Bible Book Number 49—Ephesians
Place Written: Rome
Writing Completed: c. 60–61 C.E.
1. When and under what circumstances did Paul write the letter to the Ephesians?
IMAGINE that you are in prison. You are there because of being persecuted for your zealous activity as a Christian missionary. Now that you can no longer travel and visit the congregations to strengthen them, what are you going to do? Can you not write letters to those who have become Christians through your preaching work? Are they not probably wondering how you are, and are they not perhaps in need of encouragement? Of course they are! So you begin to write. You are now doing exactly what the apostle Paul did when he was imprisoned in Rome the first time, about 59-61 C.E. He had appealed to Caesar, and although awaiting trial and under guard, he had freedom for some activity. Paul wrote his letter “To the Ephesians” from Rome, probably 60 or 61 C.E., and sent it by Tychicus, who was accompanied by Onesimus.—Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7-9.
2, 3. What conclusively proves Paul’s writership and, at the same time, the canonicity of Ephesians?
2 Paul identifies himself as the writer in the very first word and four times refers or alludes to himself as “the prisoner in the Lord.” (Eph. 1:1; 3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:20) Arguments against Paul’s writership have come to nothing. The Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46), believed to be from about 200 C.E., has 86 leaves out of a codex containing Paul’s epistles. Among them is the epistle to the Ephesians, thus showing that it was grouped among his letters at that time.
3 Early ecclesiastical writers confirm that Paul wrote the letter and that it was “To the Ephesians.” For example, Irenaeus, of the second century C.E., quoted Ephesians 5:30 as follows: “As the blessed Paul says in the epistle to the Ephesians, that we are members of his body.” Clement of Alexandria, of the same period, quoted Ephesians 5:21 in reporting: “Wherefore, also, in the epistle to the Ephesians he writes, Be subject one to another in the fear of God.” Origen, writing in the first half of the third century C.E., quoted Ephesians 1:4 in saying: “But also the apostle in the epistle to the Ephesians, uses the same language when he says, Who chose us before the foundation of the world.”* Eusebius, another authority on early Christian history (c. 260-342 C.E.), includes Ephesians in the Bible canon, and most other early ecclesiastical writers make references to Ephesians as part of the inspired Scriptures.*
4. What has led some to surmise that Ephesians was addressed elsewhere, but what evidence supports Ephesus as its destination?
4 The Chester Beatty Papyrus, the Vatican Manuscript No. 1209, and the Sinaitic Manuscript omit the words “in Ephesus” in chapter 1, verse 1, and thus do not indicate the destination of the letter. This fact, together with the absence of greetings to individuals in Ephesus (though Paul had labored there for three years), has led some to surmise that the letter may have been addressed elsewhere or at least that it may have been a circular letter to the congregations in Asia Minor, including Ephesus. However, most other manuscripts include the words “in Ephesus,” and as we have noted above, the early ecclesiastical writers accepted it as a letter to the Ephesians.
5. What was noteworthy about the Ephesus of Paul’s day?
5 Some background information will help us to understand the purpose of this letter. In the first century of the Common Era, Ephesus was noted for its sorcery, magic, astrology, and worship of the fertility goddess Artemis.* Around the statue of the goddess, there had been erected a magnificent temple that was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. According to excavations of the site in the 19th century, the temple was built on a platform that measured about 240 feet [73 m] wide and 418 feet [127 m] long. The temple itself was about 164 feet [50 m] wide and 343 feet [105 m] long. It contained 100 marble columns, each about 55 feet [17 m] in height. The roof was covered with large white marble tiles. Gold is said to have been used instead of mortar between the joints of the marble blocks. The temple attracted tourists from all over the earth, and visitors numbering hundreds of thousands would throng into the city during festivals. The silversmiths of Ephesus carried on a lucrative business selling small silver shrines of Artemis to pilgrims as souvenirs.
6. What was the extent of Paul’s activity in Ephesus?
6 Paul had stopped in Ephesus on his second missionary journey for a short visit of preaching and then left Aquila and Priscilla there to continue the work. (Acts 18:18-21) He returned on his third missionary journey and stayed for about three years, preaching and teaching “The Way” to many. (Acts 19:8-10; 20:31) Paul worked hard while in Ephesus. In his book Daily Life in Bible Times, A. E. Bailey writes: “Paul’s general practice was to work at his trade from sunrise till 11 a.m. (Acts 20:34, 35) at which hour Tyrannus had finished his teaching; then from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to preach in the hall, hold conferences with helpers, . . . then lastly to make a house-to-house evangelistic canvass that lasted from 4 p.m. till far into the night. (Acts 20:20, 21, 31) One wonders when he found time to eat and sleep.”—1943, page 308.
7. What resulted from Paul’s zealous preaching?
7 In the course of this zealous preaching, Paul exposed the use of images in worship. This stirred up the wrath of those making and selling them, such as the silversmith Demetrius, and in the uproar Paul finally had to leave the city.—Acts 19:23–20:1.
8. In what points was Paul’s letter to the Ephesians most timely?
8 Now, while in prison, Paul is thinking of the problems faced by the Ephesian congregation, surrounded by pagan worshipers and in the shadow of the awe-inspiring temple of Artemis. These anointed Christians no doubt needed the fitting illustration Paul now gives them, showing that they constitute “a holy temple,” in which Jehovah dwells by his spirit. (Eph. 2:21) “The sacred secret” being revealed to the Ephesians, concerning God’s administration (his way of managing his household affairs) by which he would restore unity and peace through Jesus Christ, was unquestionably a great inspiration and comfort to them. (1:9, 10) Paul emphasizes the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ. He exhorts to oneness, to unity. Thus, we can now appreciate the purpose, value, and obvious inspiration of this book.
CONTENTS OF EPHESIANS
9. How has God made his love abound, and what is Paul’s prayer?
9 God’s purpose to bring about unity by means of Christ (1:1–2:22). Paul the apostle sends greetings. God is to be blessed for his glorious undeserved kindness. This has to do with His choosing of them to be in union with Jesus Christ, by means of whom they have the release by ransom through his blood. Furthermore, God has made his love abound toward them by making known the sacred secret of his will. For he has purposed an administration, “to gather all things together again in the Christ,” in union with whom they were also assigned as heirs. (1:10) As a token of this in advance, they have been sealed by holy spirit. Paul’s prayer is that they will be firmly convinced of the hope to which they have been called and realize that God will use the same power toward them that He did in resurrecting Christ and in placing him far above every government and authority and making him Head over all things to the congregation.
10. How have the Ephesians become “fellow citizens of the holy ones”?
10 God, out of the richness of his mercy and his great love, has made them alive, though they were dead in their trespasses and sins, and has seated them together “in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus.” (2:6) This is all due to undeserved kindness and faith and is not a result of any works of their own. Christ is their peace who has broken down the wall, the Law of commandments, that had fenced off Gentiles from Jews. Now both peoples have the approach to the Father through Christ. Therefore the Ephesians are no longer aliens, but they are “fellow citizens of the holy ones” and are growing into a holy temple for Jehovah to inhabit by spirit.—2:19.
11. What is “the sacred secret,” and for what does Paul pray in behalf of the Ephesians?
11 “The sacred secret of the Christ” (3:1-21). God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets “the sacred secret of the Christ . . . that people of the nations should be joint heirs and fellow members of the body and partakers with us of the promise in union with Christ Jesus through the good news.” (3:4, 6) By God’s undeserved kindness, Paul has become a minister of this, to declare the unfathomable riches of the Christ and make men see how the sacred secret is administered. It is through the congregation that the greatly diversified wisdom of God is made known. Because of this, Paul prays that they will be made mighty with power through God’s spirit in order that they may fully know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, and realize that God can “do more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive.”—3:20.
12. (a) How should Christians walk, and why? (b) What gifts has Christ given, and for what purpose? (c) What is involved in putting on “the new personality”?
12 Putting on “the new personality” (4:1–5:20). Christians should walk worthily of their calling, in lowliness of mind, in long-suffering and love, and in the uniting bond of peace. For there is but one spirit, one hope, one faith, and “one God and Father of all persons, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:6) Therefore Christ, the “one Lord,” has given prophets, evangelizers, shepherds, and teachers, “with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ.” So, writes Paul, “speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ,” as a body harmoniously joined together with every member cooperating. (4:5, 12, 15) The immoral, unprofitable, and ignorant ways of the old personality are to be put away; each person should be made new in the force actuating his mind and “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” Because all belong to one another, they are to speak the truth and put away wrath, stealing, rotten sayings, malicious bitterness—not grieving God’s holy spirit. Instead, let them ‘become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another, just as God also by Christ freely forgave them.’—4:24, 32.
