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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

- Ephesians

by Dr. Robert Utley



A. The truths of this book have impacted the lives of many saints

1. Samuel Coleridge called it "the most divine composition of man"

2. John Calvin called it his favorite book of the Bible

3. John Knox asked that Calvin's sermons on Ephesians be read to him on his deathbed

B. This book has been called the "crowning jewel," or capstone, of Paul's theology. All of the great themes of Paul started in Galatians, developed in Romans, and are now expressed in Ephesians in a wonderful summary fashion.

C. As God used Romans to instigate the Reformation, He will use Ephesians to reunite splintered churches and Christendom. Believers' unity and commonality in Christ far overshadow their differences.


A. Paul

1. Expressly stated in Ephesians 1:1, Ephesians 3:1

2. Reference to imprisonment (probably in Rome) in Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:20

3. Almost unanimous church tradition

a. Clement of Rome, in A.D. 95, wrote a letter to Corinth that quotes Ephesians 4:4-6

b. Ignatius (A.D. 30-107) quotes from Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 2:19; Ephesians 3:4-9

c. Polycarp (A.D. 65-155), the disciple of John the Apostle, and the bishop of Smyrna asserts Paul's authorship

d. Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200) asserts Paul's authorship

e. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-210) asserts Paul's authorship

4. It is listed in

a. Marcion's (who came to Rome in A.D. 140's) list of accepted books

b. Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 180-200), a list of canonical books from Rome and placed it in Paul's writings

5. The closings of both Colossians and Ephesians have 29 words that are almost exactly the same in Greek (there are two additional words in Colossians.).

B. Another Author

1. Erasmus was the first to doubt Paul's authorship based on

a. Style - long sentences that are very uncharacteristic of Paul's other letters

b. No personal greetings

c. Unique vocabulary

2. 18th-Century critical scholarship began to deny Paul's authorship

a. Several verses seem to be from a second generation believer, Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5

b. Theological words were used with differing definitions (example: "mystery")

c. Uniqueness of the genre of a cyclical or circular letter

C. Answers to Erasmus' points

1. The style is different because Paul had time to think when writing Ephesians while in prison.

2. The absence of a personal greeting is explained by the fact that Ephesians was a cyclical letter that was to be sent to many churches in the area. A Roman postal route which included Ephesus and the Lycus River Valley can be seen in Revelation 2-3. Paul wrote a twin letter, Colossians, to a specific group of three churches which included several personal greetings.

3. The number of unique words in the book of Ephesians is exactly the same as the number of unique words (hapax legomena) in the book of Romans. The purpose, subject matter, recipients and occasion explain the use of new words.

4. Paul speaks of "apostles and prophets" in 1 Corinthians 12:28, which is similar to Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 3:5. No one denies Paul's authorship of 1 Corinthians.


A. The historical relationship between Colossians and Ephesians

1. Epaphras (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; Philemon 1:23) was converted during Paul's Ephesian campaign (Acts 19:0)

a. He took his newly found faith back to his home area, the Lycus River Valley.

b. He started three churches-in Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae.

c. Epaphras sought Paul for advice on how to combat the merging of world-views by the heretics. Paul was in prison at Rome (early 60's).

2. False teachers came and began to merge the gospel with Greek ontology

a. spirit and matter were co-eternal

b. spirit (God) was good

c. matter (creation) was evil

d. a series of aeons (angelic levels) existed between the good high God and a lesser god who formed matter

e. salvation was based on knowledge of secret passwords which helped people progress through the aeons (angelic levels)

B. The literary relationship between Paul's two letters

1. Paul heard of the heresy in these churches which he had never visited personally from Epaphras.

2. Paul wrote a hard-hitting letter in short, emotional sentences, directed at the false teachers. The central theme was the cosmic lordship of Jesus. This is known as Paul's letter to the Colossians.

3. Apparently, soon after writing Colossians, with time on his hands in prison, he developed these same themes. Ephesians is characterized by long sentences and developed theological concepts (Ephesians 1:3-14, Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 2:1-10, Ephesians 2:14-18, Ephesians 2:19-22; Ephesians 3:1-12, Ephesians 3:14-19; Ephesians 4:11-16; Ephesians 6:13-20). It takes Colossians as a starting point and draws out its theological implications. Ephesians' central theme is the unity of all things in Christ, which was a contrast to the incipient Gnostic concept.

C. Related literary and theological structure

1. Similarity of the basic structure

a. they have very similar openings

b. they have doctrinal sections dealing primarily with Christ

c. they have practical sections admonishing Christian lifestyle using the same categories, terms and phrases

d. they have closing verses exactly alike in 29 consecutive words in Greek, with only two different words added in Colossians.

2. Similarity of words or short phrases

Ephesians 1:1c and Colossians 1:2aEphesians 1:4 and Colossians 1:22 Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14; Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 1:15 and Colossians 1:3-4; Ephesians 1:18 and Colossians 1:27Eph. 1:27 and Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:16 and Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 3:2 and Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 3:3 and Colossians 1:26, Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 4:3 and Colossians 3:14; Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10, Colossians 3:12, Colossians 3:14 Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 5:3 and Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:6 and Colossians 3:6 Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5"faithful""holy and blameless""redemption. . .forgiveness""all things. . .heaven. . .earth""heard. . .love for all the saints""the riches of the glory""head. . .church""you were dead""reconcile. . .cross""stewardship" "mystery""unity""head" and "grow""put on . . .""anger" "wrath" "malice" "slander""immorality" "impurity" "greed""idolatry" (coveting)"the wrath of God""making the most of the time"

3. Exact phrases or sentences

Ephesians 1:1a and Colossians 1:1a

Ephesians 1:1b and Colossians 1:2a

Ephesians 1:2a and Colossians 1:2b

Ephesians 1:13 and Colossians 1:5

Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13

Ephesians 2:5b and Colossians 2:13c

Ephesians 4:1b and Colossians 1:10a

Ephesians 6:21, Ephesians 6:22 and Colossians 4:7-9 (29 consecutive words except for "kai syndoulos" in Colossians)

4. Similar phrases or sentences

Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16

Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 1:13

Ephesians 2:16 and Colossians 1:20

Ephesians 3:7a and Colossians 1:23d, 25a

Ephesians 3:8 and Colossians 1:27

Ephesians 4:2 and Colossians 3:12

Ephesians 4:29 and Colossians 3:8; Colossians 4:6

Ephesians 5:15 and Colossians 4:5

Ephesians 5:19, Ephesians 5:20 and Colossians 3:16

5. Theologically synonymous concepts

Ephesians 1:3 and Colossians 1:3; Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:12 and Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 4:1 and Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:19 and Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8 Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12-13; Ephesians 5:4 and Colossians 3:8 Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 Ephesians 5:20 and Colossians 3:17 Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 3:19; Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20; Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 3:22; Ephesians 6:9 and Colossians 4:1 Ephesians 6:18 and Colossians 4:2-4 a prayer of thanksalienation from Godhostility of Lawworthy walkChrist's body growing to maturity from its Headsexual impurity"lay aside" sinsChristians kind to one anotherChristian speechfilling of Spirit = word of Christthanksgiving to God for all thingswives be subject to husbandshusbands love your wiveschildren obey your parentsfathers do not provoke childrenslaves obey mastersmasters and slavesPaul's request for prayer

6. Terms and phrases used in both Colossians and Ephesians which are not found in other Pauline literature

a. "fullness" (which was the Gnostic term for the angelic levels)

Ephesians 1:23 Ephesians 3:19 Ephesians 4:13 Colossians 1:19 Colossians 2:9 "the fullness of Him who fills all in all""be filled up to all the fullness of God""to the fullness of Christ""for all the fullness to dwell in Him""for in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells"

b. Christ as "Head" of the church

Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19

c. "alienated"

Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18 and Colossians 1:21

d. "redeeming the time"

Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5

e. "rooted"

Ephesians 3:17 and Colossians 1:5

f. "the word of truth, the gospel"

Ephesians 1:13 and Colossians 1:5

g. "forbearing"

Ephesians 4:2 and Colossians 3:13

h. unusual phrasing and terms ("held together," "supply")

Ephesians 4:16 and Colossians 2:19

D. Summary

1. Over one third of the words in Colossians are in Ephesians. It has been estimated that 75 of the 155 verses in Ephesians have a parallel in Colossians. Both claim Paul's authorship while in prison.

2. Both were delivered by Paul's friend Tychicus.

3. Both were sent to the same area (Asia Minor).

4. Both deal with the same Christological topic.

5. Both emphasize Christ as head of the church.

6. Both encourage appropriate Christian living.

E. Major Points of Dissimilarity

1. The church was always local in Colossians but universal in Ephesians. This may be due to the cyclical nature of the letter of Ephesians.

2. Heresy, which was such a prominent feature of Colossians, is not directly mentioned in Ephesians. However, both letters use characteristic Gnostic terms ("wisdom," "knowledge," "fullness," "mystery," "principalities and powers" and "stewardship.")

3. The second coming is immediate in Colossians but delayed in Ephesians. The church was, and is, called to serve in a fallen world. (Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:21; Ephesians 4:13).

4. Several characteristically Pauline terms are used differently. One example is the term "mystery." In Colossians the mystery is Christ (Colossians 1:26-27; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 4:3), but in Ephesians (Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 5:32) it is God's previously hidden, but now revealed, plan for the unity of Gentiles and Jews.

5. Ephesians has several Old Testament allusions (Ephesians 1:22 -- Psalms 8:0; Ephesians 2:17-- Isaiah 57:19) (Ephesians 2:20 -- Psalms 118:22) (Ephesians 4:8 -- Psalms 68:18) (Ephesians 4:26 -- Psalms 4:4) Ephesians 5:15 -- Isaiah 26:19, Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 52:1, Isaiah 60:1) (Ephesians 5:31 -- Genesis 2:24) (Ephesians 6:2-3 -- Exodus 20:12) (Ephesians 6:14 -- Isaiah 11:5, Isaiah 59:17) (Ephesians 6:15 -- Isaiah 52:7) but there are only one or two in Colossians, Colossians 2:3 -- Isaiah 11:2, and possibly Colossians 2:22 -- Isaiah 29:13.

F. Though very similar in words, phrases and often outline, the letters also include unique truths.

1. The Trinitarian blessing of grace - Ephesians 1:3-14

2. The grace passage - Ephesians 2:1-10

3. The merging of Jews and Gentiles into one new body - Ephesians 2:11-13

4. The unity and giftedness of the body of Christ - Ephesians 4:1-16

5. "Christ and the church" are the pattern for "husband and wife" Ephesians 5:22-33

6. The spiritual warfare passage - Ephesians 6:10-18

7. The Christological passage - Colossians 1:13-18

8. Human religious ritual and rules - Colossians 2:16-23

9. The theme of the cosmic significance of Christ in Colossians versus the theme of the unity of all things in Christ in Ephesians

G. In conclusion, it seems best to follow A. T. Robertson and F. F. Bruce in asserting that Paul wrote both letters in close proximity by developing the thoughts of Colossians into a capstone presentation of truth.


A. The date of this letter is linked to one of Paul's imprisonments in Ephesus, Philippi, Caesarea, or Rome. A Roman imprisonment best fits the facts of Acts.

B. Once Rome is assumed to be the place of imprisonment, the question arises, which time? Paul was in jail in the early 60's, which is recorded in Acts, but he was released and wrote the Pastoral letters (I & 2 Timothy and Titus) and was then rearrested and killed before June 9, A.D. 68, which was the date of Nero's suicide.

C. The best educated guess for the writing of Ephesians is Paul's first imprisonment in Rome in the early 60's.

D. Tychicus, along with Onesimus, probably took the letters of Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon to Asia Minor.

E. Possible chronology of Paul's writings following F. F. Bruce and Murry Harris with minor adaptions.

Book DatePlace of WritingRelation to Acts
1Galatians48Syrian AntiochActs 14:28; Acts 15:2
21 Thessalonians50CorinthActs 18:5
32 Thessalonians50Corinth
41 Corinthians55EphesusActs 19:20
52 Corinthians56MacedoniaActs 20:2
6Romans57CorinthActs 20:3
7-10Prison Letters
Colossiansearly 60'sRome
Philemonearly 60'sRome
Ephesiansearly 60'sRome
Philippianslate 62-63RomeActs 28:30-31
11-13Fourth Missionary Journey Ephesus (?)
1 Timothy63 (or later,Macedonia
Titus63 but before
2 Timothy64 A.D. 68)Rome


A. Many manuscripts (Chester Beatty Papyri, P46; Sinaiticus, א; Vaticanus, B; Origen's Greek text, and Tertullain's Greek text) omit "in Ephesus" in Ephesians 1:1. The RSV and Williams translations omit the phrase.

B. The Greek grammar of Ephesians 1:1 can accommodate a place name. Possibly, as a circular letter, the place name of the church was left blank so it could be supplied when read aloud to the churches. This might explain the phrase in Colossians 4:15-16, "letter from the Laodiceans," which was possibly the Book of Ephesians (Marcion called Ephesians by the title "letter to the Laodiceans").

