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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Ephesians

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic


Galatians, Ephesians
Philippians, Colossians


I.-II. Thessalonians

By the

Author of the Commentaries on Kings, Psalms (CXXI.–CXXX.), Lamentations, Ezekiel, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

New York




Church Seasons: Advent, Ephesians 5:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:13 b; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:5. Christmas, Galatians 4:4. Lent, Colossians 2:21-23; Colossians 3:5-9. Good Friday, Galatians 1:4; Galatians 6:14-15; Philippians 2:8; Colossians 2:15. St. Mark’s Day, Ephesians 4:7. Ascension Day, Ephesians 4:9-10; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 3:1-2. Whit Sunday, Galatians 5:22-26, Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13. Trinity Sunday, Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 4:4-6.

Holy Communion: Ephesians 2:19; Ephesians 3:15; Colossians 3:17.

Missions to Heathen: Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 2:11-12; Ephesians 3:1-6. Bible Society, Ephesians 6:17.

Evangelistic Services: Ephesians 1:7-8; Ephesians 2:1-9; Colossians 1:13-14; Colossians 2:13-14.

Special: Ordination, Galatians 1:10; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 3:7-9; Ephesians 4:11-12; Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 1:25-27; Colossians 1:28-29; Colossians 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Workers, Galatians 1:6; Ephesians 4:11-12; Philippians 4:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 3:13. Baptism, Galatians 3:26-29; Colossians 2:12. Confirmation, Ephesians 2:20-22. Harvest, Galatians 6:7-9. Temperance, Ephesians 5:18. Friendly Society, Galatians 6:2. Death, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. Parents, Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:23-25. Young, Ephesians 6:1-4; Philippians 1:10 b. Worship, Ephesians 5:19-21; Almsgiving, Galatians 2:10; Galatians 6:2; Galatians 6:10; Philippians 4:15-16.


Readers to whom the epistle was sent.—In the two most ancient copies of the Scriptures which we possess—dating from the fourth century of our era—the words in our A.V. (Ephesians 1:1), “at Ephesus,” are missing; and Basil the Great, who lived in the fourth century, says he had seen copies which, “ancient” even at that early date, spoke of the readers as “those who are, and the faithful in Christ Jesus.” When it is observed, however, that Basil still says in that passage the apostle is “writing to the Ephesians,” in all honesty we must admit another interpretation of his words to be possible.

Add to these early witnesses that Ephesus is not named in the text the further fact that, though St. Paul had lived and laboured between two and three years in Ephesus, there is absolutely no mention of any name of those with whom he had been associated, and what on the assumption of the Ephesian destination of the epistle is stranger still, no reference to the work, unless we may be allowed to regard the “sealing with the Holy Spirit of promise” as a reminiscence of Acts 19:1-7.

We must not make too much, however, of this absence of personal greetings. Tychicus can do, vivâ voce, all that needs to be done in that way. St. Paul had been “received as an angel of God, or even as Christ Jesus,” by Galatians, not one of whom is mentioned in the letter sent to the Galatians.

Certain expressions in the body of the letter are strange if the Ephesian Christians were the first readers of it. In Ephesians 1:15 the apostle says, “After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus.” One asks, “Did not the faith which ‘cometh by hearing’ result from Paul’s preaching in Ephesus? Then how can he speak of hearing of it?” It may be answered, “Does not Paul say to Philemon, ‘Thou owest unto me thine own self’ (Philemon 1:19), and yet says (Philemon 1:5) that, hearing of his love and faith, he thanks God?” Moreover, has any one quite demonstrated the impossibility of this faith being the continuity of that which began with the abjuration of magic in a costly offering of fifty thousand pieces of silver? (Acts 19:17-20). “Faith” may take the form of fidelity as easily as of credence.

