Though some liberal scholars question Pauline authorship based on Ephesians’ unique vocabulary, style, and “advanced” doctrine, both internal and external evidence clearly support Paul’s authorship. The internal evidence is twofold: The author says that he is Paul twice (1:1 and 3:1), and Colossians, which is widely accepted as a Pauline epistle, is very similar to Ephesians—suggesting both the same author and the same time frame of writing. These epistles contain around 32 verses that are essentially the same,1and both claim to be written from prison (cf. 6:20, 3:1, 4:1; Col 4:3, 10). In addition, Tychicus carried both letters to Asia (Col 4:7-9; Eph 6:21-22). Most scholars believe Paul wrote Ephesians the first time he was imprisoned by the Romans (around 60-62 AD).
As for external evidence, the case is equally strong. William MacDonald, author of the Believer’s Bible Commentary, says this:
No other Pauline Epistle has such an early and continuous stream of witnesses, starting with Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Hermas, and going on with Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus. Marcion included it in his “canon,” though calling it “Laodiceans.” The Muratorian Canon also lists Ephesians as by Paul.2
There is some controversy over the recipients. Ephesians 1:1 says “to the Ephesians”; however, some of the earliest, most trusted manuscripts lack this phrase. Therefore, many believe Ephesians was originally a circular letter intended for “all Christians in Asia Minor, with Ephesus being the primary or first recipient.”3 Further arguments for this include the fact that Ephesians is missing personal greetings and information about the receiving church, which are normal for Paul’s letters. Also, in Ephesians 3:1-7, Paul writes as if the Ephesians do not know him personally. He says in verse 2: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you.” This sounds strange since Paul had spent three years ministering in Ephesus (Acts 20:31). Therefore, it is likely that the epistle was meant for the church in general.
Ephesus was a port city located at the mouth of the Cayster River, on the east side of the Aegean Sea—making it rich for commercial trade. Emperor Augustus declared it the capital of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in 27 BC4; therefore, it was a political center as well. But it was probably best known for religion. The temple of Artemis (or Diana) was located in Ephesus. The statue of Diana was a multi-breasted, crowned woman, symbolizing fertility. It had close links to local commerce and was a major tourist attraction.5 R. C. Sproul adds,
The temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the world. It was 425 feet in length and 220 feet in breadth. Architecturally it was composed of 127 white marble columns, each 62 feet high. It was opulently decorated with ornate carvings and priceless paintings. Its chief attraction, however, was an image of Diana said to have fallen directly from heaven to earth. The temple was so popular among pagans that Ephesus emerged as the religious centre of all Asia.
The temple employed a great number of prostitutes, and was therefore a haven for deplorable and perverse sexual acts in honor of Diana. Worshipers believed that participating in profane intercourse ensured them of increased financial prosperity.6
Ephesus also contained the largest Greek open-air theater, which seated 25,000 spectators. It hosted chariot races and fights with animals.7 People flocked to Ephesus, which was a “melting pot of nations and ethnic groups. Greek and Roman, Jew and Gentile mingled freely in its streets.”8 It probably had a population of over 250,000.9 All this made it a perfect place for Paul to plant a church and send a circular letter.
In Acts 18:19, Paul briefly visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey and left Priscilla and Aquila there. This exceptionally gifted couple probably planted the first seeds of the gospel in Ephesus.10 In Acts 19, Paul returned and spoke boldly in the synagogue for three months (v. 8). When some rejected him and publicly maligned the gospel, Paul took his disciples to the hall of Tyrannus and taught them there (v. 9). This went on for two years, and all the Jews and Greeks residing in Asia heard the gospel (v. 10). In fact, God began to perform miraculous works through Paul, so much so, that when handkerchiefs and aprons touched him and were taken to the sick, they were healed and evil spirits left them (v. 12). The results of his ministry were staggering. Those practicing witchcraft repented and burned their books. The cost was calculated at fifty thousand drachmas (v. 19)—equivalent to $500,000 in today’s currency. 11
Because the craftsmen of idols lost money, a great uproar began in the city. A mob shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (v. 28) abducted Paul’s travel companions and dragged them into the theatre amidst great confusion. Finally, the city clerk quieted the crowd, encouraged the craftsmen to press formal charges, warned the crowd of potential consequences for rioting, and dismissed them all. Soon after that, Paul left Ephesus (Acts 20:1).
He left Timothy to pastor the Ephesian church for approximately a year and half—primarily confronting false teachers in the congregation (1 Tim. 1:3, 20). “Thirty or so years later, Christ gave the apostle John a letter for this church, indicating that the people had left their first love for Him (Rev. 2:1–7).”12 Tradition teaches that John later pastored the Ephesian church after his release from Patmos.13 In fact, he wrote 1 John to this church.
Ephesians is written in a “bifid” pattern common to many of Paul’s letters. The first three chapters are doctrinal, and the last three focus on practical living. Paul writes to teach God’s purpose for the church and to give instructions on right conduct in light of this teaching. As this is done, several themes emerge.
