Author: Paul, the Apostle.
Historical and Social Context:
This letter from Paul is during his imprisonment in Rome. Ephesians is part of a group of letters called the 'prison epistles' or 'prison letters' (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon), written while Paul was in prison.
Ephesians is a unique letter, as it is a circular letter. Chapter 1:1 is addressed 'to God's holy people in Ephesus'? Can you see the little 'a' above the word Ephesus? Have a look at the footnote; you'll see that it says, 'Some early manuscripts do not have "in Ephesus."' This means that this is a circular letter intended to go to numerous churches in Asia Minor. When the person reading the letter went out to the church, the letter would read 'To God's holy people', and the presenter would fill in the name of the church that they were reading to at the time. They have discovered a letter which is the same as Ephesians addressed to the church 'in Laodicea.' This circular letter will cover subjects that apply to all churches; the topics will be general and will not address specific issues, personal references, greetings or doctrinal or practical concerns like Corinthians or other NT letters do.
The key verse for Ephesians is in chapter 1:9–10, 'He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.' This book is about unity and bringing all things under the authority of Christ. Paul is going to talk about the unity of the Church as the first step of God bringing everything in unity under Christ at the end of all time. This same theme is found in Colossians, actually 75 of the 155 verses in Ephesians are found in Colossians, they are the most closely linked letters of Paul in the NT.
Ephesus was one of the great cities of Asia Minor, a Roman capital, a wealthy commercial centre located on an ample harbour. In this city, there was a massive temple to the goddess Diana/Artemis – this temple was one of the seven wonders of the world at that time. Her worship was fiercely guarded and brought in money for the city (see Acts 19 – the riot at Ephesus). The cultural and commercial life of the city of Ephesus was built around this temple. Paul had lived in Ephesus for a while, so he knew the city and the Ephesian church well. He knew that to overcome this spiritual stronghold, the Christians were going to need to know who Christ is compared to this stronghold, who they are in Christ, where they are seated and what they are clothed in. He addresses each in Ephesians!
Paul's passion in this letter is that the church is the body of Christ and God's instrument to stand against and overcome any spiritual authority that sets itself up against it. The church is called to be one body that expresses God's fullness on earth. As we unite and overcome any divisions in the church, (for the Ephesians, it was focused on uniting Jew and Gentile) we become one body equipped, empowered and mature to extend and enforce Christ's victory over evil.
Now, there are a couple of ways of reading Ephesians. Firstly, Paul shows two things within this letter:
Your identity in Christ (chapters 1:1–3:21) – throughout this section, consider who you are in Christ; holy, blameless. Outworking this identity in your actions and lives (chapters 4:1–6:20) – you need to know who you are in Christ and your identity in him. Then, from that place of security, you do the things that God is calling you to do. Before you do anything for him, get to know who you are in him!
Secondly, we can look at the structure of the book as a sit → walk → war structure. That is, the book is divided into these three key areas of emphasis: sit (chapter 2:6), walk (chapters 4:1–6:9) and war (chapter 6:10–20).
Lastly, another great way of reading this book is considering the Roman understanding of building strong communities. The Romans knew that if they built strong families that made up strong communities, the state would also be strong. So, Paul 'Christianised' this:
Chapters 1–3 – Paul talks about the strength of unity.
Chapters 4:1–5:4 – Paul addresses building a strong church by building good leaders and building unity in the church.
Chapters 5:16–6:9 – are about building a strong family. Within this, Paul rewrites the already existing household codes and gives them a new Christian spin. Study this – it is just incredible to see how he adjusts them in Christ!
In chapters 6:10–20, Paul addresses spiritual warfare.
Key text: Ephesians 1:18-19
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Required: Commentary on Ephesians – Introduction. Choose a commentary and read the introduction, which will give you the author, date and background of the text.
Logos Best Commentaries guide:
Articles on Identity: