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by Charles John Ellicott
THE EPISTLES TO THE EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, AND COLOSSIANS.
THE RIGHT REV. ALFRED BARRY, D.D.
THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL’S FIRST CAPTIVITY.
THE Epistles of St. Paul’s captivity—to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—form a distinct group, distinguished by certain marked characteristics both of style and subject, in the series of the writings of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Just as, in comparison with the Thessalonian Epistles, belonging to the second missionary journey, the four great Epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, written at the close of the third missionary journey, show a “second manner,” with exactly that union of similarity and diversity which marks a true development of thought and circumstance—so, in comparison with this latter group, the Epistles of the Captivity present a “third manner,” itself again markedly distinct from that of the Pastoral Epistles, of still later date. In those early days of Christianity events moved fast; under the living Apostolic inspiration and the rapidity of the Apostolic mission, successive years marked changes as great as would have indicated the lapse of generations in more ordinary times. When we compare the marvellous growth of the Christian Church in the thirty years (or thereabouts) of St. Paul’s own Apostolate—from a small sect limited to Palestine, hardly as yet completely distinguished from the Judaic system, to a community which had its branches in every province of the Roman world, and which was obviously advancing to a world-wide dominion—we may be prepared to find obvious and important developments, both of teaching and of circumstance, even in the various periods of his Apostolic ministry.
I. The Period to which they belong.—In accordance with the great majority of commentators, ancient and modern, I take these Epistles to belong to the Roman captivity, in which the history of the Acts leaves St. Paul, and to which he was consigned about the year A.D. 61. It has, indeed, been proposed by Meyer and other German commentators to refer them to the Cæsarean captivity of Acts 24-26. The reasons on which this proposal is based may be seen in Meyer’s edition of the “Epistle to the Ephesians” (Introduction, sect. 2). They prove, however, on examination, to be not only trivial, even if maintained, but in themselves uncertain, resting largely on mere supposition, and certainly incapable of standing against the powerful arguments which may be brought on the other side. These are of two kinds—general and special. Of the first kind is the whole style and tone of the Epistles, indicating a transition to an entirely different and most important sphere of missionary labour, such as could not possibly be found in the comparatively unimportant town of Cæsarea; and, moreover, the obvious expectation by the writer (see Philippians 2:24; Philemon 1:22) of a speedy release from captivity, which would enable him to visit, not Rome and Spain, as was his intention at the time when he was taken prisoner at Jerusalem (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:24-25), but Macedonia and the Eastern churches, where at the earlier time he declared that he had “no longer any place” (Romans 15:23; comp. Acts 20:25). Of the latter kind are the references found—especially in the most personal of all the Epistles, the Epistle to his beloved Church at Philippi—to the manifestation of his bonds “in the whole Prætorium” (Philippians 1:13)—a phrase which (in spite of the verbal coincidence with Acts 23:35) could not well be used of his prison at Cæsarea; to the converts made from “Cæsar’s household,” which must surely have belonged to Rome (Philippians 4:22); to the circumstances of his captivity, which describe with an almost technical accuracy (see Note on Ephesians 6:20) the imprisonment at Rome “in his own hired house with the soldier that kept him,” and the freedom which he then had (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30-31), but which at Cæsarea, especially considering the especial object contemplated by Felix in prolonging his captivity (Acts 24:26), was eminently improbable.
In accordance, also, with the general opinion, I should designate this as St. Paul’s “First Roman Captivity;” though it will be, perhaps, more appropriate that the evidence for the common belief that St. Paul was set at liberty from his captivity, and that, after a period of freedom, he underwent a second imprisonment, which was only closed by his death, should be considered in relation to the PASTORAL EPISTLES. For with this belief the acceptance of these Epistles as genuine is closely, if not inseparably, connected. On the general character and circumstances of both captivities see Excursus (at the close of the Acts of the Apostles) on the Later Years of St. Paul’s Life.
II. The Genuineness of these Epistles.—On this point external evidence is strong and unvarying. It will be sufficient here to notice that all were included unhesitatingly in all the catalogues and versions of St. Paul’s Epistles, and placed by Eusebius (as by others before him) in the list of the New Testament books “acknowledged by all.” More detailed evidence will be with more advantage given in the Introduction to each Epistle.
It is true that, as in the case of many other New Testament books, their genuineness has been challenged, on supposed internal evidence, even by critics who are ready to acknowledge the four Epistles of the preceding group. This adverse criticism has been advanced with different degrees of positiveness against different Epistles of this group. Thus, the Epistle to the Philippians has been but little doubted; and, indeed, the similarities to St. Paul’s earlier Epistles, and especially to the Epistle to the Romans, are so striking that it requires singular perversity to discover or imagine dissonance with them. The beautiful little Epistle to Philemon, again, can hardly be said to have been questioned, except in the mere wantonness of arbitrary criticism. On the other hand, the two Epistles which bear most distinctly the peculiar impress of St. Paul’s “later manner”—the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians—have been far more seriously attacked on that very ground; the Epistle to the Colossians, moreover, on the supposition that it involves references to a Gnosticism of later date; and the Epistle to the Ephesians, on the supposition—which it might have been thought that an attentive study of these two Epistles would have soon shown to be untenable—that it is a mere copy and expansion of the Epistle to the Colossians. On the peculiar grounds of scepticism in each case it will be more convenient to speak in connection with each Epistle separately; but on the general question of the relation of these Epistles to the earlier group it will be best to dwell here, not merely with a view to show the hollowness of this destructive criticism, but with the more important object of sketching out the main characteristics of this group of Epistles as a whole.
Now it must be considered exactly what is the nature of the question. We have not here an anonymous document, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, as to which we have to inquire into the degree of its likeness or unlikeness to St. Paul’s acknowledged Epistles. We have Epistles which not only bear his name, but present various indications marking them as his; and these Epistles are received as his at a very early date—alluded to by Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, formally included in the Muratorian Canon about the year 170. Accordingly, they are either his genuine Epistles, or Epistles written in his name at an early period by some adherent of the “Pauline School” desiring to claim a forged authority from his great master. Now, in the case of forgery, we should expect to find substantial inferiority of power and inspiration, and possibly some discrepance of the inner reality, as contrasted with the outward form, of doctrine; but certainly no marked difference of style, no peculiar words and phrases previously unknown, no change of expressions, which had become markedly characteristic of St. Paul in the acknowledged Epistles of the earlier group. In the case of genuineness, on the other hand, we should look for substantial identity of thought and teaching, coupled with free variation of expression and style, and with indications of a development of doctrine, corresponding to progress of time, change of scene and circumstance, increase of the power of Christianity over thought and society, as exemplified in the development of the Christian Church. It is all but impossible for any careful student to doubt that it is always the latter—never the former—condition which is distinctly realised in these Epistles. This will be seen clearly on examination both of their style and of their substance.
