Interviewed by Andy Naselli
Steven M. Baugh is professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, where he has taught since 1983. He has earned degrees at the University of Oregon (B.A. and B.A.), Westminster Seminary California (M.A.R. and M.Div.), and the University of California, Irvine (Ph.D.). He is an OPC minister and has written a couple of books and many scholarly articles.
1. What do you think about study Bibles in general and the ESV Study Bible in particular?
I have to confess that I’ve never really used a study Bible. When I was asked to contribute to the ESV Study Bible, though, I jumped at the chance because I think so highly of the people involved and of the ESV. From what I’ve seen, the maps and other graphic materials provided by the study Bible along with the notes will prove to be a great resource for people.
2. Your Ph.D. dissertation is entitled “Paul and Ephesus: The Apostle Among His Contemporaries” (University of California, Irvine, 1990). Would you share a brief abstract of your thesis and note how this has helped you in your understanding of Ephesians?
My thesis investigated how Paul would have fit into Ephesus using all the ancient and modern sources available at the time, especially the over 4,000 untranslated Greek and Latin inscriptions. For example, I had chapters on Paul’s Jewish heritage, work, Roman citizenship, teaching “in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9), and friendship with Asiarchs (Acts 19:31). I spent a lot of time getting to know the people and society of Ephesus very intimately. I also came to know Paul as a man more clearly.
As far as Ephesians, my background work gave me familiarity with certain things like the formal rhetorical style of the letter and its focus on power and the exaltation of Christ over all competing authorities. Further, the ethical concerns of Paul expressed here seem very apt for the people of Ephesus and its environs. (Ephesus itself controlled villages and lands extending roughly thirty miles into the countryside.) I should say that parts of Acts, 1-2 Timothy, and Revelation also have close connections with Ephesus that my earlier background work has helped me understand them better.
3. Specifically, what is the relationship between historical background studies and exposition?
Because of Scripture’s clarity and the universal character and repeated message of the gospel, background studies are not absolutely necessary for our Christian faith and life. Without them, however, it is like seeing the world in black and white. You can get along just fine without color, but having the original hues and tints of the Bible world makes the New Testament all the more real, clear, and beautiful.
Let me provide just one example. In Eph. 1:19-21, Paul builds up a vivid picture of Christ’s exaltation and rule over every possible competing power in heaven and earth “not only in this age but also in the one to come” (v. 21). Clint Arnold (who contributed to the ESVSB on Colossians and Philemon) has made a compelling case that Paul’s emphasis on power and Christ’s exaltation is particularly apt for the Ephesians, who had a well-known fascination with magic and infernal and celestial powers (cf. Acts 19:18-19). This just seems to make Paul’s statements on Christ’s power all the more meaningful.
4. What aspect of Ephesians has had the greatest impact on you?
It’s hard to pin it down to one thing. There were many, many times when I had to stop working on the notes and thank the good Lord for the privilege of reading this rich and exciting book. I guess the thing that struck me the most was how masterfully Paul makes his points without being artificial or employing the kind of tedious artifices that marked the rhetorical style of Ephesus and of other Eastern cities at the time. (The apostolic father, Ignatius of Antioch, has some of this overdone style, though I’m very fond of him nevertheless!) But Paul’s rich style (and content!) in Ephesians is masterfully effective and moving.
5. What is the relationship between Ephesians 1-3 and 4-6 and what practical significance does that have for Christians?
It is pretty common to divide Ephesians (and other Pauline books) into an initial “indicative” or doctrinal section (Ephesians 1-3) and a concluding “imperative” or ethical section (Ephesians 4-6). While you don’t want to make these chapters watertight compartments, there is a profound truth here that good biblical teaching will lead to deeper faith that will itself lead to holiness of life. Look at how Paul expresses this early on in Ephesians: we have been chosen to be holy and blameless (1:4) because election is to something. And notice how the focus of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that they will have unshakable convictions about our hope, inheritance, and Christ’s all-conquering power and exaltation (1:18-21), because Paul knows that a deep-rooted faith will yield rich fruit of obedience to his exhortations for holy living in the latter chapters.
6. What are some of the most useful commentaries (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) on Ephesians?
I’m always reluctant to answer this question because a commentary that helps one person may not be that useful for another. For example, some commentaries are beneficial as summaries of modern literature but not really that good for understanding the text at hand. Let me suggest that the best way to find a “good” commentary is to work through a passage as intensively as you can then consult various commentaries and see which one(s) give you something you couldn’t figure out yourself. For myself, I’ve found the older commenators like John Calvin and Charles Hodge to always provide good insights, and Peter O’Brien has given us a splendid modern commentary.
7. What advice would you give to pastors who are contemplating preaching expository sermons through Ephesians? Would you recommend a particular approach?
I would suggest taking sometimes larger, self-contained sections as sermon texts, formulating a single thesis statement for each section, and then expositing the texts through those thesis statements. While verse-by-verse exposition appears to be most faithful to the text, one can easily get lost in a forest of details and miss distant connections within the longer Pauline sentences when proceeding this way. For example, Eph. 2:1 is reiterated in v. 5a and dependent on the verbs in vv. 5-6; I would want to bring these verses together in my exposition.
8. What advice would you give to lay people reading Ephesians in the ESV Study Bible?
Well, I would ask that they realize that I initially set out to write very briefly on Ephesians only to discover that my briefest notes were over twice the word limit. I hope the notes act as springboards for one’s own, deeper study into “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13).