The Epistle to the Ephesians

The Epistle to the Ephesians is naturally divided into two parts:

I. The Doctrinal Part, treating of the Unity of the Church, 1:1 -- 3: 21. After the address and salutation,l:l, 2, the apostle praises God for the great spiritual blessings received in Christ, in whom the Ephesians have been chosen, adopted and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 1: 3-14. He renders thanks for these blessings and prays that God may make known to the Church, the glorious body of Christ, who filleth all in all, the glory of its heavenly calling, 1: 15- 23. Then he compares the past and present condition of the readers, 2:1-13, and describes Christs work of reconciliation, resulting in the unity and glory of the Church, 2:14-22. Next he enlarges on the mystery of the Gospel and reminds his readers that he has been commissioned by God to make it known to mankind, 3:1-13. He prays that they may be strengthened and enabled to comprehend the greatness of the love of Christ to the glory of God, 3:14-21.

II. The Practical Part, containing Exhortations to a Conversation worthy of the Calling and Unity of the Readers, 4: 1 -- 6: 20. The readers are exhorted to maintain the unity which God seeks to establish among them by distributing spiritual gifts and instituting different offices, 4:1-16. They should not walk as the Gentiles do, but according to the principle of their new life, shunning the vices of the old man and practicing the virtues of the new, 4:17-32. In society if must be their constant endeavor to be separate from the evils of the world and to walk circumspectly; husbands and wives should conform in their mutual relation to the image of Christ and the Church; children should obey their parents and servants their masters, 5:1 -- 6: 9. Finally Paul exhorts the readers to be strong in the Lord, having put on the whole armour of God and seeking strength in prayer and supplication; and he closes his Epistle with some personal intelligence and a twofold salutation, 6:10-24.


1. This letter is marked first of all by its general character. It has this in common with the Epistle to the Romans, that it partakes somewhat of the nature of a treatise; yet it is as truly a letter, as any one of the other writings of Paul. Deissmann correctly remarks, however, that "the personal element is less prominent in it than the impersonal." St. Paul, p.23. The letter does not presuppose, like those to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, some special clearly marked historical situation, does not refer to any historical incidents known to us from other sources, except the imprisonment of Paul, and contains no personal greetings. The only person mentioned is Tychicus, the bearer of the letter. It treats in a profound and sublime manner of the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ, and of the holy conversation in Christ that must issue from it.

2. It is also characterized by its great similarity to the letter sent to the Colossians. This is so great that some critics have regarded it as merely a revised and enlarged edition of the latter; but this idea must be dismissed altogether, because the difference between them is too great and fundamental. The Epistle to the Colossians is more personal and controversial than that to the Ephesians; the former treats of Christ, the Head of the Church, while the latter is mainly concerned with the Church, the body of Christ. Notwithstanding this, however, the resemblance of the two is readily observed. There is good reason for calling them twin letters. In many cases the same words and forms of expression are found in both; the thought is often identical, while the language differs; and the general structure of the Epistles is very similar.

3. The style of the letter is in general very exalted, and forms a great contrast with that of the epistle to the Galatians. Dr. Sanday says: "With few exceptions scholars of all different schools who have studied and interpreted this epistle have been at one in regarding it as one of the sublimest and most profound of all the New Testament writings. In the judgment of many who are well entitled to deliver an opinion, it is the grandest of all the Pauline letters." The Exp. Gk. Test. III p.208. The style is characterized by a succession of participial clauses and dependent sentences that flow on like a torrent, and by lengthy-digressions. One is impressed by its grandeur, but often finds it difficult to follow the apostle as he soars to giddy heights. The language is further remarkable in that it contains a series of terms with far-reaching significance, such as the council (boule), of God, His will (thelema), His purpose (prothesis), His good pleasure (eudokia), etc., and also a great number of hapax legomena. According to Holtzmann there are 76 words that are peculiar to this epistle, of which 18 are found nowhere else in the Bible, 17 do not occur in the rest of the New Testament, and 51 are absent from all the other Pauline letters (the Pastoral epistles being excepted). Einleitung p.259.


