THE LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS

Lesson 1: Introduction and Chapters 1-2
Greeting and the Unity of the Church in Christ

Almighty Father,
Today, as in the time of St. Paul, the forces of evil continue to test the strength of faith and the commitment to sound doctrine of the "household of God" that is Your Church. Lord, give us men like St. Paul who are not afraid to stand up against false teaching and have the courage to admonish Your people against a lukewarm response in defense of the Gospel of salvation. We know that the present generation of the faithful is responsible for the spiritual formation of the next generation. Give us the determination to be an example of righteousness to our children and to those outside the faith that they might be drawn to the light of Christ by witnessing the His light shining in our lives. Please send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in St. Paul's letter that so eloquently teaches what God has accomplished through the death, resurrection, and exaltation of God the Son. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

These things, brethren, concerning righteousness, I write to you not at my own instance, but because you first invited me. For nether can I nor anyone like me match the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul. When he was among you, face to face with the men of that time, he expounded the word of truth accurately and authoritatively, and when he was absent he wrote letters to you, the study of which will enable you to build yourselves up in faith which was given to you.
St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (AD 69/70-155/156), disciple of St. John the Apostle, Second Letter to the Philippians, 3.1

INTRODUCTION

The Epistle to the Ephesians is considered by Biblical scholars to be the most eloquent, the most influential, and the most Christological (theology of Christ) of the letters attributed to St. Paul of Tarsus. Biblical scholar Father Raymond Brown writes: "Among the Pauline writings only Romans can match Ephesians as a candidate for exercising the most influence on Christian thought and spirituality" (Introduction to the New Testament, page 620). The letter contains some of the most inspiring prayers and hymns in the New Testament, a deeply spiritual invitation to live in the image of Christ as God's beloved children, and theological teachings in the Christian tradition depicting Christ as the head of all creation, including the new creation of His Body that is the universal Church. In his letter, St. Paul calls on all Christians to use their divine gifts and spiritual resources to increase their faith, to prefect their behavior as those who professes belief in Christ as Lord, and to live as true disciples of the Risen Savior.

Authorship

That Paul is the author of the letter is announced twice. He announces he is the writer in the beginning of the letter in Ephesians 1:1, where he identifies himself as Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Then he announces himself again in the middle of the letter in Ephesians 3:1, where he describes himself as I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ [Jesus] for you Gentiles.

The Fathers of the Church are unanimous in their agreement that St. Paul is the inspired writer of the Letter to the Ephesians. The first question of Pauline authorship was voiced by Erasmus, the humanist and theologian in the early 16th century. He suggested the letter was written by a disciple of St. Paul and pointed to differences in the style, vocabulary, and content of the letter in comparison with other letters, like St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians. There are, however, explanations for these apparent "discrepancies":

  1. The Letter to the Ephesians was written more than a decade after his first letters (like the letter to the Galatians), at a time when Paul, after suffering in Christ's service and being perfected in his spiritual life by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, has grown into a more patient and spiritual apostle of his Lord and Savior.
  2. The circumstances of the readers of this letter and the condition of the community (communities) are entirely different for the communities to which his earlier letters were addressed. The Christians, for whom the letter is intended, are not embroiled in controversy. They have not rejected Paul's teachings, nor are they in danger of jeopardizing their salvation like the Galatians. Therefore, it is natural that Paul's tone should be gentler and more spiritual.
  3. The vocabulary is different from the Letter to the Galatians because the themes of his letter are different. In addition, certain theological themes that are not found in Galatians are not necessarily evidence for disputing Pauline authorship. These differences reflect his approach in meeting the needs of his new audience and the development of his understanding of Theology and Christology during the years of his ministry and especially since his time of deep reflection as a prisoner (two years a prisoner in Caesarea and another two years in Rome).

