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New Testament Lesson 39 (KD): Ephesians

Posted by Karl D. on October 24, 2011

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Ephesians
Reading: Ephesians

PDF version of the lesson notes.

I. Introduction

A. What Makes Ephesians Different?

  • Scholars note that letter is not directed to a particular congregation or in response to a particular situation. Well, I suppose it could be, but the letter itself doesn’t indicate either. Ephesians 1:1 seems to indicate that that is directed to the church at Ephesus:

    Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: — Ephesians 1:1

    Jame Dunn, writing in the Oxford Bible Commentary, notes the following about what we learn from the manuscripts:[1]

    The words ‘in Ephesus’ (I:I) which most translations still include, are not present in the earliest and best MSS [manuscripts]; and second century references to letter do not know it as sent to Ephesus (see Best 1987).”

    Dahl and Juel, in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary note the following about the statment “To the Ephesians:”

    The statement, “To the Ephesians” is first attested by early church theologian Irenaeus, ca AD. 180. A generation earlier, however, Marcion had edited a collection of Paul’s letters that used the title, “To the Laodiceans” for Ephesians. Probably the famous heretic took the title from a still earlier edition he used. It is likely, therefore, that the Letter to the Ephesians circulated separately as a “general letter” from Paul before it become part of a collection and was supplied with a title and a later with a local address in the prescript. (1:1)

    The letter’s writing style is also quite interesting. Its style is at times marked by repetitions and redundancies.[3] However, in my view, the repetitions lead combine to make a beautiful and moving letter. Scholars have noted similarities between Ephesians and Colossians. For example, there are verses that share identical phraseology.[4]

    B. Authorship

    The writer names himself as Paul in Ephesians 1:1 and 3:1. However, this identification is doubted by many scholars. On the other hand, it is still defended by some scholars. For example, Noted New Testament scholar, NT Wright, argues for Pauline authorship. “The questioning of Pauline authorship is based on content, vocabulary, theological differences from undisputed Pauline letters, literary dependence on the Pauline Corpus and literary dependence on Col.”[5]

    Should doubted authorship affect or change how we view Ephesians? I tend to think not. First it is important not to impose modern conventions of copyright and plagiarism onto 1st century documents. Second, the letter is clearly represents Pauline tradition and was accepted by earlier Christianity to be within that tradition. James Dunn (in the Oxford Bible Commentary, I think, expresses this sentiment well:[6]

    A close associate or disciple of Paul, who stood within the tradition begun by Paul and was recognized to do so, was seen to represent the Pauline tradition after Paul’s death and was able to re-express it in some measure in his own terms. And he did so in Paul’s name, without deceit; his words were acknowledged to be appropriate sentiments to Paul.

    C. Date Written

    If the Paul is the author, then the letter was probably written in the early 60s.[7] If Paul is not the author than a date range between 80-100 is more likely.[8]

    D. A View of the Landscape

    NT Wright, in his commentary on Ephesians, provides some insight into how the letter to the Ephesians is different (in terms of the actual content) from the rest of Paul’s writing:[9]

    The letter to the Ephesians stands in relation to the rest of Paul’s letters rather like the London Eye. It isn’t the longest of his writings, but it offers a breathtaking view of the entire landscape. From here, as the wheel turns, you get a bird’s-eye view of one theme after another within early Christian reflection: God, the world, Jesus, the church, the means of salvation, Christian behaviour, marriage and he family, and spiritual warfare. Like someone used to strolling around London and now suddenly able to see familiar places from unfamiliar angles — and to see more easily how they relate to each other within the city as a whole — the reader who comes to Ephesians after reading the rest of Paul will get a new angle on the way in which his thinking holds together.

    II. God’s Plan

    A. Spiritual Blessings in Heavenly Places

    Read Ephesians 1:1-3:

    1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

    3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

    • What does Paul emphasize in the opening of the letter?
    • What do you think the phrase “spiritual blessing in heavenly paces” means in this context?

    B. God’s Plan

    Read Ephesians 1:3-10:

    3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

    7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

    • What do you notice about this pericope? What themes are mentioned?
    • How does Paul use repetition to make his point?
    • Is this a prayer? Is this a hymn?
    • Is the Passover narrative being alluded to in these verses (particular 7-10)? And if it is, why would Paul make such an allusion?
    • Could you call this pericope a summary of God’s plan? Do the verses suggest that God’s plan has already been accomplished?
    • How is the theme or idea of “blessing” developed in the pericope? Is it important that the theme of “blessing” or being “blessed” starts with God and Jesus?
    • Why does Paul mention both the time “before the foundation of the world” and the “dispensation of the fullness of time?”
    • We see the use of the word “predestined” in these verses. This can be troubling because of its larger theological connection and its theologically opposition to notions of free-will and agency. Try to ignore those background theological issues and focus on how the word is use in this pericope. Is the use of the word appropriate here or is the word best understand as foreordination in this context? What does it emphasize? How does it connect and enhance the picture painted by this pericope?
    • What role does Christ play in these verses?
    • We usually understand the phrase, “the dispensation of the fullness of times”, as referring to today and the Modern church but could verses 9-10 be using that phrase differently? Is dispensation of the fullness of time, the dispensation of Christ (in some sense)?
    • NT Wright translates verses 7-10 as follows:

      In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance — that is, our sins have been forgiven — through the wealth of his grace which — he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to use the secret purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set if forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king — yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.

      How does the preceding translation affect your understanding of these verses?

    C. A Inheritance

    Read Ephesians 1:11-14:

    11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

    • How do these verses reinforce points from verses 3-10? Are verses 5 and 11 meant to parallel each other?

    • What is the inheritance?

    • Is Passover and the Exodus in the background of these verses as well?

    • Does verse 14 given an explanation of or about the “holy Spirit of promise?”

    • What does Paul mean when he refers to Israel/God’s people as a “purchased possession?” What does that imagery suggest? How does it related to Paul’s overall message in these verses?

    • The NRSV translation of verse 13-14 is the following:

      13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

    • NT Wright makes the following comment about verse 14 and the phrase translated as “pledge of our inheritance:”

      The word Paul uses for ‘guarantee’ [pledge in the NRSV] here is a word used at the time in legal or commercial transactions. Suppose I wanted to buy a plot of land from you valued at 10,000 dollars. We might agree that I would pay you the first 1,000 dollars as a ‘down payment’, guaranteeing the full sum to come in the future when the details were complete. The spirit is the ‘down payment’: part of the promised future, coming forwards to meet us in the present.

      How does the preceding affect your understanding of these verses?

    III. What God has Done

    A. Love for Us

    Read Ephesians 2:1-7:

    1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

    4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

    • Is it fair to say that the first three verses describe the natural human state without God? What characteristics or situations of the natural state do the verses emphasize?
    • Who is the “prince of the power of the air” or the “ruler of the power of the air” or the “ruler of the kingdom of the air?” What does that language or imagery emphasize?
    • Do these verses imply the we already have salvation? For example, does verse 6 imply that the letter recipients are in heaven now in some sense?
    • What does it mean in verse 5 that God, “quickened us together with Christ?”
    • Is verse 7 important? Does it add important perspective to preceding verses and the concepts of salvation and the heavenly place?

    A. Grace, Not Works

    Read Ephesians 2:8-10:

    8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

    • What is the concept of grace connected with in this pericope? How does the grace of God change us?
    • Do these verses imply that the grace of God “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus?”
    • How are justification and salvation different? Some scholars suggest that justification concerns how we come to belong to God’s family, or the entrance requirements for his family. Salvation is how we are rescued from the terrible fate implied by the first few verses of this chapter.[11] What do you think of this distinction? Does it make sense of this chapter and other Pauline passages?
    • How do these verses help us understand the role of grace, faith, and works?

    IV. New Humanity

    Read Ephesian 2:11-19:

    11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

    13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances;

    for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

    17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

    • How did Christ change the world?
    • What does it mean in verse 14 that Christ is our peace?
    • Are you surprised that Circumcision is referred to as “in the flesh made by hands?” What does that mean? What does it imply about circumcision? Why emphasize the physical aspect of circumcision?
    • Why emphasize the uniting of Jews and Gentiles? What does it remind the reader of? Why does it lead to a discusion of peace? Why emphasize that the dividing wall has been broken down? Why is this an important part of the mission of Jesus Christ?
    • Some scholars have suggested that the barrier wall broken down might have specific figurative reference to the wall separating the Gentiles from the inner court of the Jerusalem temple?[12] What do you think of that possibility? Does it make sense given the imagery of verses 20-22?

      (20) And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; (21) In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (22) In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.


    1. Oxford Bible Commentary, 1165.
    2. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary, 1150.
    3. Oxford Bible Commentary, 1165.
    4. Oxford Bible Commentary, 1165.
    5. The New Jerome Bible Commentary, 884.
    6. Oxford Bible Commentary, 1166.
    7. Oxford Bible Commentary, 1166.
    8. The New Jerome Bible Commentary, 885.
    9. Wright, NT, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 3-4.
    10. Wright, NT, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 13.
    11. Wright, NT, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 22.
    12. The New Jerome Bible Commentary, Prentice Hall, 885.
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