Introduction To The Epistle To The Ephesians
Paul's letter to the Ephesian church is full of some of the most wonderful revelations about the believer's union with Christ found anywhere in Scripture. Paul said that the truths he was presenting in this letter were mysteries, previously unknown (Eph 3:3-6). For this reason, Paul included two prayers (Eph 1:15-23 and 3:14-21) in this letter, asking the Lord to grant the readers wisdom.
In contrast to Paul's letter to the Romans, which masterfully expounds the method of salvation (see Life for Today Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Romans), this letter reveals the benefits of salvation by grace through faith. The letter to the Galatians was harsh (see Life for Today Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Galatians); this letter is uplifting. The two letters to the Corinthian church were personal, addressing specific problems and questions; this letter is impersonal, advancing doctrine in much the same way a book would do.
The impersonal nature of this letter might be explained if Paul intended this letter to be circulated among other churches. He clearly stated that this was to be done with the letter to the Colossians (Col 4:16) and the letter to the Thessalonians (1Th 5:27). Therefore, there is some reason that this letter is nonspecific, with Ephesus being mentioned because it was the principal city from which Paul spent three years evangelizing. This could possibly make this letter the unknown letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Col 4:16.
The letter to the Colossians and this letter are remarkably similar. Just a few of the many similarities are Eph 1:1-2 and Col 1:1-2; Eph 1:7 and Col 1:14; Eph 1:9 and Col 1:26; Eph 1:10 and Col 1:20 and 25; Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16; Eph 5:22-6:4 and Col 3:18-21; and Eph 6:5-9 and Col 3:22-4:1.
The overall messages of Ephesians and Colossians are basically the same with some differences. This provides Paul with a good reason to have the Colossians and Ephesians share their letters with each other. The same message with different emphases would help them understand the points even better. This would further strengthen the argument for this letter to the Ephesians being the same letter that Paul referred to in Col 4:16 as the letter to the Laodiceans.
The first three chapters of Ephesians deal with our position and calling in Christ. The last three chapters (Eph 4-6) are practical and speak of our life in this world that demands a conduct inspired by this new calling of grace. It has been said that on the practical side, the book of Ephesians is "the Gospel walked out in shoe leather," for it talks of relationships between husbands and wives, masters and servants, parents and children, etc.
On the doctrinal side (Eph 1-3), we find that everything has been done and is complete in Him. A true understanding of Christianity does not begin by doing but begins with what has been done. We are invited to sit down and enjoy all that God has done for us in Christ. We are to rest in Him. It's only from this revelation that true works of faith spring; otherwise practical Christianity can turn to the works of the Law--a danger that Paul himself warned us about (Eph 2:15 and Ga 3:3).
Paul briefly visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey as he purposed to go to Jerusalem (Ac 18:19-21). According to Ac 20:31, during his third missionary journey, he remained in Ephesus for three years. The book of Acts mentions several things that happened to Paul in Ephesus: Twelve disciples of John the Baptist were baptized in the Holy Spirit and with Christian water baptism (Ac 19:1-7). Paul preached boldly in the synagogues and taught disciples in the school of Tyrannus (Ac 19:8-10). Many special miracles were done by God through the hands of Paul (Ac 19:11-12). Evil spirits spoke of knowing Paul (Ac 19:13-17). Many practicing magic repented and burned their books and charms (Ac 19:18-20). Paul's message caused a riot to break out because the worship of the goddess Diana was being forsaken (Ac 19:21-41). Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders and encouraged them to guard, oversee, and feed the church as he visited them for the last time (Ac 20:17-38). Later, in John's letter to the seven churches of Asia, the Lord rebukes the pastor of the church in Ephesus for leaving his first love (Re 2:1-4).
Ephesians was indisputably accepted in the history of the early church to have been penned by the Apostle Paul. Two times in this letter, Paul claimed to have been its author (Eph 1:1 and 3:1).
Recipients Of The Book Of Ephesians
Ephesus was a leading seaport city on the Aegean Sea. It was famous in the ancient world for its worship of the goddess Diana, the goddess of fertility. It was in this setting of Greek culture that Paul was able to build a strong, Christ-honoring church. Some extra-biblical sources estimate that as many as 100,000 Christians may have been in the Ephesian church, of which Timothy became the first bishop (subscript at 2Ti 4:22 [found in some Bibles]). See note 3 at Ac 18:19 for more background on the city of Ephesus.
Date And Place Of Writing
Paul stated three times in this letter that he was a prisoner (Eph 3:1, 4:1, and 6:20). Most scholars believe that it was during his imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. For this reason, these letters are referred to as the Prison Letters.
Following the dating for Paul's second and third missionary trips given in note 1 at Ac 18:22 and note 2 at Ac 18:23, Paul could not have been arrested in Jerusalem before A.D. 58. Then he spent two years imprisoned by Felix (Ac 24:27) before beginning a sailing voyage to Rome, which was lengthened by a shipwreck. Therefore, the earliest date that could be attributed to this Roman prison epistle would probably be A.D. 61. Some scholars have thought it could have been written as late as A.D. 64. Ac 28:30 says Paul was imprisoned two whole years in Rome.
About The Author
Some facts about Paul's persecution of the church, his conversion, and the intervening time until the beginning of his ministry are dealt with in note 4 at Ac 7:58, note 1 at Ac 9:1, and note 1 at Ac 9:26. Information about Paul's life after the close of the book of Acts is included in note 1 at Ac 28:30. Many notes about Paul's exploits, character, and hardships are found throughout the book of Acts.