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10. Ephesians: Introduction, Argument, and Outline

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I. Introduction

A. The Author

Except for the pastorals, Ephesians has the worst credentials for authenticity, in critical circles, among all of Paul’s epistles. The argument against Ephesians’ authenticity, however, rests exclusively on internal evidence, for as even Kümmel admits, “without question Ephesians was extraordinarily well attested in the early Church.”1

1. External Evidence

Ephesians is found in the two earliest canons, Marcion’s (who gives it the title “Laodiceans”) and the Muratorian canon. Clement of Rome, Hermas, Barnabas, Ignatius, and Polycarp all allude to it. Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen all quote from it. Further, it is found in ¸46, the earliest Pauline MS, normally dated at c. 200 CE (though recently one scholar has dated this papyrus in the 70s CE!2).

2. Internal Evidence

Our discussion will follow (roughly) the lines of Wood’s essay: traditional arguments for authenticity, arguments against Pauline authorship, and responses to the critical assessment.3

a. Traditional Arguments for Authenticity

There are three traditional internal arguments used for authenticity.

1) Explicit Statements

“In the introduction the author identifies himself and then proceeds in typically Pauline fashion to ascribe his apostolic authority to the will of God (Eph 1:1; cf. 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Col 1:1). Paul’s name reappears later (3:1) as in his undisputed letters (2 Cor 10:1; Gal 5:2; Col 1:23; 1 Thess 2:18).”4 This, of course, is not to say that the letter must be by Paul, but it is to argue that without such internal testimony, no such claim could be made.5

2) Literary Affinities

Both in terms of structure and vocabulary, Ephesians “smells” Pauline. Structurally, we see the same sequence of salutation, thanksgiving, doctrinal exposition, moral appeal, final courtesies, and benediction. This outline, of course, represents the usual practice in letter-writing in Paul’s day, but a comparison with the non-Pauline documents underlines his distinctive approach, particularly in his treatment of ethics as an extension of theology.6

In terms of vocabulary, “many words not found elsewhere in the NT occur both in Ephesians and in the rest of Paul’s letters. . . . [Indeed,] the vocabulary approximates more closely to that of the earlier Pauline correspondence than does that of Colossians, the authenticity of which is scarcely questioned.”7

3) Theological Consistency

This epistle is thoroughly consistent with Paul’s undisputed letters in its theology. Yet, this consistency is not wooden: the language is different, sometimes a new angle on an old theme is developed, there is a detachment involved (as seen by the lack of personal references). Even Mitton, the great champion of inauthenticity in this century, starts his argument with the remarkable concession, “Pauline authorship can rightly be assumed until it is disproved.”8

b. Arguments Against Pauline Authorship

The arguments against authenticity can be grouped into three large categories: historical, linguistic/literary, theological.

1) Historical Arguments

There are two historical arguments: (1) assuming the salutation “to the saints in Ephesus” in 1:1 to be genuine, Paul could not have written this letter because he betrays no personal acquaintance with his audience (cf. 1:15); (2) the author’s personal references are forced and artificial (cf. 3:4 where he speaks of the “holy apostles” which, since it includes him, seems pretentious).

2) Linguistic/Literary Arguments

There are three linguistic/literary arguments: (1) the vocabulary is not as Pauline as it could be, there being thirty-five (35) words which Paul never uses elsewhere, though some of these occur in early patristic writings; (2) the style “is thought to be much more complex and cumbersome than Paul’s usual lively presentation”9; and (3) Ephesians displays a demonstrable dependence on Paul’s undisputed letters, particularly Colossians (as many as 73 verses are virtually identical), yet many of the terms are not used in the same way (e.g., “head,” “mystery,” “fullness,” etc.).

3) Theological Discrepancies

The theology of Ephesians seems quite advanced beyond Paul’s undisputed writings: the church is now universal; there is a refined Christology; “in Christ” is now instrumental rather than mystical (some might call this a regression); etc. Further, some of this seems at odds with the undisputed letters (especially the “in Christ” formula). Finally, there is an absence of some of the typically Pauline themes: justification by faith is not mentioned in those terms; there is little emphasis on eschatology; etc.

In sum, these three arguments have been sufficient to convince perhaps the majority of NT scholars that Ephesians is not authentic. Many scholars argue that Ephesians was the product of a disciple of Paul who produced this epistle as sort of an introduction to the corpus Paulinum.

c. Responses to the Denial of Pauline Authorship
1) Historical Arguments

This is admittedly the weakest argument against Pauline authorship. First, the salutation in 1:1 (“in Ephesus”) is not found in the best MSS, prompting at least the probability that this letter was originally intended to be a circular epistle (see later discussion under “destination”). Second, that the author called the apostles “holy” (ἅγιοι) in 3:4 is not different in kind than his addressing the audience as “saints” (ἅγιοι).

