Finally, then, the riches of the glory of the inheritance might be expected to follow similar thinking. Indeed, here too the inheritance is sourced in the Father (genetive of Source), yet Paul's point is not that the Ephesians might see God's riches, but that they might see them in themselves. I do not mean that they are God's greatest treasure, but that the riches of God, who He is, has been deposited in them (via the Spirit). Thus, the [inheritance of Him] is theirs too. They possess the calling, they possess the power, they possess the inheritance, in Christ.

This seems to hold under tighter scrutiney. That the inheritance might be Christ's seems highly unlikely in that the "Him" has to be "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 17). I agree that the OT category of "inheritance" can be carried onto the Church as we are God's people, and I agree that there are many places in the NT that call on that category to encourage the Church. But I do not agree that such is what Paul was praying they would understand. Rather, I find 2 Corinthians 4:7 a more helpful external source for understanding just what the inheritance is, in light of the micro-exegesis presented above.

Respectfully yours,

NWMihelis said...

Grif: Sounds fine to me. Incidently, I'm still planning on doing the syndication thing...don't give up yet. I just need to get my rear in gear.

MOsborne20 said...

Nate & Dave,

I appreciate the time you have put into your posts. It has been an excellent chance to do a little "exegetical sparring" to sharpen our skills. This will be my "last word" on the text at hand, but will gladly receive more input from your hearts and minds.

Regarding the connection between "inheritance" and "purchased possession": I think the connection is tighter than you allow. Consider the parallels. We are God's purchased possession (clear from 1:14). However, this possession (or treasure) has a redemption date yet future (1:14 & 4:30). This is exactly how an inheritance works. It is a valuable possession that has a redemption date in the future. God has laid claim to His inheritance and guaranteed its safe arrival through the power of the Spirit.

I must admit that I do not find the use of genitive categories especially compelling or helpful. That is not to say I think we should ignore them, but they can end up being less helpful than they purport. For example, you labeled the third prayer request (for power) as both source and possession. Is this helpful? I guess it's the answer is subjective.

I do like your conclusion. It is very "God is the gospel-esque" It does make sense that Paul would pray that the Father would give them the Spirit to help them understand their inheritance of Him in the saints. In the end this is not far from where I am. I think that Paul is praying for them to come to greater awareness and experience of His (God in His fullness 3:19) presence and riches in the church. That this is his prayer request is confirmed by the development of the letter's emphasis: the oft-repeated "in Christ" phraseology and the richness of the church. In the end because we are co-heirs with Christ our whole discussion might be a false dilemma!! Nonetheless, it was a profitable exercise for me, and thanks again for your time into it.

NWMihelis said...

Definately agreed on the quasi-usefulness of genetive categories and definately agreed on the possibility of false dilemma. But of course I tend toward being a both/and kind of guy anyway :-)

NWMihelis said...
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