A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part I – Romans 1-8

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In our most recent posts, we have looked to the narrative portions of the New Testament to discover what they might teach us regarding Public Theology. We must caution ourselves not to read into the descriptive portions of Scripture anything that is not prescriptive. Thus, it has been our aim to stick only to examples in the words and actions of Christ and the apostles that can be proven by a closer examination of the more didactic portions of the New Testament. Today, we have finally arrived at those portions: the epistles.

A Preliminary Caution

We must be careful when discussing the different epistles within the New Testament canon, so that we do not speak in terms of a strictly Pauline theology, a Petrine theology, a Johannine theology, etc. The individual writers of Scripture did have different emphases because of their unique personalities and backgrounds. They also had different emphases because of their unique audiences and the occasions of their writings. However, insofar as the apostles were taught of the same Lord, led by the same Spirit, and inspired of the same God and Father of all to pen His holy word, they only confessed one faith.

Thus, as we begin the remainder of our study of New Testament public theology with the letters of Paul, we will take great care that we do not pit Paul’s public theology against any of the other New Testament authors. We will simply demonstrate some of his unique contributions to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, particularly as it relates to public theology. What we will find is that there is much unexpected overlap between Paul’s emphases and those of the other New Testament authors. On the other side of the same coin, we will see that there is much unexpected variety of emphases from one of Paul’s letters to the next.

Romans 1-8

The Thesis Statement of Romans

Providentially, Paul wrote to the church at Rome about his desire to come and to minister the gospel to them and, as we shall see, four other books of the Bible (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) would later be written by Paul from a Roman imprisonment. Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome spilled over into a lengthy and greatly cherished letter. In fact, Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 has been touted as the thesis statement that provides the structure for all that follows in the letter.

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we will use them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 1-8.

A Gospel for the Church

Notice firstly the fact that Paul is talking to the church of God: “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints,” (vs. 7a; NASB). Paul tells these believers that he desires to preach the gospel to them. He does not say he desires to preach moralism, jokes, stories, or any other thing modern, pragmatic churches might use in an attempt to attract unbelievers. Paul recognized one thing, and he recognized it very well: the corporate worship of God in general, and the preaching of His word in particular, are privileges given to His people. Paul had no desire to preach secular psychology, the traditions of men, or the wisdom of the world. Paul was concerned with preaching that which has the power to save the soul: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sanctification. He desired to preach this gospel to the church, a message that we often relegate to the task of evangelism. Why did he want to preach it to the church? He wanted to do so in order that, through the preaching of the gospel, they might be saved. But aren’t they already saved? I mean, they are the church aren’t they? When we think along these lines, we fall into the error of oversimplifying the doctrine of salvation.

Paul recognized the fact that his readers were already justified through the cross-work of Jesus Christ. He was not speaking of a desire to preach the gospel to them for the furtherance of their justification. Rather, his desire was to preach the gospel to them for their further sanctification (an essential element of overall salvation), that they might grow in their appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ and, thus, walk according to the knowledge they had accumulated.

The sufficiency of the gospel. Now, some may be confused as to how this teaching has anything to do with Public Theology. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the already saved church, we must be very precise in how we define the gospel. As we will see in our study of Galatians, adding anything to the gospel that is not intrinsic to the gospel makes it no gospel at all.

The first thing we must do is recognize the difference between the gospel and “gospel issues.” There are many pastors and theologians in the blogosphere today who use the term gospel issue as a social justice sledge-hammer to force people to do what they want them to do. We must first recognize that every sin is a “gospel issue,” because the gospel is what holistically saves us from sin. Furthermore, we should not confuse the gospel itself with the fruit that the gospel produces. The mission of the church must be centered on the preaching of the gospel.

Gospel preaching. We say that it saves us holistically, because the gospel saves us from beginning to end. Notice again that the gospel Paul is bringing, he is bringing to the church. Gospel preaching makes disciples; gospel preaching also teaches and guides disciples.

To say that we need anything other than gospel preaching to cure ethnic strife (for example) in Christian churches is like saying, “I stopped spanking my child, because it didn’t work.” Where we do not see immediate success in what God has commanded that we do, we do not have the justification to inject worldly philosophy and the traditions of man. Let us recall that Abraham had an illegitimate child with Hagar, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. Genesis 16). Saul offered the sacrifice he had not been commanded to offer and lost his throne, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 15). We will explore this notion more when we get to our study of Colossians.

The Power of God

Notice secondly that the gospel is the power of God to save. The Law has no power to save (Rom. 3:20, 28). Good feelings have no power to save. A sense of belonging and getting “plugged into a church ministry” have no power to save. The power of God for the salvation of all who believe is the gospel itself.

The goal of every valid, Christian pulpit ministry is wrapped up in this singular concept. Godly preaching has as its goal the salvation of the hearers (1Cor. 1:21; 15:2). There is a definite moment when that salvation is brought to the sinner, when he is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God (Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 8:14-17, 29-30). However, the result of that initial grace is that the newly regenerate saint will identify with the visible church through baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then, he will come under the teaching of the word of God and be taught all that Christ commanded. This is true discipleship: that sinners would repent, be baptized, and sit under the preached word of Christ (Mt. 28:19-20). It is that preached word, that gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the power of God unto final salvation (Rom. 8:30; 10:11-14).

Christian discipleship. One thing that often gets overlooked in our discussion of Public Theology is the necessity of discipleship. We must recognize the fact that no one comes to the Christian religion with a philosophical clean slate. By the time we come to faith in Christ, and even after we come to faith in Him, we will have imbibed the world’s way of thinking on a host of issues (e.g. gender, economics, science, ethnic relations, work ethic, etc.). These are all issues on which our thinking must be brought in line with the word of God.

There are two ways in which our thinking on these issues can be brought in line with Scripture: gospel preaching and intentional discipleship. There are at least two terms in the Greek Scriptures that are commonly translated preaching: κηρύσσω, or I herald (proclaim; cf. Lk. 24:46-47), and εὐαγγελίζω, or I bring good news (preach the gospel; 1Pt. 1:12). These are not the only two terms used in the Greek Scriptures, but they will suffice to demonstrate how preaching is discussed in the Word of God. Modern evangelicals, thanks to expository preaching, will be more clear on what we mean by gospel preaching than intentional discipleship. By gospel preaching, we simply mean the week-in / week-out preaching of the whole counsel of God, it’s central, unifying message being that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intentional discipleship is less uniform from church to church. Some elders are more drawn to a very intense one-on-one approach to discipleship. Others prefer group settings like Sunday School, small groups, etc. It is not our purpose here to tell pastors which of these is the only right and proper approach to intentional discipleship. The point is that intentional discipleship is a necessary element of church life. If this were not true, Paul might not have written Romans 12-16.

It is this intentional discipleship Paul wrote about when he told his child in the faith, Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2Tim. 2:2; NASB). The term used in 2 Timothy 2:2 for teach is the word διδάσκω from which we get the English term didactic. This approach might be seen as more lecture based. In Romans 2:18 and Galatians 6:6, Paul uses a much more intimate term: κατηχέω, from which we get the English term catechetical. Strong’s concordance gives as one definition: “to learn by nuanced repetition.” Where a more didactic approach might take place in a lecture-based setting, like a small group or Sunday School class, the catechetical approach might be encouraged in one-on-one settings like an intimate fellowship or in the home. Either way, the discipleship of Christians, and children of Christian parents, is essential for the Christian life.

Gospel-centered discipleship. Even the discipleship of Christians is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ as its central focus, because the gospel is God’s power unto salvation and ultimate salvation requires growth in holiness. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Heb. 12:14; NKJV). Christians who do not pursue holiness will not see the Lord; they will not be saved. Let us recall what is the power of God unto this salvation: the gospel. So, if salvation requires holiness and the gospel of God is sufficient for our salvation, it is clear that the gospel is sufficient for making Christians holy.

This means that all sin is to be addressed with the gospel, whether in our preaching or in our personal discipleship. When addressing homosexual marriage, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing ethnic strife, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing parental neglect, laziness, drunkenness, abuse, insubordination, etc., we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship.

Conclusion

Romans 1-8 is a thorough teaching on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul labors for chapters to help his readers to understand Christ’s gospel. Why? Simple. He wants them to know the gospel through which they have been justified, through which they are being sanctified, and through which they will be glorified. As a result of having a precise knowledge of the gospel of saving grace, believers are equipped to walk according to the statutes given them in God’s word. Having been declared holy as a result of Christ’s active and passive obedience, Christians are emboldened to walk in holiness by the power of the Spirit through the word preached.

In our next article, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.

The New Birth in First Peter

With Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in San Angelo, TX., I have had the honor of preaching through the book of 1 Peter. This past week, we got as far as 2:17 in our study. Reflecting on the study thus far, and looking forward to where we are headed, I have come to the conclusion that everything in the first half of 1 Peter flows out of the reality of the new birth (1Pt. 1:3).

Outline:

As a result of the new birth:

1) …we have a new relationship with God (1:1-21).
2) …we have a new relationship with one another (1:22-2:3).
3) …we have a new relationship with unbelievers (2:4-3:17):

a) …unbelieving Jews (2:4-12).
b) …unbelieving civil authorities (2:13-17).
c) …unbelieving masters (2:18-20)

(In all this Christ is our example; 2:21-25)

d) …unbelieving husbands (3:1-6).
e) …unbelieving wives (3:7).

4) …we are to love as brothers (3:8-12).
5) …we will suffer (3:13-17).

Hopefully this serves as a helpful outline for those of you who would like to engage the book of 1 Peter a little deeper. I was almost done with the first chapter of the book before I realized this was what Peter was doing with his argumentation. Let me flesh it out a little further though for those of you who may be a bit skeptical of my approach here.

New Relationship with God

Peter starts by securing our new relationship with God in eternity past through the election of God’s people (1:1-2). Understanding how our new relationship with God is rooted in eternity past gives us great security. He will go one to explain how our relationship with God is also being kept secure in the here and now.

First, he points us to the new birth itself (1:3-9). We are born again to a living hope, an inheritance being kept in heaven for us who are being kept by God Himself. We rejoice in this new standing we have before God as heirs of the promise, even though now we are sojourners in a land where we are persecuted strangers. We have a home, a glorious family awaiting us in heaven. The hope and assurance of that great promise sustains us through our trials.

Second, we have this hope revealed to us this side of the incarnation. We are a privileged generation in that we have these great mysteries revealed to us. The prophets prophesied of the Messiah to come, the things He would suffer, and the glories that would follow, but they did not have as full a revelation as we now have.

Third, as a result of this new birth, this inheritance we have received as sons of God, we have a new relationship with Him. We are no longer children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2; 5:6; Col. 3:6). Rather, we are now called children of obedience. As such, our behavior is to reflect what we truly are as a result of having born again into the family of God (1Pt. 1:13-21).

New Relationship with One Another

IMG_8323Also, as a result of our new birth, we have new brothers and sisters. We have brothers and sisters in the flesh, but flesh is like grass. “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grassThe grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1:24-25a). By contrast, our inheritance and relationships with our new family are imperishable (1:22-25).

Our new relationships with one another yield new behaviors (2:1-3). As a result of our new birth, we now have familial obligations and familial motivations. We seek unity rather than division, and this new motivation effects how we live in fellowship with one another. We put aside devices of discord and cling to the One who builds up the body: Christ Jesus.

New Relationship with Unbelievers

As a result of our new birth, we have been grafted into true Israel (2:4-12). Paul taught that unbelieving Jews in the New Covenant have been broken off so that believing Gentiles might be grafted in (Rom. 11:17-24). This is part of a greater argument Paul made about his unbelieving brothers in the flesh starting in Romans 9. Peter refers to these unbelieving Jews as builders. We know he has unbelieving Jews in mind because he quotes the same verses Paul quotes in his argumentation in Romans 9-11.

We also know that he is referring to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles who are being grafted into true Israel because he applies uniquely Jewish titles to the New Covenant believing community. He describes the church as a temple being built and we are the stones and we are the priests, with Christ as the Capstone / Cornerstone. In fact, Peter calls us a royal priesthood and a holy nation. We ought not to take this to mean that we have replaced Israel, though. We have not. We have merely been grafted into true Israel. As such, true Israel has taken on a new shape.

As a result of the new birth, we also have a new relationship with civil government (2:13-17). Just as I would expect my kids to obey any adults with whom I would leave them, God expects us to honor the authorities He has placed in our lives. To disobey and dishonor the civil authorities God has established in our lives is to disobey and dishonor God.

We also have a new relationship to our masters as a result of the new birth (2:18-20). This has particular application in our day and age where people hold so loosely to their commitments to their employers. In Peter’s day, you entered into a contractual agreement with your master. It was much like joining the military. If a man were to come to a church and say, “I went AWOL from the military, because my sergeant was an unbeliever,” our proper response would be to tell him he needs to return and honor his enlistment. In the same way, Christian employees should not be flippant about jumping from job to job simply because their employers are unbelievers. We need to honor our commitments and show honor to our bosses.

Christ is our example in these things (2:21-25). When He was slandered and reviled, He did not revile in return. He willingly submitted to His persecutors and, as such, He was submitting to the will of God. We do not know the will of God for our lives or what He is orchestrating for our future, so we ought to humble ourselves and submit to the hardships we will receive as a result of our new relationship to the world.

Our new birth does not give us license to divorce or liberty to ill-treat our spouses (3:1-7). Rather, wives are to respect and submit to their unbelieving husbands. Husbands, are likewise to deal with their unbelieving wives in an understanding way and not to domineer them. When I was first introduced to the Doctrines of Grace, I tried to force-feed them to my wife. This is not how wives learn. We need to be patient with them and allow them to sit under the word and be convinced by God, not our forcefulness.

Love for the Brethren

Once again, Peter returns to our familial motivations / obligations (3:8-12). As a result of the new birth, we are to deal with one another with brotherly affections. This will result in certain heart motivations, which will then lead to changes in the way that we behave toward one another.

The Suffering to Follow

If we commit all of these things to memory and allow them to shape us and motivate us in how we walk in this world, we will have hardship. The world hates Christ. As those who are being made over in His image, they will hate us. We are to be ready to give a defense in the face of the trials that come our way. However, we must do so in fear and solemnity, recognizing that we represent our holy Father who is in heaven, and we have a brotherhood who will reap the consequences for our misdeeds in the flesh.

Who Were the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6 (Part Two)

In my last post, I began a series seeking to unearth the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6. This is my first post by way of argumentation toward that end. In it, I seek to argue in the negative against the most commonly held view of our day: the view that angels created bodies for themselves and procreated with women. As stated in the previous post, there are four main texts from which the proponents of this view derive their argumentation. Today, I will examine these verses and attempt to demonstrate how they fall short of supporting such a view.

Job 1:6

Let us start with the assertion many have made that “sons of God” must mean angels in this text precisely because that is what it means elsewhere, like in Job 1:6. This assertion assumes the idea that biblical words and phrases cannot have multiple meanings and usages. This is not true for any language; words and phrases have multiple usages and meanings, regardless of the language you are examining.

Especially when we are dealing with different authors writing in different eras, we need to take these things into account. Job is largely believed to have been written around the same time Abraham lived. We know nothing whatsoever about its author or common usages of phrases during his time. We do know that Moses, who wrote Genesis, lived hundreds of years after Abraham.

In this span of time, the common vernacular was highly likely to change. Consider the fact that the King James Version of the Bible was codified in the 1600s in Elizabethan English, and its language was considered archaic by many as early as the mid-1800s. Moses might have had angels in mind when he used the designation ‘sons of God.’ The only way to know for sure is to look at his usage of it in the immediate context. We will do so in Part Three of our study.

2Peter 2:4

Angels_and_Demons___by_masianiNext, we have 2Peter 2:4 in which Peter tells us that God did not spare angels when they sinned but cast them into hell. How does this even come close to relating to Genesis 6? Well, in the next verse, Peter alludes to Noah’s generation and the judgment they faced. What we have in 2Peter is the apostle’s warning against false teachers. He draws three illustrations of how God deals with false teachers. He judged the angels, he judged the generation of Noah, he judged Sodom and Gomorrah, and He will judge the false teachers in these last days as well. When understood in context, 2Peter 2 provides no support to the “angels sleeping with humans” view of Genesis 6.

Jude 6

But what about Jude 6? Isn’t that a parallel passage to 2Peter, and doesn’t that talk about angels abandoning spiritual form to take bodies for themselves? Proponents of this view draw from the word τὸ οἰκητήριον, claiming that angels left their bodily dwellings in order to assume new bodies. They attempt to justify this usage by pointing out that the only other usage of the Greek word in question is in 2Corinthians 5:2 is in reference to the Christian’s future, glorified (physical) body.

Actually, BDAG tells us that the term used both in Scripture and in extra-biblical texts to refer to heavenly dwelling places. Thus, it is apparently being used figuratively to refer to the bodies we will receive in heaven in 2Corinthians whereas, in Jude, it is used to refer to the angels’ actual heavenly abode. Jude, then, is not arguing that angels took on flesh; rather, he is warning against false teachers who, like those angels, would be punished by God in the end.

1Peter 3:19-20

Finally, in 1Peter 3:19-20, we see that Christ went and made proclamation to spirits who are now in prison. Who were these spirits? In order to determine their identity, we must back up and look at the context. Peter is writing to his audience about their sufferings and claims that Christ too also suffered and died and was made alive in the Spirit. In this same Spirit, he writes, Christ went and made proclamation to the spirits “who were once disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah” (vs. 20a).

If Peter is talking about angels here, we have a big problem. Why would the patience of God be waiting for angels to respond to a Messianic proclamation? “For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16; NASB). Christ did not come to die for angels, but for men, so what proclamation could he have possibly been making to angels? If it is a message of judgment and not salvation, how is it that this proclamation now correlates to baptism (1Peter 3:21)? No. Christ did not preach to the spirits of enfleshed angels; he preached to the spirits of men.

How then did the Spirit of Christ preach to the men of Noah’s day? Simple. He preached to them through Noah! Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2Peter 2:5); he was God’s messenger in his day. When God’s messenger speaks, God speaks. Had Noah’s generation heeded his voice and entered the ark, they would have been saved. In like manner, when we heed the voice of God’s divinely appointed messengers and are immersed into union with Christ, we are saved from the judgment to come.

Conclusion

In my next post, I will finally begin my positive argument for the position I hold on Genesis 6. It will be another long post, because my argument begins in Genesis 3 and moves forward through chapters 4 and 5. I will attempt to demonstrate how, when we interpret Genesis 6 in its proper context, we will come to a drastically different conclusion than have those who hold to the “angels sleeping with humans” view.

Ephesians 2:11-22, Introduction

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)[1] 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.

Introduction

Authorship

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.”[2] Just a page prior in the same work, he also refers to it as “a mosaic of Pauline materials.”[3] 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.”[4] 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.

Location

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).”[5] 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.[6] [7]

Audience

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. . .”[8] 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).”[9] 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.

Date

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.”[10] 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.

Occasion

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.

Message

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.


[1]All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, unless otherwise noted.

[2]E.J Goodspeed, The Meaning of Ephesians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933), 9.

[3]Ibid., 8

[4]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.

[5]William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 6.

[6]Ibid., 15

[7]J.B Lightfoot, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1973), 27-28.

[8]D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 488.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Baugh, S.M, The ESV Study Bible, ed. Lane T. Dennis, J.I. Packer, and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2257.