In this session, we look at the book of Ephesians.
Speaker: Andy Wisdom
Andy is part of the team at Christ Church Manchester. He is currently studying a PhD in Biblical Studies.
Ephesians: Distinctives and Disputes
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and
peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:1-2).
– Claims to have been written by Paul (v. 1). Has a typical Pauline greeting (e.g. Rom. 1:1, 7b, Gal. 1:1, 3, Phil. 1:1-2), but Pauline authorship is disputed.
– Arguments against Pauline authorship:
– Style of Ephesians is less rhetorical and more careful than undisputed Epistles.
– Long sentences (e.g. 2,422 words in 64 sentences in Ephesians; 2,230 words in 102 sentences in Galatians).
– Unique terminology (e.g. diabolos, ‘devil’).
– Differences in theology (e.g. eschatology).
– Similarity with Colossians implies that the author of Ephesians used Colossians as a source.
– Arguments for Pauline authorship:
– Autobiographical material (3:1-13, 4:1, 6:19-20).
– Paul’s education (Acts 22:1-3), meant he would have been capable of writing in different styles (e.g. 1 Cor. 13:1-13, see also 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, Phil. 2:6-11, Rom. 16:25-7).
– Absence of a single pastoral/theological issue allowed Paul to write more freely.
– Similarity with Colossians: Implies Paul wrote both within a short time of one another.
– Conclusion: No conclusive reason to doubt Pauline authorship. Probably written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (approx. 60-62). Probably couriered by Tychicus (6:21).
– Our translations generally suggest the letter was written to a church, or churches, in Ephesus (1:1), the ‘mother city’ of Asia Minor. A major port city, a centre of commerce and of pagan worship (especially of ‘Artemis Ephesia’). Ephesus had a huge population (up to 200,000), and a substantial Jewish population, many of whom possessed Roman citizenship.
– Arguments against Ephesian audience:
– Five new Greek manuscripts of the letter discovered in mid-1800s, three of which are probably the earliest copies of the letter we have – none of these three include ‘to Ephesus’.
– Absence of personal greetings (cf. Rom. 16, 1 Cor. 16:19-20, Phil. 4:18, 22).
– General character of the letter reads as a circular letter intended for multiple audiences.
– Arguments for Ephesian audience:
– Until mid-1800s, Ephesian audience was unquestioned.
– Content concerning evil spirits and authorities corresponds to an Ephesian context.
– Conclusion: Strong possibility that the letter to the Ephesians was copied and sent to other Churches. This does little to affect its authenticity.
– Does not appear to address one particular issue.
– Possibly addressing enmity between Jews and Gentiles in church communities, although this was a common issue.
– Possibly addressing issues of spirituality.
– Contains an overview of Christian theology and the way it should affect believers’ lives.
– Highly worshipful. Paul cannot contain his adoration for God to the point where he interrupts himself to pray spontaneously (2:14-21).
– Key themes: Unity in Christ, power in the Spirit.
Ephesians 1:3-3:21 – Called to Unity in Christ
Everything God has done, God has done in Christ (1:3-14)
– Believers are those who are ‘in Christ’ (Gk. en kristou) or ‘in him’ (en autō).
– Preposition en (in) used to refer to Christ 15 times before v. 15. Dia (through) used twice.
– From creation to the end of time, God has accomplished everything through Christ.
God Through Christ:-
|All Spiritual Blessing (v3)||Understanding of Gods will (v9)|
|Election (v4)||Unity of all things in heaven and earth (v10)|
|Adoption (v5)||Salvation (v12-13)|
|Gift of Grace (v6)||The gift of the Spirit (v13b)|
|Redemption through blood, forgiveness of sins (v7)||Inheritance (v14)|
Prayer for wisdom and understanding (1:15-23)
– Thanksgiving a typical component of Paul’s letters, here postponed in favour of the magnification of God in Christ (vv. 15-16).
– Paul doesn’t pray for more spiritual blessings, because every spiritual blessing has been given in Christ (v. 3).
– He prays that believers would be able to understand the power gifted to them in the Spirit – the same power which raised Christ from the dead (vv. 19-20, see also 1 Cor. 6:14).
– This power is distinct from our inheritance (vv. 18b-19, see also 13b-14 – the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance).
– Christ’s exaltation to heaven places him above all other spiritual powers, good and evil, on earth and in the heavenly realm (v. 21).
– The church is under Christ’s authority (vv. 22-23).
Death to life by grace (2:1-10)
– Death = sin, following the ‘ruler of the kingdom of the air’ (v. 1-2).
– Gentiles (‘you’) and Jews (‘we’) were once ‘dead’, characterised by indulgence in the flesh (v. 3).
– ‘Flesh’ (Gk. sarx) involves desires (Gk. epithumiais) and thoughts (Gk. dianoiōn).
– Life = a result of God’s love and mercy (v. 4), which brings us from death to life in Christ, by grace (v. 5).
– Our ascension to be with Christ is a future reality (v. 7), presently accomplished (v. 6).
– Grace = a free gift from God which saves us, through faith (v. 8), not by works (v. 9), planned by God from the beginning (v. 10).
– ‘Good works’ not to be confused with ‘works of the law’.
No division between Jew and Gentile (2:11-22)
– Implied tension between the ‘circumcised’ and the ‘uncircumcised’ (v. 11).
– Gentiles were excluded culturally (v. 12a) and spiritually (v. 12b) from Israel, but Christ has brought them near (v. 13).
– New Perspective on Paul significantly over-emphasises the idea that Paul sought to make one humanity out of two (v. 15).
– Christ ‘set aside’/’abolished’ the law (v. 15) – the point is not that the law no longer has any purpose (see Galatians and, particularly Romans 3:31).
Rather, the law no longer functions as the basis of the covenant relationship with God, because then it was a ‘dividing wall’.
– Temple imagery in vv. 14-18 – Jesus has destroyed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile.
– In its place, Christ is building a new temple, in which God lives by His Spirit (vv. 19-22).
Paul’s Gift (3:1-13)
– Paul claims repeatedly to have been given a ‘grace’ or ‘gift’ (Gk. karis) from God (v. 2, 7, 8) – to preach the gospel he received by revelation (v. 3).
– The purpose of this gospel is to bring Gentiles into the body of Christ (v. 6).
– The purpose of the body is to make known the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm (v. 10).
– The result of the gospel – we can approach God with freedom and confidence (v. 12), and we can persevere despite suffering (v. 13).
3:14-21: Spontaneous Prayer of Praise
– Three requests, all starting with hina (that…).
– 1) God would strengthen believers’ ‘inner self’ (v. 16).
– 2) Christ would dwell in believers’ hearts (v. 17).
– 3) Believers would ‘know the unknowable love of Christ’ (vv. 18-19).
– Doxology (vv. 20-21), focusing heavily on God’s power. Three words for power used in three verses: dunamai (verb – to be able/have power to), dunamis (noun – power), and energeó (verb – to work miraculously/powerfully).
– ‘Amen’. The end of a prayer, and clearly the end of a section (v. 21).
Ephesians 3:1-6:20 – Living Up to our Calling
– Paul is in prison, but he is a ‘prisoner of the Lord’ (not a prisoner of Rome, or anyone else, v. 1).
– Lit. “the calling to which you were called” – redundancy implies emphasis.
– ‘Calling’ (Gk. klēseō) the basic ‘calling’ of the Gospel (4:1, see also 1:18, Phil. 3:14, 2 Thess. 1:11, 2 Tim 1:9). Not an individual’s personal ‘calling’.
– Reminiscent of the way Isaiah speaks about God calling Abraham (Isa. 51:2), and Israel (Isa. 48:12, 15). God calls believers according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28-30).
– Behaviours which bring unity (vv. 2-3).
– All confessional statements (vv. 4-6) relate to the call to unity (v. 3).
Gifted Leaders (4:7-13)
– Interpretation of Ps. 62:18 – in order to have ascended, ‘he’ must have descended first (v. 8). Christ’s descension (to earth/below earth, v. 9) and ascension (v. 10, see also Phil. 2:6-11) intrinsically linked to the giving of gifts (v. 11).
– God distributes grace (here synonymous with spiritual gifts/ministries) according to his will and pleasure. Not based on merit (v. 7, see also Rom. 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:11).
– Five specific types of gifted people are mentioned in v. 11, all of which appear to apply to leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers).
– What is the nature of the gifts in Ephesians 4:11? Are they distinct, or should they be understood as ‘some of many spiritual gifts?’
– Inexhaustive list of spiritual gifts: In Romans and 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the word karisma (karis + ma – a manifestation of grace). In Ephesians he uses karis (grace), an extremely close equivalent.
– The purpose of spiritual gifts is to equip and build up the Church in unity and toward maturity (vv. 12-13, see also Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:7, 14:4-5).
– Distinct ministries: all appear to apply to leaders within the church.
– Paul spoke about his ‘gift’ as an Apostle in 3:1-13.
– Conclusion: Christ gives specifically gifted leaders to the church in order to edify the church (v. 12). These leaders are a gift from Christ (v. 11a), and their purpose is to steer the church toward maturity (v. 13).
Toward Maturity (4:14-16).
• Maturity is a future reality, which even Paul has not reached (v. 14).
• Maturity is marked by steadfastness (v. 14), speaking the truth in love (v. 15a), and Christlikeness (v. 15b).
• As the church matures, it becomes more representative of its head, Christ (v. 15).
Choosing your New Life over the Old (4:17-24)
• Non-Christian gentiles have given themselves over to sin (vv. 17-19). Living up to our calling involves a conscious choice to do the opposite.
• Ephesians implies Gentiles give themselves over to greed and is ambiguous on the hardening of their hearts (v. 18). Romans implies God gives people over to their selfish desires and hardens hearts (Rom. 1:24-27, 9:18). This is also ambiguous in Exodus (Ex. 10-12).
• Explanation: Sometimes, Paul emphasises God’s sovereignty (e.g. Eph. 1-3). At other times, Paul emphasises humanity’s capacity for sin (e.g. Eph. 4:17-20). In Rom. 9 his emphasis is on the former. In Eph. 4, it is on the latter.
• Putting on the ‘new self’ involves having your mind changed (passive verb, ananeousthai) and an active decision to ‘have put on’ the new self and become more like God (v. 24).
Using what you have for Good (4:25-5:7).
• Everything we have can be used for good or evil. Paul exhorts us to use what we have for good.
• These are active choices (imperative verbs – ‘speak… do not let… do not give… work…).
• ‘Grieving the Holy Spirit’ (v. 30) linked to an ungrateful response to God’s kindness (see Isa. 63:7-10).
• Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them (Isa. 63:10).
• Unwholesome talk (and, more generally, sin) is rebellion against God.
• God is our ultimate example (5:1), and we are to live lives of love like Christ (5:2).
• Use of the conjunction ‘however’ (Gk. de) implies that 5:2 could be misinterpreted. Paul thus explains what does not constitute godly love. Particularly sexual immorality (Gk. porneia, v. 3) and crude joking (Gk. eutrapelia, v. 4).
Children of Light (5:8-20)
• Fruit of the light (v. 9) like a condensed ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:22-23).
• Darkness produces no fruit (v. 11).
• The presence of light produces more light (v. 13).
• V. 14 both an encouragement and a warning “Christ will shine on you” – everything in darkness will be exposed.
• We live in an age characterised by evil (v. 16, 2:2, Gal. 1:4), and thus should take every opportunity to do good (vv. 15- 16).
• Drunkenness produces debauchery (v. 18a), while being filled with the Spirit produces worship (vv. 18b-20).
Household Relationships (5:21-6:9)
• Lack of connective indicates v. 21 begins a new sub-section. The next few commands must be understood in the light of v. 21, which encourages mutual submission.
• Advocates a model of marriage between a man and woman, which stresses a wife’s submission to her husband’s headship (vv. 22-24), and a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife (vv. 25, 28). This plays an exemplary role, pointing to the relationship between Christ and the Church (v. 32).
• Children should obey their parents for two reasons: (i) because it is right (6:1), and (ii), because it benefits them (v. 3). The purpose of the unity created by these attitudes is the benefit of the church as a whole.
• Slaves and masters would have attended the same churches. Slaves exhorted to obey their masters (v. 5), and masters are reminded that they too have a master (v. 9).
• On slavery: Tom Wright, “Paul could no more envisage a world without slavery than we can envisage a world without electricity”.
Preparing for War (6:10-18)
• Paul attributes evil to a number of different sources in Ephesians (see table overleaf).
• God’s power allows us to stand (Gk. histémi) against this evil (vv. 10-11).
• The command to ‘put on’ the full armour (Gk. panoplian) of God uses the same verb (Gk. enduo) as the command to ‘put on’ the new self (4:24).
• Prayer is foundational to the putting on of the armour of God (v. 18).
Final Remarks (6:18-23)
– Only Tychicus is named personally (probably the courier of the letter, possibly also its scribe, v. 21).
– Purpose of sending Tychicus with the letter is to inform and encourage (vv. 21-22, almost identical to Col. 4:7-8).
– V. 23 is uncharacteristically vague, offering peace to ‘the brothers’.
– Lacks Pauline authentication (e.g. Col. 4:18), possibly because Paul did not doubt that people would believe it was from him.
Sources of Evil in Ephesians
|The authorities and powers in the world (1:21, 3:10, 6:12a).||Evil spiritual forces in the visible realm. Word for ‘world powers’ only used here in the NT. Use of ‘authorities’ (Gk. exousia) to refer to spiritual beings also quite common in Colossians (1:13, 2:15).||The armour of God (6:10-18).|
|The ruler of the kingdom of the air (2:2).||The root of disobedience (2:2), leads to sin (2:3).||God’s love and mercy in Christ (2:5-6).|
|The flesh (2:3)||Sinful desires as a result of sinful nature. Indulging the flesh makes us deserving of God’s wrath (2:3).||Salvation by grace through faith (2:8).|
|Deceitful men (4:14b)||Possibly linked to strategies of the devil (common noun, methodeia – strategy).||Unity and maturity in Christ (4:13-14a).|
|The days (5:16)||We live in an age characterised by evil, which will come to an end.||Doing good (5:17).|
|The devil (Gk. diabolos, 4:27, 6:11).||An intelligent being who actively schemes to attack and harm believers (6:11). Sin can ‘give the devil a foothold’ (4:27). Paul only uses this term elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, and it
sometimes refers to human slanderers (1 Tim. 3:6, 7, 11, 2 Tim. 2:26, 3:3, Tit. 2:3).
|The armour of God (6:10-18).|
|The evil spirits in the heavens (6:12b).||Evil spiritual forces in the invisible realm.||The armour of God (6:10-18).|
|The evil one (6:16)||Probably synonymous with the devil (2 Thess. 3:3, John 17:15).||The armour of God (6:10-18).|
Questions for Further Study
- Write a defence of the traditional view that Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians. To what extent is this important in the interpretation of the letter?
- According to the letter to the Ephesians, what is the Church’s purpose concerning the spiritual realm?
- How much of an active role does a believer play in their own journey to maturity? Consider Paul’s arguments in Galatians 5:13-24 and Ephesians 4:17-32 in your answer.
- Sermon by Andy Wisdom, https://soundcloud.com/user-191763994/when-people-complain-by-andy-wisdom?in=user-191763994/sets/ccm-city-sermons.
- Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (London: SPCK, 2002). An introductory overview of Ephesians.
- Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). An intermediate-advanced evangelical commentary. Strong emphasis on semantics.
- Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). Intermediate commentary, less focus on semantics and syntax than Arnold