Book Review – Ephesians by Harold Hoehner

Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Baker Academic, 2002

Harold Hoehner has written what is easily called the most detailed commentary on Ephesians to date. Only Markus Barth’s two Anchor Bible volumes come close (they are still off by 70 pages). Hoehner’s breadth of familiarity with secondary sources is astounding and incomparable. His arguments are detailed and thorough.

The commentary begins with a one hundred thirty page introduction, which devotes sixty pages to arguing for Paul’s authorship of Ephesians. He then moves on to discuss the structure and genre, the historical setting of the letter, Ephesians’ purpose and its theology. The last fifteen pages of his introduction are devoted to a bibliography on the subject of authorship.

The most original contribution to the authorship discussion is the evidence Hoehner gives disproving the misconception that the majority of scholars do not think Paul wrote the letter. He shows that at any given time in the past 200 years, roughly half of scholars who have written on the subject at all have conclude that Paul authored the letter. Though this sixteen page discussion does not technically “prove” anything regarding whether or not Paul wrote the letter, Hoehner’s work destroys a psychological barrier that might encourage a scholar to align him or herself with this mythic consensus that Paul did not write Ephesians. This is evidenced in the SBL review of Hoehner’s commentary by Serge Cazelais:

If I may be allowed to express my own view on this issue, before reading this commentary I would have readily accepted the deutero-Pauline character of Ephesians primarily on the basis of the modern consensus. I must admit that Hoehner’s discussion on the topics proves almost convincing. His book is well documented and presents and discusses fairly the multiple facets of the question. His views are expressed concisely and clearly. Hoehner succeeds in convincing the reader to reevaluate the pseudonymous character of this New Testament letter.[1]

The one chief strengths of Hoehner’s authorship discussion is his discussion of patristic evidence. “Ephesians has the earliest attestation of any NT Book.” (2) He then goes on to cite various church fathers and their references both to Ephesians and to Paul as its author. Regarding his responses to the objections raised against Paul’s authorship, his contribution is an amazing assembling of data from a number of sources. Hoehner brings together dozens of smaller arguments presented by various scholars over the years into one place in order to create a solid foundation for accepting Pauline authorship, while adding his own thoughts and rather persuasive remarks along the way.

What makes these smaller arguments together so much stronger is the amount of detail Hoehner uses. He also spends a significant number of pages dealing with and responding to arguments fro rejecting Pauline authorship, under the headings of the letter’s impersonal nature, language and style (here he deals with statistical studies [which I discussed, click here]), literary relationships, pseudonymity, theological distinctions (or supposed distinctions, Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology [click here for Amazon] contributes nicely to Hoehner’s arguments here), and finally historical considerations. A somewhat humorous quote, appearing just before his lengthy response to those who reject Paul’s authorship, is, “Although much has been written on this debate, lack of space prevents a complete recitation of all the arguments” (21). Perhaps Hoehner will soon give us a book solely dealing with authorship where he can give a larger response than a “mere” sixty pages discussion and fifteen page bibliography specifically for the issue of authorship.

 

One of my favorite sections of the introduction is Hoehner’s discussion of the theme of Ephesians. Once again, like the issue of the author, there is little agreement regarding the purpose of the letter, and thus also, its theme. Hoehner does well not to get bogged down by developing a complex theory about the letter’s purpose. Instead he discusses the one thing that scholars can agree one. Unity is a common thread through the entire letter. Hoehner also then goes through the letter and by the use of statistics (which if you turn to any page you will see that he loves) discusses how the concept of love is incredibly important for the letter as well.

 

The commentary proper is laid out quite nicely. Hoehner has developed an excellent outline for the letter and the method he uses in following it is helpful. With the majority of scholars the main division is at 4.1. At two points, 1.20a-21 and 5.19-21, the outline contains eight levels all the way down to “aa.” All of the larger sections that contain more than a single verse have a summary for putting the previous discussion and following discussion in the context of each other. Hoehner’s exegesis always comes after his eclectic Greek text and his own translation. Some of his most impressive work is in his footnotes dealing with the text and textual issues that arise. As others have noted, Hoehner tends to emphasize geographical distribution more than any other element in his reasoned eclectic text. These textual discussions are lengthy and detailed, the result of which is that while the reader might not agree with Hoehner’s decision, one will understand how and why he came to his conclusion, something that makes a good commentary.

The commentary includes eight excursus’, which I am slowly working my way through. I would like to highlight here, number seven, on the household codes as being excellent. While I do not agree with is perspective on women’s roles in the family and church, I do find his conclusions about the source of Paul’s words about the family in Ephesians 5-6 to be right on target, that Paul has adapted codes around his own thinking.

Although the household code in Eph 5.22-6.9 contains similarities to those of the Hellenistic codes, Paul’s instructions, as pointed out above, are quite different. The most important difference in the model or basis for the codes. Where as in Hellenism the model was political, the Christian model is Christ himself, and he is also the motivating force. For example, where a Hellenistic writer would propose that if slaves were treated well they would be more productive, Paul states that slaves should not be mistreated because the Lord is master of both parties and both are answerable to him (6.9) (725).

I only have a couple criticisms and only one of them really matters. To begin with, while I agree with his perspective on the orgins of the household code, I find Hoehner’s exegesis of Ephesians 5.18-29 inadequate in mupltiple respects. Those pages of his commentary are covered in pencil marked criticisms (which I might share with ya’ll at some point). IU think there are several weaknesses in his argument and I do not think he fully understood the arguments of those who disagree with him. That was the criticism is the one that does not matter because Hoehner is clear on what he believes and why and the fact that he worked hard to be fair with other perspectives (regardless of whether he succeeded or not) is extremely commendable.

The real criticism is a result of the size and detail of his commentary. His 900 page tome is a blessing and a curse. Hoehner cites seemingly everything that has been said on a given verse. And his use of other passages and scriptures to validate his exegetical decisions excellent. But all of his scripture references muddy the pages and sentences of the commentary so that its hard to find where the flow of his thought picks up again. Thus his commentary becomes better as a reference book rather than one you can pick up and read through. This is unfortunate. I know many might protest at this criticism and argue that technical commentaries always do that. But I say that they should not. If we want to understand a commentator’s exegesis of a passage, it is just as important to know the commentator’s flow of thought as it is the Biblical text. Otherwise, we will end up misrepresenting them.

To conclude, then, Harold Hoehner has written an excellent commentary on Ephesians with rigor and detail, that is will be reference (fearfully only a reference) for many years to come. I fully and eagerly advise it being worth its $37 price tag. – Think about it, there is more detail here than in Best’s 674 pages for a lot less than the ICC price tag.

Up next for review will be Peter O’Brien’s commentary on Ephesians…


[1] Serge Cazelais, review of Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2004).

3 thoughts on “Book Review – Ephesians by Harold Hoehner

  1. Dear Mike,

    I wish to express my sincere appreciation for your review of my commentary on Ephesians. I did not include a full bibliography because it would have taken another 120 pages.

    Again, thank you. It is deeply appreciated.

    Sincerely in Christ,

    Harold W. Hoehner

  2. It was my pleasure, Dr. Hoehner, to read and to write about your commentary. Though, I realize now that I need to go back and correct some typos in my review.

    I believe that I studied & TA’d exegesis under two of your former students, Dr. Herb Bateman (at MBI) and Dr. Ervin Starwalt (at GIAL).

    Mike

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