The Apostle Paul suffered from many things in his lifetime. One thing from which he never suffered was a shortage of provocative ways to speak of the gospel or of his ministry, in which the gospel was central. This is certainly the case in Romans 11 where Paul proclaims, “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” (Rom 11:13-14; ESV) He demonstrated his zeal for reaching the Gentiles not only in his speech toward the Gentiles, but also in his speech toward the Jews. In Acts 13:46, Paul and Barnabas tell a crowd of Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” This declaration was no small matter to the first century Jews who believed themselves to be sole heirs to the promises given to Abraham (Matt. 3:7-10). At the same time, Gentile converts to Christianity were not blind to the hostility that existed between them and some Jewish converts. It was not uncommon for some Jewish Christians to attempt to impose Jewish customs on their Gentile brothers (Gal 5:1-15). In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul continues his ministry to the Gentiles by assuring them that they have unity with all believers in Christ Jesus who has torn down the dividing wall between the Gentiles and God establishing a new temple through the apostles, of which He is the cornerstone.
The Pauline authorship of Ephesians has been contested by liberal scholars of late. Writing in the 1930s, E.J. Goodspeed said that Ephesians is “like a commentary on the Pauline letters.” Just a page prior in the same work, he also refers to it as “a mosaic of Pauline materials.” This assumption is largely a result of the fact that Paul explores many of the same topics in Ephesians that he explores in his other letters. Perhaps, no scholar is better equipped to answer Goodspeed in his assertion than F.F. Bruce, and he certainly answers him properly: “A mosaic made up of fragments of an author’s writings is not best calculated to provide a commentary on them. But, if not a commentary, it is indeed an exposition of the Pauline mission.” Bruce, then, would contend that the mosaic aspect of the letter to the Ephesians points to Paul as its author rather than away from him.
Without a doubt, the similarities between Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and his letters to the other churches are striking. Consistent in Paul’s letters to the churches is the theme of unity “in Christ” (Rom 6:11, 23; 8:1, 10, 39; 12:5; 1Cor 1:2, 4, 30; 4:15, 17; 2Cor 1:21; Gal 1:22; 2:4; 3:14, 26-29; 5:6; Phil 1:1; 4:7, 19, 21; Col 1:2, 27-28; 2:6; 1Thes 1:1, 3; 2:14). Paul was certainly concerned that the church would understand that she is built on the foundation of Christ and that true fellowship and unity are found in Him. This theme Paul reiterates in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:1, 3, 5, 9, 12; 2:5-7, 10, 13; 3:6; 4:15, 32).
Likewise, Paul returns to his message of the inclusion of the Gentiles into spiritual Israel. In Romans 9-11, Paul speaks of this concept in terms of God grafting the Gentiles like a branch into the tree of Israel with the purpose of causing jealousy and, Paul had hoped, the return of ethnic Israel to their Lord. In Galatians 3, Paul speaks of this mystery in terms of the mode of salvation. He demonstrates how Abraham was saved by faith in the Lord, considered righteous, and promised a Seed. He then goes on to demonstrate how that Seed is the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom Christians place their faith and are counted righteous, just as Abraham was counted righteous. It is in this context that he proclaims, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Paul returns to this theme in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:11-3:13) for the purpose of continuing his argument for unity “in Christ” and showing how this unity extends even to Gentile believers.
The Ephesians were largely made up of Gentiles. They were located near the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor and were within a few short miles of the Phrygian townships of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. According to William Hendriksen, it is proper to view the three townships “in relation to the entire region and particularly to Ephesus which was Paul’s center of missionary activity for this part of the third missionary journey during which the three churches, and probably others, must have been established (Acts 19:10; Rev 1:11).” It is for this reason that Paul is seen sending circular letters to the churches of Colossae and Laodicea (Col 4:16), though the letter to the Laodiceans has not survived to this day. In fact, it is not clear whether Paul ever visited Colossae. The contention of most scholars is that Colossae was evangelized and the church was started by Epaphras (Col 1:6-8; 4:12), a Gentile convert of Paul’s from his time in Ephesus. 
Some question has been raised as to whether Paul knows his audience at Ephesus. According to D.A. Carson, “The tone of the letter is impersonal, and some parts of it seem to indicate that the writer did not know the readers. . .” As evidence for this claim, Carson cites Ephesians 1:15; 3:2; and 4:21. These verses can be quite striking when first discovered. However, as churches evolve it is expected that new members would join and old members would move on, especially in Asia Minor where new churches were being planted in nearby cities by this church in Ephesus. Thus, it is likely that Paul was assuming that he did not know all of his audience, though there may be some familiar faces among the crowd. This sentiment is shared by Carson as he continues, “But Paul had evangelized the Ephesians and had spent quite a long time among them (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:31).” Therefore, though Paul may not have known each individual, he at least knew the founding members as well as the shared customs and concerns of the people in Ephesus.
The dating of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is rarely contested by scholars who actually affirm its Pauline authorship. According to the ESV Study Bible, “Because Paul mentions his imprisonment (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), this letter should be dated to c. a.d. 62 when Paul was held in Rome (Acts 28). Critics who date Ephesians later in the first century do so from doubts about Paul’s authorship rather than from strong evidence against the earlier date.” With no “strong evidence” given for a later dating, one must venture beyond sound reason to assert that the date of Ephesians would be decades later than c. AD 60.
There is no specific occasion given for the writing of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Given the tone and message of the letter, one may logically conclude that Paul was merely writing to encourage and exhort the brethren at his highly missions-minded church plant. Considering the fact that the Ephesians were predominantly Gentile (Eph 2:11; 3:1), Paul spoke much on the Gentile inclusion and the glory that was to be given to Christ for their redemption. This was likely due to some misunderstandings that he had encountered at other churches into which he did not want to see his beloved Ephesians fall prey. Given his love for the church at Ephesus and the mighty things that he had seen the Lord do through them, it is likely that he wanted to prevent them from going the route of the Galatian churches and, like the Galatians, provoke his rebuke.
Though Paul takes six chapters to unfold the message of Ephesians, it is nonetheless quite simple. The first three chapters of Ephesians deal with the unity of the church body in Christ. He focuses mainly on what this unity means for the Gentiles who are in Christ, specifically drawing attention to the breaking down of the dividing wall which allows for the salvation of both Jew and Gentile in the economy of Christ’s salvation. In the second half of Ephesians, Paul puts his theology to practical use explaining what Christians ought to do as a result of the mystery that has been revealed by God through Paul’s ministry.
All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, unless otherwise noted.
E.J Goodspeed, The Meaning of Ephesians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933), 9.
F.F Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (New York: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1984), 230.
William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 6.
J.B Lightfoot, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1973), 27-28.
D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 488.
Baugh, S.M, The ESV Study Bible, ed. Lane T. Dennis, J.I. Packer, and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2257.