One Lord, one faith, one baptism…
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Pauline post. Ephesians is one of Paul’s more solicitous letters. Paul does not chide the Ephesians as he does the Corinthians –for since there is jealousy and quarreling among you… . Nor does Paul rebuke as against the Galatians – you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?!
Paul seems to think highly of the churches in the area of Ephesus. His letter to the church at Colossae is one of encouragement, and he gently corrects rumors of improper teaching by missionaries who are not sent by the Apostles. His letter to Philemon is personally engaging. Some scholars struggle with the authorship of Ephesians for the simple reason that he makes no reference to anyone in the Ephesian church, nor does he recall any personal experiences from his time in Ephesus.
That may have been because he was in prison. While in prison at Ephesus, though, Paul learns of the state of the churches in Colossae and Laodicea. The biblical scholar Helmut Koerster of Harvard (and a former student of Bultmann) has sided with the traditionalists on the dating of the Letter to the Ephesians. He claims that Paul wrote Colossians and Philemon from Ephesus, rather than Rome. That would date those two letters to 53-55 a.d. This would also imply that Paul met Onesimus in prison in Ephesus, rather than Rome. Not all scholars agree on that. In fact, most historical critical scholars would lean towards Rome.
But Ephesians would logically have been written after he left Ephesus. Likely written from Rome (60-65 a.d.) prior to Paul’s death, one would not expect Paul to have immediate knowledge of the situation in Ephesus unless he met with and was briefed by Christians from the Ephesian community in Rome. If Koester’s dating of the Epistle to the Colossians is correct, then Paul wrote to Ephesus ten years after he wrote the more familiar and personal letter to the Colossian community, or to Philemon. If true, then there should be little surprise that he does personalize his letter to Ephesus, since a decade had passed since he had been there himself. Paul does mention that he will send Tychicus (6:21) to the church, but that is for the purpose of sending news, not gathering it.
Dating the epistle to the Ephesians at 62 and Colossians and Philemon to 52-55 appears to make more sense than dating Colossians and Philemon to 62 and claiming that Paul never wrote Ephesians. Again, the historical-critical scholars reach for straws and come up short in terms of evidence and logic.
Paul emphasizes Christian unity. He implicitly endorses a monotheism that equates Jesus with God, and does not subordinate Jesus to the role of a demiurge or prophet. And he tells us that baptism is the door to participation in the faith. He also encourages the Ephesian Church to remain united in anticipation of what he probably suspects: the continued and future persecution of Christians. Paul is not writing to the Ephesians in 60 a.d. to hail brother preachers and house-church leaders. He is giving something of a valedictory address. with time running out, Paul writes a letter that gives instructions on Christian living and Christian unity.
Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
While some scholars dispute Paul’s authorship, it is to me quite evident. With Paul in prison and soberly realizing that his days may be numbered, he sends a letter to the Ephesian community that could, in fact, serve to be read in any church. Realizing that he may never have another opportunity to visit, or even write to, these communities, he stresses perseverance and courage in a very pastoral and paternal manner.