III. The Style of the Epistles.—There is unquestionably a marked difference of style, although in various degrees—the Philippian Epistle showing such difference far less than the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Now it is not a little remarkable that the nature of this acknowledged change of style singularly corresponds with the historical change in St. Paul’s circumstances. When he wrote the former Epistles he was in the full tide of his Apostolic work; at periods, moreover, of marked excitement and interest—just after the tumult at Ephesus, or on his circuit through Macedonia “round about into Illyricum,” or at Corinth in the very heat of the Judaising controversy. He was then emphatically the preacher and the church-founder. His Letters, written in the intervals of his busy work, would be like fragments of his preaching, marked by the incisive earnestness, the close argument, the impressive abruptness, of a pleader for God. When he wrote these later Epistles he was in the enforced inactivity and the comparative rest of imprisonment, and this imprisonment (as, indeed, we might have expected) appears to have been to him a time of study, in those “many writings” which Festus thought at that time to have “made him mad” (Acts 26:24), with such “books and parchments” round him as those which he asked for even in the greater severity of his second imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:13). He is now not so much the worker as the thinker. The impassioned emphasis of the preacher might naturally be exchanged for the quiet, deliberate teaching of the Christian sage; sounding the lowest depths of thought; wandering, as it might seem, but with subtle links of connection, from one idea to another; rising constantly in secret meditation from truths embodied in the practical forms of earthly life, to truths as they exist above in the calm perfection of heaven. Who can doubt that this is exactly the change of style which we trace in these Epistles of the Captivity? The Epistle to the Philippians has least of it: for there his remembrance of earlier times would be strongest, and would tend most to reproduce the earlier tone of thought. But in the Colossian Epistle, written to a Church which he had never seen—knowing it, indeed, well, but only by hearsay—still more in the Epistle to the Ephesians, probably an encyclical letter, certainly approaching more nearly to the nature of abstract general teaching, this characteristic difference is most vividly marked.
It manifests itself in the appearance of many word? used in no other Epistles, and these frequently words compounded with a thoughtful felicity of compressed meaning. It manifests itself in sentences which, unlike the terse and often abrupt incisiveness of his earlier Letters, flow on without grammatical break, sometimes not without grammatical harshness and obscurity, but with an unfailing connection and evolution of thought, a singular and (so to speak) philosophical completeness of doctrine, a sustained perfection of meditative and devotional beauty. It manifests itself, again, in a constant looking upward to “the heavenly places” of the Ephesian Epistle; sometimes, as in the opening of that Epistle, to the source of all Christian life in the election of the divine love; sometimes to the angelic “principalities and powers,” invisibly fighting for or against that love of God in salvation; sometimes to the life of Christians “hid with Christ in God,” in virtue of which we sit with Him in heaven even now; most often, perhaps, of all, to Christ in His heavenly glory, seen now by the eye of faith, ready to reveal Himself in the Epiphany of the great day. Yet, with all this difference of style, the detailed links of connection, both in word and thought, are (as the Notes on the Epistles will show) simply numberless—mostly showing similarity, not absolute identity, of expression; an independent likeness, not an artificial copyism. Above all, the general impress of the mind and character of St. Paul comes out more and more clearly as we pursue the detailed study of the Epistles. Thus, the character which paints itself in the Epistle to the Philippians is obviously the same as that which we know in the Epistles to the Corinthians, or in that yet earlier Epistle to the other Macedonian Church at Thessalonica, which presents some striking similarities in detail. But there is a greater calmness and maturity, sometimes of peacefulness, sometimes of sadness: it is the picture of an older man. Again, the notion that the teaching of the Ephesian or Colossian Epistle could possibly have come from the weaker hand of a disciple will seem fairly incredible to any who have ever glanced at the writings of Clement of Rome, of Ignatius, or of Polycarp, the scholars of St. Paul and St. John. The inspired hand of the Apostle is traceable in every line; the very change of style argues at once identity and development. It is a strong internal evidence of the Apostolic authorship; it is in itself full of deep interest and significance.
IV. The Substance of the Epistles.—Still more striking is the corresponding phenomenon in relation to substance. In the doctrine of these Epistles there is the same indication of a true development.
(1) The Doctrine of Salvation.—Thus, for example, it is profoundly instructive to examine the relation of these Epistles to that primary doctrine of “justification by faith” which had been the one all-important subject of the Galatian and Roman Epistles. It is touched on here with the same master hand. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (). “That I may be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). But it is no longer the one subject to which all else leads up. It is treated as a thing known and accepted, with a quiet calmness utterly unlike the impassioned and exhaustive earnestness of St. Paul’s pleading for it in the crisis of the Judaistic controversy. The emphasis on faith is less vivid and less constant. “Salvation by grace” takes the place of “justification by faith,” and leads the thoughts on from the first acceptance in Christ to the continuous work of grace, of which such acceptance is the first beginning. The Law, which before its idolaters in Galatia or at Rome was resolutely thrust down to its right secondary position, described as the servile “pedagogue to bring men” to the true Teacher, depreciated as the mere subsidiary guard of the covenant of promise, is now less often touched upon, and less unreservedly condemned. It has obviously lost the dangerous fascination with which such idolatry invested it. It is only “as contained in ordinances” that it is now viewed as a separation between Jew and Gentile, or between man and God, or considered as cancelled by “nailing it to the cross” of Christ. We feel that St. Paul is already passing on from the earnest pleading of advocacy of the freedom of the gospel to the judicial calmness which was hereafter to tell how “the law is good if a man use it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). Judaism has, in great measure, at least in the Eastern churches, changed its character. St. Paul’s earnest pleading for Christ as all in all has similarly changed its direction and its tone. Against new idolatries it is still necessary to fight to the death. But the old battle is substantially won; on the old field no more is needed than to maintain the victory.
(2) The Doctrine of the Catholic Church.—Nor is it less interesting to note how in these Epistles, and especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the prominence of the idea of the Kingdom of God has marvellously increased. The Galatian and Roman Epistles (as the history of the Reformation of the sixteenth century showed) are the treasure-house of the truths of personal Christianity; for the very thought of justification, dominant in them, brings each soul face to face with its own sin and its own salvation, in that supreme crisis of life and death in which it is conscious of but two existences—God and itself. These later Epistles are equally the storehouse of the less vivid, yet grander, conception of the Holy Catholic Church. The central idea is of Christ the Head, and the whole collective Christianity of the Church as His Body. He is conceived not solely or mainly as the Saviour of each individual soul, but rather as “gathering up” all humanity, or even all created being, “in Himself.” The two conceptions are, of course, inseparable. In the earlier Epistles the Church is constantly recognised; in these the individual relationship to God in Christ is never for a moment ignored. But the proportion (so to speak) of the two truths is changed. What is primary in the one case is secondary in the other.
It is obvious that this is the natural order. The Christian unity is directly the unity of each soul with Christ, the Head; indirectly the unity of the various members in one Body. When the gospel of salvation first speaks, it must speak to the individual. When the grace of Christ draws all men unto Him, each individual must move along the line of his own spiritual gravitation. But when the truth has been accepted in a faith necessarily individual; when the Saviour has been found by each as the Christ who “liveth in me”—then the question arises, What are His truth and His grace to that great human society, to which we are bound by a network of unseen spiritual ties? The first and proper answer to that question is the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. There is a second answer, larger, but less distinct, which goes even beyond this, to contemplate our Lord as the Head of all created being. The relation, therefore, of these Epistles to the earlier group is profoundly natural, even on the consideration of the right and necessary course of idea.
