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Ephesians-Commentary 1- via Uwe Rosenkranz

Stephen E. Fowl
A Commentary

© 2012 Stephen E. Fowl

First edition
Published by Westminster John Knox Press
Louisville, Kentucky

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The translation of Ephesians is by the author. Except as indicated, other Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and used by permission. AT = author’s translation.

Book design by Jennifer K. Cox
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Fowl, Stephen E.
Ephesians: a commentary / Stephen E. Fowl.
pages cm—(The New Testament library)
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
ISBN 978-0-664-22125-6 (hardback)
1. Bible. N.T. Ephesians—Commentaries. I. Title.
BS2695.53.F69 2012

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Editorial Advisory Board


Argument of Ephesians
Outline of Ephesians
Ephesus and Paul in Acts
The Authorship of Ephesians and Reading Theologically
Authorship and Interpretation
Pauline Theology and Biography
The Historical Question of Authorship
Ephesians and Colossians
Use of the Old Testament in Ephesians
Conclusions and Suggestions on Authorship
Recipients and Occasion of Ephesians

1:1–2 Greeting
1:3–14 Introductory Blessing
1:15–23 Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians
Excursus 1: An Alternative Reading of 1:23
2:1–10 Once Dead, Now Alive in Christ
Excursus 2: The Death of Christ in Ephesians
2:11–22 Remember That You Were Gentiles
3:1–13 Paul, Interpreter of the Grace of God
3:14–21 Paul’s Requests to God on Behalf of the Ephesians
4:1–16 Christian Unity and a Life Worthy of God’s Call
4:17–24 Breaking Free from a Pagan Past
4:25–5:2 A Common Life Worthy of the Gospel
5:3–14 Walking Worthily with an Eye on the World
5:15–20 Walking Wisely
5:21–6:9 Walking Worthily in Households
6:10–20 Strong in the Lord
6:21–24 Final Words

Index of Ancient Sources
Index of Subjects and Authors

This volume is long overdue. As a result, I have accumulated many debts in relation to this project, and I want to acknowledge them with gratitude. Unfortunately, the passage of time has ensured that I will probably forget to mention several people. I began working on this commentary during a sabbatical year in 2004–5 spent at The Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton. Robert Jenson and Wallace Alston, and the members of the Center, especially Beverly Gaventa, were extremely helpful as I got this project off the ground.
My colleagues at Loyola, including our dean, Jim Buckley, have always known how to mingle the rigors and trials of work with the joys of friendship in ways that mitigated the burdens of being chair of the department. Moreover, I have received very generous institutional support from Loyola’s faculty development program. They provided both sabbatical support as well as grants for summer research.
Over the years I have worked on this commentary, I have made numerous presentations on Ephesians to various groups. This allowed me to test ideas, clarify my own thinking, and engage in stimulating conversation with a host of gracious people. In particular I want to thank Mark Gornik and the students of City Seminary of New York. At Mark’s invitation I was able to try out some ideas about Ephesians and reconciliation in one of the most vibrant classroom settings I have known. My dear friends at the Church of the Servant King in Eugene always challenge me to speak clearly and walk worthily. During this time I also taught a class on Ephesians at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. The students in that class also challenged and encouraged me throughout the term.
Many people have read and commented on parts of this manuscript. I am especially grateful to Mike Gorman for some keen insight and encouraging conversation. The members of the Christology and Scripture Symposium that met at the University of Gloucestershire in 2005 read and engaged my ideas about Ephesians 2, and I am very grateful to have been a part of that group. These people all read pieces of this commentary. Gene Boring has read the whole thing, and more than once. He has offered superb editorial, exegetical, and theological advice. This work is far better than it would have been without his help. In addition, a former student, Kate Gerwin, helped to prepare the bibliography and footnotes. Daniel Braden and the staff at Westminster John Knox have done a superb job with my work. I am very grateful for their care and patience. All of these people have contributed to the betterment of this commentary. I must take full responsibility for its remaining shortcomings and errors.
When I started this project, Brendan and Liam were boys. Now they are young men. It is hard to figure out how that has happened so fast. My wife Melinda deserves a great deal of credit for this. Moreover, she has been a ready source of support and editorial advice for me.
Just as I was completing the final draft of this commentary, one of the great saints of Baltimore, Allan Tibbels, died far too young. God gave Allan a host of gifts to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). He shared those gifts with his neighbors and with those of us who were fortunate enough to cross his path on the streets of Sandtown. This commentary is dedicated to his memory.

ANTC Abingdon New Testament Commentaries
BDAG Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago, 2000
BCBC Believers Church Bible Commentary
BDF Blass, R., A. Debrunner, and R. W. Funk. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, 1961
Bib Biblica
BibInt Biblical Interpretation
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
EKKNT Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament
ExpTim Expository Times
HNT Handbuch zum Neuen Testament
ICC International Critical Commentary
JB Jerusalem Bible
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JETS Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JSNT Journal for the Study of the New Testament
JSNTSup Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
JTS Journal of Theological Studies
LSJ Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford, 1996
MM Moulton, J. H., and G. Milligan. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. London, 1930. Reprint, Peabody, MA, 1997
NABPR National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion
NovT Novum Testamentum
NovTSup Supplements to Novum Testamentum
NTS New Testament Studies
NTTS New Testament Tools and Studies
SNT Studien zum Neuen Testament
SNTSMS Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series
UBS3 The Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, 3rd ed.
UBS4 The Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, 4th ed.
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
WTJ Westminster Theological Journal
ZNW Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche

Cited by author, plus short title if necessary

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Fowl, Stephen N. Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
———. The Story of Christ in the Ethics of Paul: An Analysis of the Function of the Hymnic Material in the Pauline Corpus. Sheffield: JSNT Press, 1990.
———. Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009.
Gnilka, Joachim. Der Brief an die Epheser. EKKNT 10. Freiburg: Herder, 1971.
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———. “Ephesians 2 as Narrative of Divine Warfare.” JSNT 26 (2004): 403–18.
———. “Ephesians 3:2–13: Pointless Digression, or Epitome of the Triumph of God in Christ?” WTJ 66 (2004): 313–23.
Gorman, Michael J. Reading Paul. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008.
Gudorf, Michael E. “The Use of πάλη in Ephesians 6:12.” JBL 117 (1998): 331–35.
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Heil, John Paul. Ephesians: Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.
———. “Ephesians 5:18b: ‘But be filled in the Spirit.’ ” CBQ 69 (2007): 506–16.
Heine, Ronald E., ed. The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Introduced and translated by Ronald E. Heine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
Jeal, Roy R. Integrating Theology and Ethics in Ephesians: The Ethos of Communication. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2000.
Käsemann, Ernst. “On the Subject of Primitive Christian Apocalyptic.” Pages 108–37 in New Testament Questions of Today. Translated by W. J. Montague. London: SCM, 1969.
———. “Paul and Early Catholicism.” Pages 236–51 in New Testament Questions of Today. Translated by W. J. Montague. London: SCM, 1969.
Kirby, John C. Ephesians: Baptism and Pentecost; An Inquiry into the Structure and Purpose of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1968.
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La Potterie, Ignace de. “Le Christ, Plērōme de l’Église (Ep 1,22–23).” Bib 58 (1977): 500–524.
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Levenson, Jon Douglas. Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
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———. Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.
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———. Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Reference to His Eschatology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
———. “ ‘Stand, Therefore …’: Ephesians 6:10 as Peroratio.” BibInt 3 (1995): 99–114.
———. “The Use of the OT in Ephesians.” JSNT 14 (1982): 16–57.
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———. The Pauline Churches: A Sociohistorical Study of Institutionalization in Pauline and Deutero-Pauline Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
———. “The Politics of Identity.” JSNT 26:4 (2004): 419–44.
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The introduction to a commentary generally provides the author with an occasion to speak about a variety of critical issues surrounding the text in question. In the course of examining such issues, a reader can begin to gather a sense of what the commentator thinks about the text and what the commentator’s overall aims might be. Before moving to discuss issues about the overall argument of Ephesians, the addressees and authorship questions, I will say a few words about the aims of this commentary.
There are a variety of approaches to take in writing a commentary. One way to think of this variety is to imagine a continuum. On one end are those who seek to explicate the text in a fairly straightforward way, paying little if any overt attention to scholarly debates, technical problems, or textual ambiguities. Reading these commentaries gives one a clear and unobstructed view of what the commentator takes to be the central argument of the epistle. This approach tends to obscure all of the heavy interpretive work that the commentator is doing. All sorts of interpretive decisions are being made without being justified or subjected to the judgment of readers.
At the other end of the continuum are those commentators who clearly and diligently display a wide variety of scholarly opinions regarding any word, phrase, or clause in Ephesians that has generated attention. Readers can gain a great deal of knowledge about the state of the scholarly discussion on any issue by studying these commentaries. It is much more common in these cases, however, to find that the commentator’s own interpretive voice gets lost in the details of others’ positions. In addition, this wealth of detail can obscure the lively flow of the text as it moves from point to point.
Of course, no commentary occupies either end of the continuum. Yet it is possible to locate commentators relative to these two poles. For example, the commentaries of Andrew Lincoln (Ephesians), Ernest Best (Ephesians), and Harold Hoehner are all excellent resources for finding out what a number of other scholars think about any particular issue in Ephesians. They are invaluable to every other commentator writing in English. Because these commentaries are both well done and relatively recent, I have to some extent risked a lesser degree of attention to scholarly disputes around aspects of Ephesians in favor of keeping my attention focused more closely on displaying the argument of Ephesians.
When I thought it was appropriate, I have made reference to premodern commentators on Ephesians. In particular, I have regularly engaged John Chrysostom’s Homilies and the commentaries of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. I have no doubt that I could have engaged these three much more and others besides. I hope that readers will find that in many cases these premodern interpreters were able to discern and address the theological crux of a passage in ways that modern interpreters do not.
In addition, I have tried to keep in mind the fact that most of the people who will read this commentary are studying Ephesians because they are Christians and read Ephesians in ways that both shape and are shaped by their Christian faith and practice. With this in mind, I have tried to keep my comments relevant to such concerns, nonetheless hoping to make sure that my comments are disciplined by the text of Ephesians. For many years, I have been concerned with reinvigorating and reforming the practice of reading Scripture theologically. Commentary writing and the aims of this series in particular do not invite a large-scale theoretical discussion about theological interpretation. Moreover, I have written a good deal on this elsewhere (Engaging Scripture and Theological Interpretation). Christians are called to read, interpret, and embody Scripture in ways that deepen their love for God, for each other, and for the world. A commentary can aid that practice in a variety of ways. For example, it can clarify obscure phrases and terms by setting them in a plausible historical context, thus disciplining our thinking about a text. A commentary can explicate a passage of Scripture in ways that might illumine a contemporary context or concern of Christians, thus opening up interpretive possibilities in the present. A commentary may indicate how specific passages, in connection with other passages and in the light of larger convictions about God and world, cohere with and regulate one another, thus helping Christians speak about their faith and practice with greater precision and clarity. My hope is that this commentary will do all of these things when and as it is appropriate to do so.
Yet in all of this my aim is not to say the last word on Ephesians, but to offer my comments as part of an ongoing conversation with interpreters past, present, and future. In this light, it seems best to move on to matters more directly related to Ephesians. Thus I will make some comments about the overall argument of Ephesians and about relationships between the text of Ephesians and the Acts narratives of the church’s founding in Ephesus. In addition, I will address, but by no means resolve, some of the questions surrounding the author and the initial recipients of Ephesians.
Argument of Ephesians

