The historical evidence for the Pauline authorship of the Epistle is exceptionally strong. Some scholars claim that Ignatius even speaks of Paul as the author, when he says in his Epistle to the Ephesians: ”—who (referring back to Paul) throughout all his Epistle (έν πάσῃ ἐπιστολῇ) makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.” But it is very doubtful, whether the rendering, “in all the Epistle,” should not rather be, “in every Epistle.” Marcion ascribed the letter to Paul, and in the Muratorian Fragment the church of Ephesus is mentioned as one of the churches to which Paul wrote Epistles. Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria refer to Paul by name as the author of this letter and quote it as his, while Tertullian mentions Ephesus among the churches that had apostolic Epistles.
Internal evidence also points to Paul as the author. In the opening verse of the Epistle the writer is named, and the structure of the letter is characteristically Pauline. In the first place it contains the usual blessing and thanksgiving; this is followed in the regular way by the body of the epistle, consisting of a doctrinal and a practical part; and finally it ends with the customary salutations. The ideas developed are in perfect agreement with those found in the letters which we already discussed, although in certain particulars they advance beyond them, as in the theological conception of the doctrine of redemption; and in the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ with its various organs. The style of the Epistle too is Pauline. It is true that it differs considerably from that of Romans, Corinthians and Galatians, but it shows great affinity with the style of Colossians and of the Pastorals.
Some critics have questioned Paul's authorship, arguing that Ephesians differs in style from his other epistles and contains words not found in his other letters. However, it is natural for a great writer like Paul to vary his style and vocabulary depending on his purpose. This can be seen in the different styles of Shakespeare's Hamlet compared to A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, or the Sonnets. Even an average writer will greatly change their vocabulary and style depending on the context. A letter to one's boss will sound very different than a letter to one's family member.
The early Church leaves no doubt as to the canonicity of this Epistle. It is possible that we have the first mention of it in the New Testament itself, Col 4:16. The writings of Ignatius, Polycarp, Herman and Hippolytus contain passages that seem to be derived from our Epistle. Marcion, the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian clearly testify to its early recognition and use. There is not a dissentient voice in all antiquity.
From Eph 3:1 to Eph 4:1 we notice that Paul was a prisoner, when he wrote this Epistle. From the mention of Tychicus as the bearer of it in Eph 6:21, compared with Col 4:7 and Phm 1:13, we may infer that these three letters were written at the same time. And it has generally been thought that they were composed during the Roman imprisonment of Paul.
There are a few scholars, however, such as Reuss and Meyer, who believe that they date from the imprisonment at Caesarea, A. D. 58-60. Meyer urges this view on the following grounds: (1) It is more natural and probable that the slave Onesimus had run away as far as Caesarea than that he had made the long journey to Rome. (2) If these Epistles had been sent from Rome, Tychicus and Onesimus would have arrived at Ephesus first and then at Colossae. But in that case the apostle would most likely have mentioned Onesimus along with Tychicus in Ephesians, like he does in Col 4:9, to insure the runaway slave a good reception; which was not necessary however, if they reached Colossae first, as they would in coming from Caesarea, since Onesimus would remain there. (3) In Eph 6:21 the expression, “But that ye also may know my affairs,” implies that there were others who had already been informed of them, viz, the Colossians, Col 4:8-9. (4) Pauls request to Philemon in Phm 1:22, to prepare a lodging for him, and that too, for speedy use, favors the idea that the apostle was much nearer Colossae than the far distant Rome. Moreover Paul says in Php 2:24 that he expected to proceed to Macedonia after his release from the Roman imprisonment.
But these arguments are not conclusive. To the first one we may reply that Onesimus would be far safer from the pursuit of the fugitivarii in a large city like Rome than in a smaller one such as Caesarea. The second argument loses its force, if this Epistle was a circular letter, written to the Christians of Asia in general. The κάι in Eph 6:21 is liable to different interpretations, but finds a sufficient explanation in the fact that the Epistle to the Colossians was written first. And in reply to the last argument we would say that Phm 1:22 does not speak of a speedy coming, and that the apostle may have intended to pass through Macedonia to Colossae.
It seems to us that the following considerations favor the idea that the three Epistles under consideration were written from Rome: (1) From Eph 6:19-20 we infer that Paul had sufficient liberty during his imprisonment to preach the gospel. Now this ill accords with what we learn of the imprisonment at Cesarea from Acts 24:23, while it perfectly agrees with the situation in which Paul found himself at Rome according to Acts 28:16. (2) The many companions of Paul, viz. Tychicus, Aristarchus, Marcus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas, quite different from those that accompanied him on his last journey to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20:4), also point to Rome, where the apostle might utilize them for evangelistic work. Cf. Php 1:14. (3) In all probability Philippians belongs to the same period as the other Epistles of the imprisonment; and if this is the case, the mention of Caesars household in Php 4:22 also points to Rome. (4) Tradition also names Rome as the place of composition. Ephesians must probably be dated about A.D. 62.
There is considerable uncertainty respecting the destination of this Epistle. The question is whether the words ἐν ̓Εφέσῳ in Eph 1:1 are genuine. They are indeed found in all the extant MSS. with the exception of three, viz, the important MSS. Aleph and B and codex 67. The testimony of Basil is that the most ancient MSS. in his day did not contain these words. Tertullian informs us that Marcion gave the Epistle the title ad Laodicenos; and Origen apparently did not regard the words as genuine. All the old Versions contain them; but, on the other hand, Westcott and Hort say: “Transcriptional evidence strongly supports the testimony of documents against ἐν ̓Εφέσῳ.” New Testament in Greek, Appendix p. 123. Yet there was in the Church an early and, except as regards Marcion, universal tradition that the Epistle was addressed to the Ephesians. Present day scholars quite generally reject the words, although they are still defended by Meyer, Davidson, Eadie and Hodge. The conclusion to which the majority of scholars come is, either that the Epistle was not written to the Ephesians at all, or that it was not meant for them only, but also for the other churches in Asia.
Now if we examine the internal evidence, we find that it certainly favors the idea that this Epistle was not intended for the Ephesian church exclusively, for (1) It contains no references to the peculiar circumstances of the Ephesian church, but might be addressed to any of the churches founded by Paul. (2) There are no salutations in it from Paul or his companions to any one in the Ephesian church. (3) The Epistle contemplates only heathen Christians. while the church at Ephesus was composed of both Jews and Gentiles, Eph 2:11-12; Eph 4:17; Eph 5:8. (4) To these proofs is sometimes added that Eph 1:15 and Eph 3:2 make it appear as if Paul and his readers were not acquainted with each other; but this is not necessarily implied in these passages.
In all probability the words ἐν ̓Εφέσῳ were not originally in the text. But now the question naturally arises, how we must interpret the following words τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν και πιστοῖς; etc. Several suggestions have been made. Some would read: “The saints who are really such ;” others: “the saints existing and faithful in Jesus Christ;” still others: “the saints who are also faithful.” But none of these interpretations is satisfactory: the first two are hardly grammatical; and the last one implies that there are also saints who are not faithful, and that the Epistle was written for a certain select view. Probably the hypothesis first suggested by Ussher is correct, that a blank was originally left after τοῖς οὖσιν, and that Tychicus or someone else was to make several copies of this Epistle and to fill in the blank with the name of the church to which each copy was to be sent. The fact that the church of Ephesus was the most prominent of the churches for which it was intended, will account for the insertion of the words ἐν ̓Εφέσῳ in transcribing the letter, and for the universal tradition regarding its destination. Most likely, therefore, this was a circular letter, sent to several churches in Asia, such as those of Ephesus, Laodicea, Hierapolis, e. a. Probably it is identical with the Epistle ἐκ Λαοδικίας, Col 4:16.
Next to Rome, Ephesus was the most important city visited by Paul. It has been called the third capital of Christianity, it being the center of work in Asia through which were founded all the churches of Asia, especially the seven churches of Asia to which Jesus sent the message of Revelation.
Founded by colonists from Athens around the eleventh century B.C., Ephesus displaced the original inhabitants and developed into a significant Greek civilization. Ephesus held a pivotal position as the gateway to Asia during ancient times. Its strategic location contributed to its growth, making it a sought-after military prize for various naval states of Greece and successive kingdoms ruling over Asia Minor, including the Lydians and the Persians. Even Alexander the Great received homage from Ephesian rulers in 334 B.C., and later in 188 B.C., the Romans took control of the city from Antiochus the Great.
In Paul's time, Ephesus was among the three major trading centers in the eastern Mediterranean, alongside Alexandria and Antioch. It served as the commercial and political capital of Asia and owed much of its importance to the religious significance attributed to the city. The city boasted an estimated population of around one-third of a million people in the first century. It held the status of a free city under Roman rule, with its own assembly, council, and governor. The town clerk, responsible for city records, held a position of considerable influence and responsibility.1
The Temple of Diana:
The structure is said to have measured approximately 425 feet in length and 239 feet in width, supported by an impressive array of 100 columns, each standing 55 feet tall. Its construction spanned a period of 220 years. Surrounding this grand shrine, which attracted both worshippers and tourists from distant places, there thrived a bustling community of tradesmen and hucksters. They catered to the needs of visitors by providing food, lodging, dedicatory offerings, and especially silver souvenir models of the shrine, a specialty of the Demetrius guild (Acts 19:38).
The city of Ephesus was founded near the sanctuary of an ancient Anatolian goddess, whom the Greeks equated with their own deity, Artemis. This goddess was associated with fertility rituals and religious practices involving prostitution. The depiction of Artemis in Ephesus was a peculiar one, with a female figure adorned with a shrine and a basket on her head, a veil decorated with various creatures, long necklaces, embroidered sleeves, and legs covered with images of animals. She was often represented with multiple breasts or an apron adorned with clusters of grapes or dates, symbolizing her role as the nurturing spirit of nature.
Despite the prevalence of the Artemis cult and its influence in the city, the apostle Paul boldly preached against it and the cultural practices associated with it. He confronted the stronghold of pagan religion, as well as the active commercial life revolving around the extensive heathen worship, in this key city of the central Mediterranean and a vital communication hub.
Paul's message against idolatry had a significant impact on the city, causing disruptions in various related trades. Ephesus, being a prominent center of communication and commerce in Asia Minor, became a crucial starting point for the spread of Christianity to the surrounding regions. From Ephesus, the gospel reached other cities in Asia Minor, such as Pergamum, Sardis, Thyatira, Laodicea, Philadelphia, Smyrna, Colosse, and Hierapolis. The transformative influence of Paul's preaching was akin to confronting gambling in Las Vegas, homosexuality in San Francisco, or Islam in Iran, affecting the very heart of Ephesian culture and society.
The Ephesian Theater was positioned on the southern slope of Mount Pion, providing a stunning backdrop and enhancing its acoustics due to the natural amphitheater-like setting. The theater could accommodate approximately 25,000 spectators, making it one of the largest theaters in the ancient world. It hosted such activites as theatrical performances, musical concerts, religious ceremonies, political gatherings, public gatherings, festivals, and possibly even gladitorial contests although these were usually held in dedicated arenas.
Paul had briefly touched base here on his second journey (Acts 18:19-21). Then around 54 A.D., on his third journey Paul came to Ephesus and stayed for 3 years. (Acts 19:1; 19:10; 20:31). From the book of Acts and this letter we know the church had elders (Acts 20:17). It was composed of many Christians from a Gentile background (Eph 2:1; 2:11; 3:1). This congregation would face the lure of false teachers (Acts 20:28-31), and yet the Ephesian letter does not really meet any specific false teaching head on, as does Galatians or Colossians, and the members here dearly loved Paul (Acts 20:36-38).
There is nothing in the Epistle to indicate that it was called forth by any special circumstances in the churches of Asia. To all appearances it was merely the prospective departure of Tychicus and Onesimus for Colossae, Eph 6:21-22; Col 4:7-9, combined with the intelligence that Paul received as to the faith of the readers in the Lord Jesus, and regarding their love to all the saints, Eph 1:15, that led to its composition.
Since the Epistle was not called forth by any special historical situation, the purpose of Paul in writing it was naturally of a general character. It seems as if what he had heard of “the faith of the readers in the Lord Jesus, and of their love to all the saints,” involuntarily fixed his thought on the unity of believers in Christ, and therefore on that grand edifice,—the Church of God. He sets forth the origin, the development, the unity and holiness, and the glorious end of that mystical body of Christ. He pictures the transcendent beauty of that spiritual temple, of which Christ is the chief cornerstone and the saints form the superstructure.
The particular significance of the Epistle lies in its teaching regarding the unity of the Church: Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. It constantly emphasizes the fact that believers have their unity in the Lord and therefore contains the expression “in Christ” about twenty times. The unity of the faithful originates in their election, since God the Father chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, 1:4; it finds expression in a holy conversation, sanctified by true love, that naturally results from their living relation with Christ, in whom they are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit; and it issues in their coming in the “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The great practical exhortation of the Epistle is that believers live worthily of their union with Christ, since they were sometime darkness, but are now light in the Lord, and should therefore walk as children of light, Eph 5:8.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is naturally divided into two parts:
I. The Doctrinal Part, treating of the Unity of the Church, Eph 1:1-23, Eph 2:1-22, Eph 3:1-21. After the address and salutation, Eph 1:1-2, the apostle praises God for the great spiritual blessings received in Christ, in whom the Ephesians have been chosen, adopted and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Eph 1:3-14. He renders thanks for these blessings and prays that God may make known to the Church, the glorious body of Christ, who filleth all in all, the glory of its heavenly calling, Eph 1:15-23. Then he compares the past and present condition of the readers, Eph 2:1-13, and describes Christ’s work of reconciliation, resulting in the unity and glory of the Church, Eph 2:14-22. Next he enlarges on the mystery of the Gospel and reminds his readers that he has been commissioned by God to make it known to mankind, Eph 3:1-13. He prays that they may be strengthened and enabled to comprehend the greatness of the love of Christ to the glory of God, Eph 3:14-21.
II. The Practical Part, containing Exhortations to a Conversation worthy of the Calling and Unity of the Readers, Eph 4:1-32, Eph 5:1-33, Eph 6:1-20. The readers are exhorted to maintain the unity which God seeks to establish among them by distributing spiritual gifts and instituting different offices, Eph 4:1-16. They should not walk as the Gentiles do, but according to the principle of their new life, shunning the vices of the old man and practicing the virtues of the new, Eph 4:17-32. In society if must be their constant endeavor to be separate from the evils of the world and to walk circumspectly; husbands and wives should conform in their mutual relation to the image of Christ and the Church; children should obey their parents and servants their masters, Eph 5:1-33, Eph 6:1-9. Finally Paul exhorts the readers to be strong in the Lord, having put on the whole armour of God and seeking strength in prayer and supplication; and he closes his Epistle with some personal intelligence and a twofold salutation, Eph 6:10-24.
I. Salutation (1:1-2)
II. Spiritual Blessings of the Church (1:3-14)
A. Chosen and Presdestined in Love (1:3-6)
B. Redeemed According to Grace (1:7-10)
C. Inheritance According to His Will (1:11-12)
D. Sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13-14)
II. Paul's Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:15-23)
A. For Faith and Wisdom from God (1:15-19a)
B. Christ Raised and Ruling (19b-23)
III. Death to Life by Grace (2:1-10)
A. Dead in Sin and Disobedience (2:1-3)
B. Made Alive in Christ (2:4-7)
C. Saved by Grace through Faith (2:8-10)
IV. Peace by the Blood of the Christ (2:11-22)
A. Unity of Christ's People (2:11-15)
B. One Body and One Spirit (2:16-18)
C. Made Citizens, Saints, and Temple (2:19-22)
V. Paul's Mission and Prayer for Them (3:1-21)
A. Mystery of Christ Revealed (3:1-7)
B. Mission of the Church (3:8-13)
C. Trinitarian Prayer (3:14-21)
VI. Duty as the Body of Christ (4:1-6:20)
VII. Conclusion (6:21-24)
1See Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Times, p 277, and Spiritual Sword Lectureship 1984, The Book of Ephesians, p 4.