Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey

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17. Ephesians


This chapter should enable the student to

  • summarize what modern scholarship has to say regarding the historical background for Ephesians, including suppositions about the location to which this letter was addressed and its possible relationship to other Pauline letters.
  • discuss the question of whether Ephesians is an authentic or pseudepigraphical letter and indicate how a decision in this regard would affect conclusions regarding the letter’s date of composition and presumed audience.
  • describe the central theological themes of Ephesians with reference to the mysterious plan of God, the elevation of the church, and the idealized status of believers.

Pedagogical Suggestions

1. The Body of Christ, the Church

Powell notes in his conclusion to the chapter on Ephesians that the Christian life is described “with reference to body posture” (text p. 345). Believers are seated, walking, or told to stand in relation to particular realities they encounter. Additionally, Ephesians uses the metaphor of the church as the “body” and Christ as the “head” (1:22–23; 4:4–16) and encourages believers to be renewed in their “minds” (4:17–24). Read through Ephesians again and write down all the bodily references. Then record the theological and ethical concepts associated with the body (or part of the body). Ask students to diagram (draw a picture of) the church as a theological body. Is this a complete picture for organizing behavior in a community of faith? Why or why not?

Compare your analysis of the body imagery and language in Ephesians with Paul’s presentation of the body in 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 and 12:12–13:13. How do the images compare? How do the theology and ethics compare?


This exercise offers students another opportunity to examine the imagery in Paul’s arguments and to analyze how the imagery functions to teach Christians about life in the community or “body” of Christ. Second, students may evaluate the “authenticity” of Ephesians by looking at one key element—the use of the body metaphor and how it is similar or different from that in Corinthians.

2. The Christian Household

How have Christians appropriated the household codes in Ephesians 5:21–6:9? Ask students to research the ways in which household codes from the first-century Mediterranean world have been incorporated into moral values, families, churches, even governments since that time. How does culture affect the use or application of these codes in different times and different societies? Do such social codes translate across cultures (ancient Greek and Roman, modern US)? Across time?

Alternatively, as an in-class exercise, ask students to compare the household codes presented in other philosophical writings from the Mediterranean world with Ephesians. How did early Christians adapt common social organizational codes to their own needs and ethics? What changes do Christians make?


Culture shapes human social organizations and values. Christians inherit the cultural values of ancient times mediated through their scriptures and traditions. In this exercise students begin by looking at the ways in which biblical values for social and political organizations have shaped modern Christian societies. Here, the main thing is for students to identify the relationships and influences between cultures and values. What Ephesians promotes as “good behavior” and correct roles for particular people reflects the standard values of the first-century Mediterranean society. Ephesians adopts and perpetuates these role relationships and values as “Christian.” Today, some of these roles, relationships, and social values have been transformed, and the transformation is called “Christian.” The goal is for students to be able to articulate this basic kind of cultural analysis, through an examination of the ancient letter, and of their own experience of US culture and knowledge of US history.

Discussion Prompts

  1. Gut reaction. After reading a number of Paul’s seven “undisputed letters,” read through Ephesians and give your gut reaction. Is this letter by the same author as the others? What gives you that sense (e.g., tone, language, imagery, phrasing, pace, beliefs, self-presentation, etc.)? Now, summarize the reasons some scholars give for considering Ephesians not to have been directly written by Paul. How do your first reactions and reflection compare to the evidence scholars put forward?
  2. Love.” Love is a word of great significance that can cover so many human emotions and relationships as to be ambiguous almost beyond use. What does Ephesians mean by “love”? Cite concrete verses in support. How is this particular concept of love being used in this letter and why? That is, what situation does “love” address in Ephesus (or the surrounding regions of Asia Minor)?
  3. Comparing unity in Christ. How does Paul’s vision of unity in Christ (Gentiles and Jews brought together into one people of God) found in other letters (e.g., 1 Corinthians) compare with the language of unity in Ephesians?