Theology of Ephesians

 |  March 9, 2020

The tallest mountain in the United States is Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), located in Alaska. When the most impressive peak is in plain sight, it may be easy to overlook the fact that the second through sixth tallest mountains in the country are in Alaska too—relatively nearby. Using the mountains as a metaphor, if Romans is the Denali of theologically prominent New Testament books, then Ephesians is certainly in the theological mountain range of biblical peaks nearby.

In one sense, Ephesians, with its relatively short length (compared to Romans or Hebrews), may be in a class by itself. Here in this brief space, we will review only some of the major theological summits jutting out from the book.


From the opening paragraphs of Ephesians, we are introduced to our salvation secured from beginning to end by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In what turns out to be the longest sentence in the Greek New Testament, Ephesians 1:3–14 trumpets the Father’s plan, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s protection of our salvation.

In the opening argument of Ephesians, the Father blesses us (v.3), chooses us (v.4), loves us (v.4), predestines us (v.5), and adopts us (v.5). The Son redeems us through His blood, forgives our trespasses, and lavishes us with grace (v.7). Furthermore, the Son makes the mysterious will of God known (v.9) and establishes the unity of all things in heaven and earth (v.10). The Son goes on to provide our predestined inheritance (v.11). The Spirit, in order to protect all that the Father and Son have accomplished, seals us (v.13). In doing so, the Spirit guarantees our inheritance until we eventually take final possession of it (v.14).

Each of the three sections of the Trinitarian work of salvation is masterfully concluded with the phrase, “to the praise of his glorious grace” (v.6) or, similarly, “to the praise of His glory” (v.6; v.12; 14). Each time Paul uses the phrase, he is signaling the completion of one thought and movement to the next. The memorable phrase also serves as the grammatical thread, sewing this section together as a unified whole.


Ephesians is concerned with the church. The word ekklesia (the called-out ones) is the usual Greek word translated into English as church. In Greek literature, ekklesia may refer to almost any public assembly, but it occurs more than one hundred and fifteen times in the Greek New Testament and almost always refers to the church. Nine times in Ephesians the word ekklesia refers to those called out from the world and called to assemble with one another as the church. In nearly every instance the church is represented as a significant part of God’s purpose in history.

For instance, one pivotal passage particularly positions the ekklesia in the center of the action: “and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:9-10). In this central passage, the ekklesia is shown to be Exhibit A in revealing God’s eternal plan. Everything God wants to demonstrate to unseen “rulers and authorities,” previously shrouded in mystery, is now manifested through the ekklesia. In other words, the church, more than any other force proves God’s point!

In addition, Paul makes clear that “Christ is the head of the Church” (5:23), and that He “gave Himself up” for the church (5:25). The purpose of the incarnation, the ministry, and the death of Jesus, therefore, centers around the creation and redemption of the church. The value of the church in God’s plan, as a result of Christ’s sacrifice, cannot be overestimated.

Furthermore, the word soma, meaning body, is used nine times with at least eight of those uses referring to the Body of Christ – another way to describe the church.[1]Walter L. Liefeld, Ephesians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 22. The use of the word soma essentially doubles the references to the church in Ephesians. Can there be a more consistent metaphor found than Christ as the head (5:23) and the church as the body? The more the text is examined, the more clearly the reader notices that Ephesians is, among other things, a letter to a church about the Church.


When considering the ministry of the Holy Spirit, one passage in Ephesians likely springs to mind almost immediately: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). While Ephesians 5:18 is a significant verse for understanding the Spirit’s ministry, it is in no way an introduction to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians. There are nine or ten references to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians (depending upon how the reader interprets 1:17) prior to the command to be filled with the Spirit. For instance, the believer’s eternal security is tied to the fact the Spirit “seals” or protects each one (1:13). After salvation, as a result of the Spirit’s immediate ministry, believers have access to God (2:18). The access to God is not arbitrary however, since by the Spirit, “a dwelling place for God,” is built in the life of the believer and the Church (2:22). In addition, the Spirit strengthens the believer with power in the “inner being” so that faith in Christ, which comprehends the scope of God’s love, can be experienced (3:16-19).

The many references to the Spirit’s ministry all point to an intimate, personal relationship with God which is possible when it is enabled by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. No wonder Paul urges the reader to be filled with the Spirit (5:18), since it is through the Spirit the benefits and blessings of the Christian life are realized.

Other theological themes can be gleaned from Ephesians; but the Trinitarian work of salvation, the Church, and the Spirit are mountain peaks of truth worth exploring.

Kie Bowman is the Senior Pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.


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