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The letter to the Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul from a Roman prison. Along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon it is one of four letters in the New Testament known as the prison epistles. Most likely, Paul wrote the letter around A.D. 60, thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and a few years before Paul’s own death.
There is good reason to believe that Ephesians was not written exclusively to the church in Ephesus. Instead, it was a circular letter carried by Tychicus and read at each stop throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey) until finally arriving at the capital city of Ephesus.
The city of Ephesus was a large, bustling, commercial center on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor. Originally a Greek colony, the city rose to worldwide prominence as a center for international trade, largely due to its fine, natural harbor.
Adding to the city’s mystic was the Temple of Artemis, a huge marble structure considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The statue of Artemis was thought to have descended from heaven and was widely worshipped. The city also contained a large, outdoor Greek theater, capable of seating 50,000 people, as well as a stadium where fights, races, and other athletic contests were held.
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is recorded in Acts 19-20. After a brief first visit, he later returned during his third missionary journey and spent about three years there. His ministry was both effective and controversial. After three months in the synagogue, he was forced out and began teaching in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
News of Paul’s message spread throughout Asia Minor and as a result extraordinary things happened. Handkerchiefs touched by Paul were used to heal the sick, demons were cast out in the name of Jesus, and new believers burned their books of magic.
Eventually, Paul’s ministry caused a riot in the city of Ephesus. Demetrius, a silversmith, organized a city-wide protest accusing Paul of threatening the economic well-being of craftsmen who made their living from the worshippers of Artemis. As a result, Paul left the city and moved on to Macedonia. By this time the church was firmly established.
Paul never visited Ephesus again. He did, however, give a moving farewell address to the elders of the church at the nearby port of Miletus. Later on, Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy in an attempt to deal with the false teaching that had arisen in the Ephesian church.
The theme of Ephesians is living in community with God and with one another. In chapters 1-3, Paul applauds the great reconciling work of Jesus Christ, who through the cross overcame Satan’s power and broke down the wall between God and us and between Jew and Gentile. In chapters 4-6, Paul emphasizes the practice of community in our relationships with one another at home, at work, and in the church.