Introduction

What is the Book of Ephesians About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Ephesians!

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Historical Context

The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding region c. AD 62 while imprisoned in Rome (Acts 28). During this time he also wrote Colossians and Philemon. All three letters were sent with Tychicus and Onesimus. 

From Bibles.net: Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Ephesians for your good and to lead you into joy.

The words “at Ephesus” in verse 1 do not appear in all the manuscripts. In some manuscripts there is a blank. And there’s a reason for that. 

There is no local mention of any person in this letter. There is no mention of any city in this letter. There is no statement about any individuals at any congregation. There is nothing personal, local, or geographical in the whole thing because this is a letter about fullness. And this is a letter about the whole body of Christ. This is not a localized thing…he talks to the whole church about the identity of the whole church and the reason there are blanks, most scholars feel, is that this was a circular letter to the churches of Asia Minor, one of which was Ephesus and every church stuck its own name in the blank. So we know that Paul even mentioned the letter to the Laodiceans and well may have had in mind this one. It may have gone to Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Ephesus, all the way around the cycle of churches and each would have written their own name in the little line where here you have “at Ephesus.”

Perhaps to the Ephesians first and then from there—this is Paul’s message to the church about the church’s identity and being local isn’t part of his issue here.  

—John MacArthur

Source: Copyright 2023, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This Grace to You article originally appeared here at gty.org.

The Setting of Ephesians 

c. AD 62 

Ephesus was a wealthy port city in the Romans province of Asia. It was a center of learning and was near several key land routes. Paul probably wrote his letter to the Ephesians while under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28).  

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Books
Message Series

Exposition of Ephesians by Sinclair Ferguson

In this 13-part message series, Pastor Sinclair Ferguson takes us through the book of Ephesians, highlighting for us the tender love and grace of God. These messages will lead you to worship God for his particular love for you and his kindness toward you in Jesus.

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Ephesians Dictionary

As you read through Ephesians, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

To go up. Jesus ascended to heaven to return to God the Father.

A piece of metal armor that protected a soldier’s throat and chest.

The Greek word that means “God’s Chosen One.” “Messiah” is the Hebrew word meaning the same thing. Jesus was the Christ.

An assembly or gathering. The word church is used to refer both to local groups of believers in Christ (church) as well as to all believers (Church).

A rule or teaching that people are to follow. Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The Bible gives commandments for Christians to follow because they love God and want to obey his Word.

A large stone in the foundation of a building at the corner of two walls, holding the two walls together. The cornerstone is the first and most important stone laid when a building is started. Jesus is called the cornerstone of a Christian’s faith in God because he is the most important part of knowing who God is.

An agreement. In the ancient Near East, sometimes covenants were made between two people or groups of people. Both sides decided what the agreement would be. However, in the Bible, the word usually refers to agreements between God and people, when God decides what will be done and the people agree to live by the covenant. The old covenant of law set standards of behavior in order to please God. The new covenant of grace presents God’s forgiveness based on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Love and kindness shown to someone who does not deserve it—especially the forgiveness God shows to us. We don’t deserve God’s grace because we sin against him. God showed grace to all people by sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. God’s grace allows us to become members of his family (see Ephesians 2:8). God’s grace also helps us live as God wants us to (see Acts 20:32). A person cannot earn God’s grace by trying to be good; it is God’s free gift.

(1) The sky or universe beyond earth. (2) The dwelling place of God, the angels, and those granted salvation.

Money, property, or traditions received from another person. Often a person receives an inheritance after another person’s death. The Bible tells us that everything that is God’s belongs to Jesus Christ. By his death on the cross, Jesus made it possible for us to share his inheritance with him.

(1) From a Latin word that means “teacher,” a name for Jesus. (2) An overseer, boss, or owner of a slave.

Decided or chosen beforehand. In the Bible, the term refers to God’s choice.

To help people who have been enemies become friends. In the New Testament, the word usually refers to bringing God and people together again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Sin separates people from God, but by dying, Jesus took the punishment for sin. When a person comes to know and love Jesus, he or she learns to love God instead of being his enemy. When this happens, the person is reconciled to God.

To make known something that was hidden or unknown. In Old Testament times, God revealed himself through his mighty acts and through his words to the prophets and to other people such as Abraham, Moses, and David. In the New Testament, God made himself known by sending Jesus Christ. As Jesus lived on earth, he revealed God’s love, his holiness, and his power, helping us know what God is like. One of the ways God reveals himself to us is through his Word, the Bible. The last book of the Bible is called the Revelation of Jesus Christ because it describes how Jesus will triumph over evil.

Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.

(1) To be rescued (or delivered) from evil. (2) To be kept from danger or death. In the New Testament, salvation usually means to be rescued from the guilt and power of sin. By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings salvation to people who believe in him.

A small tool or ring that had a design cut into one side. The owner of each seal had his or her own special design. When the owner wanted to put his or her own special mark or brand on something, the person would press the seal into hot wax or soft clay. As the wax or clay hardened, it kept the design in it. Seals were used in many ways, including to show that two people had reached an agreement, to seal a letter, or to show who owned something.

What the Bible Is All About NIV Henrietta Mears

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?

Insights

The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians could have been written to a modern church. It is about us. It describes human beings, their predicament, sin, and delusion, but much more it describes God’s reaching out to people to recreate and transform them into a new society.[1] Most of the letter is about two subjects: power and identity. It describes the power God’s Spirit gives for living. It shows who we really are without Christ and who we become both individually and corporately with Christ. It is about how we understand ourselves and how we can get along with each other and God. The focus on God’s new society also makes Ephesians one of the most important works for understanding the church.

. . .

This short little letter is a surprisingly comprehensive statement about God and his work, about Christ and his gospel, about life with God’s Spirit, and about the right way to live. 

1. God’s New Society is the title of John R. W. Stott’s commentary on Ephesians (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979), now published under the title The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society. Note the similarity to John Mackay’s God’s Order.

—Klyne Snodgrass 

Source: Taken from The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians by Klyne Snodgrass Copyright © 2009 by Klyne Snodgrass. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com

The letter is consistently theocentric [God-centered] and Trinitarian. Its message about God’s grace and love is encouraging and rewarding. God is not some remote being; he is the prime actor throughout the letter. From the beginning the letter shows we were always meant to belong to God and that God has been and is at work to make the reality of our relationship with him happen. In Christ and by the Spirit God brings us to himself and gives us what we need for life. All the privileges of life are found in union with Christ and conveyed by the Spirit. Ephesians presents a gospel of union with Christ more powerfully than any other New Testament letter. Nothing short of attachment to him will rescue us from the human plight, and nothing can define us as human beings more than attachment to him. From living with him we learn how to live for him. 

—Klyne Snodgrass  

Source: Taken from The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians by Klyne Snodgrass Copyright © 2009 by Klyne Snodgrass. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com

Ephesians, then, has as its main purpose identity formation.[1] It seeks to shape believers by reminding them how wonderful God’s work in Christ is, how significant their unity with Christ is, and what living for Christ looks like. It is a letter of definition and encouragement.[2] Paul sought to ground, shape, and challenge his readers so that they might live their faith.

1. J. Paul Sampley, “Ephesians,” The Deutero-Pauline Letters (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 23.

2. Nils A. Dahl similarly suggests that Ephesians is a letter of reminder and congratulations; see his “Interpreting Ephesians: Then and Now,” Currents in Theology and Mission, 5 (1978): 133-43.

—Klyne Snodgrass 

Source: Taken from The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians by Klyne Snodgrass Copyright © 2009 by Klyne Snodgrass. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com

Just as the Lord lovingly chose Israel from among the nations as his own people (Deuteronomy 7:7–8; 10:15; Hosea 11:1; Malachi 1:2), so in mercy the Lord has lovingly chosen those he will save from all the people of the earth (Romans 9:11–13; Ephesians 1:4–5). This choice is part of his eternal decree, occurring before the creation of the world or any of its inhabitants (Ephesians 1:5; 2:10). The choice is in Christ, not man, therefore it does not rest on any foreseen decision of any human person (Ephesians 2:9). Gloriously, in his act of election, God chooses to save people who deserve his greatest wrath and who would otherwise never choose to come to him. Election is the only way anyone receives salvation in Christ. Those who are chosen will experience God’s eternal mercy (Romans 8:29–30). 

—Eric C. Redmond 

Source: Content taken from Ephesians: A 12-Week Study © 2016 by Eric C. Redmond. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Redemption is the most glorious work of God. It is far greater than his work of creation. He spoke a word and worlds were formed, but it cost him the life of his beloved Son to redeem the world. Paul enjoyed dwelling on this theme, because he had experienced Christ’s redeeming love. He had been redeemed from sin, from the curse and bondage of the law. He had been washed clean in the blood of Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit. So it only makes sense for him to have gloried in his Redeemer. “Redeem” means to buy back or to pay the ransom price. This is what Christ did for us when we were held captive to sin… 

The provision for our redemption is Christ—Christ is our Redeemer! “In him we have redemption” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV).  

