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Bible Commentaries

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

- Ephesians

by Mark Dunagan



The city of Ephesus:

“Ephesus was the gateway to Asia. Situated at the mouth of the Cayster River, it was the entrance for shipping from the West, and the point of departure for the caravans between the Ionian coast and the East. The highway led from Ephesus across central Asia Minor through the Cilician Gates to Antioch, and thence across Syria to the Euphrates valley, Persia, and India. The harbor at Ephesus was capacious, though it was already beginning to fill with silt which the Cayster brought down from the mountains. In Paul's day it was still accessible to ships of moderate size, although the large Alexandrian merchantmen had begun to avoid it. Ephesus had been founded by colonists from Athens in the eleventh century B.C., who displaced the original inhabitants and who began a Greek civilization. The strategic location of the city favored its growth and it became a military prize both for the naval states of Greece and for the successive kingdoms that dominated Asia Minor, including those of the Lydians and the Persians. Alexander the Great received the homage of the Ephesian rulers in 334 B.C. In 188 B.C. the Romans wrestled it from Antiochus the Great” [Note: _ New Testament Times. Merrill C. Tenney p. 277]

“At the time of Paul it ranked with Alexandria and Antioch as one of the three great emporiums of the eastern Mediterranean trade. It was the commercial as well as the political capital of Asia. Its importance, however, was due in larger measure still to the religious interest which centered in the city” [Note: _ The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. Charles R. Erdman p. 12] In the First Century this city contained an estimated population of one-third of a million people. “Ephesus was recognized as the first city of the province. Under the Romans, Ephesus enjoyed the status of a free city. It had an assembly and council of its own and a governor ( Act_19:38 ). The town clerk, keeper of the city records, was an official of great influence and responsibility ( Act_19:35 )” [Note: _ The Book of Ephesians. 'Spiritual Sword Lectureship', 1984. p. 4]

The Temple of Diana: Act_19:24-28

“It is reputed to have been four hundred and twenty-five feet in length and two hundred and thirty-nine in width and to have been supported by one hundred columns, fifty-five feet in height. Its complete construction covered a period of two hundred and twenty years” (Erdman p. 13). “Around the great shrine, to which worshipers and tourists poured from far and near, tradesmen and hucksters found a living, supplying visitors with food and lodging, dedicatory offerings, and the silver souvenir models of the shrine that the guild of Demetrius was most interested in making and selling” [Note: _ The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Volume D-G., pg. 328] “When the son of Codrus, last king of Athens, founded the city, he placed his colonists near the shrine of an ancient Anatolian goddess whom the Greeks called after their own goddess Artemis. The cult thus recognized was that of a nature-goddess, associated with carnal fertility rituals and religious prostitution. The Artemis of Ephesus was a strangely ornamented female figure, shrine and basket on head, a veil decorated with beasts, long necklaces, embroidered sleeves, legs sheathed with empaneled animals, and with multiple breasts, or, as some suggest, an apron covered with clusters of grapes or dates, sign and symbol of Artemis' role as the nourishing spirit of nature” (Zond. Ency. p. 326).

Some critics have argued that the apostles and their writings were unduly influenced by the prejudices of the culture in which they lived. But such a theory is obviously false when one realizes that Paul often preached against the most popular cultural thing in town ( Act_19:26 ). Ephesus is not the first city in which Paul challenged and went after those elements in an established culture that were in opposition to the truth ( Act_14:15 ; Act_17:21-31 ). “Paul was, in fact, assaulting a stronghold of pagan religion, together with the active life and commerce associated with the vast heathen cult, in a key city of the central Mediterranean and a focal point of communication. The preaching of Christianity was hitting the Artemis cult hard, so hard that the turnover in dependent trades was visibly showing the adverse affects” (Zond. Ency. p. 328). For Paul to attack and preach against idolatry in Ephesus, would be comparable to preaching against gambling in Las Vegas, homosexuality in San Francisco, or Islam in Iran.

Since Ephesus was a center of communication and commerce in Asia Minor, it is only logical that the gospel spread to the surrounding region from this city ( Act_19:10 ). From Ephesus the gospel will spread inland to Pergamum, Sardis, Thyatira, Laodicea, Philadelphia, Smyrna, Colosse and Hierapolis ( Col_1:7 ).

The Theater: ( Act_19:29 )

“From the temple a street led westward to the city gate, near which was a stadium built into the side of the adjacent mountain. South of the stadium was the theater, set in the side of the mountain, accommodating about twenty-five thousand people directly from the theater a wide street lined with shops and colonnades led down to the docks in the harbor” (Tenney p. 280).

The people who lived here:

“Although it is unfair to characterize all citizens with the vices sometimes associated with their city, historical literature identifies the people of Ephesus as amiable, refined, and luxurious. They are also pictured as lovers of music, the arts, dancing, seduction, and vicious indulgence” [Note: _ Truth Commentaries. Ephesians. C.G. "Colly" Caldwell. p. x] Hence we might say, Ephesus contained people with the same needs, desires and weaknesses as found in any modern metropolitan area .

A center of superstition: ( Act_19:17-19 )

We should note the correlation between false religion and superstition. Superstition will always abound in a climate in which the truth concerning God is not preached. “In addition to the worship of the traditional deity, Ephesus was renowned for its patronage of occult arts. ‘Ephesian letters’ or formulations of magical charms, were famous” (Tenney p. 280).

The origin of the congregation here:

Paul had briefly touched base here on his second journey ( Act_18:19-21 ). Then around 54 A.D., on his third journey Paul came to Ephesus and stayed for 3 years. ( Act_19:1 ; Act_19:10 ; Act_20:31 ). From the book of Acts and this letter we know the church had elders ( Act_20:17 ). It was composed of many Christians from a Gentile background ( Eph_2:1 ; Eph_2:11 ; Eph_3:1 ). This congregation would face the lure of false teachers ( Act_20:28-31 ), and yet the Ephesian letter does not really meet any specific false teaching head on, as does Galatians or Colossians, and the members here dearly loved Paul ( Act_20:36-38 ).


The apostle Paul is clearly stated as the author (1:1; 3:1). Some critics of the Bible, have stated that Paul could not be the author of this letter, because Ephesians is written in a different style than Paul's other epistles or because it contains 70 words which are not used by Paul in his other letters. I like what Barclay said in responding to this view: “It would be ridiculous to demand that a man with a mind like Paul should never add to his vocabulary and should always express himself in the same way. There is first the general fact that no great writer always writes in the very same style. Shakespeare can produce the very different styles of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew and the Sonnets. Any great stylist--writes in a style to fit his aim” [Note: _ The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. p. 64] In addition, we always need to remember that God is the final author, and God does not have a limited vocabulary ( 1Co_2:9-13 ; Eph_3:3-5 ). Plus, even a very average or poor writer changes both vocabulary and style. A father's letter to the school board, is not going to be written in the same style and certainly will not contain the same vocabulary as a love letter written by the same man to his wife. The above "criticism", serves as a classical example that a tremendous amount of liberal theology or higher criticism is nothing more than plain old unbelief, and, not only that, but in many cases, it is not even "smart" by the world’s standards ( Rom_1:22 ).

Time and place of composition:

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter (6:20; 4:1; 3:1). In comparing Eph_6:21 and Col_4:7 , it appears that both letters were written during the same imprisonment and even dispatched at the same time by the same messenger. Most place the composition of this letter in Rome (62-64 A.D.) and during the imprisonment mentioned in Act_28:16 ; Act_28:30-31 .

Designation of the letter:

Quite a bit of discussion in some circles has focused regarding to whom this letter was addressed:

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