Wifely Submission within the Rhetorical Context of Ephesians

It is often stated that wives are to submit to their husbands. Appeals are made to Eph 5:22-24 to justify such a statement. This passage of Scripture is interpreted to mean that husbands lead and wives follow, and such is the biblical stance, the God-ordained structure for marriage; deviating from this structure is considered unbiblical and displeasing to the Lord. Although many people believe Eph 5:22-24 solidify the submissive role of wives in a God-ordained marriage relationship, the rhetorical context of Ephesians leads us to interpret this passage differently, so that husbands and wives are seen as equals, in which a power struggle is entirely absent, and together they are striving to fulfill the role of the church–to do good works and to show God’s diverse wisdom, the mystery that is the gospel. We will look at the rhetorical context and see both how Eph 5:22-24 fits and ought to be interpreted with respect to the letter’s rhetoric.

The Letter to the Ephesians is an epideictic piece of rhetoric. As such, it seeks not to deliberate or to prove, but, rather, it seeks to praise. In this case, it seeks to praise God for the deeds he has done through Jesus Christ on behalf of humanity, as explicitly demonstrated in the Church. The deeds are first mentioned in the exordium (Eph 1:3-23) and later expounded and amplified in more detail in the narratio (Eph 2:1-3:21). God has brought his children from death to life, saving them from their sins, seating them with Christ at his right hand in the heavenly places. The moral end of these deeds, established in the narratio, is twofold: for the Church both to do the good deeds God prepared for them to do and to proclaim God’s diverse wisdom to the world. This moral end is expounded and amplified in more detail in the exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9). The Church is to be unified, to live according to the new person, to imitate God, and to live wisely. The peroratio (Eph 6:10-20) summarizes the whole of the narratio and the exhortatio, just as the exordium does, but it does so in an eloquently concluding fashion: God continues to do good deeds by providing the armor necessary for overcoming the wiles of the devil, and the armor metaphorically depicted stems from God’s other deeds, the moral end of those deeds, and the exhortations comprising the moral end. Ephesians praises God for what he has done, tells of those deeds and their purpose, proclaims in more details their purpose, and ties it all together in the call to be strengthened by God, use His armor, and withstand the devil.

Wifely submission is part of the Ephesian haustafel (Eph 5:21-6:9), which is part of the fourth section of the exhortatio (Eph 5:15-6:9), which calls the audience to live wisely, making the most of the times, which are evil. Living wisely is stated as not getting drunk with wine but being filled by the Spirit, which entails speaking and singing in hymnody, giving thanks, and submitting to each other (Eph 5:15-21). The haustafel explains what it means to submit to each other. Within this haustafel, there are three pairings: wives-husbands (Eph 5:22-33); children-parents (Eph 6:1-4); and slaves-masters (Eph 6:5-9). The wifely submission is stated first in Eph 5:22-24 and reiterated, albeit with different terms, in Eph 5:33. Submission for the husbands to their wives is redefined as love, for parents to their children it is redefined as nourish and discipline, and for masters to their slaves it is redefined as not threatening. Children are instructed to submit by obeying their parents, and slaves are instructed to submit by obeying their masters. Wives are instructed to submit by fearing or respecting their husbands.

On the surface, the wifely submission appears to solidify the statement that the Lord wants wives to follow their husbands and not the other way around. Let it be known that Eph 5:22 does not explicitly state, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” The verb to submit is absent from Eph 5:22. Indeed, this verse has no verb; it is supplied from Eph 5:21 (middle voice of to submit). As a result, whatever meaning is evident in the preceding verse must be carried over into the next. Ephesians 5:21 calls all believers to submit to each other. Therefore, Eph 5:22-24, provides a mere example of what it means for all believers to submit to each other in the case of the marital relationship, specifically for wives. This submission is substantiated by an appeal to the Christ-Church relationship. Christ is the head of the Church, so the husband is the head of the wife; the Church submits to Christ, so the wife submits to the husband. But things are not always as they seem. The rhetorical composition leads us to a different conclusion than the prima facie interpretation. There are four contextual factors involved: the context of the haustafel; the context of the head analogy as found in both the exordium and the exhortatio; the context of the narratio’s moral goal and its amplification in the exhortatio; and the context of the peroratio.

In the haustafel, both the children and the slaves are instructed to obey. Wives, however, are not. Something is different. Submission is not synonymous with obedience. Furthermore, submission is not merely respecting leadership of a superior. Submission in this context is mutual for all parties, whether children or parents, slaves or masters, or wives or husbands. Within the context of the haustafel, we have to conclude that wifely submission is something different than we might expect. In fact, the terminology changes later. Ephesians 5:33 summarizes the wife-husband pairing within the haustafel. It instructs wives not to submit but to respect or fear their husbands while husbands are instructed to love their wives. This change in vocabulary forces us to interpret the wifely submission differently. Wifely submission entails not obedience, not inferiority, but respect.

It is noteworthy that in the wives-husbands pairing husbands are neither instructed to lead nor to rule, but, rather, they are told to love their wives. Their love is to be modeled after Christ’s love for the Church. Christ loved the Church sacrificially, seeking to cleanse the Church and present her to himself as a holy, blameless, spotless, and glorious being. Additionally, their love for their wives is to be just as it is for their neighbors: “Thusly, husbands ought to love their own wives as they love their own bodies. The one who loves his own wife loves himself” (cf. Eph 5:28; contra. Lev 19:18, “. . . but you will love your neighbor as yourself”). Christ has this very love for the Church. He nourishes and cherishes the Church (Eph 5:29). The author quotes Gen 2:24, which says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will be in one flesh” (Eph 5:31). This one flesh is a great mystery, the gospel, as far as the Christ-Church entity is concerned, but it is reflected in the marital relationship, since both the Church and the wives are reliant upon their heads for growth and nourishment, and Christ and the husbands sacrificially love their bodies. Therefore, wifely submission entails respect but also reliance.

In the exordium, all things are subordinated under Christ’s feet, and Christ is appointed as head over all things in the Church, which is His body (Eph 1:22). Two things are happening here: first, everything in this world is subordinated under Christ (the verb is the active voice for to subordinate, to submit); second, Christ is made the head, and the Church is His body. However, it is the Christ-Church entity that rules over everything in this world. At first glance, it appears that submission is indeed about superiority and it is linked to the head-body metaphor as such. This understanding misses the point. The Church has been caused to sit down with Christ in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 2:6) and therefore shares in the superiority over everything in the world. The metaphor of the head-body is kept separate from this discussion of superiority. Later, in the exhortatio, the Christ-Church relationship is mentioned again, well before the haustafel. Christ is stated to be the head of the Church (Eph 4:15). It is from the head, Christ, that the body, the Church, is fit and brought together in order to grow in love (Eph 5:16). The analogy of the head has nothing to do with superiority; it has everything to do with growth. The Church relies on Christ for growth. In the exordium, the analogy demonstrates that Christ and the Church are a connected entity. In the exhortatio, the analogy demonstrates the Church’s dependence upon Christ within the connected entity for growth. If wives are to model the Church, which depends on Christ for growth, then their submission is done for growth as well.

