- Introduction (1:1, 2)
- Doctrinal teaching (1:3- 3:21)
- Exhortations for the church (4:1- 6:20)
- Conclusion (6:21-23)
Authorship, date, and background
Ephesians is one of the four "prison epistles" which include Colossians, Philippians,, and Philemon. Since Paul was in prison a number of times, the question arises, which of the many imprisonments was the locale from which these letters were sent to their destinations. Despite the difference of opinion, Rome is the most likely city, and the date of writing is A.D. 60-61. Two of the other most important questions have to do with the authorship of Ephesians and the destinations for which the letter was intended.
Liberal scholars almost without exception think Paul did not write Ephesians. Conservatives have always though he did. The case for non-Pauline authorship is tenuous at best. The weight of evidence falls in favour if Pauline authorship. Perhaps the most important fact is that the letter itself claims to be Pauline, for the salutation: "Paul, an apostle" (1:1). Thus, to say Paul did not write the letter is to disregard what the Bible itself says. If what is said is not true, then the same principle can be applied elsewhere with great damage. To suppose that someone else would claim to be Paul, however high his motive, given the fact that God is the author of the Scripture, is hardly acceptable. The principle that what the Bible says is true must lead to the conclusion that Paul indeed was the author of the letter.
Some of the ancient manuscripts leave out the phrase "at Ephesus", which raise the question to whom the letter was addressed. A number of conservative scholars say it was an "encyclical letter," by which is meant a letter intended for more than a single person or place. It probably was sent to a number of churches in Asia which included Ephesus, of course. Tychicus was Paul's messenger who brought the letter from Rome to Asia (Ausia) (6:21). Aristarchus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas, as well as Mark, were with Paul at the time of writing. The letter represents Paul's maturest thinking about the church. It also overlaps at points with Colossians, which was written during the same period.
Characteristics and content
Ephesians come at a point in time when many new churches have come into being. Paul, no doubt, has given great thought to the nature of the church and the churches, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he writes something unique. In this letter he talks about the church as a universal phenomenon, whereas in his other letters he has written to local congregations. Ephesians represents an overview of God's plan of the ages. Paul speaks about the purpose of God from before the beginning of the world, and the certainty that the divine intention will be realized through Jesus Christ via the apostles, prophets, and the apostle Paul himself.
Paul develops the doctrine of the church. He calls the church "his body," that is, the body of Christ (1:23). He also proclaims that it is the bride or wife of Christ (5:22f.) and the dwelling place (temple) of the Holy Spirit (2:19-22). Christ is the head over the church and all believers are members of the body. This church includes believers of all ages, even those yet to come into it. Believers hear the good news that there is something beyond this earthly sphere. They are related to the "heavenly places" (as in 1:3, 2:6, and 3:10) both as a present relationship and with the sure guarantee of its eternal nature when Christ's people shall reign and rule with Him forever. This view of the church in relation to the heavenlies finds its fullest disclosure in Ephesians as a mystery (secret plan) now made manifest.
Ephesians also treats the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers by way of summation. Herein, we learn that believers are "sealed with the holy spirit of promise" (1:13); that Jew and Gentile may come to God the Father through the Holy Spirit (2:18); that the Father would grant us "according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man" (3:16); that the revelation of God's plan of the ages has come to apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit (3:5); that we ought to, and therefore can, "be filled with the Spirit" (5:8); that believers should pray "always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (6:18); and that they are to be careful that they don't "grieve the Holy Spirit of God" by the way they live (4:30).
In Ephesians, believers are marked off as members of the new humanity, a worldwide family of redeemed sons and daughters who have peace with God and should be at peace with each other and rejoice in and make use of the unfathomable riches they have in Jesus Christ.