Two prophetic words that lay hidden in Ephesians were part of the battleground between Paul and the false teachers.
This is part of a series on mirror-reading the books of the Bible. You can view all posts in the series here. They are only cursory mirror-readings and, although I give evidence for their validity, further research is desired for support.
Mirror-Reading Ephesians Gives Us A Better Understanding
False teachers in Ephesus were teaching that the apostles had laid a nice, foundational teaching, but they didn't know the whole story. Prophetic words had been spoken by prophets in the Church, and the false teachers had been using them to support their teachings. They said the apostles didn't have prophetic revelation like the prophets did. Paul responds to the false teachers and quotes some of the prophetic words in order to correctly interpret them.
How Paul Corrects The False Teachers And Interprets The Prophetic Words
Paul uses the conjunction "and" to put the apostles and prophets on the same level. Speaking of the Church, he points out that it had been built on the foundational teachings of the apostles and prophets. The prophets were not adding to the foundation, and they both taught the same thing: Jesus Christ.
being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone;
Paul also points out that God not only gave revelation to the prophets, but to the apostles as well.
which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
Paul specifically refers to himself as receiving revelation.
how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.
Does Paul Misquote the Bible?
In chapter 4, Paul writes a quote:
Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”
This sounds very close to Psalm 68:18 but is slightly off. Some assume that Paul misquotes the Psalm. Others argue that he was quoting a different version. However, New Testament writers usually write something such as “According to the Scriptures” or “According to the Prophet Isaiah” when quoting the Old Testament. We don't find that in 4:8. Since the context points to issues with the prophetic, I believe Paul is quoting one of the prophets in the Church at that time.
The false teachers were saying that someone other than Christ had ascended on high, and that someone other than Christ had given gifts. Paul responds:
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Again, he puts apostles and prophets on the same level but also expands the list to other offices:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
We find another prophetic word in chapter 5:
Therefore he says, “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The false teachers in Ephesus were misinterpreting the prophetic word by saying that Christ would only be their Lord after they died - Lord of the dead, so to speak. New Testament writers respond to this elsewhere by calling Christ, Lord of the living and the dead.
Paul spins the prophetic word in different direction by saying:
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Paul may have been responding to the "Lord of the dead" aspect in chapter 2, by saying that they were already dead:
You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins,
even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by favor you have been saved)
What Do You Think?
What do you think of this mirror-reading of Ephesians? Are the quotes that Paul writes really prophetic words? What other situations do you think Paul was responding to in Ephesians?