The historical evidence for the Pauline authorship of the Epistle is exceptionally strong. Some scholars claim that Ignatius even speaks of Paul as the author, when he says in his Epistle to the Ephesians: " -- who (referring back to Paul) throughout all his Epistle (en pase epistole) makes mention of you in Christ Jesus." But it is very doubtful, whether the rendering, "in all the Epistle," should not rather be, "in every Epistle." Marcion ascribed the letter to Paul, and in the Muratorian Fragment the church of Ephesus is mentioned as one of the churches to which Paul wrote Epistles. Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria refer to Paul by name as the author of this letter and quote it as his, while Tertullian mentions Ephesus among the churches that had apostolic Epistles.

Internal evidence also points to Paul as the author. In the opening verse of the Epistle the writer is named, and the structure of the letter is characteristically Pauline. In the first place it contains the usual blessing and thanksgiving; this is followed in the regular way by the body of the epistle, consisting of a doctrinal and a practical part; and finally it ends with the customary salutations. The ideas developed are in perfect agreement with those found in the letters which we already discussed, although in certain particulars they advance beyond them, as f. i. in the theological conception of the doctrine of redemption; and in the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ with its various organs. The style of the Epistle too is Pauline. It is true that it differs considerably from that of Romans, Corinthians and Galatians, but it shows great affinity with the style of Colossians and of the Pastorals.

Notwithstanding all the evidence in favor of the Pauline authorship of this Epistle, its authenticity has been questioned by several New Testament scholars. De Wette, Baur and his school, Davidson, Holtzmann and Weizsacker are among the most prominent. The idea is that some later, probably a second century writer impersonated the great apostle. The principal grounds on which the Epistle was attacked, are the following: (1) It is so like the Epistle to the Colossians that it cannot be an original document. De Wette came to the conclusion that it was a "verbose amplification" of the Epistle to the Colossians. Holtzmann, finding that in some parts the priority must be ascribed to Ephesians rather than to Colossians, advocated the theory that Paul wrote an Epistle to the Colossians shorter than our canonical letter; that a forger, guided by this, fabricated the Epistle to the Ephesians; and that this plagiarist was so enamoured with his work that he, in turn, revised the Colossian Epistle in accordance with it. (2) The vocabulary and in general the style of the Epistle is so different from that of the other letters of Paul as to give it an un-Pauline stamp. This objection is based partly, though not primarily, on the numerous hapax lechomena; but especially on the use of Pauline words in a new souse, such as musterion, oikonomia and peripoiesis; on the expression of certain ideas by terms that differ from those employed elsewhere by the apostle for the same purpose, as f. i. ho theos tou kuriou hemon Iesou, 1:17, and above all tois hagiois apostolois kai prophetais, 3 :5, which, it is said, smacks of a later time, when the apostles were held in great veneration, and does not agree with the apostles estimate of himself in 3 : 8; and on the fact that, as Davidson puts it, "there is a fulness of expression which approaches the verbose." (3) The line of thought in this letter is very different from that of the recognized Pauline Epistles. The law is contemplated, not in its moral and religious value, but only as the cause of enmity and separation between Jew and Gentile; the death of Christ is not dwelt on as much as in the other Epistles, while his exaltation is made far more prominent; the parousia is placed in the distant future; and instead of the diversity the unity of the Church in Jesus Christ if emphasized: (4) The Epistle contains traces of Gnostic and even of Montanist influences in such words as aiones, pleromaand geneai (5) The letter, along with the writings of John, evidently aims at reconciling the Petrine and Pauline factions, and therefore emphasizes the unity of the Church. This unmistakably points to the second century as the time of its composition.

But these objections are not sufficient to discredit the Pauline authorship. Such men as Lightfoot, Ellicott, Eadie, Meyer, Hodge, Reuss, Godet, Weiss, Baljon, Zahn, Sanday and Abbot defend it. The similarity of the Epistle and that to the Colossians is most naturally explained by the fact that the two were written by the same author, at about the same time, under similar circumstances, and to neighboring congregations. The idea that it is but a copy of the Epistle to the Colossians is now generally given up, since it appears that many passages favor the priority of Ephesians. The theory of Holtzmann is too complicated to command serious consideration. This whole argument is very peculiar in view of the following ones. While it derives its point from the Epistles similarity to Colossians, their cogency depends on the unlikeness of this letter to the other Epistles of Paul. The linguistic features to which the critics call attention are not such as to disprove the Pauline authorship. If the hapax legomena found in this letter prove that it is unPauline, we must come to a similar conclusion with respect to the Epistle to the Romans, for this contains a hundred words that are peculiar. The terms that are said to be used in a new sense dwindle into insignificance on closer inspection. And of the expressions that are held to be unusual only the one in 3: 5 has any argumentative force. And even this need not cause surprise, especially not, if we take in consideration that Paul designates believers in general as hagioi, and that in this place he applies this epithet at once to the apostles and to the prophets. And further we may ask, whether it is reasonable to demand that such a fertile mind as that of Paul should always express itself in the same way. The argument derived from the line of thought in this Epistle simply succeeds in proving, what is perfectly obvious, that the apostle looks at the work of redemption from a point of view different from that of the other letters, that he views it sub specie aeternitatis. It is now generally admitted that the supposed traces of Gnosticism and Montanism have no argumentative value, since the terms referred to do not have the second century connotation in this Epistle. Similarly that other argument of the Tubingen school, that the letter was evidently written to heal the breach between the Judaeistic and the liberal factions of the Church, is now discarded, because it was found to rest on an unhistorical basis.


There is considerable uncertainty respecting the destination of this Epistle. The question is whether the words en Epheso in 1:1 are genuine. They are indeed found in all the extant MSS. with the exception of three, viz, the important MSS. Aleph and B and codex 67. The testimony of Basil is that the most ancient MSS. in his day did not contain these words. Tertullian informs us that Marcion gave the Epistle the title ad Laodicenos; and Origen apparently did not regard the words as genuine. All the old Versions contain them; but, on the other hand, Westcott and Hort say: "Transcriptional evidence strongly supports the testimony of documents against en Epheso." New Testament in Greek, Appendix p.123. Yet there was in the Church an early and, except as regards Marcion, universal tradition that the Epistle was addressed to the Ephesians. Present day scholars quite generally reject the words, although they are still defended by Meyer, Davidson, Eadie and Hodge. The conclusion to which the majority of scholars come is, either that the Epistle was not written to the Ephesians at all, or that it was not meant for them only, but also for the other churches in Asia.

Now if we examine the internal evidence, we find that it certainly favors the idea that this Epistle was not intended for the Ephesian church exclusively, for (1) It contains no references to the peculiar circumstances of the Ephesian church, but might be addressed to any of the churches founded by Paul. (2) There are no salutations in it from Paul or his companions to any one in the Ephesian church. (3) The Epistle contemplates only heathen Christians. while the church at Ephesus was composed of both Jews and Gentiles, 2:11, 12; 4:17; 5: 8. (4) To these proofs is sometimes added that 1: 15 and 3: 2 make it appear as if Paul and his readers were not acquainted with each other; but this is not necessarily implied in these passages.

In all probability the words en Epheso were not originally in the text. But now the question naturally arises, how we must interpret the following words tois hagiois tois ousin kai pistois; etc. Several suggestions have been made. Some would read: "The saints who are really such ;" others: "the saints existing and faithful in Jesus Christ ;" still others: "the saints who are also faithful." But none of these interpretations is satistactory: the first two are hardly grammatical; and the last one implies that there are also saints who are not faithful, and that the Epistle was written for a certain select view. Probably the hypothesis first suggested by Ussher is correct, that a blank was originally left after tois ousin, and that Tychicus or someone else was to make several copies of this Epistle and to fill in the blank with the name of the church to which each copy was to be sent. The fact that the church of Ephesus was the most prominent of the churches for which it was intended, will account for the insertion of the words en Epheso in transcribing the letter, and for the universal tradition regarding its destination. Most likely, therefore, this was a circular letter, sent to several churches in Asia, such as those of Ephesus, Laodicea, Hierapolis, e. a. Probably it is identical with the Epistle ek Laodikias, Col.4 :16.


1. Occasion and Purpose. There is nothing in the Epistle to indicate that it was called forth by any special circumstances in the churches of Asia. To all appearances it was merely the prospective departure of Tychicus and Onesimus for Colossae, 6: 21, 22; Col.4: 7-9, combined with the intelligence that Paul received as to the faith of the readers in the Lord Jesus, and regarding their love to all the saints, 1: 15, that led to its composition.

