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EPHESIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 1

 

INTRODUCTION to EPHESIANS

 

THE SITUATION OF EPHESUS, AND THE CHARACTER OF ITS PEOPLE.

This Epistle purports to have been written to the "saints at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus," though, as we shall see, the fact of its having been directed to the church at Ephesus has been called in question. Assuming now that it was sent to Ephesus, it is of importance to have a general view of the situation of that city, of the character of its people, and of the time and manner in which the gospel was introduced there, in order to a correct understanding of the epistle. Ephesus was a celebrated city of Ionia in Asia Minor, and was about 40 miles south of Smyrna, and near the mouth of the river Cayster. The river, though inferior in beauty to the Meander, which flows south of it, waters a fertile vale of the ancient Ionia. Ionia was the most beautiful and fertile part of Asia Minor; was settled almost wholly by Greek colonies; and embosomed Pergamos, Smyrna, Ephesus, and Miletus. See Travels of Anacharsis, i. 91,208; vi. 192, 97, 98. The climate of Ionia is represented as remarkably mild, and the air as pure and sweet, and this region became early celebrated for everything that constitutes softness and effeminacy in life. Its people were distinguished for amiableness and refinement of manners; and also for luxury, for music and dancing, and for the seductive arts that lead to vicious indulgence. Numerous festivals occupied them at home, or attracted them to neighbouring cities, where the men appeared in magnificent habits, and the women in all the elegance of female ornament, and with all the desire of pleasure.— Anachar.

Ephesus was not, like Smyrna, distinguished for commercial advantages. The consequence has been that, not having such advantage, it has fallen into total ruin, while Smyrna has retained some degree of its ancient importance It was in a rich region of country, and seems to have risen into importance mainly because it became the favourite resort of foreigners in the worship of Diana, and owed its celebrity to its temple more than to anything else. This city was once, however, the most splendid city in Asia Minor. Stephens, the geographer, gives it the title of Epiphanestate, or "Most Illustrious;" Pliny styles it "The Ornament of Asia." In Roman times it was the metropolis of Asia, and unquestionably rose to a degree of splendour that was surpassed by few, if any, oriental cities.

That for which the city was most celebrated was the temple of Diana. This temple was 425 feet in length, and 220 in breadth. It was encompassed by 127 pillars, each 60 feet in height, which were presented by as many kings. Some of those pillars, it is said, are yet to be seen in the mosque of St. Sophia at Constantinople, having been removed there when the church of St. Sophia was erected. These, however, were the pillars that constituted a part of the temple after it had been burned and was repaired, though it is probable that the same pillars were retained in the second temple which had constituted the glory of the first. All the provinces of Asia Minor contributed to the erection of this splendid temple, and two hundred years were consumed in building it. This temple was set on fire by a man named Herostratus, who, when put to the torture, confessed that his only motive was to immortalize his name. The general assembly of the states of Ionia passed a decree to devote his name to oblivion; but the fact of the decree has only served to perpetuate it. Cicer. De Nat. Deor. 2, 27. Plutarch. Life of Alex. Comp. Anachar. vi. 189. The whole of the edifice was consumed, except the four walls and some of the columns. It was, however, rebuilt, with the same magnificence as before, and was regarded as one of the wonders of the world. It is now in utter ruin. After the temple had been repeatedly pillaged by the barbarians, Justinian removed the columns to adorn the church of St. Sophia at Constantinople. The place where it stood can now be identified certainly, if at all, only by the marshy spot on which it was erected, and by the prodigious arches raised above as a foundation. The vaults formed by them compose a sort of labyrinth, and the water is knee-deep beneath. There is not an apartment entire; but thick walls, shafts of columns, and fragments of every kind, are scattered around in confusion. Ency. Geog. ii. 273, 274.

In the reign of Tiberius, Ephesus was greatly damaged by an earthquake; but it was repaired and embellished by the emperor. In the war between Mithridates and the Romans, Ephesus took part with the former, and, massacred the Romans who dwelt in it. Syll severely punished this cruelty; but Ephesus was afterwards treated with lenity, and enjoyed its own laws, with other privileges. About the end of the eleventh century, it was seized by a pirate named Tangripermes, but he was routed by John Ducas, the Greek admiral, in a bloody battle. Theodorus Lascarus, a Greek, made himself master of it in 1206. The Mohammedans recovered it in 1283. In the year 1401, Tamerlane employed a whole month in plundering the city and the neighbouring country. Shortly after the city was set on fire, and was mostly burned in a combat between the Turkish governor and the Tartars. In 1405 it was taken by Mahomet I., and has continued since that time in the possession of the Turks. Calmet.

