Elisabeth Schüssler FIORENZA. Ephesians. Wisdom Commentary 50. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2017. Pp. 145+lxxxii. $39.95 hb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8174-9. Reviewed by Nicholas R. WERSE, Baylor University, Waco, TX.


Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s Ephesians commentary contributes to the growing collection of the Wisdom Commentary series—the first commentary series on the Bible from a feminist perspective. The series follows the NRSV translation, providing corresponding passage by passage commentary. Commentators may choose to supply alternative translations or address text critical issues in short text boxes labeled “Translation Matters,” which supplement the commentary. Schüssler Fiorenza uses only one “Translation Matters” text box in order to supply a gender inclusive translation of Ephesians 1:3-8. In keeping with the series commitment to multiple voices, Schüssler Fiorenza’s commentary is complimented by several short essays by other authors who provide supplemental conversations of theological topics and interpretive issues related to Ephesians.

Following the Editor’s Introduction that defines the goals of the series, Schüssler Fiorenza supplies an Author’s Introduction that surveys her interpretive methodology and the background information contextualizing Ephesians. In addition to carefully examining the language and worldview of the text from a feminist perspective, Schüssler Fiorenza devotes careful attention to questions of social hierarchical power and marginalization. Schüssler Fiorenza examines key terms in Ephesians in order to decipher the political symbolic universe of the epistle (oikonomia, “household management;” politeia, “commonwealth;” Christos, “Messiah;” and ekklesia, “political assembly of citizens;” pp. lxxiii-lxxxii). She further interprets Ephesians against the background of a Jewish worldview in the Roman province of Asia, thus identifying the letter’s earliest recipients as “Jewish Messianists” who envisioned a more inclusive Israel.

One of the beneficial interpretive aspects of Schüssler Fiorenza’s methodology is her attention to “kyriarchy.” Schüssler Fiorenza uses the term “kyriarchy” (from the Greek kyrios) to discuss the ways in which the systems of social “domination and exploitation” include “race, class, ethnicity, imperialism, and age” along with gender (p.xlviii, n.9). She argues that Ephesians uses imperial (“kyriocentric”) language and imagery to depict Jesus as the greatest power and authority that surpasses the emperor. This use of imperial imagery employs and thus reinforces hierarchical “kyriarchy” that justifies the subordination of wo/men. Thus the Bible’s use of “kyriocentric language” stands in contrast to the liberative function of Scripture that inspires and authorizes “wo/men in our struggles against dehumanizing oppression” (p. xxii). According to this assessment, Ephesians “seeks to correct this egalitarian communal understanding” and reinforces the social hierarchies of Greco-Roman society (pp. lxxix-lxxx). This discussion of “kyriarchy” is particularly beneficial for clergy who draw comparisons and metaphors from modern society in order to teach parishioners about God. While every metaphor has a meaning and a limit, it can also carry the (unintended) consequences of reinforcing harmful social hierarchies or unequal distributions of power. Schüssler Fiorenza’s volume is thought provoking and insightful, and will be of use to those seeking to critically examine the language and metaphors used to talk about God.