An Introduction to Ephesians

Fred D. Howard  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 22 - Fall 1979

According to the traditional view, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, is one of the so-called “prison epistles,” written from Rome during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. Contrary to this view, many modern New Testament critics have argued that Paul was not the author, the writing is not a letter, it was not ad­dressed to Ephesus, and it was not written from Rome. More­ over, the same critics insist that Paul never had a second Roman imprisonment during which he wrote the “pastoral epistles” (I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus ). Rather, the latter, like Ephesians, were supposedly written by one or more disciples of Paul.

Generally speaking, conservative and liberal scholars alike have agreed that Ephesians is the apex of Pauline thought regardless of who wrote it. For example, A.M. Hunter, who accepts Pauline authorship, summed up the plaudits of several notable men when he wrote: “John Calvin called it his favourite epistle; Coleridge pronounced it ‘one of the divinest compositions of man’; Dr. John Mackay has said, ‘To this book I owe my life,’ and Dr. C.H. Dodd has named it ‘the crown of Paulinism.'”[1]Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament (2nd ed., Phila­delphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), p. 120. On the other hand, C. Leslie Mitton, who rejects Pauline authorship, stated his convictions thus:

The Epistle to the Ephesians ranks high among the letters of the Pauline corpus. Luther included it in the select group of writings which he designated “the true kernel and marrow” of the books of the New Testament. Hort and Dodd both described it as “the crown of Pauline writings”; A.S. Peake and F.F. Bruce both called it “the quintessence of Paulinism” because all the essential elements of Paul’s teachings. are included in it, expressed with a maturity and comprehensiveness not always found in the earlier letters. It is the “crown of Pauline writings” because here Paul’s theological thought, especially about the Church, reaches a stage of development which exceeds all that preceded it.[2]C. Leslie Mitton, “Ephesians,” in New Century Bible (Greenwood, S.C.: the Attica Press, Inc., 1976), p. 2.


Authenticity and Authorship

Until the nineteenth century New Testament scholarship was almost unanimous in accepting Ephesians as a letter by Paul. Every known Greek manuscript, including the Chester Beatty papyrus manuscript (P. 46) , which omits the Pastoral epistles, lists Ephesians among the Pauline letters.[3]Ibid. However, as early as 1519 Erasmus called “attention to the stylistic idiosyncrasies of Ephesians, a first signal that anticipated later developments.”[4]Marcus Barth, “Ephesians,” I, in The Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.:Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1974), p. 37. The epistle itself clearly affirms that Paul was its author (1:1; 3:1).


External Evidence

Even those who reject Pauline authorship of Ephesians ad­mit that external attestation is unassailable. For example, the Feine-Behm-Kiimmel Introduction to the New Testament states: “Without question Ephesians was extraordinarily well attested in the early church.”[5]Paul Feine and Johannes Behin, Introduction to the New Testament reedited by Werner Georg Kiimmel, trans. by A.J. Mattill, Jr. (14th rev. ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966 ), p. 251. Mitton likewise wrote: “In the early centuries its claim to Pauline authorship remained un­questioned.”[6]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 3. By the middle of the second century Ephesians had a wide circulation and was universally accepted as canonical. Even the heretic Marcion, who rejected the Old Testament and all portions of the New Testament that put the Jews in a favorable light, accepted Ephesians and in­cluded it in his canon (c. A.D. 140 ). However, he knew it as Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans (see Col. 4:16). Also it was included in the Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 180) among the epistles of Paul. Early patristic allusions indicated its wide acceptance. These include Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius, and Polycarp as well as the later church fathers such as Irenaeus and Origen. Ephesians was also accepted as canoni­cal by the Gnostic heretics (Marcion, Basilides, Valentinus, the Ophites ).

Because the early external evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Paul as the author of Ephesians, any theory to the contrary must look to the epistle itself for evidence.