But here, again, it is impossible not to trace in these Epistles a special appropriateness to this period of St. Paul’s life and work. Of the three great threads of ancient civilisation—the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Roman—two had already been laid hold of by Apostolic hands, and fastened to the cross of Christ. Now, as “ambassador for Christ,” although “in bonds,” St. Paul had been permitted to “see Rome;” the circumstances of his imprisonment had placed him in the Prœtorium, in the very citadel of the Imperial grandeur, and had given him access to “those of Cæsar’s household.” The Epistles of the former group had been written from cities where Greek thought reigned supreme—from Ephesus, from Philippi, from Corinth. These later Epistles came from the centre of Imperial Rome. Now, it is a common-place to remark that the main element of all Greek thought was the freedom and sacredness of the individual, whether in the realm of thought, or of imagination, or of action. But the mission of the Roman (as Virgil has, with a true insight, declared in well-known lines) was to teach the greatness of the community—the family, the state, the whole race of humanity; to give laws, which were to be the basis of the “law of nations;” to unite all peoples in one great empire, and, perhaps by an inevitable inference, to deify its head. It can hardly be accidental that, while the former Epistles dealt with the individual, pointing him to the true freedom and the true wisdom, which Greek philosophy sought for in vain, these Epistles should similarly face the great Roman problem, and sketch out that picture which was hereafter to be wrought into the chief masterpiece of Latin theology—the picture of “the city of God.” We note in the Epistle to the Ephesians the emphatic reference to the three great social relationships, so jealously and sternly guarded by Roman law—the relations of parents and children, husbands and wives, masters and servants—as deriving a higher spiritual sacredness, above all law and convention, from the fact that they are types of the relations of man to God in the great unity in the Lord Jesus Christ. We read in the Epistle to the Philippians of the “city in heaven”—not now the “heavenly Jerusalem” of Jewish aspiration, but simply the city of which all are citizens, whether “Jew or Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free.” We find, both in the Ephesian and Colossian Epistles, a constant recurrence to the thought of all as “one body” or “one temple” in Jesus Christ—supplying that supreme personal relation, which changes the shadowy dream of a divine republic, where the individual is lost, to the solid reality of a well-centred Kingdom of God, preserving at once perfect individuality and perfect unity. We are reminded at every step of the “fifth empire”—“a stone cut out without hands” form the mountain of the Lord, and growing till it displaced the artificial fabrics of the kingdoms of the world, and filled the whole earth. We contrast the inevitable idolatry of the Roman emperor—remembering that, by a strange irony of circumstance, that emperor was now a Nero—with the worship of the true Son of Man and Son of God, of which all such idolatries are perverted anticipations. I pass over minor points of coincidence between idea and circumstance—such as the remarkable metaphor of the Christian armour, working out a figure previously touched by St. Paul, with an obvious detailed reference to the armour of his Roman jailor; or the adaptation of Stoic ideas and phrases in the Epistle to the Philippians, bearing (as Dr. Lightfoot has shown) peculiar resemblances to the later Stoicism of Seneca, then the leader of Roman thought. But taking only the main idea of these Epistles, and comparing it with the main principle of Roman greatness, it is impossible again not to be struck with a coincidence—which must surely be more than mere coincidence—between the teaching and the circumstances of this period of the Apostle’s life.
(3) The advanced Christology.—There is another true development, of infinitely greater importance and deeper interest, in respect of what is called the “Christology” of these Epistles. At all times the preaching of Christianity is the preaching of “God in Christ.” But attentive study of the New Testament shows that gradually, line by line, step by step, the full truth was revealed as the world was able to bear it—passing, according to the true order of teaching, from visible manifestations to invisible realities—guarding at every step the supreme truth of the unity of the Godhead, so jealously cherished by the Jew, so laxly disregarded in the elastic Polytheisms of the Gentile world. The manifestation of Christ in the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and Ascension, is, of course, really one. Yet at different times each of the different steps of that one manifestation appears to have assumed greater prominence in Christian teaching; and it may be noted, that as, when we dig through the strata of the earth, we uncover first what is latest, and come only at last to what is earliest in deposition, so in the realisation of gospel truth, the order of preaching is the reverse of the order of actual occurrence of the great facts of the divine manifestation. First, as is natural, came the preaching of “Christ risen;” for the Resurrection—the great miracle of miracles—was the seal of our Lord’s Messiahship, declaring Him who was “of the seed of David according to the flesh” to be “the Son of God with power.” As risen and exalted to the right hand of God, in fulfilment of oft-repeated ancient prophecy. He was declared to be both “Lord and Christ.” Even clear-sighted heathen ignorance could declare that the great question between Christian and unbeliever was then—as, indeed, it is now—“of one Jesus who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” But then, when men were called to receive in the risen Christ remission of sins, to see in His resurrection the pledge of a spiritual resurrection for themselves here, a resurrection of body and spirit in the hereafter, came the question, How can this be? To that question the answer is found in the one truth which St. Paul declared that in his teaching at Corinth, and (we may add) in his teaching to the Galatians and Romans, he cared to know—the truth of “Jesus Christ, and Him as crucified.” The Resurrection, in itself, was accepted as known; to unfold its meaning it was necessary to go back to the Atonement. Hence the great teaching of these Epistles is of Christ as the one Mediator between God and the countless souls which He has made. That mediation is described sometimes in the phrase “through Christ,” bringing out the access through His atonement to the Father who sent Him; sometimes in the phrase “in Christ,” dwelling not so much on our justification as on our regeneration in Him to the new life. Perhaps in the great struggle for Justification by Faith the former idea was the more prominent. In either phase, however, it is the sole and universal mediation of Christ which is the one leading conception of Apostolic teaching. But, again, the question arises, Who is He who thus is—what surely no merely created being can claim to be—a mediator between God and all human souls, in all lands and in all ages of the world? To answer that question it was needful to go back once more to “Christ Incarnate:” i.e., ultimately, to Christ as He is, not in manifestation, but in His own true being, before He was pleased to stoop to earth, and since He has ascended again to His own glory in heaven. It is on this last phase of thought that the Epistles of the Captivity appear to enter, standing in this respect parallel with the Epistle to the Hebrews, leading on to the yet fuller teaching of the Epistles and Gospel of St. John.
We notice that it is always through the knowledge of His mediation that they lead us into the region of yet higher truth. St. Paul, in brief yet exhaustive description of that mediation, tells us of Christ, as One “in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.” We notice, also, that the phrase “in Christ,” rather than “through Christ,” is the dominant note in these Epistles. As we have seen already in relation to justification and sanctification, so we find in relation to the objective truths corresponding to them, that it is not so much on “Christ crucified” as on “Christ living in us” that he emphatically dwells. But the especial point of transcendent importance is that he leads us on from the fact of this mediation to draw out explicitly what such mediation implies. The Philippian Epistle, simple and practical as its purpose is, recites, in the great passage of its second chapter () the whole creed of our Lord’s Nature and Office—the distinctive creed of Christianity. It marks the two-fold humility of His mediation for us: first, the “taking on Him the form of a servant;” next, the “humbling Himself to the death of the cross.” It turns next to the corresponding exaltation of His human nature in the Mediatorial kingdom (described in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28), so that “in the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” But it does more than this. It speaks of Him as being essentially “in the form,” that is, in the nature, “of God,” in the eternal glory of which “He stripped Himself” for us; it tells us that to Him is given “the name which is above every name”—the awful and incommunicable name of JEHOVAH. In that deeper teaching it tells us, not of His office, but of Himself; not of His mediation, but of the divine nature which alone made such mediation possible. Again, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, starting from “the redemption in His blood, the remission of sins,” the idea of our Lord’s mediation is infinitely enlarged and exalted in the conception, that “in Him all things are gathered in one head, both which are in heaven and which are on earth;” that “He filleth all in all;” “ascending above all heavens,” “descending into the lower parts of the earth,” “that He might thus fill all things.” That He is, indeed, the Head of the Church we are told again and again in various forms of expression; but He is more. In Him all created being is summed up; He is, in all that relates to it, the manifestation of God. As in the unity of the Church, so in the wider unity of all creation, we have, co-ordinate with one another, the “one Spirit,” the “one Lord,” the “one God and Father of all.” But far even beyond this, the Epistle to the Colossians carries the same higher teaching. Standing face to face with an incipient Gnosticism, stiffened to some degree into a Jewish type, but presenting all the essential features of the Gnostic idea—of one supreme God and many emanations, all real and all imperfect, from the divine fulness—St. Paul declares explicitly all that the earlier teaching had implied with ever increasing clearness. Our Lord is not only “the firstborn of God before all creation,” “in whom,” “through whom,” “for whom,” “all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, were created,” and in whom “all things consist.” In this the Colossian Epistle would but draw out more forcibly the truth taught to the Ephesians of His relation to all created being. But what is He in Himself? St. Paul answers, “the image”—the substantial manifestation—“of the invisible God,” in whom “all the fulness of the Godhead dwelleth bodily.” The parallel is singularly close with the Epistle to the Hebrews, which, in similar connection with the great mediation of His one priesthood and one sacrifice, declares Him (Hebrews 1:3) to be “the brightness of the glory of the Father, and the express image of His person” (the “substance,” or essence, of the Godhead). There remains little beyond this to bring us to the full declaration of “the Word” who “was in the beginning,” who “was with God, and was God.” These Epistles of St. Paul correspond, with marvellous appropriateness, to that intermediate period, when his great evangelising work was almost done, and the time was coming for the growth of the school of deep thought on a now acknowledged Christianity, which was to surround the old age of “St. John the Divine.”
(4) The Condition and Trials of the Church.—The examination of the substance of the Epistles would not be complete without some brief reference to the condition of the Church which they disclose.
In this view, also, we trace the same coincidence with the natural growth of events. The whole tenor of the Epistles indicates that the Church had reached a condition in which the consideration, not so much of its extension, as of its unity, became the prominent idea. With but little hyperbole, St. Paul could say that the gospel had come into “all the world” of the Roman empire. His own career of active evangelisation had been stopped; in his prison at Rome, the centre of communication with all nations, he would, no doubt, hear of the growth and the trials of other churches, as we know that he heard of Philippi and Colossæ; he looked eagerly, as from a distance, on the building up of the Temple of God, which was going on by many hands and under many conditions. The one thought and prayer of his captivity was that it should grow as one, “fitly framed and joined together,” on the one foundation and in the one corner-stone. To the Philippian Church the burden of his exhortation is to unity of spirit. In the Ephesian Epistle the great central passage is that which brings out, with all the incisive emphasis of a creed, the description of the “one body” and the “one Spirit”; and the fundamental conception of the gospel, as the reconciliation of the soul to God in Jesus Christ, carries with it as a perpetual undertone, the union of Jew and Gentile in the covenant of God. Even in the Colossian Epistle, although there the main idea of the sole headship of Christ assumes a more absolute predominance, yet the great anxiety of St. Paul for Colossae and its sister churches was that their hearts might be “knit together in love” and the “full assurance of the knowledge” of a common gospel. The whole tenor of these Epistles, standing in contrast with those of the earlier group, thus corresponds with the needs of the more advanced period of Church history.
Nor is this coincidence less evident in relation to the forms of danger, by which the progress of the Church is here seen to be menaced. The old leaven of Judaism still works in the “so-called circumcision,” which now deserves, in St. Paul’s eyes, only the name of “concision,” or self-mutilation. But it has changed its character. The Pharisaic idolatry of the Law, as a law by obedience to which man might work out, if not his own salvation, at least his own perfection, has passed away in the East, though it lingers in the simple, unspeculative Christianity of Macedonia. Perhaps by the very extension of the Church the providence of God had clenched the victorious argument of St. Paul. A church truly catholic could hardly rest on a rigid code of law, or find the spring of a world-wide salvation anywhere, except in the grace of God accepted by faith. But now, as the Epistle to the Colossians shows, Judaism had allied itself with those wild speculations, weaving the gospel into philosophical or mystic theories of religion, which arose inevitably, when Christianity, assuming to be the religion of humanity, naturally came in contact with the various philosophies and religions of all mankind. Dr. Lightfoot has shown, with much probability, that one form in which it adapted itself to the new condition of things was the form of the old Essenic mysticism. The Epistle to the Hebrews suggests that, on the other hand, it had also fixed its faith on the ritual and sacrifice from which the Essenes shrank—doubtless as having in themselves a mystic efficacy, perhaps as enabling men to enter into the region of mystic speculation, where they might learn the secrets hidden from the mass of Christians, and revealed only to the perfect. In both forms it is seen as gradually dissolving its old rigidity and carnality, and claiming, in accordance with the spirit of the age, the title of spirituality and mystic perfection.
Still more is the progress of the times shown in this very tendency, to which Judaism so strangely and incongruously allied itself. Gnosticism, in later days, marked the attempts—sometimes serious, sometimes fantastic—to weave Christianity into systems designed to solve the insoluble problem of the relation of the infinite God, both in creation and manifestation, to His finite creatures; to fix the place to be assigned to matter and spirit in the universe; to answer the question how far evil is necessarily associated with matter; and in contemplation of the gospel itself, to determine the relation between the Old and New Covenant, and to define or explain away the mystery of the Incarnation. To what wild developments it ran is told in the true, but almost incredible, record of a subsequent chapter of Church history. But it showed itself—we may almost say that it could not but have shown itself—at the close of the Apostolic age: as soon as the gospel showed itself to be not only a divine life, but a divine philosophy, to an age radically sceptical, both in its eagerness of inquiry and its discontent with all the answers hitherto found. We find traces of it—easily read by those who have studied its after-development—in the “endless genealogies,” the false asceticism, or still falser antinomianism of the later Epistles of St. Paul and St. John, in the denial that “Jesus Christ was come in the flesh,” and the idea that “the Resurrection was passed already.” In these Epistles of the Captivity there are similar traces, but less fully developed, especially in the Colossian Epistle. The spurious claims to spiritual “perfection;” the “deceits by vain words;” the “systematic plan of deceit” of a specious antinomianism, for which St. Paul can hardly find language of adequate condemnation; the “philosophy and vain deceit” of the traditions of men, with its mere “show of wisdom” and its “intrusion” into the regions of the invisible; the supposed emanations from the Godhead taking the angelic forms of “thrones and principalities and powers”—all these mark the first beginning of that strange progress which ran its pretentious course in later times. To this time of St. Paul’s history they belong, and to no other.
Thus, as it seems every way, a careful study of the style and substance of these Epistles not only confirms the external testimony which refers them to St. Paul, but illustrates to us the course of the development of the gospel, the progress and the trials of the Church. They light up the historical darkness in which the abrupt close of the record of the Acts of the Apostles leaves us; they are full of those lessons for our own days in which the close of the Apostolic age is especially fruitful.
V. The Order of the Epistles.—That the Epistles to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, and to Philemon belong to the same time, and were sent by the same messengers, is tolerably clear. The one question is, whether the Epistle to the Philippians recedes or follows them; and this question can only be answered by probable conjecture. It is obvious, from the progress already made (), from the whole description of the mission and the sickness of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), from the anticipation of release (Philippians 2:24), that some time must have elapsed between St. Paul’s arrival at Rome and the writing of this Epistle. It has also been noticed, as at least a remarkable coincidence, that Aristarchus and St. Luke, who accompanied the Apostle to Rome (Acts 27:2), are named in the Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24), and not in the Epistle to the Philippians. But this last may be a mere coincidence; and the fact that the Philippian Epistle was not written early in the imprisonment determines nothing as to its priority or posteriority to the other Epistles. The only strong argument on the subject—which has been admirably worked out by Dr. Lightfoot in his Introduction to the Epistle to the Philippians, sect. 2—is the remarkable similarity in word and style between it and the Epistle to the Romans, its position as a link between the strong individuality of the earlier teaching and the characteristic universality of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, and its dealing with trials and difficulties more nearly resembling those of an earlier time. The argument is strong, yet not necessarily conclusive; for much in all these points depends on the character, and even the geographical position, of the Church addressed. To it, however, in the absence of any solid controverting evidence, we may give considerable weight and perhaps incline, without absolute decision, to place the Philippian Epistle before the other group in the Epistles of the Captivity.
