Chapter OneEphesians 1:1-2
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Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to
the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ.
Letters in the ancient world followed a set form.
They began by identifying the writer and the
readers or addressees. This was usually followed
by a greeting and a prayer or wish for health (even
in secular letters), then the body of the letter, and finally the closing, which
contained any details about the sending of the letter and another greeting.
An example of this form appears in Acts 15:23-29 (without the prayer).
Christian writers adapted this set form to their purposes, "christianizing"
it by changing or expanding the traditional elements. The author and recipients
are not merely identified; they are also described by their relation to
Christ. The greeting was also made specifically Christian. Instead of merely
"Paul to the Ephesians, greetings," Paul described himself as "an apostle of
Christ Jesus by the will of God" and his readers as holy (NIV, "saints") and
"faithful in Christ Jesus." And instead of using the standard word "greeting"
[chairein], through a play on words Paul changed his greeting to read "grace
[charis] and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
An apostle of Christ. Paul's identification of himself as an apostle
appointed by God is his customary way of beginning his letters. (Cf. the
exact parallels in 2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1.) Often Paul had to defend
his legitimacy as an apostle, but here the tone is merely descriptive. The
term apostle carried several connotations in the early church, all of which
were true of Paul. It referred to someone who had seen the risen Christ
(1 Cor. 9:1), to those sent out by the church with a missionary task, or more
broadly to anyone who functioned as an agent or representative. This self-description
emphasizes the authority with which Paul wrote. If he was an
apostle because of the will of God, what he wrote must be seen as communication
The will of God is an important theme in Ephesians, appearing more frequently
here than in any other letter. The concern is not about Christians
finding the will of God; rather, the emphasis is on God's purpose with his
actions for humanity. The point here is that Paul was an apostle because
God wanted him to be.
In Paul's letters, "Christ" (meaning "the Anointed One") is often no longer
a title as it was in a Jewish context. Particularly among Gentile Christians it
became a name, linked with the name "Jesus." But of the forty-six occurrences
of the word "Christ" in Ephesians, twenty-three have the article in
Greek, some of which may still point to the role of the Jewish Messiah in the
salvation of the Gentiles (see 1:10; 2:13; 4:20).
The holy ones. The identification of the recipients as "saints" (lit., "the
holy ones") is Paul's usual description of Christians. "Saints" is not a helpful
translation, for this English word usually refers to extraordinarily pious people.
Paul's first intent was not that these people lived especially holy lives-he
described the Corinthian Christians the same way (1 Cor. 1:2), and yet
he had no illusions about the sanctity of their lives. Rather, his primary concern
was to emphasize that just as he had been appointed by God to be an
apostle, they too had been separated to God (separation is the key idea in
the word "holy"). Paul's addressees were holy because God had set them
apart to be his people. The focus is entirely on God's action and the reference
is to God's saving work.
The recipients of this letter are also described as "faithful in Christ Jesus"
(cf. Col. 1:2). "Faithful" can refer either to someone who has proven to be
faithful or to someone who is a believer, someone who has faith. The latter seems
the better choice here (cf. John 20:27; Acts 10:45; 16:1, 15; 2 Cor. 6:15).
With the expression "in Christ Jesus" we encounter one of the most significant
and difficult points in Paul's writings. Paul is not merely saying these
people believed in Christ; rather, they were in Christ positionally. This concept
of being in Christ is one of-if not the-most important parts of Paul's
theology, for this is the center from which he understood and explained salvation.
The thirteen Pauline letters use "in Christ," "in the Lord," "in him," or
some similar expression 164 times to express a variety of ideas. "Christ" is usually
used in contexts talking about salvation and its benefits, whereas "Lord"
is usually used to talk about Christian behavior and life. Sometimes these
terms are used to convey what believers obtain in Christ (as 1:7: "in him we
have redemption"), at other times "in Christ" describes what a person does
(4:17: "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord"), and at still other
times the focus is directly on the fact that a Christian is a person who is in Christ.
This language expresses the oneness and the identity that a believer shares
with Christ. Paul's gospel is a gospel about union with Christ, and this is the
meaning in 1:1. Ephesians focuses more on union with Christ and on beingin Christ than any other letter (36 times).
The greeting. The wording in this verse is paralleled exactly in seven
other Pauline letters. "Grace and peace" are important themes throughout
Ephesians: Both are key words that describe God's initial salvation, and both
describe God's continuing work among his people. As we will see in 1:3-14,
"grace" is one of the most important words in Paul's theology. Even though
other writers use this greeting (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2; Rev. 1:4), no other
writer comes close to placing as much emphasis on grace as Paul. Not by accident,
he begins and ends every letter with "grace," as if to emphasize that all
of life is lived in the parameters of grace. Though not used as frequently,
"peace" too has a foundational role in Paul's theology. God alone is the one
who conveys grace and peace, and Paul wants his readers to experience this.
"God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" are together the source of
grace and peace. Right from the beginning Paul's thought is theocentric,
focusing on God's activity in Jesus Christ. The apostle had no hesitation in
linking Jesus Christ with God, but he also maintains a healthy demarcation
between them. Usually he used the terms God the Father when speaking of
God and Lord or Christ when referring to Jesus. "Lord" was used in the Old Testament
in reference to the God of Israel, and the appropriation of this title
for Jesus is striking.
The foreignness of Paul's thought to our culture
is apparent. Already in this section we face vocabulary,
a christianized letter form, and theological
assumptions that require bridging.
Vocabulary. Expressions such as "apostle," "saints," "in Christ," and "grace"
are not common language, and the realities to which they point will occupy
us through much of this commentary. While we struggle to grasp Paul's intent,
for him they were the breath of his life, and he was confident that his readers
understood them well. But most churchgoers today would have a difficult
time explaining such concepts with any depth. Bridging has to convey the theology
of these words, a task that will begin when we treat 1:3-14.
Letter form. The way Paul adapted the form of letters in his culture to
make them specifically Christian is impressive, but it also creates a problem
for us. When modern believers attempt to christianize letters or other aspects
of our culture, the result is often archaic and artificial. We may copy Paul's
theological language without grasping its depth or finding adequate words
to convey it. The difference may be that we are imitating something we
have not experienced. Paul is not merely using nice theological words, but
expressing his encounter with, and his life with, the God that confronted him
on the Damascus road.
If we are to bridge the years and cultural differences in biblical texts, we
must do more than merely copy theological words. We must experience the
reality to which the words point and find contemporary ways to describe it.
We must not only ask what the text teaches about God, humanity, life with
God, and other subjects; we must own what it teaches and create language to
give the reality a home in our own souls.
Theological assumptions. Especially in a short section like this, texts
often assume more than they express. If we can see the assumptions by which
Paul lived and thought, we have important material for reflecting on our
own life with God. Two assumptions dominate this introduction: the activity
of God and Paul's sense of "geography."
(1) As will be shown in detail in 1:3-14, Paul viewed God as intentional,
purposeful, and working at great lengths to bring humanity to himself and
to equip people for life. Paul saw his own life as part of God's plan of salvation.
His ministry was not merely a job or a choice he made, but part of
God's work to bring salvation to humanity. The rest of the letter will detail
this activity and how people should respond.
(2) To speak of Paul's sense of "geography" is an attempt to describe the
"place" where he thought Christians live. In Paul's mind, just as these Christians
live literally in the region near Ephesus, they also live in Christ. The terrain,
climate, values, and history in which people grow up and live helps to
define who they are. As really as this region near Ephesus defines who they
are, Christ defines who believers really are. He is the "sphere of influence"
or "power field" in which they live and from which they benefit and are
transformed. That is, his Spirit, values, character, history, and purposes shape
their lives. People can live in other spheres (cf. 2:1-3), but Christians live in
Christ. Jesus Christ must never be depersonalized by such language, but we
will not understand Paul unless we learn to think of life as lived in Christ. As
the 1:3-14 will show, the implications of this are enormous.
Paul's relation to Christ changed even the form
of his letters. How can we show the reality of
Christ in our lives? We must do this not merely
by using external language, so that we appear
pious, but by actual transformation resulting from our relationship with
Gospel and culture. Paul used his culture's letter form to write specifically
Christian letters, but his method raises a crucial question: How do culture and
gospel relate? The gospel defines life for Christians, but that life is always
lived out in a culture, a culture that also seeks to define us. Christians must
therefore understand the culture they live in and must decide what in culture
may be legitimately adapted and enjoyed and what must be rejected.
All too often we confuse our cultural expression of Christianity with the
gospel itself. The early Church faced this problem in Acts 6 over the distribution
of food and in Acts 15 with the "Jerusalem Council" over the necessity
of observing Jewish legal practices. In a similar manner, we must separate
the heart of the gospel from our cultural expression of the gospel. Christianity
in African tribal communities, for example, does not need to look
like Western Christianity.
We must also determine how to relate to our culture. Will the use of religious
language help or hinder a conversation? Given the religious fanaticism
and the division between the "religious right" and other groups in the United
States, for instance, religious language often hinders communication about
Christianity. Acts 17 and 22-26 present a much different tone from Paul in
addressing non-Christian audiences from what appears in his letters to Christians.
Sensitivity to the reception of the message determines the selection of
The primary ingredient for Christians in relating to culture surely is
authenticity. We should not try to communicate Paul's experience of Christ;
we must communicate our own. We learn from Paul, but our own experience
of the gospel must be lived out authentically before God and people. This
is not to elevate experience over Scripture, but we cannot live out a theology
that we do not know firsthand. Anything less is a sham and will not
convince. Our expression of the gospel in our culture must be a natural flow
of the depth of our relation with Christ, not the borrowing of mere words
that we have labeled religious.
If God is active, what are we doing? Every writing necessarily assumes
numerous ideas or facts as obvious. Otherwise each writing would be intolerably
long. Therefore, reflection on assumptions in a text is an important part
of application. Of course, the assumptions need to be justified, preferably
drawn from other parts of the same letter. The present text assumes that
God is actively setting a people apart for himself. In other words, grace, salvation,
human responsibility, and ethics are already in view even before we
begin reading this letter.
Too often people relegate any sense of God's activity or planning to the
distant past, as if he worked in the first century but not now. Yet God still sets
people apart for salvation and still calls some to be his special agents. Whether
we assume God is active or passive determines our own expectation and
readiness to respond. By believing God is active, we precondition ourselves for
healthy response to God.
Caution is in order, however, for any idea may be taken to an extreme.
Unfortunately, some people conclude that since God set them apart, they are
superior to others. Some conclude that since God is active, solutions to life
are simple, or that every act is the result of God's action. But the Bible is not
so simplistic, and application of the biblical text should never be merely
application of individual texts. Texts should be applied within the frame of
the entire Scriptures. Other texts prevent the abuse of individual passages.
As 1 Corinthians 1-4 points out, for example, the message of the cross does
not allow feelings of superiority. Or as Job, Habakkuk, and the psalmists
lament, God often appears inactive, and life has no easy solutions. Only
against such a backdrop can we apply a specific text.
Paul's sense of geography-in Christ and in the world. Paul's assumption
about "geography"-about living both in a specific place and in Christ-is
a profound insight into life with God. The Christian faith is not an attractive
set of ideas or a nice avenue to follow. Rather, it is so deep an engagement
with Christ, so deep a union with our Lord, that Paul can only describe
it as living in Christ.