The letter to the Ephesians is ordered and concise, and yet a comprehensive, summary of the Christian good news and its spiritual implications for faith. Nobody can read it without being drawn into various contemplative and worshipful responses. Ephesians is a confrontation with consistency and the righteous order of Christian life. It was John Calvin’s favorite letter.
In my lifetime I don’t remember a time where good and thoughtful people have ever been more anxious, obsessed, or depressed about the human predicament than they are today. Of course every generation has its own diseases of its own doing that become too myopic to get them into focus. And every generation breeds new prophets of doom. Nevertheless, the media enable us to grasp the global reach of modern evil, and it is this which makes the moments and messages of the day look so dark and difficulty – truthfully that is how it is supposed to be. Darkness will be darkness until there is light, and wrong will be wrong until there is right.
All of this is due (in part) to the volatility of economic uncertainty (population growth, the abuse of natural resources, inflation, unemployment, hunger), and in part to the proliferation of social conflict (racism, tribalism, the class struggle, disintegrating family life) and partly the absence of accepted moral guidelines (leading to violence, dishonesty and loss of sexual identity and boundaries). Humankind seems incapable of managing his own affairs or of creating a just, free, humane and tranquil society. Humankind – him/her or itself is adrift. Enter Ephesians…
Against this malevolent background Ephesians 2:1–10 stands out in striking cultural relevance for us today. In this passage we will see “the realist” in its author (the Apostle Paul) as he first measures the depths of depravity within humankind, and then to a hopeful recovery as he lifts us to the heights of a dogmatic insistent unyielding detailing the virtue and righteousness of God. It is this combination of depravity and virtue, of faithlessness and faithfulness, which constitutes the regenerating reality of the Bible. What Paul does for us (the reader) in this passage is remarkable as he paints a stark contrast between what we are by nature and what we can become by the grace and goodness of God.
It is important to set this paragraph in its context. That context is found in Paul’s lead-in prayer of chapter one.
 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
We are presented in this prayer with the powerful idea that our introspective eyes might be enlightened by the Holy Spirit enough to know the implications of God’s call to us, the wealth of his inheritance which awaits us in heaven – and above all the surpassing greatness of his power which is available for us until such time we are there. Of this power God has given a supreme historical demonstration by raising Christ from the dead and exalting him over all the powers of evil. But he has given further evidential manifestation of it by raising and exalting us with Christ, and so delivering us from the bondage of death and evil. The passage of chapter 2:1-10, then, is really a part of Paul’s prayer that they (and we) might know how powerful God is. The first few words of verse 1 emphasize this: ‘And you being dead …’ In the Greek sentence there is no main verb portraying God’s action until verse 5 when he writes, ‘He made us alive with Christ’; the English versions bring it forward to verse 1 simply in order to ease the awkward suspense of waiting for it so long. In any case the sequence of thought is clear: ‘Jesus Christ was dead, but God raised and exalted him. And you also were dead, but God raised and exalted you with Christ.’
That first verse sets the tone and nature of the next nine verses that will lead us to a reality check of who we were when Christ found us – and to the unlimited potential of what we will become when our faithfulness is fully formed, united and expressed in Him. So powerful and so relevant are the realities and calls to consistency and faithfulness to the walk of faith and the doctrines of spiritual formation that there was no surprise to me to the opposition from critics and commentators of that last three centuries who have spent mindless wasted hours in their fruitless attempts for notoriety and acknowledgement through theological attack and a scholarly discrediting of the authenticity and authorship of Ephesians. And why not? It fits the current narrative right? Deconstruct the the strongest Biblical literary exposition on the eternal purpose of God being fulfilled in Christ Jesus – first in the individual, and then within the Church of Jesus – the body of Christ.
Authorship and Historical Context
In keeping with the conventional literary custom of his day the author begins by announcing himself. He identifies himself as the apostle Paul. One might think that would count for something. This is not an insignificant point of awareness – it is a critical point of evidence and reliability towards the reader making a decision about who wrote the letter to the Ephesians.
It is important to note that the Pauline authorship of Ephesians was unquestionably accepted from the first century until the beginning of the nineteenth. Why is it, then, that German scholars from the 1820s onward began to question the letter’s authenticity, and that this uncertainty about Paul’s authorship of Ephesians is common today? To quote only one example: ‘There are many grounds for thinking that it comes neither from his hand nor even from his lifetime.’
Most commentaries draw attention to the letter’s distinctive vocabulary and style. They add up the number of words in Ephesians which do not occur in Paul’s other letters, and the number of his “go to” words which are not found in Ephesians. His style, they add, is far less impassioned than his other writing. Swiss theology scholar Markus Barth, for instance, has written of the author’s ‘pleonastic, redundant, verbose diction’ and of his ‘baroque, bombastic or litany-like style’. Barth’s judgment on this is not subjective. Historically, linguistic and stylistic arguments have been proven precarious at best. The logical question should be, “Why should we expect such an original mind as Paul’s or the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit to stay within the confines of a limited vocabulary and an inflexible style?
Different themes require different words, different seasons, inspirations, and changed circumstances create a changed atmosphere for style and words.
There are two other more noteworthy arguments that have been used to cast doubt on the letter’s authenticity, the first historical and the second theological. The historical argument concerns a discrepancy between the Acts account of Paul’s longstanding and intimate acquaintance with the Ephesian church and the entirely impersonal and ‘hearsay’ relationship which the letter expresses. Although his first visit had been brief (Acts 18:19–21), his second lasted three years (Acts 19:1–20:1, 31). During this period he taught and discipled them systematically both ‘in public and from house to house’, they came to know Paul well, and at his final parting from the church elders their affection for him had been demonstrative, being accompanied by visible displays of affection and love for one another.
Opposers to Paul’s authorship say it is almost shocking to discover that the Ephesian letter contains no personal greetings such as conclude Paul’s other letters (no fewer than twenty-six people are mentioned by name in Romans 16). Instead, he addresses his readers only in generic terms, wishing peace to ‘the brethren’ and grace to ‘all who love our Lord Jesus Christ’ (6:23–24). He alludes to his own situation as a prisoner (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), but makes no acknowledgment of theirs. He urges them to live in unity and sexual purity, but he gives no hint of any factions or of an immoral offender such as he mentions in 1 Corinthians. He refers in general terms to the craftiness of false teachers (4:14), but he identifies no particular heresy as in Galatians or Colossians. Critics cite these examples to say, that the author of Ephesians gives no written indication that he has a relationship with these people. On the contrary, he has only ‘heard’ of their faith and love, and they of his stewardship of the gospel (1:15; 3:2–4).
Some of the impersonal character of the letter is a bit surprising – but certainly not evidentiary or conclusive. There is no need to deduce from it that Paul was not its author. Other explanations are possible. Paul may have been addressing a larger group of Asian churches rather than just the Ephesian church, or, as Markus Barth suggests,
‘not the whole church in Ephesus but only the members of Gentile origin, people whom he did not know personally and who had been converted and baptized after his final departure from that city’.
The second argument which is raised against the Paul’s authorship of Ephesians is theological. On these objections commentators make a wide variety of different points. I will narrow them down by saying that most of these arguments of the last couple of centuries are truly theological dumpster diving. If you dig long enough you will probably find something interesting – however it is still garbage.
It is emphasized for example, that in Ephesians (and not the letters of unquestioned Pauline authorship), the role of Christ assumes an otherworldly dimension, that the sphere of interest is ‘the heavenly places’ (a unique expression occurring five times) in which the principalities and powers operate, that the focus of concern is the church, that ‘justification’ is not mentioned, that ‘reconciliation’ is more between Jews and Gentiles than between the sinner and God, that salvation is portrayed not as dying with Christ but only as rising with him, and that there is no reference to our Lord’s second coming. However, I am of the belief that the context and interpretation of any of these points is nothing more than a comparatively minor shift of emphasis and not evidence of authorship. The reality is that there is be no mistaking the essentials of Pauline theology. Even those who deny his authorship are obliged to admit that the letter is filled with the undoubted line upon line echoes of the writing of the great apostle Paul.
In addition, there is a sense of distantness of the letter which some readers get. Markus Barth sharply expressed this in his earlier study (1959) entitled The Broken Wall. He titled his first chapter ‘Paul’s Puzzling Epistle’, and presents it as ‘a stranger at the door’. What is the ‘strangeness’ of Ephesians? He lists the doctrine of predestination, the emphasis on intellectual enlightenment, ‘superstition’ (by which he means the references to angels and demons), an ‘ecclesiasticism’ which separates the church from the world, and in his teaching about home relationships a ‘moralism’ which he calls ‘patriarchal, authoritarian, and lacking in originality, breadth, boldness and joy. This is how he sums up his initial impression of Ephesians:
‘This strange fellow resembles a fatherless and motherless foundling. He uses a tiresome baroque language. He builds upon determinism, suffers from intellectualism, combines faith in Christ with superstitious demonology, promotes a stiff ecclesiasticism, and ends with trite, shallow moralism.’
I have for years referred to the theology of Karl Barth, so when I first discovered work of his son Markus I was intrigued. When reading through some of his hypothesis on Paul and Ephesians I wondered whether it was really Ephesians Dr. Markus Barth was describing, or whether we had indeed read the same letter. Eventually it became clear to me that Barth was not even satisfied with his own judgment. He concedes that he may be guilty of a caricature (an exaggeration or distortion), then he explains that he wanted to shock his readers into feeling what non-Christians feel when approached with a caricature of the gospel, and finally attempts to balance his former point by depicting ‘the charm of acquaintance’ which people experience who become familiar and friendly with the Ephesians letter. The letter connects itself and its author to us, he suggests, by three characteristics.
First, Ephesians is intercession. More than any other New Testament epistle, it ‘has the character and form of prayer’. When somebody argues with us, he may or may not persuade us; but when he prays for us, his relation to us changes. ‘So it is with the stranger at the door. Ephesians has gained a right to enter because its readers have a place in the intercession of the author.’
Secondly, Ephesians is affirmation. It is neither apologetics, nor polemics. Instead, it is filled with ‘bold’ and even ‘jubilant’ affirmations about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. ‘Ephesians makes itself welcome and is a charming document just because it dares to let shine nothing else but God’s love and election, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the Spirit’s might and work among men.’
Thirdly, Ephesians is evangelism. In his survey of the letter’s contents Markus Barth emphasizes its ‘bold assertions’ about God’s saving purpose and action (chapters 1 and 2), about ‘God’s ongoing work in his self-manifestation to and through the church’ (chapters 3 and 4), and about ‘the bold and joyful ambassadorship of the Christians in the world’ (chapters 5 and 6). All this, he says, gives Ephesians ‘peculiar significance for all concerned with the evangelistic tasks of the church today’.
So, what then is the general consensus in scholarly circles regarding the authorship of Ephesians? Honestly, many are content to sit on the fence. They would agree with the historian and author of Paul’s Letters from Prison, J. H. Houlden; that there is ‘no consensus of expert opinion’, for ‘argument answers argument without clear outcome’.
For me the point of this is pointless. I too, am an educated man… Pick a side, don’t be lukewarm – and certainly use your education and knowledge to be courageous and not fearful. Have the courage to make a decision. And while you are making it remember that it might be wise to choose the Word of God (the faith once delivered) above the notorious words and opinions of men. Do this so that you might be free to receive the genuine revelation of truth that God has intended to use to fill your soul and lift your spirit. Having done that, then use your education and scholarly insight to enlighten and teach others how to access and interpret the truth they are seeking.
In the last thirty years many, many scholars are coming back to the traditional view of Paul’s authorship. I highly respect and recommend theologian and author (Introducing New Testament Theology, Interpreting the Parables, The Gospel According to John) A. M. Hunter, who picked a side thirty years ago and said publicly, ‘the burden of proof lies with those who deny Paul’s authorship’. Markus Barth before his death in 1994, walked back many of his earlier claims and used the same expression and applies the maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty’. As I said, I find even these judgments too weak. They do not seem to give sufficient weight to either the external or the internal evidence.
Externally, there is the impressive witness of the universal church for eighteen centuries, which should carry a great weight, and not be taken lightly.
Internally, the letter not only claims to be written by the apostle Paul throughout, but its theme of the union of Jews and Gentiles by God’s gracious reconciling work through Christ is entirely appropriate to what we learn elsewhere about the ministry of Paul apostle to the Gentiles.
I do not think that the author of the The Expositors Bible, George G. Findlay was exaggerating when he wrote that modern skepticism about Paul’s authorship of Ephesians will in future come to be regarded as ‘one of … the curiosities of a hypercritical age’. The absence of any satisfactory alternative is rightly emphasized by British bible scholar Frederick Bruce (New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?) said, ‘The man who could write Ephesians must have been the apostle’s equal, if not his superior, in mental stature and spiritual insight … Of such a second Paul early Christian history has no knowledge.’
That is why it is a comfort and peace for me to come back to the text:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”
Paul claims the same title which Jesus had given to the Twelve, and whose formal training in both Old Testament and Rabbinic Judaism designated somebody specially chosen, called and sent to teach with authority. Don’t forget Paul did not volunteer for this ministry (he surrendered to it), nor had the church appointed him. On the contrary, his apostleship derived from the will of God and from the choice and commission of Jesus Christ. If this is true, and I believe that it is, then we must listen to the message of Ephesians with appropriate attention and humility due to someone who was chosen, called, and sent by God. We should regard its Paul the author not as a private individual who is ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the church’s greatest missionary hero. But as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.’ Time to stop dumpster diving and begin to listen to the voice of God as revealed through His hand-picked teacher whose authority is the same authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose inspiration he writes. The letter of Ephesians reveals itself as the work of the Holy Spirit as clearly as the voice of God hovered over the face of the waters.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Hermeneutic Interpretation of Core Text
[2:1-3] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
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