While this book begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1), scholars today are divided regarding both the authorship and the intended recipients. A full treatment of these issues is beyond the scope of this exegesis, but briefly:
AUTHORSHIP: The language, style, and vocabulary are markedly different from the letters that scholars regard as indisputably Pauline (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1Thessalonians, and Philemon). Also some of the theology of this letter differs from that of other Pauline letters. For instance, Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection.” That verse sees resurrection-unity with Christ as something that we will experience in the future. But Ephesians 2:6 says, “and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That verse sees our resurrection unity with Christ as already having been realized.
INTENDED RECIPIENTS: The words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in the oldest and presumably most reliable manuscripts. This letter doesn’t deal with congregational issues, as do Paul’s other letters to churches. Also verses 3:2-4 make it sound as if the Ephesians are not personally acquainted with Paul, which is inconsistent with the fact that Paul visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-28) and spent three years there on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:31).
These considerations have caused some scholars to believe that this letter was written pseudonymously—by a follower of Paul writing in Paul’s name, perhaps after Paul’s death. Pseudonymous writings were common at that time, and the intent of a pseudonymous letter would not have been to deceive. The recipients would quite likely have been aware of the pseudonymous character of the letter.
Some scholars believe that this letter was written for circulation to a number of churches rather than just to the church at Ephesus.
If Paul was the author, he probably wrote this letter in the early 60’s of the first century. If it was written by someone else, it was probably written in the 80’s or 90’s.
For the purpose of this exegesis and for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to Paul as the author and the Ephesians as the intended recipients—while acknowledging the possibility that the author could be someone other than Paul and the intended recipients could have included a number of churches.
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
The first two verses of this book are as follows:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Verses 1-14 provide a thumbnail sketch of Paul’s theology. They are therefore dense—tightly packed.
EPHESIANS 1:3. BLESSED BE THE GOD WHO HAS BLESSED US
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ;
“Blessed (Greek: eulogetos) be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3a). The form of this verse is called a benediction (good saying) or a berakah (the Hebrew word for blessing). It is a joyful response to the blessings that God has given (see v. 3b), and ascribes blessings or praise to God for his grace.
This sort of berakah is found in a number of places in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 14:20; 24:27; Exodus 18:10; 1 Kings 1:48; 8:15, 26; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 41:13; 72:19-20).
In our English Bibles, we first encounter the word “blessed” in the Beatitudes—“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc. (Matthew 5:3-11). The Greek word translated “blessed” there is makarios, and the blessed are people. The Greek word that Paul uses in Ephesians is eulogetos, which is used primarily in the New Testament to ascribe blessings to God (Luke 1:68; 2:28; 24:53; 1 Corinthians 14:16; James 3:9). That is how “blessed” is used in this verse.
Hebrew Scriptures refer to God as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 4:5; see also Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13) and “the God of Israel” (1 Kings 1:48; see also Luke 1:68). Now Paul refers to God as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“who has blessed (Greek: eulogeo) us with every spiritual blessing (eulogia) in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 3b). Paul ascribed blessings or praise to God (v. 3a) in response to the blessings that God bestowed on us—”every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 3b).
Note the frequency with which the second-person plural pronoun (“us” and “we” and “our”) appears in these verses. God has showered blessing after blessing upon us.
In verses 4-14, Paul outlines the nature of some of those blessings:
• Being chosen or elected (vv. 4-5).
• Bestowed favor (v. 6)
• Redemption and forgiveness (v. 7)
• Revealing the mystery of his will (v. 9)
• Inheritance (v. 11)
• Salvation (v. 13).
• Redemption (v. 14).
“in the heavenly places” (v. 3b). Paul uses this phrase in four other places in this book (1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12).
Jewish people thought of heaven as God’s abiding place (Isaiah 6:1; Psalm 11:4; 102:19; see also Matthew 5:16; 6:9; Mark 11:25; Revelation 3:12; 4:2).
Christians expanded this view to speak of having their citizenship in heaven, where Jesus “will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20-21). Heaven is where we can expect to find our true rewards and where we should seek to find our treasure (Matthew 5:12; 6:20). God has provided a dwelling place for us there—”a house not made with hands”—an eternal home (2 Corinthians 5:1)—the New Jerusalem, “prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). There God “will wipe away from (us) every tear from (our) eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Heaven will be a place of surpassing beauty (Revelation 21:10ff.). “There will be no night, and (we will) need no lamp light; for the Lord God will illuminate us, (and we) will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).
“in Christ” (v. 3b). Paul frequently uses the phrases, “in Christ” and “in Christ Jesus.” Being “in Christ” involves an all-encompassing relationship with Christ Jesus—a relationship that has saving power. That relationship involves receiving justification (being made righteous) as a gift rather than as a personal achievement. That makes us equal at the foot of the cross, so there is “there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). “In Christ” there is no room for boastfulness, because we have all received the same gift.
EPHESIANS 1:4-6. HE CHOSE US BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD
4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without blemish before him in love; 5having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, 6to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely bestowed favor on us in the Beloved,
“even as he chose (Greek: eklegomai—from eklego) us in him before the foundation of the world” (v. 4a). This word eklego (and related forms such as eklektos) are where we get the term “election,” meaning being elected or chosen by God.
Throughout scripture, we find God calling particular people for particular missions:
• In the Old Testament, God chose Abram and Abram’s descendants, bringing them into a covenant relationship that made Israel to be known as God’s chosen people.
• In the New Testament, we find the idea of election (John 15:16; 17:6; Ephesians 1:4; 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13)—which suggests that God has chosen (or elected) only certain people for salvation.
More precisely, we are all among those who have been called (Greek: kletos), but only the elect (eklektos) have chosen to respond.
Paul says that God chose us “before the foundation of the world”—not only before our birth, but before creation—when there was only God. The sense I get here is that, before beginning the creation process, God was mulling over what the creation should look like and decided that it should include choosing particular people for particular responsibilities and privileges.
This idea of election removes any reason that we might have for hubris (the bad kind of pride). The action of salvation was God’s—not ours.
“that we would be holy” (Greek: hagios)“ (v. 4b). The Greek word hagios means holy or set apart for God. The tabernacle and temple were holy, because they were the dwelling places of God. Sacrificial animals were holy, because they were set apart for God.
Hagios can mean sinless or upright. It is used in the New Testament to speak of the saints—those who have been made holy by the work of Jesus Christ. Our holiness is not something that we attained by spiritual self-discipline. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), but Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has the same effect for us that the sacrifices of the Jewish people had for them—it relieves us of guilt and makes us holy in God’s eyes—sinless and upright.
“and without blemish (Greek: amomos) before him in love” (v. 4c). The Greek word amomos combines a (not) and momos (spot or blemish)—so that it means “without blemish.” This is language clearly derived from Jewish law regarding animal sacrifices:
• Priests with any sort of a physical deformity (blindness, lameness, etc.) were prohibited from making sacrifices at the altar (Leviticus 21:16-21). They could eat the holy bread, but could not “come near to the altar” (Leviticus 21:22-23).
• Sacrificial offerings were to be “a male without blemish…. Whatever has a blemish, that you shall not offer: for it shall not be acceptable for you” (Leviticus 22:19-20).
• Christ on the cross constituted an offering without blemish (Hebrew 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19).
“Holy” and “without blemish” are roughly synonymous. Both speak of a high degree of purity—in this case, spiritual purity.
“having predestined (Greek: proorizo) us for adoption (huiothesia) as children through Jesus Christ to himself“ (v. 5a). The Greek word proorizo is a combination of pro (before) and horizo (to determine), and means “to determine beforehand,” and is usually translated “predestined.”
“for adoption” (Greek: huiothesia) (v. 5a). The word huiothesia combines two words: huios (son) and tithemi (to place). The person who is adopted into a family is placed into that family as a full member.
What is it that God determined beforehand for us? It is that we should be adopted into God’s family as God’s sons and daughters. Jesus Christ was God’s natural son, but God treated Israel as his son (Exodus 4:22; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Romans 9:4).