Further, there is an interesting self-deprecating note which is fully consonant with Pauline authorship. In 3:8 the author says that his is “less than the least of the saints.” Not only is this in the context of the “holy apostles” (which necessarily rules out pretension in 3:4), but it makes an advance over the apostle’s similar statement in 1 Cor 15:9 (“I am the least of the apostles”). This is a subtle, yet powerful, piece of internal evidence on behalf of authenticity, for not only does Paul not merely mimic his earlier self-assessment (as a forger might be prone to do), but he evidences development in his own Christian walk. Although some regard this self-deprecation as theatrical, a careful reading of the later pseudepigraphical literature never reveals any forger following the same track. In other words, if this is the work of a later writer, he is the only one of the scores of apostolic would-be copyists to have done this. Almost universally, later pseudepigraphists (as well as early patristic writers) elevate the apostles, placing them on untouchable pedestals. Unless parallels to Eph 3:8 could be produced in the later writings, the most objective reading of this verse is as an authentic statement of the apostle to the Gentiles.10

2) Linguistic/Literary Arguments

a) Vocabulary. Although it is true that the author employs thirty-five words not found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, this is comparable to Galatians (31) and Philippians (40), two undisputed books! Not only this, but Ephesians is longer than either Galatians or Philippians, making it proportionately better off than either of them. We might add here that although some of the unique terms in Ephesians show up only in patristic literature (e.g., “in the heavenlies”), this may well be due to the fathers borrowing from Ephesians, rather than the other way around.

b) Style (and the Role of an Amanuensis). Much more serious than mere lexical stock is the issue of style. It is undeniable that Ephesians is not nearly as lively, but is in fact more reflective in its style. Part of this must surely be explained on the basis of the occasion: Ephesians betrays no pressing battles, no occasion which has gotten under Paul’s skin. As Wood remarks, “He could afford to be more reflective. The style of Ephesians matches Paul’s mood.”11

If we were to stop here, we would do a great injustice to the evidence. To be sure, the style is more reflective. But there is more; the syntax simply does not seem to be Paul’s. In particular, the opening salutation (1:3-14) is one long, cumbersome sentence. One scholar called it “ein Monstrosität!” Although Paul is known for anacolutha, these occur almost exclusively when his emotions get the better of him (especially in Galatians and 2 Corinthians). Such is hardly the case here. Further, there are several constructions in this letter which are unparalleled in the undisputed books.

In response, the possibility of an amanuensis being responsible for some of the wording is not at all unlikely. Longenecker (among several others) has shown that the nonliterary papyri display several different kinds of amanuenses at work—sometimes they wrote by dictation, other times, with greater freedom. His application to the Pauline epistles is illuminating:

Just how closely the apostle supervised his various amanuenses in each particular instance is, of course, impossible to say. The nonliterary Greek papyri suggest that the responsibilities of an ancient secretary could be quite varied, ranging all the way from taking dictation verbatim to “fleshing out” with appropriate language a general outline of thought. Paul’s own practice probably varied with the special circumstances of the case and with the particular companion whom he employed at the time. More time might be left to the discretion of Silas and Timothy (cf. 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1) or to Timothy alone (cf. 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1; Philem 1; Phil 1:1) than to Sosthenes (cf. 1 Cor 1:1) or Tertius (cf. Rom 16:22)—and perhaps much more to Luke, who alone was with Paul during his final imprisonment (cf. 2 Tim 4:11).12

There are two other factors to consider in this issue of an amanuensis: (1) the occasion for the writing of this letter (including the method of composition), and (2) the fact that this is one of Paul’s later writings. We will address the compositional issue later, but for now it should be observed that the most disputed letters in the Pauline corpus are those which were written toward the end of his life. Apart from 2 Thessalonians (which is sometimes disputed), all of the disputed letters, if authentic, would be dated in the 60s. The significance of this may be that as time progressed, and as Paul dictated more and more letters (most of them now lost), his long-time companions could be trusted more and more to work from an annotated outline, rather than copy down a verbally dictated letter. If so, then any arguments from vocabulary or stylistic considerations which do not take sufficient account of an amanuensis at work are immediately suspect.13 Still, the final product would be Paul’s responsibility, and since he customarily appended a personal note at the end of each of his letters (cf. 2 Thess 3:17), there is ample evidence that he read over the letter carefully before it was sent.14

c) Dependence on Colossians. There are four arguments we can use on behalf of authenticity in light of the dependence upon Colossians.

1) The verbal proximity between these two letters is exactly what we might expect, given the historical reconstruction that these were both sent to Asia Minor at the same time (cf. Eph 6:21-22/Col 4:7-8). This is a pattern already established in the Corinthian correspondence, as well as the Thessalonian letters. Indeed, one might even argue that Paul’s style is quite amorphous, though its fluidity is in somewhat of a fixed state for a short period of time. (Hence, the reason the pastorals are so similar is, again, because they were sent at about the same time to the same general vicinity).

2) “On the other hand, would an imitator have dealt so freely with the text of Colossians? Is it not probable that he would have adhered more slavishly to the script? It is when an author borrows from himself that he can take liberties with what is after all his own material.”15

3) Upon close analysis, what is most remarkable is that there is only one verse which is identical in both Ephesians and Colossians: Eph 6:22/Col 4:8.16 Yet this verse is quite mundane with respect to the great theological truths found in these two letters, for it simply details the reasons why Paul is sending Tychicus! For Eph 6:21-22/Col 4:7-8, there are 32 words in sequence; in the rest of the parallels, at most only seven or eight-word parallels occur. This poses a major problem for the forgery view: How could a forger parallel the thought of Colossians so closely, without, save one verse, quoting verbatim from it for more than a few words? What forger would be so careful with Colossians all the way through, only to stumble over Tychicus? But there is a further problem with the forgery view.

4) In my examination of the pseudepigrapha, the duplication between Ephesians and Colossians is unparalleled. The pseudepigraphical letter to the Laodiceans, for example, is an unimaginative patchwork from four of Paul’s letters. The leading characteristics of forgeries is that they are unimaginative, make no new theological advances (except in the area of ecclesiastical hierarchy), and they borrow excessively from more than one authentic epistle. In this respect, Ephesians is unique: it is highly original, develops Pauline theology to a higher level, and borrows excessively only from Colossians (though there are, to be sure, hints from other epistles). Not only this, but the pseudepigrapha usually borrow from the main epistles of Paul; Ephesians is borrowing from one of Paul’s less popular letters. These are weighty considerations against the imitation theory.

3) Theological Discrepancies

Although it is certainly true that theological formulation in Ephesians is, at times, different than Paul’s earlier letters (which may be no more than a function of the amanuensis), and further, that it does seem to be more developed theologically, “mere differences of doctrine cannot be accepted as evidence of dissimilar authorship unless a genuine lack of harmony is proved.”17 The case is quite similar to the relation of Galatians to Romans: the first, an occasional letter, is less developed theologically; the second, a more reflective letter, is more developed. Both the time when written and the reason for writing shape Paul’s style and theological statements. “That the theology of the Epistle [of Ephesians] is more fully developed than in any of its predecessors is so far from being inimical to the presupposition of a Pauline origin that it actually befriends it.”18

By way of conclusion, although the internal arguments against authorship are weighty, once regard for the role of an amanuensis, genuine theological development in Paul, and the reason for the writing of this letter are taken into account, these arguments are not as impressive. Apostolic authorship must still be given the palm, especially since the external evidence is so clear and early.

B. Place of Origin

The traditional view that this letter was written while Paul was in a Roman prison has been assailed from two corners: some claim Ephesus is a better starting point, others suggest Caesarea. Before deciding on this issue, it must first be recognized that, on the assumption of authenticity, where Paul was when he wrote Ephesians is where he was when he wrote Colossians and Philemon. This can be seen by several pieces of evidence: (1) the commendation of Tychicus, as the bearer of the letter, found in exactly the same form in both Eph 6:21-22 and Col 4:7-8, surely indicates that he was sent with both epistles at the same time; (2) the strong verbal overlap between Colossians and Ephesians must, if authentic, indicate that the two were written at the same time; (3) Colossians is inseparable from Philemon19—that is, they must both have been sent at the same time. Hence, all three letters were written and sent at the same time. Consequently, if there is anything in either Colossians or Philemon which helps to narrow down where Paul was imprisoned at the time of writing, such would equally apply to Ephesians.

1. Caesarea

A Caesarean imprisonment is improbable for two reasons: (1) Onesimus, the runaway slave, would hardly have gone to Caesarea. Not only would he not have escaped notice as easily, but he would most likely not have had very good access to Paul. In Rome, however, Paul was under house arrest and had relatively free mobility.20 (2) In Phile 22 Paul requests Philemon to prepare lodging for him, in anticipation of his release. This would hardly be the case in Caesarea, however, for Paul appealed to Caesar, prolonging his imprisonment by more than two more years.

2. Ephesus

On behalf of Ephesus are two arguments (both negative in character): (2) the great distance between Rome and Colossae (1200 miles) suggests that Onesimus would hardly have made the journey; it would be easier for him to travel to a nearby city; (2) in Phile 22 Paul asks Philemon to prepare him lodging, suggesting that he intended on returning to Asia Minor after his release. But he had written the Romans a few years earlier of his plan on going westward, even to Spain (cf. Rom 1:10ff; 15:19ff.). It should be noted that both of these arguments only help an Ephesian imprisonment, not a Caesarean (because Caesarea is far from Asia Minor and because Asia Minor would conceivably be en route to Rome and Spain from Caesarea).

In response: (1) There is just as much likelihood that Onesimus would want to travel to Rome, because it was far away as to Ephesus because it was close by—especially since he robbed Philemon, giving himself travel funds.21 Not only this, but he would surely have been detected in Ephesus by other Christians, perhaps even by some of Paul’s traveling companions. But whether he would have been able to visit Paul before being detected is doubtful. (2) Paul could easily have changed his mind about going to Spain, or he might have wished to visit his friends in Asia Minor before journeying westward—especially to gain emotional strength after having suffered imprisonment for several years.