Since the Epistle was not called forth by any special historical situation, the purpose of Paul in writing it was naturally of a general character. It seems as if what he had heard of "the faith of the readers in the Lord Jesus, and of their love to all the saints," involuntarily fixed his thought on the unity of believers in Christ, and therefore on that grand edifice, -- the Church of God. He sets forth the origin, the development, the unity and holiness, and the glorious end of that mystical body of Christ. He pictures the transcendent beauty of that spiritual temple, of which Christ is the chief cornerstone and the saints form the superstructure.

2. Time and Place. From 3: 1 and 4: 1 we notice that Paul was a prisoner, when he wrote this Epistle. From the mention of Tychicus as the bearer of it in 6: 21, compared with Col.4: 7 and Philemon 13, we may infer that these three letters were written at the same time. And it has generally been thought that they were composed during the Roman imprisonment of Paul. There are a few scholars, however, such as Reuss and Meyer, who believe that they date from the imprisonment at Caesarea, A. D.58-60. Meyer urges this view on the following grounds: (1) It is more natural and probable that the slave Onesimus had run away as far as Caesarea than that he had made the long journey to Rome. (2) If these Epistles had been sent from Rome, Tychicus and Onesimus would have arrived at Ephesus first and then at Colossae. But in that case the apostle would most likely have mentioned Onesimus along with Tychicus in Ephesians, like he does in Collossians 4: 9, to insure the runaway slave a good reception; which was not necessary however, if they reached Colossae first, as they would in coming from Casarea, since Onesimus would remain there.

(3) In Eph.6: 21 the expression, "But that ye also may know my affairs," implies that there were others who had already been informed of them, viz, the Collossians, Col.4: 8, 9. (4) Pauls request to Philemon in Philem.22, to prepare a lodging for him, and that too, for speedy use, favors the idea that the apostle was much nearer Colosse than the far distant Rome. Moreover Paul says in Phil.2: 24 that he expected to proceed to Macedonia after his release from the Roman imprisonment.

But these arguments are not conclusive. To the first one we may reply that Onesimus would be far safer from the pursuit of the fugitivarii in a large city like Rome than in a smaller one such as Caesarea. The second argument loses its force, if this Epistle was a circular letter, written to the Christians of Asia in general. The kai in Eph.6 :21 is liable to different interpretations, but finds a sufficient explanation in the fact that the Epistle to the Colossians was written first. And in reply to the last argument we would say that Philem.22 does not speak of a speedy coming, and that the apostle may have intended to pass through Macedonia to Colossae.

It seems to us that the following considerations favor the idea that the three Epistles under consideration were written from Rome: (1) From Eph.6:19, 20 we infer that Paul had sufficient liberty during his imprisonment to preach the gospel. Now this ill accords with what we learn of the imprisonment at Qesarea from Acts 24:23, while it perfectly agrees with the situation in which Paul found himself at Rome according to Acts 28:16. (2) The many companions of Paul, viz. Tychicus, Aristarchus, Marcus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas, quite different from those that accompanied him on his last journey to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20: 4), also point to Rome, where the apostle might utilize them for evangelistic work. Cf. Phil.1:14. (3) In all probability Philippians belongs to the same period as the other Epistles of the imprisonment; and if this is the case, the mention of Caesars household in Phil.4: 22 also points to Rome. (4) Tradition also names Rome as the place of composition. Ephesians must probably be dated about A.D.62.


The early Church leaves no doubt as to the canonicity of this Epistle. It is possible that we have the first mention of it in the New Testament itself, Col.4:16. The writings of Igpatius, Polycarp, Herman and Hippolytus contain passages that seem to be derived from our Epistle. Marcion, the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian clearly testify to its early recognition and use. There is not a dissentient voice in all antiquity.

The particular significance of the Epistle lies in its teaching regarding the unity of the Church: Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. It constantly emphasizes the fact that believers have their unity in the Lord and therefore contains the expression "in Christ" about twenty times. The unity of the faithful originates in their election, since God the Father chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, 1: 4; it finds expression in a holy conversation, sanctified by true love, that naturally results from their living relation with Christ, in whom they are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit; and it issues in their coming in the "unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." The great practical exhortation of the Epistle is that believers live worthily of their union with Christ, since they were sometime darkness, but are now light in the Lord, and should therefore walk as children of light, 5:8.

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