As one begins to read the letter to the Ephesians, he is intrigued not only by the many topics that the letter mentions, but also the fact that there are some major differences between this book and Paul’s other writings. The purpose of this essay is to explore the book of Ephesians by commenting on critical issues, such as date, authorship, and setting, major theological themes, the purpose of the letter, and to offer an outline of the book itself.
Critical issues include those things such as the date the letter was written, who the letter was written by, and where the letter was written. This section of the essay will identify these elements and mention the problems that come about when one thinks logically about the information presented in the letter to the Ephesians.
The letter to the church at Ephesus was written about the same time as the letters to the churches at Colosse and Phillipi. A combination of all of my sources suggests this was somewhere between the years of A.D.60-64.
A major problem that needs to be addressed is the question of setting. Was the letter to the Ephesians only written to the church at Ephesus? Most sources suggest that it was not. The oldest manuscripts, such as codex Vaticanus and codex Sinaiticus, do not have the church at Ephesus as the recipient of the letter; this was added into later manuscripts (Donzé et al, 534).
Many state that Ephesians was a circular letter, a letter that was meant to circulate among all of the churches in the area and not meant to be specifically addressed to one church. This theory is supported by the fact that there are very few proper names in the letter, unlike the other letters Paul wrote, and the fact that it does not address specific problems of the church, only general statements are mentioned. Also, if the letter were, in fact written solely to the Ephesians, Paul would probably have included some reference to the fact that he was the pastor of the Ephesian church for two years (Ramsay, 454).
Instead of doing this, the author uses phrases such as “I have heard of your faith” (1:15), implying that Paul and the people have not been acquainted (Ramsay, 454). These arguments are what lead modern-day scholars to believe that the letter to the Ephesians was not written only to the Ephesians.
The problem of setting is not the only problem that arises in the letter to the Ephesians. Another problem is the question of authorship. Was Ephesians really written by Paul? In my opinion, this is the hardest question to answer because there are very strong arguments that come from both sides of thinking. Some say that Timothy, or some other disciple of Paul for that matter, wrote the letter and support this claim with the fact that there are some eighty-two words in the letter to the Ephesians that are found nowhere else in any of Paul’s writings. Furthermore, of those eighty-two words, thirty-eight of those are found nowhere else in the entire New Testament (Ramsay 454).
There is also the fact that the sentences are longer and more complex than those of Paul’s other letters. These facts are what lead some to believe that Ephesians must have been written by someone else and simply signed by Paul. On the other hand, Paul was in jail at the time he wrote this letter. He calls himself “the prisoner of Christ” (Ephesians 3:1), “the prisoner of God” (Ephesians 4:1), and “an ambassador in bonds” (Ephesians 6:20).
Being in jail would have given him ample time to read the letter and revise it; he had plenty of time to write a well-constructed letter with words that he would not normally use and longer, more complex sentences than if he was writing a letter in a hurry. Another strong argument that leads one to believe that Paul wrote Ephesians is the fact that there are fifty-five verses that are exactly the same in the letter to the Colossians (Barclay, 72). Now what is the belief? Did Paul write the letter to the Ephesians, or did Timothy? Maybe it was someone else. No one can be totally positive, which is why this is the major problem in this letter.
The purpose of this letter is to celebrate the fact that, through Christ, God is uniting all peoples in Christ’s church (Ramsay, 456). Ephesians is written to celebrate that unity and encourages Gentile converts to live as members of that church (Ramsay, 456). The first three chapters use praise and prayer to renew the believers’ vision of God and the second half encourages the unity of the church (Bowker, 429).
The major themes that show up in the letter to the Ephesians are those of building the body of Christ and Christian practice, unity, holiness in life, and responsibility in the household (Bowker, 429). The letter mentions the fact that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians gives them resurrection power (3:16) and it also points out the importance that Christians suffer for their beliefs, using Paul’s imprisonment as an example (3:1-14). The second half on the letter encourages everything that sustains the life of the church. It says that the Ephesians need to maintain their common life, because loss of confidence threatens the unity and identity of the church (Bowker, 429).
Chapter One-A celebration of God’s plan to unite all
- Verses 1-10-Praise to God for choosing to include us in
- Verses 11-14-All Christians share the spirit
- Verses 15-23-A prayer for the understanding of God’s plan
Chapter Two-God’s plan for the Gentiles
- Verses 1-10-The Gentiles have been saved by God’s grace
- Verses 11-22-They are now united with the Jewish Christians in the church
Chapter Three-Paul’s Prayer that the Gentiles share God’s
- Verses 1-13-Paul’s concern to share his insight into God’s plan
- Verses 14-21-Paul’s prayer for understanding and strength
Chapters Four ,Five, and Six-Four charges to Gentile converts
- Verses 4:1-16-Promote the church’s unity
- Verses 4:17-5:20-Part with pagan ways
- Verses 5:21-6:9-Manifest Christian unity through Christian family life
- Verses 6:10-20-Be good soldiers in God’s army
Chapter Six, verses 21-24-Concluding note and benediction
The letter to the Ephesians is a book of the Bible that creates many arguments between theologians and Bible commentators. It poses many questions about the critical issues in the letter and the authenticity of the letter. The arguments that are brought forth for each different stand or opinion are what make the book of Ephesians such an interesting piece of work, worthy of the critical eye of the reader.
- Barclay, William. (1958). Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. Philadelphia. The Westminster Press. Bowker,
- Donzé, E.H. et al. (1942). Commentary on the New Testament. Washington, DC. The Catholic Biblical Association.
- Ramsay, William M. (1994). The Westminster Guide to the Books of the Bible. Louisville. Westminster John Knox Press.