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Epistle to the Ephesians
1. External Evidence 2. Internal Evidence
II. PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING
1. Title 2. The Inscription 3. The Evidence of the Letter Itself 4. Conclusion
IV. RELATION TO OTHER NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS
1. Peter 2. Johannine Writings 3. Colossians
V. THE PURPOSE
1. External Evidence:
2. Internal Evidence:
To this very strong chain of external evidence, reaching back to the very beginning of the 2nd century, if not into the end of the 1st, showing Ephesians as part of the original Pauline collection which no doubt Ignatius and Polycarp used, we must add the evidence of the epistle itself, testing it to see if there be any reason why the letter thus early attested should not be accredited to the apostle.
(1) That it claims to be written by Paul is seen not only in the greeting, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus," but also in
(2) Further evidence for the Pauline authorship is found in the general style and language of the letter. We may agree with von Soden (Early Christ. Lit., 294) that "every sentence contains verbal echoes of Pauline epistles, indeed except when ideas peculiar to the Epistle come to expression it is simply a mosaic of Pauline phraseology," without accepting his conclusion that Paul did not write it. We feel, as we read, that we have in our hands the work of one with whom the other epistles have made us familiar. Yet we are conscious none the less of certain subtle differences which give occasion for the various arguments that critics have brought against the claim that Paul is the actual author. This is not questioned until the beginning of the last century, but has been since Schleiermacher and his disciple Usteri, though the latter published his doubts before his master did his. The Tubingen scholars attacked the epistle mainly on the ground of supposed traces of Gnostic or Montanist influences, akin to those ascribed to the Colossians. Later writers have given over this claim to put forward others based on differences of style (De Wette, followed by Holtzmann, von Soden and others); dependence on Colossians (Hitzig, Holtzmann); the attitude to the Apostles (von Soden); doctrinal differences, especially those that concern Christology and the Parousia, the conception of the church (Klopper, Wrede and others). The tendency, however, seems to be backward toward a saner view of the questions involved; and most of those who do not accept the Pauline authorship would probably agree with Julicher (Encyclopedia Biblica), who ascribes it to a "Pauline Christian intimately familiar with the Pauline epistles, especially with Colossians, writing about 90," who sought in Ephesians "to put in a plea for the true catholicism in the meaning of Paul and in his name."
Neither is it true that in Ephesians the Law is spoken of slightingly, as some say, by the reference to circumcision (2:11). In no case is the doctrinal portion of the epistle counter to that of the acknowledged Pauline epistles, though in the matter of the church, and of Christ’s relationship to it and to the universe, there is evidence of progress in the apostle’s conception of the underlying truths, which none the less find echoes in the earlier writings. "New doctrinal ideas, or a new proportion of these ideas, is no evidence of different authorship." (c) In the matter of organization the position of Ephesians is not in any essential different from what we have in 1 Cor.
But in Ac Paul is quoted as using diabolos in 13:10 and satanas in 26:18. It is at least natural that he would have used the Greek term when writing from Rome to a Greek-speaking community. The objection to the expression "holy" (hagiois) apostles (
II. Place and Date of Writing.
The time and place of his writing Ephesians turn on the larger question of the chronology of Paul’s life (see Paul) and the relation of the Captivity Epistles to each other; and the second question whether they were written from Caesarea or Rome (for this see Epistle to Philemon). Suffice it here to say that the place was undoubtedly Rome, and that they were written during the latter part of the two years’ captivity which we find recorded in
To whom was this letter written?