C. Ephesians was written primarily to Gentiles, Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 4:17, whom Paul had not personally met, Ephesians 1:15; Ephesians 3:2. The churches in the Lycus River Valley (Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae) were started, not by Paul, but by Epaphras (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; Philemon 1:23).


A. The theme of the book is found in Ephesians 1:10 and Ephesians 4:1-10, which emphasizes the unity of all things in Christ. Christ restores the image of God in humanity and in the world (kosmos).

B. The doctrinal section of chapters 1-3 can be outlined as:

The Trinity's Gracious Character and Provisions for Sinful Mankind

1. God's Trinitarian nature (Ephesians 1:3-14)

2. God's gracious character (Ephesians 2:1-10)

3. God's eternal plan of redemption (Ephesians 2:11-13)

C. Ephesians is one of Paul's four prison letters. The outlines of Ephesians and Colossians are very similar. Colossians was written to combat the heresy of incipient Gnosticism in the Lycus River Valley of Asia Minor. Ephesians was written as a circular letter to the same area to prepare the other churches for the coming heresy. Colossians is a terse, hard-hitting letter, while Ephesians is an extended logical presentation of the same truths using very long sentences: (Ephesians 1:3-14, Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 2:1-9; Ephesians 3:1-7, etc.).


A. The book naturally divides into two parts (as do most of Paul's writings)

1. Unity in Christ, chapters 1-3 (theology)

2. Unity in the Church, chapters 4-6 (application)

B. Suggested thematic outline

1. Traditional Pauline opening, Ephesians 1:1-2

2. The Father's plan for the unity of all things in Christ, Ephesians 1:3-21

a. Paul's praise to the Father, Ephesians 1:3-14

(1) for the Father's love before time

(2) for the Father's love in His Son at the right time

(3) for the Father's continuing love by the Spirit through time

b. Paul's prayer to the Father for the churches, Ephesians 1:15-23

(1) for the Father's revelation in Christ to be understood

(2) for the Father's power to work powerfully in believers

(3) for the Father's elevation of Christ above all things

c. Paul's understanding of the Father's plan for all humanity, Ephesians 2:1-13

(1) sinful mankind's need

(2) the Father's gracious provision

(3) mankind's needed covenantal response

(4) the Father's plan fully revealed

d. Paul's prayer to the Father for the believers, Ephesians 3:14-21

(1) to receive inner strength (by the Spirit)

(2) to fully understand the gospel (not in propositional truths only) in experience and love

(3) to be filled with the fullness of God (which is Christ)

(4) all this from the God Who is able

3. The Father's desire for the unity of His new people, Ephesians 4:1-20

a. The unity of the Triune God is reflected in the unity of His children, Ephesians 4:1-16

(1) unity is not uniformity, but lifestyle love

(2) Deity is a tri-une unity

(3) spiritual gifts are for the good of the body, not individual honor

(4) unity demands ministry

(5) unity is under angelic attack

(6) unity is in Christ

b. Christian unity contrasted with pagan self-centeredness, Ephesians 4:17-14

(1) lay aside the deeds of the old life

(2) put on Christlikeness

c. The means of accomplishing and maintaining unity, Ephesians 5:15-9

(1) ever be filled with the Spirit

(2) the Spirit-filled life described

(a) five participles, Ephesians 5:19-21

(b) three domestic examples

i. husbands - wives

ii. parents - children

iii. masters - slaves

d. The struggle for Christlike unity, Ephesians 6:10-20

(1) the spiritual battle

(2) God's armor

(3) prayer's power

4. Closing remarks, Ephesians 6:21-24


A. Gnostic beliefs of the first and second centuries:

1. An ontological (eternal) dualism between spirit (God) and matter (physical things).

2. Spirit was good, while matter was evil.

3. A series of angelic levels (aeons) between a holy high God and a lesser god who structured evil matter.

4. The path to salvation

a. knowledge of the secret password which allowed movement through the angelic spheres from earth to heaven

b. a divine spark in all men although all would not understand or receive saving knowledge

c. knowledge came only to an elite group by special revelation

5. Ethics (two types of Gnostics)

a. totally unrelated to the spiritual life (libertarians, antinomians)

b. crucial to salvation (legalists).

B. Contradictions with historical, biblical Christianity

1. separating the humanity and Deity of Christ (Gnostics said He could not be fully God and fully human)

2. removing His vicarious death as the only way of salvation

3. substituting human knowledge for free divine grace.

READING CYCLE ONE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words (reading cycle #1).

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects (reading cycle #2) and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

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