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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Ephesians

- Ephesians

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Almost all Christians believed in the Pauline authorship of Ephesians until the nineteenth century when destructive biblical criticism gained much influence (cf. Eph_1:1; Eph_3:1). [Note: See the charts of which scholars held Pauline authorship and which did not in Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, pp. 9-20.] The critics built a case against Pauline authorship from linguistic and stylistic features, literary comparisons chiefly with Colossians, historical evidence, and doctrinal peculiarities.

"When all the objections are carefully considered it will be seen that the weight of evidence is inadequate to overthrow the overwhelming external attestation to Pauline authorship, and the Epistle’s own claims." [Note: Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 2:127. See also Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 480-86.]

Most conservative New Testament scholars hold to the tradition that Paul wrote Ephesians along with Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians, the other "Prison Epistles," during his first Roman imprisonment, A.D. 60-62 (Eph_3:1; Eph_4:1; Eph_6:20; cf. Act_28:16-31). During this time Paul was under house arrest. He lived in his own rented quarters under guard by Roman soldiers. He could have visitors and could minister without hindrance as far as his confinement permitted (Act_28:16; Act_28:30-31). He was not chained in a prison cell at this time, as he was during his second Roman imprisonment when he wrote 2 Timothy (cf. 2Ti_1:16). For some interpreters, the reference to Paul having recently sent Tychicus to Ephesus in 2Ti_4:12 seems to put the composition of Ephesians in the second imprisonment (cf. Eph_6:21-22). However the similarities between Ephesians and Colossians have led most scholars to conclude that Paul wrote these two letters at the same time. [Note: See the chart of comparisons of Ephesians and Colossians in Hoehner, p. 34.] The evidence for his having written Colossians and Philemon during the first imprisonment is strong.

"Ephesians bears much the same relation to Colossians that Romans does to Galatians, a fuller treatment of the same general theme in a more detached and impersonal manner." [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 4:514.]

Robertson believed Paul wrote Colossians before Ephesians. A significant difference between these very similar epistles is that in Colossians, Paul was combating a false doctrine concerning Christ. In Ephesians, he did not address a particular problem or situation that occasioned that epistle.

Paul knew Ephesus and the church in that city well. He had ministered in Asia Minor, the Roman province of which Ephesus was the capitol, with Ephesus as his headquarters, for about three years: A.D. 53-56 (Act_19:1 to Act_20:1). It appears that he sent this epistle to the Ephesian church so the Christians there would subsequently circulate it among the other churches. [Note: See my comments on 1:1.] At least three other New Testament books went first to Ephesus: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Revelation (cf. Rev_2:1). John’s Gospel and his three epistles probably did as well. Tychicus evidently delivered this epistle to the Ephesian church (Eph_6:21-22).

PURPOSE

Paul’s frequent references to the church as a mystery (secret), previously unknown but now revealed, identify the apostle’s main purpose in writing as having been the exposition of the mystery of the church (Eph_1:9; Eph_3:3-4; Eph_3:9; Eph_5:32; Eph_6:19). His emphasis on the church as Christ’s body in which both Jewish and Gentile believers are one suggests that Paul wrote to promote unity in the Ephesian church and in the universal church. The emphasis on the importance of love is also strong. [Note: See Hoehner, pp. 104-6.] More than one-sixth of Paul’s references to love in his 13 epistles occur in Ephesians. This also shows that he wanted to promote Christian unity in the church.

"Possibly realizing that the Ephesians were starting to forsake their first love, Paul wrote this letter to encourage them to love both God and their fellow saints more deeply." [Note: Ibid., p. 106. Cf. Rev_2:4.]

"The letter focuses on what God did through the historical work of Jesus Christ and does through his Spirit today, in order to build his new society in the midst of the old." [Note: John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, p. 24.]

EMPHASES

In addition to the church and love, Ephesians emphasizes God’s action in bringing salvation, the importance of the Christian’s growth in knowledge, the importance of living out one’s faith consistently, and spiritual warfare.

GENRE

Though the general genre of Ephesians is a letter, it is not a letter in the same form as most of Paul’s other letters. There is no evidence in Ephesians that Paul wrote it to respond to a particular situation; it is not an "occasional" epistle. In this, it is similar to Romans. Both epistles are more like public speeches than private conversations.

"He [the writer] is meditating, and developing certain thoughts-and clothes them in the form of a letter." [Note: Willi Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 192.]

OUTLINE

I.    Salutation Eph_1:1-2

II.    The Christian’s calling Eph_1:3 to Eph_3:21

A.    Individual calling Eph_1:3 to Eph_2:10

1.    The purpose: glory Eph_1:3-14

2.    The means: knowledge Eph_1:15-23

3.    The motive: grace Eph_2:1-10

B.    Corporate calling Eph_2:11 to Eph_3:19

1.    Present unity Eph_2:11-22

2.    Past ignorance Eph_3:1-13

3.    Future comprehension Eph_3:14-19

C.    Doxology Eph_3:20-21

III.    The Christian’s conduct Eph_4:1 to Eph_6:20

A.    Spiritual walk Eph_4:1 to Eph_6:9

1.    Walking in unity Eph_4:1-16

2.    Walking in holiness Eph_4:17-32

3.    Walking in love Eph_5:1-6

4.    Walking in light Eph_5:7-14

5.    Walking in wisdom Eph_5:15 to Eph_6:9

B.    Spiritual warfare Eph_6:10-20

IV.    Conclusion Eph_6:21-24

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