Ephesians – What is the Main Theme?June 20, 2007
One of my most exciting ministry responsibilities is helping our church student team prepare for Sunday lunch bible studies. We’re already planning ahead for next Autumn when we intend to study the letter of Ephesians with eager students (God willing!). You might be interested in part of what I wrote to the team recently about the challenge of identifying Ephesians’ main theme. Maybe you have some thoughts on the central idea/ideas in Ephesians.
Compared with Paul’s other letters, Ephesians is harder than most to pin down in terms of a central theme. Two simple reasons for this are:
a) There is no agreement about who this letter was originally intended for. Many reliable early manuscripts don’t have the words “in Ephesus” (verse 1). Furthermore, the letter lacks Paul’s usual intimate warmth when writing to a church he knows well. One possible explanation is that Ephesians was a circular letter which eventually came to reside in Ephesus.
b) There is no obvious “ocassion” for the letter (i.e. a problem Paul was sorting out). Though some have ventured that the apostle was sorting out problems between Jewish and Gentile Christians, or that he was instructing new Gentile Converts, we really can’t be sure. Moreover, there is no purpose statement such as we have in 1 John 5, John 20, which pinpoints the aim of Paul’s argument.
These problems aside, there are a number of obvious emphases in Ephesians. I’ll mention five and protide an additional comment from Carson, Morris and Moo’s Introduction to the New Testament.
1) Grace – “The letter begins with a section putting a strong emphasis on the divine action in bringing salvation…This massive emphasis on the place of the divine is expanded with continuing references to grace.” ['Grace' occurs twelve times in Ephesians, only less than Romans, Acts and Corinthians; books which are much longer. No wonder Mark Dever simply entitles his Ephesians overview: "Grace"]
2) Christ -”Christ’s saving work is stressed in the opening….This emphasis persists throughout the letter: it is plain everywhere that who Christ is and what he does is at the heart of the Christian way.”
3) Christian Growth in Knowledge – “…this letter emphasizes divine disclosure. “I pray also tha the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…’ (1:18), which is seen against the background of hte darkness of the Gentiles (4:18). The readers are ‘light in the Lord’ and they are to live as ‘children of light’ and ‘find out what pleases the Lord’ (5:8-10); they are to ‘understand what God’s will is’ (5:17). No one who has grappled with the thought of this letter can doubt the importance of growing in knowledge.” [See also the emphasis on 'mystery' 1:9, 3:3, 6:19]
4) Living Life in Conformity with God’s Salvation – “The kind of life the Gentiles live is contrasted with the new life believers live (4:17-5:21)…. This has important entailments for specific groups – wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (5:22-6:9)
5) The Church – “The letter’s emphasis on the church is unmistakable; Ephesus clearly tells us about the church universal than do other writings in the Pauline corpus.”
Further Ephesians Resources
Mark Dever Ephesians overview (1 sermon)
James Montgomery Boyce Ephesians overview (4 sermons!)
All Souls Ephesians series (12 sermons) – need to register by giving email address
R Kent Hughes Ephesians series (31 sermons)
John Piper Ephesians sermons (45 sermons)