This epistle is the great Pauline letter about the Christian Church. It deals not so much with a particular congregation in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor as with the universal worldwide (Latin "catholic") church, the Head of which is Christ (Ephesians 4:15), the purpose of which is to be His instrument for making God's plan of salvation known throughout the whole universe (Ephesians 3:9-10). This ecclesiology is anchored in God's saving love, shown in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-10), and the whole of redemption is rooted in the plan and accomplishment of the triune God (Ephesians 1:3-14). Its language is often that of doxology (Ephesians 1:3-14) and prayer (see Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-19); in fact, the language of liturgy and hymns (Ephesians 3:20-21; 5:14). The passage in 6:10-20 is well known as the "armor of God" passage which describes Christians as being in battle (but a spiritual one), verses 13-17 use military apparatus to describe a Christian's "armor".
Ephesians emphasizes the unity in the church of Christ that has been achieved by Him for both Jews and Gentiles within God's household (Ephesians 1:15–2:22, especially 2:11-22) and the "seven unities" of church, Spirit, hope; one Lord, faith and baptism; and the one God (Ephesians 4:4-6). Paul's concern is not solely with the church for its own sake but rather as the means for mission in the world (Ephesians 3:1–4:24). The gifts Christ gives its members as his body are intended to lead to growth and renewal (Ephesians 4:7-24). He includes ethical admonition; all aspects of human life and relationships are illumined by the light of Christ (Ephesians 4:25–6:20).
Paul labored for well over two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), yet to many there is an oddly impersonal tone in a letter written to a community with which Paul was so intimately acquainted (see Ephesians 3:2 and 4:21)—there are no personal greetings (see 6:23). For Bible scholars and exegetes it is significant that important early manuscripts do not include the words "in Ephesus" (1:1). Many of them therefore regard the letter as an encyclical or "circular letter" intended to be sent to a number of churches in Asia Minor, with the addresses to be designated in each place by its bearer, Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21-22). And others believe that Ephesians is the letter Paul refers to in Colossians 4:16 as "the letter from the church in Laodicea".
As the sole author (Ephesians 1:1) Paul describes in almost unparalleled terms the significance of the role he has been given in bringing the Gentiles to faith in Christ (3:1-12). At the time he wrote the letter he was in prison (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), suffering afflictions (3:13). For this reason it is one of those letters called his "Captivity Epistles". It has been dated to an imprisonment in Rome, most likely in A.D. 61-63. The King James Bible notes at the end of the letter, "Written from Rome unto the Ephesians by Tychicus". Others propose an earlier imprisonment, perhaps in Caesarea (Acts 23:27–27:2).
Nineteenth century skeptical critical scholarship has considered the letter's style and use of words (especially when compared with Colossians), the whole representative concept of the church it presents, and other doctrinal points put forward, as grounds for serious doubt about its authorship by Paul. Many of them suggest that it may therefore be instead either the work of a secretary (possibly Tychicus) taking dictation and putting it into good form for him, or the composition of a later disciple who sought to faithfully develop Paul's own ideas for a new situation in the church sometime around A.D. 80-100.
The letter to the Ephesians may be principally divided into five sections as follows:
- Address (1:1-14)
- Unity of the Church in Christ (1:15–2:22)
- The World Mission of the Church (3:1–4:24)
- Daily Christian Conduct, as an Expression of Unity (4:25–6:20)
- Conclusion (6:21-24)
Chapter 1 The great blessings we have received through Christ. He is the head of all the church.
Chapter 2 All our good come through Christ. He is our peace.
Chapter 3 The mystery hidden from former ages, was discovered to the apostle, to be imparted to the Gentiles. He prays that they may be strengthened in God.
Chapter 4 He exhorts them to unity; to put on the new man; and to flee from sin.
Chapter 5 Exhortations to a virtuous life. The mutual duties of man and wife, by the example of Christ, and the church.
Chapter 6 Duties of children and servants. The Christian's armor.
- The information here is adapted from the introduction to Ephesians in the New American Bible, copyright 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., including the Revised New Testament, copyright 1986. Chapter summaries from the Douay-Rheims Bible, The New Testament, First published by The English College at Rheims, A.D. 1582.
- The latin word "catholic" simply means "universal", that is, for all times, for every generation, in every place. As early as c. A.D. 110, in the epistles of Ignatius, the word was already used as referring to the whole Christian Church.
- The Captivity epistles are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy. Some include the Letter to the Hebrews (see Hebrews 10:34; 13:19, 23).