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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

- Ephesians

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Ephesians

Section 1. The Situation of Ephesus, and the Character of its People

This Epistle purports to have been written to the “Saints in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus,” though, as we shall see, the fact of its having been directed to the church at Ephesus has been called in question. Assuming now that it was sent to Ephesus, it is of importance to have a general view of the situation of that city, of the character of its people, and of the time and manner in which the gospel was introduced there, in order to a correct understanding of the Epistle. Ephesus was a celebrated city of Ionia in Asia Minor, and was about 40 miles south of Smyrna, and near the mouth of the river Cayster. The river, though inferior in beauty to the Meander which flows south of it, waters a fertile valley of the ancient Ionia. Ionia was the most beautiful and fertile part of Asia Minor; was settled almost wholly by Greek colonies; and it embosomed Pergamos, Smyrna, Ephesus, and Miletus; see “Travels” of Anacharsis, i. 91, 208; vi. 192, 97, 98. The climate of Ionia is represented as remarkably mild, and the air as pure and sweet, and this region became early celebrated for everything that constitutes softness and effeminacy in life. Its people were distinguished for amiableness and refinement of manners, and also for luxury, for music and dancing, and for the seductive arts festivals occupied them at home, or attracted them to neighboring cities, where the men appeared in magnificent habits, and the women in all the elegance of female ornament, and with all the desire of pleasure (Anachar).

Ephesus was not, like Smyrna, distinguished for commercial advantages. The consequence has been that, not having such advantage, it has fallen into total ruin, while Smyrna has retained some degree of its ancient importance. It was in a rich region of country, and seems to have risen into importance mainly because it became the favorite resort of foreigners in the worship of Diana, and owed its celebrity to its temple more than to anything else. This city was once, however, the most splendid city in Asia Minor. Stephens, the geographer, gives it the title of “Epiphanestate” (Most Illustrious). Pliny styles it “the Ornament of Asia.” In Roman times it was the metropolis of Asia, and unquestionably rose to a degree of splendor that was surpassed by few, if any, oriental cities.

That for which the city was most celebrated was the Temple of Diana. This temple was 425 feet in length, and 220 feet in width. It was encompassed by 127 pillars, each 60 feet in height, which were presented by as many kings. Some of those pillars, it is said, are yet to be seen in the mosque of Sophia at Constantinople, having been removed there when the Church of Sophia was erected. These, however, were the pillars that constituted a part of the temple after it had been burned and was repaired, though it is probable that the same pillars were retained in the second temple which had constituted the glory of the first. All the provinces of Asia Minor contributed to the erection of this splendid temple, and 200 years were consumed in building it. This temple was set on fire by a man named Herostratus, who, when put to the torture, confessed that his only motive was to immortalize his name. The general assembly of the states of Ionia passed a decree to devote his name to oblivion; but the fact of the decree has only served to perpetuate it; Cicero, De Nat. Deor. 2. 27; Plutarch, Life of Alexander; compare Anachar. vi. 189. The whole of the edifice was consumed except the four walls and some of the columns. It was, however, rebuilt with the same magnificence as before, and was regarded as one of the wonders of the world. It is now in utter ruin. After the temple had been repeatedly pillaged by the barbarians, Justinian removed the columns to adorn the Church of Sophia at Constantinople. The place where it stood can now be identified certainly, if at all, only by the marshy spot on which it was erected, and by the prodigious arches raised above as a foundation. The vaults formed by them compose a sort of labyrinth, and the water is knee-deep beneath. There is not an apartment entire; but thick walls, shafts of columns, and fragments of every kind are scattered around in confusion (Encyclopedia Geog. ii. 273, 274).

