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An Introduction To The Book Of Ephesians

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I. AUTHOR: The Apostle Paul

A. External Evidence: All tradition takes the epistle as being Pauline until it was first disputed by Erasmus (fifteenth century) and by later eighteenth-twentieth century critics. This tradition is unassailable in its unanimity

1. Marcion included it in his canon, although under the title of Laodiceans (c. AD 140)2

2. It was in the Muratorian Canon under the Epistles of Paul (c. AD 180)

3. It is under the Epistles of Paul in the earliest evidence from the Latin and Syriac versions

4. It probably preceded the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (AD 95) because of its development of thought3

B. Internal Evidence: Although later critics, such as Erasmus (fifteenth century) and eighteenth-twentieth century scholars, questioned Pauline authenticity over internal evidence4, these arguments have reasonable answers,5 and do not override the external evidence

1. Self-Claims: The author of Ephesians claims to be the apostle Paul with personal knowledge of his readers:

a. The author claims to be Paul in the opening address much like Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Colossians 1:1

b. The author claims to be Paul in the body of the letter in 3:1 just as in 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:2, Colossians 1:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Philemon 9.

c. The letter abounds with statements in the first person

d. The author describes himself as one who has personally heard of the readers (1:15), who thanks the Lord for them (1:16), who is a prisoner of Christ Jesus (3:1; 6:1), received a mystery from God (3:3ff), was divinely appointed to ministry (3:7), presently suffers (3:13), intercedes for the readers (3:14ff), affirms the readers’ need for a new way of thinking and living against a Gentile background (14:17ff), interprets the mystery (5:32), appeals for prayer on his behalf (16:19-20), and concludes with a personal salutation (6:21-22)

2. Pauline Structure: The letter has distinct affinities with Paul’s other epistles:

a. Pauline sequence: opening greeting, thanksgiving, doctrinal exposition, ethical exhortations, concluding salutations, and benediction

b. The basing of moral appeals upon previous theological arguments is an integral part of the apostle’s approach to problems

3. Pauline Language and Literary Affinities: Similarity of words, vocabulary, and style support Pauline authorship

a. Many words are common with this letter and other Pauline letters which are also not found in the NT

b. The vocabulary is close to earlier Pauline letters

c. Ephesians has Pauline characteristics such as paradoxical antitheses (6:15,20), free citations of the OT (1:22; 2:13,17; 4:25; 5:2; 6:1-3; cf. 1 Cor. 3:9)

d. Striking similarities exist between Ephesians and Colossians (which few modern scholars doubt), therefore, Ephesians seems to be Pauline too

4. Theological Affinities: This letter has been called the crown of Paulinism due to its rich Pauline theology:

a. Although the “Church” is a new emphases in the letter, there is a clear background of Pauline theology

b. God is glorious (1:17), powerful (1:19ff), and merciful (2:4ff)

c. The Believer is “in Christ” (1:3,10,11, etc.)

d. The cross has a reconciliatory value (2:13ff)

e. The Holy Spirit has a similar ministry (2:18; 3:5; 4:1ff, 30; 5:18)

f. God’s counsel is predestining (1:5ff)

5. Historical Data: The evidence here is negative rather than positive:

a. There is no mention of the fall of Jerusalem even though the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles is destroyed

b. There is no mention of the persecution of believers

c. There is no mention of ecclesiastical organization

II. DESTINATION: Most probably Ephesus, but a circular letter is also possible to the churches of Asia minor with Ephesus as the primary church addressed

A. Tradition has handed down the letter as one sent to the Ephesian church

1. All known manuscripts except for five6 have ἐν ᾿Εθέσῳ (1:1)

2. The expression “to the saints who ...” is always followed by a place name in parallel Pauline passages (cf. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1)

3. Paul seems to have a particular group of people in mind (1:15ff; 6:22)

4. Perhaps the words ἐν ᾿Εθέσῳ were deleted early in some manuscripts in order to adapt the epistle for use in other churches. Apparently this happened to the book of Romans since Codex G (ninth century), 1908 (eleventh century), and 1739 all delete “in Rome” at Romans 1:7