Again, in Ephesians 3:2 Paul, at the word “Gentiles,” enters into a digression about his specific commission as their apostle. Just as to the Galatian Church he expatiates on the special grace bestowed by God and recognised by the “pillars” of the Church, so here he magnifies his office, and his words here no more prove that he had never seen his readers than the section of Galatians (Ephesians 2:6-9) proves that he did not know the Galatians. Even supposing they did, it surely would not be an astonishing thing that in the ever-shifting population of a seaport many may have joined the Church since St. Paul was in Ephesus. That this was the place to which St. Paul sent his messenger with the letter before us cannot be demonstratively shown; but we feel something like conviction by considering: (a) That the preponderant evidence of the MSS. says “Ephesus”; (b) that the versions are unanimous as an echo of the MSS.; (c) that the entire ancient Church has spoken of the epistle as “to the Ephesians,” Marcion’s voice being the only exception; (d) the improbability of St. Paul writing “to the saints which are” without adding the name of some place; (e) “Ephesus” more easily meets internal difficulties than any other place. This, in substance, is Bishop Ellicott’s view. Still, we cannot regard it as impossible that “Ephesus” may comprise many Churches in the vicinity, and therefore regard the letter as really encyclical, even though it were proved that St. Paul wrote “to the saints at Ephesus.”

Analysis of the epistle

Ephesians 1:1-2.

Salutation. Joy and well-being to those in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3-14.

Hymn of praise to the Father, who worked out in Christ His pre-temporal designs of beneficence, and gave pledge of the yet more glorious consummation of His divine will in the bestowal of the Holy Ghost.

Ephesians 1:15-23.

Thanksgiving of the apostle over their fidelity, and his prayer for their complete illumination in the incorporation of the Gentiles in the mystical body of Christ, “the Head.”

Ephesians 2:1-10.

The power that delivered Christ from bodily corruption in the tomb saved His members out of the corruption of fleshly lusts, thus silencing every human boast and magnifying the divine grace.

Ephesians 2:11-22.

Wholesome reminder of their former distance from Christ as contrasted with present union with Him, and union with the Jews in Him, being led to the Father with them.

Ephesians 3:1-13.

Paul’s familiar statement of the origin of his apostolate as specially commissioned—“ambassador extraordinary” to the Gentiles.

Ephesians 3:14-19.

Prayer that by “power and faith and love” they may grasp “the mystery,” and become brimful of love divine.

Ephesians 3:20-21.

Doxology to the doctrinal half of the epistle.

Ephesians 4:1-16.

Exhortation to a practical observation of this doctrinal unity by the thought that every member of Christ is necessary in its full development to the perfection of the body of which Christ is the Head.

Ephesians 4:17-24.

Casting off the old and putting on the new man.

Ephesians 4:25 to Ephesians 5:21

Exhortation to conduct in harmony with the new nature.

Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9.

Relative duties of wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters.

Ephesians 6:10-18.

The Christian panoply.

Ephesians 6:19-20.

Apostle’s request for prayers.

Ephesians 6:21-22.


Ephesians 6:23-24.

A twin doxology, reversing the order of the salutation—“Peace and grace.”

Genuineness of the epistle.—Dr. Ellicott sums up the matter briefly by saying, “There is no just ground on which to dispute the genuineness.” Arguments based on certain expressions in the body of the letter have been speciously urged against its genuineness by De Wette and others; and Holzmann has “learnedly maintained that the epistle is only the expansion of a short letter to the Colossians by some writer about the close of the first century” (Godet).

“We have, on the one hand, subjective arguments, not unmixed with arrogance, but devoid of sound historical basis; on the other hand, unusually convincing counter-investigations and the unvarying testimony of the ancient Church.” Adverse arguments have been answered so satisfactorily and sometimes so crushingly as to leave no room for doubt. Those who cannot read the epistle without being moved by the peculiar loftiness, by the grandeur of conception, by the profound insight, by the eucharistic inspiration they recognise in it, will require strong evidence to persuade them that it was written by some other man who wished it to pass as St. Paul’s.

The practical design of the epistle.—The object is to set forth the ground, course, aim, and end of the Church of the faithful in Christ. The Ephesians are a sample of the Church universal. The key to the epistle may be found in the opening sentence (Galatians 6:3). Fixing his eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle opens his mind to the blessings which radiate forth from Him, and from the Father through Him, upon the whole world. The mind of God towards men unveiled in Christ, the relation of men towards God exhibited in Christ, the present spiritual connection of men with Christ, the hopes of which Christ is the ground and assurance, the laws imposed by the life of Christ upon human life—these are the blessings for which he gives thanks. Christ embracing humanity in Himself is the subject of the epistle. St. Paul tells with strict faithfulness what he has read and seen in Christ; Christ fills the whole sphere of his mind.

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