During the reign of Tiberius, Ephesus was greatly damaged by an earthquake, but it was repaired and embellished by the emperor. In the war between Mithridates and the Romans, Ephesus took part with the former, and massacred the Romans who dwelt in it. Sylla severely punished this cruelty; but Ephesus was afterward treated with leniancy, and enjoyed its own laws, along with other privileges. About the end of the 11th century it was seized by a pirate named Tangripermes, but he was routed by John Ducas (the Greek admiral) in a bloody battle. Theodorus Lascarus, a Greek, made himself master of it in 1206 a.d. The Muslims recovered it in 1283. In the year 1401 Tamerlane employed a whole month in plundering the city and the neighboring country. Shortly afterward, the city was set on fire, and was mostly burnt in a combat between the Turkish governor and the Tartars. In 1405 it was taken by Muhammed I, and has continued since that time in the possession of the Turks (Calmet).

There is now (circa 1880’s) a small, ordinary village, named Ayasaluk, near the site of the ancient town, consisting of a few cottages, which is all that now represents this city of ancient splendor. Dr. Chavolla says, “The inhabitants are a few Greek peasants, living in extreme wretchedness, dependence, and insensibility; the representatives of an illustrious people, and inhabiting the wreck of their greatness - some in the substructions of the glorious edifices which they raised - some beneath the vaults of the stadium, once the crowded scene of their diversions - and some by the abrupt precipice in the sepulchres which received their ashes. Its streets are obscured and overgrown. A herd of goats was driven to it for shelter from the sun at noon, and a noisy flight of crows from the quarries seemed to insult its silence. We heard the partridge call in the area of the theater and the stadium. The glorious pomp of its pagan worship is no longer numbered; and Christianity, which was here nursed by apostles, and fostered by general councils, until it increased to fullness of stature, barely lingers on in an existence hardly visible” (Travels, p. 131, Oxford, 1775). A very full and interesting description of Ephesus, as it appeared in 1739, may be seen in Pococke’s Travels, vol. ii. part ii. pp. 45-53, ed. Lend. 1745. Several ruins are described by him, but they have mostly now disappeared. The Temple of Diana was on the western side of the plain on which the city was built, and the site is now in the midst of a morass which renders access difficult. The ruins of several theaters and other buildings are described by Pococke.

In the year 1821 Mr. Fisk, the American missionary, visited the city of Ephesus, of which he has given the following account: “We sent back our horses to Aisaluck, and set out on foot to survey the ruins of Ephesus. The ground was covered with high grass or grain, and a very heavy dew rendered the walking rather unpleasant. On the east side of the hill we found nothing worthy of notice; no appearance of having been occupied for buildings. On the north side was the circus or stadium. Its length from east to west is forty rods (one stadium). The north or lower side was supported by arches which still remain. The area where the races used to be performed is now a field of wheat. At the west end was the gate. The walls adjoining it are still standing, and are of considerable height and strength. North of the stadium, and separated only by a street, is a large square, inclined with fallen walls, and filled with the ruins of various edifices. A street running north and south divides this square in the center. West of the stadium is an elevation of ground, level at the top, with an immense pedestal in the center of it. What building stood there it is not easy to say. Between this and the stadium was a street passing from the great plain north of Ephesus, into the midst of the city.

“I found on the plains of Ephesus some Greek peasants, men and women, employed in pulling up tares and weeds from the wheat. I ascertained, however, that they all belonged to villages at a distance, and came there to labor. Tournefort says that, when he was at Ephesus, there were 30 or 40 Greek families there. Chandler found only 10 or 12 individuals. Now no human being lives in Ephesus; and in Aisaluck, which may be considered as Ephesus under another name, though not on precisely the same spot of ground, there are merely a few miserable Turkish huts.

“The plain of Ephesus is now very unhealthy, owing to the fogs and mists which almost continually rest upon it. The land, however, is rich, and the surrounding country is both fertile and healthy. The adjacent hills would furnish many delightful situations for villages if the difficulties were removed, which are thrown in the way by a despotic government, oppressive agas, and wandering banditti” (Missionary Herald for 1821, p. 319).

