By Raymond Harris
Concerning Scripture: The Book of Ephesians
This book contains familiar teachings like God’s armor (6.13-17) and the admonition of children to be obedient to their parents (6.1-3), but the richness of this book is not limited to its familiar teachings. While Ephesians is considered one of Paul’s prison epistles,1 one commentator has stated, that Ephesians has two main subjects, those being “the position of the Christian (chs. 1-3), and the practice of the Christian (chs. 4-6)”2 so within these two divisions resides a spiritual feast. The same commentator, states that the first section “lists the believer’s heavenly possessions in Christ Jesus: adoption, redemption, inheritance, power, life, grace, citizenship, and the love of Christ” while the second portion “includes thirty-five directives that speak of believers’ responsibility [of] conduct”.3
A curious item of interest is that early Greek manuscripts do not mention Ephesus (in 1.1). It has been presented as a possibility that this letter did not have a “specific” original congregational recipient. Instead, what we refer to as “Ephesians” may have been a circular letter4 intended for the churches of Asia Minor5 and it may be the letter that Paul references in Colossians 4.16. However, as one commentator has stated, “This [possibility] does not require… that we regard Ephesians as the missing letter of Colossians 4.16.”6
One major item that supports the idea that Ephesians was a circular letter is the absence of Paul addressing specific individual and/or congregational spiritual problems. Instead, as one author states, “[Ephesians] is general in its teachings.”7 This same author supports the circular letter theory by stating that Ephesians lacks a salutation, Paul does not include personal references, and he does not refer to any of his work in Ephesus. Furthermore, the author states that the letter does not provide any internal indicators “that [Ephesians] applies in any special way to the peculiar conditions of any particular church.” While all this speculation may provide some interest, it in no way detracts from the importance of this letter and the instruction it provides to the Christian.
As we close our introduction to Ephesians, let us close with five facts provided by the NIV Archeological Study Bible:8
1. The Ephesians were familiar with the Greco-Roman practice of redemption. Slaves were freed by the payment of a ransom (1.7).
2. The right hand was the symbolic place of highest honor and authority (1.20).
3. Ancient Greek culture often viewed [and some in our current culture still view] humility, meekness, gentleness, and self-sacrifice in negative terms, as weaknesses (4.2).
4. In the Greek and Roman world, slavery was considered an economic and practical necessity, an assumed part of life (6.5-9).
5. The large Roman shield was covered with leather, which could be soaked in water and used to extinguish flame-tipped arrows (6.16).
1 The prison epistles are considered to be written during Paul’s two-year house arrest in Rome (AD/CE 62-63), Dickson New Analytical Study Bible, King James Version, p. 1343, ISBN 0-529-06194-5. Depending on source, the prison epistles include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
2 Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Ephesians, p. 406, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.
4 Circular letter was a letter that was passed from one congregation to another.
5 The Lycus Valley, included Laodicea and Colosse, Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1940, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
7 Dickson New Analytical Study Bible, King James Version, p. 1343, ISBN 0-529-06194-5.
8 Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1915, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.