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Ephesians

   Content of this Introduction  (top)

   Fast Facts  (top)

  • Author: Most likely Paul (more info) (Biography of Paul)
  • Date of composition: Early 60's (more info)
  • Place of composition: Probably in prison at Rome
  • Sent to: Probably to a group of churches, of which the Church in Ephesus was one
  • Main themes: Peace and salvation through Christ, living as Christians in the power and unity of the Spirit
  • No. of chapters: 6
  • No. of verses: 155

   Author  (top)

There are many interesting theories regarding the authorship of Ephesians. Some hold that the letter was not written to the Ephesians but to the Laodiceans, others suggest that Ephesians was written by an admirer of Paul (under Paul's name) as an introduction to the rest of Paul's writing, while others hold simply that Paul wrote the letter.

There is undoubtably evidence to question the view that this letter was written by Paul to the Ephesians, though this should be done remembering always that Pauline authorship remained unquestioned until the 19th Century. It is interesting that the most reliable manuscripts of Ephesians lack any mention of the Ephesians in the introduction, and there is not much within the content of the letter that indicates a particular Church to which the author was writing. There is also a different view of marriage within Ephesians than all other undisputed Pauline writings, and a certain lack of "argumentative enthusiasm" common within other undisputed Pauline epistles.

However, there is little in the way of a motive for non-Pauline authorship, and within Ephesians itself there is certainly an abundance of Pauline theology. Other evidence for Pauline authorship includes the fact that the author identifies himself twice as Paul (1:1, 3:1), and indicates a position as a prisoner for Christ (3:1, 4:1), much like Paul. The author also assumes a certain authority within the church or at least assumes that the recipients would recognise him (6:19-20). This no doubt suggests either Paul, or someone who wanted to pass themself off as Paul. Scholars debate the possibility of someone successfully copying Paul's style to the extent that it exists in Ephesians and deviating from other Pauline teaching (with marriage for example) to the extent which has occurred, whilst convincing everyone at the time and up to the 18th Century that it is authentic.

It seems possible, and I feel most likely, that Paul wrote the epistle, but wrote it to a group of churches rather than just one. This would explain the difference in content, style and even to a certain extent, vocabulary. It would also explain the absence of any reference to a particular church in the best Greek manuscripts, and the lack of "argumentative enthusiasm" in his writing. The largest problem remaining then is the change of attitude towards marriage, although there is certainly room for an author to emphasise different points and views in different letters written at different times without being explicitly contradictory.

For more information, view an essay written on the authorship and destination of Ephesians here.

   Date  (top)

The letter refers to Paul in prison (3:1, 4:1), which is usually taken to be referring to Paul's imprisonment at Rome toward the end of his life, which would indicate a date in the early sixties. Those who oppose Pauline authorship date this epistle later, though previous to 90 AD.

   Background  (top)

(Place of Writing, Destination, Purpose, Cultural Considerations)

      Paul and the Church in Ephesus

The Church in Ephesus was started by Paul whilst returning from his second missionary journey (probably around 53 AD). He only stayed briefly, reasoning with the Jewish leaders of the town while he was there, but left Priscilla and Aquila (Jewish converts from the Church in Corinth) behind to encourage the Ephesians in their growth. He left promising to return if it was the Lord's will. (Acts 18:18-21)

Paul's Third Missionary Journey (54-58) saw his return to Ephesus where he stayed for about three years (probably 54-57), building on the work of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila. He initially resumed his preaching to the Jews but soon found opposition and so moved the discussions to the lecture hall of Tyrannus, where he stayed for about two years and "all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord". (Acts 19:1-19)

At the end of this period, Demetrius the Silversmith led a riot in Ephesus attempting to get rid of the young church there, for its teaching on one true God was harming his business (making idols) (Acts 19:23-20:1). This uprising seems to have confirmed Paul's feeling that it was time to leave, and so he bade farewell to the elders of the Church, charging them also with its leadership. (Acts 20:17-35) Paul never visited Ephesus again - but he wrote!

      Circumstances of Writing

Later in his life Paul was imprisoned several times for his Christian witness, and it seems most likely that the Letter to the Ephesians was written from prison in Rome in the early 60's AD. Whilst in prison, he had the freedom to receive friends and dispatch letters; so when he learned of a growing heresy in Colossae he wrote the letter to the Colossians, dispatching it with Tychicus and Onesimus, who also carried with it the Letter to Philemon and possibly the Letter to the Ephesians.

This is significant to help explain the differences and similarities between the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to the Colossians. The Colossian-bound letter deals with many similar issues as the Ephesian-bound letter, but has explicit references to the Colossians (e.g. Col. 1:3-14), whereas the Ephesian letter lacks any personal references to the recipients - even the opening "To the saints in Ephesus" (1:1) is disputed.

It would seem that the Ephesian letter was meant to be received by a much wider community and dealt with general issues; as opposed to Colossians, which was written to a more specific audience, with specific issues requiring attention. It is easy to imagine Paul studiously composing the Letter to the Ephesians and then drawing on the themes which were large in his mind as a result when addressing the Colossians.

      Content

The issues Paul addressed in Ephesians can be clearly seen to be rising above the directions and warnings associated with combating heresy as is common in his other letters - Ephesians is a very positive letter spelling out Paul's view of the unity of the Church under Christ and the way Christians should relate to each other in view of this and under God's plan.

      The City of Ephesus

As regards the City of Ephesus (H8) itself, it can be seen to be of special significance to the Christian ministry to the area - it was a bustling town on many trade routes, with 230 independent communities surrounding it. The strength of the Ephesian Church led to missionaries going out to the surrounding districts with the word of God, not to mention the travellers who passed through the town, who heard the Word of God and brought it home with them. Ephesus was probably also the gateway for the gospel to the six other churches mentioned in the opening of Revelation (Rev. 2-3).

   Content  (top)

  • 1:1-2 Opening address.
  • 1:3-14 Praise to God for His sovereign choice and the blessings that Christ offers.
  • 1:15-23 Paul's prayer that the Ephesians could grow in knowledge and love of God, and understand the hope to which they were called, seeing God's power revealed in all.
  • 2:1-10 The good news of Christ - we were all dead in our transgressions and sins, but have been made alive through faith in Christ.
  • 2:11-3:13 The implications of this gospel - all can be reconciled to God through Christ and therefore all are one in Him.
  • 3:14-21 Paul's prayer that the Father would bless the Ephesians with wisdom and understanding to grasp the love of Christ.
  • 4:1-16 Exhortation to be godly and unified in the Spirit and in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.
  • 4:17-5:21 Exhortation to live as children of light - not to live futile lives and not to sin, but to be imitators of God, thanking and praising Him, and submitting to one another.
  • 5:22-33 Guidance for married couples living under the Lord.
  • 6:1-4 Guidance for families living under the Lord.
  • 6:5-9 Guidance for slaves and masters living under the Lord.
  • 6:10-20 Exhortation for the Christian to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power, with a full understanding and use of the truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Spirit and prayer.
  • 6:21-24 Concluding remarks.

   For Further Information  (top)

      Books

  • Carson, Morris and Moo's "An Introduction to the New Testament"
  • Donald Guthrie's "New Testament Introduction"
  • Francis Foulkes' "Tyndale New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Ed. by L. Morris)"

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