There is now a small and mean village named Ayasaluk, near the site of the ancient town, consisting of a few cottages, which is all that now represents this city of ancient splendour. Dr. Chavolla says, "The inhabitants are a few Greek peasants, living in extreme wretchedness, dependence, and insensibility; the representatives of an illustrious people, and inhabiting the wreck of their greatness-some in the substructions of the glorious edifices which they raised—some beneath the vaults of the Stadium, once the crowded scene of their diversions—and some by the abrupt precipice in the sepulchres which received their ashes. Its streets are obscured and overgrown. A herd of goats was driven to it for shelter from the sun at noon, and a noisy flight of crows, from the quarries, seemed to insult its silence. We heard the partridge call in the area of the theatre and the stadium. The glorious pomp of its heathen worship is no longer numbered; and Christianity which was here nursed by apostles, and fostered by general councils, until it increased to fulness of stature, barely lingers on in an existence hardly visible." Travels. p. 131. Oxford, 1775. A very full and interesting description of Ephesus, as it appeared in 1739 may be seen in Pococke's Travels, vol. ii. Part ii. pp. 45—53, ed. Lond. 1745. Several ruins are described by him, but they have mostly now disappeared. The temple of Diana was on the western side of the plain on which the city was built, and the site is now in the midst of a morass which renders access difficult. The ruins of several theatres and other buildings are described by Pococke.

In the year 1821, Mr Fisk, the American Missionary, visited the ruins of Ephesus, of which he has given the following account. "We sent back our horses to Aisaluck, and set out on foot to survey the ruins of Ephesus. The ground was covered with high grass or grain, and a very heavy dew rendered the walking rather unpleasant. On the east side of the hill, we found nothing worthy of notice; no appearance of having been occupied for buildings. On the north side was the circus or stadium. Its length, from east to west, is forty rods or one stadium. The north or lower side was supported by arches, which still remain. The area, where the races used to be performed, is now a field of wheat. At the west end was the gate. The walls adjoining it are still standing, and are of considerable height and strength. North of the stadium, and separated only by a street, is a large square, inclined with fallen walls, and filled with the ruins of various edifices. A street running north and south divides this square in the centre. West of the stadium is an elevation of ground level at the top, with an immense pedestal in the centre of it. What building stood there it is not easy to say. Between this and the stadium was a street passing from the great plain north of Ephesus, into the midst of the city.

"I found on the plains of Ephesus some Greek peasants, men and women, employed in pulling up tares and weeds from the wheat. I ascertained, however, that they all belonged to villages at a distance, and came there to labour. Tournefort says that, when he was at Ephesus, there were thirty or forty Greek families there. Chandler found only ten or twelve individuals. Now no human being lives in Ephesus; and in Aisaluck, which may be considered as Ephesus under another name, though not on precisely the same spot of ground, there are merely a few miserable Turkish huts.

"The plain of Ephesus is now very unhealthy, owing to the fogs and mist which almost continually rest upon it. The land, however, is rich, and the surrounding country is both fertile and healthy. The adjacent hills would furnish many delightful situations for villages, if the difficulties were removed which are thrown in the way by a despotic government, oppressive argas, and wandering banditti." Missionary Herald for 1821, p. 219.

 

II.—-THE INTRODUCTION OF THE GOSPEL AT EPHESUS.

IT is admitted by all that the gospel was introduced into Ephesus by the apostle Paul. He first preached there when on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem, about the year 54. Ac 18:19. On this visit he went into the synagogue, as was his usual custom, and preached to his own countrymen, but he does not appear to have preached publicly to the heathen. He was requested to remain longer with them, but he said he must by all means be in Jerusalem at the approaching feast—probably the passover. Ac 18:21. He promised, however, to visit them again if possible, and sailed from Ephesus to Jerusalem. Two persons had gone with Paul from Corinth—Priscilla and Aquila—whom he appears to have left at Ephesus, or who at any rate soon returned there. Ac 18:18,26. During the absence of Paul, there came to Ephesus a certain Jew, born in Alexandria, named Apollos, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, who had received the baptism of John, and who taught the doctrine that John had taught. Ac 18:24,25. What was the precise nature of that doctrine it is difficult now to understand. It seems to have been, in substance, that repentance was necessary, that baptism was to be performed, and that the Messiah was about to appear. This doctrine Apollos had embraced with zeal, was ready to defend it, and was in just the state of mind to welcome the news that the Messiah had come. This zealous and talented man, Priscilla and Aquila instructed more fully in the doctrines of the Christian religion, and communicated to him the views which they had received from Paul. Ac 18:26. Paul having gone to Jerusalem as he purposed, returned again to Asia Minor, and taking Phrygia and Galatia in his way, revisited Ephesus, and remained there about three years. Ac 18:23; 19:1, seq. It was during this time that the church was founded, which afterwards became so prominent, and to which this epistle was written. The principal events in the life of Paul there were,

(1.) his baptizing the twelve persons whom he found there, who were disciples of John. See Barnes "Ac 19:1"

and following.

(2.) Paul went into the synagogue there, and engaged in an earnest discussion with the Jews, about three months, respecting the Messiah, Ac 19:8-10.

(3.) When many of the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue, and obtained a place to preach in, in the school-room of a man by the name of Tyrannus. In this place he continued to preach without molestation for two years, and proclaimed the gospel, so that a large portion of the inhabitants had an opportunity of hearing it.

(4.) The cause of religion was greatly promoted by the miracles which Paul wrought, Ac 19:11-17.

(5.) Paul remained there until his preaching excited great commotion, and he was at last driven away by the tumult which was excited by Demetrius, Ac 19:23-41. At this time the gospel had secured such a hold on the people that there was danger that the temple of Diana would be forsaken, and that all who were dependent on the worship of Diana for a livelihood would be thrown out of employment. It is not probable that Paul visited Ephesus after this, unless it was after his first imprisonment at Rome. See Intro. to 2 Timothy. On his way from Macedonia to Jerusalem he came to Miletus, and sent for the elders of Ephesus, and gave them his deeply affecting parting address, expecting to see them no more, Ac 20:16, seq.

Paul remained longer at Ephesus than he did at any other one place preaching the gospel. He seems to have set himself deliberately to work to establish a church there which would ultimately overthrow idolatry. Several reasons may have led him to depart so far from his usual plan, by labouring so long in one place. One may have been that this was the principle seat of idolatry then in the world. The evident aim of Paul in his ministry was, to reach the centres of influence and power. Hence he mainly sought to preach the gospel in large cities, and thus it was that Antioch, and Ephesus, and Corinth, and Athens, and Philippi, and Rome, shared so largely in his labours. Not ashamed of the gospel anywhere, he yet sought mainly that its power should be felt where wealth, and learning, and genius, and talent were concentrated. The very places, therefore, where the most magnificent temples were erected to the gods, and where the worship of idols was celebrated with the most splendour and pomp, and where that worship was defended most strongly by the civil arm, were those in which the apostles sought first to preach the gospel. Ephesus, therefore, as the most splendid seat of idolatry at that time in the whole Pagan world, particularly attracted the attention of the apostle, and hence it was that he was willing to spend so large a part of his public life in that place. It may have been for this reason that John afterwards made it his permanent abode, and spent so many years there as the minister of the church which had been founded by Paul. See % 3. Another reason why Paul sought Ephesus as a field of labour may have been, that it was at that time not only the principal seat of idolatry, but was a place of great importance in the civil affairs of the Roman empire. It was the residence of the Roman proconsul, and the seat of the courts of justice in Asia Minor, and consequently was a place to which there would be attracted a great amount of learning and talent. Macknight. The apostle, therefore, seems to have been anxious that the full power of the gospel should be tried there, and that Ephesus should become as important as a centre of influence in the Christian world, as it had been in Paganism and in civil affairs.

III.—-NOTICES OF THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS.

