Exegetical Exercise – Ephesians 5 15-16

Image - statue of Wisdom ancient Ephesus
Walk as wise people rather than as unwise ones.

There is a long section of “paraenetic” material in Ephesians, which my seminary New Testament professor, Marty Soards, told us was there to offset the heady idealistic realized eschatology of chapters 1-3. All of it sounds like the stuff New Year’s resolutions.

[In Christ, of course – Ephesians is clear that we don’t have power to live victoriously – to use a popular buzzword – on our own, but receive it from God in Christ through faith. According to Clinton E. Arnold, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians, the letter is pointedly directed at a community that is surrounded by appeals to rely on magical powers, advertised as combatting dangerous demonic powers; and that the letter doesn’t dispute the danger of the demonic powers, but insists that they are far more effectively withstood in the power of Christ than in the power of alternative demons.]

There isn’t really a “good stopping place,” but as a “text” chapters 4-6 are way too long. [I think we heard that the practice in the early church was something like “we read from scripture as long as people can stand it.” Not the exact words, but it’s what we all took away from it.] Three chapters of Ephesians would be more than people can stand. In particular, there’s no good reason to stop at 5:21 and skip 5:22-33, or to skip 6:5-9, except that times have changed, and all of that raises issues that then become the issue. Maybe that is one good reason.

I’m personally drawn to focusing on 5:15-16 – Here’s the NRSV:

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

True story, this text came up at lunch at a workshop, many many years ago, that I was attending with our then pastor and some other people; the words “redeeming the time because the days are evil” had something to do with the conversation, so then of course I wondered where it was, thinking maybe it was Romans (?), and he knew it was Ephesians. I was really impressed by that.

Did actually look at Greek:
“Be careful then how you live” is more like “watch/look/pay attention” (imperative of blepō) therefore “carefully, diligently” (adverb, which seems to be modifying blepō) how you “peripateite”/walk – present active indicative –
“not as unwise people but as wise” not as “asophoi” but as “sophoi” – non-wise/wise,

“making the most of the time” – exagorazomenoi, a middle present participle, nominative masculine plural. Presumably he is not only talking to men. Just saying. In fact we have some indication of that later (recall 5:22 ff). The “meaning of the middle voice is doubtful” according to the Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. The main verb is sometimes used to refer to the redemption of slaves, which is suggestive (like, the middle voice could be used for someone buying up or buying back themselves); it seems like it could be clunkily translated as something like “buying up for yourselves the time” or “redeeming for yourselves the time” – which we wouldn’t say, probably, but which makes a person think.
The “time” is kairon – not clock time, but the time of opportunity or happening;

“because the days are evil” – the “evil” is ponērai, which is “bad” often in the sense of “evil that causes labor, pain, sorrow, malignant evil” and can have the meaning of “toilsome, painful” …
[helped out by Vine’s New Testament Word Picthttp://hopefulmusings.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/redeeming-the-time/ a thought on redeeming the timeures.]

The conjunction of this instruction to the time of making New Year’s resolutions (drawing ever nearer) interests me, and I was happy to see someone making an observation about the relationship of “redeeming the time” and “time management” on the internet, because this is part of what seems interesting to me about this instruction.

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