POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Life on Doctrine - A Study in the Book of Ephesians



People at times polarize from living too much from the head or too much from the heart.  Some like to think lofty thoughts while others like to do lofty things in the world.  Yet no life is lived without beliefs and assumptions which help to guide our actions.  We all make many assumptions about the world, about God, about who we are and about how we should live in the world.  At times our beliefs are not conscious and are held in an unexamined way, other times our beliefs are thoroughly examined and thought through.  Either way, it is simply impossible to live a life devoid of any beliefs. 

We want to avoid two extremes in our lives as followers of Jesus. First, we do not want to make our faith purely an intellectual theological game where we sum up following Jesus as reading thick books about him.  Second, we do not want to live a doctrine[1]-less, belief-less, truth-less Christianity where we make up God in our imaginations and get warm fuzzies thinking about "our God."  Scripture holds a different path whereby we need teaching (doctrine) about who God is and what he has done and then calls for a response by living for him, worshipping him and following him in day to day life.  In other words, God has married life and doctrine together and we should not seek to separate the two. 

The book of Ephesians reflects the marriage of life and doctrine in that it contains deep theological truth about God's nature and work in the first three chapters. Furthermore, in the final three chapters it unblushingly calls us to LIFE that is in accord with this teaching.  As a kid I remember this commercial on TV that ran as a public service announcement.  It showed a hot frying pan and then said something like this: "This is drugs" Next an egg was shown and we were told "this is your brain." Finally, the egg dropped into the frying pan and the audio said "this is your brain on drugs...any questions."[2]  The point of the deal was to freak you out that smoking weed will fry up your brain.  Yet it contains an interesting truth. Being "on something" is an expression that means that your life is being deeply influenced by something external to you.  In the case of drugs, being on them will do bad things man, baaad things to you.  However, being on something can also be a great thing as well if what you are on will better your life.  Ephesians calls us to live deeply; to be on something, to be influenced by God's truth.  It calls us to live a life on doctrine.

As we begin our study of this ancient book of Ephesians I want us to do several things.  Primarily I want us to get a good introduction to the book as a foundation for our journey through the book.  To do so we'll first give a brief overview of the letter as a high flyover.  Second, we will take a brief look at the question of authorship of Ephesians; who wrote the book and when.  Third, we will look at the historical and geographical setting of ancient Asian Minor to understand the world in which the letter would have been read. Fourth, we will look at some of the major theological themes of the book before closing with some thoughts for our journey at Jacob's Well.  So let's get our life on some doctrine.


The Book of Ephesians

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the book of Ephesians on this history of Christ's people.  Harold Hoehner begins his massive volume on Ephesians with a long account of the thoughts and comments about the importance of Ephesians to leaders throughout history.  Chrysostom of Constantinople (modern day Turkey), Calvin of the Protestant Reformation, Poet and philosopher Samuel Coleridge[3] and New Testament scholar FF Bruce all comment on the influence of this book throughout history.[4] Raymond Brown sums up the influence of Ephesians well by saying that among the Pauline writings only Romans could match Ephesians as a 'candidate for exercising the most influence on Chirstian thought and spirituality.'[5]

The book is composed of two main parts; the first devoted to deep doctrinal truths about God and the second to paraenesis[6], the living out and apply these great truths.  The book begins with a strong exploration of our calling to God through Jesus Christ and ends with exhortation towards living a life worthy of that same calling. Klyne Snodgrass comments that "Ephesians provides some of the most direct and practical guidelines for living found in Scripture...Ephesians tells us how to be the church."[7]

The book was authored in history and inspired by God to accomplish a very important purpose. This purpose is indispensable for Christians in every time until the consummation of history.  Put very simply Ephesians tells us who we are, who God is and how we are to live together as his people in his world.   As a letter written from someone to a group of churches, we need to look at some of the issues surrounding the authorship of the book and the peoples to whom it was originally sent.  In doing so we may grasp how we are to understand and live out its teaching today.

Who Wrote It and When?

From the earliest records of Christianity, the church has understood the book of Ephesians to be authored by the apostle Paul.  The actual text of Ephesians claims Paul as its author in two places.  First, it is recorded in the customary greeting of the letter (Ephesians 1:1) and then again in chapter 3 when he describes his current circumstance as "a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of the Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:1).  Furthermore, the earliest records we have from Christian pastors all accord with the testimony that Paul is the author of the book.  Ephesians, and allusions to Ephesians, were cited often in early Christian preaching showing up as early as AD 95 in the writings of Clement of Rome.  Additionally it is quoted by Ignatius (AD 35-107), Polycarp (69-135), Iranaeus (130-200), Clement of Alexandria (150-215) and it is listed as a work of Paul in the Muratorian Canon (AD 180) an early collection of New Testament writings. [8]  Finally, the authorship of Paul was universally agreed upon by most scholars up until 1792. 

Over the last two hundred years the Pauline authorship of Ephesians has come under attack from various New Testament scholars and has been strongly defended by others.  Today, there are plenty of scholars on both sides of the debate and so no case has been made.  There are several reasons given for doubting Paul as the author of Ephesians but none of them are compelling in the end.  Our opinion of on the matter concurs with that of Harold Hoehner in his excellent treatment of the authorship of Ephesians:

The Pauline authorship of Ephesians not only has the earliest attestation of any book of the NT but this attestation continued until the last two centuries. The early attestation is highly significant.  They early church was not only closer to the situation but also they were very astute in their judgment of genuine and fraudulent compositions. This overwhelming support for the Pauline authorship of Ephesians should not be easily dismissed


Although Ephesians differs from other Pauline literature, the differences do not sufficiently argue for the rejection of Pauline authorship of this letter. Variations can be accounted for due to differences in content and differences in the character and needs of the recipients of the letter.   Furthermore, it must be accepted that a genius such as Paul is not sterile in his own expressions; allowances must be made for development in his own thinking...Authors are not machines that duplicate vocabulary and style.[9]

The discussion of the authorship of Ephesians Hoehner's work is thorough, clear, scholarly and faithful to a high view of the Bible. We highly recommend his lengthy treatment of authorship for anyone interested in this issue at a deeper level.  It covers pages 2-61 in the fifth printing of his commentary.

The Original Audience(s)

Paul's interaction with the church in Asia Minor, the location of modern day Turkey, took place over the course of several years and is chronicled in the Acts 18, 19.  The following is a simple outline of his work in this area of the world[10]:

  • AD 52 - Paul, accompanied by the married couple Priscilla and Aquila, go to Ephesus. Paul ministers among the Jewish population and then departs for the city of Antioch, his home base of operations. A man named Apollos begins to teach the Scriptures in Ephesus and Priscilla and Aquila instruct him further in the gospel. Apollos' ministry flourishes.
  • AD 53 - Paul returns to Ephesus on his third missionary trip and continues a successful ministry there accompanied by signs and wonders. Many of the Ephesians give up their magic practices and sorcery when changed by the gospel. Great opposition comes against Paul led by a local tradesman named Demetrius. Apparently he made lots of little statues out of silver in honor Artemis, patron goddess of the Ephesians. He was pissed that people quit buying little gods and started an uproar in the city against the new movement. Paul departs for Macedonia.
  • AD 57 - Paul meets with the leaders of the Ephesian church on his way to his arrest in Jerusalem. He encourages them to continue to shepherd the church well and guard it from those who would seek to bring it down from within through false teaching. Paul would go on to Jerusalem, be arrested and taken to the imperial city of Rome as a prisoner.

Although it is impossible to be certain, the letter to the Ephesians was most likely written by Paul during his imprisonment in Rome around AD 60.[11]  The letter is categorized for this reason as one of the "prison epistles" along with Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.  The letter is very general in its theology and application so it is likely that Paul intended it to find use in many of the churches in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor.[12]  While Ephesians is more general in content and less specific to situations in Ephesus[13], that ancient city was the cultural center of the region and knowing this setting can help us understand the book. 

The Ancient City of Ephesus

Ephesus was the political and financial center of this part of the Roman Empire.  It was located on the western coast of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea just south of the mouth of the Cayster River.  The city's ancient harbor and its location between two land trade routes made it a bustling place in the empire.[14]  Ephesus was in a unique city in that its culture had been formed by various groups of people over time.  The city was influenced by Greek, Persian as well as Roman culture.  One thing is certain, religious veneration of the goddess was present for many centuries in the city.  The goddess took several names over time but at the time of Paul's ministry Artemis of the Ephesians was the name in vogue.[15] Two great architectural features of the city are known from antiquity.  The great theater which held a seating capacity of some 24,000 people and the temple dedicated to Artemis which was some 420 feet in length and 240 feet wide.  The temple's grandeur had it named among the seven wonders of the ancient world and apparently a statue of Artemis was composed at least partially from a fallen meteorite.[16]The prominent temple made Ephesus a destination for pilgrimage increasing its prominence as a city in the ancient world.

Figure 1 - Excavated Site of the Theater at Ephesus

Evidence also seems to show that Ephesus was a center for those who practiced magic arts and sorcery in the ancient world.  This seems to accord well with the biblical record we read in Acts 19 and Paul's emphasis on Christ's superiority over spiritual powers and authorities in his letter to the Ephesians. 

Finally, though mostly consumed under the historical conquests of Islam, Ephesus had a venerated Christian history as well.  After Paul's ministry the church at Ephesus was guided and pastored by Timothy and even enjoyed the influence of the apostle John.  Though it is uncertain, tradition holds that John was buried in Ephesus after dying there of old age.   Much of Asia Minor's ancient churches were influential in the first century but many of them quickly fell away from Christ.  In fact, it was the church at Ephesus which received a strong rebuke for leaving the love they had at first and living a religious life that was quickly becoming empty. In this church we find a lesson from history. We must never leave our love for Jesus and that which is true about him. The doctrine we find in the first three chapters of Ephesians is indispensible for loving and living well for Christ. We need to build our lives on these truths - we need to keep our life on doctrine.  Now let us move to some of the major theological themes found in the book.

Major Theological Themes

God the Trinity and His saving Work

Ephesians has a unique focus in its first chapter on how all the persons of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active in the saving work of the Gospel.  The Father predestines, then calls and adopts his people throughout space, time and history.  The Father blesses his children with every spiritual blessing in our union with Jesus Christ. The Son redeems people through his sacrifice for us and will ultimately unite all things under the purposes of God.  The Spirit is the seal of our belonging to God and a down payment on our future inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Ephesians reveals the beauty, mystery and awe in the triune creator God lavishing grace upon his children to the praise of his own glory.

Christ's Exaltation over All Things

Ephesians does not present Jesus as a mere human teacher but as the unique divine Son of the Father.  The panorama in the book of the exalted Jesus is rather spectacular. He is said to exist before the foundation of the world (1:4-5, 11), seated at the right hand of God (1:20, 4:8), to be filled with the fullness of God (1:23), provides redemption and forgiveness for his people (1:7), he is the head of the church (1:22, 5:23) he will ultimately subject everything under his feet (1:22) and unite all things under his rule (1:10)[17].

Our Identity in Union with Jesus

Ephesians teaches us that we have every blessing "in Christ" and that our union with him is the way by which we live and walk with God in the world. Every human being wrestles with the question of identity, the question of who we are and Ephesians leads us to deeply find our identity in Jesus.  He is the fountain of our hope and love and in him we will understand ourselves and our role in the world as his church.

Our Life Together as the Church, the People of God

The doctrine of the church, the people of God, finds rich expression in the New Testament, specifically in Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus.  We stand at the end of perhaps the most individualistic era in the history of the world with our culture reeling from the selfish inventions it has brought down upon its own head.   This is an age where families are fragmented, communities compartmentalized and empty selves isolated from God wander the earth.  In such times the doctrine of the church, people called out of darkness as the people of God, is of utmost importance.  In Ephesians we see several rich metaphors for our life together.  We are called Christ's body, a spiritual building, the temple of God, a new humanity, a family and the bride of Jesus.[18] Furthermore, Ephesians gives great insight on how we are to get along with one another and love one another as the church.  If God's people would meditate regularly on Ephesians 4 in light of their relationships the world would be a very different place.  Finally, Ephesians gives a brief, but foundational instruction on how the church should operate in its mission. It should not be the leaders of the church who do all the work of the ministry, but rather all God's people should be equipped for ministry by those who serve as leaders.  

Unity of God's People in the Gospel

God's people have been brought into unity with Christ and one another through the gospel.  The body of Christ is not a people made up of a certain race, tribe, or ethnic group, nor is it of only one nation on the earth.  No, this body is a unique group of people, indeed a new people, made up of people from the diverse groups. This unity is ours in the gospel and we must work to maintain this bound of peace that has been given by God as we grow in maturity and how we love one another.

Family and Household Relationships

As the church is a family, Ephesians gives us clear instructions on how we live together as God's people.  It gives us instruction in interpersonal relationship, how we speak to one another and how we deal with our anger.  It gives husbands and wives great teaching about how we should live together and the significance of the marital union in displaying something of the committed love of Christ for the church.  Parents and children are exhorted about their roles in a family that follows Jesus and great insight is given for those in positions of servitude and authority.

Continuing Spiritual Battle as we Sojourn

Finally, the book of Ephesians exhibits a keen awareness of the spiritual forces of darkness at work in the world today.  We are reminded that spiritual powers are real and hold many people captive, dead in their trespasses and sins.  We are also encouraged and exhorted to fight spiritual battles by putting on the full armor of God described in detail at the close of this letter.  CS Lewis once remarked that we can make one of two mistakes regarding the demonic.[19]  One, we could make too much of the devil giving him too much power and attention in life looking for demons under every rock as it were.  Two, we could live as if he does do not exist, woefully deceived by the deceptions of the evil one.  Ephesians is much more balanced in its teaching.  It does not make the devil the central actor in history nor the one who holds the keys to our lives. We belong to the Father, purchased by the Son, sealed by the Spirit.  At the same time we resist the forces of darkness in the provision of God, fighting with the spiritual weaponry he so graciously gives.


As we stand in the midst of the birth of Jacob's Well, I can think of no better place to build our lives together than in the book of Ephesians.  God's teaching for us in this letter will give us the doctrine we need to build our lives upon.  Our community will be enriched, informed and blessed as we follow the teaching in the latter chapters about how to relate to one another.  When we look back on our journey years from now, it is my prayer that we will find worship provoked, love for Jesus deepened, friendships bonded, marriages established and homes blessed by our study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians.  As a community on mission we need to be "on something" to go after what God has set before Jacob's Well.  As we put our hands to building lives, communities and planting churches, we could launch all of this on human will, effort and ingenuity.  There is a more excellent way; we can build life on doctrine.  We can build on the truth of the gospel that sets people free. This must be our path as we aim towards living for the glory of God and the good of our communities by extending hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every Spiritual Blessing in Him,

Reid S. Monaghan


[1] The word doctrine simply refers to a body of teaching or instruction. Doctrine, "Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary,"   [accessed April 16, 2009].

[2] The video is online at YouTube for those who want to feel the nostalgia of the late 1980s  - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl5gBJGnaXs (accessed April 16, 2009)

[3] Coleridge is probably best known for his The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Paul H. Fry, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner : Complete, Authoritative Texts of the 1798 and 1817 Versions with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999).

[4] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians : An Exegetical Commentary, Fifth printing ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002), 1,2.

[5] Quoted in Peter Thomas O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Mich. ; Cambridge Leicester: William B. Eerdmans ; Apollos, 1999), 1.

[6] Hoehner, 62.

[7] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 18, 19.

[8]See Hoehner, 2,3. and Snodgrass, 23.

[9] Hoehner, 60, 61.

[10] Ibid., 89-92.

[11] Paul recounts in Ephesians 3:1 that he was a prisoner.  Though other imprisonments are possible, we concur that this was most likely during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome. See O'Brien, 57.

[12] Hoehner, 23.

[13] O'Brien, 48.

[14] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002), 2:115.

[15] See Acts 19:28

[16] Bromiley, 2:117.

[17] For a more thorough survey of the teaching of Ephesians about Jesus see Hoehner, 108-109.

[18] O'Brien, 3.

[19] C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill, The Screwtape Letters (New York,: The Macmillan company, 1943).


Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and Paul H. Fry. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner : Complete, Authoritative Texts of the 1798 and 1817 Versions with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.

Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians : An Exegetical Commentary. Fifth printing ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002.

Lewis, C. S., and Evelyn Underhill. The Screwtape Letters. New York,: The Macmillan company, 1943.

Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary.  [accessed April 16, 2009].

O'Brien, Peter Thomas. The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich. ; Cambridge Leicester: William B. Eerdmans ; Apollos, 1999.

Snodgrass, Klyne. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.