In addition, there is evidence that points to St. Paul as the author:

  1. The letter itself claims Paul as the author twice (Gal 1:1; 3:1), and places emphasis on his apostolic authority (Eph 3:1-7) as he did in other letters (Gal 1:1; 1 Cor 9:1-2; 2 Cor 12:11-12).
  2. Centuries of Church tradition, from the earlies years of the Church, point to Paul as the inspired writer.
  3. The elevated style of the letter is appropriate to Paul's theme of the Christians' exultation in Christ.
  4. The structure of the letter moves from a doctrinal foundation in chapters 1-3 to a practical exhortation in chapters 4-6. The same structure is found in the letters to the Galatians and the Romans that are undisputed as letters written by Paul.
  5. The theology of the letter is consistent with other letters. For example, the description of Gentile sin in Ephesians (4:17-19) is similar to Romans 1:21-23. St. Paul's declaration that salvation is by God's grace through faith in Ephesians 2:8 is the same declaration made in Romans 3:24 and in Galatians 2:20-21. His doctrine of divine adoption in Ephesians 1:5 is the same as that expressed in Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4 and Galatians 4:5, and Paul's description of God's divine plan as a mystery in Ephesians 1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:23 and 6:19 is also found in Romans 11:25; 16:25, in Colossians 1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3, and in 1 Timothy 3:9 and 16.
  6. Paul images the Church as the Body of Christ in both Romans (12:3-5) and in Ephesians (4:15-16), but he expressed the imagery in a slightly different direction in the Letter to the Ephesians. If someone claiming to be Paul had written the letter, wouldn't he have followed Paul's use of the image in Romans instead of expanding the teaching in a new direction?
  7. Paul's development of theological and Christological themes in the letter is consistent with the career of a gifted theologian who has reached the height of his teaching experience.

The Intended Audience

According to the letter, Paul is writing from prison, which he mentions three times (Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and where he has been suffering afflictions (Eph 3:13). This is one of Paul's "prison letters," usually dated to his first incarceration in Rome in c. 61-62/63 AD. The other "prison letters" are Paul's letters to the Christian communities of the Colossians (Col 4:10, 18) and Philippians (Phil 1:7, 13, 14, 17, 20-23), and to individuals as in his letter to Philemon (Phlm 1:1), and his second letter to Timothy (2 Tim 1:8, 16; 2:9). Although it should be noted that some scholars prefer dating some of these letters to his earlier imprisonment in Caesarea Maritima before he was sent to Rome (Acts 23:27-27:1). The second letter to Timothy was probably written prior to his death and second imprisonment in Rome in c. 67 AD.

This letter has traditionally carried the title "Letter to the Ephesians." However, the earliest and best of the collections of Paul's letters do not have the designation "to the holy ones who are in Ephesus" in 1:1. In those Greek manuscripts the word "Ephesus" is missing and only appears later in 5th century manuscripts and often identified as a scribal addition.(1) St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, and Origen, head of the famous school of Catechesis and Theology at Alexandria, Egypt, both commented the absence of any mention of Ephesus in early manuscripts. Both men had access to the two greatest libraries in Christendom with the oldest collection of Christian history and New Testament manuscripts "the library at Alexandria, Egypt and the other at Caesarea in the Holy Land. These two ancient scholars suggested, and many modern Christian Biblical scholars agree, that Paul's letter was not addressed to any one faith community because it was meant to be sent out as an encyclical or "circular letter" to a number of Christian communities in Asia Minor and carried by Paul's emissary Tychicus (Eph 6:21-22). The name "Ephesus" may have become attached to the letter because it still in possession of the church at Ephesus and was authenticated as the oldest surviving copy of the letter. It has also been suggested that this is the same letter referred to in Colossians as Paul's letter to the Laodiceans: And when this letter is read before you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and you yourselves read the one from Laodicea (Col 4:16) "a letter that has never been located.

The evidence to support the theory that this letter was not addressed to any one community:

  1. The absence of the place-name Ephesus in the earliest manuscripts
  2. The impersonal tone of the letter in which there are no personal greetings or comments about the specific community suggests it was intended for the world-wide Church

According to Acts, Paul spent at least two years in Ephesus and was therefore intimately familiar with the Christians there (Acts 19:10). Compare the Letter to the Ephesians with Paul's Letter to the church in Rome where he knew many of the members of the community. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul gives a personal greeting in long list in Romans 16:3-16, naming twenty-six people and mentioning a number of their families. It is very odd, since Paul spent more time in Ephesus than any other Christian community other than his home church in Antioch, Syria, that no members of the Ephesian church are mentioned, unless the letter was not intended for just one community. If this was the case, he could not single out individuals for special greetings without offending those friends in other communities.