13. To become an imitator of God, what must one do?
13 All should become imitators of God. Fornication, uncleanness, and greediness should not even be mentioned among them, for those who practice such things have no inheritance in the Kingdom. Paul admonishes the Ephesians: “Go on walking as children of light.” “Keep strict watch” on how you walk, buying out the opportune time, “because the days are wicked.” Yes, they must “go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is” and speak about the praises of God in a thankful way.—5:8, 15-17.
14. What are the mutual responsibilities of husbands and wives?
14 Proper subjection; Christian warfare (5:21–6:24). Wives should be in subjection to husbands, even as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, and husbands should continue loving their wives, “just as the Christ also loved the congregation.” Likewise, “the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—5:25, 33.
15. What does Paul counsel with regard to children and parents, slaves and masters, and the Christian’s armor?
15 Children should live at unity with parents, in obedience and responding to godly discipline. Slaves and masters also should conduct themselves so as to be pleasing to God, for the Master of all “is in the heavens, and there is no partiality with him.” Finally, let all “go on acquiring power in the Lord and in the mightiness of his strength,” putting on the complete suit of armor from God so as to be able to stand firm against the Devil. “Above all things, take up the large shield of faith,” also “the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.” Carry on prayer, and keep awake. Paul asks that they pray also for him, that he may with all freeness of speech “make known the sacred secret of the good news.”—6:9, 10, 16, 17, 19.
16. What questions find a practical answer in Ephesians, and what is said about the personality that is pleasing to God?
16 The epistle to the Ephesians touches almost every aspect of the Christian’s life. In view of the present-day upsurge of distressing problems and delinquency in the world, Paul’s sound, practical advice is of real benefit to those who desire to live godly lives. How should children conduct themselves toward parents, and parents toward children? What are the responsibilities of a husband toward his wife, and of a wife toward her husband? What must the individuals in the congregation do in order to maintain unity in love and Christian purity in the midst of a wicked world? Paul’s counsel covers all these questions, and he goes on to show what is involved in putting on the new Christian personality. Through the study of Ephesians, all will be able to gain real appreciation for the kind of personality that is pleasing to God and that is “created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—4:24-32; 6:1-4; 5:3-5, 15-20, 22-33.
17. What does Ephesians show as to cooperation with arrangements in the congregation?
17 The letter also shows the purpose of appointments and assignments in the congregation. This is “with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ,” with maturity in view. By cooperating fully in these congregational arrangements, the Christian can “by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—4:12, 15.
18. What is made plain with regard to “the sacred secret” and a spiritual temple?
18 The letter to the Ephesians greatly benefited the early congregation in sharpening their understanding of “the sacred secret of the Christ.” Here it was made plain that along with believing Jews, “people of the nations” were being called to be “joint heirs and fellow members of the body and partakers . . . of the promise in union with Christ Jesus through the good news.” The wall of partition, “the Law of commandments,” that had fenced off Gentile from Jew had been abolished, and now by the blood of the Christ, all had become fellow citizens of the holy ones and members of the household of God. In striking contrast to the pagan temple of Artemis, these were being built up together in union with Christ Jesus into a place for God to inhabit by spirit—“a holy temple for Jehovah.”—3:4, 6; 2:15, 21.
19. What hope and encouragement does Ephesians continue to hold forth to this day?
19 With regard to “the sacred secret,” Paul also spoke of “an administration . . . to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens [those chosen to be in the heavenly Kingdom] and the things on the earth [those who would live on earth in the realm of the Kingdom].” Thus God’s grand purpose to restore peace and unity is brought to the fore. In this connection Paul prayed in behalf of the Ephesians, the eyes of whose hearts had been enlightened, that they might fully grasp the hope to which God had called them and see “what the glorious riches are which he holds as an inheritance for the holy ones.” These words must have greatly encouraged them in their hope. And the inspired letter to the Ephesians continues to be upbuilding to the congregation in this day, that ‘in everything we may be filled with all the fullness that God gives.’—1:9-11, 18; 3:19.
Origin and History of the Books of the Bible, 1868, C. E. Stowe, page 357.
New Bible Dictionary, second edition, 1986, edited by J. D. Douglas, page 175.