We Christians are God’s adopted children. While “adopted” might seem to suggest a second-rate status, that is not so when God is the adoptive Father. I especially like the story of the mother of two children—one natural born and the other adopted. When someone asked, “Which child is adopted?” the mother gazed for a moment into the distance and then answered, “I can’t remember.”
• Paul says that we “are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26)—and “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God. For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17).
• We “are no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:7).
“through Jesus Christ” (v. 5a). As in verse 3b above, Christ is the agent used by God to effect the blessing—this adoption.
“according to the good pleasure (Greek: eudokia) of his desire“ (thelema) (v. 5b). The Greek word eudokia combines eu (good) and dokeo (which has a variety of meanings, among which are “what seems good” or “what gives me pleasure”).
What is God’s good pleasure? God’s good pleasure is that we should be restored to the place in God’s family that God created us to occupy.
“of his desire“ (Greek: thelema) (v. 5b). The word thelema might be better translated will, as in the will of God. God has a thelema—a will—a plan—for every person. He has a particular space for each one of us to occupy in his spiritual universe. It is his will that we occupy that particular space. We can fulfill God’s purpose for us as we seek to fill that space—as we seek to bring our wills into congruence with God’s will.
“to the praise of the glory of his grace” (v. 6a). As we take our places at God’s table and bring ourselves into congruence with God’s will, our lives begin to contribute to “the glory of his grace.”
“by which he freely bestowed favor (Greek: charitoo) on us in the Beloved” (v. 6b). The word charitoois derived from charis, the Greek word for grace. “Bestowed favor” is a good translation.
The angel Gabriel used charitoo at the Annunciation, when he said to Mary, “Rejoice, you highly favored one!” (charitoo) (Luke 1:28). The news that the angel was bringing to Mary was that God had chosen Mary to be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Now Paul says that God has also bestowed great favor on us by choosing us for adoption us into God’s family (v. 5a).
“in the Beloved” (v. 6b). “The Beloved” is Jesus Christ. At Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) and “This is my beloved Son” (Mark 9:7).
As in verses 3b and 5a above, Christ is the agent of God by whom God bestows his blessings—his favor—on us.
EPHESIANS 1:7-8. WE HAVE REDEMPTION THROUGH HIS BLOOD
7in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
“in whom we have our redemption (Greek: apolytrosis) through his blood“ (v. 7a). Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a price. Jewish law required Israelites to buy back (redeem) a family member who had been forced to sell himself into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-49). It also required them to buy back (redeem) family land that had fallen into other hands due to poverty (Leviticus 25:25, 33).
The New Testament presents Jesus’ death on the cross as a redemptive act for humanity—as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). In verse 14 below, Paul will equate redemption with the forgiveness of sins.
“the forgiveness of our trespasses” (paraptoma) (v. 7b). Paraptoma (trespass) is slip-and-fall imagery. Another Greek word, hamartia (sin), is miss-the-mark imagery. Both convey the idea of failure—failure to walk upright (paraptoma) or failure to hit the target (hamartia). Both convey the sense that we have failed to meet God’s standard of holiness.
God calls us to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). To become holy, we must separate ourselves from that which is common. When we fail, as we do when we trespass or sin, we must rely on God’s grace to restore the holiness that our trespass ruined.
“according to the riches of his grace“ (charis) (v. 7c). Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as someone who provided financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity—generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is the gift of salvation by God to all who accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God, therefore, is the patron—the benefactor. Just as we could never fully repay a person who left us an inheritance of unimaginable wealth, so also we can never repay God for the gift of salvation. However, if a patron were to grant us unimaginable wealth, we could be faithful to the patron by using the money in a way that would be consistent with the patron’s wishes or values. So also, we can be faithful to the God who gives us salvation by living in accord with God’s will.
“which he made to abound (Greek: perisseuo) toward us” (v. 8a). God has showed upon us an abundance of grace—more than enough to satisfy our needs.
“in all wisdom (Greek: sophia) and prudence” (phronesis) (v. 8). The words sophia (wisdom) and phronesis (prudence or understanding or insight) are similar in meaning. The Greeks valued wisdom as an especially high virtue, so Paul is speaking language here that they can appreciate (Ephesus was in Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey—rather than in Greece proper, but it was heavily influenced by Greek culture).