Internal Evidence

Although Erasmus had noted that the style of Ephesians differed from that of Paul’s other letters, he apparently did not doubt its authenticity. Concerning the transition from a view of general acceptance to that of doubt and outright rejection by many, Barth summarized:

In 1970 W. Paley was still able to observe that the authen­ticity of Ephesians did not appear to have ever been disputed. However, two years later E. Evanson bowed reasons why the contents of the epistle contradicted its address. L. Usteri in 1824, W.M.L. de Wette in 1826 and 1843, and finally F.C. Baur in 1845 were the first to collect weighty arguments against Pauline authorship. During the second half of the nineteenth century more observa­tions and data were added, in the face of still conservative resistance. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the most vocal German scholars, along with a considerable number of their French, British, and American colleagues, had accepted the verdict that Ephesians is not authentical­ly Pauline but the product of an unknown student and admirer of the apostle.[7]Barth, “Ephesians,” p. 37.

Guthrie has arranged the arguments against Pauline authorship under four headings:  (1) linguistic and stylistic, (2) literary, (3) historical, and (4) doctrinal.[8]Donald Guthrie, The Pauline Epistles (2nd ed., Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1963), pp. 102-110. We have chosen, however, to follow the arrangement of Mitton who separated linguistic from stylistic arguments.[9]Mitton, “Ephesians,” pp. 4-6.

Linguistic Arguments

Ephesians has some ninety words not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters. These so-called hapax legomena ( words “once for all spoken”) at first notice may seem highly unusual. Ac­ cording to Barth, however, “Romans and I and II Corinthians contain a hundred hapax legomena, respectively. Philippians contains about fifty, Galatians more than thirty words that are unique in the Pauline corpus.”[10]Barth, “Ephesians,” p. 4. The fact that many of the unique words in Ephesians are found in the writings of the church fathers does not prove that Ephesians was written in the post-apostolic age. Rather, the church fathers used a com­mon stock of words, many of which no doubt were borrowed from the letters of Paul.

Several interpreters have noted peculiar words or expres­sions in Ephesians that are not characteristic of Paul. For example, the word devil is found twice in Ephesians (4:27; 6:11), whereas elsewhere Paul used the term Satan or some circumlocution like “angel of light” ( II Cor. 11:14). The phrase en tois epouranois (in the heavenlies ) is found five times in Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12 ) but not else­ where in Paul’s letters. In addition, Paul made wide use of the prepositions en and kata and also genitival constructions in Ephesians.

Aside from uncharacteristic words and phrases, Paul in Ephesians seemingly used common words with a different meaning, for example: “mystery,” “church,” “stewardship,” “possession,” and “fullness.” As an illustration, Paul in Colos­sians ( 1:26-27; 2:2, 4:3) apparently used “mystery” to mean God’s redemptive purpose in Christ to save sinners, whereas in Ephesians he used the same term in a broader sense to mean the reconciliation of “all things in Christ” ( 1:9-10) and in particular God’s purpose to bring both Jews and Gentiles together in the “same body” (3:3-6). Likewise, Paul ordi­narily used “church” to designate a local body of believers while in Ephesians he meant the totality of all believers (1:22- 23; 4:4; 5:23-32). Although those who reject the Pauline authorship of Ephesians interpret such evidence as clearly indicating a post-apostolic origin of the epistle,[11]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 13. other scholars do not agree. For example, Barth opined:

As a possible explanation, it may be that Paul took up the specific meanings of given terms which prevailed among those addressed by him at the time. Certainly he did not carry with him a dictionary containing inflexible definitions of key words. There is no reason to assume that he was limited to one possible meaning for a given noun or verb, or with an understanding of the gospel that he had formed at an earlier period.[12]Barth, “Ephesians,” pp. 4-5.

Stylistic Arguments

Even a casual reading of Ephesians should convince any­ one acquainted with Paul’s letters that Ephesians has a style all its own. In fact, its style is to his other epistles what John is to the Synoptic gospels. Contrasted with the shorter, faster­ paced sentences of his other letters, Ephesians has unusually long sentences in a catena of richly descriptive phrases and clauses. According to Mitton, based on the sentence length in Westcott and Hort’s Greek New Testament, the average sen­tence length in Ephesians is three lines as compared with one and four-tenths lines in Romans.[13]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 4. In terms of verses the longest sentences in Ephesians respectively consist of twelve verses (1:3-14) , ten verses (2: 1-10) , and nine verses (1:15- 23; 3: 1-9). Concerning the style of Ephesians, Goodspeed wrote, “It is cast in that half-liturgical style so characteristic of the last decade of the first century; we see it in the canti­cles of Luke-Acts, in Revelation, Hebrews, I Peter, I Clem­ent.”[14]Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1937 ), p. 227. However, against the view of Mitton and Goodspeed, it may be argued that the style of Ephesians resulted from Paul’s use of “The language of prayer – and of meditation.”[15]Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963), p. 201. Other suggestions are that Paul, relieved from the pressures of controversy, wrote in a more reflective, contemplative mood or that it simply reveals the great versatility of Paul.[16]Guthrie, The Pauline Epistles, pp. 111-112.

