An American Commentary on the New Testament

Edited by Hovey, Alvah

Introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians


Four of the epistles of Paul, owing to the circumstances under which they were written, are sometimes grouped in a general mention of them, as "Epistles of the Captivity. " These are the epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, the Philippians, and to Philemon. In three of these the writer speaks of himself, expressly, as being at the time of writing a prisoner:three times in that to the Ephesians (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), once to the Colossians (4:18), and once to Philemon. (1:1.) Allusions in the letter to the Philippians imply the same fact, as respects the condition of the writer. In one place (1:13), he speaks of his "bonds," as having become manifest in Christ throughout the whole Praetorian guard" (Revised Version, "Prętorium," in the margin); while in another (4:22) where he mentions "Caesar's household," we are made to understand by his "bonds," not only imprisonment, but imprisonment where his influence was felt in the Imperial Court; in other words, at Home. The four epistles afford evidence, also, of having been written so nearly at the same time as to have been sent, three of them at least, to those for whom they were intended by the same persons; to the Ephesians by T3'chicus (6:21, 22), to the Colossians by Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7-9), to Philemon by Onesimus again. Although the Epistle to the Philippians was sent by another hand, that of Epaphroditus, still the evident condition of the writer is so much the same as in the other cases, that its composition under the same circumstances seems the only right conclusion.

That this imprisonment was at Rome is matter of general agreement among writers upon these epistles, although some attempt has been made to show that it was at Caesarea, and during the time of Paul's waiting in that city, pending the arrival of the new Procurator, Porcius Festus. The effort to establish this, however, is a forced one, and in the opinion of good judges, far from successful. One can hardly help sympathizing, indeed, with the "surprise" of Archdeacon Farrar ("Life and Work of St. Paul," p. 591, note), that such a critic as Meyer should accept this view. The mention of "Caesar's household," from converts in which Paul sends greetings to the Philippians, and by which can in no way, though one German critic, Bottger, strangely argues for this, be intended the palace of Herod in Caesarea; the presence with him of such brethren as Tychicus, Onesimus, Marcus, Epaphras, and Jesus Justus, who are nowhere spoken of as with him at Caesarea, and very unlikely to have been so; the desire expressed by him in one place that he might have utterance given him so as to open his mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19), implying opportunity for such utterance like that allowed him at Rome, but not so far as appears in the city of his earlier imprisonment:— in fact, what may be termed "the local coloring" in all four of these epistles is such as to compel the conclusion that only a decided tendency toward what Farrar calls "hypercritical ingenuity" could make one satisfied with any other theory of location for the imprisonment during which they were written than that which places it in the imperial city itself

Of the duration of this imprisonment, and of the occupation of the illustrious prisoner while it lasted, we learn from the concluding words of the "Acts":"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, no man forbidding him." As to the date of his arrival in Rome, and so that at which his two years of captivity began, we are to note that his departure from Caesarea occurred upon the arrival in that city of Porcius Festus "in Felix's room" as Procurator of Judea. This has been shown to be in the year A. D. 60 (Wieseler, quoted by Rev. Gr. Lloyd Davies). In the autumn of that year those who were to conduct Paul to Rome, as a prisoner, sailed with him from Caesarea. In the spring of the following year, A. D. 61, he arrived in Rome, and the two years of his imprisonment began, closing, it is thought, in the spring of the year A. D. 63. At this point, our certain knowledge of him ceases, save that mention is made by writers such as Clemens, " the disciple and companion of Paul," by the " Canon of Muratori," and by Eusebius, of his release from this imprisonment, his subsequent missionary journeys "to the boundary of the West," and his martyrdom under Nero. It was during this latter period, supposed to be within the dates A. D. 63 and A. D. 68, that the two epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus were written; the second to Timothy being last of all these productions of the Great Apostle. (See Hackett's " Commentary on the Acts " in this series, p. 325.)

These four epistles of the Captivity, with the study of one of which we are to be occupied in the pages following this introduction, derive from the circumstances under which they were written an individuality quite as marked as one discovers in their contents. The author of them is not now, as in the case of so many other of these remarkable productions, actively pursuing his missionary journey from city to city, or amidst the activities and anxieties of his daily ministry at Corinth or Athens or Philippi. We picture him in the hired lodgings at Rome, which he had been permitted to occupy, instead of any one of the prisons there, such as that which tradition assigns to him in his second imprisonment, and from which he went forth to his death. He enjoys, it is true, a measure of freedom not commonly allowed to prisoners, yet is in one way never permitted, by night or by day, to forget the fact of his real condition. The hand with which these letters were written wore, during the whole two years of his captivity, a chain, the other end of which was fastened to the left hand of the soldier who guarded him. This unwelcome attendance was never under any circumstances intermitted, and the fact of it lends genuine pathos to those places in his letter to the Ephesians, where, in speaking of himself as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ," or, "prisoner in the Lord," he uses the Greek word ὁ δέσμιος, which means, " one bound with a chain."

Apart from this, we find the tedium of his captivity relieved in ways which almost surprise us. The "Caesar" to whom he had " appealed" was that Nero whose name in history is the synonym of brutal tyranny. This bad man had not yet arrived at that extreme in degrading personal vices and utterly heartless cruelty which he was soon to reach, but he was well on the way thither. He had recently put to death his own mother, Agrippina; he had become otherwise a terror and a horror to those nearest his person; he had dismissed from his counsels the only reputable men who had remained there, his teacher, the philosophical Seneca, and the Prętorian Prefect Burrus, and had surrendered himself wholly to the guidance of a man almost as despicable as himself, Tigillinus. What Rome was under such a "Caesar" it is not difficult to imagine. That one like Paul should have passed these two years of his captivity there in such vicinity to the court as to win converts in the imperial household itself, and still with so little of molestation, and so much freedom of opportunity for "teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ," seems remarkable. And the more so as it was by command of this same emperor that, a few years later, he was to suffer a martyr's death.

However we account for it all, on the ground of Nero's preoccupation with other things, or want of knowledge of either the apostle or the causes of his imprisonment, or general indifference at the time to matters of religion, we can at least see in it a divine ordering of events so as that the church of later ages should not miss that treasure of spiritual instruction and stimulus and comfort which these Epistles of the Captivity sup- ply. His own sense of something like this, the apostle intimates where he speaks of himself as " the prisoner of Jesus Christ" (3:1) — not Nero's, but Christ's; and with a mission even in this regard as distinct, as clear, as inspiring as when called into Macedonia, or when standing before his audience on Mars Hill at Athens.

Of this we become the more conscious as we study these epistles themselves, especially the two of them which so remarkably resemble each other, and which differ in some respects so widely from all other of Paul's writings — those to the Ephesians and the Colossians. With the former of these we are now to be concerned in the pages which follow.


Next to Jerusalem and Antioch, Ephesus holds the most conspicuous place in the very earliest annals of Christianity. As the scene of Paul's labors during "the space of three years; " as the site of the most important of those "seven churches of Asia," to which John wrote from Patmos; as the centre of Asian Christianity during all the early centuries, as it had long been for the same wide and populous region the centre of Pagan power, and culture, and corruption, Ephesus, after Jerusalem and Antioch had lost the prominence in Christian progress which they originally enjoyed, long held a place second only to Rome itself

Of the city, as Paul found it, Farrar says ("Life and Work of St. Paul," p. 356):" It was more Hellenic than Antioch, more Oriental than Corinth, more populous than Athens, more wealthy and more refined than Thessalonica, more skeptical and more superstitious than Aneyra or Pessinus. "' That temple of Diana, which was the chief ornament of the city, was also the chief centre of every manner of corruption. "Just as the medieval sanctuaries," says Farrar, "attracted all the scum and villainy, all the cheats and debtors and murderers of the country round, and inevitably pauperized and degraded the entire vicinity — just as the squalor of the lower purlieus of Westminster to this day is accounted for by the direct affiliation to the crime and wretchedness which sheltered itself from punishment or persecution under the shadow of the Abbey — so the vicinity of the great temple of Diana reeked with the congregated pollutions of Asia." The temple enjoyed what was termed the right of asylum, where criminals of every class found shelter against arrest or punishment, a circumstance which, while it enhanced the fame of this celebrated shrine, was a source of active moral contagion of the worst kind.

Paul appears to have been drawn to this city as the centre of his own labors for a considerable period, partly by its leading position among the cities of Asia Minor, partly by the fact that he found " a great door and effectual open to " him there (1 Cor. 16:9), although at the same time there were " many adversaries." A stronghold of the most corrupting forms of Paganism, it was at the same time a centre of commerce, of literature, and of learning, with a name famous in the history of Grecian art and Grecian philosophy. Finding some there imperfectly instructed, and knowing only the baptism of John, yet favorably disposed to Christianity, he had, in these, first-fruits of his own labor in the Lord. With these twelve as fellow-laborers, he began preaching, first in the synagogue of the Jews, then "in the school of one Tyrannus," while the attestations of divine power in the working of miracles gave his word great effect. "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." The storm of opposition which subsequently arose, and the circumstances of peril amidst which his own work in Ephesus came to an end, naturally helped to invest his recollection of this period in his ministry with interest, and to keep alive sympathy and concern on behalf of the church he had planted there.

