[serialposts]Ephesians is one of the best-loved books in the New Testament. Many Christians recognize the popular texts about predestination, the unity of the church, and spiritual warfare. However, the background on this first century epistle is also intriguing.
Ephesians is one of four books in the New Testament known as the “Prison Epistles” (along with Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians). The author’s imprisonment is mentioned in 3.1 and 6.20. The reader should consider the content of Ephesians as written by a pastor who is writing from a foreign prison.
The letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In the first century the city had a population around 400,000 strong. This would make the city one of the largest in the region. Ephesus was an old port town and was important for trade.
The city also boasted the great temple for Artemis. The worship of Artemis not only affected the spiritual and business world of Ephesus but had influence on the entire region. Paul’s ministry was confronted by this evil force in Acts 19.
Although it is disputed, many conservative New Testament scholars believe that the letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul in the early 60’s.
Although we know the book as Ephesians and the city of Ephesus is named in the first verse, the letter was probably not intended for just the church in Ephesus. Most of the earliest and best manuscripts of the letter that we have today do not contain the name of Ephesus. It is left off. This may suggest that the letter was a circular letter. In other words, the letter was written to a number of cities and was intended to be passed to each church in the region. When one church read the letter aloud to the assembly they would send it to the next city-church and so on. This view also gains support from the lack of greetings to people which normally accompany the conclusion of Paul’s letters.
The idea that it was a circular letter has little impact on its interpretation, but serves to help us not trap the letter in just the culture of the city of Ephesus.
The purpose of the letter was to strengthen the Ephesian church (and surrounding churches) by explaining the nature and purpose of the church as the body of Christ.
The letter may be broken into two sections. Chapters 1-3 focus on who Christians are in Christ. In other words, our position in Him (Christ). It is also in the first half of the letter that there are two prayers: 1.15-23 and 3.14-21. It is my conviction that these prayers should be read as prayers and understood as prayers. I would also strongly urge the present-day church to use these prayers often as read-prayers in the assembly today.
Chapters 4-6 focus on our walk in Christ. There are three primary sections: unity and gifts; relationships; and the armor of Christ.
In a sense, the deep theological truths that are written about in Ephesians 1-3 are practically discussed in Ephesians 4-6.
A final theme that I should mention is the emphasis on the Church as a whole. Ephesians is one of the only books in the New Testament to use the word “church” (ekklesia) as a universal term. Most books in the New Testament understand the word in a locally focused way, but Ephesians takes the word to mean the Church at large.
Ephesians is a powerful book that is full of deep theological truths and practical wisdom. It is one of my favorite books to study and I hope you enjoy this next bible study series on BibleDude.net.
Peace be with you.