Vehicles Of Divine Mystery: Paul’s Danielic Self-Understanding In Ephesians 3 -- By: Annang Asumang

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 07:1 (Mar 2009)
Article: Vehicles Of Divine Mystery: Paul’s Danielic Self-Understanding In Ephesians 3
Author: Annang Asumang

Vehicles Of Divine Mystery:
Paul’s Danielic Self-Understanding In Ephesians 3

Annang Asumang1


Recent applications of social identity theories in Pauline studies have highlighted the importance of considering Paul’s self-understanding as a window through which to interpret his letters. Though this insight has proved fruitful with regard to Paul’s earlier letters, its application in the later prison letters has been inconsistent. This article examines the precedence for Paul’s self-characterization in Ephesians 3 as Christ’s prisoner “for the sake of you Gentiles”, and as one of the “holy apostles and prophets” who have received God’s mystery by revelation and for which he “kneels” in prayer. It is argued that aspects of the language resonate with the characterization of Daniel in Babylonian exile and that Paul portrays himself as a vehicle of God’s revelation in the mold of Daniel. External evidence is also adduced in support of this interpretation, which if correct, may have some implications for interpreting the later prison letters.

1. Introduction

1.1. The Need For Constructing The Self-Understanding Of Paul In Ephesians

Recent applications of social identity theories to Paul have emphasized how consideration of the apostle’s own self-understanding as portrayed in a particular letter significantly influences the direction of interpretation (e.g.,

Hodge 2005:270-288; Keay 2005:151-155; Esler 2003). Paul’s perennial self-descriptions in his letters—for examples, as an apostle, as slave of Christ, as a “maternal” and “paternal” pastor, as prisoner, and so on—were not merely aimed at buttressing his teaching authority. They also provide us, his twenty-first century interpreters, with a window for ascertaining how he expected his statements to address the issues for which the letters were designed.

Self-identities, as noted by Gerd Baumann, are in reality fluid constructs (1999:91-94). They are “multiple and situation specific”, such that the person “activates, or brings to the fore a certain component or components of his or her self-concept in a particular context” (Esler 2003:271). In each letter therefore, “Paul, the real author” portrays himself in a specific way as “Paul, the implied author”. And it is this particular implied self-concept which must shape the exegesis of that letter. The often generalized characterization of Paul as a former Pharisee, with largely Jewish apocalyptic...

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