Of this the Epistle to the Ephesians affords example and illustration. He seeks to fortify them in knowledge and conviction of those Christian truths which are at once most fundamental and most inspiring. To this he adds warnings and injunctions in regard to duties of the Christian life in various relations, put in a form to suggest how fully he had in mind the peculiar surroundings and exposures of those to whom he wrote. It is a notable fact that the vivid and impressive picture of the Christian soldier clad in "the whole armor of God," which has so often been studied and applied in connection with the perils to which believers are exposed in a world abounding in temptation, occurs in this Epistle, addressed to a church whose liabilities in that regard were so peculiar. From all these circumstances the message "to the angel of the church in Ephesus " from John in Patmos (Rev. 2:17), first of these addresses to the seven churches, draws a peculiarity of interest which may prepare us for a more interested study also of the Epistle now before us.


That a question as to the authorship of this Epistle should have arisen amongst critics may well seem remarkable. Either it must have been written by "Paul, an apostle," who is announced as its author in the opening words, or it is a forgery. If a forgery, it is certainly a most surprising one. Imitation of an author's style is comparatively easy, especially when there are characteristic peculiarities or mannerisms; although actual success, even in such cases, is one of the rarest incidents in literary history. In the present case, the question as to style is the least difficult of all. The strange thing would be, as Farrar observes in writing upon the subject, that one whose purpose was "to deceive the church and the world," should have "poured forth truths so exalted, and moral teaching so pure and profound." This, too, we may add, with so many indications of the deepest sincerity, and at times such intensity of emotion. Added to this is the fact that no critic has attempted to suggest any real author other than the apostle, or to explain how it could be that a man in that age capable of writing an epistle second to none in the indications it affords of the highest intellectual and spiritual gifts, yet was never so conspicuous in any other way as to be known even by his name.

The two critics whose denial of Paul's authorship of this Epistle has attracted most attention are De Wette and Baur. The chief grounds urged by the former may be thus stated. 1. The resemblances noticed between this Epistle and that to the Colossians, suggesting, as is urged, the likelihood of the former being partly a copy and partly an imitation of the latter. To which it may be replied, that the differences between the two are quite as noticeable as the resemblances, while these differences exist in the case of those peculiarities which are most characteristic of each; also, that there can be nothing remarkable in the fact that, written so nearly at the same time and under the same circumstances, there should be in these two epistles occasional use of the same phraseology, or even here and there almost identity in both thought and expression. 2. The second of De Wette's grounds of objection is what is claimed as unlike Paul, in the diction, and even in the teaching of the Epistle. It is certainly a hard measure for an author if he can claim proprietorship in his own work neither because in it he is like, nor because he is unlike himself The two points of objection are certainly not consistent each with the other, and may be treated as rendering us the service of mutually supplying all the really needed answer to either.

Baur, in what he has to say upon the subject, dwells much upon certain words and allusions in the Epistle which he interprets as having reference to Gnostic and other heresies that appeared only after the death of this apostle. Such words and allusions are very few in number, and by no means necessarily refer to heresies of any kind, although in the Epistle to the Colossians such reference is more evident. But even if the fact be as supposed, any resemblances in words or phrases used to those customary later in heretical writers may, as Eadie suggests, as well be due to imitations of Scripture phraseology on the part of these writers, which, indeed, is known to have been their practice. "The Gnosticism of the second century," says Dr. Eadie, "was not wholly unchristian, either in idea or in nomenclature, but it took from Scripture whatever in thought or expression suited its specious theosophy, and borrowed such materials to a large extent from the New Testament. Such a procedure may be plainly proved. The same process has been repeated in various forms, and in more recent times, in Germany itself the inference is not," he adds, " as these critics hold, that the epistles to Colosse and Ephesus are the product of Gnosticism in array against Ebionitism, but only that the Gnostic sophists gilded their speculations with biblical phraseology."

It is surely unnecessary for us to occupy more space than we have now done with this example of a method in criticism whose achievements have been so futile, and whose real claim to attention, never great, is now scarcely appreciable. It would be difficult to name any one of the writings of the Great Apostle which in its substance, and diction, and spiritual tone offers less opportunity for such a theory of authorship as these critics have proposed, than the Epistle to the Ephesians. It should be added that until these late years the Pauline authorship of the Epistle was never questioned in any quarter, the testimony of primitive Christianity in that regard being absolutely unanimous.


In two very ancient manuscripts, the Sinaitic and the Vatican, both belonging to the middle of the fourth century, and in one other of much later date, the first verse in the Epistle is found with the words "in Ephesus" (ἐν ἐφέσῳ, in the Greek) omitted. Passages occur, also, in certain of the oldest Christian writers which by some critics are interpreted as implying that in the copies of the Epistle used by them, these two words are not found. Others read these passages differently, and at most the sense, in so far as this point is concerned, is doubtful. Upon the other hand, in the second of the two manuscripts just named, the Vatican, the words (ἐν ἐφέσῳ) are given in the margin, perhaps as suggesting that they ought to be supplied in the text, while in the Sinaitic manuscript a similar marginal entry appears, though considerably later in date than the manuscript. The Alexandrian manuscript, belonging to the fifth century, has the words in the text itself. The same is true of all the old versions, while such writers as Ignatius, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, — all of them writing before the close of the second century, — Tertullian, Cyprian; all of these, save the first, certainly, and Ignatius himself probably, quote or otherwise speak of the Epistle as written to the Ephesians.

The two ancient writers whose authority is by some critics quoted as against the received theory that the Epistle was addressed to the church in Ephesus, are Origen and Basil the Great. The single passage taken from each of these writers is an example of the fanciful interpretations so frequent in both, and especially Origen. We may quote these passages as translated by Eadie, in the introduction to his "Commentary on the Ephesians. " That in Origen is as follows:" We found the phrase 'to the saints that are,' occurring only in the ease of the Ephesians, and we inquire what its meaning may be. Observe, then, whether, as He who revealed His name to Moses in Exodus calls His name I AM, so they who are partakers of the I AM are those who be, being called out of nonexistence into existence — for God, as Paul himself says, chose the things that are not that he might destroy the things that are."

Basil has a similar conceit in the passage quoted from him. Paul, he says, "in writing to the Ephesians, . . . calls them in a special sense those who are, saying, To the saints WHO ARE (τοῖς οὖσι), and the faithful in Christ Jesus. For thus those before us have transmitted it, and we have found it in the ancient copies."

A very great deal of critical ingenuity has been expended upon these two passages. Considering them without any attempt of that kind, we find these points, at least, very evident:1. That both Origen and Basil represent the Epistle as written "to the Ephesians," since they both speak of it in that way. 2. That the meaning they seek to find in such an expression as " the saints that are," is wholly fanciful, and has no place in the present argument. 3. That how much is imported by their testimony to the presence or absence of the words in dispute in ancient copies of the Epistle is wholly uncertain. Even supposing that copies existed in which the words were wanting, that might be accounted for otherwise than upon the theory that Paul himself did not place them in the Epistle as written by himself, while the fact that both Origen and Basil nevertheless treat the Epistle as written to the Ephesians, shows that they themselves were aware of sufficiently good reasons why it ought to be regarded as so written and addressed.

Those who maintain that the Epistle was not intended for the Church in Ephesus, nor written expressly to that church, assume to find an argument in the fact that the Epistle does not have near its close those salutations and other expressions of Christian affection addressed to individuals, which are noticed in other of Paul's letters to churches. This is thought to be remarkable in view of Paul's peculiar relations to the Ephesian Church, as one founded under his own personal ministry, and whose love for it was so touchingly shown in his parting interview with the elders of this church at Troas, while on his way "bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem," knowing that "bonds and afflictions abided him there." It is hence inferred that whatever may have been the destination of this Epistle, that destination can not have been Ephesus, at least Ephesus exclusively. Upon this we may observe:1. That the salutations and greetings in question are found in letters of Paul to churches which cannot have been, as a body, known to him as the Ephesian Church was, and such salutations were, therefore, naturally sent to those amongst them whom he did thus know, and whom he had personal reasons for remembering in this way. Such is the case with the Epistle to the Romans, the first to the Corinthians, and that to the Colossians. 2. These personal salutations, however, are not so common as those who urge this argument would imply. In First and Second Thessalonians, in the second to the Corinthians, in Galatians, the salutation is wholly general, just as we find it here in Ephesians, the closing verses of which have very warm expressions of Christian attachment, although addressed to the church as such, rather than to individuals. 3. It is easy to see why, in a case like this church at Ephesus, Paul should not single out individuals for express affectionate mention. The entire membership were in a like relationship with him as the minister by whom they had been made to know the gospel and to accept it with all its precious hopes. Even if he had no reason to fear that jealousies might be awakened by special messages to individuals, he would doubtless feel in himself that whatever message of affection he had for one he had for all. The whole Epistle is, in fact (4), pervaded by a tone of personal interest, and seems so much suggested by what he thoroughly knew of those to whom he was writing, that from its first word to its last, it might very properly be regarded as expressing to each member of the Ephesian Church, and to all of them, his love for them as his spiritual children, and his desire for their welfare in all things.

We shall not think it necessary, in view of all, to dwell upon the theory proposed by some and advocated by such writers as Conybeare and Howson, and others, that the Epistle probably had originally the form of a circular letter, being intended for several churches, including Ephesus; that it was sent by Tychicus in a form to be addressed to either the church at Ephesus, the church at Laodicea, or at Philadelphia as delivered by him, and that this may account for the appearance of the words in Ephesus (ἐν ἐφέσῳ) in some, its omission in others, and also for what seems to have been a statement of the heresiarch Marcion, that the Epistle was really written to the Laodiceans. There seems to be no occasion for what appears so much like an evasion of the difficulty, and for which there is no real support.

The sum of all may perhaps be thus stated:One very ancient manuscript, and all of later date save one, contain the words in question. All the ancient versions, including the Syriac and the Latin, have them. All of the most ancient Christian writers, including Origen and Basil themselves, speak of the Epistle as written to the Ephesians, while only these two make any allusion to copies of manuscripts in which the words did not appear. The internal evidence found in the general tenor and spirit of the Epistle justifies the view that it was written to the Ephesians, and to them was addressed, as in the case of other churches named, as this one is, in the opening words. Of recent critics and commentators who upon grounds like these just indicated regard the words " in Ephesus" (ἐν ἐφέσῳ) as belonging to the original text, we name Meyer, Davidson, Stuart, Alexander, Alford, and Eadie. Ellicott, although he regards the Epistle as written to the Ephesians and so addressed, thinks it very probable that it was intended also for other churches in the neighborhood of that metropolitan city, and was for this reason made more general in form than was usual with this apostle. This is not to view it as a circular letter in any proper sense, and may probably be accepted as the correct view. The words (iv (ἐν ἐφέσῳ) Ellicott " retains as genuine. "


It is agreed among writers on this Epistle who accept it as genuine, that the Epistle to the Ephesians excels all other writings of this apostle alike in the comprehensiveness of its doctrinal content and in the sublimity of its style. Alford speaks of it as made, in this way, "by far the most difficult of all the writings of St. Paul." Elsewhere he adds:"As in the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Colossians, the difficulties lie for the most part at or near the surface, a certain degree of study will master, not indeed the mysteries of redemption which are treated of, but the contextual coherence and the course of the argument; or, if not so, will at least serve to point out to every reader where the hard texts lie, and to bring out into relief each point with which he has to deal; whereas here the difficulties lie altogether beneath the surface, are not discernible by the cursory reader, who finds all very straightforward and simple." The student of this Epistle, he says further on, " must not expect to go over his ground rapidly; must not be disappointed if the week's end finds him still on the same paragraph or even on the same verse, weighing and judging."

The two Epistles, to the Ephesians and Colossians, are often compared with each other, and between them there are indeed marked resemblances. Evidently, they were both written very nearly at the same time, and in much the same state of mind and feeling. They are dissimilar, however, through differences both in the purpose of the writing and in the circumstances of those addressed. In writing to the Colossians, Paul appears to have a distinct purpose to gain; a correction of certain speculative tendencies beginning there to appear, more especially a tendency to exaggeration of certain outward observances, such as superstitious distinctions of meats and drinks, feast days, "new moons and Sabbaths"; these being partly remnants of heathen, partly of Judaic, notions of what is essential to religion. In contrast with all this, he sets before them the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all fullness dwells, and in whom they are to find summed up all the great and precious realities of faith. Thus, in the doctrinal part of the Epistle he dwells upon the person of Christ as "the image of the invisible God," as he in whom all things were created, as head over all things to the church, and as the substance and fulfillment of all types; while to him all manner of outward observance is intended to lead us in faith, and hope, and obedience. It may be true, also, as some think, that incipient heresies of another sort had appeared at Colosse, germs of the later Gnosticism; that to these things the writer refers where he warns against those who would " beguile " them " with enticing words," or "spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit." The purpose of the Colossian Epistle, at all events, is distinctively practical, although in seeking to realize this purpose, the writer touches upon some of the loftiest teachings of the Christian faith.

It is thought by many, and is probably the fact, that the Epistle to the Colossians was written first of the two. In the writing of it, thought and feeling are kindled to a flame. Calling to mind, then, those in another city of Asia Minor, amongst whom he had passed longer periods of personal ministry than in any other case, cherishing toward them a measure of affectionate confidence which encouraged the opening to them of all his mind and all his heart, he resumes his pen in a letter to them, in which, setting forth from those more elementary teachings which he had given to them in his personal ministry, he leads them out in a wider range of revealed truth than he had attempted, either in this case, or in that of any other church. It is "the mystery of Christ" (ch. 3:4) in a very special sense, with which he deals; a revelation of the mind, and purpose, and act of God in the great plan of human redemption in no other instance so fully set forth.