5. If Paul meant this letter to be sent to the churches of several cities, why did he not say so as in Galatians 1:2?

6. The title of the letter, ΠΡΟΣ ΕΦΕΣΙΟΥΣ (“To the Ephesians”), is attached to all of the Greek manuscripts even though 1:1 is not agreed upon

B. Modern criticism has strongly disputed Ephesus as the destination:

1. The words ἐν ᾿Εθέσῳ are not in the best Alexandrian manuscripts (P46, [AD 200], א [AD 400], B [AD 400]),

2. The letter has an impersonal tone which does not reflect Paul’s writing to the Ephesians whom he knew so well (1:15; 3:2; 4:21)

Even the benediction is impersonal since it is not addressed to “you” but to the “brethren” and to “all those” (6:23,24)

To not mention any of the individuals of the church is unusual in view of the fact that Paul ministered among the Ephesians for three years (Acts 19:1--20:5), and developed a close relationship with the elders (Acts 20:17-38)

3. The words ἐν ᾿Εθέσῳ seem to have been omitted from Marcion’s text since he considered it to have been addressed to the Laodiceans, not the Ephesians

But Marcion may only have had parts of the letter without the introduction, therefore the ascription may have only been a guess from Colossians 4:16.

C. Possible Explanations:

1. Blank Space: It is possible that Paul left a blank space in the original manuscripts to be filled in by each church as they read it. This would make the five manuscripts with “in Ephesus” copies of the original

However, there are no parallels of this in ancient literature

However, this does not explain why all the rest of the manuscripts which survived have “in Ephesus” rather than some other place noted

The blank might be more plausible if the εν was not also missing

2. Circular Letter: Paul wrote the letter as a circular letter to all of the churches of Asia, but it came to be generally known as the letter to the Ephesians early on because Ephesus was the major city of Asia. Therefore, early scribes inserted “in Ephesus” into the text7

However, Paul does not include a greeting of a general kind as in Colossians

However, if separate copies were made for each church, why did the scribe not fill in the church name?

3. To Ephesus: The letter was written to the Ephesians and addressed to them even though Paul wrote it in a form which would make it suitable for other churches. It was intended to be circulated, and as it was a few scribes deleted the words “in Ephesus” as some also did with Romans

The encyclical nature of this epistle may account for why Paul urged the Colossians to “read the letter from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16)

Therefore, it is possible that the three Alexandrian Greek manuscripts do not contain the best reading for the following reasons:

a. All of the versions include the words without exception

b. The geographical distribution of the majority of Greek manuscripts which do include “in Ephesus” is wide

c. No manuscripts of this letter mention any other city in place of Ephesus

d. No manuscripts have only the word “in” followed by a space to insert the cities name

e. “To the Ephesians” appears on all manuscripts of this epistle

f. All of the letters Paul wrote to churches include their destinations

g. The early church fathers Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian all understood the letter to be to the Ephesians8

h. The absence of names:

1) Perhaps Paul did not wish to single out certain persons in this short letter since he knew so many

2) If the letter was also circular, Paul would have left specific Ephesian names out for the sake of relevance to the readers from Laodicea and Colosse

III. DATE and PLACE: AD 60-62 during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment

A. Since Clement of Rome cites Ephesians, it must be dated earlier than AD 95

B. Paul identifies himself as a prisoner at the time of his writing Ephesians (3:1; 4:1; 6:20)

C. It is possible that Paul could have written the letter when he was imprisoned at Caesarea9 (Acts 24:27, AD 57-59), or in Rome (Acts 28:30, AD 60-62)

D. Early in Paul’s first Roman imprisonment seems to be the most likely time when he wrote Ephesians:

1. It is thought that Paul wrote a group of epistles called the “Prison Epistles” at the time of his imprisonment in Rome:10

a. Ephesians

b. Philippians (1:7)

c. Colossians (4:10)

d. Philemon (9)

2. Ephesians is placed in this time period because of its close association to Colossians-Philemon and the probability that Tychicus delivered both letters (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-9)

3. Ephesians gives no hint of Paul’s release from prison as do Philippians (1:19-26) and Philemon (22); therefore, it may well have been written in the early part of his stay, or around AD 60.

E. Following Paul’s release from Rome:

1. He traveled

2. He wrote 1 Timothy and Titus

3. Paul was arrested again in Rome

4. Paul wrote 2 Timothy

5. Paul was martyred in Rome

IV. A DESCRIPTION OF EPHESUS:

A. A leading center in the Roman Empire

B. Paul visited Ephesus twice:

1. Paul visited Ephesus a short time on his way back to Antioch from his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-22)

2. Paul stayed in Ephesus on his third missionary journey for three years (Acts 20:31)

C. While Paul was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey several remarkable things occurred:

1. Paul baptized about twelve of John the Baptist’s followers (Acts 19:1-7)

2. Paul had discussions in the hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10)

3. Paul performed unusual miracles (Acts 19:11-12)

4. Paul performed exorcisms (Acts 19:13-16)

5. Sorcerers were Converted (Acts 19:17-20)

6. Paul was part of a city riot by threatened temple workers (Acts 19:23-41)

7. Paul gave the Ephesian leaders a farewell address in the town of Miletus (Acts 20:13-34)

V. PURPOSES OF THE BOOK OF EPHESIANS

A. No particular problem is raised in the book unlike many of Paul’s other letters

B. Some suggest that Paul’s time in imprisonment enabled him to develop an “exalted Christology and a high appraisal of the privileges of believers in Christ”11

C. Hoehner understands “love” to be the issue that needs to be stressed with the saints in Ephesus because even though the church succeeded in keeping out false teachers (cf. Acts 20:29-30 with Revelation 2:2), they were loosing the “vibrancy of their first love for Christ” (Rev. 2:4) and other saints (cf. also 1 Tim. 1:5)12

1. The theology of chapters 1--3 focuses upon the need for the Ephesians to increase in their awareness of God’s love so that they will imitate it to God’s glory

2. The application of chapters 4--6 are specific expressions of love for one another in view of God’s love

D. Paul is encouraging the church to maintain their position of unity:13

1. The Ephesian theology is centered on God’s provision which leads to unity in the church

2. Paul writes to encourage the Ephesians to continue in their unity through obedience, love, and spiritual warfare


1 Much of what follows is adapted from Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp. 479-521, T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, ICC, pp. i-xxiii, Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in BKC, pp. 612-614, Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, pp. 311-328.

2 This makes Pauline origin undisputed at this time since Marcion acknowledge only Paul as having authority.

3 See Abbott for a more in-depth discussion of the church fathers (Ephesians, pp. ix-xiii).

4 Guthrie, NTI, pp. 482-490; Abbott, Ephesians, pp. xiii-xxix.

5 Guthrie, NTI, pp. 490-507.

6 The five are P46, χ*, B* 424c, 1739 as well as manuscripts mentioned by Basil and the text used by Origen (see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, p. 601; T. K. Abbott, Ephesians, pp. iff).

7 See Abbott for a full discussion of this hypothesis (Ephesians, pp. i-ix).

8 Adv. Haer. 5.2.36; Stom. 6.65; Adv. Marc. 5.11.17.

9 For a discussion of the Caesarean origin see Abbott, Ephesians, pp. xxix-xxxi.

10 This imprisonment was actually a time when Paul was kept under guard in rented quarters (Acts 28:30). Therefore, these letters could also be called the “House Arrest Epistles”.

11 Guthrie, NTI, p. 515. See also A. Skevington Wood, “Ephesians” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, p. 17.

12 Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians” in BKC, p. 164.

13 In his own way Childs affirms the same type of focus, but emphasizes that Paul has the new generation of Christians in view. As he writes, “Paul is desirous that the new generation of Christians understand the nature of God’s present exercise of power in their lives according to the divine purpose which he accomplished in Christ and which encompasses the entire universe” (The New Testament as Canon, p. 325).

This emphasis upon the “new” generation of believers might explain why Paul uses a second-hand reference to the Ephesians in 1:15 et cetera (Ibid, p. 326). But it is also true that five years have passed since he was last with the Ephesians, therefore, it would be natural to hear of things which he had not recently experienced.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines