Ephesians, an Introduction

The letter to the Ephesians contains many passages that we are all familiar with. The armor of God is found in this letter, as well as the submitting to one another passage, and the unity of the Church in Christ. Despite how well known some of Paul’s teachings are from Ephesians this epistle is not without its difficulties.

The author of Ephesians

The letter opens with a greeting from “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” It was not until the end of the 19th century that anyone questioned the authorship of this letter. “Why is it questioned if the author tells us he is Paul?” you might be wondering. There are four reasons that are usually given that question the authorship of Ephesians:

  1. The style is different from the way Paul normally writes.
  2. Ephesians is very similar to the letter to the Colossians.
  3. The theology is different form the theology found in Paul’s other writings.
  4. The letter is written too impersonally for someone who spent three years among the church in Ephesus.

As for objection (1) we must remember that back then people dictated their letters to an amanuensis (secretary) but the letter was still considered to have come from the person dictating it. For instance in Romans 16:22 Paul’s amanuensis, Tertius, breaks in on a section of personal greetings and informs the reader that he is the one who wrote the letter under Paul’s dictation. So a slight difference in style can be explained by the fact that an amanuensis was given a certain degree of liberty when composing a letter.

In answer to objection (3) the letters that Paul wrote were not letters on systematic theology. They were letters written on specific occasions to address certain issues. So from letter to letter different points of theology would logically be emphasized and expounded on.

Regarding question (2) the reason why Ephesians and Colossians appear to be so similar is that they were probably written around the same time. And in answer to objection (4) the letter could have originally been written to be circulated around Asia Minor. In fact “in Ephesus” (Eph. 1:1) is absent from the earliest and best manuscripts. Commenting on this letter some of the early Church Fathers don’t recognize it as being addressed to the Ephesians. Marcion called this letter the “epistle to the Laodiceans.”

We must remember that the early Church regarded this as an authentic letter from Paul. They would have been quick to reject this letter if there was any indication of inauthenticity as they did with others.

The date

Since the letter was referred to by Clement of Rome, whose letter is dated around A.D. 96, the letter cannot be older than A.D. 90. Paul also mentions that he is in prison (3:1; 4:1). He was imprisoned in Rome from A.D. 60-62. So the letter was probably written in the early ’60s.

The purpose

Uncharacteristically for a Pauline epistle the letter to the Ephesians seems to have no purpose. Many theories have been proposed but most of them are based on the assumption that the letter was written by someone other than Paul. As I said above, it is safe to say that this letter was authored by Paul.

But why can’t we find an express purpose for it? Most of his other letters were written in response to something that was going on with an individual or a church (1 Corinthians 5:1; Philemon 8-10).

If the epistle we now know as Ephesians was originally intended to be circulated among many churches in Asia Minor that would explain the absence of a clear purpose.

So what are your thoughts on the letter to the Ephesians? Were you aware of the debates surrounding its authorship and destination? As always I’d like to hear what you have to say in the comment section below.

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