The style partakes very much of the nature of the subject. Something of the same peculiarity appears also in the letter to the Colossians, and is due there to much the same cause. No one writes in this manner who is not completely carried away by his theme. There is no attempt, at least in the doctrinal portion of the Epistle, at anything like a concise and orderly construction of the sentences. In repeated instances (as in 2:1-4 and 3:1-14), a thought is taken up and the thread of it immediately dropped, while another, though a related thought, comes in, parenthetically, and commands attention, till further on, though with very little of orderly readjustment, the first one is resumed. Profound truth, as related to purposes of God in the eternity past, and the person and office of Christ in the great work of redemption, is put in the form of rapid statement, suggesting to the cursory reader, as Alford intimates, scarcely more than a hint of the immensity of the conception or the wide-reaching relations of the doctrine implied. We find, as Dr. Hodge says, ''clause linked with clause," as one thought suggests another which cannot wait for utterance, till the writer "is forced to stop and begin his sentences anew." To appreciate the reason of this, we must see the writer of the Epistle in his forced comparative seclusion, and realize how the fervor of his soul, which had been wont to find such ample expression in the ceaseless labors of his ministry from city to city and from continent to continent, is now limited to such casual opportunities as transient visitors might afford him, and to communications, like this, with those in distant cities, whose spiritual welfare was still with him a constant desire and prayer. Meditating thus upon the great themes of his ministry, his soul is filled with them, and when he takes his pen to write the rush of thought and feeling carries him away. It is quite possible, besides, that the peculiarity of style here mentioned is occasioned in a degree by the fact that he writes with a chained hand, the guarding soldier seated near, and perhaps with other things in the surroundings to make deliberate and careful composition a matter of difficulty.

The Epistle to the Ephesians becomes thus a somewhat striking example of the manner in which inspiration not only allows, but uses, peculiarity of character and temperament in the writer, and as well the influences of time and place. It is possible that under no other circumstances would the apostle have found his mind led forth into such a field of inspired meditation or have gained such conceptions of the kingdom of God in its relation to God's own redeemed people. The language he uses has in consequence a peculiar intensity. Five times in the Epistle and twice in the same chapter he employs a phrase (τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις) which it seems impossible to render adequately from the Greek into English. It is imperfectly translated "in the heavenly places"; or, as by some writers, though with a meaning too vague, "the heavenlies "; and in which it almost seems as if the distinction of earthly and heavenly had faded away, so that when he speaks of what is now in possession, it were already heaven begun, even by himself, "the prisoner of Jesus Christ"; or, as if in other connections of the same phrase, the temporal were already lost in the spiritual. We find him also with great frequency using such intense expressions as "the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints"; "God, who is rich in mercy"; "exceeding riches of his grace"; "grant you according to the riches of his glory " — the Greek word, (πλοῦτος or πλούσιος), meaning " riches, " wealth," "fullness," " plenitude," becoming thus with him a favorite one for expressing his sense of the wonderful kindness of God to redeemed men. the word for "grace" (χάρις) occurs thirteen times; and may, as Farrar says, be considered "the keynote of the Epistle." The word for "mystery" occurs five times; in no other Epistle more than twice. Another significant peculiarity is the frequent occurrence of compounds with the Greek preposition for "with" (oὑν), expressing participation, or community of possession. We find it in such words and phrases as "made alive," or ''quickened together with Christ." "raised up together'' with him, "made us sit together in heavenly places with Christ," ''fellow-citizens with the saints," "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit," ''fellow-heirs,''  "fellow-members of the body," "fellow-partakers of the promise" — all of which represent a leading thought in the Epistle, which is the union of all believers in a common faith, and hope, and calling, and especially their oneness in Christ.

In a word, we may say that while this Epistle has qualities of style common to this apostle's writings, it has characteristics of its own, due in part to the subject, and in part to the conditions under which it was produced. It should be added, however, that neither the glow of feeling inspired by the subject, nor the peculiar circumstances of the writer, is allowed to mar the logical connection of the general argument, or lessen the force with which all is made to bear upon the special purpose in writing.


Although the Epistle to the Ephesians deals so much with doctrine, it is still not a doctrinal treatise, but an Epistle, with the characteristics proper to such. That personal element which gives to epistolary writing its distinctive quality, pervades it, in spite of the fact that direct personal mention, or even express allusion, is less frequent than in most of Paul's letters to the churches. About the middle of the fourth chapter, the apostle turns directly to those whom up to that point he has addressed more in the form of general instruction, and from thence on to the end of the Epistle appeals to them in counsel and exhortation, covering the various relations of the Christian life, doubtless with adaptations to what both he and they knew of their peculiar circumstances. Indeed, he had twice before seemed about to break off the strain of high doctrinal exhortation upon which he had entered at the outset of the Epistle, and to begin upon that more practical appeal. the third chapter opens with, "For this cause 1 Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, to you Gentiles," seeming as if some matter more directly personal were to follow.

