Reflecting on Ephesians for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, comenting on Ephesians 5:18:

The first phrase of verse 18 quotes an Old Testament wisdom text that warns against being enamored of wine. Paul is objecting to getting drunk and losing control of one’s speech and actions, whatever the alcoholic beverage or drug of choice may be. Paul criticizes drunkenness on the basis of what it leads to: debauchery, the ruin that comes from excess or throwing off restraint, and the opposite of the wise conduct recommended in 5:15. Saint John Chrysostom comments, “Immoderate indulgence makes one rash, passionate, prone to stumbling, anger and severity. Wine was given to gladden us, not for intoxication” (Homilies on Ephesians).

In a surprising contrast, Paul tells his readers to be filled with the Spirit rather than to be filled with wine. Why would Paul view being filled with the Spirit as an alternative to intoxication? At Pentecost, skeptical bystanders accused the Spirit filled apostles of being “drunk with new wine” because of their joyful praise of God (Acts 2:13). It seems likely that both Paul and Luke understand the gift of the Spirit as fulfilling the messianic promises of superabundant “wine” (Isa 25:6; 55:1–2; Joel 2:24–26; Amos 9:13–14) that symbolize the fullness of life and joy God promised his people. In the New Testament the Spirit brings joy and exultation.

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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