History and Background of Ephesians.
Was Ephesians written to the church at Ephesus? Written by Paul?
Notes from a message preached by Brent MacDonald 11/22/2009
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Unlikely MESSENGER: Why would the early church listen to Paul? Why should we?

Ephesians 1:1 "Paul..."

God uses unlikely people, to His Glory alone. Look through all of Scriptures and you'll see that this is God's norm. So too with this New Testament figure:

Paul of Tarsus (called "Saul from Tarsus in Acts 9:11, refers to himself as a Jew born in Tarsus in Acts 21:39, a citizen). His Hebrew name was Saul, his Latin name was Paulus; in the original NT Greek text, Grecized to Paulos. He likely had both names; Paul being his birth name in the Roman world, Saul being his circumcision or Jewish name. Scripture does not say he changed his name, rather it says he was called both: (Acts 13:9a "Then Saul, who was also called Paul...")

Acts 7:57-8:3 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. 8 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (NIV)

Acts 9:1-9a Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind... (NIV) [circa 35 A.D.]

Acts 9:13-16 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (NIV)

The church recognized Paul as a believer - one who life was changed by the power of Christ

The church recognized him as an Apostle of Jesus Christ - one who is sent (emphasis on the One who did the sending); an envoy, an emissary

Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: (NIV)

Ephesians 1:1-3 From: Sha'ul ("Shaa-ool"), by God's will an emissary of the Messiah Yeshua. To: God's people living in Ephesus, that is, those who are trusting in the Messiah Yeshua: 2 Grace to you and shalom from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. 3 Praised be Adonai, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (CJB, Complete Jewish Bible)

See also

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (NIV)

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (NIV)

The church recognized Paul as an Apostle to the Gentiles - one who was sent by Jesus especially to the Gentiles.

- This didn't mean only to the Gentiles. Even the other Apostles who were primarily to the Jews also taught some Gentiles.

Extreme of current beliefs in this regard: i.e. Bible Church in Ohio: According to "Mid-Acts Dispensationalist" theology the Epistles of Paul are the only ones for the body of Christ for doctrine and practice, and the other books are for the nation of Israel (including the book of Hebrews and Revelation).

Peter taught Gentiles (i.e. Cornelius and all at Caesarea Maritima, Acts 10:1-48)

Galatians 2:7-9 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. (NIV)

Paul was opposed by false teachers (many examples throughout his letters, i.e. 2 Corinthians 11:12-15; Galatians 2:4). Late in Paul's life, a group came on the scene called the Ebionites...

- They tried to merge Christianity and Judaism.
- Held to a mandatory Sabbath on Saturday and Sunday worship.
- Held that the Mosaic Law was obligatory for all and necessary for salvation

(Justin Martyr, circa 140 A.D., emphasized the difference between Jewish Christians who still practiced aspects of the Law as voluntary and did not require observance by others vs Judaisers like the Ebionites. Modern Messianic Jews would be among the former in our modern times.)

- They held James up as true leader of the church, against Paul (as if they were opposed to each other and had differing messages).
- They generally held that Jesus was of natural human descent. Even those of them who believed in a virgin birth denied the pre-existence of the Son - i.e. the Trinity.
- They taught that Paul's writing were to be rejected as one who was apostate from Judaism and not an apostle.

Trivia: A modern Ebionite movement exists which still reflects many beliefs of the earlier. The second paragraph of their Ebionite Manifesto proclaims:

We declare the man Paul of Tarsus, the false teacher against the mark of Covenant and God's Torah, to be outside of the Way taught by Yeshua, the anointed, son of Maria and Yosef. The Ebionite Community is the only real "mission to the gentiles."

Excerpts from their fourth and fifth paragraphs show that they deny Jesus to be the Savior or to have risen from the grave:

To follow Yeshua, may he rest in peace, you must not worship him or any man, but instead be what Yeshua was, a Jew. Yeshua was a man who died and was buried, and finding his bones does not effect the value of many of his recorded teachings... Yeshua is not a god, not a sacrifice for sin, or savior. (Ebionite Community, www.ebionite.org)

To ignore the message of Ephesians (and all of Paul's writings), they must tear down Paul as being an Apostle. This began while Paul was alive (see. 1 Corinthians 9:1-3, 2 Corinthians 12:11-13).

Not written by Paul?

Skeptics (Biblical Minimalists) say Ephesians wasn't written by Paul - why?

Primarily that it too closely resembles Colossians
Secondarily that it too closely resembles Paul's other epistles
- Yet Ephesians follow Paul's overall theme (God's grace, God's Love, Not works to save, works are a result, Christ the only Mediator, Paul is unworthy to be an apostle yet appointed by God)
- Ephesians uses Paul's normal style of writing

That it was written by Paul is confirmed by the testimonies of early church

  • Irenaeus, [Against Heresies, 5.2,3; 1.8,5], circa 180 A.D. (studied under Polycarp, who studied under John) - also stated "to the Ephesians"

  • Clement of Alexandria, [Miscellanies, 4, P.65, & The Instructor, 1.8], circa 182-202 A.D. - also stated "this was the Epistle to the Ephesians"
  • Origen, [Against Celsus, 4,211], circa 248 A.D.


The MESSAGE: Written when, where, and to whom?

The Message of Ephesians is Scriptures (recognized from the beginning).

  • Written by or under authority of an Apostle

  • Expresses truth in agreement with earlier Scriptures
  • Recognized by all God's church (east & west)
  • Claims or exhibits authority (i.e. Ephesians 4:17 "insist on it in the Lord") - SPOKEN WITH AUTHORITY from God

Ephesians is quoted as Scriptures by many early church fathers:

  • Polycarp [Epistle to the Philippians, 12], lived 69-155 A.D.

  • Clement (of Rome) alludes to it, circa 96 A.D.
  • Tertullian [Against Marcion, 5,17], circa 208 A.D.
  • Valentinus, circa 120 A.D., namely, Eph 3:14-18, as we know from Hippolytus [The Refutation of All Heresies, p. 193]
  • Ignatius of Antioch [Epistle to the Ephesians, 12], circa 90 A.D.

Ephesians originally was written in Greek. Greek was the common dialect of the Roman World, spread originally by Alexander the Great. It prevailed from circa 300 B.C. to the 6th century A.D. In fact, church services in Rome used Greek until the mid 3rd century A.D., when it was overtaken by Latin.

Two Disputed words in the text (Questions about the text):

Ephesians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NASU, emphasis ours)

The words "at Ephesus" are missing from three of the oldest manuscripts we have: P46, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, also the ones known to Marcion, 2nd century heretic; Origen, late 2nd century; and Tertullian, early 3rd century, all omitted the words). These are the only disputed words in the text of Ephesians; the book was transmitted very accurately.

Some modern translations have chosen to omit or mark the word "in Ephesus" as being dubious.

Ephesians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (RSV)

Ephesians 1:1-2 From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus. 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (The New English Translation Bible®, Copyright © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., Dallas, Texas, www.bible.org.)

Yet Vaticanus (circa 325-340 A.D.) and Sinaiticus (circa 340-350 A.D.) both have noted in the margin "at Ephesus", one appearing to be in the hand of the original writer. P46 (circa 150 A.D.) clearly has "To Ephesus" at the top of the manuscript as a page heading (in University of Michigan Library). It was well known to be for the church "at Ephesus". All ancient translations (Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Gothic) included the words in the text.

To the Ephesians is confirmed by the testimonies of many early church fathers, notably three mentioned earlier:

  • Irenaeus, circa 180 A.D. (studied under Polycarp, who studied under John) - stated "to the Ephesians!"

  • Clement of Alexandria, circa 182-202 A.D. - stated "this was the Epistle to the Ephesians"
  • Ignatius of Antioch [Epistle to the Ephesians, 12], which refers to Paul's relation and affection for the church at Ephesus as shown in his Epistle, circa 90 A.D.

Yet, make note of this, even if these words were missing it changes nothing in meaning or intent regarding the content (or message) of the book!

More details from the text,

- written to the saints (believers) at Ephesus. It was written to believers for they alone would accept it:

1 Corinthians 2:13-14 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (NIV)

Details about Ephesus

  • Located on the western shores of Asia Minor, about 300 miles east of Corinth

  • A seacoast town (From it's founding, Cayster river silt has moved the coast outward, even in Paul's day the city was about three miles from the sea)
  • Major seaport of the region (ranking with Antioch and Alexandria as the 3 greatest in the eastern Mediterranean). Ships from every nation would use this port.
  • The local Roman Theater was able to hold 25,000 spectators (based on ruins; an ancient source claimed almost double).
  • Exceedingly prosperous! Prided as being the commercial, intellectual and religious center of the Roman province of Asia. It was not the official capital but recognized as being "the first city" and granted status by the Romans as "a free city."

- The general and broad nature of the topics within Ephesians show that it applies to all believers everywhere (one of the least personal of all Paul's writings, it lacks personal greetings). Paul left the personal aspect to the one carrying the letter...

Ephesians 6:21-22 Tychicus (too-key-kos'), the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. (NIV)

Paul refers to the church (singular) through Ephesians, rather than to churches (plural). His message was for the church universal not specifically to one local group of "called out ones" (Ekklesia [eck-clay-see'-ah]). This can be seen from passages such as:

Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)

- Ephesians was for Jews and Gentiles (who comprise one church)

(From his second visit) Acts 19:1a, 8-10 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. ... 8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (NIV)

Ephesians 2:14-18 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (NIV)

Background on Paul's contacts with the church at Ephesus, prior to writing this letter:

  • First visit (Acts 18:19-20 brief) on Paul's 2nd missionary journey

  • Second visit (Acts 19:1-10, ref 20:31b two years became 3 years)
  • (Almost) Third visit (Acts 20:18-35, 25-31a below), had elders from Ephesus meet him at Miletus while on his way back to Jerusalem

Acts 20:25-31a "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! (NIV)

- Ephesians was written by Paul a prisoner in Rome (Ephesians 4:1 "As a prisoner for the Lord..." NIV)

  • This was likely early in his imprisonment (he had appealed to Caesar in 59 A.D. at Caesarea Maritima, it was now likely 60 or 61 A.D.)

  • Most likely written shortly after writing Colossians (same general theme with some expansion.)
  • Paul's illustrations were ones that would be understood by those living in the Roman world.

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore put on the full armor of God... (NIV)

- Ephesians was written to a people who were

  • called out from, and

  • to be a witness to

a lost, corrupt, and wicked society.

Paul taught the need to change people - by the power of God - not merely their circumstances. They were people who had medical needs, needed housing, needed food, needed education, needed better laws, needed better lawmakers - even if they had all of this, they were still lost. So too today. Paul's letter seeks an inside out transforming change built on the love of Jesus Christ (3:14-19)

  • dead people must be made alive by the power of God

Ephesians 2:1-2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (NIV)

  • live people should live it (live it out)

Ephesians 4:17-19 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (NIV, see 4:17-5:21)

For a summary of the state of the Roman world in Paul's day, see Romans 1:18-32 (see below v21-32):

Romans 1:21-32 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (NIV)

Specifically in Ephesus:

  • The temple of Artemis was the heart of their religious life

  • Greek: Artemis; Romans: Diana
  • Called one of the seven wonders of the ancient world
  • 343x164 ft, 100 column almost 60 ft high, 36 beautifully carved
  • Inner Shrine had a statue of this fertility goddess (with many breasts)
  • Worship included religious hysteria, formulaic magic and incantations, sorcery, astrology, and even sexual acts. Heraclitus of Ephesus, writing many years before (circa 535-475 B.C.), said "Their morals were lower than animals"
  • The business of the city was intertwined with its religion (see Acts 19:23-28), included mini-statues (amulets) to hang around their necks, arms, and ankles.
  • City was destroyed in 262 A.D., by the Goths, and never rebuilt.

God's message of in the book of Ephesians is still for the church today.

We are still faced with a world that is lost in sins,

Similar sins to those being committed when this book was written,
sins carrying the same consequences before God.
Best of all we have God's unchanging message of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Ephesians 2:1-10 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

Article by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2009 BJM/LTM
As posted on www.NotJustAnotherBook.com
Non-profit duplication permitted - a courtesy email is appreciated