Then the fourth chapter itself begins, " I therefore, I the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called," passing away, however, as before, from that more personal theme to dwell upon the divine provision made in this behalf With the seventeenth verse of this fourth chapter he enters fully upon that which he has clearly had in view all along, making it evident that this " knowledge in the mystery of Christ" which he had been unfolding, is just intended to make faith more ample, and life more pure and true.

It is, perhaps, not too much to say that the theme of the Epistle, and the writer's method in treating it, are both implied in the third and fourth verses of the first chapter:"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ:even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love." The three first chapters of the Epistle, and the fourth as far as the seventeenth verse, are an expansion of the doctrinal thought in these two verses; while what follows from the middle of the fourth chapter to the end is devoted to showing how the great motive to holy and blameless conduct in all life's relations, so brought to view, should prompt and rule each Christian believer.

As linking, so to speak, these two main divisions of the whole theme, we have what is contained inverses 3-16 in chapter 4. It is there shown that in the gracious provision made, there is adaptation to the peculiar needs of men in this world. When the Redeemer, his ministry and suffering ended, went up on high, leading captivity captive, he received gifts for men. It was included in the functions of his great office as Redeemer that he should be also in a certain living relation with his redeemed people; not only should impartations of spiritual life flow to them through him, but it was his to endow them, as the church bought with his own blood, his "body," with ordinances and offices suited to promote in every way their personal growth and their efficiency as instruments of grace and salvation to the world. Thus, in some sense, we have, along with the doctrine of Redemption, the doctrine of the Church, the purpose of both being, as said at the beginning, '' that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love." Alike the doctrine of redemption and the doctrine of the church are set forth in a way to some extent peculiar to this Epistle. We have, indeed, the church elsewhere spoken of as " the body of Christ," and offices in the church, with the duties appropriate to each, are in other places named with much more of detail than is attempted here. But in this fourth chapter of our Epistle, the church — not simply nor chiefly the local church, but the church in its largest spiritual sense — is put in a relation with Christ peculiar to this one of all Paul's epistles. The sixteenth verse of the chapter, very difficult of precise exposition, is a wonderful representation of the absolute dependence of each individual Christian, and of the whole spiritual body as such, upon " him who is the head, even Christ." Then what appears of the ultimate unity of this spiritual body is found, as we dwell upon it, to have a wonderful scope of meaning. What is said in ver. 14 of troubled agitations under opposing winds of doctrine, while it has an application to each individual church and each individual Christian, looks in its largest meaning beyond all that is individual and special; it forecasts centuries of stormy division among those claiming to be the followers of the one Lord, anticipating, indeed, all that which for us is now history, and that which for those living after us may be history again. In ver. 13, however, we have foreshadowed that for which we have a right to look in this kingdom of God among men — a coming at last to " the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." However it may be elsewhere in the world, in the kingdom of God division struggles ever toward unity, and the time will come when unity, and no longer division, shall be the law of that kingdom. Foretokens of that final issue already appear.

This doctrine of the church may be said to stand as the corollary of that doctrine of redemption which occupies so much of the whole space in this Epistle. As already intimated, this doctrine as unfolded, has its ground in what is said in the fourth verse of the first chapter:"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." What is said more than this is concerned entirely with the fulfillment of that gracious election, so truly divine in its motive, and so complete in its operation. All that we realize in redemption comes to us just in the fulfillment of that purpose. But what is peculiar in the view the apostle here takes of a subject which in other ways he treats of in other epistles, is intimated in the ninth and tenth verses of the same chapter, where we are told how God has " made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to the good pleasure which he purposed in him [that is, in Christ] unto a dispensation of the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heaven, and things upon the earth." This is the central thought of all which is said here upon this great theme of human redemption — " to sum up all things in Christ." The writer returns to it again and again. It is in reference to it, chiefly, that he makes those Gentile Christians at Ephesus so fully aware of "the grace of God " shown to them, in that the full treasure of this gracious provision had been made as free to them as to God's covenant people themselves. It is also what lends peculiar significance to that which is said of the ultimate unity of the church. It is to be unity in him. Christ is one day to fully and gloriously appear before the universe of men and angels in that transcendent personality which belongs to him as the Redeemer of men and the Head over all things to the church. That is the thought which there, in his Roman prison, has seized upon and fired the whole soul of the writer of this Epistle, and the thought which imparts to what he here says such intensity of feeling and such dignity of utterance. In proportion as we realize this, and in proportion as we enter into the substance and spirit of what we find here written, shall we feel the force of the appeal based upon this view of what our redemption imports, that we do indeed "walk worthy of the calling wherewith we have been called."


