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EphesiansZondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
By Clinton E. Arnold
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Clinton E. Arnold
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIntroduction to Ephesians
Ephesians is truly an amazing and wonderful letter. Its few pages cover an extraordinary range of theological topics with clarity and precision. The contents are simple enough and so foundational that the letter should be read and studied by every new believer. Yet the theological concepts are so profound that the most mature Christians never seem to master its depths.
The book begins by teaching us that the study of theology should be combined with praise and adoration of our awesome God, who has done so much for us. The apostle Paul punctuates his poetic expression of what God has accomplished for us in Christ with a refrain of praise to the glory of God-and that should be our response as well.
This letter summarizes what it means to be a Christian better than any other book of the Bible. It clarifies the heart of the Christian faith, explores the dynamics of a personal relationship with Christ, sets forth God's overall plan for the church, and draws out the implications of what it means to live as a Christian.
Ephesians is distinct from Paul's other letters in that there is no conflict situation or glaring problem that has prompted the apostle to write. For instance, there are no Jewish Christians asserting the indispensability of circumcision and calendar observances (Galatians), no divisions over loyalty to different leaders (1 Corinthians), no competing apostles attempting to undermine his message (2 Corinthians), and no syncretistic faction demeaning the sufficiency of Christ (Colossians).
This does not mean, however, that the recipients are problem free and simply need a pat on the back. There are concerns, but they are of a more general nature. There is a hint of ongoing tensions between Jews and Gentiles in the church. Paul has a continuing pastoral concern about helping Christians converted from a background of magical practices and allegiance to other deities become deeply rooted in their relationship to Christ and his power. And Paul wants his many Gentile readers to keep growing in their new lifestyle as believers by ceasing their former sinful practices and living out the virtues commended to them by Christ.
Throughout the letter, Paul's tone is positive and upbeat, but, as usual, never compromising. The words he writes are meant exclusively for the Christian community and not for outsiders. In fact, some of what he says would be downright offensive to nonbelievers. A worshiper of Artemis/Diana would take great exception to his monotheism and intimations that the local religions were evil and even demonic. Similarly, a Jew from the local synagogue would continue to be incensed over the way Paul portrays Jesus in divine terms, affirms him as the fulfillment of Israel's hope, and declares the Torah to be abolished. In a similar way, Ephesians has much to say that is not "politically correct" in the contemporary world. What's more, Paul has a great deal to say to the evangelical church of today that may cause us to squirm and feel uncomfortable.
When we carefully examine this essay that comes in at less than 2,500 words, it is remarkable how many issues it addresses that continue to be hot topics and issues in today's church. Here are just a few of these (put in more contemporary language):
assimilation ministry and the training of new believers
the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will
worship in the church, including the issue of diversity in form and style
gender roles in marriage
God's design and plan for the church
the basis and call for ecumenical unity
the gospel in an animistic context
the contextualization of theology
living in a context of religious pluralism
the gift of being an apostle
the gift of prophecy
the role of the Jewish law
the local church and missions
intercessory prayer in the Christian life
the nature of spiritual power
the ongoing work of Satan and demons
Pastors and teachers will discover that every paragraph of Ephesians is filled with content that is relevant to Christians in local churches today wherever they are located.
Three issues have stood out as most prominent in the history of interpretation of this letter. These are (1) the authorship of the letter (are critical scholars right in asserting that Paul did not compose the letter?); (2) destination (was the letter not really written to Ephesus?); and (3) the purpose of the letter (was there a specific situation or set of problems that prompted the writing of the letter and, if so, what was this?). I will explore each of these issues in this introduction.
Throughout the history of the church, the Ephesian destination of the letter was largely unquestioned. This was self-evident because the designation "To the Ephesians" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) was the superscript (or, heading) to every copy of the letter and because the first verse designated the recipients as, "the saints who are in Ephesus" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).
Beginning in the mid-1800s, five Greek manuscripts came to light that were missing the place-name in the text of 1:1. Although five manuscripts may seem hardly enough to overturn the testimony of five thousand Greek manuscripts, every ancient foreign language version of the Bible (including Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Slavonic, and others), and the near unanimous tradition of the church, three of the five manuscripts are generally regarded as the earliest and most reliable witnesses of the Greek New Testament that we have today. These three are the fourth-century codex Vaticanus (B), the fourth-century codex Sinaiticus ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and a third-century papyrus codex from the Chester Beatty collection ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). In addition to these are two minuscule (cursive) manuscripts dating to the tenth and thirteenth centuries respectively (designated as 1739 and 6).
When the illustrious British scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort published their critical edition of the Greek New Testament in 1881, they printed Eph 1:1 with "in Ephesus" in bold print and enclosed in brackets to indicate their opinion that it was a questionable reading. In a companion volume that included their analysis of particular variant readings, they quickly dismissed the viability of "in Ephesus" because of the combined testimony of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. In their two-page discussion of the variant, they reviewed all of the relevant historical information and concluded that because Ephesians has the appearance of a general letter designed for a number of churches, Paul probably had multiple copies made and left a blank space where Tychicus could insert the respective names of each of the churches who received a copy.
Their edition of the Greek New Testament had a profound impact on English language versions of the Bible. It served as the basis for the English Revised Version (1881) which, in turn, was the exemplar for the American Standard Version (1901). The ASV was the predecessor to the Revised Standard Version (1952) and the New American Standard Bible (1971). All of these versions cast doubt on the authenticity of "in Ephesus," with the RSV going the farthest by eliminating it from the text and simply including a footnote that read, "Other ancient authorities read who are at Ephesus and faithful" (although the NRSV reinserts it into the actual text). Most modern English translations include "in Ephesus" in the text, but footnote it with something like, "the most ancient manuscripts do not include in Ephesus" (NLT).
The discovery of a third-century papyrus manuscript ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of Ephesians in the early 1930s that omitted "in Ephesus" helped to solidify the opinion of many biblical scholars inclined to follow Westcott and Hort's conclusion that the place-name was a later addition.
In addition to the manuscript testimony, a handful of early church fathers were familiar with a form of the text that omitted "in Ephesus." In his commentary on Ephesians, Origen, cites Eph 1:1b as reading, "to the saints who are, and the faithful in Christ Jesus" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). He then speculates on what Paul might mean by "the saints who are" by citing Exod 3:14 (Yahweh as "the one who is") and 1 Cor 1:28-29 ("that he might abolish the things that are"). Origen's testimony points to the fact that in the early third century AD there was at least one manuscript (and probably more) that did not have this reading and that he felt bound to explain the text without "in Ephesus."
Similarly, the mid-fourth-century Cappadocian father Basil the Great notes in one of his writings that Paul's "writing to the Ephesians ... calls him in a special sense those who are, saying, 'to the saints and the faithful in Christ Jesus" (Basil the Great, Contra Eunom. 2.19). Basil, too, apparently relied on a form of the text that did not have "in Ephesus," but he still regarded the epistle as written to the Ephesians, possibly because of the superscript of the letter still present on the document. To this could be added the remarks of the Latin father Jerome, who commented that "those who are saints and faithful in Ephesus are referred to by the term 'being.'" He knows, however, of the alternative manuscript tradition, saying, "Others, however, think it has been written straightforwardly not to those 'who are,' but 'who are saints and faithful in Ephesus.'" Although it is possible that he is commenting on the presence of the participle ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) attached to "in Ephesus," it is more likely that he is reflecting a knowledge of the textual tradition that omitted the place-name.
The only other relevant piece of church historical evidence casting doubt on the authenticity of "in Ephesus" comes from Tertullian, who is describing the teaching of the heretic Marcion about Ephesians: "I here pass over discussion about another epistle, which we hold to have been written to the Ephesians, but the heretics to the Laodiceans" (Tertullian, Marc. 5.11). Tertullian then later comments, "We have it on the true tradition of the Church, that this epistle was sent to the Ephesians, not to the Laodiceans. Marcion, however, was very desirous of giving it the new title (of Laodicean), as if he were extremely accurate in investigating such a point" (ibid.). It is probable that the form of the text that Marcion received did not have the place-name.
Standing in contrast to these early testimonies by the church fathers is a multitude of other early church leaders who know and cite Ephesians as Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus. Writing in the late second century, Irenaeus provides the earliest testimony of all to the Ephesian destination. Four times in his work Against Heresies, he quotes from Paul's letter and refers to it as "the Epistle to the Ephesians" (Irenaeus, Haer. 5.2.3, 8.1, 14.3, 24.4). Similarly, writing during the mid-third century, Cyprian (bishop of Carthage) repeatedly quotes from the letter and refers to it as "Ephesians" or as "Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians" (Cyprian, Test. 7, 8, 11, 13, 41, 70, 72, 117). Also writing about this time, Origen cites the letter under the Ephesian title (Origen, Princ. 3.5.4). In fact, it is important to observe that essentially all of the church fathers (apart from those mentioned earlier) refer to this letter as "Ephesians" or for the Ephesian church.
What is clear from the manuscript evidence and the testimony of a handful of fathers, however, is that a variant manuscript tradition arose early in the church-perhaps as early as the second century. The key questions are: How did this variation arise? And which is the most likely original reading?
The combined strength of the three earliest manuscripts ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], B, and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), when seen in connection with the seemingly general contents of Ephesians, the lack of any personal greetings, the impersonal tone of the letter, and the apparent absence of any specific situation has led most contemporary scholars to doubt the previously held view that Ephesians was addressed to the church at Ephesus. Ephesians simply does not look like an occasional letter written to one church that Paul had come to know so well through his three years of ministry in the city. Consequently, most now regard Ephesians as some form of circular letter intended for multiple cities that may or may not have included Ephesus.
To account for the meaning of 1:1 without "in Ephesus," scholars have suggested two different ways of explaining the text.
(1) There was no place-name ever present in 1:1. Some take the original form of the text simply as, "to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." There are two substantial difficulties, however, with this view. First, the presence of the participle ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is superfluous. Furthermore, in Paul's other letters, a place designation typically follows the participle of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Note, for example:
"to all [who are] in Rome" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Rom 1:7)
"to ... all the saints [who are] throughout Achaia" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; 2 Cor 1:1)
"to all the saints in Christ Jesus [who are] at Philippi" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Phil 1:1)
This pattern suggests that a place-name should follow the participle. The problem of the absence of a place-name is compounded further by the presence of the conjunction "and" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) following the participle. If Paul had wanted to say, "to the saints who are faithful," it would have been more natural to leave out the conjunction, which leaves the awkward, "saints who are also faithful."
(2) There was originally a place-name, but the original form of it was lost. The most popular solution to this problem (as we saw earlier with Westcott and Hort) has been to suggest that Paul had originally sent Tychicus with multiple copies of this general letter and left a blank space in each for Tychicus to fill in with place-names of Asia Minor churches as he delivered them. In spite of the widespread acceptance of this theory, it faces insurmountable problems. First of all, if this had happened, the manuscript tradition would have reflected a variety of place-names. In other words, some manuscripts would have, "to the saints who are in Smyrna" in 1:1b, others would have Pergamum, Laodicea, Sardis, and perhaps Miletus, Tralles, and other places. As it is, Ephesus is the only place-name that has been preserved in connection with this letter. Furthermore, the practice of leaving a blank space for the letter carrier to write in the name of different recipients is without parallel in the history of ancient letter writing.
Recognizing these difficulties, A. van Roon (followed by A. T. Lincoln) suggested that there were originally two place-names-Hierapolis and Laodicea. While this does provide a plausible explanation for the presence of the slightly awkward conjunction ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) that connects "saints" and "faithful," this view suffers from the fact that there is no manuscript evidence to support these two place-names. This theory also cannot explain why a scribe-often concerned with smoothing the text-would have let the conjunction remain.
Excerpted from Ephesians by Clinton E. Arnold Copyright © 2010 by Clinton E. Arnold. Excerpted by permission.
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