It is probably best to understand this phrase, “in all wisdom and prudence,” as meaning that God’s abundant gift of grace has bestowed on us wisdom and prudence in addition to redemption and the forgiveness of our trespasses.
EPHESIANS 1:9-10. MAKING KNOWN TO US THE MYSTERY OF HIS WILL
9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him 10to an administration of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, in him;
“making known to us the mystery (Greek: mysterion) of his will“ (v. 9a). We need to be careful with this word, “mystery,” because we use it today in ways that mean something quite different than what Paul meant. We often use mystery to mean something beyond our understanding. Book mysteries are thrillers and crime stories. Film mysteries are thrillers—or just plain spooky.
Paul uses this word, “mystery” frequently (Romans 11:25; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; Ephesians 1:9; 3:3-5, 9; 5:32; 6:19; Colossians 1:26-27; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:9, 16).
While Paul was surely aware of the Greek mystery religions, which emphasized secret teachings and rituals, his understanding of the word mystery is derived from his Jewish roots, where God revealed his mysteries to accomplish his purposes (Daniel 2:18-19, 27, 30, 47; 4:9).
• Paul talks about “the proclamation of the Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mysterion that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed” (Romans 16:25-26).
• He says, “Listen, I will tell you a mysterion! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
• He says, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:3-5).
• He talks about “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:26).
So, for Paul, a mysterion (mystery) is not something that cannot be known. In fact, it is quite the opposite. For Paul, a mystery is spiritual knowledge that God has revealed to those who can see through eyes of faith.
“of his will“ (Greek: thelema) (v. 9a). As noted above, God has a thelema—a will—a plan—for every person. He has a particular space for each one of us to occupy in his spiritual universe. It is his will that we occupy that particular space. We can fulfill God’s purpose for us as we seek to fill that space—as we seek to bring our wills into congruence with God’s will.
“according to his good pleasure” (Greek: eudokia) (v. 9b). The Greek word eudokia combines eu (good) and dokeo (which has a variety of meanings, among which are “what seems good” or “what gives pleasure”). We could, therefore, translate eudokia as “good pleasure.”
“which he purposed (Greek: protithemai) in him“ (v. 9b). The Greek word protithemai is a combination ofpro (before) and tithemi (to set or place). In this context, it means that which God has set forth or resolved to do from the beginning.
“to an administration of the fullness of the times“ (Greek: kairos pleroma) (v. 10a). There are two Greek words for time—chronos and kairos. Chronos is ordinary clock time—the time that we use to keep our daily appointments. Kairos has to do with special time—the forks in the road that make all the difference—the moments that determine destinies. Paul uses the word kairos here, signaling that he is talking about a great moment in the relationship between God and humans.
The phrase, “fullness of the times,” (kairos pleroma) was a technical term having to do with the passage from one age to another. Jews of Paul’s day divided time into two ages (Matthew 12:32; Ephesians 1:21)—the present age under Satan’s rule and the age to come under God’s rule.
It is “Jesus Christ” (v. 5)—”the Beloved” (v. 6)—whom God sent to administer God’s purposes—to bring an end to the old age and to initiate the new age. Paul also addressed this in his letter to the Galatians, where he said:
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son,
born to a woman, born under the law,
that he might redeem those who were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption of children” (Galatians 4:4-5).
“to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, in him“ (v. 10b). God’s purpose or plan involves summing up or uniting all things in Christ—both heavenly things and earthly things—all spiritual beings such as angels and all humankind.
In chapter 3, Paul will include Gentiles as well as Jews in “all things.” God revealed to Paul the mystery (3:3) “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus through the Good News” (3:6). God’s purpose is that “through the (church) the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which (God) purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:10-11).
EPHESIANS 1:11-14. IN WHOM WE WERE ASSIGNED AN INHERITANCE
11in whom also we were assigned an inheritance, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will; 12to the end that we should be to the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: 13in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.
“in whom also we were assigned an inheritance“ (Greek: kleroo) (v.11a). “In whom” means “in Christ” (see v. 10). It is “in Christ”—through his agency—that we were assigned a kleroo—an inheritance.
The Greek word kleroo refers to the casting of lots to decide something—to include casting lots to choose a person for a critical task. The casting of lots was used frequently for decision-making in the Old Testament (Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 33:54; Joshua 18:8-10; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; etc. See also Acts 1:26).
Some scholars would revise the wording of this verse to indicate that God has chosen us as his lot, just as he chose Israel as his lot (Deuteronomy 32:8-9).
We tend to think of casting lots as something akin to throwing dice (a game of chance), because casting lots and throwing dice resemble each other physically. However, the casting of lots did not rely on chance, but was instead intended to allow God a venue to make his will known. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from Yahweh” (Proverbs 16:33). Now Paul says that God has made his will known—and his will is that we will receive an inheritance—salvation.
“an inheritance“ (v.11a). Jewish law specified that the firstborn son should receive two shares of the inheritance, and all other sons should receive one share each (Deuteronomy 21:17). Having an inheritance had the power to determine a man’s future. Without an inheritance, you would have no land to farm—and nothing to pass on to your sons.
Now Paul says that we (Christians) have an inheritance. In chapter three, he will make it clear that this includes Gentiles, who “are fellow heirs, and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus” (3:6).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul expands the idea that we are heirs by saying that we are “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17; see also Ephesians 3:6). That is especially significant, given that God has appointed his Son “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Ours is an “eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15)—a “city which has the foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10)—”a better country, that is a heavenly one,” a city prepared for us by God (Hebrews 11:16)—”the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).
“having been foreordained (Greek: proorizo) according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel (Greek: boule) of his will“ (v.11b). As noted above (v. 5a), the Greek word proorizo is a combination of pro (before) and horizo (to determine), and means “to determine beforehand,” and is usually translated “predestined.”
“who works all things after the counsel (Greek: boule) of his will“ (v.11b). Boule is the counsel or deliberation that goes into making a good decision. God deliberates, makes a good choice, and then “works all things.”
The Good News here is that our destiny is not determined by random forces. God has a plan for our lives, and “works all things” to carry out that plan. He has determined to bring us into his kingdom—to give us an eternal inheritance—and to provide us a seat at his table.
“to the end that we should be to the praise of his glory” (v.12a). The catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Paul tells us that we have been “bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). He determined to magnify Christ “in (his) body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
We glorify God by our worship and by our obedience to his will. When we bring our lives into congruence with God’s will, the witness of our lives will honor God and will also draw others to God.
“we who had before hoped (Greek: proelpizo) in Christ” (v.12b). Note the progression that begins with this verse and extends through verse 14. The “we” of this verse refers to Jews. The “you” of verse 13 refers to Gentiles. The “our” of verse 14 brings the two together.
The Greek word proelpizo (“had before hoped”) is composed of pro (before) and elpizo (to hope). Paul says that “we” (the Jews) were the first to hope for the Messiah.
“in whom you also“ (v.13a). Once again, “in whom” means “in Christ.”
“You also” means “you the Ephesians”—the Ephesian Christians being predominantly Gentiles. Note again the contrast in these verses between “we,” meaning Jews (v. 12b) and “you,” meaning Gentiles (v. 13a).
“having heard the word of the truth, the Good News (Greek: euangelion) of your salvation“ (Greek:soteria) (v.13b). “The word of truth” and “the Good News” are in apposition. In other words, they are the same: “The word of truth” = “the Good News.”
“the word of the truth” (v. 13b). Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) tells us that our beliefs are absolutely central to our well-being, both here and in the hereafter. Jesus said, “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The opposite is also true. Living according to untrue principles can rob people of their freedom. Here Paul assures these Ephesian Christians that they have “heard the word of truth,” by which he means, “the Good News of your salvation.”
