Critical students of the New Testament are not in agreement concerning the Epistle upon the study of which we now enter. Their difference is not concerning its right to a place in the sacred Scriptures, nor concerning its authorship, but whether it was addressed by Paul to the church at Ephesus, or to some other church.
The Ephesian church was virtually founded by Paul. About the close of his second missionary journey ( Acts 18:19-21 ) he paused at Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem and preached in the Jewish synagogue. Leaving Priscilla and Aquila to follow up the impression which he had made, he went on, but returned on his third missionary journey ( Acts 19:1 ), at which time he spent about three years ( Acts 20:31 ), preaching the gospel with a success which threatened to effect an entire revolution in the city and province ( Acts 19:17-20 ), and finally stirred up the avaricious fears of certain trades which profited by the old superstitions to such an extent that a commotion was aroused which caused him to leave the city. Since that date he had not seen Ephesus, though he had met the elders of the church at Miletus when on his way to Jerusalem ( Acts 20:17 ).
It is not possible to determine the date of this Epistle with exactness. It was written at a time when Paul was a prisoner ( 6:20 ), and hence must have been written either at Cæsarea or at Rome. Meyer inclines to the first place, but the general consensus of opinion is that it belongs to the group of the Epistles which were sent forth from his Roman prison. Tychicus was the messenger to whom, on the same journey, were entrusted both this ( 6:21 ) and the Epistle to Colosse ( Col. 4:7 ).
It was probably written to meet certain difficulties which were arising in the church. It was asked why the imperfections of Judaism and the errors of the Gentile religions existed so many ages before the Gospel was revealed? Was the Gospel an afterthought of God? Probably the leading thought is that, "The church of Jesus Christ, in which Jew and Gentile are made one, is a creation of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, decreed from eternity, and destined for eternity." In chapters 1-3 , he shows the church was foreordained of God, that it had been redeemed, and that Jew and Gentile have been made one in Christ. In chapters 4-6 , the Apostle enters upon a practical application, enforcing unity, love, newness of life, walking in the strength of the Lord, and the armor of God.