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 as Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians, there are a number of similarities between Ephesians and Colossians. According to Charles Smith Lewis (in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia), “out of 155 verses in Eph[esians], 78 are found in Col[ossians] in varying degrees of identity.” 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
The Chester Beatty Papyrus as well as the Vatican No. 1209 and Sinaitic Manuscripts omit the words “in Ephesus” in chapter 1, verse 1. However, the words are found in other manuscripts in their uncorrected form 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 big thing. But in his letter Paul stresses the true riches—“the riches of his undeserved kindness,” “the glorious riches” 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.
Ephesus was also a city noted for its licentiousness and loose conduct, 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 making obscene jokes.—Eph. 4:20-24; 5:3-5.
Paul’s discussion of God’s spiritual temple was also most fitting to the Christian congregation living in the shadow of the awe-inspiring pagan temple of Artemis (Diana), 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, Christians have something far grander to think about, God’s “holy temple,” to be inhabited by his spirit.—Acts 19:27; Eph. 2:21.
By reason of the temple of Artemis being 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, including the expelling of wicked spirits.—Acts 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 Albert Barnes, 20th ed., 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. A form of divination by omens from birds must have been common; one inscription says: “If the bird is flying from right to left and settles out of sight, good luck will come. But if it lifts up its left wing, then, whether it rises or settles out of sight, misfortune will result.”
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 [perhaps more than $8,000.]” (Acts 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.
With the demons so active in Ephesus, 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,” since those Christians “at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.”—Eph. 1:21; 2:2.
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. The description of the administration in which all things in heaven and earth will be unified under Christ and the bringing of both Jews and Gentiles into the congregation as “one man” is the fullest explanation found in the Bible of the “sacred secret” of God, revealed in the good news about the Christ.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. The sacred secret of God’s will (1:1–4:16)
A. Those to be associated with Christ in administration for bringing universal unity adopted as sons of God (1:1-12)
B. Holy spirit advance token of their inheritance with Christ as members of his body (1:13-23)
C. God’s mercy and love manifested in connection with Christ to those once dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-7)
1. Saved by undeserved kindness through faith, not works (2:8-10)
2. Gentiles, formerly without God or hope, reconciled to God through Christ (2:11-13)
3. Law forming barrier between Jews and Gentiles abolished; both peoples become one in union with Christ (2:14-18)
4. Gentiles become joint heirs and members of Christ’s body or congregation, a “holy temple for Jehovah” (2:19–3:7)
D. God’s dealings with congregation reveal his wisdom even to those in heavenly places (3:8-13)
E. Prayer for Ephesians to gain depth of understanding of God’s provision through Christ (3:14-21)
F. God provides all necessary things for unity in Christ (4:1-16)
1. One spirit, one hope, one faith, one baptism, one body under the one Lord and the one God and Father (4:1-6)
2. Gifts in men as a result of Christ’s ascension (4:7-16)
a. For training to maturity, stability (4:11-14)
b. For growth and upbuilding (4:12, 15, 16)
II. The new personality (4:17–5:20)
A. Not nations, but Christ the example (4:17-21)
B. Be made new in force actuating mind and put on new personality (4:23, 24)
1. Practice self-control, honesty, generosity, truthful and upbuilding speech; act in harmony with God’s spirit (4:25-30)
2. Remove maliciousness, anger, screaming and injuriousness; replace with kindness and forgiveness (4:31, 32)
3. Imitate God; follow Christ (5:1, 2)
4. Manifest cleanness in morals and speech (5:3-5)
5. Be awake to distinguish darkness; reprove wrongdoers by walking in the light (5:6-14)
6. Strictly watch conduct; buy out time, using it to praise Jehovah (5:15-20)
III. Proper subjection (5:21–6:9)
A. Husband-wife relationship like that of Christ and congregation (5:21-33)
B. Parent-child relationship (6:1-4)
C. Master-servant relationship (6:5-9)
IV. Christian’s fight, not with men, but against wicked spirits (6:10-17)
A. Put on spiritual armor (6:10-17)
B. Be awake to use all forms of prayer on every occasion, remembering others of the holy ones, including Paul (6:18-24)