Consider helping today!
by Editor - Joseph Exell
Destination of the Epistle
The first and most important inquiry connected with the Epistle to the Ephesians has reference to the persons to whom it was originally addressed; and this inquiry again depends so much upon the reading of the first verse of the Epistle that, before proceeding further, it is necessary to determine as far as possible what that reading is. In the A.V. the Epistle opens with the words, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” “At Ephesus” is the expression in dispute. The two words are omitted by the first hand of the Vatican (B) and Sinaitic (א) MSS., and by the second hand of 67, a cursive MS. of the twelfth century, whose corrected text Griesbach considered much more valuable than the text as it originally stood; but they are found in all ether MSS. and versions. Strong as is the evidence arising from the combination of the Vatican and Sinaitic MSS., it would be difficult to resist the singular amount of authority opposed to them, were it not for passages from writers and fathers earlier than the earliest of our existing MSS., which show that the absence of the words was not only known to them, but was so far accepted, as at least probably correct, that they made it a ground of curious speculation with regard to the particular method of designating Christians then employed by the Apostle … It is clear that in the first half of the second century there were MSS. in circulation which did not read the words “at Ephesus”; and that, during the fourth century, MSS. then considered “ancient,” which also omitted them, were at least regarded as highly authoritative by distinguished men. (Prof. W. Milligan.)
I should not think it impossible that the Epistle to the Ephesians, as originally written, may have contained a postscript chapter of private salutations like that which ends the Epistle to the Romans, and that this postscript was not copied when the Epistle was transcribed for the use of other Churches. But another, and more common explanation is, that the Epistle to the Ephesians was a circular not written to that Church exclusively. Certain it is, some of the most ancient copies omitted the words ἐν Εφέσῳ in the inscription. Origen, e.g., read the saints” that are,” and explained τοὶς οὖσιν as the saints which are really so; and in this he is followed by St. Basil. And the omission of Ephesus is found in some very ancient MSS. at this day. But since this rendering is extremely improbable, Archbishop Ussher conjectured that the original letter was a circular, containing after the words “the saints that are” a blank for the name of the Church addressed. (Prof. G. Salmon.)
But is there any trace of such a circular letter? That there was an “Epistle from Laodicea,” to be read by the Colossians, we know; and the context shows conclusively that this was an epistle of St. Paul himself. Laodicea was near Colossae, and evidently in close union with it. The special warnings of the letter addressed to the Colossian Church were probably applicable to it also, and accordingly it was to be read there. But why should Colossae read the “Epistle from Laodicea”? Had it dealt with the peculiar needs of that sister Church this would be inexplicable; but if it were what our Epistle is--general in character, and dealing with a truth not identical with the main truth of the Colossian Epistle, but supplementary to it--then the direction is intelligible at once. It is not (it will be observed) an “Epistle to the Laodiceans,” but an Epistle “coming from Laodicea,” which would be reached from Ephesus before Colossae, and which, being the larger and more important town, might naturally be made the recipient of a letter intended for it and Colossae, and perhaps Hierapolis. It may be asked, If this be so, why have no MSS. any other address than to the “saints at Ephesus”? and why has tradition invariably called this “The Epistle to the Ephesians,” and nothing else? The answer which has been often given appears to be entirely sufficient. Ephesus was, as the metropolis of Asia, the natural centre of the apostolic ministry, and the natural leader of the Asiatic Churches: standing, as in the apocalyptic epistles (Revelation 1:11), at the head of all. Here the Epistle would be first read; thence it would go out to the other Asiatic Churches; there it would be best treasured up, and copies of it multiplied; and through these it would be likely to become known to the European Churches also. It must have been quoted by some title. What title so natural as “To the Ephesians”? (A. Barry, D. D.)
The three contemporaneous Epistles were conveyed to Asia by Tychicus and Onesimus, Onesimus carrying the letter to his master Philemon, and Tychicus being entrusted with the Epistle addressed specially to the Colossians, and with a circular or encyclical letter, which he was to take first to Ephesus, and then to the various cities of Asia in which St. Paul had formed Churches during his three years’ residence at Ephesus. One copy of this Epistle was headed “To the saints that are at Ephesus”; the others, “To the saints that are … ” the lacuna having to be filled up by Tychicus, either by word of mouth or with the pen, in each city wherein he read or delivered up the epistle. (F. Meyrick, M. A.)
The most noticeable points in relation to Ephesus would be the following:
1. It was the capital of proconsular Asia. Yet a free city, with municipal government of its own.
2. It was the centre of the worship of Artemis. The temple, as rebuilt after being burnt by Herostratus in B.C. 356, was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It stood at the head of the harbour, on a site recently discovered by Mr. J.T. Wood.
3. Special games, with a religious character, were held (though not always at Ephesus) in the month of May. They were presided over by “Asiarchs” (Acts 19:31), supposed to have been ten in number, though one took the lead, acting as president of the colleges. The Asiarch or Asiarchs bore the cost, and had the direction of the games. He also acted as “High Priest” of the province.
4. Ephesus was famous for the practice of magic (Acts 19:11; Acts 19:19). Ἐφεσια γράμματα, or formulae of exorcism written on tablets and worn as amulets, were proverbial.
5. Its position made Ephesus a great commercial emporium. “Of the three great river basins of Western Asia Minor--those of the Hermus, Cayster, and Maeander--it commanded the second, and had ready access by easy passes to the other two, besides being the natural port and landing place for Sardes, the capital of the Lysian kings.” We may note the number of sea voyages to or from Ephesus described or hinted at in the Acts and Epistles.
