Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Answering the Higher Critics

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:4–5).

Though most scholars now think that Ephesians was a letter written to circulate throughout Asia Minor, nobody is proposing to change the name. We shall continue to call it “Ephesians,” both for tradition’s sake and because Ephesus was obviously one of the cities that received the letter, perhaps the primary one.

We turn today to a problem of a different sort. Remember that on Monday we distinguished so-called “higher criticism” from “lower” or “textual” criticism. There are “higher critics” who insist that Paul did not write this letter. From a Christian standpoint, this is not an issue, because all manuscript copies of Ephesians from the ancient world unite in including the word Paul in Ephesians 1:1. Thus, we could simply bypass this question and get on to studying the book.

But Proverbs 26:4–5 tells us that we need to address this question. We say, “Ephesians is God’s Word. God’s Word says Paul wrote Ephesians. Case closed.” When we say this, we are refusing to answer the fools according to their folly, and we are not being like them. They are fools who reject God and His Word (Psalm 14:1); we are being faithful to God and His Word.

Yet we must also answer them, so that they do not become high and mighty in their own eyes. So then, what can we say to these self-proclaimed higher critics? We shall have to listen to their foolish arguments so that we can refute them. We’ll begin doing that today and finish in tomorrow’s lesson.

First, then, the critics point out that there are nearly fifty words used in Ephesians that are unique in the Pauline writings. Thus, they say, Paul did not write Ephesians. But, (a) we only have a few letters by Paul. Who is to say how wide his vocabulary was? Did a man as brilliant as this have only a few thousand words at his disposal? Moreover, (b) many of these unique words are simply compounds of words Paul does use elsewhere. Finally, (c) the unique words in Ephesians can easily be accounted for, case by case, by the fact that Paul deals with some matters here that he does not deal with elsewhere. Thus, this argument is foolish and nonsensical.

It should encourage us to see how weak and worthless the arguments of “higher critics” are. That is one reason we should answer them. The better prepared we are, the better we are able to stand firm. Study His Word that you may stand firm in the face of tools.