A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 1:1-2 Introduction to the letter – The author (continued).

When I first read this evaluation, I wondered whether it was really Ephesians which Dr Barth was describing, so divergent was his reaction to the letter from mine. But as I read on, it became clear to me that he was not satisfied with his own judgment. First, he concedes that he may be guilty of a caricature, then he explains that he wanted to shock his readers into feeling what non-Christians feel when approached with a caricature of the gospel, and finally he redresses the balance by depicting ‘the charm of acquaintance’ which people experience who get to know Ephesians better. The letter endears itself and its author to us, he suggests, by three characteristics.

First, Ephesians is intercession. More than any other New Testament epistle, it ‘has a character and form of *prayer*’. When somebody *argues* with us, he may or may not persuade us; but when he *prays* for us, his relation to us changes. ‘So it is with the stranger at the door. Ephesians has gained a right to enter because its readers have a place in the intercession of the author.

Secondly, Ephesians is affirmation. It is neither apologetics, nor polemics. Instead, it abounds in ‘bold’ and even ‘jubilant’ affirmations about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. ‘Ephesians makes itself welcome and is a charming document just because it dares to let shine nothing else but God’s love and election, Christ’s death and resurrection and the Spirit’s might and work among men.’

Thirdly, Ephesians is evangelism. In his survey of the letter’s contents Markus Barth emphasizes its ‘bold assertions’ about God’s saving purpose and action (chapters 1 and 2), about God’s ongoing work in his self-manifestation to and through the church’ (chapters 3 and 4), and about ‘the bold and joyful ambassadorship of the Christians in the world’ (chapters 5 and 6). All this, he says, gives Ephesians ‘particular significance for all concerned with the evangelistic tasks of the church today’.

What, then, is the state of play in scholarly circles regarding the authorship of Ephesians? Many sit on the fence. They would agree with J.H.Houlden that there ‘is no consensus of expert opinion’, for ‘argument answers argument without clear outcome’.

Others still deny that Paul was the author and propose elaborate alternative theories. Perhaps the most ingenious is that of the American scholar E.J.Goodspeed. He speculated that about the year AD90 an ardent devotee of the apostle Paul, dismayed by the contemporary neglect of his hero’s letters, went the rounds of the churches he had visited in order to collect and later publish them. But before publication he saw the need for some kind of introduction. So he composed ‘Ephesians’ himself as a mosaic of materials drawn from all Paul’s letters, especially Colossians (which he had memorized), and attributed it to Paul in order to commend him to a later generation. E.J.Goodspeed went further and hazarded the guess that this author and publisher was none other than Onesimus, the converted slave, since somebody of that name was Bishop of Ephesus at the time. Although this reconstruction has gained some popularity in the United States and has been adopted in England by Dr. Leslie Mitton, it is almost entirely speculative.

Other scholars are coming back to the traditional view. A.M.Hunter rightly says that ‘the burden of proof lies with those who deny Paul’s authorship’. Marcus Barth uses the same expression and applies the maxim ‘innocent until proved guilty’. For myself, I find even these judgments too timid. They do not seem to give sufficient weight either to the external or the internal evidence. Externally, there is the impressive witness of the universal church for eighteen centuries, which is not to be lightly set aside. Internally, the letter not only purports to be written by the apostle Paul throughout, but its theme of the union of the Jews and Gentiles by God’s gracious reconciling work through Christ is wholly appropriate to what we learn elsewhere about the apostle to the Gentiles. I do not think G.G.Findlay was exaggerating when he wrote that modern scepticism about the Pauline authorship of Ephesians will in future come to be regarded as ‘one of…the curiosities of a hypercritical age’. The absence of any satisfactory alternative is rightly emphasized by F.F.Bruce: ‘The man who could write Ephesians must have been  the apostle’s equal, if not his superior, in mental stature and spiritual insight…Of such a second Paul early Christian history has no knowledge.’

After this brief survey of modern viewpoints it is a relief to come back to the text: *Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God*. Paul claims the same title which Jesus had given to the Twelve (Lk.6:12-13), and whose background in both Old Testament and Rabbinic Judaism designated somebody specially chosen, called and sent to teach with authority. For this ministry he had not volunteered, nor had the church appointed him. On the contrary, his apostleship derived from the will of God and from the choice and commission of Jesus Christ. If this be so, as I for one believe, then we must listen to the message of Ephesians with appropriate attention and humility. For we must regard its author neither as a private individual who is ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the churches greatest missionary hero, but as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’, and therefore as a teacher whose authority is precisely the authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose inspiration he writes. As Charles Hodge expressed it in the middle of last century, ‘The epistle reveals itself as the work of the Holy Ghost as clearly as the stars declare their maker to be God.’

Tomorrow: Ephesians 1:1-2.  2) The recipients.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.