New Testament Overview: Ephesians

The Pauline Epistles

The Pauline Epistles
The Prison Epistles
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    @ by J. Hampton Keathley, III {original source}  


As clearly stated in the opening verse of each of the prison epistles, Paul is declared to be the author. That the apostle is the author of Ephesians is strongly supported by both internal and external evidence. Twice, the writer calls himself Paul (1:1; 3:1).

Also this epistle is written after Paul’s usual manner or pattern with greetings and thanksgiving, a doctrinal section followed by the practical application of that doctrine with concluding personal remarks.

As to external evidence, several church fathers (Clement of Romedb01, Ignatiusdb02, Polycarpdb03, Clement of Alexanderdb04, and others) either quote from or use language closely resembling that found in Ephesians.fn53

In recent years, however, critics have turned to internal grounds to challenge this unanimous ancient tradition. It has been argued that the vocabulary and style are different from other Pauline Epistles, but this overlooks Paul’s flexibility under different circumstances (cf. Rom. and 2 Cor.).

The theology of Ephesians in some ways reflects later development, but this must be attributed to Paul’s own growth and meditation on the church as the body of Christ. Since the epistle clearly names the author in the opening verse, it is not necessary to theorize that Ephesians was written by one of Paul’s pupils or admirers, such as Timothydb05, Lukedb06, Tychicusdb07, or Onesimusdb08.fn54

There is some debate as to the title and destination of this epistle. The traditional title is Pros Ephesious, “To the Ephesians.” Many ancient manuscripts, however omit en Epheso and for this and other reasons, many scholars believe this was an encyclical letter (intended for circulation among several churches).

Several things indicate that Ephesians was a circular letter, a doctrinal treatise in the form of a letter, to the churches in Asia Minor. Some good Greek mss. omit the words “at Ephesus” in 1:1. There is an absence of controversy in this epistle, and it does not deal with problems of particular churches. Since Paul had worked at Ephesus for about three years and since he normally mentioned many friends in the churches to whom he wrote, the absence of personal names in this letter strongly supports the idea of its encyclical character. It was likely sent first to Ephesus by Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-8) and is probably the same letter that is called “my letter … from Laodicea” in Col. 4:16.fn55

DATE: A.D. 60-61

As previously mentioned, the apostle was a prisoner when he wrote this epistle (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). Though scholars differ on whether Paul wrote Ephesians while he was imprisoned at Caesareadb09 (Acts 24:27) in A.D. 57-59, or in Rome (28:30) in A.D. 60-62, the evidence favors the Roman imprisonment. As also mentioned, it is believed that Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were also written during the same time period (cf. Phil. 1:7; Col. 4:10; Philemon 9).

Because Ephesians gives no hint of Paul’s release from prison, as in Philippians (1:19-26) and Philemon (v. 22), many believe that Ephesians was written in the early part of his imprisonment about A.D. 60, while Paul was kept under house guard in his rented quarters (28:30). After he was released he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus, was arrested again, wrote 2 Timothy, and was martyred in Rome.


No specific purpose is stated and no particular problem or heresy is addressed. Rather, in Ephesians, Paul sets forth the glorious mystery, “the church which is Christ’s body,” Christ as the head of the Church (1:22, 23), and believers as co-members of one another and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3; 2:11-22). Clearly, Paul’s purpose is to broaden the believer’s horizons regarding the limitless wealth of his blessings in Christ who is the head of the church, the body of Christ. Out of this, two great purposes emerge in the epistle.

1. The first is to set forth something of the wealth of blessings that believers have in Christ, and how, through them, the eternal purposes of God are summed up in the person of Christ, the things in heaven and on earth (1:3-12).

2. The second
 theme flows out of the first, namely, the believer’s responsibility to know, grasp, and walk in a manner that is fitting with his heavenly position and calling in Christ (1:18-23; 3:14-21; 4:1).

While not written to be remedial or to correct any specific errors, Paul designed this epistle as a prevention against those problems that so often occur because of a lack of maturity or a failure in grasping and applying what believers have in Christ. Closely associated with this is a short section on the believer’s warfare with the onslaughts of Satan (6:10-18).

Thus, Paul writes about the believer’s 

  • wealth
  • walk, and 
  • warfare.


In view of the theme or purpose, the key words are “wealth,” “walk,” and “warfare.


1:3. Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.

2:8-108 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not of works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

4:11-1311 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

5:17-1817 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,


As with many of Paul’s epistles, picking a key chapter is difficult, but perhaps chapter 6 stands out because of its very important revelation regarding the nature of our warfare with Satan (6:10-18). While we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3), we are nevertheless faced with a formidable enemy for which we need the armor of God. Thus, we must seriously take the exhortation “to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (6:10).


Phrases in Ephesians like:

in Christ” or “with Christ” appear some 35 times.

These are common Pauline expressions, but they appear in this epistle more than in any other. By this, we see much of what believers have through their position in the Savior.

They are in Christ (1:1),

  • Blessed with every blessing in Christ (1:3),
  • Chosen in Him (1:4),
  • Adopted through Christ (1:5),
  • In the Beloved (1:6),
  • Redeemed in Him (1:7),
  • Given an inheritance in Him (1:11),
  • Have a hope that is to the praise of His glory in Christ (1:12),
  • Sealed with the Spirit through Him as an earnest installment of their inheritance (1:13-14),
  • Made alive, raised, and seated with Him in the heavenlies (2:5-6),
  • Created in Christ for good works (2:10),
  • Partakers of the promise in Christ (3:6), and
  • Given access to God through faith in Christ (3:12).


  • I. Salutation or Greeting (1:1-2)

  • II. The Doctrinal Portion of the Epistle, the Wealth and Calling of the Church (1:3-3:21)
    • A. Praise for Redemption (1:4-14)
      • 1. Chosen by the Father (1:4-6)
      • 2. Redemption by the Son (1:7-12)
      • 3. Sealed With the Spirit (1:13-14)
    • B. Prayer for Wisdom a Revelation (1:15-23)
      • 1. The Cause of the Prayer (1:15-18a)
      • 2. The Content of the Prayer (1:18b-23)
    • C. Positional Relocation (2:1-22)
      • 1. The New Position in the Heavenlies (2:1-10)
      • 2. The New Position in the Household (2:11-22)
    • D. Parenthetical Explanation (3:1-13)
      • 1. The Mystery, the Product of Revelation (3:1-6)
      • 2. The Minister, Appointed to Proclamation (3:7-13)
    • E. Prayer for Realization (3:14-21)

  • III. The Practical Portion of the Epistle; The Walk and Conduct of the Church (4:1-6:24)
    • A. The Believer’s Walk in Unity (4:1-16)
      • 1. The Appeal to Preserve Unity (4:1-3)
      • 2. The Basis for Unity (4:4-6)
      • 3. The Means of Unity (4:7-16)
    • B. The Believer’s Walk in Righteousness (4:17-5:18)
      • 1. The Previous Walk of the Old Life (4:17-19)
      • 2. The Present Walk of the New Life (4:20-32)
      • 3. The Pattern for Our Walk (5:1-7)
      • 4. The Proof and Reason for Our Walk (5:8-13)
      • 5. The Power and Provision for Our Walk (5:14-18)
    • C. The Believer’s Walk in the World (5:19-6:9)
      • 1. As to One’s Self and the Church (5:19-21)
      • 2. As to One’s Home (5:22-6:4)
      • 3. As to One’s Profession (6:5-9)
    • D. The Believer’s Walk in Warfare (6:10-20)
      • 1. The Exhortation to Arms (6:10-13)
      • 2. The Explanation of Our Armor (6:14-17)
      • 3. The Employment of Our Armor (6:18-20)
    • E. Conclusion (6:21-24)
Pauline Epsitles Menu
53 Thiessen, p. 239.
54 Wilkinson/Boa, p. 400.
55 Ryrie, p. 1875. For more detailed discussion, see note 2 on this at this verse in the NET Bible.
db* = Content added by to assist the reader
db01 Clement of Rome: Saint Clement of Rome, is listed as Bishop of Rome from the late 2nd century He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church [From Wikipedia]
db02 Ignatius: Ignatius of Antioch also known as Ignatius Theophorus (Ιγνάτιος ὁ Θεοφόρος, Ignátios ho Theophóros, lit. "the God-bearing"), was a student of John the Apostle, and was the third bishop of Antioch. [From Wikipedia]
db03 Polycarp: Polycarp (Greek: Πολύκαρπος, Polýkarpos; AD 69– 155-160's) was a 2nd-century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. [From Wikipedia]
db04 Clement of Alexander: Titus Flavius Clemens (Greek: Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς; c. 150 – c. 215), known as Clement of Alexandria to distinguish him from the earlier Clement of Rome, was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. [From Wikipedia]
db05 Timothy: Timothy (Greek: Τιμόθεος; Timótheos, meaning "honouring God" or "honored by God") was the first first-century Christian bishop of Ephesus, whom tradition relates died around the year AD 97. He was from the Lycaonian city of Lystra in Asia Minor, became Paul’s disciple, and later his companion and co-worker. The New Testament indicates that Timothy traveled with Saint Paul, who was also his mentor. [From Wikipedia]
db06 Luke: Luke the Evangelist (Ancient Greek: Λουκᾶς, Loukás) is one of the Four Evangelists or authors of canonical Gospels of Jesus Christ. Luke was a native of the Hellenistic city of Antioch in Syria. The early church fathers ascribed to him authorship of both the Gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts of the Apostles, which originally formed a single literary work, referred to as Luke-Acts. [From Wikipedia]
db07 Tychicus: Tychicus (tik'-i-kus), an Asiatic Christian who, with Trophimus, accompanied the Apostle Paul on a part of his journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem. He is also alluded to have been with Paul in Rome, where the apostle sent him to Ephesus, probably for the purpose of building up and encouraging the church there. In the New Testament, he is mentioned five times (Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12).[ [From Wikipedia]
db08 Onesimus: Onesimus (Greek: Ὀνήσιμος Onēsimos, meaning "useful"; died c. 68 AD), also called Onesimus of Byzantium and The Holy Apostle Onesimus in some Eastern Orthodox churches, was a slave to Philemon of Colossae, a man of Christian faith. [From Wikipedia]
db09 Caesarea: Caesarea (Hebrew: קֵיסָרְיָה; Arabic: قيسارية‎, Kaysaria; Greek: Καισάρεια) is a town in Israel located mid-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa (45 km), on the Israeli coastal plain near the city of Hadera. [From Wikipedia]
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