Robert Farrar Capon’s Bible Study

Part Three of Four

Mockingbird / 6.29.22

In the autumn of 1997, Jamie Howison invited Robert Farrar Capon to speak at St. John’s College in Winnipeg, where Howison was then serving as the college chaplain. A pair of brilliant lectures and a lovely dinner prepared by the College chef were followed by late evening drinks at the hotel where Robert and Valerie Capon were staying. Bidding adieu for the night, Capon remarked, “If anything ever brings you to New York, you should come out to Shelter Island and look us up.” Three years later, Howison did just that, and then arranged a return visit in the winter of 2004, bringing with him a tape recorder and as many questions as Capon could handle. The following is an excerpt from a Bible Study Capon led on Ephesians 1.

 (For part one, click here, and for part two, click here)

All right, Ephesians 1. Okay, skip to verse 3. “Blessed be God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in the Messiah.”

“Χριστοῦ,” “Christ,” is a difficult, tempting translation, because you cannot get rid of the assumption that it is about Christians. And this is the messiah of the world of the Jews, and this is going to say that he’s not only the messiah of Jews but of gentiles, from the foundation of the world.

Now watch. “εὐλογήσας ἡμᾶς” — “Who has blessed us” — and here I think that’s “us Jews,” because he changes deliberately to gentiles after a while. “Who has blessed us Jews with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in the Messiah as he chose us –the chosen people, the Jews — in him, before the foundation of the world, so that we should be holy and without spot before him in love.” (3-4)

“προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ” — “Having predestined, predesignated us Jews for sonship through Jesus Messiah into him, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his glorious grace, which he graced us with in the beloved — the Word.” (5-6)

“We Jews have the ransoming through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the richness of his grace — and all wisdom and knowledge — the mystery of his will — according to his good pleasure, which he pre-established or predetermined or pre-set in him — for an economy, a dispensation of the fullness of times — to recapitulate all things in the Messiah — the things in heaven and the things on the earth in him.” (7-10)

“We Jews have also been made heirs — according to the previous counsel of the one who does all things, works all things, according to the counsel of his will — so that we Jews should be for him the praise of his glory who first hoped in Christ.” (11-12)

“Now … YOU guys, the gentiles” — “ὑμεῖς” — it has been all ‘we Jews’ until here, and now he shifts to ‘you all’ at verse 13, “in whom, also you, hearing the word of truth.” Not getting something done, but just hearing the word of truth. This word of truth, the truth of your condition is “the good news of the salvation of you all, in whom also you are believing, having been sealed to the promise of your salvation — the Holy Spirit of promise.” (13-14)

Our inheritance … get it? We’re all together. There is no difference between Jew and gentile, there never was, from the foundation of the world. In God’s purpose and God’s gifts and so on. I’m not telling you that this is something you can now get. You have it just as we all had it, us Jews have all had it. If you want to push it, we were the sacrament to the world of what is true of the world. And that’s manifested, for example, in Isaiah 45 where Cyrus is the messiah. The “Χριστός” appears throughout scripture. Every king of Israel is a “Χριστός.” The psalms are all psalms of the messiah, the psalms of David. That’s a push, but it’s a legitimate tradition.

“… who is the guarantee, the security of our inheritance, the redemption of God’s precious possession — to the praise of his glory.” (14)

Watch the shift, how long it takes, I always think it comes up sooner, but it isn’t until verse 13 that he gets around to the gentiles. Now that’s an interpretation, but I think it is possible. See “Christ” is misleading, because it is the Messiah of the Jews, the “Χριστός.”

Then “ye” also, hearing the word of truth. And the word of truth is that you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is not your doing. There is no response you need to make, except to trust that it is true. In other words, the world is circumcised in the circumcision of Jesus at eight days of age, just to make a paradoxical statement, but that’s what it means.

“By the circumcision of the Messiah,” “By the mystery of thy holy incarnation, by thy holy nativity and circumcision, by thy baptism, fasting and temptation.” And finally, it comes at the end, “in all time of our tribulation, in all time of our prosperity, in the hour of death and the day of judgement, good Lord deliver us.” That’s us and there we are, and it’s all true of us too. The mystery of the holy incarnation throughout the whole world. No inserted incarnation, no late visit of the divine carpenter who promised to come earlier and didn’t make it and finally showed up, fixed a few things, knocked a few heads together or did something.

Judaism’s remembrance of the holocaust, its insistence on remembrance of the holocaust, is right, is dead on, for they are the sacrament of the passion of the world. Israel has always been the sacrament, the suffering servant, despised and rejected, more marred than any man. The church likewise becomes what Judaism is. The saddest thing that ever happened is that it turned out that Judaism was opposed, and we were opposed to Judaism. Quickly.

If there is a mistake to be made, it will be made. The bigger the mistake, the more likely it will be.

But nobody in the second century understood Paul except Marcion, and he got it wrong. Between Paul and John, those are the two giant intellects in the New Testament. The critics made it very difficult when they decide that maybe Colossians is Paul, but the best you can say for Ephesians is that it is Pauline. Well, I can do that too, but it’s not necessary. It has always been taken as the proper exposition of Paul, thoroughly Pauline sentiments. Ephesians is not written by Paul; it’s written by somebody else living in the same body.

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One response to “Robert Farrar Capon’s Bible Study”

  1. Robert M says:

    Very, very difficult to understand, yet fascinating and beautiful.

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