Literary Arguments

The similarity between Ephesians and Colossians is quite obvious. Most scholars hold to the priority of Colossians. Among other reasons, the simplicity of style of Colossians points to that conclusion. Van Roon summarized the views of leading critics as follows (1) that Paul first dictated Ephesians and shortly  afterwards Colossians (Hyperius, contemporary of Erasmus), (2) that Paul himself wrote Ephesians and later dictated the basic draft of Colossians to Timothy (Eichhorn), (3) that Ephesians was secondary and that with Paul’s con­sent it had been completed by Tychicus on the pattern of Colossians (Schleiermacher), (4) that Ephesians was a mod­erately successful imitation of Colossians (de Wette),  (5) that Ephesians was not an imitation but a correction of inauthentic Colossians (Hoekstra), (6) that pseudographer had conceived Ephesians independently of Colossians and later interpolated portions of Ephesians into the original Colossians to correspond with his own work (Hitzig, borrow­ing the idea from Weisse), (7) that Ephesians was not authentic but an imitation of Colossians, which in turn was a mixture of   authentic   and interpolated material (Holzmann), (8) that the author of inauthentic Ephesians copied Colos­sians but also “made use of already existing hymn and of traditional liturgical and paraenetical material” (Ochel), (9) that despite the close affinities Ephesians and Colossians “do not admit the consideration of literary interdependence” (Schmid).[17]A. Van Roon, The Authenticity of Ephesians (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974), pp. 4-8.

Later scholarship concluded that the author of Ephesians made wide use of other Pauline epistles besides Colossians. Employing the Greek text, Westcott presented detailed paral­lels.[18]Brooke Foss Westcott, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952), pp. xl-xli. In addition, Mitton, following an earlier lead, pointed up the affinity between Ephesians and Luke-Acts: “In phraseology, there are ten words which appear in Ephesians and Luke-Acts which are not found anywhere else in the N.T.”[Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 16.[/ref]ref] This evidence, along with other considerations, led Martin to declare concerning authorship, “Our option is for Luke in view of the various links between his writings in the Gospel and Acts and this epistle.”[19]Ralph P. Martin, “Ephesians,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary (12 vols.; Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971) XI, 129.

Ephesians also has affinities with I Peter, Hebrews, and the gospel of John. Concerning the former, Barth made this observation: “Theodor Zahn attributed the common features to the hands of the common author or editor Silvanus. A majority of interpreters assume that I Peter is dependent upon Ephesians, but among others B. Weiss and J. Moffatt are convinced of the opposite.”[20]Barth, “Ephesians,” p. 23. Of course, if I Peter is genuine and did borrow from Ephesians, that would settle the problem of authorship of the latter in favor of Paul. How­ever, Barth no doubt is correct in his conclusion: “The com­parison of Ephesians and I Peter has so far not contributed to establishing the date and author of Ephesians.”[21]Ibid., p. 24.

The relationship between Ephesians and Gnosticism has been the subject of much debate. According to Barth, “It was F.C. Baur’s opinion that Ephesians belonged in the latter part of the second century because of its dependence upon Gnos­tic thought.”[22]Ibid., p. 12. It is true that Ephesians contains many words common to Gnosticism, for example, knowledge, mystery, fullness, ages (aeons). Paul’s usage, however, is quite different from that of the Gnostics. Accordingly, Scott observed: “In the Gnostic systems the mere act of knowing is everything. . . Our epistle insists on knowledge not for its own sake but as the means towards a living fellowship with Christ.”[23]E.F. Scott, “The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians,” in The Moffatt New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, n.d.) p. 129. Barth observed that “Ephesians is often understood either as Gnosticizing, or as outspokenly anti-Gnostic, or as both at the same time.”[24]Barth, “Ephesians,” p. 13. Barth also pointed out the probability of “proto-Gnostic elements . . . combined to form the pattern of a religious world view,” and affirmed that, “The Qumran literature contains traces of proto-Gnostic thought.”[25]Ibid.