In the narratio, it is established that the Church is to do good works (Eph 2:10) and to make known God’s diverse wisdom (Eph 3:10). This twofold statement is the moral end of all of God’s deeds. Living wisely, being filled with the Spirit, i.e., submitting, is one of the good works believers within the Church are called to do, and it is one way that believers within the Church can participate in making known God’s diverse wisdom. However, this participation does not mean that it is God’s wisdom for wives to submit and for husbands to lead. On the contrary, wifely submission was one way for wives to participate in the proclaiming of the gospel, which is the mystery. God’s wisdom is not for wives to submit, but for the Church to spread the gospel. The author of Ephesians is giving wives a role in this evangelistic goal.

In the peroratio, the speech is brought to a close. The contents of the narratio and exhortatio are summarized in an elaborate and eloquent series of metaphors. This grand metaphor, the armor of God, is utilized for the purpose of making requests for the author to speak the mystery boldly. The author thus reiterates the twofold moral end of God’s deeds, which is in the background throughout the entire speech–good deeds and evangelism. The author of Ephesians wants to gain the ability to speak boldly and confidently when he attempt to make known the mystery, which is the gospel. This concern is evident in the instruction for wives to submit, for they are participating both in the good deed of submission and making known the mystery.

Given the various literary contexts between the haustafel, exordium, narratio, exhortatio, and peroratio, we can conclude that wifely submission entails respect and reliance, not obedience and inferiority. In fact, wives are seen as equals. The author of Ephesians takes power out of the situation. There is no power struggle. Everyone submits to each other as equals, including wives to their husbands and husbands to their wives. This submission is part of a greater plan to do good and to proclaim the gospel. We have shown that Eph 5:22-33 does not mean husbands lead and wives follow, but instead the letter’s rhetoric disarms such a prima facie reading.

Peroratio: Eph 6:10-20

After having completed the exhortatio, Ephesians closes the epideictic speech with the formal peroratio. While the exordium begins and opens the speech, the peroratio closes it. Where the former discusses briefly what will be discussed, the latter briefly summarizes what has been discussed. Ephesians is coming to a close.

Ephesians 6:10-20, the peroratio, serves four functions. First, it disposes the audience favorably towards God and unfavorably towards the devil (Eph 6:11). Second, it amplifies by use of metaphor and ornate imagery (Eph 6:14-18). Third, it excites the emotions, appealing to terrifying imagery (Eph 6:16). Finally, it recapitulates both the narratio and exhortatio. The counsel to put on the armor of God in order to be able to stand in the wicked day (Eph 6:13) echoes the whole of Eph 4:1-6:9 (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xix.1-6). Indeed, for there are many connections between the narratio and the exhortatio with the peroratio, as seen here:

  • 6:11 (“wiles”) – 4:14;
  • 6:12 (enemy is rulers, authorities, world powers, spiritual forces) – 2:2; 3:10;
  • 6:13 (evil day) – 5:16;
  • 6:14 (truth) – 4:15, 21, 25; 5:9;
  • 6:14 (righteousness) – 4:24; 5:9;
  • 6:15 (peace) – 2:14-15, 17; 4:3;
  • 6:16 (faith) – 2:8; 3:12, 17; 4:5;
  • 6:17 (Spirit) – 5:18;
  • 6:18 (pray in the Spirit) – 5:19-21;
  • 6:19-20 (pray also for me to speak boldly) – 1:15-23; 3:14-21.

Furthermore, the whole letter is concerned with praising God for what he has done in and through Christ on our behalf. The peroratio follows in that path, for it instructs the audience to put on the armor of God. Not only has God done all the things previously described in the letter, but he also provides the equipment necessary for withstanding the wiles of the devil.

The peroratio is to be free from restraint, unlike the exordium, and so while it is a summary conclusion, it was to open the flood gates to one’s emotions through the use of amplification (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, IV.i.28; VI.i.1-11, 51-52). Since amplification was done in part through the use of figures (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.iii.12), it is noteworthy that the Ephesian peroratio warns the audience to be on their guard and the author asks for prayer in order to speak boldly, thus also speaking on intimate terms; these features are all notable figures (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138).

The Ephesian peroratio does not fall short. It is a summary of the narratio and exhortatio in the most eloquent of metaphors. It exhorts the audience to be strong in the Lord, by utilizing the armor that God provides to withstand the wiles of the devil while struggling against the rules, powers, authorities, and world-rulers, and by watching in all perseverance and petition. The author seeks for the audience to pray on his behalf, in order that he might boldly speak the mystery of the gospel.

And what is the armor of God except truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, word, and prayer? In metaphorical fashion, this armor summarily depicts the exhortatio. This armor equips the audience for withstanding the wiles of the devil and for petitioning on the author’s behalf to be able to speak the mystery of the gospel boldly, which summarizes the moral end of the narratio’s statement of facts, which provided the basis for the eulogy found in the exordium. Therefore, the peroratio ties everything together in one eloquent package–the exordium, narratio, and exhortatio–and brings the speech to a close.

Exhortatio: Eph 4:1-6:9

Previously, we have discussed the exordium (Eph 1:3-23), in which we determined that Ephesians is set on praising God for the deeds he has done on behalf of humanity, specifically in reference to the Church, and the narratio (Eph 2:1-3:21), which picks up on the praise of the exordium and expounds upon and amplifies the praise by giving more details and providing the moral end of the facts. Herein we will look at the exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9), which is not a formal section of rhetoric per se. Instead, it is functioning in the stead of the proofs. Since Ephesians is epideictic rhetoric, no formal proofs are utilized, because the orator or author is not attempting to prove but to praise. However, the exhortatio, filled with paraenesis, an acceptable figure, functions as proof precisely because figures were associated with proof (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, IX.ii.103; IX.i.19). Furthermore, what is praised in epideictic rhetoric can easily transform into hortatory material (Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.35-37). The exhortatio in Ephesians builds upon the facts in the narratio and expounds and amplifies their moral end, for the Church to live in good works prepared beforehand by God and to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom. We will look at the different rhetorical units of the exhortatio and see how they correlate with these two moral ends. Established by the οὐν + περιπατέω construction, there are four main sections of the exhortatio in Ephesians, which are as follows: Eph 4:1-16, walking according to the calling; Eph 4:17-29, walking according to the new person; Eph 5:1-14, walking according to love, imitating God; Eph 5:15-6:9, walking according to wisdom.

