Lesson 4 of5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Ephesians

Audience

No other Pauline letter is so lacking in local color. The letter addresses no specific issues of congregational life. The author greets no one by name. Moreover, the location of recipients named in the opening verse, “in Ephesus,” is not in the earliest manuscripts, and the second-century author Marcion knew the letter as the Epistle to the Laodiceans. Both the content of the letter and the textual difficulties with Ephesians 1:1 point to the conclusion that the letter was likely a general epistle intended for circulation beyond the congregations in any one city. As such, it is unlike any of the other letters bearing Paul’s name.

Authorship

Ephesians uses several Pauline concepts in ways not present in the letters about which Pauline authorship is not in doubt. For example, in Ephesians, “church” is always singular, and it never refers to local gatherings of believers. In Ephesians, as elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, Christ’s body is a metaphor for the church, but unlike the phrase’s use in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, the metaphor in Ephesians includes a hierarchical element: Christ is said to be the head of his body, the church. In addition, the view of apostles and prophets as foundational to the church (Ephesians 2:20), as well as the list of church offices in Ephesians 4, lead many to believe that the letter is more likely to have originated after Paul’s death than during his lifetime. If so, it is likely to have been written by a follower of Paul familiar with the letters he wrote.

Household code

Like Colossians and 1 Peter, Ephesians includes specific directions to members of Christian households. In Ephesians, a general direction is given to all: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), and then specific instructions are meted out to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters. Although the household code in Ephesians invokes Christ, it is not clear how distinctively Christian its ethic is. In fact, some critics argue that the household codes represent a dangerous accommodation to Greco-Roman society. To these scholars, the household codes use the name of Christ to minimize, if not overturn, Jesus of Nazareth’s own refusal to defer to the social hierarchies of his time.

Offices in the church

Ephesians 4:11-12 is a list of occupations or roles, all intended to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The author lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. No mention is made of bishops, and no hierarchy of offices is explicit in the list. Even so, readers of the letter sometimes see here the beginning of professional Christian roles or offices of ministry.

The Old Testament in the New

Of all the Pauline letters whose authorship is disputed, Ephesians is the only one to make use of several Old Testament citations and allusions. The letter understands Scripture functioning in various ways. The Old Testament describes Christ’s work, such as when Ephesians borrows from Isaiah for the phrase that describes Christ as bringing “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17). The letter also repeats ethical instruction from the Old Testament, as when it uses a verse from Psalm 4 to counsel, “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), and it exhorts believers to put on armor that elsewhere in Scripture had belonged to God or God’s servant.

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