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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)

"Chapter 11. Letter to the Ephesians"


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Authenticity: The case is very similar to that with Colossians. No one questioned that it was by St. Paul until the late 18th century. The ancient witnesses who say it is by Paul are impressive: St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the Muratorian Fragment, plus heretical authors: Marcion, Basilides, and Valentinus. In addition there are illusions in Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp and St. Justin that are likely to refer to Ephesians.

So the external arguments for Pauline authorship are very good. Can the internal arguments outweigh them?

They are very similar to what we saw for Colossians:

a)Vocabulary and Style: The case of Tacitus, Dialogue on Orators, which we saw in connection with Colossians still shows us that the style argument here is far from conclusive. The most impressive feature in Ephesians is the presence of long sentences. But these are also found, to a much lesser degree, in the undisputed Pauline letters. Of course it is possible that Paul told a secretary what ideas he wanted to write, then approved the final copy. The style of the secretary might be rather different.

b)Theological Differences:

(1)The Church: Here, as in Colossians, Paul often speaks of the universal Church, whereas in other letters he speaks more of the local churches. But both things are true. Again, in both Colossians and Ephesians the doctrine of the Mystical Body is more developed, as we saw in detail in the introduction to Colossians. But as we said there, it is not strange if a man with a good mind develops over time.

In chapter 1 Paul speaks of the same predestination to be members of the Church as he did in Romans 8:29-39 and on into the next three chapters of Romans. In Romans, Paul was not referring just to the local church at Rome, but to the universal Church, the whole people of God.

(2)Gentiles: In Romans, Paul looked forward to the conversion of the Jews; and hoped the conversion of the gentiles would make the Jews jealous so they would enter. Here he speaks in chapter 2 of Jew and gentile as being made one in Christ. But the objectors miss something obvious. In Romans Paul speaks of the Jews who still rejected Christ; here he speaks of the Jews who have accepted Christ.

(3)Eschatology: Here Paul does not speak of an imminent end of the world, as he does elsewhere. But again, we answered this problem, if we may call it such, in commenting on First Thessalonians 4:13 ff., and found there is no proof at all that Paul ever expected the end soon. To think he did leads to rejection of the authenticity of Second Thessalonians, where the writer clearly speaks against an imminent end, in chapter 2. But as we said, no need to suppose Paul in First Thessalonians expected the end soon. And then we would have to ignore the strong external witnesses for Pauline authorship of Second Thessalonians.

Again, the objectors say in Ephesians Paul speaks of the present-day sharing of Christians in the resurrection and ascension. In Romans Paul speaks of our sharing in His death. We reply: both are true, both are part of Paul's favored syn Christo theme.

(4)Marriage: Here Paul takes an idealized view of marriage, which is compared to the union of Christ with the Church. In 1 Corinthians 7 he is engaged in a different project so he praises celibacy/virginity instead. But we must not forget that in 1 Corinthians 7:7 Paul speaks of marriage and celibacy as both a grace: one has this one, another has that one. His thrust there is to say that there is a spiritual advantage to be had in celibacy/virginity not to be found in marriage. Please see again our comments on 1 Corinthians 7:1-11.

c)Relation to Colossians: There are large similarities, but these prove nothing as to who wrote Ephesians.

We conclude: the internal arguments we have just seen are all very weak, surely not strong enough to overpower the external witnesses that Paul did write Ephesians. At the most one might consider saying Paul told a secretary what he wanted to write, and let the secretary do the actual composition. Popes often do this with official documents too, and later sign them, making them their own.

Destination of the Epistle: Even though we accept the Pauline authorship, it is a different question to ask if Paul addressed it to Ephesus. There are some significant arguments here:

1)The words "at Ephesus" are missing in some important manuscripts: Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Chester Beatty Papyrus and in Origen. And St. Basil (Against Eunomius 11.19) says he knew of copies without the name of Ephesus. So did St. Jerome in his commentary on Ephesians.

Some have suggested this was a circular letter to churches in that area, with a blank to be filled in by the reader in each place. This is possible.

2)In two places Paul writes as though he had not been to Ephesus, yet he spent time there on his second mission, and about 3 years on his third mission:

In 1:15 he says: "For this reason, I too, having heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and the love you have for all the holy ones. . . ." But he could have heard further reports, and would have been pleased at them.

In 3:1: "I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you, the gentiles, -- if you have heard of the ministry of the grace of God given to me toward you [namely] that by way of revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly." This line is harder to explain, if we use the translation "if." Had he perhaps not explained fully before the mystery that the gentiles are part of the people of God? And we note he wrote briefly before . . . Need not be an earlier letter to Ephesus -- could refer to his not so clear mention of this in Colossians 1:25-26, as we have seen. However, the Greek ei ge could be translated also "inasmuch as" or "If as I suppose."

We add this: The heretic Marcion knew a copy of this Epistle addressed to Laodicea.

3)No references here to particular friends: Paul surely knew many, having stayed at Ephesus so long. This would favor the idea of a circular letter.

Place and date: It is likely it was written during Paul's house arrest at Rome, between 61 and 63 A.D.

Opponents: It was not clear who they were in Colossians, nor is it entirely clear here. It may well be the same ones. We note that near the end of chapter 1 Paul speaks again of principalities, powers, virtues and dominations. And he speaks rather often of knowledge and wisdom as he did in Colossians.

Summary of Ephesians, Chapter 1

Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, wishes grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the holy and faithful ones in Christ Jesus, who are at Ephesus. Blessed be God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed Paul and the Ephesians with every spiritual blessing in heavenly things, just as He chose them in Him, in Christ, before the world began, so Paul and they may be holy and without blame before Him in love. He predestined them to be adopted sons through Jesus Christ, for Himself, according to His own good pleasure, for the praise of the glory of His grace with which He favored them in His beloved one. In Christ they have redemption through His blood and the remission of sins, according to the riches of His love, which He caused to abound in them in all wisdom and understanding. He made known to them the mystery of His will according as it pleased Him, as He planned in advance to be realized in Christ, to be carried out in the fullness of time, in order to recapitulate all things in Christ -- things in the heavens and things on the earth -- to do it in Him in whom we were chosen and predestined according to the decision of Him who brings all things about according to the plan of His will. He did this so that they who have hoped in Christ, might praise His glory. In Christ they too, after hearing the word of truth, that is, the Gospel of their salvation, and after believing, were sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the redemption of the people of God, for the praise of His glory.

For this reason Paul too, since he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and the love they have for all the holy ones, does not stop giving thanks for them, remembering them in his prayers, in order that the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give them the spirit of wisdom and manifestation in knowing Him, causing the eyes of their heart to be enlightened, so that they may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power to them who believed, according to the working of the power of His strength. He exerted this strength in Christ, raising Him from the dead, seating Him at His right hand in heavenly places, above every principality and power and virtue and domination and every name that is named -- not only in this age, but in the age to come. He made all things subject under the feet of Christ, and caused Him to be Head over all things, for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who is filled in all things.

Comments on Chapter 1

At Romans 8:29ff., we saw Paul speaking of God's providential arrangement -- predestination -- to make people full members of His Church. (We said "full" since there can be a lesser degree, as we saw in Romans 2:14-16). It has been common in the past to think Paul spoke of predestination to heaven. But if we notice the context -- both in Ephesians 1 and in Romans 8:29, Paul is speaking of full membership in the people of God, the Church. God made this decision before the world began. This means, it was not based on merits. It was based on the "good pleasure" eudokia of His will. We saw in comments on Romans 9 -- as well as here -- that God's decision is not based on human merits. Why positively He made this decision we discussed in comments on 1 Corinthians 1:25-30. We said it was chiefly that those who need more help to be saved get more.

The mystery of His will here, as in Colossians, is that both Jew and gentile are called to belong to the people of God, that is, His Church.

What is meant by the words "to recapitulate all in Christ" is debated. 1) Some say it means that all things are made new in Christ. 2) Or: Christ is the new Adam, all is brought under His headship. 3) Or: To reunite all things in Christ as in a center. Probably we should combine some features and say all things are brought into Christ as their center and head and reach their summit in Him. When Paul says in verse 10 "all things" it seems to mean all creation, not just human beings. This would be the thought of Romans 8:19 that all creation, including even things below humans, is at the end to be made new, brought back to its original state in Christ. St. Irenaeus makes this recapitulation theme the center of his theology: all receive a new Head, Christ. He adds that Mary is the New Eve with the New Adam. He also extends the idea of recapitulation to evil: the great Antichrist will be the head of all the forces of evil, and all creation at the end will be renewed.

Paul adds that God chose us to give glory to Him, to praise Him. This is true, but we must not forget that He wills to attain His own glory -- in which He gains nothing at all -- by way of doing good to us.1 He has tied together His glory and our good, in His will they are inseparable, and His glory is to be obtained through doing good to us.

Paul speaks also of the Holy Spirit as the pledge of salvation. In the beatific vision, God joins Himself directly to the soul, without even an image in between. In the souls of the just, the Holy Spirit is already present as a pledge of the fuller good to be given in the world to come. He spoke of the Spirit as the seal and pledge in 2 Corinthians 1:22. The Fathers of the Church picked up the notion of the seal, and said by Baptism we are sealed, that is, marked as God's property, and so should never break the seal by any further sin.

In verse 18 Paul speaks of the Spirit of Wisdom and manifestation in knowing Him. This is of course the Holy Spirit, by whom we are enabled to know and understand the things of God, which the merely natural man cannot grasp.2 We have underlined words about knowledge and wisdom in this Epistle as we did in Colossians to help notice the stress Paul puts on knowledge -- a suggestion that his opponents may be gnostic or something like gnostics. This idea is further strengthened by Paul's mention in verse 21 of principalities, powers, virtues, dominations. Christ is above all of them, and so there is no need to honor them: to worship Christ is enough.

At the end of this chapter the concept of pleroma, fullness, reappears as we saw it in Colossians. The Father fills Christ, and Christ fills His Church and the members of the Church, His body.

Summary of Ephesians, Chapter 2

God has loved and saved them [words from verse 5 -- the sentence is long], when they were dead because of their transgressions and sins, in which they once lived, following the aeon of this world, the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that now is at work in disobedient sons. We Christians once lived in the desires of the flesh, doing what the flesh and their thoughts wanted. For Christians were by nature sons of wrath, like other humans. But God who is rich in mercy, on account of His great love with which He loved them, even though they were spiritually dead because of their transgressions, He made them alive together with Christ -- for they have been saved by grace [not by works] and He raised them up again together with Christ, and caused them to sit together with Christ in heavenly places, as members of Christ Jesus, and through Christ Jesus. He did this to show to the ages [or: aeons] to come, the excessive riches of his love, in His kindness towards them in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace that they are saved, through faith, which is not their own doing, but it is the gift of God, which is not given on the basis of works -- so no one has a right to boast of His own goodness. For Christians are His creation, are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has planned in advance for Christians to do, so they may walk in them.

So they, the gentiles in the flesh, should remember that they who were called uncircumcised by those who had the so-called circumcision which is made by hands in the flesh [the Jews] -- they should remember that they were at that time without Christ, were shut out from citizenship in Israel, were foreigners to the covenants of the promise, and had no hope, and were without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, the gentile Christians who were once far off, have become close, in the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who made both Jew and gentile one, who broke down the barrier of the wall, and the enmity. In His flesh he annulled the law of the commands with its rules, so He might make the two in himself into one new man, and make peace, so He might reconcile the two, Jew and Gentile, in one flesh to God, through the cross, slaying the enmity in Himself. And when He came, He preached peace to the gentiles who were then afar, and to the Jews who were near. For through Christ both Jew and Gentile have access in one spirit to the Father. So the gentile Christians are no longer strangers and aliens, but are fellow citizens of the holy ones, members of God's household, being built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Christ Jesus, in whom the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom they are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Comments on Chapter 2

Preliminary note: In this chapter, Paul begins with a plural you, and then changes to we (in verse 7).

Paul tells the Ephesians that they were once dead spiritually because of their sins, in which they followed the lead of the aeon of the world, the ruler of the power of the air. Paul probably has in mind both Satan and his minions, and is also striking at the spirit powers in whom his opponents believed, and whom they said should be honored along with Christ (as in Colossians). It would be foolish to charge Paul with superstition here -- as has been done! -- when really he is just adopting the language of his opponents to strike the better at them. In a somewhat similar way, Christ Himself spoke (Mt 12:43-45) of the devil who was expelled from a man and then walked through desert places, without rest, until he got seven worse devils, and then went in to make that man who had been delivered worse than before. Matthew 12:43-45 is clearly a sort of parable, as shown by the last line: "So also it will be with this wicked generation." It means: Christ came to break the power of Satan over the Jews. They rejected Him, and so fell back worse than before.

The words "sons of wrath" have been much discussed. St. Augustine and a minority of commentators today think they refer to original sin. But the context shows that it means personal sins, for Paul speaks of walking in the desires of the flesh, which is personal sin. Further, St. Thomas holds that original sin alone does not call for any positive punishment.3 Hence the word wrath would not be very appropriate. So most commentators and several Fathers (St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, Theophylact) agree Paul merely means people who deserve God's anger because of personal sins. So "by nature" means man as he naturally is, without the help of Christ.