Section 2. The Introduction of the Gospel at Ephesus

It is admitted by all that the gospel was introduced into Ephesus by the apostle Paul. He first preached there when on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem, about the year 54 a.d. Acts 18:19. On this visit Paul went into the synagogue, as was his usual custom, and preached to his own countrymen, but he does not appear to have preached publicly to the pagan. He was requested to remain longer with them, but he said he must, by all means, be in Jerusalem at the approaching feast - probably the Passover, Acts 18:21. He promised, however, to visit them again if possible, and sailed from Ephesus to Jerusalem. Two persons had gone with Paul from Corinth - Priscilla and Aquila - whom he appears to have left at Ephesus, or who, at any rate, soon returned there, Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26. During the absence of Paul there came to Ephesus a certain Jew, born in Alexandria, named Apollos, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, who had received the baptism of John, and who taught the doctrine that John had taught, Acts 18:24-25.

What was the precise nature of that doctrine it is now difficult to understand. It seems to have been in substance: (1) That repentance was necessary, (2) That baptism was to be performed, and (3) That the Messiah was about to appear. Apollos, who had embraced this doctrine with zeal, was ready to defend it, and was in just the state of mind to welcome the news that the Messiah had come. Priscilla and Aquila instructed this zealous and talented man more fully in the doctrines of the Christian religion, and communicated to him the views which they had received from Paul, Acts 18:26. Paul, having gone to Jerusalem as he planned, returned again to Asia Minor, and taking in Phrygia and Galatia in his way, he revisited Ephesus, and remained there for about three years (Acts 18:23; Acts 19:1 ff). It was during this time that the church was founded, which afterward became so prominent, and to which this Epistle was written. The principal events in the life of Paul there were:

(1) His baptizing the twelve persons whom he found there, who were disciples of John; see notes at Acts 19:1-7.

(2) Paul went into the synagogue there and engaged in an earnest discussion with the Jews respecting the Messiah for about three months Acts 19:8-10.

(3) When many of the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue and obtained a place to preach in, in the schoolroom of a man by the name of Tyrannus. In this place he continued to preach without molestation for two years and proclaimed the gospel, so that a large portion of the inhabitants had an opportunity to hear it.

(4) The cause of religion was greatly promoted by the miracles which Paul performed Acts 19:11-17.

(5) Paul remained there until his preaching excited great commotion, and he was finally driven away by the tumult which was excited by Demetrius, Acts 19:23-41.

At this time the gospel had secured such a hold on the people that there was danger that the Temple of Diana would be forsaken, and that all who were dependent upon the worship of Diana for a livelihood would be thrown out of employment. It is not probable that Paul visited Ephesus after this, unless it was after his first imprisonment at Rome; see the introduction to 2 Timothy. On his way from Macedonia to Jerusalem he came to Miletus, and sent for the elders of Ephesus and gave them his deeply-affecting, parting address, expecting to see them no more Acts 20:16.

Paul remained longer at Ephesus than he did at any other one place, preaching the gospel. He seems to have set himself deliberately to work to establish a congregation there, which would ultimately overthrow idolatry. Several reasons may have led him to depart so far from his usual plan by laboring so long in one place. One may have been that this was the principal seat of idolatry in the world at that time. The evident aim of Paul in his ministry was to reach the centers of influence and power. Hence, he mainly sought to preach the gospel in large cities, and thus it was that Antioch, and Ephesus, and Corinth, and Athens, and Philippi, and Rome, shared so largely in his labors. Not ashamed of the gospel anywhere, Paul still sought mainly that its power should be felt where wealth, and learning, and genius, and talent were concentrated. The very places, therefore, where the most magnificent temples were erected to the gods, and where the worship of idols was celebrated with the most splendor and pomp, and where that worship was defended most strongly by the civil arm, were those in which the apostle sought first to preach the gospel.

Ephesus, therefore, as the most splendid seat of idolatry at that time in the whole pagan world, particularly attracted the attention of the apostle, and hence it was that he was willing to spend so large a part of his public life in that place. It may have been for this reason that John afterward made it his permanent home, and spent so many years there as the minister of the congregation which had been founded by Paul; see section 3. Another reason why Paul sought Ephesus as a field of labor may have been that it was at that time not only the principal seat of idolatry, but was a place of great importance in the civil affairs of the Roman empire. It was the residence of the Roman proconsul, and the seat of the courts of justice in Asia Minor, and, consequently, was a place to which there would be attracted a great amount of learning and talent (Macknight). The apostle, therefore, seems to have been anxious that the full power of the gospel should be tried there, and that Ephesus should become as important as a center of influence in the Christian world as it had been in paganism and in civil affairs.