It is quite surely to be gathered from the tenor of this Epistle, that the church in Ephesus was chiefly composed of Gentile converts. There were also Jews, as may be inferred from the fact that Paul's own preaching there had been at first in " the synagogue. " Yet, as the narrative in Acts (19:8, 9) seems to imply, he found his own countrymen less accessible than the Gentile population, and so he left the synagogue, and we then find him reasoning daily in the school of one Tyrannus. Whatever may have been the relative proportion of Jews and Gentiles in the church, it is to the latter that he seems to address himself chiefly in this Epistle — a fact to be borne in mind in the study of it. His desire evidently is to strongly impress these Gentile believers, (1) with the general truth, that salvation, whether of Jew or Gentile, is a work of divine grace, executing a divine purpose; (2) with the truth that the whole scheme of redemption, whether as respects its original purpose, its method, or its result, centers wholly in Christ; and, (3) with the truth that they, as Gentiles, were under an especial obligation of gratitude for this grace, since the opening to them of this door of mercy was the receiving of them to all that special favor which had once been given to God's covenant people, with every middle wall of partition now broken down. In the light of these considerations the practical lessons and appeals in the closing chapters of the Epistle are pressed home.

The general doctrine of the divine purpose of redemption, and the election of a redeemed people, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, occupies the first fourteen verses of the first chapter. This is followed to the end of the chapter by expressions of thanksgiving in behalf of those addressed, that in the grace of redemption they had been made participants, with the prayer that they might be enabled, by divine help, to enter into the full realization and experience of the grace so manifested; especially realizing how pre-eminent in all is the place filled by him who is the Redeemer.

With a view to impress this truth more strongly, in the opening verses of the second chapter (ver. 1-2), he reminds them of the condition in which the grace of God had found them, the same essentially (ver. 3, 10) as that in which those to whom the gospel first came had been found, while in the " quickening " of the new birth both Jew and Gentile had experienced a like blessing and a common joy. Then in the remainder of the chapter he dwells upon the spiritual union into which Jew and Gentile are brought, in the experience of the same grace, of a common faith and a common hope.

In chapter 3 this of which he had been speaking is dwelt upon as that "m5'stery of Christ" which had been hidden through ages, adumbrated in types and divinely foreshadowed in prophecy, yet now clearly and fully revealed. He speaks of himself (ver. V-9) as having been specially " made a minister " of that revelation, more particularly as it affected the Gentiles themselves. Following this, again, with an earnest prayer that they might come into rich and full possession of this blessing, and especially might come to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.

Chapter 4, as far as to the seventeenth verse, is occupied with that communion of saints into which believers, Jew and Gentile, are brought. They have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." They are in all their wide dispersion, all their long succession, from age to age, " one body," with Christ as the Head, from whom proceeds to every member and through all channels of spiritual vitality, the one life. To promote this unity, with growth to the stature of the fullness of Christ, and to endow them for their world-wide ministry, are given to them, as gifts of the ascended Lord, apostles and prophets, pastors and teachers, and evangelists.

The weighty inference from all comes out in the seventeenth verse:"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord [a solemn adjuration], that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk." To the end of the chapter this appeal is set down in a vivid contrast of that which these Ephesian Christians had all about them, in a great and rich and wicked heathen city, with that which was to be expected of them as having "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."

The fifth chapter, and the sixth as far as the eleventh verse, deal with those several relations of life in which it is required that the spirit and law of the Christian profession shall thus be fulfilled. It is noticeable how in all these relations, of husband and wife, of parent and child, of master and servant, there is constant reference to that which he has so copiously set forth in earlier parts of the Epistle. This is not a mere morality which he enjoins. It is as "children of light" that we are to observe these things, walking in the new light shed upon the path of each redeemed one. It is as " filled with the Spirit," and as ourselves spiritual, that we utterly repudiate all " fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." It is as seeing in Christ and the church a symbol of that most sacred of all human relations, upon which it is sacrilege for any to lay unholy hands, or to treat it with levity, that husbands and wives are to have mutual regard for what this relation implies. It is with that "first commandment with promise," ever in mind, that children are to reverence their parents, while parents are to rear their children " in the " nurture and admonition of the Lord." Servants are to render the service expected of them as "unto Christ," while masters are to remember that they also have a Master, even one in heaven, with whom is no respect of person. What a different thing from mere morality do the ethics of Christianity become in the handling of this Epistle! Then at the eleventh verse comes the " Finally, my brethren." What a masterly picture is here given us of the Christian soldier, wrestling against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, " clad in the whole armour of God!" What a word is that in which he represents the whole idea of the steadfast Christian, faithful unto death — "Stand!" Called with such a calling, chosen for such a mission and such a destiny, God's redeemed one, fronting the world's wickedness, and the world's temptations, — what a noble picture he gives us of the steadfast Christian! Writing from his Roman prison, every word is enforced by his own heroic example; while in his closing words he becomes again tender and loving and prayerful, reaching out in his sympathies to all Christian believers throughout the world and throughout the ages:" Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen."