21 November 2015

Ephesians 3:1-13

“The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’ (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 131


The personal interjection in this chapter can be seen lending force to an argument for the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. He certainly spent time in prison on numerous occasions. However it is still possible to argue that another wrote the letter in the tradition of Paul, using his name to give credence to the message. The recipients of the letter would know about Paul's various imprisonments and chapter 3 does not speak in detail about the circumstances of this particular time in prison.

It is significant that in verse 1 the writer says that he is a prisoner "for Christ Jesus". Imprisonment is seen not as victimisation by the authorities but as a result of Christian discipleship, particularly because of the support of Gentile Christians. The writer goes on to refer to the revelation of a mystery, previously hinted at in Ephesians 1:9. This mystery, revealed by the Spirit is the place of the Gentiles in the Church, as the body of Christ. This is the central theme of this passage, which continues through verses 8-13. If we argue that Paul is not the writer, then verse 8 could express the writer's sense of being unworthy to follow in the footsteps of Paul, still less to assume his voice at this point in the letter. What we need to hold on to, however, is the sense that the unity of all people and the creation of a new humanity in Christ is God's eternal plan.

Part of that plan is that the Church is to express the wisdom of God. Quite how the Church on earth is to address the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly places" (v. 10) is by no means clear. Perhaps the writer is getting carried away with their sense of the value of the Church. Verse 12 affirms something which the Gentile Christians needed to hear - that through faith in Christ there is direct access to God. The ancient barriers are down, and this was God's plan from the beginning.

To Ponder

  • How can the Church today influence the life of the world?
  • In the light of the complexity of contemporary life, how do you maintain "boldness and confidence" (v. 12) in faith?

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.