16 November 2015

Ephesians 1:1-10

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 126


Since 1975, this week has been designated Prisons Week, which was formed to pray for and raise awareness of the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prison staff and all who care.

The Letter to the Ephesians could therefore be seen as appropriate for the week, as traditionally it was grouped together with Philippians, Colossians and Philemon as Paul's letters written in prison. There are two references in Ephesians to Paul being a prisoner and in Ephesians 6:20 he describes himself as "an ambassador in chains".

But did Paul write the letter? Biblical scholars are divided. Those who argue for another author do so on the grounds of the style of the letter, the vocabulary used and its theological emphases. But on the other hand, if Paul were writing from prison, he would have had time to think, and develop both his theology and the way he expressed it. So a case can be made both for and against Paul being the writer.

Was it intended for the Christians in Ephesus? Again there is some doubt, as unlike other letters it does not deal with specific issues in a particular Christian community. It is possibly a letter to be circulated amongst many churches. It shares material with Colossians, and develops the major theme of that letter - the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

After the initial greeting, the writer launches into a breathless passage of praise piling up idea after idea about God's blessings. In the original Greek, verses 3-14 are one long continuous sentence, and whilst English translations divide the phrases up, that sense of continuous praise is not lost. The whole of the story of salvation is present in verses 3-10, and it is seen as the fulfilment of God's plan for humanity. That plan precedes creation (verse 4) and it is expressed in adoption as God's children through God's grace. For the earliest readers (or hearers) of these words, this would have a powerful resonance, as adoption meant a total new beginning for the one adopted. The act of adoption wiped out their past. All this is through Christ, described in verse 6 as "the Beloved" emphasising the relationship of love between Father and Son. Verse 10 opens up the great theme of the whole cosmos finding its fulfilment in Christ.

To Ponder

  • How do you react to being part of God's plan for humanity? Does this have a bearing on free will?
  • 'Count your blessings.' What do you want to praise God for in your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.