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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Ephesians, Epistle to

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EPHESIANS, EPISTLE TO . This Epistle belongs to the group of Epistles of the Captivity, and was almost certainly, if genuine, written from Rome, and sent by Tychicus at the same time as the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (see Colossians).

1. Destination . To whom was it addressed? That it was specifically written to the Ephesian Church is improbable, for two reasons (1) The words ‘at Ephesus’ in Ephesians 1:1 are absent from two of the earliest MSS, and apparently from the Epistle as known to Marcion (a.d. 140), who refers to it as addressed to the Laodiceans. Origen also had access to a copy of the Epistle from which they were absent. (2) The Epistle is almost entirely devoid of the personal touches references to St. Paul’s long stay at Ephesus, greetings to friends, etc. that we should expect to find in an Epistle to a Church with which the Apostle’s relations had been as close as they had been with the Ephesian Church. On the other hand, early tradition, as shown in the title, associated the Epistle with Ephesus, and, except Marcion, no early writer associated it with any other Church. Moreover, personal touches are not wholly absent. St. Paul has heard of the faith and love of those to whom he writes ( Ephesians 1:15 ); they had been saddened by news of his imprisonment ( Ephesians 3:13 ); they apparently know Tychicus ( Ephesians 6:21-22 ). Perhaps the best explanation of all the facts is to be found in the suggestion made by Ussher, and adopted by Lightfoot ( Biblical Essays ), that the Epistle is really a circular letter to the Churches of Asia (cf. the First Epistle of St. Peter). Possibly the space where ‘at Ephesus’ now appears was left blank for Tychicus to fill in as he left copies of the letter at the various churches on his line of route. If this solution is the true one, this Epistle is most probably the letter referred to in Colossians 4:16 .

2. Purpose . This Epistle, unlike most of St. Paul’s, does not appear to have been written with a view to any particular controversy or problem of Church life. Of all the Pauline Epistles it has most of the character of a treatise or homily. Its keynote is the union of the Christian body, Jewish and Gentile, in Christ, in whom all things are being fulfilled. It may be regarded as carrying on the doctrinal teaching of the Epistle to the Romans from the point reached in that Epistle; and, indeed, may not improbably have been so intended by St. Paul.

3. Authenticity . The authenticity of the Epistle is well attested by external testimony, but has been disputed during the last century on internal grounds. The chief of these are (1) Difference of style from the earlier Epistles . This is very marked, but ( a ) the style is like that of the Epistle to the Colossians, and resembles also the Epistle to the Philippians; ( b ) there are many definitely Pauline phrases and turns of expression; ( c ) arguments from style are always unreliable (see Colossians). (2) Doctrinal differences . The chief of these are: ( a ) the prominence given to the ‘Catholic’ idea of the Church; ( b ) the doctrine of the pre-existent Christ as the agent of creation; ( c ) the substitution of the idea of the gradual fulfilment of the Divine purpose for the earlier idea of an imminent return ( Parousia ) of Christ. In these and other directions there is certainly a development, but is it not such a development as might easily take place in the mind of St. Paul, especially when three years of imprisonment had given him opportunities for quiet thought, and had brought him into contact with Roman imperialism at its centre? (3) The references to ‘apostles and prophets’ in Ephesians 3:5 , Ephesians 4:11 , which seem to suggest that the writer is looking back on the Apostolic age from the standpoint of the next generation. But in 1 Corinthians 12:28 ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ stand first in the order of spiritual gifts, and both there and here the word ‘apostle’ ought probably to be taken in a wider sense than as including only the Twelve and St. Paul. Apostles and prophets were the two kinds of teachers exercising general, as distinguished from localized, authority in the early Church.

Those who deny the genuineness of the Epistle have generally regarded it as the work of a disciple of St. Paul early in the 2nd century. Some critics admit the genuineness of Colossians, and regard this Epistle as a revised version drawn up at a later date. But the absence of any reference to the special theological controversies of the 2nd century, and of any obvious motive for the composition of the Epistle at a later time, make this theory difficult to accept. Nor is it easy to see how an Epistle purporting to be by St. Paul, that had not been in circulation during his lifetime, could have secured a place in the collection of his Epistles that began to be made very soon after his death (2 Peter 3:16 ). There does not, then, seem to be any adequate ground for denying the Pauline authorship of this Epistle.

4. Characteristics . The following are among the distinctive lines of thought of the Epistle. (1) The stress laid on the idea of the Church as the fulfilment of the eternal purpose of God the body of which Christ is the head ( Ephesians 1:23 , Ephesians 2:16 , Ephesians 3:6 , Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16 ), the building of which Christ is the corner-stone ( Ephesians 2:20-22 ), the bride ( Ephesians 5:23-27 ). (2) The cosmic significance of the Atonement ( Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:14 , Ephesians 2:7 , Ephesians 3:10 ). (3) The prominence given to the work of the Holy Spirit ( Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 1:17 , Ephesians 2:18 , Ephesians 3:16 , Ephesians 4:3; Ephesians 4:30 , Ephesians 5:9 ). In this the Epistle differs from Colossians, and resembles 1 Corinthians. (4) Repeated exhortations to unity , and the graces that make for unity ( Ephesians 4:1-7; Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 4:25-32 , Ephesians 5:2 etc.). (5) The conception of the Christian household ( Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9 ) and of the Christian warrior ( Ephesians 6:10-18 ).

5. Relation to other books . The Epistle has lines of thought recalling 1 Cor. See, e.g. , in 1 Cor. the idea of the riches ( 1 Corinthians 1:5 ) and the mystery ( 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 ) of the gospel, the work of the Spirit 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 , 1 Corinthians 12:4 ff.), the building ( 1 Corinthians 3:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16 ), the one body ( 1 Corinthians 10:17 , 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:12-16 ), all things subdued unto Christ 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 ). The relation to Colossians is very close. ‘The one is the general and systematic exposition of the same truths which appear in a special bearing in the other’ (Lightfoot). Cf. the relation of Galatians and Romans. Ephesians and Philippians have many thoughts in common. See, e.g. , the Christian citizenship ( Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 2:19 , Philippians 1:27; Philippians 3:20 ), the exaltation of Christ ( Ephesians 1:20 , Philippians 2:9 ), the true circumcision ( Ephesians 2:11 , Philippians 3:3 ), unity and stability ( Ephesians 2:18 ff; Ephesians 4:3; Ephesians 6:13 , Philippians 1:27 ). Cf. also Ephesians 6:18 with Philippians 4:6 , and Ephesians 5:2 with Philippians 4:18 . In regard to Romans and Ephesians, ‘the unity at which the former Epistle seems to arrive by slow and painful steps is assumed in the latter as a starting-point, with a vista of wondrous possibilities beyond’ (Hort).

There is a close connexion between this Epistle and 1Peter , not so much in details as in ‘identities of thought and similarity in the structure of the two Epistles as wholes’ (Hort). If there is any direct relation, it is probable that the author of 1Peter used this Epistle, as he certainly used Romans. In some respects this Epistle shows an approximation of Pauline thought to the teaching of the Fourth Gospel. See, e.g. , the teaching of both on grace, on the contrast of light and darkness, on the work of the pre-incarnate Logos; and compare John 17:1-26 with the whole Epistle. Cf. also Revelation 21:10; Revelation 21:14 with Ephesians 2:20-21 , Revelation 19:7 with Ephesians 5:25-27 , and Revelation 13:8 with Ephesians 3:11 .

J. H. B. Masterman.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ephesians, Epistle to'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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