Who Wrote the Book of Ephesians?


Ephesus - Who Wrote the Book of Ephesians?In my Greek Exegesis class I wrote an introduction to the letter of Ephesians – authorship is one of the topics I covered in my paper, so here it is:

There are many ideas as to who wrote the letter of Ephesians. Some say Paul wrote it,[1] others say a later follower of Paul,[2] and there are even others who do not know who wrote it but are just convinced that it is an apocryphal writing.[3] To begin with, we will look at the historical evidence of authorship, we will examine some arguments against Pauline authorship, and to end this section we will present several arguments for why Pauline authorship is the preferred view of this writer.

Historical View of Authorship

Being that the letter of Ephesians is a historical document, its own words are the first witness of Pauline authorship: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1a). And since the days of Irenaeus, a said disciple of Polycarp, “this Letter has always been classified as one of the homologumena. Even the Gnostics, e. g., Marcion and the Valentinians, recognized Paul as the author of this Epistle.” The writings of the Apostolic Fathers also attest to Paul’s authorship being that they seem to have used the letter as a source for some of their own writings (for instance in Clemens Romanus, Ignatius ad Ephesios, and Polycarp to the Philippians).[4] There is no debate. As Hiebert states in his introduction to the Pauline Epistles “The unanimous position of the ancient Church was to receive this epistle as from the hand of the apostle Paul.”[5]

Anti-Pauline Authorship

Regardless of these external evidences, attacks against the claimed authorship of Paul arose through the critics of the modern era, beginning with Edward Evanson, an English clergyman, who launched his attack solely on the internal evidence.[6] Evanson felt the letter too impersonal to have been written by Paul who had spent more than two years with the Ephesian church as recorded in the book of Acts.[7] Another more recent proponent of the non-Pauline authorship camp, Andrew T. Lincoln, points out that just because a person reads the text of Ephesians does not mean that one has “immediate access to its author,”[8] but rather, that the reader meets the “implied”[9] author of the text. In order to find the relationship between the “implied” author and the real author, Lincoln argues that one must compare the data given about each (given that we have information about who we think the real author is). The first step then, in trying to determine who wrote Ephesians is to gather the internal evidence about the implied author.

As we look at the letter itself, we see that the author is singular and calls himself Paul (1:1; 3:1), claims apostolic authority (1:1) and says he is a prisoner suffering for Christ, the gospel and the Gentiles (3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:19, 20).[10] In the minds of those who do not hold to Pauline authorship, it seems that the author has no specific knowledge about his recipients (1:13, 15, 16) and assumes that his recipients have heard of his ministry (3:2).[11] Also, because there is no personal greeting, those who hold the anti-Pauline authorship view believe that their understanding is bolstered, for they feel it implies that the author had no intimate connection with his readers.[12] But regardless of the author’s seemingly weak relationship with his readers, he asks for their prayers and sets Tychicus forward as his representative (6:21, 22), which offers some unique problems for those who think someone other than Paul wrote the letter.[13]

The author frequently identifies himself with all believers (cf. 1:3-12, 14; 1:19; 2:3-7, 10; 2:14-16, 18; 3:12, 20; 4:7, 13-15; 5:2; 6:12) as well as calling himself “the very least of all the saints” (3:8).[14] He also uses the Old Testament as one of his major sources of authoritative tradition, making use of known Jewish exegetical methods (4:8; 5:14). In addition the fact that the author is a Jewish Christian is confirmed through addressing his readers as being at one time “Gentiles in the flesh” and the “Uncircumcision” (2:11) as well as his usage of “Gentiles” when he refers to those who have no relationship with God through Christ (4:17).[15]

The author seems to believe that he has some unique revelation about how the Gentiles fit into the Church and even requests that the readers of the letter recognize this fact as he had written about it previously (3:2-6).[16] He believes that through Christ, the distinctions between Gentiles and Jews, that had before been divisive, are now done away with (2:11-18) and stresses the importance of the Church to his readers (cf. 1:22, 23; 2:19-22; 3:10, 21; 4:1-16).[17]

There is also the many hapax legomena that are present in the letter, as well as unique combinations of words and extremely long sentences that are found nowhere else in Pauline literature.[18] These unique words bring with them theological emphases that Lincoln claims are “different from those of the apostle Paul.”[19] For Paul’s “normal” emphasis on the cross and death are all but missing and have been replaced by an emphasis “on Christ’s resurrection, exaltation, and cosmic lordship.”[20]

All of these observations, and more made by Lincoln, lead him, and many other modern scholars to believe that Paul did not write this letter, but rather that a disciple of Paul’s wrote it. Lincoln states, “For what it is worth, this is now the consensus view of NT scholarship, though a sizable minority continues to uphold Pauline authorship”.[21] However, according to Hoehner’s commentary, before 1792, no one believed that someone other than Paul wrote Ephesians, and only in two periods (1971-2001 and 1981-2001) have more scholars denied Pauline authorship than have accepted it. And even in those periods, those against Pauline Authorship were composed of 51% while those who accepted Pauline authorship made up 49% of scholars of their day; hardly a majority.[22] So Lincoln’s assertion, again, actually has no factual foundation.

Pro-Pauline Authorship

Regardless of the many problems some modern scholars have with accepting Paul as the author of Ephesians, they must bear the burden of proof.[23] Arguing against all of Church history, modern critics show their weakness, for up until 1792, no one ever questioned the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.[24] However, most of the difficulties that liberal scholars have with Pauline authorship can be quite easily addressed, because they stem from a bias that fails to look at the whole picture. They have looked so closely at Ephesians that they draw inferences from ideas that are not contained in the text and use these concepts as proof that Paul did not write the letter. For instance, their claim that the letter has a different vocabulary than that of the “normal” Paul is ungrounded. Stöckhardt easily refutes their claim, stating: “…we have just about the same number of un-Pauline words in the authentic Pauline Letter to the Galatians as we have in the Letter to the Ephesians, which these critics attack as un-Pauline.”[25] It is common for authors to use certain words frequently in one setting and infrequently in another – a simple example is in the usage of the preposition ἐν in Romans. In Romans chapter one it occurs twenty-five times and yet in Romans six it occurs only five times.[26] Such a statistic proves absolutely nothing regarding who wrote the book.

The whole concept of pseudepigraphy in the New Testament period has also been twisted to fit the ideas of these modern scholars. One such scholar, David G. Meade, seems to think that the letter would have been widely known as pseupdographical, but was “no less authoritative.”[27] But this is not the case; it has no historical basis at all.[28] Yes, there are pseupdographical works in Jewish tradition, but none of them were ever accepted as canonical by Jews. In fact, all the post New Testament works that claimed apostolic authorship such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and the Apocalypse of Peter were never seriously considered as canonical, because they either contained false teaching or were known as pseudonymous.[29] This abhorrence of pseudonymous letters is clearly seen even from the very writing of Paul as he wrote to the Thessalonians in his first letter to them that they not be deceived by a teaching that Jesus had already come again, even if they receive such a lie in a “a message or a letter as if from us,” (2 Thess. 2:2). It is clear Paul does not condone fake letters, and neither did the early Church, for they followed his instruction.

In addition to this, if Ephesians were pseudonymous, the information about Tychicus and Paul’s reason for sending him to the Ephesians would be idiotic (Eph. 6:21-22).[30] If Paul was dead, what would Tychicus say about how Paul was doing? The Apostle Paul was a well-known figure, and if he were dead and someone claimed to have information on his well-being no one would accept such a notion. Neither would a pseudonymous author be so naive to include such a reference if it was his desire to fool his recipients into thinking the real Paul had written the letter.

The minds of modern scholars who are against the Pauline authorship of Ephesians have been deceived and puffed up in their knowledge, thinking they have the truth that no one else for all of past Christian history ever knew. There is no well-founded reason to question the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. As Gempf states, “the evidence shows that the church fathers were far from uninterested in the authorship question, and yet we have no record of their congratulating a pseudonymous author or consciously accepting a single pseudonymous work. We must conclude that if pseudonymous works got into the canon, the church fathers were fooled by a transparent literary device that was originally intended not to fool anyone.”[31]



[1] Harold W Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002), 60.

[2] Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, v. 42 (Dallas, TX.: Word Books, 1990), lx.

[3] Edward Evanson, The dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical (Gloucester, England: Printed by D. Walker for J. Johnson, 1805), 314.

[4] G. Stöckhardt, Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1952), 3.

[5] D. Edmond Hiebert, An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1954), 256.

[6] Harold W Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6.

[7] Edward Evanson, The dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical (Gloucester, England: Printed by D. Walker for J. Johnson, 1805), 312-13.

[8] Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, v. 42 (Dallas, TX.: Word Books, 1990), lx.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., lxi.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., lxv-lxvi.

[19] Ibid., lxiii.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Harold W Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002), 19-20.

[23] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th rev. ed (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 499.

[24] C. Leslie. Mitton, The Epistle to the Ephesians; its authorship, origin, and purpose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 15-16.

[25] G. Stöckhardt, Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1952), 8-9.

[26] Ibid., 9.

[27] David G Meade, Pseudonymity and Canon: An Investigation into the Relationship of Authorship and Authority in Jewish and Earliest Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 1987), 198.

[28] Harold W Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002), 42.

[29] Ibid., 43.

[30] Ibid., 49.

[31] Conrad Gempf, “Pseudonymity and the New Testament,” Themelios 17, no. 2 (1992): 10.

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2 Responses to Who Wrote the Book of Ephesians?

  1. Lee says:

    Thanks for posting this, Nathan.

    “However, according to Hoehner’s commentary, before 1792, ” — who (or what group) originated this thought in 1792?

  2. nathanwells says:

    Edward Evanson – here’s the book and the page numbers:

    Download at Google Books here
    Evanson, Edward. The dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical. Gloucester, England: Printed by D. Walker for J. Johnson, 1805.
    Pages: 312-13

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