The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians - Introduction
In powerful poetic language drawn from early Christian hymns and the Jewish scriptures, the Letter to the Ephesians celebrates the author's vision of the church. According to God's eternal plan for humanity, Christ's death brought together both Jews and Gentiles into a new, unified community: The Jewish law, which previously divided Jew from Gentile, was rendered irrelevant by the cross, and Christ thus reconciled both groups to each other and to God ( 2.14–16 ). According to Ephesians, human existence was beset by the malevolent influence of demonic beings. Christ has been given power over them, and through God's grace human beings are freed from their immoral and deceitful influences. The new life of believers is one of knowledge and spiritual power, and thus there is the recurring contrast of the old life with the new ( 2.1–6,11–13,19; 4.22–24; 5.8 ). Another prominent theme is Paul's role as revealer of God's previously hidden plan for the salvation of humankind ( 3.1–12 ). The church must recognize Christ as its Lord and exemplar ( 4.12–16,20–24; 5.1–2 ), and also its own exalted status as a spirit‐filled community that brings the power and presence of God to the world ( 1.22–23; 2.22; 3.10,19; 4.24 ). Conflict with demonic forces continues ( 6.10–20 ), but the church looks forward to the complete reestablishment of God's sovereignty over the creation ( 1.10 ) and the perfection of the church as the body of Christ ( 4.12–16 ).
Ephesians begins with a salutation ( 1.1–2 ) and an introductory thanksgiving prayer ( 1.15–23 ) and ends with an epilogue ( 6.21–24 ), but it lacks many typical features of Paul's letter form and is better classified as a homily. The text divides into two sections: theological teaching (chs 1–3 ) and ethical exhortation (chs 4–6 ). The first half focuses on the church as a new community in which Jews and Gentiles equally share in God's blessings. Tension between Jewish and Gentile believers persisted through the first century, and it is unclear whether Ephesians is intended to encourage Gentiles to recognize their position as full partners in the church or whether they are being admonished to respect their Jewish fellow believers more highly. The second half is an appeal for the church to maintain that new unity and press on toward complete maturity by rejecting former lifestyles and displaying Christian values of truth, love, forgiveness, and sexual purity. Rather than advocating a complete renewal of family relationships based on love, forgiveness, and mutual submission, however, the author's Christology is used to justify the structure and duties of the ancient patriarchal family( 5.22–6.9 ).
Some early manuscripts and early Christian writers lack the opening reference to Ephesus, a major city on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, in 1.1 (see note a), and Ephesians does not address problems specific to a single congregation. Some scholars conclude that Ephesians was originally a circular letter, distributed to a number of churches, perhaps in Asia Minor. Others, noting the text's similarities to Colossians, believe the original audience was the churches of Hierapolis and Laodicea (see Col 4.13, 16 ). The significant contrasts between Ephesians and the letters we can confidently ascribe to Paul raise questions about the identity of the author of Ephesians. Many important terms in Ephesians are not used by Paul elsewhere (e.g., heavenly places, dividing wall, fellow citizen), and some of Paul's characteristic terms and emphases either are given new meaning (e.g., mystery, church) or are completely absent (e.g., the Jews, justify). In addition, the verbose rhetorical style of Ephesians, especially the use of complex, long sentences (many of which have been divided in the NRSV), is not characteristic of Paul. Theological differences are also evident, especially Ephesians' emphasis on believers' present salvation ( 1.3–12; 2.4–10 ) and the use of household rules ( 5.22–6.9 ). As a result of the combined weight of these differences, many scholars hold that Ephesians was written in the late first century by a Jewish‐Christian admirer of Paul who sought to apply Pauline thought to the situation of the church in his own day. A minority of scholars hold the author to be Paul, who was writing at the end of his career while imprisoned, probably in Rome; different theological emphases are attributes to developments in Paul's thinking and the particular situation addressed. There are, nevertheless, many verbal parallels between Ephesians and the Pauline letters, especially Colossians (see cross‐references in the notes). If Paul was the author of both Ephesians and Colossians, they were probably written at the same time, if Ephesians was written by a later follower of Paul, he drew upon Colossians' established authority and modeled his work on it.