A Brief Introduction to Ephesians: Who and Why

The letter of Paul the apostle to the church at Ephesus is one of the theologically deepest writings in the Bible. And it is one of my favorite as well. Paul’s writing here helps us to better understand God’s purpose in creation, our position ‘in Christ’, and how to live as believers in this world. This post is a brief introduction to Ephesians.

Who Was the Author

The apostle Paul is traditionally considered to be the author of Ephesians. However this is a matter of dispute among modern scholars.  The dispute seems mostly to center around the use of some specific words not used in other Pauline writings. In addition, there is a more fully developed idea of Christ and his church than is found in some of his earlier writings.  As a result many see that this was a later writing produced by a disciple of Paul and attributed to him.  I have read many of the arguments for and against the traditional view of Paul’s authoring of this letter. But I have yet to see a compelling reason to doubt his authorship.

The Intended Audience for Ephesians

The traditional view holds that this letter was written to the church at Ephesus. This is a city that Paul ministered in for around 3 years. And it was the center of his mission to the Roman province of Asia, what is today Turkey. 

There is some dispute about the traditional audience though. Paul does not include any personal references to people he knew there. And he seems to rely on second hand testimony concerning their faith. Also, some of the earlier manuscripts do not include the words ‘in Ephesus’ in the address.  

I think it is possible that this letter was originally more of an open letter to all the saints rather than addressed to a specific church. And, if that is true, then what we have preserved is a copy obtained by the church at Ephesus. A copy they added their name to. But ultimately it really doesn’t matter to me.  I read it as a letter addressed to me and to the church I am a part of.

When It Was Written

The date you give to this epistle will be largely determined by who you understand to have written it. If you favor Paul as the author, then it is likely that it was written during his Roman imprisonment recorded at the end of Acts. Making it sometime in the early A.D. 60’s.

However, if you favor a different author then it will have a later date of composition. I favor the traditional Pauline authorship of the letter. And see it as written during his Roman imprisonment. That would place its composition at roughly the same time as Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.

The Purpose of Ephesians

More than any other book in the Bible, Ephesians helps me to understand the big picture. In it I see God’s purpose for, and working in, his creation; what it’s all about.  In some ways it is like being given a peak behind the curtains.  Paul’s prayers for the saints are significant. They help me to prayer for others. They also help me to understand what God wants to do in my life.  And his description of the armor we are to don gives me hope for engaging in the spiritual conflict that wages around us.

Common Themes

Grace is a major theme in Ephesians, being mentioned eleven times. It is by God’s grace that we experience salvation. And we are equipped for service by his grace. God’s grace is indispensable for the Christian life.

Paul grounds much of our experience as believers ‘in Christ’. This is a common expression in Ephesians. It is when I am in Christ that I experience the blessings of knowing God and being in relationship with him.

Paul is very concerned about the church and the relationships we have in the body. Christ died to erase the distinctions that divide us in the world, being us together into one new humanity.

And Paul spends much of this letter giving instruction on how to live as believers. Together within the body, within the family, and standing against evil in the world. We are not called just to ensure our eternity. But also to live faithfully in the here and now.

Outline of Ephesians

Summary

To summarize this introduction to Ephesians, I accept Pauline authorship of this letter, although accept that Ephesus may not have been the original target audience. And, to me, the most significant aspect of Ephesians is its big picture. The big picture of what God is up to in his creation. I also find the prayers to be useful in my own prayer life. And the picture of spiritual warfare is eye-opening.

Post History

  • January 12, 2012: Original post
  • July 6, 2018: Updated for content and SEO
  • March 19, 2020: Updated
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