Our next stop is Ephesians. There are three passages that use the head metaphor in Ephesians. One is in the household code in Chapter 5. We will examine the other two instances in this post first and return to household code after one more post.
Unlike Colossians, Ephesians does appear to be addressing any particular heresy. It seems to be written more as general letter. Gordon Fee believes that in its original context Ephesians was a companion letter with Colossians and Philemon. Ephesus is not mentioned in the letter. The letter may have been a circular for wider circulation to the churches in Asia Minor that developed out the letter to the Colossians. Whatever the case, the parallels between themes and imagery in Colossians are unmistakable. If not written by Paul, then the two letters must surely be written by the same author.
The first passage that concerns us here is the use of the “head” metaphor in 1:22. It comes at the end of a prayer where Paul hopes that Christians may come to fully know God’s purposes and rely on his power. The prayer mentions “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.” This parallels what we saw in the previous post on Colossians about the widespread belief in the powers of “elemental spirits of the universe,” which included things like the fates and celestial bodies controlling events (astrology.) This catalog of powers unquestionably encompasses human institutions but it is much boarder in scope. So as we come to the end of the prayer we need to have a clear image of what is being referenced.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (NRSV)
What does Paul what them to get a handle on?
“…with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know … hope … his glorious inheritance among the saints … immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” (vs. 18-19)
In short, like the Colossians letter, Paul wants his readers to fully appreciate the source of glory and power they are connected to in Christ. (vs 20-21) Jesus has been seated in the most prominent place (“at his right hand” in verse 20, drawing on Psalm 110) and is far above (head of/over) all rulers, authorities, and powers, now and forever. But then in verse 22 we read “…he [God] has put all things under his [Jesus] feet…” This wording is taken straight from Psalm 8:6. I have included the entire Psalm below. As you read it, reflect on two things. First, compare verses 1-3 to the hymn given in Colossians 1:15-17 and here in verses 20-21. Second, as you continue down to verse 6, pay careful attention to whose feet all things have been placed under.
1 LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NIV)
In the first three verses we see the majesty and power of God, just as we have heard it articulated in Colossians and now here in Ephesians. Then in verses 4-8 we see a celebration of humanity’s creation as presented in the first two chapters of Genesis, with human beings exercising dominion over all creation. But now revisit Ephesians 1:22. It is Jesus’ feet under which all things are being placed. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:25 and Hebrews 2:8)
It appears that the early church took these words, clearly written about humanity, and found messianic and eschatological meaning in them. Through rebellion, humankind is dead in sin and has lost dominion over creation. As the church read the words “son of man” in verse 4 they found a double meaning. The succeeding verses were taken to indicate events that would happen to the messiah, the “son of man.” He would come to have dominion over creation and all things would be placed under his (the messiah) feet. By then coming into organic unionwith the messiah, as a head is with a body, we are restored as regents over creation. I think this is the argument that the author of Hebrews in making in Chapter 2 of that book:
6 But there is a place where someone has testified:
"What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7 You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8 and put everything under his feet."
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says,
"I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."
13 And again,
"I will put my trust in him."
And again he says,
"Here am I, and the children God has given me."
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (NIV)
Christ has made us "brothers" (male and female). In doing so, we are made to share in the same inheritance and his royal status. (A royal priesthood of believers. 1 Peter 2:9) We reign with him. Remember that “brothers” is the best imagery that existed in the Greco-Roman world for shared unranked status. Jesus uses fictive family to illustrate the atonement and restoration of humanity to co-regents over creation.
What we see in Ephesians 1:20-23 is the same theme with a different metaphor. Here, Christ is given full power and dominion but instead of a family metaphor we encounter a biological metaphor. It has two important meanings.
- “…has made him the head over all things...” Christ has been elevated above (head of/over; preeminence) all dominions, powers and authorities.
- “… for the church, which is his body …”
By being the head of the church, he becomes organically one with it, emanates his sustaining life force into it, and whatever glory and honor belong to the head are be extension experienced by the body. Whether it is metaphorically by becoming brothers with Christ in God’s royal fictive family (Hebrews 2) or by being joined as a body to a preeminent life-giving head, humankind is restored as co-regents over creation and as children of God! And because Christ is now the sustaining head of the body fills the body with his presence.
Once again, this has little to say about the activity of ruling but much to say about status and organic union.
The second Ephesians passage is a little more straight forward.
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (NRSV)
Here we have the idea of gifts as life-giving nourishment for “building up the body of Christ,” given to the body by its “head.” Verse 15 tells us “we must grow up every way into him,” in a way similar to the way Colossians 2:7 tells us we must become “rooted.” Both statements are made in the context of not being lead astray by false teaching and being nourished by sound teaching. We saw in Colossians 2:19, that we must not become disconnected from our head because …
…the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.”
…so here in Ephesians 4:16 we learn that it is the head ….
…from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
The head, in this instance, is the life-giving source to the body.
Before moving forward into the Ephesians household code, we must visit on remaining use of the “head” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 11.