Updated: Aug 17, 2021
By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
The next few weeks are going to be a marathon of Ephesians blogs, so big shout-out to all my Ephesians-heads out there!
The sermon series will go for five weeks and will be a nice survey of what Ephesians has to say. I had the pleasure of preaching on Ephesians 1:1-8. Because I was reading the opening of the letter, I read a lot about it. I got some background, read some commentaries, and learned about some more of the context of the letter.
The first verse of Ephesians goes like this “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus”.
Ok, that’s not a very exciting verse, right? Pretty much “Hey folks, this is Paul writing a letter to all of you fine folks in Ephesus”. But here’s the thing – it’s all a sham!
Ok, perhaps that’s a touch melodramatic, but if I said “It might be different than it appears” this would be boring. Maybe if I said “not all is as it seems” that would lend it an air of mystery. Turns out writing blogs involves some very high stakes decisions, like should I write “let me know in the comments”? If you think I should, then let me know in the comments (don’t actually bother).
As I was saying, this verse holds a good deal of intrigue. Let’s start with the first word. “Paul”. That’s a lie (probably). There’s a lot in Ephesians that looks different from Paul’s writing style, and some words that Paul never used. Maybe it was Paul and he learned some new words and wanted to use them exclusively in this note. Most likely, this was a disciple of Paul’s who learned from him and adopted his theology. There’s some stuff that is definitely Paul-like in this letter, and it’s probably because it’s from a person who really loved listening to Paul.
And what’s more, some of the most reliable surviving manuscripts of Ephesians don’t have the words “who are in Ephesus”. The theory is that this letter was actually written as a general letter to churches, sort of a doctrinal chain letter to circulate around the churches. But we kept in the “Ephesus” part. Why? Maybe it was to make the letter sound more like other letters from Paul. Maybe it was kept in because otherwise the name of the book would have been “ “.
Does this matter? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s been sticking in my craw and I wanted to share it with you all. Personally, I like the letter more if it’s not directed at any one church. The general advice given by a respected community member to be shared among the churches of the world speaks to the electricity that was sparking in the early Christian community. Knowing that this is something that would have been read around the world conversely makes it more intimate to me. I guess it’s knowing that this wasn’t specific advice, sent to address specific problems in a specific community at a specific time. This letter was for everyone, everywhere, and everywhen.
Now there’s some content in the letter that seems like bad advice for us today (and probably for them back then too), but there’s still something special about reading this ancient notice and realizing that it was meant for me to receive too.
Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline