Ephesians is surely one of the greatest of our NT books. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it 'the divinest composition of man. J. A. Robinson described it as 'the crown of St. Paul's writings. F. F. Bruce referred to it as 'the quintessence of Paulinism, and the Catholic scholar Raymond Brown contends that only Romans could match Ephesians 'as a candidate for exercising the most influence on Christian thought and spirituality. Klyne Snodgrass has written that ''Pound for Pound' Ephesians may well be the most influential document ever written. This letter is 'pure music, wrote John Mackay. 'What we read here is truth that sings, doctrine set to music. But before we look at Ephesians we must consider the nature of Paul's writings in general.
A. The Literary Characteristics of Paul's Writings
An essential part of exegesis is determining the genre of the literature you are studying. Genre refers to the kind or type of literature. For example, if an author has written a fairy tale, you don't interpret it as if it were historical narrative. Similarly, one must not assume that the principles or rules that govern the interpretation of the gospels will apply equally to the book of Revelation. [The best treatment of genre as it relates to the Pauline literature is Tom Schreiner's book, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Baker, 1990).]
The NT contains 4 basic genres of literature:
1. The Epistles, for the most part, are comprised of paragraphs of argument or exhortation. Here the exegete must learn, above all else, to trace the flow of the writer's argument in order to understand any single sentence or paragraph.
2. The Gospels are comprised of pericopes, individual units of narrative or teaching, which are of different kinds, with different formal characteristics, and which have been set in their present contexts by the Evangelists. [Many would argue that parable is a separate genre of literature within the gospels, with its own set of special characteristics and rules of interpretation.]
3. Acts is basically a series of connected shorter narratives that form one entire narrative interspersed with speeches.
4. The book of Revelation is basically a series of carefully constructed visions, woven together to form a complete apocalyptic narrative.
Another example of one genre appearing within another is the presence in 2 Thess. 2 and 2 Pet. 3 of apocalyptic elements. Although they have many things in common, each of these genres also has its own peculiar exegetical problems and 'rules' (see Gordon Fee, NT Exegesis , pp. 28-29). Our focus here is on the epistles. We will address 3 questions:
First, are Paul's writings Letters or Epistles?
The distinction, first given clear articulation by Adolph Deissmann early in the 20th century, is this: epistles, so goes the argument, were carefully crafted artistic and literary works intended for a wider public, with a view to being preserved for posterity; letters, on the other hand, were hurriedly sent to address specific situations or problems and were not intended by their author to be refined, literary compositions.
This distinction can be taken too far. Whereas Paul's writings were indeed occasional (they were 'occasioned' by some special circumstance either in the life of the author or the addressees), they were "not merely private individual letters. Paul wrote them as an apostle, and he expected them to be read in and obeyed by the Christian community (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Thess. 3:14). Indeed, even though Colossians addressed a specific situation, Paul thought its message would be helpful to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16). Apparently Paul believed that his specific and occasional instructions for the Colossians had a wider significance so that his words were relevant not only for the Colossians but also for the Laodiceans. Furthermore, at times Paul clearly said that his words were in fact the very word of God (1 Cor. 14:37-38; see Gal. 1:8). He did not conceive of his letters as mere human advice (see 1 Thess. 2:13). Thus, the letters had a normative and authoritative status from the beginning (which is perhaps why they were preserved), and letters written to particular communities could apply to other churches as well" (Schreiner, 25). Also, whereas Paul's letters responded to specific situations in specific churches, they show clear indications of being carefully constructed literary treatises.
Second, what is the structure of Paul's epistles? All of Paul's 13 letters consist of the opening, the body, and the closing.
a. the opening
1) sender (e.g., Paul)
2) addressees or recipients (e.g., the Thessalonians)
3) salutation (e.g., 'grace and peace to you)
4) prayer (usually one of thanksgiving; although see Gal. 1)
b. the body
c. the closing
Paul closes his letters with such items as: travel plans, his personal situtation, brief prayer, prayer requests, praise of his fellow workers, greetings to friends, final instructions, brief exhortations, a "grace" to you benediction, and a holy kiss.
Third, what are the characteristic features of Paul's epistles?
a. introductory formulas
Paul's letters often begin with certain phrases, two of which are disclosure formulas ("I do not want you to be ignorant" [Rom. 1:13], "Now I want you to know brothers" [Phil. 1:12]; and request formulas ("Now I exhort you" [1 Cor. 1:10], "Now we ask you brethren" [2 Thess. 2:1]).
"The characteristic feature of the diatribe is its conversational nature. The teacher (or writer) anticipates a possible objection or response to his argument, and puts the question or objection in the student's words and responds to it" (Schreiner, 36). For example, see Rom. 2:25-3:2; Rom. 5:20-6:1. On occasion Paul addresses his opponent with a direct statement, as in Rom.2:4; 9:20.
Parenesis, or exhortations, are pervasive in Paul's writings. E.g., virtually all of 1 Thess. is parenetic. In Romans, the parenetic section is found in 12:1-15:13. See also Gal. 5:13-6:10; Eph. 4:1-6:20; Col. 3:1-4:6.
d. hymns and confessional statements
See Eph. 5:14; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:16.
e. rhetorical criticism (?)
Recently some have argued that Paul used the rhetorical patterns of argumentation and structure found in the Greco-Roman handbooks. See, for example, the commentaries by Ben Witherington. He writes:
'Rhetoric is by definition the art of persuasion, and particular literary devices and forms were used in antiquity to persuade a hearer or reader to some position regarding the issue that the speaker or writer was addressing. Attention to the rhetorical dimension of Paul's letters has revealed how certain forms of argument or exhortation function in his letters, and thus how those forms ought to be interpreted (Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, xii).
Others, however, while acknowledging that Paul was probably familiar with rhetorical patterns of his day, are not convinced he structured his letters based on them. As Schreiner points out, 'the rules of rhetoric in these handbooks were designed for speeches not for written discourse. Rhetorical handbooks rarely refer to letters, and they do not contain prescriptions in terms of the type of argument employed, . . . nor do they recommend the following of a certain outline ('Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, SBJT, Vol. 3, No. 3, Fall 1999, 13). In addition, all too often the detailed schemes of rhetorical patterns appear to be imposed upon Paul's writings rather than emerging explicitly from them. See also the discussion of this in O'Brien, pp. 73-82.
f. the occasional nature of Paul's writings
Paul's letters "are not systematic treatises that were intended to present a complete Christian theology. They are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches" (Schreiner, 41-42). Examples: Galatians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians and the pastoral epistles. The two Pauline letters that appear to present something of a general 'Pauline theology are Romans and Ephesians. However, Romans says little of the second coming of Christ, even less of the nature of the church, and nothing at all about the Lord's Supper. Ephesians likewise omits significant theological elements found elsewhere in Paul's writings.
Ephesians is undoubtedly the least occasional of all Paul's letters. 'This does not mean that the letter fails to address real needs and problems faced by its readers; Ephesians simply does not have the same sense of urgency and response to crisis as do the apostle's other letters (DPL, 245).
Question: While recognizing the occasional nature of Paul's letters, how does one know if Paul is responding to a problem in the congregation or whether it is simply a part of the argument? Schreiner suggests two guidelines:
First, "the interpreter should ask, Did Paul say anything explicitly about the opponents in his letter?" (46) See, for example, Gal. 1:6-7; 4:10; 5:2-4; 6:12-13; Col. 2:8,16-23; and countless statements in 2 Corinthians designed to identify his adversaries and their false teaching.
Second, "if Paul frequently mentions a particular issue, and does so with urgency and clarity, then one may justly conclude that he is speaking against opponents" (46).
Pauline authorship of Ephesians was rarely if ever questioned in the early church. It wasn't until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that scholarly opinion began to shift. It may come as a surprise to learn that the majority of NT scholars today, including some conservative theologians, do not believe that Paul wrote the book, in spite of the fact that the author twice explicitly identifies himself as the famous apostle (1:1; 3:1).
The options concerning authorship are as follows:
* The letter was written by Paul (if so, see below on possible dates and provenance)
* The letter was written by Paul but with later additions by an unknown figure
* The letter was written by a close disciple of Paul's under his direction or perhaps immediately following Paul's death
* The letter was written by a disciple and imitator of Paul, several years after his death (some suggest Onesimus, Tychicus, or Luke)
What reasons are given for rejecting Pauline authorship?
1. the alleged impersonal character of Ephesians
The author gives no details of his suffering or imprisonment and appears to have only a general knowledge of his readers (cf. 1:13,15,16). Some also point to the absence of personal greetings to members of the church at Ephesus and contrast this with Romans 15-16. We know that Paul lived and ministered in Ephesus for almost three years and developed a deep and emotionally intimate relationship with the people and their leaders (see Acts 20:17-38). This being true, how could he now address to them specifically a letter that is so relationally distant and emotionally impersonal?
But this reflects more on the identity of the letter's recipients than it does on the identity of its author. If the words 'in Ephesus (1:1) were not part of the original text (and there is good reason to doubt they were), then the letter might still have been written by Paul as a general epistle or circular document (see below) that was sent not only to the Ephesian church but to all the many Gentile congregations in southwestern Asia Minor. If so, the seemingly impersonal character of the letter would make perfectly good sense.
In his article in DPL, Clinton Arnold argues for the authenticity of the words 'in Ephesus in 1:1. Yet he acknowledges that the letter was sent to more than the Christians in that one city: 'The letter was probably a circular letter in the sense that it was intended primarily to circulate among the house churches of Ephesus, its environs and perhaps even more broadly in western Asia Minor (245).
Something should also be said about the alleged impersonal comment of Paul in 1:15 ('ever since I heard about your faith . . .). Critics of Pauline authorship wonder why the apostle would describe only in terms of hearsay the faith of people he purported knows so well. But as Liefeld points out,
'further reflection . . . helps us realize that the Pauline churches grew and declined with sobering rapidity. Galatians 1:6 ('I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you . . .) illustrates that, and even the Ephesian church eventually forsook its first love (Rev. 2:4). Surely it was important to Paul that he 'heard' sometime after his time in Ephesus of the Ephesians' continuing faith and love (15).
2. language and style
A standard argument by those who reject Pauline authorship is that the language and style of Ephesians is different from the uncontested Pauline letters. a) There are 41 hapax legomena (words used only once in the NT) in Ephesians and another 84 words are not found in Paul's other letters but are used in other NT documents. b) They also point to numerous phrases or combinations of words that are unique to Ephesians. Finally, c) there are several lengthy sentences in Ephesians that are extended by relative or causal clauses.
But consider Galatians, a letter that no one denies was written by Paul. In it there are 35 hapax legomena! Philippians contains 79 words that do not appear in the other undisputed Pauline letters, including 36 that appear nowhere else in the NT. We must also remember that 'Paul uses distinctive vocabulary in each of his letters, not just in Ephesians. This may be due to a range of factors bound up with the apostle's mood, his relationships with the readers, and the issues addressed -- in short, the whole epistolary situation (O'Brien, 6). Best also points out that hapax legomena 'are in fact rarely a good guide since subject matter affects the choice of words (28). Finally, when compared with other Pauline literature the long sentences are not that out of the ordinary, even if Ephesians does have a few more than most. I agree with O'Brien's conclusion: 'To suggest that he [Paul] could not have written in this vein [i.e., with longer sentence structure] is really to question Paul's resourcefulness. . . . Perhaps in a more reflective mood, when there were no major or pressing pastoral problems, the apostle deliberately used exalted liturgical language . . . as he praised God for his glorious plan of salvation . . . and edified his predominantly Gentile readers (7-8).
3. the literary relationship between Ephesians and Colossians
Anyone can see the often striking similarities between these two letters (see especially the chart at the end of this lesson comparing Ephesians and Colossians [taken from Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, 628]). Of the 1,750 words in Colossians, 34% are paralleled in Ephesians, while 26.5% of the 2,411 words in Ephesians are paralleled in Colossians. See especially the commendation of Tychicus in Col. 4:7-8 and Eph. 6:21-22 where there is a verbatim correspondence between 29 consecutive words. There are also numerous thematic and structural parallels between the two books. Most modern scholars believe, therefore, that Colossians was written first (whether by Paul or not is hard to determine) and that Ephesians is dependent upon it. As Lincoln notes, 'everything points . . . to a later follower of Paul who used Colossians as the basis for his own reinterpretation of the Pauline gospel (lxviii).
