Scholars have examined the vocabulary, theology, and social framework of Ephesians 2 in great detail. This article re-examines the import of its salvific message with two foci: (1) From what are people saved and (2) to what end? It examines the Greek text from an African perspective to show how certain parallel concepts, worldview, and customs in African cultures may aid our understanding of a text produced in the collectivist Greco-Roman context of the early Christians. The portrait of the pre-Christian past, the radical intervention by God, and the purpose of the salvific work of Christ becomes clear but contrary to how it was previously understood. It argues that salvation, as expressed in our text of inquiry, has both horizontal and vertical dimensions: that sin has personal, social, and spiritual dimensions, and salvation is meant to restore a broken relationship with God as well as relationships with fellow members in the multi-ethnic household of God simultaneously. Thus the division of 2.1–10 and 2.11–22 in English translations misconstrue the import of the text and engenders a view of salvation informed by the individualistic cultures of the post-enlightenment West, a view foreign to the Early Christians.
Kwame Bediako, Jesus in Africa: The Christian Gospel in African History and Experience (Carlisle: Regnum Africa, 2000), p. 26. John Pobee, Toward an African Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), p. 102.
Clinton E. Arnold, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1989), p. 62. Arnold devotes four pages to place Eph. 2.2 in its Greco-Roman context and sheds light on our understanding of the language of evil spiritual powers on Ephesians (pp. 59–62).
See Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 236–243. Ferguson provides a very good account of similar worldview of the early Christians in antiquity. While it may be too presumptuous to surmise that this is the same as the worldview of many Africans, it is noteworthy that the similarities place African at a vantage point in the quest to understand the cosmology of the time.
Cf. Lincoln, Ephesians, 135. Recalling negative conditions would likely prompt a sense of appreciation for their current privileges. There is Biblical precedence to call to remembrance so as to prompt change of attitude or shed light on what is ahead for the people of God (Exod. 12.14; 1 Cor. 11.25).
William O’Neil, ‘ No Longer Strangers (Ephesians 2:19): The Ethics of Migration’, Word & World29.3 (2009), p. 230. The labeling of ‘aliens and strangers’ by ethnic minority living in some one else’s country is an insider language.
Stephan J. Joubert, ‘Managing the Household: Paul as Paterfamilias of the Chritian Household Group in Corinth’ in Modeling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context(Ed. Philip F. Essler; London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 213–15.
Stephen C. Barton, ‘Living as Families in the Light of the New Testament’, Interpretation52 (1998), p. 133. As Barton notes. ‘There is no word in Hebrew, Greek or Latin for “the (nuclear) family” as we understand’.