The title says to the Ephesians. With this the witness of the early church almost universally agrees. It is distinctly stated in the Muratorian Fragment (10b, 1. 20); and the epistle is quoted as to the Ephesians by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., v.14, 3; 24, 3); Tertullian (Adv. Marc., v.11, 17; De Praesc., 36; De Monag., v); Clement of Alexandria (Strom., iv.65; Paed., i.18) and Origen (Contra Celsum, iii.20). To these must be added the evidence of the extant manuscripts and VSS, which unite in ascribing the epistle to the Ephesians. The only exception to the universal evidence is Tertullian’s account of Marcion (circa 150 AD) who reads Ad Laodicenos (Adv. Marc., v.11: "I say nothing here about another epistle which we have with the heading `to the Ephesians,’ but the heretics `to the Laodiceans’ .... (v.17): According to the true belief of the church we hold this epistle to have been dispatched to the Ephesians, not to the Laodiceans; but Marcion had to falsify its title, wishing to make himself out a very diligent investigator").
2. The Inscription:
This almost universal evidence for Ephesus as the destination of our epistle is shattered when we turn to the reading of the first verse. Here according toof the New Testament we read "Paul unto the saints which are at Ephesus (en Epheso) and to the faithful in Christ Jesus." When we look at the evidence for this reading we find that the two words en Epheso are lacking in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, and that the corrector of the cursive known as 67 has struck them out of his copy. Besides these a recently described MS, Cod. Laura 184, giving us a text which is so closely akin to that used by Origen that the scribe suggests that it was compiled from Origen’s writings, omits these words (Robinson, Ephesians, 293). To this strong manuscript evidence against the inclusion of these two words in the inscription we must add the evidence of Origen and Basil. Origen, as quoted in Cramer’s Catena at the place, writes: "In the Ephesians alone we found the expression `to the saints which are,’ and we ask, unless the phrase `which are’ is redundant, what it can mean. May it not be that as in Exodus He who speaks to Moses declares His name to be the Absolute One, so also those who are partakers of the Absolute become existent when they are called, as it were, from non-being into being?" Origen evidently knows nothing here of any reading en Epheso, but takes the words "which are" in an absolute, metaphysical sense. Basil, a century and a half later, probably refers to this comment of Origen (Contra Eun., ii.19) saying: "But moreover, when writing to the Ephesians, as to men who are truly united with the Absolute One through clear knowledge, he names them as existent ones in a peculiar phrase, saying `to the saints which are and faithful in Christ Jesus.’ For so those who were before us have handed it down, and we also have found (this reading) in old copies." In Jerome’s note on this verse there is perhaps a reference to this comment on Origen, but the passage is too indefinitely expressed for us to be sure what its bearing on the reading really is. The later writers quoted by Lightfoot (Biblical Essays, 384 f) cannot, as Robinson shows (Eph, 293), be used as witnesses against the Textus Receptus. We may therefore conclude that the reading en Epheso was wanting in many early manuscripts, and that there is good ground for questioning its place in the original autograph. But the explanations suggested for the passage, as it stands without the words, offend Pauline usage so completely that we cannot accept them. To take "which are" in the phrase "the saints which are" (tois ousin) as absolute, as Origen did; or as meaning "truly," is impossible. It is possible to take the words with what follows, "and faithful" (kai pistois), and interpret this latter expression (pistois) either in the New Testament sense of "believers" or in the classical sense of "steadfast." The clause would then read either "to the saints who are also believers," or "to the saints who are also faithful," i.e. steadfast. Neither of these is wholly in accord with Paul’s normal usage, but they are at least possible.
3. The Evidence of the Letter Itself:
The determining factor in the question of the destination of the epistle lies in the epistle itself. We must not forget that, save perhaps Corinth, there was no church with which Paul was so closely associated as that in Ephesus. His long residence there, of which we read in Ac (chapters 19; 20), finds no echo in our epistle. There is no greeting to anyone of the Christian community, many of whom were probably intimate friends. The close personal ties, that the scene of
This element in the epistle, coupled with the strange fact of Marcion’s attributing it to the Laodiceans, and the expression in
IV. Relation to Other New Testament Writings.
Ephesians raises a still further question by the close resemblances that can be traced between it and various other New Testament writings.
The connection between Ephesians and 1 Peter is not beyond question. In spite of the disclaimer of as careful a writer as Dr. Bigg (ICC) it is impossible to follow up the references given by Holtzmann and others and not feel that Peter either knew Ephesians or at the very least had discussed these subjects with its author. For, as Dr. Hort tells us, the similarity is one of thought and structure rather than of phrase. The following are the more striking passages with their parallels in 1 Peter:
2. Johannine Writings:
In one it is Christ as the head of all creation, and our duty in consequence. In the other it is the church as the fullness of Christ and our duty--put constantly in the same words--in consequence thereof. In Ephesians we have a number ofreferences, in Colossians only one. In Ephesians we have unique phrases, of which "the heavenly spheres" (ta epourania) is most striking, and the whole treatment of the relation of Jew and Gentile in the church, and the marriage tie as exemplified in the relation between Christ and the church. In Colossians we have in like manner distinct passages which have no parallel in Ephesians, especially the controversial section in chapter 2, and the salutations. In truth, as Davies (Ephesians, Paul to Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians.) well says: "It is difficult indeed to say, concerning the patent coincidences of expression in the two epistles, whether the points of likeness or of unlikeness between them are the more remarkable." This situation has given rise to various theories. The most complicated is that of H. Holtzmann, who holds that some passages point to a priority of Colossians, others to that of Ephesians; and as a result he believes that Colossians, as we have it, is a composite, based on an original epistle of Paul which was expanded by the author of Ephesians--who was not Paul--after he had written this epistle. So Holtzmann would give us the original Colossians (Pauline), Ephesians (based on it), and the present Colossians (not Pauline) expanded from the former through the latter. The theory falls to the ground on its fundamental hypothesis, that Colossians as it stands is interpolated. The most reasonable explanation is that both Colossians and Ephesians are the work of Paul, written at practically the same time, and that in writing on the same subjects, to different people, there would be just the differences and similarity which we have in these epistles. The objection that Paul could not repeat himself and yet differ as these two letters do is purely imaginary. Zahn shows us that men do just this very thing, giving an account of Bismarck’s speaking on a certain subject to a group of officers and later to a large body of men, and yet using quite different language. Moreover, Paul is not averse to repeating himself (compare Romans and Galatians and 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy) when to do so will serve his purpose. "Simultaneous authorship by one writer," and that writer Paul, is the only explanation that will satisfy all the facts in the case and give them due proportion.
V. The Purpose.
If our interpretation of the circumstances, composition and destination of Ephesians be right, we are now in a position to look beneath the surface and ask why the apostle wrote it. To understand its central theme we must remember that Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, is writing in the calm of his imprisonment, far from the noise and turmoil, the conflict and strife, that marked his earlier life. He is now able to look out on the church and get a view of it in its wholeness, to see the part it is to play in God’s scheme for the restoration of the human race, to see God’s purpose in it and for it and its relation to Him. With this stand-point he can write to the churches about Ephesus on the occasion of Tychicus’ return to Colosse, not to correct false views on some special point, but to emphasize the great central truth which he had put in the very forefront of his letter. God’s eternal purpose is to gather into one the whole created universe, to restore harmony among His creatures and between them and Himself. The apostle’s whole prayer is for this end, his whole effort and desire is toward this goal: that they may have full, clear knowledge of this purpose of God which He is working out through Christ Jesus, who is the head of the church, the very fullness of Him who is being fulfilled all over the world. Everything, for the apostle, as he looks forth upon the empire, centers in the purpose of God. The discord between the elements in the church, the distinction between Jew and Gentile, all these must yield to that greater purpose. The vision is of a great oneness in Christ and through Him in God, a oneness of birth and faith and life and love, as men, touched with the fire of that Divine purpose, seek to fulfil, each in himself, the part that God has given him to play in the world, and, fighting against the foes of God, to overcome at last.
It is a noble purpose to set before men this great mystery of the church as God’s means by which, in Christ, He may restore all men to union with Himself. It is an impossible vision except to one who, as Paul was at the time, is in a situation where the strife and turmoil of outside life can enter but little, but a situation where he can look out with a calm vision and, in the midst of the world’s discord, discern what God is accomplishing among men.
The Argument of Ephesians is as follows:
The keynote to the doctrinal basis of the epistle is struck at the very outset. The hymn of praise centers in the thought of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to Him that the blessing is due, to Him, who had chosen us from the beginning, in whom there is redemption in Eph (1:3-7). God as the very heart and soul of everything, "is over all, and through all, and in all" (4:6). He is the Father from whom all revelation comes (1:17), and from whom every human family derives its distinctive characteristics (3:15). But He is not only Father in relation to the universe: He is in a peculiar sense the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3). The eternity of our Lord is distinctly asserted (1:4,5) as of one existing before the foundation of the world, in whom everything heavenly as well as earthly is united, summed up (1:10; compare 2:12; 4:18). He is the Messiah (the Beloved (1:6) is clearly a Messianic term, as the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," shows (
He who is in heaven fills all things (4:10); and, from a wealth which is unsearchable (3:8), as the Head of the church (1:22), pours out His grace to free us from the power of sin (2:1). To this end He endues us with His Spirit (3:16). This teaching about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is no abstract theorizing. It is all intensely practical, having at its heart the purpose of God from the ages, which, as we saw above, is to restore again the unity of all things in Him (1:9,10); to heal the breach between man and God (2:16,17); to break down the separation between Jew and Gentile, and to abolish the enmity not only between them, but between them and God. This purpose of God is to be accomplished in a visible society, the one church, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (2:20), of which Jesus Christ is the head of the corner, into which men are to be admitted by holy baptism, where they own one Lord, hold to one faith, in one God and Father of all who is above all and through all (4:4-7).
The teaching as to the church is one of the most striking elements of the epistle. In the first place we have the absolute use of the term, which has been already discussed. The apostle sees the whole Christian community throughout the world bound together into a unity, one fellowship, one body. He has risen to a higher vision than man had ever had before. But there is a further teaching in the epistle. Not only is the church throughout the world one body, but it is the body of Christ who is its Head (
These figures sum up the apostle’s thought of that in which the Divine purpose finds its fulfillment. The progress forward to that fulfillment is due to the combined effort of God and man. "The church, the society of Christian men .... is built and yet it grows. Human endeavor and Divine energy cooperate in its development" (Westcott). Out of this doctrinal development the apostle works out the practical life by which this Divine purpose can find its fulfillment. Admitted into the fellowship of the church by baptism, we become members one of another Eph (4:25). It is on this basis that he urges honesty and patience and truth in our intercourse with each other, and pleads for gentleness and a forgiving spirit (4:25- 32). As followers of God we are to keep free from the sins that spring from pride and self-indulgence and any fellowship with the spirit of evil (5:1-14). Our life is to be lived as seeking the fulfillment of God’s purpose in all the relationships of life (5:15-6:9). All is to be done with the full armor of the Christian soldier, as is fitting for those who fight spiritual enemies (6:10 ff). The epistle is preeminently practical, bringing the significance of the great revelation of God’s will to the everyday duties of life, and lifting all things up to a higher level which finds its ideal in the indwelling of Christ in our hearts, out of which we may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:17-19).
VIII. LITERATURE. J. Armitage Robinson, Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians; Westcott, Epistle to the Ephesains; Abbott, "Ephesians and Colossians," International Critical Commentary; Moule, "Ephesians," Cambridge Bible; Salmond, "Ephesians," Expositor’s Greek Testament; Macpherson, Commentary on Ephesians; Findlay, "Epistle to the Ephesians," Expositor’s Bible; Alexander, "Colossians and Ephesians," Bible for Home and School; Haupt, Meyer’s Exeget. und krit. Kommentar; von Soden, Handcommentar; Hort, Prolegomena to the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians; Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians.
Charles Smith Lewis