I. God's Church: Its Theological Foundations 1:1-3:21
A. Prologue 1:1-2
The prologue to Ephesians contains the regular Pauline pattern in which he identifies himself, those to whom he writes, followed by greetings. We must be careful not to dismiss these opening comments as theologically vacuous or practically irrelevant. They are always rich and powerful.
1. author 1:1a
In Rom. 1:1 Paul referred to himself as "an apostle by calling" or "a called apostle." He wants to contrast the divine calling by which he became an apostle with human self-appointment by which others claim the authority. It wasn't ambition or personal effort, but grace alone, that put Paul in the office of apostleship:
"Grace came, omnipotent grace, and the rampart of that great soul fell like the walls of Jericho; the impregnable citadel was carried in an hour, and all its ample magazines [resources] were redeemed for the service of the Lord" (Adolphe Monod).
Here in Eph. 1:1 he uses the same terminology found in Col. 1:1 and 2 Cor. 1:1. Says Victor Furnish:
"when he describes himself as 'an apostle by the will of God,' he is not emphasizing his own obedience or response to a divine call. He is, instead, emphasizing the call itself, God's sovereign initiative in establishing him in an office to which he was destined even before his birth (Gal. 1:15) and for which, apart from the grace of God, he is in no way qualified. The apostolic authority about which he reminds his readers is based not in any personal merit of his own but solely in the grace of God which had been given to him" (Furnish, 102).
Paul didn't ask for the job, didn't aspire to the job, didn't apply for the job, sought no human nomination and looked to no human confirmation. Contrast this with many who loudly declare and promote themselves as "apostles" today.
This emphasis on the divine initiative in Paul's apostleship means that we "must listen to the message of Ephesians with appropriate attention and humility.. For we must regard its author neither as a private individual who is ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the church's greatest missionary hero, but as 'an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God', and therefore as a teacher whose authority is precisely the authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose inspiration he writes ."(Stott, 21-22)
Ephesians has more references to the "will of God" than any of Paul's writings. It occurs four times in this opening paragraph (1:1,5,9,11). The idea is not so much of a divine will that we are to find or discern but of God's eternal plan and purpose of redemption: his "will" for bringing maximum glory to himself through Jesus.
But what precisely did Paul mean when he claimed to be an "apostle of Christ Jesus" There are, in fact, four ways in which the word "apostle" is used in the NT:
1) Jesus - In one sense, Jesus is the one true apostle, the "sent one" from God the Father (Heb. 3:1).
2) The Twelve - The original twelve apostles (the eleven plus Matthias [Acts 1:26]) constitute a unique and closed company. They will have the distinct role of judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) and their names will be inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). [Note the qualifications that were required of the one who took the place of Judas (Acts 1:21-22).]
3) Paul and others - Another group of apostles, equal in authority to the twelve, includes Paul (1 Cor. 15:9), Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 15:7), and perhaps Silas (1 Thess. 2:7), Andronicus (Rom. 16:7) and Junias (Rom. 16:7). 1 Cor. 15:7 may be referring to yet more apostles.
* Although he was not included among the twelve, some would prefer to place Paul at Level 2 (or in a category unto himself), insofar as his authority was certainly equal to theirs (Gal. 1:11-17; 2 Cor. 12:11-12).
* Although men such as Timothy and Apollos were significant in the life of the early church, they are never called apostles. See especially the discussion concerning Timothy in Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and for Today (Crossway Books), pp. 272-75.
* Is Junias (Rom. 16:7) masculine or feminine? If feminine, then they are husband and wife. Recent examination of extensive Greek literature outside the Bible gives little help. The word Junias turned up only twice as a woman's name and only once as a man's name. If Junias is a woman, do we have reference here to a female apostle? It is possible (though not probable) to translate: "well known by the apostles," rather than "outstanding among the apostles." The point has been made that "since Andronicus and Junias were Christians before Paul was, it may be that their longstanding ministry (reaching back before Paul's) is precisely what Paul might have in mind when he says 'of note among the apostles.' They may well have been known among the apostles before Paul was even converted" (Piper/Grudem, 80). But we can't be certain. Most believe that, if Junias was a female apostle, she should be classified at level 4 below.
4) Messengers and Church Representatives - Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and the unnamed brethren of 2 Cor. 8:23 (possibly including Titus) fall into this category in which the term "apostle" (35x in Paul, 80x in the NT) is used in a non-technical, broad sense.
No one denies that there may be level 4 apostles today, people who function as church planters, ambassadors and/or representatives of a local church. Few, if any, want to argue that there are level 1 or 2 apostles today. But are there level 3 apostles today?
What qualifications are essential for Level 3 apostleship?
1) Eye-Ear Witness to the Risen Christ - To be an apostle one must have both seen and heard the risen Christ. This is implied by Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor.. 9:1, and 15:6-9. But simply seeing the risen Christ did not make someone an apostle, for many saw and heard Him (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:6) who were not apostles.
