Ephesians 2:19–22 (Part 3): Background Study

Author

The author of the letter to the Ephesians is the Apostle Paul, previously known as Saul of Tarsus. Paul, born Saul was an ethnic Jew, and was a part of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1). He was born in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, which is in present-day southeastern Turkey (Acts 21:39, 22:3). In the first century, this region was ruled by the Roman Empire. After his birth in Tarsus, Paul was raised in Jerusalem, where he underwent a rigorous religious education. Paul studied under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3, 5:34–39), who was “a famous rabbi of the era.”[1] By his own admission, Paul was an advanced student compared to others his age, and was filled with zeal for the Jewish religion, and for the traditions of his fathers (Gal. 1:13–15). Paul was also educated in the tradition of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5–14). Apart from his religious studies, Paul was also a tent maker by trade (Acts 18:3).

Paul had the significant cultural advantage of being a citizen of the Roman Empire by birth (Acts 22:2). Rome controlled most of the known world at this time and citizens of Rome were given certain rights, protections, and due processes that were not afforded to non-citizens. Paul began persecuting the early church as a young man. He was present at the stoning of Stephen, an act of murder, which he approved of (Acts 7:58, 8:1). With the approval of the High Priest, Paul traveled throughout the area hunting Christians throwing them in prison, and trying to make them commit blasphemy (Acts 26:10–11). During one such expedition, Paul encountered the resurrected Christ in a vision and through a dramatic series of events came to believe (Acts 9, 22, 26).

After his conversion, Paul travelled the known world preaching the gospel to any who would listen and planting churches along the way. Throughout his ministry, Paul faced significant hardships, from sickness to shipwreck. He was imprisoned multiple times, beaten, whipped, and often went without food. He suffered from constant anxiety with regard to the well being of the churches he planted. In spite of these hardships, Paul planted churches across Europe and Asia and authored a many of the books of the New Testament.

Audience

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is writing to believers in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor, a Roman province in modern day Turkey. Situated on the coast, the city was an important economic, cultural, and religious center in the first century. Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis, which was considered to be one of the wonders of the ancient world.[2] Religion was not only an important aspect of the cultural life of Ephesus, but also the economic life. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus caused a great deal of controversy. Craftsman and artisans whose livelihoods came from making shrines and idols were upset at Paul’s message, and staged protests and riots.

The members of the Ephesian church would have been very familiar with Paul. After a brief initial visit in 52 A.D., Paul returned during his 3rd missionary journey and remained there for several years. The church at Ephesus was likely composed of Jews and Gentiles alike, as Paul ministered to both during his time there. While writing this letter between 60 and 62 A.D., Paul was imprisoned in Rome, though likely not literally in chains.[3] Scholars place this letter in close temporal proximity to Colossians due to the similarities in the epistles.[4]

Sources

[1] Powel, “Paul.” The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated). 2011

[2] Green, “Ephesus.” New Bible Dictionary. 1996.

[3] Foulkes, “Ephesians, Epistle to The.” New Bible Dictionary. 1996.

[4] Constable, “Notes on Ephesians.” Sonic Light. 2015.


Part 2: Observation. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Part 4: Interpretation (coming soon)

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