Ephesians 5:14 in Context and the Hebrew Bible

In its immediate context, Ephesians 5:14 arises out of a discussion regarding the former person. In the section of Ephesians that 5:14 resides, Paul is considering the former person in juxtaposition with the new person. He addresses the things of the former life, porneia and akatharsia, for example, and proclaims that these were characteristics of the non-Judeans, which also characterized their former life. They were to put these off in favor of the new life. The new life is marked with different characteristics. Paul uses a metaphor of light and darkness to demonstrate the contrast between the former and new life. They used to be darkness. But now that they have been revealed, they are light. The quotation of Ephesians 5:14 caps the metaphor. Furthermore, Ephesians 5:14 and its section is in a parallel stance to Ephesians 2:11-22. This earlier section deals with the former and new person. The new person was made in Christ, joining the non-Judeans with the Judeans. Christ broke down walls, barriers, and hostility to make this new person, that the people would be drawn near to God. The new person is the result of Christ’s work. His work, by means of a metaphor, shines upon the people. When they are revealed, they become light and are no longer darkness. Ephesians 5:14 emphasizes this light imagery. Instead of sleeping, which is what people do in the dark, they are to wake up and Christ’s light will shine upon them. To be raised from the dead is to be taken out of the darkness; to be raised from the dead is to have Christ shining upon us.

What is being quoted? In the margins of NA27, it simply says, “unde?” It may actually be an interpretive echo from Isaiah 60. It begins, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (v. 1). Christ has come and risen, and now he shines upon the new person. Is. 60 continues, “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you” (v. 2). Darkness is over the people; for this reason Paul says that the former person is characterized with darkness. Is. 60:3 says, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Paul has already stated in Ephesians that the church is the contemporary vessel for revealing the wisdom of God to the powers and authorities (3:10). Is. 60 later speaks of the Lord as the Savior and Redeemer of the people (v. 16). The Lord is also seen as the one who brings peace and the one who leads them to righteousness (v. 17). The Lord also provides salvation and praise (v. 18). Savior, redeemer, peace, righteousness, salvation, and praise are all topics of the letter to the Ephesians, where Christ is seen to provide such things for the new person. But Is. 60:19-21 is of particular interest. It says, “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, . . . but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. . . . Your people shall all be righteous; they shall posses the land forever. They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, so that I might be glorified.” Not only is the light language similar to that of Ephesians 5:14, but the language as a whole seems closely connected with the language of the letter to the Ephesians. The message of Is. 60 is precisely the thought of Eph. 2:11-22 and Eph. 4:17-5:14. Perhaps Paul, in good rabbinic tradition, took the whole of Is. 60 along with other scriptural material, summarized it in a few beautiful lines and attributed to Christ what Scripture attributed to the Lord. The whole purpose of the new person, being made by God in Christ, is to be marked by light–peace, righteousness, praise, and glory–which radiates from Christ, the everlasting light.

What do you think? Might Ephesians 5:14 have Isaiah 60 in mind? What other passages of the Hebrew Bible might be echoed in Ephesians 5:14? If not Isaiah 60, what other candidates are there? Might it be from an extra-biblical source instead?


2 thoughts on “Ephesians 5:14 in Context and the Hebrew Bible

  1. In his commentary on Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians, Ben Witherington mentions that the quotation here might be from Is. 60 and Is. 26. He notes that G.B. Caird made the connection with these chapters in his own commentary, and Peter O’Brien made the same connection with Is. 60. My note here is to say that I was unaware of the content of these commentaries when I wrote my post. Two things: 1. I am glad to see that I am making connections in a similar way as Caird and O’Brien.2. I am sad that I am not the first person to discover the connection.What’s that? Nothing is new under the sun?

  2. Pingback: Exhortatio: Eph 4:1-6:9 | The Letter to the Ephesians

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