“the Good News” (euangelion) (v. 13b). The Greek word euangelion combines the words eu (good) and angelos (to proclaim—related to our word angel, because angels were God’s messengers) and means “good news.” In secular use, it was used for a victory in battle—or for the reward given to a messenger who brought word of such a victory. In the New Testament, euangelion is used for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul uses some form of that word nearly fifty times, using it to incorporate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“of your salvation“ (Greek: soteria) (v.13b). The idea of salvation is especially important in Paul’s letters. The “Good News of Christ…is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Paul says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), “But the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) which means that we are subject to an eternal penalty for our sins. However, we have been “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25a).
While salvation has an eschatological (future) dimension, it also has a present dimension. The salvation which Christ offers gives us freedom from the power of sin now, because we have died to sin (Romans 6:2) and have become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“in whom, having also believed“ (v.13c). Once again, “in whom” means “in Christ” (v. 12b). Their belief in Christ has assured their salvation (v. 13b) and their being sealed with the Holy Spirit (v. 13d).
“you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise“ (v.13d). In Biblical times, seals were used to authenticate ownership or authority—in much the same way as we use signatures or branding irons today. A typical seal would have an image engraved in it. The owner of the seal would press it into clay or wax, leaving an impression that would signify ownership or authority.
Seals could also be used to protect documents—to prevent unauthorized people from using or misusing documents.
When Paul tells these Ephesian Christians that they have been “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” he most likely intends them to associate all three meanings—ownership, authority, and protection—with the word “sealed.” We are subject to God’s ownership. We serve with Godly authority. We live under God’s protection.
“the Holy Spirit of promise“ (v.13d). This phrase probably means the Holy Spirit as promised by the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit, of course, is the Spirit of God that has been given to dwell in us and to empower us for Godly work.
“who is a pledge (Greek: arrabon) of our inheritance“ (v. 14a). The Greek word arrabon means a pledge, or earnest money, or a down payment. When a person makes a pledge—or, better yet, makes a down payment or provides money as an earnest payment, that helps to insure that he/she will complete the transaction later in accord with his/her agreement with the other party. Typically, he/she will forfeit the down payment or earnest money if he/she fails to follow through. Thus the down payment or earnest money serves as a guarantor that the person will follow through.
While a down payment is not required to secure God’s future faithfulness, Paul is saying that the gift of the Holy Spirit is an arrabon or a first installment of our inheritance. God has given us the Holy Spirit, in part, to give us a glimpse of our future inheritance—and a guarantee that we will receive it. Our inheritance, of course, is salvation—”a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
“to the redemption (Greek: apolytrosis) of God’s own possession“ (peripoiesis) (v. 14b). Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through a ransom payment—the payment required to secure the redemption. The New Testament presents Jesus’ death on the cross as a redemptive act for humanity—as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). He says that Christ Jesus became for us “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). He tells us that “we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7)—and that Jesus Christ is the one “in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins” (Colossians 1:14).
“of God’s own possession“ (Greek: peripoiesis) (v. 14b). We are God’s own possession, but our sin has created a barrier between us and God. However, God has paid the ransom through Christ’s death to effect the redemption of that which belongs to him—and we are the possession that belongs to him.
“to the praise of his glory“ (v. 14c). When God redeems us, our redeemed lives then begin to give God “the praise of his glory.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible: Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1965)
Bruce, F. F., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984)
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Dunham, Maxie D., The Preacher’s Commentary: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982)
Foulkes, Francis, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Ephesians, Vol. 10 (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1989)
Gaventa, Beverly R., in Brueggemann, Walter, Cousar, Charles B., Gaventa, Beverly R., and Newsome, James D., Texts for Teaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Holladay, Carl R., in Craddock, Fred B., Hayes, John H., Holladay, Carl R., and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year A (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Lincoln, Andrew T., Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, Vol. 42 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990)
MacArthur, John, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1986)
Martin, Ralph P., Interpretation: Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1991)
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Neufeld, Thomas R. Yoder, Believers Church Bible Commentary: Ephesians, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002)
Perkins, Pheme, Abingdon New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997)
Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter’s Bible: 2 Corinthians to Philemon, Vol. XI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
O’Brien, Peter T., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letters to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999)
Rogness, Michael, in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Slater, Thomas B., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Ephesians (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2012)
Thielman, Frank S., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010)
Copyright 2013, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan