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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Ephesians, commentary 6, via Uwe Rosenkranz

Ephesians 5:21–6:9
Walking Worthily in Households
These verses reflect a concern with the ordering of Christian households. As such, they are often referred to as the “household codes,” or Haustafeln. Similar admonitions can be found in Hellenistic Jewish and particularly in Greco-Roman works. At the same time, it is striking that this very conventional discussion of husbands and wives, and then children and parents and slaves and masters in Eph 6, comes amid an otherwise unbroken discussion of some ways in which believers’ lives manifest the presence of the Holy Spirit. Given the place of these verses in the wider context of Ephesians, one can reasonably ask about the ways in which these admonitions might relate to the lives of believers in the present who also seek to manifest the presence of the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, one cannot rule out these concerns as beyond the scope of a commentary. On the other hand, the nature of commentary will entail that such questions are best addressed here in the course of paying close attention to what is actually written in Ephesians.
As one might expect, there has been an enormous amount of secondary literature written on this passage and the close parallel found in Col 3:18–4:1. In addition, 1 Pet 2:18–3:7 has similar material, which also figures in scholarly discussions. Scholars have focused much of their attention on two particular issues. The first concerns the source material for the household codes in the NT. The second issue addresses the reasons for the inclusion of this material in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter. The commentaries of Hoehner (720–29); Best (Ephesians 519–27) as well as Balch’s monograph (1–20) all include concise summaries of the scholarly discussion from Dibelius’s commentary on Colossians (1912) to the recent past.
To the extent that one can speak of a scholarly consensus on these issues, one could summarize the general agreement this way: The household codes in Ephesians are most like admonitions found elsewhere in literature devoted to household management. These discussions are found in a wide variety of Hellenistic writings by both Gentiles and some Jews. Thus scholars now hold that there is no single text or texts behind the household codes in the NT. Rather, the NT texts reflect a widespread and conventional set of concerns about household management.
In the light of this conclusion, scholars have then assumed that to understand why the material appears in the NT in the first place, one must understand the purpose and function of such discussions of household management in Greco-Roman literature more generally. These discussions originate with concerns found in both Plato and Aristotle about how to best order a city-state. Since the household was considered to be the fundamental building block of the city-state, discussions about the proper ordering of the household were part of larger discussions about the proper ordering of the city. Stable households were considered to be essential elements of social concord. In this light, scholars argue that the NT, and Ephesians and Colossians in particular, adopt these admonitions about the proper ordering of the household for apologetic reasons. In order to quell concern that the early Christians were a socially disruptive and dangerous movement because they tended to blur hierarchical distinctions between men and women, Jew and Greek, slave and master (Gal 3:27–28). Later writings such as Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter admonish believers to order their households in fairly conventional ways, to show the wider world that they are not a threat to the political order. This would then allow Christians to engage more directly in evangelistic work.
Recent work by Daniel Darko (ch. 3), however, has raised some significant objections to this scholarly consensus. Darko recognizes that Plato, Aristotle, and later philosophers such as Epictetus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus link discussions of household management to discussions of the larger political order. Yet numerous others, such as Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom and Musonius Rufus, address issues of household order without making any larger political connections. Moreover, the vast majority of Jewish texts that address household order do so without connecting the household to the city. The point here is that in those cases in which stability of the household is connected to the political order, such connections are explicitly made. When this connection is not made, there is no reason to assume it. Ephesians displays none of the apologetic concerns that comprise the scholarly consensus regarding the household codes. Indeed, Paul’s willing acceptance of and frequent reference to his imprisonment for Christ’s sake shows that he has little interest in masking the potentially disruptive costs and results of Christianity. Furthermore, in the light of 5:3–20, it is clear that Paul does not want the Ephesians to live according to the moral conventions of the world around them. Thus there is no reason to assume that when Paul addresses the ordering of Christian households in Ephesus, he has any interest in showing that Christians are not a threat to the order of the city.
To the extent that Paul does advocate conventionally hierarchical and patriarchal households, it is more likely because “Christianity emerged in a social context where these patriarchal structures were already in place. Its choice was not whether or not to ‘adopt’ domestic patterns in which its members already found themselves, but whether or not to encourage behavior within these structures which would embody a new set of values typical of a new vision of human community” (Elliott 70). To the extent to which Christians found themselves in conventionally structured patriarchal households, Ephesians gives them guidance about how best to live in those households as followers of Christ.
Roman law inscribed a patriarchal view of the household. In reality, actual households were highly varied in their composition. Sometimes households were headed by women. Often the household included children, slaves, unmarried relatives, and often freedmen and freedwomen or other renters of commercial or residential property (see Wallace-Hadrill). There is no reason to think that Christians should take either Roman law or conventions about patriarchy as the only way God intends people to live. In writing Ephesians, Paul does, however, take these as social realities within which believers in Ephesus and elsewhere found themselves. His instructions in Ephesians reflect his wisdom about how those who are in Christ should live within such social structures and arrangements. Even if they were so inclined, it would be difficult if not impossible for contemporary North American Christians to follow many of the instructions offered in this passage without first re-creating the social structures and conventions common across the Greco-Roman world. Presumably, when faced with very different social contexts, Christians should extend the same Christ-focused practical wisdom to prescribe quite different ways of living faithfully in those new contexts. Both the nature of Scripture and practical reasoning mean that such an enterprise will require Christian communities to engage each other in discussion, argument, and debate. Moreover, even after much discussion, Christians can do this badly. They can invoke a gap between Paul’s world and ours simply to avoid things they would rather not do. Even when willing to subject themselves to the Spirit’s transforming work, Christians may apply their practical wisdom in ways that do not result in faithful life and worship. Yet even in such instances, God delights in forgiving us. The application of Christ-focused practical wisdom can go wrong in these and many other ways, but that fact does not mean that a wooden application of these instructions is a better alternative.
Formally, the passage begins by addressing wives (5:21–24). It then moves to discuss husbands (5:25–33). Chapter 6 begins with an address to children (vv. 1–4), and the section concludes by addressing slaves (vv. 5–8) and their masters (v. 9).

5:21 Submit to one another out of reverenceb for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,d 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church; he himself is the Savior of the body. 24 Just as the church submits to Christ, so also wives submit to their husbands in all things.
25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up on her behalf 26 so that she might be holy, having cleansed her by washing of water in the word,g 27 so that he might present the church to himself, glorious, without blemish or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she might be holy and blameless. 28 In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh but nurtures and cherishesk it just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 In any case, each of you should love your wife as yourself, and a wife should respect her husband.
6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.q 2 “Honor your father and your mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise, 3 “that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not make your children angry. Rather, bring them up in the training and admonitiont of the Lord.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters as you would obey Christ,v with fear and trembling and singleness of heart, 6 not to catch someone’s eye or as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God wholeheartedly,x 7 with goodwill, rendering service as to the Lord and not to people, 8 knowing that whatever good each person does, each will receive this good back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 Masters, do the same to them, abandoning threats, knowing that both you and they have one Lordz in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

[21–24] One significant issue for anyone reading these verses concerns the role of 5:21. Should it be taken as introducing the discussion of wives and husbands in vv. 22–33, or should it close off the string of participles that begin at 5:19? Even the two standard editions of the Greek NT have come down on different sides of this issue.
On the one hand, it makes sense to see the participle, “submitting,” in 5:21 as one further explication of the ways in which being filled with the Holy Spirit manifests itself in the lives of believers. The use of the more global term “one another” in v. 21 fits well with “speaking to each other” and “always giving thanks for everything” in vv. 19 and 20. Thus the more specific and focused demands of 5:22–6:9 could be taken as a distinct unit. Further, if 5:21 is taken to begin a new section, then the participle “submitting” must be taken to have the force of an imperative. This would be different from the way in which the previous three participles seem to work.
On the other hand, there is no main verb in 5:22. The “submit” of “Wives submit to your husbands” must be dependent upon the verb “submit” in 5:21. Just as the prior three participles in 5:19–20 further specify the shape of a Spirit-filled life, so 5:22–6:9 further specifies the nature of mutual submission in the body of Christ. Although this would indicate that the participle in 5:21 takes on an overt imperatival force, one could also claim that the participles in 5:19–20 have strong imperatival implications.
Each way of resolving this issue has problems. For the organizational purposes of this commentary, 5:21 is treated as part of a unit that runs until 5:33. In the light of the various considerations noted above, however, it is crucial that readers interpret 5:21 as pointing both backward and forward. It serves to conclude a section that presents some of the ways in which believers are to manifest the life of the Spirit, and it also serves as an overarching admonition for the relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters in the church. In fact, almost all commentators, no matter how they divide the passage, treat the verse this way.
Thus believers filled with the Spirit will submit to one another. Obviously, person A cannot submit to person B at the exact same time that person B is submitting to person A. Instead, the mutual submission admonished here relativizes conventional authority structures for people who lived in a society where status and authority were rigidly marked and strictly observed. The epistle’s call for some relativity of authority within the Spirit-filled body requires a disposition of humility similar to that described in Phil 2:3–4, where others are considered to be of higher status, and people attend to the interests of others rather than their own.
Moreover, mutual submission is done “in reverence for Christ.” That is, believers’ obedience to Christ will lead them to submit to one another. Whatever authority and status an individual might have in the world is relativized by believers’ common service to one Lord, Christ. In this common service they are both able to and called to submit to each other.
Having said all this, one must also admit that vv. 22–24 operate within a fairly conventional model of a Greco-Roman household, in which the husband would have been the locus of ultimate authority. Within the confines of that particular social arrangement, Paul employs a christological set of motivations and justifications. In v. 21 believers are called to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” Then in v. 22 wives are called to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” This is not to put husbands in the same place as Christ. Rather, these terse references to Christ characterize the nature of that submission: willingly and out of love. Wives can reflect on the reason for the submission: “out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). This admonition can also remind all believers that the one who must ultimately be obeyed is the Lord.
Paul explicates these christological points further by calling wives to submit to their husbands “because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church.” Indeed, v. 24 further clarifies this by saying that “just as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in all things.”
What might it mean for the church to submit to Christ as its head? How might this illustrate the relationship between wives and husbands? Christ’s unquestioned preeminence relative to the church certainly can underwrite a wife’s submission to her husband. In a first-century context, however, it is not clear that such a comparison really says much. The paterfamilias would have already been considered the head of the household. One may find more illumination of believers’ relationships with each other by exploring the connection between Christ and the church further.
Twice in Ephesians Paul speaks of Christ as the head of the church. In 1:22 the resurrection reveals what has always been the case, that Christ is preeminent over all things and that all things will ultimately be placed in their proper relationship to Christ, who is their head and the head of the church. In 4:15 Christ’s role as head of the church emphasizes his preeminence as the one who is the source, organizing principle, and ultimate goal of the church’s life. In these cases as well as other passages illustrating the relationship between Christ and the church in Ephesians (e.g., 4:1–6), Christ rather than the church is the primary actor. Thus it seems that this analogy has more to say to husbands than to wives. In addition, the church’s submission to Christ depends upon recognizing what God has revealed in Christ and upon maintaining a proper relationship with Christ, the head, through the power of the Spirit. The church’s submission to Christ would further involve coming to recognize the good work that Christ desires to do in and through the church, learning to desire that good work, and participating in that work over time until it is brought to its proper end. It would in particular involve allowing the gifts that Christ has given the church to operate and flourish so that “we all come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to the complete person, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). Ultimately, then, the church’s submission to Christ results in the church’s coming to love and desire for itself that which Christ loves and desires for the church, that is, union with Christ and each other. On the one hand, we can hardly imagine a better model for husbands and wives. On the other hand, this notion of the church’s submission to Christ would set a model for all believers, not simply husbands and wives.
[25–33] Although the instruction here is to husbands to love their wives, a large portion of the first part of the passage, vv. 25–27, is devoted to describing Christ’s love for the church. There are a few examples of Greco-Roman household codes where husbands are advised to love their wives, but none of these codes use the verb agapaō or the noun agapē. Moreover, Paul makes it clear that the sort of love he is talking about here is first and foremost the love displayed by Christ for the church.
The first characteristic of Christ’s love for the church involves his freely willed self-offering on behalf of the church. In this respect v. 25 echoes 5:2, where believers are told to “walk in love just as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us.” Thus husbands are to love their wives with the self-emptying love that Christ paradigmatically displays for believers. Given the ways in which this self-emptying love is described in passages such as Phil 2:6–8, it is certainly possible to think of displaying this love to another as a specific form of submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21).
The next two verses explicate the aims of Christ’s self-offering on behalf of the church. The first aim is to sanctify the church, to render her holy. Paul has already indicated that God has chosen believers in Christ to be “holy and blameless before him in love” (1:4). This language, which Deuteronomy first uses to characterize God’s purposes in calling Israel (Deut 7:6–8), was extended in Eph 1:4 to speak of God’s purposes for believers in Christ and now is used in 5:26 to speak of Christ’s purposes for the church. Believers are called to holiness as part of their participation in Christ, and the church as a whole is called to that same holiness.
Obviously, believers individually and the church more generally are not holy on their own. As 5:26 explains, Christ accomplishes a cleansing of the church “by the washing of water in the word.” There are two particular ways of understanding this image of washing. Within the Christian tradition the most obvious is as a reference to baptism. Most ancient commentators and the bulk of modern commentators all see this as a reference to baptism. One should note, however, that the NT says very little about Christian baptism. Titus 3:5 mentions washing in a larger discussion of redemption without explicitly linking washing to baptism. And 1 Pet 3:21 says that Christian baptism is not the sort of washing that removes physical dirt from the body, but the epistle does not go on to make the explicit case that it is precisely a spiritual cleansing that renders one holy. Thus the text is not as clear in its reference to baptism as one might like. Nevertheless, sacramental accounts of baptism as a washing that brings about the cleansing of sin certainly are compatible with Eph 5:26. Moreover, the argument that baptism is something that individuals undertake and not the church as a whole misses that point that both Rom 6:1–11 and Col 2:10–13 speak of baptism as the act that brings one into the church and thus could be seen as being constitutive of the church. This is also supported by Eph 4:3–7, where “one baptism” helps to comprise the unity of the body of Christ.
Can one assert with absolute certainty that the first readers of Ephesians would have understood this washing as a reference to baptism? Probably not. Yet it is the most likely option. Moreover, it is the most theologically rich way to read this text. If one reads the notion of being washed in water as a reference to baptism, then the additional phrase “in the word” might be taken to modify the washing in water. In that case it can be either a reference to the candidate’s confession of faith or more likely to a baptismal formula pronounced at the baptism (e.g., Schnackenburg 250; Lincoln, Ephesians 376; Best, Ephesians 544). If one takes “in the word” to be an additional modification of “having cleansed,” then “in the word” is probably a more general reference to the proclamation of the gospel (e.g., Heil, Ephesians 246; Hoehner 755) or postbaptismal teaching or edification (Muddiman 265).
In addition to a reference to baptism, one can see in this text a reference back to Ezek 16. There God speaks of Israel first as an abandoned child that God rescues (16:6–7), then as a forsaken women whom God marries, washing her with water and anointing her with oil (16:9), beautifying her and offering her all sorts of good gifts (16:10–14). Much of the rest of Ezek 16 relates Israel’s surprising infidelity to her divine husband, and the subsequent judgment she incurs as a result. Nevertheless, God remembers God’s own pledge of fidelity to Israel and brings about her redemption, recalling and yet forgiving the sins of her past (16:59–63).
The nuptial imagery here is particularly relevant for Eph 5:25–27. Moreover, it can provide some ways of addressing the obvious discrepancy between the church that Christ renders holy and blameless, without blemish or wrinkle, and the very flawed and sinful manifestations of Christ’s body that the Ephesians and all subsequent Christians know. The church would do well to read her “marriage” to Christ through Ezek 16. In this light, Christ desires holiness for the church and pledges himself to ensure that holiness. Holiness is Christ’s gift to and desire for the church. Holiness is not the church’s self-acquired character. At the same time, just as God does not overlook Israel’s infidelity, Christ does not overlook the church’s failings. Indeed, these failings may well generate the sort of judgment that Israel faced. Nevertheless, the Christ who pledges himself to the church will establish the church’s holiness, recalling yet forgiving her sins.
The idea of Christ’s presenting the church to himself in 5:27 reminds believers that Christ is the one who establishes and ensures the church’s holiness. The church does not present itself to Christ as a potential bride might present herself to a suitor for inspection. The church does not seek to acquire its own holiness. Rather, the church is to “grow up together in all things into him who is the head, into Christ” (4:15).
At 5:28 Paul extends the discussion of the relationship between Christ and the church as the basis for his admonition to husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. Clearly there are certain respects in which husbands cannot exactly replicate the relationship between Christ and the church. For example, husbands cannot present their wives to themselves as holy and blameless, without blemish or wrinkle. Nevertheless, the self-giving, other-regarding love that Christ displays for the church is the same love that husbands are to display for their wives. Indeed, the clause instructing husbands to love their wives as their own bodies picks up the claim that the church is Christ’s body in 5:23 and later in 5:30. The analogies between Christ-and-the-church and husbands-and-wives are not exact in every respect, but the admonition here in 5:28 indicates that this analogy is to be taken in all seriousness as the standard against which a husband’s love for his wife is measured.
The comment that concludes v. 28, “He who loves his own wife loves himself,” appears to be a transitional comment. It both indicates that the first part of v. 28 is not primarily an admonition to self-love and introduces the subsequent discussion of love of one’s own body in the light of Christ’s love of his body, the church.
Initially, though, Paul begins v. 29 with an everyday observation: “No one ever hated his own flesh.” Certainly most contemporary readers will know of exceptions to this truism. Nevertheless, Paul’s point here is to present the normal care one extends to one’s own body as an extension of the care and nurture Christ lavishes on his body, the church. It appears that the primary point of connection here is not between the specific practices of care and nurture of our human bodies and Christ’s practices of care for the church. Rather, the point seems to be to indicate that Christ’s care and nurture of his body, the church, is as natural, normal, and uncoerced as humans’ care for their own bodies. Christ’s care of the church is not so much a duty grudgingly performed as a joyful act of love. Further, as members of his body, believers participate in and enjoy that freely offered nurture and care. This care that Christ lavishes freely on his body is the model of the nurture and care that husbands should display toward their own “flesh,” a flesh that is actually a shared flesh, composed of husband and wife. Paul makes this point through the quotation of Gen 2:24 in 5:31.
The logic of 5:28–31 runs something like this: Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies. The point of mentioning the love of one’s own body is not to advocate self-absorption. Rather, the point emphasizes that love of one’s own body is uncoerced, joyfully and unself-consciously offered. This is evident because no one hates his own body. Rather, he happily cares for and nurtures it. Christ’s love for his body, the church, is just like this. All believers participate in this freely offered care because we are all members of his body. Thus husbands are to offer this same freely offered nurture and care to their wives because husbands and wives are actually one flesh, as Gen 2:24 reminds us, and no one hates his own flesh.
Thus far, although Paul has moved back and forth between instructions for husbands and reflections on Christ’s love of the church, the christological has served as the model for the marital. In 5:32 this is reversed as Paul reveals a “great mystery.” Throughout Ephesians, Paul has used the Greek term mystērion (mystery) to refer to God’s drama of salvation, which results in all things being brought to their proper end in Christ, including a church composed of Jews and Gentiles united in one body (see 1:9–10; 3:1–11; 6:18–20). This mystery was something hidden. With the coming of Christ, however, the true nature and movements of God’s drama of salvation have been revealed to the world.
In this light, Paul can further highlight this mystery in terms of Gen 2:24. The union between husband and wife into one flesh displays and anticipates the union between Christ and the church.
Readers should not infer from this that Paul seeks to combat other specific interpretations of Gen 2:24. Rather, he offers the Ephesians this additional christological reflection in the course of a larger discussion of husbands and wives. Indeed, rather than develop this notion of ecclesial union with Christ more fully, Paul returns to the matter at hand in v. 33, where he reasserts that husbands are to love their wives as themselves and wives are to “respect” their husbands. In this final clause Paul uses the Greek verb phobētai, which recalls the use of the noun phobos in v. 21. In v. 21 all believers are called to submit to each other out of “reverence” for Christ. Here wives are admonished to “respect” their husbands.
As with 5:21 the English term “fear,” though certainly an accurate rendering of the Greek, can convey an image of terror that is not in view here. Rather, this term designates the appropriate attitude one should have to a superior. In the highly stratified and status-conscious world of the NT, superiors were due respect, obedience, submission, and deference. This was simply the just thing to do. It rendered to superiors what they deserved. The degree to which one was obliged to submit to one’s superiors depended on the gap between them. Paul, like his Jewish and pagan contemporaries, assumed that men were naturally superior to women in nature’s hierarchy, and thus wives should display the appropriate dispositions of respect to their husbands. Thus, as we will find throughout the household codes, Paul tends to leave conventional lines of authority intact while urging behavior among various groups in the household that will enhance their Christ-focused “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Moreover, in certain cases Paul will extend such familial lines of authority to relations within the body of Christ (e.g., 1 Cor 4:15; 2 Cor 6:11–12; 12:14; Phil 2:22). At the same time, passages such as Gal 3:27–29, the rather extensive relativizing of status terms in the Corinthian Letters, and Paul’s ambivalence to “pillars” of the church in Galatians (as in 1:17; 2:6–14)—all indicate that he is also willing to transgress what those in his world would have seen as natural hierarchical distinctions.
[6:1–4] Paul now moves on to admonish children to obey both parents “in the Lord.” The notion that children were to obey parents is deeply written into both Judaism and Greco-Roman moral philosophy. Moreover, the fact that children are directly addressed here indicates that they are of a sufficient age to understand and act upon the epistle as it is read aloud in the congregation. The phrase “in the Lord” modifies the verb “obey” and not the noun “parents.” In this way, the manner and motive of the obedience are located in their Christian identity. This will parallel the manner of obedience that Paul commends to slaves in 6:5–9.
The subsequent clauses add some further specification to children’s obedience to parents. First, we are told it is “right.” That is, children’s obeying parents is just and proper, because this is what is due to parents. The second reason for obeying parents is related through a citation of Exod 20:12 LXX. This citation is offered without introduction and presumes that readers will detect that it comes from the Decalogue. Moreover, using the quotation implies that “honoring,” which in its OT context entails a wide range of practices beyond simple obedience, is tied closely to obeying.
Paul goes on to relate that this is the “first commandment with a promise.” This claim is puzzling in that honoring parents comes in the fifth commandment (Exod 20:12), and it appears that the second commandment (20:4–6) contains a promise: punishment to those who disobey and steadfast love to those who obey. Thus it is unclear how this could be the first commandment with a promise.
This situation has spawned a variety of explanations. These include dividing the law into two parts, with the fifth commandment being actually the first to deal with duties toward other humans after the first four address duties to God (Gnilka 297). This view relies on a comment by Philo in Spec. 2.261 but ignores his comment in Decal. 121, treating the fifth commandment as the last one concerned with duties toward God. Others argue that “first” is not numerically first, but first in terms of most difficult or most important (cf. “first” in Matt 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–31; so Schlier 281). Although there is some rabbinic evidence that saw the fifth commandment this way (Deut. Rab. 6), it seems unlikely that the Christians in Ephesus would have been aware of this rabbinic tradition and would not have been aware that Jesus gives a different answer when asked about the “first” commandment.
Of the variety of solutions to this problem, Lincoln’s (Ephesians 404) is the best. He questions the claim that Exod 20:4–6 actually contains a promise. Rather, it contains a set of descriptions of God, from which one is meant to draw conclusions about the consequences of various actions. Once this is taken into consideration, then one can genuinely treat the commandment to honor father and mother as the first with a promise.
The actual promise is more significant than how one takes its priority. The promise in Exodus is directed to prosperity in the promised land. In Ephesians the notion of well-being and long life is not tied to any particular place, but to all places. When taken in this way rather than as a condition of remaining in the promised land, this promise becomes more of a prudential rule of thumb. If this promise is taken as more than a prudential rule of thumb, it can certainly raise theological and ethical problems for Christians today. The promise that things will go well and one will live long is insufficient motivation for Christians who are pondering most types of action. Paul’s repeated references to his chains remind the Ephesians that fidelity to the gospel may cost believers their lives or their freedom. Engaging the principalities and powers, as 6:10–17 advocates, requires spiritual weaponry, but it also recognizes that the principalities and powers can work material harm on believers. Moreover, the prospect of material harm cannot override the necessity for engaging those powers. Thus long life in itself is not an ultimate goal for Christians. It appears to be the likely outcome of obedience to parents, but it cannot trump the demands of fidelity, of walking in a manner worthy of one’s calling.
Children are called to obey their parents. In 6:4 Paul only addresses fathers. Fathers are to avoid angering their children. The father in a Greco-Roman household would have held absolute authority to do with his children as he saw fit. There would have been countless ways in which fathers could have enraged their children. Further, given that the “children” addressed here could range in age from the quite young to the young adult, driving a child to anger will involve very different things. Nevertheless, Paul has already warned the Ephesians about anger, discussing when it is appropriate and what its dangers are (4:26–27). At the very least, taking this admonition to heart will require fathers to take their children’s perspectives into account.
The second half of this verse directs fathers to a more constructive activity. Here fathers are instructed to bring up their children in the “training and admonition of the Lord.” Such training and admonition would be undertaken with a particular goal in mind. Within the pagan household the training of the children, especially sons, would be directed to the end of preparing them to fulfill their proper role in the household and in the community at large. In Ephesians, fathers are admonished to form their children to fulfill their proper ends as people of the Lord. That is, the formation of children in the household should be in the light of their identity as Christians, not primarily as members of a specific family or citizens of a particular city. The primary role of the phrase “of the Lord” is properly to locate the primary loyalty of Christians and the importance of making that known in the formation of children and all others.
[5–9] This section closes with a set of admonitions to slaves and masters. For Americans, it is important to understand that Greco-Roman slavery was very different from the slavery practiced in the United States. In Paul’s world, slavery was a widespread phenomenon. One could become a slave because of economic misfortune, capture in war, kidnapping, or simply being born into slavery. Within a household, work was divided according to gender rather than one’s status as free or slave. Thus slaves and free members of a household worked side by side. In urban contexts, slaves could become doctors and tutors. They could handle money and the financial affairs of households. They could earn money and sometimes purchase their freedom. They could marry, and female slaves could be freed in order to marry their masters. This should not blunt the fact that many slaves were worked to death in mines and were often subject to horrible conditions. Moreover, female slaves were available for the sexual use of their masters. Although there were many forms of Greco-Roman slavery, all slaves shared the common situation of being under the control of their master.
Paul addresses slaves directly here (also in 1 Cor 7:21; Col 3:22). Paul takes them to be full members of the Ephesian church. Moreover, although their actions are often governed by the will of another, the nature of his admonitions indicates that Paul takes them to be in full control of their inner dispositions. Thus, calling slaves to obey their “earthly masters” is not really the issue here. In this they had little choice. Rather, Paul focuses on the nature and quality of that obedience. Not surprisingly, this obedience is modeled on the type of obedience that believers display toward Christ.
More precisely, slaves are to obey in “fear and trembling.” There are two other passages where Paul uses the phrase “fear and trembling” to describe obedience. In 2 Cor 7:15 it describes the disposition of the Corinthian Christians toward Titus, who was acting as an emissary of Paul. Paul also uses the phrase in Phil 2:12 to characterize the type of obedience he has come to expect from the Philippian Christians. In each of these cases “fear and trembling” has little to do with terror and panic. Rather, it describes the proper disposition that a person of inferior status should display toward the wishes of a superior; it reflects the willingness to recognize another’s authority. In addition, slaves are to obey with singleness of heart. This reflects a simplicity of will, a will without distraction, guile, or mixed motivation.
These dispositions are also dispositions that all believers are to display toward Christ, their Lord and Master. Indeed, vv. 6 and 7 repeatedly contrast service that is less than wholehearted with the service that believers owe to the Lord. This is the attitude that slaves are to display to their earthly masters. Although they are only “earthly” masters, the obedience owed to them is modeled on obedience rendered to the one, true Lord.
Paul calls these masters kyrioi, the same Greek word used to describe Jesus the Lord (kyrios). There can be no confusion between the two here, however, because these masters are kyrioi “according to the flesh,” or “earthly” (v. 5). As Lincoln (Ephesians 420) suggests, Paul may implicitly be playing off the two ways of using this term in order to relativize the status of Christian slave owners in 6:5–8, a point he makes more explicit in 6:9.
Before moving to address slave owners, however, Paul inserts a brief comment about the recompense all (both slave and free) will receive from the Lord of all. This promise reminds slaves that even if their work does not catch the eye of their owners, it is seen by Christ, and they will be compensated at some future point. It also works to contrast the fidelity of Christ, the Lord (kyrios), with any “earthly master” who might promise freedom in return for good work and fail to deliver.
This section concludes with a brief address to slave owners. Continuing to call them kyrioi (masters), Paul admonishes masters “to do the same” to their slaves. Doing “the same” may refer back to “serving wholeheartedly” in v. 7. In this way Paul would be turning the tables on the master-slave relationship by having both parties serve each other. This would certainly fit with the call to mutual submission that started this passage in 5:21 (Chrysostom, Hom. Eph. 32). It seems more likely, however, that Paul is urging slave owners to extend the same disposition of integrity and singleness of heart that they owe to Christ to their slaves as well (Hoehner 813; Thomas Aq. 233; Lincoln, Ephesians 423).
In practice this seems, in the first instance, to entail abandoning threats. One must assume that this does not mean abandoning threats of punishment or abuse and simply moving straight to the action. Rather, abandoning threats must entail the abandoning of punishment and abuse in the face of the failures of one’s slaves. The reason for this is that even though one might be a kyrios kata sarka (earthly master), even these kyrioi are subject to the one Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ. Slave owners are to abandon threats (and punishment) in the face of a slave’s failure because Christian slave owners understand that this is the way Christ has treated both them and their slaves. Moreover, this Lord is an impartial judge. Although the world may grant the slave owner a higher status than the slave, Christ does not recognize status in these terms (see Bassler 178).
When faced with these household codes, Christians in America find themselves in an awkward position. It may be useful to begin by reflecting on the source and nature of this awkwardness. First, Americans live with their own very complicated and often underacknowledged legacy of slavery and of the racism that underwrote slavery and continues today. Further, we live in a world where both virtual and actual slavery still exist, and Christians quite rightly want to insist that this is wrong and should not be allowed even though both the OT and the NT take the presence of various forms of slavery as a given. In addition, domestic violence is prevalent, particularly violence against women and children. This should always be unacceptable to Christians, even though sometimes churches invoke passages such as Eph 5:21–6:9 to underwrite such violence through advocating the comprehensive submission of wives to husbands. Most of us no longer believe in biologically inscribed hierarchies such as those Paul and his contemporaries assumed. Moreover, even though Christians in America often have both the freedom and the power to bring about certain changes in social arrangements both large and small, that would have been inconceivable to Paul and the Ephesians.
Nevertheless, for Christians, Ephesians (along with Colossians, 1 Peter, and the Pastoral Epistles) is part of Scripture. Christians must treat them as such. Such a claim does not prescribe any specific pattern of interpreting or embodying these texts. Neither does such a claim rule out bringing texts—such as Gal 3:27–29; 1 Cor 12:12–31 (both of which might relativize or reconfigure notions of status); or 1 Cor 7 (which reminds Christians that singleness is an equally acceptable form of life)—into the discussion. It simply recognizes that there may be occasions when these texts need to be addressed. This recognition becomes even more complicated in the light of significant changes in the composition of the worldwide church. Over 60 percent of the world’s Christians now live outside of the United States and Europe, and this percentage is growing. These Christians often live in situations where the social arrangements share far more with those of the Christians in Ephesus than they do with Christians in America. Interpretive and ecclesial conflict over passages such as Eph 5:21–6:9 seem inevitable and indeed are already emerging.
Such conflict in itself is not a problem; it is even to be expected. Disagreement over the interpretation and embodiment of Scripture is not a failure in itself. Further, faithfully resolving such disagreements requires significant investments of time, patience, and love. In addition, one of the hardest parts about such disputes involves establishing a common framework and vocabulary. Apart from this, Christians will find that they cannot even come to agreement on how to describe a conflict, much less to resolve it.
In this respect, Ephesians may provide some resources in addition to its various conundrums. In Ephesians, and particularly in 5:21–33, Paul interprets household relationships in thoroughly christological terms. Many commentators suggest that the practical result of this may well have been a rather conventional household arrangement. Even if this is so, and it is not clear that it is so, the most important thing Paul offers the Ephesians is the example of seeing and interpreting the world through christologically ground lenses, rather than lenses ground by Roman social custom and convention. If the Ephesians and all Christians learn this skill of seeing and interpreting their world through Christ-focused lenses, even as various social and material and political circumstances change, they will be able to continue to “walk in a manner worthy of [their] calling” (4:1). Moreover, they will be able to recognize some alternative practices of other Christians in different circumstances as examples of “walking worthily”; they will have a framework and language for recognizing both their own and others’ failures to “walk worthily” and to repent accordingly; they will also have a basis for faithfully resolving arguments and disputes about how to “walk worthily” in specific contexts. In this way, Paul’s theological practice displayed in 5:21–6:9 provides resources for contemporary Christians across the globe as they debate and argue with each other about how to interpret and embody these particular texts.

Ephesians 6:10–20
Strong in the Lord
This passage is often referred to as the climax of the paraenetic section of the epistle, which begins at 4:1. Some use the technical rhetorical designation peroratio to indicate this. The claim is that this passage summarizes and brings to a head the key elements of the body of the letter, offering encouragement to the readers to go and do that which the writer desires them to do. Although many scholars agree that this is the aim of the paragraph, they do not all agree in identifying it as a peroratio (e.g., Lincoln uses peroratio; Best disagrees). This particular judgment may well depend on how narrowly one conceives of the peroratio as a rhetorical genre. Thomas Aquinas (234) is probably equally on the mark when he says that 6:10–20 is a discussion of the power by which believers “carry out the precepts of destroying the old man of sin and encouraging the newness of grace.”
Regardless of whether one considers 6:10–20 to be a peroratio or not, one should recognize some ways in which this passage is both like and not like what comes before it. Like much of the material from 4:1 to 6:9, this passage addresses issues of the character and moral practices that Paul wants to see cultivated in the Ephesians. In various ways 6:10–20 continues the discussion of walking in a manner worthy of Christ’s call.
Nevertheless, the tone and focus of 6:10–20 is quite different from 4:1–6:9. From 4:1 onward, Paul has used the image of “walking” in a particular way to carry out his argument. He presents the Christian life as a communal journey of believers from where they once were, to where they now are, and on to their ultimate end in God. The ways in which they conduct themselves in the course of this journey will have a significant impact on the course and outcome of this journey as well as on believers’ abilities to draw others in as fellow travelers. Because this journey passes through places already shaped and influenced by the surrounding pagan cultures, the Ephesians will need wisdom from the Holy Spirit to engage these cultures and to negotiate their paths through them in a manner that will enhance rather than frustrate their journey.
In contrast to this, the dominant image in 6:10–20 is standing firm against an array of diabolical enemies. Defense and resistance are the primary images here. Since a Christ-focused, Spirit-inspired wisdom is essential to walking in a manner worthy of the Ephesians’ calling in 4:1–6:9, then 6:10–20 requires courage and steadfastness. Without question, Paul is quite willing to offer judgments about the corruption and decadence of the cultures in which the Ephesians find themselves. He can even speak of them as if they are under the influence of corrupting spiritual powers. In 6:10–20, however, Paul is quite adamant that believers in Ephesus are engaged in a battle against spiritual foes.
These two images, “walking” and “standing firm,” are not incompatible. They can be different ways of approaching particular aspects of the Christian life. Unfortunately for modern readers, there is little in the epistle that offers enough concrete information about the original context of this letter to help us discern how Paul expected the Ephesians concretely to practice “standing firm.”
In addition to offering a conclusion of some sort to the arguments of 4:1–6:9, one also finds connections between 6:10–20 and earlier parts of the epistle. In 6:12 Paul locates the various spiritual forces arrayed against believers in “the heavenlies.” This is the same place where God has blessed believers “with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). It is also where believers have been made alive and seated with Christ (2:5–6). In 6:10 Paul calls on believers to be empowered (presumably by God) with God’s great power. This is precisely what Paul has prayed for the Ephesians in 1:19–23 and reiterated in a prayer in 3:16–21.
Most significantly, in 3:7–13 Paul speaks about the church and its relationship to various spiritual powers. In this passage Paul continues his earlier discussion of his mission to reveal the mystery of God’s drama of salvation in Christ, in which Jews and Gentiles are joined into one body in Christ (3:1–6). In the light of this mission, Paul goes on in 3:7–13 to declare that the church plays a particular role in revealing God’s drama of salvation to spiritual powers taken to be hostile to God’s economy. Since this is the only other point in the letter where Paul speaks of the church’s relationship to the powers, it seems reasonable to seek to interpret 6:10–20 in the light of 3:7–13.
There is one further important point to make about this passage. It is very easy to read this discussion of the armor of God and then to assume that this is a set of instructions to individual believers to take up the armor of God. That is not really the way the text reads. Rather, the command to take up the armor of God is a summons to the community as a whole. Taking up the armor of God is a communal practice integrally tied to the unity of the church and the church’s witness to the powers. In this respect, 6:10–20 continues the emphasis on the common life of the church that began in 4:1.

6:10 Finally, be strengthened in the Lord andb in the power of his might. 11 Put on the armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; 12 because our struggled is not against blood and flesh but against rulers, against powers, against cosmic forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore take up the whole armor of God so that you will be able to stand fast on the day of evil, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand, therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 having fitted your feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all this, take upg the shield of faith, with which you may extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Through every prayer and petition, pray always in the Spirit with this end in mind: Always be watchful in all perseverance and petition for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me that when I open my mouth, the right words will be given to me so that with all boldness I may make known the mystery of the gospel,j 20 on behalf of which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may speak boldly about the gospel as I ought to do.

[10–13] As a way of completing his epistle, Paul in this final substantive section shifts from admonitions about walking in a manner worthy of the gospel to a discussion of the strength, power, and defenses needed to stand and resist the spiritual forces arrayed against the church.
Paul begins by urging the Ephesians to be strengthened in the Lord. The use of the passive voice here reminds the Ephesians that although this strength is necessary in order to withstand the forces of evil, it is not something the Ephesians can really do for themselves. One way of understanding this notion of being strengthened in the Lord is in the light of John 15. There Jesus teaches his followers that abiding in him, “the vine,” is the only way to maintain the possibility of bearing fruit in an otherwise hostile environment. Abiding in the Lord is the way in which believers may come to be strengthened by the Lord. The issue here does not seem to be one of preferring weakness to strength or even of misperceiving the true nature of strength and weakness, as in 1 Corinthians. Rather, the issue seems to focus on where one finds strength. The struggle is to seek strength in God rather than in other apparent sources of power and security (see Isa 40:12–31). On the one hand, this would seem to be a fairly straightforward task. On the other hand, the story of the people of God in the OT is one of constantly seeking power and protection from things, people, and nations that are not God. Moreover, when the supreme nature of God’s power and strength is manifested in being nailed to a cross, it becomes clear that this is a puzzling and even scandalous strength, in which it might be difficult and even terrifying to abide.
To stand against the deceits of the devil, Paul continues, believers must put on the armor of God. This notion reiterates the theme of v. 10 that only God and God’s armor provides a suitable defense for believers. This verse also declares that the Ephesians’ struggle is against spiritual and demonic forces that are not merely indifferent to their presence, but also are actively seeking to deceive them.
To defend themselves, believers are to put on the “whole armor of God.” The term “armor” refers to the equipment of a foot soldier. In 4:24 Paul admonishes believers to put on a new self, created in the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness. Putting on this new self is crucial to walking in a manner worthy of one’s calling. Now in 6:10–11, putting on the armor of God is equally important to being able to stand firm in the Lord and against the devil.
Throughout this passage, with its rich description of military hardware, it is significant that believers are not called to make war on the devil or any other spiritual power. Although once a battle is joined it is difficult to distinguish between offensive and defensive measures, it appears that believers’ fundamental posture in this case is defensive. The devil is the one who makes war on the church (Rev 12:17; 1 Pet 5:8). In these two passages the devil seems to make explicit frontal assaults on believers. In Ephesians the attacks are cast as schemes or plots. The implication here is that the devil will rely on subterfuge rather than trying to match God power for power. If this is the case, the assaults of the devil will tend to look more like seductions than military offensives. As will become evident, this shapes the nature of the church’s armor. In addition, the church will need a form of wisdom similar to that called for in 4:1–6:9.
Before discussing the precise nature of the church’s armor, Paul goes to some length to identify the spiritual nature the church’s opponents in v. 12. The term “struggle” here often refers to a wrestling match, though it can refer to a more general struggle. Yet as Lincoln (Ephesians 444) observes, focusing on whether Paul imagines a wrestling match or a pitched battle misses the point of the verse, which is to contrast the spiritual nature of the opponents with “blood and flesh.” The type of weapons appropriate to such a struggle are spiritual. Nevertheless, one must imagine that such powers will manfiest themselves in the material world and that Christians will engage these powers in the material world.
Paul then lists various spiritual powers: rulers, powers, cosmic forces of this darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul has already spoken of various rulers and “powers” in 1:21 and 3:10; he has already used “darkness” in 5:8 to speak of the character of the Ephesians’ lives prior to Christ. The final phrase, “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” is meant to cover all sorts and conditions of spiritual beings. Paul’s point here is not to produce a precise list of the species that inhabit the heavenly realms, but to signify the vast multiplicity of demonic forces allied against the church.
Paul has already stated that a unified church of Jews and Gentiles in Christ has a particular mission relative to these spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. The boundless riches of Christ found and sustain a church of Jews and Gentiles reconciled to God and to each other. The presence of this church makes God’s gracious wisdom known to these spiritual forces (3:7–13). Here in chapter 6 Paul may be making more explicit that at which he only hints in chapter 3. That is, these spiritual forces reject and/or resist God’s plan and wisdom, to which the church bears witness. Thus they attack the church in hopes of undermining the economy of salvation. If this is so, it would reinforce the notion that the central component of the church’s witness to the powers depends on common life that maintains “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3).
Although Paul does not spell out the cause and aim of the hostility of these spiritual powers in quite this way, such an account makes sense in the light of Paul’s claims in 3:7–13; it fits particularly well with the need to be equipped with the “gospel of peace,” and accounts for Paul’s particular desires in 6:18–20.
After describing the nature of the church’s struggle, in v. 13 Paul resumes his admonition for the Ephesians to put on “the whole armor of God.” Believers are to prepare themselves in this way so that they can withstand “on the evil day.” This phrase “the evil day” is obscure. It is unclear what Paul means in using it and precisely what sort of time he imagines “the evil day” to be. Scholarly opinion about this odd phrase varies quite a bit. Paul refers to the present time as “evil days” in 5:16. Although “the evil day” is similar to 5:16, Paul uses a definite article to denote one day rather than simply repeat the claim of 5:16. In this respect Paul is probably referring to some point in the future when God will judge the world. For those who are unrighteous, this will be an evil day (e.g., Amos 5:18–20; 6:3; 1 Thess 5:2–4; T. Dan 5.4–13). To take both of these pieces of data seriously, one must argue that Paul imagines that believers are currently in a time marked by great evil, within which they must resist the schemes of Satan. This time of evil will ultimately reach a climactic point at which God will intervene and judge the world. This day will be one of great evil for those who are not prepared.9
[14–17] Before going on to describe various pieces of this armor, Paul reiterates the command to stand firm. He then begins by urging the church to gird itself with truth. Here Paul does not seem to be speaking of the great war belts that would have been worn outside the armor, which play such a key role in epics such as Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. Rather, the article in question would have been more like a leather apron worn under the armor, protecting the upper thighs while allowing freedom of movement. Paul seems to be drawing directly on the LXX of Isa 11:5, where the Messianic figure is girded with righteousness and truth. He has already emphasized the importance of “speaking the truth in love” (4:15), avoiding falsehood, and speaking the truth with each other (4:25). In 5:9 truth, as well as righteousness, is one of the fruits of light that believers are to manifest now that they are no longer darkness. Truthfulness in particular is a crucial component of the common life of the church, which will render the church’s witness to the spiritual powers regarding the mystery of salvation effective. This particular point should call readers back to 1:13, where Paul declares that Christ is the source of the “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”
In Eph 4–5 Paul has already indicated that failures of truth will have significant consequences for the church’s ability to walk in a manner worthy of its calling. Here in chapter 6 Paul treats truthfulness as one of the church’s defenses as it seeks to present the mystery of salvation to spiritual powers seeking to frustrate God’s economy. In this way one can begin to see that there is a connection between those virtues and practices necessary to walk in a manner worthy of the church’s calling and the armor of God needed to withstand attack from spiritual forces opposed to the church’s witness to the mystery of salvation.
The next piece of God’s armor is the breastplate of righteousness. The term “breastplate of righteousness” appears in the LXX of Isa 59:17 and Wis 5:18. There is also a similar image in Isa 11:5 The breastplate covers and protects a soldier’s vital organs. In addition, righteousness and truth are linked in 4:24 as characteristics of the new person that believers are called to put on. Further, in 5:9 righteousness and truth are linked as two of the three fruits of light that believers are to manifest. Thus, if one must decide whether the breastplate of righteousness is the righteousness that comes from faith in God, or the just and righteous actions of believers (and it is not clear that only one of these is in view), then the connections with 4:24 and 5:9 would probably favor the just and righteous actions of believers (Heil, Ephesians 284). More significantly, the use of truthfulness and justice as components of God’s armor and as practices of a community that walks in a manner worthy of its calling reinforces the notion that the common life of the church is a crucial component in its witness to the spiritual powers in the heavenlies.
As this passage moves on, it becomes clear that the next piece of the armor of God is most clearly defined by where it goes on the body. We know that this piece of equipment goes on the feet. Whether this is a reference to sandals or a soldier’s hobnailed boot or some other thing is unclear. This lack of precision regarding the nature of the footwear seems to support Lincoln’s view (Ephesians 448) that fitting one’s feet “with the readiness of the gospel of peace” alludes in part to Isa 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”
The unusual description of this piece of armor as the “readiness of the gospel of peace” indicates that more than simple proclamation of the gospel is in view here. It is less clear, however, what more is implied in this phrase. Certainly the notion of readiness conforms to the passage’s overall emphasis of defense and standing firm. Further, in making Jew and Gentile into one body through the cross, Christ makes peace, reconciling these two groups to God (2:14–16). Indeed, to speak of Christ’s proclamation of peace both to those near and those far, which thereby opens access to the Father through the Spirit (2:17–18), is a succinct summary of the mystery of salvation that God has revealed to Paul, which Paul has made known to the Ephesians and other Gentiles, and which the church makes known to the powers (3:1–12).
If one continues to read this passage in the light of the church’s witness to the powers, then one may also tie this verse into 4:3, where Paul admonishes believers to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Manifesting the unity established and desired by Christ would be the “readiness of the gospel of peace,” and that is one component of the church’s witness to the powers regarding God’s economy of salvation. Of course, failure of unity and thus failure to manifest the readiness of the gospel of peace would then frustrate the church’s witness to the powers.
Believers are then called to take up the “shield of faith” (v. 16). This is to be used to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. The phrase used for “shield” here (thyreos) refers to an oblong shield about four feet by two feet, constructed from wooden planks and covered with animal hides. As Livy (Hist. 21.8.12) describes the practice, shooting flaming arrows into shields caused inexperienced or fearful shield-bearers to lower the shield, thus exposing him to attack by spear. The shield itself apparently was sufficient to extinguish the arrow if one maintained one’s composure.
As part of God’s armor, this shield is identified as the shield of faith. Faith here could refer to the content of what is believed, as in 4:5. It might also be a reference to the act of believing (1:13; 2:8), along with the vigor of one’s belief (1:15). Neither of these two alternatives can really exist apart from the other. Faith must be faith in something; knowledge of a set of doctrines apart from conviction about the truthfulness of those doctrines does not really count as faith. Instead, Paul’s image here indicates that persistent, attentive fidelity to the gospel of peace is an essential component in resisting the arrows of the evil one.
The final two parts of God’s armor appear in 6:17. These are “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The phrase “helmet of salvation” is probably taken directly from the LXX of Isa 59:17. In Isa 59 Yahweh takes up the helmet of salvation in the course of avenging the righteous against the unrighteous. In 1 Thess 5:8 Paul uses the phrase “for a helmet the hope of salvation.” In 1 Thess 5 the Paul seems to think of believers fighting through obstacles to attain salvation (cf. 5:9). In Ephesians the church is called to witness among the powers in the heavenlies to God’s mystery of salvation. The helmet is both protection, but also a means of identifying a soldier (as in Iliad 16.326–330). In this respect the call to take up the helmet of salvation in Eph 6:17 refers to the protection that God’s salvation affords believers, but it also openly identifies the church as the community where the mystery of salvation is made known to all.
Finally, the church is to avail itself of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The Greek term machaira, translated here as “sword,” refers to a weapon with a blade about two inches wide and about two feet long. This is in contrast to the larger broadsword that a soldier might also use. The sword described in this verse would have been used in close combat. This is the only weapon that Paul urges the Ephesians to pick up. As Best notes, no description of “the whole armor of God” would really be complete without the sword, and it may be unwise to read too much into the role of the sword in what is fundamentally a defensive description (Best, Ephesians 603). In addition, it is a weapon for fighting at close quarters; in such a context, it would be difficult or impossible to distinguish the aggressor from the defender.
Since God is the one who provides this armor, the Spirit in this verse does not refer to the source of the sword, but to the power that makes it effective (Lincoln, Ephesians 451; Schnackenburg 279). The sword of the Spirit is further identified as the “word of the God.” Paul uses the Greek term rhēma rather than logos to refer to the word of God. This is the same phrase used in 5:26. There it refers either to a general proclamation of the gospel or more specifically to a baptismal formula. If the term was used in this more specific sense, it was due to the context of 5:26. Here in 6:17 it is much more likely that the term reflects the mystery of salvation that Paul has articulated in chapters 2–3, to which the church is to bear witness before the powers.
[18–20] In v. 18 the focus shifts away from the pieces of God’s armor. The discussion of prayer in vv. 18–20 might be considered a separate paragraph except for the fact that these verses lack a main verb. These verses are therefore dependent upon the series of commands that govern the discussion of the armor of God: “be strengthened” (v. 10), “put on” (v. 11), “stand” (v. 14). The prayer discussed here, therefore, is not another piece of armor (contra Wink 88). Rather, prayer is presented as a comprehensive activity that covers and supports every aspect of the church’s witness to the powers.
Every prayer, offered always in the Spirit, should work to keep the Ephesians alert in all perseverance and prayer for all the saints. The notion of keeping watchful and praying will remind readers of the Gospels of Jesus’ admonition to his followers when he presents them with a set of signs for his return. In several textual versions of Mark 13:33, Jesus tells his disciples to “watch and pray,” using the same Greek verbs as in Eph 6:18, because they do not know when these things will happen. In Luke 21:36 Jesus again uses similar vocabulary to advise the disciples to “watch and pray” that they may be strengthened. Although different verbs are used, Jesus in Gethsemane also admonishes his disciples to watch and pray that they may be able to resist the “time of trial” (Mark 14:38 par.). Thus, given the nature of the struggle that Paul has outlined in 6:12, it would be odd if he did not advocate a similar pattern of prayer and watchfulness for the Ephesians.
Paul’s admonition further reminds believers that the struggle against the powers is one that “all the saints” are engaged in. This struggle is not simply an activity of local congregations, but also of the church catholic. Paul presumes that as the Ephesians watchfully persevere in prayer, such prayer in the Spirit will help to forge their connection to “all the saints.”
Verses 19–20 bring this section to a fitting close. In chapter 3 Paul wraps up his presentation of the drama of salvation, explaining both his role in making the mystery of God’s salvation known to the church and the church’s role in manifesting this mystery to the powers. He closes chapter 3 with a prayer for the Ephesians that they, along with all the saints, may have the power to comprehend this mystery and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. Now in chapter 6, Paul has explained the nature of the church’s struggle with the powers and the armor they will need in order to fulfill their mission. He now closes with a request that they pray for him. Just as Paul prayed that God would grant the Ephesians what they would need to fulfill their mission, Paul now asks the Ephesians to pray that God would grant him what he needs to fulfill his mission (cf. Matt 10:19–20//Mark 13:11//Luke 12:11).
As he sees it, Paul needs to be infused with boldness from God so that he might rightly proclaim the “mystery of the gospel.” Paul goes on to identify himself as an “ambassador in chains” for the sake of this mystery of the gospel. This term for being an ambassador (presbeuō) can be used of an imperial legate. Paul also uses the same term in 2 Cor 5:20 to refer to himself and his coworkers as ambassadors of Christ. The term conveys both a person of high office and someone who will faithfully pursue the wishes and plans of the one he represents.
The great scandal here is that Paul is an ambassador in chains, on behalf of the mystery of the gospel. One can read this as a mark of Paul’s fidelity to his mission. That is, the world, and the powers in particular, is so hostile to God’s economy of salvation that it rightly sees Paul as a faithful minister of that economy and focuses its hostility on Paul. In addition, this image reminds the Ephesians that their witness to the powers is not incompatible with being in chains and that witness cannot be thwarted by their imprisonment.
If one reads 6:10–20 in the light of Paul’s previous discussion about the church’s relationship to the powers in 3:1–12, it allows one to connect the admonitions of 6:10–20 with much of the prior argument of Ephesians. The admonition to put on the armor of God gains new force when it is seen in light of the church’s witness to the powers, which itself is tied to Paul’s explication of the mystery of salvation that runs through Eph 2–3. Moreover, the practices and habits of walking worthily that begin from the discussion of unity in Eph 4 are then tied to the church’s abilities faithfully to witness to the spiritual forces opposed to God’s economy of salvation.
Perhaps most significant for contemporary Christians, Paul closes Ephesians with a further emphasis on the church’s role as witness to God’s mystery of salvation. A divided body of Christ is all too vulnerable to being manipulated and co-opted by forces hostile to God’s economy of salvation. Ultimately God will ensure that God’s desires for the world are brought to fruition. In this respect, God does not need the church. Alternatively, however, the church will need to stand before the Lord “on the evil day,” give an account of its witness to a world that was in desperate need of reconciliation, and admit how its own divisions and disunity threatened to falsify the reconciliation accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Ephesians 6:21–24
Final Words
This section of Ephesians concludes the letter in fairly typical ways. Verses 21–22 show a remarkable correspondence to Col 4:7–8. Readers can refer to the introduction to see how this correspondence might be evaluated. Paul tells the Ephesians that he is sending Tychicus to them to keep them informed about Paul’s circumstances and how he is doing in those circumstances. Paul concludes the letter with a benediction of peace upon the church.

6:21 So that you might alsob know about my circumstances and how I am doing, I am sending Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful servant in the Lord. He will make everything known to you. 22 I am sending him to you for this purpose: so that you might know about our circumstances and that your hearts might be comforted.
23 Peace to you, brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

[21–22] Here Paul promises to send his coworker Tychicus to the Ephesians to relate information to them about Paul. In addition to the parallel verse in Col 4:7, Tychicus appears in Acts 20:4 in a list of Paul’s traveling companions. He is identified along with Trophimus as coming from Asia. He also appears in 2 Tim 4:12 and Titus 3:12. The reference in 2 Timothy says that Paul has sent Tychicus to Ephesus. In Titus, Tychicus again appears as someone Paul might send to Titus. The picture that emerges is of a trusted emissary; someone close to Paul whom Paul trusts to convey reliable information and whose pastoral skills in speaking to congregations about Paul will offer “comfort.”
In this electronic age in which we pass around ever more trivial information ever faster, it is easy to forget how difficult it would be for an apostle in prison to give and receive news. Emissaries such as Tychicus played an important role in keeping a network of communities both in touch with each other and in touch with Paul.
[23–24] The epistle began with Paul’s wishing grace and peace to the Ephesians (1:2). This is a common salutation in Paul’s Letters (cf. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; 2 Thess 1:2; Phlm 3). In 6:23–24 that wish of grace and peace is repeated. Here at the end, however, peace and grace should be understood in the light of the things Paul has said in the body of the letter about God’s gracious economy of salvation and Christ’s work of peacemaking among Jews and Gentiles.
Unlike other Pauline Letters, the Ephesians are addressed in the third person (brothers and sisters) rather than the second-person “you.” As one might expect, this becomes evidence in the discussion of Pauline authorship. That issue aside, this form of address does inject a distance between writer and reader. At the very least it may indicate that this letter is intended for a wider audience such as we find in 1 Pet 5:9 (“your brotherhood in all the world”).
Given that Paul has reemphasized the church’s mission to witness to the powers about the mystery of salvation, a mystery that is focused on Christ’s becoming our peace by uniting Jew and Gentile into one body, the wish of “peace” here is most fitting. The church’s embodiment of this peace must be a crucial component in its mission (cf. 4:3). Paul also wishes love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This love that comes from God is seen as key to maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which is crucial for walking in a manner worthy of the gospel (4:1–7).
Finally, God’s grace has established the church, bringing the Ephesians (and all believers) into this mystery of salvation (3:9). The grace that Paul wishes on all those who have an undying love for the Lord is to sustain them in the life and work that God has given them to do.
Fowl, S. E. (2012). Ephesians: A Commentary. (C. C. Black, M. E. Boring, & J. T. Carroll, Hrsg.) (First Edition., S. 179–213). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.


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