[In relation to the treatment of the Epistles of the Captivity, it seems right to acknowledge the deep obligation of the writer to the Commentaries of Ellicott, Alford, Wordsworth, Meyer, Harless, and, above all, to the admirable and exhaustive treatment by Dr. Lightfoot of the Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; to Conybeare and Howson, and Lewin, for their full and learned summaries of all that illustrates the life and, in less degree, the writings of St. Paul; but perhaps not least to the Homilies of St. Chrysostom—simply invaluable as a commentary, venerable in its preservation of ancient tradition, critically precious as dealing with the Greek as still a living language, and yet modern in that breadth and simplicity of treatment, which contrast with the frequent mysticism of great ancient commentators. The writer desires also to add that, while he has not generally thought it desirable to confuse the reader by the enumeration of various translations and interpretations, he has yet, to the best of his ability, studied all these carefully, and has endeavoured to give in the Notes the result, rather than the process, of such study.]
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.
I. The Date and Place of Writing.—This Epistle, for reasons hereafter to be considered, has few detailed indications, either of the personal condition of the writer or of the circumstances of those to whom it is addressed. But one point is made perfectly clear, that it was written by St. Paul when he was the “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1), suffering some special “tribulations for them,” which he bade them consider as “their glory” (Ephesians 3:13), and being an “ambassador for Christ in a chain” (Ephesians 6:20)—the word here used being the same as in Acts 28:20, and being a word almost technically describing the imprisonment “with a soldier that kept him” (Acts 28:16). All these things point unmistakably to what we have spoken of in the General Introduction as the first Roman captivity. That captivity began about A.D. 61, and lasted, without change, for at least “two full years.” In the Letter to Philemon, sent by Onesimus, who is associated with Tychicus, the bearer of this Epistle, in Colossians 4:7-9, St. Paul prays him to “prepare him a lodging” against the speedy arrival, which he then confidently expected. Hence our Epistle must be placed late in the captivity—not earlier than A.D. 63.
II. The Church to which it is addressed.—The Epistle has borne from time immemorial the name of the “Epistle to the Ephesians.” To the Church at Ephesus most certainly, whether solely or among others, it is addressed.
EPHESUS.—Of St. Paul’s preaching at Ephesus we have a detailed account in the Acts of the Apostles. At the close of his second missionary circuit he had touched at Ephesus, and “entered the synagogue” to “reason with the Jews.” In spite of their entreaty, he could not then remain with them, but left Aquila and Priscilla there. From them, probably, with the aid of their convert Apollos, the Christianity of Ephesus began its actual rise. It is not, indeed, impossible that there may have been some previous preparation through the disciples of St. John the Baptist. The emphatic allusion to him and to the simply preparatory character of his work in St. Paul’s sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (), seems to point to knowledge of him in Asia Minor. We know that afterwards St. Paul found some disciples at Ephesus, baptised only with St. John’s baptism (Acts 19:3); and we note that Apollos, while “knowing only the baptism of John,” yet still “teaching the things of the Lord,” found a ready acceptance at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-25). But however this may be, the full development of the Christianity of Ephesus was made under St. Paul’s charge in his third missionary circuit. His first circuit had been an extension of that Asiatic Gentile Christianity which began from Antioch; his second was notable as the first planting of European Christianity, having its chief centre at Corinth; now his headquarters for the evangelisation of the Roman province of Asia were fixed for three years at Ephesus, a city specially fit for the welding together of Asiatic and European Christianity—for there Greek civilisation met face to face with Oriental superstition and magical pretensions, in that which was made by Rome the official metropolis of pro-consular Asia; and the strange union is curiously symbolised by the enshrining in a temple which was the world-famed masterpiece of Greek art of an idol—probably, some half-shapeless meteoric stone—“which fell down from Jupiter.” The summary of his work there—his re-baptism with the miraculous gifts of the disciples of St. John Baptist; the “special miracles” wrought by his hands; the utter confusion both of Jewish exorcists and of the professors of those “curious arts” for which Ephesus was notorious; the sudden tumult, so skilfully appeased by the “town clerk,” who must surely have been half a Christian—make up (in Acts 19) one of the most vivid scenes in St. Paul’s Apostolic history.
Another—not less striking, and infinitely pathetic—is drawn in , in the farewell visit and address of St. Paul to the Ephesian presbyters at Miletus, indicating, alike by its testimony and by its warnings, a fully-organised and widely-spread Christianity—the fruit of his three years’ labour. What had been the extent of the sphere of that labour we know not. We gather, with some surprise (Colossians 2:1), that the churches of the valley of the Lycus—Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae—had not been visited by him personally. Yet, whether by his own presence, or through such delegates as Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), “all which dwelt in Asia had heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). They might well “sorrow” and “weep sore” at the thought that they should “see his face no more.”
Now, in his captivity, certainly to Ephesus, and (as we shall see hereafter) probably to the other churches of Asia, he writes this Epistle—itself a representative Epistle, almost a treatise, bearing to the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church a relation not unlike that which the Epistle to the Romans bears to the fundamental truths of personal Christianity.
After this, in the interval between the first and second captivity, we find (see 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:18) that St. Paul did revisit Ephesus at least once; that, in his deep anxiety for its welfare, he placed it under the quasi-episcopal charge of his “own son Timothy;” and that, in his last captivity, he sent Tychicus, the bearer of this Epistle, to Ephesus again (2 Timothy 4:12), perhaps in view of the coming absence of Timothy in obedience to the Apostle’s summons.
From that time Ephesus passed into the charge of St. John, as the first of the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2:1), commended for its steadfastness, but yet rebuked as “having fallen from its first love.” Of this phase of its Christianity, and its subsequent importance in the future history of the Church, especially as the scene of the Third great Council and the previous Latrocinium, it would be out of place here to dwell.
THE CHURCHES OF ASIA.—But while there is no doubt that the Epistle was addressed to Ephesus, there seems very strong reason for the opinion, now held by many commentators, that it was an encyclical letter to the churches of Asia, of which Ephesus was the natural head.
The evidence of this opinion may be thus summarised:—
Direct Evidence.—Taking first the direct evidence, we observe (1) that in the opening salutation, which in the ordinary reading is addressed to “the saints which are at Ephesus, being also faithful in Christ Jesus,” the words “at Ephesus” are omitted in our two oldest MSS. (the Vatican and the Sinaitic), and in both supplied by a later hand. This omission is exceptional, all other MSS. and versions inserting the words. But it agrees with two remarkable ancient testimonies. Origen, the first great Biblical critic in the early Church (A.D. 186-254), (as appears from a fragment quoted in Cramer’s “Catenæ in Pauli Epistolae,” p. 102, Oxford edition, 1842), noticed that in the Ephesian Epistle alone there was the “singular inscription,” “to the saints who are, being also faithful.” Basil of Cæsarea (A.D. 329-379) expressly says (in his treatise against Eunomius, Book 2, c. 19), “this reading was handed down by those who have gone before us, and we ourselves have found it in the ancient MSS.”
Now (2) the effect of this omission is to make the passage obscure, if not unintelligible; for the only simple rendering of the Greek would be to “the saints who are also faithful,” and this would give an impossible vagueness and generality to the address. Accordingly, ancient criticism (perhaps derived from Origen in the first instance) actually faced the difficulty by giving a mystic sense to the passage. St. Basil, in the passage above quoted, explains it thus:—“But, moreover, writing to the Ephesians as to those truly united by full knowledge to HIM WHO IS, he gives them the peculiar title of the ‘saints who are.’“ To this interpretation, also, St. Jerome refers thus (in his Commentary on Ephesians 1:1):—“Some, with more subtlety than is necessary, hold that, according to the saying to Moses, Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, HE WHO IS hath sent me unto you, those who at Ephesus are holy and faithful are designated by the name of essential being, so that from HIM WHO IS these are called They who are;” and adds, with his usual strong critical good sense, “others more simply hold that the address is not to Those who are, but to Those who are at Ephesus.” Certainly, nothing could show a firmer conviction that the omission of the words “at Ephesus” was necessitated by MS. authority, than the desperate attempt to meet the difficulty of rendering by this marvellous interpretation.
But (3) we also find that Marcion the heretic, by Tertullian’s twice-repeated testimony (in his work against Marcion, Book 5, c. 11, 16), entitled this Epistle “The Epistle to the Laodiceans.” “I omit,” he says, “here notice of another Epistle, which we hold to have been written to the Ephesians, but the heretics to the Laodiceans;” and he then proceeds to refer to our Epistle. In another place:—“In the true view of the Church, we hold that Letter to have been sent to the Ephesians, not to the Laodiceans; but Marcion has made it his business to interpolate an address in it, to show that on this point also he is a most painstaking critic.” Now (as Tertullian adds) the question of the address was of no doctrinal importance; accordingly, Marcion could not have been tempted in this respect to falsify or invent. He gave the address on critical grounds; and Tertullian says that he “interpolated” it, presumably where there was a blank. Epiphanius, also (320?—402), in his notice of Marcion (adv. Hær., Lib. i., Tom. iii., xii.), after quoting “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” &c., adds:—“For the miserable Marcion was pleased to quote this testimony, not from the Epistle to the Ephesians, but from the Epistle to the Laodiceans, which is not in the Apostle’s writings,” He apparently refers to an apocryphal letter, of which he says elsewhere that “Marcion received fragments;” and such a letter is noticed in the Muratorian Canon. But looking to Tertullian’s clear declaration, we may, perhaps, see here a confused reminiscence of this same critical achievement of Marcion. Marcion, no doubt, was led to it by a consideration of the well-known passage in the Colossian Epistle (Ephesians 4:16) speaking of the “letter from Laodicea,” which he (it would seem, correctly) identified with our Epistle.
(4) Now, all these things lead plainly to one conclusion—that, while an unvarying tradition declared that the Letter was “to the Ephesians,” yet there was a blank in the oldest MSS. after the words “which are,” generally filled up (as in most of our later MSS.) with the words “in Ephesus;” but by Marcion, with no MS. authority, simply on grounds of critical inference, with the words “in Laodicea.” That this insertion of Marcion, if intended to infer that the Letter was addressed specially to the Laodicean Church, was unwarrantable, appears obvious, from the whole stream of ancient tradition assigning the Letter to the Ephesians, and the absence of any vestige of such a reading in the existing MSS. But if the Epistle were a circular letter, of which many copies were sent at one time, it would be at least probable that blanks might be left, to be filled up in each case with the proper name of the Church; and this supposition, which has been adopted by many, would furnish a very simple explanation—indeed, the only simple explanation—of this perplexing MS. phenomenon.
Indirect Evidence.—This being the state of the case in relation to direct evidence, we naturally pass on to consider what may be gathered indirectly, either to confirm or to confute this supposition, from the Epistle itself.
Now, the study of the Epistle, as a whole, must surely convey to the mind the impression of a certain generality and abstractness of character. It approaches closely—at least, as closely as the Epistle to the Romans—to the character of a treatise, dealing, with a singular completeness, accuracy, and symmetry of handling, with a grand spiritual truth—the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. The very opening—strongly reminding us in form, though not in substance, of the opening of the General Epistle of St. Peter to these churches and other churches of Asia Minor ()—is a complete and exhaustive statement of the mysterious truth of the election of the whole Church, as gathered up in Christ and redeemed by Him, in the eternal counsels of God. The celebrated passage (Ephesians 4:4-6) on the unity of the Church, while it is full of an almost poetic beauty, has all the fulness and precision of a creed. The practical exhortations of the Epistle are drawn, with a philosophic generality, from the fundamental conception of religious unity. Nor can we fail to notice that the Epistle is entirely destitute of any reference—such as is invariable in St. Paul’s other Epistles—to the particular condition, blessings, trials, graces, or defects, of those to whom it is addressed. They are simply spoken of as “you Gentiles,” in contradistinction to the children of the old covenant. The sins against which they are warned are the typical sins forbidden in the Second Table, or the sins specially rife in the heathen society of that time in general.
The comparison in this respect with the Colossian Epistle is most instructive. Everywhere the Ephesian Epistle is general and (so to speak) philosophical in treatment; while in the parallel passages the other Epistle is particular and practical. Now it so happens that in the Epistles of this period we have the Philippian, written to a Church personally known and. loved, while the Colossian is addressed to a Church known perhaps well, but indirectly, and not by personal intercourse. The former Epistle is pervaded from beginning to end with the personality of the writer, as fully as the Corinthian or Galatian. Epistles themselves. The latter is more distant and more general, introducing the special warnings of the second chapter with a half-apologetic reference to the deep anxiety felt “for them, and for the Laodiceans, and for those who had not seen his face in the flesh.” The Church of Ephesus must have been even more intimately known and bound to St. Paul than the Church at Philippi. How near it lay to his heart we know by the pathetic beauty and yearning tenderness of his address to the elders at Miletus. An Epistle written to this Church should surely have had all the strong personality of the Philippian Epistle; yet our Epistle, on the contrary, is infinitely less direct, personal, special, than the Epistle to the Colossians. The inference, even from these general considerations, seems unmistakable—that it was not addressed to any special Church, but least of all to such a Church as Ephesus.
But there are also some indications in detail, looking in the same direction, which are referred to in the Notes on the various passages. Such, for example, is the vagueness which has been noticed in the two passages (Ephesians 1:15; Ephesians 3:2), “after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus,” and “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God given me to you-ward.” It is true that the former may be explained of St. Paul’s hearing of them since he had left them; and, if confirmed by the parallel case of the Colossians (Colossians 1:4), may be neutralised by comparison with Philemon 1:5 (“Hearing of thy love and faith”). It is also true that in the latter case the “if” of the original is not, except in form, hypothetical, and the verb may be “heard,” not “heard of.” But, making all reservation, there still remains a vagueness, hardly conceivable in reference to such a Church as Ephesus, especially when we remember how St. Paul in parallel cases refers to his former preaching. (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 2:1-4; 2 Corinthians 1:12-19; 2 Corinthians 11:6-9; 2 Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 4:13; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:5.) Such, again, is the generality, absolutely without parallel elsewhere, in the salutation “which is the token in every Epistle”—“Grace be to all them who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity”—compared with the “Grace be with you” or “with your spirit” of the other Epistles. The conclusions, again, of the Ephesian and Colossian Epistles may be compared. I do not lay stress on the simple absence of greetings: for it has been shown (by Alford), by comparison with other Epistles, that this argument is precarious. But it is impossible not to be struck with the vague generality of the one, as compared with the fulness of detail and strong personality of the other. They coincide verbally in the quasi-official commendation of Tychicus, and in this alone.
These indications may be thought to be slight, but they all point one way, and their combined force is not to be lightly put aside.
The indirect evidence, therefore, appears strongly to confirm the supposition which alone gives any simple explanation of the MSS. phenomena. But is there any trace of such an encyclical letter? That there was an “Epistle from Laodicea” to be read by the Colossians, we know; and the context shows conclusively that this was an Epistle of St. Paul himself. Laodicea was near Colossæ, and evidently in close union with it. The special warnings of the letter addressed to the Colossian Church were probably applicable to it also, and accordingly it was to be read there. But why should Colossæ read the “Epistle from Laodicea?” Had it dealt with the peculiar needs of that sister church this would be inexplicable; but if it were what our Epistle is—general in character, and dealing with a truth not identical with the main truth of the Colossian Epistle, but supplementary to it—then the direction is intelligible at once. It is not (it will be observed) an “Epistle to the Laodiceans,” but an Epistle “coming from Laodicea,” which would be reached from Ephesus before Colossæ, and which, being the larger and more important town, might naturally be made the recipient of a letter intended for it and Colossæ, and perhaps Hierapolis.
It may be asked, If this be so, why have no MSS. any other address than to the “saints at Ephesus?” and why has tradition invariably called this “The Epistle to the Ephesians,” and nothing else? The answer which has been often given appears to be entirely sufficient. Ephesus was, as the metropolis of Asia, the natural centre of the Apostolic ministry, and the natural leader of the Asiatic churches: standing, as in the apocalyptic epistles (Revelation 1:11), at the head of all. There the Epistle would be first read; thence it would go out to the other Asiatic churches; there it would be best treasured up, and copies of it multiplied; and through these it would be likely to become known to the European churches also. It must have been quoted by some title. What title so natural as “To the Ephesians?” The use of this title evidently preceded the insertion of the words “in Ephesus” in the text. This is natural. We remember that no extant MS., except the Vatican and Sinaitic, is earlier than the beginning of the fifth century. By that time most of the Asiatic churches had sunk into insignificance. The tradition already prevalent of the address to the Ephesians would naturally express itself by the insertion of the words, without which the context of the opening passage is hardly intelligible.
This supposition seems also to be confirmed by the occasional appropriation to Laodicea. For, though after a long interval, Laodicea comes next after Ephesus in importance in Church history. On that ground St. Paul made it the centre of the churches of the Lycus valley. On that ground, also, some claim to the Epistle, as an Epistle to the Laodiceans, may have survived till the time of Marcion. It is curious that the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170?), after noting the Epistle to the Ephesians among St. Paul’s Epistles, adds: “There is in circulation also an Epistle to the Laodiceans . . . forged in the name of Paul, to aid the heresy of Marcion . . . which cannot be received into the Catholic Church.” Now the Apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans, still extant, is clearly of later date, made up of quotations or imitations of various passages of St. Paul’s Epistles, and in no way bearing on Marcionism. It may perhaps be conjectured that Marcion, not content with altering the title of our Epistle, tampered with it and mutilated it, as we know that he did in the case of other New Testament books. There maybe in the Canon (as afterwards in Epiphanius) a reference to this corrupted form of our Epistle, as a separate work; and this would be a kind of survival of the designation of it as an Epistle to the Laodiceans.
On all these grounds, therefore, we must hold it at least highly probable that we have in it an encyclical letter to Ephesus and the sister churches of Asia.
III. The Genuineness of the Epistle.—External Evidence.—The external evidence, as has been already said (see Introduction to the Epistles of the Captivity), is strong—as strong as for any other of St. Paul’s Epistles.
Among the Apostolic fathers there seem to be unquestionable allusions to passages in it: as in Clement of Rome, chap. 46, dwelling on “the one God, one Christ, one spirit of grace . . . one calling” (comp. ); and in Polycarp, chap. 12, uniting the two quotations: “Be ye angry and sin not,” “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (comp. Ephesians 4:26-27). In Ignatius (to the Ephesians, chap. 12) we have a remarkable reference to the Ephesians as “fellow-mystics” with St. Paul, sharing the mystery of the gospel with him (comp. Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:4-9; Ephesians 6:19); and he adds of St. Paul that, “in all his letter he is mindful of you in Christ Jesus.” In the “longer Greek” version of the same Epistle—interpolated at a later date—there is in chap. 6 a direct quotation, “as Paul wrote to you—one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4-6), and a clear reference to the address (Ephesians 1:1) in chap. 9.
Passing on to a later date, we have the Epistle formally recognised in the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170), apparently representing the tradition of the Church of Rome: quoted repeatedly, and in some cases unmistakably, by Irenæus in the Church of Gaul (about A.D. 130-200); quoted also by Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150-210), and Tertullian (A.D. 160-240), representing the opposite school of Carthage. It is found in all ancient versions; and henceforth held without doubt among the acknowledged books in the Church.
Dr. Westcott has also shown (“Canon of the New Testament,” pp. 314, 323, 338) that it is quoted by the heretical and Gnostic writers—the Ophites, Basilides, Valentinus, and others. Marcion’s recognition and criticism of it we have already seen.
Internal Evidence.—The doubts of its genuineness which have been advanced in our own times turn entirely on internal evidence.
(1) The differences in style and substance between these Epistles of the Captivity and the earlier Epistles of St. Paul have been already discussed. I have ventured to urge that, corresponding as they do to the time and circumstances of the captivity, marking a true and natural development of doctrine, abounding in points both of similarity and independent originality, these differences are decisive against the idea of imitation, and strongly confirmatory of Apostolic authorship. To the Epistle of the Ephesians these remarks bear a special application, for this Epistle bears most distinctly of all the marks of St. Paul’s later manner. I may add, also, that in a very special degree the grandeur and profoundness of treatment, which make it one of the great typical Epistles of the New Testament, speak for themselves as to its Apostolic origin. To lose it would be to leave a strange gap in the development of Christian doctrine, and to mar the harmony of the individual and corporate elements in the Scriptural exposition of the concrete Christian life. To ascribe it to the weaker hand of a mere disciple of St. Paul might, but for actual experience, have well been thought impossible.
(2) But this Epistle in particular has been described as simply an elaborate reproduction of the Colossian Epistle, and accordingly represented as of doubtful originality. It is, of course, obvious (as will be shown in the Introduction to the Epistle to the Colossians) that there is a very marked similarity, sometimes in idea, sometimes in actual expression, between the two Epistles. But the more both are studied, the more it must be seen that this similarity is exactly such as belongs to contemporaneousness, and is utterly incompatible with dependence of either upon the other.
In the first place, it is found that there are sections of the Colossian Epistle to which there is nothing to correspond in the Ephesian Epistle, and that these sections are principal and not subordinate. Such are, for example, (on the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ), Colossians 2:8-18 (the warning against mingled Judaism and Gnosticism), and Colossians 4:9-17 (the special salutations and cautions). The absence of these in the one case, and their presence in the other, are perfectly intelligible on the theory of contemporaneousness, entirely inexplicable on the theory of dependence.
On the other hand, there are sections in the Epistle to the Ephesians of the most emphatic originality, which have no counterpart in the other Epistle. Such are the great opening on the “election of God and the gathering up of all in Christ” (); the sublime Apostolic prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21; the celebrated and exhaustive passage on the unity of the Church in God (Ephesians 4:4-6); the profound comparison of marriage to the union of Christ with the Church in Ephesians 5:23-33; the magnificent description of the Christian armour (Ephesians 6:13-17). To these the same remark must apply: to suppose these the work of a copyist appears all but preposterous.
Next, a careful study shows repeatedly and unmistakably that these differences are not accidental; they arise from a fundamental distinction between the leading ideas in the two Epistles. The Epistle to the Ephesians is the exposition of the reality, the blessing, and the glory, of the Catholic Church as the body of Christ. The famous image of the spiritual temple (in which, perhaps, we may trace some recollection of that magnificent Temple of Artemis, “which all Asia and the world worshipped”) belongs to this Epistle (), and has no place in the other. The passage to which all else works up as a climax is Ephesians 4:4-6, on the “one Body and the one Spirit.” Even the ordinary moral duties and social relations of life are treated in Ephesians 4, 5 with a characteristic reference to this great principle of unity with man in Christ, which is wanting in the parallel passages of the Colossian Epistle. On the other hand, the Colossian Epistle, having to deal with an incipient Gnosticism, is specially emphatic on the sole headship and the true Godhead of Christ. Its great teaching is of Him, as “the image of the invisible God,” “in whom all the fulness (the pleroma) of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 1:15-17; Colossians 2:3-8; Colossians 2:10). The passage which occupies the chief place, corresponding to the great passage on Unity in the Ephesian Epistle, is that which dwells on our life as risen with Christ, and hid in God with Him, who Himself “is our life” (Colossians 3:1-4).
But besides this, it will be seen in the Notes on various passages that, on the one hand, in detailed passages parallel to each other, the similarity is almost always mingled with clear and characteristic difference, marking an independent coincidence; and on the other, that identical expressions occur again and again in entirely different contexts, and in different degrees of prominence. These are exactly the phenomena which we may expect when two letters are written at the same time to churches neither wholly identical nor wholly dissimilar in character, and under the guidance of distinct, yet complementary, ideas. They are wholly incompatible with dependence or deliberate copyism.
On this particular subject, therefore, I cannot but draw the same conclusion as on the general subject of the Epistles of the Captivity, viz., that the indirect evidence which has been thought to weaken, will be actually found to confirm the strong external evidence for the genuineness of the Epistle.
IV. The Contents of the Epistle.—The general character and substance of the Epistle have been already glanced at, both in the General Introduction and in the preceding sections of the Special Introduction, and they will be found to be treated in detail in the Notes on the chief passages of the Epistle itself. Full analyses, moreover, are given in each chapter.
It will be sufficient here simply to repeat that the Epistle falls into two great sections: Doctrinal and Practical. In both the one great subject is the UNITY IN CHRIST, in some sense of all created being, in a closer sense of humanity, in the closest and most sacred sense of the Holy Catholic Church.
In the doctrinal section (Ephesians 1:1 to Ephesians 4:16), we find this unity noticed in the first chapter as ordained in the eternal predestination of God’s love, and manifested in the actual communication to His members of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and glorification of Christ, their head. Next it is shown (in Ephesians 2) how the Gentiles are called into this regenerating unity out of the deadness of their old life; and thus at once brought into the covenant of God, and so united with His chosen people of Israel, that all alike, as living stones, are built into the great Temple of God. Then (in Ephesians 3), after an emphatic declaration of the newness of this mystery of grace, and of the special commission for the revelation of it entrusted to St. Paul, there follows a solemn and fervent Apostolic prayer for their knowledge of the mystery, not by human wisdom or thought, but by the indwelling light and grace of Christ. Finally, the whole is summed up in a grand passage (Ephesians 4:1-16), which brings out in perfect completeness the whole doctrine of this unity first in its grounds, its means, and its conditions; next in its variety of spiritual gifts; lastly, in the oneness of the object of all, in the reproduction of the life of Christ in the individual and the Church.
The practical section (Ephesians 4:17 to Ephesians 6:24) opens with an unique treatment of morality and of human relationship, as dependent upon the mysterious unity of man with man and of man with God. First (Ephesians 4:17 to Ephesians 5:21), that unity is made the basis of ordinary moral duties towards man, and the safeguard against the besetting sins of heathen society—bitterness, impurity, and reckless excess. Next (Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9), it is shown as the secret of the sacredness of earthly relations of marriage, of fatherhood, and of mastership. In the first case this idea is worked out with a transcendent beauty and solemnity, which have beyond all else hallowed Christian marriage; in the others it is more briefly touched upon, with a view chiefly to temper and soften the sternness of a recognised authority. Finally (Ephesians 6:10-24), this portion of the Epistle is wound up by a magnificent and elaborate description of the full panoply of God; and the Epistle then ends, briefly and rather vaguely, with commendation of Tychicus and a general form of salutation.
The general sketch of this wonderful Epistle will, perhaps, be best explained by the analysis here subjoined, shortened from the analyses of the various chapters.
1. Doctrinal Section.
(1) THE INTRODUCTION (Ephesians 1):
(a) Salutation ();
(b) Thanksgiving for the election of the whole Church in God’s love, given through redemption by unity with Christ, shown in the calling and faith both of Jew and Gentile ();
(c) Prayer for their fuller knowledge of this unity with the risen and ascended Christ, the Head of the whole Church ().
(2) THE CALL OF THE GENTILES (Ephesians 2):
(a) Out of the deadness of sin and power of Satan into the new life of the risen Christ, accepted in simple faith, wrought out in good works ();
(b) Out of alienation from the covenant, into perfect unity with God’s chosen people, all division being broken down, and full access given to the Father; so that Jew and Gentile alike, built on the one foundation, grow into the living Temple of God ().
(3) PRAYER FOR THEIR FULLER KNOWLEDGE (Ephesians 3):
(a) The mystery of the universal call, new in revelation, specially intrusted to St. Paul ();
(b) Prayer for their full knowledge of it (though passing knowledge) through the indwelling of Christ, accepted in faith and love ();
(c) Doxology to the Father through Christ Jesus ().
(4) FINAL SUMMARY OF DOCTRINE (Ephesians 4):
(a) The unity of the Church in one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of all ();
(b) The diversity of gifts in the glorified Christ ();
(c) The unity of the purpose of all, viz., the individual and corporate regeneration ().
2. Practical Section.
(1) THE NEW LIFE: learning Christ and growing unto His image ().
(2) CONQUEST OF SIN:
(a) The conquest of sin in general in virtue of the sense of unity with man in Christ ();
(b) Conquest of special besetting sins of malice, impurity, recklessness of excess (Ephesians 4:31; Ephesians 5:21).
(3) REGENERATION OF SOCIAL RELATIONS:
(a) The relation of husbands and wives consecrated as a type of union of Christ with His Church ();
(b) The relation of parents and children hallowed as in the Lord ();
(c) The relation of masters and servants made a brotherhood of service to one Master ().
(4) FINAL EXHORTATION:
The armour of God and the fight against the powers of evil ().
(a) Special desire of their prayers for him in his captivity ();
(b) Commendation of Tychicus ();
(c) Salutation and blessing ().
In conclusion I may add that it does not appear to me fanciful to suppose that the teaching of this Epistle has as special an applicability to our age as the teaching of the Galatian or Roman Epistles had to the sixteenth century. For in all spheres of life—the political, the social, and the ecclesiastical alike—it would seem that our prominent questions are not those of individualism, but of socialism in the true sense of the word. Society is contemplated in its corporate life; in its rights over the individual; in the great eternal principles which it truly embodies and partially represents; and, moreover, this contemplation has a breadth of scope which refuses to be confined within the limits of family, or nation, or age. Humanity itself is considered, both historically and philosophically, as only the highest element in the order of the universe, which is itself bound together in a unity of unbroken connection and continuous development. It is asked, What has Christianity to declare as a gospel to society at large, and as a key to the mysterious relation of humanity with creation, and so with Him who created it? To that question, perhaps, the answer is nowhere more truly given than in the Epistle to the Ephesians. We need a real and living unity; but it must be such as will preserve the equally sacred individuality of freedom. This Epistle presents it to us in its magnificent conception of the unity of all with God in the Lord Jesus Christ.
the Sixth Week after Easter