But even should we concede the literary dependence of Ephesians on Colossians (which, by the way, is far from certain), this hardly proves that the former is non-Pauline! Is it not just as likely, if not moreso, that one person wrote two letters in the same time frame (one of which was addressed to a specific problem in one congregation and the other more general and addressed to a broader area)? Clinton Arnold put it this way:
'it is not unreasonable to think of Paul re-expressing, developing and modifying his own thoughts for a different readership facing a different set of circumstances (DPL, 243).
4. theological differences
The argument is made that there are significant theological differences between what we read in Ephesians and what we read in the undisputed Pauline letters. It is true, on the one hand, that Ephesians emphasizes Christ's resurrection and exaltation more than his death and humiliation, focuses less on justification by faith alone than does Romans or Galatians, has a developed ecclesiology, and stresses a realized eschatology (with less emphasis on the parousia). But none of these doctrinal emphases is in any way incompatible with Pauline theology. That Paul shifts his theological focus is more readily explained by the needs of his readers, his own personal circumstances, as well as the literary creativity of this great mind. The burden of proof would appear to rest on those who contend that Paul was incapable of this sort of literary and theological versatility.
5. the portrait of Paul himself
The primary argument here is that Paul would never have written what we read in Eph. 3:1-13. 'The seemingly self-centered statements about Paul's own apostolic role, for example, have led those who reject Pauline authorship to conclude that these verses are the attempt by a pseudonymous writer to claim Paul's authority and theology for himself (Snodgrass, 26). The most troublesome verse is 3:5 where the expression 'holy apostles and prophets is found. Would Paul have used this adjective of himself? Does it not seem pompous and self-promoting? No. We must remember that the word 'holy meant 'those whom God had set apart or 'consecrated to himself. Indeed, this is the word Paul uses frequently to describe allChristians (i.e., 'saints or 'holy ones). I agree with Snodgrass that 'nothing more is intended by 3:5 than one finds in Romans 1:1-5, where Paul describes himself as 'called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God' and as one who has received 'grace and apostleship' to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles (27).
H. J. Cadbury once wrote: 'Which is more likely that an imitator of Paul in the first century composed a writing ninety or ninety-five percent in accordance with Paul's style or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging five or ten percent from his usual style? ('The Dilemma of Ephesians, NTS 5 [1958-59], 101). The latter seems more likely to me.
If indeed Paul the apostle wrote Ephesians, as I believe he did, he did so while in prison. Three Pauline imprisonments are possible, Rome being most likely:
in Ephesus, hence @ 55
in Caesarea, hence @ 58
in Rome, hence @ 60 (O'Brien says it is closer to 61-62 a.d.)
C. The Problem of Pseudonymity
Before we leave the subject of authorship, we must address the explicit use of the name 'Paul in Eph. 1:1 and 3:1. How do those who deny Pauline authorship deal with this? Most appeal to the literary device known as pseudonymity. Pseudonymity was a common literary convention in the Jewish and Greco-Roman world, wherein a letter or book would claim to be written by a given author (usually a well-known figure of a previous generation) when in fact it was not. O'Brien, who rejects pseudonymity for Ephesians, nevertheless provides this helpful explanation:
'In the case of Ephesians, the author, who may have been a coworker or associate of Paul, perhaps even one of the members of a Pauline 'school,' was aware of the apostle's thinking, and consciously worked with the heritage of his thought in order to preserve it and pass it on in a form that was adapted for his or her own time. Ephesians is an attempt by the author to present a timely reaffirmation of the essentials of Paul's teaching to a later generation (38).
Lincoln, who advocates pseudonymity for Ephesians, makes this comment:
'If Ephesians was written after the death of Paul [and Lincoln contends it was written between 80 and 90 a.d.; Paul was martyred in @ 65-66 a.d.], it is hard to believe that these churches of the Pauline mission in Asia Minor [to which Ephesians was addressed] would not have known of such an important event as his martyrdom. Rather they would have recognized this product of one of their trusted teachers as in harmony with the Pauline tradition that he and others had continued to mediate to them. Therefore both writer and original readers would have been knowing participants in this particular mode of communication [emphasis mine], in which the writer wishes to present his teaching not simply as his own but as in the apostolic tradition which has Paul as it source (lxxii).
Be it noted that the issue is not whether pseudonymity existed in the ancient world but whether there are pseudonymous writings in the NT. It is highly unlikely that pseudonymity was acceptable to the early church when it came to the Scriptures. The following observations are critical:
* First, O'Brien points out that in the post-NT era 'if a work was known to be pseudonymous it was excluded from the canon of authoritative writings (40). "There appears to be no example of anyone in the early church accepting a book as truly canonical while denying that it was written by the author whose name it bears" (Carson, Moo, Morris, An Introduction to the NT, [Zondervan], 371).
* Second, 'the early Christians knew how to pass on the teachings of an authority figure without using the literary device of pseudonymity (O'Brien, 42-43). See, for example, the way Mark introduces his gospel (1:1) and the way Luke narrates apostolic teaching in the third person in the book of Acts without resorting to authorial deception.
* Third, consider the fact that if pseudonymity is used in Ephesians the author will have fabricated actual historical situations in Paul's personal life. It is one thing to write another person's theology in that person's name for the sake of passing on that tradition; it is another thing entirely to make up situations and feelings which you have no way of knowing that person ever experienced.
* Fourth, and related to the above, is the request by 'Paul in Eph. 6:19-20 that the readers pray specifically for his needs! How can this be if both the author and the readers know that the apostle is already dead? 'Either Paul seeks prayer for himself, or someone seeks to mislead the readers into thinking he does. And if it is the latter, how does this fit with the notions of honesty and integrity in prayer that is offered to a righteous, holy God? (O'Brien, 43).
* Fifth, "if we may start with the New Testament itself, we find Paul instructing the Thessalonians to give no credence to any 'prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us' (2 Thess. 2:2) and telling them of 'the distinguishing mark' in all his letters (2 Thess. 3:17). This suggests that pseudonymous letters were not entirely unknown; on the other hand, it certainly shows that the apostle did not agree with the practice of pseudonymity -- at least in the case where someone was writing a letter in his name! He does not regard this as acceptable; in principle, he repudiates the practice, regarding pseudonymity as something to be guarded against, for he gives his readers a token whereby they might know which writings come from him and which make a false claim" (C,M,M, 367). As O'Brien also notes, 'if that author [in 2 Thess. 2:1-2] was not Paul, but a later writer engaging in pseudonymity . . ., then he is condemning forgery while at the same time engaging in it himself! (43).
* Sixth, in terms of non-canonical literature dating from the time of the NT, "there is not one such letter emanating from the Christians from anywhere near the New Testament period, and precious few even from later times. It may be correct that New Testament Christians commonly wrote letters in names not their own (an opinion that scholars routinely perpetuate), but we should be clear that it flies in the face of all the evidence we have about the way letters were written in first-century Jewish and Christian communities" (C,M,M, 368).
* Seventh, "the early Christians appear to have had no great urge to attach apostolic names to the writings they valued. More than half of the New Testament consists of books that do not bear the names of their authors (the four gospels, Acts, Hebrews, 1 John; even 'the elder' of 2 and 3 John is not very explicit). Apparently the truth in the documents and the evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work in the people who wrote them carried conviction, and the attachment of apostolic names was not judged necessary" (C,M,M, 368).
* Eighth, one must also take note of the strong warnings in the pastoral epistles about deceivers (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:13; Titus 1:10). See esp. Titus 3:3. "Would a person who speaks of deceit like this put the name of Paul to a letter he himself had composed? Would he say so firmly, 'I am telling the truth, I am not lying' (1 Tim. 2:7)?" (C,M,M, 371).
* Ninth, 'it is hard to believe that somewhere in the early church there existed a genius of a forger who blended the genuine writings of Paul into a composite so excellent in style, logical in arrangement, and lofty in content that he must have been at least the apostle's peer in intellectual ability and spiritual insight, able even to provide the church with a further development of Pauline thoughts, and then leave no trace behind as to his identity (Hendriksen, 53-54).
* Tenth, and finally, we must take note of 1:1 in which the author identifies himself not simply as Paul but as an 'apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Both Lincoln and Best, who reject Pauline authorship, contend that the author refers to himself this way in order to give the letter an authority and power that comes only from one who held such high office in the church. But according to both, the very man who actually held such high office did not, in fact, write the book. My understanding of 1:1 is that we must listen to the content of this letter precisely because it is none other than Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, who is writing it. Those who reject Pauline authorship must then add, 'Oh, but of course, that's not true. Someone who is not an apostle is writing it. So just pretend that Paul did write it so that you will feel obligated to believe and obey its contents. In effect, they are telling us that here is a man who has appointed himself to write as if he were the man who did not appoint himself, but was appointed by God. In other words, 'Paul is an apostle by God's will, whereas I, by my will, am pretending to be him so that you will feel justified in accepting as authoritative all that I say in his name. What?! This alleged pseudonymous author is writing from his self-appointment to authority, which is precisely what he portrays Paul saying he, Paul, would never do!
Thus "the difficulty is not the idea of pseudonymity but the lack of evidence that the New Testament Christians gave any countenance to the idea. Nowhere is evidence cited that any member of the New Testament church accepted the idea that a pious believer could write something in the name of an apostle and expect the writing to be welcomed" (370).
D. Destination of the Letter
This question might appear to be settled by the traditional rendering of 1:1 'to the saints who are at Ephesus. However, as will be noted in our lesson on that text, the best Greek manuscripts do not contain the words 'at Ephesus.
Thus, most NT scholars agree that the so-called Epistle to the Ephesians was written to western Asia Minor (see the map). Few would argue that the believers in Ephesus were intended by Paul as the sole recipients of the letter. In all likelihood, Paul meant for this epistle to be an encyclical or circular letter. That is to say, Paul intended for copies (or perhaps, the original) to be sent to all the churches in that region of the Roman empire. It makes sense to assume that it was initially sent to Ephesus, since the latter was the center for communication and commerce throughout the province.
In his excellent commentary, Ernest Best declines to say anything substantive about the city of Ephesus since the letter was not written primarily to its church. However, even if this letter was designed for a broader audience, Ephesus was the undisputed center of religious and political life in that region of the Roman empire. Knowing something of its history and character, therefore, can only enhance our study.
Let me try to briefly reconstruct Paul's movements in relation to Ephesus. (See also the appended chart on the chronology of the biblical period.)
* Paul first preached the gospel in Corinth during his second missionary journey, probably in late 50 or early 51 a.d. He worked with Priscilla and Aquila as a tentmaker and probably lived with them. The results of Paul's initial ministry in Corinth are recorded in Acts 18:1-11. While there Paul regularly went to the synagogue and reasoned with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, seeking to demonstrate, as was his custom, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah prophesied by the OT Scriptures.
* After 1 1/2 years of ministry in Corinth, probably in the spring of 52 a.d., Paul made his way with Priscilla and Aquila to the city of Ephesus. While there, he ministered in the synagogue, as described in Acts 18:18-22. After only a brief stay, he left Priscilla and Aquila there and departed for Jerusalem. From there he went to Antioch, eventually returning to Ephesus where he remained for the next 2 1/2 years (from the fall of 52 to the spring of 55 a.d.; see Acts 19:1-20:1). It was during this 2 1/2 year period of ministry in Ephesus that the Corinthian correspondence was composed. It was also the time and place where he faced some of the worst opposition to the gospel he had yet encountered. He refers to this in 2 Cor. 1:8-10. In late 55 a.d. (some say the spring of 56), he left Ephesus and went to Troas hoping to meet Titus. A year later he visited the elders of the church of Ephesus in Miletus on his way to Jerusalem from Corinth (Acts 20:16-38).
* We also know that at a later time Timothy ministered there (1 Tim. 1:3). The effect of the gospel in Ephesus is best illustrated by the incident recorded in Acts 19:23-41 (esp. vv. 23-29; the theater mentioned there could accommodate more than 24,000 people). It was believed that the apostle John spent his final years in Ephesus, from which city he also wrote his gospel account. Eusebius records that he was buried there. Later tradition also locates the grave of Mary, mother of Jesus, in Ephesus.
Although not the titular capital of Asia (Pergamum held that honor), Ephesus was the most important political center of all. The imperial cult was present in there, as the temples of Claudius, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Severus give ample testimony. Religion and magic were hopelessly intertwined and the magical arts were widely prevalent (cf. Acts 19:19). As Charles put it, Ephesus 'was a hotbed of every kind of cult and superstition (48).
The most preeminent of all religious attractions was the Temple of Diana (or Artemis), the largest building in the Greek world. It was originally built in 550 b.c. and was made entirely of marble. It was destroyed in the fourth century b.c. and construction began anew (with the same dimensions) in the first half of the third century. It was regarded as one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the temple was called the Artemision). The platform on which the temple was built measured more than 100,000 square feet. Pliny the Elder gives the dimensions as 425 ft. long, 220 ft. wide (hence, 93,500 square feet), and 60 ft. high (Hist. Nat. xxxvi. 95ff.). Some 127 pillars were made of marble and 36 were overlaid with gold and jewels.
There were probably by Paul's time numerous house churches in Ephesus. Lower estimates for the city's population in the first century begin at 250,000. Churches probably existed also in the villages in the immediate vicinity of Ephesus. When one adds to this the cities of Asia Minor where large churches were known to exist (e.g., Laodicea, Pergamum, Sardis), the circle of Christians for whom Paul wrote this letter becomes quite expansive.
Not only was Ephesus the center for commerce and communication, being the 'chief city of Asia Minor, it was, as noted above, a hub for magical arts and other occultic practices, principal among which were the "Ephesian Letters" (Ephesiagrammata). These six magical terms/names (askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus, and aisia) were alleged to possess power that would ward off evil spirits. People used them as either spoken charms or written amulets to obtain power and to protect them from harm.
According to one popular story of the day, an Ephesian wrestler was unbeatable in the ancient Olympics because he wore the "Ephesian Letters" around his ankle. When this was discovered by the officials it was removed, after which he proceeded to lose three consecutive matches! Paul may have been alluding to this story with his use of pale, 'struggle, in Ephesians 6. Arnold (117) explains:
"The allusion could have proved an effective way of communicating to the converts that they should no longer 'put on' the Ephesia Grammata as an amulet (i.e., turn to magic), but should now 'put on' the armor of God (i.e., the power of God). Furthermore, they would also understand in a fresh way that the struggle in which they have been enlisted as Christians is against supernatural 'powers' -- in fact, the very supernatural 'powers' who were summoned to their aid by the Ephesia Grammata are now the attacking opponents which they need to resist!"
The most dominant and influential expression of religious life in Ephesus was the cult of Diana (also called Artemis; see Acts 19:11-20). The temple served not only a religious purpose but also functioned as a banking and financial center. Incredible spiritual power was attributed to Diana/Artemis. Oster summarizes her power:
'The veneration of the Ephesian goddess did not come solely from her ability to be sympathetic and involved in the human problems and predicaments of her worshippers. This aspect of her character was equally matched in the eyes of her suppliants by her transcendent power, . . . her ability to help her worshippers stemmed, in fact, from her awesome power. It was because of her supra-natural powers that she could intercede between her followers and the cruel fate which plagued them. To those who called upon Artemis she was Savior . . . Lord . . . and Queen of the Cosmos . . . . She was a heavenly goddess . . . whose being and character could only be described in superlatives (cited by Arnold, 21).
Her power was symbolically portrayed by the various ornaments found on her dress and necklaces. 'The rows of lions, steers, and other animals depicted by relief on her skirt demonstrate the compelling authority she was believed to have possessed over all powers [in particular, the harmful spirits of nature] since mythical antiquity. Likewise, the fact that the signs of the zodiac were so prominently displayed around her neck would assure the devotee that Artemis possessed an authority and power superior to that of astrological fate (Arnold, 21). The devotee of the Ephesian Diana/Artemis 'would find assurance in worshiping a goddess who was unaffected by the grip of astrological fate. This association with the zodiac indicates too that one could also seek oracular advice from her about one's future plans (28). Countless interpretations have been given of the bulbous objects on her chest: breasts, bee eggs, ostrich eggs, steer testicles, grapes, nuts, acorns, just to mention a few! Most believe, however, that at minimum they point to her role as a goddess of fertility.
Diana was also viewed as a goddess of the underworld and thus closely associated with Hekate. She is portrayed as possessing power and authority over the many demons of the dead and the demons of nature. She could be invoked by her followers to raise the dead, heal the sick, and protect the city.
We should take special note of the promise for those who 'overcome given to the church at Ephesus in Rev. 2:7. The reward is participation in 'the tree (zulon) of life which is in the paradise of God. There are brief references to 'the tree of life in Prov. 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; and 15:4. This tree is mentioned 4x in Revelation (2:7; 22:2,14,19). Aune believes that this points to 'a restoration of God's original intention for humankind that was frustrated by sin, for Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden to prevent them from eating of the tree of life (Gen. 3:24) (1:152). Thus in paradise the verdict of Eden is reversed ('there shall be no more curse, Rev. 22:3). The original condition of Adam in his unfallen state will be restored (and, no doubt, enhanced). But Aune then goes on to suggest that 'the tree of life is not simply a symbol for eternal life alone, but also represents the cosmic center of reality where eternal life is present and available, and where God dwells (1:152).
Colin Hemer (The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting) contends that there was something analogous to the tree of life in the Diana cult in Ephesus that makes the promise in Rev. 2:7 especially relevant.
He begins by arguing that the reference may actually be to the cross of Christ. In the book of Acts (5:30; 10:39; 13:29) explicit reference is make to the 'tree (zulon) on which Jesus was crucified; likewise in Gal. 3:13 and 1 Peter 2:24. [By the way, the Greek word for 'cross (stauros) never occurs in Revelation.]
Hemer then points to the fact that two passages in ancient literature describe the foundation of the temple of Diana as a tree shrine! Inscriptions on coins from that era indicate that the tree, together with the bee and the stag, were distinctively associated with Diana of Ephesus. In addition, the temple was famous as a place of refuge or asylum for fleeing criminals, whose safety there was described as soteria ('salvation!). For the Ephesian believers, 'the cross [the tree of life] was the place of refuge for the repentant sinner in contrast with the tree [in Diana's temple] which marked the asylum for the unrepentant criminal (55). Diana's 'tree of refuge gave the criminal immunity to continue his crimes. Christ's 'tree of refuge, on the other hand, gives the repentant sinner eternal forgiveness! The so-called 'salvation of the fleeing criminal corrupted the city of Ephesus. 'The Ephesian who had to live with this problem understood the promise of a city-sanctuary pervaded by the glory of God. Of that city it was said: 'There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie' (Rev. 21:27) (51).
E. Purpose of Ephesians
One's understanding of the purpose of Ephesians may well be tied up with the issue of authorship. There is also the fact, noted above, that Ephesians is the leastsituational of all Paul's letters. There is nothing in the text of the letter that explicitly identifies false teachers or other crises that might have provoked the apostle to write it. Given these facts, Arnold provides a good (and safe) summary of this letter's purpose:
'In the period of time since Paul's ministry in Ephesus, the churches of the area had engaged in extensive evangelism among the Gentiles. These new believers lacked a personal acquaintance with Paul but respected his role as apostle. Being converts from a Hellenistic religious environment mystery religions, magic, astrology these people needed a positive grounding in the Pauline gospel from the apostle himself. Their fear of evil spirits and cosmic powers was also a great concern, especially the question of where Christ stands in relation to these forces. Because of their pagan past, they also needed help and admonishment in cultivating a lifestyle consistent with their salvation in Christ, a lifestyle free from drunkenness, sexual immorality, stealing and bitterness. Although there were many Jewish Christians (and former God-fearers) in the churches of the region, the flood of new Gentile converts created some significant tensions. Their lack of appreciation for the Jewish heritage of their faith prompted some serious Jew-Gentile tensions in the churches.