Whether the author of Ephesians had any direct or in­ direct relationship with the Qumran community is highly un­certain. According to Barth, “J. Murphy-O’Connor believes that Ephesians must be ascribed to an amanuensis of Paul who had come from the ranks of the Essenes and was working under Paul’s direction.”[26]Ibid., p.21. Mitton referred to an article by K.G. Kuhn in which Kuhn wrote that “Ephesians has a defi­nite relationship with the Essene community of Qumran.”[27]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 19. However, Mitton himself concluded: “It is doubtful if these similarities are strong enough to indicate any direct literary connection; and even if there is some such connection, no one has yet suggested any probable explanation of it.”[28]Ibid., p. 20. Although the conflict between light and darkness in Ephesians (5:7-13; 6:12) is reminiscent of the Qumran literature, both might have drawn the analogy from the Old Testament or from a common milieu.

Historical Arguments

Those who reject Pauline authorship point to the absence of the Jewish-Gentile controversy in Ephesians. They assume that it could not have been settled in Paul’s lifetime. They also insist that the concept of the universal church in Ephesians was unknown to Paul and that it was a development of the second century. Moreover, they insist that pseudepi­graphy was such a common practice in the post-apostolic period that someone could have written Ephesians in Paul’s name without creating a problem concerning its canonicity.[29]Feine-Behm-Kiimmel, Introduction, pp. 255-256. It is also argued that reference to the “holy apostles”( 3:5) indicates the post-apostolic period when the apostles were regarded with special reverence. All of these arguments are somewhat arbitrary and subjective and can be explained in the context of Paul’s lifetime.

Doctrinal Arguments

The doctrinal arguments overlap the historical. Foremost is the matter of the Ephesian doctrine of the universal church which is supposedly contrary to the Pauline emphasis on the local church. Yet in Colossians (1:18; 2:19; 3:15) as well as in the earlier epistles, Romans (12:5) and I   Corinthians (12: 12-31), Paul seemed clearly to refer to the universal church. In the second place, the “foundation of the apostles and prophets”   (2:20) allegedly contradicts Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 3:11 that “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Of course, these two statements can be reconciled without detracting from the primacy of Christ. Third, it is argued that Paul wrote with the expectancy of Christ’s soon return, which is contrary to the outlook of Ephesians. One may refute this argument by demonstrating that Paul’s earliest letters ( I and II Thessaloni­ans ) , put greater emphasis on the second coming, whereas subsequent letters increasingly show a lesser degree of empha­sis. Opponents of Pauline authorship point to still other doctrinal matters (for example, the subject of marriage), which cannot be treated adequately in the scope of this in­troduction.

Although it is impossible to establish Pauline authorship of Ephesians, it is even more difficult to prove that someone else wrote it. Thus Hunter astutely pointed out: “Clearly the burden of proof lies with those who deny Paul’s authorship, and unless and until such demonstration is forthcoming, we may wisely follow tradition and ascribe the letter to Paul.”[30]Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, pp. 121-122.

Similarly Barclay concluded:

No man ever had a greater vision of Christ than this vision which sees in Christ the one centre in whom all the dis­ unities of life are gathered into one. No man ever had a greater vision of the Church than the vision which sees in the Church God’s instrument in that world-wide and universal reconciliation. And we may well believe that no man other than Paul could rise to a vision like that.[31]William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (2nd ed., Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1958), p. 80.



In the other Pauline epistles the destination is not a problem but with Ephesians it is a crucial matter. The fact is that the two oldest and presumably the most accurate uncial manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, along with the very early Chester Beatty papyrus   manuscript (P. 46 omit “at Ephesus” in the salutation (1:1). Although Paul spent some three years in Ephesus during this third mis­sionary journey (Acts 20:31), the Ephesian letter has no per­sonal greetings. Moreover, the author wrote as if he had never been in his readers’ presence and that they did not know him personally (1:15; 2:2-3; 4:21) . Neither did he mention any specific problems, situations, or events that di­rectly related to the church in Ephesus.

The theory of a circular letter has been a popular ex­planation of the unique problem of destination. This theory was first set forth by Beza, adopted by Grotius, and popular­ized by Archbishop James Ussher who suggested that blank space was left for the name of the city to be written in by the carrier.[32]Van Roon, The Authenticity of Ephesians, p. 3. According to the encyclical view, the letter was intended not only for Ephesus but also for other cities in the Lycus valley. Although this theory has sufficient merit to commend it as a prime possibility, Ussher’s suggestion of a blank space is doubtful since the preposition at is also omitted. Van Roon has suggested unconvincingly that the original had two place names, Hierapolis and Laodicea.[33]Ibid., p. 438. Since Marcion referred to Ephesians as Laodiceans, although he might have arbitrarily changed the name, this fact supports the theory that Ephesians was a circular letter. Harnack believed that Laodicea was the original destination but that it was omitted from subsequent copies because the letter to Laodicea in Revelation (3: 14-22) put Laodicea in a bad light.[34]Ibid., p. 4.

Uniquely, Moule held that Paul actually addressed his letter to the church in Ephesus but that he also intended it for the other Asian churches, “and that the transcripts dis­persed through the Province frequently omitted this precise original address accordingly, but without introducing any other.”[35]H.C.G. Moule, Studies in Ephesians ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1977 ), p. 29. Simpson offered the possibility that “The omitted greetings may have been conveyed by Tychicus in person in consequence of their very multiplicity.”[36]E.K. Simpson, “Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians,” in Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, in The New Inter­national Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerd­mans  Publishing Co., 1957 ), p. 19. Perhaps the most ingenious explanation is that of Richard Batey who “suggested that, since in Greek uncial (capital) letters the words ‘saints’ and ‘Asians’ could be confused, some scribe had made that mistake and therefore the address should read: ‘To the Asians, faithful in Christ Jesus.”[37]Donald J. Selby, Introduction to the New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971), p. 386. Against all such attempts to ex­plain the missing address, others follow the reading as given in the Revised Standard Version, “To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.”


Place and Date

The traditional view is that Paul wrote Ephesians from Rome during his first Roman imprisonment, presumably about A.D. 61-63. Unquestionably, the author claimed that he was a prisoner (3:1; 4:1), and there are at least three possible places of imprisonment: Rome,   Ephesus (I Cor. 15:30-32; II Cor. 1:8-10, and Caesarea (Acts 23:23-27:1) where Paul spent some two years (Acts 24 :27). The likelihood that Paul wrote Ephesians from prison in Ephesus is extremely re­mote. A much better case can be made for Caesarea. Van Roon, who is representative of those who opt for a Caesarean origin, argued from the Jewish-Hellenistic style of Ephe­sians.[38]Van Roon, The Authenticity of Ephesians, pp. 204, 440). If he is correct, the date was about A.D. 58-60.

Scholars who reject Pauline authorship of Ephesians “sug­gest a date for the epistle anywhere between A.D. 70 and 170.”[39]Barth, “Ephesians,” p. 50. Assuming that the author referred literally to the de­struction of the Jewish temple when he spoke of breaking “down the middle wall of partition” (2:14), they set A.D. 70 as the earliest possible date. This, of course, would have been some six to seven years after the death of Paul. Mit­ton, who rejects Pauline origin, suggested A.D. 90 as the most probable date.[40]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 24.

In view of very strong patristic attestation, there seems to be no convincing reason to reject the traditional view that Paul wrote Ephesians, along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, from Rome during his first imprisonment there.