THE church at Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia, and the first one mentioned to which John was directed to address an epistle from Patmos, Re 2:1-7. Little is said of it in the New Testament from the time when Paul left it until the book of Revelation was written. The tradition is, that Timothy was a minister at Ephesus, and was succeeded by the apostle John; but whether John came there while Timothy was living, or not until his removal or death, even tradition does not inform us. In the subscription to the second epistle to Timothy, it is said of Timothy that he was "ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians;" but this is of no authority whatever. All that can be with certainty learned about the residence of Timothy at Ephesus is what the Apostle Paul says of him in his first epistle to Timothy, 1 Ti 1:3: "As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine." From this it would appear that the residence of Timothy at Ephesus was a temporary arrangement, designed to secure a result which Paul wished particularly to secure, and to avoid an evil which he had reason to dread would follow from his own absence. That it was a temporary arrangement is apparent from the fact, that Paul soon after desired him to come to Rome, 2 Ti 4:9,11. The second epistle of Paul to Timothy was written but a few years after the first. According to Lardner, the first was written in the year 56, and the second in the year 62; according to Hug, the first was written in the year 59, and the second in the year 61; according to the editor of the Polyglott Bible, the first was written a.D. 65, and the second A.D. 66. According to either calculation, the time of the residence of Timothy in Ephesus was brief. There is not the slightest evidence, from the New Testament, that he was a permanent bishop of Ephesus, or indeed that he was a bishop at all, in the modern sense of the term. Those who may be disposed to look further into this matter, and to examine the relation which Timothy sustained to the church of Ephesus, and the claim which is sometimes set up for his having sustained the office of a bishop, may find an examination in the Review of Bishop Onderdonk's Tract on Episcopacy, published in the Quarterly Christian Spectator in March, 1834, and March, 1835, and republished in 1843 under the title of "The Organization and Government of the Apostolic Church," [pp. 91—114. London edition.]

Whatever was the relation which he sustained to the church in Ephesus, it is agreed on all hands that John the apostle spent there a considerable portion of his life. At what time he went to Ephesus, or why he did it, is not now known. The common opinion is, that he remained at or near Jerusalem for some fifteen years after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, during which time he had the special charge of Mary the mother of the Saviour; that he then preached the gospel to the Parthians and the Indians, and at he then returned and went to Ephesus, in or near which he spent his latter days, and in which, at a very advanced age, he died. It was from Ephesus that, under the Emperor Domitian, A.D. 95, he was banished to the island of Patmos, from which he returned A.D. 97, on the accession of Nerva to the crown, who recalled all who had been banished. John is supposed at that time to have been about ninety years of age. He is said to have died at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan, A.D. 100, aged about ninety-four years. For a full and interesting biography of the apostle John, the reader may consult the "Lives of the Apostles," by David Francis Bacon, pp. 307—376.

Of the subsequent history of the church at Ephesus little is known, and it would not be necessary to dwell upon it in order to an exposition of the epistle before us. It is sufficient to remark, that the "candlestick is removed out of its place," (Re 2:5,) and that all the splendour of the temple of Diana, all the pomp of her worship, and all the glory of the Christian church there, have alike faded away.

IV.—-THE TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING THE EPISTLE.

It has never been denied that the Apostle Paul was the author of this epistle, though it has been made a question whether it were written to the Ephesians or to the Laodiceans. See % v. Dr. Paley (Horae Paulinae) has shown that there is conclusive internal proof that this epistle was written by Paul. This argument is derived from the style, and is carried out by a comparison of this epistle with the other undoubted writings of the apostle. The historical evidence on this point also is undisputed.

It is generally supposed, and indeed the evidence seems to be clear, that this epistle was written during the imprisonment of the apostle at Rome; but whether it was during his first or his second imprisonment is not certain. Paul was held in custody for some two years in Cesarea (Ac 24:27,) but there is no evidence that during that time he addressed any epistle to the churches which he had planted. That this was written when he was a prisoner is apparent from the epistle itself. "The two years in which Paul was imprisoned at Cesarea," says Wall, as quoted by Lardner, "seem to have been the most inactive part of St. Paul's life. There is no account of any proceedings or disputations, or of any epistles written in this space." This may have arisen, Lardner supposes, from the fact that the Jews made such an opposition that the Roman governor would not allow him to have any intercourse with the people at large, or procure any intelligence from the churches abroad. But when he was at Rome he had more liberty. He was allowed to dwell in his own hired house, (Ac 28:30,) and had permission to address all who came to him, and to communicate freely with his friends abroad. It was during this period that he wrote at least four of his epistles—to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon. Grotius, as quoted by Lardner, says of these epistles, that though all Paul's epistles are excellent, yet he most admires those written by him when a prisoner at Rome. Of the epistle to the Ephesians, he says, it surpasses all human eloquence—rerum sublimitatem adsequans verbis sublimioribus, quam ulla unquam habuit lingua humana—-describing the sublimity of the things by corresponding words more sublime than are found else- where in human language. The evidence that it was written when Paul was a prisoner is found in the epistle itself. Thus, in Eph 3:1, he says, "I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ—o desmiov tou cristou—for you Gentiles." So he alludes to his afflictions in Eph 3:13: "I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you." In Eph 4:1, he calls himself the "prisoner of the Lord," or, in the margin, "in the Lord "—o desmiov en kuriw. And in Eph 6:19,20, there is an allusion which seems to settle the inquiry beyond dispute, and to prove that it was written while he was at Rome. He there says that he was an "ambassador in bonds"—-en alusei in chains, manacles, or shackles; and yet he desires (Eph 1:19,20) that they would pray for him, that utterance might be given him to open his mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, that he might speak boldly, as he ought to speak.

