The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians
[Sidenote: The Author.]

The Pauline authorship of this Epistle is well attested by external evidence. Before 150 we have proof of its wide use among both heretics and Catholics; it is quoted probably by St. Clement and St. Polycarp, and some of its characteristic ideas are to be found in a more developed form in the Shepherd of Hermas. There is one clear reference to it in St. Ignatius, and two other possible references. We trace an interesting connection between the thought of this Epistle and that of the Revelation and the Gospel of St. John (e.g. ch. xvii.) and the First Epistle of St. Peter. Perhaps we may account for it by accepting Renan's suggestion that St. Peter, St. John, and St. Paul were in Rome together. The strongest argument for the Pauline authorship lies in the undesigned coincidences between Ephesians and Romans. In both we notice the same courtesy of manner and sensitive frankness, the same setting forth of God's method of salvation, the same valuation of the relative position of Jews and Gentiles, and of their union in Jesus Christ; the same thought of God's eternal and unchanging purpose very gradually revealed, and extending in its ultimate operation to all creation. It has been well said that the Epistle to the Ephesians is required to give completeness to the argument of Rom. xv. Though we do not find here the controversial reasoning of the earlier Epistle, we have some of those characteristic passages in which the {181} writer, carried away by emotion, leaves statement for prayer or praise (cf. Rom. xi.33 and Eph. iii.20). We have, indeed, in this Epistle evidence which points to a date later than that of some of his Epistles. We miss the expectation of Christ's immediate coming; the Gentiles are now quite secure in the Church; there is proof of the growth of Christian hymns (v.14, 19). But the names of the ministers of the Church seem very primitive, the words "presbyter" and episkopos not being mentioned. And words such as "worlds," "fulness," "generations," which were used in a special sense by the Gnostics of the 2nd century, are here used in an earlier and less technical meaning.

It has been argued that Ephesians is a forged imitation of Colossians, because about half of its verses have parallels in Colossians. This argument has broken down, since it has been shown that it is equally easy to prove that Colossians is based upon Ephesians. And there is nothing strange in the idea that St. Paul wrote two similar letters at the same time to Churches in similar difficulties. The two Epistles resemble one another just as two letters written by one man to two different friends during the same week. The phrase "holy apostles" (iii.5) is also said to be a formula which St. Paul would not have employed. But the word "holy" is used in his writings almost in the sense of "Christian;" it signifies consecration rather than personal perfection. There would, therefore, be no vanity in the apostle applying such a title to himself. The attempt to make the style furnish an argument against the genuineness of the Epistle has also failed. There are thirty-two words used only in this Epistle, but there are also eighteen which are found in Pauline Epistles and not elsewhere in the New Testament. The assumption of some sceptical writers that an apostle must have been too unintelligent to enrich his vocabulary, scarcely deserves serious examination. No one would think of applying the same rule to a Greek classical writer, and if he attempted to do so, he would find that Xenophon varies his language as much as St. Paul.


The real reason why the authenticity of this Epistle has been attacked is this. Ephesians teaches that the Church is a universal society, visibly united by baptism and the ministry, embracing Jew and Gentile on equal terms. But, according to Baur, this conception of the Church is a product of the 2nd century. He assumed that St. Paul could not include the twelve under the name of the "holy apostles," or teach a Catholic doctrine of the Church.[1] The present school of rationalists is inclining to admit that Ephesians is genuine. But it is hard to see how they will be able to do this without also admitting that the Epistle implies that the other "holy apostles" held, like St. Paul, that Christ is divine.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

It is almost certainly not primarily a letter to Ephesus, but a circular letter to several Churches in Asia Minor.

In i.1 we read the words "to the saints which are in Ephesus." But the words "in Ephesus" are omitted in the two great MSS. K and B. Origen also implies that these words were absent in some MSS., and St. Basil definitely says so. And as the Epistle contains no salutation to any individual, it is difficult to imagine that it was specially addressed to Ephesus, where St. Paul's friends were numerous and dear (see Acts xx.17-38). In some passages St. Paul speaks as if he and those to whom he writes knew each other only through third persons (i.15; iii.2). This suggests that the Epistle was written primarily to a Church like that of Colossae which he had never visited.

The probable solution is that it was written to the Christians of Laodicea in the first instance. Tertullian says that Marcion had copies with "Ad Laodicenos" as the title. Now, in this case Marcion had nothing to gain by fraud, and we may therefore suppose that he had honest grounds for using this title. The same title gains some support from Col. ii.1; iv.13, 16. The last verse suggests that it was to be passed on from Laodicea. Perhaps several copies of the letter were written at {183} Laodicea, and a blank space left in them for the insertion of the various addresses. No doubt the letter would be forwarded to Ephesus in time.

Laodicea, at present called Eski-Hissar (the "old fortress"), is now utterly deserted. It was probably founded about B.C.250 by Antiochus II. Theos, and named after his wife Laodike. It was distant eleven miles from Colossae. The population included some Syrians and Jews. It rose to great wealth under the Roman power, and was so rich that when it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D.60 it scorned to seek pecuniary aid from the emperor. It was in a central position on the great trade route from the east, and was famous for its banking business, its manufacture of fine garments of black wool, and its "Phrygian powder" for weak eyes. In Rev. iii.18 there appears to be a veiled allusion to each of these three sources of prosperity. Timothy, Mark, and Epaphras (Col. i.7) were instrumental in spreading Christianity in this region. Laodicea was the leading bishopric of Phrygia throughout the Christian period.

Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. With Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt, it ranked as one of the greatest cities of the East Mediterranean lands. Planted amid the hills near the mouth of the river Cayster, it was excellently fitted to become a great mart, and was the commercial centre for the whole country on the Roman side of Mount Taurus. The substratum of the population was Asiatic, but the progress and enterprise of the city belonged to the Greeks. There, as in the Florence of the Medici, we find commercial astuteness joined with intense delight in graceful culture. Some of the best work of the greatest Greek sculptors and painters was treasured at Ephesus. A splendid but sensuous worship centred round the gross figure of the goddess Artemis, whose temple was one of the greatest triumphs of ancient art. In the British Museum are preserved some fragments of the old temple built by Croesus, King of Lydia, in B.C.550. The vast {184} temple which replaced this older structure was built about B.C.350, with the help of contributions from the whole of Asia. The wealth of the city was increased by the crowds which attended the festivals, and many trades were mainly dependent upon the pilgrims, who required food, victims, images, and shrines. In St. Paul's time the city contained one temple devoted to the worship of a Roman emperor. Ephesus was also a home of magical arts, and was famous for the production of magical formulae known as "Ephesian letters." The actual foundation of the Christian Church in Ephesus may be ascribed to Priscilla and Aquila, whom St. Paul left there on his first visit (Acts xviii.19), On his return to Ephesus he stayed there for two years (Acts xix.1, 10), and the opposition of the tradesmen to a creed which affected the vested interests of idolatry was the cause of the riot so vigorously described by St. Luke. Even after the riot the superstitions of the mob were a serious danger to St. Paul (1 Cor. xv.32; xvi.9; 2 Cor. i.8-10). At a later period Ephesus became the residence of St. John.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

St. Paul wrote this Epistle during his imprisonment at Rome, which began in A.D.59 (see iii.1, 13; iv.1, vi.22). Rome is not mentioned in the Epistle, but the connection between Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians points to the high probability that they were all written from the same place. This place is much more likely to have been Rome than Caesarea, the only other possible locality. Ephesians was apparently written later than Colossians, for it shows an emphasis on new points of doctrine -- the continuity of the Church, the work of the Holy Spirit, the analogy between family life and the Church, and the simile of the spiritual armour.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle is of the nature of a sermon, full of closely interlaced doctrinal arguments on the greatness of that one Gospel and that one Church by which all distinctions in mankind are bridged over and salvation is made sure. The writer {185} fears that there will be some lack of unity in the Church, and that the moral tone of his converts will sink. He wishes for a Christianity both Catholic and deep. So he presents his readers with the portrait of a Church predestined before all ages, appointed to last through all ages, in which all men will be united in holiness and love. If Galatians and Corinthians are more vivid, Romans more rich, and Philippians more affectionate, Ephesians gives us St. Paul's most mature and complete picture of Christianity.

