MacDonald, Margaret Y..  Colossians / Ephesians.  Part of the Sacra Pagina bible commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000)

Martin, Ralph P..   Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.  Part of the Interpretation bible commentary series edited by James L. Mays.   (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1991).

Perkins, Pheme.  Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians.  Part of the New Interpreter’s Bible Volume XI – Leander Keck  Senior New Testament Editor.  (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2000).



MacDonald p. 4 – no two biblical texts are more closely linked than Ephesians and Colossians (we are reading this on Wednesday June 1).  Some consider Colossians to be an abridged version of Ephesians.  Others (more) argue that Ephesians is an expanded version of Colossians.

Martin p. 3 ff.: scholarly consensus is that “Ephesians is not an epistle in the usually accepted sense of the term, that is, an apostolic letter to a Christian congregation in a specific area; and the destination of the epistle is much wider than the local Christian community at Ephesus…”   Indicated by the lack of a sense of real personal relationship that was part of other letters by Paul.   “(in Ephesus)” not present in earliest texts.  May have been a circular letter to a number of churches (the Gentile dominated ones of Asia Minor most likely), seems to be more of a homily on the theme of “Christ in the church”.

Martin and others argue that this was not written by Paul but by a disciple of his and attributed to Paul.

Martin p. 5: “The point seems to be that Gentile Christians, who were streaming into the church, were adopting an easygoing moral code based on a perverted misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching.  At his same time, they were boasting of their supposed independence of Israel and were becoming intolerant of their Jewish brethren and forgetful of the Jewish past of salvation history.”

DATE? – very hard to determine.  If written by Paul it would be late in his life, perhaps the mid-50’s before he was martyred.  If not by Paul it would be later than that, perhaps as late as the 80’s or 90’s.  This would mean that the author is writing to a group of churches with a membership that is “third generation” from their founding by Paul.

MacDonald p. 208: “In contrast, Paul’s letters were composed in about 50 to 60C.C. – a period when new institutions were being formed and the apostle struggled to legitimate a novel proclamation.  This same creativity was not necessary, or even possible, for the author of Ephesians, who sought to bring Paul’s teaching to a new situation.”



The plan of God (AKA Salvation History) is become evident in the world.  From creation to Christ to the church, our God has loved us.

Martin p. 14 – this chapter, much of the document, has a liturgical flow – short phrases,(doxology)  praise for God etc..

The letter will address an issue that is still “hot” today.  Does election in Christ (which is always God’s choice of US, not vice versa) mean that others are doomed?  Martin believes (p. 15ff) that this assumption  is not present in the NT texts.  (The opposite of this would be universalism – that ALL are saved – but then, Why the cross?, Why the church?)

Underneath the text may be the presence of Gnostic teachers in the region – who promoted secret knowledge for the specially initiated  that alone led to salvation.  These may have denigrated the body and all that is physical or – equally popular perhaps – led to a disregard for morality when it came to the physical (all things are permitted since they don’t really matter anyway).  While scholars suspect the presence of these others – there is no evidence of them in Asia Minor at this particular time period.


Martin p. 25: Just as the LORD God has raised Jesus from the dead and lifted Him up, so too he has taken the spiritually dead and lifts them up in Christ.

The author describes in general terms the pagan beliefs of the times that they have been freed from.   All human beings are responsible to God for their moral choices.

Martin p. 29: “Against those who would bring back the Jewish claims to merit by works he boldly restates the emphasis on “by grace alone.”  Equally to be rejected is the undermining of morality by those who, as in later developed Gnosticism, taught that once the pure spirit is saved, the body is an irrelevance to religion and may be safely ignored or indulged.”

Martin p. 36: “The church, it has to be confessed, is still wrestling with this tension, and its preachers have still to grasp the nettle of how to proclaim a faith cut free from legalistic  requirements and restrictions while in the same breath offer some moral guidelines to safeguard ethical responsibility.  To state the problem is much easier than to attempt a solution.”

Jesus, in a cosmic sort of way, reconciles what had previously been alienated from God and from one another.

In chapter 3 the author lays it all out – Gentiles are now co-heirs of the promises, full and equal members of the Body of Christ.

Even in these early days, when expectation of Jesus’ imminent return were still high, there was a tension between the “already come” dimension of our salvation and the “not yet fully” dimension.  Christians still battled with temptation (and sometimes failed).   For us today the tension is real.

CHAPTERS 4, 5, 6

Martin p. 46:  Chapters 1 to 3 laid out a theological vision of the church, the remainder of the document delves into the practical “making it real in the world” task facing the early churches.

The author starts with a call to unity and then to responsibility to “build up” the body and one another.

4:12: “equipping the saints for ministry” is the name chosen  for the  Archdiocese of Baltimore’s new ministry formation program.

MacDonald points out that (p. 298) that chapter 4:1-16 emphasizes unity in and through the Holy Spirit.  Remember that this is at a time when there really were NO organizational structures, NO formal procedures, NO central buildings, NO formal leaders …   Some denominations and writers think of this time as the “golden age” of the church!  The very need to write about it indicates that there were great stresses related to unity in these times.

Martin p. 58 ff: When it comes to moral choices the NT does not give us specific directions and rules but instead provides  a guiding direction – follow the example of Jesus.  This is set forward by comparing and contrasting their “old” way prior to conversion with a “new” way in Christ.

MacDonald p. 320: “… there is also significant correspondence between this passage (4:17 to 5:20) and Greco-Roman moral codes, Jewish ethical teaching, and in particular the teaching found in the QL.” (Qumran Literature).  And also drawn from other letters of Paul.  The difference?  Tying it to Jesus, church, H.S.

Martin p. 62 (on chapter 45): “We may note, however, that no mandate is offered for Christians to withdraw from the world as though they were ascetics or fanatics.  The moral guidelines which combine both situational and prescriptive elements … are constructed on the implied assumption that it is possible to live the full Christian life in the context of “the world”.”

Martin p. 64,65: three pairs of contrasts: love excluding lust; light banishing darkness; wisdom correcting folly

5:21 to 6:9 the famous “household code” of Ephesians – guidance for how a family community ought to be together.  There were many examples of these sorts of codes in the cultures, in Judaism, in other sects.

use of marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the church is a distinctive feature of this section (though used elsewhere by Paul as well).

MacDonald p. 338: “The historian of antiquity Peter Brown has spoken eloquently about the social consequences of the household code in Ephesians.  He argues that by presenting relations between husbands and wives as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church the author of Ephesians was providing “an image of unbreakable order that the pagan world could understand.  In the church, as in the city, the concord of a married couple was made to bear the heavy weight of expressing the ideal harmony of a whole Society” (Brown, 57)”   It calls believers to a heavy standard of conduct!  What has been our experience when we have accepted this?  Not perfect behavior, but hidden behavior, repression etc.

Martin p. 67ff: It is possible that the “submission” of women is in the liturgical realm, not in all of life.

What may be primary for us today is this: Can we learn from Jesus how we should live and be together – in marriage and family, as a Christian community?  If the answer is yes – do we need to take any specific (and culturally conditioned) example from 2,000 years ago as a mandate for today

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