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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Ephesians, Book of

(e' fee' shuhnss) While it is not the longest of the Pauline Epistles, Ephesians is the one which best sets out the basic concepts of the Christian faith. It is one of four epistles classified as “Imprisonment Epistles” and has been called “The Queen of the Epistles.”

Paul and the Ephesians Precise information on the introduction of Christianity to Ephesus is not available. From Acts 13:1-14:28 we know Christianity was introduced to the Asian peninsula early. Paul and Barnabas, during the first missionary journey about A.D. 45-48, established Christianity in Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Phrygia. The newly-established religion moved inevitably westward to the coast and to the flourishing city of Ephesus, a city of multiple religions, gods, and goddesses.

At the close of his second missionary journey about A.D. 49-52, Paul left Achaia (Greece) taking Aquila and Priscilla with him. They stopped at Ephesus and surveyed the situation in that city where religions flourished. The Ephesians urged Paul to stay there, but he declined. Leaving Aquila and Priscilla and perhaps Timothy there to carry on the Christian witness (Acts 18:18-21 ), Paul sailed to Antioch. He returned to Ephesus during a third missionary journey and experienced the triumph over the challenge of Jewish religious leaders as well as that of the Greco-Roman religions represented in the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis (Roman name—Diana; Acts 19:24 ).

His ministry in Ephesus lasted three years (Acts 20:31 ). From there he journeyed to Jerusalem where he was arrested by the Jews and turned over to the Romans. He was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years (Acts 21:15-26:32 ). He was sent to Rome where he was imprisoned for another two years (Acts 27:1-28:31 ).

Interpreters are divided in opinion as to the time and place of the writing of Ephesians. These two imprisonments of Paul are the only ones which might bear on the question of where and when the Imprisonment Epistles were written. In all four of these epistles, Paul mentioned his imprisonment. In Ephesians and Colossians he made no mention of any prospect of release. He referred only to messengers whom he had sent to inform the churches of his situation. In Philippians, he reflected very little anticipation of release. He seemed to doubt that he would be released, but he expressed hope that he might be in order that he might once more be of service to them. In Philemon, he seemed to be very confident that he would be released; he even urged Philemon to prepare the guestroom for him.

This poses a question as to the order of his writing. Was Philippians written first when he had little hope of release and Philemon later when gloom had given way to strong hope and optimism for release? Or was it the opposite? Was Philemon written first when Paul was optimistic about release and then Philippians later when hope for release had passed? Every interpreter must weigh the evidence and draw personal conclusions.

A related and much debated question is the year of Paul's writing each epistle and the place. To our knowledge only two places appear to be viable options—Caesarea and Rome. Majority opinion through Christian history has favored Rome. A much smaller minority of interpreters have argued for Caesarea. The case for Caesarea has been posited on speculative questions such as: (1) Would it be easier for Paul to get letters to the three places involved (Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi) from Caesarea or from Rome? (2) Would it be easier for the runaway slave, Onesimus, to meet Paul in a prison in faraway Rome or the much closer Caesarea?

A third opinion has grown out of Colossians 4:16 in which Paul urged the church at Colosse to exchange letters with the church at neighboring Laodicea so both might get the benefit of both letters. This opinion, which was never widely held, took the position that Paul was writing from an imprisonment in Ephesus and that the “Laodicean” letter was what we have as “Ephesians.” It is regarded as a circular letter to be sent to multiple churches. Each church in public reading would substitute its own name where our letter has “Ephesians.” This view requires an imprisonment in Ephesus for which we have no solid evidence. Some interpreters holding this viewpoint to 1 Corinthians 15:32 in which Paul wrote of his having “fought with beasts at Ephesus.” Most interpreters understand this as Paul's metaphorical reference to the struggle with the fanatical worshipers of Artemis.

Careful review of this very extensive and complex issue leaves the subjective opinion that all four Prison Epistles were written by Paul during his imprisonment in Rome about A.D. 61-62. Also subjective is the opinion that they were written in this order: Ephesians A.D. 61; Colossians A.D. 61; Philemon A.D. 61; Philippians A.D. 62. The only fairly certain date here is A.D. 61 for Colossians and Philemon. They were dispatched together and very closely interrelated. Too, Colosse was destroyed by earthquake in either A.D. 61 or 62. Unlike neighboring Laodicea, Colosse was never built back. It is highly unlikely that Paul would have written a letter to the church after that devastation.

Introduction to the Epistle Paul's experiences in Ephesus combined with the work of his associates qualified him for writing to that church the Queen of the Epistles. Granting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as the compelling reason for his writing this epistle as well as the related epistle to the Colossians, from the life-situation in the Mediterranean world of the first century A.D., what was the apostle's motive for writing? His motive was the challenge which Christianity faced in confrontation with other religions and philosophies of the day. Paul was convinced that the religion he proclaimed was the only way of redemption from sin and sonship to God.

The challenge was the struggle for human minds as they sought the “good life.” Even in Judaism, the cradle in which it was born, Christianity faced that aggressive encounter. Wherever the Hebrew People went, they took their religion, their worship, their study forms, and their pattern of life. Paul encountered bitter hostility and aggressive opposition from them.

Paul opposed a Judaism he considered to have become a religion of human attainment, doing the works of the law as a means of being right with God. He offered instead Christianity as a religion of divine provision, salvation by faith in God's providing what humans could never attain.

That distinction was also what brought Christianity into conflict with Greek philosophy and with the Greco-Roman nature religions. The Christian view is that the “good life” comes by faith, not by intellectual processes, speculations, and rules of conduct in the integration of personality.

Analysis of the Epistle: Theology and Ethics Following the pattern of all of his epistles, Paul introduced himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God—not by human will, not even by his own will, but God's will. That was the driving force in his life. He addressed himself “to the saints which are at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1 ). The word translated saints is an adjective meaning “holy ones,” ones who are set apart as God's people. He referred to them also as “the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

The expression “at Ephesus” is not in the oldest manuscripts of Ephesians, but it is in many of the best ones. Its absence has led to speculation that in writing the epistle Paul left a blank space, that he meant the epistle to be a circular one to go to several churches. As the epistle was read in the churches, the public reader would insert the name of that church; such as, at Laodicea, at Hierapolis, at Colosse, etc. Indeed one manuscript of about the middle of the second century had “at Laodicea” in that place. See Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:16 for Paul's reference to his love for the church at Laodicea and his having sent a letter to them.

“Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:2 ) is in all of Paul's epistles. It is always in that order, grace and peace. Grace is the work of the Father by which salvation from sin comes. Peace is the condition of the believer's heart after grace has done its work. They are in that order because there can be no peace in the heart until grace has done its work.

Following a frequently used pattern in Paul's epistles, two basic themes are developed. First there is a major section on some theological theme. Second there follows a major section in ethics growing out of the theological theme. In the New Testament, theology and ethics are bound together; they are never to be separated.

In his theological part (Ephesians 1:13-3:21 ) Paul centered attention on the plan and propagation of redemption. He began with a literary pattern of a poem or song to praise God for what He has done in providing salvation for sinful humanity. The provision of redemption is presented as the work of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A refrain “to the praise of the glory of His grace” repeats itself after each section, each with a slight variation.

Paul turned to thanksgiving to show the blessings of redemption (Ephesians 1:15-2:10 ). He wanted his readers to know Christ better, the Christ who enables believers to have the incomparable power that resurrected Christ and that now rules in this age and the one to come. This power can come to persons who were dead in sin but are saved by grace, being raised up with Christ to participate in His rule but also to live out of grace in the good works God has planned for His people to do.

Paul turned to the language of imperative to explain the propagation of redemption (Ephesians 2:11-3:21 ). A people without hope, separated from the people of the covenant have been brought to salvation through the blood of Christ. Thus unity of all races is accomplished through Him. In the cross He brought peace and provided access to God through the one Holy Spirit. All are joined together in Christ's church built on the foundation of the apostles and serving as the residence of God the Spirit. This good news is a mystery, a mystery God calls people to share with other people through His grace and a mystery which allows all people to approach God in confidence and freedom.

Paul turned to prayer to conclude this section and reveal the goal of redemption (Ephesians 3:14-21 ). His prayer was that Christ may dwell in the believers who will be rooted in love and can grasp the marvelous greatness of that love.

In his ethical part (Ephesians 4:1-6:24 ) Paul looked at the application of redemption to the church, to personal life, and to domestic life. Ethical imperatives dominate the section. He sought unity in the Spirit—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. Within the unity he celebrated the diversity of the individuals within the church, a diversity stemming from the differing gifts Christ gives. The use of the gifts within the church leads to maturity for the church and its members. Maturity involves growing in Christ, in His love, each doing the work Christ gives and not seeking to do the work assigned another.

This has consequences for personal life, calling for a complete transformation from the life-styles of unbelievers. Without faith the individual is devoted to selfish lust and earthly dissipation. The believer becomes like God in holiness, purity, and righteousness. A central element of this is human speech, speaking the truth and saying that which helps build up others. Anger and malice must turn to love, compassion, and forgiveness. Walking in the light means pleasing God and showing the sinfulness of evil deeds. This is the wise path avoiding spirits that make one drunk but turning to the one Spirit which leads to praise and worship. This changes one's role at home. Submission to one another becomes the key, a submission motivated by loyalty to Christ and love to the marital partner. That love follows the example of Christ's love for His church. Parents expect honor from children while training children in the Lord's way of love. Similarly, masters and servants respect and help one another.

To complete his letter, Paul called his readers to put on God's armor to avoid Satan's temptations. This will lead to a life of prayer for self and for other servants of God. This will lead to concern for and encouragement from other Christians. As usual, Paul concluded his letter with a benediction, praying for peace, love, faith, and grace for his beloved readers.


I. Salutation: The apostle greets the church (Ephesians 1:1-2 ).

II. Theology: The plan of redemption leads to the propagation of redemption (Ephesians 1:3-3:21 )

A. The plan of redemption (Ephesians 1:3-14 )

1. The work of the Father: He has blessed and chosen us in Christ, predestining us for sonship in Him (Ephesians 1:3-6 ).

2. The work of the Son: He brings redemption and forgiveness from sin through His blood (Ephesians 1:7-12 ).

3. The work of the Spirit: He seals us as God's cherished possession (Ephesians 1:13-14 ).

B. The blessings of redemption (Ephesians 1:15-2:10 )

1. A clear insight into the nature of redemption (Ephesians 1:15-19 )

2. A full insight into the nature of Christ (Ephesians 1:20-23 )

3. A transition from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-9 )

4. A life of good works wrought out in Christ (Ephesians 2:10 )

C. The propagation of redemption (Ephesians 2:11-3:21 )

1. Redemption is for all without regard to race (Ephesians 2:11-13 ).

2. Redemption makes all people one in Christ (Ephesians 2:14-22 ).

3. Redemption is to be revealed to people through other people (Ephesians 3:1-13 ).

4. Redemption has a goal: revelation of the nature of God's love through Christ (Ephesians 3:14-21 ).

III. Ethics: Redemption is applied in church life, personal life, and domestic life (Ephesians 4:1-6:24 ).

A. The application of redemption in church life (Ephesians 4:1-16 )

1. The Holy Spirit produces unity (Ephesians 4:1-6 ).

2. Christ provides a diversity of gifts (Ephesians 4:7-11 ).

3. The Spirit's unity and Christ's gifts result in maturity (Ephesians 4:12-16 ).

B. The application of redemption in personal life (Ephesians 4:17-5:21 )

1. Desires and practices of old life are ended (Ephesians 4:17-32 ).

2. In the new way of life the redeemed learn to walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-5 ).

3. In the new way of life the redeemed learn to walk in light (Ephesians 5:6-14 ).

4. In the new way of life the redeemed learn to walk in wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-21 ).

C. The application of redemption in domestic life (Ephesians 5:22-6:9 )

1. Mutual duties of husbands and wives to each other (Ephesians 5:22-33 )

2. Mutual duties of parents and children to each other (Ephesians 6:1-4 )

3. Mutual duties of masters and servants to each other (Ephesians 6:5-9 )

IV. Conclusion: Prepare for the spiritual conflict of life (Ephesians 6:10-24 ).

A. Know God is your Ally and Satan your enemy (Ephesians 6:10-12 ).

B. Put on the armor God supplies (Ephesians 6:13-17 ).

C. Pray for boldness for Christian leaders (Ephesians 6:18-20 ).

D. Communicate with and encourage one another (Ephesians 6:21-22 ).

E. Live under God's benediction of peace, love, faith, and grace (Ephesians 6:23-24 ).

Ray Summers

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Ephesians, Book of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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