Ephesians Commentary – Thomas Winger Interview

ephesians bible commentary winger coverThomas M. Winger is the author of the Ephesians volume in the Concordia Commentary series. Dr. Winger is President and Professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (CLTS), St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

Dr. Winger is a graduate of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (MDiv, 1990), after having studied at Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan (BA, 1985), and Westfield House, Cambridge, England. He pursued graduate studies at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri (STM, 1992; ThD, 1997).

Dr. Winger is the author of dozens of articles, many published in Lutheran Theological Review, the (co-)editor of three books, and a contributor to The Lutheran Study Bible. He has written studies for the theological commissions of Lutheran Church–Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). He was a member of the liturgy committee of Lutheran Service Book, and is currently writing for its Pastor’s Desk Edition. He was pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Catharines, a German-English congregation, for six years before being called as tutor at Westfield House. After seven years of teaching at that theological training house of the ELCE he returned to Canada, and has been a professor at CLTS since 2006 and its president since 2012.

Born in Coventry, England, into an ELCE parsonage, Dr. Winger has lived his life alternately between England and Canada, with some years also in the United States. From the latter he received his dear wife Sara, now a happily naturalized Canadian, with whom he has two children, Anne and Benjamin. Their house is filled with music.

7 Questions on Ephesians in the Concordia Commentary Series

Recently, Dr. Winger graciously answered my questions about his Ephesians commentary. Readers will learn how this commentary came to be, what is unique about it among Ephesians commentaries, and how the project edified him personally.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ephesians?

I had written my MDiv treatise (back in seminary days) on Ephesians four and its teaching on the pastoral ministry. The biblical roots of the ministry has long been a research interest. I also have been involved in a number of liturgical projects, including the hymnal Lutheran Service Book (2006). Ephesians is notable for its liturgical style, which peaked my interest. Along the way I wrote the study notes on Ephesians for The Lutheran Study Bible (2009).

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

The Concordia Commentary series aims at the well-educated pastor who has some skill with Greek and Hebrew. My volume in particular aims to be pretty thorough in the textual notes. However, the “Commentary” section doesn’t require any knowledge of Greek/Hebrew for the reader to benefit. I have heard from many lay people who have found it enriching. The theological perspective is best described as “Evangelical Catholic”, which is a good way to understand traditional Lutherans.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ephesians?

In the preface I suggest three ways in which my commentary is distinctive. Firstly, it affirms the traditional view that Paul wrote the letter while also rejecting circular letter theories and arguing that it was genuinely written to the church at Ephesus. This perspective led me to investigate what Acts teaches about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in order to understand the content of the letter he wrote to them. Secondly, I discern and develop a number of important themes: Baptism as the overarching motif; the unity of the Church in Christ and the Church as His body; a liturgical and sacramental flavour, coupled with a focus on the office of the ministry; and an emphasis on spiritual warfare, including the opposition between idolatry and true worship. Thirdly, flowing from my doctoral research into the oral character of Paul’s epistles, the commentary pays close attention to the letter as an act of proclamation of Law and Gospel within the context of the Christian divine service. It also draws upon classical rhetorical analysis to uncover Paul’s strategies of argumentation and persuasion. Put in churchly terms, it seeks to discern the Christian rhetoric that characterises the letter as sermon.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Paul’s treatment of holy marriage (5:21-33) was at the same time the most difficult and the most rewarding. It goes without saying that the biblical view of marriage is counter-cultural today. I would argue that it was always so—Paul isn’t simply old-fashioned or patriarchal, but reads marriage in light of its divine institution. The challenge is to discern how God’s order in marriage can be beneficial to us both in terms of Law and Gospel. We can have “better” relationships when we listen to how God created us and designed our families. But more importantly, I learnt how much Paul wants us to be drawn closer to Christ through the picture of the Gospel that marriage offers, that God in fact designed marriage from the very start to proclaim Christ and the Church. It is the section of the commentary that has been most appreciated by readers.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

The great gift of being compelled to spend thousands of hours in deep study and contemplation of God’s Word is something for which I am grateful. It’s hard work, but spiritually uplifting at the same time. Perhaps to pick up on a small detail, my understanding of what it means to be “in Christ”—a favourite expression of Paul in this letter—was enriched. For Paul what’s important is not so much that Christ is in me as that I am in Him, that by being baptised into Him I share in His intimate relationship with God the Father and join Him in all the blessings of the heavenly places.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ephesians?

I have always appreciated Andrew Lincoln’s commentary (Word) for its careful attention to detail and sound judgement, even though I would disagree in his sceptical assessment of Pauline authorship. Late in the game I found Clinton Arnold’s Power and Magic to be enormously helpful in understanding the focus on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. For those who can read German, Heinrich Schlier’s commentary is theologically inciteful. But mostly I would urge people to read the Greek text of Ephesians closely and learn to understand it in light of the rest of Scripture, which is its best interpreter.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Since the commentary was published I have been regularly presenting on Ephesians, mostly pastors’ conferences, but also lay-oriented Bible studies. As a full-time seminary professor and administrator I keep very busy, but I continue to devote time to research and writing. I recently published Lutheranism 101: Worship (Concordia Publishing House, 2017), and continue to write for the pastor’s desk edition of Lutheran Service Book, due to be published in a year or two.

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