Not only this, but an Ephesian imprisonment is improbable: (1) We have no positive evidence that Paul was ever imprisoned in Ephesus. (2) If the “in Ephesus” in Eph 1:1 is original, then this view is almost impossible; even if not original, there is the strong possibility that Ephesians was sent to the churches in Asia Minor (with Ephesus being the port of entry, giving cause for the traditional view). And if so, then Paul most likely was elsewhere when all three letters were sent.

3. Rome

Both because of Paul’s known imprisonment in Rome, and because of the tradition of a Roman imprisonment for these letters,22 the burden of proof must rest with a non-Roman origin. As we have seen, the arguments against the Roman theory are not convincing. On behalf of Rome, however, is an important internal clue: Luke is with Paul during his imprisonment (Col 4:14; Phile 24). Luke’s presence with Paul is supported by Acts while Paul was in Rome, “whereas the Ephesian ministry of Paul does not occur in a ‘we’ section and it may reasonably be doubted whether Luke was with Paul during this period.”23

In conclusion, the traditional view that Paul was in Rome when he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, is still the most reasonable view.

C. Date

This letter was sent while Paul was in prison in Rome (59-61 CE). Since the apostle gives no indication that he will be released soon (contra Philippians), it is likely that this was written before the end of his imprisonment. Further, it is obvious that it was sent along with the letter to the Colossians and the letter to Philemon. Once the occasion for the writing of Colossians/Philemon is established,24 it can be reasonably supposed that all three letters were written sometime during the middle of Paul’s imprisonment—hence, c. 60 CE. But more than that can be said here.

Philemon 22 seems merely to be an expression of the hope of release from prison, without giving any indication as to when. If this is read as an expression of imminent release, then the relative dating of Ephesians-Colossians-Philemon in relation to Philippians may need some revision. But other considerations certainly suggest that Philippians is the last of the so-called prison epistles: (1) Phile 22 may be a somewhat exaggerated statement (intended to reflect Paul’s positive attitude more than the reality of imminence), for if Paul was in Rome, it would take him several weeks to travel to Asia Minor; (2) Epaphras is mentioned in Phile 23, as someone known to Philemon (cf. also Col 4:12), without any mention of his illness (cf. Phil 2:25ff.)—even though news of his illness was known to Christians outside of Rome (ibid.); (3) Only Timothy is with Paul when he wrote Philippians (Phil 2:19-21), while Luke, Demas, Aristarchus, Mark and Epaphras are with him when he wrote Colossians-Ephesians-Philemon (cf. Col 4:10-14; Phile 23-24). Whatever else this indicates, it is evident that Philippians cannot be dated at the same time as the other three epistles; (4) the final proof is that Paul sends Epaphroditus to the Philippians (Phil 2:25-30) with the epistle, while he is still with Paul when the apostle wrote the other three letters. All of this evidence points to Philippians being written not only at a different time than the other three prison epistles, but at a later time. Hence, a date of c. 60 CE is most appropriate for Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

D. Destination

1. Ephesus

Traditionally, the letter has been assumed as having been sent to the church at Ephesus. However, in 1:1 the words “in Ephesus” (ἐν  ᾿Εφέσω) are not found in the oldest and best MSS (¸46 א* B* et al.), as well as MSS mentioned by Basil and the text of Origen. Not only this, but Marcion refers to the letter as having been sent to the Laodiceans, and Tertullian and Ephraim do not show awareness of the traditional designation.

In addition, there is good internal evidence to suggest that Ephesus was not the exclusive addressee: (1) the author evidences no direct knowledge of the recipients (cf. especially 1:15; 3:2 and 4:21 are also sometimes taken to indicate this); (2) the author deals with no personal problems, nor gives any personal greetings. What are we to make of this evidence?

2. An Introduction to the Pauline Corpus

Some regard it as conclusive that this letter was not sent to any particular church, but was instead intended to serve as an introduction to the corpus Paulinum. There are problems with this view, however. (1) Those same scholars also deny apostolic authorship to this epistle. If apostolic authorship is affirmed, this view is denied. (2) There is no evidence whatever that Ephesians ever headed the list of Pauline letters—either among the MSS or among the early canon lists. (3) The mention of Tychicus as the bearer of this letter is meaningless if this is intended as a preface to Paul’s letters: “There is no adequate occasion for adding so personal and direct a reference to Tychicus when the other parts of the epistle are allegedly so impersonal.”25 (3) “The major difficulty is the literary problem. As an introduction to the whole Pauline corpus it is inconceivable that the writer would have given such preponderance to Colossians.”26

3. Laodicea

On the basis of (1) Marcion’s title and (2) the reference in Col 4:16 to an epistle coming from Laodicea, some have concluded that this letter was originally sent to Laodicea. Although there is some plausibility to this view (and a modified form of it is indeed what we will adopt), the basic problem is that there is no MS evidence for “in Laodicea.” As weak as “in Ephesus” is, “in Laodicea” is weaker still.

4. Circular Letter

In light of the textual uncertainty about “in Ephesus,” as well as the lack of personal names and controversy, a widely held view is that this letter is a circular letter sent to the churches of Asia Minor. This almost has to be the case if the epistle is authentic, for (1) Eph 1:15 negates Ephesus as the exclusive recipient (since Paul spent three years in Ephesus and this statement could not therefore be made of them), and (2) Eph 6:21-22 ties the sending of this letter to the sending of Colossians (cf. Col 4:7-8).

Beyond this are two subsidiary points. (1) The textual problem in 1:1 is solved by the circular letter theory. In this case, the letter would have been carried by Tychicus and he would have sailed from Rome for Ephesus, the port of entry into Asia Minor. There probably was a blank space in Paul’s letter as to location and Tychicus was to instruct each church in Asia Minor to fill in the blank. Since Ephesus had by far the largest church in Asia Minor, it is natural that “in Ephesus” would end up in most copies. Further, Tychicus immediately left Ephesus and went directly to Colossae (cf. Col 4:7-8) while the letter took on a life of its own. This brings us to our second argument. (2) Going counter-clockwise in Asia Minor, starting at Ephesus, Laodicea is the most natural stop between Colossae and Ephesus. The reference in Col 4:16 to the letter coming from Laodicea can quite naturally refer to a copy of Ephesians. That Marcion refers to Ephesians by that name (“to the Laodiceans”) may well be due to ancient MS testimony to which he was privy. Once Tychicus had gone to Colossae, he would then return to Rome or go elsewhere in Asia Minor, but his letter-bearing responsibilities would be over once he got to Colossae.27 It is quite possible either that the instructions about filling in the blank space in Paul’s circular letter had gotten garbled or that they were carried out only orally as the letter was read in the various churches. If this were the case, the textual history of Eph 1:1 makes sense.28

E. Occasion/Purpose and Method of Composition

1. Occasion/Method of Composition

While Paul was sitting in prison, contemplating his upcoming trial and potential work in the west, he began formulating some parting comments to make to the churches of Asia Minor. As he dialogued with his amanuensis over its contents, a rough draft of Ephesians was probably put together in outline form. The amanuensis then began to fill in the details.

Then, startling news from the east came: there was a new heresy in Colossae which was infecting the church there. At about the same time, Onesimus appeared before Paul with his confession of abandoning and robbing his owner, Philemon.29

At this juncture, Paul decided several things: (1) write to the Colossians with appropriate warnings, though taking the material mostly from a letter which already addressed some of the very same issues in a larger perspective; (2) write to Philemon, urging him to take Onesimus back, as a freeman—and even to prepare a room for the apostle himself; (3) finish the letter to all the churches in Asia Minor and have it sent with the other two letters.

If this reconstruction is correct, it fits several pieces of the puzzle: (1) the reason Ephesians looks so much like Colossians is because one letter was intentionally used as the basis for the other, with some necessary modifications made to fit the occasion. (2) The reason Ephesians does not look like the rest of Paul’s letters (except Colossians) in style or vocabulary is because (in part) it was done as a contemplative piece, originally intending to be something of a swan song, summing up Paul’s theology for the churches in Asia. (3) Since Colossians is an occasional letter, written with some urgency, the only way for a contemplative letter like Ephesians to have been sent at the same time is for Ephesians to have been written (at least in draft form) prior to Colossians. (4) When Paul learned of the new influx of heresy he changed his plans of going westward and decided to visit Asia one more time. This would not alter the fact that Ephesians was intended to be a reflective summary of his theology, but the initial occasion for the writing of Ephesians was a short-lived one which evaporated with news from Colossae.

2. Purpose

Originally, before Paul heard the news of heresy in Colossae, he intended to write to the churches in Asia Minor about Christ and the church. This was intended to be a summary of his theology in its most practical form. Since the churches had been grounded in the doctrines of individual (and vertical) reconciliation (justification by faith especially), they now needed to get along with one another (corporate and horizontal reconciliation). There was unity in their position in Christ; there needed to be unity in their practice in the church, too.

Ephesians, then, is similar to Romans and, at the same time, dissimilar: both epistles are contemplative, summing up key theological themes of the apostle to the Gentiles; but as Romans is an introductory letter, designed to establish a base for his ministry in the west, Ephesians is a parting note, intended on getting Christians to grow in unity and love with one another. There may be another similarity between the two letters: ever since Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome, there may well have been tension between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the churches. Both Romans and Ephesians seem to betray this uneasiness and, in fact, both seem to address an attitude of Gentile superiority as an undercurrent adversely affecting the life of the church.

F. Theme

The theme of Ephesians is “the Church, the Body of Christ.” Put in a sentence, the theme is found in Eph 4:1-3—“The Church is to maintain the unity in practice which Christ has brought about positionally.” Pragmatically stated, “Christians, get along with each other!”

II Argument

The apostle Paul opens this “Queen of his Epistles” with a greeting to the “saints who are faithful” (1:1-2).

Immediately he launches into praise for God as a theological preface to the body of his letter (1:3-14): God is blessed and is to be praised because (1) the Father elected us in eternity past (1:3-6), the Son redeemed us in the historical past (1:7-12), and the Spirit sealed us in our personal and individual pasts (1:13-14). Thus Paul begins this letter with a reminder of the great things God has done for believers individually.

With this as a backdrop he prays that his readers will understand what God has done for them corporately (1:15-23). Essentially, the prayer is a prayer for understanding the contents of the next two chapters (1:16-19). The reason Paul prays for them is because he is confident that they are true believers (1:15). The reason he is confident that God is able to answer his prayer is that the same power which raised Christ from the dead is available to these saints (1:20-23).

Now Paul once again reminds his audience of the great things God has done (2:1-22). He begins by detailing individual reconciliation (2:1-10). First, he paints a dark picture of our former state: we were controlled by Satan and destined for hell (2:1-3). Then, Paul shows how we were delivered from this fate: God in his mercy saved us (2:4-10). Not only did he save us, but he also proleptically caused us to reign with Christ (2:5-6). Further, we are now to be a monument to him by doing good words (2:10).

But God has not just done a work of individual reconciliation. He has also reconciled Jew and Gentile to each other by creating a new spiritual community (2:11-22). First, Paul outlines the Gentiles’ former state. Individually, they were under Satan’s control (2:1-3); corporately, they were isolated from God’s people (2:11-13). But when God saved them individually this had corporate ramifications as well: both Jews and Gentiles now constituted a new spiritual community, the Church (2:14-18). The same apostles who brought the good news of individual reconciliation of man to God also brought the good news of corporate reconciliation of Jew to Gentile. Indeed, these apostles were foundational to this new spiritual community and Christ was the cornerstone (2:20-22). The reason Paul stresses this corporate reconciliation, this organic unity, this new spiritual community, seems to be due to the Gentiles’ arrogance in the face of the Jewish roots of Christianity. A reminder—which composes the theological core of this epistle—that Gentiles are neither saved only as individuals (2:1-10), nor at all as those who supplant the Jews (2:11-12), was necessary in light of the historical circumstances of the letter.

To make sure that the Gentile audience did not see Paul as replacing the apostles—and they themselves as replacing the Jews—he explains that his gospel is new in the sense that it was not revealed in the OT, but not in the sense that it was different in kind from that of the other apostles (3:1-7). Further, the content of the new, previously unrevealed, spiritual community is now made explicit: Jew and Gentile are fellow heirs, fellow body-members, and fellow partakers of the promise (3:5-6). Jew and Gentile thus were on equal footing in this new body. Not only could these Gentiles not claim superiority to Jews (and vice versa), Paul himself could not claim superiority to any Christian (3:8). But the Gentiles have been incorporated into the body of Christ not for their sake only, but even for the sake of angelic beings (3:10).

Having completed his major treatment on the “indicatives of the faith,” Paul prays once again for his audience (3:14-21). As with the first prayer, this one is a hinge between two sections. Paul’s prayer now is for their application. This is a fitting introduction to the last three chapters in which he turns these indicatives into imperatives. He concludes the prayer with a recognition once again of God’s ability to answer (3:20-21).

The second major section of the letter begins with the applicational heart of the epistle: “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Then Paul gives a theological example of how unity and diversity hold hands: in the Godhead there is harmony, yet each member has distinct tasks (4:4-6), and no member is unimportant! If the members of the Trinity—the perfect example of unity—could have diverse functions, then all arguments that diversity causes divisiveness are futile.

This leads Paul to develop his argument in relation to the gifted leadership of the church (4:7-16). Not all members have the same gifts, but all are to grow together in unity.

Now Paul deals with more individual issues—specifically, morality. He reminds his readers what they used to be before Christ (4:17-19), and how they have put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” (4:20-24). Since they are new creatures in Christ they ought to act like it; further, since they are organically connected (i.e., members of one another) they ought not to go back to the old ways (4:25-32).

How then, should they relate to unbelievers? Paul answers this in 5:1-14. First, do not conform to their sinful ways (5:1-7). Second, do confront them with their sin and the truth of the gospel (5:8-14).

And how should Christians relate to one another? Paul answers this first by giving the positive basis: be filled by the Spirit (5:15-21). Then he shows in what realm Spirit-filling is tested: in the home (5:22–6:9). How does a woman demonstrate that she is Spirit-filled? She must submit to her husband (5:22-24). How does a husband demonstrate that he is Spirit-filled? He must love his wife (5:25-33). What about other family, and extended-family members? How do they demonstrate that they are filled by the Spirit? Children are to obey their parents (6:1-3), fathers are to raise their children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (6:4), slaves are to obey their masters (6:5-8), and masters are to do good to their slaves (6:9). These are the real marks of Spirit-filling.

Paul concludes the body of his epistle with a treatise on spiritual warfare (6:10-20). In many respects this seems entirely out of place in this letter. In reality, it is a perfect capstone to the queen of the epistles. This section addresses a question which has been implicit since 2:2, viz, what is the believer’s present relation to Satan? But the answer is not intended just to satisfy our curiosity. Rather, the answer relates intrinsically to the heart of this letter: Satan is presently attacking the unity of the church and we ought therefore to stand and show that we are together. Seen in this light, our “struggle [which] is not against flesh and blood” means simply, “Christians, get along with each other! Maintain the unity practically which Christ has effected positionally by his death.”

Paul concludes the epistle with a commendation of Tychicus (6:21-22) and a benediction (6:23-24).

III. Outline

I. Salutation (1:1-2)

II. The Unity of the Church Positionally (1:3–3:21)

A. Theological Preface: Why God is Blessed and Should be Praised (1:3-14)

1. The Father Elected Believers in Eternity Past (1:3-6)

2. The Son Redeemed Believers in the Historical Past (1:7-12)

3. The Spirit Sealed Believers in their Personal Past (1:13-14)

B. Prayer for Knowledge: To Understand the Church’s Positional Unity (1:15-23)

1. The Content of the Prayer (1:15-19)

2. The Immensity of God’s Resources (1:20-23)

C. Vertical (Man to God) and Individual Reconciliation (2:1-10)

1. The Individual Believer’s Former State (2:1-3)

2. The Individual Believer’s Present State (2:4-10)

D. Horizontal (Jew to Gentile) and Corporate Reconciliation (2:11-22)

1. The Gentiles’ Former State: Isolation (2:11-13)

2. The Gentile Believers’ Present State: Incorporation into a New Spiritual Community (2:14-22)

a. The Peace which Christ Accomplished in His Death (2:14-18)

b. The Foundation which Christ Laid through His Apostles (2:19-22)

E. Paul’s Relation to the Mystery of this New Spiritual Community (3:1-13)

1. The Content of the Mystery Revealed to Paul (3:1-7)

2. The Wisdom of the Mystery Revealed to Angelic Beings (3:8-13)

F. Prayer for Love: To Maintain the Church’s Practical Unity (3:14-21)

1. The Content of the Prayer (3:14-19)

2. The Immensity of God’s Resources (3:20-21)

III. The Unity of the Church Practically (4:1–6:20)

A. Maintaining Unity through Diversity (4:1-16)

1. Maintaining the Unity (4:1-6)

2. The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts in Contributing toward Unity (4:7-16)

B. Morality and Members of Each Other (4:17-32)

1. Morality and the Former Lifestyle (4:17-24)

a. Negative Example: Pagans (4:17-19)

b. Positive Basis: Death of the “Old Man” (4:20-24)

2. Morality and the Present Life in Christ (4:25-32)

C. The Believer’s Relation to Unbelievers (5:1-14)

1. Do Not Conform to their Sinfulness (5:1-7)

2. Confront them with the Gospel (5:8-14)

D. The Believer’s Relation to the Spirit (5:15-6:9)

1. The Admonition for Spirit-Filling (5:15-21)

2. The Test of Spirit-Filling: The Believer’s Relation to the Extended Family (5:22–6:9)

a. Wives and Husbands (5:22-33)

b. Children and Parents (6:1-4)

c. Slaves and Masters (6:5-9)

F. The Believer’s Present Relation to Satan: Spiritual Warfare (6:10-20)

IV. Final Greetings (6:21-24)

A. The Commendation of Tychicus (6:21-22)

B. The Benediction (6:23-24)

1Kümmel, 251.

2Cf. Young Kyu Kim’s article in Biblica (1988) and our discussion of his essay in the introduction to 2 Peter. If Kim’s dating is correct, then the discussion as to authenticity is over. I have discussed Kim’s article with most of the recognized English-speaking NT textual critics, including Bruce Metzger, J. K. Elliott, Eldon Epp, Gordon Fee, Michael Holmes, and Bart Ehrman. Yet, none of them gave any substantive objections to Kim’s evidence. At the same time, none of these scholars works primarily in paleography. Mr. Bruce Griffin of Oxford Unversity however showed that Kim’s argumentation had many flaws to it (at the annual SBL meeting in the mid-90s); his judgment was that the traditional date of c. 200 is secure.

3Cf. A. S. Wood, Ephesians (EBC), 3-9. Our argumentation, at several points, however, will be quite different than Wood’s.

4Wood, Ephesians, 3.

5By analogy, cf. the anonymity of Hebrews.

6Wood, Ephesians, 4.


8C. L. Mitton, The Epistle to the Ephesians, 7.

9Wood, Ephesians, 5.

