Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

25 Jun

If you are studying Ephesians with us this summer, you may find this brief introduction helpful . . .

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

One of the best books in the Bible for grasping a sense of what it means to be a Christian, Ephesians is a beloved book filled with memorable passages.

Unlike many of the other New Testament letters, there is no clear situation or problem in the church that Paul cites as his reason for writing. This matches somewhat the assessment of the church in Ephesus in Revelation. The church is commended for its practices but challenged that it has lost its first love. Though removed some decades from Paul’s writings, Revelation may nevertheless give us some insight into Paul’s motivation for writing Ephesians. Perhaps even at this early stage, the Ephesian church needed to be reminded of the riches they had in Christ and how appreciation of such riches should shape our lifestyle and make us people of joyful praise.

Many people regard Ephesians as deeply doctrinal (and it is) but this doctrinal focus results in deep practical applications. This little book of six chapters speaks to dozens of issues of everyday life application. Some have called Ephesians a theological song. To be sure, the atmosphere of praise that fills the book is an attraction for most readers. Ephesians is not trying to prove something to skeptics and it is not especially heavy-handed toward believers. Instead, the focus is on proclaiming the earth-shaking gospel with all its implications for living.

Ephesians moves through six chapters in prayer and praise and proclamation. The book is just 2500 words but it is power-packed by the Holy Spirit.


For the first 1800 years of church history, there was no dispute that Ephesians was written by Paul. But in the 19th century biblical scholarship took on a more critical and even skeptical tone. Authorship of many biblical books began to be challenged, Ephesians included. The chief reason for disputing Pauline authorship, apart from the fact that the vocabulary of the book is somewhat different from some of his other letters, is the difference between the account of Paul in Ephesus and his demeanor in the letter. In Acts, Paul had a deep, intimate, years’ long relationship with the Ephesians. They parted with tears in their eyes when Paul moved on in his ministry. But in Ephesians, there are no prolonged greetings, little in the way of personal reference and nothing much that denotes Paul’s personal involvement in the ministry of this church. This difference caused many authors to question Pauline authorship. But there could be many reasons for this difference other than non-Pauline authorship. The letter may have been distributed, as were some of Paul’s other letters, to multiple locales around Ephesus and so Paul kept it more general. It may also be that Paul wished to focus his attention in a special way in Ephesians on Christ and not on particular people. In addition, the intimacy in the letter may be said to exist in the heart of praise that overflows in Paul. He loves the Lord Jesus and he wants to share His glories with this beloved church. And as John Stott notes in his commentary, FF Bruce said, “The man who could write Ephesians must have been the apostle’s equal, if not his superior, in mental stature and spiritual insight . . . Of such a second Paul early Christian history has no knowledge.”


The church in Ephesus was the primary audience for this book, though it may have been distributed to other locales and through the preservation of the Holy Spirit it has, of course, come down to us. Early church history affirms this, as Irenaeus in his Against Heresies says the letter was written to the Ephesians. This is a reference from the second century, so it is early. A hundred years later or so Cyprian bishop of Carthage says the letter was to the Ephesians as well. Ephesus is the only place name that has ever been associated with this letter, but interestingly, three early manuscripts that have been found of the book omit the reference to Ephesus in verse 1. This has led many scholars to believe that the letter may have been a circular letter distributed among a number of churches in the area.


Ephesus was a large and important city in the ancient world, located in modern day Turkey (Asia Minor). At the time Ephesians was written, Ephesus and its immediate environs likely had a population of around 250,000. Ephesus was called the “Mother City” of Asia because of its influential status as a metropolis. It was a major port city for western Asia. In its part of the world at the time of Paul, Ephesus was the most important city, outstripped only by Alexandria to the south in Egypt and Rome in Italy. Ephesus had a diverse population (including a significant Jewish population). Because of its diversity and the Roman Empire’s desire for peace, religious tolerance was promoted in Ephesus as in other places in the Empire. However, in Ephesus this was especially difficult because of the city’s attachment to the cult of Artemis (or Diana). The temple of Artemis, just outside of Ephesus, was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Artemis’ influence was found all over Ephesus. Her image was on the money, games were held in her honor, banking was done in the city on the temple premises. Artemis was seen as a god of fertility and blessing and was seen as having authority over the spirit world. In Acts, Luke tells us that the gospel impacted the Artemis cult because many were turning away from it to follow Jesus. This caused a great uprising that nearly led to Paul’s death. So this atmosphere of spirituality pervaded Ephesus.

But the spirituality of Ephesus was not a biblical spirituality. When the new believers in Ephesus saw the power of God at work, they burned their magical texts, texts worth 50,000 days of wages according to Luke. It is important to remember than many people in Ephesus who became part of the church had been deeply involved in the Artemis cult. This explains perhaps why Paul focused on the unseen spiritual world so much in Ephesians.

There was a strong Jewish element in Ephesus, with some estimates saying as much as 10% of the population was Jewish. There is some evidence that some Jews in Asia Minor during this time practiced what is called “folk Judaism,” a blending of pagan and Jewish practice that again believed in magical unseen spiritual forces. So the Jewish-background audience of Ephesians could benefit from Paul’s discussion of the unseen spiritual world in chapter 6 as well.

We also have to remember that in the first century the Jews were under a lot of pressure from Rome politically. Acts talks about Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome in AD 49 and we know of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 clarifying expectations for Gentiles. Based on the things Paul talks about in chapter 2 there may have been Jew/Gentile tensions in the church in Ephesus.

But Paul is careful to emphasize in Ephesians that the big enemy is not other ethnicities nor is it the power of the Empire. The spiritual powers are the key focus of the book. We will be seeking to understand these and how they relate to physical powers as we look together at these things.


Paul mentions his imprisonment on two occasions (3:1 and 6:20) and this is likely Paul’s two year house arrest in Rome recorded in Acts 28. More than likely this imprisonment was in AD 60-62 and if it is the one referred to in Ephesians that would set the date for us. This would make it one of Paul’s later letters.


Unlike Hebrews, which we said was a sermonic document, or Revelation, which is an Apocalyptic document, or Acts, which is a historic document, Ephesians has all the classic marks of an epistle. There is a brief introduction, a body and a conclusion. There are also items found in Paul’s other letters like extensive prayers, household codes and extended theological discourses. In short, Ephesians is a letter.


Ephesians has a classic “Indicative/Imperative” structure. The first half of the book gives us the statements of truth about Christ which provide the theological undergirding for the second half of the book, the imperatives, which provide us with the implications of our theology. What we believe leads to what we do. Ephesians works according to this pattern.


Ephesians has several keywords which give us insight into Paul’s meaning in the book. First, there is the word “walk,” which is repeated throughout the book. This is an important part of Paul’s approach to application. In a way you can understand the book of Ephesians around this word “walk.” We’ll look at that as we continue in the study.

Another key theme of the book is the “mystery.” Interestingly, the mystery in Ephesians is different than the mystery in Colossians. We’ll explore about this too later in the study.

Still another theme, and one of the reasons I am so excited about Ephesians, is the theme of the Church. Paul emphasizes the Church throughout the letter. There is great value here for us as we walk as a local church in today’s world.

Another key theme is the gospel’s power to save and to unify Jew and Gentile under Christ. This will be a big theme we will explore.

The biggest message of the book is the transforming power of the gospel. The good news of Jesus transforms us personally, transforms human relationships from racial groups to families to the church.

Other important themes include an emphasis on prayer (prayers and verses about prayer take up a significant part of the book). There is also an emphasis on praise, particularly in chapter 1.

Finally, Ephesians may be the most Trinitarian of all of Paul’s letters in the sense that Father, Son and Spirit receive somewhat equal attention and emphasis. Romans is somewhat like this too and perhaps it makes sense that Paul’s two most theologically rich works would be his two most Trinitarian work. I hope we’ll be able to explore the significance of the Trinity in our weeks together.


The chief controversial passages in Ephesians today are the ethical instructions of chapters 5 and 6, particularly the instructions regarding husbands and wives and slaves and masters. We will take our time and face these issues thoroughly and head-on.

So I want to encourage you to come join us each week as we study this great book.


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