My church’s adult Bible classes are all studying Ephesians for the fall quarter. The church staff has provided me with copious notes and even a poster for each lesson. I’ll be writing my own stuff. I won’t entirely ignore the posters and the other material. I just prefer figuring this stuff for myself. I learn it better that way.
Is Ephesians written to the Ephesians?
The answer is almost certainly no. Every indication is that Ephesians was a circular letter, written to several churches, carried from one to the next. After all, unlike Paul’s other epistles, there are no personal greetings in the letter — although he’d spent as much time there as anywhere. Compare that to the chapter of personal greetings at the end of Romans, even though he’d never made it to Rome!
And the most ancient manuscripts of the letter omit “in Ephesus,” including the Chester Beatty papyrus of about AD 200 and the fourth century codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. That’s very impressive authority to reject “in Ephesus” as not part of the original. But the association of the letter with Ephesus is quite ancient. It seems likely to me that Ephesus was among the original recipients, so that there was indeed a version sent to the Ephesians, whereas the same letter was sent to other congregations as well.
Now, this is important as we can’t interpret Ephesians in light of the peculiarities of the religious cults in Ephesus or its political situation. It was a general epistle, and we have no idea who the other recipients were (although Laodicea is a good candidate to be one of them: Col 4:16). Of course, many of the religious practices in Ephesus were typical of the Roman Empire, so its practices are hardly irrelevant. It’s just that the letter must not be read recognizing that each recipient congregation would read it in light of their own community’s history.
PS — The picture is of the library in Ephesus, which is an impressive structure and seems to fit the mood of the book. It was either a cool archaeological picture of Ephesus or a picture of page out of the Bible. I couldn’t find a picture of a several unnamed First Century Roman cities.
(Eph 1:1-2 ESV) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As always, Paul begins his epistle with a customary greeting. The phrasing “faithful in” could equally well be translated “believing in” — and either works. I imagine that in Paul’s mind, there was little difference between the two shades of meaning.
(Eph 1:3-6 ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Paul moves immediately to a doxology (verses 3 – 14), giving praise to God for a list of blessings.
Now, notice the Jewish expression “Blessed be the God and Father.” Paul blesses God! To Western ears this sounds nuts, but it is a very typical Jewish form of speaking. A blessing by a Jew is typically “blessed be” or even “I bless” rather than “May God bless.” The Greek for 1:3 is literally “Blessed the God and Father” — leaving the verb absent or even, as Lenski translates, making “blessed” a caption for the several verses that follow.
Paul uses variations on “bless” three times in v. 3. God has blessed us with every blessing and so we bless God.
The blessings are “in the heavenly places.” Of course, God lives in heaven, and his forgiveness and love are where he is. The greatest possible blessings are in heaven.
V. 4 is, of course, just a tad controversial. Paul declares that God chose “us” (plural throughout) before the creation of the world. “Foundation” could be translated as “beginning” or even “conception.” The thought is much the same. Paul is speaking of God before the creation however you look at it.
“Chose us” is in the aorist voice, referring to a point in time. God isn’t continually choosing his people. He chose us a long time ago. The verb “choose” takes us back to such passages as —
(Deu 4:37-39 ESV) 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
(Deu 7:7-8 ESV) 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
(Deu 10:15-16 ESV) 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
(Deu 14:2 ESV) 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
(Psa 33:12 ESV) 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
(Psa 135:4 ESV) 4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
(Isa 14:1 ESV) For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob.
(Isa 41:8-10 ESV) 8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“Chose” is a word with a rich and meaningful history in the scriptures and is repeatedly used to refer to God’s relationship with Israel — his chosen people. God chose Israel, as a matter of grace and not merit. And his choosing is certain. But, of course, individual members of Israel who rebel or lack faith can and did surrender their choosing. The other use of “choose” is to reference choices made to reject God —
(Isa 41:23-24 ESV) 23 Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. 24 Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you.
(Isa 65:11-12 ESV) 11 “But you who forsake the LORD, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny, 12 I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter, because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.”
Even the chosen, if they choose the wrong things, will suffer death at the hands of the Lord.
Now, there is, of course, a huge controversy, going back at least to Augustine, over whether this election by God is corporate (he chose the church) or individual (he chose me). And there is, of course, an element of truth in both. But here Paul is deliberately using the language of corporate election, making clear that the church is now the spiritual Israel, the recipient of all God’s blessings. As Paul argues at length in Rom 9 – 11, this is all according to God’s plan as partly revealed in the scriptures of the Old Testament and now fully revealed in Jesus.
As we’ll see as we get into Ephesians, Paul is deeply concerned with the unity of the church, especially Jews and Gentiles.
(Eph 2:13-16 ESV) 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
One goal of Paul’s in this part of Ephesians is to assure the Gentiles that they fully welcome into the Kingdom — and not as second-class citizens. God chose the Gentiles before Genesis 1:1! This is the outworking of a his plan.
Now, this is not to deny or affirm someone’s preferred Reformation theology. Rather, we just need to read Paul as a First Century rabbi called to be a missionary to the Gentiles by the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. And Paul isn’t writing to affirm or contradict Calvin. He’s writing to assure his readers that they belong.