Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ephesians 4:11-16: Proleptic Application?

Some professed followers of Jesus think that Christian unity is proleptic; that is, they claim that doctrinal unity is not part of the "now," but ultimately belongs to the future "not yet." So it's believed that while Christians are not unified today, some are convinced they will be in the ESXATON. One Lutheran minister even told me that blacks and whites probably ought to have separate churches right now because racial unity in the church is proleptic, and besides, African Americans and Caucasians worship differently. Nevertheless, should we construe Eph. 4:11-16 in such a proleptic or anticipatory manner?

Possibly citing a Targumic-style rendition of Ps. 68:19, Paul applies the OT war song to the resurrected Christ while declaring that the Lord ascended on high and took some as captives, subsequently supplying gifts in men (Eph. 4:8). Who are these "gifts in men" and when would they appear?

The Apostle continues, telling us that these "gifts" (DOMATA) have already been imparted to the EKKLHSIA in the form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Other scriptural verses attest that God has given such men to the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28). But why did God bequeath these gifts to early Christian congregation? Why are these "gifts" now serving the Christian body? So that Christians may "all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the full stature of the Christ" (Eph. 4:13) When can we expect to see this unity among Christians to happen? Is it yet future? Or does God expect Christians to be unified right now?

The context suggests that God expects Christians to be united in the present (here and now). Paul exhorted the Ephesians in order that they might "use diligence to preserve the unity of the spirit by the uniting bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). And the oneness that currently should exist is equally stressed in Eph. 4:4-6. Col. 3:15 also teaches that Christians have been called in one body--James D.G. Dunn thinks that the "body" there is primarily the local congregation in Colossae; however, he makes this additional observation when offering commentary for 3:15: "But the same applies to the church now seen as the universal body of Christ (1:18a, 24; 2:19), a oneness which is itself an effect of the peace of Christ and which can only be sustained by that peace" (page 235): Dunn likewise invokes Eph. 4:3 to this effect.

For these and other reasons, I conclude that Eph. 4:11-16 is not proleptic. The unity mentioned in the passages is taking place now.


Anonymous said...

In addition, Lutheran ministers MUST view the unity as proleptic, since their view of the church here and now shows a disunited church made up of hundreds of trinitarian denominations. The only alternative would be to give up their definition of church as the sum of (most of) the trinitarian denominations which is not conceivable.

Edgar Foster said...

What you say is so true, and your words are applicable to Baptists (and others) as well. I've read many theologians who scratch their heads and wonder why Christianity is so doctrinally fragmented.