An exegetical commentary on the Greek New TestamentPDF eBook
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Paul the apostle probably wrote this letter from Rome somewhere between the years 56-60AD. It seems he was in prison, so he was probably in the same situation as described at the end of the book of Acts. Ephesians presents as a speech, an address or homily, in the form of a letter intended for a wide audience, addressing general issues of Christian theology and ethics, rather than a letter addressing a specific problem. A.T. Lincoln argues that it is a general letter seeking to encourage believers in a "variety of settings", to "further knowledge of their salvation, greater appreciation of their identity as believers and as members of the church, increased concern for the church's unity, and more consistent living in such areas as speech, sexuality, and household relationships."
Structure of Ephesians
1. Praise for God's rich blessings in Christ, 1:3-23
i] Praise to God, 1:3-14
ii] A prayer for knowledge, 1:15-23
In Christ, all things are unified in heaven and on earth, 1:10
2. The gospel and the church, 2:1-22
i] How we are united with God through Christ, 2:1-10
ii] The results - one in Christ, 2:11-22
a) Christ is our peace, 2:11-18
b) Members of God's house, 2:19-22
3. All one in Christ, 3:1-21
i] The mystery revealed and proclaimed, 3:1-13
ii] Paul's prayer - one in love, 3:14-21
4. The practical application of oneness, 4:1-6:9
i] Mutual ministries, 4:1-16
ii] No longer old but new, 4:17-24
iii] Imitators of Christ, 4:25-5:2
iv] From lust to light, 5:3-14
v] Living in the light, 5:15-21
vi] Marriage, 5:22-33
vii] Family obligations, 6:1-4
viii] Business obligations, 6:5-9
5. Concluding exhortation to right action, 6:10-20
The whole armor of God, 6:10-20
Paul was an educated man and seems to have understood the principles of rhetoric (speech delivery) and epistolography (letter writing). Both forms are somewhat similar, but given that Paul's letters were designed to be read to a congregation, they tend to be rhetorical. Most fall into the category of deliberative rhetoric, speech delivery designed to persuade an audience, with some falling into the category of forensic rhetoric, accusing or defending, eg., 2 Corinthians. The essential elements of such a speech can be distilled down to the following items:
Exordium - an introduction serving to introduce the subject matter while eliciting the sympathy of the audience;
Narratio - a narrative section providing background information;
Propositio - proposition / thesis to be tested, or a partitio, summary of proofs;
Probatio - rhetorical proofs, often with a refutatio, a refutation of the opponents arguments;
Digressio - a digression where a proof or refutation is covered in more detail;
Exhortatio - exhortation;
Peroratio - a concluding recapitulation of the main theme.
In epistolography the opening of a letter aligns with the exordium in rhetoric, although more personalized, as in Paul's epistles, and the conclusio of a letter aligns with the peroratio in rhetoric. Ephesians presents as a letter with a typical address, 1:1-2 and conclusio, 6:21-24, but quickly becomes a speech / sermon. Although Kennedy in New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism states that the writer of Ephesians is skilled in rhetoric, he, like many commentators, does not attempt a structural analysis of the epistle in classical rhetorical form. As Best notes, most tend to avoid Ephesians as it defies classification. Still, a rhetorical structure of sorts may be intended:
Exordium - thematic introduction in praise and prayer, 1:3-23;
Probatio - doctrinal instruction, 2:1-22;
Digressio - Paul's part in the mystery and a prayer for love, 3:1-21;
Exhortatio - ethical exhortation, 4:1-6:20
Hoehner opts for a simplified approach by arguing that the letter follows the pattern of Hellenistic letters of the time, namely an opening, a body and a closing. He divides the body of the letter into three parts: instruction, 1:3-3:21; paraenesis (exhortation), 4:1-6:20; and commendation 6:21-22. O'Brien is also wary of rhetorical criticism, particularly as it relates to Ephesians, and is of the view "that attention be directed to the apostle's own internal method of argument." Best also stays clear of rhetorical analysis, classifying it as "more probably a homily."
