Some key themes

  • Ch 1 – The church’s eternal foundation – the church comes into being through the eternal will and purpose of God
  • Ch 2 – The church’s universal scope – receiving into its membership those who had been dead in trespasses and sins – Jews and Gentiles alike
  • Ch 3 – The church’s lofty goal – to manifest the wisdom and power of God
  • Ch 4 – The church’s organic unity – leading to full maturity and usefulness
  • Ch 5 – The church’s glorious renewal – leading to transformed lives and relationships
  • Ch 6 – The church’s effective armour – leading to victory over the spiritual forces that are arrayed against us


Arguments against Pauline authorship

This letter clearly purports to be by Paul, Eph 1:1 3:1. Pauline authorship was unchallenged until the late 18th century. Some of the arguments are as follows:-

1. Ephesians differs from other letters, known to have been written by Paul, in that it does not address a specific situation, and is more lyrical in style. However, if (as if quite likely) the latter was never intended for a single readership, but was rather a circular letter, then these differences can be readily explained. Since Paul was not seeking to resolve doctrinal or practical controversy, he had no need to write in a closely reasoned way, but used a more doxological, prophetic style.

2. The letter contains 42 words not otherwise used in the NT, and 44 more not used elsewhere by Paul. But these facts can be explained by the very nature of the subject-matter Paul deals with in this letter.

3. Ephesians differs from other writings of Paul in its emphasis on the church and its de-emphasis on eschatology. But these differences fall well within the variatiions that can be expected from one gifted writer covering different themes at different times and with different readerships.

4. The letter seems to have more in common with non-Pauline writings (e.g. those of Luke, Peter and John), than with other writings of Paul.

Recent scholarship has found a number of objections to Pauline authorship. ‘C. L. Mitton (Epistle to the Ephesians), largely following E. J. Goodspeed, lists twelve such objections. The principal arguments are these:

(1) Such unquestionably Pauline letters as 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians specify individual congregations alongside discussion of the Church catholic. In Ephesians the Church appears as the “mystical” body of Christ, and all traces of a more fluid usage have vanished.

(2) The observation in Eph 2:20 that the Church is “built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets” rings with a strange sound after the statement in #1 Cor 3:11 “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” F. J. A. Hort, who strenuously defended the genuineness of Ephesians, admitted that this variation is embarrassing to the defense.

(3) Whereas in Paul’s time the controversy between Jews and Gentiles can hardly be called settled, in Ephesians the position of the Gentiles is taken for granted. As Goodspeed observes, “There is no room for any Jewish Christianity in the picture. Christianity is now definitely a gentile religion” (Key to Ephesians, p.v). Ephesians, moreover, is unique in asserting that a principal object of Christ’s redemptive work is the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles.

(4) That the immediacy of the second coming of Jesus is a large factor in Paul’s thought is evident from a cursory examination of his letters. Even Philippians, regarded by many as Paul’s last Epistle, affirms that the Lord is near (4:5); and the earlier Thessalonian correspondence reflects the problem Paul had with his congregations on this subject. Ephesians, on the other hand, lacks the note of urgency sounded in Col 3:4. The prospect of a long period of development is anticipated in the words, “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen..” (Eph 3:21 )

(5) Connected with this approach to the Second Coming is the doctrine on marriage. In view of the expectation of an early return of Jesus Christ, Paul was reluctant to see his Christians entangle themselves in the cares of life engendered by the responsibilities of marriage (see, e.g., 1 Cor 7). In Ephesians marriage is elevated to such a position of honor that it becomes a symbol of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Mitton observes: “If the different attitudes towards the Second Coming can be reconciled as representing an earlier and a later stage in Paul’s own experience, so probably can this change of attitude toward marriage. But many feel that the change is so great as to point to a different author rather than to a later phase in the life of the same author” (Epistle to the Ephesians, pp.22f).

(6) With respect to #Eph 6:4 Goodspeed writes, “The injunction of 6:4, to bring their children up with Christian training and instruction, is hardly like Paul; all he had to say on it in #Col 3:21 was, ‘Do not irritate your children.’ For Paul, expectations of the return of Jesus as the Messiah and of the establishment of God’s kingdom are still too vivid and imminent to warrant the projection of long-term programs of religious education” (Key to Ephesians, p.vii). As Mitton observes, “The discipline of children would, of course, take on new importance as the expectation of an early end to all things diminished” (Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 23).’ (ISBE)

Arguments in favour of Pauline authorship

The best case for the traditional view of Pauline authorship is made by D. Guthrie (pp. 490-508).

(1) Linguistic and stylistic arguments. Guthrie cautions about dogmatizing on what expressions Paul could or could not have used and warns against the methodological hazard of conclusions based on questionable dating of “so-called later first-century books.” The stylistic variations may be an indication of “Paul’s versatility.” If Ephesians is the work of someone else, the literary artistry displayed in the handling of Pauline themes is “extraordinary” (Guthrie, pp. 491f).

(2) Literary arguments. Criteria of dissimilarity are not sufficiently refined to dissociate Ephesians from Paul. In fact, “a conscious imitator would have endeavoured to keep as close as possible to his model,” but Ephesians displays both “spiritual and intellectual power” and “freedom from a slavish reproduction of Colossians” (p. 494). Furthermore, why should a later Paulinist have chosen Colossians, rather than another Epistle, as his base? Since both Epistles identify the body as the Church, (#Col 1:18 Eph 5:23 ) the alleged difference between Eph. 4:15f and Col 2:19 is untenable. Words like Gk? (see Rom 16:25f ) and? could be used in various senses by the same person. The conflations are more probable on the assumption of Paul’s authorship, for an imitator could easily have consulted Colossians. Mitton’s two tests for discriminating between a writer and his imitator oversimplify literary data. Similarity in subject matter may well account for concentration of allusion to earlier writings into certain groups, and the reproduction of “striking and memorable phrases” is subject to a variety of factors. The persona] references in Eph 3:2,4,8 are not “theatrical” but accent Paul’s dependence on the grace of God; an imitator would hardly have made Paul, whom he admired so ardently, call himself “the least of the apostles” (Guthrie, pp. 492-502).

(3) Historical arguments. The theme of eliminating a spiritual barrier between Jews and Gentiles argues rather for Pauline authorship. After A.D. 70 a reference to the destruction of the temple would have borne much more force. The writer’s self-identification as a “child of wrath” (2:3) does not rule out the apostle, who identifies himself in a universal expression with his readers and in v 11 says “you Gentiles.” Besides, both Jew and Greek are in “desperate need of God’s mercy” (v 4; Guthrie, pp. 502f).

(4) Doctrinal arguments. A chain is as strong as its weakest link, and the support for non-Pauline authorship must be assessed analytically. Ephesians does not belabor the Christian ministry as a later “ecclesiastic” (Goodspeed) would have done. Eph 2:20 is not out of harmony with Paul’s frequent claims for apostolic authority. The description “holy” in 3:5 must not be confused with modern connotations. The term is also applied by Paul to believers in general, as in Col 1:26. In addition, the term “prophets” suggests a more primitive period of the Church. Inconsistencies in expression of Christology are apparent also, e.g., in 1 Cor 8:6. Goodspeed’s argument based on Christ’s descent into Hades founders on the questionable nature of his assumption that Rom 10:6-7 excludes the doctrine of Eph 4:9. The doctrine of the unification of Jew and Gentile is less explicable in a later Paulinist who would be expected to stress the main Pauline themes of redemption rather than one of the subsidiary results of the death of Christ. Paul’s high view of marriage in Ephesians is not inconsistent with his bachelor status. The admonition to fathers on rearing their children is scarcely indicative of “’a long-term policy of religious education’ [Goodspeed]” (Guthrie, pp. 503-507).

(5) Conclusions. The self-testimony of the Epistles deserves greater consideration than is usually accorded it by exponents of pseudonymous authorship, insists Guthrie. Authorship by Paul rather than a later self-effacing Paulinist is more credible. It is improbable that the letter is to be traced to an amanuensis, for he would not have had access to all Pauline Epistles with which Ephesians has contacts; he would have adhered more closely to the phraseology of Colossians and would “hardly have enlarged upon the ethical sections as the author of Ephesians has done”; in addition, the author’s references to himself become inexplicable, and “it is difficult to find an adequate motive for the apostle to adopt so unusual a procedure” (Guthrie, pp. 507f; cf. van Roon, pp. 91-94).’ (ISBE)

One of the most obvious factors in favour of Pauline authorship is the presence of autobiographical material. ‘In addition to the address of the letter which claims Paul as the author, (Eph 1:1 ) Ephesians contains a substantial amount of material presented as a first-person address on the part of the apostle to the readers. The most significant is the reflection on his stewardship of the mystery (Eph 3:2-6 ) and the nature of his apostolic ministry. (Eph 3:7-13 ) The first-person material also extends to the prayers, for example, “I Paul the servant of Christ Jesus [pray] for you Gentiles” (Eph 3:1; see also Eph 1:16 3:14), his call to unity (“I, the prisoner of the Lord”). (Eph 4:1 ) Paul also asks specifically that the readers would pray for him (Eph 6:19-20 ) and then concludes the letter with comments on the role of Tychicus when he comes to them with words that in places exactly parallel the text of Colossians.’ (Eph 6:21-22 ) (DPL)