Letter to the Ephesians
EPHESIANS, LETTER TO THE. Generally acknowledged to be one of the richest and most profound of the NT letters. The depth and grandeur of its concepts, the richness and fullness of its message, and the majesty and dignity of its contents have made theprecious to believers in all ages and in all places. Its profound truths and vivid imagery have deeply penetrated into the thought and literature of the Christian church.
Ephesians explicitly claims authorship by Paul (
Along with Colossians and Philemon (
How are the phenomena to be accounted for? One widely accepted view is that the letter was really an encyclical sent to the various churches of Provincial Asia, of whom Ephesus was the most important. It is often further assumed that originally a blank was left for the insertion of the local place-name. The impersonal tone and contents of the letter are urged as confirmation.
The view is plausible, but it has its difficulties. If it was originally directed to a group of churches, would not Paul, in accordance with his known practice of including a direct address, rather have written “in Asia,” or “in the churches of Asia”? In all other places where Paul uses the words “to those who are” he adds a local place-name. Then how is the uniform tradition of its Ephesian destination to be accounted for? Those who insist it was for Ephesus alone are confronted with the encyclical nature of its contents. A fair solution would seem to be that the letter was originally addressed to the saints “at Ephesus” but was intentionally cast into a form that would make it suitable to meet the needs of the Asian churches. As transcriptions of the original to the mother church were circulated, the place of destination might be omitted, though they were uniformly recognized as the letter originally addressed to the Ephesians.
Its contents offer no clear indication as to the occasion for the writing of Ephesians. Its affinity to Colossians in time of origin and contents suggests an occasion closely related to the writing of that letter. Ephesians seems to be the after-effect of the controversy that caused the writing of Colossians. Colossians has in it the intensity, rush, and roar of the battlefield, while Ephesians has a calm atmosphere suggestive of a survey of the field after the victory. With the theme of Colossians still fresh in mind Paul felt it desirable to declare the positive significance of the great truths set forth in refuting the Colossian heresy. A firm grasp of the truths here stated would provide an effective antidote to such philosophical speculations.
Ephesians sets forth the wealth of the believer in union with Christ. It portrays the glories of our salvation and emphasizes the nature of the church as the body of Christ. As indicated by the doxology in
I. The Salutation (1:1-2).
II. Doctrinal: The Believer’s Standing in Christ (1:3-3:21).
A. The thanksgiving for our redemption (1:3-14).
B. The prayer for spiritual illumination (1:15-23).
C. The power of God manifested in our salvation (2:1-10).
D. The union of Jew and Gentile in one body in Christ (2:11-22).
E. The apostle as the messenger of this mystery (3:1-13).
F. The prayer for the realization of these blessings (3:14-19).
G. The doxology of praise (3:20-21).
III. Practical: The Believers’ Life in Christ (4:1-6:20).
A. Their walk as God’s saints (4:1-5:21).
1. The worthy walk, in inward realization of Christian unity (4:1-16).
2. The different walk, in outward manifestation of a changed position (4:17-32).
3. The loving walk, in upward imitation of our Father (5:1-17).
4. The summary of the Spirit-filled life (5:18-21).
B. Their duties as God’s family (5:22-6:9).
C. Their warfare as God’s soldiers (6:10-20).
IV. The Conclusion (6:21-24).
Bibliography: J. A. Robinson, St. Paul’s(on the Greek text), 1914; C. Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, (1856; repr. 1950); F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians, 1961; Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (TNTC), 1963; M. Barth, Ephesians (AB), 2 vols., 1974.——DEH
The reference to Tychichus and to the apostle’s “chains” (
Authorship and canonicity.
Building on this seemingly secure conclusion, critics began to look for other evidence of the inauthentic character of this epistle. Singled out were the extraordinarily close relationship of Ephesians to Colossians, the verbose and unusually long sentences of Ephesians, the peculiar phrase, “his holy apostles and prophets” (3:5; cf. 2:20), and the presence of many “non-Pauline” words.
Just at the time when the spurious nature of the epistle seemed beyond question, however, new MS discoveries and textual studies showed that the letter had not been addressed to the church at Ephesus. This meant that the primary evidence for deciding against the authenticity of Ephesians was no longer valid. The problem became then whether the arguments dependent upon the vocabulary, style, and internal inconsistencies were sufficient or certain enough to reject an epistle that had the strongest possible external and internal attestation to Pauline authorship. On this question critical scholarship became divided. English scholars generally defended, Ger. scholars with a few notable exceptions rejected, and American scholars appeared on both sides of the issue. At the present time, the situation remains largely unchanged.
What tends to complicate the debate is the fact that (1) there is little agreement concerning the basis for rejection among the critics who reject the authenticity of the epistle; (2) many of the arguments advanced are mutually exclusive (e.g. most American scholars who reject Ephesians accept the genuineness of Colossians. Yet the arguments against Ephesians advanced by Ger. scholarship would make Colossians inauthentic as well); (3) arguments that have been shown to be invalid continue to be presented against Ephesians (e.g. arguments based on vocabulary statistics. In such instances it appears that some critics depend on the number of objections which can be raised rather than the decisive value of any given argument).
Arguments against the genuineness of the epistle
One of the older but more persistent arguments advanced against the genuineness of the letter is the number of “non-Pauline” words it contains. F. W. Beare, in the IB states it this way. “There are, to begin with, an extraordinarily large number of hapax legomena—eighty-two words not found elsewhere in the NT.” Johnson, in the IDB uses the same argument: “Linguistic considerations alone are not decisive; yet note that Ephesians has about a hundred non-Pauline words, of which some forty are unique in the NT.”
However, every writing of Paul, including the brief note to Philemon, has a number of “non-Pauline” words. Some of these occur nowhere else in the NT (commonly called hapax legomena), whereas others, though they occur elsewhere in the NT, do not appear in any other Pauline writing. Out of the total vocabulary of Ephesians (529 words) 95 are “non-Pauline” (the statistics do not include the pastorals since many critics question their genuineness also). The number indeed appears imposing. Romans, however, has 292 non-Pauline words, 1 Corinthians 283, 2 Corinthians 207, and Galatians with a vocabulary of 526 words has an identical number of 95 non-Pauline words. And Philippians with 84 non-Pauline words out of a total vocabulary of 448, has a higher percentage than Ephesians. Yet these letters have been almost universally accepted as Paul’s.
Every study of non-Pauline vocabulary (see P. N. Harrison, The Problem of the; J. Schmid, Der Epheserbrief Des Apostels Paulus; and the very sophisticated study of K. Grayston and G. Herdan, “The Authorship of the Pastorals in the Light of Statistical Linguistics” NTS VI , 1-15; and the author’s own investigation, G. W. Barker, A Critical Evaluation of the Lexical and Linguistic Data Advanced by E. J. Goodspeed and Supported by C. L. Mitton in a Proposed Solution to the Problem of the Authorship and Date of Ephesians) supports the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.
A modern study by Goodspeed has sent the argument based on vocabulary in a new direction. He has not based his argument on the number of non-Pauline words but on the more frequent appearance of these words in writings of the tenth decade. In a limited study he has shown that thirty-one of the thirty-two non-Pauline words studied in Ephesians reappear in Acts, Revelation, Hebrews, and 1 Peter, writings dated by him in the tenth decade. This served to confirm Goodspeed’s thesis that Ephesians was written by a disciple of Paul sometime around a.d. 90. Goodspeed failed, however, to test his findings from Ephesians by similar studies of unchallenged Pauline writings. If he had done so, he would have found that Galatians, for example, has 61 words that met his criteria, 56 of which reappear in the same four writings as is true of Ephesians. Moreover, they occur with even greater frequency (433 instances to 235). The same is true of 1 Corinthians, Romans, 2 Corinthians, and Philippians. All that Goodspeed discovered was an unusual trait of a genuine epistle, not a proof of inauthenticity.
It has been alleged that an unusually high number of non-Pauline words in Ephesians reappear in the writings of the early Fathers, again supporting a late date for Ephesians. The facts, however, prove to be contrary. In comparable studies, Ephesians shows fewer words that appear either in the Apostolic Fathers or the Apologists percentage-wise than does Galatians or Romans. If the Apostolic Fathers alone are compared, Ephesians shows proportionally fewer such words than 1 Corinthians or Philippians. On the other hand, non-Pauline writings show a vast difference in this respect. Ephesians has the identical statistical pattern of the genuine epistles of Paul. That such a pattern could have been effected deliberately or unconsciously by an imitator seems wholly unreasonable.
The relationship of Ephesians to other Pauline epistles.
It has been alleged that Ephesians reads as a “mosaic,” implying that it is “shot through” with expressions from earlier Christian writings (cf. Käsemann, p. 289). Goodspeed finds that out of 618 phrases in Ephesians, 550 have unmistakable parallels in the other Pauline letters either in “word or substance.” Although Mitton concedes that Goodspeed has overstated the case, he still finds 250 phrases in Ephesians that have parallels in other Pauline writings—an amount far in excess of a genuine Pauline epistle. Neither Goodspeed or Mitton, however, exercised the same care to discover in their test book, Philippians, parallels to other Pauline epistles, as they did with Ephesians. They include verbatim parallels between Ephesians and the other Paulines, six consisting of a single word, twenty-eight phrases of two words, eighteen of three, and twelve of four. Of the twelve parallels consisting of more than five words, seven occur in Colossians, two are citations from the OT, and two more are formulae benedictions, and one consists of a standard Pauline introduction formula.
On the other hand, approximately one half of the parallels between Philippians and the other Pauline letters are overlooked. If one counts the number of words in Ephesians that occur in phrases that have exact verbal correspondence with other Pauline writings, the total amount will be 148. If one makes a similar count of Philippians, the corresponding total will be 129. Considering the difference in length between the two books, the results are negligible. Moreover, if one subtracts the Colossians parallels from both books, Philippians is left with 122 instances of verbatim likenesses compared to 115 in Ephesians. The evidence indicates that although there is a remarkable relation between Ephesians and Colossians, there is nothing at all unusual concerning the relation of Ephesians to the other Pauline epistles.
It has been long observed that the style of Ephesians is remarkably unlike that of the other Pauline letters. There is a predilection for overly long conglomerate sentences, synonyms heaped one upon another, and endless genitival connections. Although the phenomena can be paralleled elsewhere in Paul (cf. Ernst Percy, Die Probleme der Kolosserund Epheserbriefe) such Sem., syntactical phenomena occurs four times as often in Ephesians as in all other epistles of the Pauline corpus (cf. K. G. Kuhn, “Der Epheser im Lichte der Qumrantexte,” NTS VII , p. 334f.). The style has been variously described as “Hymnic-liturgical” (Goodspeed), “Meditative-doxological” (Käsemann); and “Liturgical-prayerful” (M. Barth). Yet the style phenomena in Ephesians cannot alone be used to decide the issue of its genuineness. The familiar Pauline phrases are clearly in evidence and the pattern of thought is admittedly Pauline. What distinguishes Ephesians from the other epistles is not so much the presence of that which is non-Pauline, as it is the concentrated use of the Pauline language of worship.
Other questions are raised by those who doubt the authenticity of this epistle. Would Paul have written two letters so much alike as Colossians and Ephesians? Would he have employed the same words (e.g. μυστήριον, G3696, or οἰκονομία, G3873) but have given them new meanings? Would he have referred to the apostles as “holy,” or to the Church as built upon the apostles and prophets? Could he have conceived of the Church as “universal,” believed that Christ descended into Hades, or refrained from mentioning the Parousia?
The problem with these questions, however, is their subjective character. By their very nature, they defy objective analysis. Their answers depend heavily on our own prejudices of what we think would be appropriate for Paul in a given situation. There is no possibility of determining from a 20th cent. viewpoint what Paul could or could not have thought or written. It is just as difficult to enter the thought-world of “baptizing for the dead” (
In summary, the internal considerations, where they can be reduced to objective, statistical data, clearly support Pauline authorship. The external data is early and weighty, and has always been recognized as tipping the scales heavily toward genuineness. What remains are those differences of style, mood, word usage, and point of view that confront us for the first time in this letter. Most critics will acknowledge that no one illustration of difficulty from this material would by itself be sufficient to cause us to question the genuineness of the writing.
It is this situation that demands confronting the question that H. J. Cadbury has so aptly framed: “which is more likely that an imitator in the first century composed a writing ninety or ninety-five percent in accordance with Paul’s style or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging five or ten percent from his usual style?” The force of Cadbury’s question becomes even more formidable if one allows that the circumstances that brought forth this particular letter are undeniably different from what was true of the other Pauline letters and that they require both differences in style and subject matter.
Origin and destination.
In the beginning of Paul’s ministry, he was almost totally consumed in establishing and maintaining his churches. Little time was left to him for anything else, esp. for “writing theology” or publishing treatises on baptism or church government. If indeed he wrote at all, his letters were limited to that which was critical for the mission. His epistles from this period are consequently relatively easy to fix as to occasion, date, and purpose. They abound in personal references and make frequent reference to the local situation.
Toward the end of Paul’s life, this situation changed. Paul’s arrests grew more frequent and the amount of time he spent in prison became a primary factor. He was arrested at Ephesus and prob. imprisoned. He gained his freedom, but was arrested in Jerusalem. Two long years were spent in prison at Caesarea followed by two more years at Rome. Although prison itself represented no new experience for Paul (cf.
If Paul lost something by being cut off from personal contact with his churches, he was to some extent compensated by the opportunity he gained for reflecting upon the Christian mission as it had developed and as to its future. In such a review Paul could not have avoided certain conclusions: (1) The mission of the Church in the world was going to involve a longer time than was originally supposed; (2) the time could not be far distant when the apostles and their associates would no longer be available to lead the Church; (3) God’s plan from the beginning must have anticipated this fact; (4) there were mysteries in God’s dealing with Jews and Gentiles yet to be understood.
Paul’s attention was inevitably drawn to the consideration of these questions, and the socalled “prison” correspondences logically include some refinement of the apostle’s thinking on these subjects. Also the epistles of this period understandably bear less of the personal touch. Large sections of the writings seem to have been predigested. More of it seems to have originated out of the life and worship of the Christian community. If the above is assumed, it is understandable why a reconstruction of events leading to the publication of Ephesians must indeed be tenuous. Apart from the reference to Tychicus (6:21) and Paul’s imprisonment (
1) A significant number of hymns (e.g.
In any instance it seems likely that the liturgical style of the letter was not accidental (i.e. an expression of the peculiar style of the author). Either the writer chose this style deliberately because it furnished the best context for the materials he was using, or else it was dictated by the tastes of the community to which he was writing and the usage to which it would be put.
2) Ephesians has a distinct relationship to Colossians. The reference to Tychicus in both letters and the overlapping of vocabulary, style, and subject matter makes it clear that the origin of Ephesians cannot be explained apart from Colossians. The usual explanation is that Paul first wrote Colossians as a polemical epistle and then adapted portions from it for use in Ephesians. A close study of specific texts, however, makes this solution doubtful. The fact is that although there are passages where Colossians appears to offer the more original statement, there are no less than twenty-five passages where the converse is true. Equally difficult is the fact that words and phrases in Colossians are used in different combinations and with quite different meanings in Ephesians. That the same author within a limited time span should have composed de novo two letters to the same area with such startling alterations seems incomprehensible. A different solution is demanded.
One possibility is that the Ephesian letter was already in process of preparation when the Colossian controversy arose. Paul had been utilizing his time in prison to collect from the community appropriate hymns, prayers, and confessions, which he intended to work over into a general tract meant to instruct catechumens among the churches of Asia Minor. These plans were interrupted, however, by the crisis in the Lycus Valley triggered by a fresh invasion of Gnostic type speculation. An unwholesome asceticism was being advocated in the church along with false teaching concerning the person of Christ and His place in the cosmos. The issue was serious enough to require an immediate and specific response from Paul.
A letter was prepared and addressed to the church at Colossae. Because Paul had saturated his mind with the worship language of the area with its speculative thought in preparation of his Ephesian tract, it was inevitable that he would draw upon this ready reservoir for his epistle to the Colossians. Many of the same words and phrases that later appear in Ephesians are used, although here in a more specifically “Pauline” formulation.
Afterward, when Paul hastened to complete the Ephesian tract so that it could be sent along with Tychichus, certain overlappings of subject material occurred. Some of the things mentioned in Colossians were included in Ephesians but in a more expanded form whereas others are referred to only cursorily.
The difficult problem, then, of the differences between Colossians and Ephesians in word usage and phraseology can be accounted for in this reconstruction by
(1) the difference of purpose of the two letters;
(2) the result of adapting language drawn from worship materials to an epistolary style;
(3) the utilization by Paul of some worship materials that he collected from the churches but had not necessarily authored.
Content and organization.
The first main division (
(1) chose man to stand in His presence (
(2) destined him for sonship (
(3) redeemed him through the blood of Christ (
(4) forgave him his trespasses (
(5) revealed to him the mystery of His own divine will (
Most of all he rejoices that the time has come when the eternal plan of God set forth in Christ for the world is to be accomplished, which is: to bring into union everything and everybody, earthly and heavenly, through Christ Jesus. This latter statement (
Paul proceeds by showing (
Paul continues with the main body of his expositions (
In the next section (
The prayer that Paul began in
Paul concludes his prayer meditation with a series of moving petitions on behalf of his readers (
The second main division (
Paul exhorts his readers to unity (
To members of households, Paul gives an exhortation to love and respect one another (
Finally Paul exhorts his readers to exercise strength against the evil forces in the world (
Outline of the epistle
The doctrine most extensively treated in the epistle is that of the Church. Three images are used to describe it: The body of Christ (
What Paul envisions as the mission of the Church extends beyond reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, beyond the healing of the fundamental divisions within humanity, beyond even the overcoming of the alienation that cuts off men from God. It is the cosmos itself for which God has designed the Church. It is His purpose to combine through the Church, all things that exist—heavenly and earthly, creature and thing, temporal and eternal. All are the object of the Church’s existence, the beneficiary of the divine grace that flows from its Head. Through the Church even the angelic powers (“principalities and powers in the heavenly places”) are to be brought to know the wisdom of God.
Therefore, Christ loves the Church and labors over her that she may become a vessel worthy to fulfill the purposes of God. The apostle also suffered on her behalf that she may achieve maturity. Believers also play a part in all this. They are the body of Christ, who with the head constitute the single entity with which the Father has to do. Only as the members are filled from the head can the body grow and come to its full stature as the body of Christ. To assist the body in its growth, Christ bestows upon it gifts—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers—who promote the training of the individual members for service so that each one may be able to fulfill his function. As each contributes his particular activity according to the gift he has received, the body increases. Because it enjoys a common life derived from its head, it grows together in love and so serves the Lord.
Exhortations are also advanced in Ephesians concerning the Holy Spirit. Christians are admonished not to grieve the Spirit (
Commentaries and Expositions. T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, ICC (1897); B. F. Westcott, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (1906); J. A. Robinson, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (1923); J. Schmid, Der Epheserbrief Des Apostels Paulus. Biblische Studien, XXII, 3 and 4 (1925); E. J. Goodspeed, The Meaning of Ephesians (1933); E. Percy, Die Probleme der Kolosser-und Epheserbriefe (1946); C. L. Mitton, The Epistle to the Ephesians (1951); F. W. Beare, “Introduction and Exegesis of Ephesians,” IB, X. ed. G. A. Buttrick (1953); G. Schille, Liturgisches Gut in Epheser (1953); F. L. Cross, Studies in Ephesians (1956); E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (1957); M. Barth, The Broken Wall (1959); F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians (1961); D. Guthrie,Introduction. The (1961); G. W. Barker, A Critical Evaluation of the Lexical and Linguistic Data Advanced by E. J. Goodspeed and Supported by C. L. Mitton (1962), unpublished Harvard University thesis; F. Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (1963); L. Cerfaux, “The Epistles of the Captivity” in Introduction to the New Testament ed. A. Robert and A. Feuillet (1965); C. R. Erdman, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (1966); J. C. Kirby, Ephesians, Baptism and Pentecost (1968).
Key articles. C. L. Mitton, “Important Hypotheses Reconsidered; VII, The Authorship of the Epistle to the Ephesians,” ExpT, LXVII (1955-1956), 195; G. Schille, “Der Autor des Epheserbriefes,” TLZ, LXXXII (1957), 334; J. Coutts, “The Relationship of Ephesians and Colossians,” NTS, IV (1958), 201; H. J. Cadbury, “The Dilemma of Ephesians,” NTS V (1959), 91; K. Grayston and G. Herdan, “The Authorship of the Pastorals in the Light of Statistical Linguistics,” NTS, VI (1959), 1; L. Cerfaux, “En faveur de l’authenticité des épîtres de la captivité Homogénécté doctrinale entre Éphésiens et les grandes épîtres.” V (1960), 60; Récherches Bibliques, V (1960), 60; J. T. Sanders, “Hymnic Elements in