St. Paul explains how his Gentile readers came to their present position in the Church. They are not to regard it as a matter of chance. They were called to Christ as the result of an eternal counsel of God. God intended from eternity to adopt them in union with His Son. This intention was now made known, to sum up all things again in Christ (i.10). The apostle prays for his readers that they may receive enlightenment, and grow in knowledge, particularly concerning the power of God shown in the resurrection and ascension of Christ and his consequent relation to the Church.[2]

The unity of all things in the Son of God is explained in Colossians as having been involved in His creation of them. In Ephesians St. Paul assumes this relation, and shows that it is largely in abeyance through sin. Estrangement has come between man and his God, involving man in death and in the wrath of God (ii.3-5). A wall of division has also been made between Jew and Gentile (ii.14). This division was visibly embodied in the Jewish ordinances. But Jew and {186} Gentile alike have now been reconciled to God, and in being reunited with God are reunited with each other. This momentous change was effected by the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross. The readers are to remember that they are being built into God's own habitation, of which Christ is the Corner-Stone (ii.20).

To the end that they may be filled in their degree with God's attributes, the writer bows his knees (iii.14) unto the Father. He prays for their strengthening because he has a special charge over the Gentiles. This charge involves the stewardship of a secret (iii.3), viz. the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promise of God. He, the least of all saints, has been allowed to proclaim this secret, a work which shows to the heavenly powers the wisdom of God corresponding with His eternal purpose (iii.10, 11). This bounty of God will ever be praised in the Church, which is the monument of that bounty (iii.21).

CHAPTERs iv.-vi. are largely practical. They set out rules of conduct. But even here doctrine is brought in to enforce practical advice. The readers are to "walk worthily" of their calling. To do this, they must realize unity. The principles of unity are magnificently summed up (iv.4-6). Then the apostle mentions some means which God has appointed for the maintenance of unity. Christians have various gifts from the ascended Christ (iv.7-8), and some are specially gifted for ecclesiastical offices (iv.9-13). These gifts make for the completeness of the Church, of which Christ is the Head and the Life. To "walk worthily" also means that everything connected with heathen habits must be sedulously renounced. The old self must be changed for the new. A basis for social life must be found in truthfulness, uprightness, and kindliness (iv.25-32). Purity must specially be preserved, impurity being contrasted with love. Light and darkness are then contrasted, and the sober gaiety of the Christian with heathen folly and excess (v.1-21).

St. Paul passes on to speak of the Christian household -- the {187} duties of husband, wife, children, slaves. He seems to pronounce a great benediction over family life as he compares the union of marriage to the association of Christ with His Church. Just as in calling Christ the Head of which the Church is the body, he suggests the entire dependence of the Church upon Christ, so now in describing the Church as the spouse of Christ, he suggests that this dependence must imply a voluntary and conscious submission. The final exhortation vividly describes the Christian's conflict with evil: to fight victoriously he will need to be well armoured with the whole panoply of God (vi.10-20). There is a short personal conclusion in which St. Paul describes himself as Christ's "ambassador in chains."


Salutation (i.1, 2).

Exposition of God's purpose in adopting the Gentiles as His sons, chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, sealed by the Spirit. A prayer for the readers (i.).

Their new state as saved by grace through faith; reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (ii.). Paul was made a minister to dispense the grace of God to the Gentiles. He prays for their spiritual progress (iii.).

The unity of Christians in the Church combined with diversity of gifts and offices, a warning against heathen vices, and advice as to duty towards one's neighbour (iv.). Christian love, heathen uncleanness, light and darkness, walking circumspectly, sobriety and song (v.1-21).

The union of husbands and wives like that of Christ and His Church (v.22, 23). Duties of children and parents, servants and masters (vi.1-9).

Wrestling against evil powers with the whole armour of God (vi.10-18).

Personal conclusion and benediction (vi.19-24).

[1] See Baur's Paul, vol. ii. p.177 (English translation).

[2] Eph. i.23. The Church is said to be "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." The word "fulness" is derived from philosophy, and means that the Church is, or rather is the realization of, the sum of the sacred attributes of Christ, who fills the whole universe with all kinds of gifts. Some commentators translate "fulness" as if it meant the receptacle of Christ's attributes, and others as if it meant the completion of Christ. But the word is used in a philosophical and not in a literal sense. See Lightfoot, Colossians, p.259.


chapter xiv the epistle of
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