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Epistle to the Ephesians

Detailed analysis of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians

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Ephesians, EPISTLE TO THE.—This article will be treated under the following heads: I. Analysis of the Epistle; II. Special Characteristics: (I) Form: (a) Vocabulary; (b) Style; (2) Doctrines; III. Object; IV. To Whom Addressed; V. Date and Place of Composition; Occasion; VI. Authenticity: (I) Relation to other books of the New Testament; (2) Difficulties arising from the form and doctrines; (3) Tradition.

I. ANALYSIS OF THE EPISTLE.—The letter which, in the MSS. containing the Epistles of St. Paul, bears the title “To the Ephesians” comprises two parts distinctly separated by a doxology (Eph., iii, 20 sq.). The address, in which the Apostle mentions himself only, is not followed by a prologue; in fact, the entire dogmatic part develops the idea which is usually the subject of the prologue in the letters of St. Paul. In a long sentence that reads like a hymn (Eph., i, 3-14), Paul praises God for the blessings which He has bestowed upon all the faithful in accordance with the eternal plan of His will, the sublime plan by which all are to be united under one head, Christ, a plan which, although heretofore secret and mysterious, is now made manifest to believers. Those to whom the Epistle is addressed, having received the Gospel, have, in their turn, been made participants of these blessings, and the Apostle, having recently learned of their conversion and their faith, assures them that he ceases not to give thanks to Heaven for the same (Eph., i, 15, 16) and that, above all, he prays for them. The explanation of this prayer, of its object and motives, constitutes the remainder of the dogmatic part (cf. Eph., iii, 1, 14). Paul asks God that his readers may have a complete knowledge of the hope of their calling, that they may be fully aware both of the riches of their inheritance and the greatness of the Divine power which guarantees the inheritance. This Divine power manifests itself first in Christ, Whom it raised from the dead and Whom it exalted in glory above all creatures and established head of the Church, which is His body. Next, this power and goodness of God was evidenced in the readers, whom it rescued from their sins and raised and exalted with Christ. But it shone forth, above all, in the establishment of a community of salvation welcoming within its fold both Jews and Gentiles without distinction, the Death of Christ having broken down the middle wall of partition, i.e. the Law, and both sections of the human race having thus been reconciled to God so as thenceforth to form but one body, one house, one temple, of which the apostles and Christian prophets are the foundation and Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone. (Eph., i, 16-ii, 20.) Paul, as his readers must have heard, was the minister chosen to preach to the Gentiles of this sublime mystery of God, hidden from all eternity and not revealed even to the angels, according to which the Gentiles are made coheirs with the Jews, constitute a part of the same body, and are joint partakers in the same promises (Eph., iii, 1-13). Deeply imbued with this mystery, the Apostle implores the Father to lead his readers to the perfection of the Christian state and the complete knowledge of Divine charity (Eph., iii, 14-19), continuing the same prayer with which he had begun (Eph., i, 16 sq.).

Having praised God anew in the solemn doxology (Eph., iii, 20 sq.), Paul passes on to the moral part of his letter. His exhortations, which he bases more than is his wont on dogmatic considerations, all revert to that of chapter iv, verse 1, wherein he entreats his readers to show themselves in all things worthy of their vocation. First of all, they must labor to preserve the unity described by the author in the first three chapters and here again brought into prominence: One Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. There is, of course, a diversity of ministries, but the respective offices of apostles, prophets, etc. have all been instituted by the same Christ exalted in glory and all tend to the perfection of the society of saints in Christ (Eph., iv, 2-16). From these great social duties, Paul proceeds to the consideration of individual ones. He contrasts the Christian life that his readers are to lead, with their pagan life, insisting above all on the avoidance of two vices, immodesty and covetousness (Eph., iv, 17-v, 3). Then, in treating of family life, he dwells on the duties of husbands and wives, whose union he likens to that of Christ with His Church, and the duties of children and servants (v, 21-vi, 9). In order to fulfil these duties and to combat adverse powers, the readers must put on the armor of God (vi, 10-20).

The Epistle closes with a short epilogue (vi, 21-24), wherein the Apostle tells his correspondents that he has sent Tychicus to give them news of him and that he wishes them peace, charity, and grace.

II. SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS.—(I) Form—(a) Vocabulary.—This letter, like all of those written by St. Paul, contains hapax legomena, about seventy-five words which are not found in the Apostle’s other writings; however, it were a mistake to make this fact the basis of an argument against Pauline authenticity. Of these words nine occur in quotations from the Old Testament and others belong to current language or else designate things which Paul elsewhere had had no occasion to mention. Others, again, are derived from roots used by the Apostle and besides, in comparing these hapax legomena one with another, it is impossible to recognize in them a characteristic vocabulary that would reveal a distinct personality. (Cf. Brunet, “De l’authenticité de l’épïttre aux Ephésiens; preuves philologiques”, Lyons, 1897; Nägeli, “Der Wortschatz des Apostels Paulus”, Göttingen, 1905.)

(b) Style.—This Epistle, even more than that to the Colossians, is remarkable for the length of its periods. The first three chapters contain hardly more than three sentences and these are overladen with relative or participial clauses that are simply strung together, frequently without being connected by the logical particles that occur so frequently in St. Paul. Each particular clause is itself encumbered with numerous prepositional modifiers (especially with en and sun) of which it is difficult to state the exact meaning. Often, too, several synonyms are in juxtaposition and in very many cases a noun has an explanatory genitive, the sense of which differs but very slightly from that of the noun itself. For all of these reasons the language of the Epistle, heavy, diffuse, and languid, seems very different from the dialectical, animated, and vigorous style of the Apostle’s uncontested letters. It is important to note that in the moral part of the Epistle these peculiarities of style do not appear and hence they would seem to depend more on the matter treated than on the author himself; in fact, even in the dogmatic expositions in the great Epistles, St. Paul’s language is frequently involved (cf. Rom., ii, 13 sq.; iv, 16 sq.; v, 12 sq.; etc.). Moreover, it must be observed that all these peculiarities spring from the same cause: they all indicate a certain redundancy of ideas surging in upon a deep and tranquil meditation on a sublime subject, the various aspects of which simultaneously appear to the author’s mind and evoke his admiration. Hence also the lyric tone that pervades the first three chapters, which constitute a series of praises, benedictions, thanksgivings, and prayers. A sort of rhythmic composition has been pointed out in chapter i (cf. T. Innitzer, “Der `Hymnus’ im Eph., i, 3-14” in “Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie”, 1904, 612 sq.), and in chapter iii traces of liturgical hymnology have been observed (Eph., iii, 20), but they are no more striking than in I Cor. and are not to be compared with the liturgical language of I Clement.

