The letter to the Ephesians
Who is the Author?
The letter to the Ephesians is traditionally understood to have been written by Paul while he was in prison (Eph 3:1, 4:1, 6:20). However, the identity of Paul as the author has been challenged, so before establishing a date for the letter, we should first address the question of authorship.
Unlike most other Pauline epistles, Ephesian does not contain personal greetings to any individuals in Ephesus. This is surprising, since the book of Acts describes a close and intimate relationship between Paul and the church there. Eph 1:15 could be read to indicate that the author had heard about the faith of the Ephesians without personally experiencing it – something that would not be true of Paul. However, this is not the only way to understand the verse. Interestingly, the phrase, “in Ephesus” in 1:1 is not in all manuscripts of the book, and there are no other references in the book that clearly tie the book to the actual church of Ephesus. Barclay and others have suggested that Ephesians was a circular letter (William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 70) intended for multiple churches in the region.
The traditional view that the epistle is written by Paul is supported by scholars that include Ezra Abbot, Asting, Markus Barth, F. F. Bruce, A. Robert, and André Feuillet, Gaugler, Grant, Harnack, Haupt, Fenton John Anthony Hort, Klijn, Johann David Michaelis, A. Van Roon, Sanders, Schille, Klyne Snodgrass, John R. W. Stott, Frank Thielman, Daniel B. Wallace, Brooke Foss Westcott, and Theodor Zahn.
Hoehner, Harold. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Baker Academic, 2002
For a defense of the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, see Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by Harold Hoehner, pp 2–61.
Despite some objections, the overall evidence seems to weigh in favor of Pauline authorship. First of all, in Eph 1:1 the author calls himself Paul. Although it was not uncommon in that day to falsely attribute a writing to a more famous person in a sort of reverse plagiarism, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Ephesians. The final closing has a promise to send Tychicus to Ephesus (Eph (6:21-22) with all the latest personal news about Paul. If this passage was not written by Paul, it would be a very subtle attempt at deception indeed. The theology of Ephesians is typical of Paul, with the emphasis on salvation by grace through faith and not works. The pattern of the book is also typical of Paul, with theology first and practical instructions afterward.
Ignatius of Antioch (37-107 A.D.) wrote to the Ephesians near the end of his life (Ignatius to Ephesians chapter 6) and said
“And ye are, as Paul wrote to you, one body and one spirit, because ye have also been called in one hope of the faith. Since also there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. Such, then, are ye, having been taught by such instructors, Paul the Christ-bearer, and Timothy the most faithful.”Ignatius to Ephesians, chapter 6
Ignatius here is quoting from Eph 4:4-6, and attributing it to Paul and Timothy. Since the life of Ignatius significantly overlapped that of Paul, his early witness to Pauline authorship is compelling.
Muratorian fragment (170 AD)
This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here it affirms Paul’s authorship “
As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent… To the Corinthians (51) first, to the Ephesians second…”
Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship P46
The above manuscript known as P46 which is a page of an early collection of fragments containing all of the book of Ephesians (Other’s are mentioned but these are the ones relevant for us). Dating to the late 2nd century/ start of the third, the manuscript evidence gives witness to the name of Paul, his attribution of him as the author from early on which is found in Egypt and is known to be a copy pushing the original further to the event. Considering how papyrus can deteriorate within a few hundred years, this is truly remarkable fortune.
Paul was a writer/composer
Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.
Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”
Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”
Peter endorses Paul’s writings
If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”2 Peter 3:15-17
Audience, Location & purpose
The location would likely be one of the two places where Paul was in prison from (Caesarea or Rome). Ephesus was a place where Paul taught extensively for three years and clearly has a connection with the community.
While Paul was not responding to a particular theological or moral problem, he wanted to protect against future problems by encouraging the Ephesians to mature in their faith. So after laying out profound theological truths in the first half of the book, Paul made his purpose clear: he expected that this community of faith would walk in accordance with its heavenly calling (Ephesians 4:1). As a result of the theological realities Christians accept by their faith in God, several practices should follow in their relationships within the church, in the home, and in the world.
This is a letter written by Paul while he is in prison. Paul had an emotional parting from the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-38, and this imprisonment should be understood as being after that, either in Caesarea (57-59 A.D.) or Rome (60-62 A.D.). It is not possible to definitively decide which location is correct, but the best guess may be based on the connection between Ephesians and Colossians. Tychicus (Col 4:7, Eph 6:21-22) is bringing news of the imprisoned Paul in each. Since Colossians was apparently carried along with Philemon and a now unknown letter to Laodicea, it seems likely that all these letters were carried by Tychicus together, as a package. Ephesus was about 100 miles from Colosse, and a traveler from Rome to Colossae might pass through Ephesus. Therefore, we should date the letter to the Ephesians in 61 or 62 A.D.
What was the acceptance rate of Ephesians as canonical? Polycarp and Ignatius use Ephesians very early on and heretics like Marcion used chunks from it but edited it to make it fit his view, Valentinus too. Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the letter to the Galatians as canonical in the eyes of the church fathers, but there is some modern debate about Paul introducing this letter differently (arguably the circumstances are different also).
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them.Galatians, through it’s author, has all the signs of being apostolic. Ephesians 1:1 Paul again makes the claim and we’ve provided a number of points as to why the Apostle Paul of Tarsus is the apostolic author.
Like stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message doctrinally with what Jesus teaches. There is nothing in the writings of Ephesians that is said to contradict the Gospels or the Christian message. Paul is praising the Ephesians and telling them to stand strong in the faith in principles expressed by Jesus, nothing unusual here, only clarifying claims.
There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to Ephesians, even heretics like Marcion and Valentinus tried to use the documents. Polycarp and Ignatius, the disciples of the Apostle John both make use of the letter. There is a strong church agreement there on from these disciples of the disciples all the way through the church fathers.
Paul’s message is all encouraging to a church of it’s time undergoing hardship but standing firm in the faith and also to today where church’s need to stand strong. It has a timeless affect. Where many Israelite laws are of a time, Christ’s law and teachings are unending.
Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example). He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. Galatians falls into this bracket. Paul claims clearly at the beginning of his letter that the truth he receives is not from man but from Jesus Christ and God the Father and that he is sent on his behalf (Galatians 1:1).
Bunch of sources