Background on Ephesians


The letter to the Ephesians has been called the crown of Pauline theology. This means that in this epistle the teachings and thoughts of the Apostle Paul reach their loftiest form. This letter was written at least ten years after 1 Thessalonians. The gospel had continued to advance in Asia, Macedonia, and Greece. Paul was quite likely in prison at Rome. The traditional view is that this letter was written about 61 AD early in the imprisonment described in Acts 28.


In theological terms, Ephesians has a very "high Christology". This means that the nature and person of Jesus Christ is highly central to its themes. As the Jewish church developed into a more Gentile church, the teachings about the person and work of Christ expanded. Some see in this expansion the church adapting to its new culture. I think of it rather in terms of God using the terms and references in the new culture to reveal something new about Himself that was not previously known. Paul saw such revelation in terms of "mystery". God was revealing a mystery about Himself and about the world that was previously not revealed.


And so, in Ephesians, Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus Christ who brings together all things in heaven and on earth. This elevation of thought about Jesus has led some to say that the letter to the Ephesians is about a "Cosmic Christ". In some very real senses this is true. Christ is the Lord of the cosmos. But, no more here than in the gospel of John or the general epistle of 1 Peter. The expression of the idea is presented here more thoroughly perhaps.


Here too is practical teaching for the church. The unity of believers as the body of Christ is expounded. A Christian response to grace and practical instruction on dealing with sin are here. Something that was common in Greek literature of the day was practical moral teaching for everyday people called "household codes". In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul develops a Christian household code with responsibilities to wives, husbands, children, slaves and masters. Here is a book that not only contains lofty ideals but practical teaching that has edified God's people since the day it was written.


Developed here is also teaching about grace. The grace that God has expressed in Christ Jesus finds its best expression in this letter. Where would the people of God be without Paul's expression of the grace of God found here? Or without the teachings contained here about the church being the "body of Christ"? Our lives and our vision of the majesty and glory of God would be diminished without this work.


The grandeur of the ideas and the well developed theological concepts that are represented in this letter have caused some modern scholars to doubt that it could have been written by Paul at such an early date in the development of the church. Many see this work as that of a disciple of Paul's addressing situations in the church about the time of 90 AD or later. For my own part, I have read and considered the evidence and believe that it is not only possible that this epistle was written by Paul, but likely. I realize that this is a rather conservative approach and that many churches and scholars have taught that this letter was written after Paul had died.


This letter shows every indication of being an epistle that was meant to be carried to many churches, probably all those that had developed around Ephesus in Asia Minor. After circulating in many cities and towns, the letter ended up in Ephesus, the chief city of the area, and was treasured by the Christians there. Paul had lived and worked in Ephesus for three years and his memory was highly regarded. It is easy to see why even though it was probably meant for a much wider circulation, the church at Ephesus took it as its very own. Christians today after reading it feel as though it was written for them, as indeed it was.


But, if this is true, it may well be the closest thing that we have to a general epistle written by the Apostle Paul. This letter seems, more than any other, to be written to the church as a whole. The concepts and expressions, the practical advice, seem as relevant today as it must have to the first who heard it read at their assemblies.



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