(2) Doctrines.—The doctrines on justification, the Law, faith, the flesh, etc., that are characteristic of the great Pauline Epistles, are not totally lacking in the Epistle to the Ephesians, being recognizable in chapter ii (I-16). However, the writer’s subject does not lead him to develop these particular doctrines. On the other hand, he clearly indicates, especially in chapter i, the supreme place which, in the order of nature and grace, is allotted to Christ, the author and center of creation, the point towards which all things converge, the source of all grace, etc. Although, in his great Epistles, St. Paul sometimes touches upon these doctrines (cf. I Cor., viii, 6; xv, 45 sq.; II Cor., v, 18 sq.), they constitute the special object of his letter to the Colossians, where he develops them to a much greater extent than in that to the Ephesians. In fact this Epistle treats more of the Church than of Christ. (On the doctrine of the Church in the Epistle to the Ephesians see Meritan in “Revue biblique”, 1898, pp. 343 sq., and W. H. Griffith Thomas in the “Expositor”, October, 1906, pp. 318 sq.) The word church no longer means, as is usual in the great Epistles of St. Paul (see, however, Gal., i, 13; I Cor., xii, 28; xv, 9), some local church or other, but the one universal Church, an organic whole uniting all Christians in one body of which Christ is the head. Here we find the systematized development of elements insinuated from time to time in the letters to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans. The author who has declared that there is now neither Jew nor Greek but that all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal., iii, 28); that in each Christian the life of Christ is made manifest (Gal., ii, 20; II Cor., iv, 11 sq.); that all are led by the Spirit of God and of Christ (Rom., viii, 9-14); that each one of the faithful has Christ for head (I Cor., xi, 3), could, by combining these elements, easily come to consider all Christians as forming but one body (Rom., xii, 5; I Cor., xii, 12, 27), animated by one spirit (Eph., iv, 4), a single body having Christ for head. To this body the Gentiles belong by the same right as the Jews. Undoubtedly this mysterious dispensation of Providence was, according to the Epistle to the Ephesians, made manifest to all the Apostles, a declaration which, moreover, the Epistle to the Galatians does not contradict (Gal., ii, 3-9); however, this revelation remains, as it were, the special gift of St. Paul (Eph., iii, 3-8). The right of pagans seems to be no longer questioned, which is easily understood at the close of the Apostle’s life. At the death of Christ the wall of separation was broken down (cf. Gal., iii, 13), and all have since had access to the Father in the same spirit. They do not meet on the Jewish ground of the abolished Law but on Christian ground, in the edifice founded directly on Christ. The Church being thus constituted, the author contemplates it just as it appears to him. Besides, if in the extension of the Church he beholds the realization of the eternal decree by which all men have been predestined to the same salvation, he is not obliged to repeat the religious history of mankind in the way he had occasion to describe it in the Epistle to the Romans; neither is he constrained to explain the historical privileges of the Jews, to which he nevertheless alludes (Eph., ii, 12), nor to connect the new economy with the old (see, however, Eph., iii, 6), nor indeed to introduce, at least into the dogmatical exposition, the sins of the pagans, whom he is satisfied to accuse of having lacked intimate communion with God (Eph., ii, 12). For the time being all these points are not his main subject of meditation. It is rather the recent, positive fact of the union of all men in the Church, the body of Christ, that he brings into prominence; the Apostle contemplates Christ Himself in His actual influence over this body and over each of its members; hence it is only occasionally that he recalls the redemptive power of Christ’s Death. (Eph., i, 7; ii, 5, 6.) From heaven, where He has been exalted, Christ bestows His gifts on all the faithful without distinction, commanding, however, that in His Church certain offices be held for the common welfare. The hierarchical terms used so constantly later on (episkopoi, presbuteroi, diakonoi) are not met with here. The apostles and prophets, always mentioned together, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, play a like part, being the founders of the Church (Eph., ii, 20). Thus placed on an equality with the prophets, the apostles are not the chosen Twelve but, as indicated in the letters of St. Paul, those who have seen Christ and been commissioned by Him to preach His Gospel. It is for the same purpose that the prophets in the Epistle to the Ephesians used the charisma, or spiritual gifts described in I Cor., xii-xiv. The evangelists, who are not noticed in Eph., ii, 20, or iii, 5, are inferior in dignity to the apostles and prophets in connection with whom they are, nevertheless, mentioned (Eph., iv, 11). In his first letters St. Paul had no occasion to allude to them, but they belong to the Apostolic age, as at a later epoch they are never referred to. Finally the “pastors and doctors” (A. V. pastors and teachers), who are clearly distinguished (Eph., iv, 11) from the apostles and prophets, founders of the churches, seem to be those local authorities already indicated in I Thess., v, 12; I Cor., xvi, 15 sq.; Acts, xx, 28. While the attention given to these different ministers forms a distinctive note in the Epistle to the Ephesians, we cannot therefore admit (with Klopper, for example) that the author is preoccupied with the hierarchy as such. The unity of the Church, a point that he clearly emphasizes, is not so much the juridical unity of an organized society as the vital unity that binds all the members of the body to its head, the glorified Christ. Nor is it true that the author already predicts centuries of future existence for this Church (Klopper) as, properly speaking, the ages to come, referred to in the Epistle to the Ephesians (ii, 7), are to come in the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. ii, 6). On the other hand we know that St. Paul’s hope of soon witnessing Christ’s second coming kept constantly diminishing, and therefore, in the latter years of his life, he might well define (Eph., v, 22 sq.) the laws of Christian marriage, which at an earlier period (I Cor., vii, 37 sq.) he regarded only in the light of the approaching advent of Christ.

The exposition that we have given of the doctrines proper to the Epistle to the Ephesians has been so made as to show that none of these doctrines taken separately contradicts the theology of the great Pauline Epistles and that each one individually can be connected with certain elements disseminated in these Epistles. It is nevertheless true that, taken in its entirety, this letter to the Ephesians constitutes a new doctrinal system, the Pauline authenticity of which can only be critically defended by pointing out the circumstances in consequence of which the Apostle was able thus to develop his first theology and profoundly to modify his manner of setting it forth. Naturally this leads us first of all to try to ascertain the object of the letter to the Ephesians.

III. OBJECT.—It has been said that St. Paul combated immoral doctrines and an antinomian propaganda that especially endangered those to whom the letters were addressed (Pfleiderer), but this hypothesis would not explain the dogmatic part of the Epistle, and even in the hortatory part nothing betokens polemical preoccupation. All the warnings administered are called forth by the pagan origin of the readers, and when the author addresses his prayers to Heaven in their behalf (Eph., i, 17 sqq.; iii, 14 sqq.) he does not mention any particular peril from which he would have God deliver their Christian life. Klopper thought that the author had Judeo-Christians in view, still denying converted pagans their full right in the Church, and Jacquier gives this as an additional motive. Others have said that the Gentile-Christians of the Epistle had to be reminded of the privileges of the Jews. But not one word in the letter, even in the section containing exhortations to unity (Eph., iv, 2 sq.), reveals the existence of any antagonism among those to whom the Apostle writes, and there is no question of the reproduction or reestablishment of unity. The author never addresses himself to any save converted pagans, and all his considerations tend solely to provide them with a full knowledge of the blessings which, despite their pagan origin, they have acquired in Christ and of the greatness of the love that God has shown them. If, in chapter iii, St. Paul speaks of his personal Apostleship, it is not by way of defending it against attacks but of expressing all his gratitude for having been called, in spite of his unworthiness, to announce the great mystery of which he had sung the praises. Briefly, nothing in the letter allows us to suspect that it responds to any special need on the part of those to whom it is addressed, nor that they, on their side, had given the author any particular occasion for writing it. In so far as either its dogmatic or moral part is concerned, it might have been addressed to any churches whatever founded in the pagan world.

IV. To WHOM ADDRESSED.—To whom, then, was the Epistle addressed? This question has evoked a variety of answers. There are critics who maintain the traditional opinion that the Epistle was written to the Ephesians exclusively (Danko, Cornely), but the greater number consider it in the light of a circular letter. Some maintain that it was addressed to Ephesus and the churches of which this city was, so to speak, the metropolis (Michelis, Harless, and Henle), while others hold that it was sent to the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse (H. Holtzmann) or to the circle of Christian communities within and around Colossae and Laodicea (Godet, Haupt, Zahn, and Belser); or again to the faithful of Asia Minor (B. Weiss) or to all the Gentile-Christian Churches (Von Soden). The question can only be solved by comparing the Epistle with the knowledge possessed of the life and literary activity of the Apostle. Those who deny the authenticity of the letter must certainly grant that the Pseudo-Paul (i, 1) was careful to conform to literary and historical probabilities; and if not, since the letter vouchsafes no direct indication as to the correspondents whom he supposed the Apostle to be addressing, it would be idle to imagine who they were. The words en Epheso, in the first verse of the Epistle, do not belong to the primitive text. St. Basil attests that, even in his day, they were not met with in the ancient MSS.; in fact they are missing from the Codices B and?ê (first hand). Moreover, the examination of the Epistle does not warrant the belief that it was addressed to the church in which the Apostle had sojourned longest. When St. Paul writes to one of his churches, he constantly alludes to his former relations with it (see Thess., Gal., Cor.), but here there is nothing personal, no greeting, no special recommendation, no allusion to the author’s past. Paul is unacquainted with his correspondents, although he has heard them spoken of (Eph., i, 15), and they have heard of him (Eph., iii, 2; cf. iv, 21). When addressing himself to any particular church, even be it at the time still a stranger to him as, for instance, Rome or Colossae, the Apostle always assumes a personal tone; hence the abstract and general manner in which he treats his subject from the beginning to the end of the Epistle to the Ephesians can best be accounted for by beholding in this Epistle a circular letter to a group of churches still unknown to Paul. But this explanation, founded on the encyclical character of the Epistle, loses its value if the Church of Ephesus is numbered among those addressed; for, during his three years’ sojourn in this city, the Apostle had had frequent intercourse with the neighboring Christian communities, and in this case he would have had Ephesus especially in view, just as in writing to all the faithful of Achaia (II Cor., i, 1) it was chiefly to the Church of Corinth that he addressed himself.

Nevertheless, it was to a rather restricted circle of Christian communities that Paul sent this letter, as Tychicus was to visit them all and bring them news of him (Eph., vi, 21 sq.), which fact precludes the idea of all the churches of Asia Minor or of all the Gentile-Christian churches. Moreover, since Tychicus was bearer of the Epistle to the Colossians and that to the Ephesians at one and the same time (Col., iv, 7 sq.), those to whom the latter was addressed could not have been far from Colossae, and we have every reason to suppose them in Asia Minor. However, we do not believe that the Epistle in question was addressed to the churches immediately surrounding Colossae, as the perils which threatened the faith of the Colossians virtually endangered that of the neighboring communities, and wherefore, then, two letters differing in tone and object? Having had no personal intercourse with the Colossians, the Apostle would have been satisfied to address to them and their Christian neighbors an encyclical letter embodying all the matter treated in both Epistles. Hence it behooves us to seek elsewhere in Asia Minor, towards the year 60, a rather limited group of churches still unknown to St. Paul. Now, in the course of his three journeys, Paul had traversed all parts of Asia Minor except the northern provinces along the Black Sea, territory which he did not reach prior to his captivity. Nevertheless, the First Epistle of St. Peter shows us that the Faith had already penetrated these regions; hence, with the historical data at our disposal, it is in this vicinity that it seems most reasonable to seek those to whom the Epistle was addressed. These Christians must have been named in the authentic text of the inscription of this Epistle, as they are in all of St. Paul’s letters. Now, whenever the substantive participle appears in one of these inscriptions, it serves the sole purpose of introducing the mention of locality. We are therefore authorized to believe that, in the address of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph., i, 1: tois hagiois ousin kai pistois en Christo Iesou), this participle, so difficult to understand in the received text, originally preceded the designation of the place inhabited by the readers. One might assume that the line containing this designation was omitted owing to some distraction on the part of the first copyist; however, it would then be necessary to admit that the mention of locality, now in question, occurred in the midst of qualifying adjectives applied by the Apostle to his readers (hagiois tois ousin … pistois), and this is something that is never verified in the letters of St. Paul. Hence we may suppose that, in this address, the indication of place was corrupted rather than omitted, and this paves the way for conjectural restorations. We ourselves have proposed the following: tois hagiois tois ousin kat’ Irin tois en Christo Iesou. Ladeuze in Revue biblique, 1902, pp. 573 sq.) Grammatically, this phrase corresponds perfectly with the Apostle’s style (cf. Gal., i, 22; I Cor., i, 2; Phil., i, 1) and palaeographically, if transcribed in ancient capitals, it readily accounts for the corruption that has certainly been produced in the text. The Epistle to the Ephesians was, therefore, written to distant churches, located perhaps in various provinces [Pontus, Galatia, Polemonium (the kingdom of Polemon)] and, for this reason, requiring to be designated by a general term, but all situated along the River Iris.

These churches of the northeast of Asia Minor played rather an obscure part in the first century. When the first collection of the Apostle’s letters was made, a collection on which the entire textual tradition of these letters depends (cf. Zahn, Geschichte des N. T. Kanons, I, ii, p. 829), it was Ephesus that furnished the copy of this Epistle, having obtained it when Tychicus landed at that port, thence to set out for Colossae and in the direction of Pontus, and in this copy the text of the address had already been corrupted. Having come from Ephesus, this letter quickly passed for one to the Ephesians, the more so as there was no other written by the Apostle to the most celebrated of churches. This explains why, from the beginning, all except Marcion, even those who did not read the words en Epheso in the first verse (Origen, Tertullian), look upon this letter as an Epistle to the Ephesians, and why, in all MSS., it is transcribed under this title.

