“Ephesians and Resurrection” by Lynn H. Cohick

ZA Blog on April 11th, 2009. Tagged under ,,.

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The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the evangelical faith, and is fixed firmly in the Church’s creeds. But how does this reality live itself out within the daily lives of the faithful?

Recently, in one of my classes, I heard some horror stories regarding evangelical college students’ lack of understanding about the resurrection. One aspect of this problem, I think, is the relegation of its reality to the ‘next life’ as though Christ’s resurrection has no impact in the here and now. A close reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians suggests otherwise, although conclusions about Paul’s opinions on resurrection expressed in this letter have led some to assert a deutero-Pauline authorship. My goal is not to argue the relative merits of Pauline authorship of Ephesians or Colossians, although I hope to show that concerning the resurrection, Ephesians and Colossians line up well with Paul’s views expressed in Romans, for example. My focus is more modest: to describe briefly one aspect of resurrection as expressed in certain letters of the Pauline corpus. In Eph 2:6, Paul declares that God raised us (with Christ) and seated us (with Christ) in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. The phrase in parentheses is added both by implication from verse 5 and due to the force of the prefix

συν attached to the verbs. The use of the past (aorist) tense here invites comment, because in other passages Paul speaks about resurrection as something to which we look forward.

First, a word about context. The focus in 2:6 is not that our bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Cor 15:42, 52-54) or transformed (Phil 3:21) when the Savior returns. Rather, the verse fills out the claim made in 2:5 that in the present we are alive in Christ; the participle “have been saved” is in the perfect passive, indicating that the death and resurrection of Christ in the past has ongoing effects in the present. Thus in a real sense each believer is likewise present in Christ in the heavenly realm. Every Christian enjoys the fruit of the resurrection even now (although there is much more to come, 2:7).

In Eph. 1:19-20, we read of the power of God, incomparably greater than anything we can fathom – shown in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at God’s right hand. Paul uses the perfect tense in speaking of God exerting his power, which indicates that this resurrection power pertains not merely to Jesus in times past. Indeed this act of raising Christ has consequences in this present age.

Second, passages in Colossians and Romans offer helpful information. In Romans 6:1-11, Paul tightly associates the hope of our future bodily resurrection with the reality of our new life currently in Christ. We are not in a holding pattern, so to speak, but can take advantage of the incomparable power that raised Christ from the dead. Here and in Col 2:12; 3:1-2, the point is made that God raised Christ, which has consequences at this time. Although the resurrected body is also in sight in Romans, both passages emphasize baptism into Christ’s death connecting the believer with the new resurrected life in Christ.

Finally, not only does the verb tense in Eph 2:6 warrant comment, but also the force of the clause εν Χριστω. Some argue that Paul intends an instrumental meaning – through Christ’s agency. But a better argument can be made for a locative sense, that believers are located or incorporated in Christ.

A similar intent is found in 1 Cor. 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (see also 2 Cor. 5:17). By combining the clause “in Christ Jesus” with the prefix συν (with Christ) in this verse, Paul stresses the intimate relationship believers enjoy with their Savior, a relationship which includes benefits of resurrection even in this present age. One such benefit, stressed in Ephesians and Romans is freedom from the power of sin, opening the possibility of righteous living and doing good works prepared by God for his faithful (Rom 6:12, Eph 2:10).

Cohickl Lynn H. Cohick (PhD in New Testament/Christian Origins, University of Pennsylvania) is associate professor of New Testament in the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School, Wheaton, IL. Lynn has written on early Jewish/Christian relations in her book, Melito of Sardis: Setting, Purpose, and Sources (Brown Judaic Studies, 2000), and several articles on women in Early Judaism and earliest Christianity. She also co-authored The New Testament in Antiquity with Gary M. Burge and Gene L. Green. She and her husband reside in Wheaton, IL.

  • Brian LePort 10 years ago

    Wonderful article. I hope that Koinonia would allow a follow up article showing the connection between Ephesians and Romans regarding resurrection (and esp. how that relates to the Pauline authorship of Eph.).