Seminary Ramblings

Updates from life at seminary

Biblical Interpretation: A Paradise Lost?

11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
-Ephesians 5:11-12

Carl Trueman (to write two posts in a row with him) recently asked the question of whether Ephesians 5:12 is the most “neglected text in the New Testament in the current revival of interest in reformed theology…” He said this in view of the current popularity of pastors speaking frankly and publicly on matters which would be deemed explicit by many. What I most cherished about his post though was this short quote about Ephesians 5:12.

“So what does it mean?   Well, it actually means exactly what it appears to mean.  You really do not need a postdoctoral qualification in Second Temple Judaism to crack this one.”

If one spends much time wading around in the world of modern day biblical studies, one can perhaps be forgiven for at times feeling like a warped version of Bunyan’s Christian, who has fallen into a sort of hermeneutical Slough of Despond, wondering whether anyone really understands biblical texts rightly. Thankfully, I was reminded that some texts really do mean exactly what they seem to. In other words, the Scriptures really do possess clarity. Now, this is not to devalue the need for intensive study of, say, Second Temple Judaism, but it does remind me that, in the words of the confession:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
-Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7

Thankfully, the sacred writings are still “able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:15) And good writers like John wrote “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Or as it is written:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
-Isaiah 55:10-11


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5 thoughts on “Biblical Interpretation: A Paradise Lost?

  1. How is one supposed to expose the works of darkness if they can’t talk about them?

    • Erik L on said:

      It would seem that in Paul’s metaphor light just naturally exposes darkness by being light. So children of light (v. 8) should act as such because their being lights will thus naturally expose the works of darkness (v.13), as a lit candle naturally lights up a dark room. In this manner, these works don’t even need to be spoken of directly/named, since some of them would be shameful even to speak of (v. 12). And it seems that believers act as light by obeying all the commands Paul has been giving (Ch 5-6).

      I find it helpful to look at other texts with similar uses of light/darkness. Maybe chief among these is John 3:19-20, which seems to be using the light/darkness metaphor in the same way as Eph 5.

      19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

      • sonia on said:

        What are works of darkness? Just sinful acts? Paul gives long lists of those?

      • Yeah, it seems like they’re just those things he gives in Eph 5:3-5 and other similar lists (like Rom 13:12-13).

  2. awesome, erik. awesome.

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