Occasion and Purpose

The occasion and purpose for writing Ephesians are more difficult to discern than for any of the other Pauline epistles. If some version of a circular letter is assumed, a great deal of the problem is alleviated. As Guthrie has pointed out, the close relationship between Ephesians and Colossians suggests that Paul wrote Ephesians and addressed it to a wider audience as a safeguard against the Colossian heresy.[41]Guthrie. The Pauline Epistles, pp. 134-135. There is wide agreement that the Colossian heresy was an incipient form of Gnosticism. Yet, despite the intent to refute Gnostic ideas, there no doubt was a much broader purpose. Martin aptly observed: “The purpose of the epistle was to show the nature of the church and the Christian life to those who came to Christ from a pagan heritage and environment, and to re­ mind Gentile Christians that Paul’s theology of salvation­ history never disowned the Jewish background out of which the (now predominantly) Gentile church came.”[42]Martin, “Ephesians,” p. 126.

Mitton has correctly observed that “One of the chief rea­son scholars hesitated to ascribe Ephesians to a post­ Pauline writer was the difficulty of suggesting any occasion in the post-Pauline Church which would be likely to produce such a writing. The first to succeed in providing a convincing theory to supply this lack was Goodspeed.”[43]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 25. Mitton referred to Edgar J. Goodspeed’s epoch-making book, The Meaning of Ephesians: Its Authorship, Origin and Purpose, published in 1951, in which he basically agreed with Goodspeed’s hypo­thesis. The essence of Goodspeed’s theory is that toward the end of the first century Paul’s letters were collected, and Ephesians was written by a disciple of Paul as an intro­duction to the collection. Goodspeed acknowledged that the idea was not altogether his when he wrote: “Julicher long ago perceived that on most accounts the natural explanation of the purpose and aim of Ephesians was to serve as an in­troduction to a collection of Pauline letters. I had come to that position independently, and find great satisfaction in his interest in it.”[44]Goodspeed, Introduction, p.222. Goodspeed also suggested that the collector was the probable author and that if pressed for a name he would prefer Onesimus.[45]Ibid., pp. 225, 229. Supposedly Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, later became the bishop of Ephesus.

Although the core of Goodspeed’s hypothesis has been widely accepted, even those who favor it generally do so with reservation. For example, Beare wrote:

Some aspects of this theory will appear fanciful and uncalled for. For one thing, the collecting of Paul’s letters cannot be made to depend on the influence of Acts. The supposition that the Christian church forgot all about Paul for a generation after his death, and that only the publi­cation of Acts saved him and his letters from oblivion is purely gratuitous.[46]Francis W. Beare, “The Epistle to the Ephesians-Introduction and Exegesis,” in The Interpreter’s Bible (12 vols., New York: Abingdon Press 1953) X, 603.

Beare continued his criticism by saying, “The evidence does not permit us to follow Goodspeed in all the details of his attempted reconstruction of the circumstances under which it came to be written . . . and it is not clearly shown, though it remains a possibility, that the epistle was composed as a foreword to the collected epistles of Paul.”[47]Ibid., p. 604. Mitton’s criti­cism of Goodspeed’s theory closely parallels that of Beare.[48]Mitton, “Ephesians,” p. 9 Against Goodspeed, though accepting non-Pauline author­ship of Ephesians, Feine-Behm-Kiimmel opined “that Ephe­sians was composed as a covering letter on the occasion of the first collection of the Pauline epistles, cannot be regarded as probable. Against this theory weighs not only the fact that according to our knowledge Ephesians never stood at the beginning of a collection of Pauline epistles . . . but above all the fact that the special purpose of Ephesians cannot be ex­plained upon the basis of this supposition.”[49]Feine-Behm-Kummel, Introduction, pp. 217-218. Selby offered a somewhat mediating position between the traditional view and that of Goodspeed when he wrote:

Considering such matters as the varying degrees of participation by the amanuenses in the letter-writing process, it is not impossible that it was written from Paul’s Ephe­sian prison to the churches founded by Paul’s lieutenants throughout the Province of Asia, much as Galatians was addressed to all the churches in that province, and there­ fore may be, after all, the “letter from Laodicea” men­tioned in Colossians 4:16. Such a letter would be of neces­sity general in tone, yet sensitive to the particular angelologies and syncretisms for which the Asian peoples were noted. Such a letter would also invite greater par­ticipation in its composition by Paul’s co-workers.[50]Selby, Introduction, p. 387.

Regardless of questions related to authorship and overall purpose, undoubtedly the author had subsidiary purposes in mind. Quite naturally all interpreters are not agreed as to what these lesser purposes are. Barth, without approval or disapproval, summed up critical opinion concerning the pur­pose of Ephesians: (1) to counter the influence in Asia Minor of the Johannine literature and to defend Paul “against a theology promoted under Peter’s name” (Weizsacker), (2) to stress the unity of the church in terms of communion of Jewish and Gentile Christians (Chadwick), (3) to meet the problem of “Gnosticism with Gnosticizing arguments,” (4) “to sum up and to recommend to a later generation the apostle Paul’s teaching,” (5) to present a “meditation upon Christ’s wisdom which can be ascribed to Paul himself” (Schleier), (6) to give “a discourse on baptism, written for the benefit of newly baptized Gentiles,” (7) “to ward off an enthusiastic or mystery-religionlike misunderstanding of baptism,” (8) “the summing up and salvation of all things, even of Jews and Gentiles rather than of individual souls”(Robinson), (9) to stress “the unique function of Christ in the redemption and life of the church – as opposed to the honor attributed to mediating angels” (Dacquino), (10) to restore Paul “who was discredited by heresies.” (11) to strengthen the missionary enterprise.[51]Barth, “Ephesians,” pp. 57-58.

Having noted the multiplicity of views concerning occasion and purpose, what conclusions may we legitimately draw? In the first place, scholars on both sides of the authorship problem generally agree that Ephesians is a clear expression of Pauline theology. Moreover, the overall theme of God’s redemptive purpose toward all mankind is set in the con­text of prayerful concern, followed by an appeal to the readers for daily expression of redemptive love in holy living. Con­cerning Ephesians, Carver fittingly wrote: “Here ‘the divine­ human encounter’ that is the abiding history of the human race is outlined in amazing completeness. Here are both the essential and characteristic Christian experiences, and Christianity’s principles in moral and ethical application.”[52]William Owen Carver, The Glory of God in the Christian Calling (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1949), p. 3.


Form and Content

Against the view that Ephesians is a tract or an introduction to the Pauline corpus, we find in it several characteristics of other Pauline epistles. For example, the salutation (1:1-2) with the familiar “grace” and “peace” is typical. Another characteristically Pauline touch is the expression of thanks­ giving and prayer for his readers (1:15-23). It is difficult to see how a Paulinist writing an introduction would have claimed to be Paul and also would have deliberately copied his style without exposing himself to the charge of forgery, Moreover, as Guthrie has pointed out, it is unlikely that a Paulinist writing an introduction to Paul’s letters would have made a personal reference to Tychicus (6:21), which is almost identical to a similar reference in Colossians 4:7.[53]Guthrie, The Pauline Epistles, p. 113.

Like Paul’s other letters, Ephesians may be broadly divided into two sections: doctrinal (chapters 1-3) and practical (chapters 4-6). Although such a division is an over­ simplification, yet it is basically true to Pauline form. Barth concurred with this division of Ephesians when he wrote, “While chapters 1-3 are called dogmatic or kerygmatic, the contents of chapters 4-6 are suitably labeled ethical, didactic or parenetic.”[54]Barth, “Ephesians,” p. 53. Barth also admitted the oversimplification when he added: “Indeed the juxtaposition of preaching and teaching (kerygma and didache), of indicative and impera­tive, may have had its day. . . Their imposition upon a hymnodic or prayerlike document like Ephesians may be as inappropriate as the attempt to measure the beauty of a symphony with a yardstick or a barometer.”[55]Ibid., p. 54 In other words, Ephesians, like the Fourth Gospel, contains such profound truth that interpreters have never fully plumbed its depths. Many nuggets of truth are yet to be discovered for the dedi­cated, prayerful seeker.


