Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)
As a way to learn I want to start going through books of the Bible, wrestling through things and then blogging them, not as commentary but as something to hopefully get others to push back or help me in my own thinking and understanding of passages. I write more often to learn than to teach.
I was challenged by a friend a few months back to memorize scripture. Since then my goal has been to memorize the whole book of Ephesians, which happens to be a good book to start going through on this blog.
I’ll be brief on the first two verses of Ephesians.
We find who is writing this letter in the first verse. Paul is writing this letter, and not any Paul, but Paul one of the apostles of Christ Jesus. This indicates to us who is writing, or perhaps who is dictating the composition of the letter. Paul adds “by the will of God.” Since this is merely a part of the greeting and not a component of a large argument from Paul, it would be wrong to turn this into some treatise on the sovereignty of God. The good news is that Paul will be addressing God’s sovereign choice in this letter so it is not mishandling Paul’s words by drawing something out of them: Paul is giving recognition to the fact that it wasn’t his own will that made him an apostle of Christ Jesus.
Paul then says who he’s writing to. Now the problem with this is that earliest manuscripts we have don’t add “in Ephesus.” What are we to do with this? I would argue, along with many conservative scholars of the New Testament, that this letter was a letter for circulation. What I mean by a letter for circulation is this letter was one to be distributed among different churches, and it happens that many of our copies were copies that made it from Ephesus.
Now I have two main reasons for believing this, as do the conservative scholars. First, Paul typically sends greetings to people of a church when he is writing to that church. In Ephesians, we don’t have any personal greetings at all. The second reason is this, that Paul spent a few years in Ephesus, and so it would be odd for Paul not to address specific issues nor specific people as we find in most of his other letters.
The third main reason, separate from the above two, is that we have a few earlier manuscripts that exclude the phrase “in Ephesus,” as I said above. I set this as a separate point because I already stated it, and because the other two fit together. Those two, coupled with this one, I believe demonstrate pretty well that this was indeed a circular letter.
This can be important to understanding the book of Ephesians because we need context to help us to understand the purpose and point of the letter. If it was just to the Ephesians, then understanding what was going on at Ephesus would be important to get background into the book. If it was circular, then less geographical background information is needed since it is a general letter to all saints, but more cultural background over a larger geographical area may be necessary.
As Christians we need to think through these things. We need to understand inspiration, infallibility, and sufficiency. All these concepts shape our view of Scripture. And the word of God us always under attack by enemies of God.
As Ephesians 6 will tell us, the word of God, the scripture, is the sword of the spirit. In order to use our sword effectively we must know it, understand it, and handle it properly.
So, though this letter certainly went to the Ephesian church, it was not addressed solely to the church at Ephesus. And so I conclude that Paul was addressing all the saints that would receive this letter, and those saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus he desires they would receive grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I could go into how significant those phrases are, but this isn’t entirely Paul’s point in his greeting. But we see and feel some of Paul’s theology in the beginning sentences.