Section 3. Notices of the History of the Church at Ephesus

The church at Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia, and the first one mentioned to which John was directed to address an epistle from Patmos Revelation 2:1-7. Little is said of it in the New Testament from the time when Paul left it until the Book of Revelation was written. The tradition is, that Timothy was a minister at Ephesus, and was succeeded by the apostle John; but whether John came there while Timothy was living, or not until his removal or death, even “tradition” does not inform us. In the subscription to the Second Epistle to Timothy, it is said of Timothy that he was “ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians;” but this is of no authority whatever. All that can be learned with certainty about the residence of Timothy at Ephesus is what the apostle Paul says of him in his First Epistle to Timothy 1 Timothy 1:3, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”

From this it would appear that the residence of Timothy at Ephesus was a temporary arrangement, designed to secure a result which Paul wished particularly to secure, and to avoid an evil which he had reason to dread would follow from his own absence. That it was only a temporary arrangement, is apparent from the fact that Paul soon after desired him to come to Rome, 2 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 4:11. The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy was written but a few years after the first letter. According to Lardner, the first letter was written in the year 56 a.d., and the second letter in the year 62 a.d.; according to Hug, the first letter was written in the year 59 a.d., and the second letter in the year 61 a.d.; according to the editor of the Polyglott Bible, the first letter was written 65 a.d., and the second letter in 66 a.d. According to either calculation, the time of the residence of Timothy in Ephesus was brief. There is not the slightest evidence from the New Testament that he was a permanent Bishop of Ephesus, or indeed that he was a “bishop” at all, in the modern sense of the term. Those who may be disposed to look further into this matter, and to examine the relation which Timothy sustained to the church of Ephesus, and the claim which is sometimes set up for his having sustained the office of “a bishop,” may find an examination in the Review of Bishop Onderdonk’s Tract on Episcopacy, published in the Quarterly Christian Spectator in March, 1834, and March, 1835, and republished in 1843 under the title of “The Organization and Government of the Apostolic Church,” pp. 99-107.

Whatever was the relation which Timothy sustained to the church in Ephesus, it is agreed on all hands that John the apostle spent a considerable portion of his life there. At what time John went to Ephesus, or why he did it, is not known now. The common opinion is, that he remained at or near Jerusalem for some 15 years after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, during which time he had the special charge of Mary, the mother of the Saviour; that he then preached the gospel to the Parthians and the Indians, and that he then returned and went to Ephesus, in or near which he spent his latter days, and in which, at a very advanced age, he died. It was from Ephesus that, under the Emperor Domitian, 95 a.d., he was banished to the island of Patmos, from which he returned in 97 a.d., on the accession of Nerva to the crown, who recalled all who had been banished. At that time, John is supposed to have been about 90 years of age. He is said to have died at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan (in 100 a.d.), at about 94 years of age. For a full and interesting biography of the apostle John, the reader may consult the “Lives of the Apostles,” by David Francis Bacon, pp. 307-376.

Of the subsequent history of the church at Ephesus, little is known, and it would not be necessary to dwell upon it in order to an exposition of the Epistle before us. It is sufficient to remark, that the “candlestick is removed out of its place” Revelation 2:5, and that all the splendor of the Temple of Diana, all the pomp of her worship, and all the glory of the Christian church there, have faded away alike.

Section 4. The Time and Place of Writing the Epistle

It has never been denied that the apostle Paul was the author of this Epistle, though it has been made a question whether it were written to the Ephesians or to the Laodiceans; see Section 5. Dr. Paley (Horae Paulinae) has shown that there is conclusive internal proof that this Epistle was written by Paul. This argument is derived from the style, and is carried out by a comparison of this Epistle with the other undoubted writings of the apostle. The historical evidence on this point also is undisputed.

It is generally supposed, and, indeed, the evidence seems to be clear, that this Epistle was written during the imprisonment of the apostle at Rome; but whether it was during his first or his second imprisonment is not certain. Paul was held in custody for approximately two years in Caesarea Acts 24:27, but there is no evidence that during that time he addressed any epistle to the churches which he had planted. That this was written when he was a prisoner is apparent from the Epistle itself. “The two years in which Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea,” says Wall, as quoted by Lardner, “seem to have been the most inactive part of Paul’s life. There is no account of any proceedings or disputations, or of any epistles written in this space.” This may have arisen, Lardner supposes, from the fact that the Jews made such an opposition that the Roman governor would not allow him to have any contact with the people at large, or procure any intelligence from the churches abroad.

But when he was at Rome he had more liberty. He was allowed to dwell in his own hired house Acts 28:30, and had permission to address all who came to him, and to communicate freely with his friends abroad. It was during this period that he wrote at least four of his letters - the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle to the Philippians, the Epistle to the Colossians, and the Epistle to Philemon. Grotius, as quoted by Lardner, says of these Epistles, that though all Paul’s Epistles are excellent, yet he most admires those written by him when a prisoner at Rome. Concerning the Epistle to the Ephesians, he says it surpasses all human eloquence - rerum sublimitatem adaequans verbis sublimioribus, quam ulla unquam habuit lingua humana - describing the sublimity of the things by corresponding words more sublime than are found elsewhere in human language. The evidence that it was written when Paul was a prisoner is found in the Epistle itself.

Thus, in Ephesians 3:1, he says, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ - ὁ δέσμιος τοῦ Χπριστοῦ ho desmios tou Christou - for you Gentiles.” So he alludes to his afflictions in Ephesians 3:13, “I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you.” In Ephesians 4:1, he calls himself the “prisoner of the Lord,” or in the margin, “in the Lord “ - ὁ δέσμιος ἐν Κυρίω ho desmios en Kuriō. And in Ephesians 6:19-20, there is an allusion which seems to settle the inquiry beyond dispute, and to prove that it was written while he was at Rome. He there says that he was an “ambassador in bonds” - ἐν ἅλυσε en haluse - “in chains, manacles,” or “shackles;” and yet he desires Ephesians 6:19-20 that they would pray for him, that utterance might be given him to open his mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, that he might speak boldly as he ought to speak.

Now this is a remarkable circumstance. A man in custody, in bonds or chains, and that too for being an “ambassador,” and yet asking the aid of their prayers, that in these circumstances he might have grace to be a bold preacher of the gospel. If he was in prison this could not well be. If he was under a strict prohibition it could not well be. The circumstances of the case tally exactly with the statement in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, that Paul was in custody in Rome; that he was permitted to “dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him” Acts 28:16; that he was permitted to call the Jews together and to debate with them freely Acts 28:17-28; and that Paul dwelt in his own hired house for two years, and “received all that came in with him, preaching the kingdom of God,” etc. Acts 28:30-31. So exactly do these circumstances correspond that I have no doubt that that was the time when the Epistle was written.

And so unusual is such a train of circumstances - so unlikely would it be to occur to a man to forge such a coincidence, that it furnishes a striking proof that the Epistle was written, as it purports to be, by Paul. An impostor would not have thought of inventing such a coincidence. If it had occurred to him to make any such allusion, the place and time would have been more distinctly mentioned, and not have been left as a mere incidental allusion. The apostle Paul is supposed to have been at Rome as a prisoner twice (compare the introduction to Second Timothy), and to have suffered martyrdom there about 65 or 66 a.d. If the Epistle to the Ephesians was written during his second imprisonment at Rome, as is commonly supposed, then it must have been somewhere between the years 63 and 65 a.d. Lardner and Hug suppose that it was written April, 61 a.d.; Macknight supposes it was in 60 or 61 a.d.; the editor of the Polyglott Bible places it at 64 a.d. The exact time when it was written cannot now be ascertained, and is not material.

Section 5. To Whom Was the Epistle Written?

