26 May 2016


The greatest of the Greek poets, Callimachus, opined that a Big Book was a Big Evil (mega kakon). But Dr Thomas M Winger has written a very big book about S Paul's most important Epistle, the one to the Ephesians, and his Commentary is definitely a mega kalon (a Big Good). (Concordia Commentary A theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture Ephesians by Thomass M Winger ISBN 978-0-570-06313-1.)

Curious readers may wonder why I should name Callimachus as the greatest of the Greek poets. What ... er .... about Homer? But such judgements surely take their bearings from where the person making the assertion is standing. If I desire to consider Callimachus greater than Homer because of the densely and humorously learned way in which the later poet performs the games of imitatio cum variatione upon the earlier, who are you to judge?

And if I or anybody asserts that Ephesians is S Paul's most important Epistle, there is no reason why we should be bullied into submission simply because some chappies in Tubingen, a long time ago, decided that Romans, Galatians, and the Corinthian Epistles are a sort of 'canon within the canon' by the standard of which the other letters bearing S Paul's name have their worth, and even their authenticity, discerned.

It will be no secret to readers that Ephesians is regarded, by many within 'Modern Biblical Scholarship', as 'deuteropauline'. Winger's Commentary demonstrates that the reasons commonly adduced for denying the Pauline authorship of Ephesians are comprehensively unconvincing. This is a book with 895 (biggish) pages, so I am, you will understand, uncertain to what sort of readerships I am commending it; but anybody who takes Pauline Studies seriously should have it on their shelves.

There are many insights within this book which are either new; or, at least, represent recent scholarly findings which have not yet fought their way through to become commonplaces. One area in which this is true concerns the ministry. Our own Colin Podmore has ably dissected the new dogma in the American Episcopal Church whereby all the baptised are ministers. Winger makes clear that such notions are unattested until the twentieth century. And he also explains the new understanding of diakonos/diakonia which we have had since John Collins exploded the old 1960s superstition, i.e. the idea that these terms refer to the performance of humble acts of service to the needy. This sad nonsense is still sometimes churned out when people are asked to preach sermons at diaconal ordinations. Perhaps, if Papa Bergoglio is going to ask Cardinal Mueller to explain to him about the question of Women in the Diaconate, we might all find diakonia a topical subject to revisit.

Winger is a Lutheran. In Britain, we have little experience of Lutherans. So British readers need to understand that there are are different types of Lutherans: surprise, surprise, there are Liberal Lutherans and Orthodox Lutherans! As we approach the 500th anniversary of Luther's revolution, it is a good idea for us to remember this; for Catholics, in particular, to understand how close we are to Orthodox Lutherans. I would go so far as to say that Orthodox Lutheranism ought to be upon our ecumenical agenda. Just as we in the Ordinariates have learned to read our own Anglican Patrimony through the lense of Catholic orthodoxy, might not a portion of the Lutheran family be able to discern a path similar to that which we have taken?

For some Catholics, it might be a useful start to read the fine passage from Luther himself with which Winger concludes his exposition. It is a well-expressed exposition of the authority of the Ministry and, indeed, of the Catholic principle of ex opere operato.

And, at precisely the time when silly people ... and profoundly silly Episcopal Conferences such as those of Germany and England ... are saying silly things about Judaism, Winger provides sound reading: " ... neither Paul nor our Lord questions the legitimacy of the temple under the terms of the old covenant. Yet it is obsolete because Christ has come and the old has passed away. So Israel of the flesh is replaced by Israel of the Spirit, a church incorporating children of Abraham who believe as he believed in the Messiah to come".

Ephesians is topical! Read Ephesians! Read Winger!

Just to prove that I am still a waspish pedant ... I will comment on Winger's page 81 footnote 260, which rightly queries the text-crit assumption that lectio brevior potior; the comfortable but absurd rule of thumb adopted by Westcott and Hort et omnis grex illa. This was exploded in Oxford more than half a century ago by the mighty George Kilpatrick, Winger's fellow Canadian, who shared with me one-to-one his text-crit knowledge and techniques back in the mid-1960s. I explain this out of pietas towards a great scholar and a very dear friend.


Don Camillo SSC said...

N.T.Wright, our greatest NT scholar, has no problem with the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Just to prove that I am still a waspish pedant

Dear Father. Maybe so, but you can never be accused of leaden pedantry.

Tommy said...

Father H, if you are looking for good blog post topics in the future ... a greater explanation of lectio brevior potior and why it is false would be very entertaining!

Titus said...

Commenting on the concept of a Lutheran ordinariate got me put on the watch list at Fr. Z's blog some time back. I will demur here.