Introduction to Ephesians




Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an anthem to the sovereign grace of God displayed toward sinners in Christ. It contains some of the worst news (“you were dead in your trespasses and sins”) and best news (“but God . . . made us alive with Christ”) in all of Scripture. In view of this grace, Paul calls believers to “live worthy of the calling” we have received.

Ephesus—one of the largest and most impressive cities in the ancient world—was a political, religious, and commercial center in Asia Minor. Associated with the ministries of Paul, Timothy, and the Apostle John, the city played a significant role in the early spread of Christianity.

Ephesus—one of the largest and most impressive cities in the ancient world—was a political, religious, and commercial center in Asia Minor. Associated with the ministries of Paul, Timothy, and the Apostle John, the city played a significant role in the early spread of Christianity.


AUTHOR: Paul referred to himself by name as the author of the book of Ephesians in two places (1:1; 3:1). Many regard this book as the crown of all of Paul’s writings. Today some scholars think the book contains a writing style, vocabulary, and even some teachings that are not typical of the apostle. If that is the case, then it would mean a disciple of Paul had surpassed him in theological insight and spiritual perception. Of such an erudite disciple the early church has no record. Furthermore, pseudonymity (writing under someone else’s name) probably was not practiced by early Christians. We can conclude, in line with the indisputable acceptance of Pauline authorship in the early church, that there is no reason to dispute the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.

BACKGROUND: Paul penned the letter while in prison (3:1; 4:1; 6:20). Disagreement exists concerning whether Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea (Ac 24:22) around AD 57-59 or in Rome (Ac 28:30) in about 60-62 when he wrote this letter. Tradition suggests that Paul wrote the letter from Rome around AD 60-61 which would have transpired while Paul was under house arrest in guarded rental quarters (Ac 28:30). Paul most likely wrote Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians during the same imprisonment.

Relatively little is known about the recipients of the letter called Ephesians. Some important and early manuscripts do not contain the words “at Ephesus” (1:1). The letter was carried to its destination by Tychicus, who in Ephesians 6:21 and Colossians 4:7 is identified as Paul’s emissary. The Ephesian and Colossian letters probably were delivered at the same time since in both letters the apostle noted that Tychicus would inform the churches concerning Paul’s situation.

We can suggest the following possible scenario. While Paul was imprisoned in Rome, the need arose to respond to new religious philosophies influencing the Asia Minor area. The impetus to write the letters came to Paul from Epaphras, who informed him of the threats to Christianity in the Lycus Valley. In response, Paul wrote a letter to the church at Colossae. About the same time (either shortly before or shortly thereafter), he penned a more expansive and general letter intended for churches in Asia Minor, including Laodicea (see Col 4:16) and Ephesus.


The book hints at several purposes. The apostle taught that Jewish and Gentile believers are one in Christ. This oneness was to be demonstrated by their love for one another. Paul used the noun or verb form of love (agapē) nineteen times (about one-sixth of the total uses in all the Pauline letters). Ephesians begins with love (1:4-6) and ends with love (6:23-24).

Paul implicitly addressed matters raised by the mystery religions in the Lycus Valley. The letter has much to say about redemption (1:7) and the divine intention for the human race (1:3-14). Additional themes include grace (1:2), predestination (1:4-5), reconciliation, and union with Christ (2:1-21).

Central to the message of Ephesians is the re-creation of the human family according to God’s original intention for it. The new creation destroys the misguided view that God accepts the Jew and rejects the Gentile. Paul says the distinction was abolished at Christ’s sacrificial death. Thus no more hindrance remains to reuniting all humanity as the people of God, with Christ as the head (1:22-23). The new body, the church, has been endowed by the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to live out their new lives (1:3-2:10) and put into practice the new standards (4:1-6:9). In sum, we can say that the overall emphasis of Ephesians is on the unity of the church in Christ through the power of the Spirit.


The letter to the Ephesians was probably a circular letter, with Ephesus being the primary church addressed. Paul stayed at Ephesus, the capital city of the province of Asia, for almost three years (see Ac 20:31). The fact that it was a circular letter helps explain the absence of personal names of Ephesian believers. From its inception Paul intended for the letter to gain a wider audience than that which would be found in Ephesus alone. After the Ephesians read it, the letter would have been routed to Colossae, Laodicea, and other churches in the area.


The salutation and structure of Ephesians are quite similar to Colossians. Many topics are commonly treated in both letters. The message is strikingly similar. Of the 155 verses in Ephesians, over half contain identical expressions to those in Colossians. Colossians, however, is abrupt, argumentative, and seemingly compressed. Ephesians presents a bigger, finished picture that is meditative, instructive, and expansive.

Though Ephesians and Colossians contain many similarities, it is important to observe the distinctives of Ephesians. When the content of Ephesians that is common to Colossians is removed, there remain at least seven units of material unique to Ephesians.

1:3-14 An expanded benediction

2:1-10 A confessional statement on the new life

3:14-21 A prayer to understand the mystery of Christ

4:1-16 An extended exhortation to Christian unity

5:8-14 A section on walking in the light

5:23-32 A theological expansion on the household roles

6:10-17 A unique picture of the Christian’s spiritual warfare


I.Introduction (1:1-14)

A.Greetings (1:1-2)

B.God’s purposes in Christ (1:3-14)

II.Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:15-23)

III.Salvation by Grace through Faith (2:1-10)

IV.Unity of God’s New People (2:11-22)

V.Revelation of the Divine Mystery (3:1-13)

VI.Paul’s Prayer for Strength and Love (3:14-21)

VII.Unity of the Body of Christ (4:1-16)

A.Exhortation to unity (4:1-6)

B.The variety of gifts (4:7-10)

C.The maturity of the church (4:11-16)

VIII.Exhortations to Holy Living (4:17-5:21)

IX.New Relationships (5:22-6:9)

A.Wives and husbands (5:22-33)

B.Children and parents (6:1-4)

C.Slaves and masters (6:5-9)

X.Warfare of the New People (6:10-20)

XI.Conclusion (6:21-24)

1400-450 BC

Ephesus is first occupied. 1400-1300

Greeks cross the Aegean Sea and settle in Ephesus. 1000

Croesus, king of Lydia, captures Ephesus. 561

Temple of the moon goddess, Artemis, is funded and built by Croesus. 560

Heraclitus of Ephesus, an early philosopher 540-480

450-85 BC

Herostratus burns the temple of Artemis to establish his place in history. July 21, 356

A 25,000-seat stadium is built in Ephesus during the reign of Lysimachus. 323-281

Ephesus is under the control of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. 280-133

Ephesus comes under Roman control when King Attalus III of Pergamos wills his kingdom to Rome and the Roman province of Asia is created. 133

The Ephesians rebel against Roman taxation, looking to Mithridates VI Eupathor, king of Pontus, as liberator. A large number of Italians are killed in the rebellion. 89

50 BC-AD 54

Mark Antony and Cleopatra reside in Ephesus. 33-32 BC

Ephesus experiences a destructive earthquake. AD 17

Paul travels through Ephesus toward the end of his second missionary journey. AD 52

Apollos comes to Ephesus and is mentored by Aquila and Priscilla. AD 52

Paul returns to Ephesus for a 2 ½ year ministry. AD 54

AD 55-110

Paul writes 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. 56

Paul writes letter to the Ephesians. 61

Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, receives his first letter from Paul. 62

Timothy receives second letter from Paul. 67

Paul’s death in Rome 67?

Ignatius of Antioch sends one of his seven letters to the church at Ephesus. 110