Notes on Paul’s Letter to Ephesus

The epistle to the followers of Jesus at Ephesus (a coastal Ionian Greek city in modern Turkey) comes down to us as included among the list of Pauline literature and letters. It is attributed to Paul, though certain Enlightenment scholars have doubted this authenticity since the 18th century.

At any rate, Paul begins his letter with a greeting and acknowledgement of the followers’s “predestination” of sonship through Jesus. Paul gives a prayer that “wisdom and revelation” will be given by God to the people of Ephesus.

In returning to themes from Romans and Corinthians, Paul again states that followers of Jesus were “dead” when under the law, and the rule of the “flesh,” but now they have been reborn for God. In Chapter 2, he again addresses the controversy surrounding circumcision and whether or not gentiles (non-Jews) may join the faith. In Chapter 3, Paul gives another account of his conversation, and why it is significant beyond what “other generations” experienced. Through this conversion, Paul was given special “insight into the mystery of Christ” (3:4). And the mystery is that the gentiles as well as the Israelites are inheritors of “the way.”

The significant theme of the text is to encourage unity among the church, a common theme among the letters of the early church. It is also a letter that encourages hierarchy and order: in marriage, families, households, among citizens, and fellow believers and so on.

Paul mentions a “calling” each early Christian has received, and he urges them to practice “humility” and “gentility.” For there is one God over all people (a notable shift from the Hebrew texts). However, Paul also calls on the Ephesians to reject the hedonistic life of the gentiles, who live according to every vulgar desire -a noble restriction from Paul. He calls on people to live with perfect purity and wisdom in Chapter 5.

He gives a fascinating account of marriage and household management at Chapter 5:21-33. He calls on spouses to “submit” to one another. Wives are called to submit to their husband’s authority, and husband’s are called to love their wives and give themselves up for her (recall Paul’s previous claims about marriage being less preferable than bachelorhood). Some have suggested this interlude may not be authentic. The allegory for marriage is of the way Christ loved church. In Chapter 6, he also includes a call for children to respect and obey their parents (recall the necessities for the existence of the city alluded to in Plato and Aristophanes).

Paul concludes by calling the people of Ephesus to be fearless and orderly, and he also asks them to pray for him to be fearless in making known the “mystery” of the gospel. Paul sent the letter to Ephesus with a man named Tyrichus to preach its teaching.

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