Ephesians: some background

20 August 2014

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a precious jewel in the New Testament. Although short (six chapters), it is packed full of profound theology and practical, gospel-centred instruction for all of life. It has been treasured by Christians down through the centuries and was apparently the reformer John Calvin’s favourite book of the Bible. We have the enormous privilege of studying it together at TCC over the coming months. This post gives some background to our Ephesians series

When was Ephesians written? Probably in AD62, when Paul was in prison in Rome (see Acts 28). He mentions his imprisonment several times in this letter (3.1, 4.1, 6.20).

What is Ephesians about? There are three big interwoven themes to notice as we study Ephesians:

  1. The Gospel centre: God is reconciling (or ‘summing up’) all things in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the focal point in whom God has chosen to bring harmony to all things; Jesus is the sphere in which all things are going to be ‘summed up’. The scholar Klyne Snodgrass has written, ‘the understanding of the gospel in Ephesians challenges and redefines the superficial understanding of the gospel prevalent in our day’.
  2. Our true identity in Christ: Ephesians is full of reminders about who we once were, but who we now are in Christ. As such, this letter is a guidebook to ‘who I am in Christ’.
  3. God’s plans in and through the church. In Ephesians we learn that the people of God are His body, building, temple, bride, new humanity, and family. Indeed, in 3.10, Paul says that the wisdom of God is being made known to the spiritual authorities through the church; Biblical scholar Peter O’Brien comments, ‘the very existence of the church, this new multiracial community in which Jews and Gentiles have been brought together in unity in one body, is itself the manifestation of God’s richly diverse wisdom…The church is not only the pattern, but also the means God is using to show that His purposes are moving triumphantly to their climax’.

Some background to the ancient city of Ephesus:

In Acts 19 we read of how the gospel took root in Ephesus, and in Acts 20.17-38 we can read the account of Paul’s instructions and farewell to the church leaders in Ephesus. We know that Timothy became one of the pastors of the church in Ephesus, and the letter of 1 Timothy contains Paul’s instructions to him regarding the Ephesian church. The following quotation is taken from the ESV Study Bible:

Ephesus was a city fascinated by magic and the occult. This helps explain Paul’s emphasis on the power of God over all heavenly authorities and on Christ’s triumphant ascension as head over the church and over all things in this age and the next. The Ephesians needed to be reminded of these things in order to remain resolute in their allegiance to Christ as the supreme power in the world and in their lives.

Ephesus was a major city on the west coast of Asia (modern-day Turkey), and was the proud location of the temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world), as well as a huge theatre which could hold 20,000 people. Many citizens of Ephesus were very wealthy, and much of this economic prosperity was linked to the temple of Artemis. In Acts 19 we see that a riot was caused due to the impact the gospel was having on sales of idols in the city.

You can follow along with the Ephesians series, and download an accompanying study guide, on our Ephesians series page here.

This blog post was written by Dan Martin.