6. Like Alexandria and Antioch, Ephesus was a meeting place for the thought of East and West. It was probably here that St. John became familiar with the philosophical terminology of which he made use in his Gospel. Here, too, was the residence of Cerinthus, and one of the strongholds of early Gnosticism. (Prof. W. Sanday.)
Ephesus, constituted the capital of proconsular Asia in B.C. 129, had been the scene of successful labour on the part of the Apostle. On his first and hurried visit to it, during his second missionary tour, his earnest efforts among his countrymen made such an impression and created such a spirit of inquiry, that they besought him to prolong his sojourn (Acts 18:19-21). But the pressing obligation of a religious vow compelled his departure, and he “sailed from Ephesus” under the promise of a speedy return, but left behind him Priscilla and Aquila, with whom the Alexandrian Apollos was soon associated. On his second visit, during his third missionary circuit, he stayed for at least two years and three months, or three years, as he himself names the term in his parting address at Miletus (Acts 20:31). The Apostle felt that Ephesus was a centre of vast influence--a key to the western provinces of Asia Minor. If writing from this city to the Church at Corinth, when he speaks of his resolution to remain in it, he gives as his reason--“for a great door and effectual is opened unto me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). The gospel seems to have spread with rapidity, not only among the native citizens of Ephesus, but among the numerous strangers who landed on the quays of the Panormus and crowded its streets. It was the highway into Asia from Rome; its ships traded with the ports of Greece, Egypt, and the Levant; and the Ionian cities poured their inquisitive population into it at its great annual festival in honour of Diana. Ephesus had been visited by many illustrious men, and on very different errands. It had passed through many vicissitudes in earlier times, and had through its own capricious vacillations been pillaged by the armies of rival conquerors in succession; but it was now to experience a greater revolution, for no blood was spilt; and at the hands of a mightier hero, for truth was his only weapon. Cicero is profuse in his compliments to the Ephesians for the welcome which they gave him as he landed at their harbour on his progress to his government of Cilicia; but the Christian herald met with no such ovation when he entered their city. So truculent and unscrupulous was the opposition which he at last encountered, that he tersely styles it “fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus,” and a tumultuous and violent outrage which endangered his life hastened his ultimate departure. Scipio, on the eve of the battle of Pharsalia, had threatened to take possession of the vast sums hoarded up in the Temple of Diana, and Mark Anthony had exacted a nine years’ tax in a two years’ payment; but Paul and his colleagues were declared on high authority “not to be robbers of churches”: for their object was to give and not to extort, yea, as he affirms, to circulate among the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The Ephesians had prided themselves in Alexander, a philosopher and mathematician, and they fondly surnamed him the “Light”; but his teaching had left the city in such spiritual gloom, that the Apostle was obliged to say to them, “ye were sometimes darkness”; and himself was the first unshaded luminary that rose on the benighted province. The poet Hipponax was born at Ephesus, but his caustic style led men to call him ὁ πικός, “the bitter,” and one of his envenomed sayings was, “There are two happy days in a man’s life, the one when he gets his wife, and the other when he buries her.” How unlike the genial soul of him of Tarsus, whose spirit so often dissolved in tears, and who has in “the well-couched words” of this Epistle honoured, hallowed, and blessed the nuptial bond! The famed painter Parrhasius, another boast of the Ionian capital, has indeed received the high praises of Pliny and Quintilian, for his works suggested “certain canons of proportion,” and he has been hailed as a lawgiver in his art; but his voluptuous and self-indulgent habits were only equalled by his proverbial arrogance and conceit, for he claimed to be the recipient of Divine communications. On the other hand, the Apostle possessed a genuine revelation from on high--no dim and dreary impressions, but lofty, glorious, and distinct intuitions; nay, his writings contain the germs of ethics and legislation for the world; but all the while he rated himself so low, that his self-denial was on a level with his humility, for he styles himself, in his letter to the townsmen of Parrhasius, “less than the least of all saints.” During his abode at Ephesus, the Apostle prosecuted his work with peculiar skill and tact. The heathen forms of worship were not vulgarly attacked and abused, but the truth in Jesus was earnestly and successfully demonstrated and carried to many hearts; so that when the triumph of the gospel was so soon felt in the diminished sale of silver shrines, the preachers of a spiritual creed were formally absolved from the political crime of being “blasphemers of the goddess.” The toil of the preacher was incessant. He taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). He went forth “bearing precious seed, weeping”; for “day and night” he warned them “with tears.” What ardour, earnestness, and intense aspiration; what a profound agitation of regrets and longings stirred him when “with many tears” he testified “both to the Jews and also to the Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ”! By his assiduous labour the Apostle founded and built up a large and prosperous Church. “The fierce and prolonged opposition which he encountered from many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9), and the trials which befell him through “the lying in wait of the Jews” (Acts 20:19), grieved, but did not alarm, his dauntless heart. The school of Tyrannus became the scene of daily instruction and argument, and amidst the bitter railings and maledictions of the Jews, the masses of the heathen population were reached, excited, and brought within the circle of evangelical influence. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
The genuineness of the Epistle
“Among the letters which bear the name of Paul,” says Renan, “the Epistle to the Ephesians is perhaps the one of which there are most early quotations, as the composition of the Apostle of the Gentiles.” On internal grounds Renan has serious doubts as to the Pauline origin of this Epistle, and he throws out the idea that it may have been written under the Apostle’s directions by Timothy, or some other of his companions; but he owns that the external evidence in its favour is of the highest character. It is a matter of course to say that it is recognized by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and in the Muratorian Fragment. The fact that it was among the Pauline Epistles owned by Marcion makes it unnecessary to cite authorities later than 140. There is what seems to me a distinct use of the Epistle by Clement of Rome; for when he exhorts to unity by the plea, “Have we not one God, and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured out upon us, and one calling in Christ?” I cannot think the resemblance merely accidental to “one Spirit,” “one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4). There can be no doubt of the use of the Ephesians in what is called the Second Epistle of Clement; but though I think this is certainly older than the age of Irenaeus, I do not know whether it is older than that of Marcion. The recognition of the Ephesians in the letter of Ignatius to the same Church is beyond doubt. He addresses the Ephesians as Πάλου συμμύσται, a phrase recalling Ephesians 3:3-4; Ephesians 3:9, and goes on to say how Paul makes mention of them, ἐν πάσῃ ἐπιστολή, a puzzling expression, which obliges us to put some force on the grammar if we translate “in all his Epistle,” or on the facts if we translate “in every Epistle.” The recognition of our Epistle is express in the one case, probable in the other. There are other phrases in the Ignatian letters which remind us of the Epistle to the Ephesians, of which I only mention his direction to Polycarp to exhort the brethren to love their wives, even as the Lord the Church (Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:29). Polycarp’s own letter refers to words of Scripture, “Be ye angry, and sin not,” and “Let not the sun go down on your wrath,” the former sentence being, no doubt, ultimately derived from Psalms 4:5, but only found in connection with the latter in Ephesians 4:26. Hermas more than once shows his knowledge of the text, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (4:30)…. What, then, are the reasons why it is sought to reject so weighty a mass of external evidence? You will, perhaps, be surprised to hear that one of the chief is the great likeness of this Epistle to the Epistle to the Colossians. The fact of the close affinity of the two letters is indisputable, but the explanation which Paley gave of it is perfectly satisfactory, namely, that in two letters, written about the same time on the same subject by one person to different people, it is to be expected that the same thoughts will be expressed in nearly the same words. Now the Epistle to the Ephesians is specially tied to that to the Colossians by the fact that both letters purport to have been carried by the same messenger, Tychicus, the paragraph concerning whom is nearly the same in both (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8). That the letters which the Apostle wrote to be sent off by the same messenger to different Churches should be full of the same thoughts, and those thoughts frequently expressed in the same phrases, is so very natural, that instead of the mutual similarity deserving to count as an objection to the genuineness of either, this correspondence of the character of the letters, with the traditional account of the circumstances of their origin, ought to reckon as a strong confirmation of the correctness of that account. (Prof. G. Salmon.)
Marcion supposed the Epistle to have been written to the Laodiceans, but that it was written by St. Paul has never been seriously doubted until the present century. These doubts, however, rest upon very inadequate grounds.
1. External evidence. This is very similar in kind and degree to that for the undoubtedly genuine 2 Corinthians. The Muratorian Fragment places it second in the list of St. Paul’s Epistles. Irenaeus (180-190 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (190-200 A.D.), and Tertullian (200-210 A.D.) mention it by name. Earlier quotations than these can hardly be considered certain. It appears, however, from Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, 8:5, that the Valentinians, in works written before his own, quoted Ephesians 5:13 as a saying of St. Paul.
2. Internal evidence. The doubts that have been raised relate to
(1) the absence of specific purpose and personal greetings. But this would be accounted for if we suppose the Epistle to be, as it probably is, circular--or at least addressed not to one, but to several Churches.
(2) The relation to the Epistle to the Colossians. There is, however, nothing surprising in so close a resemblance between two Epistles written at the same time.
(3) Alleged differences from the undoubted Epistles in ideas and style. There is a difference, but nothing more than is quite possible in the same person at a later stage in his own mental history, and in the circumstances of the Church around him.
(4) Supposed allusion to the Gnostic terminology current in the second century--“knowledge,” “full knowledge” (ἐπίγνωσις), “aeon,” “mystery,” pleroma. But all of these except pleroma are found in the earlier Epistles in very similar senses. There can be no doubt that the germs of Gnostic ideas were current in the Apostolic age. The following extract will be interesting, both for its bearing upon the genuineness of the Epistle, and also as confirming, which it does rather closely, the view taken above as to the address of the Epistle: “The Epistle to the Ephesians, after having been received by Churches and individuals alike (so far as we know), without a single exception from the earliest times, as the unquestioned work of the Apostle whose name it bears, has been challenged in our own generation. Now there is one formidable argument, and one only, against its genuineness. It is urged with irresistible force that St. Paul could not have written in this strain to a Church in which he had resided for some three years, and with which he lived on the closest and most affectionate terms, So far as regards reference to persons or incidents, this is quite the most colourless of all St. Paul’s Epistles; whereas we should expect to find it more full and definite in its allusions than any other, except perhaps the letters to Corinth. To this objection no satisfactory answer can be given without the aid of textual criticism. But from textual criticism we learn that an intelligent and well informed, though heretical, writer of the second century called it an Epistle to the Laodiceans; that in the opening verse the words ‘in Ephesus’ are wanting in the two oldest extant Greek MSS.; that the most learned of the Greek fathers in the middle of the third century--himself a textual critic--had not the words in his copy or copies; and that another learned Greek father in the middle of the fourth century declares them to be absent from the oldest manuscripts, not to mention other subsidiary notices leading in the same direction. Putting these facts together, we get a complete answer to the objection. The Epistle is found to be a circular letter, addressed probably to the Churches of Proconsular Asia, of which Ephesus was one and Laodicea another. From Ephesus, as the metropolis, it derived its usual title, because the largest number of copies in circulation would be derived from the autograph sent thither; but here and there a copy was extant in early times addressed to some other Church (as Laodicea, for instance); and still more commonly copies existed taken from some MS. in which the blank for the name of the Church had not been filled up. This circular character of the letter fully explains the absence of personal or historical allusions. Thus textual criticism in this instance removes one difficulty; but its services do not end here. It furnishes a body of circumstantial evidence which, I venture to think, must ultimately carry irresistible conviction as to the authorship of the letter, though for the present some are found to hesitate. For these facts supplied by textual criticism connect themselves with the mention of the letter which the Colossians are charged to get from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), and this mention again combines with the strong resemblances of matter and diction, so as to bind these two Epistles inseparably together: while again the Epistle to the Colossians is linked not less indissolubly with the letter to Philemon by the references to person and place and circumstance. Thus the three Epistles form a compact whole, to resist the assaults of adverse criticism. A striking amount of undesigned coincidence is gathered together from the most diverse quarters, converging unmistakably to one result. And the point to be observed is, that many of these coincident elements are not found in the Epistles themselves, but in the external history of the text, a circumstance which gives them a far higher evidential value. For even if it were possible to imagine a forger in an uncritical age at once able to devise a series of artifices so subtle and so complex, as on the supposition of the spuriousness of one or all of these letters we are obliged to assume, and willing to defeat his own purpose by tangling a skein which it would require the critical education of the nineteenth century to unravel; yet there would remain the still greater improbability that a man in such a position could have exercised an effective control over external circumstances--the diffusion and the subsequent history of his forgeries--such as this hypothesis would suppose.”--Lightfoot, On Revision, pp. 20-23. (Prof. W. Sanday.)
Likenesses and differences between the Epistle to the Ephesians, and that to the Colossians
There could be no stronger proof of the disputed genuineness of these two Epistles than their likeness to each other in the midst of unlikeness. To change the metaphor, the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians are twin sisters of close resemblance, yet of marked individuality, whose faces, one yet different, can only be explained by their common parentage. They are like in general structure; one half of each being theological, the other half practical They are like in diction. Seventy-eight verses out of one hundred and fifty-five have the same phrases. Yet they are unlike. The characteristic phrase “the heavenlies,” translated in our version “the heavenly places,” which occurs five times in Ephesians, does not occur once in Colossians. Five whole sections in Ephesians, that about catholicity, that about living in a way worthy of this ideal unity, that which contrasts deeds of darkness and deeds of light, that about the mystery of Christian marriage, and that about Christian armour, have no parallel in Colossians. Ephesians has seven Old Testament allusions; Colossians has only one. Again, Colossians is brief and logical; Ephesians is more lyrical and diffuse. In Colossians St. Paul is the soldier, in Ephesians the builder. Colossians is his argument, his process, his caution; Ephesians is instruction passing into prayer, a creed soaring into an impassioned psalm. Ephesians develops with magnificence generally the truths which are directed in Colossians against a special error. Once more, even their fundamental themes, though cognate, are not identical. In Colossians the fundamental theme is Christhood; in Ephesians it is Churchhood. The topic of Colossians is Christ all in all; the topic of Ephesians is Christ ascended, yet present in His Church. And to many it seems that in Ephesians St. Paul is at his greatest and his best. Luther called this Epistle one of the noblest in the New Testament. Witsius called it a Divine Epistle glowing with the flame of Christian love and the splendour of holy light, flowing with fountains of living water. Alford calls the Epistle “the most heavenly work of one whose very imagination is peopled with things in the heavens, and even his fancy rapt into the visions of God.” Coleridge said of it, “In this, the divinest Composition of man, is every doctrine of Christianity--first, those doctrines peculiar to Christianity; and secondly, those precepts common to it with natural religion.” It is emphatically the Epistle of the Ascension. We rise in it, as on wings of inspiration, to the divinest heights. Word after word, and thought after thought in this Epistle--now “the heavenlies,” now “spiritual,” now “riches,” now “glory,” now “mystery,” now “plenitude,” now “light,” now “love”--word after word, and thought after thought, seem as it were to leave behind them a luminous trail in this deep and shining sky. It is the most sublime, the most profound, the most advanced and final utterance of St. Paul’s Gospel to the Gentiles. Here we deal no longer, as in Thessalonians, with a material Advent; nor, as in Galatians, with an argument about the nullity of ceremonialism; nor, as in Corinthians, with personal vindications; nor even, as in Romans, with a system of theology; but we deal with a scheme predestined before earth began; with the all-pervading supremacy of God in Christ; with the universal quickening of spiritual death by the union of the risen Lord; with the glory and dignity of the universal Church as the temple, the body, the bride of the ascended Lord. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Date and place of writing
This Epistle has few detailed indications, either of the personal condition of the writer, or of the circumstances of those to whom it is addressed. But one point is made perfectly clear, that it was written by St. Paul when he was the “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1), suffering some special “tribulations for them,” which he bade them consider as “their glory” (Ephesians 3:13), and being an “ambassador for Christ in a chain” (Ephesians 6:20)--the word hero used being the same as in Acts 28:20, and being a word almost technically describing the imprisonment “with a soldier that kept him” (Acts 28:16). All these things point unmistakably to what is called St. Paul’s first Roman captivity. That captivity began about A.D. 61, and lasted, without change, for at least “two full years.” In the letter to Philemon, sent by Onesimus, who is associated with Tychicus, the bearer of this Epistle, in Colossians 4:7-9, St. Paul prays him to “prepare him a lodging,” against the speedy arrival, which he then confidently expected. Hence our Epistle must be placed late in the captivity--not earlier than A.D. 63. (A. Barry, D. D.)
From the metropolis of the world, where luxury was added to ambition, and licentiousness bathed in blood, an obscure and imprisoned foreigner composes this sublime treatise on a subject beyond the mental range of the wisest of Western sages, and dictates a brief system of ethics, which in purity, fulness, and symmetry, eclipses the boasted “Morals” of Seneca, and the more laboured and rhetorical disquisitions of Cicero. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
Object of the epistle
This is much more definite than it is often thought to be. The Apostle has something more precise in view than to set forth the glory of the redeemed and Christian standing of his readers (Meyer), or to describe the life by which the Christian community is marked (Schenkel), or to explain the ground, the course, and the end of the Christian Church (Alford). It is not his purpose only to pour himself forth in adoring contemplation of the blessings received by us in Christ (Harless); and it is far too little to say that he desires to strengthen the faith and to encourage the hopes of those to whom he writes (Gloag). Even Canon Lightfoot seems hardly to give a special enough object to the Epistle when he finds its principal theme in “the life and energy of the Church as dependent an Christ.” These views may be all partially correct; but they are not enough. In this very setting forth of the greatness of the Church, in this description of her life, in this presenting of her to us in all the ideal glory of her state as united to her Lord, the Apostle has a farther and immediately practical aim--to show us that this ideal glory contemplated from the first the union of both Jews and Gentiles in equal enjoyment of the privileges of God’s covenant, that to the completeness of the Body of Christ the latter are as “necessary as the former, and that it is only when both are together in Christ that His fulness is realized and manifested. It is God’s eternal plan that all things shall thus be restored and united in the Beloved; and unless they are so, frankly, freely, and fully, that plan will be defeated. (Prof. W. Milligan.)
The design of the Apostle in writing this Epistle was not polemical. In Colossians, theosophic error is pointedly and firmly refuted; but in Ephesians, principles are laid down which might prove a barrier to its introduction. The Apostle, indeed, in his farewell address at Miletus, had a sad presentiment of coming danger (Acts 20:29-30); but the Epistle has no distinct allusion to such spiritual mischief and disturbance. In 2 Timothy, too, the heresy of Hymenaeus and Philetus is referred to, while Phygellus and Hermogenes are said to have deserted the Apostle at Rome. In the apocalyptic missive addressed to Ephesus as the first of the seven churches, no error is specified; but the grave and general charge is one of spiritual declension. The Epistle before us may therefore be regarded as prophylactic, more than corrective, in its nature. What the immediate occasion was we know not; possibly it was gratifying intelligence from Ephesus. It seems as if the heart of the Apostle, fatigued and dispirited with the polemical argument and warning to the Colossians, enjoyed a cordial relief and satisfaction in pouring out its inmost thoughts on the higher relations and transcendental doctrines of the gospel. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
The great subject of the Epistle is the adoption in Christ, as predetermined by God from all eternity, and now revealed by God to St. Paul, and by him made known to mankind. Whatever intellectual difficulties there are, and always must be, in reconciling the predestination of God with the liberty of man’s will, the conditions under which the grace of adoption becomes available for each individual are declared to be, for Jews and Greeks without distinction, repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, sealed by the sacrament of baptism, in which was given, not indeed the full fruition, but the earnest, of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). Thus were those who accepted God’s call gathered together in one in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:22); instead of aliens they were made nigh, instead of strangers and lodgers they became citizens of God’s city and members of His household, and were built up into a living temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:12-22). This doctrinal exposition naturally leads to a fervent prayer that they may be all strengthened by the Spirit, and an earnest exhortation to preserve the harmony of the building, the unity of the body, which they in common and equally constituted, whether they had been Jews or Gentiles. But the lesson of the Unity of the Church is not so much the aim of the Epistle as that of its Catholicity--and even that is not its direct aim. From the great doctrine of the Adoption follows immediately the doctrine of the Catholicity of the Church, and from the Catholicity of the Church follows the duty of striving to maintain its Unity, seeing that the peril of disruption, which had rent even the Hebrew Church, was a thousandfold increased by a change of constitution which potentially admitted to full membership men infinite in number, diverse in disposition, and opposed to each other in prejudices. In view of this peril, the Apostle urges upon his converts lowliness, meekness, long suffering, forbearance, love, unity, peace (Ephesians 4:2-3), and enumerates those common possessions--one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father, one ministry of the Spirit--which show that all Christians, as such, are one, and which ought to serve as motives to them to continue at one together (Ephesians 4:4-16). (F. Meyrick, M. A.)
As St. Paul was writing on a private matter to Philemon, he took the opportunity of addressing the Church of that city and the sister Churches in this valley; and all the more so because Epaphras brought with him the disturbing tidings that the germs of a new heresy were there springing into life. This heresy--new yet old, local yet universal--was but another of the Protean forms assumed by the eternal Pharisaism of the religious heart. In outward features it differed from that tendency to apostatize into Judaism from which St. Paul had finally saved the Church in the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans; nor was it mixed up with that personal antagonism which adds so much additional sting and bitterness to his previous controversies. It was more insidious, but less violent; it was an ancient form of those dangerous and inflating heresies which were soon to be fatally known in the Church under the name of Gnosticism. It may have sprung up among Jewish Essenes, influenced by subtle Oriental speculations; it was a mixture of ascetic practices and dreamy imaginations. It made much of meats, and drinks, and new moons, and Sabbaths; it laid down valueless rules of “touch not, taste not, handle not.” While professing to debase the body with a hard asceticism, it was no remedy for self-indulgence; and it really flattered pride under the guise of a voluntary humility. But worse than this, being tainted with the heresy that evil resides in matter, and, therefore, that the body is essentially and inherently vile, it was, perhaps, led to hint at some distinction between the human Jesus and the Divine Christ; and it certainly thrust all kinds of intermediate agencies, especially angels, between the soul and God. These were the crafty errors which St. Paul, writing to those who were personal strangers to him, had to combat in his letter. He did so, not by indignant controversy, for, as yet, these errors were only germinant; not by personal authority, for these Christians were not his converts; but by the noblest of all forms of controversy, which is the true presentation of counter truth. To a cumbrous ritualism he opposes a spiritual service; to inflating speculations, a sublime reality; to hampering ordinances, a manly self-discipline; to esoteric exclusiveness, a universal gospel; to theological cliques, an equal brotherhood; to systems and ceremonies, a new life, a new impulse, a religion of the heart. But most of all he adopts the one best way of meeting all the aberrations of Christianity, which is to lead the soul back to Christ. Already to the Thessalonians he had spoken of Christ as the Judge of quick and dead; to the Corinthians, as the Invisible Head and Ruler of the Church; to the Galatians, as the Breaker of the yoke of spiritual bondage; to the Romans, as the Redeemer from sin and death. Now he had to develop a new truth, more nearly akin to that revelation of Christ which we find in the writings of St. John, the truth of Christ as the Eternal, the Pre-existent, and yet the Incarnate Word; as the Redeemer of the universe, as the Lord of matter no less than of spirit, as One who, being the plenitude of God’s perfections, is the only Mediator, the only Potentate, the sole source of life to all the world. The sum of the Epistle to the Colossians is Christ the plenitude, the fulness of all Divine perfections; Christ is all in all; walk in Him and in Him alone. Now, there was in St. Paul’s mind a peculiar sensibility. Montanus compared the soul of man to a lyre struck by the plectrum of the Holy Spirit. The soul of St. Paul was such a harp--a harp of infinite delicacy, and yet of the vastest compass of music; when once it was touched by the light and breeze of heaven it answered, now in thundering reverberations like the Epistle to the Galatians, and now in soft, trembling notes, like the Epistles to the Philippians and Philemon; and the strings of that exquisite instrument continued long to vibrate. Each chord, when once touched, continued thrilling with the touch. In minor details we notice this--in the way in which St. Paul is haunted and taken possession of by single words and dominant conceptions, each lasting till its full force is spent. We notice it still more in the influence exercised by one Epistle over another written soon afterwards. The echo of the Galatians still continues to resound in Romans, and only trembles into silence in Philippians. The echo of the Colossians is still heard quivering through every chord of Ephesians. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Contents of the Epistle
The Epistle may be thus divided:--
I. The salutation, Ephesians 1:1-2.
II. A general description of Divine blessing enjoyed by the Church in its source, means, purpose, and final result, wound up with a prayer for further spiritual gifts, and a richer and more penetrating Christian experience, and concluding with an expanded view of the original condition and present honours and privileges of the Ephesian Church, Ephesians 1:3-23, and Ephesians 2:1-11.
III. A record of that marked change in spiritual position which the Gentile believers now possessed, ending with an account of the writer’s selection to, and qualification for, the apostolate of heathendom, a fact so considered as to keep them from being dispirited, and to lead him to pray for enlarged spiritual benefactions on his absent sympathizers, Ephesians 2:12-22, and Ephesians 3:1-21.
IV. A chapter on the unity of the Church in its foundation and doctrine, a unity undisturbed by diversity of gifts, Ephesians 4:1-17.
V. Special injunctions variously enjoined, and bearing upon ordinary life, Ephesians 4:17-32; Ephesians 5:1-33; Ephesians 6:1-10.
VI. The image of a spiritual warfare, mission of Tychicus, and valedictory blessing, Ephesians 6:11-24. The paragraphs of this Epistle could be sent to no Church partially enlightened, and but recently emerged from heathendom. The Church at Ephesus was, however, able to appreciate its exalted views. And therefore are those rich primary truths presented to it, tracing back all to the Father’s eternal and benignant will as the one origin; to the Son’s mediation and blood as the one channel, union with Him being the one sphere; and to the Spirit’s abiding work and influence as the one inner power; while the grand end of the provision of salvation and the organization and blessing of the Church is His own glory in all the elements of its fulness. The purpose of the Apostle seems to be--to refresh the consciousness of the Church by the retrospect which he gives of their past state and God’s past sovereign mercy, and by the prospect which he sets out of spiritual development crowned with perfection in Him in whom all things are re-gathered--as well as by the vivid and continual appeal to present grace and blessing which edges all the paragraphs. Whatever emotions the Church of Ephesus felt on receiving such a communication, the effects produced were not permanent. Though warned by its Lord, it did not return to its “first love,” but gradually languished and died. The candlestick was at length removed out of his place, a Mahometan gloom overspread the city. The spot has also become one of external desolation. The sea has retired from the harbour, and left behind it a pestilential morass. Fragments of columns, arches, and porticos are strewn about, and the wreck and rubbish of the great temple can scarcely be distinguished. The brood of the partridge nestles on the site of the theatre, the streets are ploughed by the Ottoman serf, and the heights of Coressus are only visited by wandering flocks of goats. The best of the ruins--columns of green jasper--were transplanted by Justinian to Constantinople, to adorn the dome of the great church of Sancta Sophia, and some are said to have been carried into Italy. A straggling village of the name of Ayasaluk, or Asalook, is the wretched representative of the great commercial metropolis of Ionia. While thousands in every portion of Christendom read this Epistle with delight, there is no one now to read it in the place to which it was originally addressed. Truly the threatened blight has fallen on Ephesus! (J. Eadie, D. D.)
The Epistle falls into two great sections: Doctrinal and Practical. In both the one great subject is the unity in christ, in some sense of all created being, in a closer sense of humanity, in the closest and most sacred sense of the Holy Catholic Church. In the doctrinal section (Ephesians 1:1-23; Ephesians 2:1-22; Ephesians 3:1-21; Ephesians 4:1-16), we find this unity noticed in the first chapter as ordained in the eternal predestination of God’s love, and manifested in the actual communication to His members of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and glorification of Christ, their head. Next it is shown (in chap. 2) how the Gentiles are called into this regenerating unity out of the deadness of their old life; and thus at once brought into the covenant of God, and so united with His chosen people of Israel, that all alike, as living stones, are built into the great Temple of God. Then (in chap. 3), after an emphatic declaration of the newness of this mystery of grace, and of the special commission for the revelation of it entrusted to St. Paul, there follows a solemn and fervent Apostolic prayer for their knowledge of the mystery, not by human wisdom or thought, but by the indwelling light and grace of Christ. Finally, the whole is summed up in a grand passage (Ephesians 4:1-16), which brings out in perfect completeness the whole doctrine of this unity first in its grounds, its means, and its conditions; next, in its variety of spiritual gifts; lastly, in the oneness of the object of all, in the reproduction of the life of Christ in the individual and the Church. The practical section (Ephesians 4:17-32; Ephesians 5:1-33; Ephesians 6:1-24) opens with an unique treatment of morality and of human relationship, as dependent upon the mysterious unity of man with man and of man with God. First (Ephesians 4:17-32; Ephesians 5:1-21), that unity is made the basis of ordinary moral duties toward man, and the safeguard against the besetting sins of heathen society--bitterness, impurity, and reckless excess. Next (Ephesians 5:22-33; Ephesians 6:1-9), it is shown as the secret of the sacredness of earthly relations of marriage, of fatherhood, and of mastership. In the first case this idea is worked out with a transcendent beauty and solemnity, which have beyond all else hallowed Christian marriage; in the others it is more briefly touched upon, with a view chiefly to temper and soften the sternness of a recognized authority. Finally (Ephesians 6:10-24), this portion of the Epistle is wound up by a magnificent and elaborate description of the full panoply of God; and the Epistle then ends, briefly and rather vaguely, with commendations of Tychicus and a general form of salutation. The general sketch of this wonderful Epistle will, perhaps, be best explained by the analysis here subjoined.
1. Doctrinal Section.--
(1) the introduction (chap. 1):
(a) Salutation (Ephesians 1:1-2);
(b) Thanksgiving for the election of the whole Church in God’s love, given through redemption by unity with Christ, shown in the calling and faith both of Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 1:3-14);
(c) Prayer for their fuller knowledge of this unity with the risen and ascended Christ, the Head of the whole Church (Ephesians 1:15-23).
(2) the call of the gentiles (Ephesians 2:1-22):
(a) Out of the deadness of sin and power of Satan into the new life of the risen Christ, accepted in simple faith, wrought out in good works (Ephesians 2:1-10);
(b) Out of alienation from the covenant, into perfect unity with God’s chosen people, all division being broken down, and full access given to the Father; so that Jew and Gentile alike, built on the one foundation, grow into the living Temple of God (Ephesians 2:11-22).
(3) prayer for their fuller knowledge (Ephesians 3:1-21):
(a) The mystery of the universal call, new in revelation, specially intrusted to St. Paul (Ephesians 3:1-13);
(b) Prayer for their full knowledge of it (though passing knowledge) through the indwelling of Christ, accepted in faith and love (Ephesians 3:14-19);
(c) Doxology to the Father through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:20-21).
(4) final summary of doctrine (Ephesians 4:1-32):
(a) The unity of the Church in one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:1-6);
(b) The diversity of gifts in the glorified Christ (Ephesians 4:7-11);
(c) The unity of the purpose of all, viz., the individual and corporate regeneration (Ephesians 4:12-16).
2. Practical Section.--
(1) the new life: learning Christ and growing unto His image (chap. 4:17-24).
(2) conquest of sin:
(a) The conquest of sin in general in virtue of the sense of unity with man in Christ (Ephesians 4:25-30);
(b) Conquest of special besetting sins of malice, impurity, recklessness of excess (Ephesians 4:31-32; Ephesians 5:1-21).
(3) regeneration of social relations:
(a) The relation of husbands and wives consecrated as a type of union of Christ with His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23);
(b) The relation of parents and children hallowed as in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4);
(c) The relation of masters and servants made a brotherhood of service to one Master (Ephesians 6:5-9).
(4) final exhortation: The armour of God and the fight against the powers of evil (Ephesians 6:10-17).
(a) Special desire of their prayers for him in his captivity (Ephesians 6:18-20);
(b) Commendation of Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21-22);
(c) Salutation and blessing (Ephesians 6:23-24).
In conclusion, I may add that it does not appear to me fanciful to suppose that the teaching of this Epistle has as special an applicability to our age as the teaching of the Galatian or Roman Epistles had to the sixteenth century. For in all spheres of life--the political, the social, and the ecclesiastical alike--it would seem that our prominent questions are not those of individualism, but of socialism in the true sense of the word. Society is contemplated in its corporate life; in its rights over the individual; in the great eternal principles which it truly embodies and partially represents; and, moreover, this contemplation has a breadth of scope which refuses to be confined within the limits of family, or nation, or age. Humanity itself is considered, both historically and philosophically, as only the highest element in the order of the universe, which is itself bound together in a unity of unbroken connection and continuous development. It is asked, What has Christianity to declare as a gospel to society at large, and as a key to the mysterious relation of humanity with creation, and so with Him who created it? To that question, perhaps, the answer is nowhere more truly given than in the Epistle to the Ephesians. We need a real and living unity; but it must be such as will preserve the equally sacred individuality of freedom. This Epistle presents R to us in its magnificent conception of the unity of all with God in the Lord Jesus Christ. (A. Barry, D. D.)
It falls as distinctly as Colossians into two clearly marked divisions; three chapters being doctrinal and Christological, three chapters being moral and practical. After the salutation follows a singularly rich and beautiful thanksgiving, in which, by the thrice-repeated phrase, “to the praise of His glory,” St. Paul reveals that the great fore-ordained plan of man’s deliverance and glorification was the work alike of Father, of Son, and of Holy Ghost. He then utters an earnest prayer that the eyes of their hearts may be illuminated, that they might fully know the wealth and the glory of their heritage, and the power of God in raising Christ from the dead, and making Him the Head of His Body, the Church, which is the fulness--the receptacle--of Him who filleth all things with all things. The second chapter shows that these privileges were intended for all mankind, Gentile as well as Jew, who had alike been seated “in the heavenlies in Christ” by grace, and had alike been built on the cornerstone of Christ as stones in the one spiritual Temple. The third chapter is a farther exposition of this mystery of Divine predestination, ending with a prayer for its fuller comprehension, and with a brief thanksgiving. With this prayer he closes the doctrinal part of the Epistle, and begins the practical. “I, then,” he says--and how vast is the significance of that word “then,” building as it does the simplest of all duties on the sublimest of all truths!--“I, then, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the vocation wherein ye were called.” That is the keynote of the remainder of the Epistle. The first duty which he impresses upon them is that of unity, the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, and the unity of faith amid different gifts of grace--unity as exemplified in those virtues of lowliness, meekness, long suffering, forbearance, which the heathen had hitherto ranked with vices. He then contrasts this, their Christian vocation, with their old heathen life, and so passes from the dominant conception of love to that of light. As Gentiles their hearts had been dark and callous; but now they were clothed in the new nature which Christ bestowed. Let them, then, put away lying, and wrath, and bitterness, and dishonesty, and unclean speech, which are all sins against our oneness in Christ. And especially as children of the light let them walk in the light, and bring forth the fruits of light in goodness, righteousness, and truth, in the spirit of what he perhaps quotes as a passage from some very early Christian hymn:
“Awake thee, thou that sleepest!
And from the dead arise thou,
And Christ shall shine upon thee!”
Then, lest the freedom and enthusiasm of Christianity, the new fermenting wine of the gospel, should lead to any disorder, he especially urges on them the duties of mutual submission in the three great social relations--of wife to husband, and husband to wife; of children to parents, and parents to children; of master to servants, and servants to master. And since this life in the light of Christ pervades every sphere of duty, he bids them grow strong in the Lord and in the might of His strength. That exhortation brought into his mind the image of armour with which the worn and aged prisoner was so familiar. The coupling chain which bound his right wrist to the left wrist of a Roman legionary clanked continually as it touched the soldier’s arms. Among the few objects upon which St. Paul could daily gaze in his prison were the baldric, the military boot, the oblong shield, the cuirass, the helmet of his Praetorian guardsmen. Doubtless the Apostle, in his tender yet manly breadth of sympathy with his fellow men in all things human, often talked to those soldiers, who would forget their contempt and weariness when they found what a wealth of power and wisdom lay in the words of this poor Jewish prisoner. He would ask them about Gaul, and Britain, and Germany; about the stations in which they had wintered; about the fields on which they had fought. And they would tell him in what tumult the helmet got its fracture, in what battle the shield was dinted, what blow made that hack in the sword, and how under the walls of some besieged fortress darts wrapped in flaming tow had been flung down upon them. And with these images in his mind, drawn from the daily spectacle of his prison, he tells his Christians, since they, too, are soldiers--not of Caesar, but of Christ--in what panoply they may resist the world rulers of this darkness, the spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenlies; the baldric of sincerity; the breastplate of righteousness; the war boots of ready zeal; the covering shield of faith to quench the flaming arrows of the Wicked One; and as their sole weapon of offence, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” In this way they were to stand fast. “Blessed,” says David, “is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly; nor standeth in the way of sinners; nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” St. Paul has taken those positions in the opposite order, and has told the Ephesians that they must sit with Christ in the heavenlies; that they must walk in love; walk not as other Gentiles walked; walk as children of light; walk accurately, not as unwise, but as wise. He tells them now that, clad in heavenly armour, they are to stand fast in the Lord, to stand against the wiles of the devil, and, having done all, to stand. And then he ends with asking their prayers--not that he may be set free from his present wretchedness; for his thoughts are never for himself, always for his Master’s work--but that he may boldly make known this mystery of the gospel for which he is an ambassador, not like the world’s ambassadors, splendid in retinue and inviolable in person, but an ambassador with fettered hands. He sends no personal messages, because they will be carried by the beloved and faithful Tychicus, but he ends with a blessing singularly full and sweet: “Peace to the brethren, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them who love our Lord Jesus Christ in uncorrupt sincerity.” (Archdeacon Farrar.)
the Fifth Week after Epiphany