Location and Date

Paul's letter was probably written from Rome during his first imprisonment when he lived under "house arrest" but was permitted visitors. If this is the case, the letter can be dated to sometime between 61-63 AD. The city of Ephesus was an important city in the Roman Empire and in the Kingdom of the Church. The 1st century AD geographer Strabo of Pontus (died c 24 AD) identified Ephesus as the second most important city in the Roman Empire after Rome (Strabo, Geography, vol. 1-7, 14.1.24, Cambridge: Leob Classical Library, Harvard University Press). At the time of Paul's letter the city is estimated to have had a population of about 200,000 "an enormous size for an ancient city. Ephesus was an important trading and cultural center on the west coast of modern day Turkey, and the city was Rome's provincial capital of Asia Minor.(2)

St. Paul first came to Ephesus in his second missionary journey in c. 50-52 AD: When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, while he entered the synagogue and held discussions with the Jews. Although they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but as he said farewell he promised, "I shall come back to you again, God willing." Then he set sail from Ephesus (Acts 18:19-21). Paul returned to visit Ephesus on his third missionary journey (in c. 53-58 AD) where he found some disciples of Jesus who had only received St. John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. He baptized them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-20; 23-40). According to Acts 20:31, Paul spent "three years ... unceasingly admonishing" the Ephesian Christians.

Ephesus was an important center of Christianity in Asia Minor:

  1. It was the home church of St. John Zebedee, Bishop of Ephesus, for many years.
  2. St. John probably wrote his Gospel from Ephesus, which accounts for his use of Roman place-names and the use of Roman time instead of Jewish place names in the Galilee and Jewish time.
  3. According to tradition, Ephesus was the home of the Virgin Mary for many years when she was in the care of St. John as commanded by Christ from the Cross.
  4. In the Book of Revelation, Ephesus was one of the seven Christian communities to which the resurrected Jesus commanded St. John to send letters.
  5. During the first five centuries of the Church, Ephesus was the site where several Church Councils were convened. At the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, the Church declared it a dogma of faith that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God not just the mother of Jesus.

Physical Descriptions of Saint Paul

Although there is no detailed description of Paul's personal appearance in the New Testament, his Latin name may suggest his physical statue since Paulus in Latin means "little." Scripture, however, does provide some glimpses of his appearance and his demeanor. Paul quotes his adversaries as calling him "unimpressive" in 2 Corinthians 10:10: Someone said, "His letters are weighty enough, and full of strength, but when you see him in person, he makes no impression and his powers of speaking are negligible." I should like that sort of person to take note that our deeds when we are present will show the same qualities as our letters when we were at a distance.

We also know that he suffered physically for Christ "from the many beatings he received and from some other illness or affliction to which he refers to in 2 Corinthians 4:10; 11:23-27; and Galatians 6:17. Paul writes of "the sting of the flesh" he suffered in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself. About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, "My Grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness." It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me, and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ's sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. And in Galatians 4:13-15, he writes ...indeed you remember that it was an illness that first gave me the opportunity to preach the gospel to you, but though my illness was a trial to you, you did not show any distaste or revulsion; instead , you welcomed me as a messenger of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Allusions to the "marks" he bore on his body in Galatians 6:17, I carry branded on my body the marks of Jesus, may have been to the scars left by his persecutors, perhaps the scars from the stoning he received at Lystra that was so sever the perpetrators thought they had killed him (see Acts 14:19). Some modern scholars have suggested these "marks of Jesus" may refer to the stigmata, the wounds Jesus bore on the Cross, but none of the writings of the Fathers of the Church support this interpretation.

There are physical descriptions of Paul that are found outside of Sacred Scripture, like the description of St. Paul found in a third century document: "Paul was a man of low statue, bald (or shaved on the head), crooked thighs, handsome legs, hollow eyed; had a crooked nose; full of grace; for sometimes he appeared as a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel" (The Acts of Paul and Thecla, 1.7). And John of Antioch, writing in the sixth century, supports other descriptions of St. Paul when he records that Paul was "... round shouldered, with a sprinkling of gray on his head and beard, with an aquiline nose, grayish eyes, meeting eyebrows, with a mixture of pale and red in his complexion..." (The Search for the Twelve Apostles, William McBirnie, page 291).