In the body of this commentary, the text of Ephesians is divided into discrete units, each composed of several verses. Sometimes these units are divided into subunits. This sort of division aids one in digging deeply into the text of Ephesians. It also brings with it the possibility that one examines the discrete details of the text so closely that one loses the sense of the whole. To counter that possibility, there are remarks at the beginning and end of each section explaining how each piece of the text fits with what precedes and anticipates what follows. In addition, I will here offer a narrative summary of how the argument of Ephesians unfolds and provide an outline of that argument:
Following the opening greeting, Paul offers a blessing to the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” On the one hand, this directs praise to God and invites the Ephesians to likewise praise God. Moreover, this blessing also allows Paul to narrate God’s drama of salvation, a drama that was initiated before the foundation of the world and that reaches its climax as everything is brought to its proper end in Christ. This drama is cosmic in its scope and consequences. In addition, God has graciously incorporated the Ephesians into this drama. Indeed, the presence of the Spirit in the Ephesians’ midst confirms their incorporation into God’s drama of salvation (1:3–14).
This leads Paul to offer a prayer on the Ephesians’ behalf. The hope of this prayer is that the Ephesians will come to understand the significance of God’s drama of salvation and Christ’s particular place in this drama (1:15–23).
Paul then goes on to discuss the Ephesians’ incorporation into God’s drama of salvation from two different, though related, perspectives. First, Paul discusses how the Ephesians’ sin had alienated them from God. Though their sin alienated them from God, God graciously acted to redeem them through Christ (2:1–10). Second, Paul narrates how the Ephesians were also alienated from God’s chosen people. This too resulted in alienation from God. Astonishingly, God’s plan to draw all the nations to God through the life of redeemed Israel is revealed to have its locus in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christ is the one who brings about the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to God and to one another in the church. Coming to see God’s drama of salvation in this way will require the Gentile Christians in Ephesus to learn to think of themselves as Gentiles, both before and after becoming Christians (2:11–22).
In chapter 2 Paul has interpreted both God’s drama of salvation and the Ephesians’ place in that drama in some rather bold ways, in ways that even Paul himself could not have anticipated before the time when God revealed the surprising movements of this drama to him. Thus in chapter 3 Paul both asserts the divine source for his views and claims that God has commissioned him to proclaim this particular understanding of God’s drama to the Ephesians and others. As recipients of this message, the church in Ephesus (and elsewhere) has a particular role to play in that drama, and Paul begins to articulate that for them. Paul also recognizes that for the Ephesians (or any other body of believers) to inhabit God’s drama of salvation appropriately in any particular context, they will need a form of practical wisdom that comes from God. Hence he concludes chapter 3 with a prayer that God will grant this sort of wisdom to the Ephesians.
In the light of this prayer at the end of chapter 3, Paul begins chapter 4 with the admonition to the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Based on this general admonition, Paul urges the Ephesians to adopt certain habits, practices, and dispositions and to avoid others. Initially he presents habits and dispositions essential to maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1–16). Then he commands the Ephesians to make a clean break with their past, abjuring practices and dispositions characteristic of Gentile existence outside of Christ (4:17–24). Next he focuses on the common life of the Ephesian church and the things they can do to enhance or frustrate their life together (4:25–5:2). Having already encouraged the Ephesians to continue turning away from their past corrupt practices, Paul speaks about the boundary between the congregation and the community at large, focusing on how he wants that larger community to perceive the body of Christ (5:3–14). This leads to a brief discussion of living wisely and the connections between worship and wise living (5:15–20). Paul then moves on to discuss wise living in the context of the patriarchal household. Apparently Paul does not imagine this as the only form of household arrangement that is pleasing to God, but it is the form he and the Ephesians know (5:21–6:9). Finally, in a passage that draws on elements from many parts of the epistle, Paul urges the Ephesians to take on the armor of God in order to stand fast in the faith amid all the spiritual forces arrayed against them, forces that Christ ultimately will subject to himself but that have yet to be subdued (6:10–20).
Outline of Ephesians

1:1–2 Greeting
1:3–14 Introductory Blessing
1:3 Praise to the God Who Blesses Us
1:4–6 Praise for God’s Choice
1:7–8 Redemption in Christ
1:9–10 The Results of Redemption
1:11–14 From the Cosmic to the Local
1:15–23 Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians
1:15–16 Paul’s Connection to the Ephesians
1:17–19 Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians
1:20–23 God’s Power Displayed in Christ’s Resurrection
2:1–10 Once Dead, Now Alive in Christ
2:1–3 Death Outside of Christ
2:4 But God …
2:5–7 Once Dead, Now Alive
2:8–10 More on New Life in Christ
2:11–22 Remember That You Were Gentiles
2:11–13 The Good Work of Remembering What Once Was the Case
2:14–18 Christ’s Reconciling Work
2:19–22 The Ephesians’ Participation in Christ
3:1–13 Paul, Interpreter of the Grace of God
3:1 Paul, Prisoner of Christ
3:2–7 Paul, Interpreter of the Mystery of Christ
3:8–12 Further Thoughts on the Mystery of Christ
3:13 Encouragement through Tribulation
3:14–21 Paul’s Requests to God on Behalf of the Ephesians
3:14–15 God’s Comprehensive Power
3:16–19 Paul’s Request on the Ephesians’ Behalf
3:20–21 Doxology
4:1–16 Christian Unity and a Life Worthy of God’s Call
4:1–6 Walking Worthily
4:7–10 Gracious Gifts from the Triune God
4:11–16 The Nature and Purpose of God’s Gifts
4:17–24 Breaking Free from a Pagan Past
4:17–19 Gentile Alienation from God
4:20–24 Putting on the New Person in Christ
4:25–5:2 A Common Life Worthy of the Gospel
5:3–14 Walking Worthily with an Eye on the World
5:3–7 What to Avoid and Why
5:8–14 Bringing Light to the World and the World to the Light
5:15–20 Walking Wisely
5:21–6:9 Walking Worthily in Households
5:21–24 Submitting to One Another: Wives and Husbands
5:25–33 Submitting to One Another: Husbands Loving Their Wives
6:1–4 Children and Parents
6:5–9 Slaves and Masters
6:10–20 Strong in the Lord
6:10–13 From Walking to Standing
6:14–17 The Armor of God
6:18–20 Covering Everything with Prayer
6:21–24 Final Words
6:21–22 Sending Tychicus
6:23–24 Benediction

One should be aware that there is a variety of ways to organize and outline the text of Ephesians. Readers will find works dividing Ephesians into a series of complex chiastic structures (e.g., Heil, Ephesians) and others that divide the text according to conventions of Greco-Roman rhetoric (e.g., Lincoln, Ephesians). At their best, such structures can help to remind readers what has already transpired and to anticipate where the argument might be moving. Sometimes an author will rely on a structure to resolve a difficulty in the text or to make a historical point. At such points readers need to be wary. Any and all structures and outlines of Ephesians or any other text should only be deployed in the light of prior close textual analysis. That is, structures and outlines presume decisions and judgments about how to interpret specific passages or verses. It is crucial for readers to remember that outlines are summaries of understanding already achieved on other grounds. Thus, since such structures already presume that the text has been analyzed and understood, the structure cannot be used to resolve difficulties in the text.
Ephesus and Paul in Acts

In Acts 18–20 we read a good deal about the church in Ephesus and how Paul is portrayed in relation to that church. It will be useful to review the account in Acts before trying to see how it might relate to the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Toward the end of his second missionary journey, on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem and before heading to Antioch, Paul and his coworkers Priscilla and Aquila stop in Ephesus. As is his custom, Paul speaks in the synagogue. His initial encounter here seems relatively positive. The Jews there ask him to stay so they can discuss things further with him. Paul, however, is intent on reaching Jerusalem. He promises to return to Ephesus if God is willing (18:18–21).
Paul appears to leave Priscilla and Aquila behind in Ephesus. As a result we next learn that they encounter Apollos, an educated and articulate Jew, originally from Alexandria. He is well versed in “the Way of the Lord” and speaks accurately about Jesus in the synagogue. Yet he knows only of the baptism of John and welcomes further instruction from Priscilla and Aquila. Apollos then goes on to Corinth with the blessing of believers in Ephesus (18:24–28).
While Apollos is in Corinth, Paul returns to Ephesus. He encounters a small group of believers (about twelve) whose formation in the gospel is incomplete. They know only the baptism of John and have not heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul rectifies these deficiencies (19:1–7).
In 19:8–10 Paul returns to the synagogue. Now, however, he faces the sort of hostility that typifies Paul’s mission to the synagogue. He and his followers leave the synagogue, and for the next two years he teaches in the “hall of Tyrannus” (19:8–10), a place otherwise unattested. Luke tells us that through this activity all of Asia learns of the gospel.
We then read that Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is marked by great signs of power and of healings. Some even try to copy his exorcisms, with unpleasant results. These signs of power draw many residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Gentiles. We learn that the name of Jesus is praised, but we are also left with the impression that only a portion of those who are amazed by Paul’s acts of power actually become believers. Those who do become believers give up their magical practices and books of spells (19:11–20).
After a brief aside telling us of Paul’s intention to move on to Macedonia, Achaia, and then Jerusalem, we read of the conflict between the believers in Ephesus and their neighbors. This conflict is stirred up by Demetrius the silversmith. He fears that if the Christian movement continues to grow in Ephesus, his business, which is tied to the great temple of Artemis, is likely to suffer. He and his colleagues instigate a demonstration in the magnificent theater of Ephesus, which threatens to get out of hand. Although Paul seeks to address this crowd, he is prevented from doing so. Ultimately a civic official is able to quiet the crowd and send them home (19:23–41).
Finally, as Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, in Acts 20 he stops in Miletus, to the south of Ephesus, and calls for the “elders of the church” to come to him. Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders is cast very much as a final testament or farewell to them, reviewing the past and anticipating the future with the aim of helping these elders keep the church in Ephesus in good working order.
The speech begins with a defense of Paul’s ministry among the Ephesians, noting his diligence and courage in the face of opposition. Despite these trials, Paul has proclaimed to both Jews and Greeks the message of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus” (20:21). Paul reveals to them that under the Spirit’s compulsion he is moving toward the completion of his ministry and that he will not see them again.
Because Paul has made known to them “the whole purpose of God,” he cannot be held responsible for any of their failures to adhere to the gospel (20:25–26; cf. T. Sim. 6.1; T. Levi 10.1). They have been given all that they will need. They have only to remain watchful and attentive, protecting the church from internal and external threats. Paul promises that God will provide them with the grace they need to accomplish this. He also comments that he did not take any money from the Ephesians while he worked among them and indicates that this should provide the elders with an example for their own ministry (20:28–35). At this point Paul leaves Miletus, eventually arriving in Jerusalem, where he is arrested and sent on to Rome. Acts ends with Paul in Rome.
Many contemporary scholars do not think that the Letter to the Ephesians was written to a Christian community in Ephesus. An even larger number of scholars doubt that the letter was written by Paul the apostle. In the course of this introduction, we need to address these historical points. Nevertheless, if one is a Christian committed to treating all of the NT as Scripture, one might want to know if the story of the church in Ephesus related in Acts is relevant to interpreting the Letter to the Ephesians, or if the letter sheds light on Acts.
Here are some, but by no means the only, ways this might be so: First, in Acts we read of Paul’s typical pattern of preaching first in the synagogue in Ephesus before moving out from there in the face of Jewish hostility to his gospel. Paul also asserts in Acts that he has proclaimed his gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. On the one hand, this fits with the epistle’s emphasis on the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ. On the other hand, the letter gives the clear impression that the church in Ephesus is overwhelmingly Gentile and that it seems to have little direct conflict with either Jews or Jewish Christians. For that matter, the epistle does not reflect the situation of hostility narrated in the story of Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:23–41). Although Paul in the epistle is critical of aspects of Ephesian culture, he has a concern about how the church will be viewed by outsiders and how the church in Ephesus will engage the wider populace in ways that do not reflect a situation of active hostility to the church. Alternatively, Paul is in chains when he writes Ephesians. Indeed, in 6:20 he refers to himself as an ambassador of the gospel in chains. All of this indicates that those addressed in the epistle understand that walking in a manner worthy of their calling might bring them into conflict with the civil authorities.
Paul’s strong defense of his ministry in Acts 20:17–35 may find an analogue in Paul’s account of his apostolic ministry in Eph 3. Moreover, Paul’s assertion that he has made known “the whole purpose of God” to the Ephesians may also fit with Paul’s account of making known the mystery of Christ in Eph 3. The internal and external threats Paul anticipates in Acts 20, however, seem to have a much more direct connection to 1 Timothy, which also has a connection to Ephesus, than to anything found in the epistle.
Certainly the emphasis on the Holy Spirit throughout the epistle is consistent with Paul’s making known the work of the Spirit to believers in Ephesus (Acts 19:1–7), but it is not clear that either text directly informs the other.
Acts 19 indicates that there is a great emphasis on magic and spiritual powers in Ephesus. Certainly the epistle emphasizes both Christ’s superiority to all other spiritual powers or forces (1:15–23), the church’s ministry of witnessing to these powers (3:8–13), and the church’s struggle with them (6:14–17). This connection is probably not sufficient, however, to sustain a great deal of historical reconstruction regarding the recipients of the letter (contra Arnold, Power and Magic) since the interest in magic and power that the citizens of Ephesus manifest was probably widespread throughout the empire (Best, Ephesians 5–6).
It appears, then, that there are some mutually informative overlaps between Ephesians and Acts. Moreover, the two texts do not present incompatible pictures of the church in Ephesus or of Paul’s ministry. Even so, it is also not clear that these points of overlap are sufficient to render either text of much benefit when it comes to explicating obscure parts of the other.

Anyone who has studied modern scholarship on Ephesians realizes that there is a sharp dispute over the authorship of the epistle. It is also clear, however, that scholars often bundle together a great number of discrete and often separable interpretive concerns under their consideration of authorship. As a way of taking some of the heat out of this issue, and with the hope of shedding some light on the matter, it may be useful to try to separate some of the interpretive issues at stake in addressing the question of the authorship of Ephesians.
The Authorship of Ephesians and Reading Theologically

The overwhelming majority of people read Ephesians for broadly theological reasons. That is, they read Ephesians because it is indisputably a part of Christian Scripture, and Christians by virtue of their identity are called to a lifelong engagement with Scripture as part of their ongoing struggle to live and worship faithfully before the triune God. Christians read Scripture in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts to deepen their love of God and love of neighbor. Given the ends for which Christians engage Scripture theologically, the issue of authorship is not particularly relevant. Ephesians plays the role it does in the life and worship of Christians because it is part of the canon, not because it is written by Paul or not written by Paul. The text is canonical, Paul is not.
At the same time, we have every reason to think that those involved in the formation of the NT canon took Ephesians to be authentically Pauline. Thus, one might ask whether texts should remain canonical if they are not written by those assumed by the fathers of the church to have written them. Answering such a question involves a number of issues that could be the subject of distinct monographs. This introduction can only summarize these matters. Most important, it is simply a matter of sociological fact that (debates about the Apocrypha aside) the Christian churches are not likely to alter the canon of Scripture in the foreseeable future.
Further, one should recognize that the issue of authorship has its most direct impact on attempts to read Ephesians theologically (broadly conceived) only if one holds a very particular view of Scripture’s inerrancy, whose proponents would argue something like this: If the text claims to be written by Paul the apostle and can be shown to have been written by someone else, then this fact throws into doubt everything else the text asserts about God, Christ, reconciliation, and salvation. In short, the truthfulness of any of the text’s assertions—and therefore its theological authority—depends on the truthfulness of the assertion of Pauline authorship.
Several things might be said about this. First, although ancient people were familiar with the idea of forgery and other types of deception, they were also familiar with conventions and practices related to writing in the name of other, more prominent people in order to properly locate one’s thoughts in a relationship to those other more prominent people. It is not exactly clear how widespread this practice, known as pseudepigraphy, was. Yet there are numerous examples of such writing among Christians (from at least the second century B.C.E.), Jews (from at least the second century B.C.E.), and pagans. Most scholars who do not think Paul wrote Ephesians think that the letter was written by a disciple of Paul who was hoping faithfully to further or enhance Paul’s teaching rather than to confuse or deceive.
Second, and more important, it is essential to understand that the linking of authorship to authority reflects a modern set of concerns. Theologians from at least the days of Origen, if not Paul’s own day, understood that some events described in Scripture probably did not or could not have occurred in quite the ways Scripture records. This recognition neither threatened the integrity of such people’s faith nor caused them to stop treating Scripture as authoritative. Indeed as Origen understands it, God placed those accounts into Scripture to invite us to dig deeper into the text. Moreover, if one’s theology is going to be undermined by threats to this particular way of understanding inerrancy, then issues around the authorship of Ephesians might not be the most pressing set of concerns for such an outlook. The authorship of much of the OT, as well as divergences among the Gospels, would prove to be equal if not greater problems.
Thus in contrast, for the great bulk of the Christian tradition, the question of the authorship of Ephesians did not affect the text’s authority. Apart from any strong views either pro or con about Pauline authorship, Christians can and have engaged Ephesians and the rest of Scripture in the manner in which they are called to do by virtue of their identity.
Even though this particular historical question does not impinge directly on bringing theological concerns to bear on one’s reading of Ephesians, it does not mean that readers should always be indifferent to such historical matters. In several other works I have explained in some detail the ways in which Christians interested in interpreting Scripture theologically should engage the historically focused works of biblical scholars. I do not intend to rehearse those arguments here. Instead, I hope that my comments both here and in the body of the commentary display the type of ad hoc engagement with historical criticism that I have advocated elsewhere.
Authorship and Interpretation

On the one hand, it might seem that precise identification of an author is essential to interpreting any text. On the other hand, although this may seem to be self-evidently true, it is less easy to say why and how it is true. According to one view, knowing that Paul, as opposed to someone else, used a certain word or phrase is important because Paul typically used that word or phrase in a particular way, with particular shades of meaning and inference. Thus knowing that Paul did or did not write Ephesians might be significant for understanding particular words or phrases in Ephesians.10
Although I am willing to grant the theoretical plausibility of such a claim, and I will explore passages where issues of authorship might affect interpretation, I want to add some significant qualifications. These qualifications are practical and theoretical. First, practically speaking, it is not immediately evident that there are actual instances in Ephesians where one would interpret a word or phrase differently based on the judgment that Paul did or did not write Ephesians. If one examines a variety of commentaries written over the past fifty years, one can find both those strongly defending Pauline authorship as well as those who reject Pauline authorship. These generally ascribe Ephesians to a Pauline “disciple,” or a “second-generation Paulinist,” or some similar term. Thus, despite the sometimes strenuous arguments over authorship, the overwhelming majority of recent scholarship places Ephesians somewhere within a fifteen-to twenty-year period beginning toward the end of Paul’s life in the middle of the 60s C.E. As a result, the overwhelming majority of the data regarding the social and linguistic conventions, as well as the general historical background information that one might bring to the interpretation of Ephesians, is very similar whether one attributes the text to Paul or a Pauline disciple. Thus, and most important, although these commentators do not always agree with one another about how to interpret any given verse or phrase in Ephesians, their interpretive disagreements never seem to hang on how they have resolved the question of authorship.
Moreover, there are several theoretical concerns that lead me to argue that in the case of Ephesians, the question of authorship is less significant than one might think for the type of interpretive work I and most other modern commentators do in our commentaries. First, it is crucial to recognize that a word’s use in specific contexts should override any presumptions about what a word must mean based on its authorship. Paul and anyone else writing during this time period were obliged for the most part to follow the linguistic conventions in place at the time. Failure to do so in any sort of comprehensive way would risk lapsing into unintelligibility. This is not to deny that we may have difficulties, debates, and arguments about how to identify the linguistic conventions operative at any point in time. In addition, we may also have difficulty situating a text within the linguistic conventions of a relatively specific period of time. In such circumstances, one will at least need to make and defend judgments about how and why one situates a text within the linguistic conventions of a specific period rather than another even if one cannot precisely identify a text’s author. Yet in the case of Ephesians, as far as we can tell, the basic linguistic conventions operative in 60 C.E. were also operative in 80 or even 90.
Those who read a variety of commentaries on Ephesians will note that from time to time scholars do argue that words, phrases, assertions, and convictions expressed in Ephesians are used in ways that are so different from how similar words and phrases are used in the undisputed Pauline Letters that it becomes highly unlikely that the same person wrote Ephesians and the undisputed Letters. Whether or not one agrees with this claim, it is not an example of authorship’s making a difference in interpreting Ephesians. Rather, the claim presumes that one has already understood both the relevant passages in Ephesians and the undisputed Letters sufficiently well to assert that there is too much discontinuity between Ephesians and the other Letters to claim that Ephesians is Pauline. Because interpretation might shape judgments about authorship is not a reason to think that judgments about authorship must influence interpretation.
As a further theoretical observation and qualification, it is important to distinguish between interpretation that aims to elucidate a text’s communicative intention on the one hand, and on the other hand interpretation that seeks to uncover an author’s motives. Even though they might not think of matters in quite this way, most modern commentaries, this one included, interpret both Ephesians and the undisputed Paulines with the aim of illuminating the author’s communicative intention. Such an aim requires one to distinguish authorial motives from an author’s communicative intentions. “That is to say, one ought to distinguish between what an author is trying to say (which might be called a ‘communicative intention’) and why it is being said (which might be called a motive)” (Brett 5). An author might write from any number of motives. He or she might have a desire for fame and fortune, or failing that, tenure. Some authors might have a deep psychological need to share their thoughts with a wider public. There might be (and probably are) motives at work of which an author is not fully conscious. Alternatively, in the case of lying, an author may be conscious of one’s motives but wish to conceal them from others. As Mark Brett (5) observes, “Any single motive can give rise to a vast range of quite different communicative intentions.” In order to reveal an author’s motives, semantic and historical analysis of that writer’s texts is never enough. A desire to discover an author’s motives is quite hard to fulfill in almost all cases. Moreover, in the case of ancient authors an interest in motives will tend to be frustrated by our lack of knowledge about these characters.
In the case of Ephesians, for example, one might seek to demonstrate that the motive of the letter’s author was to combat or modify certain aspects of Paul’s teaching by recasting that teaching under the guise of a letter from Paul. This would be an extremely interesting and important case to make. It might even lead one to argue that certain passages should be read very differently from the way they are currently read. This perfectly valid interest in the motives of the author of Ephesians faces some fairly significant obstacles. First, demonstrating the motives of a person who is otherwise unknown apart from the text of Ephesians is going to be very difficult. Other evidence would need to be marshaled. Even if such evidence were found, one might face another obstacle: our understanding of the linguistic, material, social, and historical factors that would have shaped the ways in which Christians in the latter half of the first century understood Ephesians as it was spoken or read to them might lead us to claim that despite this person’s motives, they were unsuccessful. Moreover, as will become clearer below, one could only make such a case about Ephesians after, and relying upon, making a case about the communicative intention of the author. These and other obstacles work to ensure that biblical commentators (myself included) are generally interested in an author’s communicative intention even when they do not use such terminology in describing their work.
To render an account of an author’s communicative intention, one need not attend to an author’s motives. Rather, such an account requires attention to, among other things, matters of semantics, the linguistic conventions operative at the time, and matters of implication and inference. In the case of dealing with the biblical writers, attention to these matters is inescapably historical. Indeed, in many respects the practices required to discern an author’s communicative intention will be familiar to biblical critics even if they do not characterize their work as offering an account of an author’s communicative intention. This historical work does not usually depend on a precise identification of an author.
Indeed, scholars on both sides of the authorship question in Ephesians engage in all of these historical exercises. This is because the notion of an author’s communicative intention does not depend on having a textually mediated access to an autonomous, fully aware, authorial self. Rather, in the case of Paul—or the author of Ephesians, if they are not the same person—it depends on a knowledge of Greek and the linguistic conventions operative in the first century; on an ability to detect and explicate allusions, indirect references, implications, inferences, textually indicated rhetorical aims; and on a measure of familiarity with the general set of social conventions of which letter writing is a part. No doubt other elements might come into play as well. Further, the exact ways in which to mix and match all of these considerations will always be open to argument and debate. For example, there is no set formula or method that will tell one when to rely more heavily on semantics rather than social conventions or possible OT allusions. In fact, the great majority of interpretive arguments among professional biblical scholars could be cast as arguments about whether or not something should even count as a relevant piece of evidence and what sort of weight to give each piece of evidence. In adjudicating these arguments, a whole range of factors might be considered, but one element that is not obviously relevant is a concern with what is going on in that biblical author’s consciousness at the particular moment he wrote something—assuming we could even know this.
It is clearly much easier to talk about an author’s communicative intention in regard to epistolary discourse as opposed to narratives such as the Gospels. Since communicative intention is not dependent upon an author’s motives or consciousness, then it would not be important precisely to identify the author whose motives one is not considering if one can confidently place a text within a relatively confined historical period. It is my judgment that regardless of whether Paul or a disciple of Paul’s wrote Ephesians, both options fit within such a relatively confined historical period.
Pauline Theology and Biography

So far I have surveyed a number of interpretive interests and concerns that one might bring to Ephesians. I have tried to show that in order to pursue any of these interests, determining the authorship of Ephesians is not particularly important. The question of authorship, however, is crucial to at least two particular scholarly activities. These two activities are scholarly reconstructions of Paul’s biography and the construction of Pauline theologies. These are both historical tasks, and for both of these projects it is essential to know as precisely as one can which texts are truly from Paul.
The way issues of authorship affect each of these projects, however, is different for each enterprise. If Paul did not write Ephesians, then the text is not at all relevant to the production of a biography of Paul except to the extent that a biography of Paul is concerned with the aftereffects of Paul’s life on his immediate followers. Nevertheless, there seems to be little doubt that Paul went to Ephesus and participated in the founding of the Christian community in that city. Whether things happened precisely in the manner related in Acts 19 is a question that is largely independent of the Letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians makes little mention of Paul’s personal circumstances other than a general account of Paul’s ministry to Gentiles (3:1–13), an indication that Paul was in jail (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and his intention to send Tychicus to Ephesus (6:21). The account of Paul’s ministry is quite general and fits, but does not really add to, accounts in Galatians and Acts. It certainly could not be used to adjudicate differences between these texts. Paul was in jail numerous times, and the references in Ephesians do not add anything to what is already known about this. The reference to Tychicus does not really tell us much about Paul. Moreover, the text does not provide us with a detailed account of the Christian community in Ephesus or elsewhere if the letter was not directed to Christians in Ephesus. Thus, regardless of whether Ephesians is Pauline, it is probably not a significant piece of evidence for constructing a biography of Paul. If the letter is by Paul, then the writing of Ephesians, however, would need to be placed within such a biographical account.
At the same time, this lack of specificity about life in the Ephesian church is taken by some to be evidence that Paul did not write the letter. This is particularly the case if one assumes that silence about particularities of church life in Ephesus is an indication that the author did not really know much about the church in Ephesus. Given the fact that all of Paul’s Letters are occasional, it becomes difficult to use this as an argument for or against Pauline authorship. One would have to grant that specific situations can generate general comments just as readily as they can call forth highly specific comments.
Perhaps one place where the authorship of Ephesians might affect a Pauline biography has to do with the so-called household codes in Eph 5:21–6:9. If Ephesians is Pauline, this text, along with the similar text in Col 3:18–4:1, would count as significant evidence for the historical Paul’s views about household relationships in Christ. Yet one must recognize that even if Paul did not write Ephesians, one might still take Colossians as Pauline and thus retain roughly the same evidence for Paul’s views about familial relations. Moreover, as I will argue in the body of the commentary, there is little, if anything, in the household codes of either Ephesians or Colossians that does not come up somewhere else in the undisputed Letters. Further, as the account of these verses in the body of the commentary indicates, they should not be taken as evidence that Paul considers the patriarchal household to be God’s particular preference for social relations.
The issue of authorship may be more significant for Pauline theology. To the extent that Pauline theologies aim to reconstruct and synthesize the historical Paul’s views about God, the world, and the relationships between them, then Pauline theology is basically a form of intellectual biography; the same issues noted above would apply. To the extent that Pauline theologies aim to say something more broadly theological, they are a subspecies of biblical theology with all of its attendant problems and promise. If one is eager to demarcate the boundaries of this sort of biblical theology, then the authorship of Ephesians is a relevant question. It is not clear, however, why one would want to do this. As observed above, the theological significance of Ephesians is really independent of the question of authorship. The authorship of Ephesians might be relevant to where one situates the epistle within a larger biblical theology, but regardless of who wrote the epistle, one really could not exclude it from a biblical theology.
The Historical Question of Authorship

I have tried to indicate that questions about the authorship of Ephesians play little role in the theological interpretation of the epistle or discerning the communicative intention of the epistle. In addition, questions of authorship have clear but limited roles relative to constructions of Pauline biography or theology. In those few passages when a decision about authorship might influence the way a text is interpreted, I will, in the body of this commentary, try to lay out both options as best I can. These passages are relatively limited, however, and the interpretive differences are not all that significant.
Nevertheless, it is still a legitimate historical question of limited interpretive value to ask, “Did Paul write Ephesians?” Indeed, in my experience this is the first question clergy ask when they learn that I am writing a commentary on Ephesians. I will leave aside speculation on what this indicates about ministerial training in our time and focus on the historical question.
Questions over Pauline authorship of Ephesians may go back as far as Origen. However, serious scholarly dispute about the issue does not seem to have been a live question until the end the eighteenth century (discussed in Hoehner 6–20). Since then, the question seems to have divided scholars who have written on this subject more or less equally. In any straw poll of NT scholars today, I suspect that a majority would hold the view that Paul did not write Ephesians.
If one is interested in answering the historical question of the authorship of Ephesians, even though recognizing the limited interpretive and theological benefits derived from answering it, those on both sides of this issue tend to look at external and internal factors. Factors external to Ephesians include ancient attestation and the relationship of Ephesians to Colossians. Then there are criteria internal to Ephesians: vocabulary, style, and theme (including the use of the OT).
Those arguing against Pauline authorship tend to claim that despite its early attestation as Pauline, Ephesians is probably literarily dependent on Colossians. Being demonstrably later than Colossians, whose Pauline authorship is also in doubt, puts Ephesians into the postpauline period. Moreover, with regard to vocabulary, style, and theme, those opposed to Pauline authorship argue that the differences between Ephesians and the undisputed Pauline Epistles are so significant that it is unlikely that Paul wrote Ephesians.
Those favoring Pauline authorship look at the same criteria and argue that the connections between Ephesians and Colossians are too complex to argue for any straightforward account of literary dependence. Further, all of the Pauline Letters are specific to particular occasions and differ from one another in significant ways. Those supporting Pauline authorship argue that the differences between Ephesians and the other Letters are not sufficient to sustain the claim that Ephesians is not Pauline.
Before looking at these arguments in greater detail, it should already be clear that they are based on finely balanced judgments about probability. Hence there is no clear way of demonstrating with absolute certainty one way or another whether Paul wrote Ephesians. Rather, contemporary scholars tend to qualify their judgments with claims like “On balance it is unlikely that Paul wrote Ephesians,” or “On balance it is probable that Paul wrote Ephesians.” Because of this, no scholar should hold too tightly to views about the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Strength of conviction should be in direct proportion to level of probability.

No scholar doubts that a wide range of church fathers from Clement of Rome in the late first century through second-century writers such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria all treat Ephesians as Pauline (see Hoehner 2–4). Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi such as The Hypostasis of the Archons and The Exegesis of the Soul treat Ephesians as Pauline. Moreover, it is clear that at least some Christians from the second into the third centuries understood that some texts bearing the names of apostles were not written by those apostles. For example, both Tertullian and the Muratorian Fragment in the late second or third century seem to indicate that although there were letters that claimed to be from Paul and were not taken to be Pauline, Ephesians was from Paul (Tertullian, Praescr. 36). Thus, in terms of early attestation, there is little doubt that Ephesians was reckoned as Pauline.
Ephesians and Colossians

Ephesians and Colossians are closer to each other in terms of shared themes and vocabulary than any other Pauline or deuteropauline Epistles. For example, only Ephesians (5:21–6:9) and Colossians (3:18–4:1) contain the household codes (though 1 Peter has similar material); they both mention and commend Tychicus (Eph 6:21–22; Col 4:7–8); they each speak of Paul’s gospel as a mystery revealed to him (Eph 3:1–13; Col 1:24–29), though they each develop this idea differently. The question, of course, is what one should make of this.
If one argues that Paul wrote both epistles, then one can account for these similarities by observing that Paul and/or his secretary used similar phrasing and addressed some common themes in writing to two different churches that were geographically close to each other. Alternatively, one might argue that Paul or his secretary simply reworked the text so as to address a nearby congregation.
If one argues against Pauline authorship of Ephesians, then that case might be strengthened by showing that Ephesians is literarily dependent upon Colossians, that the author of Ephesians had access to the text of Colossians and reworked it to address a different congregation at a later date. If one can show both such literary dependence on Colossians and thus Colossians’ temporal priority to Ephesians, then one can argue that it is at least probable that, no matter who wrote Colossians, Paul did not write Ephesians. Determining that Ephesians is dependent upon Colossians is one element in an overall argument against Pauline authorship of Ephesians. In reality, however, such judgments are more complex. For example, after arguing vigorously for the dependence of Ephesians on Colossians, Lincoln (Ephesians lv) concludes, “What has emerged from this overview is the dependence of Ephesians on a prior Colossians in terms of its overall structure and sequence, its themes and its wording. Yet what is also absolutely clear is that this is a free and creative dependence, not a slavish imitation or copying.” This level of qualification may be significant. In the absence of other data, it seems that the connections between Colossians and Ephesians need to be sufficiently strong and of a nature that they serve as evidence that Colossians is clearly prior to Ephesians. It is not clear that “free and creative dependence” really provide evidence that the relationship between Colossians and Ephesians moved in only one direction. As a result, it is then unclear what data, other than scholarly custom, would lead one to presume that these connections argue for the temporal priority of Colossians over Ephesians.
To my mind, Best’s 1997 article “Who Used Whom? The Relationship of Ephesians and Colossians” offers a very measured and persuasive argument that despite the obvious similarities between Colossians and Ephesians, there is insufficient evidence to argue that one is “dependent” upon the other. For example, the so-called vice lists in Col 3:5 and Eph 5:3–5 are significantly different from each other (Ephesians only repeats three of the five vices listed in Colossians) and substantially similar to material in 1 Cor 5:10–11; 6:9–10 and elsewhere. The greetings of Ephesians and Colossians are similar, but they use the standard Pauline formula. In addition, other supposed parallels appear rather to rely on material that either is similar to material found in other Pauline Letters or material that is considered traditional and part of a more-or-less common stock of Christian ideas and language. Thus these cannot be used to demonstrate the priority of one epistle to the other.
In addition, Best notes that if there is borrowing from Colossians, the author of Ephesians does so in a very haphazard way: “The random nature of the way A/Eph [the author of Ephesians] is supposed to have drawn on references from Colossians suggests that if he did depend on it, he did not have a copy of it in front of him as he wrote but had its words in his mind, and the same would be true of the way A/Col [the author of Colossians] would have used Ephesians” (“Who Used Whom?” 76).
The mention of Tychicus in Eph 6:21–22 and Col 4:7–8 is the one parallel where it seems there is actual literary dependence between Ephesians and Colossians. For various reasons, most modern scholars treat this as evidence that the writer of Ephesians had access to the text of Colossians. Best, however, decisively shows that there is no good reason to suppose the priority of Colossians to Ephesians in this matter. Indeed, the grammatical and stylistic problems of Eph 6:21–22 make it as likely that the author of Colossians revised and clarified Ephesians as that Ephesians copied Colossians and then made it obscure.
Although in this article Best is not primarily interested in solving questions of authorship, his argument leads to a very limited set of possibilities. One possibility is that both Ephesians and Colossians were written by followers of Paul who were in contact with each other as part of a “Pauline school.” “In sum they would have developed Paul’s thought differently in response to different situations and out of their different personalities” (“Who Used Whom?” 94). Best prefers this option. The other possibility is that a single author wrote both letters. Such a person could have been, but need not have been, Paul. Based on the evidence of Eph 6:21–22//Col 4:7–8, Best thinks it is more likely that, if there was a single author, Ephesians was written first, and in writing Colossians the author cleaned up Eph 6:21 and added further praise of Tychicus (95).
The upshot of all of this for the question of authorship is that the clear connections between Ephesians and Colossians sharpen and limit the possibilities regarding the authorship of each epistle but do not really help determine the authorship of either. In terms of the primary tasks of a commentary, it is crucial for a commentary on Ephesians to treat Colossians judiciously as a resource for understanding passages in Ephesians. In certain cases, similar phrases in Colossians can help illumine obscure passages in Ephesians. At the same time, one must be careful not to reduce Ephesians to Colossians by assuming similarities when there may actually be significant differences.

With regard to vocabulary in relation to the authorship of Ephesians, some try to determine whether there are such substantial differences between the vocabulary of Ephesians and the vocabulary of the undisputed Letters as to make it unlikely that Paul is the author of Ephesians. The data here are as follows: Ephesians has 2,429 words, with a total vocabulary of 530 words. Of these, 41 occur nowhere else in the NT; 84 words are not found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus but do appear in the rest of the NT. Galatians, for example, has 2,200 words, with a total vocabulary of 526 words. This makes it about 10 percent shorter than Ephesians. Of these words, 35 (not counting proper nouns) are unique to the NT, and 80 (not counting proper nouns) do not appear elsewhere in Paul but do appear in the NT. The point here is that the number of unusual words is about the same in Galatians and Ephesians even though Galatians is slightly shorter. Thus, on its own, this data cannot really tell against Pauline authorship.
Lincoln (Ephesians lxv) notes that Ephesians has a number of unique phrases such as “in the heavenlies” (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). In addition, Christ is called “the beloved one” (1:6). Further, Ephesians has phrases such as “the word of truth” (1:13) and “the Father of glory” (1:17) that do not appear in the undisputed Pauline Letters. Again, however, Galatians has roughly the same number of unique expressions. Schnackenburg (22 n. 19; followed by Lincoln, Ephesians lxv) argues that many of the unique words in Ephesians have a “greater affinity” with postapostolic literature. It is not exactly clear what “greater affinity” really means or what it might indicate if true. Given that there is early postapostolic attestation that Ephesians is canonical and that it touches on a variety of issues of interest to postapostolic theologians, it seems likely that they would make use of Ephesians and its vocabulary. This is not in itself evidence for a postpauline date for Ephesians.

Ephesians has a number of very long sentences, often containing several subordinate clauses. The letter also tends to use two words when one would suffice. Although one can find similar stylistic patterns in the undisputed Pauline Letters, they do not occur with the frequency that one finds in Ephesians. Nobody argues that the stylistic differences are so extreme that it is absolutely impossible that Paul could have written Ephesians or that the differences are so slight that they raise no questions about Pauline authorship. The issues here concern how one weighs the relative difference in style between Ephesians and the other Pauline Letters and how one might account for this. In this matter, the temperament and taste of the scholar making the judgment plays a very significant role. If, for other reasons, one rejects Pauline authorship of Ephesians, then the argument about style will help cement that judgment. If one is committed to Pauline authorship on other grounds, the stylistic differences will not seem significant enough to threaten that judgment.

One of the pieces of evidence one might use for adjudicating the question of the authorship of Ephesians concerns the treatment of themes that appear in Ephesians relative to the ways similar themes are handled in the undisputed Letters. As with vocabulary and style, when comparing themes one is trying to discern how to weigh and account for the differences and similarities between texts. If one discerns that the differences between Ephesians and the undisputed Letters relative to any theme are so significant that they become differences of kind rather than differences of degree, then that would count against Pauline authorship. If one judges the differences to be differences of degree, then it may become more likely that Paul is the author of Ephesians. Of course, some differences might appear to be so severe that we should question whether we are really comparing like with like. In this light, it is worth examining two themes of note: eschatology and the use of the OT.

It is quite common for contemporary scholars to speak of Paul’s view of time as apocalyptic. This can mean a variety of things. How one understands this term will have an impact on how one understands the continuities and discontinuities between Ephesians and the undisputed Pauline Letters. In the middle of the twentieth century, scholars tended to tie Paul’s apocalyptic view to an ardent expectation that Christ would very soon return and establish the kingdom of God in its fullness. As Ernst Käsemann writes, “It is characteristic of the letters that the entire mission of Paul is determined by the expectation of the imminent end of the world.” Driven by this understanding of apocalyptic, most scholars understood the earliest churches as Spirit-inspired, dynamic places of fervent evangelistic activity. On this view, authority in these communities was derived from one’s ability to command and display spiritual power.21 Scholars assumed that these communities paid little attention to formal ecclesial structures because they only expected to be present for a relatively short time.
As time went on, so the argument goes, it became clear that the world might not end as quickly as the first generation of the followers of Jesus hoped. The next generation gradually became more interested in establishing formal ecclesial structures, regulating charismatic power, and domesticating the wild and disturbing power of the gospel.
In the light of this understanding of Paul, Ephesians, and its interests in ecclesial life, its passages that have believers already seated in the heavenlies with Christ, among other characteristics, look like they come from someone living in this period of “early Catholicism” rather than from the apocalyptic Paul.
One will also have to say, however, that neither Galatians (sometimes thought to be the earliest of Paul’s Letters) nor Philippians really displays the apocalyptic vision of an imminent Parousia that someone like Käsemann attributes to Paul. At the same time, they also do not bear the marks of “early Catholicism.” In this light, scholars such as J. Louis Martyn have proposed revisions to our understanding of Paul’s apocalyptic vision. Rather than imposing a preformed apocalyptic schema on Paul, Martyn (113) asks, “Could Galatians perhaps be allowed to play its own role in showing us precisely what the nature of Paul’s apocalyptic was?”
If one extends Martyn’s questions to the undisputed Pauline corpus as a whole, then Paul’s apocalyptic view primarily emphasizes that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has intervened in or even invaded our world in an unprecedented way, which has transformed everything. In the light of this revelation, Paul comes to understand that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus divides all time into two ages. The age before Christ is characterized by Sin’s rule over the cosmos and all of the attendant evils that come with this. Christ’s resurrection inaugurates the new messianic age, which will reach its culmination when all things are put into their proper order under Christ’s rule, and Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father (1 Cor 15:20–28). Although the resurrection inaugurates the messianic age, it is clear that both Paul and we stand in the time when the two ages overlap. The ultimate victory of God is assured, but the present age still persists in its resistance to God’s desires. The messianic age is both a present, and a yet-to-be-completed reality. In Paul’s Letters one sees in various ways and to various degrees aspects of this tension that mark this present time. Moreover, it is also clear that Paul felt free to vary his use of eschatological themes and perspectives depending on his own purposes and the needs of the congregations he addressed.
Paul’s perspective is thoroughly apocalyptic in the sense that he recognizes that the manner, scope, timing, and implications of Christ’s invasion of the cosmos are unprecedented and surprising, something that had to be revealed rather than something one could reason one’s way to. It has disrupted everything, and much of Paul’s writing is devoted to figuring out how to reconstitute his understanding of God and God’s drama of salvation from this new perspective. One of the sharpest examples of this is Paul’s reflection on his own life in Phil 3:4–14. In this text Paul recounts his significant achievements within Judaism, asserting both that his persecution of the church was a virtuous mark of his zeal and that according to the righteousness found in the law, he was blameless. In the light of being grabbed by Christ, he has thoroughly reevaluated his past so that now he sees those achievements as rubbish. Instead Paul now is devoted to knowing “Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” so that he might attain the resurrection of the dead (Phil 3:10–11). Paul goes on to admit that he has not yet achieved this, but he presses on toward this end. In addition, in 3:15–17 Paul encourages the Philippians to press on toward the same end also.
This text in particular demonstrates that being thoroughly apocalyptic does not imply that Paul was convinced that the age in which he lived was only going to last for a very short period of time. Paul recognizes that the present age may end very soon, so one should be prepared for that. At the same time he also recognizes that such timing is fully in God’s hands. Thus his churches need to be formed in ways that will enable them to be faithful over a possibly long period of time.
On this view of Paul, there is no easy or clear way to mark a transition from charismatic to institutional Christianity. Interestingly, it is in Phil 1 that one finds the first mention of offices such as bishop and deacon. Further, the occasional nature of all of Paul’s writings make it clear that we are not in a good position to chart clear patterns of development within Christianity in the middle decades of the first century. More particularly, it also becomes difficult to situate Ephesians relative to this issue.
Ephesians also speaks in apocalyptic terms of God’s drama of salvation. In particular the revelation that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are united into one new body is a mystery hidden from prior generations and revealed to Paul and others (1:9; 3:1–10; 6:19). Ephesians also recognizes that the current time is not the age to come in its fullness. Thus Eph 1:21 speaks explicitly about the “age to come.” In addition, Paul’s own imprisonment and sufferings indicate that the messianic age has yet to be fulfilled. Alternatively, Eph 1:3 states that God has already blessed the Ephesians with spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms. Nevertheless, even in “the heavenly realms” there are powers that have yet to become subject to Christ. Although the imprisoned Paul understands that the principalities and powers still exercise some level of control in the world, in 1:22 he speaks of all things having been put under Christ’s feet. Ephesians does seem to speak of the age to come as realized in some significant respects. Nevertheless verses such as 1:14; 2:7; 4:30; 5:5; 6:8, 13 all speak of future aspects of the age to come, recognizing that things are not yet what they will be.
In conclusion, as long as one understands the theme of eschatology as really a subtheme of Paul’s apocalyptic view, it is more difficult to argue that any differences between Ephesians and the undisputed Letters are so significant as to be differences of kind. For example, 2 Cor 5 (and to a lesser degree Gal 3:27) exhibits the same type of assertions about realized yet not completed eschatology as Ephesians does. If one were already convinced that Paul is unlikely to be the author of Ephesians, the epistle’s eschatology would probably not persuade such a person otherwise. Likewise, someone disposed toward Pauline authorship will not have that conviction disturbed by the epistle’s eschatology.
Use of the Old Testament in Ephesians

Readers of the undisputed Pauline Letters know that the apostle often quotes from and alludes to the OT. Paul mostly relies on the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Pentateuch (in their LXX form). Moreover, he often employs exegetical techniques that were common among Jewish interpreters of his day. Likewise, Ephesians both quotes from and alludes to the OT. Yet there appear to be several significant differences between the way the OT was handled in the undisputed Pauline Letters and the way Ephesians treats the OT, which might shift the scale of probability away from Pauline authorship.
Andrew Lincoln makes the most extensive case for this view in an article (“Use of OT”) from 1982. He recognizes the similarities between Paul and Ephesians in both the range of texts used and the methods used to interpret them. Despite these formal similarities, there are some significant differences as well. First, the writer of Ephesians introduces an OT quote with some sort of formula only once in five cases (cf. 4:8–10, quoting Ps 68:18). In the undisputed Pauline Letters as a whole, introductory formulas occur with a much higher frequency, though this varies from letter to letter.
Lincoln also examines the one OT text that appears both in Ephesians and in an undisputed letter. In Eph 5:31–32 Paul quotes Gen 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Paul uses this text in Ephesians not only to indicate the unity that God intends between husband and wife, but also to assert that this unity characterizes the relationship between Christ and the church. This movement between human marital relations and the relationship of Christ to the church and back again is consistent throughout 5:21–33.
In 1 Cor 6:16 Paul quotes the latter part of Gen 2:24 as part of an argument to show the Corinthians that although “all things are lawful” (6:12), there is a deep theological incompatibility between life in Christ and continuing to frequent prostitutes. Genesis 2:24 serves to underwrite the claim that a liaison with a prostitute reflects a deeper union than the Corinthians seem willing to grant. One actually becomes one body with the prostitute. Paul then goes on to claim that in contrast, “Anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (6:17).
Lincoln sees significant differences here between Ephesians and 1 Corinthians (“Use of OT” 36). Ephesians uses Gen 2:24 to speak of the unity of Christ and the church. In 1 Cor 6 the union is between Christ and individual believers. Moreover, in 1 Cor 6 Paul does not explicitly support this claim with Gen 2:24. Rather, he says, “Anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” One might argue that the implication from the argument based on Gen 2:24 applies equally well to union with prostitutes and union with Christ. Paul does not, as Lincoln sees it, argue this way. Instead he counts becoming one flesh with a prostitute as a contrast with being united with the Lord and becoming “one spirit.”
Yet these differences may be less pronounced than one might first imagine. In 1 Cor 6:15 Paul declares that the bodies of believers are members of Christ. In 6:19 he further states that the bodies of believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, both before and after the quote from Gen 2:24, Paul has asserted that believers are bodily and spiritually united with Christ. Some Corinthians clearly understood the nature of their union with Christ to also be compatible with frequenting prostitutes. Being joined to the Lord and being “one spirit” may be exactly how they understood themselves. The use of Gen 2:24 in the context of 6:15–19 is part of Paul’s argument against this understanding. In 1 Cor 6 Paul could have used Gen 2:24 to argue both against union with prostitutes and for the already-established bodily union with Christ that he asserts in 6:15 and repeats in 6:19. Nevertheless, in the context of this whole passage it appears that Paul’s understanding of Gen 2:24 is compatible with the use of the same passage in Eph 5:31.
For Lincoln, the more pervasive difference between the use of the OT in Ephesians and in the undisputed Letters has to do with the absence of a promise-and-fulfillment pattern in Ephesians. For Lincoln the key text here is Eph 3:5, which notes that the “mystery of Christ,” particularly Christ’s reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, “was not made known to previous generations,” but has only now been revealed to the “holy apostles and prophets” (AT). According to Lincoln, the writer is not talking about something that can with great difficulty be found in the OT. Instead, “The OT writers, therefore, were ignorant of the sort of blessing that was to come to the Gentiles” (“Use of OT” 47). There was no promise, no matter how dimly perceived. Hence, there could be no fulfillment.
Evaluating this claim really depends on one’s understanding of the “mystery of Christ.” The following verses in Eph 3 indicate that this mystery entails the following claims: That the Gentiles have become “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ,” with those Jews who believe. Moreover, these two groups, joined together into one church in Christ, are also to bear witness to God’s wisdom and grace to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies. Presumably this act of witness is tied to God’s plan to bring all things to their proper end in Christ (1:10). Of course, the more precision and subtlety one adds to this account of the mystery of Christ in Ephesians, the more likely it becomes that the entirety of the plan really was unknown to prior generations.
On one level, this does sound quite different from Romans, where Paul thinks that the OT, understood rightly, indicates that God has always saved people by faith and that this continuity reveals God’s righteousness. In addition, there is the explicit claim in Gal 3:8 that the gospel was “prepreached” to Abraham. At the same time, however, Gal 3:19–29 tells a story of Sin’s work of obscuring the true end of the Law and using it instead to blind and enslave humanity. Moreover, in 2 Cor 3:12–18 Paul speaks of those Jews who are outside of Christ as being blind to the Law’s true meaning in Christ.
Particularly in Romans and Galatians, in the light of Christ, Paul emphasizes the continuity of God’s saving purposes over time. In addition, Paul pays attention to the foreshadowings and promises offered in the OT that are now seen to be fulfilled in Christ. Nevertheless, Paul does not think that before Christ these things were clearly understood. Indeed, prior to his own encounter with Christ, Paul himself was blinded and could never have read the OT in the ways that he later came to do.
Is this disposition compatible with the claim in Eph 3:5 that the “mystery of Christ” was unknown to earlier generations? To hold these two views together, one must emphasize the level of detail in the Ephesian understanding of the “mystery of Christ.” That is, the more detailed account one can give of the mystery mentioned in Eph 3:5, the greater the possibility that one could say that this mystery in all its detail was unknown in previous generations. At the same time, one could also still affirm that Paul’s gospel, which saw the promise to Abraham regarding the blessing of the nations as fulfilled in Christ, was both “prepreached” to Abraham and obscured by the work of Sin. In this light, Galatians represents a more general promise that is fulfilled in Christ. Ephesians refers to the utterly surprising nature of its specific fulfillment in the church and stresses the church’s unanticipated role in witnessing to the powers. From a theological perspective one can hold these two views together. From the perspective of the narrower historical question of authorship, one can say that the same person could have written both Galatians and Ephesians, but it certainly does not require it to have been the same person.
Conclusions and Suggestions on Authorship

This rather long discussion of authorship has allowed for some important questioning of scholarly assumptions, some reflection on interpretive practice, and the separable nature of diverse interpretive and historical aims and concerns. I think this is its main value. At the same time, a reader might well wish to know where I stand on the historical question. I genuinely do not know whether Paul wrote Ephesians. As a matter of historical interest, I find the arguments so finely balanced that my decisions about this could vary from day to day. I understand when others find that the evidence speaks more clearly one way or another; I am less certain. As an interpreter of this text, however, I am not disturbed by this situation. I think the historical evidence leads one to conclude that either Paul wrote Ephesians or someone close to him wrote Ephesians within a decade or two after his death. Theologically and interpretively, it does not make much difference whether Paul or this close follower wrote the text. Further, despite one’s views on authorship, one is left to struggle with the interpretive problems, subtleties, and inferences along with the insights of Ephesians as one engages the text as we currently have it. For the sake of avoiding alternative and often clumsy formulations, I will refer to the author of the Ephesians as Paul. This is the name the author chose for himself, and he certainly means to imply that he is the apostle.
Recipients and Occasion of Ephesians

When most scholars discuss the recipients of Ephesians, they are talking about the original audience of the letter. Identifying this audience is rendered more complex by the text-critical issues in 1:1. At the same time, from the perspective of interpreting the text of Ephesians, the identity of a single original recipient is rendered somewhat less critical by the fact that the epistle does not appear to address challenges or false teachings specific to a particular congregation. Although the vast majority of ancient MSS and the majority of the early Christian discussion of this text all take the letter to be addressed to the church in Ephesus, there are three very old MSS that omit “in Ephesus” (𝔓46, א, B). Even these, however, contain superscriptions identifying the letter as “to the Ephesians.”
On purely text-critical considerations, the MSS that omit “in Ephesus” present the more difficult reading. It is not easy, however, to account for either the insertion or deletion of “in Ephesus” without speculating well beyond the bounds of any evidence we have. Origen (Cels. 3.20) appears to know only texts of Ephesians that omit the phrase. At the same time, he lists Ephesians at the head of a list of Paul’s Epistles. In addition, Clement (Strom. 4.60), Origen’s predecessor in Alexandria, as well as Tertullian (Marc. 4.5; 5.11) both explicitly identify this epistle as that to the Ephesians. Irenaeus quotes Eph 2:13 as being from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Hence there is fairly wide patristic attestation from a time at least contemporary with 𝔓46 identifying this letter as Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
Most important, it is not clear that one gains any firmer interpretive foothold on the text if one argues that the original audience for the text was the church in Laodicea (e.g., Marcion, initially) or Hierapolis (e.g., Kreitzer, most recently). Thus I will use terms like “Ephesus” and “Ephesians” to refer to the initial audience of the text without denying that there are grounds for disputing that this text was originally addressed to the Ephesians.
This sort of agnosticism about the audience (as well as about the authorship) of this epistle is made much easier to accept by the fact that the letter does not reveal a great deal about the occasion of its writing. Paul (see the discussion on authorship above) writes from prison. Unlike Philippians, however, he makes no strong connections between his imprisonment and any hostility the Ephesians are facing. He does not expound on the challenges surrounding suffering for the gospel. He has not received a financial gift from the Ephesians that requires recognition.
In Ephesians, Paul speaks about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Unlike Galatians, however, there does not seem be any strong pressure on members of the congregation to supplement their faith in Christ by also taking on torah observance. Unlike Romans, Paul does not go to great lengths in Ephesians to justify God’s righteousness relative to the calling of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. There does not appear to be any tension between Jewish and Gentile believers regarding their status before God. Indeed, although Paul deals with the issue of Jew and Gentile in Christ, the believers in Ephesus seem to be overwhelmingly Gentile. Moreover, they do not seem to have much to do with Jews or Jewish Christians.
Paul speaks of his apostolic mission in Eph 3 at some length. Unlike Galatians or the Corinthian Letters, however, Paul’s status as an apostle does not appear to be in doubt. We have no reason to suspect that the Ephesians were inclined to reject his teaching or his advice.
Paul offers a variety of moral admonitions and exhortations in Ephesians. While these reveal something about the common life Paul desires for them, the Ephesians do not appear to have adopted any aberrant practices that require a swift rebuke. We do not gain the impression that the Ephesians were resisting any calls to walk in a manner worthy of their calling.
In this light it is easy to see why some would treat Ephesians as a compendium of Paul’s writings rather than a letter in the strict sense of the term. The strongest argument one can make against treating Ephesians as a compendium is by showing that the various parts of the letter do fit together as a more or less unified argument, albeit a position at a more general level than in most other Pauline Letters. This is an argument that is ultimately only persuasive in the light of the whole of this commentary. In anticipation of offering just such a set of comments, I argue that Ephesians is, like all of Paul’s Letters, an occasional letter. Whatever the occasion was, however, it was such that it evoked an argument and reflected a set of concerns that are relatively general in their scope and focus. Thus it does seem possible that, as with the Letter to the Colossians and the lost Letter to the Laodiceans, Paul intended this letter to be read widely in the various congregations in and around Ephesus (cf. Col 4:16).
Despite our desire to know more, we have little to go on when it comes to understanding what specific occasion might have led Paul to write Ephesians. At the same time, one can imagine that, in a world deeply interested in spiritual things and in a religiously pluralistic environment, Christians might have been tempted to supplement their faith in Christ in ways that would lead someone such as Paul to assert that God’s plan is to bring all things to their proper end in Christ, who is both source and locus of all spiritual fullness. In a context where the church has become overwhelmingly Gentile, one can imagine a Christian community needing to be reminded of the priority of Israel, of their status as Gentiles, and of the astonishing work of reconciliation that God has willed to accomplish in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In a world that is often either ignorant of or indifferent to the claims of Christianity and the life of the church, it is easy to imagine a set of admonitions insisting that Christians live together in a manner worthy of their calling so that they might bear witness to the world at large. The striking thing is that one can easily and with historical accuracy imagine such a context both in Asia Minor between the years 60 and 80 and in Baltimore (where I write) in the first decades of the twenty-first century. I take this to be the source both of the historically frustrating nature of Ephesians and of its great theological promise.
Fowl, S. E. (2012). Ephesians: A Commentary. (C. C. Black, M. E. Boring, & J. T. Carroll, Hrsg.) (First Edition., S. iii–30). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.


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