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The epistle to the Ephesians can be easier to understand, if one has some background information regarding the town Ephesus in New Testament times. This includes such things as the Greek idol-religion, including the worship of Artemis.
A note: Some writers have suggested that the letter which we call “Ephesians” was first sent to the saints in Laodicea and after this to others, such as those in Ephesus, and that the words en Ephesô in the Greek text of Ephesians 1:1 might be a later addition. But, this writer has not seen any evidence that those words would not be original.
The apostle Paul wrote the letter to Ephesus when he was in prison in Rome (see Ephesians 3:1, 4:1 and 6:20). This may have been around the years 58–59, during Nero’s reign.
Ephesus was located in what today is Turkey. It was an ancient Greek city, built by Greek colonists in the tenth century BCE. There were several wars, and sometimes Ephesus was under Persian rule, sometimes under Greek. In 129 BCE, it came under Roman control. In the days of caesar Augustus, year 27 BCE, Ephesus was made the capital of a Roman region which was called Asia. It appears that the local language was mostly Greek.
The people in Ephesus were given to superstition and idolatry. Acts 19 records an event in that town when people who formerly had practised “magic arts”, burned their expensive occult books.
Acts 19: […] 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (ESV01)
Acts 19:8 and 10 and 20:31 indicate that Paul lived around three years in Ephesus. The following passage records how his proclaiming caused an uproar in that town.
Acts 19:23 […] there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, [a] brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? [b] (ESV01, note signs added)
As you can see, idol-religion was big business in Ephesus. The apostle Paul and his proclaiming was a threat to that business.
After that uproar, Paul left Ephesus, see Acts 20:1.
a Verses 24, 27, 28, 34 and 35: Where the above-quoted ESV01 has “Artemis”, some translations have “Diana”. The Greek text has Artemis.
Verses 27 and 35 mention a temple of Artemis in Ephesus. It was of great splendour and was counted as one of the “seven wonders of the world”.
b Regarding the last part of verse 35: Some have theorised that it refers to some statue of Artemis; others have speculated that it could refer to a meteorite stone which was used as an object of worship. There is no agreement in regard to that matter. But, it appears that there was an idol-image of some kind.
In the ancient Greek “theology”, Artemis’ brothers were her twin Apollo, and Dionusos (Bakchos). There was a festival called ta artemisia, and another one by the name ta dionusia, also called bakcheutês, which over time came to be filled with wanton rites, including wine-drinking and illicit sex.
It appears that at first, the Dionysian rites were only for the “initiated” ones, the mustai. They were also called ta mustêria, “the secrets”. But, as time passed, those rites became more public, and changed in their nature. It is from that later, public and wild variant of ta orgia (“the rites”) that the English word “orgy” comes.
That idolatry affected all who lived in areas with the Greek culture, including Ephesus. Even those who then became believers, were affected by those things.
It appears that some of the believers in Ephesus had not understood all things properly, and had not fully become free of the Greek idol-religion (which was worship of many kinds of “gods” and “powers”). Apparently, some of those people had a problem in regard to understanding the role of Jesus as the author of their salvation and as their Head and Master, and his role and position in the Kingdom or Reign of God.
Paul reminded those saints about the importance of Jesus, that God has placed him “above every principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come”. We read:
Ephesians 1:16 […] making mention of you at my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him, 18 being enlightened in the eyes of your heart, so that ye should know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 and what the surpassing greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of the might of his strength, 20 in which he wrought in the Christ in raising him from among the dead, and he set him down at his right hand in the heavenlies, 21 above every principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come; 22 and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the assembly, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all (DBY)
(See even chapter 2.)
Apparently, Paul foresaw or knew that there would come forth deceivers who would cause some of the believers to follow men and in that way turn their backs on Jesus. Actually, it seems that this was already happening, when he wrote that letter.
Parts of Paul’s letter to the saints Ephesus indicate that some men in their fellowship were putting themselves in Jesus’ place, as “masters” over others.
Ephesians 4 records how he tried to hammer into those people’s minds that they had to look up to God and his son Jesus, and not anyone else.
Some writers have taken Ephesians 4:11 out of its context and twisted it and used it for building religious hierarchies, with “ranks” and so on. But, the apostle Paul was talking about spiritual gifts, and not about “religious titles” or “ranks” as some have claimed.
Compare verses 4–7 with Matthew 23:8–10:
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, even as you have been marked out by God in the one hope of his purpose for you; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. 7 But to every one of us has grace been given in the measure of the giving of Christ. (BBE)
Matthew 23:8 “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. (NKJV, highlighting added)
As you can see, that leaves no place for “ranks” or “hierarchies”.
Again, Paul was talking about spiritual gifts, and not about “ranks” or “religious titles”.
Ephesians 4:8 Thus the scripture says: When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. […] 11 His “gifts unto men” were varied. Some he made his messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. (PH72)
Regarding verse 11 and its context: These articles contain some food for thought in connection with that passage and matter:
The article eaa088.htm has some notes on religious titles, such as “apostle”, “prophet”, “evangelist” and “pastor”. (Many translations have such words in verse 11.)
The article esa068.htm considers the matter of “spiritual authority” among mortals – that is, the question, who can speak for God?
The article eea017.htm has some notes on elders and their role among the saints.
The apostle Paul wrote, regarding the reason why the Lord had provided apostles, foretellers and elders:
Ephesians 4:12 […] for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. (NASB77)
Verse 12 mentions “the body of Christ”. Many people have been caused to think that that verse refers to some “church”. But, the body and the unity which Paul was talking about, verses 12 and 13, had nothing to with churches or their creeds. He wrote that letter to and regarding the saints in Ephesus, in the first century, and he was talking about their unity in Jesus.
How could the saints attain such unity? Well, if they all had only one Lord (Jesus), and if they all kept to His teachings – in that case, they could have unity of that kind.
It appears that among the believers in Ephesus, there were problems in regard to the matter of unity. Paul told them that instead of following men and men’s teachings, they were keep their eyes on Jesus. We read:
Ephesians 4:14 Then we shall no longer be like infants, tossed backward and forward, blown about by every breath of human teaching, [c] through the trickery and the craftiness of men, towards the snares of error; 15 but holding the truth in a spirit of love, we shall grow into complete union with him who is our Head—Christ himself. 16 For from him the whole Body, closely joined and knit together by the contact of every part with the source of its life, derives its power to grow, in proportion to the vigour of each individual part; and so is being built up in a spirit of love. (20CNT, note sign added)
c Some bible-versions have in verse 14 the word “doctrine” (from Latin doctrina, “teaching”). Here, one must keep in mind that doctrines are compiled by men and consist of teachings of men. The article esa087.htm has some notes on the word and concept “doctrine”.
In his letter to the saints in Ephesus, the apostle Paul referred to several things that were in one way or another connected to the bride-bridegroom relationship between the saints and Jesus.
Consider this: The saints were betrothed to Jesus. They all together formed his Bride. Had they followed deceivers (false Messiahs, false Anointed ones or the like), that would have been horrible. For, such deceivers put themselves in Jesus’ place. The saints were to be faithful to Jesus.
Let us compare 2 Corinthians 11:2 with Ephesians 5:27.
2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous as to you with a jealousy which is of God; for I have espoused you unto one man, to present you a chaste virgin to Christ. (DBY)
Ephesians 5:23 for a husband is head of the wife, as also the Christ is head of the assembly. He is Saviour of the body. 24 But even as the assembly is subjected to the Christ, so also wives to their own husbands in everything. 25 But even as the Christ also loved the assembly, and has delivered himself up for it, 26 in order that he might sanctify it, purifying it by the washing of water by the word, 27 that he might present the assembly to himself glorious, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things; but that it might be holy and blameless. (DBY)
Paul wrote more:
Ephesians 5:31 Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh. 32 This mystery is great, but I speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly. (DBY)
“The assembly” – the Greek text has tên ekklêsian which indeed meant “the assembly”, and literally “the called out ones” or “the invited ones”. Here, Paul referred to the saints who all together formed Jesus’ Bride. They had been chosen and “called out”, and had become a part of Jesus’ bride. And so, they were waiting for Jesus to come and take them to the wedding. They had to be faithful to Jesus, and not let anyone to come in His place.
As was mentioned earlier, it appears that Paul lived around three years in Ephesus. Later, on an occasion when he was on his way to Jerusalem, he made a stop in Miletus and sent for the elders from Ephesus, asking them to come to meet him. He gave those elders instructions and warnings. This passage records a part of what he said to them:
Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the assembly. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, You are familiar with, from the day when I arrived in Asia, after what manner I lived among you all the time […] 28 So, take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians over, to tend the assembly of God which he purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know that after my departure, burdensome wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own selves shall arise men who speak perverted things, in order to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore keep watch, remembering that for three years, I did not cease to warn everyone, with tears, night and day. (BPT)
A note: The “burdensome wolves” regarding which Paul warned those elders, verse 29, were deceivers who would live “at the cost of the flock”, in contrast to the example which Paul had set. – Read on, for more on this:
Acts 20:32 And now I commit you, brothers, to God, and the word of his grace, who is able to edify you and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (BPT)
As you can see, Paul reminded those elders from Ephesus that they knew that he had supported himself through manual work, and that he had provided even for others. Those elders were to copy his example, in that regard.
But, he knew what would happen among the believers in Ephesus, see the earlier quoted verses 29–30. There would come forth deceivers.
The article ema026.htm has more on Acts 20:35 and its context, translation and meaning.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm
Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → ema026.htm
What does the Bible say about religious titles, such as “apostle”, “bishop”, “evangelist”, “father”, “pastor” and so on? → eaa088.htm
What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority? Who can speak for God? → esa068.htm
What does the Bible say about elders? What was their role in the saints’ fellowships? → eea017.htm
What does the word “doctrine” really mean? Likewise, what is the meaning of the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”? → esa087.htm
The apostle Paul and his teachings. → eoa118.htm
“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → eaa037.htm
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