J.L.P Digital Publications, Odessa ON 2002
The ruins of the city of Ephesus are now a favorite tourist destination in western Turkey. In Paul's day the city had a long history going back at least a thousand years. The city was captured by the Lydian king Croesus (c.560-555 BC), then by the Persians (in 546 BC) under Cyrus II who introduced Zoroastrianism. Alexander the Great captured the city (334 BC) and his successor Lysimachus constructed the harbor, which made the city a great center of maritime trade.
The temple in the city was one of the seven wonders of the world. It was dedicated to the Greek moon goddess, Artemis (Acts 19:24). As in the case of other great temples (Paphos, Mecca) it was build around a large meteorite, which had fallen from the sky (Acts 19:35). The first temple was destroyed by fire in 365 BC, but it was rebuilt to cover an area four times the size of the Athens Parthenon. Hundreds of prostitutes served the thousands of visitors who came from all over the Mediterranean world to seek the favor of the goddess (Acts 19:27). The silversmiths of the city had a lucrative business selling small silver statues of Diana to these tourists, so the growth of the church upset them and they mounted a riot against Paul (Acts 19:24-27).
Ephesus was taken over by the Romans in 133 BC, and they used the Roman name of the goddess, Diana of the Ephesians (as in the KJV). The city flourished and became a large cosmopolitan city with a population of 300,000 people under Caesar Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD, see Luke 2:1). Its size can be gauged by the ruins of the theater which seated 24,000 people. The Romans also built a colonnade on either side of the wide impressive avenue that went down to the harbor (now 7 miles away from the ruins of the city).
There was a large colony of Jews in Ephesus (Josephus, Antiquities, 14.10-25), and when he first arrived Paul went into their synagogue (Acts 18:19), as was his practice in other places (Acts 13:14, 14:1, 17:1, 10, 18:4).
The church in Ephesus
Paul had wanted to establish a church in Ephesus during his second missionary journey, but the Holy Spirit guided him north to Troas (Acts 16:6-8). From there he crossed the Aegean to plant churches in Philippi, Beroa, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth (Acts 16:12-18:11). On his way back (52 AD) he came to Ephesus, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, who were tentmakers, with whom he had stayed in Corinth for eighteen months (Acts 18:1-3, 18:11-19). He left them in Ephesus, and said he hoped to return
This is not mentioned in the Book of Acts but it seems likely that Paul sailed away to the Island of Crete two or three days by sea to the south (Acts 18:21). There he planted churches in the main cities, and he left his co-worker Titus to organize them under their own elders (Titus 5:15). He then sailed back across to Caesarea, visited the mother church in Jerusalem, and returned to his sending church in Antioch (Acts 18:22).
While Paul was away Apollos, an eloquent man, learned in the Greek Old Testament, came to Ephesus from Alexandria (Acts 18:24). By baptism he had become a disciple of John the Baptist, and spoke "with burning enthusiasm" about Jesus as Messiah. But he had not been baptized into and taught in a community of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 19:1-6, compare John 4:1). When Priscilla and Aquila heard him speaking boldly in the synagogue, they invited him to their home. They would have baptized him (see 1 Corinthians 1:14-17), and laid hands on him in prayer to be filled with the Holy Spirit (as in the case of the Samaritans, Acts 8:12,17, and the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus, Acts 19:5-6).
Apollos then crossed over to Corinth, and by the power of the Spirit was able to strengthen the church in Corinth, and persuade Jews that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 18:27-28, see 1 Corinthians 1:12). Meanwhile at the beginning of his third missionary journey Paul had come back by land from Antioch, visited the church in the province of Galatia (planted during the first missionary journey, Acts 13:14, 14:1, 23), and arrived in Ephesus (54 AD).
Though Apollos had been helped into the life of the Spirit, there were still disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. So Paul's first concern when he arrived back during his third missionary journey was to help these into the fulness of Christian faith. He asked a dozen of these whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they became disciples. They said "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Paul first baptized them into Jesus' school of the Holy Spirit, and then laid hands on them (as in Acts 8:12, 17, 9:17). The result was that they spoke in tongues (as in Acts 2:4, 10:44-46). This seems to have been the first of the gifts of the Spirit to be manifested, and normally it would go on to speaking in plain language (1 Corinthians 14:13-18).
After this, Paul spoke in the Ephesian synagogue for three months till some refused his message. He then formed the baptized disciples into congregations of the new Christian church that began meeting in various parts of the large city of Ephesus (see Romans 16:3-16). He himself taught every day in the rented hall of Tyrannus. The result was that over a period of two years people in the whole province of Asia heard about Jesus the Messiah (Acts 19:8-10).
