Overview of the Book of Ephesians

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Overview of the Book of Ephesians
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Overview of the Book of Ephesians

Author: The author is the Apostle Paul.

Purpose:

To teach the Christians at Ephesus the wonder and practical implications of being the Church in Christ.

Date: A.D. 60-62

Key Truths:

  • The Church has received wondrous blessings in union with Christ.
  • The Church has been brought from death to life in Christ.
  • The Church will extend worldwide with Jews and Gentiles joined together in Christ.
  • The Church must strive for unity in Christ.
  • The Church must live in the ways of Christ, not return to the ways of the sinful world.
  • The Church must find strength for spiritual warfare in Christ.

Author:

The apostle Paul wrote this epistle (Eph. 1:1; 3:1). Themes and language common to other Pauline letters abound in Ephesians; its verbal similarities with Colossians are especially striking.

In the modern era, however, questions have been raised about whether Paul actually wrote this epistle. Some believe that Ephesians appears to be too dependent on Colossians. It has been noticed that even though this letter resembles other letters from Paul, phrases tend to pile up more than in the earlier epistles. The letter is less didactic and more prayerful. Doctrine has given way to doxology; reasoned argument to awe. Ideas that are only implicit in his earlier letters become explicit here. Such considerations lead many to suspect that Ephesians was not written by Paul himself, but by one of his students who was attempting to carry forward some of Paul's ideas, especially those expressed in Colossians.

The language and syntax of Ephesians are certainly distinctive. They are so Pauline, however, that even if the letter did not bear the name of its author, it is difficult to imagine the Church ever crediting its authorship to anyone but Paul. It is hard to believe, as the doubters of Pauline authorship do, that a person slavishly trying to sound like Paul - even copying some verses word-for-word from Colossians - would at the same time creatively transform Paul's normal style and expand Paul's doctrine. Even less imaginable would be the early Church's failure to discern that such an imitation was not an authoritative Pauline letter. It is far easier to account for the verbal similarities with Colossians by assuming that Paul wrote Ephesians shortly after completing Colossians. It demands far less credulity to imagine Paul adopting an unusually prayerful mode to focus on the cosmic significance of Christ's Church and of Christ himself.

Time and Place of Writing:

The imprisonment mentioned in Ephesians 3:1 and Ephesians 6:20 is the same as that referred to in Colossians 4:3, 10, 18. It probably references Paul's two-year house arrest (A.D. 60-62) in Rome, which is recounted in Acts 28.

Original Audience:

Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia on the western coast of Asia Minor. A bridge city between the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire, and among the top five cities of the empire in the first century, it was also one of the most important cities in the spread of Christianity. Paul's ministry there in A.D. 53-55 is recounted in Acts 19. During Paul's unusually long stay there, Ephesus became the center for the evangelism of the western part of Asia Minor (Acts 19:10). Paul's affectionate ties with this Church are reflected in his speech to its elders as he departed for Jerusalem (Acts 20:16-38).

The city's most prominent civic monument was the temple of the goddess Artemis (Diana), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. One inscription described the city as the "nurturer" of the goddess. Artemis, in turn, was said to have made Ephesus "most glorious" among all the Asian cities. People from this background would have appreciated the irony in Paul's words about Christ "nurturing" (NIV84, "feed[ing]") his own body, the church (Eph. 5:29). They would well have understood the point of contrast when Paul described Christ's goal to present his church as a glorious or "radiant" bride (Eph. 5:27). It was also in Ephesus that Paul's preaching of Christ came into conflict with an economic structure dependent upon pagan worship (Acts 19:23-41) and the occult (Acts 19:17-20). Paul's exhortation to expose shameful and fruitless deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:8-14) and to prepare for warfare against "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12) would have struck readers in Ephesus with special force.

There are indications that Paul wrote the letter for a broader audience than Ephesus. The oldest and best Greek manuscripts do not include "in Ephesus" (Eph. 1:1) in the address of the letter, but read, "To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus." Several important second- and third-century Church leaders were unaware of an Ephesian address. Three verses in Ephesians (Eph. 1:15; 3:2; 4:21) fail to suggest the personal ties we know to have existed between Paul and the Ephesians. Moreover, the letter lacks the personal references and greetings Paul almost always included in his correspondence. At the same time, no manuscripts name any other city as the recipient of the epistle. As a result, many scholars believe Ephesians was written as a general letter that Paul intended to circulate among a number of churches in western Asia Minor. This would be in keeping with the sweeping contents of the letter as a whole. All the same, it is hard to imagine why "in Ephesus" would have been added to the overwhelming majority of manuscripts that do include the address if it had not been there in the first place.

Accordingly, one of two theories is most likely. Paul may have written originally to the Ephesians, but as the letter was spread from Church to Church over time the address may have begun to be omitted. Alternatively, Paul may have sent the letter in two forms: one directly to the Ephesians and the other as a circular for a more general audience.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Like the letter to the Romans, Ephesians provides a unique insight into Paul's theology, for it was written when Paul had the luxury of not addressing a critical, local controversy. What stands out about Ephesians is the awe with which it contemplates the mystery of the Church.

Ephesians describes the church as God's new humanity, a colony in which the Lord of history has established a foretaste of the renewed unity and dignity of the human race (Eph. 1:10-14; 2:11-22; 3:6, 9-11; 4:1-6:9). The Church is a community in which God's power to reconcile men and women to himself is experienced and then shared in transformed relationships (Eph. 2:1-10; 4:1-16; 4:32-5:2; 5:22-6:9). It is a new Temple, a building of people, grounded in the sure revelation of what God has done in history and ever growing to become the place where God resides on earth (Eph. 2:19-22; 3:17-19). The Church is an organism in which power and authority are exercised after the pattern of Christ himself (Eph. 1:22; 5:25-27) and as a stewardship, a means of service (Eph. 4:11-16; 5:22-6:9). It is an outpost in a dark world (Eph. 5:3-17), under hostile attack (Eph. 6:10-17) but offering light to the lost, standing against humanity's spiritual enemies and anticipating the day of final redemption. The Church is a bride being prepared for the approach of her lover and husband (Eph. 5:22-32).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).