EPHESIANS, LETTER TO THE
A book of the Christian Greek Scriptures, written about 60-61 C.E. by the apostle Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. (Eph 1:1; 3:1; 4:1; 6:20) It was carried to the congregation at Ephesus by Tychicus (Eph 6:21, 22), whom Paul also used to deliver a letter to the Colossians. (Col 4:7-9) Since the letter to the Colossians was written about the same time that Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians, there are a number of similarities between Ephesians and Colossians. According to Charles Smith Lewis, “out of 155 verses in Eph[esians], 78 are found in Col[ossians] in varying degrees of identity.” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, edited by J. Orr, 1960, Vol. II, p. 959) No doubt the conditions in Colossae were somewhat similar to those in Ephesus, and Paul found it good to give the same kind of counsel.
Why Appropriate to Ephesian Christians. A Chester Beatty papyrus (P46) as well as the original readings of Vatican Manuscript No. 1209 and the Sinaitic Manuscript omits the words “in Ephesus” in chapter 1, verse 1. However, the words are found in other manuscripts and in all ancient versions. Moreover, early church writers accepted it as the letter to the Ephesians. Though some have thought this letter to be the one mentioned as sent to Laodicea (Col 4:16), it must be noted that no old manuscripts contain the words “to Laodicea,” and Ephesus is the only city ever mentioned here in any of the manuscripts of this letter.
Counsel on materialism. Furthermore, an examination of the contents of the letter to the Ephesians indicates that Paul had the Christians in Ephesus in mind; and his counsel was especially fitting, in view of the circumstances prevailing in Ephesus, the most important city in the Roman province of Asia. For instance, Ephesus was known to be a fabulously wealthy city, and the tendency would be to view worldly riches as the most important thing. But in his letter Paul stresses the true riches—“the riches of his undeserved kindness,” “the glorious riches” that God holds as an inheritance for the holy ones, “the surpassing riches of his undeserved kindness,” “the unfathomable riches of the Christ,” and “the riches of his [God’s] glory.” (Eph 1:7, 18; 2:7; 3:8, 16) Such would help the Ephesian Christians to get a proper view of riches.
Eliminating immorality. Ephesus was also a city noted for its licentiousness and loose conduct, its gross immorality. Consequently, Paul the apostle dwelt on this emphatically as one of the traits of the old personality and said that Christians need to strip off that old personality and put on “the new personality.” The loose moral condition in Ephesus would provoke much conversation among the citizens about sexual vice, not in order to condemn it, but to revel in it; and Christians, Paul counsels, are not to be like such people, taking delight in discussing fornication and telling obscene jokes.—Eph 4:20-24; 5:3-5.
Contrasting temples. Paul’s illustration of a spiritual temple was also most fitting for the Christian congregation living in the shadow of the awe-inspiring pagan temple of Artemis, which was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Whereas “the whole district of Asia and the inhabited earth” paid worship to Artemis and highly esteemed the famed temple at Ephesus, anointed Christians constitute “a holy temple,” in which Jehovah dwells by his spirit.—Ac 19:27; Eph 2:21.
By reason of the fact that the temple of Artemis was a sanctuary, crimes were encouraged and the criminal population of Ephesus increased. No one within a certain area around its walls might be arrested for any crime whatever. The result was that a village of thieves, murderers, and the like grew up around the temple. Paul’s words about stealing, along with malicious bitterness, screaming, and injuriousness, were therefore not out of place.—Eph 4:25-32.
Practice of demonism. Ephesus was the center of all kinds of demonism. In fact, the city was known around the world for its many forms of magic. The demons, then, were especially active at Ephesus, and no doubt to offset the influence of magic and sorcery and to help righthearted Ephesians break free from these demonic practices, Paul performed miracles by God’s spirit; these even included the expelling of wicked spirits.—Ac 19:11, 12.
Indicating how saturated Ephesus was with magic and how fitting Paul’s counsel was about fighting wicked spirits are the following points:
“The Ephesian letters” were famous the world over. “They seem to have consisted of certain combinations of letters or words, which, by being pronounced with certain intonations of voice, were believed to be effectual in expelling diseases, or evil spirits; or which, by being written on parchment and worn, were supposed to operate as amulets, or charms, to guard from evil spirits, or from danger. Thus Plutarch (Sympos. 7) says, ‘the magicians compel those who are possessed with a demon to recite and pronounce the Ephesian letters, in a certain order, by themselves.’”—Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Acts of the Apostles, by A. Barnes, 1858, p. 264.
