The Defeat of the “Strong Man” (Arnold)

Powers of Darkness: Principalities & Powers in Paul's Letters by [Arnold, Clinton E.] When Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ diabolical accusation that he cast out demons “by the ruler of demons” (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων) he gave an illustration:  “…No one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house” (NET).  That is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ power over the kingdom of darkness.  Here’s how Clinton Arnold nicely explains it:

From the context of Jesus’ words it is clear ‘the strong man’ is a reference to Satan, and his ‘house’ corresponds to his kingdom.  ‘Possessions’ [or property] are Satan’s greatest value and are not things, but people. Satan holds unbelieving humanity in bondage.  Christ has come to engage this ‘strong man’ and plunder his house; that is to release the captives in Satan’s kingdom.

This passage thus becomes a very important testimony to Jesus’ mission.  It provides additional clarification to the nature of the atonement. Jesus came not only to deal with the problem of sin in the world but also to deal with God’s prime supernatural opponent – Satan himself!

Jesus’ many exorcisms clearly demonstrate his power over the evil one.  They also provide numerous examples of Jesus’ ability to ‘bind’ Satan and ‘rob his house.’  In Mark’s account of the Gerasene demoniac, a man plagued with perhaps thousands of demons, it is highly significant to note that ‘no one could bind him’ (Mk. 5:1-20, esp. v. 3).  With only the concise command, ‘come out of the man, you unclean spirit,’ Jesus freed this man from horrific demonic influence.

The exorcisms, however, were not adequate by themselves to deal in any decisive way with the devil and his powers; that is, to ‘tie him up.’  They can only foreshadow an event of much greater importance.  Early Christian tradition uniformly looks to the cross/resurrection event as the point of fundamental significance in Christ’s conflict with the powers (Jn. 12:31-33; Acts 2:34-35, [etc., etc.]).  It was through this event that Satan and his hosts were dealt the fatal blow that spelled their final doom.  The strong man was defeated.

Clinton Arnold, The Powers of Darkness, p. 79-80.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Slavery Compared

The discussion of slavery and Christianity is a difficult and sensitive issue.  I don’t have the time or space to go into all the details here, but one resource that is helpful in this area is Clinton Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians, specifically his essay in it called, “The Distinctive Features of Roman-Era Slavery” (pp. 419-422).  This essay comes under his commentary on Ephesians 6:5.

Arnold’s main point is that slavery in the Greco-Roman 1st century was quite different than slavery in the 19th century southern United States.  Here are his five points showing the differences (I’ve summarized them).

In the Roman-era slavery,

1) Racial factors played no role.  Slavery in America was primarily based on racial factors.  However, Roman-era slavery had nothing to do with race or a particular people group.  Roman slaves were of virtually every race of people in the Mediterranean region and involved people from every country.

2) Many slaves could reasonably expect to be emancipated during their lifetime.  A great number of slaves could expect to be released by the time they were thirty years old.  In fact, so many were being released from their servitude in the early first century AD that Caesar Augustus declared thirty years old to be the minimum age for emancipation and then limited how many were freed each year.  Sometimes, owners paid their slaves a reward (a peculium), which was commonly used by the slaves to purchase their freedom.  Slavery in the United States, however, typically had no hope for manumission and freedom.

3) Many slaves worked in a variety of specialized and responsible positions.  Some slaves were consigned to hard labor, but many others served as teachers, writers, accountants, secretaries, etc.  African slaves, however, were seldom entrusted with responsible positions nor did they have the training for any skilled jobs.

4) Many slaves received education and training in specialist skills.  In the Roman world, many slaves were educated and trained in certain skills, which would benefit both the slave and the owner.  Sometimes, owners viewed this as a business strategy – to train slaves and motivate them to high quality workmanship by holding out the prospect of freedom after a specified time.  Slaves in America, however, typically did not receive extensive education and training.

5) Freed slaves often became Roman citizens and developed a client relationship to their former masters.  It was the common practice for a freed slave to gain Roman citizenship.  Often, their former master would become their patron, making their transition into freedom a bit easier.  African slaves in the United States, however, were typically not freed and given a patron status.

Arnold is not saying that slavery in the Roman era was a bed of roses: “Although we can point to some features that make it appear better than slavery in the Antebellum South of the United States, it still involved the coercive ownership of another person.”  Slaves in the apostle Paul’s day didn’t have legal rights, could not own property, and often were not permitted to marry and have a family.  The main point Arnold is making is this: slavery in Paul’s day was quite different than slavery in the 19th century United States.  Though this thesis doesn’t resolve all the difficulties in this topic, it is helpful to remember as it will keep us from anachronism and historical errors.

Clinton Arnold, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

shane lems

Sexual Impurity: Let It Not Be Named Among You

I’ve been enjoying Clinton Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians.  He explains grammar and syntax very clearly, is level-headed, is not long-winded, and is pastoral.  While studying Ephesians 5:1-5 this week in sermon preparation, I found a helpful explanation of Ephesians 5:3 (but sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints).  Below is part of his commentary on this verse – and it is very much worth reading since we live in a culture where sexual impurity is paraded and flaunted almost everywhere you turn.  No one blushes anymore at the horrible sexual sins of our age (cf. Jer. 8.12).

“Paul begins [in 5:3] with an appeal for the readers to eliminate sexual immorality (porneia) from their lives.  This is similar to the exhortation he gives to the new Gentile believers of Thessalonica when he calls them to abstain from sexual immorality as he explains to them what it means to be sanctified (1 Thess 4:3).  The term has a long history of being translated ‘fornication’ (see NRSV; RSV; NKJV; KJV; Geneva; Tyndale), which was commonly used to refer to two unmarried people having consensual sex.  The term clearly encompasses this, but should be understood in the broadest possible sense of any kind of sexual activity outside of a committed marriage relationship.”

“This would include premarital sex, adultery (Matt 19:9), sex with a prostitute (1 Cor 6:12-20; see also Hos 1:2; Nah 3:4), homosexual liaisons (Rom 1:29), and incestuous relationship (1 Cor 5:1).  Jesus spoke of ‘sexual immorality’ as one of the evils that flows from a corrupt heart (Matt 15:19; Mark 7:21).  Elsewhere, Paul lists it as one of the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19), and it is proscribed by the ‘apostolic decree,’ where it is also closely related with idolatry (Acts 15:20).”

“Illicit sexual activity was an enormous problem for new Gentile Christians to overcome in the early church.  Adulterous relationships, men sleeping with their slave girls, incest, prostitution, ‘sacred’ sexual encounters in the local temples, and homosexuality were all a part of everyday life.  There was not an accepted social standard with regard to sexual relations, although some stoics (esp. Epictetus and Musonius Rufus) spoke against the prevailing practices in Roman society because they represented a lack of control over the passions.  Rampant sexual immorality in Graeco-Roman society was why the Jews had long been appalled at the behavior of the Gentiles in this regard and considered them ‘impure.’  The Mishnah even prohibits a Jewish woman from ever being left alone with a Gentile because he cannot be trusted sexually (m. Abod Zar. 2.1).”

“…Paul stresses that such conduct is utterly inconsistent with their new identity as God’s chosen people.  They are no longer Gentile sinners, but a new creation that is like God in righteousness and holiness” (p. 321).

Clinton Arnold, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 319-320.

shane lems

Great is Artemis of the Epheisans! (Acts 19:34)

Clinton Arnold’s ECNT (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) on Ephesians is one of my favorite newer commentaries on this epistle of Paul.  It is laid out well, easy to read and follow, and it has great features (i.e. outlines, historical context sections, etc.) that make it a useful tool for studies in Ephesians.  In the introduction Arnold discusses Artemis/Diana, the chief goddess of ancient Ephesus.  Here are a few excerpts that show how influential the Artemis cult was in 1st century Ephesus.

“Her relationship to the city could best be described as a covenant bond and thus she was often called ‘Artemis of the Ephesians.’  The size and grandeur of her temple, located outside of the city walls in a sacred area, caused ancient writers to laud it as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. …Twice every week, a procession was held in which adherents paraded her statues, marching from the temple, through the Magnesian Gate, through the whole city, out the Coressian Gate, and back to the temple.”

“The influence of this goddess and the cult attached to her permeated every area of life for those who lived in this city.  The temple was the major banking center for the city, her image adorned the coinage, a month of the year was named after her, Olympic-style games were held in her honor (called the Artemisia), and she was trusted as the guardian and protector of the city.”

“…Artemis was a benevolent deity.  …She was an incredibly powerful deity and would sympathetically use her power on behalf of her devotees.  Thus, she was acclaimed ‘Queen of Heaven,’ ‘Lord’ (kuria), and ‘Savior’ (soteria).  …She could break the chains of fate, protect people from various kinds of tormenting spirits, and defend people against spirits coming to bring injury, sickness, plague, and harm.”

“According to Luke, many people who were devotees of this cult became Christians during Paul’s ministry there.  In fact, so many people were turning to Christ that it was beginning to have an adverse impact on the sales of silver shrines to the goddess.  This is what led to the guild of the silversmiths raising the alarm that caused the mob uprising in the theater (see Acts 19:23-41).”

Arnold does explain the Artemis cult in more detail which I can’t fit here.  This is incredibly helpful historical background material for students of the NT – specifically Acts and Ephesians.  Again, I highly recommend this commentary: Ephesians by Clinton Arnold.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi