1. Title. The early church was in almost universal agreement that this epistle was addressed to the church at Ephesus, and every known manuscript, without exception, bears the title “to the Ephesians.” However, the words en Ephesoμ, “at Ephesus,” in ch. 1:1 are lacking in Codex Vaticanus and in Codex Sinaiticus, two of the most ancient and authoritative manuscripts, as well as in the Chester Beatty MS P, a still earlier papyrus manuscript. Basil, of the 4th century, says ( Against Eunomius ii. 19) that he had seen ancient manuscripts in which en Ephesoμ was omitted. Statements by Origen (Commentary) and Tertullian (Against Marcion v. 17) support this idea. It is clear, therefore, that there were some manuscripts of the 2d century in which the words in question were omitted. See Vol. V, pp. 181–183.
It is also significant that although Paul had spent three years in Ephesus in fruitful ministry, and no doubt had made many intimate friends, there are no personal greetings or salutations in this epistle. Rather, it deals with doctrines applicable to the universal church.
There are three solutions commonly offered for this problem:
a. The letter was addressed to the church at Laodicea (see Col. 4:16).
b. It was an encyclical to the churches in Asia.
c. It was addressed to the Ephesians.
A combination of the second and third theories appears to satisfy the question. It may well be that the letter was sent to the church at Ephesus, the metropolis of the proconsulate of Asia, with the intention that it should be sent also to other churches in the area. This would account for the tradition that the church at Ephesus was addressed in the epistle, and also for the fact that very early there were extant copies of the book which did not contain the words en Ephesoμ, and which may have been copies of the original autograph that circulated among the neighboring churches. In any case, this letter doubtless was read by the believers in Ephesus, and probably by others also in the province of Asia.
2. Authorship. The Pauline authorship of Ephesians was never questioned until the last century, when many modern critical scholars arrived at the conclusion that it was not Pauline, or at least that it was only partially so. It was suggested that it was only a wordy repetition of Colossians, and that certain expressions indicate that the writer never was in Ephesus (Eph. 3:2, 3; 4:21). It was pointed out that there are no salutations to the members of the church at Ephesus, where Paul had labored for some three years (Acts 20:31). It was declared that the epistle is not Pauline in style, sentiment, or aim, and it was even proposed that no man in prison could write such a cheerful letter. For a discussion of these problems see Vol. V, pp. 181–183.
From the earliest times, when forgeries and apocryphal books were being separated from the genuine, the Epistle to the Ephesians was placed in the New Testament canon. The external evidence for its right to that status is overwhelming. It was known apparently to Clement of Rome (c. a.d. 90), and was also attested by
Ignatius and Polycarp at the beginning of the 2d century. Paul is mentioned by name as the author in the Muratorian Fragment and later by Irenaeus. (c. a.d. 185), Clement of Alexandria (c. a.d. 190–195), Tertullian (c. a.d. 207), and many other early writers. This commentary proceeds from the point of view that Paul was the author.
3. Historical setting. Having exercised his rights as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar, Paul was sent to Rome, where he probably arrived in the spring of a.d. 61. Here he was a prisoner for two years. Thus it is likely that this epistle was written about a.d. 62.
As a prisoner he apparently enjoyed certain liberties (cf. Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3–11), which afforded him opportunity for reflection and writing. He took advantage of this to send to the churches in Asia much doctrinal and practical instruction. This letter would appear to have been written about the same time as Colossians and Philemon, for Tychicus was the bearer of Ephesians and Colossians, and a traveling companion of Onesimus, the bearer of Philemon (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7–9; Philemon 12; cf. AA 456). Ephesians, then, would be one of the four letters of the first imprisonment, Philippians also having been written during this period, probably the last of the four (see pp. 105, 106).
It has been suggested that Ephesians may have been written during the apostle’s imprisonment in Caesarea, but the evidence for Rome is much stronger. That he was in prison at the time of writing there can be no doubt (chs. 3:1; 4:1), but the conditions of his confinement in Rome seem to have been more favorable to the writing of his letters (Acts 28:16, 20). While in the Roman prison he hoped for speedy liberation (Philemon 22), whereas there is no indication that he cherished any such hope while in Caesarea. Paul had long wished to visit Rome (Rom. 15:23, 24), and when there he planned to go to Colossae (Philemon 22). However, he never seems to have had the intention of going to Colossae from Caesarea.
Paul wrote this epistle in times and surroundings that well form a background to his message. The bloody Nero was emperor; licentiousness, luxury, and murder were rampant. It is recorded, for example, that when L. Pedanius Secundus, a senator of Rome, had been murdered by a slave, in accordance with legal rights some 400 slaves of his household were condemned to death in retribution. About the year of the writing of the epistle (a.d. 62), the revolt of Boadicea, or Boudicca, took place in Britain, when, it is said, “over 70,000” on the Roman side perished, along with many thousands of the rebels. In the midst of such confusion, and as a result of deep thought and inspiration, the apostle produced one of his noblest utterances concerning the faith that alone could restore to man peace and unity. It has been called “the Alps of the New Testament,” and stands in the midst of peaks—Paul’s nine epistles written to seven churches.
4. Theme. The subject of Ephesians is unity in Christ. He was writing to a church (or churches) consisting of Jews and Gentiles, Asiatics and Europeans, slaves and freemen—all symbols of a disrupted world that was to be restored to unity in Christ. This would necessitate unity of person, family, church, and race. The restoration of individual unity in the life of each believer assures the unity of God’s universe. The theme of unity is implicit, where it is not explicit, throughout the book.
The apostle announces his theme in a tone of high spiritual exaltation, and urges upon all the highest character and conduct, for the purpose of unity not only in doctrine and organization but in Christ the head, and in the church, the mystical body of Christ. Although “in Christ” is the key phrase, it is difficult to select a key verse, for there is scarcely a verse that does not present in one form or another the basic theme. Election, forgiveness, predestination, home relationships—all are “in Christ.”
The apostle has less to say about faith than about grace. In his earlier writings he stressed the relation of the individual to salvation; here he stresses the group, the church, the body, and he speaks of being “in Christ” rather than of things accomplished “through Christ”; of Christ living in the believer rather than of Christ crucified.
Paul does not develop his theme as a formal argument or proposition. He speaks simply of what came to him by revelation, not because of any superior intellect or insight, but because he was an instrument of God’s grace to whom had been granted a vision of the essential spiritual unity of the kingdom.
It may be asserted that what the books of Galatians and Romans were to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation, Ephesians is to the church of today. What does Christianity have to say regarding the relations of the individual to the family, of the family to the nation, of the nation to the race, and of all to the church and to God? Paul answers by presenting Christ as the center and end of all things, working out His purposes through the church, gathering “together in one all things in Christ” (ch. 1:10).
There is no more urgent need today than that of a unity that preserves the freedom of the individual, unity without rigid uniformity. The apostle was granted a revelation that offers the only solution to a problem that haunts the minds of all good men.
I. Salutation, 1:1, 2.
II. The Doctrinal Section, 1:3 to 3:21.
A. The blessings of the believer, 1:3–14.
1. A hymn of praise, 1:3–10.
2. The believers sealed unto salvation, 1:11–14.
B. A prayer for the church, 1:15–23.
C. Jew and Gentile one in Christ, 2:1–22.
1. Regeneration by the power of God, 2:1–10.
2. All are one in Christ, 2:11–22.
D. The revelation of the mystery, 3:1–21.
1. It has been made known to apostles and prophets, 3:1–6.
2. God’s wisdom manifest through the church, 3:7–13.
3. A prayer for believers and a doxology, 3:14–21.
III. The Practical Section, 4:1 to 6:20.
A. Unity through the gifts of the Spirit, 4:1–16.
1. A plea for unity of life, 4:1–6.
2. The nature and purpose of the gifts, 4:7–16.
B. Reformation of life, 4:17 to 5:21.
1. Spiritual darkness contrasted with spiritual life, 4:17–24.
2. The quality of the reformed life, 4:25–32.
3. An exhortation to purity of life, 5:1–14.
4. Foolishness and wisdom, 5:15–21.
C. Duties of home relationships, 5:22 to 6:9.
1. Husband and wife, 5:22–33.
2. Children and parents, 6:1–4.
3. Servants and masters, 6:5–9.
D. The Christian’s armor, 6:10–20.
IV. Conclusion and Benediction, 6:21–24.