The Glossary of Terms



Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Ephesians, the Letter of Paul to the, the tenth book in the nt. The earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of Ephesians have nothing where later manuscripts read Ďin Ephesusí (Eph. 1:1). If originally present, Ďin Ephesusí is unlikely to have later disappeared. The Letter is also very general, lacking any personal references to the readers. The author has never visited these readers, and they do not know him (1:15; 3:2-3; 4:21). Yet, according to Acts, Paul founded the church in Ephesus (Acts 18:19-20; 19:8-10). Ephesians was probably written, therefore, to a group of churches, one of which may have been Ephesus, or it may have been written from Ephesus. Thus, Ďin Ephesusí was inserted later when this Letter required identification distinguishing it from other Pauline writings.


The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians

Style and Authorship: There are good grounds for doubting whether Paul was the author of Ephesians. Much of it is written in an elevated or liturgical style, and, though Paul writes brief passages in this manner, he never sustains it for long. The sentences are longer and more complex than those Paul normally writes (e.g., 1:3-14, 15-23; 2:1-7; 3:1-7); their length is often disguised in English, since translators break them up for easier understanding. Words and ideas are used in ways foreign to Paul. In this and other respects, Ephesians is closely related to Colossians, though it is unlikely that the same person wrote both. The dispute about the admission of Gentiles into the church is no longer a living issue as in the genuine Pauline Letters. The apostles belong to a former generation (2:20; 3:5). While none of these reasons by itself would be an insuperable obstacle to Pauline authorship, their cumulative effect makes it unlikely.

A disciple of Paul probably wrote the letter about a.d. 80-90, wishing to continue his masterís teaching and apply it to changing circumstances. He directed it to churches in Asia Minor, most of whose members were Gentiles (1:11-14; 2:1-3, 11-22; 3:1; 4:17-19; 5:8). The Letter itself affords no clue as to why it was written. Though employing Gnostic terms, the writer does so not directly to oppose Gnostic teaching but to interpret Christianity for those familiar with such terms. The rich style reflects liturgical material in use in the church. A hymn is quoted in 5:14, and a Haustafel (a code for social behavior) is taken and amplified in 5:22-6:9 (cf. Col. 3:18-4:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-3:7 for similar material). The Letter may also incorporate portions of hymns and creeds used in the contemporary church.

Theme and Content: The author meditates on a number of interrelated themes centering on the church and its relation to Christ and on Christian behavior. A divine plan, in Godís mind since before the creation of the world (1:4), has now been revealed to the apostles and prophets (3:5) and is being accomplished through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. He is Lord not only of humanity but also of all supernatural powers, both good and evil (1:20-23), and in him all things will finally be united (1:10). Thus God redeems the whole universe as well as humanity. Prior to Jesus, Jews alone were central to Godís plan. Now Gentiles are also included, for both have been delivered from sin and reconciled to one another through Christís death (2:13-18). Jewish and Gentile Christians form a third group, the church, which is neither Jewish nor Gentile but Christian. Like a building, the church has a chief cornerstone, Christ, and a foundation, the apostles and prophets (2:20). As a body with various members (4:7-11), its head is Christ, by whom it is continuously nourished (4:15-16). As a bride, its groom is Christ who died for it (5:22-33). It brings Godís salvation to the supernatural powers (3:9-10) as well as to humanity. Paul himself has a special place in this in relation to the Gentiles (3:2, 3, 8).

The church is involved in the full accomplishment of Godís plan. Christians must therefore stand firm in love (3:17) and display love in daily living (chaps. 4-6). Since the readers are ex-Gentiles, detailed guidance is given in respect of behavior. Christian behavior reflects, in its turn, the cosmic dimension since it is a struggle against supernatural powers (6:10-18).

See also, which provides a further explanation regarding Paul having not been the author of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Colossians, or 2 Thessalonians.

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