The means of our redemption is Christ—Christ voluntarily took our place. “In him we have redemption through his blood. . . . Not with perishable things such as silver or gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV). He stood charged with our sins and paid the penalty with his blood.  

The fruit of our redemption is God’s grace—Even “the forgiveness of sins” is the result of redeeming love, and this is “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV). Grace is unmerited favor. God’s forgiveness is according to his unending favor, which is not limited by our faults. God casts our sins behind his back. He blots them out of his book of remembrance. He sinks them into the depths of the sea. He removes them as far as the east is from the west. Yes, he forgives “in accordance with the riches of [his] grace.”  

—Henrietta Mears 

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Ephesians repeatedly draws attention to the sharp contrasts between believers’ former way of life and their new life in Christ, contrasts that are underscored by means of the once-now form (note especially Ephesians 2). This fundamental distinction between unbelievers and those in Christ is epitomized in Ephesians 5:8: ‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light’ (NIV). This and similar portrayals of the readers’ Christian existence are clearly intended to remind them of the privileged position into which they have now come, and to urge them to pattern their lives on the character of God and Christ (see on Ephesians 4:32-5:2). This will also mean that their lifestyle should not conform to that of the surrounding society. 

—Peter T. O’Brien 

Source: O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Ephesians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999.

Over and over throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God is saying, “Walk this way.” Our old life outside of Christ is held up in stark contrast to our new life in Christ. The second half of the letter is especially direct in showing us how to be imitators of God, as his beloved children. And we get to see all of these descriptions, commands, household codes, and encouragements through the glorious window of God’s plan to unite all things in Christ. 

—Gloria Furman

Source: By Gloria Furman in her article, “God’s Grand Blueprint for Your Life” © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org. Used by permission.

What was previously concealed as to the exact nature of God’s plan of redemption through Christ is now revealed. Although the Old Testament prophets progressively unfolded the divine design, the precise details were often shrouded and seen as shadows behind a veil. God designed all along that his people understand his purposes, but many of the details of this plan were not disclosed to his people. Although the Old Testament included the nations being blessed, it was not clear that Gentiles would be considered equal with Israel. But now, in the gospel God has revealed the mystery of his plan, which has the ultimate goal of uniting all things in Christ. More specifically, it involves uniting Jews and Gentiles into the one, new people of God. Thus, the term mystery in Paul refers to something that was hidden but is now revealed, especially as it relates to God’s plan to include the Gentiles into the people of God.[1] In Ephesians the mystery involves the all-inclusive plan of God to unite all things (including Jews and Gentiles) into the one body of Christ…this plan was revealed by God “according to his purpose” (Ephesians 1:9 ESV). The word translated “purpose” is often rendered “good pleasure.” The goodness and love of God are manifested in his plan for humankind. Because God delights in redeeming lost sinners, that is what he purposed to do. So just as God predestined his people for adoption according to his good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5 ESV), he also has disclosed his plans to them for his good pleasure.

1. See Romans 11:25; 16:25–27; Ephesians 3:3, 4, 9; Colossians 1:26–27; and 1 Timothy 3:16. Paul uses the term mystery (mystērion) twenty-one times, including six times in Ephesians (1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19).

—Benjamin L. Merkle 

Source: Content adapted from United to Christ, Walking in the Spirit: A Theology of Ephesians © 2022 by Benjamin L. Merkle. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Ephesians Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Ephesians.

It Is by Grace
by Sing Scripture | Scripture Memory
Oh But God
by The Worship Initiative and Shane & Shane | Praise & Worship
We Have Been Saved
by Matt Papa | Praise & Worship
Death Was Arrested
by Aaron Shust | Praise & Worship
The Love of Christ
by Wes King | 70s 80s 90s
If You Love the Lord
by Keith Green | 70s 80s 90s
O Church Arise
by Keith & Kristyn Getty | Hymn
Give Thanks
by Steffany Gretzinger feat. Melissa Helser | Praise & Worship
Head to Toe (The Armor of God Song)
by Christy Nockels | Acoustic
Until That Final Day
by Keith Green | 70s 80s 90s
You Made Us Your Own
by Sovereign Grace Music | Praise & Worship
Wholly Yours
by Shane & Shane feat. Kingdom Kids | Praise & Worship
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