The Historical Background of the letter to the Ephesians

The letter of Ephesians is, in my experience, one of the most talked about books in the bible. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians differs considerably from his other letters, which is one of the reasons he is questioned as the author to begin with. While the dispute over Paul being the author of Ephesians rages on, many scholars and Christians alike agree there is evidence found in the writing of Ephesians that confirms Paul’s penmanship.

Ephesus was located on the western coast of Asian Minor, which is now western Turkey. Over time Ephesus became a commercial center with it’s harbor and the fact that it was also at an intersection of major trade, but by New Testament times, most scholars believe that Ephesus was living in a deepening economic depression and decline due to the Ephesians’ struggle with deforestation, which Asia Minor would encounter the worst of, out of the entire Mediterranean area. According to Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of The Bible, “It (Ephesus) boasted a pagan temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana” while also sporting Greek and other Roman gods.

Paul was said to have made his base of operations for about three years in the city of Ephesus and the church flourished for some time before receiving the warning found in Revelation 2:1-7. Paul’s first visit to Ephesus is recorded in Acts 18:18-21, when he left Corinth. During his first visit, “He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:19, NIV) The Jews requested that he stay longer, but he declined and said he would return if God called him to return. On Paul’s second visit, the Holy Spirit was poured on the believers (Acts 19:2-7). When Paul had arrived for his second visit he asked the Ephesians if they had received the Holy Spirit. When he found out they had only received John’s baptism he then began to spread the news about Christ. According to Acts, Paul stayed for three months arguing persuasively about the kingdom Of God. Acts 19:9 goes on to mention Paul having discussions, daily with his disciples, in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of The Bible explains that the preaching of Christianity in the school of Tyrannus hit the Artemis cult hard. Riots broke out and Christianity was cutting across pagan forms and patterns of life. 1 Corinthians 15:32 describes Paul’s ministry in Ephesus as a fight with wild beasts. Before heading out for Jerusalem, Paul addressed the elders of the Ephesus church regarding salvation, warnings and his hopes for the church. (Acts 20:17-35)

The letter to the Ephesians doesn’t begin with Paul’s typical introductions, which is why some still question whether or not he wrote the letter to begin with. Most sources seem to agree that the letter to the Ephesians was probably written while Paul was in prison in 60-64 A.D, in Rome. The fact that Paul wrote this letter from prison links this letter with Philippians, Colossians and Philemon – the other letters from Paul’s time in prison. An absence of the usual personal greetings leads many scholars agree that this letter was most likely a circular letter written to a group of churches, which are all located in what is now known as western Turkey.

According to several sources, the message of Ephesians is clear, that is, as Christians we are all equal and division in the church has to be stopped. The interesting aspect of the message in Ephesians regards who started the problem, for example, Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible says, “It is clear that Gentile Christians predominated, and that they tended to look down on their Jewish fellow Christians.” (1983, P. 604) Contrary to what was just presented, a Thompson chain reference bible puts the situation this way, “The converted Jews in the early churches were inclined to be exclusive and separate themselves from their Gentile brethren.” Regardless of who started the division, Paul calls the Ephesians to Christian unity.

Klyne Snodgrass, in his commentary on Ephesians, introduces the letter by saying, “Ephesians may well be the most influential document ever written.” (Snodgrass, 1996. P. 17) Later on, Snodgrass goes on to explain that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians shines with the reality of what being a Christian really means.

Works Cited

Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

In Tenney, M. C. (Ed.). (1975). The Zondervan pictorial encyclopedia of the Bible.

Snodgrass, K. (Ed.). (1998). Ephesians: The NIV application commentary ; from biblical text … to contemporary life. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan.

Alexander, D., & Alexander, P. (Eds.). (1992). Eerdmans’ handbook to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
This essay was used at Colorado Christian University on 7/28/14. I am the writer, and owner of this essay. 


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