Ephesians was probably written around AD 60–62 toward the end of the apostle Paul’s (first) Roman imprisonment as he was awaiting trial before the emperor Nero. The epistle is addressed to the saints in Ephesus, one of the leading cities on the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). During this period, Ephesus, originally a Greek colony with Hellenistic political and social institutions, was slowly recovering from various earlier wars and earthquakes and transitioning into a Roman administrative capital for the region. In this letter Paul gives a vivid, rich, and full expression to his audience’s status as full citizens of “the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph 5:5) and brings out many implications of this privileged status for us. Furthermore, Paul’s secondary purpose is to assure his audience that they must not lose heart when they hear of his imprisonment (esp. Eph 3:13 in context).
What Is the Theme of Ephesians?
Ephesians is a favorite book for many Christians today for good reason. It contains much that is powerful, profound, and compelling. The focus of Ephesians can be summarized as Paul’s call for unity in the inaugurated new creation. Paul expands on this theme by opening his epistle with a benediction and teaching on the church’s unity as it is rooted in the counsel of God’s eternal will and then in his redemptive accomplishment in the incarnate Son sealed to believers in the Holy Spirit. This redemption is granted as a free gift to sinful and lost humans by faith alone. But true faith is never alone, so the apostle urges his readers to manifest their living faith through love toward God and their neighbors. In the church this love is demonstrated especially by each member working for “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
Why Was Ephesians Written?
There are many elements in Ephesians that are particularly aimed at a world dominated by paganism and its “magical” practices. Curse spells, love charms, warding off the evil eye, and demon possession were all a daily part of the lives of Ephesians as evidenced by their large and expensive library on the subject (Acts 19:19). Sent into that cultural witches’ brew, the epistle to the Ephesians shines with a powerful blaze of hope. The ascended Christ Jesus has conquered the old powers that used to keep the Ephesians captive and hopeless, “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), and he rules supreme over a new creation which he has inaugurated with his resurrection and ascent to all power both in this age and in the world to come (see comments on Eph 1:15–23).
How Is This Commentary Unique?
Although this short commentary will sacrifice many of the finer points of interpretation, the notes will highlight this inauguration of the new creation theme throughout the epistle. Each section will open with a single sentence “thesis statement,” providing an anchor point to orient the reader to the unity of the passage as each verse unfolds. Thesis statements are particularly helpful for preaching and teaching, keeping speakers away from fascinating but distracting rabbit trails that impede the overall meaning of the text.
In Ephesians, Paul teaches that the Christian church consisting of people from all nations and ethnic groups enjoys and must maintain unity in the inaugurated new creation of which they are fellow heirs with Christ.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
— Ephesians 2:8–10 ESV
I. Letter Opening (1:1–2)
A. Author and audience (1:1)
B. Apostolic benediction (1:2)
II. Opening Benediction (1:3–14)
A. For the Father’s eternal, gracious purpose (1:3–6a)
B. For the Son’s climactic redemptive accomplishment (1:6b–10)
C. For the Spirit’s down payment of the new creation (1:11–14)
III. Paul’s Prayer Report for Insight (1:15–23)
A. When and how Paul is praying (1:15–16)
B. Object of this prayer for the audience (1:17–18b)
C. Content of insight for which Paul prays (1:18c–19)
D. Expansion on Christ’s exaltation in power over creation (1:20–21)
E. Christ’s exaltation and the church (1:22–23)
IV. Deliverance from death to life in Christ (2:1–10)
A. The old life in death (2:1–3)
B. Even while dead, believers are made alive in Christ’s life (2:4–7)
C. Expansion on this new life as a divine work leading to new obedience (2:8–10)
V. The unified new creation inaugurated (2:11–22)
A. Gentile separation from Israel and from God (2:11–12)
B. Christ has united Gentiles with the saints into a new human race (2:13–18)
C. The unified church household as new creation temple (2:19–22)
VI. The Mystery of Redemption and its Revelation (3:1–13)
A. Opening to (Delayed) Prayer (3:1)
B. Redemptive Revelation as a Mystery (3:2–7)
C. The Revelation of this Mystery (3:8–12)
D. Conclusion Not to Grow Disheartened (3:13)
VII. Paul’s Resumed Prayer (3:14–21)
A. Posture of Prayer before the Father (3:14–15)
B. Report of Content of Intercession for Audience (3:16–19)
C. Concluding Blessing of God (3:20–21)
VIII. Paul’s Exhortation to Unity in Love (4:1–6)
A. The Exhortation Proper (4:1–3)
B. The Basis of the Exhortation (4:4–6)
IX. Gifts from the Ascended Messiah to Unify His Church (4:7–16)
A. Gifts from Christ’s Triumphant Victory and Ascent (4:7–10)
B. Word-Based Church Officers as Gifts for Edification (4:11–13)
C. The Outcome of the Gifts in Operation (4:14–16)
X. The New Way of Life Versus the Old (4:17–24)
A. Solemn exhortation to turn away from the old life (4:17a)
B. The old life is futility, ignorance, and impurity (4:17b–19)
C. Converts to Christ have made a definitive break with the past (4:20–24)
XI. The New Creation Walk in Love (4:25–5:2)
A. In word (4:25)
B. In thought (4:26–27)
C. In deed (4:28)
D. In word again (4:29)
E. In thought and word (4:31–32)
XII. The Saints and the Sinful World (5:3–14)
A. The sinful world’s practices (5:3–5)
B. Exhortation to resist enticements of the world (5:6)
C. Central exhortation (5:7)
D. Walk wisely in the light and bear its fruit (5:8–14)
XIII. Summarizing Exhortation to the Whole Church (5:15–21)
A. Walk in wisdom not folly (5:15–17)
B. Not in drunken excess and license (5:18a)
C. The church in God’s presence in the Spirit as the new temple and priesthood (5:18b)
XIV. Exhortations to Christian Households (5:22–6:9)
A. To Wives and Husbands (5:22–33)
B. To Children and Parents in the Lord (6:1–4)
C. To Slaves and Masters in the Lord (6:5–9)
XIV. The Church Equipped for Her Struggle (6:10–20)
A. Urged to stand fast in the spiritual struggle (6:10–13)
B. Urged to stand fast in the Lord’s battle armor (6:14–17)
C. Urged to persevering prayer (6:18–20)
XVI. Concluding Thoughts and Benediction (6:21–24)
A. The ministry of Tychicus (6:21–22)
B. The closing apostolic blessing (6:23–24)
Letter Opening (1:1–2)
In this section, Paul opens his letter by identifying both himself and his audience and then pronouncing an apostolic benediction for “grace and peace” on his readers/hearers.
Letter openings like 1:1–2 are standard elements in NT epistles. The one thing that makes the opening of Ephesians distinctive and controversial is that the words which identify the audience as “in Ephesus” are missing in some key early manuscripts, but it is best to read this as a simple omission because the text makes no sense if the phrase is missing. The opening of Ephesians is otherwise much the same as most of the other Pauline epistles.
Opening Benediction (1:3–14)
In this section, Paul blesses the Father for his eternally planned and graciously executed redemption on behalf of all his elect in his Son and sealed to them through the Holy Spirit.
Paul opens his epistle with praise and wonder at God’s lavish grace in Christ. The sub-text is that Paul’s praise teaches us these things and how we should also overflow with praise and thanks to God.
The praise in this section of Ephesians takes the form of a common Jewish “blessing” of God which Jewish people would recite throughout the day and is known by the Hebrew word for blessing, a berekah (plural, berekoth). This form of prayer is very ancient and common in the OT also: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem” (Gen 9:26); “Blessed be God Most High” (Gen 14:20); “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (e.g., 1Kgs 1:48; 1Chron 16:36; 2Chron 2:12; 6:4; cf. many of the Psalms, e.g., Pss 28:6; 31:21; 41:13; 72:18; 89:52; 106:48).
The introduction of this berekah is found verbatim also in 2 Corinthians 1:3 and 1 Peter 1:3; the common designation of God as “the Lord, the God of Israel,” however, is replaced here by “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This clearly expresses that God has changed his name, as it were, to include his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, who is the mediator of both Jew and Gentile, through whom all can now have access to the living God (see Eph 2:11–13).
This long blessing in 1:3–14 has repeated ideas that occur where the reader of the letter would naturally take a breath and at the beginning of the following section. The effect is to build up the focus upon God the Father and what he has done in Christ through the Spirit: “insofar as he chose us. . . . in love he predestined us . . . which he bestowed on us . . . which he lavished upon us” etc. and at the end of the sections: “in Christ . . . before him . . . glory of his grace . . . his grace . . . his good pleasure . . . in him . . . in Christ . . . the promised Holy Spirit . . . to the praise of his glory.”
The long praise in this passage ends with a splendid statement of how the Holy Spirit seals believers as God’s prized possession whom he has redeemed in Christ (cf. Acts 20:28; 1Thes 5:9; 2Thes 2:14; Titus 2:14; 1Pet 2:9). All believers today are God’s inheritance as were the Levites under the old covenant in fulfillment of his promise in Malachi: “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession” (Mal 3:17). Here is my translation of Ephesians 1:13–14 which brings this out: “in whom you as well, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also when you believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is a down payment of our inheritance for redemption of his prized possession for the praise of his glory.”
Paul’s Prayer Report for Insight (1:15–23)
In this section, Paul reports on his prayers for the recipients’ deeper understanding of God himself and of his redemptive gifts and power for his people in Christ.
This passage is itself not a prayer but a report of Paul’s intercession on the Ephesians’ behalf. In the opening of his other epistles, Paul often mentions that he is praying for his correspondents and gives some indication of the content of those prayers (Rom 1:9–10; 1Cor 1:4; Phil 1:3–4; Col 1:3–4; 1Thes 1:2–3; 2Tim 1:3; Phlm 4–5). In Ephesians 1:15–23, Paul subtly turns this prayer report into a vehicle to partially accomplish his prayer by instruction in some of the profound truths that he hopes his audience will grow to see with “the eyes of your heart”; in particular, he helps them to grasp the sovereign power of God applied to them in the exalted Messiah in 1:18–23.
This section picks up certain threads from 1:3–14 about the believers’ redemptive inheritance (1:3, 14, 18), the revelation of the knowledge of God (1:8–9, 17), and the all-encompassing sovereign centrality of Christ in this age (1:10, 20–22) and develops them further. Paul is also laying the basis here for certain themes to be developed as the epistle unfolds, especially in the next section (2:1–10).
Power over supernatural forces through magic and the occult was a great concern at ancient Ephesus (Acts 19:19), but the power of the living God in Christ trumps all competing authorities (Acts 19:20; Phil 2:9–11). When Christ Jesus was raised from the dead and seated in heavenly glory and power, it marks the beginning of the new creation (Rev 21:1–7). But he is not absent from his people ever (Matt 28:20; John 14:18); indeed, as Ephesians 1:22–23 expresses, his church is a new temple which he inhabits in fullness. I attempt to bring these things out in the following translation of parts of the passage:
16 . . . I have been making mention of you in my prayers . . . 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may grant you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 and that the eyes of your heart be enlightened, so that you may understand what is the hope of his calling, what is the glorious wealth of his inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the superabundant magnitude of his power toward us who believe in accordance with the effectiveness of the strength of his might 20 which he effected in the Messiah by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the high-heavenlies, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and lordship and every name that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come, 22 and “he put everything under his feet” and gave him as head over and above everything in the church 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything entirely.
Deliverance from Death to Life in Christ (2:1–10)
In this section, Paul instructs his audience regarding their former utter hopelessness and guilt under the evil inclinations of this age and then expands on the entirely gracious intervention of God on their behalf when he raised and exalted Christ and freed them for grateful obedience as part of the new creation in Christ for his glory.
Everyone has favorite passages in biblical books, and this is probably mine for Ephesians. The passage is rugged in style and very complex—typically Pauline! But it also overflows with the grace of God in what is otherwise our hopeless situation. And what hope we have!
Paul had just reported in Ephesians 1:15–23 on his prayers for the Ephesian church’s understanding of God’s work on their behalf in Christ. There, the exaltation of Christ to supreme power over all competing cosmic forces was emphasized along with its benefits for the church. As Ephesians 2:1–10 opens, though, Paul dwells briefly on the fact that this work was accomplished for God’s people at the very time when they were God’s vile, willing enemies (“dead in transgressions and sins . . . performing the will of the flesh”). Because of this initial focus, we can see that Paul’s overarching concern here is to stress that believers’ deliverance is entirely a divine act of grace. Furthermore, we see particularly in the verbs in 2:5–6 a development of the idea of believers’ union with Christ which Paul had been working with in 1:19–20.
The grammatical and rhetorical complexity of 2:1–10 makes it exceedingly difficult to render into smooth English. The English versions typically break this passage into multiple sentences and turn the phrases in 2:1 and 2:5 (“and you—even though you were dead . . . even though we were dead”) into independent statements. These phrases, however, are connected to the verbs in 2:5–6 (“co-made alive with Christ . . . and co-raised and co-seated”) as their direct objects. As a result, the opening in 2:1–3 creates severe tension and would lead to our despair when Paul recounts our utterly lost condition before God so richly and graciously intervened in Christ to deliver us precisely when we were his willing enemies (cf. Rom 5:6–11).
The whole of Ephesians 2:1–10 is unified by repeated words “by grace are you saved” (2:5, 8) and the stark contrast between the old walk “in transgressions and sins” and “in accordance with the age of this world . . . in the lusts of our flesh.” But God, because of his wealth of mercy and love (2:4) decisively intervened and raised us with his incarnate Son. We were dead in sin, but he made us alive with Christ Jesus and seated us with him in the high-heavenlies by grace. But then God does not leave us seated and inactive—he has started the new creation in us that we might start walking in good works of the new heavens and new earth (2:10). None of this originates from us but is a gift from God (2:8–9).
The Unified New Creation Inaugurated (2:11–22)
In this section, Paul asks his Gentile audience to recall their prior lost condition, and then he teaches about how Christ has brought them peace and unified them with the saints as a new, eschatological human race and is building them up in an inaugurated new creation household and temple.
The theme of new creation had been introduced in Ephesians 2:10 but is expanded upon here in 2:11–22, where the church is “one new human race” or “new man.” Earlier in Ephesians, God the Father had been at the center of the action, but now the focus falls on Jesus Christ and his redemption as the one performing his unifying work in the church.
This whole section has an essential unity but is divided grammatically and thematically into three “movements.” In them, Paul moves from a reminder of Gentile separation from Israel and thereby separation from God (2:11–12) to the work of Christ to unite these estranged Gentiles with the OT and newly emerging NT saints in a new creation (2:13–18). He concludes by teaching that the new, united church is growing into a new creation temple and household (2:19–22).
The Ephesian Gentiles to whom Paul is writing had many gods: international gods (Acts 15:11–13), state gods like Artemis of Ephesus (Acts 19:24–36), gods of one’s clan, household gods, indeed, there were gods on every corner (Acts 17:16, 23). However, “the gods of the peoples are worthless idols” (Ps 96:5); there is only one “living and true God” (1Thes 1:9). To be without him is to be “without God in the world” and therefore to have no hope.
The old division of all people into two classifications: Jew or Gentile (Acts 14:5; Rom 3:29; 9:24; 1Cor 1:23) or Jews and Greeks (John 7:35; Acts 14:1; 18:4; Rom 3:9; 1Cor 1:22, 24; etc.) has been transcended by a new entity in Christ: “the church of God” (1Cor 10:32). Now, in the church, through Christ Jesus we have the rule of “peace” (Eph 2:14) and reconciliation in “one body” (2:16–17). After stating this, Paul then shifts to citizenship language (2:19) with which his Ephesian audience could relate since they lived in a city where only a small handful of residents had this prized status (Phil 3:20–21). All Christians have this coveted status of citizens in the kingdom of God, the new creation. This is our heavenly homeland forever (cf. Col 3:1–4; Heb 11:13–16).
Furthermore, Christ’s people, the saints, are now all members of God’s family, his “household.” Once Paul brings in the term “household,” he moves in Ephesians 2:20–22 to portraying the church as a house, indeed a house where God dwells with his people, a new temple (cf. 2Sam 15:25; Ezra 7:15; 1Pet 2:5). Gentile believers who are brought near to God in Christ are no longer “without God in the world”! He is their God and they are his people forever (e.g., Rev 21:3).
The Mystery of Redemption and its Revelation (3:1–13)
In this section, Paul pauses to assure his Gentile audience that his imprisonment does not mean that God has rejected him from his apostolic office so as to compromise their inheritance in Christ.
Paul opens with an intention to express praise flowing from the truths of Ephesians 1–2 and his hope for his reader’s further sanctification. Yet he was diverted from this purpose in 3:1 when he identifies himself as a prisoner, which called for some clarifications in 3:2–13 (cf. Eph 6:19–20).
This kind of diversion is not unusual for Paul, and in fact, is a pretty clear indication that Ephesians is indeed Pauline and not a forgery. This digression happens also in Romans 5:12, where Paul starts to say something, gets sidetracked by important background information and qualifications, and resumes what he was going to say in Romans 5:18. In Ephesians 3:1–13, it is easy to see where he was going at the end of chapter 2 by skipping directly to 3:14 and reading from there. You do not want to skip 3:1–13, of course, because it is a very important digression, but that is how to trace the flow of this text.
What is the point of the digression in 3:2–13? One common view interprets this section as Paul defending his apostolic office and authority. Yet, this does not seem to fit the matters Paul covers in Ephesians in general, and there is no evidence of a challenge to his apostolic position at Ephesus.
Perhaps Paul swerved from his intended track when he mentioned his imprisonment in 3:1. Paul felt like this called for explanation as seen in his conclusion in 3:13: “I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, which is your glory.” Paul anticipates that there is an apparent disconnect between the exultant victory and enthronement of Christ to all authority in this age in the church that he had just taught on (i.e., Eph 1–2) and his imprisonment and therefore the apparent defeat and impotence of Christ’s apostolic representative to the nations. How does the Messiah reign if his people suffer at the hands of a conquered world? The digression is an answer to this irony. Paul may be in chains, but the gospel is not hindered, and Christ does indeed rule. And the world’s hatred and mistreatment of Christians serves only to expand the church as the early church father, Tertullian, grasped: “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.”
The basic structure of 3:1–13 consists of the opening to Paul’s intended discussion (3:1), the digression (3:2–12), and the reason for the digression and expression of Paul’s desire for the audience’s encouragement (3:13). In the first half (3:1–7), Paul explains that his call to the apostleship was specifically “on behalf of you Gentiles” (3:1b; cf. 3:2b, 13b). In this light, Paul interprets his office as a gift, not for his own glory and prestige, but for his audience’s (3:13); hence, he is a servant in chains. In the second half of this section (3:8–13), Paul expands on his unique office as apostle to the Gentiles and the cosmic purpose of God to establish the glory of his grace before all creation.
Paul’s Resumed Prayer (3:14–21)
In this section, Paul resumes his praise to the Father and reports on his prayers that God would dwell with his audience and that they would grow in love and the knowledge of the Lord.
As shown in the discussion of the previous passage, 3:14–21 expresses what Paul had begun to say earlier in 3:1. This section, then, is a resumption of the thought which Paul had broken off with his digression in 3:2–13.
Ephesians 3:14–21 is itself a form of intercessory prayer (or “intercessory prayer-report”). It certainly opens with that in mind in 3:14–15, yet, like 1:15–23 earlier, in 3:16–19 Paul speaks to his audience (“that he may grant you”; 3:16) rather than to God and thereby allows them to listen in as he intercedes for them. And Paul seems to transition into a report of his prayer on their behalf and then to expand on the content of what he wants God to give them. Prayer, petition, praise, intercession, and thanksgiving (Eph 6:18; cf. Phil 4:6; 1Tim 2:1–2) are behind what Paul says in this passage, and it is finished off with a blessing of God in Ephesians 3:20–21 (a form of prayer), which concludes the whole of the first half of the epistle. Hence, this section is both a prayer report and a form of prayer mixed together.
Paul’s Exhortation to Unity in Love (4:1–6)
In this section, Paul strongly urges the church to unity in love based on the truths of the one God, his calling, and his one work of redemption.
In 4:1, Paul transitions from the first part of his epistle, which has focused on doctrinal instruction related to believers’ redemption, to unfolding exhortations specifying their obedience that must flow from the divine grace of their deliverance and from the work of the Holy Spirit in them (cf. esp. 2:10). The ideal of the church’s unity and love is central not only to 4:1–6 but to much of what Paul has to say in this chapter and beyond.
This section fits into a larger section consisting of Ephesians 4:1–16 as its introduction and statement of the main theme of new creational unity. Believers are called to maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3) purchased for us at such great cost by the “one Lord” Jesus Christ (4:5) bringing us into the “one faith” through “one baptism” (4:5) into intimate fellowship with the “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:6). Love thoroughly permeates the only kind of life that is worthy of the calling that God has extended to us by summoning us “into his own kingdom and glory” (1Thes 2:12; cf. Eph 5:5; 2Thes 1:11).
Gifts from the Ascended Messiah to Unify His Church (4:7–16)
In this section, Paul sketches out the triumphant Lord’s provision for his church’s protection and growth in unity and love.
As mentioned above, this is the second part of the larger passage spanning Ephesians 4:1–16. This last section consisting of 4:7–16 does have its own intrinsic unity even though it is intimately wedded with section one (4:1–6). The tie between 4:1–6 and 4:7–16 is seen in the repetition of the adjective “one” used seven times in 4:4–6 and used in an unusual expression (“each one”) in 4:7 and 16.
Ephesians 4:7–16 comprises a brief sketch of major theological ideas because Paul has already opened the exhortation portion of his epistle in 4:1 with the classic line, “I therefore strongly urge you” (cf. Rom 12:1; 1Cor 4:16; 2Cor 10:1; 1Tim 2:1). In 4:7–16, however, Paul breaks off the exhortation proper in order to establish the basis for this exhortation in the work of God in Christ more directly related to his exhortation than was already done in Ephesians 1–3. It is not until later in the chapter (4:25–26) that Paul returns to his exhortation regarding truthful speech in love, which expresses and makes concrete the type of gentleness and patient forbearance in love he had called for earlier (4:1–3).
Two portions of 4:7–16 are among the most discussed in Ephesians. The first is Paul’s use of Psalm 68 in 4:7–10 to prepare the way for understanding the word-based ministries in the church as Christ’s own provision for his body (4:11–16). The second entails how exactly to read and to interpret certain phrases in 4:11–12: “pastors and [separate] teachers” or “pastor-teachers” (4:11) and whether the saints in general engage in “the task of ministry” or not (4:12). It is easy to get overwhelmed in the surge of scholarly work on these issues, but the details of what Paul says should not overshadow the big idea: Christ’s gifting of the church in his triumph was to bring about unifying, truth-telling lives of edification and love among his people.
How Does Ephesians Use Psalm 68?
Psalm 68:18 reads: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there,” which Paul quotes in Ephesians 4:8 as “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” The obvious difference is that in the Psalm, the Lord receives gifts and in Ephesians he gives them. How do we resolve the differences? Has Paul simply misquoted the Psalm?
