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The Book of Ephesians

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Determining the precise destination for the Ephesian letter would seem like a straightforward matter. After all, does it not say in 1:1: “to the saints who are in Ephesus”? On the surface, then, the issue seems “cut and dried.” But, when we probe a little deeper we see that there are certain problems with this view as such.

First, while many manuscripts and early versions have the words “in Ephesus” (ejn jEfevsw/, en Epheso), they do not appear in some very important and early manuscripts; Sinaiticus (a), Vaticanus (B), p46 and 424c do not contain “in Ephesus.” Second, that they were most likely not there in the original is further confirmed when we realize that several of the Fathers did not have them in their copies either. Origen (ca.185-254) did not have them and Basil (ca. 330-79) said they were lacking in the earliest manuscripts known to him. Marcion (ca. 140), the heretic, referred to Ephesians as the letter sent “to the Laodiceans” which probably indicates that he did not have the words in his copy either.1 Third, if the letter was sent solely to the church in Ephesus, it is strange that Paul offered no greetings to any people there—that is, strange since he had ministered in the city for over three years (Acts 19:1-20:31; cf. 3:2) and had undoubtedly, throughout that time, acquired many friends. In short, the best solution to the problem is that the letter was sent to many Pauline churches (and others) throughout Asia Minor with the “port of entry” being Ephesus. Each church was free to insert its own name in 1:1, but the primary church responsible for the letter was Ephesus.2


The traditional view is that the apostle Paul wrote the letter during his first Roman imprisonment. While there have been attempts to overturn this view on the basis of language (certain words not found in other Pauline epistles), style (long sentences and the repeated use of synonyms), theology (Christ’s cosmic reign and the universal nature of the church), and the letter’s relationship to Colossians (the two seem quite different, yet written at the same time), the traditional view still offers the best explanation of the data.

Since it is unlikely that pseudepigraphy was practiced among early Christians3—and the book is ascribed to Paul—and since the letter abounds with terminology (grace, adoption, holy), theology (justification by faith and the place of the law), and style similar to other Pauline letters (say Rom, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal), coupled with the fact that it enjoyed an early and wide acceptance (with no question marks surrounding its authenticity), there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the early consensus was in any way incorrect. Further, the differences between Ephesians and other non-disputed Pauline letters do not involve contradictions on the most critical readings. They are differences of emphasis, not substance and reflect logical trajectories in Paul’s thought (e.g., the “foundation” in 2:20 as compared with 1 Cor 3:10-11). Finally, it is highly unlikely that an amanuensis or some other Pauline devotee wrote the letter—except, perhaps, under the very direct guidance of the apostle—in light of the personal remarks in chapter 3.

Date and Provenance

The most common understanding of the date and provenance among conservative scholars is that Paul wrote the letter during his first Roman imprisonment (see 3:1; 4:1) around AD 60-62. Those who reject Pauline authorship often date the letter between 70-90 when the Pauline letters were thought to have been collected.4 The specific details surrounding the need for the work remain somewhat enigmatic since the letter itself seems to support no particular problem in the churches to which the letter was addressed.5

Important Themes

Though the specific purpose of the book is difficult to nail down precisely, certain theological and ethical themes play an important role. Some include: (1) the trinitarian and gracious nature of salvation (1:3-14; 2:1-10); prayer for spiritual understanding, power, and transformation (1:15-23; 3:14-21), the nature of the church as the unification of Jew and Gentile in one “new man” (2:11-22); positional and practical unity in the church (4:1-6); the purpose for spiritual gifts (4:7-16), personal and corporate holiness (4:17-5:14); the husband-wife relationship (5:22-33) and the spiritual warfare the church must engage in as it opposes Satan and his demons (6:10-18). The central organizing theological idea in Ephesians is that through Christ’s atoning work God has mightily brought about the church—a new humanity, i.e., the unification of Jew and Gentile in one new man—for the praise of his glory and as a testimony to the principalities and powers of His multi-colored wisdom.

Teaching Outline

    IA. Introduction (1:1-2)

      1B. The Sender: Paul (1:1a)

      2B. The Recipients: The Ephesians and Others (1:1b)

      3B. The Salutation: Grace and Peace (1:2)

        1C. Grace and Peace

        2C. God Our Father

        3C. The Lord Jesus Christ

    IIA. The Positional Unity of the Church (1:3-3:21 [4:1])

      1B. General: Praise God for Salvation Blessings (1:3-1:23)

        1C. The Trinitarian Nature of God’s Salvation Blessings (1:3-14)

          1D. They Are Determined by the Father: Eternity Past (1:3-4)

          2D. They Are Secured through the Son: Historical Past (1:5-13a)

          3D. They Are Applied by the Spirit: Personal Past (1:13b-14)

        2C. A Prayer for Insight into God’s Salvation Blessings (1:15-23)

          1D. The Context for the Prayer: Faith and Love (1:15-16)

          2D. The Nature of the Request: Knowledge of God (1:17-19a)

            1E. General Request: Wisdom, Revelation, Enlightenment (1:17-18a)

            2E. Specific Request: Calling, Inheritance, Power (1:18b-19a)

          3D. The Christo-Centric Foundation of the Prayer (1:19b-23)

            1E. In Light of Christ’s Exaltation and Cosmic Reign (1:19b-22a)

            2E. In Light of Christ’s Headship over the Church (1:22b-23)

      2B. Specific: Personal and Corporate Nature of Blessing (2:1-3:21)

        1C. The Personal and Gracious Nature of God’s Salvific Blessing (2:1-10)

          1D. The Gentiles’ Past: Dead in Sin (2:1-3)

          2D. The Gentiles’ Present: Raised with Christ (2:4-9)

          3D. The Gentiles’ Future: God’s Plan for Good Works (2:10)

        2C. The Corporate Nature of God’s Salvific Blessing: The New Community (2:11-3:21)

          1D. The Gentiles’ Past: Life Without Blessing and Community (2:11-12)

          2D. The Gentiles’ Present: Jew and Gentile—“One New Man” (2:13-22)

            1E. Achieved through the Cross Work of Christ (2:13-18)

            2E. Summary: Fellow Members of God’s Household (2:19-22)

        3C. Paul’s Role In Establishing the New Community (3:1-13)

          1D. The “Mystery” Was Made Known to Him (3:1-6)

          2D. Paul Received Divine Grace… (3:7-13)

            1E. To Preach Christ (3:7-8)

            2E. To Unveil the “Mystery” (3:9-12)

            3E. To Endure Suffering for the “Mystery” (3:13)

        4C. Paul’s Prayer for the New Community (3:14-21)

          1D. The God Addressed in the Prayer (3:14-15)

          2D. The Content of the Prayer (3:15-19)

            1E. “That Christ May Dwell” (3:15-17a)

            2E. “The Fullness of God” (3:17b-19)

          3D. The Incredible Expectation of the Prayer (3:20-21)

            1E. Based on the Power of God (3:20)

            2E. Desired for the Glory of God (3:21)

    IIIA. The Practical Unity of the Church’s Calling (4:1-6:20)

      1B. General: Community Context—Unity and Holiness (4:1-5:14)

        1C. The Call to Unity in the Midst of Diversity (4:1-16)

          1D. The Call to Unity (4:1-6)

            1E. The Call Proper (4:1)

            2E. The Character Required (3:2-3)

            3E. The Creedal Foundation (4:4-6)

          2D. The Diversity of the Gifts (4:7-16)

            1E. Related to the Grace Given by Christ (4:7-10)

            2E. Some Examples of Different Gifts (4:11)

            3E. The Purpose of the Gifts (4:12-16)

        2C. The Call to Holiness in the Midst of Moral (Worldly) Futility (4:17-5:14)

          1D. The Foundation of Holiness: “Old Man-New Man” (4:17-24)

          2D. The Practice of Holiness: Various Commands (4:25-5:2)

          3D. The Reason for Holiness: God’s Wrath on Disobedience (5:3-14)

      2B. Particular: Specific Relationships in the Church (5:15-6:18)

        1C. General Statement about Relationships (5:15-21)

          1D. The Command To Be Wise (5:15-17)

          2D. The Command To Be Filled by the Spirit (5:18-21)

        2C. The Marriage Relationship: Love and Submission (5:22-33)

        3C. The Family Relationships: Obedience and Instruction (6:1-4)

        4C. The Master-Slave Relationship: Integrity and Fairness (6:5-9)

        5C. The Church’s Relationship to the Evil One: Opposition (6:10-20)

          1D. The Need for Strength in Spiritual Conflict (6:10-13)

          2D. The Means for Strength in Spiritual Conflict (6:14-20)

            1E. Loins Girded with Truth (6:14a)

            2E. The Breastplate of Righteousness (6:14b)

            3E. The Gospel of Peace (6:15)

            4E. The Shield of Faith (6:16)

            5E. The Helmet of Salvation (6:17a)

            6E. The Sword of the Spirit (6:17b)

            7E. Constant Prayer (6:18-20)

    IVA. Conclusion (6:21-24)

      1B. Paul’s Plan to Send Tychicus (6:21-22)

      2B. The Benediction (6:23-24)

1 D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 309-11.

2 A problem with the view that each church filled in its name in 1:1 is that the preposition “in” (ejn, en) is also missing in the earliest and best manuscripts.

3 See Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 1011-28; Carson, et al., Introduction, 367-71.

4 Carson, et al., Introduction, 309.

5 There may have been a Jew-Gentile problem (as was somewhat common), but 2:11-22 and 4:1-6 hardly comes across as a polemical piece which attempts to deal with a particular schisms.

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