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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Ephesians Epistle to the

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1. Date and place of writing.-From internal evidence, there is little difficulty in determining the circumstances under which Ephesians was written. St. Paul is a prisoner at the time (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:20), and writes from prison to ‘the saints which are in Ephesus.’ His imprisonment has lasted long enough to give rise to grave anxiety among the Christian communities (Ephesians 3:13; Ephesians 6:22). He speaks or himself as ‘the prisoner’ (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1), as though that were a title of honour consecrated by long use. This in itself makes it natural to date the Epistle from Rome rather than from Caesarea. Other internal evidence, though slight, points in the same direction. St. Paul’s captivity permits least some liberty in preaching (Ephesians 6:19-20; cf. Acts 28:30-31, Philippians 1:13-14). The phrase ‘I am a chained ambassador’ (Ephesians 6:20) certainly has more point after the appeal to Caesar, and suggests that St. Paul has reached Rome to bear witness for the gospel ‘before kings.’ And the grand, almost imperial, width of outlook which the Epistle shows may well have been inspired in the provincial citizen from Tarsus when he came at fast to see with his own eyes the city which ruled the world, with its centralized authority and its citizenship open to every land and race (cf. Lock, article ‘Ephesians’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ). It is thus natural to date the Epistle c. [Note: . circa, about.] a.d. 60.

This result would be quite inevitable if it could be maintained that Eph. is a later work than Phil., which must certainly have been written from Rome (Philippians 1:13, etc.). This has been argued by such writers as Bleek, Lightfoot (Philippians4, 1878, p. 30ff.), Sanday (Smith’s Dict. of the Bible 2 i. [1893] 627), Hart (Judaistic Christianity, 1894, p. 115f.), Lock (loc. cit.). It is true that Phil. resembles the earlier Epistles in style and manner more than do the other Captivity Epistles. But it is impossible to postulate an orderly development in these things in such a writer as St. Paul. There is nothing in Eph. or Col. more startling as a development of Pauline doctrine than Philippians 2:11-25. And the note of urgency and anxiety in Phil. marks it out as dating from the last days of the captivity at Rome (cf. Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., pp. 168-170; Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 1895, p. 357f.).

A more certain result as to Eph. is given by its relation to Col. and Philemon. The three Epistles are all sent by the hand of Tychicus to the same district. Col. and Philem. at least were sent together, and the literary connexion between Col. and Eph. is so close that it seems inevitable to associate Eph. with the other two. Philem. at least must have been sent from Rome, despite the arguments of Reuss and Meyer; and this carries with it the conclusion that Eph. was sent from the same place (see article Colossians).

2. Occasion and purpose.-This Epistle stands alone among the Pauline literature. The other twelve writings ascribed to St. Paul have all some special and more or less urgent occasion and purpose, whether personal or controversial. Here neither purpose nor occasion can he clearly traced. The writer is not concerned to press his claims against rivals or opponents. The bitter controversy with Judaizing teachers lies in the past, and only faint echoes of the battle can be heard (Ephesians 2:11; Ephesians 2:14; Ephesians 2:17). The troubles at Colossae are in the background (Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 2:8; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12), but do not ruffle the serenity of the writer’s mind. No special dangers seem to lie before the readers. Apart from the address, indeed, it would be difficult to see that any special readers are intended, though in the main the Epistle is addressed to Gentile converts (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:11; Ephesians 2:13 etc.). Some danger of false teaching is perhaps suggested in Ephesians 4:14; Ephesians 4:18, but the references are quite general in character. Controversy is laid aside for the time being, and the writer deals with the problems of the Gentile Church in a spirit at once detached and lofty. Two special points emerge, half the Epistle being devoted to each. Chs. 1-3 deal with the respective positions of Jew and Gentile in the unity of the Church, from which we may conjecture that this was one of the main difficulties in the churches founded by St. Paul. It was, indeed, inevitable that it should be so, as the controversies of a few years. before had shown. But now the position is changed. The danger is no longer that of the Judaizing teacher, but rather lest the growing Gentile communities should tend to despise the Jewish Christians in their midst (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:8; Ephesians 2:11-15; cf. Ephesians 1:12-14). Chs. 4-6 deal with the most constant danger of the Gentile convert-the danger of relapse into the vices of paganism.

But neither of these dangers has come to the front in any special form, and the dominant note of the Epistle is not one of warning, but one of praise and thanksgiving. The writer’s mind is full of one great theme-the unity of the Church in Christ, predestined from all eternity to all eternity, bound together in faith and love. And, as he takes up his argument, the style rises in dignity and strength until we seem to be listening to a Eucharistic hymn. Against the dangers of the hour he sets the inspiration of a great ideal, the One Body of Christ who died for Jew and Gentile alike, the One Church, ordered by Christ Himself, in which every man, if he will, may lead the life of the Spirit.

3. Analysis.-(A) Chs. 1-3. The unity of the Church, regarded as that in which Jew and Gentile are at last one. The whole of this section is an expansion of the typical thanksgiving and prayer with which St. Paul usually opens his letters.

(1) Ephesians 1:1-2. Salutation.

(2) Ephesians 1:3-14. Thanksgiving for the privileges bestowed in Christ upon the Church. This section falls into three strophes, marked by the refrain ‘unto the praise of his glory,’ and corresponding to the three Persons of the Trinity.

(a) Ephesians 1:3-6. Thanksgiving for the ‘adoption as sons,’ predestined by the Father before the foundation of the world.

(b) Ephesians 1:7-12, Thanksgiving for the revelation or God’s good pleasure in Christ, in whom we have redemption from sin, grace to live anew, and knowledge of our place in God’s purpose to sum up all things in Him.

(c) Ephesians 1:13-14. Thanksgiving that in the Holy Spirit both Jew and Gentile have even here and now an earnest of that great heritage.

(3) Ephesians 1:15-23. Prayer that the readers may grow to a fuller understanding of the work of Christ.

(a) Ephesians 1:15-19. Prayer that they may realize more fully the threefold Messing or Ephesians 1:3-14 -their adoption as sons their heritage in Christ, their new life in the Spirit.

(b) Ephesians 1:20-23. Prayer that they may come to see Christ as He really is, the consummation of all things in heaven and earth, and supreme Head of His Church.

(4) Ephesians 2:1-22. A further thanksgiving for all that is implied in this conception of the Church, worked out especially in relation to the position of Jews and Gentiles therein.

(a) Ephesians 2:1-10. The power of God which was shown in Christ has been shown too upon all individual Christians, whether Gentile (Ephesians 2:1-2) or Jew (Ephesians 2:3), raising them from the death of sin (Ephesians 2:5; contrast Ephesians 2:20), causing them to ascend with Christ into the heavenly sphere (Ephesians 2:6; cf. Ephesians 2:20), and giving them a place in the Church, through which God has purposed to work (Ephesians 2:7-10; cf. Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 1:23).

(b) Ephesians 1:11-22. Thus the divisions or humanity are healed. The Gentile who was once far off is ‘made nigh in the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 1:11-13). The barriers set up by the Jewish Law are broken down (Ephesians 1:14-15). Jew and Gentile now stand together in one fellowship, both having their access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit (Ephesians 1:16-18). So is the Temple of God built, with Christ as its chief corner stone (Ephesians 1:19-22).

(5) Ephesians 3:1-21. A further prayer that the readers may apprehend the fullness of this great life in Christ, in which all the saints join (Ephesians 1:1-19), and a doxology, closing this section of the Epistle (Ephesians 1:20-21).

This section is interrupted by a passage (Ephesians 1:2-13) in which the writer dwells upon his own position as the ‘chosen vessel’ through whom this mystery of the Church was to be preached to the Gentiles. The appointed time and means had been fixed by the purpose of God, and the revelation given in the Church affected not only earth but also all heaven. The sufferings of the writer are thus no cause for discouragement. They too lie in the purpose of God.

(B) Chs. 4-6. The unity of the Church, regarded as a principle of conduct, enabling all to lead the higher life.

(1) Ephesians 4:1 to Ephesians 5:21. A general appeal addressed to the whole Church.

(a) Ephesians 4:1-3. Exhortations to lead the life of love, which is the life of the Spirit.

(b) Ephesians 4:4-16. The unity of the Church, upon its practical side, which rests upon the unity of God (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is by God’s gift that the organization of the Church exists in diverse ministries (Ephesians 4:7-11). And the purpose of it all is ‘the perfecting of saints,’ that each may take his place in the living whole of the Body of Christ, perfect in faith and knowledge and love (Ephesians 4:12-16).

(c) Ephesians 4:17-24. The old Gentile life, based upon ignorance and resulting in impurity, contrasted with the new life, based upon knowledge of Christ and resulting in ‘righteousness and holiness of truth.’

(d) Ephesians 4:25 to Ephesians 5:21. A more detailed description of the Christian life as it should be lived by members of the Church.

(i.) Ephesians 4:25. Truthfulness-a lie to another Christian is a lie to oneself.

(ii.) Ephesians 4:26-27. Control of temper, for fear of the accuser, i.e. either of the Satan in heaven, or of calumniators on earth.

(iii.) Ephesians 4:28. Honesty, as the basis of right giving.

(iv.) Ephesians 4:29-30. Pure conversion, lest others, be injured, and the Holy Spirit be grieved.

(v.) Ephesians 4:31-32. Gentleness, as God was gentle in Christ.

(vi.) Ephesians 5:1-2. Love, as Christ loved.

(vii.) Ephesians 5:3-14. Purity of speech and action, even to the avoidance of the foolish word and Jest, as unworthy of our calling (Ephesians 5:3-4), as incurring God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:5-6), as wholly foreign to the life of light in Christ (Ephesians 5:7-14).

(viii.) Ephesians 5:15-17. Wise use of time, since the days are evil.

(ix.) Ephesians 5:18-21. Temperance and orderly thanksgiving in public worship, and in particular at the love-feasts (in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11-14).

(2) Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9. An exhortation to members of Christian families. The writer takes the family as the type of the Church (cf. Ephesians 3:15), and applies the general principles of the unity of the Spirit to the details of family life.

(a) Ephesians 5:22-24. Wives, are to recognize the position of the husband as head of the family, as Christ is head of the Church.

(b) Ephesians 5:25-33. Husbands are to love their wives, with whom they have been made one, as Christ loves the Church, with which He is one.

(c) Ephesians 6:1-3. Children must obey their parents, as is naturally right, and an God has commanded.

(d) Ephesians 6:4. Parents ought to train their children wisely.

(e) Ephesians 6:5-8. Slaves are to obey loyally, since their obedience is to God Himself.

(f) Ephesians 6:9. Masters must treat their slaves justly, since they themselves are but slaves of a Master in heaven.

(3) Ephesians 6:10-24. A general exhortation to all Christians to fight God’s battle in His strength (Ephesians 6:10) and clad in His armour (Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:13-17), seeing that the enemy is more than man (Ephesians 6:12). The section passes into a request for prayer for the writer in prison (Ephesians 6:19-20), and thus it naturally leads up to a commendation of Tychicus, the bearer of the letter, and then to a final greeting.

4. Authorship.-The above analysis will make it clear how carefully constructed and worked out Ephesians is. The long sentences, cumbrous and difficult to follow as they are, are yet almost rhythmic in their balance. Everything is connected and co-ordinated with the one great idea, and the result is a composition quite unlike any other writing assigned to St. Paul. Yet the claim to Pauline authorship is quite explicit. It not only occurs in the address (Ephesians 1:1) and in the final messages (Ephesians 6:20), but is woven into the very structure of the Epistle in Ephesians 3:1 and Ephesians 4:1. Either we have a genuine work by the Apostle or else a pseudonymous writing, composed at a very early date by a disciple upon whom had fallen a double portion of the Apostle’s spirit. And of such a disciple we have no other trace.

(1) Internal evidence.-The very simplicity of the references to St. Paul is a strong argument for the authenticity of the Epistle. There is a great contrast between Eph. and 2 Pet. in this respect. The laboured allusions of the latter to St. Peter’s life are not convincing; but could even a close disciple have coined the beautiful and simple phrase, ‘I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus’? Or would he have been likely to refer to his great master as ‘less than the least of all saints’ (Ephesians 3:8) even with 1 Corinthians 15:9 before him? On the other hand, there are one or two phrases, apart from questions of style and doctrine, which will he discussed later, which seem to some critics to be ‘watermarks of a later age’ (Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., p. 386). Such is the phrase, ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Ephesians 2:20), an expression not very suspicious in itself, but rendered suspect by the phrase ‘his holy apostles and prophets’ (Ephesians 3:5). Such language would certainly be natural at a later date, and it is hardly like St. Paul to include himself under the term ‘holy apostles.’ Two explanations have been given. (a) It is suggested that the word ἁγίοις is not part of the original text. It is true that Origen and Theodoret show traces of a text which omitted the word, but this is not very strong evidence. Yet it might easily have been added at an early date by a reverent scribe, or have crept in by dittography from ἀπαστόλοις (TOICATIOICATIOCT...), or by confusion with Colossians 1:26. (b) It is pointed out, e.g. by Salmond (‘Ephesians’ in Expositor’s Greek Testament , pp. 223 and 304), that ἅγιος does not mean ‘holy’ in our modern sense, but simply ‘consecrated to God’s service.’ This is its sense in the Pauline salutations and in Ephesians 3:8, and it is thus possible to conceive St. Paul including himself under the phrase in Ephesians 3:5. But (c) it is not obvious that he does do so. St. Paul had always stood apart from the original Twelve, and though sometimes, as in Gal. and 2 Cor., he is concerned to defend his commission, he was fully aware of a real difference of position (1 Corinthians 15:9). Here some real point seems to lie in the distinction. St. Paul is arguing that he was specially chosen of God for this ministry. Humble though he was, he had shared the revelation given to the Twelve (cf. St. Peter and Cornelius), and he, and not they, had been called to proclaim the mystery of the Church to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:8). The words in Ephesians 3:7-8 seem to distinguish him from the ‘holy apostles’ of Ephesians 3:5, where St. Paul is not thinking of himself at all. If this is Song of Solomon 3:5, though certainly unique, is not unnatural. In any case, whatever be the explanation of Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 3:8 remains a ‘watermark’ of St. Paul himself, as indeed does the whole passage, Ephesians 3:2-14, in its abrupt intrusion into the sequence of thought. The passage ‘whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding …’ (Ephesians 3:4) also sounds to Moffatt characteristic of a disciple of St. Paul rather than of St. Paul himself, but the conclusion is not at all necessary.

(2) External evidence.-This preliminary investigation, then, rather favours the authenticity of the Epistle than otherwise, and this result is entirely borne out by the external evidence of early writers. Ephesians is one of the best-attested books of the NT. By the middle of the 2nd cent. it was widely known. Both the Old Latin and the Syriac Versions had it. The evidence of Hippolytus shows that it was used by the Ophites (Philosophoumena, v. 8), the Valentinians (vi. 34, 35), and perhaps by Basilides (vii. 25, 26). Marcion included it in his Pauline Canon, under the title ‘to the Laodiceans’ (see below). It seems to be quoted by Hermas (cf. Ephesians 4:4 with Sim. ix. 13). Earlier still Polycarp quotes Ephesians 2:8-9 in Phil. i. 3, and, still more definitely, Ephesians 4:26 in Phil. xii. 1 (Lat.). The evidence of Ignatius is almost equally certain: Polyc. v. 1 is a definite quotation of Ephesians 5:25, and allusions may be seen to Ephesians 1:23 and Ephesians 2:16 in Smyrn. i. 4, to Ephesians 4:2-3 in Polyc. i. 2, to Ephesians 5:1 in Eph. i. 1, x. 3. The passage in Eph. xii. ‘Paul … ὅς ἐν πάσῃ ἐπιστολῇ μνημονεύει’ cannot be translated as a definite reference to our Epistle, and is indeed evidence (see below, § 5) that the traditional address is in error. Traces of Eph. have been found in Clement of Rome and in the Didache, but they cannot be called certain.

This evidence is sufficient to throw the Epistle into the 1st cent., and provides at least a strong presupposition that it is Pauline.

5. Destination.-An immediate difficulty arises with the acceptance of Eph. as the work of St. Paul. He was very well known in Ephesus. He had spent over two years of his ministry there (Acts 19:8-10). The leaders of the Church there had been his close friends, and had parted from him at Miletus with every display of affection (Acts 20:36-38). And yet Eph. conveys no personal greetings. There is no hint that St. Paul was known to the readers, or they to him. All that we can gather from the letter is that they are Gentile Christians (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:11; Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:17; Ephesians 3:1). St. Paul has heard of their faith in Christ (Ephesians 1:15). He does not seem certain, whether they all know how definitely and specially he had been commissioned to preach to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:2, and hence the whole digression Ephesians 3:2-13). If the letter was actually sent to Ephesus (so Schmidt in Meyer5; Alford), this is incredible. And even if the Pauline authorship is given up it remains quite impossible to think that a disciple of St. Paul should have written in his master’s name so cold a letter to St. Paul’s friends. The evidence of Ignatius raises a further difficulty, since he definitely writes to Ephesus about ‘all the letters’ of St. Paul (Eph. xii.), without any hint that the most sublime of them all had been definitely addressed to the Ephesians themselves.

This being so, it is a relief to find that the address is very doubtful. The title ‘to the Ephesians,’ though known to Tertullian (adv. Marc. v. 11) and given in the Muratorian Canon, does not go far back into the 2nd century. There is very little doubt that the original test of Ephesians 1:1 had no allusion to Ephesus at all. The vast majority of Manuscripts have τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ἐφέσῳ καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, but the words ἐν Ἐφέσῳ are absent in the first hand of א and B. They are cancelled by the corrector of 67, who had access to very good textual material. The more ancient copies known to Basil omitted the words. Origen evidently did not read them in his text, since he translates τοῖς οὖσιν ‘those that have real existence,’ illustrating the meaning from the use by Christ of the phrase ‘I am.’ Jerome and others repeat this interpretation, which was also known to Basil. Most important of all, Marcion’s copy evidently lacked the words, since he regarded the Epistle as addressed to the Laodiceans. And that Tertullian’s text was the same is shown by the fact that Tertullian only abuses Marcion for changing the title, but says nothing about corruption of the actual text (adv. Marc. v. 11, 17).

This evidence makes it almost impossible to think that any place-name, whether Ephesus, or Laodicea, or another, stood in the original text of Ephesians 1:1, since no reason is apparent for its wide-spread omission and corruption. The evidence of Basil shows that our present reading grew up only shortly before a.d. 370. And in any case it is most unnatural Greek. Harnack (Die Adresse des Epheserbriefs des Paulus, 1910) has recently argued that Eph. was originally addressed to Laodicea, being in fact the letter ‘from Laodicea’ of Colossians 4:16. He conjectures that the change in the address took place about the beginning of the 2nd cent., with the decline of the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-15), on the grounds that such a church had no claim to own a Pauline letter. The conjecture is certainly brilliant, but there is no parallel for such treatment of the NT books, and the Manuscripts with no place-name at all remained unexplained (see Moffatt, Expositor, 8th ser. ii. [1911] 193f.). What then may be inferred from the textual evidence? Three alternatives are possible.

(a) It is suggested that the words ἐν Ἐφέσῳ should be omitted, and that our present text is then correct (so e.g. Moffatt, and the majority of those who reject the Pauline authorship). Unfortunately, as indeed Origen’s attempt at explanation shows, the reading so obtained gives rather poor sense. The translation ‘the saints who are also believers …’ (Meyer) is hardly possible, and ‘the saints who are also faithful …’ (Lightfoot, Salmond) is still difficult. It is very hard to suppose that St. Paul would make so pointed an allusion at this stage to ‘saints’ who were unfaithful. The difficulty arises not so much from the meaning of ἁγίοις, which here, as in Ephesians 3:5, has the Jewish sense of ‘consecrated,’ as from the general force of the passage.

(b) Again, omitting the words ἐν Ἐφέσῳ, we may suppose that a blank was left after οὖσιν in which Tychicus could insert the names of different churches. This view presupposes, with Beza, that Eph. was sent not to any one church, but to the group of churches in Asia founded, like Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, not by St. Paul, but by such agents as Epaphras. This would account for the impersonal tone of the Epistle, and for the absence of any clear trace of special local problems. The view that Eph. is such a Pastoral, with a blank left for the address, is due to Archbishop Ussher, and has been held by most conservative critics (e.g. Hort). In its broad outline this theory is probably right. The whole character of the Epistle shows that it is addressed to a wide circle of readers, and not to any one church. That the readers addressed lived in the neighbourhood of Ephesus is suggested (1) by the relations, especially in thought, with Col.; (2) by the fact that Eph. is sent by the hand of Tychicus; and above all (3) by the tradition associating it with Ephesus, where the original was probably preserved (Haupt and Zahn). This view relieves the difficulty as to the Pauline authorship due to the impersonal tone of the letter.

It does not, however, solve the problem of Ephesians 1:1 (see Zahn, Introd. to NT, i. 479-483, 488f.), for (1) there is no parallel for such a method of correspondence; (2) if the blanks had been filled in with different names in different copies, we should not have had Manuscripts with no name at all; (3) the order in the Greek is unnatural. The place-name should come elsewhere (cf. Colossians 1:1, Philippians 1:1).

(c) These difficulties have driven many scholars to think that the text of Ephesians 1:1 is unsound, whether, as P. Ewald suggests, through the wearing of the papyrus or otherwise. Ewald himself suggests τοῖς ἀγαπητοῖς οὖσιν καὶ πιστοῖς, ‘those who are beloved and faithful.’ Zahn prefers to follow the reading of D, τοῖς ἁγίοις οὖσιν καὶ πιστοῖς, ‘those who are holy and faithful.’ This is at least easy, but hardly accounts for the corruptions (though dittography might have brought in the second τοῖς). Others think that St. Paul, in accordance with his general custom, must have mentioned some definite destination. The most ingenious conjecture of this kind is that of R. Scott (The Pauline Epistles, p. 182)-ἐν ἔθνεσιν for ἐν Ἐφέσῳ, i.e. ‘the saints among the Gentiles.’ This, however, is not free from some of the above objections, and is wholly without supporting evidence.

Holtzmann’s effort to explain Ephesians 1:1 as a bungling attempt by the writer to adapt Colossians 1:1 to his more general purpose is effectively refuted by Zahn (op. cit. p. 517f.).

As a result of the above discussion, Ephesians 1:1 remains an unsolved problem, but it is clear that the traditional address of Eph. is no part of the text of the Epistle. Its existence is best explained on the hypothesis of a circular letter, sent by the hand of Tychicus to the churches in the neighbourhood of Ephesus. To explain the early title ‘to Ephesians,’ as does Baur, from Ephesians 6:21 and 2 Timothy 4:12 (‘Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus’) is far-fetched. Whether, as Harnack thinks, Eph. should be identified with the letter ‘from Laodicea’ to be brought, presumably, by Tychicus to Colossae, must remain doubtful (see article Colossians). Whatever be the exact facts, no objection to the Pauline authorship of Ephesians remains on the score of the destination of the Epistle.

This view of Ephesians as a Pauline pastoral has been held (with varying theories of Ephesians 1:1) by, e.g., Bengel, Reuss, Lightfoot, Hort, Weiss, Abbott, Salmond, Zahn, Peake. Nevertheless, its authenticity has been widely disputed since the time of Schleiermacher, on three main grounds: (a) the doctrinal standpoint; (b) the vocabulary and style; (c) the connexion with Col. and with other NT writings.

6. The doctrine of the Epistle.-Few scholars still support the view-of the Tübingen School that Eph. shows traces of both Montanism and 2nd cent. Gnosticism. Schwegler saw Montanism in the emphasis on the Holy Spirit (e.g. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:18, and especially Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:4), and in the position given to the prophets (Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11). Gnosticism was said to be the source of such terms as ‘pleroma’ and ‘aeon.’ Baur argued that Eph. was not written against Gnosticism, but that it showed signs of its early phases. As we now know, the date (a.d. 130-140) which he gave on this hypothesis would be much too late. Gnosticism was fully developed before the middle of the century. Hilgenfeld and O. Pfleiderer see in both Eph. and Col. a polemic against Gnosticism. Pfleiderer, e.g., sees in Ephesians 4:20 f. an allusion to ‘a Gnostic theory which separated the Christ of speculation from the Jesus of the evangelical tradition’ (Primitive Christianity, iii. 303). He finds that the quotation of Psalms 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8 f. depends on the ‘Gnostic myth of the victorious descent to hell and ascent to heaven of the Saviour-god to which allusion is also made in Colossians 2:15’ (p. 311). He traces the use of ‘pleroma’ to Gnosticism, ignoring the fact that it was a good Pauline word (e.g. Romans 11:25), and that it is certainly not used in any Gnostic sense.

The external evidence alone is sufficient to rule out such theories, throwing the Epistle back to a date before the technicalities of Valentinianism had been developed. More plausible is the view of Holtzmann, who regards Ephesians as written at about the end of the 1st cent., in view of incipient Gnosticism and of ecclesiastical needs. He thinks that an old letter to Colossae by St. Paul existed and that Eph. and Col. were composed by a single writer, in the one case using its ideas and in the other expanding it. The proof, however, that there is nothing necessarily un-Pauline in Col. (see article Colossians) does away with the need for this theory, which is in any case hampered by two difficulties: (a) that of finding a writer capable of composing such a work and at the same time of being so servile in his adherence to the language of Colossians; and (b) that of finding a historical setting for the Epistle. There must surely be a greater gulf between it and Ignatius with his violent attacks on Judaizers and Docetists and his emphasis on the monarchical episcopacy.

It is, therefore, more common nowadays among those who find difficulties in the Pauline authorship to assign Eph. to a Paulinist writing quite soon after St. Paul’s death (see e.g. Moffatt, op. cit. p. 388). It is argued that the theology of the Epistle marks a transition stage between St. Paul and the Johannine literature.

‘This does not involve the assumption that Paul was not original enough to advance even beyond the circle of ideas reflected in Colossians, or that he lacked constructive and broad dideas of the Christian brotherhood. It is quite possible to hot that he was a fresh and advancing thinker, and yet to conclude, from the internal evidence of Ephesians, that he did not cut the channel for this prose of the spiritual centre’ (Moffatt, op. cit. p. 389).

Upon this view, the theology of Eph., though quite continuous with that of St. Paul, is a later development, under the influence of Johannine, and possibly Lucan, ideas.

Such a view is too intangible to admit of very easy refutation. At the same time, it should be noted that it provides very little ground for disputing the strong and early tradition of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle. A discussion of the doctrinal standpoint of Eph. will serve to put the matter in a clearer light.

(a) The Church.-The whole Epistle turns upon the doctrine of the unity of the Church. This is made the key both to the relations of Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22) and to the problems of the Christian life (4 and 5). Its unity is not merely that of any human organization, but rests directly upon the unity of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6). That unity is derived from the Father (Ephesians 3:15), by whom it was fore-ordained in Christ (Ephesians 1:4; Eph_1:9 f.). It is ideally complete in Christ and in Him is to become actually complete (Ephesians 1:9; Eph_1:22-23; Ephesians 2:15; Ephesians 4:12-16). Even now it has as its principle of life the One Spirit (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:16; Ephesians 4:3). In some sense it is the completion of the Incarnation (Ephesians 1:23; cf. Armitage Robinson, ‘On the meaning of πλήρωμα’ in Ephesians, p. 255ff.), for in it Christ comes into all the saints (Ephesians 3:17) and all the saints into Him (Ephesians 2:6; Eph_2:13; Ephesians 4:12-16). The organization of the Church is simply the expression of this unity, and the means, given by Christ Himself, whereby it is being actualized (Ephesians 4:7-12). Baptism is the door of the Church (Ephesians 4:5; Ephesians 5:26), faith its bond of union (Ephesians 4:5), love the expression of that union (Ephesians 4:2; Ephesians 5:2, etc.). The unity even extends beyond this earth into the heavenly regions (Ephesians 2:6; cf. Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 3:10).

Such an emphasis upon the Church is certainly not found elsewhere in St. Paul. Yet there is no one feature which is specifically un-Pauline, and no reason can be given why St. Paul should not in a time of leisure, undisturbed by the clash of controversy, have set down for the churches he had founded those principles which had underlain all his ministry.

It has been urged that St. Paul dealt only with individual churches, and that the use of the term ‘church’ (ἐκκλησία) in Eph. is foreign to his writings. But as a matter of fact the idea of one Church Universal underlies all St. Paul’s thought. Especially in 1 Cor. he appeals throughout to general church practice (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:32; 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Corinthians 14:36). He speaks of the churches as a whole (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 7:17). They are ‘one body in Christ,’ with an articulated, organized membership (Romans 12:5), and this conception is expanded in 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff. They form one Church (ἐκκλγησία, in the singular; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28, Galatians 1:13). The same conception and usage are repeated in the later Epistles (Philippians 3:5, Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:24). The statements in Col. are, indeed, quite as full in idea as those in Ephesians. The conception of Christ as awaiting ‘fulfilment’ or completion in some sense in His Body, the Church, is present in Colossians 1:24. The organic unity of Christ with the Church as its Head is in Colossians 1:18. The conception of the Church as extending into the heavenly regions is directly involved in St. Paul’s answer to the Colossian heretics (Colossians 1:19-20). This adaptation of his thought is quite natural, though its first clear formulation in his mind may have been due to the troubles at Colossae, leading him to correlate his views on angelology (see article Colossians) with his views on Christ and the Church. The thought is present, in an unapplied form, in Philippians 3:20 (with which also cf. Ephesians 2:19, Philippians 1:27).

It is urged that it is new in St. Paul to find the unity of the Church traced back to Christ’s cosmic position (Moffatt, op. cit. p. 393). But this is really rather a question of Christology than of the doctrine of the Church. Solidarity in Christ is the most characteristic part of St. Paul’s teaching. The thought of the early chapters of Romans is simply its application to anthropology, the problem of sin. In Eph., with a wider purpose in view, it is applied to the problems of humanity regarded as a whole in its relation to God. The cosmological form which the argument takes is doubtless due in part to the situation at Colossae. But Romans 8:20-21 is a hint that there were similar elements in St. Paul’s thought at an earlier date.

The fact that in Eph. the writer seems to pose as the defender of Jewish against Gentile Christians has been regarded as proof that he is not the St. Paul of the Galatian controversy. But it may well have been that by a.d. 60 there was danger that the Gentile Christians in the churches of Asia might outnumber and tend to despise their Jewish brethren. St. Paul’s concern was always to secure the position of both Jew and Gentile in the Church. His argument in Eph. is really exactly like that in Romans. Both Jew and Gentile are brought down to one level by sin (Romans 3:9-20, Ephesians 2:1-5; cf. Galatians 3:22), and are therefore joined in one redemption (Romans 10:12; Romans 11:32, Ephesians 2:16-18). In Romans 11 we find the same attitude of apology for the Jews as in Ephesians 2 (cf. also Romans 7:7; Romans 9:1 ff.). Galatians 3:23-28 also gives an argument practically identical in substance with that of Ephesians.

Some have thought that the interest in church organization is un-Pauline, and that the details mentioned involve a later date. It would be possible to argue that the very reverse is the case. The mention of ‘apostles and prophets’ as fore-most in the ministry of the Church (Ephesians 4:11) is exactly paralleled by 1 Corinthians 12:28. Thus there is nothing un-natural in the special position given to them in Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5. From the earliest days the ministry of prophets had existed in the Church, and it is very doubtful whether by the end of St. Paul’s life the beginnings of the organization which superseded them were not beginning to appear. By the time the Didache was written the position of the prophet was becoming equivocal, and the allusions in Eph. could hardly have been written. The mention of ‘evangelists’ (Ephesians 4:11) is no mark of a later date, since no such office became definitely established. The general interest in church order shown in Eph. is no greater than in 1 Cor. (especially 1 Corinthians 12).

It has been noted as curious, in the light of 1 Corinthians 10:17, that the Eucharist is not mentioned in connexion with church unity. The reference to 1 Cor., however, is not quite in point, since the passage is concerned not with unity but with the dangers of idolatry. And there is no other hint either in St. Paul or in Acts that the Eucharist was regarded as a bond of union among the churches.

(b) God the Father.-This doctrine receives no peculiar expansion in Eph., though it is certainly emphasized, the title ‘Father’ occurring eight times as against four in Romans. It is brought into direct connexion with the ideal unity of the Church (Ephesians 4:6), which springs from the eternal purpose of the Father acting through and in the Son (Ephesians 1:4-5; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 2:10-11). The unique Fatherhood of God is the principle underlying all human or angelic solidarity (Ephesians 3:15), and it is for this reason that St. Paul treats the family, in which this solidarity is exhibited on a small scale, as an exemplar of the Church itself. There is no real inconsistency, as has been alleged, between the view of family life in Ephesians 5:22-23 and the personal preference for celibacy expressed in 1 Corinthians 7:8.

The emphasis on God’s eternal purpose is also found in Romans. Its effect in the ultimate restoration of all creation appears in Romans 8:18 ff., its effect in uniting Jew and Gentile in Romans 9-11.

(c) Christology.-The Christology of Eph. is closely akin to that of Colossians. In both Christ is presented as being, in the eternal purpose of God, the bond of union for a divided creation, including within His unity heaven and earth alike, which were created not only in Christ but also for Him (Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-17). This consummation and restoration of all things, including the angelic world, in Christ is to come about through the restoration of man in the Church, which is His Body, His fullness (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 1:21-23; Ephesians 3:9-11, Colossians 1:18-20). The emphasis on Christ’s pre-existence is much more clearly marked in Col. (Colossians 1:15(?), Colossians 1:16-17), though in Eph. it is perhaps implied in God’s purpose ‘in him’ (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:11; cf. also Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:9(?)), and in the title ‘Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6). In this, however, there is nothing really new, except that the Pauline angelology, of which traces appear in the earlier Epistles, is here clearly correlated to the doctrine of Christ. It was at Colossae that the angels were being exalted almost to the position of Christ Himself, and it is in Col. that the statements of Christ’s eternal supremacy take their highest form. But the restoration in Christ of the dislocated creation appears in Romans 8:18 ff. The share of the angels in this is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:24. The pre-existence of Christ finds expression in Romans 8:3; Romans 9:5 (probably), 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Corinthians 15:47 (and context), 2 Corinthians 8:9, and is clearly connected with His relation to the Creation in 1 Corinthians 8:6, where the emphasis on unity closely resembles the thought of Ephesians. At a slightly later date, almost every point in the Christology of Col. and Eph. is embodied in Philippians 2:5-11.

It has been noted as un-Pauline that the result of the Cross should be seen in the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile rather than in relation to sin. But this objection is due to imperfect exegesis. It is because the Cross frees all, both Jew and Gentile, from sin that they are able to come into the unity of Christ. The emphasis on individual redemption is just as much present in Ephesians 2:1-10 as in Romans 1-7. The Pauline doctrine is stated directly in Ephesians 1:7 (cf. Ephesians 2:13). The annulling of the Law by the Cross (Ephesians 2:15) is the very point of St. Paul’s argument in the Galatian controversy (Galatians 3:13, etc.; cf. also the parallel passage in Colossians 2:14). The thought

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ephesians Epistle to the'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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