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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

- Ephesians

by Joseph Benson


OF EPHESUS, a city famed for its commerce and riches, and for its being the metropolis of that part of Asia which was a Roman province, the reader will find an account in the notes on Acts 19:1. The apostle, it seems, first visited this city when on his way from Achaia to Jerusalem, as is related Acts 18:19-20: at which time he preached in the synagogue of the Jews; but did not continue many days, though his preaching was not without fruit, as appears from his being desired by some of his hearers to tarry a longer time with them, that they might be more fully instructed in the doctrines which he taught. The reason why he did not comply with their request, was his believing it to be his duty to attend at Jerusalem at an approaching feast. From the history of the Acts we learn, that the Ephesians were then a very dissolute people, and extremely addicted to the arts of sorcery and magic, taught and practised there; “walking,” as the apostle expresses it, “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which worketh in the children of disobedience,” Ephesians 2:2. Their city, also, was the very throne of idolatry; the worship of idols being performed in no part of the heathen world with greater splendour than at Ephesus, on account of the famous temple of Diana, which was built between the city and the harbour, at the expense of all Asia, (see note on Acts 19:27,) and in which was an image of that goddess, said to have fallen down from Jupiter, Acts 19:35. This image, as we may well suppose, was worshipped with the most pompous rites, by a multitude of priests, and a vast concourse of votaries from every quarter, who, to gain the favour of Diana, came to Ephesus to offer sacrifice at her shrine.

Such being the state of religion and morals among the Ephesians, St. Paul, who was expressly commissioned by Christ to turn the Gentiles “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God,” resolved, at his departure from their city, to return soon, (Acts 18:21,) that he might have an opportunity of attacking idolatry in this its chief seat. Accordingly, having celebrated the feast of pentecost at Jerusalem, and afterward gone over the country of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples, he came to Ephesus, (Acts 19:1,) and preached boldly, first in the synagogue of the Jews, for the space of three months, discoursing concerning the things which related to the kingdom of God, Galatians 6:8. But the Jews, who had heard him with pleasure at his former visit, now opposed him violently, when they perceived that he preached salvation without requiring obedience to the law of Moses. They spake also with the greatest virulence against the gospel itself; insomuch that the apostle judged it improper to preach any longer in the synagogue. Separating the disciples, therefore, from the unbelieving Jews, he discoursed daily in the school of one Tyrannus, who either was himself a disciple, or allowed the apostle the use of his school for hire. “And this,” as we learn from Acts 19:10, “continued for the space of two years; so that all they who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” During this time, so extraordinary were his miracles, that “from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them;” which miracles, together with his preaching, were so blessed of God, that multitudes of the idolatrous inhabitants of Asia embraced the gospel; and, among the rest, many who had practised the arts of magic and divination. These, to show how sincerely they repented of their former evil-practices, brought out the books which contained the secrets of their arts, and burned them publicly, notwithstanding they were of very great value. “So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed” among the Ephesians.

In consequence of this extraordinary success, the apostle had determined to spend a longer season in Asia; but a dreadful riot raised against him by Demetrius, a silversmith, who employed a great number of workmen in making silver shrines for Diana, (of which see Acts 19:23-41, with the notes there,) caused him to alter his resolution, and to proceed immediately toward Macedonia, into which country he had already sent Timothy and Erastus. During the time, however, of the apostle’s stay at Ephesus, a numerous Christian church was formed, chiefly made up of Gentile converts, whose piety and zeal appear, from this epistle, to have been remarkable. To watch over these, and administer to them the word of God, the apostle appointed several elders, or overseers. These, about a year after, when on his way from Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem, the apostle sent for, to meet him at Miletus; to whom, when they came, he delivered the pathetic exhortation recorded. Acts 20:17-35, forewarning them both of great persecutions from without, and of divers heresies and schisms, which would arise among themselves. After this it appears that he never visited Ephesus again, nor saw any of the elders whom he now addressed. He wrote, however, this epistle to them for their further instruction and establishment in the faith; and that, it seems, within three or four years from this period; or, as is generally supposed, during the latter part of the time of his imprisonment at Rome. For, from what he himself says, (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:20,) he was a prisoner when he wrote it, as he was likewise when he wrote to the Colossians, Colossians 4:10. Indeed, there is such a manifest correspondence between these two epistles, both in their subject matter and in the very form of the expression, that it may be justly concluded they were written at the same time, and sent together by Tychicus, who was intrusted with the care of both, but was attended by Onesimus, when he delivered that to the Colossians, Colossians 4:9.

The design of the apostle in this epistle was to establish the Ephesian believers in the doctrine he had delivered; and for that purpose to give them more exalted views of the love of God, and of the excellence and dignity of the Lord Jesus; to show them that they were saved by grace; and that the Gentiles, however wretched they had been once, were now invited to enjoy equal privileges with the Jews; to encourage them, by declaring with what steadiness the apostle himself suffered for the truth, and with what earnestness he prayed for their establishment and perseverance. He also intended to arm them against false teachers, and to build them up in love and holiness, both of heart and conversation. If it be remembered that the most flourishing sects of philosophers had been, or were, settled at Ephesus, and in its neighbourhood; it will not be doubted that the apostle would make use of extraordinary caution in writing; and it is evident that this epistle is full of the sublimest doctrines, and written in a style equal to the nobleness of his sentiments, and the learning of those to whom it was addressed. Though this, perhaps, at first sight may render his meaning a little obscure, yet, by the assistance of the forementioned epistle to the Colossians, written while he was in the same circumstances, upon the same occasion, and to the same purpose, the sense and doctrine of the apostle here may be so clearly seen, and so perfectly comprehended, that there can be hardly any doubt left about it, to any one who will examine them diligently, and carefully compare them together. He begins this epistle, as he does most of the others, with thanksgiving to God, for their embracing and adhering to the gospel. He shows the inestimable blessings and advantages they received thereby, as far above all the Jewish privileges as all the wisdom and philosophy of the heathen. He proves that our Lord is the head of the whole church; of angels and spirits, the church triumphant; and of Jews and Gentiles, now equally members of the church militant. In the last three chapters he exhorts them to various duties, civil and religious, personal and relative, suitable to their Christian character, privileges, assistances, and obligations. To be a little more particular: In this epistle we may observe, I. The inscription, Ephesians 1:1-2. II. The doctrine pathetically explained, which contains, 1. Praise to God for the whole gospel blessing, Ephesians 1:3-14, with thanksgiving and prayer for the saints, Eph 1:15 to Ephesians 2:10. Ephesians 2:2. A more particular admonition concerning their once miserable, but now happy condition, Ephesians 2:11-22; a prayer for their establishment, Ephesians 3:1-19; a doxology, Ephesians 3:20-21. III. The exhortation. First, general: To walk worthy of their calling, agreeably to, 1. The unity of the Spirit, and the diversity of his gifts, Ephesians 4:1-16. Ephesians 4:2. The difference between their former and their present state, Ephesians 4:17-24. Secondly, particular: To avoid, 1. Lying, Ephesians 4:25. Ephesians 4:2. Anger, Ephesians 4:26. Ephesians 4:3. Theft, Ephesians 4:28. Ephesians 4:4. Corrupt communication, Ephesians 4:29-30. Ephesians 4:5. Bitterness, Eph 4:31 to Ephesians 5:2. Ephesians 5:6. Uncleanness, Ephesians 5:3-14. Ephesians 5:7. Drunkenness, Ephesians 5:15-21. With a commendation of the opposite virtues: To do their duty, as, 1. Wives and husbands, Ephesians 5:22-33. Ephesians 5:2. Children and parents, Eph 6:1 to Ephesians 4:3. Servants and masters, Ephesians 4:5-9. Thirdly, final: To war the spiritual warfare, Ephesians 4:10-20. IV. The conclusion, Ephesians 4:21-24.

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