Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Paul the Apostle to the
EPHESUS was a city of Ionia, in Asia Minor, and once the metropolis of that part of the world. The ancient city was situated at the mouth of the river Cayster, on the shore of the AEgean Sea, about 50 miles south of Smyrna. The Ephesus in which St. Paul founded a Church, and which for a time flourished gloriously, was not the ancient Ephesus; for that was destroyed, and a new city of the same name was built by Lysimachus.
This most famous of all the Asiatic cities is now a miserable village, composed of mean huts formed out of the ruins of its once magnificent structures; and these huts are now the residence of about forty or fifty Turkish families, without a single Christian among them! For other particulars see the note on Acts 18:19.
It is, however, a doubt with many learned men, whether this epistle was sent to the Church at Ephesus. They think that the proper direction is, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Laodiceans; and suppose it to be the same which the apostle mentions, Colossians 4:16: “When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.” Dr. Paley’s arguments in the affirmative are entitled to much regard.
“Although it does not appear to have ever been disputed that the epistle before us was written by St. Paul, yet it is well known that a doubt has long been entertained concerning the persons to whom it was addressed.
The question is founded partly in some ambiguity in the external evidence. Marcion, a heretic of the second century, as quoted by Tertullian, a father in the beginning of the third, calls it, The Epistle to the Laodiceans. From what we know of Marcion, his judgment is little to be relied upon; nor is it perfectly clear that Marcion was rightly understood by Tertullian. If, however, Marcion be brought to prove that some copies in his time gave en laodikeia in the superscription, his testimony, if it be truly interpreted, is not diminished by his heresy; for, as Grotius observes, ‘cur in ea re mentiretur nihil erat causae.’ The name en efesw, in Ephesus, in the first verse, upon which word singly depends the proof that the epistle was written to the Ephesians, is not read in all the manuscripts now extant. I admit, however, that the external evidence preponderates with a manifest excess on the side of the received reading. The objection therefore principally arises from the contents of the epistle itself, which, in many respects militate with the supposition that it was written to the Church of Ephesus. According to the history, St. Paul had passed two whole years at Ephesus, Acts 19:10. And in this point, viz. of St. Paul having preached for a considerable length of time at Ephesus, the history is confirmed by the two epistles to the Corinthians, and by the two epistles to Timothy: ‘I will tarry at Ephesus until pentecost;’ 1 Corinthians 16:8. ‘We would not have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia;’ 2 Corinthians 1:8. ‘As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia;’ 1 Timothy 1:3. ‘And in how many things he ministered to me at Ephesus thou knowest well;’ 2 Timothy 1:18. I adduce these testimonies because, had it been a competition of credit between the history and the epistle, I should have thought myself bound to have preferred the epistle. Now, every epistle which St. Paul wrote to Churches which he himself had founded, or which he had visited, abounds with references and appeals to what had passed during the time that he was present amongst them; whereas there is not a text in the Epistle to the Ephesians from which we can collect that he had ever been at Ephesus at all. The two epistles to the Corinthians, the Epistle to the Galatians, the Epistle to the Philippians, and the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, are of this class; and they are full of allusions to the apostle’s history, his reception, and his conduct whilst amongst them; the total want of which in the epistle before us is very difficult to account for, if it was in truth written to the Church of Ephesus, in which city he had resided for so long a time. This is the first and strongest objection. But farther, the Epistle to the Colossians was addressed to a Church in which St. Paul had never been, This we infer from the first verse of the second chapter: ‘For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh.’ There could be no propriety in thus joining the Colossians and Laodiceans with those ‘who had not seen his face in the flesh,’ if they did not also belong to the same description. Now, his address to the Colossians, whom he had not visited, is precisely the same as his address to the Christians to whom he wrote in the epistle which we are now considering: ‘We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints;’ Colossians 1:3. Thus he speaks to the Christians, in the epistle before us, as follows: ‘Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you in my prayers; Ephesians 1:15. The terms of this address are observable. The words, ‘having heard of your faith and love,’ are the very words, we see, which he uses towards strangers; and it is not probable that he should employ the same in accosting a Church in which he had long exercised his ministry, and whose ‘faith and love’ he must have personally known. The Epistle to the Romans was written before St. Paul had been at Rome; and his address to them runs in the same strain with that just now quoted: ‘I thank my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world;’ Romans 1:8. Let us now see what was the form in which our apostle was accustomed to introduce his epistles, when he wrote to those with whom he was already acquainted. To the Corinthians it was this: ‘I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Christ Jesus;’ 1 Corinthians 1:4. To the Philippians: ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you;’ Philippians 1:3. To the Thessalonians: ‘We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love;’ 1 Thessalonians 1:3. To Timothy: ‘I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with a pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;’ 2 Timothy 1:3. In these quotations it is usually his remembrance, and never his hearing of them, which he makes the subject of his thankfulness to God.
As great difficulties stand in the way, supposing the epistle before us to have been written to the Church of Ephesus; so I think it probable that it is actually the epistle to the Laodiceans, referred to in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians. The text which contains that reference is this: ‘When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea;’ Colossians 4:16. The epistle from Laodicea was an epistle sent by St. Paul to that Church, and by them transmitted to Colosse. The two Churches were mutually to communicate the epistles they had received. This is the way in which the direction is explained by the greater part of commentators, and is the most probable sense that can be given to it. It is also probable that the epistle alluded to was an epistle which had been received by the Church of Laodicea lately. It appears, then, with a considerable degree of evidence, that there existed an epistle of St. Paul nearly of the same date with the Epistle to the Colossians, and an epistle directed to a Church (for such the Church of Laodicea was) in which St. Paul had never been. What has been observed concerning the epistle before us, shows that it answers perfectly to that character.
“Nor does the mistake seem very difficult to account for. Whoever inspects the map of Asia Minor will see, that a person proceeding from Rome to Laodicea would probably land at Ephesus, as the nearest frequented seaport in that direction. Might not Tychicus, then, in passing through Ephesus, communicate to the Christians of that place the letter with which he was charged? And might not copies of that letter be multiplied and preserved at Ephesus? Might not some of the copies drop the words of designation en th laodikeia, which it was of no consequence to an Ephesian to retain? Might not copies of the letter come out into the Christian Church at large from Ephesus; and might not this give occasion to a belief that the letter was written to that Church? And, lastly, might not this belief produce the error which we suppose to have crept into the inscription?
“And it is remarkable that there seem to have been some ancient copies without the words of designation, either the words in Ephesus, or the words in Laodicea. St. Basil, a writer of the fourth century, speaking of the present epistle, has this very singular passage: ‘And writing to the Ephesians, as truly united to him who is through knowledge, he (Paul) calleth them in a peculiar sense such who are; saying, to the saints who are and (or even) the faithful in Christ Jesus; for so those before us have transmitted it, and we have found it in ancient copies.’ Dr. Mill interprets (and, notwithstanding some objections that have been made to him, in my opinion, rightly interprets) these words of Basil, as declaring that this father had seen certain copies of the epistle in which the words ‘in Ephesus’ were wanting. And the passage, I think, must be considered as Basil’s fanciful way of explaining what was really a corrupt and defective reading; for I do not believe it possible that the author of the epistle could have originally written agioiv toiv ousin, without any name of place to follow it.”
It must be allowed that the arguments of Dr. Paley, the sum of which may be found in Wetstein, that this is the epistle to the Laodiceans, are both plausible and strong; and yet almost the whole of antiquity, with the exceptions which those learned men mention, is in favor of the epistle being sent originally to the Church at Ephesus. Puzzled with these two considerations, some critics have pointed out a middle way. They suppose that several copies of this epistle were directed to no particular Church, but were intended for all the Churches in Asia Minor; and that different copies might have different directions, from this circumstance, that St. Paul, in writing the first verse paulov apostolov ihsou cristou-toiv agioiv toiv ousin, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the saints which are, left a blank after ousin, are, which was in some cases filled up with en efesw, in Ephesus; in others, with en laodikeia, in Laodicea; though there might be one copy expressly sent by him to the Church of the Laodiceans, while he wished that others should be directed to the different Churches through Asia Minor. That there were copies which had no place specified, we learn from St. Basil; and the arguments in favor of Laodicea are certainly the strongest; the circumstance, that the apostle salutes no person, agrees well with Laodicea, where he had never been, Colossians 2:1; but cannot agree with Ephesus, where he was well known, and where, in preaching the Gospel, he had spent three years. See Acts 20:31.
As this point is very dubious, and men of great abilities and learning have espoused different sides of the question, I judge myself incompetent to determine any thing; but I felt it my duty to bring the arguments for Laodicea fairly before the reader; those in favor of Ephesus may be met with every where. The passages in the body of the epistle, alleged by critics who espouse opposite sides of this subject, I have seldom noticed in a controversial way; and the notes on those passages are constructed as though no controversy existed.
Many expositors, and particularly Drs. Chandler and Macknight, have thought that they have perceived a great number of references to the temple of Diana at Ephesus; to the sacred mysteries among the Greeks; to the Hierophants, Mystagogues, Neocoroi, etc., in the temple of the celebrated goddess. It may appear strange that, with these opinions before me, I have not referred to the same things; nor adduced them by way of illustration; the truth is, I have not been able to discover them, nor do I believe that any such allusions exist. I see many allusions to the temple of God at Jerusalem, but none to the temple of Diana at Ephesus. I find also many references to the sacred service and sacerdotal officers in the Jewish temple; but none to Mystagogues, etc., among the heathens. I find much said about, what is to be understood most literally, the mystery which had been hidden from all ages, viz. of uniting Jews and Gentiles in one Church, but no reference to the Eleusinian, Bacchic, or other mysteries in the abominable worship of the Greeks, was suggesting to the mind of the apostle any parallel between their mysteries and those of the Almighty. My reasons for my dissent from these respectable authorities I have given in the notes.
JUNE 20TH, 1815.