These notes proceed on the basis that Paul the apostle is the author of this letter, but it should be noted that many modern scholars dispute Pauline authorship. There are certainly indicators that this work is the product of someone operating within a Pauline school of thought, but the proposition promoting pseudonymity causes more problems than it solves. For a detailed argument supporting the traditional view of Pauline authorship see Peter O'Brien's commentary on Ephesians in the Pillar series; also Hoehner, Fee, Morris, Turner, Ellis, Carson, Harris, Bruce, ....... Against Pauline authorship, see MacDonald, Sacra Pagina, 2000; Kreitzer, Epworth, 1998; Perkins, Abingdon, 1997; Kitchen, N.T. Readings, Routledge, 1994.
Occasion and recipients
Paul writes this homily / letter from prison. It is possible that he writes while in prison in Ephesus around 55AD, although this is very unlikely. He may have written it while in prison in Caesarea, between 57 and 59AD. Most conservative commentators argue that it is written from Rome during his time of imprisonment, awaiting his trial before the Emperor. At this time Paul sends out a number of letters to his mission churches - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and a personal letter to Philemon. Both Colossians and Ephesians, letters that are very similar in style and content, are likely carried from Rome by Tychicus. It is generally assumed that Paul wrote Colossians first and then Ephesians (more general in style, suitable as a circular letter), around 60-62AD. These notes proceed on the basis that Paul's letter to the Ephesians actually addresses the Ephesian congregation, but it is possible that it is a circular letter for the churches of Asia Minor. This is born out by the lack of personal greetings usually found at the end of Paul's letters and the lack of the phrase "at Ephesus", 1:1, in some of the oldest manuscripts.
Bruce describes Ephesians as "an exposition of the Pauline mission and message." Paul sets out to show the unity that all believers have as members of Christ's body the church, and the means of making that oneness real. Peter O'Brien, in his commentary, puts it simply when he says that Paul is out to communicate "cosmic reconciliation and unity in Christ."
In developing his argument, Paul set out to show that all believers, both Jew and Gentile, have an intrinsic unity in Christ; through Jesus' work on the cross both are made alive. Things that may have divided in the past are no more; now all are one in Jesus. Even Paul's own role as apostle to the Gentiles serves this end.
Paul then sets out to explain how to make this oneness / unity real. First, he deals with a functional problem, namely the structuring of the local church group. Mutual ministries, especially those of the Word, are essential to the upbuilding of the group. Unity will only evolve if mutual ministry is properly exercised. Paul then deals with relationship problems, namely, right behavior amongst members of the church community.
Paul's letter to the Ephesians is highly theological, but at the same time practical; written for practical results, namely, unity within the local Christian church. Yet, Paul is well aware that right action flows from right theology and so we are treated in this book to many deep truths about the church.
Our starting point is an interesting phrase used extensively in the gospels, but little in Paul's epistles. It appears in 5:5: "No immoral ..... man has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God". Paul rarely uses this phrase because of its Jewish nature. Still, the kingdom, the righteous reign of God ("the righteousness of God"), is the basis of his theology.
To understand the basic idea of the kingdom of God we need to look at its historical manifestation in the kingdom of Israel, especially under David and Solomon. The kingdom of Israel, just like any kingdom, had a king, a people, a city and laws, along with a temple and priests and this under the rule of God. When the kingdom of Israel failed, the prophets revealed that God would establish a new kingdom, so renewing the covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants. When the Jews returned from exile in Babylon (536BC) they thought that they would see this reality in their restored kingdom, but it was only a poor imitation of the Solomon's kingdom.
Jesus announced that the kingdom was about to burst in upon mankind in his day. Naturally the Jews took him literally and expected him to become their king and throw out the Romans, but as Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world". This kingdom found its reality in the spiritual realm. John painted a picture of this kingdom in Revelation. It is the heavenly assembly gathered around Christ, the king and high priest in the new Jerusalem. We commonly use the term "heaven" to describe this kingdom, a kingdom to be established on the last day when Christ has brought all things under his control.
