Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of; "Walk Worthily" by Jeff Smelser

Walk Worthily: A Commentary on Ephesians.” By Jeff Smelser. Cillicothe, OH: DeWard Publishing Company, 2017, 273 pp., ISBN:9781936341948, $19.00.

Walk Worthily” is a commentary on the epistle of Ephesians by Jeff Smelser, who has written articles in several confessional periodicals and edits a website that hosts courses in New Testament Greek.[1] The ‘Preface’ indicates that “this work has been prepared having in mind the first or second year Greek student” (p. 10). Those seeking a highly technical commentary on the level of a “Hermenia” or “International Critical Commentary,” that exhaustively interacts with the scholarly literature and examines every textual variant may be disappointed. “Walk Worthily” is best suited for the pastor, beginning student, or layman.

Despite its beginner level, the introduction is quite comprehensive and at fifty pages, consumes roughly one fifth of the work. The length reveals the importance Smelser places upon a proper understanding of the historical setting and recipients of the epistle. He argues that issues of Pauline authorship can be resolved by accurately determining the intended recipients (p. 16). According to Smelser, the epistle was not written to the Ephesian church specifically, but rather was originally intended as an encyclical (p. 32-38).

He gives the resemblance of Ephesians to Colossians as evidence in favor of Pauline authorship arguing that the similarity reveals that both epistles were likely written at the same time and place (p. 16). Smelser compares the outline and wording of both epistles and concludes that both have similar main ideas (p. 17-24). Ephesians being at 4:1, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling which you were called,” and Colossians being at 2:6, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, in him walk” (p. 24). Yet Colossians includes very specific and individualized comments, whereas Ephesians does not, which would be out of place if the Ephesians were the intended recipients, considering Paul’s long history with the Church there (cf. p. 25).

Another clue that allegedly points away from an original Ephesian destination is the overall gentile focus of the letter. Pointing to the events described in Acts 18 and 19, Smelser highlights the primary Jewish rather than gentile membership of the Church at Ephesus (p. 26-27). Thus, it seems out of place for a letter allegedly sent to the Church at Ephesus to be addressing gentiles primarily (p. 27).

The most convincing clue tipping away from an original Ephesian destination is of course the lack of the words “in Ephesus” in a few manuscripts. These are P46, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus, among others, all of which are important witnesses to the text of Ephesians (p. 28). Also, several early Church fathers are witnesses to the lack of “in Ephesus” in the manuscript tradition. Origen (early 3rd cen. CE), and Basil (late 4th cen. CE) having extensive discussion of this verse (p. 29-30).

Accumulatively, the evidence discussed above has led the author to conclude that the letter of Ephesians was not originally intended for the Ephesian Church, but was meant as an encyclical letter, written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon, and carried by Tychicus to the various Churches in Asia Minor (p. 32). Smelser gives a detailed proposal as to the route Tychicus may have taken in bearing the letter (p. 33). He suggests that Tychicus traveled the “Syrian Gate” and left copies of the encyclical letter in the cities along the route, which included the city of Laodecia (p. 32-38). This might explain Marcion’s association of the letter with Laodicea (p. 30).

Rome rather than Ephesus or Caesarea is given as the likely place of composition (p. 43-50). A date range of composition at 60 CE and no later than 64 CE is assigned to the epistle based upon the details given in the book of Acts (p. 55). Smelser gives a lengthy chronological discussion of the events in Acts, anchoring his dates on the time of Gallio’s term as Procunsul of Achaea (p. 50-52).

In the text of the commentary Smelser focuses in at the verse and clause level, rather than at the discourse level. He begins each discussion by giving his own English translation of the verse under examination. In describing his intent behind the translation, he writes,
“I have not attempted to provide a fluid, easily readable translation. Rather, my goal has been to produce a translation that will facilitate ready comparison with the Greek text for those who have some knowledge of Greek.” (p. 10)
Though the author does not reproduce the Greek text for each verse in its entirety, however, he does include the text taken from the NA 28 when the discussion requires it.
Throughout the work Smelser references most of the standard Greek grammars and lexicons. According to the “Works Consulted” list in the back, the following original language resources were used (p. 267-273); C.F.D. Moule’s, “An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek,” Richard Chenevix Trench’s “Synonyms of the New Testament,” Daniel Wallace’s “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” and Maximillian Zerwick, “Biblical Greek.” 

Unfortunately, this list is not representative of every work referenced within the commentary. Scanning through the footnotes the following sources were also consulted by the author; A.T. Roberton’s “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Reasearch,” “A Manual Gramar of the Greek New Testament,” Herbert Weir Smyth, “A Greek Grammar for Colleges,” Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament,” Dana and Mantey, “A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament,” Kittel, Friedrich and Bromiley, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as well as BAGD, and BDAG.

Considering my own interests in textual criticism, composition, and publication of the New Testament writings, the introduction was the most interesting to read and thus garnered the most attention in this review. Smelser gives some great insight into the circumstances surrounding the composition and distribution of the letter. Despite this, I was disappointed at the lack of interaction with scholarly literature on this issue. There was no mention of Günther Zuntz’s work and his discussion of encyclical Hellenistic royal letters extant in the papyri that had a blank space for the names of the recipients to be entered at each destination.

Despite the drawbacks, “Walk Worthily” is an affordably priced commentary that balances approachability with detailed analysis. Beginners will not be over intimidated by technicality and more advanced readers may yet find insight and scholarly commentary to satisfy their curiosity.
[1] For a list of his published articles see the website here.


  1. Intriguing note about the method employed in the royal encyclicals, thank you. In general, however, I would prefer more books to make their own points, without the extensive references to scholar A, scholar B, and scholar C.

    1. I agree, thank you for the comment anonymous. It is good to interact with scholarship at some point in order to properly reference the source of ideas. I only mentioned Zuntz because Smelsner's encyclical theory was suprisingly similar to his work. I wasn't sure if Smelsner was enfluenced by Zuntz.

  2. Your description of the introduction sounds much less intriguing to me than the little you've written regarding the commentary on the text. A solid verse by verse discussion of the meaning of the Greek text from a conservative scholar like Smelser should prove to be an invaluable addition to my library.

    1. Thank you for the feedback Steve. In a book review it is always difficult to balance a comprehensive overview with critical engagement and appropriate praise. In giving preference to the introduction one can 'get a feel' for the author's stance in the rest of the commentary. I am glad that you are adding Smelsner's work to your library.

  3. Thanks for the review. I was already aware of the commentary, but am even more eager to read it after reading your review.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for reading the blog.

  4. Good to see Jeff's book getting some press!