Paul the empowered prisoner: Eph 3:1-13 in the epistolary and rhetorical structure of Ephesians

Greg Fay, Marquette University


The purpose of this study is to provide a joint epistolary and rhetorical analysis of Ephesians as an illustration of the compatibility and effectual conjunction of the two disciplines. My most particular concern is the function of Eph 3:1-13 (the description of Paul as the prisoner of Christ for the Gentiles) within the epistolary and rhetorical structure of the letter. Rather than a "parenthesis" or "digression" which is tangential to the primary design of the letter, as most modern commentators interpret it, I argue that Eph 3:1-13 forms an integral part of the organizational and argumentative scheme. Many epistolary and rhetorical considerations support this thesis. For example, from an epistolary perspective, Eph 3:1-13 serves as the initial development of one of the three major themes of the letter, introduced in the thanksgiving (1:15-23) and summarized in the transitional prayer report/doxology (3:14-21) in typical Pauline epistolary style: "the immeasurable greatness of his power upon us who believed." From a rhetorical perspective, the description of Paul as the empowered prisoner of Christ (3:1-13) functions as an argument from example and as refutation of an interpretation of his imprisonment that might lead to discouragement in and possibly anger from the Gentile recipients. Both purposes go to support the letter's primary proposition that "there is (only) one body and one Spirit" and the resulting petition for the audience to do everything it can to maintain unity in the church (4:1-6). As a deliberative document in the style of ancient political speeches "On Peace" and "Concord," the letter defends its unity proposition by defining (stasis of definition) "in Christ" so as to ground ecclesiastical peace/unity in the inherent order of God's new creation reality and plan for the universe. My dissertation is divided into four major chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the method I call "epistolary criticism," followed in chapter 2 by an epistolary analysis of Ephesians. Chapter 3 summarizes classical rhetorical criticism, followed in chapter 4 by my rhetorical analysis. A concluding summary applies the results to the critical questions of the historical setting and authorship of Ephesians.

Recommended Citation

Fay, Greg, "Paul the empowered prisoner: Eph 3:1-13 in the epistolary and rhetorical structure of Ephesians" (1994). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9517926.