A Study of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

Introduction to Ephesians

There is much that lies behind Paul’s decision to write this great epistle. The world-wide relationship between Jews and Gentiles may be foremost. Some of the prejudices held by the world were brought into the church by those converted. The Gentiles may have been made to feel inferior by the Jews who had not grasped what God had accomplished through His Son, Christ Jesus. The great theme of the six chapters is simply, God’s Eternal Purpose in the One New Man. Paul begins with three chapters of doctrinal instruction and adds three chapters of practical application of the doctrine. Therefore in the last three chapters we will find numerous Greek imperatives (denoting commands).

A. Authorship
  1. Modern scholarship has denied Pauline authorship. Some
    suggest that a later admirer wrote using his name as a
    pseudonym (see Guthrie, p. 482-490 for a good summary).
    Some of their arguments include:
    a. The style and vocabulary are uncharacteristic of Paul.
    Yet, this suggests that a writer must be limited to one style. In other letters, Paul also used long sentences and words that are found only once.
    b. Literary dependence. Since there are parallels (esp. in
    Colossians), the author copied these. Yet, this is best explained by both having the same author.
    c. Historically impossible. It is suggested that the Jew/ Gentile hostility had ceased by this time; the “holy apostles” (3:5) looks back to a former time suggesting that Paul was dead. However, these arguments are based on incorrect conclusions from the text and historical circumstances.
    d. Doctrinal adjustments. The church is now universal which points to a later date; acts attributed to God in other epistles are attributed to Christ here; differences in social teaching from Paul. But, again, under careful scrutiny, none of these arguments support the idea that Paul did not write the letter.
  2. The case for Pauline authorship:
    a. Paul claims to have written it (1:1; 3:1).
    b. The early church accepted the letter as Pauline without
    exception (even Marcion, the heretic, accepted it).
    c. The letter bears the style of Paul found in other letters.
    d. The major theme is consistent with Paul’s teaching revealed in his other letters.
B. Recipients
  1. 1. Some believe that this was an “encyclical” letter, intended for
    several congregations (probably in Asia) rather than just Ephesus. This was first proposed by Beza at the end of the 16th century, popularized by Archbishop Ussher in the 17th, and promoted by many modern scholars. Some of the reasons given for this view include:
    1. a. Several early manuscripts do not include the words “in
      Ephesus” at 1:1 [Chester Beatty 46 which dates to the 2nd century; and the fourth-century Vatican and Sinaitic codices.]. Some have a blank space which may indicate that a congregation’s name was intended to be added when a copy was sent to it.
      b. The letter is not very personal, if intended for a
      congregation with which Paul was very familiar.
    2. c. Marcion referred to it as “the epistle to the Laodiceans” (at about 140 A.D.).
  2. 2. Yet, I believe that it was, indeed, intended for Ephesus.
    1. a. Some manuscripts have “in Ephesus” at 1:1. One
      should ask, “Why do these manuscripts designate the church at Ephesus as the recipient?”
      b. No manuscript has ever been found with any other
      church named in the title or salutation. If the blank space at the beginning of some manuscripts was intended to have a congregational name placed there, we have no example of such.
      c. If intended for Asia Minor, then why was a separate
      letter to Colossae written and also one to Laodicea
      (see Col. 4:16)?
      d. Paul intended all his letters to be shared among
      congregations (Col. 4:16) which would diminish
      the need for a specific “encyclical” letter.
      e. Sending Tychicus (6:21) points to a single church as the recipient. We know that Tychicus also went to Colossae (see Col. 4:7) with a specific letter to the Colossians, but similar to Ephesians. Why would Paul write a special, but similar letter to Colossae (and another to Laodicea, Col. 4:16) if he intended this letter to be “encyclical” for all the churches in the area?
  3. 3. While it would not diminish the message of the letter to believe that it was “encyclical,” it seems best to me to recognize that the recipient of the letter was the church in Ephesus.
    1. a. The church is predominately Gentile (2:11; 3:1-8; 4:17) but there are likely some Jews (see for example, 2:1-3 when Paul says “we” referring to Jews; but also glean information found in Acts 19:8-20).
      b. Paul spent three years preaching in Ephesus (Acts 20:31), so he enjoyed a close relationship with the Christians there.
      c. Ephesus sent funds in Paul’s great Gentile collection for the saints in Judea. They also sent one of their representatives with Paul to deliver these funds (Trophimus and perhaps, Tychicus [see Acts 20:4
      with 21:29]).