God’s Plan Is Eternal
Explore the Bible Series
September 5, 2010
Background Passage: Ephesians 1:1-14
Lesson Passage: Ephesians 1:1-14
Perhaps only the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Romans rival Ephesians as the most elevated, inspiring books in the New Testament. Indeed, the straightforward prose and argumentation of this letter may even surpass Romans. For fifteen hundred years Bible scholars did not question the Pauline authorship of this sublime work, but, since the time of Erasmus, critical scholarship has raised serious doubts about its composition date and authorship.
Authorship: Raymond Brown estimated that about 80% of modern critical scholars believe that Paul did not write Ephesians. Most of these folks think a Pauline disciple wrote this epistle, after the apostle had died, in an effort to apply the apostle’s teaching to changing theological and social circumstances. While I respect the discipline and scholarship of these men, their arguments, in my judgment, seem unconvincing.
First, they argue that the vocabulary and theological perspectives stand in stark contrast to the undisputed Pauline letters. In particular, these writers often cite the ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) reflected in Ephesians. They claim that “church” takes on a universal element lacking in the other letters. Of course, the foundational premise of this argument assumes Paul’s inability to expand the application of his views of the church, and, it seems, they question Paul’s intelligence in the use of an impressive vocabulary. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the apostle was capable of writing, when it suited his purposes, in a somewhat different form and with a nuanced, expanded vocabulary?
Second, some academics question the authenticity of Ephesians because of its striking similarity to Colossians. Of course, most of these people remain skeptical about Paul’s authorship of Colossians, as well. The traditional view believes that Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians, from Rome, during his imprisonment (along with Philippians and Philemon—the so-called Prison Epistles). It seems plausible that Colossians and Ephesians, written at the same time, might bear great similarity.
Third, the absence of a “typical” Pauline salutation convinces some that Paul did not write this letter. Again, why would anyone assume that Paul could only write one kind of salutation? In his other writings Paul employed a certain pattern of addressing his audience, but, in Ephesians, he departed from this practice. Perhaps Paul had a different intent for this book. I see no problem with view that the apostle may have intended this as a circular letter, addressed to a number of churches, including Ephesus. If so, he would understandably employ a more general introduction to the epistle.
Date and Acceptance in the Early Church: The Acts of the Apostles abruptly ends with Paul’s arrival and imprisonment in Rome, awaiting his trial before Caesar Nero. This incarceration must have occurred about 63 or 64 A.D., and the church has assigned the writing of Ephesians to this period (See Ephesians 3:1; 3:13; 4:1). Most Bible students believe Paul was martyred about 66 A.D. Early church witness universally affirmed Pauline authorship, and dated the epistle from his Roman internment (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and the Muratorian Canon). No questions arose concerning the authenticity of the epsile (except for some disputes about the destination, not about the authorship).
Purpose: Ephesians falls into two sections: a doctrinal statement (Chapters One through Three) and a practical division (Chapters Four through Six). The book provides a majestic summary of Christian theology and ethics. Perhaps Paul, sensing that he might not survive his imprisonment, felt an urgent need to summarize his teachings in an effort to solidify his legacy as an apostle.
I. Salutation (1:1-2)
A. The author of the letter (v. 1): There is no serious doubt about the textual evidence for Pauline authorship. The epistle clearly affirms that Paul was the author (Also see 3:1). He did not, under these circumstances, feel compelled to defend his apostleship; so, he simply identified himself as an “apostle of Christ Jesus.” Furthermore, he highlighted the role of the Godhead in his call to ministry; that is, Paul did not seek apostleship.
B. The recipients of the letter (v. 2): No one can solve the dispute about the textual evidence concerning the phrase “to the saints in Ephesus.” Some ancient manuscripts assign the letter to the Ephesians, but others address the book to the Laodiceans. Still others manuscripts omit any explicit reference to the recipients. Conservative scholars acknowledge that Ephesians may have been a circular letter, addressed to several churches, including Ephesus. This city was the largest of Asia Minor, boasting a First-Century population of 250,000. Paul spent a considerable amount of time in the city, and he maintained a warm relationship with church leaders.
II. Paul’s Trinitarian Doxology (1:3-14)
A. The Praise of the Father (vv. 3-6): Paul initiated his doxology with an affirmation of the source of all spiritual blessings, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The term “in the heavenlies”, according to Curtis Vaughan, does not refer to the future abode of the saints; rather, it denotes “a realm or region of spiritual reality to which the believer has been lifted in Christ. That is to say, it speaks not of the heaven of the future but of the heaven that lies within and around the Christian here and now” (Vaughan, p. 19). In addition, Vaughan identified five characteristics of election.
1. It has its ground in Christ Jesus (v. 4): All of the Father’s spiritual blessings come through the mediation of Christ.
2. It was made before the foundation of the world (v. 4b): God’s love is not constrained by time or space. He loves his people with an everlasting love.
3. It is purposeful (vv. 4c-5): The end and purpose of God’s love centers on the holiness and blamelessness of his people; that is, his election has practical consequences in the character and conduct of the saints. This blamelessness is accomplished through the Father’s adoption of his chosen ones into the family of God. Paul invoked this rich analogy to highlight the relational element of Christian conduct. The Lord’s people do not obey God out of some slavish requirement; rather, they live up to the character expected of loving children, devoted to their gracious, benevolent Father.
4. It is according to the good pleasure of God’s will (v.5a): Election grows from the loving, gracious character of the Father. It pleased him to chose and adopt those whom he loves.
5. It issues in the praise and glory of the Father (v. 6): The imagery of election leaves no room for human boasting. It centers all praise and glory on the redemptive work of God. as with the other “stanzas” of this hymn, Paul concluded this section with a statement of worship (v. 6, see also vv. 12 and 14)
B. The Praise of the Son (vv. 7-12): These verses, in a sense, continue the discussion of the blessings of God; however, the attention, in this section centers on the Son.
1. Redemption (v. 7a): This familiar New Testament word denotes the procurement of freedom through the payment of a price. The blood of Christ (indicative of the Lord’s death) makes payment for sin, through the riches of God’s grace.
2. Forgiveness of sin (v. 7b): The Greek word for “forgiveness” denotes “sending away” or a “separation.” The guilt and penalty of sin are banished from the believer, again through the blood of Christ.
3. Wisdom and prudence (vv. 8-10): Both of these terms reflect knowledge that leads to understanding, discernment, and judicious conduct. “Mystery”, a common Pauline concept, denotes the secret of God’s eternal purpose revealed to the people of God. This mystery involves God’s intent to unify the entire universe under the lordship of Christ.
4. An eternal inheritance (v. 11): Some Bible students believe the saints will receive this inheritance, while others think the saints are the inheritance bequeathed to the Son. Of course, both concepts are true, and both fit well the context of the passage. As before, this section concludes with a reference to the praise of the Godhead (See v. 12).
C. The praise of the Spirit (vv. 13-14): Paul employed two images to unveil the gift of the Holy Spirit.
1. A seal (v. 13): Vaughan identified three ancient uses of a seal: (1) seals were used to authenticate an item as genuine; (2) Romans used seals to signify ownership; (3) seals secured documents from unwarranted tampering.
2. An earnest (v. 14): An earnest is a down payment or deposit used to secure and authenticate ownership. The Holy Spirit is God’s pledge of the believer’s eternal inheritance in heaven.
Dr. Vaughan believed this doxology should produce three results for Christians: worship, encouragement, and dedication to serve Christ.