Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

Confraternity - Home | Free Downloads | Transcriber's Notes | Abbreviations | Contact Us

EPHESIANS - Introduction

          < Previous Chapter                    -----                    Next Chapter >         

Ephesians - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



The Recipients.  The Epistle to the Ephesians is addressed "to all the saints who are at Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus."  The address is thus in the very great majority of ancient authorities; but there is a minority of considerable weight which leaves out the words "at Ephesus."  These words are omitted in the codex Vaticanus and the codex Sinaiticus, our oldest manuscripts (but supplied in both by later hands).  They are expunged in a later corrector of codex 67.  St. Basil tells us in the fourth century that they were not in the ancient manuscripts.  They were not accepted by Origen, who tried to give an acceptable meaning to 2 when they are left out: "To those who really are."  St. Basil followed him.  St. Jerome, who had read Origen, does not think of omitting the words "at Ephesus" but refers to the speculation about "those who are."  Tertullian, who combatted Marcion's ascription of the Epistle to the Laodiceans (those referred to in Col. 4, 15 f) appeals to the tradition of the Church, which ascribed our Epistle to the Ephesians, but without mentioning the "at Ephesus" of our text.  A mistake of Origen, followed by St. Basil, regarding the traditional text, is hard to explain; but it would be much harder to explain that a text which supposes the Epistle to have been addressed to the Ephesians came to be so well established if St. Paul did not put it there.

Some able scholars have recently revived the view of Marcion that our Epistle is really the letter of which St. Paul speaks at the end of Colossians.  There was a letter to come from the Laodiceans; but it is not spoken of as a letter written for them.  If Ephesians was a circular letter it could have been the letter from Laodicea.  The bearer, Tychicus, might have left it at Laodicea when he brought to the Colossians the one addressed to them specially.

That Ephesians was a circular letter is the view of a great many scholars of the present day.  This view is suggested chiefly by its contents.  It is felt that if the Epistle were addressed exclusively to the Ephesians it would be much more personal.  There is no reference in it to the three years the Apostle spent at Ephesus, where he must have made many friends.  One has but to think of his parting from the presbyters of Ephesus at Miletus (Acts 20, 17-38) to find it strange that he has no special greetings for anyone, and that he seems to know about the faith of the Ephesians only by hearsay.

We may regard it as a letter written by St. Paul after he had finished his Epistle to the Colossians.  He had vigorously condemned errors and teachers of errors; now in a calmer mood he sets forth objectively the truths on which he has been meditating and utters a hymn of praise to God who is so infinitely good to man.  The dogmatic portion of the Epistle, as well as the moral teaching, sets forth universal principles.  Nothing seems restricted to the use of any one church.  On the other hand, it is confined to a definite group of churches; Tychicus, who is to tell the recipients everything concerning Paul's circumstances and to comfort their hearts, must not be thought of as visiting all the churches of the world (Eph. 6, 21 f).  Most likely St. Paul had in mind the Christians of the province of Asia or of some part of it.  He had particularly in mind those who did not know him personally and on account of them he would avoid personal references to the past.  We have no right to bind the versatile St. Paul to one kind of letter.

Authenticity.  The external evidence in favor of the Pauline authorship is very strong.  Ephesians belongs to that group of thirteen Epistles about whose inspiration and authorship the early Church was always sure; there is not the slightest doubt about the matter expressed in ancient documents.  This, as in the case of other books so well guaranteed by ancient tradition, is decisive for any one who can and will weigh the evidence.  Going back into the obscure period before St. Irenaeus and the other writers of about 200, one finds such indications as one might expect of its existence.  About 140 A.D. the heretic Marcion regarded it as the work of St. Paul though he thought it was an Epistle written to the Laodiceans.  Hippolytus tells us it had been used by the Gnostics Valentinus, Basilides, Ptolemy.  This writing, then, went back at least to the earlier part of the second century (before 130 A.D.) when the Church and these heretics used the same Scriptures.  There are citations or reminiscences in the works of still earlier writers.  It was probably used by the very early Epistle of Barnabas; it is morally certain that it was used by the Apostolic Fathers, St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius and Clement of Rome (before 100 A.D.).  No forger could have got his book accepted so early by all the leaders of the Church.

The opponents of the authenticity of the Epistle do not deny that there is very strong external evidence in favor of the tradition, but they maintain that there is something in the work itself which does not allow an enlightened critic to declare that it comes from Paul, or at least to be sure of it.  The only way to answer their objections completely is to go into minute details about the vocabulary, style, and the doctrine of the Epistle.  Catholic scholars, and many who are Protestants and even rationalists, have done this in learned commentaries and special studies.  While we may keep our opponents in mind in our short commentary here, we prefer to set forth positively our reasons for regarding our Epistle as a genuine expression of St. Paul's mind and heart.  He has a manner of his own which is inimitable.  Father Prat says that anyone who had read even a few paragraphs of the Apostle will recognize his work anywhere; one may recognize him even in Ephesians, which seems to be now an object of special attack, provided he does justice to the Apostle's command of words, his tendency to overload his sentences when setting forth his dogmatic teaching, and his ability to develop doctrine without altering it.



Introduction 1, 1-14

I. Doctrinal 1, 15 -- 3, 21
1. The Church is One with Christ 1, 15 -- 2, 22

2. Paul's Commission to Preach the Mystery 3, 1-13

3. A Prayer for His Readers 3, 14-21
II. Moral 4, 1 -- 6, 20
1. For Christians in General 4, 1 -- 5, 20

2. The Christian Home 5, 21 -- 6, 9

3. The Christian Warfare 6, 10-20
Conclusion 6, 21-24

Confraternity Bible:



This Epistle was written by St. Paul towards the close of his first imprisonment in Rome, in the year 63 A.D.

In spite of this traditional title it is uncertain to whom St. Paul originally addressed this Epistle.  Either it was indeed written to the Ephesians, as was commonly believed from the end of the second century A.D. and indicated by the presence of the words "at Ephesus" (1, 1) in most manuscripts; or it is to be identified with the Epistle mentioned in Col. 4, 16, which St. Paul wrote to the Christians of Laodicea, a town not far from Colossae and Ephesus; or, finally, it may have been written, not to any one community in particular, but as a sort of circular letter to the various Christian communities in that part of Asia Minor in which Ephesus and Colossae are situated.

Ephesus, then the chief city of western Asia Minor, had been evangelized by St. Paul about 53-56 A.D.  Soon afterwards the important town of Laodicea, about a hundred miles to the east, had received Christianity from some Ephesian Christians.  The great majority of converts in all this territory were from among the pagan Gentiles, Jews forming only a small minority.

Very similar in theme and language to the Epistle to the Colossians, but much more abstract, profound and systematic, this Epistle's central thought is the Church regarded as the mystical body of Christ, through which God pours out the divine life of grace in most generous fashion to its members, the Christians, in and through its head, Jesus Christ.  The spiritual, organic unity of its members with Christ and with one another is emphasized as the basic principle of the life of the mystical body.  Then comes exhortations to lead the new life that befits those incorporated into the sublime unity of the mystical body.