The Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians
The letter to the Ephesians appears to have been written after Paul’s death in Rome, by an author who uses his name, sometime around 80-90 AD. However, If one would only remember to whom the Epistle was addressed and on what occasion it was written, the objections raised against its Pauline authenticity could be readily answered. During the four years intervening between the Epistle to the Romans and that to the Ephesians, St. Paul had changed his headquarters and his line of work, and is now in Rome and Caesarea connected with new Christian centres. From the traditional viewpoint the Epistle to the Ephesians is in the same class as the best attested letters of St. Paul. Used in the First Epistle of St. Peter, in the Epistle of St. Polycarp, in the works of St. Justin Martyr, perhaps in the Didache and I Clement, it appears to have been already well known towards the end of the first century. Marcion and St. Irenæus ascribe it to St. Paul and it seems that St. Ignatius, when writing to the Ephesians in 107 AD, had already made use of it.
Paul, at the time of writing, is in prison (Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20), suffering afflictions (Eph 3:13). Traditionally this “Captivity Epistle” has, along with Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon, been dated to an imprisonment in Rome, likely in A.D. 61–63. Others appeal to an earlier imprisonment, perhaps in Caesarea (Acts 23:27–27:2). Since the early nineteenth century, however, much of critical scholarship has considered the letter’s style and use of words (especially when compared with Colossians), its concept of the church, and other points of doctrine put forward by the writer as grounds for serious doubt about authorship by Paul. The letter may then be the work of a secretary writing at the apostle’s direction or of a later disciple who sought to develop Paul’s ideas for a new situation around A.D. 80–100.
Excerpts from Ephesians:
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The Letter to the Ephesians:
The Father’s Plan of Salvation.
Fulfillment through Christ.
Inheritance through the Spirit.
The Church as Christ’s Body.
- [1:1] [In Ephesus]: the phrase is lacking in important early witnesses such as P46 (3rd cent.), and Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (4th cent.), appearing in the latter two as a fifth-century addition. Basil and Origen mention its absence from manuscripts. See Introduction. Without the phrase, the Greek can be rendered, as in Col 1:2, “to the holy ones and faithful brothers in Christ.”
- [1:3–14] While a Pauline letter usually continues after the greeting with a prayer of thanksgiving, as in Eph 1:15–23 below, Ephesians first inserts a blessing of God for the blessings Christians have experienced, as in 2 Cor 1:3–4 and 1 Pt 1:3–12. The blessing here, akin to a Jewish berakah, is rich in images almost certainly drawn from hymns and liturgy. Many ideas here are also found in Col 1:3–23. Certain phrases are frequently repeated, such as in Christ (Eph 1:3, 10, 12) or in him (Eph 1:4, 7, 9, 11, 13) or in the beloved (Eph 1:6) and (for) the praise of (his) glory (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). Some terms like chose (Eph 1:4) and destined (Eph 1:5) reflect Old Testament theology (Dt 7:7; 9:4–6; 23:5) or Pauline themes (redemption, Eph 1:7, 14; grace, Eph 1:6, 7) or specific emphases in Colossians (forgiveness, Col 1:14). A triadic structure is discernible in Eph 1:3–14: God the Father (Eph 1:3–6, 8, 11), Christ (Eph 1:3, 5, 7–10, 12), and the Spirit (Eph 1:13–14). The spiritual blessings Christians have received through Christ (Eph 1:3) are gratefully enumerated: the call to holiness (Eph 1:4; cf. Col 1:22); the gift of divine adoption establishing a unique spiritual relationship with God the Father through Christ (Eph 1:5; cf. Gal 4:5); liberation from sin through Christ’s sacrificial death (Eph 1:7); revelation of God’s plan of salvation in Christ (Eph 1:9; cf. Eph 3:3–4; Rom 16:25); the gift of election and faith in Christ bestowed upon Jewish Christians (see note on Eph 1:12, we who first hoped in Christ); and finally, the same gift granted to Gentiles (Eph 1:13, you also). In the Christ-centered faith and existence of the Christian communities the apostle sees the predetermined plan of God to bring all creation under the final rule of Christ (Eph 1:4–5, 9–10) being made known (Eph 1:9) and carried through, to God’s glory (Eph 1:6, 12, 14).
- [1:9] Mystery: as in Rom 16:25; Col 1:26, 27 and elsewhere, a secret of God now revealed in the plan to save and sum up all things in Christ (Eph 1:10); cf. Eph 3:3–6.
- [1:15–23] Much of the content parallels thoughts in Col 1:3–20. The prayer moves from God and Christ (Eph 1:17, 20–21) to the Ephesians (Eph 1:17–19) and the church (Eph 1:22–23). Paul asks that the blessing imparted by God the Father (Eph 1:3) to the Ephesians will be strengthened in them through the message of the gospel (Eph 1:13, 17–19). Those blessings are seen in the context of God’s might in establishing the sovereignty of Christ over all other creatures (Eph 1:19–21) and in appointing him head of the church (Eph 1:22–23). For the allusion to angelic spirits in Eph 1:21, see Rom 8:38 and Col 1:16. Here, as in 1 Cor 15:24–25 and Col 2:15, every such principality and power is made subject to Christ.
Generosity of God’s Plan.
- [2:1–22] The gospel of salvation (Eph 1:13) that God worked in Christ (Eph 1:20) is reiterated in terms of what God’s great love (Eph 2:4), expressed in Christ, means for us. The passage sometimes addresses you, Gentiles (Eph 2:1–2, 8, 11–13, 19, 22), but other times speaks of all of us who believe (Eph 2:3–7, 10, 14, 18). In urging people to remember their grim past when they were dead in sins (Eph 2:1–3, 11–12) and what they are now in Christ (Eph 2:4–10, 13), the author sees both Jew and Gentile reconciled with God, now one new person, a new humanity, one body, the household of God, a temple and dwelling place of God’s Spirit (Eph 2:15–16, 19–22). The presentation falls into two parts, the second stressing more the meaning for the church.
- [2:1–10] The recipients of Paul’s letter have experienced, in their redemption from transgressions and sins, the effect of Christ’s supremacy over the power of the devil (Eph 2:1–2; cf. Eph 6:11–12), who rules not from the netherworld but from the air between God in heaven and human beings on earth. Both Jew and Gentile have experienced, through Christ, God’s free gift of salvation that already marks them for a future heavenly destiny (Eph 2:3–7). The language dead, raised us up, and seated us…in the heavens closely parallels Jesus’ own passion and Easter experience. The terms in Eph 2:8–9 describe salvation in the way Paul elsewhere speaks of justification: by grace, through faith, the gift of God, not from works; cf. Gal 2:16–21; Rom 3:24–28. Christians are a newly created people in Christ, fashioned by God for a life of goodness (Eph 2:10).
- [2:11–22] The Gentiles lacked Israel’s messianic expectation, lacked the various covenants God made with Israel, lacked hope of salvation and knowledge of the true God (Eph 2:11–12); but through Christ all these religious barriers between Jew and Gentile have been transcended (Eph 2:13–14) by the abolition of the Mosaic covenant-law (Eph 2:15) for the sake of uniting Jew and Gentile into a single religious community (Eph 2:15–16), imbued with the same holy Spirit and worshiping the same Father (Eph 2:18). The Gentiles are now included in God’s household (Eph 2:19) as it arises upon the foundation of apostles assisted by those endowed with the prophetic gift (Eph 3:5), the preachers of Christ (Eph 2:20; cf. 1 Cor 12:28). With Christ as the capstone (Eph 2:20; cf. Is 28:16; Mt 21:42), they are being built into the holy temple of God’s people where the divine presence dwells (Eph 2:21–22).
Commission to Preach God’s Plan.
Prayer for the Readers.
- [3:1–13] Paul reflects on his mission to the Gentiles. He alludes to his call and appointment to the apostolic office (Eph 3:2–3) and how his insight through revelation, as well as that of the other apostles and charismatic prophets in the church (Eph 3:4–5), has deepened understanding of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. Paul is the special herald (Eph 3:7) of a new promise to the Gentiles (Eph 3:6): that the divine plan includes them in the spiritual benefits promised to Israel. Not only is this unique apostolic role his; Paul also has been given the task of explaining to all the divine plan of salvation (Eph 3:8–9), once hidden. Through the church, God’s plan to save through Christ is becoming manifest to angelic beings (Eph 3:10; cf. Eph 1:21), in accord with God’s purpose (Eph 3:11). The fulfillment of the plan in Christ gives the whole church more confidence through faith in God (Eph 3:12). The readers of this letter are also thereby encouraged to greater confidence despite Paul’s imprisonment (Eph 3:13).
Unity in the Body.
Diversity of Gifts.
Renewal in Christ.
Rules for the New Life.
- [4:1–16] A general plea for unity in the church. Christians have been fashioned through the Spirit into a single harmonious religious community (one body, Eph 4:4, 12; cf. Eph 4:16), belonging to a single Lord (in contrast to the many gods of the pagan world), and by one way of salvation through faith, brought out especially by the significance of baptism (Eph 4:1–6; cf. Rom 6:1–11). But Christian unity is more than adherence to a common belief. It is manifested in the exalted Christ’s gifts to individuals to serve so as to make the community more Christlike (Eph 4:11–16). This teaching on Christ as the source of the gifts is introduced in Eph 4:8 by a citation of Ps 68:18, which depicts Yahweh triumphantly leading Israel to salvation in Jerusalem. It is here understood of Christ, ascending above all the heavens, the head of the church; through his redemptive death, resurrection, and ascension he has become the source of the church’s spiritual gifts. The “descent” of Christ (Eph 4:9–10) refers more probably to the incarnation (cf. Phil 2:6–8) than to Christ’s presence after his death in the world of the dead (cf. 1 Pt 3:19).
- [4:4–6] The “seven unities” (church, Spirit, hope; Lord, faith in Christ [Eph 1:13], baptism; one God) reflect the triune structure of later creeds in reverse.
- [4:11] Concerning this list of ministers, cf. 1 Cor 12:28 and Rom 12:6–8. Evangelists: missionary preachers (cf. Acts 21:8; 2 Tm 4:5), not those who wrote gospels. Pastors and teachers: a single group in the Greek, shepherding congregations.
- [4:12] The ministerial leaders in Eph 4:11 are to equip the whole people of God for their work of ministry.
- [4:13] Mature manhood: literally, “a perfect man” (cf. Col 1:28), possibly the “one new person” of Eph 2:15, though there anthrōpos suggests humanity, while here anēr is the term for male. This personage becomes visible in the church’s growing to its fullness in the unity of those who believe in Christ.
Duty to Live in the Light.
Wives and Husbands.
- [5:14] An early Christian hymn, possibly from a baptismal liturgy. For the content compare Eph 2:5–6; 3:9 and Is 60:1.
Children and Parents.
Slaves and Masters.
Battle against Evil.
A Final Message.
- [6:10–20] A general exhortation to courage and prayer. Drawing upon the imagery and ideas of Is 11:5; 59:16–17; and Wis 5:17–23, Paul describes the Christian in terms of the dress and equipment of Roman soldiers. He observes, however, that the Christian’s readiness for combat is not directed against human beings but against the spiritual powers of evil (Eph 6:10–17; cf. Eph 1:21; 2:2; 3:10). Unique importance is placed upon prayer (Eph 6:18–20).
- [6:21–24] Tychicus: the bearer of the letter; see note on Col 4:7. Eph 6:21–22 parallel Col 4:7–8, often word for word. If Ephesians is addressed to several Christian communities (see Introduction), it is understandable that no greetings to individual members of these communities should have been included in it.