In the opening of Ephesians, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul begins by introducing himself as the author. Paul, who was once known as Saul, was a vehement enemy of Christians and the early church (see Acts 7-8). He had been responsible for the imprisonment and even death of many early Christ followers. At that time he was filled with misplaced religious zeal and truly believed he was doing God a favor by capturing and overseeing the death of believers in Jesus Christ. However, that all changed when Christ revealed Himself on the Damascus Road. Christ confronted Saul of Tarsus with the truth, and that truth forever changed his life (see Acts 9:1-9). After turning to the very One whom he had been persecuting, Paul then began to preach the truth that he once had tried to destroy.
Sometime after his conversion, Paul was commissioned to go on missionary journeys. It is through these endeavors that untold numbers of souls were converted and churches established. Paul’s first recorded trip to the city of Ephesus is found in Acts 18:19-21. While there, he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue and promised to return if the Lord willed. Though he did not stay, he left behind competent co-laborers named Aquila and Priscilla who continued the ministry there (see Acts 18:26). Acts 19 records Paul’s return to Ephesus and his continued ministry in this metropolitan city. We also find in chapter 19, that the truth Paul was preaching during these months began to change lives and caused a great uproar in the city. When the uproar ceased, Paul made the decision to depart from Ephesus (see Acts 20). He gave a tearful farewell speech to the Ephesian elders and then shared with them that the Holy Spirit had given him insight regarding his impending imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. It was from prison that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 3:1, 4:1).
The City of Ephesus
In what type of city did Paul first arrive? There are several important characteristics concerning the city of Ephesus that are important to know.
First of all, Ephesus was a large city of its day. Its population was estimated to be between 250,000-350,000 souls and was the third largest city of the Roman Empire. Ephesus was situated in the region now known as Turkey. Ephesus was not only a port city, but was also a place where “east met west…”through a “great arterial Roman road that linked it with the world…” It was also known as the chief banking establishment in Asia Minor. Though the city was quite multi-ethnic, it also had a strong Jewish population.
Secondly, Ephesus was known for its worship of idols. Some estimate up to fifty gods and goddesses were worshipped there. The most famous deity in Ephesus was Artemis, who was also known as Diana. The temple built for Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! The upheaval found in Acts 19 was partly instigated by those who made items for the temple of Artemis. Many of these silversmiths were suffering financially because idolatry was on the decline. The truth was setting people free, and those who had much to gain from the idol business were hurting!
Thirdly, Ephesus was a city known for its magic, shamanism and the occult. New Testament Professor Clinton Arnold notes, “The practice of magic was predicated on an animistic worldview in which good and evil spirits were involved in practically every area of life. Magic represented a means of harnessing spiritual power through rituals, incantations, and invocations.” You may also remember that Acts 19 records the burning of the books from those who had been practicing magical arts. This also took place in Ephesus.
As mentioned earlier, Paul had travelled to Ephesus on at least two occasions, and on the second occasion had been able to stay for quite some time. For the past two years the people had heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10) and many had become believers. These believers were probably as multi-ethnic as the population of Ephesus itself. We know for certain, based on the records found in Acts 19 that some of these new believers had been saved out of the occult and idolatry. “Coming to Christ from a background of animism, goddess worship, magical practices, and a variety of other religions, these people need a more extensive grounding in the gospel and its implications for life.” The church in Ephesus and throughout Asian Minor would benefit greatly from the foundational doctrines and practical Christianity proclaimed throughout this powerful letter.
Arnold lists important facts that help us understand the themes in and circumstances surrounding the writing of Ephesians. Here is a brief summary:
- New believers from various religious, occultic and ethnic backgrounds needed to be grounded in the Gospel of Christ. They needed to understand Christ’s supremacy!
- Paul sought to encourage believers to cultivate a distinct, Christian lifestyle.
- Paul revealed to these believers, regardless of their ethnic background, that they are part of ONE body (emphasis mine). Christ is the head of this body, and the life blood is the Holy Spirit.
Summarizing the key thought of Ephesians, world renowned Scottish New Testament interpreter William Barclay so beautifully writes:
The key thought of Ephesians is the gathering together of all things in Jesus Christ…In every man there is a tension; every man is a walking civil war, torn between the desire for good and the desire for evil; he hates his sins and loves them at the same time…A cosmic battle is raging between the powers of evil and the powers of good; between God and the demons. Worst of all there is disharmony between God and man. Man, who was meant to be in fellowship with God, is estranged from him.
So, then, in this world without Christ, there is nothing but disunity…The central thought of Ephesians is the realization of the disunity in the universe and the conviction that it can become unity only when everything is united in Christ.
In conclusion, the letter to the Ephesians can be subdivided into two distinct sections. The first three chapters deal with doctrine, and the last three chapters demonstrate how doctrine is to be lived out in the Christ follower’s life. The doctrines and admonitions found in the book of Ephesians are timeless. You will find food for your soul and helps to enable you to live out “Practical Christianity.” I am grateful that you have chosen to join me on this journey.
 This estimate varies depending upon who you read after. Clinton Arnold estimates 250,000 while John Phillips estimates 350,000.
 Clinton E. Arnold, “Ephesians: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 3.
 “The NIV Study Bible,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 1790. Though I do not endorse the NIV because of its “dynamic equivalence” form of translation, I have found many of the study notes in this Study Bible helpful. Referencing various authors or Study Bible does not mean a blanket endorsement of either.
 Arnold, 3.
 John Phillips, “Exploring Ephesians,” (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1993), 21.
 Spiros Zodhiates, “The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bbile,” (Chattanooga, Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 1996), 1368.
 Arnold, 3.
 For more information about these gods and goddesses you may refer to both Arnold and Phillips’ work.
 John MacArthur, “The MacArthur Study Bible,” (Word Publishing, 1997), 1801.
 Arnold, 5.
 Arnold, 6.
 Arnold, 3.
 MacArthur, 1802.
 William Barclay, “The Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians,” (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminister Press, 1976), 66.