2) A Personal Call and Commission from Jesus - This is evident from the statements of Paul himself (Gal. 1:1; Rom. 1:1,5; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; etc.).
There are other features or characteristics of apostolic ministry that must be noted. Whereas the presence of these factors does not make one an apostle, their absence may well call into question the authenticity of one's claim to that office. One would be hard-pressed to find an apostle in the NT whose life was not characterized by these features.
(1) Success in ministry (1 Cor.9:2; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-3; [Paul appealed to the reality of their conversion as evidence of the authenticity of his apostolic calling]; but non-apostles also have great evangelistic success; see Philip in Acts 8).
(2) Signs and Wonders (Acts 5:12; Romans 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12); but non-apostles also performed signs and wonders; see Stephen in Acts 6 and Philip in Acts 8).
(3) Extreme suffering (Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 4:7-15; 11:23-33; etc.; certainly countless others also suffer).
(4) Christ-like life and humility (2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3-13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6,23-28; but there is no reason why a non-apostolic believer might not live at this same level of maturity).
(5) Special insight into divine mysteries (Eph. 3:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 11:25-32; 2 Cor. 12:1-4,7).
(6) Authority and the power to enforce it (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 4:18-21; 5:5; 2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10; 1 Tim. 1:20).
(7) God-orchestrated stigma (1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 12:1-10).
(8) Apostles were thus first in authority and last in privilege (first in authority [1 Cor. 12:28; 14:37; 5:3-5; see also Acts 4:32-37; 8:14ff.; 2 Cor. 10:8]; last in privilege [1 Cor. 4:9-12; 9:22-23]).
2. addressees 1:1b
The fact that the words "at Ephesus" (NASB) are not found in the best Greek manuscripts we have for this verse has led to numerous suggestions:
* Those who believe the words "at Ephesus" were not part of the original manuscript claim that this is consistent with the internal evidence. Little in the letter suggests it was written to a church where Paul had ministered for three years, to people with whom he had forged a deep personal and emotional relationship (cf. Acts 20). The only personal name mentioned, aside from Paul himself, is Tychicus (6:21-22).
* The problem, however, is that the manuscripts which omit "at Ephesus" put nothing in its place. This results in a rather awkward and un-Pauline grammatical construction that would read: "to the saints who are also believers in Christ Jesus." But if they are saints they are believers! It is unlikely that Paul would have written something so patently obvious.
* Some, such as F. F. Bruce, argue that a blank space was left after the verb "are" which Paul intended for Tychicus to fill in with the appropriate geographic name for each city or village or church to which he delivered a copy of the letter. But there is absolutely no precedent in ancient literature for this practice. Furthermore, if this were the case, we would expect "in/at" to remain to show Tychicus where he should insert the name. Also, as O'Brien notes, while this practice might be understandable in an age of photocopiers, it makes less sense at a time when every copy had to be made by hand. If the whole had to be handwritten, there seems to be little reason for omitting the two words of the address (85-6). Also, if Bruce's theory is correct it is surprising that no copy of this circular letter survived other than that addressed to Ephesus. Even those manuscripts that lack the word "in Ephesus" do not have another geographical place name (86). In other words, if Bruce were correct, one would expect that numerous manuscripts of this letter would have survived, each one with a different city or geographical locale mentioned in the text as the proper recipients.
* Andrew Lincoln, following van Roon, argues that there were actually two place names in the original text: Hierapolis and Laodicea (the author writing under the influence of Col. 4:13). Whereas they contend that this would make better grammatical sense, there is no manuscript evidence in support of it.
* Recently, Clinton Arnold has made a strong case for the authenticity of "at Ephesus" (see his arguments in the article in DPL, pp. 244-45). This does not mean, however, that the letter was written exclusively for one church at Ephesus. Says Arnold, "although many interpreters assume that there was one big church present in Ephesus when the letter was written, it is far more likely that there was a network of house churches scattered throughout the city and perhaps also in the nearby villages (e.g., Metropolis, Hypaipa, Diashieron, Neikaia, etc.)" (245). This, he believes, is sufficient to account for the largely impersonal nature of the letter's content.
* Perhaps the best conclusion is that "Ephesians was a general epistle sent to mainly Gentile believers in southwestern Asia Minor, and that it was linked with Ephesus at an early stage, perhaps because of its being a strategic church or because it was one of the several cities to which the letter was sent" (O'Brien, 86-7). Thus, although the letter had no original geographical identification, when it was decided that a name was necessary Ephesus was the obvious choice.
Paul refers to them as "saints" and "faithful in Christ Jesus."
Saints lit., holy ones. Paul regularly describes all believers this way, not just a select or elite few (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1-2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). The OT background for this terminology is found in Exod. 19:6. The focus is more on separation than sanctity (although the former should always lead to the latter). It has in view more one's position than purity. It is important to know that the word "saint" (as with the word "priest") is always found in the plural in the NT, with but once exception (Ph. 4:21; but even there, Paul refers to "every" saint!). What are the implications of this?
Faithful in Christ Jesus The term translated "faithful" refers not so much to reliability or trustworthiness (a passive meaning, pointing to their character) but to belief or faith (an active meaning, pointing to their activity). In 2 Cor. 6:15 the word stands in contrast to "unbelievers" (cf. 1 Tim. 4:10,12; 5:16; 6:2; Titus 1:6).
More will be said later in our study of Ephesians concerning the meaning of "in Christ." We simply note here that in Paul's 13 letters he uses the language of "in Christ" or "in the Lord" or "in him" or a similar expression no fewer than 164x! It is used in Ephesians alone some 36x!
Note well the emphasis on both earthly and spiritual geography: they live in both Ephesus and Christ! Snodgrass explains:
"To speak of Paul's sense of 'geography' is an attempt to describe the 'place' where he thought Christians live. In Paul's mind, just as these Christians live literally in the region near Ephesus, they also live in Christ. The terrain, climate, values, and history in which people grow up and live helps to define who they are. As really as this region near Ephesus defines who they are, Christ defines who believers really are. He is the 'sphere of influence' or 'power field' in which they live and from which they benefit and are transformed. That is, his Spirit, values, character, history, and purposes shape their lives. People can live in other spheres (cf. 2:1-3), but Christians live in Christ. Jesus Christ must never be depersonalized by such language, but we will not understand Paul unless we learn to think of life as lived in Christ" (40).
Thus there are two levels of experience for the believer, two kingdoms of which he/she is a citizen, two perspectives from which we may view life. For us today, we are in/at Kansas City. In a real sense, that is where we are. But it cannot and must not ever exhaust what we are. We are more than citizens of an earthly city or state or country. Bishop Handley Moule wrote the following of the same statement in Colossians 1. I have taken the liberty of replacing "Colossae" with "Ephesus:"
"They moved about Ephesus 'in Christ.' They worked, served, kept the house, followed the business, met the neighbors, entered into their sorrows and joys, . . . suffered their abuse and insults when such things came all 'in Christ.' They carried about with them a private atmosphere, which was not of Asia but of heaven. To them Christ was the inner home, the dear invisible but real resting place. . . . And what a rich gain for poor Ephesus, that they, being in Him, were in it" (28).
Permit me to preach for a moment! No matter where you are geographically and physically, what you are spiritually will never change. You may be at work, at play, overseas, under the weather, out of money, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! You may be down in the dumps, over the hill, or beside yourself, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! You may be at paradise or in prison, at the movies or in Belton, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! Your geographical, earthly, physical location has no affect on your spiritual identity. But the reverse is different. It is precisely because you are in Christ that wherever you live and work and play, you make an impact, you carry an influence, you make a difference. Your spiritual identity as one in Christ must control and characterize how you live, wherever you live. And remember: it is in Kansas City that you are in Christ. They are true simultaneously. You do not live in Christ only while you are at church or in class or in a home group, then to return to being simply in Kansas City when you leave that more "holy atmosphere." Your "in-Christness" is not simply a heavenly reality that obtains only somewhere up there. You are "in Christ" even when you are "in sin!"
3. greetings 1:2
Paul begins all of his letters by blessing his readers with the "grace" of God. This reference to "grace" is more than a standard literary device by which letters were begun. It is a sincere prayer for the release of divine favor and power into the lives of those to whom he writes. It is also significant that at the beginning of Paul's letters he says, "Grace [be] to you," while the blessings at the end say, "Grace [be] with you." Why? Piper suggests that
"at the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God's grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow 'from God' through Paul's writing to the Christians. So he says, 'Grace to you.' That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read --- 'grace [be] to you.' But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, 'What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?' He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: 'Grace [be] with you.' With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living" (Future Grace, 66-67).
Grace and peace are key words in this letter. In 2:14 Paul says that Jesus is himself our "peace." He has made or established "peace by his cross" (2:15). He came and preached "peace to Jews and Gentiles alike" (2:17). As his people we are to maintain unity in the bond of "peace" (4:3). Indeed, the very gospel is characterized by "peace" (6:15). Likewise, it is by his "grace that we are saved" (2:5,8) so that in the ages to come the surpassing riches of God's "grace" (2:7) might be seen. It is also by his "grace" (4:7) that we have been empowered for service in the church.
Note well: these blessings flow equally from both the Father and the Son. These blessings, notes Eadie, "descend from heaven, from God on His glorious throne, whose high prerogative it is to send down those special influences; and from Christ at His right hand, who has provided these blessed gifts by His sufferings and death" (8). What are the implications of this for the deity of Jesus?