The Epistle purports to have been written to the Ephesians - “to the saints which are at Ephesus,” - Ephesians 1:1. But the opinion that it was written to the Ephesians has been called in question by many expositors. Dr. Pales (Horae Paulinae) supposes that it was written to the Laodiceans. Wetstein also maintained the same opinion. This opinion was expressly stated also by Marcion, a heretic of the second century. Michaelis (Introduction) supposes that it was a “circular epistle,” addressed not to any congregation in particular, but that it was intended for the Ephesians, Laodiceans, and some other churches of Asia Minor. He supposes that the apostle had several copies taken; that he made it intentionally of a very general character so as to suit all; that he affixed with his own hand the subscription, Ephesians 6:24, to each copy - “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity;” that at the beginning of the Epistle the name was inserted of the particular church to which it was to be sent - as “to the church in Ephesus” - “in Laodicea,” etc.

When the several works composing the New Testament were collected into a volume he supposes that it so happened that the copy of this Epistle which was used was one obtained from Ephesus, containing a direction to the saints there. This is also the opinion of Archbishop Usher and Koppe. It does not comport with the design of these notes to go into an extended examination of this question; and after all that has been written on it, and the different opinions which have been entertained, it certainly does not become any one to be very confident. It is not a question of great importance, since it involves no point of doctrine or duty; but those who wish to see it discussed at length can be satisfied by referring to Paley’s “Horae Paulinae;” to Michaelis’ “Introduction,” vol. iv. chapter xx., and to the “Prolegomena” of Koppe. The arguments which are alleged to prove that it was addressed to the church at Laodicea, or at least not to the church at Ephesus, are summarily the following:

(1) The testimony of Marcion, a heretic of the second century, who affirms that it was sent to the church in Laodicea, and that instead of the reading Ephesians 1:1, “in Ephesus,” in the copy which he had it was “in Laodicea” But the opinion of Marcion is now regarded as of little weight. It is admitted that Marcion was in the habit of altering the Greek text to suit his own views.

(2) The principal objection to the opinion that it was written to the church at Ephesus is found in certain internal marks, and particularly with the lack of any allusion to the fact that Paul had ever been there, or to anything that particularly related to the church there. This difficulty comprises several particulars.

(a) Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus, and was engaged there in deeply interesting transactions and occurrences. He had founded the church, ordained its elders, taught them the doctrines which they held, and had at last been persecuted there and driven away. If the Epistle was written to them it is remarkable that there is in the Epistle no allusion to any one of these facts or circumstances. This is the more remarkable, since it was his usual custom to allude to the events which had occurred in the churches which he had founded (see the Epistles to the Corinthians and Philippians), and, since on two other occasions, he at least makes direct allusion to these transactions at Ephesus; see Acts 20:18-35; 1 Corinthians 15:32.

(b) In the other epistles which Paul wrote, it was his custom to salute a large number of persons by name. However, in this Epistle, there is no salutation of any kind. There is a general invocation of “peace to the brethren” Ephesians 6:23, but no specific mention of an individual by name. There is not even an allusion to the “elders” whom, with so much affection, he had addressed at Miletus Acts 20:0, and to whom he had given so solemn a charge. This is the more remarkable, as in this place he had spent three years in preaching the gospel, and must have been acquainted with all the leading members in the congregation. To the church at Rome, which he had never visited when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans, he sends a large number of salutations 1 Corinthians 16:0; to the church at Ephesus, where he had spent a longer time than in any other place, he sends none.

(c) The name of Timothy does not occur in the Epistle. This is remarkable, because Paul had left him there with a special charge 1 Timothy 1:3, and, if he were still there, it is singular that no allusion is made to him, and no salutation sent to him. If he had left Ephesus, and had gone to Rome to meet Paul as he requested 2 Timothy 4:9, it is remarkable that Paul did not join his name with his own in sending the Epistle to the church, or at least allude to the fact that he had arrived. This is the more remarkable, because in the Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians, the name of Timothy is joined with that of Paul at the commencement of the Epistle.

(d) Paul speaks of the persons to whom this Epistle was sent as if he had not been with them, or at least in a manner which is hardly conceivable, on the supposition that he had been the founder of the church. Thus, in Ephesians 1:15-16, he says, “Wherefore also after I heard of your faith in Christ Jesus,” etc. But this circumstance is not conclusive. Paul may have been told of the continuance of their faith and of their growing love and zeal, and he may have alluded to that in this passage.

(e) Another circumstance on which some reliance has been placed is the statement in Ephesians 3:1-2, “For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to you-ward,” etc. It is argued (see Michaelis) that this is not language which would have been employed by one who had founded the church, and with whom they were all acquainted. He would not have spoken in a manner implying any doubt whether they had ever heard of him and his labors in the ministry on account of the Gentiles. Such are the considerations relied upon to show that the Epistle could not have been written to the Ephesians.

On the other hand, there is proof of a very strong character that it was written to them. That proof is the following:

1. The common reading in Ephesians 1:1, “To the saints which are in Ephesus.” It is true, as we have seen, that this reading has been called in question. Mill says that it is omitted by Basil (lib. 2, Adversus Eunomium), as he says, “on the testimony of the fathers and of ancient copies.” Griesbach marks it with the sign “om.,” denoting that it was omitted by some, but that, in his judgment, it is to be retained. It is found in the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Ethiopic in Walton’s Polyglott. Rosenmuller remarks that “most of the ancient codices, and all the ancient versions, retain the word.” To my mind this fact is conclusive. The testimony of Marcion is admitted to be of almost no authority; and as to the testimony of Basil, it is only one against the testimony of all the ancients, and is at best negative in its character; see the passage from Basil, quoted in Hug’s Introduction.

2. A slight circumstance may be adverted to as throwing light incidentally upon this question. This Epistle was sent by Tychicus Ephesians 6:21. The Epistle to the Colossians was also sent from Rome by the same messenger Colossians 4:7. Now there is a strong improbability in the opinion held by Michaelis, Koppe, and others, that this was a “circular” letter, sent to the churches at large, or that different copies were prepared, and the name “Ephesus” inserted in one, and “Laodicea” in another, etc. The improbability is this, that the apostle would at the same time send such a circular letter to several of the churches, and a special letter to the church at Colossae. What claim had that church to special notice? What pre-eminence had it over the church at Ephesus? And why should he send them a letter bearing so strong a resemblance to that addressed to the other churches, when the same letter would have suited the church at Colossae as well as the one which was actually sent to them; for there is a nearer resemblance between these two epistles, than any other two portions of the Bible. Besides, in 2 Timothy 4:12, Paul says that he had sent “Tychicus to Ephesus;” and what is more natural than that, at that time, he sent this Epistle by him?

3. There is the utter lack of evidence from manuscripts or versions, that this Epistle was sent to Laodicea, or to any other church, except Ephesus. Not a manuscript has been found (circa 1880’s) having the name “Laodicea” in Ephesians 1:1; nor any manuscript which omits the words “in Ephesus.” If it had been sent to another congregation, or if it had been a circular letter addressed to no particular congregation, it is scarcely credible that this could have occurred.

These considerations make it plain to me that this Epistle was addressed, as it purports to have been, to the church in Ephesus. I confess myself wholly unable, however, to explain the remarkable circumstances that Paul does not refer to his former residence there; that he alludes to none of his troubles or his triumphs; that he makes no mention of the “elders,” and greets no one by name; and that, throughout, he addresses them as if they were personally unknown to him. In this respect, it is unlike all the other epistles, which he ever wrote, and all which we should have expected from a man in such circumstances. May it not be accounted for from “this very fact,” that an attempt to specify individuals where so many were known, would protract the Epistle to an unreasonable length? There is, indeed, one supposition suggested by Dr. Macknight, which may possibly explain to some extent the remarkable circumstances above referred to. It is, that an instruction may have been given by Paul to Tychicus, by whom he sent the letter, to send a copy of it to the Laodiceans, with an order to them to communicate it to the Colossians. In such a case everything local would be designedly omitted, and the Epistle would be of as general a character as possible. This is, however, mere conjecture, and does not remove the entirety of the difficulty.

Section 6. The Object for which the Epistle Was Written

Very various opinions have been formed in regard to the design for which this Epistle was written. Macknight supposes that it was with reference to the Eleusinian mysteries, and to various religious rites in the Temple of Diana, and that Paul intended particularly to state the “mysteries” of the gospel in contradistinction from them. But there is no clear evidence that the apostle had any such object, and it is not necessary to go into an explanation of those mysteries in order to an understanding of the Epistle. The Epistle is such as might be addressed to any Christians, though there are allusions to customs which then prevailed, and to opinions then held, which it is desirable to understand in order to a just view of it. That there were Jews and Judaizing Christians in Ephesus, may be learned from the Epistle itself. That there were those there who supposed that the Jews were to have a more elevated rank than the Gentiles, may also be learned from the Epistle; and one object was to show that all true Christians, whether of Jewish or pagan origin, were on a level, and were entitled to the same privileges. That there was the prevalence of a false and dangerous philosophy there, may also be learned from the Epistle; and that there were those who attempted to cause divisions, and who had violated the unity of the faith, may also be learned from it.

The Epistle is divided into two parts -

  1. The doctrinal part Eph. 1–3; and
  2. The practical part, or the application Eph. 4–6.

I. The doctrinal part comprises the following topics:

  1. Praise to God for the Revelation of his eternal counsels of recovering mercy, Ephesians 1:3-14.

(2)A prayer of the apostle, expressing his earnest desire that the Ephesians might avail themselves fully of all the advantages of this eternal purpose of mercy, Ephesians 1:15-23.

(3)The doctrine of the native character of man, as being dead in sins, illustrated by the past lives of the Ephesians, Ephesians 2:1-3.

(4)The doctrine of regeneration by the grace of God, and the advantages of it, Ephesians 2:5-7.

(5)The doctrine of salvation by grace alone without respect to our own works, Ephesians 2:8-9,

  1. The privilege of being thus admitted to the fellowship of the saints, Ephesians 2:11-22,
    1. A full statement of the doctrine that God meant to admit the Gentiles to the privileges of his people, and to break down the barriers between the Gentiles and the Jews, Ephesians 3:1-12.

(8)The apostle prays earnestly that they might avail themselves fully of this doctrine, and be able to appreciate fully the advantages which it was intended to confer; and with this prayer he closes the doctrinal part of the Epistle, Ephesians 3:13-21.

II. The practical part of the Epistle embraces the following topics, namely:

  1. Exhortation to unity, drawn from the consideration that there was one God, one faith, etc., Ephesians 4:1-16.

(2)An exhortation to a holy life “in general,” from the fact that they differed from other Gentiles,Ephesians 4:17-24; Ephesians 4:17-24.

(3)Exhortation to exhibit “particular” virtues - “specifying” what was required by their religion, and what they should avoid - particularly to avoid the vices of anger, lying, licentiousness, and intemperance, Ephesians 4:25-32; Ephesians 5:1-20.

(4)The duties of husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:21-33.

(5)The duties of parents and children,Ephesians 6:1-3; Ephesians 6:1-3.

(6)The duties of masters and servants,Ephesians 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4-9.

(7)An exhortation to fidelity in the Christian warfare, Ephesians 6:10-20.

  1. Conclusion, Ephesians 6:21-24.

The style of this Epistle is exceedingly animated. The apostle is cheered by the intelligence which he had received of their deportment in the gospel, and is warmed by the grandeur of his principal theme - the eternal purposes of divine mercy. Into the discussion of that subject he throws his whole soul, and there is probably no part of Paul’s writings where there is more ardor, elevation, and soul evinced, than in this Epistle. He approaches the great doctrine of predestination as a most important and vital doctrine; he states it freely and fully, and urges it as the basis of the Christian’s hope, and the foundation of eternal gratitude and praise. Perhaps nowhere is there a better illustration of the power of that doctrine to elevate the soul and fill it with grand conceptions of the character of God, and to excite grateful emotions, than in this Epistle; and the Christian, therefore, may study it as a portion of the sacred writings eminently suited to excite his gratitude, and to fill him with adoring views of God.

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