God rescued us through Christ who died for us even when we were sinners, and in that sense, enemies. This is the same as the beautiful thought of Romans 5:6-9.

God made us alive together with Christ and caused us to sit with Christ in heavenly places -- this is simply the syn Christo theme we have seen several times. Paul here extends it to sitting with Christ.

God wills to thus show his rich love to the ages or time periods to come -- or we could render the word aeons, spirit powers of whom his opponents speak so much.

In saying we are saved by faith, Paul simply restates his great theme of justification by faith. Here he adds that even faith itself is a gift of God. However this does not mean a blind predestination or reprobation: God offers the grace of faith to all. Those who do not reject it, receive it.4

Yet, God wants us to do good works, and has even prepared them in advance, in the sense that just as we know from Philippians 2:13 we are not even capable of making positive acceptance of grace -- grace does that -- so too God more specifically has plans for each good work.

In verse 11 he begins to develop the idea that the gentiles were once without hope, without God. He does not mean that no gentiles believed in God -- anthropology shows a belief in God or gods is widespread. And Romans 2:14-16 implies an acceptance of God in gentiles. But many did not know the true God explicitly. And Paul is here in a focused style of presentation: the system of being a gentile as such does not give hope.5 Not all pagans knew of any reward and punishment in the next life. On the problem of when the Jews came to know this, please see again our comments on Philippians 1, and 2 Corinthians 5.

But now those who once were far off from being members of the people of God (gentiles), and those who were near are joined in the blood of Christ. So He is our peace. He broke down the wall -- may allude to the wall in the temple area which gentiles could not pass beyond. By His death He has removed the old regime of the law: all depends on faith. (In saying the old regime of the law is gone, Paul is not contradicting Jesus. Jesus said that He came not to destroy but to fulfill the law. But He also said we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven: children know that their inheritance and the care of their parents is not earned. Yet they could earn to lose it. 2 Peter 3:15-16 tells us Paul often speaks unclearly. Very true. In his own way, Paul says the same thing as Jesus had said, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 where he [Paul] lists the chief sins and says those who do them, "will not inherit the kingdom." So Paul does not contradict Jesus in saying we are free from the law, and depend on faith. Children do not, on the positive side, earn their inheritance, but could earn to lose it. We could add this: Actually, obedience is an essential part of faith, as we see in Romans 1:5, even though obedience does not earn salvation. In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit, and says [5:18]: "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law," for the Spirit leads one to act as Christ did, and that means not breaking the law).

He has made all into one new man. He has removed the former enmity. Paul of course here refers to Jews who have accepted Christ, not to those who still rejected Him. The Jews who accepted Christ are made into one people of God, with the gentile converts.

Paul says both Jew and gentile have access in one spirit to the Father. Then it was hard to gain access to a king. Even today, it is hard to gain access to an important person, even just the president of a corporation. But Christians have access to the Father. Hence they are no longer outsiders, but are fellow citizens of the people of God. They are a temple built on the foundation predicted by the prophets, laid by the Apostles. Its cornerstone is Christ. Since He is that, the whole building is fitted together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, by whose action they are made into a living temple of the Spirit.

Summary of Ephesians, Chapter 3

For the sake of this, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for them, the gentiles -- assuming that they have heard of the ministry of the grace of God given to Paul for them, namely, that by revelation the mystery was made known to him, as he wrote briefly before.

In reading it they can see his insight into the mystery of Christ that was not revealed to other generations of people as it is now revealed to his holy apostles. The mystery is this: The gentiles are fellow heirs, and form part of the same body, and are fellow participators in the promise of Christ through the Gospel, of which Paul became a minister according to the gift of God's grace given him, according to the working of God's power.

To Paul, the least of all the holy ones, was given the grace to preach to the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to give light to all on what is the divine arrangement of the mystery hidden from the aeons, in God Who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God according to His eternal plan might be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, through the Church -- the plan which He brought to reality in Christ Jesus our Lord, in Whom Paul and they can have access to God and can confidently speak freely through faith in Christ.

Paul asks them not to be disheartened over his trials, which are for their glory. Therefore he bends his knees to the Father, from Whom is named every family in the heavens and on the earth, so He may grant them, according to the riches of His glory, to be made strong with power through His Spirit, for the sake of the inner man, so Christ may live through faith in their hearts, so that they may be rooted and strengthened in love so as to be able to grasp with all the holy ones, what is the breadth and the length and the height and the depth, and to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge, so they may be filled to all the fullness of God. To Him who is able to do everything more abundantly than we ask or think, according to His power at work in Paul -- to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus for all generations of the ages of ages. Amen.

Comments on Chapter 3

The first few words of this chapter lead no where grammatically: "For the sake of this, I, Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus for you, the gentiles." Then he goes on to a different grammatical structure. This sort of thing is called anacolouthon, "not following." It can happen when one is in a long sentence. We have seen Paul do it several times before this.

The problem of the next words "assuming you have heard . . ." has been covered in the introduction to this Epistle.

The mystery is that gentiles now are called by God to be members of the people of God, the Church. Paul has received the special grace of preaching this, even though he is the least of all Christians. He probably means that he once persecuted the Church, out of misguided zeal, as he says in 1 Corinthians 15:9. The love shown by the Father in Christ in this is unsearchable, beyond our ability to understand. The mystery was hidden from previous times -- or, hidden from the spirit powers. Now it is made known to principalities and powers in heavenly places. These are part of the same set of names Paul used in Colossians for the spirit powers. There it finally became clear he meant evil spirits (2:15), though it is true the Jews could use such words for angels.

Now, thanks to this grace, Christians have access to God and are able to speak freely to Him.

Paul kneels to the Father from whom every family exists -- for there is a Hebraism which uses "name" to stand practically for existence.

The words "inner man" are familiar in St. Paul. They mean the whole interior life, the heart: 2 Corinthians 4:6; Romans 7:22-23.

It is not clear to what the words breadth, length, height and depth refer. Probably they refer to the immeasurable love of Christ for us, for it surpasses knowledge.

The "fullness of God" seems to be Christ, in Whom is the fullness of divinity: Colossians 1:19; 2:9. See also Ephesians 4:13 where Paul prays that they may reach the fullness of likeness to Christ. Paul prays they may grow into the fullness of spiritual growth that comes from Christ. (The Greek word is pleroma, often used by Gnostics, as we saw in Colossians).

Summary of Ephesians 4:1-16

Paul, the prisoner in the Lord, urges them to live their lives in a way worthy of their calling to the People of God, in all humility, meekness, in long-suffering, bearing with one another in love. They should be eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond that binds them together in peace. There is one body of Christ of which they are members, one Spirit, just as they were called to the Church in the one hope of their call. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all who is over all, and through all and in all.

To each and every one of them is given grace according to the measure in which Christ gives it. So Scripture says: "Going up on high, He took captivity captive, He gave gifts to men." The words "He went up" what do they mean except that He also went down into the lower parts of the earth? The one who went down is the same one who also went up above all the heavens, so He could fill all things. And He made some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some shepherds and teachers, in order to equip the holy ones with means to salvation, so as to build up the body of Christ until all will come together into the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to be a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

So they should no longer be children tossed about, carried about by every wind of false teaching, by the deception of men who are willing to do just anything, to lead people into error. Rather, they should live out the truth in love, and grow in every respect into Him Who is the head, that is, Christ. Through Him the whole body is joined together and united together throughout every juncture with which it is supplied, so as to bring about the growth of the body so it may be built up in love.

Comments on 4:1-16

Paul now has completed the doctrinal part of the Epistle, and starts the moral exhortation. He tells them they should live according to the privileged call they have received, the call to be full members of the people of God. So they ought to be eager for the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. For there is one body of Christ and one Spirit as well as one Lord, One Father, one Baptism, one God and the Father of all.

When Paul says grace is given by measure, we already have a hint that he is not speaking of the sanctifying graces, essential for salvation -- those He offers in abundance to all, for because of the infinite price of redemption, which was offered for each individual person (as we saw in Galatians 2:20) the offer of grace must be superabundant. But here Paul refers to charismatic graces. In these, the rule is that the Spirit gives as He wills. This is confirmed when in verse 11 he enumerates charismatic functions, which are needed to build up the body of Christ, until the Church, and we, all reach spiritual maturity in likeness to Christ.

To illustrate here, Paul quotes from Psalm 68:19, following the Septuagint version, which spoke of a triumphal procession of God. The word captivity can mean a host of captives, either redeemed humans, or the captive diabolic spirits. Both views are found in the Fathers of the Church. Christ went up above the heavens, and also went down into the depths. Some think this is said to show He took possession of all creation, so as to fill all things. The words about going down may refer to His descent into the realm of the dead after His death. The Fathers generally say that the just of the Old Testament period were not allowed to reach the vision of God until after the death of Christ. But after His death, He would go to announce they could come to heaven. A homily by an unknown author used in the Roman Breviary on Holy Saturday, in an imaginative but beautiful way, dramatizes this: "The Lord went in to them, carrying the victorious arms of the cross. When Adam, our first parent saw Him, beating his breast in amazement, he exclaimed to all and said: 'My Lord with all.' And Christ answering said to Adam: 'And with your spirit.' And taking his hand he lifted him up saying: 'Awake you who sleep, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you. [These words are from Ephesians 5:14 -- which may be from an early baptismal liturgy.] I am your God, Who because of you became your Son; and for the sake of those who descended from you I now say, and with power I give the command to those in chains: 'Go out'; and to those in darkness: 'Be illumined'. And to those who sleep: 'Get up.' I command you. Get up, you who sleep. I did not make you to be kept bound in the underworld. Rise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Rise, work of my hands; rise, my image, made to my likeness. Arise, let us go out from here.'"

With the aid of such means and helps, all should come together into complete unity and knowledge of the Son of God, to be fully mature in conformity with Christ. The charisms are aimed at developing both the individual and the body of Christ, the Church.

So they should avoid the false teachers, who are willing to do just anything (panourgia) to attain their ends. They should live out the truth. At times the New Testament uses truth to stand for all that is moral, lie for the opposite (cf. John 3:21: "The one who does the truth, comes to the light.") God has, as it were, in His mind, the ideal for each of us: to match up with it is to be "true to form" -- hence the probable reason for the language about truth.

Verse 16 is in tortured language (which Paul uses at times, and so this helps us to think Paul wrote Ephesians). It does express the vital influence of Christ the Head on every bit of His body, the Church.

Summary of Ephesians 4:17-32

So Paul bears witness in the Lord that they should no longer live like the gentiles, in the foolishness of their mind, with their spiritual understanding being progressively more and more darkened and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that comes from the gradual hardening of their hearts. They have become dull, and so have given themselves to unbridled luxury so as to carry out all uncleanness in their greed for more and more uncleanness.

This is not the way of life they have learned from Christ -- assuming that they have listened to Him and been taught in Him in Whom is the truth. So they must put aside the old way of life, that of the old man, who is being corrupted according to desires that deceive him. Instead they must be made new in their mind where the Spirit dwells, so as to put on the new man, the one newly created according to God in righteousness and the holiness of truth.

So they must put aside the lie and speak the truth with every one, for we are members of one another.

If they are angry they should restrain anger so as not to sin. They should not continue their anger a long time, and should avoid giving an opening to the devil.

Anyone who has been stealing should stop it, and instead work, laboring with his own hands, in order to have something to give to the needy.

No evil word should come out from their mouth, but only good things, to provide help where needed, so it may be an external grace to those who hear them.

They should avoid grieving the Holy Spirit by their way of life -- that Spirit who has sealed them until the day of final redemption, when Christ returns. They should give up all bitterness, and wrath and anger, and shouting and blasphemy, along with all malice. May they be kind to one another, of good disposition, forgiving one another as God forgave them in Christ.

Comments on 4:17-32

The opening exhortation here reminds us of chapter 1 of Romans, which described graphically the gradual descent, deeper and deeper, into blindness and sins of all sorts, as they went down on the spiral in the bad direction, the very opposite of growing in Christ. From Christ they should learn to put aside their old way of life, so as to put on the new man, who is created in moral rightness and holiness. That language of course hardly fits with the classic Lutheran notion that even after justification, a person remains totally corrupt: the merits of Christ are thrown over him like a white cloak, and God will not look under the rug where everything is foul.

Again we meet the language about lie vs. truth, standing for immorality vs. righteousness.

The sentence about anger is ambiguous. It probably means: Even if you are angry, restrain yourselves so as not to be more angry than the case merits -- for not all anger is wrong. There should be a limit to anger, the end of the day. Otherwise the devil gets an opportunity.

They have been sealed by the Holy Spirit -- a thought we have seen more than once before. The Holy Spirit marks them as His own property, seals them so they should stay that way until Christ returns at the end, which is the day of the completion of redemption. We have just the beginning of redemption now.

The word for forgiving here is again charizein, which means "to make a present of the debt to someone." It reflects the concept which we have seen especially in Romans, that sin is a debt.

Summary of Ephesians 5:1-20

They should imitate God, as His beloved children, and should walk in love even as Christ loved them and gave Himself up for them, an offering and victim to God, for a sweet odor.

No one should be able to say that there is any sexual looseness or uncleanness or greed among them. Holy ones should be free of these things. Obscenity and foolish talk and scurrility also should not be known among them, but instead, thanksgiving to God. For no sexually loose person or unclean person, or greedy one (which is worship of idols) will inherit the kingdom of Christ and God. May no one deceive them with empty words: on account of such things the anger of God comes upon unbelieving persons. So they should not share with them.

Once they were darkness, but now they are light in the Lord. So they should live like children of the light. The fruit of light is all goodness, righteousness and truth. They should try to find what is well-pleasing to the Lord, and not share in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead condemn such things. For what they do in secret, it is shameful even to talk about. For everything that is brought to light becomes visible, for what is visible is light. Hence it says: Awake you who sleep, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.

So may they be careful how they live, not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil. So he urges them not to be foolish but to be intelligent instead. And they should not be drunk with wine for in it is debauchery. Rather let them be filled with the Spirit, and speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and psalming in their hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Comments on 5:1-29

Little needs to be said here, for the exhortations are rather general and easy to understand. When Paul says sexual looseness, etc., should not be mentioned among them, he does not mean they should not even speak of the subject. Rather, it means that no one should be able to charge them with these things.

When he says greed is worship of idols there are two possible meanings, for Greek pleonexia means wanting more and more -- it could be more of loose sex, or more of money.

Verse 14, with its little verses "awake you who sleep. . . ." is likely to be a fragment of an old hymn or perhaps a hymn used in baptismal liturgy. In the Eastern Church it was often said in the patristic age that to be baptized is to be illumined.

"Redeeming the time" is unclear. It could mean making the best use of everything now -- but since it says the days are evil, it more likely means make the best of a world in which the influence of the principles of Satan is so strong.

Wine, he says, leads to debauchery, for much drink loosens inhibitions. Hence the Romans called the god of wine liber (the word has the root of free). He wants them to be filled with the Spirit instead of wine, and to sing in the liturgy. He probably refers to charismatic manifestations, which were common in his day.

Summary of Ephesians 5:21-33

They should be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives should subject themselves to their own husbands, as to the Lord, for the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ is the head of the Church. Christ is the savior of His body, which is the Church. But as the Church is subject to Christ, similarly, the wives should be subject to their husbands in all things.

Husbands must love their wives even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, to sanctify it, cleansing it by the bath of water and the word, so He could present to Himself a glorious Church, without stain or wrinkle or anything else of the sort, so the Church might be holy and blameless. On the model of Christ, husbands should love their own wives, as they love their own bodies. For he who loves his own wife loves himself. No one ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and warms it, as Christ does for His Church. For we are members of the body of Christ.

So a man will leave his parents and will cleave to his wife, and they will be two in one flesh. This is a great mystery; Paul speaks in reference to Christ and the Church. Therefore each one should love his wife as he loves himself. And let the wife respect her husband.

Comments on Ephesians 5:21-33

The opening verse, 21, sets the tone of being compliant with one another. After that Paul does state clearly the subordination of wives to husbands. On this please recall the very basic comments made on the parallel passage in Colossians (3:18-19).

Paul shows by the theological framework that he is not just affirming a social custom of the time: the relation of the wife to the husband is parallel to that of the Church to Christ. He adds that Christ is the savior of His body, the Church. It is difficult to press this part of the parallel, unless we would say that Christ wills that graces flow to the wife through the husband. But it is evident that often enough in practice it is the wife who, being more religious, must help to save the soul of the husband.

But in spite of this subjection, Paul insists on a total love and devotion of the husband to the wife, the kind Christ showed in literally giving Himself for His Church.

Christ willed to make the Church clean and holy by the bath and the word -- most commentators easily agree this refers to Baptism, even though the word bath, Greek loutron is not often used in Scripture for baptism. Yet the related verb louo is used for religious washings even in secular Greek. Commentators often point out that both Greeks and Jews had a ceremonial bath for the bride before being given to her husband. This may have helped suggest the image to Paul -- but no more than a suggestion.

Paul speaks of the Church being without stain or wrinkle or any defect. This is a system as system picture, the sort of thing we saw several times in Romans, especially in chapters 7 and 8: The Church as such cannot produce anything but holiness. This does not at all deny that members, even high authorities, in the Church may be anything but holy.

Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies: they are two in one flesh (Gen 2:24). And both are members of the body of Christ.

Paul speaks of a great mystery. Commentators ask if he means that marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ with the Church of if he refers instead directly to the union of Christ with the Church. Probably the latter. A mystery in Paul ordinarily means a truth long hidden, but gradually revealed. That would be true of the close union of Christ with the Church -- which can be compared to the marriage union, just as in the Old Testament (especially in Hosea) the relation of God and His people is compared to marriage. We could say that the marriage union foreshadowed the union of Christ with the Church.

Finally, after repeating that husbands should love their wives, Paul adds that the wife should "fear" (phobetai) her husband. This means merely respect, not fear in the usual sense of the word.

Summary of Ephesians, Chapter 6

Children should obey their parents in the Lord, for this is what is right. "Honor your Father and your Mother" is the chief commandment with a promise, "so it may be well with you, and you may be long-lived on the land."

Fathers should be careful not to cause such stress to their children as to break their spirits. They should nourish them with education and with instructions in the Lord.

Slaves should obey their human masters with respect, in simplicity of heart, as obeying Christ. They should do it not only when the masters are watching, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from their heart, serving the Lord, and not men, with readiness. For they ought to know that each one, if he does anything good, will receive recompense for it from the Lord, whether he be a slave or a free man.

Masters should act similarly to the slaves, and not threaten them, knowing that the Lord of both slaves and masters is in the heavens, and there is no respect of persons with Him.

As for the rest, may they be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of His power. They should put on the full armor of God, in order to be able to stand against the machinations of the devil. For we do not wrestle just against flesh and blood opponents, but against the principalities, the powers, and the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spirits of evil in heavenly places.

So Paul urges them: take up the full armor of God, in order to be able to stand on the evil day, after accomplishing everything they should do. Let their waist be girded with truth, and let them have on the breastplate of righteousness, and having put on their feet readiness to promote the Gospel of peace. Always and in everything let them take up the long shield of faith, by means of which they can extinguish all the fiery missiles of the evil one. They should put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.

In every prayer they should pray in the Spirit, and stay watchful, making petitions constantly for all the holy ones, and for Paul, so that an opening may be given him so he may open his mouth in fearless speech, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for the sake of which he is a legate in chains, so that in it he may speak freely as he should.

Tychicus the beloved and faithful brother and minister in the Lord will give them a report on Paul's situation. Paul has sent Tychicus for this very reason, to tell them about him, and to encourage their hearts.

Peace to all the brothers, and love along with faith, from

God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May grace be with all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ, in unfailing love.

Comments on Chapter 6

Objective moral rightness requires that children should obey their parents, out of respect for the Lord, and with His strength. The Holiness of God wills and loves all that is morally right.

To honor father and mother does not mean only to obey, but also to provide financial support for them in their old age, if they need it. Even more, they may need psychological support. To put a parent into a nursing home and then to seldom if ever come to visit is a great violation of this commandment.

When we were little, our parents provided for all our needs, at great sacrifice, with great generosity. When they need us at the other end of life, we should say: Now it is our turn.

Paul speaks of this commandment as the first one with a promise. There is also a promise in Exodus 20:5-6 just before this commandment. To explain this -- Paul surely knew the commandments -- he might think of it as the first of the commandments that refers to neighbor, the other three refer to God. Or the word prote may be translated "chief, principal."

For comments on Paul's attitude to slavery, please see again the comments on 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.

Paul says our struggle is not just against human opponents, but against the evil spirits -- we notice here he uses some of the terms he has used before, principalities and powers, and clearly means evil spirits.

To conquer them we need the full spiritual armament of truth, righteousness, zeal for the Gospel, faith, looking ahead to the salvation promised us (for encouragement), and the word of God in Scripture.

We saw Tychicus before in Colossians 4:7. He seems to be the bearer of both Ephesians and Colossians. He is mentioned briefly in Acts 20:4 as from the Roman province of Asia.


1 Cf. Vatican I, as explained in Wm. G. Most, New Answers to Old Questions, London, 1971, ยง27 and Philip J. Donnelly, "St. Thomas and the Ultimate Purpose of Creation" in Theological Studies 2, 1941, 53-83, and idem, ibid. 4, 1943, 3-33.
2 Please see again the comments on 1 Corinthians, chapter 2.
3 De malo q.5, a.3, ad 4. Cf. also DS 2626.
4 Please see again our comments on Philippians 2:13.
5 On focusing in general, please see comments on Galatians 2:15-21.

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