It’s been said that most of Paul’s writing can be boiled down to, “Hey you two—get along!” Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ephesians where Paul goes to great lengths to convince Jews and Gentiles that in Christ they participate in one new humanity.
There are two key perspectives that make Lombardi’s commentary shine. In the first place, he is determined to understand Paul first as a Jew. One of the early footnotes on Ephesians 1:4 made me want to stand up and cheer:
Other scholars will focus on the terms holy and blameless to reference an “imputed righteousness” that effects substantive change to our being through a transfer from Christ to us. Such a view assumes that Paul is using Greek philosophical categories, where being is understood in terms of substance, as opposed to Hebrew relational categories that describe God’s connection, in His own presence and action, to humanity and creation. Paul’s writings make far more sense when he is considered to be thinking as a Hebrew rather than as a Greek. (21)
This Hebrew understanding of Paul seems blindingly obvious but is often overlooked by the Reformed tradition.
The second perspective Lombardi brings to the text is a solid understanding of Paul’s Roman milieu. Using the history of Rodney Stark, Lombardi brings out elements of Roman culture that illuminate many of the things Paul wrote. For example, it’s difficult for Twenty-First Century Christians to understand why Paul would not call for an end to slavery. The observation that “the Roman Empire literally ran on slave power” (123) along with the statistics that back the statement up helps clarify why Paul wrote about how slaves should behave.
The pastoral insights interspersed throughout the commentary are very apropos. To continue with the topic of slavery, Lombardi notes that “one of the lessons to be learned form this is the importance of choosing where to fight the battle against evil in society” (124). In another stand-up-and-cheer worthy line, he observes that “beginning to address attitudes and behaviour is more conducive to change than trying to coerce the adjustment of cultural norms by influencing legislation” (124). This is worth remembering this election year!
A New Humanity is a brief but thought-provoking look at the new sort of unity God has accomplished in Christ. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 ESV).
—Luciano Lombardi, A New Humanity: A Walk Through the Letter of Ephesians (Belleville: Guardian Books, 2014).