Introduction to Ephesians
Ephesus was the capital and chief city of the Roman province of Asia, located on the west coast of Asia Minor, almost due east of Athens. So far as the record goes, Paul spent almost three years in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-21; 19), longer than any other place after he started his missionary ministries. A strong church was established there, and Timothy was eventually sent there by Paul as its pastor (I Timothy 1:3). According to the early church fathers, the Apostle John served as senior pastor of the Ephesian church in his later years, while he wrote his five New Testament books. Ephesus was evidently noted as the leading church among “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Revelation 1:11).
With such a long time spent by Paul establishing the church at Ephesus, it is noteworthy that, unlike his other epistles, the book of Ephesians contains no references to any individuals there, nor any references to specific problems or situations in the Ephesian church. The Ephesian epistle thus seems clearly designed for use in any church at all, and the probability is that Paul meant it as a circular letter, to be shared with all the churches in Asia. It may even be the same as the letter to Laodicea mentioned in Colossians 4:16.
It was probably written while Paul was in house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). This is implied by the fact that he made several allusions to his imprisonment in this Ephesian epistle (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). It is generally believed that Colossians and Philemon were also written during the same period, and that all three were carried from Paul to the recipients by Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7). See also the Introductions to Colossians and Philemon.
Colossians has many features common to Ephesians, and many believe that Paul wrote them both at the same time—Colossians, first, to a specific church, followed by the longer and more fully developed treatment in Ephesians, with the latter intended for circulation to all the other churches (besides Colosse) in the province of Asia. It was addressed specifically, however, “to the saints which are at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1), since the Ephesians seaport was where Tychicus would first land as he came from Rome and also since Ephesus was the capital and most influential city in Asia and had the most active church. Some ancient manuscripts do omit the words “which are at Ephesus” from the salutation, but by far most of the manuscripts do contain them. Paul did add “and to the faithful in Christ Jesus,” thus implying that it was intended to be read by others than only the Ephesian saints.
The ruins at Ephesus are still very impressive. Among its greatest structures was “the temple of the great goddess Diana” (Acts 19:27), which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The remains of this temple have been excavated, as have those of the “theater” where the great riot against Paul took place (Acts 19:29-41).
Ephesians is one of the very few Pauline epistles whose authorship is questioned today by some. The book, of course, claims to be written by Paul (Ephesians 1:1; 3:1), and contains so many internal references to Paul’s experiences that it could hardly have been written by anyone else. No one ever questioned this fact until certain nineteenth century liberals decided to argue that some of its vocabulary and concepts were unique, not found in Paul’s other epistles. The vocabulary depends on the theme, of course, and this was one of Paul’s later epistles, so it is hardly surprising that he would—especially in a letter meant for wider circulation—develop some themes in depth that were only sketchily introduced in his earlier letters to specific churches. In any case, there is no objective evidence whatever that Paul was not the author of the epistle to the Ephesians.
Ephesians does, indeed, contain an exalted description of the divine Creator and His sovereign control over the world, as well as a strong affirmation of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Its great doctrinal expositions of the first half of the book are supplemented by doctrinally based exhortations to godliness in the second half. It also contains a wonderful delineation of the unity of all believers in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile.
1:1 Ephesus. Unlike the other Pauline epistles, there are few, if any references to individuals or to local church problems in Ephesians. Nevertheless, strong confirmation exists in the ancient manuscripts and in writings of the church fathers that it was indeed addressed to the Ephesian church. In view of the fact that Paul visited Ephesus at least three times and once spent at least three years there teaching them night and day (Acts 20:31), he knew this church and its people better than any other, and no doubt felt they would be best equipped to receive, then circulate, this most doctrinal of all his epistles. It is significant that the letters to the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2 and 3) begin with the letter to Ephesus, suggesting that Ephesus was the mother church of the seven. None of the others (Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea) apparently received a letter from Paul (although there is a possible reference to a Laodicean letter in Colossians 4:16). So it seems plausible that Paul wanted the Ephesian epistle to be read in all the churches of Asia. That could well be the reason why he included no personal references. The latter could have been conveyed by Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21), who carried the epistle from Rome to Ephesus, presumably also with the instruction to circulate it among the other churches.
1:3 in heavenly places. This fascinating phrase occurs five times in this epistle (Ephesians 1:3; 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). The phrase could read simply “in the heavenlies,” since “places” has been inferred, as is clear especially in Ephesians 1:20, where Christ is said to be seated at God’s “right hand in the heavenly [places].”
1:4 chosen us. God chose us by His own will (Ephesians 1:11), not because He could foresee our choice of Him. Jesus made this compellingly clear: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). Nevertheless, from our human perspective, every believer has also made his own willing decision to receive Christ (John 1:12; 3:16; Romans 10:13; etc.).
1:4 foundation of the world. God in Christ was the Creator of the space/matter/time universe, but before He began the world, in some way beyond our comprehension, we were chosen in Him. Note also the other events that were planned, and (since God does not change) in effect all consummated before the world began: (1) love within the Godhead (John 17:5,24); (2) Lamb of God slain (I Peter 1:20); (3) names written in Book of Life (Revelation 13:8; 17:8); (4) chosen ones saved by grace (II Timothy 1:9); (5) saved ones given assurance of eternal life (Titus 1:2); (6) established hidden wisdom of God (I Corinthians 2:7); (7) all God’s works known and planned (Acts 15:18). Even though our finite minds cannot really comprehend such truths, we can believe them since God has revealed them to us. He did not say we must understand the full depths of His gospel to be saved; we just have to believe!
1:5 predestinated. The goals of God’s predestinating work are given in this chapter as: (1) producing holiness in those so chosen (Ephesians 1:4); (2) adopting them as His own sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5); (3) assuring them of an inheritance in eternity (Ephesians 1:11). Its over-all purpose is to be “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; note also 3:21). The word “predestinate” is also used in Acts 4:28 (there rendered “determined before”), Romans 8:29, 30 (see notes on these verses), and I Corinthians 2:7 (rendered as “ordained before”). The same Greek word, without the prefix, is found in Luke 22:22, Acts 17:26 (“determined”), and Acts 10:42; 17:31 (“ordained”), with essentially the same meaning. Since our minds are finite, we are unable to comprehend the infinite character of the plan and purpose of God, which is exactly the situation with regard to the clearly Biblical truth of predestination. In no way does this preclude the ability of God to plan also the paradoxical truth of human freedom and responsibility, which also are clearly Biblical (remember God’s ability is infinite!). We cannot fully comprehend with our minds, but can believe and rejoice with our hearts that God has known and chosen us believers for Himself even before the world began.
1:6 accepted. “Accepted” is translated “highly favored” in the angel’s message to Mary (Luke 1:28). The Greek word, charitoo, means “graced,” or “graciously honored.”
1:6 in the beloved. Although Christ is called God’s “beloved Son” seven times in the New Testament (each time directly by the Father Himself), this is the only time (except in Matthew 12:18, quoting Isaiah 42:1) where He is spoken of simply as “the beloved.”
1:7 riches. The attributes of God are characterized by this term of abundance. Note “the riches of His grace” in this verse, “the exceeding riches of His grace” (Ephesians 2:7), “the riches of the glory of His inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), His “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8), “the riches of His glory” (Ephesians 3:16; also Romans 9:23), “the riches of His goodness” (Romans 2:4), “the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33), and His “riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19). No wonder men have suggested the familiar acrostic for GRACE to be “God’s riches at Christ’s expense!”
1:8 all wisdom. Since God in Christ has abounded toward us in all wisdom, there is no other true wisdom! Compare I Corinthians 3:19, Matthew 11:25.
1:10 dispensation. For a discussion on “dispensation,” see note on Ephesians 3:2.
1:10 he. Here, “He” refers to the Father, as also in Ephesians 1:6. The Father’s work of predestination is expounded in Ephesians 1:1-6, the Son’s work of redemption in Ephesians 1:7-12, and the Spirit’s work of sealing in Ephesians 1:13-14. This passage (Ephesians 1:3-14) is said to be the longest sentence in the Bible.
1:10 in Christ. Christ is both Creator and Consummator of all things (Colossians 1:16-20).
1:11 predestinated. On predestination, see notes on Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:5. Note the important assertion here that God did not base our predestination on His ability to foresee our decision to accept Christ, but simply according to “the counsel of His own will.” In fact, He works all things—even evil things(!)—according to His own will. If it were otherwise, He would not be omnipotent. The fact that He allows evil, when He could prevent it if He so chose, and the fact that He allows Satan and wicked men to perform and instigate evil actions, knowing when He created them that they would do this, yet creating them anyway, can only lead to the conclusion that God is the ultimate cause (though not the immediate cause) of evil, as well as good. This conclusion would seem to compromise His perfect holiness, but any other conclusion would lead to the still more unthinkable denial of His omnipotence, and thus deny that God is really God! We can partly harmonize this in our understanding by saying that God has allowed (or even caused, if we press our semantics) evil for a finite time in order to produce a greater good in eternity, when all the ills of this present world will be long forgotten. Compare Romans 9:18-23. We cannot fully comprehend or reconcile such matters in our finite minds, so must simply rest our hearts in the truth that whatever the Creator does is right, by definition, since He has created us as well as the very concept of right and wrong. Note again Acts 15:18.
1:13 sealed. The sealing ministry of the Spirit, serving as an assurance (a down payment, earnest money, as it were) of our ultimate complete redemption when Christ comes again (Ephesians 1:14), is also mentioned in II Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 4:30. This sealing is evidenced experientially by His indwelling witness and guidance (Romans 8:16, 23).
1:18 enlightened. The spiritual eyes of the natural man have been blinded by Satan, the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4), and the saving gospel of Christ is beyond his comprehension. In answer to prayer (Ephesians 1:16), the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, whose ministry is to convict unbelievers “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8)—may bring light to his spiritual eyes, and an understanding faith in Christ. The same Spirit will then continue to enlighten his understanding through the Word.
1:21 not only in this world. When Christ defeated sin and death and arose from the dead, He ascended far above all heavens (Ephesians 4:10), including all the angelic hosts and their stellar habitations. The risen, glorified Lord Jesus is now King of all creation (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9-11), and will be so forever.
1:23 his body. The theme of the church as the body of Christ, whose members are composed of both Jews and Gentiles, is prominent in Ephesians (2:15-16; 4:4,12-16). See also I Corinthians 12:12-31; Romans 12:4-5; Colossians 1:24.
1:23 fulness of him. This is an amazing concept, that somehow we, the members of His body, can contribute to the “fulness” of the great King who, by virtue of His work of creating, saving and reconciling all things (Colossians 1:16-20) already “fills all things” (Ephesians 4:10; see also 3:19; 4:13; Colossians 2:9-10).