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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Ephesians, Epistle to the
1. External Evidence
2. Internal Evidence
II. Place and Date of Writing
2. The Inscription
3. The Evidence of the Letter Itself
IV. Relation to Other New Testament Writings
2. Johannine Writings
V. The Purpose
1. External Evidence
None of the epistles which are ascribed to Paul have a stronger chain of evidence to their early and continued use than that which we know as the Epistle to the Ephesians. Leaving for the moment the question of the relation of Eph to other New Testament writings, we find that it not only colors the phraseology of the Apostolic Fathers, but is actually quoted. In Clement of Rome (circa 95 ad) the connection with Ephesians might be due to some common liturgical form in xlvi.6 (compare Ephesians 4:6 ); though the resemblance is so close that we must feel that our epistle was known to Clement both here and in lxiv (compare Ephesians 1:3-4 ); xxxviii (compare Ephesians 5:21 ); xxxvi (compare Ephesians 4:18 ); lix (compare Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 4:18 ). Ignatius (died 115) shows numerous points of contact with Ephesians, especially in his Epistle to the Ephesians. In chap. xii we read: "Ye are associates and fellow students of the mysteries with Paul, who in every letter makes mention of you in Christ Jesus." It is difficult to decide the exact meaning of the phrase "every letter," but in spite of the opinion of many scholars that it must be rendered "in all his epistle," i.e. in every part of his epistle, it is safer to take it as an exaggeration, "in all his epistles," justified to some extent in the fact that besides Ephesians, Paul does mention the Ephesian Christians in Rom (Romans 16:5 ); 1 Cor (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 16:8 , 1 Corinthians 16:19 ); 2 Cor (2 Corinthians 1:8 f); 1 Tim ( 1 Timothy 1:3 ) and 2 Tim (2 Timothy 1:18 ). In the opening address the connection with Ephesians 1:3-6 is too close to be accidental. There are echoes of our epistle in chap. i ( Ephesians 6:1 ); ix (Ephesians 2:20-22 ); xviii (
This early evidence, slight though it is, is strengthened by the part Ephesians played in the 2nd century where, as we learn from Hippolytus, it was used by the Ophites and Basilides and Valentinus. The latter (according to Hip., Phil ., VI, 29) quoted Ephesians 3:16-18 , saying, "This is what has been written in Scripture," while his disciple Ptolemais is said by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer ., i.8, 5) to have attributed Ephesians 5:13 to Paul by name. According to the addenda to the eighth book of the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, Theodotus, a contemporary of Valentinus, quoted Ephesians 4:10 and Ephesians 4:30 with the words: "The apostle says," and attributes Ephesians 4:24 to Paul. Marcion knew Ephesians as Tertullian tells us, identifying it with the epistle referred to in Colossians 4:16 as ad Laodicenos . We find it in the Muratorian Fragment (10b, l. 20) as the second of the epistles which "Paul wrote following the example of his predecessor John." It is used in the letter from the church of Lyons and Vienne and by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and later writers. We can well accept the dictum of Dr. Hort that it "is all but certain on this evidence that the Epistle was in existence by 95 ad; quite certain that it was in existence by about fifteen years later or conceivably a little more" (Hort, Judaistic Christianity , 118).
2. Internal Evidence
To this very strong chain of external evidence, reaching back to the very beginning of the 2nd century, if not into the end of the 1st, showing Ephesians as part of the original Pauline collection which no doubt Ignatius and Polycarp used, we must add the evidence of the epistle itself, testing it to see if there be any reason why the letter thus early attested should not be accredited to the apostle.
(1) That it claims to be written by Paul is seen not only in the greeting, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus," but also in Ephesians 3:1 , where we read: "For this cause
(2) Further evidence for the Pauline authorship is found in the general style and language of the letter. We may agree with von Soden ( Early Christ. Lit ., 294) that "every sentence contains verbal echoes of Pauline epistles, indeed except when ideas peculiar to the Epistle come to expression it is simply a mosaic of Pauline phraseology," without accepting his conclusion that Paul did not write it. We feel, as we read, that we have in our hands the work of one with whom the other epistles have made us familiar. Yet we are conscious none the less of certain subtle differences which give occasion for the various arguments that critics have brought against the claim that Paul is the actual author. This is not questioned until the beginning of the last century, but has been since Schleiermacher and his disciple Usteri, though the latter published his doubts before his master did his. The Tübingen scholars attacked the epistle mainly on the ground of supposed traces of Gnostic or Montanist influences, akin to those ascribed to the Colossians. Later writers have given over this claim to put forward others based on differences of style (De Wette, followed by Holtzmann, von Soden and others); dependence on Colossians (Hitzig, Holtzmann); the attitude to the Apostles (von Soden); doctrinal differences, especially those that concern Christology and the Parousia, the conception of the church (Klöpper, Wrede and others). The tendency, however, seems to be backward toward a saner view of the questions involved; and most of those who do not accept the Pauline authorship would probably agree with Jülicher (Encyclopedia Biblica ), who ascribes it to a "Pauline Christian intimately familiar with the Pauline epistles, especially with Colossians, writing about 90," who sought in Ephesians "to put in a plea for the true catholicism in the meaning of Paul and in his name."
(3) Certain of these positions require that we should examine the doctrinal objections. (a ) First of these is the claim that Ephesians has a different conception of the person and work of Christ from the acknowledged epistles of Paul. Not only have we the exaltation of Christ which we find in Colossians 1:16 , but the still further statement that it was God's purpose from the beginning to "sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth" (Ephesians 1:10 ). This is no more than the natural expansion of the term, "all things," which are attributed to Christ in 1 Corinthians 8:6 , and is an idea which has at least its foreshadowing in Romans 8:19 , Romans 8:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:18 , 2 Corinthians 5:19 . The relation between Christ and the church as given in Ephesians 1:22 and Ephesians 5:23 is in entire agreement with Paul's teaching in Rom 12, and 1 Cor 12. It is still the Pauline figure of the church as the body of Christ, in spite of the fact that Christ is not thought of as the head of that body. The argument in the epistle does not deal with the doctrine of the cross from the standpoint of the earlier epistles, but the teaching is exactly the same. There is redemption ( Ephesians 1:7 , Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30 ); reconciliation (Ephesians 2:14-16 ); forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 4:32 ). The blood of Christ shed on the cross redeems us from our sin and restores us to God. In like manner it is said that the Parousia is treated (Ephesians 2:7 ) as something far off. But Paul has long since given up the idea that it is immediately; even in 2 Thess 2 he shows that an indeterminate interval must intervene, and in Romans 11:25 he sees a period of time yet unfulfilled before the end. ( b ) The doctrine of the church is the most striking contrast to the earlier epistles. We have already dealt with the relation of Christ to the church. The conception of the church universal is in advance of the earlier epistles, but it is the natural climax of the development of the apostle's conception of the church as shown in the earlier epistles. Writing from Rome with the idea of the empire set before him, it was natural that Paul should see the church as a great whole, and should use the word
(4) The linguistic argument is a technical matter of the use of Greek words that cannot well be discussed here. The general differences of style, the longer "turgid" sentences, the repetitions on the one hand; the lack of argument, the full, swelling periods on the other, find their counterpart in portions of Romans. The minute differences which show themselves in new or strange words will be much reduced in number when we take from the list those that are due to subjects which the author does not discuss elsewhere (e.g. those in the list of armor in Ephesians 6:13 ). Holtzmann (Einl , 25) gives us a list of these
The attack on the epistle fails, whether it is made from the point of teaching or language; and there is no ground whatever for questioning the truth of Christian tradition that Paul wrote the letter which we know as the Epistle to the Ephesians.
II. Place and Date of Writing
The time and place of his writing Ephesians turn on the larger question of the chronology of Paul's life (see
To whom was this letter written?
The title says to the Ephesians. With this the witness of the early church almost universally agrees. It is distinctly stated in the Muratorian Fragment (10b, 1. 20); and the epistle is quoted as to the Ephesians by Irenaeus ( Adv. Haer ., v.14, 3; 24, 3); Tertullian (Adv. Marc ., v.11, 17; De Praesc ., 36; De Monag ., v); Clement of Alexandria (Strom ., iv.65; Paed ., i.18) and Origen (Contra Celsum , iii.20). To these must be added the evidence of the extant manuscripts and
2. The Inscription
This almost universal evidence for Ephesus as the destination of our epistle is shattered when we turn to the reading of the first verse. Here according to Textus Receptus of the New Testament we read "Paul unto the saints which are at Ephesus (
But the explanations suggested for the passage, as it stands without the words, offend Pauline usage so completely that we cannot accept them. To take "which are" in the phrase "the saints which are" (
3. The Evidence of the Letter Itself
The determining factor in the question of the destination of the epistle lies in the epistle itself. We must not forget that, save perhaps Corinth, there was no church with which Paul was so closely associated as that in Ephesus. His long residence there, of which we read in Acts (chapters 19; 20), finds no echo in our epistle. There is no greeting to anyone of the Christian community, many of whom were probably intimate friends. The close personal ties, that the scene of Acts 20:17-38 shows us existed between him and his converts in Ephesus, are not even hinted at. The epistle is a calm discussion, untouched with the warmth of personal allusion beyond the bare statement that the writer is a prisoner (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1 ), and his commendation of Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21 , Ephesians 6:22 ), who was to tell them about Paul's condition in Rome. This lack of personal touch is intensified by the assumption underlying Eph 3 and 4 that the readers do not know his knowledge of the mysteries of Christ. In Ephesians 3:2 and Ephesians 4:21 , Ephesians 4:22 there is a particle (
This element in the epistle, coupled with the strange fact of Marcion's attributing it to the Laodiceans, and the expression in Colossians 4:16 that points to a letter coming from Laodicea to Colosse, has led most writers of the present day to accept Ussher's suggestion that the epistle is really a circular letter to the churches either in Asia, or, perhaps better, in that part of Phrygia which lies near Colosse. The readers were evidently Gentiles ( Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 3:1 , Ephesians 3:2 ) and from the mission of Tychicus doubtless of a definite locality, though for the reasons given above this could not well be Ephesus alone. It is barely possible that the cities to whom John was bidden to write the Revelation (Rev 1 through 3) are the same as those to whom Paul wrote this epistle, or it may be that they were the churches of the Lycus valley and its immediate neighborhood. The exact location cannot be determined. But from the fact that Marcion attributed the epistle to Laodicea, possibly because it was so written in the first verse, and from the connection with Colossians, it is at least probable that two of these churches were at Colosse and Laodicea. On this theory the letter would seem to have been written from Rome to churches in the neighborhood of, or accessible to, Colosse, dealing with the problem of Christian unity and fellowship and the relations between Christ and the church and sent to them by the hands of Tychicus. The inscription was to be filled in by the bearer, or copies were to be made with the name of the local church written in, and then sent to or left with the different churches. It was from Ephesus, as the chief city of Asia in all probability, that copies of this circular letter reached the church in the world, and from this fact the letter came to be known in the church at large as that from Ephesus, and the title was written "to the Ephesians," and the first verse was made to read to the "saints which are in Ephesus."
IV. Relation to Other New Testament Writings
Ephesians raises a still further question by the close resemblances that can be traced between it and various other New Testament writings.
The connection between Ephesians and 1 Peter is not beyond question. In spite of the disclaimer of as careful a writer as Dr. Bigg ( ICC ) it is impossible to follow up the references given by Holtzmann and others and not feel that Peter either knew Ephesians or at the very least had discussed these subjects with its author. For, as Dr. Hort tells us, the similarity is one of thought and structure rather than of phrase. The following are the more striking passages with their parallels in 1 Peter: Ephesians 1:3 ( 1 Peter 1:3 ); Ephesians 1:18-20 ( 1 Peter 1:3-5 ); Ephesians 2:18-22 ( 1 Peter 2:4-6 ); Ephesians 1:20-22 ( 1 Peter 3:22 ); Ephesians 3:9 ( 1 Peter 1:20 ); Ephesians 3:20 ( 1 Peter 1:12 ); Ephesians 4:19 ( 1 Peter 1:14 ). The explanations that 1 Peter and Ephesians are both from the pen of the same writer, or that Ephesians is based on 1 Pet, are overthrown, among other reasons, by the close relation between Ephesians and Colossians.
2. Johannine Writings
The connection with the Apocalypse is based on Ephesians 2:20 as compared with Revelation 21:14; Ephesians 3:5 and Revelation 10:7; Ephesians 5:11 and Revelation 18:4 , and the figure of the bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7; compare Ephesians 5:25 ). Holtzmann adds various minor similarities, but none of these are sufficient to prove any real knowledge of, let alone dependence on Ephesians. The contact with the Fourth Gospel is more positive. Love (
When we turn to Colossians we find a situation that is without parallel in the New Testament. Out of 155 verses in Ephesians, 78 are found in Colossians in varying degrees of identity. Among them are these: Ephesians 1:6 parallel Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 1:16 parallel Colossians 1:9; Ephesians 1:21 parallel Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 2:16 parallel Colossians 2:20; Ephesians 4:2 parallel Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 4:15 parallel Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:22 parallel Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:32 parallel Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 5:5 parallel Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:19 parallel Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 6:4 parallel Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:5-9 parallel Col 3:22 through 4:1. For a fuller list see Abbott ( ICC , xxiii). Not only is this so, but there is an identity of treatment, a similarity in argument so great that Bishop Barry (NT Commentary for English Readers , Ellicott) can make a parallel analysis showing the divergence and similarity by the simple device of different type. To this we must add that there are at least a dozen Greek words common to these two epistles not found elsewhere. Over against this similarity is to be set the dissimilarity. The general subject of the epistles is not approached from the same standpoint. In one it is Christ as the head of all creation, and our duty in consequence. In the other it is the church as the fullness of Christ and our duty - put constantly in the same words - in consequence thereof. In Ephesians we have a number of Old Testament references, in Colossians only one. In Ephesians we have unique phrases, of which "the heavenly spheres" (
V. The Purpose
If our interpretation of the circumstances, composition and destination of Ephesians be right, we are now in a position to look beneath the surface and ask why the apostle wrote it. To understand its central theme we must remember that Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, is writing in the calm of his imprisonment, far from the noise and turmoil, the conflict and strife, that marked his earlier life. He is now able to look out on the church and get a view of it in its wholeness, to see the part it is to play in God's scheme for the restoration of the human race, to see God's purpose in it and for it and its relation to Him. With this stand-point he can write to the churches about Ephesus on the occasion of Tychicus' return to Colosse, not to correct false views on some special point, but to emphasize the great central truth which he had put in the very forefront of his letter. God's eternal purpose is to gather into one the whole created universe, to restore harmony among His creatures and between them and Himself. The apostle's whole prayer is for this end, his whole effort and desire is toward this goal: that they may have full, clear knowledge of this purpose of God which He is working out through Christ Jesus, who is the head of the church, the very fullness of Him who is being fulfilled all over the world. Everything, for the apostle, as he looks forth upon the empire, centers in the purpose of God. The discord between the elements in the church, the distinction between Jew and Gentile , all these must yield to that greater purpose. The vision is of a great oneness in Christ and through Him in God, a oneness of birth and faith and life and love, as men, touched with the fire of that Divine purpose, seek to fulfil, each in himself, the part that God has given him to play in the world, and, fighting against the foes of God, to overcome at last.
It is a noble purpose to set before men this great mystery of the church as God's means by which, in Christ, He may restore all men to union with Himself. It is an impossible vision except to one who, as Paul was at the time, is in a situation where the strife and turmoil of outside life can enter but little, but a situation where he can look out with a calm vision and, in the midst of the world's discord, discern what God is accomplishing among men.
The Argument of Ephesians is as follows:
Ephesians 1:1 , Ephesians 1:2
Hymn of praise to God for the manifestation of His purpose for men in Christ Jesus, chosen from the beginning to a holy life in love, predestined to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in whom as the Beloved He has given us grace (Ephesians 1:3-6 ). Redeemed by the blood of Christ by whom we have forgiveness of sins through His grace abounding in us and making us know the mystery of His purpose, namely, to unite all in one, even the entire universe (Ephesians 1:7-10 ).
For this Israel has served as a preparation, and to this the Gentiles are come, sealed unto salvation by the Holy Spirit of power.
Ephesians 1:15 , Ephesians 1:16
Thanksgiving for their faith.
Prayer that they may, by the spirit of wisdom and revelation, know their destiny and the power of God to fulfill it.
Ephesians 1:22 Through 2:10
Summary of what God has done in Christ. Christ's sovereignty (Ephesians 1:22 , Ephesians 1:23 ), and headship in the church (Ephesians 1:22 , Ephesians 1:23 ); His work for men, quickening us from a death of sin into which man has sunk, and exalting us to fellowship with Christ by His grace, who has created us for good works as part of His eternal purpose (Ephesians 2:1-10 ).
The contrast between the former estate of the Gentiles, as strangers and aliens, and their present one, "near" by the blood of Christ.
Christ, who is our peace, uniting Jew and Gentile and reconciling man to God through the cross; by whom we all have access to the Father.
This is theirs who as fellow-citizens of the saints, built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, become a sanctuary of God in the Spirit.
A digression on the "mystery," i.e. the revelation to Paul, together with a prayer that men may grasp it. The "mystery" is that all men, Jews and Gentiles, are partakers of the promise. Of this Paul is a minister, to whom has been given the stewardship of that mystery, unfolding to all creatures God's wisdom, in accord with His eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:1-13 ). Prayer that they may live up to their opportunities (Ephesians 3:14-19 ). Doxology (Ephesians 3:20 , Ephesians 3:21 ).
The outcome of this privilege, the fulfillment of the Divine purpose, must show itself in unity of life in the Christian fellowship.
The different gifts which the Christians have are for the upbuilding of the church into that perfect unity which is found in Christ.
The spiritual darkness and corruption of the old Gentile life set over against the enlightenment and purity and holiness of the new life in Christ.
Ephesians 4:25 Through 6:9
Special features of the Christian life, arising out of the union of Christians with Christ and making for the fellowship in the church. On the side of the individual: sins in word (Ephesians 4:25-30 ); of temper (Ephesians 4:31 , Ephesians 4:32 ); self-sacrifice as opposed to self-indulgence (Ephesians 5:1-8 ); the contrast of the present and the past repeated (Ephesians 5:9-14 ); general behavior (Ephesians 5:15-20 ); on the side of social relations: husband and wife exemplified in the relation of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:23-33 ); children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4 ); servants and masters (Ephesians 6:5-9 ).
The Christian warfare, its foes and armor and weapons.
The keynote to the doctrinal basis of the epistle is struck at the very outset. The hymn of praise centers in the thought of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to Him that the blessing is due, to Him, who had chosen us from the beginning, in whom there is redemption in Eph (Ephesians 1:3-7 ). God as the very heart and soul of everything, "is over all, and through all, and in all" (Ephesians 4:6 ). He is the Father from whom all revelation comes (Ephesians 1:17 ), and from whom every human family derives its distinctive characteristics (Ephesians 3:15 ). But He is not only Father in relation to the universe: He is in a peculiar sense the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3 ). The eternity of our Lord is distinctly asserted (Ephesians 1:4 , Ephesians 1:5 ) as of one existing before the foundation of the world, in whom everything heavenly as well as earthly is united, summed up (Ephesians 1:10; compare Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18 ). He is the Messiah (the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6 ) is clearly a Messianic term, as the voice from heaven at Christ's baptism, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," shows (Matthew 3:17 )). In Him we are quickened (Ephesians 2:5 ). He is made flesh (Ephesians 2:15 ). He died on the cross (Ephesians 2:16 ), and by His blood (Ephesians 1:7 ) we have redemption (Ephesians 4:30 ), and reconciliation with God (Ephesians 2:16 ). He whom God raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:20 ), now is in heaven (Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 4:8 ) from which place He comes (Ephesians 4:8 ), bringing gifts to men. (This interpretation makes the descent follow the ascent, and the passage teaches the return of Christ through His gifts of the Spirit which He gave to the church.) He who is in heaven fills all things (Ephesians 4:10 ); and, from a wealth which is unsearchable (Ephesians 3:8 ), as the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22 ), pours out His grace to free us from the power of sin (Ephesians 2:1 ). To this end He endues us with His Spirit (Ephesians 3:16 ). This teaching about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is no abstract theorizing. It is all intensely practical, having at its heart the purpose of God from the ages, which, as we saw above, is to restore again the unity of all things in Him (Ephesians 1:9 , Ephesians 1:10 ); to heal the breach between man and God (Ephesians 2:16 , Ephesians 2:17 ); to break down the separation between Jew and Gentile , and to abolish the enmity not only between them, but between them and God. This purpose of God is to be accomplished in a visible society, the one church, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20 ), of which Jesus Christ is the head of the corner, into which men are to be admitted by holy baptism, where they own one Lord, hold to one faith, in one God and Father of all who is above all and through all (Ephesians 4:4-7 ).
The teaching as to the church is one of the most striking elements of the epistle. In the first place we have the absolute use of the term, which has been already discussed. The apostle sees the whole Christian community throughout the world bound together into a unity, one fellowship, one body. He has risen to a higher vision than man had ever had before. But there is a further teaching in the epistle. Not only is the church throughout the world one body, but it is the body of Christ who is its Head (Ephesians 1:21 f). He has, as Lightfoot suggests, the same relation to the church which in Ephesians 1:10 He has to the universe. He is its Head, "the inspiring, ruling, guiding, combining, sustaining power, the mainspring of its activity, the center of its unity, and the seat of its life." But the relation is still closer. If, as the evidence adduced would necessitate, one accepts J. Armitage Robinson's explanation of
J. Armitage Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians; Westcott, Epistle to the Ephesains; Abbott, "Ephesians and Colossians," International Critical Commentary; Moule, "Ephesians," Cambridge Bible; Salmond, "Ephesians," Expositor's Greek Testament; Macpherson, Commentary on Ephesians; Findlay, "Epistle to the Ephesians," Expositor's Bible; Alexander, "Colossians and Ephesians," Bible for Home and School; Haupt, Meyer's Exeget. und krit. Kommentar; von Soden, Handcommentar; Hort, Prolegomena to the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians; Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Ephesians, Epistle to the'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/e/ephesians-epistle-to-the.html. 1915.
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