At this point there seems to be a gap in Luke's account. I suggest Paul left Timothy in charge in Ephesus, and paid a visit to the churches he had planted in Macedonia and Greece. From there he wrote the first letter to Timothy (Most scholars assume that the Pastoral Epistles were written much later, but I suggest they were written during the second missionary journey).
When he came back to Ephesus "extraordinary miracles" occured through the power of the Spirit (Acts 19:11, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 29). And many who had been baptized realized that their involvement in magic practices was not consistent with their new faith, and they had a huge public burning of occult books (Acts 19:18-20).
Paul had decided it was time for him to move on, and sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia to prepare for his coming (Acts 19:21-22). But before he could join them there was a riot instigated by the silversmiths of Ephesus, who had lost business because so many had become Christians and no longer supported the idol worship of the temple of Diana (Acts 19:23-41)..
Again there seems to be a gap in Luke's account between Acts 19:41 and 20:1. Here is a possible reconstruction of what happened. After the riot in Ephesus Paul was kept in prison, tried, and actually thrown to face a lion in the arena (2 Timothy 4:16-17). This second letter was written when Paul was still in prison in Ephesus during a very dark time when the disciples in Ephesus and the surrounding province of Asia abandoned him, and Paul expected to be martyred (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Onesiphorus arrived to help in ropy (the decisive moment) not in romy (Rome, 2 Timothy 1:17). (The usual assumption is that 2 Timothy was written from Rome, but this does not seem to fit the situation or the people in 2 Timothy 1:15, 4:19-21).
Whatever timing and sequence of events we choose, there are unresolved difficulties, but it makes very little difference to the interpretation of Ephesians.
The Holy Spirit
We have noted the importance of disciples experiencing the power of the Spirit (see Acts 8:17, 9:17, 10:44-45, 11:15-17, 13:52, 19:2-7). At this point we note the following verses in the Epistle to the Ephesians:
In God of Many Names (chapters 2 & 3) we show that when we question individuals about their faith we can set out the inner logic of the explanation that they offer. These explanations can be classified like the species in Botany or Zoology. If we attempt to do this with this Epistle to the Ephesians, there is certainly no suggestion of losing one's personality to merge in the Absolute as in Hindu Monism. Or of losing all desire, as in Original Buddhism. There is no transmigration or doctrine of karma.
Nowhere is a mantra offered for meditation, as in the thousands of repetitions in TM (Transcendental Meditation). The way of salvation is not by living according to the tao of nature (Lao Tzu and modern naturalism). Nor do we find the harsh discipline of zazen meditation characteristic of Zen Buddhism. As opposed to popular Hindu temple worship or Mahayana Buddhism, the church in Ephesus is a body of people (1:22-23, 4:4, 16) forming a temple of the Holy Spirit (2:21). And there is no suggestion of a political ideology, or nationalism. The epistle opposes any form of racial prejudice or male chauvinism (3:6, 5:21, 25, 6:5, 9).
An explanatory model that easily fits ths Epistle is described in Creative Love Theism, and it is expressed in a nutshell as "We are what he has made us, created in the Messiah Jesus for good works" (2:10, see 3:19, 4:23-24).
Author and destination
Many European and American New Testament scholars have denied that Paul could be the author of this epistle. Often it is proposed that this was the work of one of Paul's disciples, but no one has suggested who could be the author of such a literary masterpiece.
The words "In Ephesus" (1:1) are not found in the earliest manuscripts, which is why the location is omitted in the RSV. It seems likely that it was the letter sent with Tychicus (6:21) to the church in Laodicaea, which was very near Colossae (see Colossians 4:7, 16). The fact that it contains no greetings to individuals suggests that Paul intended to have the original copied and sent to house groups in the large city Ephesus and other churches. The style and content is often similar to Colossians, and we will note the overlaps in the commentary.
Many commentators have assumed that the references to Paul's imprisonment (3:1, 4:1, 6:20-22) indicate that Paul was writing from his Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:16, 30). It seems much more likely that this was the imprisonment in Ephesus referred to above when Onesimus arrived en ropy (at the decisive moment, wrongly copied as en romy, 2 Timothy 1:17). The circumstances of the imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:6, 16-18), and all the people involved (2 Timothy 4:9-15, 19-21 compare Colossians 4:7-17, Philemon 23-24), fit the situation in Ephesus and the Province of Asia much better than Rome.
On the basis of this we can locate the letter as written from Ephesus (for the Ephesian house groups, listed in Romans 16:3-15, and for wider distribution) during the second missionary journey (between Acts 19:41 and 20:1). Luke's reason for omitting the events of the Ephesian imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:6, 16-18) might be that the Book of Acts was to be part of Paul's defence before Nero, and the imprisonment in Ephesus would not help the case.