The letter of Ephesians is one of the prison epistles that Paul wrote while under house arrest in the

early 60's AD He had originally been to Ephesus around 54 - 57 AD, when on his third missionary journey as recorded in Acts 19. Paul writes this letter as a circular letter to be sent to a group of churches in the province of Asia, which is now Western Turkey. The earliest Pauline papyrus manuscript1 does not actually include the words 'at Ephesus' (some translations have 'in Ephesus') in the opening greeting of the letter. The group of churches that the letter of Ephesians was sent to is most likely the same group that is mentioned in Revelation 2 - 3, in which the church at Ephesus is part of. The letter to Ephesus in Revelation is a short and quick reminder for them to return to the love they once at first, even though Revelation was written around 81 96 AD, it is like a recap of what Paul had told them about 20 years earlier. The letter of Ephesians is not the first time Paul had written to the church in Ephesus either. Paul wrote again in the mid-to-late 60's AD2 with his letter 1 Timothy, where Timothy was acting leader of the church, which was written near the end of Paul's life and when he was not in prison.3 The letter of Ephesians differs from the usual Pauline epistles in the way that there are no personal greetings to a particular person: it just simply says 'To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus'.4 Also, the letter does not deal with any particular news or problems in the church in the way Paul's other letters do, but is written more like a sermon to the churches in much the same way that Hebrews and 1 John are. Paul's letter to the Ephesians deals with and covers quite a lot of the main issues of the church and its character as a whole. Firstly Paul starts off by talking about how Christ brought all people together through His death on a cross; that it was God's plan from long ago that was centred on Christ to bring everything together under His authority. This is the main message of Ephesians that Paul breaks down into different areas of Christian life and living as part of the church. Paul writes to tell that we should praise God and His glory because God has poured out His love and blessings on us. From the beginning God wanted to share His glory

1 2

'Chester Beatty 4b' which dates from the second century. Around 65 - 67 AD 3 2 Timothy was written in prison while Paul awaited death (2 Tim 4:6) 4 'In Ephesus' is not included in the earlier manuscripts. (Ephesians 1:1. NRSV)

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with us 'for He chose us from the beginning'5. Paul goes on to point out that it is 'only by God's special favour'6 that we have been saved, because 'salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done'.7 This is not to say that we had no choice in coming to God but that it is God that wants us to be a part of His new society - united by Christ - and we have to make the response and choose God through faith. Once Paul had cleared that up, he then goes on to say that Gentiles and Jews are brought together under Christ - He has broken down all social and racial walls and barriers. God's holy people are joined into His house as part of the dwelling place for God's spirit. Paul is trying to get the message of unity across quite obviously for the readers because it is a new concept that Jews and Gentiles are to be as one people through Christ; that both races are now a dwelling place for God. Because of the Jewish and Gentile society of the time, Paul repeats this message of the two races being one under Christ to really get it to sink in to the reader's minds. It would appear that Paul is writing to a predominately Gentile church or churches by the way he writes directly at Gentiles and talks about how Jews view them: 'don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders by birth', Paul says, 'you were called "the uncircumcised ones" by the Jews'8 and 'now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners… because of my preaching to you Gentiles'.9 Because of the apparent Gentile audience to the letter, Paul's message of oneness in Christ and unity in the body of the church is an important one, since the Gentiles have always been made to feel outsiders in society and were always considered not part of God's holy people. Because of that, Gentiles were only allowed in certain areas of the synagogues and temples. But now Paul is bringing a message of hope the Gentile churches by telling them 'you are citizens along with all God's holy people. You are members of God's family'.10 Paul now goes into some detail of God's secret plan explaining that 'the Gentiles have an equal share with the Jews in all the riches inherited by God's children' 11 because they have heard the Good News and now enjoy the promise of blessings through Christ Jesus as the Jews now do, whom have also believed. Paul now
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EPH 1: 11 (NLT) EPH 2: 5 (NLT) 7 EPH 2: 9 (NLT) 8 EPH 2:11 (NLT) 9 EPH 2: 19 - 3: 1 (NLT) 10 EPH 2: 19 (NLT) 11 EPH 3: 6 (NLT)

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explains himself, telling the readers that he has been specially commissioned by God's grace for them, the Gentiles. Paul then tells his readers that the 'mystery' of the plan was made known to him by revelation and that the 'mystery' of Christ was revealed to him also. Again, in verse 9, he uses the word 'mystery': 'and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery…' The meaning of the word mystery in English and Greek changes just enough to make these passages in Ephesians come across quite differently, as John Stott explains in his book: 'In English a 'mystery' is something dark, obscure, secret, puzzling. The Greek word mystērion is different, however. Although still a 'secret', it is no longer closely guarded but open.'12 Stott goes on to say that the 'Christian 'mysteries' are truths which, although beyond human discovery, have been revealed by God'. So with this in mind when Paul talks about the 'mysteries' of Christ being revealed to him, he is saying that the truths of God are now open for him to see and teach to the whole church, so that all may share in this revelation: 'the Gentiles have become… members of the same body'.13 Paul also says something that may come across as quite odd though, too: 'through the church the wisdom of God… might now be known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places'.14 This sounds like the role of the church is to show God's wisdom in plain sight so that the angels (or indeed, demons too) can understand God's wisdom in full. Stott writes, 'we may infer from verse 10 here that God had not revealed to them [angels] directly His master plan for the church, but intended rather to make it known to them through the church itself'15 Stott also makes mention of other scholars who have very different views on this verse. G. B. Caird believes that God's purpose for the church is not only to inform, but to redeem these 'powers'.16 But, Markus Barth believes that the 'principalities and powers' refer to a more earthly nature of it being 'political and social, cultural and religious forces'.17
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R.W. Stott, John. The message of Ephesians p.116 EPH 3: 6 (NRSV) 14 EPH 3: 10 (NRSV) 15 R.W. Stott, John. The message of Ephesians p.124 16 Paul's Letters from Prison by G. B. Caird, in the New Clarendon Bible (Oxford, 1976) pp.66 - 67, quoted by R.W. Stott. 17 Ephesians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by Markus Barth, in the Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 1974. Vol. 1, Eph. 1-3; Vol. 2, Eph. 4-6). Ephesians 1 p.365, quoted by R.W. Stott.

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Whatever the true meaning may be, it still says one thing: that through the oneness in Christ with the church actively working God's wisdom and power will be made known to everyone, everywhere. Now Paul moves on to the matter of living as Christ has called us to. Paul pleads with his readers 'to lead a life worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called'18 with patience and humility because that way they will be able to keep unity with the Spirit. He reminds them of the hope of their calling in the 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all'.19 Paul then quotes from Psalm 68:18, talking about after Christ's ascension, He would give gifts to His followers - 'the gifts He gave were that some would be apostles… prophets… evangelists… pastors and teachers'.20 These are sometimes now called the 'five fold ministry' gifts. These gifts, Paul says, are to be used for building up the body of Christ until everyone is united by the faith in Jesus. Now Paul urges his readers to stop living their Gentile ways and to be as they were taught; to get their old ways of living away and to live in 'the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness'.21 To stop all the impurities and evil and to strive to live accordingly so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but to be forgiving and loving to one another as Christ is to them. With all this said, Paul now talks about being imitators of God - children of light. We are to follow God's example in all we do, and are to avoid slanderous talk and impurities of any kind because people who do those things have no place in the kingdom of God. Paul is saying to live how God wants by the Holy Spirits guidance. Paul warns his readers to 'be careful then how you live… making the most of the time, because the days are evil'22 and that they should understand what the will of God is. The same message of unity applies again when Paul talks about how husbands and wives should conduct themselves before God and each other - having respect for one another and giving of themselves just as Christ gave Himself for the church. He quotes Genesis 2:24 where it speaks of a man being joined to his wife and being united as one.
18 19

EPH 4: 1 (NRSV) EPH 4: 5 - 6 (NRSV) 20 EPH 4: 11 (NRSV) 21 EPH 4: 24 (NRSV) 22 EPH 5: 15 - 16 (NRSV)

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In the last part of his letter, Paul tells his reader's children to honour their parents, but equally so, the parents are to respect their children by not provoking them to anger but to give them a proper upbringing. Paul finishes his letter by telling the readers to quip the whole armour of God and to always pray in the Spirit so to be ready against the devil's attacks. So to conclude what the message and purpose of Ephesians is: it would be to have unity in all things we do, in all areas of life, so that the faith and body of Christ will be strengthened and can grow.

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Bibliography

1. Holy Bible, New Living Translation (Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1996) 2. Lion Handbook to the Bible, The, Third Edition; Pat and David Alexander (eds.), (Lion Hudson Plc; 1st edn, 1973, 2nd edn. 1983, 3rd edn. Hbk. 1999, Pbk. 2002) 3. New Revised Standard Version, New Testament (The Division of Education and Ministry, National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1990) 4. R. W. Stott, J., The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Ephesians (InterVarsity Press, Leicester, England. Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S.A. 1979)

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