Written by Paul in about 62 A.D., Ephesians is a companion epistle with Philippians and Colossians. These three epistles plus Philemon were written during Paul's time as a prisoner of Rome. Called the "Prison Epistles," Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians form the practical core of Paul's writings.
A Brief History of the Church at Ephesus
Ancient Ephesus was located near the Mediterranean Ocean on the western coast of what is now Turkey. More European than Asian, Ephesus had long been a Greek-influenced city. Large and with an excellent harbor (Miletus), it was known as an international crossroads and marketplace.
Ephesus was also a religious center with its Temple of Diana regarded as on one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This temple enriched Ephesus due to the sale of gold and silver images of the pagan goddess. So much wealth was generated by Diana worship that Ephesus was also a banking center.
Paul founded the church in Ephesus (Acts 18:18+) and his connections remained close. Leaving Corinth on his Second Missionary Journey and returning toward Jerusalem, the Apostle stopped in Ephesus, debated at the Jewish synagogue, baptized some who had originally been baptized according to John the Baptist's teaching, and converted many other Jews and Gentiles.
Paul's ministry was so effective that resistance to his success threw up a sizable riot (Acts 19:23+). Later, he returned to Ephesus and lectured the church's elders (Acts 20:17+). He had come to know them well during his previous three-year stay in AD 52–54(Acts 20:31). Another touching evidence of Paul's warm feelings toward the Ephesian brethren: he assigned Timothy, his most beloved co-worker, as an evangelist among them (I Tim. 1:3). The Epistles of I & II Timothy were written to support Timothy as he worked among the Ephesians.
History was not kind to the church at Ephesus. Perhaps explained by Paul's warning about wolves arising from among the church's elders (Acts 20:30), by Timothy's ailment-inducing experiences as a preacher there (I Tim. 5:23) or by John's pointed rebuke that Ephesus had "left its first love" (Rev. 2:4), the church in Ephesus eventually withered and died.
Outline and Contents
Ephesians has been called two epistles in one. There is a sharp break between the end of chapter three and the beginning of chapter four. Chapter three even ends with the conclusion-sounding "Amen."
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).
More than just "Amen" divides Ephesians into two distinct halves. Ephesians 1-3 address deeper, more profound concepts of God, Christ, and inspiration. More basic and more practical matters like how to maintain unity and how to live moral lives fill chapters 4-6.
Following Paul's standard introduction, the words "in him" are the theme of Ephesians 1:3-14. The blessings associated with being "in him" recall Paul's teaching that we "baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Some are troubled by Paul's reference to predestination: is he speaking of the individual predestination of specific individuals or of the general predestination of all Christians?
Ephesians 1 concludes with references to Christian knowledge (Vv:17-18) and to Christ's glory (Vv:19-23).
Salvation and the careful balance among grace, faith and works is the subject of Ephesians 2:1-10. Thereafter, Paul begins an explanation of the end of the authority of the Law of Moses and the beginning of shared Christian fellowship between Jews and gentiles.
The chapter and verse division that we depend on were not added to the Bible until the A.D. 1200s. Thus the theme of Jews and Gentiles sharing blessings "in Christ' continues in Ephesians 3:1-13. See if this definition does not clarify Paul's references to the mystery: "something once hidden but now revealed."
Take note of the words "When your read this, you can understand" (V:4). These words are part of one of the New Testament's clearest descriptions of inspiration (Vv:3-5).
Ephesians 3 concludes as something like the conclusion of a well-worded prayer. God and Christ are glorified. Hopes are expressed for the continued growth and development of the faith of the Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:1-6 is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament, presenting, as it does, the seven doctrinal anchors of Christian unity. These seven pillars - one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God - are worthy of memorization. These anchors prevent us from being "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (V:14).
From a presentation of doctrinal essentials, Paul continues with a presentation about moral essentials (Vv:25-32).
Christian morality continues to be Paul's theme in Ephesians 5:1-21, with a brief description of Christian worship (Vv:19-20). At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul begins a lengthy section about various roles and responsibilities that Christians must honor. The first roles and responsibilities he discusses are those of husband and wife (Vv:22-33).
Two other sets of roles and responsibilities are described in Ephesians 6; parents and children (Vv:1-4) and slaves and masters (Vv:5-9).
"The whole armor of God" (Vv:10-20) is another famous passage.
The epistle ends with the kind of formal/informal conclusion typical of Paul (Vv:21-24).
Readers of Ephesians should be able to answer the following questions.
- What are some blessings available "in Christ" and how do we qualify to receive them?
- How are grace, faith and works combined in Christian salvation?
- How did God convey his mystery to man?
- What are the seven doctrinal anchors of Christian unity?
- What are the critical moral commands of Ephesians?
- How does God structures the responsibilities of husbands and wives, parents and children and masters and servants?