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The Epistle to the Ephesians

Colossians 4:16 refers to a letter to the Laodiceans. There is no Epistle in our Bibles under that name, but Drane[1] (quoting Marcion in the second century) says that it is quite possible that the Epistle to the Ephesians was originally sent to the Laodiceans as the start of a wide circulation. The earliest manuscripts do not mention the Ephesians as the original recipients in verse 1. The only other clue is that verse 15 implies that the letter was to a group of people Paul had never met face-to-face.

Some people say that since this book describes the elohim or gods as inherently evil, while Paul's other epistles do not (Galatians 3:19 says that they were involved in giving the law, for example), perhaps Paul did not write it personally. But frequent use of the phrase "in Christ" appears to be a Pauline characteristic[2 p.63]; Ephesians uses it several times, indicating authenticity.

Ephesians, especially chapter 2, is prized for presenting the gospel particularly clearly; it has therefore been hugely influential. See comments on Romans 12.

Commentary

1:3–14

These verses are one long sentence in the Greek bible, and serve as a creed.

1:4

The statement that Christians are chosen may suggest that come others are not, but that is not what it says. 2 Peter 3:9 says God wants everyone to turn to him.

1:5

cf. verse 11.

1:11

This verse (folowing up the idea of verse 5) seems to assume predestination. Predestination has different meanings on earth and in heaven: in heaven the final result can already be seen, so there is no question about what will happen; on earth, we have free will, but wonder what our destiny will be. Apparently if we are predestined to anything, it is hell. Our salvation is possible but far from automatic. That is also true for those we see and perhaps do not like. They too are destined for hell (through their own choices and inheritance, despite God's love for all) but could be saved and become real saints. Those who are saved are all welcome through our union with Christ. Consider a spouse accompanying somebody to a dinner; the spouse is totally welcome, and seen as belonging in that company, by virtue of their relationship with their "other half". So it is with the Bride of Christ.

1:17–19

cf. John 16:12–15.

1:22

"By virtue of the creation and, still more, of the incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see"[3]—​cf. Romans 8:32.

2:1

The first ten verses of chapter 2 have been described as the clearest definition of the Gospel in scripture. Being "made alive" is the counter-part to dying to sin as described in Colossians 2:12.

2:6

We are to rule with Christ, that is, to decide what is good. In order to agree with him, we must learn to see with the eyes of Christ. cf. Revelation 2:26–27.

2:11f

The mixture of metaphors is breathtaking!

2:14

cf. Galatians 3:28. Perhaps Jesus's dual nature, being both God and human, was an essential feature of our rescue; and we are all equal in that we all need rescue.

2:15

For discussion of the apparent conflict between this verse and "not one iota of the law shall pass away" see Galatians 3:1–14. Ephesians 3:6 shows that the promise we are relying on is bigger than the narrow one the Jews and their proselytes rely on.

2:20

Regarding people as foundations is a recurring idea—​see Revelation 21:14.

3:10

The Bible hints at secrets that Satan longs to understand so as to defeat God's plan; that is why we are not yet allowed to understand Revelation, and perhaps why the people were "ever seeing, yet not understanding".

3:16 f

is about prayer.

4

is about walking in holiness. We should avoid the deceits of the Devil who will try (1) to make us grieve the Holy Spirit, or (2) to drive a wedge between believers. Our holiness depends on being filled with the Holy Spirit, as described in Ephesians 5:10.

4:3–6

Christian unity should reflect God's unity. The Trinity is not a featureless blur, but the margins are indistinct, and there is a common purpose without disharmony.

4:8

Paul quotes Psalm 68:18, following the LXX version "gifts for men" rather than the Hebrew Masoretic Text "gifts from men". He seems to interpret it as meaning the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are available to believers following Jesus's ascension (John 16:7).[8]

4:11–16

cf. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Peter 4:10–11, Appendix 2 Gifts.

4:11

Note that all of the defences against the enemy are provided by God, not from our own resources.

4:22f

This verse describes the intended results of baptism where we symbolically lay aside our old life and receive a new one from God (Colossians 2–3).

4:26

cf. Psalm 4:4 and Matthew 5:22. See Proverbs 25:21–22 for a way to keep this command. The concept can be interpreted in two ways: literally (in other words, let go of your anger by the next sunset) or figuratively (remember that we are always under the spot-light of scrutiny, so that you will "be angry but do not sin").

"...it is perilously easy to persuade ourselves that our own anger is righteous ... it's good to ask ourselves a few test questions:

  1. What am I hoping to protect?
  2. What principle is at stake?
  3. Am I the most appropriate person to step into the ring?
  4. What am I risking?
  5. What makes it worth the risk?
  6. Is this the moment?
  7. What would be the consequences of holding my peace?" [9]
4:28

as saying there are three attitudes to wealth apparent here: (1) stealing to be wealthy, (2) working to be wealthy, and (3) working to have enough and then give the rest away. 2 Corinthians 9:8 teaches us to adopt attitude (3).[4]

5:8–14

See Truth in Appendix 2 Connotations of biblical words.

5:9

cf. Galatians 5:22–23.

5:18

Pagans believed in a sacrament of drunkenness, saying that the drunken state was closer to the gods than sobriety. This is the context that Paul was speaking to, using the memorable phrase "do not be filled with wine, but be filled with the Spirit". Both can be sociable and lead to singing and a sense of well-being, but there the resemblance ends.

5:21f

Paul makes it clear that the key to sound relationships with people is our relationship with Christ. Christ is our example; he does all he can for the well-being of the church, even giving his life. That is what a husband is called to emulate, for example. These verses can be misinterpreted if they are read without looking at their context which is 5:15–6:9.[5 p.70]

Basically, the remainder of the book is an expension of the idea that we should submit to one another.

5:22

cf. Colossians 3:18.

5:25

cf. Colossians 3:19.

5:31

cf. Matthew 19:5 and 1 Corinthians 6:16; see comment on Mark 10:8.

6

See comment on Exodus 27:1. See also Romans 13:12–14, Colossians 3:10.

6:1

cf. Colossians 3:20.

6:4

cf. Colossians 3:21.

6:5

cf. Colossians 3:22.

6:10f

The usual translation of verse 10 is not good. The original words are in the passive voice: "Be strengthened ..." because it is something that has to be done for us. That fact contradicts those such as Laurie[6 p.41] who say that "be strong ..." is a separate command from "put on the armour ...". Surely the description of the armour (which is a development of 1 Thessalonians 5:8 and Isaiah 59:17) is given so that we know how to be strong.

6:12

"The term 'powers and principalities' is increasingly used to highlight the potency and pervasiveness of sin. The origin of this concept is the awareness that sin cannot be overcome by individual effort. ... One of the hidden aspects of sin is the distortion which occurs at the level of our perception. We cannot trust ourselves to see things as they are."[7 p.112]

Therefore we must compare ourselves against the standards of the Bible.

The Armour of God: we are to follow the example of God in Isaiah 59:17.

6:14

Belt of Truth: truth prevents you from being caught with your trousers down! Also, the soldier's belt supported most of the other equipment.

Breastplate of Righteousness: to keep your innermost core secure.

6:15

Shoes of Readiness: laced and ready to go, with a sure footing, even where the environment is treacherous or unclean.

6:16

Shield of Faith: a shield can be angled to protect whatever part is being attacked, and according to the angle of the attack.

6:17

Helmet of Salvation: an unprotected mind is very vulnerable. Also the helmet of a Roman soldier was impressive thus showing special status.

Sword: the word of God, the only offensive weapon we have. Jesus showed us how to use it when he was tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:3). The Greek word used for "word" is not the usual logos but rhema. Commentaries do not agree why; it may be intended to suggest Isaiah 11:3–4, or to stress the need for the word to be spoken.

Armour has to fit the person who is to wear it; it is not a "one size fits all" commodity. So what is provided for you to meet your needs may differ in some details from what I need. And it only works if it is all being worn at the time.

6:18f

Pray on all occasions. The text reads as if prayer and alertness are actually part of the armour.

References:

  1. Drane, John Introduction to the New Testament Oxford: Lion, 1986 & 1999
  2. Moule, C.F.D. The Origin of Christology Cambridge University Press, 1977
  3. Pierre Tielhard de Chardin
  4. Piper, John Carnal Cash to Kingdom Currency—​Paul's word to the rich Scripture Union
  5. Kuhrt, Revd Gordon An Introduction to Christian Ministry London: Church House, 2000
  6. Laurie, Greg The Great Compromise
  7. Morisy, Ann Beyond the Good Samaritan London: Mowbray, 1997
  8. C S Lewis Reflections on the Psalms page 105
  9. Marilyn McEntyre "Peace is not to be found in silence" in Church Times 31 July 2020 p.15

© David Billin 2002–2021