Book Notice: The Letter to the Ephesians (NICNT)

Lynn H. Cohick. The Letter to the Ephesians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020. 521 pages. $46.49 (Hardback).    

The NICNT series is a long-standing favorite among pastors and scholars. I recall, as a new believer, laying eyes on Douglas Moo’s Romans commentary only to find myself wanting all the volumes in the series. The NICNT commentary is home to the world’s foremost New Testament scholars, including the well-known British scholar F. F. Bruce, who published the original volume on Ephesians. After many decades, Bruce’s volume has now been replaced by Lynn Cohick, professor of New Testament and Provost at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois.

Readers will quickly note that Cohick’s commentary is a serious academic work. While easy to read, the volume is well researched and carefully sourced. Against many critical scholars who deny the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, Cohick provides ample evidence to buttress her position that the apostle Paul is the author of the letter. Cohick’s commentary features a prominent trinitarianism in the epistle, underscoring the letter’s call to grace-based community living within the realm of the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Among the great strengths of the work are several excursuses interspersed throughout the volume. These engage dimensions of Ephesians that frequently elicit questions by attentive readers. For example, Cohick helpfully presents diverse perspectives on slavery from multiple ancient sources. Thus, instead of offering two competing positions (western vs. ancient, as is commonly the case), Cohick shows that this institution was variegated in the ancient world.

Readers will quickly notice the commentary’s indebtedness to the larger Greco-Roman cultural context. This is not surprising since Cohick is a scholar who specializes in that field. For anyone interested in exploring the nature of the New Testament’s social and economic contexts, this commentary is a valuable starting point. However, while the Greco-Roman background is important, the Second Temple and rabbinic literature is rarely consulted. Some might even find references to the Old Testament lacking. This imbalance is clearly seen in the discussions of the household codes where Cohick heavily, and almost exclusively, relies on the Greco-Roman context. While the contemporary milieu cannot be neglected, her commentary may likely be diminished in stature, especially in the eyes of Old Testament scholars and those who study Second Temple literature.

Should Cohick’s commentary have been part of the prestigious NICNT series? I think so. The work is scholarly and has considerable strengths. Not all will be convinced by her conclusions (e.g., on husbands and wives), and the methodology employed will likely need supplementary work. Overall, this volume serves as a helpful aid, especially for those looking to sharpen their understanding of the Greco-Roman context within which Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians.

Tom Musetti is a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Pastoral Resident at Hespeler Baptist Church.


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