Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 1

We kicked off our study of Ephesians tonight at Grace Chapel! Thanks to the awesome women who braved the freezing temperatures to gather in the Geneva House for time in God’s word.

Following are lesson notes from Week 1 and homework questions for Week 2. I hope that you can join us in person or on-line as we look closer at what God has to say to us through the words of Ephesians.


Introduction and Ephesians 1:1-2

A.      Introductory thoughts on Ephesians

1.       Canonical context

a. Placement in New Testament

  • Gospel (4), Acts, Letters (21), Revelation
  • Letters: Pauline (13) and non-Pauline (8)

Pauline corpus = the 13 letters attributed to Paul in the Bible, 7 of which are considered authentic (“canonical Paul”)

Letters to the 7 churches: Romans, I/II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I/II Thessalonians

Letters to the 3 individuals: I/II Timothy, Titus, Philemon

Note that the letters are placed in order of descending length in each group.

  • Pauline letters: “Prison Epistles

Text indicates that Paul was in prison at the time of the letter’s composition (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon)

b. “Canonical conversation”

  • Ephesians has conversation with Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Exodus, IKings, Ezekiel, Haggai, Deuteronomy, Micah, Romans, Galatians, Colossians

2.       Literary context

a. Language

  • Greek (however, the style of Greek is very different from Paul’s major letters [Romans, I/II Corinthians, Galatians])

b. Genre

  • Hellenistic letter (possibly “cyclical”) with typical introduction and conclusion

c. Literary techniques

  • greeting/salutation, homily, prayer, exhortation/parenesis, repetition, digression, intercession, benediction, Two Ways form

3.       Historical context

a. Date

  • Between the late 50s and ~100AD

Along with Colossians, written later than the authentic 7

Used and referred to by early Christians (1 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp)

Ephesians was the first New Testament book to be called scripture by the early church fathers (Polycarp, To the Philippians, 12.1)

b. Locale

  • City of Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia, which included a number of Greek cities in the western peninsula that came under the control of the Romans in the second century BC
  • Other nearby cities: Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Smyrna, Miletus, Sardis

Note that all 7 of the churches (including Ephesus) in Chapters 2-3 of Revelation are located in this region

c. Purpose

  • Addressing a specific problem or issue?

No specific issue is addressed as with other Pauline letters (arguments, return to pagan customs, Jew/Gentile relations)

  • Addressing identity or character formation?

Most scholars now view Ephesians as addressing the identity formation of Gentile Christians, telling the converted Gentiles the nature of their new life and the conduct required of them

d. Approach

  • Audience

Original recipients: new Gentile Christians living in this particular region of western Asia Minor; influenced the topics, language, style, and arguments in the letter

1st century auditors: person or persons who originally heard the letter being dictated, understood the arguments being made from a cultural perspective, and then communicated the letter to the Mediterranean world

  • Culture

Unity: obsession with unity in the Roman world begun by Alexander the Great and continued by the Caesars; dominant theme in the propaganda of imperial Rome was pax romana: harmony, order, peace under the rule of 1 king

Hostile powers: strong cultural belief in evil and alien powers that influenced all aspects of life, magical words that could drive out evil spirits, Fate/Fortunes, Greek pantheon of gods

Benefaction: expected way of life in ancient Mediterranean culture, public spaces adorned with honorific inscriptions both human and divine

Loose living/disorderly worship: influence of religious cults, debauchery, drunkenness

Household codes: Romans considered the health of the household as directly reflective on the health of the state, science of household management in Mediterranean culture: money, slaves, wife, children

e. Influence

  • Along with Romans, considered the 2 most influential New Testament letters
  • John Calvin regarded Ephesians as his favorite letter, John Knox’s wife read to him daily from Calvin’s sermons on Ephesians, a former president of Princeton Theological seminary attributes his conversion to the reading of Ephesians.

4.       Issues of Authorship

a. 6 types of authorship in antiquity

  • I – Written with one’s own hand (cf. Galatians 6:11)
  • II – Author dictated to auditor (cf. Romans 16:22)
  • III – Collaborators functioned as co-authors (cf. I Thess 1:1)
  • IV – Someone authorized the writing (cf. John 21:24)
  • V – Written “as if” by one individual but actually written by friend or disciple in a practice called prosōpopoeia (eg, Cicero’s letter to himself under Atticus’ name that contained praise for Caelius; letter was read to Caelius as if it had come from Atticus so Atticus could gain Caelius’ favor)
  • VI – Forgery (ef. II Thess 2:2)

b. 7 authentic Pauline letters (types I or II): I Thessalonians, I/II Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, Romans

  • Ephesians is considered “deutero-Pauline” (Type V) based on many differing points of theology from the authentic 7:

Meaning of baptism – dying with Christ and resurrection is future (Romans 6:3-4) vs. raising those who are dead through trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:5)

Definition of mystery – participation of believers in the glory of the world to come (Romans 11:25/I Cor 15:51) vs.  inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God to fulfill God’s plan to reunify the cosmos (Ephesians 1:9-10/3:3-6)

Definition of church – always the local church in authentic Pauline (I Cor 1:2, II Cor 1:1, Gal 1:22) vs. the universal church (Ephesians 4:12-13

References to Satan – occasional reference in authentic Pauline (I Cor 5:5, II Cor 12:7) vs. clear references to devil, powers of the air, host of evil spirits dwelling in the heavens (Ephesians 4:27, 2:2, 6:12)

Ephesians lacks the characteristic Pauline terms like sin, law, promise, righteousness, justification, and Christ’s victory over sin, law, and death. Instead, stress in Ephesians is on Christ’s victory over cosmic powers.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians differs enough from the authentic Pauline letters to show that it did not come from Paul himself, but has sufficient continuity with his letters to warrant conclusion that they were written by followers of his who saw themselves as carrying on his work and writing under his authority. (Talbert p. 11)

B.      Broad Outline of Ephesians

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession to God: in 2 parts, sandwiching 2 digressions about God’s power (1:16b-3:19)

Intercession 1: for the readers’ enlightenment (1:16b‑1:19)

Two digressions about God’s power (1:20-3:13)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Digression 2: God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle, Paul (3:1-13)

Intercession 2: for the readers’ empowering, infilling, and enlightenment (3:14-19)

Doxology: praising God for his power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

Parenesis: using the language of exhortation in an appeal to demonstrate Christian identity in life (4:1-6:20)

A call to maintain Christian unity (4:1-16)

A “Two Ways” form (4:17-5:21)

A household code (5:22-6:9)

A call to stand firm (6:10-20)

Postscript (6:21-24)

Source: Talbert, CH. Commentaries on the New Testament: Ephesians and Colossians

C.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

[1] Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

The title of “apostle” indicates that the letter is official, even if not authored by Paul himself.
The qualification “by the will of God” indicates that this apostle was one chosen by God/Christ and not sent out by a particular church.

to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

“Paul” is writing to Christians who are faithful, like himself. “Saints” was a common Pauline term for Christians.

Disagreement among early scholars as to whether “in Ephesus” was part of the earliest manuscripts. Marcion believed it was the letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Col 4:16. Origen and Basil believed there was no named destination. Irenaeus, Clement, and Tertullian believed is was addressed to the Ephesians.

Was “in Ephesus” added based on a combination of Eph 6:21-22 and 2 Tim 4:12? Was “in Ephesus” added because a copy of the letter was left in the Ephesians’ church archives and assumed it was intended for them? Was “in Ephesus” added because the letter was originally sent to Laodicea but they became anti-Pauline and the letter was no longer kept there?

Widely believed to be a “circular letter” sent to multiple churches rather than a singular congregation. Why?

  • Circular letters were an early Christian phenomenon
  • No individuals are greeted
  • No one besides Tychicus is mentioned
  • No specific congregational problems are addressed
  • Tone is more formal than more personal tone of letters sent to specific congregations

In authentic Pauline letters, “in Christ” has 3 basic meanings: instrumental (“through Christ”), locative with instrumental force (“in dependence on Christ”), and derived (“Christian”).

Talbert believes that in Ephesians, the phrase “faithful in Christ Jesus” can be interpreted as “faithful by means of Christ Jesus” or “faithful in dependence on or by the power of Christ Jesus.”

Either way, the tone of the letter is set by this phrase that means the faith of Christians is enabled by and dependent upon the saving work of Christ.

[2] Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Greetings in Pauline letters contain some form of “grace and peace” while more typical Greek letters contain a simple greeting (eg, Acts 15:23; James 1:1). The greeting in Ephesians follows the common Pauline pattern.

Homework for Week 2:

Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and consider the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts about “predestination”? What teachers/teachings have influenced your thoughts on this issue?
  • Talbert asserts that being elected/chosen before the foundation of the world (1:4) and being predestined according to God’s will/purpose (1:11) are synonymous expressions. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Talbert states that Ephesians (and canonical Paul) present election before the foundation of the world and predestination as God’s choice and not the sinner’s. Do you agree? Why or why not?

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