The first theme is the “mystery” of the church. Here, “mystery” means a truth not revealed in the past, but now made fully known. The primary mystery Paul focuses on is the fact that believing Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ (Eph 3:6). The Old Testament taught that Abraham’s seed would be a blessing to all nations (Gen 22:18), and it prophesied that the Jews would bring many ethnic groups to God (Zech 8:3). However, it never taught that Jews and Gentiles would have equal standing or explained their position “in Christ”—a phrase mentioned twelve times in Ephesians.14 “In fact, Paul refers to the mystery in each of the six chapters of this book.”15 He teaches that Jews and Gentiles are fellow members of the church, that they are raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, that Christ is the head of the body, that the ascended Christ gifts leaders to equip the church and help it grow, that the church is the Bride of Christ and is engaged in spiritual warfare, and much more.
Another theme seen throughout Ephesians is the blessings believers receive in Christ. “The word ‘riches’ is used five times in this letter; ‘grace’ is used twelve times; ‘glory’ eight times; ‘fullness’ or ‘filled’ six times; and the key phrase ‘in Christ’ (or ‘in Him’) some twelve times.”16 Paul begins Chapter 1 by declaring that believers have every spiritual blessing in Christ (v. 3). He then names some of these blessings: Believers are chosen, predestined, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with wisdom and understanding, and heirs (2:6) in Christ. The blessings are innumerable (1:2, 5–9; 2:7; 3:8, 16, 19; 4:13; 5:18; 6:10–13). This would have struck a chord with the Ephesians, as they were in a prosperous, wealthy city, with the temple of Diana and all its treasures. However, these believers needed to understand and reckon their immeasurable wealth in Christ, and so do we today.
Love is also a major theme in Ephesians. Agape, a Greek word used to refer to God’s love, is primarily an act of the will rather than an emotion. Paul declares that God predestined the believers in love (1:3-4), and that he (Paul) heard about the Ephesians’ love for all the saints (1:15). Even when they were dead in trespasses and sins, God raised them up and seated them in Christ because of his great love for them (2:3-5). In Ephesians 3:17-18, Paul prays for the Ephesians to be rooted and established in love, and to be able to comprehend with all saints Christ’s great love for them. It is by speaking the truth in love that the body grows (4:15-16). Believers are called “dearly loved children,” and commanded to imitate God by living lives of love (5:1-2). Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church (5:25). Ephesians 6:23-24 closes the epistle with Paul’s benediction prayer for God to gift believers with love. Love saturates this epistle! William MacDonald adds,
Paul starts and ends his Epistle with this concept (1:4; 6:24), and uses the verb and noun more in Ephesians than anywhere else in his Letters. This may show the Holy Spirit’s foreknowledge, because while thirty years in the future the large and active congregation would still be obeying the command to fight false doctrine, our Lord tells them in His Letter to Ephesus that He held it against them that they had left their first love (Rev. 2:4).17
Finally, a major theme of Ephesians is spiritual warfare. In Chapter 1, Paul talks about how Christ was raised far above every power and principality (v. 20-22)—referring to the hierarchy of demons. In Christ’s ascension, he conquered the demonic world and now rules over it (cf. Col 2:15). In addition, Paul shares how believers are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph 2:6), which implies that they have a position of power over the demonic world through Christ. This would have been important for the Ephesians to hear. Many of them were saved out of the occult (cf. Acts 19:19-20). They had previously reveled in demonic power, and maybe some feared retribution from these spirits. However, there was no need to fear because Christ had conquered them and believers are seated over them.
Paul continues the theme of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-20. He calls believers to be strong in the power of the Lord and to put on the full armor of God, so they can stand against the powers and principalities. When believers are born again, they enter a spiritual battle against Satan and his demons. Paul calls believers to put on God’s armor—representing godly actions and attitudes—so they can stand in the evil day.
In considering this magnificent epistle, some say it can not only be divided between doctrine (1-3) and duty (4-6), but also sit (1-3), walk (4-6:9), and stand (6:10-24). In chapters 1-3, believers must learn their new position—seated in the heavenly places with Christ and recipients of divine blessings. In chapters 4-6:9, believers must begin to walk in consideration of their heavenly position and blessings. Finally, in 6:10-24, believers must stand against the evil forces in the heavenly places. As you study Ephesians, may you better understand God’s purpose for the church. Thank you, Lord! Amen!
Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.
1 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (p. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.
2 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1903). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
3 (2014-03-12). The Moody Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 76232-76235). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
4 MacArthur, John (2003-08-19). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 9706-9708). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
5 Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Purpose of God: Ephesians (pp. 12–13). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
6 Accessed 1/25/2016 from
7 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (p. 3). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.
8 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (p. 3). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.
9 (2014-03-12). The Moody Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 76235-76239). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
10 MacArthur, John (2003-08-19). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 9715-9717). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
11 Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Purpose of God: Ephesians (p. 13). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
12 MacArthur, John (2003-08-19). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 9725-9729). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
13 Weaver, Paul (2015-01-04). Introducing the New Testament Books: A Thorough but Concise Introduction for Proper Interpretation (Biblical Studies Book 3) (Kindle Locations 1059-1061). Kindle Edition.
14 MacArthur, John (2003-08-19). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 9759-9760). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
15 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1904). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
16 MacArthur, John (2003-08-19). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 9759-9760). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
17 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1904). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines