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The Old and New Man in Ephesians

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The Old Man and New Man in Ephesians

            Paul tell Christians that they are to take off the old man and put on the new man.  There is a twofold purpose for this paper.  Define what the old and new man are.  Why is old and new man important to us. 

What is the Old and New Man?  Perhaps the single greatest obstacle we encounter when we try to define what the old and new men are is the paucity of information.  There is no information outside of Paul’s writings that can help us define them.  Although the Hebrews and the Greeks spoke about clothing oneself with various moral attributes and virtues they never speak about taking off an old man and putting on a new man.  The Old Testament speaks about clothing oneself with qualities (O'Brien, Colossians, 189, No Parallel).  Although, there is some similarity between these passages in Paul's concept of putting on various virtues, there is no mention of taking off an old man and putting on a new man.  Therefore, the Old Testament notion of clothing ourselves with various qualities cannot help us define what the old and new men are. 

The mystery religions spoke about being clothed with the power of the cosmos and divine life (O'Brien, Colossians, 189, No Parallel).  The Gnostics also had a clothing metaphor where they spoke about daunting the garments of redemption (O'Brien, Colossians, 189, No Parallel).  But these references make no mention about taking off an old man or putting on a new man.

Therefore, neither can they Greek or Roman notion of clothing ourselves with various qualities cannot help us define what the old and new men are.  What this discussion has left us with is the fact that there are no exact parallels for Paul's concept of taking off the old man and putting on the new man outside of Paul's writings (Lincoln, Ephesians ,284, O'Brien, Colossians, 189, No Parallel) which could give us some clue as to what Paul meant by these terms.

This leaves us with what Paul has to say.  The problem here is, Paul doesn’t tell us what they are either.  He uses the term, “the new man” in Ephesians 4:24 and suggests in Colossians 3:10, and the term “the old man” in three passages, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9, and Romans 6:6.  Although what the old and men were may have been common knowledge in the church Paul uses without explanation.

Paucity of information leads to varying theories.  Some suggest that the language of taking off old man and putting on the man come from the practice of baptism: disrobing, entering the water, and then putting new garments after one leaves the water (Lincoln, Ephesians, 284, Baptism).  This practice is probably based on Romans 6:4f where Paul writes that we have been baptized in Christ’s death, followed the comment that the old man has been put to death, and Galatians 3:27 where Paul writes that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There are two problems with this.  The first is, if we are to believe that Paul used the language of baptism to describe his teaching of taking off the old and putting on the new man, we would be making him put the cart before the horse. It seems more reasonable that the practice of disrobing and then robing was informed by the teaching of putting off the old and putting on the new man, rather than the teaching was informed by the sacrament.  Two, the baptismal practice of  disrobing one’s garments before baptism and subsequently robing one self in new garments afterwards is second century tradition (Lincoln, Ephesians, 284, Baptism).

Because of this Paul could not have used it to inform his teaching.

Another suggestion is that old and men of Ephesians 4 are conduct of the old and new age.  Eugene Nida understands old and new men of Ephesians 4 this way, calling the old man the former behavior and the new man the new pattern of behavior which we should conform to (Nida, Greek-English Lexicon Vol. 1, 508).  Losma’s also understand the old man and new man this way in  Syrian translation Ephesians 4:22: “That you lay aside all your former practices, that is to say the old man which is degenerated with deceitful lust.”  The problem with this interpretation is that there is nothing in the text which makes κατὰ τὴν προτέραν ἀναστροφὴν grammatically equivalent with τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον.  Because the two accusative phrases are juxtaposed, they could be considered in apposition (cp. Wallace, Greek Grammar and Beyond, 199, 200) as Losma’s translation suggests.  In support of this Paul does use a similar construction in 2:2 where….  However, in the 2:2 verse both accusative phrases are prefaced with κατὰ, while in 4:22 only the first accusative is.  One, would think that if Paul wanted his readers to understand that τὴν προτέραν ἀναστροφὴν was in apposition to τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον he would have began both phrases with a κατὰ to avoid any ambiguity.  Although it is not necessary that both accusative phrases be equivalent (cp. Matt. ),  in Paul they seem to be.

A more friendly construction is to take τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον as an adjective qualifying the former behavior.  We shall expand this thought below.

Lincoln finds this theory in Jaco ().  This would be a unique understanding of Adam and Christ.  Although Christ is said to be in us, Adam is never said to be in us.  In addition, Paul speaks of the old man belonging to us (Rom. 6:6).  Robinson gives a more satisfactory view and in turn refutes this theory.

A forth view is that the old man and new man are the life of Adam and Christ within us.  Let’s begin by first identifying the old man and new man as Adam and Christ respectively.  Perhaps the most convincing evidence that Paul understands the old man and new man as Adam and Christ respectively comes from a parallel verse to Ephesians.  In Ephesians 4: 10 tells the believers to, ἐνδύσασθαι τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον.  He uses similar language in talking about Christ as in Romans 13:14 where he writes, ἐνδύσασθε τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν.  Considering that they only uses the word ἐνδύω when he speaks of putting on the new man and putting Christ (cp. Gal. 3:25), it seems reasonable that that in Paul’s mind the new man and Christ are the same.  If this is the case, then because old man is found parallel to the new man in Ephesians and Colossians, the old man is Adam.

There is other evidence for this understanding that comes from the terms that Paul uses when speaking about the old and new man.  The word he uses for old in the phrase old man is the Greek, παλαιός.  Paul only uses this word when speaking about mankind apart outside of Christ.  He uses it to refer to the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:14), and the believer’s old conduct (1 Cor. 5:7).  The word he uses for new in the phrase new man is the Greek, καινός.  Paul only uses this word when speaking about mankind in Christ.  He uses it to refer to the new covenant (1 Cor. 11:15, 2 Cor. 3:6) and the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). 

For Paul then the words παλαιός and καινός refer to the two worlds men live in now, the old world which is apart from Christ and the new world which is Christ.  It should be noted that he does not use παλαιός to describe the old creation.  He uses ἀρχαῖος for this.  Even though some differences can be found between these two words, in Paul there are synonyms (παλαιός, TDNT  717, anthropos).  What we can conclude from this is, the old man is part of the old creation and the new man is part of the new creation.

Although this observation in itself does not connect the old man with Adam and the new man with Christ, when παλαιός  and καινός are associated with ἄνθρωπος it does.  Paul refers to both Adam and Christ by the term ἄνθρωπος in 1 Cor. 15:47.  There he calls Adam, πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος and Jesus, δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος.  What ἄνθρωπος stands for in this verse is not just Adam and Christ, but Adam and Christ as humanity’s two representative men from which we get our legal standing before God and our spiritual make up.  In as much as Adam was the inaugural human of the old creation, he defines man in the old creation.  In like manner, as Jesus was the inaugural human of new creation he defines man in the new creation.  πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος and  δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος and functional equivalents of  τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον and τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον respectively which means that the old man is Adam and the new man is Christ.

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