Fausset's Bible Dictionary

The Epistle to the Ephesians

By Paul, as Eph 1:1; Eph 3:1 prove. So Irenaeus, Haer. 5:2-3; 1:8, 5; Clemens Alex., Strom. 4:65, Paed. 1:8; Origen, Celsus 4:211. Quoted by Valentinus A.D. 120, Eph 3:14-18, as we know from Hippolytus, Refut. Haeres., p. 193. Polycarp, Epistle to Phil., 12, witnesses to its canonicity. So Tertullian, Adv. Marcion, 5:17, Ignatius, Ephesians 12, refers to Paul's affectionate mention of the Christian privileges of the Ephesians in his epistle. Paul, in Col 4:16, charges the Colossians to read his epistle to the Laodiceans, and to cause his epistle to the Colossians to be read in the church of Laodicea, whereby he can hardly mean his Epistle to the Ephesians, for the resemblance between the two epistles, Ephesians and Colossians, would render such interchange of reading almost unnecessary.

His greetings sent through the Colossians to the Laodiceans are incompatible with the idea that he wrote an epistle to the Laodiceans at the same time and by the same bearer, Tychicus (the bearer of both epistles, Ephesians and Colossians), for the apostle would then have sent the greetings directly in the letter to the party saluted, instead of indirectly in his letter to the Colossians. The epistle to Laodicea was evidently before that to Colosse. Ussher supposed that the Epistle to the Ephesians was an encyclical letter, headed as in manuscripts of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, "To the saints that are ... and to the faithful," the name of each church being inserted in the copy sent to it; and that its being sent to Ephesus first occasioned its being entitled the Epistle to the Ephesians. But the words "at Ephesus" (Eph 1:1) occur in the very ancient Alexandrinus manuscript and the Vulgate version.

The omission was subsequently made when read to other churches in order to generalize its character. Its internal spirit aims at one set of persons, coexisting in one place, as one body, and under the same circumstances. Moreover, there is no intimation, as in 2 Corinthians and Galatians, that it is encyclical and comprising all the churches of that region. After having spent so long time in Ephesus, Paul would hardly fail to write an epistle especially applying to the church there. For personal matters he refers the Ephesians to Tychicus its bearer (Eph 6:21-22); his engrossing theme being the interests and privileges and duties of Christ's universal church, with particular reference to the Ephesians. This accounts for the absence of personal greetings; so in Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy. The better he knows the parties addressed, and the more general and solemn the subject, the less he gives of individual notices.

His first visit to Ephesus is recorded in Act 18:19-21. Some seeds of Christianity may have been sown in the men of Asia present at the grand Pentecost (Act 2:9). The work begun formally by Paul's disputations with the Jews during his short visit was carried on by Apollos (Act 18:24-26), Aquila, and Priscilla. At his second visit after his journey to Jerusalem, and thence to the eastern regions of Asia Minor, he encountered John's disciples, and taught them the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and remained at Ephesus three years (Act 19:10; Act 20:31), so that this church occupied an unusually large portion of his time and care. His self denying and unwearied labors here are alluded to in Act 20:34. This epistle accordingly shows a warmth of feeling and a union in spiritual privileges and hopes with them (Eph 1:3, etc.), such as are natural from one so long and so intimately associated with those addressed.

On his last journey he sailed past Ephesus, and summoned the Ephesian elders to Miletus, where he delivered to them his farewell charge (Act 20:18-35). The Epistle to the Colossians, which contains much the same theme, seems to have been earlier, as the Epistle to the Ephesians expands the same truths. It, is an undesigned coincidence and proof of genuineness that the two epistles, written about the same date and under the same circumstances, bear closer resemblance than those written at distant dates and under different circumstances. (For instances of resemblance, see COLOSSIANS.) Tychicus bore both epistles, and Onesimus his companion bore that to his former master Philemon at Colosse. The date was probably before Paul's imprisonment at Rome became so severe as it was when writing the Epistle to the Philippians, about A.D. 62, four years after his charge at Miletus.

In Phi 6:19-20 he implies he had some freedom for preaching, such as Act 28:23-31 represents. His imprisonment, beginning February A.D. 61, lasted at least "two whole years." The epistle addresses a church constituted of Jewish and Gentile converts, and such was that of Ephesus (Eph 2:14-22, compare Act 19:8-10). Diana's (Artemis) temple there, burned down by Herostratus on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great (355 B.C.), was rebuilt at enormous cost, and was one of the wonders of the world. (See DIANA.) Hence the appropriateness of comparing the church to a temple, containing the true inner beauty, which the idol temple with all its outward splendor was utterly lacking in. In Eph 4:17; Eph 5:1-13, Paul alludes to the notorious profligacy of the pagan Ephesians.

Moreover, an undesigned coincidence, confirming the genuineness of both this epistle and the independent history, is the correspondence of expressions between the epistle and Paul's address to the Ephesian elders (Eph 1:6-7; Eph 2:7; compare Act 20:24; Act 20:32). Alford designates this "the epistle of the grace of God." As to his bonds, Eph 3:1; Eph 4:1, with Act 20:22-23. As to "the counsel of God," Eph 1:11 with Act 20:27. As to "the redemption of the purchased possession," Eph 1:14 with Act 20:28. As to "building up" and the "inheritance," Eph 1:14; Eph 1:18; Eph 2:20; Eph 5:5, with Act 20:32. THE OBJECT is "to set forth the foundation, the course, and the end of the church of the faithful in Christ.v He speaks to the Ephesians as a sample of the church universal. In the larger and smaller divisions alike the foundation of the church is in the will of the Father; the course of the church is by the satisfaction of the Son; the end of the church is the life in the Holy Spirit" (Alford). Compare as to the three, Eph 1:11; Eph 2:5; Eph 3:16. Throughout "the church" is spoken of as one whole, in the singular, not the plural. The doctrinal part closes with the sublime doxology (Eph 3:14-21).

Upon the doctrine rest the succeeding practical exhortations; here too the church is represented as founded on the counsel of "God the Father who is above all, through all, and in all," reared by the "one Lord" Jesus Christ, through the "one Spirit" (Eph 4:4-6, etc.), who give their respective graces to the members. These therefore should exercise all these graces in their several relationships, as husbands, wives, servants, children, etc.; for this end, finally, we must "put on the whole armor of God" (Eph 6:13). The STYLE like the subject, is sublime to a degree exceeding that of Paul's other epistles. The sublimity produces the difficulty and peculiarity of some expressions. The theme was suited to Christians long grounded, as the Ephesians were, in the faith as it is in Jesus.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)