In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ephesians

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews to Pauline Epistles
  • Text of Ephesians
  • Annotated Study Bibles and New Testaments
  • References Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Essay Collections
  • Textual Tradition
  • Ephesians Authorship
  • Pseudonymity
  • Intertextuality
  • Engaging with Pauline Studies

Biblical Studies Ephesians
Minna Shkul
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0193


Ephesians is a 1st-century CE New Testament letter in which a Jewish writer applies the memory of Jesus and Pauline thought to Christ-followers from different ethnic backgrounds. It describes God’s blessings upon his people, reconciliation of their ethnic differences, and prototypical values for a godly lifestyle in familial and communal contexts. Although many are impressed by its treatment of “ethnic others,” women, and children in its original time and context, others suggest that its egalitarian notions do not go far enough, arguing that the social values of the letter are patriarchal, and that its gender hierarchy and heteronormativity are problematic in our time. Nonetheless, it offers a fascinating glimpse into early Christian thought and theologizing on the meaning of Jesus’ death for a community of early Christ-followers imagined to be his organic body, in which members from different gender, ethnic, and social classes join together in harmony. Ephesians scholars remain divided on the authorship of the letter. Some continue to uphold the letter’s claim for apostolic authorship during an imprisonment of Paul; others deem differences in terminology, style, theology, and social values to indicate that the letter is pseudonymous, penned by a follower of Paul in a later 1st-century CE context. For instance, Ephesians lacks Paul’s urgency of mission or expectation of Christ’s return, offering a more symbolic vision for experiencing God’s presence. In addition, Ephesians lacks detailed advice regarding issues of communal life that regularly characterize Paul’s letters. Instead of contextualized Pauline instruction found in, for example, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Philippians, Ephesians takes a broad view of the community as God’s people, envisioning a universal church rather than a particular local community well known to the apostle. Ephesians exhibits close thematic and linguistic parallels with Colossians, whose authorship is similarly disputed. Although both of these letters describe the salvation of the Gentiles and include household codes in their ethical sections, Ephesians places particular emphasis on their cultural otherness and status improvement in Christ (2:1–22), and the ministry of Paul (3:1–12); it also offers a more extended discussion of Christian households in their Roman setting (5:21–6:9) as well as more institutionalized ideas about ecclesiastical structures. These features could be viewed as part of the process of social integration of the Christ-movement in the postapostolic period, although the Jewishness of thought in Ephesians still resembles Paul’s symbolic universe.

Introductory Works

Introductions to the New Testament will include a chapter on Ephesians to guide students and readers to its key literary features and issues of interpretation. Ehrman 2008 and Achtemeier, et al. 2001 are widely used in undergraduate studies, but the following works are also suited for graduate studies. Discussion of theology and Pauline parallels in Johnson 2010, Holladay 2005, and Witherington 2004 will be of interest to students and pastors alike, whereas Schnelle 1994, Duling 2003, Koester 2000, and Witherington 2004 are excellent guides for a more critical study of Ephesians as a pseudo-Pauline epistle.

  • Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marion Meye Thompson. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.

    Accessible introduction to Ephesians is useful for entry-level readers of the New Testament and its academic reference works. The chapter 15 helps modern readers to understand how spiritual language and the author’s social context relate to each other, for instance, highlighting how the ancient writer would spiritualize sociopolitical oppression (pp. 377–390).

  • Duling, Dennis. The New Testament: History, Literature, and Social Context. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003.

    Discusses Deutero-Pauline letters and Hebrews as examples of the developing Jesus movement and changing social-historical factors between 70 and 100 CE. Proposes textual evidence for the view that Ephesians was written as an introductory summary for other works in the Pauline corpus and highlights the influence of Hellenistic ideas and 2nd-century Gnosticism.

  • Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 4th ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    The chapter on Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Epistles contains a useful discussion of pseudonymity and authorship dispute and proposes that Ephesians may have been a circulatory letter for churches in Asia Minor (pp. 372–394). Discussion of the disputed letters together helps to consider how these texts may reflect a later date and sociocultural trends in the movement.

  • Holladay, Carl R. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.

    A brief but critical introduction in which the usual issues of pseudonymity, destination, structure, and content of Ephesians are outlined, together with a brief bibliography for key commentaries and some significant monographs. An outline of ekklesia terminology in Ephesians illustrates how important Ephesians is for New Testament understanding of the church.

  • Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. 3d ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780199735709.001.0001

    Johnson proposes that Ephesians summarizes Pauline theology, amalgamating key ideas found in the undisputed letters. He offers alternative explanations for stylistic features that many consider evidence for pseudonymity, together with further study questions, recommendations for further reading on the Ephesus region, literary relationships and parallels, and issues of interpretation (pp. 407–421).

  • Koester, Helmut. Introduction to the New Testament. Vol. 2, History and Literature of Early Christianity. 2d ed. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110812657

    Considers Ephesians alongside Colossians, Hebrews, and letters of Clement and Ignatius of Antioch as examples of evolving theological thought, which transformed Pauline theology into ecclesiological doctrine. Highlights Ephesians’ responses to Gnostic ideas, its possible connections with the Essene thought, and its theological response to its literary and sociopolitical environment (pp. 271–275).

  • Schnelle, Udo. The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.

    The introduction to Ephesians (pp. 299–314) follows an insightful discussion of pseudepigraphy, its historical and theological aspects (pp. 276–299) in this chronologically organized guide, which is particularly useful for understanding the development of New Testament (NT) thought and canon. Furthermore, those interested in German scholarship will find Schnelle’s work and bibliographies very useful.

  • Witherington, Ben, III. The New Testament Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

    Introduction to “Letters and Homilies for Convert” includes a discussion of Ephesians, among other captivity letters. Witherington notes that these letters have common Christological themes and interest in slavery and social relations. Proposes that Ephesians is a sermon from Paul for circulation among Asian Christians. It uses the ornamental style of Asiatic rhetoric (pp. 64–66).

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