The solution comes when we recognize a common feature of New Testament practice: an author may quote only a verse or two from an Old Testament passage but has the whole context in mind that should be brought in to understand how the text is used and interpreted. In this instance, Psalm 68 is a clear portrayal of the Lord as a triumphant warrior who delivers his people from his and their enemies in salvation from death (Ps 68:20), and then the song lauds his victorious ascent to dwell among his people in peace. The women divide up the spoils of battle (Ps 68:12), and the conquered kings of the earth bear gifts of tribute to the divine Victor (Ps 68:29) as the whole world is called-on to worship the Lord (Ps 68:31–32). Then the Lord, enthroned in his holy place (Ps 68:24) with his loyal subjects attending him, distributes “power and strength to his people” (Ps 68:35). This last verse is what informs Paul’s statement that the Lord gives gifts at his ascent in triumph as the Gentiles stream in to worship the Lord. This latter as well as the Lord’s largess from the riches of his grace are prominent concerns throughout Ephesians (e.g., Eph 1:15–23; 2:11–22; 3:5–13) and can be seen when the whole of Psalm 68 is read as influencing Paul’s quotation of only a snippet in Ephesians 4:8.
The New Way of Life Versus the Old (4:17–24)
In this section, Paul solemnly continues his exhortation that his audience live new lives of inaugurated new creation in contrast with their old, corrupted mind-set and practices that still characterize the nations.
The solemnity of Paul’s speech in 4:17–24 is signaled by the unusual combination of “I declare” and “I testify.” But the note of solemnity needs to be explained. This attitude arises because Paul has just taught in 4:7–16 about the risen, exalted Messiah’s provision for his church to grow in holiness and because of what he will now say about their own participation in the new creation (4:22–24). This lends a note of urgency for believers to abandon their former lives and to join in communal, new creation existence characterized by genuine righteousness and devotion to the Lord.
The exhortation in 4:17–24, however, does not get very far. It is essentially just restating 4:17 as Paul gets caught up again with elaborating on both what causes and what is wrong with the old life of sin (cf. Rom 1:21–24) and on the radical transformation of life God has brought about in Christ for his people. Not until Ephesians 4:25—in the next passage—does Paul begin his more sustained exhortations to Christian ethical practices, exhortations he more-or-less keeps up until the end of the epistle.
The heart of 4:17–24 is found in 4:21–24 where Paul says that Christians have been brought by God in Christ into real, living contact with new creation transformation in our inner selves. There are two ways to read 4:22–24 in particular: as an exhortation or as a statement of fact. Many modern English translations read these verses as Paul urging Christians “to put off your old self . . . to be renewed . . . and to put on the new self.” Although this is grammatically possible, it is not what Paul is saying: he says that once a Christian has received Christ, he or she performs these actions because they have (already) been transformed into members of a new human race of the new creation. Here is how I translate Ephesians 4:22–24:
For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, since truth is in Jesus, 22 that you have shed your old man, in regard to your former manner of life, which is perishing due to its deceitful desires, 23 and that you are undergoing renewal in the spirit of your minds, 24 and that you have donned the new man who was created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and devotion.
This reading of 4:22–24 is preferred for three reasons. First, these must be statements of fact and not exhortations because Paul uses them as the basis for his exhortations beginning in 4:25, indicated when he says, “For this reason” or “Therefore,” and tells his audience how to live in light of the truths about themselves. It makes no sense to say that they were told “to put aside their old man” then to conclude from this that they must “put aside” falsehood. Exhortations flow as conclusions from facts, not from other exhortations (e.g., Eph 4:1; 5:7; Rom 6:12; 15:7; 1Cor 14:13; Gal 5:1; Col 2:16; 1Thes 5:11).
Secondly, Paul says the Ephesians learned Christ, heard of him, and were taught in him as truth over against the futility of their former lives. In the background of this distinction between truth and futility is the new creation, and Paul expresses their own participation in that new creation as “the new man who was created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and devotion” (4:24). These are truths about Christians in other parts of Ephesians (e.g., Eph 2:1–10, 15; 5:8) and elsewhere, not things they can perform.
Finally, in Christ, believers have “shed,” stripped off, and discarded their old man. He is dead—and good riddance. As the early church father, John Chrysostom says: “Our first man is buried: buried not in earth but in water, not death-destroyed but buried by death’s destroyer” (Chrysostom, Hom. Col., 7). This is the foundation of all Christian ethics: the old has passed away and the new has dawned in bright array (Eph 5:8, 14; 2Cor 5:17). Believers have died with Christ on the cross along with the slavery to sin that marked the old life in Adam (Rom 6:8; Gal 2:20; 5:24; 6:14; Col 2:20; 3:3; cf. Eph 2:5). This is stated as a truth of Christians in Colossians 3:9–10 (“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”) as well as threading through Romans 6:1–23.
Paul assumes the truths of Ephesians 4:22–24 to be a key part of all Christian catechism (4:21) and the believer’s death with Christ states the negative side of regeneration while 4:23–24 is the positive. Paul will put this dynamic another way soon: “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8, emphasis added).
The New Creation Walk in Love (4:25–5:2)
In this section, Paul continues his instruction on how citizens of the new creation are to walk together in love, thought, word, and deed.
This is a place where the chapter division has to be over-ridden to keep related material together since 5:1–2 belongs with 4:25–32 (and connects also with 5:3–14, to follow). Furthermore, the unity of the whole passage revolves around the theme provided in 5:2, “walk in love” which illustrates the new creation life in true righteousness and devotion (4:24). This simple theme of walking in love connects further with earlier verses, so that we see in 4:25–5:2 a sketch of what it means to walk in a manner worthy of one’s calling (4:1) and not in the way of the unbelieving Gentiles (4:17; cf. 5:8, 15).
Paul had opened the previous two sections (4:1–16 and 4:17–24) with exhortations, but he was then slightly diverted with theological truths or divine redemptive provisions that bear on the rationale and power for Christian behavior. In 4:25–5:2, Paul finally seems ready to elaborate on the kind of practices that must characterize true believers. He does deal further with rationale for specific instruction, but at most, he reminds the audience of the Holy Spirit’s sealing work in 4:30 (from 1:13–14) and by holding up God’s loving forgiveness and self-sacrificial redemption in his Son as providing the believer’s model for a life of love (4:32–5:2).
In 4:26, Paul is not ordering Christians to get angry, since outbursts of anger are sinful (see Eph 4:31; Gal 5:20; Col 3:8; etc.). Rather he is saying that if we should be overcome with anger, we must deal with it and work to resolve it promptly before it has a chance to fester into a hardened grudge, revenge, or other evils.
In Ephesians 4:28, Paul uses the thief to illustrate how repentance impacts lifestyle. Repentance involves both stopping (negative) and starting (positive). The thief must stop stealing and start doing honest work. Stealing arises out of laziness and greed, so notice how Paul counters these evil traits by saying that the repentant thief must be the opposite: diligent at labor and generous to share. It is easy to extend this example to other lifestyle sins we are to stop and to positively develop with contrasting, holy lives (see also 4:31–32). At the heart of all Christian behavior is a focus on Christ’s sacrifice as our substitutionary mediator which Paul in 5:1–2 casts in terms of an OT animal sacrifice which fulfills them and is the supreme model for our grateful, self-sacrificial love (see also Phil 4:18; Heb 9:11–15; 1Jn 3:16).
The Saints and the Sinful World (5:3–14)
In this section, Paul continues his exhortation to the saints as citizens of the new creation and warns them to avoid the evil practices of those in the world.
There is a transition here from the previous passage (Eph 4:25–5:2). In the earlier exhortations the focus was on interactions with fellow Christians, whereas here in 5:3–14, the focus is on the church’s interaction with the world. The first part of 5:3–14 concentrates on avoiding any sort of sexual immorality, impurity, or avarice (covetousness) along with the “sons of disobedience” (5:6) with the center being the admonition in 5:7. There is a transition in 5:8 to a focus more on the reason why those who profess faith in Christ must no longer engage in these evils: they are light and are to walk as children of the light and to bear its fruit (5:8–9). Paul concludes this section with an interesting combination OT quote in 5:14 that ties together the theme of light and darkness.
There are close similarities between 5:3–14 with the following passage in Colossians:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Col 3:5–8)
Note how the evils which capture humans consist not only in actions but also in words (“slander” “obscene talk”) and in thoughts (“anger, wrath, malice”). One will notice the same focus on ethics in thought, word, and deed in many places in the Bible, including Jesus’s famous words in the Sermon on the Mount (esp. Matt 5:21–48). Humans think, speak, and act—there is nothing else that we do, so the righteousness demands of “the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5; cf. Matt 6:33) permeates to all our existence.
Paul speaks elsewhere of Christ ruling now from the right hand of God (see on Eph 1:20–22; Rom 8:34; 1Cor 15:24–27; Col 3:1; etc.) into whose redemptive kingdom we have already been placed (see Eph 2:6; Col 1:13–14) although it will only be consummated at his second coming (1Cor 15:20–24; 2Tim 4:1). The kingdom of God is the eternal realm, the new creation, which we enter consummately through resurrection immortality (1Cor 15:50; 1Thes 2:12), yet we live now in light of its righteousness (Rom 14:17; 1Cor 6:9–10; Gal 5:21; 2Tim 4:18) and power (e.g., Heb 6:5).
The images of light and darkness found in 5:3–14 serve as metaphors for the holiness of God and of his allied people over against the evils of the world is common in the Bible (Isa 5:20; 58:8; Matt 6:23; John 3:19; Rom 13:12; 1Thes 5:5; 1Jn 1:5; 2:8). Paul uses this image elsewhere when telling the church to avoid being “unequally yoked with unbelievers” in 2 Corinthians 6:14 and informs much of what he says in Ephesians 5:7–14.
Summarizing Exhortation to the Whole Church (5:15–21)
In this section, Paul concludes his general exhortations to all the members of the church up to this point before transitioning to material related to specific groups in the household.
Ephesians 5:21 acts as a transitional concluding exhortation for submission which is then illustrated in how this works out for various groups within the family in 5:22–6:9. As such, 5:21—indeed all of 5:15–21—belongs to the larger grouping of material running through 6:9 but is treated separately here for convenience.
This section opens with an exhortation to “walk,” a common metaphor (e.g., Ps 1:1) which marks major sections in Paul’s exhortations in Ephesians as follows:
4:1 set out [start walking] in a manner worthy of [your] calling
4:17 you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do
5:2 walk in love
5:8 walk as children of the light
5:15 so then be very careful how you walk
In 2:1–10, this verb “walk” marks an envelope structure (called an inclusio) which opens with an elaboration on the audience’s former “walk” dominated by sin and lostness (2:2a) and ends with their new “walk” in good works as the result of God’s loving initiation of the new creation in their lives through Christ (2:10). This new creation walk, or conduct of life, is therefore elaborated upon in the exhortations of the latter half of the epistle. How does one walk in this “newness of life” (Rom 6:4)? This is the question guiding the exhortations in Ephesians 4–6 and the Christian “walk.”
Exhortations to Christian Households (5:22–6:9)
To Wives and Husbands (5:22–33)
In this section, Paul begins to illustrate his exhortation for mutual submission in the church family with marriage relations of submission and love as founded on God’s eternal counsel and in Christ’s redemption of the church.
There are three areas in the ancient Christian household where Paul illustrates his general exhortation in Ephesians 5:21: “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” These three areas are between married couples (5:22–33), between parents and children (6:1–4), and in the relations between slaves and owners (6:5–9). In this material, it should be stressed that its focus is on the epistle’s overall, constant concern for unity in the inaugurated new creation community, which extends now to the household.
Paul’s first example of general submission from 5:21 is the right ordering of the marriage relationship (see also Col 3:18; 1Pet 3:1–7). Note that he does not tell wives to obey their husbands as if they were children or slaves (see Eph 6:1, 5), nor does he tell women to obey men, for both sexes are equally created in God’s image (Gen 1:26–28) and heirs of eternal life together (Gal 3:28–29). This submission is a deference to the leadership of the husband for the health and harmonious working of the marriage relationship.
Part of what makes Paul’s exhortation more understandable is to better understand the original context. Most wives in the world of the Ephesians would have married on average at around 14 years of age (some as early as 12 years old) to husbands on average of 10 to 30 years older. Furthermore because of dietary deficiencies and complications particularly during pregnancy, these women often died in their 20s or 30s. For example, a surviving Ephesian grave marker from around the time of this letter is inscribed for Claudia Magna, a 38-year-old grandmother. In other words, of the wives to whom Paul speaks in Ephesians, some were 15 years old and nursing their first or second child with husbands 10 to 30 years older. Others were 26 years old—the age when a woman in the United States first gets married—and were in ill health with emphysema and chronic lethargy after delivering their fourth or fifth child (50 percent of whom died before reaching age six).
Accordingly, Paul then exhorts the Christian husband to love his child-brides in a self-sacrificial manner (Eph 5:23–33), whose wife is, as it were, “his own flesh” (5:29; see Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:8; 1Cor 6:16). The model for a husband’s love is Christ’s own self-sacrificial love for his church (see esp. John 15:13), which is the original model for the marriage union itself (Eph 5:23, 32).
To Children and Parents (6:1–4)
In this section, Paul urges proper, fundamental relations between children and parents in the Lord.
This is the second of three specific examples of how the members of the congregation are to submit to one another in their households developing out of 5:21: “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” The first example was the inter-relations of wives and husbands (5:22–33) and the third and last is slaves with masters (6:5–9). These are the three main relations in the ancient household. Yet Paul is not interested in a lengthy treatise on these relations; he merely gives a few basic ideas as groundwork for Christians to apply to the great variety of circumstances and relational variations one encounters in life both in the home, in the world, and in the church.
The address to children to “obey” (rather than “to love”) their parents is notable. Obedience requires a submission of will and cannot easily be faked; and it is an expression of obedience to God’s command to honor their parents—the fifth of the ten commandments (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16) which Paul quotes in Ephesians 6:2–3. It should be particularly noted that Christian children have a divine model for their obedience, since the incarnate Son of God himself was “in submission” to both Mary and Joseph during his childhood (Luke 2:51; cf. Matt 19:19; Luke 18:20) as well as to his heavenly Father’s will (e.g., John 6:38).
Paul remarkably addresses children in the congregation directly in Ephesians 6:1–3. The great moralists in antiquity address issues of child-rearing at some length, but they speak to fathers not to children themselves. But Paul speaks directly to the Christian children with the assumption that they are present with their parents when this epistle is read in the congregation and that they are hearing the whole of its instruction as well because they are “in the Lord,” that is, they are members of the covenant community of Christ’s people alongside their parents. This is the basis for both parents (represented in Paul’s address to “fathers” in 6:4) to raise their children “in the training and reproof of the Lord.” This training in the Lord’s wisdom is their heritage as is clear from, for example, the book of Proverbs (see esp. Prov 1–9). “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov 3:11–12).
To Slaves and Masters (6:5–9)
In this section, Paul urges sincere, considerate relations between slaves and masters in the Lord.
This is the third and last specification of submission to one another in the fear of Christ from Ephesians 5:21 as it relates to the Christian household. The epistle will soon end after a long section to follow on the “warfare” of the Christian life (6:10–20). Until then, Paul establishes how slaves are to serve their masters “in the flesh” with sincerity “as to Christ” (6:5) by specifying that they are to offer obedience much as also children to their parents.
In the prior two inter-relations Paul has addressed relationships which are rooted in creation (marriage and children)—but slavery is not. Ancient slavery could make for the most debased kind of life—and it could also lead to enormous wealth and political power. For most slaves, it certainly placed them at their master’s mercy (cf. Matt 8:9; Luke 17:7–10), and mercy and restraint were not always exercised by masters.
How does Paul address slavery?
Why does Paul not condemn slavery outright here in Ephesians 6:5–9 and in other places (e.g., Col 3:22–4:1; Phlm)? This question is often asked as if Paul could simply condemn slavery and not expect there to be such serious repercussions that the continued existence of the church would be seriously threatened: “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled” (1Tim 6:1, emphasis added; cf. Titus 2:5).
Slavery was not an incidental feature of the ancient agrarian economies of the first century, but part of their essential fabric—80 to 85 percent of people in antiquity were directly involved with food production in some way and a large part of them were slaves. Even if a Roman emperor were to outlaw slavery by decree there would have been unimaginable inflation and social unrest as a direct result. Farms would stand vacant; starvation and food riots would be the norm—food shortages are estimated to have already been experienced in most locations once every two or three years. This is not by any means meant to justify ancient slavery, but Paul would have been most irresponsible and imprudent if he had simply spoken out against it and inspired Christians to social revolution.
So, Paul did not condemn slavery outright, yet what he did do was tactful, wise, and probably contributed to the ultimate demise of slavery in the ancient world: he accented the full inheritance and citizenship of slaves in Christ’s kingdom in places like 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, and Colossians 3:11—and by implication in Ephesians 6:5–9. In the meantime, he asks slaves to offer sincere obedience to their masters and, more importantly, he reminds their masters that both their Lord and the Lord of their slaves is in heaven, and he has a particular concern for the fatherless and the dispossessed in the world (e.g., Deut 10:17–8; Pss 10:14–8; 82:3–4; Mal 3:5).
The Church Equipped for Her Struggle (6:10–20)
In this section, Paul urges the church to prayerfully persevere in this life against all spiritual opposition in reliance on the Lord’s strong provisions.
This is the longest section in this chapter and acts as the summary exhortation of the book. Ephesians 6:10–20 can easily be divided between 6:10–17 with a focus on the military imagery and 6:18–20 which have a concluding admonition to persistent prayers for the saints and for Paul specifically. This last component on prayer could easily be separated off from the preceding section thematically and was possibly written in Paul’s own hand, but it is an essential element in the larger 6:10–20 passage since prayer is the church’s most effective, real war implement in her fight.
Paul was in some ways in the position of Joshua. As Moses departed leaving Joshua to conquer Canaan, so Jesus ascended leaving Paul to enter the Gentile areas (Rom 11:13; 1Tim 2:7). As Joshua set out on the other side of the Jordan to begin the conquest of the promised land, so Paul set out to launch an offensive campaign to take over the whole world. But the difference between the two is vital. Joshua was under orders to launch a theocratic invasion from the captain of the Lord’s host with a drawn sword (Josh 5:13–5). Paul was under orders from the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6; Eph 2:14–17) and his only offensive weapon for conquest of the world was the glad tidings of peace (6:15) made effective through prayer in the Spirit (6:18–20). Paul set out to conquer a world that was already at the feet of its King (1:20–23) who said, “I have conquered the world” (John 16:33) and “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, go therefore. . . .” (Matt 28:18–19). In consequence, Paul instructs the church in 6:10–20 not to advance in battle array in theocratic conquest, but to stand fast and pray.
The one prominent aspect of 6:10–20 which is often observed is its connection with the Lord as a Divine Warrior. The connections with Isaiah and the military equipment in Ephesians 6:14–17 in particular are overt. It should be underlined, however, that the armor in Isaiah is the Lord’s own which he takes up to defeat his enemies for the sake of his helpless people:
He saw that there was no man and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head. . . . (Isa 59:16–7)
Now that the salvation has been decisively won by the Messianic King, his people are now equipped in this very armor to defend themselves in this age.
One important question arises which is periodically discussed: What constitutes the Christian’s armor? Is it personal piety or virtue, that is, personal truth-speaking and righteousness (6:14), preparedness to share the gospel (6:15), etc.? Or is the armor objective aspects of Christ’s victory in the divine armor which he himself had put on to bring about salvation for his people (i.e., Isa 59:16–17 above)?
The answer is probably a combination of both with an added, essential interpretive ingredient. Ephesians 6:10–20 does not treat Christians in isolation and call on them to act individually only, but as members of a community in the same way that the individual soldier must be part of an army to stand fast against an enemy horde. The exhortations of 6:10–20 come to the church as a whole to stand fast in the panoply which God supplies in Christ, in which, naturally enough, individuals partake—but not isolated and on their own. The members of Christ’s united people, clothed with Christ in whom is all truth (4:21), can stand their ground clothed in truth (6:14) and speak the truth to one another (4:25) maturing together to Christ’s stature produced by the Word of God and its instruction (4:7–16; 6:17). God supplies the “armor of light” which Christians don by putting on Christ so that they can stand firm in steadily sanctified holy array:
The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom 13:12–4, ESV, emphasis added)
Concluding Thoughts and Benediction (6:21–24)
In this section, Paul concludes his epistle with notice of Tychicus’s services for the audience on his behalf and with an apostolic blessing on the church.
This is a relatively brief ending to a Pauline epistle when compared with the others, yet it has a certain balance to it. The epistle opens as it began: with a brief pronunciation of blessing for God’s grace and peace to rest on the letter’s recipients (cp. Eph 1:2 with 6:23–4). It is no accident that grace and peace are two themes which pervade this epistle as a whole (e.g., 2:8, 14–7).
One way to authenticate an epistle as genuinely from its author was to sign it with one’s own hand (see esp. 2Thes 3:17; cf. 1Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11–8; Col 4:1; Phlm 19). Hence, it is probable that Paul wrote at least 6:21–24 himself as, for example, 1Cor 16:21 where only the greetings were written by Paul (“This greeting was written in my own hand, that of Paul”). This signature of an epistle is illustrated, interestingly, in an inscribed letter from Ephesus when Claudia Antonia Tatiane turned over to her brother (“his Excellency, Aemilius Aristides”) a place in her tomb near the Magnesian Gate (at the southeast border of the city as now excavated) so that he could bury his wife there. Claudia Tatiane notes: “I have written this letter through my slave, Dionysius, to which [letter] I have personally signed my name” (Die Inschriften von Ephesos 2121; late II–early III AD). Her signature guaranteed the epistle’s authenticity.
By mentioning Tychicus in 6:21–22, Paul provides the original recipients with a second way to guarantee that this epistle was authentically from Paul. If Tychicus, an “Asian” from their own province where Ephesus was located (Acts 20:4; cf. 2Tim 4:12) whom the Ephesians would undoubtedly have known personally, brought the epistle to them, it was genuine. He was himself the seal of authenticity. Forgeries could not provide this bona fide and this was part of why Paul mentioned Tychicus in the letter.
Paul concludes his lovely little epistle to the Ephesians with a final and rich benediction upon the audience (and us): “Peace be with the brothers and love along with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ who dwells in incorruptibility” (Eph 6:23–24). By saying that our Lord “dwells in incorruptibility,” Paul alludes to Ephesians’ central theme of new creation, for “incorruptibility” is at the heart of Christ’s resurrection existence as first fruits of the harvest of his people (so 1Cor 15:20–28). “For it is required that this corruptible (body) put on incorruptibility and this mortal (body) must put on immortality. . . . For I declare this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God and neither can that which is corruptible inherit incorruptibility” (1Cor 15:53, 50; cf. 1Cor 15:42, 54; Rom 2:7; 2Tim 1:10).
Hence the final words of Ephesians cap-off its central message: in Christ Jesus and through the redemptive grace of the triune God, believers experience now the inauguration of the new creation and will dwell with our Lord in unified peace in new, incorruptible resurrection existence. As our risen Messianic King dwells in incorruptibility now as first fruits, so shall all his people live together with him in incorruptible glory forevermore. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every blessing of the Spirit in the high-heavenlies in Christ . . . for praise of the glory of his grace which he bestowed on us in his Beloved” (Eph 1:3, 6).
Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
Baugh, S. M. Ephesians. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. Let’s Study Ephesians. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2005.
Oden, Thomas C., ed. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge, 1999.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This commentary is adapted with permission from the author’s notes on Ephesians in the ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008) and from the author’s commentary, Ephesians (Evangelical Exegetical Commentary; Lexham Press, 2015).
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful1 in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Spiritual Blessings in Christ
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us2 for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known3 to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee4 of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,5 to the praise of his glory.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love6 toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.