10When one compares 1 Tim 1:15 to these other two texts, the case for authenticity of both Ephesians and 1 Timothy is heightened, for in 1 Timothy the author now widens the circle of which he is at the bottom: “foremost of all sinners.” This is a threefold cord: not only is development seen in Paul’s self-awareness as a sinner (from 1 Corinthians to Ephesians to 1 Timothy), but the way in which he states his self-deprecatory remark is different each time; finally, forgers always went in the opposite direction, elevating the men whose names they took.

11Wood, Ephesians, 7.

12“Amanuenses,” 294. Earlier in the essay Longenecker established the probability (via parallels with the papyri) of Paul using an amanuensis for virtually every letter except perhaps Philemon.

13By way of analogy, when I joined the faculty of Dallas Seminary in 1988, the NT secretary would need me to write out every word for letters that she would later type up. Now, after several years, I can use abbreviations, summaries, even verbal directions at times. The difference is due to the fact that the same secretary has been in the department the entire time and is now more used to my style. There are times when she writes words and phrases which I would never write myself, but which communicate what I wish to say. When I sign my name, I take responsibility for what was written, but this does not imply that everything must have been stated exactly in the way I would  normally state things, just that the content is what I intend to communicate. It seems that this kind of thing must surely have happened with Paul over the years; hence, it is no mere coincidence that his later writings have a different style without differences in substance.

14An interesting sidelight to this is seen in textual criticism. Bruce Metzger is representative of some scholars, for example, when he suggests that Tertius heard Paul incorrectly when the apostle dictated Rom 5:1: Tertius wrote down the subjunctive ἔχωμενwhen Paul meant the indicative ἔχομεν. Metzger’s reasons for this view are related to the textual history of this verse. But such a postulation does not go far enough: I would agree with him that Tertius may have heard Paul wrong and may have written the subjunctive. But Paul would certainly have corrected it before the letter was sent! The reason, then for the poor external attestation for the indicative may well be due to a misunderstanding as to who corrected the subjunctive.

There is other evidence for this kind of activity as well. As is well known, although 1 Cor 14:34-35 are contained in every known MS, these verses are found in two locations: at this place and at the end of the chapter (in the Western tradition). Although Gordon Fee has recently mounted the strongest campaign for their inauthenticity, the suggestion made by E. E. Ellis and others that Paul added the words in the margin before the original document was sent makes better sense: later scribes were unsure where the words belonged, though they recognized that they were meant to be part of the book. Further, the well known problem of ἤπιοι/νήπιοι in 1 Thess 2:7 may well have come about due to the amanuensis’ hearing error (especially since the previous word ends with nu).

In essence, what we are arguing is this: textual criticism needs to pay more attention to the role of an amanuensis in creating some of the problems of the text, especially those generated by hearing error. But since the author would certainly look over his letter before it was sent, the original text would most likely have corrections in it.

15Wood, Ephesians, 8.

16The NA26 marginal note is curious at this point, for though the parallel is noted there is no exclamation point (a sign indicating high degree of verbal assonance).

17Wood, Ephesians, 9.

18Ibid. We might add further that a decent case could be made that Ephesians is not quite as developed theologically as is Philippians in terms of its Christology. In our dating, Philippians was written one year after Ephesians.

19See introduction to Colossians for arguments.

20Cf. Guthrie, 577.

21Cf. Guthrie, 578.

22Marcion’s Prologue places Paul in Ephesus for the writing of Colossians, but it places him in Rome for the writing of Philemon. Yet, since both of these must surely have been written at the same time, Marcion can only be half right. The rest of the external testimony puts Paul in Rome for the writing of these epistles.

23Guthrie, 579.

24See introduction to those two letters for the occasion.

25Guthrie, 533.


27Tychicus also probably brought the letter to Philemon, but it seems evident that Philemon was a member of the church at Colossae (cf. Col 4:9).

28Guthrie objects to the blank space view, saying that (1) “The theory of a blank would be more intelligible if the ἐν had not also been omitted” and (2) “If the original text did not possess the words ‘in Ephesus’ it may be taken as addressed in a very general way ‘to the saints . . . , the faithful in Christ Jesus,’ which would well fit a general circular theory” (Guthrie, 531).

In response, (1) it is indeed likely that the ἐν would have dropped out in any MSS which omitted the location, otherwise there is extreme nonsense; and (2) even though the verse can be read “to the saints who are faithful” the Greek expression is quite unPauline (in every salutation in which τοῖς οὔσιν is found, the location is always given next; and, further, if this participial expression were dropped the meaning would not be changed). One can readily see, then, why scribes would change the text and yet, at the same time, how the text without a location mentioned is not only unPauline but is also poor grammar (an unnecessary redundancy results). Further, Guthrie’s view simply cannot explain why the earliest and best MSS omit the “in Ephesus.” Thus, on both internal (transcriptional and intrinsic) and external grounds, the blank space view is really the only one which properly handles all the data.

29It is even possible that Onesimus was the one who brought the news of the heresy, though it is just as likely that Epaphroditus brought news from the east and the two arrived in Rome at about the same time.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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