A Commentary by John Stott
In the second part of verse 1 Paul uses several epithets to describe his readers.
First, they are the *saints*. He is not referring by this familiar word to some spiritual elite within the congregation, a minority of exceptionally holy Christians, but rather to all God’s people. They were called ‘saints’ (that is, ‘holy’) because they had been set apart to belong to him. The expression was first applied to Israel as the ‘holy nation’, but came to be extended to the whole international Christian community, which is the Israel of God. (Gal.6:16)
Next, they were also *faithful*. The adjective *pistos* can have either an active meaning (‘trusting’, ‘having faith’) or a passive (‘trustworthy’, being faithful’). RSV chooses the passive here, but the active seems better since God’s people are ‘the household of faith’ (Gal.6:10), united by their common trust in God through Jesus Christ. At the same time, J.Armitage Robinson may be right in suggesting that ‘the two senses of *pistis*, “belief” and “fidelity”, appear to be blended’. Certainly, it is hard to imagine a believer who is not himself believable, or a trustworthy Christian who has not learned trustworthiness from him in whom he has put his trust.
Thirdly, Paul’s readers are *in Christ Jesus*. This key expression of the letter thus occurs in its very first verse. To be ‘in Christ’ is to be personally and vitally united to Christ, as branches are to he vine and members to the body, and thereby also to Christ’s people. For it is impossible to be part of the Body without being related to both the Head and the members. Much of what the epistle later develops is already here in bud. According to the New Testament – and especially Paul – to be a Christian is in essence to be ‘in Christ’, one with him and with his people.
Fourthly, some manuscripts add that Paul’s readers are *at Ephesus*. Originally a Greek colony, Ephesus was now the capital of the Roman province of Asia and a busy commercial port (long since silted up). It was also the headquarters of the cult of the goddess Diana (or Artemis) whose temple, after being destroyed in the middle of the fourth century BC, had gradually been rebuilt to become one of the seven wonders of the world. Indeed, the success of Paul’s mission in Ephesus had so threatened the sale of silver models of her temple that the silversmiths had stirred up a public outcry (see Acts 19:23ff.).
Paul’s description of his readers is thus comprehensive. They are ‘saints’ because they belong to God; they are ‘believers’ because they have trusted in Christ; and they have two homes, for they reside equally ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Ephesus’. Indeed all Christian people are saints and believers, and live both in Christ and in the secular world, or in the ‘heavenlies’ and on earth. Many of our spiritual troubles arise from our failure to remember that we are citizens of two kingdoms. We tend either to pursue Christ and withdraw from the world, or to become preoccupied with the world and forget that we are also in Christ.
The words ‘at Ephesus’ are not to be found, however, in the earliest Pauline papyrus (Chester Beatty 46) which dates from the second century. Origen in the third century did not know them, and they are absent from the great fourth-century Vatican and Sinaitic codices. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Marcion in the middle of the second century referred to Ephesians as having been addressed ‘to the Laodiceans’. Since Paul himself directed the Colossians both to see that his letter to them be read ‘in the church of the Laodiceans’ and that they themselves ‘read also the letter from Laodicea’ (Col.4:16), some have thought that this so-called ‘letter from Laodicea’ was in fact our ‘Ephesians’, and that he was instructing the churches to exchange the two letters which they had received from him. Certainly Tychicus was the bearer of the two letters (Eph.6:21-22; Col. 4:7-8).
How then can we reconstruct the situation which led to these variations, some copies having ‘in Ephesus’, others having no designation and one referring to Laodicea? Near the beginning of this century Adolf Harnack suggested that the letter was originally addressed to the church at Laodicea, but that because of that church’s lukewarmness and consequent disgrace (Rev.3:14-22), the name of Laodicea was erased and that of Ephesus substituted.
An alternative explanation was proposed by Beza at the end of the sixteenth century and popularized by Archbishop Ussher in the seventeenth, namely that Ephesians was originally a kind of apostolic encyclical or circular letter intended for several Asian churches, that a blank space was left in the first verse for each church to fill in its own name, and that the name of Ephesus became attached to the letter because it was the principal Asian city.
Somewhat similarly, Charles Hodge thought that perhaps the letter was ‘written to the Ephesians and addressed to them, but being intended specially for the Gentile Christians as a class, rather than for the Ephesians as a church, it was designedly thrown into such a form as to suit it to all such Christians in the neighbouring churches, to whom no doubt the apostle wished it to be communicated.
Such a more general readership would explain not only the variants in the first verse but also the absence from the letter of all particular allusions and personal greetings.
All the same, the circular letter theory is entirely speculative. No manuscript carries an alternative destination. And Colossians, which Paul says he intended for another church as well (Col.4:16), nevertheless includes some personal greetings. So the mystery remains unsolved.