Rethinking the Literary Structure of Ephesians

In an earlier post, I argued for the following chiastic structure in Ephesians:

A. Epistolary Prescript (Eph 1:1-2);
B. Exordium (Eph 1:3-23);
C. Narratio (Eph 2:1-3:13);
D. Prayer and Doxology (Eph 3:14-21);
c. Exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9);
b. Peroratio (Eph 6:10-20);
a. Epistolary Postscript (Eph 6:21-24).

In another post, I explained the complexities of the exhortatio in an effort to show that there is still only three broad sections there, so that the three sections of the narratio would still correspond neatly.

I looked at Ephesians first in light of rhetorical arrangement (exordium, narratio, exhortatio, peroratio), and then determined that there is a corresponding literary structure (a chiasm). I argued further that there is a smaller set of chiastic structures in both the narratio and exhortatio, so that there are several parallel points of comparison. I must admit, it seems as though such an analysis is getting to be so complex that I think my analysis is more genius than what the original author intended.

In addition, there are still some complexities with this arrangement and analysis that I do not think I can explain without coming up with an ingenious solution that the author did not intend. Here are two examples. First, if the narratio is made up of a chiasm, then the first and last points should have similarities. Ephesians 2:1-10 talks about grace, and Ephesians 3:1-13 mentions grace. Therefore, I concluded that they are similar and the narratio is arranged in such a way so as to form a chiasm. But this similarity is founded on a single word. Am I arguing that a single word is enough to form the connection and to construct a chiasm? It seems that I was attempting to make that argument. For the moment, we can say that I have a valid point and that there is such a chiasm. If that is the case, then the chiasm is betrayed by οἰκοδομὴ (Eph 2:21; cf. Eph 4:12), which breaks outside of the parallel and corresponding sections of the separate chiasms. My original literary structure is therefore not able to account for all everything in Ephesians. Therefore, it is not likely to be correct.

Second, the exhortatio is made up of more rhetorical units than what the narratio contains. I attempted to explain how it contains only three literary units that correspond with the three literary units of the narratio. But if that is the case, how does my explanation account fully for the use of περιπατέω (Eph 4:1, 17; 5:1, 15)? The exhortatio is marked up into separate units through the use of περιπατέω, which gives us at least four units, whereas the narratio only has three. In my original explanation, I maintained that the two middle units function together as one unit in two parts. While there may be some merit to my explanation, it does not quite account for everything. Would an audience who hears the letter read aloud also hear the two middle sections as one, or would they simply hear περιπατέω and associate it with a new section? Furthermore, how is it then that there is a connection between Christ’s sacrifice in Eph 5:1 and in the last literary section with Eph 5:25? These sections are supposed to be unrelated, and yet there is a strong connection. My explanation simply cannot suffice.

Therefore, it is better to adhere to the basic rhetorical arrangement and not attempt to find any sort of intricate literary structure. The style of epideictic rhetoric is itself redundant and permits for words and phrases to be used several times and embellished, which accounts for the things I have not been able to explain. Through the epideictic style, οἰκοδομὴ can be reused at any point, and likewise for περιπατέω. The same is true also of Christ’s giving himself up. Even though they are reused in different rhetorical units within the letter’s arrangement, the epideictic style not only permits it, but it expects it and it accounts for everything. There is no need to look further or deeper since the style itself provides us with a perfectly good explanation.

We will leave the letter’s arrangement to the following structure:

Epistolary Prescript (Eph 1:1-2);
Exordium (Eph 1:3-23);
Narratio (Eph 2:1-3:21);
Exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9);
Peroratio (Eph 6:10-20);
Epistolary Postscript (Eph 6:21-24).