What Does It Mean to Be Saved? An African Reading of Ephesians 2

in Journal of Pentecostal Theology
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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.




H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, Greek-English Lexicon with Revised Supplement (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), p. 77.


Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1322.


Epictetus, Dissertationes, 1.3.3; 9.19; 2.19.27; 3.23.28.


 E.G. Parrinder, West African Religion (London: Epworth, 1949), p. 199.


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.


Lauren Magasa, African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life (New York: Orbis, 1998), p. 166 citing from Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, African Christian Theology (Nairobi: Hippobooks, 2012), p. 70.


Peter S. Williams, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), p. 57.


Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), p. 95 and Frank Thielman. Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), p. 123.


Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), p. 315.


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).


Bediako, Jesus in Africa, p. 22.


 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.


J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, African Charismatics: Current Developments within Independent Indigenous Pentecostalism in Ghana (Leiden: Brill, 2005), p. 167.


Kunhiyop, African Christian Theology, p. 57.


Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, p. 81.


John P. Kirby, ‘The Non-Conversion of the Anufo of Northern Ghana’ in Mission Studies 2.2 (1985), p. 17.


Lincoln, Ephesians, p. 98.


Awolalu, ‘Sin and Its Removal in African Traditional Religion’, p. 284.


Asamoah-Gyadu, African Charismatics, p. 167.


Mbiti, ‘ὁ σωτὴρ ἡμῶν’, p. 403.


Bediako, Jesus in Africa, p. 22.


Kunhiyop, African Christian Theology, p. 59.


Allan Anderson, ‘Pentecostal Pneumatology and African Power Concepts: Continuity or Change?’ in Missionalia 19.1 (April 1990), p. 73.


 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 & World 29.3 (2009), p. 230. The labeling of ‘aliens and strangers’ by ethnic minority living in some one else’s country is an insider language.


O’Neil, ‘No Longer Strangers (Ephesians 2:19)’, p. 230.


Lincoln, Ephesians, p. 144.


Fong, ‘Addressing the Issue of Racial Reconciliation’, p. 572.


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’, Interpretation 52 (1998), p. 133. As Barton notes. ‘There is no word in Hebrew, Greek or Latin for “the (nuclear) family” as we understand’.


Opoku, West African Traditional Religion, pp. 123–33.


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