Now this is a remarkable circumstance. A man in custody, in bonds or chains, and that too for being an "ambassador," and yet asking the aid of their prayers, that in these circumstances he might have grace to be a bold Preacher of the gospel. If he was in prison this could not be. If he was under a strict prohibition it could not well be. The circumstances of the case tally exactly with the statement in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, that Paul was in custody at Rome, that he was permitted to "dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him," Ac 28:16; that he was permitted to call the Jews together, and to debate with them freely, (Ac 28:17-28;) and that Paul dwelt in his own hired house for two years, and "received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God," etc., (Ac 28:30,31.) So exactly do these circumstances correspond, that I have no doubt that was the time when the epistle was written. And so unusual is such a train of circumstances—so unlikely would it be to occur to a man to forge such a coincidence, that it furnishes a striking proof that the epistle was written, as it purports to be, by Paul. An impostor would not have thought of inventing such a coincidence. If it had occurred to him to make any such allusion, the place and time would have been more distinctly mentioned, and not have been left as a mere incidental allusion. The apostle Paul is supposed to have been at Rome as a prisoner twice, (comp. Intro. to 2 Tim.,) and to have suffered martyrdom there about A.D. 65 or 66. If the epistle to the Ephesians was written during his second imprisonment at Rome, as is commonly supposed, then it must have been somewhere between the years 63 and 65. Lardner and Hug suppose that it was written April, 61; Macknight supposes it was in 60 or 61; the editor of the Polyglott Bible places it at 64. The exact time when it was written cannot now be ascertained, and is not material.

V.—TO WHOM WAS THE EPISTLE WRITTEN?

The epistle purports to have been written to the Ephesians —"to the saints which are at Ephesus,"—Eph 1:1. But the opinion that it was written to the Ephesians, has been called in question by many expositors. Dr. Paley (Hor. Paul.) supposes that it was written to the Laodiceans. Wetstein also maintained the same opinion. This opinion was expressly stated also by Marcion, a "heretic" of the second century. Michaelis (Into.) supposes that it was a "circular" epistle," addressed not to any church in particular, but intended for the Ephesians, Laodiceans, and some other churches in Asia Minor. He supposes that the apostle had several copies taken; that he made it intentionally of a very general character, so as to suit all; that he affixed with his own hand the subscription, Eph 6:24, to each copy—"Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity;" that at the beginning of the epistle the name was inserted of the particular church to which it was to be sent—as "to the church in Ephesus"— "in Laodicea," etc. When the several works composing the New Testament were collected into a volume, he supposes that it so happened, that the copy of this epistle which was used, was one obtained from ephesus, containing a direction to the saints there. This is also the opinion of Archbishop Usher and Koppe. It does not comport with the design of these Notes, to go into an extended examination of the question; and after all that has been written on it, and the different opinions which have been entertained, it certainly does not become any one to be very confident. It is not a question of great importance, as it involves no point of doctrine or duty; but those who wish to see it discussed at length, can be satisfied by referring to Paley's Horae Paulinae; to Michaelis' Intro., vol iv., chap. xx., and tot he Prolegomena of Koppe. The arguments which are alluded to prove that it was addressed to the church at Laodicea, or at least not to the church at Ephesus, are summarily the following:—

(1.) The testimony of Marcion, a heretic of the second century, who affirms that it was sent to the church in Laodicea, and that instead of the reading (Eph 1:1) "in Ephesus," in the copy which he had it was, "in Laodicea." But the opinion of Marcion is now regarded as of little weight. It is admitted that he was in the habit of altering the Greek text to suit his own views. ——————————————————————————————————— The text for Verse 1 is continue is continued in notes for Verse 2.

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