The Drama of Ephesians

Timothy G. Gombis. (2010) The Drama of Ephesians: Particpating in the Triumph of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

I want to thank Adrianna Wright and IVP Academic for sending me a review copy of this book. It was excellent! When I began reading it there was already a paradigm shift occurring in my own approach to Scripture. I had been reading Scripture not merely historically, but rather in captivity to historicism. I define the difference between these two is that for the first history informs one’s reading of Scripture. This is necessary and beneficial since Scripture is not ahistoric. But the second demands that history dictates the “meaning” of Scripture. This is troublesome if you affirm Scripture to be the word of God for the church through the ages.

Timothy G. Gombis’ “commentary” on the Epistle to the Ephesians has woken me from my dogmatic slumber (with the help of a few other authors). He reads the epistle theologically (p. 181). This is a holistic approach that considers historical-grammatical data while asking how this work directs and guides the church today. What does Paul say about God, Christ, the Spirit, the church, the world, death, life, resurrection, and so forth and so on. How does Scripture speak to these things.


In chapter one, “Exploring the Drama of Ephesians”, Gombis asks “What in the world is Ephesians and what are we supposed to do with it?” (p. 13). Again, back to my last paragraph, do we read it for historical data on the early church? Do we use it to get a better picture of the man, Paul of Tarsus? Those are options, and those options are valuable to some extent, but if we are to read Ephesians as Scripture we need to take another approach.

Gombis chooses drama (which makes me think of Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine, which surprisingly Gombis had not read while writing this work according to a note on p. 186). Drama asks not only that we know the script, the history of the script, about the story within the script, but also how to respond and act in accordance with the script!

Not only does Gombis want us to read it as dramatic scrip-ture, but also apocalypse (p. 19). He knows it does not fit in the traditional category of “apocalypse” (e.g. the Book of Revelation), but it does have apocalyptic function because apocalyptic literature asks us to see beyond what is seen. Since Ephesians is about what Christ is doing and has done in the world that is not necessarily visible to the human eye, we must see with eyes of faith. This is one of the great contributions this book will make to your reading of Ephesians (but I will save the rest for your actual reading pleasure).

Gombis highlights Ephesians drama takes place on the “cosmic stage” and it is happening between “the ages” (pp. 24-25). In order to understand Ephesians these two observations are essential. One must grasp Paul’s “already, but not yet” eschatology. In doing so the reader begins to better understand their own role in performing God’s drama in history.

In the second chapter, “Some Mysterious Actors on the Stage”, we are introduced to cosmic guardians and cosmic rulers. This is usually something you would find in books by hyper-charismatics. Gombis does not go into odd things like “naming the spirit of your city” or other distracting things. He does ask us to acknowledge these spirits as Paul did, but throughout the book Gombis keeps reminding us to pay attention to how Paul sees our involvement in spiritual warfare playing out (this is an excellent book for recovering hyper-charismatics that want to preserve the best insights of charismatic Christianity without all the excessive speculation).

In the third chapter, “Transforming the Imagination”, Gombis invites us to being thinking theologically about Ephesians. He asks us to think of ourselves as actors, reading the script-ure, seeking to be faithful to our own dramatic reenactments in our various contexts. It is here we are asked to consider our own identities before moving forward.

The fourth chapter, “Victory over the Powers”, examines how Christ has defeated the “powers” by the cross. This is how God was victorious. Gombis examines how this reveals Christ’s  “cosmic Lordship” and encourages us to act under the conviction that Christ has been victorious in his resurrection. Chapter five, “Embodying God’s Victory as an Apostle” examines how Paul lived under this conviction and then moves toward challenging us to follow Paul (the part of politics is brilliant, but by far his most controversial).

In chapter six, “Empowering Subversive Performances”, he gives special attention to how Christ’s victory results in a unified new humanity in Christ. This is one of the best chapters, by far. He deals with more than just “church unity”, but what it looks like to bring younger people together with older people; how the Lord’s Supper can impact unity; how we should avoid cultural fads; and how to show love to the poor and outcast of society.

In chapter seven, “Performing the Divine Warrior”, Gombis connects the “body of Christ” imagery to the spiritual warfare imagery showing how Paul sees the church as performing the “divine warrior” in the world against evil. He connects Eph. 6.10-18 with Is. 59.15-19. This revolutionized how I read these Ephesians passage and how I think of spiritual warfare.


If you are a pastor, a student of biblical studies, or a professor seeking to convey the message of Ephesians, this book is an excellent resource. It pairs well with the more traditional historical-grammatic-critical commentaries. If you are a student of Scripture at all, this book is easy to read and it challenges the reader throughout. It is not true that all commentaries on Scripture are spiritually enriching. This one is.


It has an ending. There is a last page.


This is one of the best non-traditional commentaries on Scripture that I have read. It reminds me a little of Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmatt’s Colossians Remixed. If you could buy only five books in 2011 this would be one that I would say you must include. It will bring Ephesians to life and it will challenge you to not only be a hearer of the Word, but a doer as well.