Inscriptions uncovered at the ruins of Ephesus indicate the gross darkness in which the Ephesians lived mentally and why the apostle Paul wrote Christians in that city to “no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds, while they are in darkness mentally.” (Eph 4:17, 18) The inscriptions on walls and buildings indicate that the populace would govern their lives by superstitions, divination, and the searching for omens.
Because of Paul’s preaching, the miraculous works he performed, and the defeat of the exorcising Jews, quite a number of Ephesians became Christians. No doubt many of these persons had indulged in some form of magical practices, for the Bible account says: “Quite a number of those who practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them up before everybody. And they calculated together the prices of them and found them worth fifty thousand pieces of silver [if denarii, $37,200].” (Ac 19:19) In view of such prevalence of magic at Ephesus and the practice of many forms of demonism, it was most appropriate that Paul gave the Ephesian Christians fine counsel about fighting against wicked spirit forces by putting on “the complete suit of armor from God.” No doubt some of those who broke free from the practice of magic would be harassed by demons, and Paul’s counsel would help them to resist the wicked spirits. It is to be noted that the destruction of these books relating to demonism was one of the first things that those early Christians did, setting a pattern for those today who wish to break free from demon influence or harassment.—Eph 6:11, 12.
Christ’s role. Because of the glorious hope set before them as joint heirs with Christ, it is most fitting that Paul also wrote the Ephesian Christians that Christ has been raised “far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come.” (Eph 1:21) In this letter Paul reaches heights of grandeur in describing the exalted position of Jesus Christ and the gift of the undeserved kindness of God with love, wisdom, and mercy toward those brought into unity with them. The description of the manner in which all things in heaven and on earth will be unified under Christ and the bringing of both Jews and Gentiles into the congregation as “one new man” is the fullest explanation found in the Bible of the “sacred secret” of God, revealed in the good news about the Christ.—Eph 2:15.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF EPHESIANS
A letter focusing attention on an administration that results in peace and unity with God through Jesus Christ
While he was a prisoner in Rome, Paul wrote this letter to the congregation in Ephesus, a port city on the W coast of Asia Minor
God’s purpose to bring about peace and unity through Jesus Christ
Expressing great undeserved kindness, God foreordained that some humans would be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (1:1-7)
God purposed an administration (a way of managing his household affairs) by which he would unite with himself through Christ those chosen to be in the heavens and those who would live on earth (1:8-14)
Those granted lofty assignments in connection with Christ were formerly dead in sin; their salvation is God’s gift, not a payment for works (2:1-10)
By means of Christ, the Law was abolished and the basis was laid for Jews and Gentiles to become one body, members of the household of God, a temple for God to inhabit by spirit (2:11–3:7)
God’s dealings with the congregation reveal, even to those in heavenly places, the diversity of his wisdom (3:8-13)
Unifying factors provided by God: one spiritual body making up the congregation, one holy spirit, one hope, one Lord Jesus Christ, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father (4:1-6)
Gifts in men provided by Christ help all to oneness in the faith; the entire body, under his headship, functions harmoniously because of speaking truth and manifesting love (4:7-16)
Put on the new personality, in harmony with Christ’s teaching and example
Not the nations but Christ is the example to follow; doing so requires a new personality (4:17-32)
Imitate God; manifest the kind of love that Christ did (5:1, 2)
Shun immoral speech and conduct; walk as children of light (5:3-14)
Buy out the time; use it to praise Jehovah (5:15-20)
With deep respect for Christ, manifest proper subjection to husbands, parents, masters; show loving consideration to those in your charge (5:21–6:9)
Gird on the complete suit of spiritual armor in order to stand firm against the crafty acts of the Devil
We have a wrestling against wicked spirit forces; divine help can enable us to resist these disrupters of peace and unity (6:10-13)
Spiritual armor from God provides full protection; use it well and pray earnestly, including all the holy ones in your supplications (6:14-24)