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New Testament | Ephesians | Summary

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Summary

  • The letter sends a greeting and peace wish from Paul to "the saints who are in Ephesus" (Ephesians 1:1).
  • The author reminds the Ephesians of God's mercy.
  • The author specifies that the Ephesians' salvation was necessary because they were formerly gentiles and not Jews.
  • The author explains his own role in the process of salvation: he received a commission to reveal "the mystery of Christ" to the gentiles (Ephesians 3:4).
  • He tells the Ephesians that the faith community must grow up in Christ so that they can avoid false doctrines and false teachers.
  • The author provides instructions about relationships within Christ-believing households: husband and wife, children and parents, slaves and masters.
  • The author's advice picks up a metaphor that Paul used in 1 Thessalonians, the "armor of God" (Ephesians 6:10).
  • Promising to send a missionary named Tychicus to the community, the author concludes with a wish that the Ephesians will have peace and "love with faith" (Ephesians 6:23).

Analysis

This letter provides some insight into the way Christ-believers developed a distinct identity that was grounded in Judaism but nevertheless separate from it. Many New Testament scholars point out that the letter seems to assume its readers have very little knowledge of Jewish traditions.

The author makes a point of defining circumcision and explaining that it is an actual physical procedure (Ephesians 2:11). In part, this gap in the Ephesians' knowledge can be attributed to their gentile background. However, some argue that the author needs to provide additional explanations because he is writing to an audience of Christ-believers after enough time has passed that the early connections between Judaism and Christ-belief have started to deteriorate; that is, in the late 1st century CE.

Some of the distinctive features of this letter can be explained as part of an early Christian response to the passage of time since the resurrection of Jesus. Although Paul and his early followers believed that the resurrected Jesus would return soon for the final judgment, as the decades passed and he did not appear, Christ-believers struggled to explain and respond to the delay of the parousia. Living in the midst of Greek cities in the Roman Empire might have made it difficult to maintain the radically egalitarian community life that Paul recommended.

The instructions to husbands, wives, parents, children, slaves, and masters in Ephesians 5–6 outline a household hierarchy that corresponds much more closely with the status quo in Greco-Roman society. Such household codes might be one way the growing Christ-believing communities decided to create order while waiting for the delayed second coming. As the contrast between Galatians 3 and Ephesians 5–6 indicates, the teaching of this letter is noticeably different from Pauline teaching in letters that are universally recognized as authentic.

The author of Ephesians situates the Christ-believers and their experience in a cosmic context. He frequently refers to a dualistic battle between "the devil" (specifically mentioned in Ephesians 4:27 and 6:11) and the believers who are on the side of God and Christ. The image of spiritual battle armor creates an elevated sense of Christ-believers being locked in mortal combat with evil forces. The discussions of sin or transgression in the letter are all framed as part of the same cosmic battle.

Human beings might play a role in misleading the Christ-believers through "trickery" or "craftiness in deceitful scheming," but the spiritual forces of evil are portrayed as more threatening (Ephesians 4:14). Most of the letters that scholars recognize as authentically Pauline recognize the existence of vices but do not make the explicit connection between wrongdoing and evil.

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