Walking According to the Calling (Eph 4:1-16)

To start the exhortatio, the author instructs the audience to walk worthily of the calling, and to do so with humility, gentleness, and patience, and by patience the author means enduring with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In good rhetorical fashion, the author amplifies this instruction by appealing to two sources, first a hymn and second Ps 68:19 (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4). The author justifies the call to unity by quoting a hymn: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all things, through all things, and in all things” (vv. 5-6). Out of this unity, each member in the Church has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift (v. 7), for it says, “After ascending on high he captured captives, he gave gifts to men” (v. 8, quoting Ps 68:19). The author infers that if Christ ascended he first descended to earth, and he gave some apostles, and others prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers, for the purpose that these gifts to men would completely furnish them for a work of service, into a building of Christ’s body, until all the people arrive at unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, into a complete man, into a measure of mature fullness of Christ. The purpose of these gifts was for the author and audience not to be like infants any longer, being blown and tossed by every wind of the teaching in the fraud of men, in adroitness towards erroneous trickery. but speaking the truth in love, the author and the audience are grown into Christ who is the head of the body, and it is out of him that the body is being fitted together and being brought together through every contributing ligament according to the divine power to make a building in love. This segment about Christ’s gifts and the building in love constitute one sentence and is 6 verses long (vv. 11-16). As such it is a long period, which is characteristic of epideictic rhetoric (cf. Cicero, Orator, 37-38) and also of figures, which bear an effect on proof (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, IX.i.19). Furthermore, this sentence builds up an idea–Christ’s gift-giving for the sake of the unity of the Church–throughout its manifold clauses (cf. Quntilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.iv.3-27).

The relationship in this section of the exhortatio with the moral end in the narratio explicitly pertains to the first point, that the Church is to walk in good works prepared beforehand by God (cf. Eph 2:10). To do good works is to walk worthily according to the calling of unity (4:1-3). To walk according to the calling of unity is to have humility, gentleness, and patience. To have patience is to bear with others in love and make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Furthermore, Christ has equipped the Church with gifts in order for it to do a work of service for all to arrive at unity of both faith and knowledge of the Son of God (4:11-16). To do good works is to serve, and this service is connected with unity of faith and knowledge just as much as the call to unity is bound to humility, gentleness, and patience. Implicitly this section of the exhortatio applies to the second point, that the Church is to reveal God’s diverse wisdom. When the Church lives according to its calling, it demonstrates and reveals itself to the world as a unified entity of love and respect, standing in contradistinction to the world’s behavior.

Walking According to the New Person (Eph 4:17-32)

In the next section of the exhortatio, the author of Ephesians instructs the audience out of his own testimony in the Lord no longer to walk according to the new person instead of the old. The author is using the figure of reflection, speaking with a personal touch (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.v.1-7). The old person is characterized by the way the Gentiles live. The author first instructs his audience not to walk as the Gentiles walk (v. 17). The Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind, in blindness of thought, in alienation of life with God through being ignorant, according to the hardness of their heart, in apathy giving themselves over to the licentiousness in business of every impurity with greediness (vv. 17-19). No, the author’s audience, he states, did not learn Christ this way (v. 20). He instructs them to put away the former way of life of the old man that wasted away according to the desires of deceit. He instructs them to renew the spirit of their mind and put on the new man according to God who created him in righteousness and holiness of truth (vv. 22-24). Furthermore, he instructs them to put away falsehood, quoting Zechariah 8:16: “Speak truth, each one of you, with your neighbor.” He instructs them from the Psalms: “Be angry and do not sin” (Ps 4:5). He tells them not to let the sun go down on their anger. The author is following good rhetorical construction by providing proof for the exhortations (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4). Building on the old man and new man, the author states that those who steal must steal no longer. He adds that not even a single rotten word should come out from their mouths, but only words that build up those who hear should come out from their mouths. He instructs them not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Finally, the author instructs the audience to allow bitterness, rage, anger, grievous shouting, and blasphemous speech be taken up away from them with all evilness. Instead, he instructs them to become loving, tender-hearted, and forgiving, because God in Christ also forgave them. The author is portraying the ways of men, a notable rhetorical figure (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138), in order to instruct them in what not to do and conversely what to do.

Again, this section of the exhortatio pertains explicitly to the first moral goal identified in the narratio, that the Church is to walk in good works prepared beforehand by God (cf. Eph 2:10). To do good works is to live like the new man and not the old. To live like the old is to be ignorant, blind, futile, alienated, apathetic, callous, wasteful, deceitful, false, destructive, bitter, full of rage, angry, blasphemous, and evil. To live like the new is to renew the spirit of their mind, speak the truth, be angry but not sin–not even letting the sun go down on their anger–speaking constructively, be loving, be tender-hearted, and be forgiving. This last exhortation, to forgive each other because God forgave them, prepares the way for the next section of the exhortatio. Implicitly it pertains to the second moral goal of the narratio, for the Church to make known God’s diverse wisdom. When the Church lives according to the new person, it demonstrates and reveals God’s creation in contradistinction to the life of the world.

Walking According to Love, Imitating God (Eph 5:1-14)

The author of Ephesians wants his audience to live according to love, thus imitating God and Christ: “Therefore, become imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love, just as also Christ loved us and gave himself on our behalf as an offering and sacrifice for a sweet-smelling aroma to God” (vv. 1-2). Immediately, the author goes to the complete antithesis, stating that sexual immorality, impurity, and greediness must not even be named among them, and filthiness, foolish talk, and coarse jesting is not fitting (and must not occur). However, in their place ought to be thanksgiving. They are not fornicators, immoral people, or greedy people who have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. No, they are not among the sons of disobedience. Instead, formerly darkness, they are now light in the Lord, and they are to walk in the light–in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. They do not partake in the deeds of darkness; they expose them (vv. 3-13). For it says, “Wake up, oh sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (v. 14). This last quotation may be an allusion to Is 60:1-5, but it is uncertain. In any case, the author is making a justification for his ethical instruction, though we do not know from where he obtained this quotation. Therefore, it is in good rhetorical fashion, providing justification for the ethical instruction (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4).

Still, this section of the exhortatio concerns itself primarily with the first of the two moral ends of the narratio, that the Church is to walk in good works prepared beforehand by God (cf. Eph 2:10). To do good works is to imitate God and walk in love. Imitating God does not include sexual immorality, immoral behavior, or greediness. However, it does include goodness, righteousness, and truth. But, secondly, it amplifies the other moral end, to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom. Since they are the light, they expose the darkness, thus making it light. Furthermore, like Christ, they shine on others, playing a revealing role as light.

Walking According to Wisdom (Eph 5:15-6:9)

In this final section of the exhortatio, the author instructs the audience to live according to wisdom–they are to be wise and not unwise, they are to make the most of the time. Furthermore, they are not to be foolish, but they are to understand the will of the Lord (to do good works and to reveal the diverse wisdom of God). According to wisdom, they are not to get drunk with wine, but, instead, they are to be filled with the Spirit–speaking to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in their heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father, and submitting to each other in fear of Christ (5:15-21). Wives are to submit to their husbands, to respect them. Husbands are to submit to their wives, to love them as their own body. These actions on the parts of the wives and the husbands in relation to each other are justified by analogy through the relationship between the Church and Christ, which is described as a great mystery (5:22-33). Children are to submit to their parents, to obey them. Parents are to submit to their children, to nourish them (6:1-4). Slaves are to submit to their masters, to obey them. Masters are to submit to their slaves, not to threaten them (6:5-9). In the section on wives and husbands, the author justifies his ethical instruction by quoting Gen 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” In the section on children and parents, the author in part quotes Ex 20:12 and Deut 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother”; “in order that it might be good for you and you might be long-lived on the earth” (Deut 5:16); Again, the author is following good rhetorical fashion, supplying justification for the ethical instruction (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4).

This section of the exhortatio appeals to both moral ends of the narratio. God deserves praise for the work he has done, and the purpose of his work was for the Church to do good works and to reveal God’s diverse wisdom. In this section, to do good works is to be wise, to make the most of the time. To be wise and make the most of the time is to understand the will of the Lord, to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to speak with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to sing and make music to the Lord, to give thanks for everything in the name of Christ to God the Father, and to submit to each other. To submit to each other is to respect, to love, to obey, and to nourish (build up, train up, or discipline). To be unwise is to be foolish and to get drunk with wine. The Church is to do good works, which means they are to live wisely and not unwisely. But the Church is also to reveal the diverse wisdom of God, the great mystery. The relationship between the Church and the Christ is a great mystery. There is a connection here with the relationship between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. Just as much as it is a great mystery for Gentiles to be joined with Israel in Christ (cf. Eph 3:8-11), so also for the Church to be joined with Christ (cf. Eph 5:31-33). Likewise, the same can be said between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The two parties are unified into one entity–marriage, family, and business, respectively. The mystery, God’s diverse wisdom, extends to all matters of life. As a result, the mystery of the Gospel, the summation of all things in Christ, the gift of God’s grace by the blood of Christ, this good news, is further evident in the marriage relationship when the wife respects her husband and when her husband loves her. This good news is demonstrated when the child obeys her parent and when her parent nourishes–builds up, trains, and disciplines–her. This good news is revealed when the slave obeys her master and when her master does not threaten her. It is a good work that has a redeeming value as it points to the gospel, which is God’s wisdom. In this way, marriage partners, family members, and business associates are able to have a role in the Church’s role as an evangelist, its role to reveal God’s diverse wisdom.


The exhortatio, though not a formal section of rhetoric, comes in after the narratio further to amplify the moral end of the facts presented in praise of God’s glory. Here’s a breakdown of the amplification:

  • do good works (2:10)
    1. walk worthily of the calling of unity (4:1-16)
      • be humble
      • be gentle
      • be patient
        1. bear with others in love
        2. make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
      • to serve and make known the unity of faith and knowledge
    2. walk according to the new man (4:17-32)
      • not be like the old
        1. be ignorant
        2. be blind
        3. be futile
        4. be alienated
        5. be apathetic
        6. be callous
        7. be wasteful
        8. be deceitful
        9. be false
        10. be destructive
        11. be bitter
        12. be full of rage
        13. be angry
        14. be blasphemous
        15. be evil
      • but be like the new
        1. renew the spirit of the mind
        2. speak the truth
        3. be angry but not sin
        4. speak constructively
        5. be loving
        6. be tender-hearted
        7. be forgiving
    3. walk according to love, imitating God (5:1-14)
      • imitating God does not include:
        1. sexual immorality
        2. immoral behavior
        3. greediness (idolatry)
      • imitating God does include:
        1. goodness
        2. righteousness
        3. truth
    4. walk according to wisdom (5:15-6:9)
      • not be unwise
        1. be foolish
        2. get drunk with wine
      • but be wise and make the most of the time
        1. understand the will of the Lord
        2. be filled with the Spirit
          • speak with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
          • sing and make music to the Lord
          • give thanks for everything in the name of Christ to God the Father
          • submit to each other
            1. wives respect their husbands
            2. husbands love their wives
            3. children obey their parents
            4. parents nourish their children
            5. slaves obey their masters
            6. masters do not threaten their slaves
  • reveal God’s diverse wisdom (3:10)
    1. Church as a unified entity of love (4:1-16)
    2. Church as God’s creation (4:17-32)
    3. Church as radiant light (5:1-14)
    4. Church as an evangelist (5:15-6:9)

With the exhortatio complete, the peroratio can come and sum up the entire speech.

Narratio: Eph 2:1-3:21

Following the exordium, the narratio enters into Ephesians, picking up on the praise of God’s works by expounding upon the facts previously presented. It is the narratio’s job to amplify and provide the moral end of those deeds (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.38; III.xvi.1-10).

Ephesians 2:1-3:21 provides breaks down into three sections. First, Eph 2:1-10. This section talks about how the audience was dead in their sins, yet God, rich in mercy and love, made them alive with Christ, raised them up and caused them to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ, to show his surpassing abundance of his grace. What we have here is good epideictic rhetoric, for God’s abundant grace for humanity is praised (cf.Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.38; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.6-8). But it doesn’t stop with praise; it identifies the moral end of God’s actions. It is by grace that the audience is being saved, which is God’s gift, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, in order that we might walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). The purpose of God’s grace, his raising them to life and causing them to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ, is to have them do good deeds that he prepared beforehand. This purpose follows good epideictic style for the narratio (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xvi.1-10).

Second, Eph 2:11-22. While the first section concerned the audience’s former condition of being in death (dead in their sins), this section concerns their former condition of being in flesh (uncircumcision). The audience was called “the uncircumcision” by Israel, “the circumcision.” They were separate from Christ and alienated from Israel. Christ, acting as God’s agent, as destroyed the dividing wall between the uncircumcision and the circumcision, joining the two into one new being, thus bringing the audience near though they were once far away. As a result, those who are in this new person have access in one spirit to the Father. He took strangers and aliens and made them members of God’s household. Furthermore, they are being built up into a dwelling of God. Again, we are seeing good epideictic rhetorical fashion, for this narratio is continuing to expound upon the deeds mentioned in the exordium by praising God for his works. In this case, Christ is the active agent of God. Where Christ works, God is working, for it is God’s power at work in Christ (cf. Eph 1:20). The moral end of these deeds is revealed in the next section.

Third, Eph 3:1-21. The author first gives an aside about the mystery of Christ for Gentiles to be co-heirs belonging to the same body and sharing in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Now, the audience, the Gentiles, are built up into a dwelling place for God, and to what end? The author identifies the purpose of these deeds, which is for them to make known the diverse wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The diverse wisdom of God is the administration of his grace, the mysterious plan. This third section is entirely independent, but it does shed light on the purpose of the previous section. It is independent in that it gives its own deeds–God’s making the Gentiles co-heirs, members of the same body, sharers of the promise–while also giving the moral purpose–for the Gentiles to make known the diverse wisdom of God. But this role of the Church to make known God’s wisdom is bound to the preceding section. The Church is the dwelling place of God, the holy temple. The rulers and authorities look upon this building, the Church, and see God’s wisdom. Because the Church bears this purpose, the author gives a prayer for them, following good epideictic style (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.v.1-7). In this prayer, he seeks for God to give them strength, to cause Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, to root and perfect them in love, to cause them to know fully the width, length, height, and depth, to cause them to know the surpassing love of knowledge of Christ, and for them to be filled. In closing, the prayer is extended into a closing eulogy that parallels the exordium when it speaks of God as the one who is able to exceed anything that the author and his audience could possibly imagine, and he seeks glory for God in the church and in Christ for all generations forever and ever.

Let’s take a quick look at the deeds set forth in the exordium and see how they are amplified in the narratio.

  • God predestined them to be children (1:5) = Christ’s work on the cross has made them members of God’s household (2:19)
  • God freely gave them grace (1:6) = God gives grace and is saving the audience by grace (2:5, 8)
  • God provided a ransom, his Son, for them (1:7) = Christ used the cross to reconcile them (2:1-22)
  • God revealed the mystery of his will to them (1:9) = God revealed the mystery to the author who revealed it to the audience (3:2-7)
  • God sealed them with the Holy Spirit (1:13) = God built them up in the Spirit (2:22)
  • God raised Christ from the dead (1:20) = God raised them with Christ (2:5)
  • God placed Christ at his right hand in heaven (1:20) = God placed them with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6)
Let’s also look at the moral ends of the deeds established in the narratio:
  • to live in good works prepared beforehand by God (2:10)
  • to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom (3:10)

In the narratio, the author of Ephesians further explains in more detail God’s deeds, thus providing more praise for God. He is worthy of praise because he has raised up the audience from death to life with Christ, he sat them down with Christ in the heavens, he has made them co-heirs with Israel, making one new being rather than two hostile entities. God has revealed his mystery, and it is the new being. His grace and mercy are indeed worthy of praise. And these deeds call the audience to do good deeds and make known God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Now that the narratio has come to a close, the next section, the exhortatio, is able to come in and expound upon the moral end.

Exordium: Eph 1:3-23

As indicated before, Ephesians is an epideictic piece of rhetoric. We will here discuss the exordium in Ephesians.

In the letter, Eph 1:3-23 functions as the exordium. It is the prelude for the entire letter; it sets the tone. The author wrote it in such a way that the audience shares in the author’s activity of praising God for the work he has done in the church through Christ. Christ, who is prominent in the Ephesian eulogy, is prominent throughout the rest of the letter, and is the link that binds the exordium to all else that follows (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xiv.1-11). Both the eulogy and the prayer function together to refresh the audience’s minds about God’s deeds, which prepares the way for the narratio (cf. Ad Herennium, III.vi.12; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.24). And what deeds are these?

  • God has blessed them with every spiritual blessing (v 3)
  • God called them to be holy and blameless (v 4)
  • God predestined them to be children (v 5)
  • God freely gave them grace (v 6)
  • God provided a ransom, his Son, for them (v 7)
  • God revealed the mystery of his will to them (v 9)
  • God appointed them in Christ to praise him (v 11)
  • God sealed them with the Holy Spirit (v 13)
  • God raised Christ from the dead (v 20)
  • God placed Christ at his right hand in heaven (v 20)
  • God placed all things under Christ’s feet (v 22)
  • God appointed Christ over all things in the church (v 22)

Indeed, the author of Ephesians was praising God for the noble deeds he did to benefit the church (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.6-8).

And so, like a good exordium should do, this one is a prelude with a key note, it gets the audience to feel like they are sharing in the praise, and recalls to their minds what God has done for them. Now, the narratio can come and describe in more detail God’s deeds on their behalf.

Ephesians 4-6 as Deliberative Rhetoric?

We have said that Ephesians is of the epideictic class of rhetoric. But should we consider Eph 4:1-6:9 to be deliberative rhetoric rather than epideictic? Two contemporary commentaries take opposing positions. Lincoln argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is deliberative, whereas Witherington argues that it is epideictic, like the first three chapters of Ephesians. We will look at the arguments of both commentators, and then we will look at two ancient manuals, the Ad Herennium and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, concerning deliberative rhetoric, so that we can draw a conclusion in the end.

Lincoln argues that Ephesians combines both epideictic and deliberative genres. To support his thesis, he appeals to R. R. Jeal, “The Relationship Between Theology and Ethics in the Letter to the Ephesians,” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Sheffield, 1990); Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik, 53-61; Berger, Formgeschichte, 17-19; and G. Lyons, Pauline Autobiography: Toward a New Understanding, 64. But his appeal simply refers to these works and does not make an effort to explain their arguments (xli). Lincoln goes on to define deliberative rhetoric as that which persuades to take certain actions. Furthermore, paraenesis is not deliberative necessarily as it can function in both epideictic or deliberative classes. In epideictic rhetoric, paraenesis reiterates common values, while in deliberative it calls for a change, and this change is to be taken in the future. In support of this distinction between the use of paraenesis with epideictic and deliberative rhetoric, Lincoln appeals to Aune, The New Testament in Its Literary Environment, 191, 208. Lincoln concludes that while some of Eph 4:1-6:9 reiterates common values, much of it is concerned with adjusting behavior to be more distinctly Christian, which is to be done in the future, and, therefore, it is deliberative mainly. As part of his defense, he also appeals to T. C. Burgess, “Epideictic Literature,” Studies in Classical Philology 3 (1902): 89-261 (xlii). When discussing the division of Ephesians into two parts, he concludes that Eph 1-3 is epideictic, Eph 4:1-6:9 is deliberative, and Eph 6:10-24 is epideictic. In this discussion, he says, “Characteristic of the style of Ephesians are the repetition and parallelism of its many long, and in some cases, exceedingly long sentences. In the latter category are 1:3-14; 1:15-23; 2:1-7; 3:1-7; 4:11-16; 6:14-20” (xlv). But long periods are an epideictic feature; if Eph 4:1-6:9 is deliberative, why would it have a long period, which Lincoln recognizes? Lincoln’s response to this question would be this statement, taken from the next page in his commentary: “But there are places where something of the style of the first half of the letter flows over into the second, particularly in 4:1-16; 5:21-33; 6:10-20. It is noticeable that these are places where the writer’s distinctive concerns are added to the traditional material” (xlvi). Therefore, the long period itself, according to Lincoln, is not an indicator of epideictic rhetoric in this situation. Thus far, Lincoln has not interacted with Ephesians to demonstrate its deliberative features in Eph 4:1-6:9. We should look to his commentary of the text and see what he offers in defense of his thesis from that which is evidenced in Ephesians.

Lincoln, when speaking of Eph 1-3, says, “They secure the audience’s goodwill, inspire them, convince them of the rightness of the writer’s perspective on their situation, and dispose them to carry out the specific injunctions of the exhortatio” (224). Lincoln is trying to set the stage for the exhortatio as deliberative rhetoric, a set of paraenesis that calls the listeners to change in the future. If it were epideictic, the exhortatio would be a set of paraenesis that reaffirms that which the listeners already know. But why, then, does Lincoln say, when explaining Eph 4:17-24, “. . . The use of traditional material means that instruction about the distinctive ethical implications of the new identity can take place by way of reminder of what the readers should already know . . .” (291)? His explanation of Eph 4:17-24 as a reminder of what the listeners already know describes an epideictic use of paraenesis, not deliberative. Furthermore, when explaining Eph 4:25-5:2, Lincoln says, “. . . Costly, sacrificial love is to become the distinguishing mark of the readers’ lives because, as the traditional formulation embellished by the writer’s rhetorical flourish puts it, Christ loved them and gave himself up for them as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (341). Lincoln is highlighting an epideictic feature, amplification or embellishment, or, as Lincoln says, “rhetorical flourish.” If Eph 4:25-5:2 is deliberative, why would it include such an epideictic feature? In his defense, it was possible for Asiatic rhetoric, whether deliberative or epideictic, to contain amplification, so, in and of itself, the rhetorical flourish he mentions does not prove that Eph 4:25-5:2 is epideictic. However, Lincoln does not seek to clarify the evidence or straighten out his argument. Absent from Lincoln’s commentary is any demonstration or explanation of Eph 4:1-6:9 as deliberative rhetoric. He neglected his thesis from the commentary’s introduction, that Eph 4:1-6:9 is mainly deliberative paraenesis, when he was commenting on and explaining those verses. The only evidence he provided in support of his thesis is found in the commentary’s introduction, and said evidence is weak as he makes indirect appeals to other secondary sources. Therefore, his thesis is unconvincing. Witherington’s thesis is rather convincing in contrast to Lincoln’s.

Witherington argues first and foremost that deliberative and epideictic rhetoric are similar in part because they share similar themes, so that, while deliberative advises certain things, epideictic praises those same things, and he appeals to Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria III.vii.28 to defend this statement (221). He appeals to R. R. Jeal, Integrating Theology and Ethics, 43 (the book is adapted from the dissertation), who sees Eph 4:1-6:9 as deliberative rhetoric, which calls for specific future behavioral change (222). Then he asks the following question: “Is Eph 4-6 essentially an attempt to laud the proper behavior and criticize improper behavior (and so an exercise in praise and blame), or is Paul in fact trying to change the behavior of the audience in the near future?” (222). Witherington concludes that Eph 4-6 is hortatory material that is epideictic in character, but maintains the possibility that it could be deliberative in nature (222). Taking the position that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic, he supports his claims by appealing to Quintilian, who said that epideictic is not solely concerned with praise and blame (Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.28; 222), and epideictic required proof when dealing with practical matters (III.vii.4; 280). He concludes that in epideictic rhetoric, practical exhortations are to be substantiated in inartificial proofs such as authoritative documents or logical rationales for the behavior being urged. Ephesians 4:1-16 is substantiated with an appeal to Ps 68, for example (280). Furthermore, as Quintilian states, epideictic’s function was to “amplify and embellish its themes” (III.vii.6), which is what happens in Eph 4:1-6 (281). Witherington says, “Quintilian is right that epideictic and deliberative oratory are close in that the things usually praised in the former are advised in the latter, and since exhortations can be found in both forms, there is something of a thing line between the two rhetorical species when it comes to ethical exhortations (III.vii.28)” (281). But Witherington has already started building a case to demonstrate that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic, such as with the appeal to Ps 68 in Eph 4:1-16, and that epideictic was also known to deal with practical matters. Now Witherington will go on to demonstrate further that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic.

Concerning Eph 4:3, Witherington says that Paul exhorts the listeners to keep the unity, which is a call to contemporary, present action, which is an epideictic exhortation. It is not introducing a new instruction, but rather it is reinforcing what the listeners already know (285). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 are filled with exhortations for the present to reinforce what they already know, which is epideictic paraenesis.

Concerning Eph 4:16, Witherington says,

Paul’s imagery and redundancies run away with him, but such was permitted in Asiatic and epideictic rhetoric. He speaks of being put together and fitted together by the ligaments, which supply the nutrients one needs to make the body grow, by which he means the building up of each person in love. Here we also have the anomalous idea of the body growing up into the head and in the likeness of the head. Perkins is right to note that in deliberative rhetoric the discussion of unity is brought on by the need to overcome disunity and discord, as in 1 Corinthians. But “Ephesians does not point to a crisis of disunity. Exhortation serves the function of reminding the audience of what has already been true of its experience.” In other words, this is an epideictic use of the theme . . . . (293; Witherington is quoting Perkins, “Ephesians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible: Second Corinthians–Philemon, vol. 11, 423)

Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is not concerned with changing behavior but reinforcing behavior, which is epideictic paraenesis.

When speaking of Eph 4:17-32, Witherington underscores the use of “learned Christ.” Clearly this phrase indicates that the listeners have already been instructed in a particular way of life. Paul is not introducing anything new. Instead, he appeals to their already having learned certain things, which is an epideictic use of paraenesis (293-294). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is concerned with reinforcing behavior, indicating that it is epideictic rhetoric.

Regarding Eph 4:17-32, Witherington also appeals to Quintilian. First, Quintilian said that epideictic rhetoric was a serious task when praising or blaming laws or rules of behavior (Institutio Oratoria II.iv.33). Second, it was important to periodize the material when speaking of the before and after (III.vii.10-13). Third, sometimes the praise should be divided and various virtues should be dealt with separately; furthermore, deeds done under said virtues ought to be described (III.vii.15). Finally, Quintilian said that it was necessary to praise or denounce in accord with what the audience has already learned in order to encourage growth in the direction they have already chosen (III.vii.23; Witherington also makes reference to Aristotle, Rhetoric, i.9). Witherington says that Eph 2:11-22 is an example of what Quintilian meant by periodizing the material when speaking of the before and after, while Eph 4:17-32 is an example of separating the virtues and describing the deeds done under them (295). He concludes with the following argument:

The undergirding assumption of Eph 4:17-32 is that the audience has already “learned Christ” and so learned a particular way of living that is Christ-like, and will readily assent to what Paul is saying here as a familiar and already embraced code of conduct. Some of the themes introduced in this section (darkness, impurity, greed, error, righteousness) will recur later in the discourse. Perhaps more importantly, what we have throughout this section is a reworking of earlier material would recognize that Paul was embellishing and amplifying on already received and accepted teaching in the Christian community. This, too, reflects the epideictic nature and strategy of this discourse. (295)

Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic because it is reinforcing what the listeners already know.

As a matter of comparison, Witherington notes that Eph 4:24, which praises righteousness and holiness, lists the very virtues that Quintilian says should be praised in epideictic rhetoric (III.vii.15; 299). Witherington is arguing that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic because it includes the same things that Quintilian described ought to be included in epideictic rhetoric.

In discussing Eph 5:1-21, Witherington states that Paul reinforces teaching and does not introduce new things. Paul used praise and blame of attitudes and conduct, amplification of traditional material made explicitly his own and explicitly Christian, implying that epideictic features are utilized and, therefore, it is clearly epideictic paraenesis (304). Commenting on Eph 5:1-2, Witherington states that imitation, though primarily a deliberative theme, was used to reinforce the call to graciousness, so it is epideictic in this instance (306). Witherington explained that in Eph 5:3-4 there are more epideictic themes, such as appropriate conduct that is honorable and praiseworthy (307). When explaining Eph 5:5, Witherington notes that Paul recognizes that his audience already knows the things he is instructing. Therefore, the approach Paul uses is “the essence of epideictic hortatory material” (308). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is of the epideictic class of rhetoric as it contains various epideictic features and is concerned with reinforcing that which the listeners already know.

When explaining the household code, Witherington says that the rhetorical force of the haustafeln depends on four things, which are as follows: first, the audience’s familiarity with the material. Paul is making an appeal to already received code with embellishment, which indicates that it is epideictic rhetoric. Second, ready assent is produced through self-explanatory rationale. Third, an egalitarian trajectory is given in address of the male figure throughout the code. Last, there is an emphasis on the marriage relationship. Witherington’s main argument here is that Eph 5:21-6:9 is an expansion on the Colossians haustafeln, which means it is epideictic. He says, “There is no reason to assume that Paul is drawing on any sources other than Colossians in his treatment of the household code, whatever sources he may have relied on in composing the Colossian code, and so we are dealing with rhetorical amplification of a known source . . .” (314-315). Later, specifically when speaking about Eph 6:1-4, he says, “. . . Again we see that the code in Ephesians seems to be an expansion on what we find in Colossians” (335). Since there seems to be an expansion or amplification, the Ephesians haustafeln is of the epideictic class. The epideictic character of the household code is further demonstrated in the exhortation to the wives to submit to their husbands in all things. Witherington says, “. . . Again, Paul is envisioning the ideal situation here, not addressing particular problems that could and do arise. This is the nature of praise and wisdom in an epideictic piece of rhetoric in any case” (326, note 205). Furthermore, the epideictic class is evidenced also in the haustafeln in that it appeals to what they already know. When discussing Eph 6:5-9, Witherington says, “V. 8 brings in a reference to eschatological reward. Paul in good epideictic fashion relies in both v. 8 and v. 9 on what the audience already knows about their Lord and their faith (eidotes hoti in both verses). . . .” (341). Witherington argues that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic rhetoric because it appeals to that which the listeners already know, thus reinforcing a way of life already chosen by the listeners, which is evident in the language of “knowing” and the use of the familiar code that has been amplified and expounded.

Witherington gives a very convincing argument for Eph 4:1-6:9 as epideictic rhetoric. He demonstrates throughout that the concern of Eph 4:1-6:9 is to reinforce that which the listeners already knew. He demonstrates also that this large part of Ephesians is filled with various epideictic features, such as praise and blame, discussion of virtues and associated deeds, amplification and embellishment, and appealing to and expounding upon traditions and other authoritative sources.

We have thus seen that Lincoln argues unconvincingly for Eph 4:1-6:9 as deliberative whereas Witherington for epideictic. What can we learn about Eph 4:1-6:9 based on the ancient rhetorical manuals, the Ad Herennium and the Institutio Oratoria, in terms of the deliberative class? We will look not only for a broad understanding of deliberative rhetoric but also in particular its use of paraenesis, and we will compare such material to Ephesians.

For Ad Herennium, deliberative rhetoric is concerned with policy through embracing the art of persuasion or dissuasion (I.ii.2). It would, through a question, require a choice between two or more courses of action (III.ii.2). The deliberative orator would properly set up advantage as the goal of the speech. Ad Herennium discusses political deliberation as it regards advantage. The goal of political deliberation is of either security or honor. For security, which is the advising of a plan for avoiding a danger, it is broken down into two subtopics, might, which are armies, fleets, etc., and craft (or strategy), which are the means, money, promises, etc. For honor, there are two subtopics, right and praiseworthy. Under the subtopic of right, there are four categories, which are as follows: wisdom, the intelligence to distinguish between good and bad; justice, the equity that is proportionate in giving in direct relation to worth; courage, the reaching for great things and contempt for what is mean; and temperance, self-control that moderates our desires (III.ii.3). In deliberative rhetoric, virtues of these kinds are to be enlarged upon if they are being recommended, but they are to be depreciated if they are to be disregarded. Such opposites would be cowardice, sloth, and perverse generosity for justice, impertinent, babbling, and offensive cleverness for wisdom, inaction and lax indifference for temperance, and reckless temerity of a gladiator for courage (III.iii.6). The other subtopic, praiseworthy, concerns that which produces an honorable remembrance at the event and afterwards. When something is shown to be right, in deliberative rhetoric it is also necessary to show that it is praiseworthy (III.iii.7). Deliberative rhetoric, which has advantage as its goal, will either argue both for security and honor, or it will argue one over the other. One’s argument had to include a promise of what they were setting out to do, either to prove both or just the one (III.iii.8). Deliberative rhetoric followed the following construction: introduction; statement of facts, which was not required; proof and refutation; and conclusion (III.iii.8-9). The section for proof was where the orator would establish in his favor the topics for security or honor (III.iii.8). It was to be filled with the following structure for arguments: the proposition; the reason; the proof of the reason; the embellishment; and the résumé (II.xviii.28). In the proposition, the orator had to set forth in summary fashion what he intended to prove. In the reason, he had to set forth the basis for the proposition through brief explanations, and in so doing establish the truth of what he is urging. In the proof of the reason, the brief reason already stated is corroborated through additional arguments. In the embellishment, which could be left out in certain situations, the argument is adorned and enriched once the proof has been established. Finally, in the résumé, which could be left out when the full argument is brief enough, a brief conclusion of the argument is provided (II.xviii.28, 30).

In the light of the description of deliberative rhetoric in Ad Herennium, we have at least three questions to consider. First, Is Eph 4:1-6:9 concerning advantage in terms of security or honor? It does not appear that advantage is the aim, but certain terms could be seen to be related to honor as categorized and explained in the Ad Herennium. For example, “Therefore, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthily . . .” (Eph 4:1). Take for example Eph 5:15-16, which says, “Therefore, give careful attention how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of the time, . . .”  The first example is a general term that some could interpret to be a term of honor. The second example is a subcategory of honor as set forth by Ad Herennium, wisdom. But again, advantage is not the aim.

Second, Is Eph 4:1-6:9 establishing in the author’s favor the topics previously set forth to be of the secure or honorable goal? It appears that there is no pressing and immediate connection between Eph 1:1-3:21 and Eph 4:1-6:9. Furthermore, the topics in Eph 1:1-3:22 are not being established favorably in Eph 4:1-6:9. However, Eph 4:1-6:9 does reiterate a few themes mentioned earlier in the letter, but not in any particular order. For example, the building theme (“being joined together”) is used in Eph 2:21 as well as in Eph 4:16, whereas the new person theme is used in Eph 2:15 and Eph 4:24. Yet, these themes are not reiterated in the exhortatio to establish them favorably. They are presented in such a way that does not match deliberative classification. There is simply no indication that honor is being established.

Last, deliberative rhetoric advances its argument through the introduction, statement of facts, proof and refutation, and conclusion, so why would the author of Ephesians not properly develop his argument by using epideictic themes and style prior to and after Eph 4:1-6:9? It seems unlikely that the exhortatio is of the deliberative class when the rest of the letter is epideictic, for deliberative rhetoric according to Ad Herennium used the structure of the speech to develop the argument and secure the advantage.

Of particular note, Ad Herennium makes no mention of paraenesis or a use of an exhortatio in deliberative rhetoric whatsoever. However, deliberative rhetoric is the class that pertains to policy. Ephesians 4:1-6:9 does appear to be laying out Christian policy, only it is not doing it in a way to persuade with an aim towards establishing honor. It is an oddity for sure. Perhaps Quintilian has something to say about it?

In the Institutio Oratoria, Quintilian stated that some rhetoricians held that paraenesis was a valid form of figure (IX.ii.103). Figures were a way to add eloquence to the matter, but they were associated with proof (IX.i.19). Additionally, every orator was to instruct, move, and charm the hearers according to Quintilian (III.v.2). Paraenesis in itself does not provide sufficient evidence in favor of epideictic or deliberative rhetoric. But Quintilian’s discussion of deliberative rhetoric does not sound like Eph 4:1-6:9.

Quintilian described epideictic (panegyric or demonstrative) rhetoric as something concerned with lots of themes, especially that which is honorable (III.vii.28), but in comparison deliberative is solely concerned with that which is honorable and expedient (III.viii.1, 22). Furthermore, he noted that the epideictic and deliberative classes are related to each other, for what epideictic praised deliberative advised (III.vii.28). But deliberative rhetoric is the advisory department. It deliberates on the future and makes inquiries of the past. Its function was to advise and dissuade (III.viii.6). Furthermore, deliberative’s sole concern is advantage, whereas epideictic is praise (III.viii.7). All deliberative speeches were to be based on comparisons for advantage versus disadvantage (III.xviii.34). As a final note, Quintilian understood that each class of rhetoric was mutually aided by the others, so there are similarities that run across epideictic, deliberative, and forensic classes. Epideictic could deal with justice (typically of forensic) or expediency (typically of deliberative); deliberative could deal with honor (which could also be epideictic generally); forensic could include both honor, expediency, and justice (III.iv.16).

We have already asked questions about Eph 4:1-6:9 in light of our findings in the Ad Herennium. Now we must ask more questions based on the Institutio Oratoria. We have no less than five questions to consider. First, is Eph 4:1-6:9 concerned solely with what is honorable and expedient?  We have seen already that Eph 4:1-6:9 contains the language of honor. However, as Quintilian noted, epideictic rhetoric also concerned honor. The language of honor itself is not sufficient to demonstrate the use of deliberative rhetoric. It could be said that the language of unity in Eph 4:1-6 lends itself to that which is expedient. Additionally, the whole of Eph 4:1-6:9 can be described as expedient as it is a series of instructions or advice to the audience to do that which is proper for believers and not to do that which is improper. But expediency had more to do with ready advantage than it did with the language of propriety. Yet, Eph 4:1-6:9 is not solely concerned with expediency or honor.

Second, does Eph 4:1-6:9 deliberate on the future? There is no indication in the text of Ephesians that the future is in view for the purposes of deliberation. Note that we are not talking about eschatology. Instead, for example, there are no questions concerning what will be done. There are some uses of the future in Eph 6:1-9. Children are instructed to obey, slaves to do good, and lords to do the same. Children will be rewarded with long life for obedience; slaves will be rewarded for their good work; lords will not be shown favoritism. But the future tense is not a key indicator of deliberations on the future. Questions are not being asked concerning a choice between at least two options. Instead, the future tense is used to indicate what will happen. The futures are used either as gnomic or predictive future verbs, but in either case there is no question about it.

Third, does Eph 4:1-6:9 make inquiries of the past? There are no inquiries of the past in the text. No information from the past is requested, for example.

Fourth, is Eph 4:1-6:9 concerned with advantage? There does not seem to be any indication in the text that it is concerned with advantage or disadvantage. Ephesians 6:1-3 could be listed as an example, for children are exhorted to obey their parents, and they will be rewarded as a result. Ephesians 6:4-8 could also be listed as an example, for slaves are exhorted to do good knowing that they will be rewarded by their Lord in heaven. Likewise, Ephesians 6:9 could also be an example, for lords are exhorted to do good because the Lord will not show favoritism. These concerns seem to indicate advantage is in view, at least in these examples. But these are merely three examples out of the whole text. The rest of Eph 4:1-6:9 does not have such a concern.

Finally, does Eph 4:1-6:9 make comparisons towards advantage or disadvantage? No, Eph 4:1-6:9 does not make any such comparisons. It makes a few assertions that do pertain to advantage, as we have seen in the previous question’s answer, but it does not consider the disadvantages and make comparisons.

There are many similarities between epideictic and deliberative classes. Furthermore, as Quintilian saw it, each class of rhetoric could help the others. It was therefore possible to have elements of one class in another. It is possible for Ephesians, as a result, to be epideictic with deliberative themes or vice versa. However, Eph 4:1-6:9 does not match the style of the deliberative class very well. It does have some deliberative themes, such as honor and expedience, and arguably advantage. But advantage is not its sole concern, and, in addition, it is not solely focused on that which is honorable. It does not deliberate on the future nor make inquiries of the past. The key features of deliberative rhetoric simply are not present. We have already demonstrated that Ephesians is epideictic. Since we cannot demonstrate the letter’s exhortatio to be of the deliberative class, and certainly it is not forensic, we should continue to understand it in light of epideictic rhetoric. Simply because it is paraenesis does not mean that it is deliberative rhetoric. We do know that Quintilian associated the figure of paraenesis with proof, and since epideictic did not need to prove anything, the author of Ephesians could have used an exhortatio in place of proof. Furthermore, every orator from any class was to be able to instruct, move, and charm his audience. Any speech could have an element of instruction just like Ephesians. We may conclude that Witherington’s argument is correct, that Ephesians 4:1-6:9 is epideictic, not deliberative. There simply is not enough evidence to support Lincoln’s assertion. The use of the present verbs throughout and the concern for present circumstances, the use of redundancy or amplification (e.g., Eph 4:14-16), the reinforcement of an already accepted way of life (e.g., Eph 4:20-24), and the embellishment and amplification of traditional Christian material (e.g., Eph 5:22-6:9) demonstrate that Eph 4:1-6:9 is epideictic rhetoric.

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).