Introduction to the Bible - 49 - Ephesians

The Epistle to the Ephesians


 The Epistle to the Ephesians is naturally divided into two parts:

 I. The Doctrinal Part, treating of the Unity of the Church, 1:1--3: 21.  After the address and salutation,l:l, 2, the apostle praises God for  the great spiritual blessings received in Christ, in whom the Ephesians  have been chosen, adopted and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,  1: 3-14. He renders thanks for these blessings and prays that God may  make known to the Church, the glorious body of Christ, who filleth all  in all, the glory of its heavenly calling, 1: 15- 23. Then he compares  the past and present condition of the readers, 2:1-13, and describes  Christs work of reconciliation, resulting in the unity and glory of the  Church, 2:14-22. Next he enlarges on the mystery of the Gospel and  reminds his readers that he has been commissioned by God to make it  known to mankind, 3:1-13. He prays that they may be strengthened and  enabled to comprehend the greatness of the love of Christ to the glory  of God, 3:14-21.

 II. The Practical Part, containing Exhortations to a Conversation  worthy of the Calling and Unity of the Readers, 4: 1--6: 20. The  readers are exhorted to maintain the unity which God seeks to establish  among them by distributing spiritual gifts and instituting different  offices, 4:1-16. They should not walk as the Gentiles do, but according  to the principle of their new life, shunning the vices of the old man  and practicing the virtues of the new, 4:17-32. In society if must be  their constant endeavor to be separate from the evils of the world and  to walk circumspectly; husbands and wives should conform in their  mutual relation to the image of Christ and the Church; children should  obey their parents and servants their masters, 5:1--6: 9. Finally Paul  exhorts the readers to be strong in the Lord, having put on the whole  armour of God and seeking strength in prayer and supplication; and he  closes his Epistle with some personal intelligence and a twofold  salutation, 6:10-24.


 1. This letter is marked first of all by its general character. It has  this in common with the Epistle to the Romans, that it partakes  somewhat of the nature of a treatise; yet it is as truly a letter, as  any one of the other writings of Paul. Deissmann correctly remarks,  however, that "the personal element is less prominent in it than the  impersonal." St. Paul, p. 23. The letter does not presuppose, like  those to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, some special clearly  marked historical situation, does not refer to any historical incidents  known to us from other sources, except the imprisonment of Paul, and  contains no personal greetings. The only person mentioned is Tychicus,  the bearer of the letter. It treats in a profound and sublime manner of  the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ, and of the holy  conversation in Christ that must issue from it.

 2. It is also characterized by its great similarity to the letter sent  to the Colossians. This is so great that some critics have regarded it  as merely a revised and enlarged edition of the latter; but this idea  must be dismissed altogether, because the difference between them is  too great and fundamental. The Epistle to the Colossians is more  personal and controversial than that to the Ephesians; the former  treats of Christ, the Head of the Church, while the latter is mainly  concerned with the Church, the body of Christ. Notwithstanding this,  however, the resemblance of the two is readily observed. There is good  reason for calling them twin letters. In many cases the same words and  forms of expression are found in both; the thought is often identical,  while the language differs; and the general structure of the Epistles  is very similar.

 3. The style of the letter is in general very exalted, and forms a  great contrast with that of the epistle to the Galatians. Dr. Sanday  says: "With few exceptions scholars of all different schools who have  studied and interpreted this epistle have been at one in regarding it  as one of the sublimest and most profound of all the New Testament  writings. In the judgment of many who are well entitled to deliver an  opinion, it is the grandest of all the Pauline letters." The Exp. Gk.  Test. III p. 208. The style is characterized by a succession of  participial clauses and dependent sentences that flow on like a  torrent, and by lengthy-digressions. One is impressed by its grandeur,  but often finds it difficult to follow the apostle as he soars to giddy  heights. The language is further remarkable in that it contains a  series of terms with far-reaching significance, such as the council  (boule), of God, His will (thelema), His purpose (prothesis), His good  pleasure (eudokia), etc., and also a great number of hapax legomena.  According to Holtzmann there are 76 words that are peculiar to this  epistle, of which 18 are found nowhere else in the Bible, 17 do not  occur in the rest of the New Testament, and 51 are absent from all the  other Pauline letters (the Pastoral epistles being excepted).  Einleitung p. 259.


 The historical evidence for the Pauline authorship of the Epistle is  exceptionally strong. Some scholars claim that Ignatius even speaks of  Paul as the author, when he says in his Epistle to the Ephesians:  "--who (referring back to Paul) throughout all his Epistle (en pase  epistole) makes mention of you in Christ Jesus." But it is very  doubtful, whether the rendering, "in all the Epistle," should not  rather be, "in every Epistle." Marcion ascribed the letter to Paul, and  in the Muratorian Fragment the church of Ephesus is mentioned as one of  the churches to which Paul wrote Epistles. Irenaeus and Clement of  Alexandria refer to Paul by name as the author of this letter and quote  it as his, while Tertullian mentions Ephesus among the churches that  had apostolic Epistles.

 Internal evidence also points to Paul as the author. In the opening  verse of the Epistle the writer is named, and the structure of the  letter is characteristically Pauline. In the first place it contains  the usual blessing and thanksgiving; this is followed in the regular  way by the body of the epistle, consisting of a doctrinal and a  practical part; and finally it ends with the customary salutations. The  ideas developed are in perfect agreement with those found in the  letters which we already discussed, although in certain particulars  they advance beyond them, as f. i. in the theological conception of the  doctrine of redemption; and in the doctrine of the Church as the body  of Christ with its various organs. The style of the Epistle too is  Pauline. It is true that it differs considerably from that of Romans,  Corinthians and Galatians, but it shows great affinity with the style  of Colossians and of the Pastorals.

 Notwithstanding all the evidence in favor of the Pauline authorship of  this Epistle, its authenticity has been questioned by several New  Testament scholars. De Wette, Baur and his school, Davidson, Holtzmann  and Weizsacker are among the most prominent. The idea is that some  later, probably a second century writer impersonated the great apostle.  The principal grounds on which the Epistle was attacked, are the  following: (1) It is so like the Epistle to the Colossians that it  cannot be an original document. De Wette came to the conclusion that it  was a "verbose amplification" of the Epistle to the Colossians.  Holtzmann, finding that in some parts the priority must be ascribed to  Ephesians rather than to Colossians, advocated the theory that Paul  wrote an Epistle to the Colossians shorter than our canonical letter;  that a forger, guided by this, fabricated the Epistle to the Ephesians;  and that this plagiarist was so enamoured with his work that he, in  turn, revised the Colossian Epistle in accordance with it. (2) The  vocabulary and in general the style of the Epistle is so different from  that of the other letters of Paul as to give it an un-Pauline stamp.  This objection is based partly, though not primarily, on the numerous  hapax lechomena; but especially on the use of Pauline words in a new  souse, such as musterion, oikonomia and peripoiesis; on the expression  of certain ideas by terms that differ from those employed elsewhere by  the apostle for the same purpose, as f. i. ho theos tou kuriou hemon  Iesou, 1:17, and above all tois hagiois apostolois kai prophetais, 3  :5, which, it is said, smacks of a later time, when the apostles were  held in great veneration, and does not agree with the apostles estimate  of himself in 3 : 8; and on the fact that, as Davidson puts it, "there  is a fulness of expression which approaches the verbose." (3) The line  of thought in this letter is very different from that of the recognized  Pauline Epistles. The law is contemplated, not in its moral and  religious value, but only as the cause of enmity and separation between  Jew and Gentile; the death of Christ is not dwelt on as much as in the  other Epistles, while his exaltation is made far more prominent; the  parousia is placed in the distant future; and instead of the diversity  the unity of the Church in Jesus Christ if emphasized: (4) The Epistle  contains traces of Gnostic and even of Montanist influences in such  words as aiones, pleromaand geneai (5) The letter, along with the  writings of John, evidently aims at reconciling the Petrine and Pauline  factions, and therefore emphasizes the unity of the Church. This  unmistakably points to the second century as the time of its  composition.

 But these objections are not sufficient to discredit the Pauline  authorship. Such men as Lightfoot, Ellicott, Eadie, Meyer, Hodge,  Reuss, Godet, Weiss, Baljon, Zahn, Sanday and Abbot defend it. The  similarity of the Epistle and that to the Colossians is most naturally  explained by the fact that the two were written by the same author, at  about the same time, under similar circumstances, and to neighboring  congregations. The idea that it is but a copy of the Epistle to the  Colossians is now generally given up, since it appears that many  passages favor the priority of Ephesians. The theory of Holtzmann is  too complicated to command serious consideration. This whole argument  is very peculiar in view of the following ones. While it derives its  point from the Epistles similarity to Colossians, their cogency depends  on the unlikeness of this letter to the other Epistles of Paul. The  linguistic features to which the critics call attention are not such as  to disprove the Pauline authorship. If the hapax legomena found in this  letter prove that it is unPauline, we must come to a similar conclusion  with respect to the Epistle to the Romans, for this contains a hundred  words that are peculiar. The terms that are said to be used in a new  sense dwindle into insignificance on closer inspection. And of the  expressions that are held to be unusual only the one in 3: 5 has any  argumentative force. And even this need not cause surprise, especially  not, if we take in consideration that Paul designates believers in  general as hagioi, and that in this place he applies this epithet at  once to the apostles and to the prophets. And further we may ask,  whether it is reasonable to demand that such a fertile mind as that of  Paul should always express itself in the same way. The argument derived  from the line of thought in this Epistle simply succeeds in proving,  what is perfectly obvious, that the apostle looks at the work of  redemption from a point of view different from that of the other  letters, that he views it sub specie aeternitatis. It is now generally  admitted that the supposed traces of Gnosticism and Montanism have no  argumentative value, since the terms referred to do not have the second  century connotation in this Epistle. Similarly that other argument of  the Tubingen school, that the letter was evidently written to heal the  breach between the Judaeistic and the liberal factions of the Church,  is now discarded, because it was found to rest on an unhistorical  basis.


 There is considerable uncertainty respecting the destination of this  Epistle. The question is whether the words en Epheso in 1:1 are  genuine. They are indeed found in all the extant MSS. with the  exception of three, viz, the important MSS. Aleph and B and codex 67.  The testimony of Basil is that the most ancient MSS. in his day did not  contain these words. Tertullian informs us that Marcion gave the  Epistle the title ad Laodicenos; and Origen apparently did not regard  the words as genuine. All the old Versions contain them; but, on the  other hand, Westcott and Hort say: "Transcriptional evidence strongly  supports the testimony of documents against en Epheso." New Testament  in Greek, Appendix p. 123. Yet there was in the Church an early and,  except as regards Marcion, universal tradition that the Epistle was  addressed to the Ephesians. Present day scholars quite generally reject  the words, although they are still defended by Meyer, Davidson, Eadie  and Hodge. The conclusion to which the majority of scholars come is,  either that the Epistle was not written to the Ephesians at all, or  that it was not meant for them only, but also for the other churches in  Asia.

 Now if we examine the internal evidence, we find that it certainly  favors the idea that this Epistle was not intended for the Ephesian  church exclusively, for (1) It contains no references to the peculiar  circumstances of the Ephesian church, but might be addressed to any of  the churches founded by Paul. (2) There are no salutations in it from  Paul or his companions to any one in the Ephesian church. (3) The  Epistle contemplates only heathen Christians. while the church at  Ephesus was composed of both Jews and Gentiles, 2:11, 12; 4:17; 5: 8.  (4) To these proofs is sometimes added that 1: 15 and 3: 2 make it  appear as if Paul and his readers were not acquainted with each other;  but this is not necessarily implied in these passages.

 In all probability the words en Epheso were not originally in the text.  But now the question naturally arises, how we must interpret the  following words tois hagiois tois ousin kai pistois; etc. Several  suggestions have been made. Some would read: "The saints who are really  such ;" others: "the saints existing and faithful in Jesus Christ ;"  still others: "the saints who are also faithful." But none of these  interpretations is satistactory: the first two are hardly grammatical;  and the last one implies that there are also saints who are not  faithful, and that the Epistle was written for a certain select view.  Probably the hypothesis first suggested by Ussher is correct, that a  blank was originally left after tois ousin, and that Tychicus or  someone else was to make several copies of this Epistle and to fill in  the blank with the name of the church to which each copy was to be  sent. The fact that the church of Ephesus was the most prominent of the  churches for which it was intended, will account for the insertion of  the words en Epheso in transcribing the letter, and for the universal  tradition regarding its destination. Most likely, therefore, this was a  circular letter, sent to several churches in Asia, such as those of  Ephesus, Laodicea, Hierapolis, e. a. Probably it is identical with the  Epistle ek Laodikias, Col. 4 :16.


 1. Occasion and Purpose. There is nothing in the Epistle to indicate  that it was called forth by any special circumstances in the churches  of Asia. To all appearances it was merely the prospective departure of  Tychicus and Onesimus for Colossae, 6: 21, 22; Col. 4: 7-9, combined  with the intelligence that Paul received as to the faith of the readers  in the Lord Jesus, and regarding their love to all the saints, 1: 15,  that led to its composition.

 Since the Epistle was not called forth by any special historical  situation, the purpose of Paul in writing it was naturally of a general  character. It seems as if what he had heard of "the faith of the  readers in the Lord Jesus, and of their love to all the saints,"  involuntarily fixed his thought on the unity of believers in Christ,  and therefore on that grand edifice,--the Church of God. He sets forth  the origin, the development, the unity and holiness, and the glorious  end of that mystical body of Christ. He pictures the transcendent  beauty of that spiritual temple, of which Christ is the chief  cornerstone and the saints form the superstructure.

 2. Time and Place. From 3: 1 and 4: 1 we notice that Paul was a  prisoner, when he wrote this Epistle. From the mention of Tychicus as  the bearer of it in 6: 21, compared with Col. 4: 7 and Philemon 13, we  may infer that these three letters were written at the same time. And  it has generally been thought that they were composed during the Roman  imprisonment of Paul. There are a few scholars, however, such as Reuss  and Meyer, who believe that they date from the imprisonment at  Caesarea, A. D. 58-60. Meyer urges this view on the following grounds:  (1) It is more natural and probable that the slave Onesimus had run  away as far as Caesarea than that he had made the long journey to Rome.  (2) If these Epistles had been sent from Rome, Tychicus and Onesimus  would have arrived at Ephesus first and then at Colossae. But in that  case the apostle would most likely have mentioned Onesimus along with  Tychicus in Ephesians, like he does in Collossians 4: 9, to insure the  runaway slave a good reception; which was not necessary however, if  they reached Colossae first, as they would in coming from Casarea,  since Onesimus would remain there.

 (3) In Eph. 6: 21 the expression, "But that ye also may know my  affairs," implies that there were others who had already been informed  of them, viz, the Collossians, Col. 4: 8, 9. (4) Pauls request to  Philemon in Philem. 22, to prepare a lodging for him, and that too, for  speedy use, favors the idea that the apostle was much nearer Coloss~e  than the far distant Rome. Moreover Paul says in Phil. 2: 24 that he  expected to proceed to Macedonia after his release from the Roman  imprisonment.

 But these arguments are not conclusive. To the first one we may reply  that Onesimus would be far safer from the pursuit of the fugitivarii in  a large city like Rome than in a smaller one such as Caesarea. The  second argument loses its force, if this Epistle was a circular letter,  written to the Christians of Asia in general. The kai in Eph. 6 :21 is  liable to different interpretations, but finds a sufficient explanation  in the fact that the Epistle to the Colossians was written first. And  in reply to the last argument we would say that Philem. 22 does not  speak of a speedy coming, and that the apostle may have intended to  pass through Macedonia to Colossae.

 It seems to us that the following considerations favor the idea that  the three Epistles under consideration were written from Rome: (1) From  Eph. 6:19, 20 we infer that Paul had sufficient liberty during his  imprisonment to preach the gospel. Now this ill accords with what we  learn of the imprisonment at Qesarea from Acts 24:23, while it  perfectly agrees with the situation in which Paul found himself at Rome  according to Acts 28:16. (2) The many companions of Paul, viz.  Tychicus, Aristarchus, Marcus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas, quite  different from those that accompanied him on his last journey to  Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20: 4), also point to Rome, where the apostle might  utilize them for evangelistic work. Cf. Phil. 1:14. (3) In all  probability Philippians belongs to the same period as the other  Epistles of the imprisonment; and if this is the case, the mention of  Caesars household in Phil. 4: 22 also points to Rome. (4) Tradition  also names Rome as the place of composition. Ephesians must probably be  dated about A.D. 62.


 The early Church leaves no doubt as to the canonicity of this Epistle.  It is possible that we have the first mention of it in the New  Testament itself, Col. 4:16. The writings of Igpatius, Polycarp, Herman  and Hippolytus contain passages that seem to be derived from our  Epistle. Marcion, the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria  and Tertullian clearly testify to its early recognition and use. There  is not a dissentient voice in all antiquity.

 The particular significance of the Epistle lies in its teaching  regarding the unity of the Church: Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ.  It constantly emphasizes the fact that believers have their unity in  the Lord and therefore contains the expression "in Christ" about twenty  times. The unity of the faithful originates in their election, since  God the Father chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world,  1: 4; it finds expression in a holy conversation, sanctified by true  love, that naturally results from their living relation with Christ, in  whom they are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit;  and it issues in their coming in the "unity of the faith, and of the  knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of  the stature of the fulness of Christ." The great practical exhortation  of the Epistle is that believers live worthily of their union with  Christ, since they were sometime darkness, but are now light in the  Lord, and should therefore walk as children of light, 5:8.