OUTLINE 1 Introductory Outline on the Letter to the
1. TIME AND PLACE OF ORIGIN
a. The letter to the Ephesians belongs to the so-called ‘prison epistles’.
These are: 1. Ephesians; 2. Philippians; 3. Colossians; 4. Philemon.
Why are they given this description?
(See Ephesians 3: 1, 6: 2; Philippians 1: 7, l2; Colossians 4: 3, 18;
Philemon vss. 1, 9, 10, 22).
b. Were these letters written during one and the same imprisonment?
Yes - compare these texts: Ephesians 6: 21, 22; Colossians 4: 7-9;
Philemon vs. 10, etc.
It is clear therefore that (i) the same people delivered the letters
namely, Tychicus and Onesimus, and (ii) the same helpers were with
Paul or in close association with him. They are Luke (Colossians 4:
14, Philemon vs. 24), Mark (Colossians 4: 10), Demas (Colossians 4:
14, Philemon vs. 24), Aristarchus, a fellow prisoner (Colossians 4: 10,
Philemon vs. 24), Epaphras (Colossians 4: 12, Philemon vs. 23), also
a fellow prisoner, and Timothy (Colossians 1: 1, Philemon vs. 1).
In Philippians 1: 1 and 2: 9, it appears that Timothy was also present
with Paul when he wrote his letter to the congregation of Philippi.
From this it can be deduced that this letter was written during the
same period of imprisonment, all the more so, because the
circumstances appear to be the same.
Tradition refers unfailingly to these four letters as ‘prison epistles’.
c. Which period of imprisonment is indicated?
The book of Acts mentions four:
1. at Philippi (16: 22 ff.)
2. at Jerusalem (21: 34 ff.)
3. at Caesarea (23: 33 - 26: 32)
4. at Rome (28: 16, 30).
The first two must be excluded because
a. they would have been of too short a duration to allow Paul to
b. the people mentioned in 1b were not all with him during those
Thus the imprisonments at Caesarea and Rome now remain to be
considered. The latter must be taken to be Paul’s first imprisonment
(Acts 28). Several years later, he was again imprisoned in Rome, but
in greatly altered, less favourable circumstances. During this second
period of imprisonment he wrote 2 Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1: 8, 4:
From ancient times, people concluded that Paul was writing from
Rome during his first imprisonment, which lasted for two years
under favourable circumstances (Acts 28: 30, 31). However, since the
mid-nineteenth century many commentators stated Caesarea to be
the place of dispatch. However, the following facts do not support this
1. Paul writes in Colossians 4: 11 that Mark and Jesus Justus (or
Joshua Justus - the righteous one - a Latin name given to this
Joshua, a convert from Israel) were the only Jews who worked
with him for the Kingdom of God, and therefore were not
Judaizers, which was a great comfort to him. This sounds like
a complaint, but it is not applicable to Caesarea, where the
evangelist Philip and others also lived (Acts 8: 40). Shortly
before his imprisonment, Paul had lodged with this brother
(Acts 21: 8-10).
Question: Who are the Judaizers?
2. Onesimus, the runaway slave (Philemon v 10-17; cf. Colossians
4: 9) would sooner have fled to Rome than to Caesarea because
he would have had more chance to ‘hide’ in that large
3. What Paul writes in Philemon v 22 (cf. Philippians 2: 24)
would not apply to his imprisonment in Caesarea; there the
apostle did not have the slightest prospect of being released
and of paying a visit to Colosse within a short time; he had
appealed to Caesar and was therefore certain of having to go to
Rome first, and for who knows how long?
4. It is most improbable that Paul, being imprisoned at Caesarea
would have had opportunity to preach the Gospel, whereof he
speaks in Ephesians 6: 19 ff. and Colossians 4: 8. He did have
this opportunity in Rome, according to Acts 28: 30, 31.
Since the beginning of this century, many scholars have thought it
necessary to nominate Ephesus as the place of Paul’s imprisonment,
from where these letters must have been sent (Acts 19: 24-40; 1
Corinthians 15: 32). There is also no valid reason for this viewpoint,
1. to say the least, it is strange that Luke (who was
accompanying the imprisoned apostle - see v16) does not even
hint at Paul being imprisoned at Ephesus, even though he
makes mention of Paul’s work in that city (for 2 to 3 years).
2. in 1 Corinthians 15: 32 Paul does not speak of an actual
encounter with wild beasts. It is apparent from the addition “in
the manner of men”that Paul is using figurative language.
3. the fact that Aristarchus is mentioned (in Colossians 4: 10;
Philemon vs. 24) supports the Roman imprisonment, because
he is only mentioned as being in the apostle’s company after
Paul’s stay in Ephesus (Acts 20: 4), and he accompanied him on
his journey to Rome (Acts 27: 2).
There is sufficient ground to accept the traditional view that
the ‘prison epistles’ were sent from Rome (presumably between
the years 59 and 63 AD).
To whom was this letter sent?
What the apostle writes in Ephesians 1: 1 (NKJV) makes one think that it
is addressed to the congregation at Ephesus. The words “in Ephesus” are
found in most manuscripts, but are missing in some. The omission of these
words is very difficult to explain - their addition, however, is simple.
Origenes (a famous writer from the 3rd century) does not recognise them as
part of the text. Basilius (4th century) also declares that they are not found
in the earliest manuscripts. Generally people accept that the words “in
Ephesus” are not original. This is reinforced by the contents of the letter.
In none of the letters written by Paul to the congregations, instituted by his
own preaching, or with which he was personally acquainted, does he omit
making reference to his ‘spiritual fatherhood’ and work.
However, in the letter to the Ephesians, we cannot find a single reference
in this vein, even though he had preached there for quite some time. First
for a short period (Acts 18: 19-21), and after that for three years (Acts 19: 1,
8, 10; 20: 31). Think of the emotional farewell when Paul asked for the
elders of the church of Ephesus to come to him at Miletus. (Acts 20: 17-38).
On the contrary: the apostle gives the clear impression that in general he
does not know the believers he is addressing (1: 15) and that those who are
being addressed, have not, on the whole, heard the Gospel from him
personally (3: 2; 4: 21). Paul writes to the Church at Colosse: "Now when
this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the
Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (4: 16). It
actually says, “from out of Laodicea”, and it has been suggested that this
latter piece of writing, which is not directly addressed to Laodicea, but is to
be passed on from there, is the letter we are dealing with here.
In any case, it appears from this that Paul frequently intended his letters
to be passed around. Also this letter would have been destined for a group
of churches in Asia Minor. Perhaps various letters were gathered and
bundled together in the ‘mother church’, Ephesus, and therefore the words,
“who are in Ephesus”, have crept in with the copying of the manuscripts.1
3. THE REASON FOR WRITING
The reason for writing this letter is implied by its contents.
Among the believers to whom Paul is directing his words, there was no
evidence of the powerful faith which would make them live a holy and
pious life, worthy of the calling to which they have been called. They had
been transplanted from the darkness of the heathen world into the light of
Christ’s one, catholic Church, but they were not letting enough of the lustre
of their noble position shine in the dark world around them. The fact that
they, former gentiles, had also been endowed with the honour of being
children of God and with the treasures of His covenant, needed to be
Paul is moved with pastoral concern: are they Christ’s legible epistles?
4. THE AIM OF HIS WRITING
Closely connected to this is the aim which the writer has set before him,
namely to admonish the believers to walk a pure, godly, new way of life,
and thus reveal themselves as being the people of the LORD; the private
possession of Jesus Christ their Lord.
5. THE CONTENTS OF THE LETTER
What has been written so far throws some light upon the contents of the
letter to the Ephesians.
Read the introductions from various commentaries.
Now try to make your own short summary of the letter.
Take note of the following:
1. The letter is undeniably divided into two parts: (i) chapters 1 to 3 and
(ii) chapters 4 to 6.
2. What Paul writes in the first part serves as a basis, a foundation of
the second part.
3. In the beautiful first part, the apostle illustrates the history of his
readers from this viewpoint, that therein God’s counsel, His
oikonomia (economy) i.e. His plan, His regulating and ordained
structure, becomes reality. The central significance of Jesus Christ in
and before the history of the human race receives great emphasis,
particularly in the proclamation of the Gospel among the gentiles,
1 Question: Does this detract from the authenticity and divine authority of
whereby the mystery that has been hidden over the centuries, is
revealed (1: 10, 3: 9).
4. These two sections, the ‘doctrinal’ and the ‘practical’, can of course be
described in various ways. They could also be described as:
(1) The fullness of God’s counsel wrought in Christ for His Church;
(2) The gifts of Christ applied and at work within His Church.
An alternative is:
(1) The glorying of the believers in the one part of God’s Covenant:
the treasures they have in Christ Jesus (1: 1 to 3: 21);
(2) The believers admonished to keep the other part of God’s
Covenant: walk in new obedience.
Since all true religion is only possible within the Covenant relationship, I
consider this division (based on the Form for the Baptism of Infants) to be
the most pointed, because “the friendship of the LORD is for those who fear
him and he makes known to them his Covenant” (Ps. 25: 14 RSV). After all,
in the first section, Paul speaks about ‘making known his Covenant’ to the
gentiles. The fear, wherein the LORD intimately goes around with those
who are His own, is dealt with in the second section.