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Described by William Barclay as the "Queen of the Epistles", the Epistle to the Ephesians is one of the books of the Bible in the New Testament.[1] Saint Paul is traditionally said to have written the letter while he was in prison in Rome (around AD 62). This would be about the same time as the Epistle to the Colossians (which in many points it resembles) and the Epistle to Philemon. However, some critical scholars have questioned the authorship of the letter, and suggest it may have been written between AD 80 and 100, or perhaps as late as 170.[2][3][4]


Ephesians contains:

  • 1:1, 2. The greeting
  • 1:3–2:10. A general of the blessings that the gospel reveals. This includes the source of these blessings, the means by which they are attained, the reason they are given, and their final result. The first part of this section (Eph 1:3–1:14) is one continuous sentence in the original Greek. It ends with a fervent prayer for the further spiritual enrichment of the Ephesians.
  • 2:11–3:21. A description of the change in the spiritual position of Gentiles as a result of the work of Christ. It ends with an account of how Paul was selected and qualified to be an apostle to the Gentiles, in the hope that this will keep them from being dispirited and lead him to pray for them.
  • 4:1–16. A chapter on unity in the midst of the diversity of gifts among believers.
  • 4:17–6:9. Instructions about ordinary life and different relationships.
  • 6:10–24. The imagery of spiritual warfare (including the metaphor of the Armor of God), the mission of Tychicus, and valedictory blessings.

Historical context

Place, date, and purpose of the writing of the letter

If Paul was the author of the letter, then it was probably written from Rome during Paul's first imprisonment (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and probably soon after his arrival there in the year 62, four years after he had parted with the Ephesian elders at Miletus. However, scholars who dispute Paul's authorship date the letter anywhere between 70-170.[4] In the latter case, the possible location of the authorship could have been within the church of Ephesus itself. Ignatius of Antioch himself seemed to be very well versed in the epistle to the Ephesians, and mirrors many of his own thoughts in his own epistle to the Ephesians[4]

The major theme of the letter is the Church and, in particular, its foundation in Christ as part of the will of the Father.

In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes from the point of view of the demonstration of the righteousness of God--his covenant faithfulness and saving justice--in the gospel; the author of Ephesians writes from the perspective of union with Christ, who is the head of the true church.

Founding of the church at Ephesus

Paul's first and hurried visit for the space of three months to Ephesus is recorded in Acts 18:19–21. The work he began on this occasion was carried forward by Apollos (24–26) and Aquila and Priscilla. On his second visit early in the following year, he remained at Ephesus "three years," for he found it was the key to the western provinces of Asia Minor. Here "a great door and effectual" was opened to him (1 Cor 16:9), and the church was established and strengthened by his diligent labours there (Acts 20:20, 31). From Ephesus the gospel spread abroad "almost throughout all Asia" (19:26). The word "mightily grew and prevailed" despite all the opposition and persecution he encountered.

On his last journey to Jerusalem, the apostle landed at Miletus and, summoning together the elders of the church from Ephesus, delivered to them a farewell charge (Acts 20:18–35), expecting to see them no more.

The following parallels between this epistle and the Milesian charge may be traced:

  1. Acts 20:19 = Eph 4:2. The phrase "lowliness of mind".
  2. Acts 20:27 = Eph 1:11. The word "counsel", denoting the divine plan.
  3. Acts 20:32 = Eph 3:20. The divine ability.
  4. Acts 20:32 = Eph 2:20. The building upon the foundation.
  5. Acts 20:32 = Eph 1:14, 18. "The inheritance of the saints."

Author and audience

The first verse in the letter, according to later manuscripts, is:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. (Eph 1:1 NIV)

Hence the letter would in this case explicitly designate the Ephesian church as its recipient and Paul as its writer.

However, there are a few problems with this:

  • The earliest and best known manuscripts omit the words "in Ephesus", rendering the phrase simply as "to the saints ... the faithful in Christ Jesus" (NIV alternative translation).
  • The letter lacks any references to people in Ephesus, or any events Paul experienced there.
  • Phrases such as "ever since I heard about your faith" (1:15 NIV) seem to indicate that the writer has no firsthand knowledge of his audience. Yet the book of Acts records that Paul spent a significant amount of time with the church in Ephesus, and in fact was one of its founders.