Although we await the final summing up of all things in the second coming of Christ, there is a real sense in which the kingdom of God (or "kingdom of heaven" in Matthew's gospel) is a now reality. Christ is at this moment ruling a people gathered about him; He is protecting them like a city wall; He is mediating between them and the Father as their high priest and they as a Temple are indwelt by his Spirit. The whole point of Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts is his announcement that the kingdom of God is a now reality. So right now, in a world of rebellion against God, Christ rules a people, blesses and cares for them and unites them into one. The kingdom of God has burst in upon us.
The local church / assembly where we can see this universal reality. For it is here, where two or three gather together in the name of Christ, centered on his presence, that we behold a tangible foresight and foretaste of the kingdom of God.
Paul views the ekklhsia, "church", in two ways. A church is a local assembly at which Christ is present, and an eschatological assembly in heaven - the church is both local and universal. It's a somewhat difficult time-warp problem, but even now Christ is seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days before the eschatological community of God's people - a universal church, past, present and future.
The substance of the church is revealed in "the mystery." A mystery is a hidden truth, but this Biblical mystery is hidden no longer, for Paul and the apostles have learnt its secret, 3:3. It concerns God's establishment of his kingdom, or as Paul puts it, the uniting of all things in Christ, 1:9. Of course, God has always intended this outcome, but there is a new aspect to the realization of the kingdom: First, it is completely brought about by Christ 3:11; Second, the church is a tangible expression of it, 1:22-33, 3:9-10. So then, the church is a foretaste of Christ's work of uniting all things in the heavenly spiritual realm and the earthly realm with God, and this through and in himself.
The nature of the church lies in its relationship with Christ. Paul describes this as the "new man", 2:15 - Christ being the head and believers the body, 4:15. Obviously this is expressive of a fellowship of love in a triangular fashion, ie., members with Christ and each other. Thus Paul uses terms such as "unity" or "oneness" to describe this relationship of love, 2:16, 2:19, 3:6, 4:3-4, 4:25-2:21-22.
The depth of relationship can be observed in 5:21-33 where Paul demonstrates that the marriage relationship is constructed on the image of the relationship of Christ with his church, both local and universal, ultimately realized in the uniting of all things to himself - each illustrating the other.
So it is, as the angels gaze upon the church, they glimpse God's mighty plan to unite all things with himself through and in Christ, 3:9-10. From this theological understanding of the church, Paul sets out to encourage unity within the Christian fellowship and gives practical advice to achieve that end.
A Selection of English Bible Commentaries on Ephesians
Level of complexity: 1, non-technical, to 5, requiring a workable knowledge of Greek.
Deceased: D. For publications no longer in print, search bookfinder.com
Other identifiers: Recommended R; Greek Technical G; Theology T
Abbott, ICC, 1897. 5D
Allan, Torch, 1958. 1D
Arnold, Zondervan Exegetical, 2010. 3
Barth, Anchor, 1974. 4
Best, ICC, 1998. 5R
Bock, Tyndale, 2019, 2R
Bruce, Pickering, 1961. 2
Bruce, NICNT, 1984. 3R
Caird, New Clarendon, 1976. 2D
Caudill, Broadman Press, 1979. 1D
Foulkes, Tyndale, 1963. 2D
Hendriksen, Banner of Truth, 1967. 3D
Hoehner, Baker, 2002. 5R
Johnston, Century Bible Commentary, 1967. 2D
Kitchen, NT Readings, Routledge, 1994. T
Larkin, HGT, 2009. G
Lincoln, Word, 1990. 5
Merkle, EGGNT, 2016. G
Meyer, T&T Clark, 1880. 4D
Mitton, NCB, 1976. 2D
Morris, Expository reflections, Baker, 1994. T
Muddiman, Black's, 2001. 3
O'Brien, Pillar, 1999. 4R
Robinson A. James Clark. 1908, 4GD.
Schnackenburg, T&T Clark, 1991. 4
Simpson, NICNT, 1957. 2D
Snodgrass, NIVABC, 2008. 3
Stott, BST, 1984. 2R
Strelan, ChiRho, 1981. 2D
Thielman, BECNT, 2010, 4
Thompson, CBC, 1967. 1D