It cannot be denied that his frail body housed a tremendous spirit that was consumed with a passion for the mission given him by his Lord and Savior. Many times in his letters he strenuously defends his title as an "apostle", reminding us that he was personally chosen by Jesus Christ to serve the Church, as he wrote to the Corinthians, All the marks characteristic of a true apostle have been at work among you: complete perseverance, signs, marvels, demonstrations of power. Is there any way in which you have been given less than the rest of the churches...? (2 Corinthians 12:12).

In his writings we see St. Paul's determination to identify himself completely with the Jesus Christ who called him to salvation and of whom he preached and served tirelessly. His letters reveal a man of strong passions and a fiery personality who possessed a keen mind. His zeal is impressive, but even more impressive is Paul's assurance that he can successful preach the Gospel anywhere because he founds his faith and hope on his Lord Jesus Christ: But thanks be to God who always gives us in Christ a part in his triumphal procession, and through us is spreading everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of himself. To God we are the fragrance of Christ, both among those who are being saved and among those who are on the way to destruction (2 Cor 2:14-15).

SUMMARY OF ST. PAUL'S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS
Biblical Period #12 The Kingdom of the Church
Covenant The New Covenant in Christ Jesus
Focus The Mystery of Salvation and the Church Exhortation on Christian Living
Scripture 1:1----------------1:15----------------3:1-------------4:25---------------6:21-------6:24
Division Greeting and
Opening address
Unity of the Church World Mission of the Church Conduct and Unity of the Church Conclusion
Topic Faith Expressed in Belief Belief Expressed in Behavior
Privileges of the Christian Responsibilities of the Christian
Location Theory #1: written from prison in Rome
Theory #2: written from prison in Caesarea
Time Theory # 1: 61-63 AD
Theory #2: 58-60 AD
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016

Chart inspired by Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts page 400

 

The major themes of St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians:

  1. Mankind's redemption is rooted in the divine plan and accomplishment of the Triune God.
  2. God's saving love through Jesus Christ is the foundation of God's divine plan.
  3. The Church is the instrument for making God's plan of salvation known throughout the world.
  4. The mission of the world-wide Church whose head is Christ.

 

CHAPTER 1
Greeting and Opening Address (1:1-14)

Ephesians 1:1-2 ~ Paul's Greeting
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the holy ones who are [in Ephesus] faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Greco-Roman world, students in Greek culture schools were instructed in the conventions of letter writing. The typical letter contained a greeting and a short statement of thanksgiving followed by the introduction, the main body of the letter, and concluding with wishes for good health and a statement of farewell. St. Paul's letters follow the basic form of acceptable letter writing of his times, but he adapts the formal letter to suit his purposes:

  1. He transforms the typical Greek greeting with a Christian greeting invoking grace and peace.
  2. He usually extends the thanksgiving portion to include prayers to God.
  3. He gives a benediction in place of the usually farewell.

In verse 1, instead of the typical Greco-Roman greeting chairein, "good-fortune," Paul changes his greeting to charis, "grace," meaning his desire that the grace of God be extended to the congregation.

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the holy ones who are [in Ephesus] faithful in Christ Jesus... The Greek word hagioi is usually translated "saints" and refers the faithful in the Church. This translation uses "holy ones" in order to avoid confusing Paul's "saints" on earth with those "saints" canonized by the Church who are in Heaven (also see 1:15 and 18). This is Paul's usual greeting in his letters. It is interesting that twenty-two of the thirty Greek words in verses 1-2 are also found in Paul's Letter to the Colossians in 1:1-2 (another "prison letter").

an apostle of Christ Jesus
As in all his letters, Paul emphasizes his divine calling as an "apostle," "one who is sent" by Christ Jesus. This is the first of forty-five times in the letter that Paul will use the title "Christos" for Jesus. In the literal Greek the word "christos" means "one smeared with oil," but Christians used this word as a translation for the Hebrew word mashiach, meaning "one anointed by God" "or "Messiah" in English, since there was no equivalent word in Greek.

"In Ephesus," in brackets in the verse 1, is not found in important early Biblical manuscripts; see the Introduction.

Ephesians 1:3-14 ~ A Hymn of Blessing for our Divine Election
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, 4 as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemished before him. In love 5 he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, 6 for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. 7 In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace 7 that he lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him 10 as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. 11 In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplished all things according to the intention of his will, 12 so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ. 13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory.

After St. Paul's greeting, he continues with a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. It was a Jewish custom to use the word "bless" to express both God's kindness to His people and their thankfulness to Him. Paul thanks the Lord for the many blessings Christians have received in their divine election as adopted children in the family of God. Paul's blessing is full of images perhaps been drawn from early Christian hymns and from the liturgy of Christian worship.

Question: What is the significant three-part structure of the hymn in verses 3-14? See verses 3-6, 8 and 11 compared with verses 3, 5, 7-10 and 12, and with verses 13-14.
Answer: A Trinitarian structure is evident in Paul's hymn of thanksgiving: beginning with God the Father (verses 3-6, 8, 11), then God the Son (verses 3, 5, 7-10, 12), and finally the Holy Spirit (verses 13-14).

The three parts of the hymn address:

  1. God the Father's plan of salvation (verses 3-6)
  2. fulfillment through God the Son (verses 7-10)
  3. inheritance through God the Holy Spirit (verses 11-14)

Question: What are the five spiritual blessings that St. Paul lists in verses 4-13?
Answer: Paul lists five spiritual blessings Christians have received through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus:

  1. the call to holiness (verse 4)
  2. the gift of divine adoption that establishes a unique spiritual relationship with the Father through the Son (verse 5)
  3. the liberation from sin through Jesus' sacrificial death (verse 7)
  4. the revelation of God's divine plan of salvation in Christ Jesus (verses 9-10)
  5. the gift of divine election and faith in Christ for "we who first hoped in Christ"= Jewish Christians (verse 12), and the same gift of divine election extended to "you also" = Gentiles Christians (verse 13)

Paul testifies that God's divine plan to bring all creation under the final rule of God the Son was predetermined before "the foundation of the world" (verses 3-5). St. Peter made the same statement: He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave his glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Pt 1:20). It has come upon this generation, Paul declares, for the mystery/secret of God's divine plan to be revealed/made known to those who accept Christ as Savior. God has done this to bring to fulfillment all things in Christ (verses 6, 9, 12, 14).

In verse 5 Paul writes about our "adoption" into the family of God. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote about our "adoption" as sons and daughters of God: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, "Father!" (Rom 8:14-15). Christians, through the presence of God the Holy Spirit within them, have not only new life through the Sacrament of Baptism, but also enjoy a new relationship to God in becoming adopted children and heirs through Jesus Christ, in whose suffering and glory their share.

9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him 10 as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.
The mystery is God's divine plan that had been a secret in previous ages, but has now been revealed to save all of mankind and to "sum up all things in Christ." Part of that mystery is Israel's unbelief in the Messiah that is being used to open the way to grant the light of faith to the Gentiles (see Rom 11:25 and Paul's other references to "the mystery" in Rom 16:25; Col 1:26-27).

12 so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ. 13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory.
In verses 12 and 13, Paul contrasts Jewish Christians with the newly adopted Gentile Christians.
The "we who first hoped" are the children of Israel/Jews who were in covenant union with God since the time of the Patriarchs and who were set apart from the Gentile world as a unified holy people in the Covenant at Sinai. It is to them that the Messiah was first promised, and they were the first to hear Jesus' Gospel of salvation during His earthly ministry. It is the faithful remnant of old Israel who became the ministers of Jesus' kingdom of the "new Israel" that is His Church, and who, like Paul, have carried the Gospel of salvation to "you also," the Gentiles in the congregations of the churches in Asia Minor like Ephesus.

Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are now one in Christ, "sealed" (verse 13) by God the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism. In the Roman world, slaves were marked with an indelible brand or seal as belonging to their master. The Sacrament of Baptism marks the soul of the believer with an indelible spiritual seal and it is for this reason that there can only be one baptism: "Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism form bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated" (CCC 1272; also see Eph 4:5 and CCC 866).

This "seal" of baptism is the "first installment" (verse 14) or down payment by God on the promise of full and eternal salvation, as Paul also wrote to the Christians at Corinth: But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment (2 Cor 1:21-22).

The Unity of the Church in Christ (1:15-2:22)

Ephesians 1:15-23 ~ The Church as Christ's Body
15 Therefore, I, too, hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and of your love for all the holy ones, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. 18 May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

St. Paul is moved to give thanksgiving and to offer a petition to God on behalf of the readers of his letter as he contemplates how wonderful it is to know God's goodness. The "holy ones" or "saints" he refers to in verses 15 and 18 are the faithful in the community of the Church on earth (see the explanation in 1:1). St. Augustine wrote: "To the degree that someone loves Christ's Church, to that degree he has the Holy Spirit" (Treatise on the Gospel of John, 33.8).

Question: What gifts does Paul ask God to give to the readers of his letter in verses 17-20?
Answer: Paul asks that they might receive:

  1. a Spirit of wisdom
  2. a revelation of true knowledge of God
  3. an assurance in the hope of God's call to salvation and the inheritance of eternal life
  4. an appreciation of the greatness of God's power in His gift of salvation to believers in Christ Jesus

Paul's petition for this blessing hinges on Jesus Christ through whom God has revealed His power by giving God the Son dominion over all the earth (verse 20-21) and establishing Him as the Head of the Body of the Church (verses 22-23; also see Rom 12:4ff; 1 Cor 12:12ff). The God whom St. Paul petitions is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." By this phrase Paul is referring to God who has revealed Himself to man through Jesus Christ and to whom Jesus Himself, as a man, prayed and asked for divine assistance (Lk 22:42). It is Jesus Christ to whom God has given all power and authority over every age of man. God has made Him the head of the Church, whose members are His Body and who will inherit, as promised, a share in His glory in "the age to come."

Question: What is "this age" and what is the "age to come"? Heb 2:8b-9; 1 Cor 15:25-28; 1 Thes 4:16; Rev 19:1-9; 20:11-15; 21:1-4.
Answer: "This age" is the present age that is the final age of man and the rule of Christ over the earth through His Body the Church as His Church continues His mission to spread the Gospel of salvation. The "age to come" is when Christ returns in glory to finally destroy death and evil, to claim His Bride, the earthly Church, and reunited His Kingdom on earth with His Kingdom of the saints in Heaven. He will destroy death and sin and will put all the cosmos under His rule as He creates a new Heaven and new earth.

22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and in Romans 12:4-5 Paul writes of the Church as "the body of Christ." But in Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18, Paul further defines Jesus' authority as the "head of the body" that is the Church: He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven (Col 1:18-20).

The "Body of Christ" expresses His spiritual indwelling of the Church, but the expression "head of the Body" puts the emphasis on His divine authority. The Catechism teaches: "As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,' on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom" (CCC 669; quoting Eph 1:22 and 4:11-13; also see CCC 753, 2045).

CHAPTER 2
The Unity of the Church in Christ Continued

St. Paul has declared the greatness of God's power that has been manifested in the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly enthronement of God the Son in Ephesians 1:20-23. In the next chapter, he explains how God's intervention in human history through God the Son and "the surpassing greatness of his power" in raising Jesus to glory has affected "us who believe" (Eph 1:19). St. Paul's explanation is in two parts:

  1. It was God's plan that Christ should reconcile mankind with God (2:1-10).
  2. It was God's plan that Christ should also reconcile all peoples and nations to one another in His Kingdom of the Church (2:11-22).

Ephesians 2:1-3 ~ The Generosity of God's Divine Plan
1 You were dead in your transgressions and sins 2 in which you once lived [peripateo = walked] following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so no one may boast. 10 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

St. Paul is known for his long sentences "it is as though he cannot contain his thoughts that spill out onto the page. Verses 1-7 are one long sentence in the Greek. It is the same in the first seven verses of Paul's letter to the Romans.

Paul turns his attention to his Gentile-Christian readers and makes a startling statement concerning the condition of their lives prior to their conversion. He describes their condition as "dead" before the Sacrament of Baptism, indicating a radically difference in their former lives compared to their present lives as members of the covenant family of the Body of Christ that is the Church.

1 You were dead in your transgressions and sins 2 in which you once lived [peripateo = walked] following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient.
In the Greek Paul uses the word peripateo that literally means "walked." It is a word frequently used in both Old and New Testament Scripture to describe a person's way of life for good or for evil; see for example Genesis 5:24 = Enoch's right relationship with God; Genesis 6:9 = Noah's right relationship with God; Romans 14:15 = those who do not "walk" in love; and 3 John 3 = to "walk" in truth.

Question: How was it that the Gentiles were "dead" prior to Christian Baptism? See verse 5, Jn 3:3-7; Rom 6:4; 1 Pt 1:3 and CCC 654.
Answer: In their past lives, they were spiritually dead to God because they lived/walked in sin "both personal sin and original sin. Therefore, they were incapable of forming a true relationship with the holy One, the True God who is Himself life. It was in the life-transforming event of Christian Baptism that they experienced forgiveness of all sin and through the power of the Holy Spirit were infused with a "new life" and reborn into the family of God.

Question: Who is the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient that Paul refers to in verse 2?
Answer: It is Satan whose influence generates all sin and the temptation to commit sin (concupiscence).

Christians have received their redemption from sin and death through Christ's victory over the powers of Satan (verses 1-2). The forces of evil exert their influence, Paul writes, from the "air" between God's heavenly realm and human beings on the earth.

In verses 4-10 St. Paul states that salvation from sin and death is God's gift of grace that we should accept in faith. The Gospel of salvation (2:3) that God "worked in Christ" (1:20) is generated by God's "great love" (2:4) that is expressed in the work of God the Son for our sake to reconcile us to God. Our hoped for justification and salvation cannot be purchased by good deeds; instead our good deeds should be the manifestation of our purification and gratitude to God for His abundant love and mercy. The sinner who is forgiven and restored to fellowship with God and with the faith community should desire to do something good in return for the gift of God's mercy and grace: by grace you have been saved (2:5).

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus 7 that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Question: What do you notice concerning the Christian's salvation by grace in verses 5 and 6 that closely parallel's Jesus' life? Underline the key words.
Answer: Paul's description of our redemption in Christ's sacrifice, our new life in the Sacrament of Baptism, and hope of a future glorification in the heavenly kingdom intentionally parallels Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension and exultation as he writes, we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus...

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so no one may boast.
Salvation is a gift of God's grace that comes through faith and not by works so no one can claim he has achieved his own salvation. It is the same teaching Paul has given in Galatians 2:16-21 and Romans 3:24-28.

Do not miss the significance of what St. Paul writes in verse 8, For by grace you have been saved through faith... As in Colossians 2:12 and 3:1-4, the use of the past tense shows that the resurrection and glory of Christians in heaven is considered as actually existing as an accomplished event. In other words, the victory has been won by Jesus Christ; all we have to do is to have the faith to claim the victory in our journey to salvation. It is another example that one's salvation is not a one-time event but is a process which is expressed in the letters of St. Paul in the past, present, and future tenses. As Christians who are God's masterwork, having received the gift of grace through baptism, we must therefore live our new life as befits us and ratify God's calling and choice of each of us for eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven (2 Pt 1:10).

10 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.
Christians are a newly created people by God the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism, which Jesus commanded is necessary for salvation: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mk 16:16; CCC 1253, 1256, 1257). We cannot achieve our own salvation through good works, but we were created as a spiritual people in Christ Jesus for "the good works that God has prepared in advance that we should live in them" "we do good because we are saved "not in order to be saved.

Ephesians 2:11-18 ~ The Church's Unity as One Flock in Christ
11 Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision, which is done in the flesh by human hands, 12 were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, 15 abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile both with God, in one body through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

St. Paul writes about the Gospel of salvation that God worked in Christ for all peoples "the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles. Notice he writes of God's "covenants" plural. See the chart on the covenants in the handouts.
Question: How many covenants did God form prior to the Advent of Christ? How many of those covenants were with individuals and how many with a body of people as a "corporate" covenant? How many covenants were formed after the coming of the Christ and what kind of covenant was it?
Answer: There were seven covenants with God prior to the Advent of Christ. All were with individuals and their families until the Sinai Covenant that was a corporate covenant "a covenant with a group of people as one body. The eighth covenant is the eternal covenant with Christ Jesus and His Church. It is a corporate covenant where Christ is one with His Church that is His Body.

Question: Who are the ones who once "were far off" and those "who were near" in verses 13 and 17?
Answer: The Gentiles, those who were once "far off" (verse 13) did not have the Jews', "those who were near" (verse 17).

The Gentiles lacked knowledge of the One, true God, worshipped false gods, and they had no hope of salvation because they did not have the messianic expectation promised by the prophets. But through Christ Jesus all these barriers between Jews and Gentiles have been transcended (verses 13-14) by Jesus' fulfillment of the cultic rituals of the old Mosaic Law like circumcision, dietary requirements, and animal sacrifice (verse 15a). Christ, "our peace" (verse 14) has brought us the spiritual peace of being reconciled with God the Father (Jn 14:27; Rom 5:1; CCC 2305). In Christ Jews (the circumcised) and Gentiles (the uncircumcised) are united into a single religious community (verses 15b-16), and imbued with the same Holy Spirit they worship the same God and Father (verse 18).

Ephesians 2:19-22 ~ Citizens of the Household of God
19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. 21 Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; 22 in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

The divisions among peoples and their nations are now removed because all who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior are citizens of Christ's Kingdom of the Church and members of God's holy family—the "household of God." It is a "household" built upon the foundation laid down by the Apostles and Christian prophets (Ephesians 6:5Mt 5:17; Lk 24:27, 44-45; CCC 542-43).

with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. 21 Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; 22 in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
A "capstone" or "keystone" is the finishing stone in a structure, like the stone in the top of an arch that held the entire arch together "without the capstone/keystone the arch would collapse. It is also a word used to signify a crowning achievement. Jesus is both. The Holy of Holies of the desert Sanctuary and then in the Jerusalem Temple was the dwelling place of God under the Sinai Covenant. These were manmade structures. But for the New Covenant Church, Christ is the "capstone" that is not build of the material but the spiritual, and He holds the entire structure of the Church in place that is built upon the foundation of the Apostles appointed by Jesus and God's prophets of the Old Testament who prophesized Jesus' Advent that is the crowning achievement of God's plan in salvation history. In the New Covenant, Christ resides in the heart of every Christian, and every Christian becomes a Temple that is the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: How is the New Covenant in Christ similar to the Sinai Covenant and how is it different? How did the Sinai Covenant prepare us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Question: If the bodies of those who profess Christ as Savior in the Sacrament of Baptism become temples of the Holy Spirit, what special obligation do we have to take care of our bodies both spiritually and physically?

Endnotes:
1. "In Ephesus" is missing from important early manuscripts such as the 3rd century document designated P-4b, the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (4th century). However, the missing segment appears as a gloss in the Codex Vaticanus in the 5th century.
2. The city of Ephesus ceased to be an important trading center by the Medieval Period when the building up of silt over the years from the Cayster River had extended the coastline so far to the west that Ephesus was no longer a port city with a harbor on the sea, and the city was abandoned.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson: * indicates Scripture quoted in the citation
Ephesians Chapter 1 Catechism reference Ephesians Chapter 2 Catechism reference
1:3-14 CCC 2627*, 2641* 2:3 CCC 2515*
1:3-6 CCC 381*, 1077 2:4-5 CCC 654*
1:3 CCC 492, 1671 2:4 CCC 211, 1073
1:4-5 CCC 52*, 257 2:6 CCC 1003, 2796
1:4 CCC 492*, 796*, 865*, 1426, 2807* 2:14 CCC 2305
1:5-6 CCC 294 2:16 CCC 2305
1:6 CCC 1083 2:19-22 CCC 756*
1:7 CCC 517*, 2839 2:20 CCC 857
1:9-11 CCC 2823 2:21 CCC 797*
1:9 CCC 257, 1066, 2603, 2807*    
1:10 CCC 608, 722, 1043, 2748*    
1:13-14 CCC 706, 1274*    
1:13 CCC 693, 698    
1:14 CCC 1107*    
1:16-23 CCC 2632*    
1:18 CCC 158    
1:19-22 CCC 272, 648*    
1:20-22 CCC 668    
1:22-23 CCC 830*    
1:22 CCC 669*, 753*, 2045*    

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016