There are four main theories in Biblical scholarship that address the question of Pauline authorship.[5]

  • The traditionalist view that the epistle is written by Paul is supported by scholars that include Ezra Abbot, Asting, Gaugler, Grant, Harnack, Haupt, Fenton John Anthony Hort, Klijn, Johann David Michaelis, Percy, Robinson, A. Robert, and André Feuillet, Roller, Sanders, Schille, Schlier, Schmid, Scot, Brooke Foss Westcott, and Theodor Zahn
  • A second position suggests that Ephesians was dictated by Paul with interpolations from another author. Some of the scholars that espouse this view include Albertz, Benoit, Cerfaux, Goguel, Harrison, H. J. Holtzmann, Murphy O'Conner, and Wagenfuhrer.
  • Some scholars think it improbable that Paul authored Ephesians at all. Among this group are Allan, Beare, Brandon, Bultmann, Conzelmann, Dibelius, Goodspeed, Kilsemann, J. Knox, W.L. Knox, Klimmel, K and S Lake, Marxsen, Masson, Mitton, Moffatt, Nineham, Pokorny, Schweizer, and J. Weiss.
  • Still other scholars suggests there is a lack of conclusive evidence. Some of this group are Cadbury, Julicher, McNeile, and Williams.

It should be noted that many of the early "Christian fathers" support Paul's authorship. Among those who attest to this are Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, and Polycarp.

The lack of any references to Ephesus in the early manuscripts led Marcion, a second-century Gnostic who created his own cut and paste version of the Bible, to believe that the letter was actually addressed to the church at Laodicea. The view is not uncommon in later traditions either, considering that the content of the letter seems to suggest a similar socio-critical context to the Laodicean church mentioned in the Revelation of John.

For more details, see the article Authorship of the Pauline epistles.[6]


The purpose of the Epistle to the Ephesians is born out of its particular socio-historical context and the situational context of both the author and the audience. Originating in the circumstance of a multicultural church (primarily Jewish and Hellenistic), the author addressed issues appropriate to the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds present in the community.

For reasons that are unclear in the context and content of the letter itself, Paul exhorts the church repeatedly to embrace a specific view of salvation, which he then explicates. It seems most likely that Paul's Christology of sacrifice is the manner in which he intends to affect an environment of peace within the church. In short: "If Christ was sacrificed for your sake, be like him and be in submission to one another." Paul addresses hostility, division, and self-interest more than any other topic in the letter, leading many scholars to believe that his primary concern was not doctrinal, but behavioral.

Some theologians, such as Frank Charles Thompson, agree the main theme of Ephesians is in response to the newly converted Jews who often separated themselves from their Gentile brethren. The unity of the church, especially between Jew and Gentile believers, is the keynote of the book. This is shown by the recurrence of such words and phrases as:

Together: made alive together, 2:5; raised up together, sitting together, 2:6; built together, 2:22

One, indicating unity: one new man, 2:15; one body, 2:16; one Spirit, 2:18; one hope, 4:4; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, 4:5-6.

The Pauline theme of unity based on a sacrificial Christology may also be noted in the epistle to the Philippians.


Ephesians is notable for its treatment of women. Ephesians 5:22 commands not only that women should submit to their husbands but that husbands should love their wives. Feminist theologians such as Katharine Bushnell and Jesse Pen-Lewis interpret in context of the preceding verse 21, a general command of submission to others. Thus, all Christians should submit to each other: both husbands to wives and wives to husbands.

Ephesians 6:5 was used by Confederate slaveholders in support of a slaveholding position.[7]


  1. William Barclay, The Daily Bible Study: Revised Edition: The Letters to the Galatians and the Ephesians, (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1976) 61
  2. Ehrman, Bart D. (2004). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford. pp. 381–384. ISBN 0-19-515462-2. 
  3. "USCCB - NAB - Ephesians - Introduction". Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 See Markus Barth, Ephesians: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on Chapters 1–3 (New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1974), 50-51
  5. These four views all come from Markus Barth, Ephesians: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on Chapters 1-3 (New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1974), 38
  6. For a thorough defense of the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, See Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by Harold W. Hoehner, pp 2-61, from Baker Academic Press.
  7. E.N. Elliott, ed. Cotton is king, and pro-slavery arguments comprising the writings of Hammond, Harper, Christy, Stringfellow, Hodge, Bledsoe, and Cartwright, on this important subject. Augusta, Ga. : Pritchard, Abbott & Loomis, 1860. "Cotton is King - Google Books". Retrieved 2009-03-13.