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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Ephesians

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Book Overview - Ephesians

by John Dummelow

Introduction

Four questions have to be considered in an Introduction to this Epistle: Author, Recipients, Circumstances, and Contents. And it will be best to take the questions in that order. The answers respecting the recipients and the circumstances depend to a very great extent upon the answer respecting authorship.

1. The Author of the Epistle. If the authorship of this letter had not been disputed by competent scholars, it would not be necessary to spend much time upon this point. And the necessity for discussion depends much more upon the weight of the authority of the critics who question or deny the Pauline authorship than upon the weight of the arguments which they employ. Some consideration of their arguments is required: but the result of such consideration will be to confirm us in what was the unanimous belief of Christians for many centuries, that in this Epistle we have what perhaps may be called the richest and most glorious product of the active mind of St. Paul. The only other Epistle of which that might with reason be said is the Epistle to the Romans; and the fifteenth chapter of that great letter is left incomplete until the Epistle to the Ephesians is added to it. Here we have a full statement of the unity of mankind in Christ, as sons of Him who is their Father and His Father, and of God's purpose for the world through the Church. This completion is worthy of 'Paul the Master-builder.' And it would seem that the objections to the Pauline authorship are being felt to be less serious than they were supposed to be ten or twenty years ago. The Epistle has fewer opponents and more defenders of the first rank than used to be the case: and it is remarkable that Dr. Armitage Robinson in his admirable commentary does not think it necessary to discuss the question of authorship, because he considers that the Epistle has already, by Dr. Hort and others, been sufficiently shown to be the work of St. Paul. One reason for the decrease in important objectors to the Epistle lies very near the surface. It has been found more and more difficult to accept the other Epistles to which Ephesians is inseparably linked as writings of St. Paul and yet deny the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians form a closely connected group. To doubt that the Apostle wrote the exquisite and purely personal letter to Philemon is generally recognised as irrational scepticism; and most of the critics who doubt or deny the Apostolic authorship of some of the Pauline Epistles, admit Philippians also to be genuine. If Phllippians and Philemon are accepted as St. Paul's, some violent hypotheses are needed in order to make it tenable that Colossians is not by him. And if Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians are all allowed to be his, then the difficulty of excluding Ephesians becomes very great indeed.

The external evidence in favour of Ephesians is very strong. As Renan says, among the Pauline Epistles it 'is perhaps the one of which there are most early quotations as the composition of the Apostle of the Gentiles.' Not only the witnesses between 170 and 220 (Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Muratorian Canon) treat it as unquestionably Pauline, but also those who wrote about a century earlier. Marcion (cirEphesians 130) included it in his collection of St. Paul's writings. It is quoted in the Second Epistle of Clement, which may be later than Marcion, and in the 'Shepherd of Hermas,' which may be earlier. It is quoted by Polycarp (cirEphesians 120) and almost certainly by Ignatius, who is a little earlier. Clement of Rome evidently knew the Epistle, and he takes us into the first century (95), within the lifetime of St. John. Above all, it seems to have been known to St. Peter and to St. John, for there are striking parallels between Ephesians and 1 Peter, and between Ephesians and the Revelation. This constitutes a very strong case.

It is the internal evidence which has been supposed to tell against the Epistle, and that mainly on two grounds: (1) the resemblance to Colossians; one Epistle is suspected of being copied from the other by some unknown writer; (2) the form of doctrine. (1) Not much can be made out of the first point. That two letters carried by the same messenger (Tychicus), to Churches in the same part of the world, should often have the same thoughts, and not seldom the same language, is just what we might expect; the salutations, the structure, and the subjects of the two Epistles are very similar; and there are nearly 80 coincidences of expression in the 155 vv. Compare Huxley's letters written about the same time to different correspondents. On the other hand, assume that only one of the two Epistles is genuine, and that the other is made up from it, and it is impossible to determine which is the original and which is the copy; for in one place Ephesians, and in another place Colossians appears clearly to be original. If both are original, there is no difficulty. (2) Nor is much serious difficulty to be found in the second point. We are told that the kind of Pauline teaching which we find in Ephesians is of a more developed character than the teaching of St. Paul, and therefore belongs to a later age: it reveals a doctrinal standpoint which a disciple of the Apostle might reach, but not St. Paul himself. The doctrine of all Christians making one Church of which Christ is the Head, and of its being through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22) that Christ abides and works in the Church, is thought to be beyond the earlier teaching of the Apostle. This attempt to put a limit to the amount of growth that would be possible for such a mind as that of St. Paul is arbitrary and uncritical. The advance, as compared with Romans, is not so extraordinary. The equality of Gentiles with Jews in the Church is maintained in both Epistles (Romans 2:1-29; Ephesians 1:11-15), and in both the universality of the previous corruption is made an argument for the universality of salvation (Romans 3:9-31; Ephesians 2:1-22). An advance is made in Ephesians, in that here for the first time all Christians are regarded as forming one Ecclesia, or Assembly of God, or Church, of which Christ is the Head (Ephesians 4:3-4, Ephesians 4:12-13, Ephesians 4:15). This development was very natural in one who was writing from Rome, the centre of the civilised world. It does not imply that there are a number of local Churches which all make up one universal Church: that idea might be evidence of a later age: but that, throughout the world, there are many Christian individuals, who are members of a Body, whose Head is Jesus Christ.

2. The Recipients of the Epistle. There is little doubt that Beza was right in supposing that this letter was addressed, not to the Ephesians alone, but to other Churches of Asia also; and that Archbishop Ussher got still nearer to the truth in regarding it as an encyclical letter, which Tychicus was to take first to Ephesus and then to other Churches, of which Laodicea was one. Our Epistle to the Ephesians is probably 'the Epistle from Laodicea,' which the Colossians were to read, while their own Epistle was to be read at Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). Our two best MSS (N, B) and the well-informed corrector of another (67) omit 'at Ephesus' in Ephesians 1:1. Origen shows that his text did not contain 'at Ephesus'; and St. Basil states that 'at Ephesus' was omitted both by predecessors of his and in the older MSS. Marcion cannot have had the words. Evidently, from early in the second century, there were copies of the Epistle in which there was a blank after 'to the saints which are,' and the bearer of the letter would fill in the blank according to the place in which he was at the time. Probably each Church made a copy of the letter for its own use before it was sent on, and so large a Church as that of Ephesus would multiply copies, each of them with the words 'at Ephesus' filled in. This explanation of the omission of 'at Ephesus' in such very early authorities is strongly confirmed by the character of the Epistle itself. It has no local colour, no allusions to special difficulties or dangers, no mention of individuals other than the bearer of the letter. When we consider that St. Paul had lived for three years at Ephesus (Acts 20:31), that he must have been most intimate with the Christians there and their needs, and that not only in earlier letters (as Thessalonians and Corinthians), but also in letters written at the same time as Ephesians (as Colossians and Philemon), he exhibits the keenest interest in local requirements and persons, then the omission of all such things in this Epistle would be inexplicable, if it were addressed to the Ephesians only. If it is addressed to Ephesus and several other Churches, in some of which there were persons who were unknown to him, then the absence of local features is not only natural but necessary. In Ephesians 1:15; Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 4:21 he seems to be thinking of people who have not seen him, and perhaps do not know much about him.

3. The Circumstances of the Epistle. St. Paul wrote it when he was 'the prisoner of Christ Jesus' (Ephesians 3:1), 'the prisoner in the Lord' (Ephesians 4:1). Does this refer to the two years' imprisonment at Cæsarea, the civil capital of Palestine, or to the two years' imprisonment (which began soon afterwards) at Rome, the capital of the empire? Such evidence as we have decides for the latter. (1) At Cæsarea the Apostle was in rather close confinement, and strangers would not be likely to come in contact with him. At Rome he lived 'in a hired lodging of his own and received all that went in unto him, preaching the gospel of God.. with all boldness, none forbidding him' (Acts 28:30-31). Here Onesimus could easily hear him and be won over to Christianity. Moreover, a runaway slave would be more likely to take refuge in Rome than at Cæsarea. And the imprisonment in which St. Paul converted Onesimus is the imprisonment in which he wrote our Epistle. (2) The whole tone of the Epistle is imperial.

Christ is the Ruler of a world-wide empire, in which every Christian, Jew or Gentile, has equal rights and duties. Such a conception of the Christian commonwealth would arise much more readily in the metropolis of the world, and close to the palace of the Cæsars, than in a provincial town like Cæsarea. The providential purpose of the Roman empire suggests the providential purpose of the Christian Revelation. And thus he writes, not merely to one Christian, as Philemon, and to one particular Church, as Colossæ, but also urbi et orbi, to the whole body of Christians; and one and the same messenger (probably in 63 a.d.) carries these three proofs of the versatility of the Apostle to the Churches of the East.

4. The Contents of the Epistle. After the usual Salutation (Ephesians 1:1-2), Thanksgiving (Ephesians 1:3-14) we have a corresponding Prayer (Ephesians 1:15 to Ephesians 2:10), and a Contrast between the unconverted and the converted Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). The Apostle's special interest in the Conversion of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-18) leads to a return to Prayer for them and a Doxology (Ephesians 3:14-21), and then to Exhortations respecting the Unity of the Catholic Church (Ephesians 4:1-6) and the Duties of its Members (Ephesians 4:7 to Ephesians 6:9), who must be Spiritual Warriors arrayed in the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). The Mission of Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21-22) and the Benediction (Ephesians 6:23-24) form the conclusion. Let us look at these subjects more closely.

While Colossians sets forth Christ's glory as Head of the Church and of the Universe, Ephesians sets forth the glory of the Church itself, and draws practical conclusions from it. The main idea is the unity of Christians as forming one body with Christ as its unseen Head. All men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are one in the Church, which is the holy Temple of God (Ephesians 2:20-22) and the spotless Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-28). The existing Church has many imperfections, but the full measure of perfection will at last be realised (Ephesians 4:13), each Christian must labour for this, especially through purified family life (Ephesians 5:1 to Ephesians 6:9); for the life of the family is a symbol of the life of the Church. Each individual member must have this ideal before him—the perfecting of the unity of the whole body: miless the unity is realised, perfection is impossible. This is what is meant by saying that in this Epistle 'St. Paul has given to his teaching a new centre,' viz. the existence of the Church. Round this the teaching in the Epistle revolves. This new centre is all the more appropriate, when we remember that the Epistle was not addressed to the Ephesians only, but was an open letter to be sent to several Churches in succession.

The Epistle opens with the grand idea of the unity of Creation, which was in God's mind from the first (Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 1:9-10). And this idea is emphasised by the wonderful fact, that the two divisions of the human race, the Jews and the Gentiles, who had hitherto been so bitterly opposed, are henceforth to be blended into one body, with one Head, and one God and Father of all (Ephesians 2:11-22). The gospel is not for any one favoured race, but for all mankind. This mystery of the universality of the gospel and of salvation has been revealed to the Apostle (Ephesians 3:1-13). The very thought of such a consummation causes the Apostle to burst out into fervent praise (Ephesians 3:14-19) of God, whose glory in the Church and in Christ will continue to grow in successive generations through countless ages (Ephesians 3:20-21).

To this magnificent idea of unity the Christian life must correspond, by the rightly proportioned and harmonious development of the members of the Christian community, in the body of which Christ is the Head (Ephesians 4:3-15). It was not always thus harmonious: the old heathen life (Ephesians 4:17-19) was very different from the new Christian life (Ephesians 4:20-24). Just consider these particular marks of change for the better; they are a revolution. There is truthfulness (Ephesians 4:25) control of temper (Ephesians 4:26-27), honest and generous labour (Ephesians 4:28), avoidance of bad language and bitterness (Ephesians 4:29-32), loving-kindness (Ephesians 5:1-2), horror of impurity in act or word (Ephesians 5:3-6). In short, Christians must be at home, not in darkness and deeds of shame, but in the light which is shed by the presence of Christ (Ephesians 5:7-14). This will produce a wise sobriety, in a spirit of thankfulness to God, and of good feeling towards one another (Ephesians 5:15-21).

Let us come down to the details of family life; for the family is the unit of society. Out of families, rather than out of individuals, the Church is built up. There is the duty of wives to husbands and of husband to wives, symbolising the relation between Christ and the Church, just as the family symbolises the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). There is the duty of children to parents and of parents to children (Ephesians 6:1-4). And there is the duty of servants to masters and of masters to servants (Ephesians 6:5-9). In all these three elements of family life the idea of unity is found once more. Husband and wife, in a mysterious way, are 'one flesh.' The relationship of parent and child, with affectionate education on the one side and affectionate obedience on the other, is 'in the Lord'; each is a member of Christ. Both servants and masters have one and the same Master in heaven. And in all three cases there is' one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.' But the peacefulness of the family gives only one side of the Christian life; on another side it is a perpetual warfare against great and unseen powers. Against these spiritual hosts of wickedness the Christian must always be fully armed with weapons equal to the conflict; and there is a divine equipment of truth and righteousness, faith and salvation, the gospel and the word of God, always at his disposal (Ephesians 6:10-17), But he must not be absorbed in his own contest; he must remember to pray for all other Christians. Especially let him remember the prisoner that writes this letter, and pray, not that he may be set free, but that even in chains he may have courage to preach the gospel. Tychicus will tell you all about him; and may God give all of you His grace and love, together with faith to accept these gifts (Ephesians 6:18-24).

The earliest form of the title is 'To the Ephesians'; but even this is not original. Whoever first placed it at the head of the Epistle either made a good guess as to its destination or had 'at Ephesus' (Ephesians 1:1) in his copy. Marcion called it' To the Laodicenes.'

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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