Outline of Ephesians

Part I: Redemption Provided

  1. World redemption through Jesus Christ (1:1-14)
    1. Paul’s personal greeting (1:1-2)
    2. Redemption as God’s eternal purpose (1:3-5a)
    3. Christ the mediating agent of redemption (1:5b-13a)
    4. The Holy Spirit as the guarantee of redemption (1:13b-14)
  2. Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer for his readers (1:15-23)
    1. Thanksgiving for their faith and love (1:15-16a)
    2. Intercessory prayer for them (1:16b-23)
      1. For a deeper knowledge of God (1:17-18a)
      2. For fuller understanding of Christian hope (1:18b)
      3. For fuller knowledge of God’s power as demonstrated in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation (1:19-23)
  3. Personal redemption from sin (2:1-10)
    1. Salvation from spiritual death (2: 1-3)
      1. Dead in trespasses and sins (2:1)
      2. Sinners by practice (2:2-3a)
      3. Sinners by nature (2:3b)
    2. Salvation by God’s grace (2:4-9)
      1. Love the motive (2:4)
      2. A making alive (2:5)
      3. A spiritual resurrection(2:6a)
      4. A foretaste of heaven (2:6b)
      5. A permanent display of grace (2:7)
      6. Grace appropriated by faith (2:8-9)
    3. Salvation to a life of good works (2:10)
  4. God’s eternal plan: Redemption of both Jews and Gentiles (2:11-22)
    1. What pagan life was like (2:11-12)
      1. The irrelevance of circumcision (2:11)
      2. Separated from Christ (2:12a)
      3. Strangers to redemptive history (2:12b)
      4. Without hope and without God (2:12c)
    2. The difference that Christ made (2:13-18)
      1. Brought Gentiles near through his blood (2:13)
      2. Destroyed barrier between Gentiles and Jews (2:14-15a)
      3. Created a new humanity of the two (2:15b)
      4. Reconciled Gentiles and Jews in one body of believers (2:16-18)
    3. What the former pagans now are (2:19-22)
      1. No longer strangers but part of God’s family (2:19)
      2. Built on the same foundation as believing Jews (2:20)
      3. A part of God’s temple (2:21-22)
  5.  God’s eternal plan as the mystery of the ages (3:1-21)
    1. Revealed to Paul, God’s steward (3: 1-4)
    2. Formerly concealed but now revealed (3:5)
    3. The mystery defined: Gentiles to participate in the body of Christ ( 3:6)
    4. The good news entrusted to Paul for propagation (3:7-9)
    5. The church as the manifestation of God’s purpose in Christ (3:10-11)
    6. Paul’s boldness and confidence through faith (3:12-13)
    7. Paul’s prayer for their spiritual fullness and under­ standing (3:14-19)
    8. Paul’s doxology (3:20-21)

Part II: Redemption Applied

  1. The ideal of Christian unity ( 4: 1-16 )
    1. An appeal for unity (4:1-3)
    2. The divine pattern of unity (4:4-6)
    3. Spiritual gifts for attaining the goal of unity (4:7-16)
  2. The believer’s daily walk (4:17-5:21)
    1. The old life versus the new (4:17-19)
    2. Putting away the old man and putting on the new man (4:20-24)
    3. Dealing with falsehood, anger, and temptation (4:25-27)
    4. The necessity for honest labor and sound speech (4:28-29)
    5. Avoidance of grieving the Holy Spirit and putting away dispositions that lead to strife (4:30-31)
    6. Following Christ’s example of forgiveness (4:32)
    7. Imitating God’s love (5:1-2)
    8. Spurning fornication, covetousness, and related matters (5:3-5)
    9. Avoiding deception by unbelievers and living as children of light (5:6-14)
    10. Using time wisely, avoiding drunkenness, and living spiritually, cheerfully, and thankfully in subjection to Christ (5:15-21)
  3. Instructions to members of the Christian household (5:22-6:9)
    1. To wives (5:22-24)
    2. To husbands (5:25-33)
    3. To children (6:1-3)
    4. To fathers (6:4)
    5. To slaves (6:5-8)
    6. To masters (6:9)
  4. Concluding admonitions, instructions, and farewell (6:10-24)
    1. The Christian’s warfare with evil (6:10-20)
      1. The need for divine strength (6:10)
      2. Putting on God’s armor to withstand the devil (6:11)
      3. Need for supernatural armor against supernatural enemies (6:12-17)
      4. Need for prayer on part of both readers and Paul (6:18-20)
    2. Instructions concerning Tychicus (6:21-22)
    3. Farewell (6:23-24)


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