As we begin to study Ephesians we must make sure that we interpret it correctly. The golden rule of interpretation is “What did the original hearers hear?” In order to know this we must know something of the author, his audience, and the circumstances surrounding his writing.
Paul is the human author
When God inspired the Bible the men He used were not robots. The Holy Spirit used these men’s experiences, personalities, and vocabularies to communicate His truth. Understanding who Paul was will help us better understand his letter to the church at Ephesus. Paul was an up and coming Jewish rabbi. He would have known the Bible better than almost all of his contemporaries and would have also been aware of Jesus and the events of his life. Paul knew of Jesus and had rejected Him. He was not seeking salvation nor was he seeking Jesus. However, Jesus was seeking him. Paul did not choose Christ; Christ chose Paul. Paul was saved by God’s gracious intervention in his life. This fact helps us better understand the sequence of salvation that Paul lays out in Ephesians 1-2. Also Paul always began preaching the Gospel to Jews and when they inevitably rejected him he would in turn preach to the Gentiles. Because of this Paul was in a very unique position to help Jews and Gentiles understand their unity in Christ (Ephesians 2.)
The church at Ephesus was the audience
In Acts 18-19 we read of the founding of the church in Ephesus by Paul. Ephesus was a wealthy city that had tremendous influence in the Roman Empire. It was originally a Greek settlement, so the vast majority of its citizens were Greek. Ephesus had no real natural resources or geographical position to create power and wealth; in fact it is a little shepherd village today. All of the wealth and influence of Ephesus was generated by the worship of Artemis (Diana.) The Temple of Diana was one of the wonders of the ancient world. All of the commerce in Ephesus was related to religious tourism. Because of this the Ephesians were very superstitious and idolatrous. There were Jews in Ephesus who would have both despised the Greeks and been despised by the Greeks. Christians and Jews were especially hated because if people stopped worshiping Diana the whole Ephesian economy would collapse.
The circumstances surrounding Paul’s letter
Because of the religious animosity and superstitious culture the church at Ephesus was facing several issues. How do Jews and Gentiles get along in the church after so many years of hatred between the two? How does someone become a Christian anyway? In addition to this the financial stability of Christians would have been rocked because the decline of idolatry was also the decline of the Ephesian economy. What riches and blessings are there in Christ? Also, the Greeks have come out of centuries of paganism. How do you now live as a Christian? How does Christ change your marriage? The way you raise your children? Finally, they still lived in a culture steeped in idolatry and witchcraft. How do you overcome the powers of darkness?
Outline of Ephesians
In addressing all these things Paul divides his letter in to two main parts. Chapters 1-3 deal mainly with Christianity from a theological or head knowledge perspective. How does one become a Christian? What about Jews and Gentiles? These things are all addressed in the first three chapters. Chapters 4-6 deal mainly with how this theology is lived out in practical, daily life. Here Paul deals with gender roles, marriage, children, and spiritual warfare.
Have you been radically changed by Jesus? Will you study Ephesians so that you might better understand what it means to be a Christian and how to live in our pagan culture?