V. DATE AND PLACE OF COMPOSITION; OCCASION.—Like the Epistles to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and to Philemon, that to the Ephesians was written during the leisure hours of one of the Apostle’s imprisonments (Eph., iii, 1; iv, 1; vi, 20), when he had but little reason to resort to the services of a disciple to write in his name (De Wette, Ewald, and Renan). Lisco (Vincula Sanctorum, Berlin, 1900) is the only one nowadays who claims that these letters antedate the great captivity of St. Paul, maintaining that the Apostle must have written them while a prisoner in Ephesus in 57 and prior to those which he sent to the Corinthians and Romans. But we are not acquainted with any of the details of this captivity at Ephesus. Moreover, the doctrine set forth in the letters in question belongs to an epoch subsequent to the composition of the Epistle to the Romans (58); hence they were not written previously to the captivity in Caesarea (58-60). On the other hand, they are anterior to the first persecution, to which the author makes no allusion when describing the armor and combats of the faithful; wherefore they cannot be assigned to the last captivity. It consequently remains for them to be ascribed to a period between 58 and 63, but whether they were produced in Caesarea or in Rome (61-63) is still a much mooted question. The information gleaned here and there is very vague and the arguments brought forward are very doubtful. However, the freedom allowed Paul, and the evangelical activity he displays at the time of writing these letters, would seem more in keeping with his captivity in Rome (Acts, xxviii, 17-31) than in Caesarea (Acts, xxiii, sq.). One thing, however, is certain, once the authenticity of the Epistles to the Colossians and to the Ephesians is admitted, and that is that they were written at the same time. They both show fundamentally and formally a very close connection of which we shall speak later on. Tychicus was appointed to convey both Epistles to those to whom they were respectively addressed and to fulfil the same mission in behalf of them (Col., iv, 7 sq.; Eph., vi, 21 sq.). Verse 16 of chapter iv of Colossians does not seem to allude to the letter to the Ephesians, which would need to have been written first; besides, the Epistle here mentioned is scarcely an encyclical, the context leading us to look upon it as a special letter of the same nature as that sent to the Colossians. If, moreover, Paul knew that, before reaching Colossae Tychicus would deliver the Epistle to the Ephesians to the Christians at Laodicea, there was no reason why he should insert greetings for the Laodiceans in his Epistle to the Colossians (Col., iv, 15). It is more probable that the Epistle to the Ephesians was written in the second place. It would be less easy to understand why, in repeating to the Colossians the same exhortations that he had made to the Ephesians, for instance, on remarriage (Eph., v, 22 sqq.), the author should have completely suppressed the sublime dogmatic considerations upon which these exhortations had been based. Moreover we believe with Godet that: “It is more natural to think that, of these two mutually complemental letters, the one provoked by a positive request and a definite need [Col.] came first, and that the other [Eph.] was due to the greater solicitude evoked by the composition of the former.”

How, then, admitting that St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians, shall we explain the origin of this document? The Apostle, who was a captive at Rome, was informed by Epaphras of the dogmatic and moral errors that had come to light in Colossae and the neighboring cities, in churches of which he was not the founder. He also learned that he had been censured for not bringing to the perfection of Christianity those whom he had once converted, and for not taking sufficient interest in churches that had sprung up side by side with his own, although without his personal intervention (Col., i, 28-ii, 5). At the same time that Paul received the news concerning Colossae and its surroundings, he also heard (Eph., i, 15) that in a distant part of Asia Minor Christian communities had been brought to the Faith, perhaps by evangelists (Eph., iv, 11). Impressed by the accusations made against him, Paul took advantage of the departure of Tychicus for Colossae, to enter into communication with those Christians who had heard of him (Eph., iii, 2) and to address them a letter in which he had to limit himself to general considerations on Christianity, but he wished to prove his Apostolic solicitude for them by making them realize not only the dignity of their Christian vocation, but the oneness of the Church of God and the intimate union by which all the faithful, no matter what their history, are constituted a single body of which Christ is the head.

VI. AUTHENTICITY.—If one would only remember to whom the Epistle was addressed and on what occasion it was written, the objections raised against its Pauline authenticity could be readily answered.

(I) Relation to Other Books of the New Testament.—The letter to the Ephesians bears some resemblance to the Epistle to the Hebrews and the writings of St. Luke and St. John, in point of ideas and mode of expression, but no such resemblance is traceable in the great Pauline Epistles. Of course one of the Apostle’s writings might have been utilized in these later documents but these similarities are too vague to establish a literary relationship. During the four years intervening between the Epistle to the Romans and that to the Ephesians, St. Paul had changed his headquarters and his line of work, and we behold him at Rome and Caesarea connected with new Christian centers. It is, therefore, easy to understand why his style should savor of the Christian language used in these later books, when we recall that their object has so much in common with the matter treated in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Whatever may now and then have been said on the subject, the same phenomenon is noticeable in the Epistle to the Colossians. If, indeed, the Epistle to the Ephesians agrees with the Acts in more instances than does the Epistle to the Colossians, it is because the two former have one identical object, namely, the constitution of the Church by the calling of the Jews and Gentiles.

The relationship between the Epistle to the Ephesians and I Peter is much closer. The letter to the Ephesians, unlike most of the Pauline Epistles, does not begin with an act of thanksgiving but with a hymn similar, even in its wording, to that which opens I Peter. Besides, both letters agree in certain typical expressions and in the description of the duties of the domestic life, which terminates in both with the same exhortation to combat the devil. With the majority of critics, we maintain the relationship between these letters to be literary. But I Peter was written last and consequently depends on the Epistle to the Ephesians; for instance, it alludes already to the persecution, at least as impending. Sylvanus, the Apostle’s faithful companion, was St. Peter’s secretary (I Peter, v, 12), and it is but natural that he should make use of a letter, recently written by St. Paul, on questions analogous to those which he himself had to treat, especially as according to us, those addressed in both of these Epistles are, for the greater part, identical (cf. I Peter, i, 1).

The attacks made upon the authenticity of the Epistle to the Ephesians have been based mainly on its similarity to the Epistle to the Colossians, although some have maintained that the latter depends upon the former (Mayerhoff). In the opinion of Hitzig and Holtzmann, a forger living early in the second century and already imbued with Gnosticism used an authentic letter, written by Paul to the Colossians against the Judeo-Christians of the Apostolic Age, in composing the Epistle to the Ephesians, in conformity to which he himself subsequently revised the letter to the Colossians, giving it the form it has in the canon. De Wette and Ewald looked upon the Epistle to the Ephesians as a verbose amplification of the uncontroversial parts of the letter to the Colossians. However, it is only necessary to read first one of these documents and then the other, in order to see how exaggerated is this view. Von Soden finds a great difference between the two letters but nevertheless holds that several sections of the Epistle to the Ephesians are but a servile paraphrase of passages from the letter to the Colossians (Eph., iii, 1-9 and Col., i, 23-27; Eph., v, 21-vi, 9 and Col., iii, 18-iv, 1) and that still more frequently the later author follows a purely mechanical process by taking a single verse from the letter to the Colossians and using it to introduce and conclude, and serve as a frame, so to speak, for a statement of his own. Thus, he maintains that in Eph., iv, 25-31, the first words of verse 8 of Col., iii, have served as an introduction (Eph., iv, 25) and the last words of the same verse as a conclusion (Eph., iv, 31). Evidently such methods could not be attributed to the Apostle himself. But, neither are we justified in ascribing them to the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians. For instance, the duties of husband and wife are well set forth in Col., iii, 18, 19, but in these verses there is no comparison whatever between Christian marriage and that union of Christ with His Church such as characterizes the same exhortation in Eph., v, 22 sq.; consequently, it would be very arbitrary to maintain the latter text to be a vulgar paraphrase of the former. In comparing the texts quoted, the phenomenon of framing, to which von Soden called attention, can be verified in a single passage (Eph., iv, 2-16, where verse 2 resembles Col., iii, 12 sq. and where verses 15, 16, are like Col., ii, 19). In fact, throughout his entire exposition, the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians is constantly repeating ideas and even particular expressions that occur in the letter to the Colossians, and yet neither a servile imitation nor any one of the well-known offenses to which plagiarists are liable, can be proved against him.

Moreover, it is chiefly in their hortatory part that these two letters are so remarkably alike and this is only natural if, at intervals of a few days or hours, the same author had to remind two distinct circles of readers of the same common duties of the Christian life. In the dogmatic part of these two Epistles there is a change of subject, treated with a different intention and in another tone. In the one instance we have a hymn running through three chapters and celebrating the call of both Jews and Gentiles and the union of all in the Church of Christ; and in the other, an exposition of Christ’s dignity and of the adequacy of the means He vouchsafes us for the obtaining of our salvation, as also thanksgiving and especially prayers for those readers who are liable to misunderstand this doctrine. However, these two objects, Christ and the Church, are closely akin. Besides, if in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reproduces the ideas set forth in that to the Colossians, it is certainly less astonishing than to find a like phenomenon in the Epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans, as it is very natural that the characteristic expressions used by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Colossians should appear in the letter to the Ephesians, since both were written at the same time. In fact it has been remarked that he is prone to repeat typical expressions he has once coined (cf. Zahn, Einleitung, I, p. 363 sq.). Briefly, we conclude with Sabatier that: “These two letters come to us from one and the same author who, when writing the one, had the other in mind and, when composing the second, had not forgotten the first.” The vague allusions made in the Epistle to the Ephesians to some of the doctrinal questions treated in the Epistle to the Colossians, can be accounted for in this manner, even though these questions were never proposed by those to whom the former Epistle was addressed.

(2) Difficulties Arising from the Form and Doctrines.—The denial of the Pauline authenticity of the Epistle to the Ephesians is based on the special characteristics of the Epistle from the viewpoint of style as well as of doctrine, and, while differing from those of the great Pauline Epistles, these characteristics although more marked, resemble those of the letter to the Colossians. But we have already dwelt upon them at sufficient length.

The circumstances under which the Apostle must have written the Epistle to the Ephesians seem to account for the development of the doctrine and the remarkable change of style. During his two years’ captivity in Caesarea, Paul could not exercise his Apostolic functions, and in Rome, although allowed more liberty, he could not preach the Gospel outside of the house in which he was held prisoner. Hence he must have made up for his want of external activity by a more profound meditation on “his Gospel”. The theology of justification, of the Law, and of the conditions essential to salvation, he had already brought to perfection, having systematized it in the Epistle to the Romans and, although keeping it in view, he did not require to develop it any further. In his Epistle to the Romans (viii-xi, xvi, 25-27) he had come to the investigation of the eternal counsels of Providence concerning the salvation of men and had expounded, as it were, a philosophy of the religious history of mankind of which Christ was the center, as indeed He had always been the central object of St. Paul’s faith. Thus, it was on Christ Himself that the solitary meditations of the Apostle were concentrated; in the quiet of his prison he was to develop, by dint of personal intellectual labor and with the aid of new revelations, this first revelation received when “it pleased God to reveal His Son in him”. He was, moreover, urged by the news brought him from time to time by some of his disciples, as, for instance, by Epaphras, that, in certain churches, errors were being propagated which tended to lessen the role and the dignity of Christ, by setting up against Him other intermediaries in the work of salvation. On the other had, separated from the faithful and having no longer to travel constantly from one church to another, the Apostle was able to embrace in one sweeping glance all the Christians scattered throughout the world. While he resided in the center of the immense Roman Empire which, in its unity, comprised the world, it was the one universal Church of Christ, the fulfilment of the mysterious decrees revealed to him, the Church in which it had been his privilege to bring together Jews and pagans, that presented itself to him for contemplation.

These subjects of habitual meditation are naturally introduced in the letters that he had to write at that time. To the Colossians he speaks of Christ’s dignity; to the Ephesians, and we have seen why, of the unity of the Church. But in these Epistles, Paul addresses those who are unknown to him; he no longer needs, as in preceding letters, to combat theories which undermined the very foundation of the work and to refute enemies who, in their hatred, attacked him personally. Accordingly, there is no further occasion to use the serried argumentation with which he not only overthrew the arguments of his adversaries but turned them to the letters’ confusion. There is more question of setting forth the sublime considerations with which he is filled than of discussions. Then, ideas so crowd upon him that his pen is overtaxed; his sentences teem with synonyms and qualifying epithets and keep taking on new propositions, thus losing the sharpness and vigor of controversy and assuming the ample proportions of a hymn of adoration. Hence we can understand why, in these letters, Paul’s style grows dull and sluggish and why the literary composition differs so widely from that of the first Epistles. When writing to the Colossians he at least had one particular church to deal with and certain errors to refute, whereas, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, he addressed himself at one and the same time to a group of unknown churches of which he had received but vague information. There was nothing concrete in this and the Apostle was left entirely to himself and to his own meditations. This is the reason why the special characteristics already indicated in the Epistle to the Colossians appear even more pronounced in that to the Ephesians, particularly in the dogmatic part.

(3) Tradition.—If we thus keep in mind the circumstances under which Paul wrote both of these letters, their peculiar character seems no obstacle to their Pauline authenticity. Therefore, the testimony which, in their inscriptions (Col., i, 1; Eph., i, 1), they themselves render to this authenticity and the very ancient tradition which unanimously attributes them to the Apostle preserve all their force. From the traditional viewpoint the Epistle to the Ephesians is in the same class as the best attested letters of St. Paul. Used in the First Epistle of St. Peter, in the Epistle of St. Polycarp, in the works of St. Justin, perhaps in the Didache and I Clement, it appears to have been already well known towards the end of the first century. Marcion and St. Irenaeus ascribe it to St. Paul and it seems that St. Ignatius, when writing to the Ephesians, had already made use of it as Pauline. It is also to be noted that if the authenticity of this Epistle has been denied by most of the liberal critics since Schleiermacher’s day, it is nevertheless conceded by many modern critics, Protestants among them, and held at least as probable by Harnack and Jülicher. In fact the day seems to be approaching when the whole world will recognize as the work of St. Paul, this Epistle to the Ephesians, of which St. John Chrysostom admired the sublime sentences and doctrines: noematon meste … hupselon kai dogmaton.


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