Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE EPISTLES TO THE EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, AND COLOSSIANS.
THE RIGHT REV. ALFRED BARRY, D.D.
GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL’S FIRST CAPTIVITY.
THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL’S FIRST CAPTIVITY.
THE Epistles of St. Paul’s captivity—to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—form a distinct group, distinguished by certain marked characteristics both of style and subject, in the series of the writings of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Just as, in comparison with the Thessalonian Epistles, belonging to the second missionary journey, the four great Epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, written at the close of the third missionary journey, show a “second manner,” with exactly that union of similarity and diversity which marks a true development of thought and circumstance—so, in comparison with this latter group, the Epistles of the Captivity present a “third manner,” itself again markedly distinct from that of the Pastoral Epistles, of still later date. In those early days of Christianity events moved fast; under the living Apostolic inspiration and the rapidity of the Apostolic mission, successive years marked changes as great as would have indicated the lapse of generations in more ordinary times. When we compare the marvellous growth of the Christian Church in the thirty years (or thereabouts) of St. Paul’s own Apostolate—from a small sect limited to Palestine, hardly as yet completely distinguished from the Judaic system, to a community which had its branches in every province of the Roman world, and which was obviously advancing to a world-wide dominion—we may be prepared to find obvious and important developments, both of teaching and of circumstance, even in the various periods of his Apostolic ministry.
I. The Period to which they belong.—In accordance with the great majority of commentators, ancient and modern, I take these Epistles to belong to the Roman captivity, in which the history of the Acts leaves St. Paul, and to which he was consigned about the year A.D. 61. It has, indeed, been proposed by Meyer and other German commentators to refer them to the Cæsarean captivity of Acts 24-26. The reasons on which this proposal is based may be seen in Meyer’s edition of the “Epistle to the Ephesians” (Introduction, sect. 2). They prove, however, on examination, to be not only trivial, even if maintained, but in themselves uncertain, resting largely on mere supposition, and certainly incapable of standing against the powerful arguments which may be brought on the other side. These are of two kinds—general and special. Of the first kind is the whole style and tone of the Epistles, indicating a transition to an entirely different and most important sphere of missionary labour, such as could not possibly be found in the comparatively unimportant town of Cæsarea; and, moreover, the obvious expectation by the writer (see Philippians 2:24; Philemon 1:22) of a speedy release from captivity, which would enable him to visit, not Rome and Spain, as was his intention at the time when he was taken prisoner at Jerusalem (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:24-25), but Macedonia and the Eastern churches, where at the earlier time he declared that he had “no longer any place” (Romans 15:23; comp. Acts 20:25). Of the latter kind are the references found—especially in the most personal of all the Epistles, the Epistle to his beloved Church at Philippi—to the manifestation of his bonds “in the whole Prætorium” (Philippians 1:13)—a phrase which (in spite of the verbal coincidence with Acts 23:35) could not well be used of his prison at Cæsarea; to the converts made from “Cæsar’s household,” which must surely have belonged to Rome (Philippians 4:22); to the circumstances of his captivity, which describe with an almost technical accuracy (see Note on Ephesians 6:20) the imprisonment at Rome “in his own hired house with the soldier that kept him,” and the freedom which he then had (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30-31), but which at Cæsarea, especially considering the especial object contemplated by Felix in prolonging his captivity (Acts 24:26), was eminently improbable.
In accordance, also, with the general opinion, I should designate this as St. Paul’s “First Roman Captivity;” though it will be, perhaps, more appropriate that the evidence for the common belief that St. Paul was set at liberty from his captivity, and that, after a period of freedom, he underwent a second imprisonment, which was only closed by his death, should be considered in relation to the PASTORAL EPISTLES. For with this belief the acceptance of these Epistles as genuine is closely, if not inseparably, connected. On the general character and circumstances of both captivities see Excursus (at the close of the Acts of the Apostles) on the Later Years of St. Paul’s Life.
II. The Genuineness of these Epistles.—On this point external evidence is strong and unvarying. It will be sufficient here to notice that all were included unhesitatingly in all the catalogues and versions of St. Paul’s Epistles, and placed by Eusebius (as by others before him) in the list of the New Testament books “acknowledged by all.” More detailed evidence will be with more advantage given in the Introduction to each Epistle.
It is true that, as in the case of many other New Testament books, their genuineness has been challenged, on supposed internal evidence, even by critics who are ready to acknowledge the four Epistles of the preceding group. This adverse criticism has been advanced with different degrees of positiveness against different Epistles of this group. Thus, the Epistle to the Philippians has been but little doubted; and, indeed, the similarities to St. Paul’s earlier Epistles, and especially to the Epistle to the Romans, are so striking that it requires singular perversity to discover or imagine dissonance with them. The beautiful little Epistle to Philemon, again, can hardly be said to have been questioned, except in the mere wantonness of arbitrary criticism. On the other hand, the two Epistles which bear most distinctly the peculiar impress of St. Paul’s “later manner”—the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians—have been far more seriously attacked on that very ground; the Epistle to the Colossians, moreover, on the supposition that it involves references to a Gnosticism of later date; and the Epistle to the Ephesians, on the supposition—which it might have been thought that an attentive study of these two Epistles would have soon shown to be untenable—that it is a mere copy and expansion of the Epistle to the Colossians. On the peculiar grounds of scepticism in each case it will be more convenient to speak in connection with each Epistle separately; but on the general question of the relation of these Epistles to the earlier group it will be best to dwell here, not merely with a view to show the hollowness of this destructive criticism, but with the more important object of sketching out the main characteristics of this group of Epistles as a whole.
Now it must be considered exactly what is the nature of the question. We have not here an anonymous document, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, as to which we have to inquire into the degree of its likeness or unlikeness to St. Paul’s acknowledged Epistles. We have Epistles which not only bear his name, but present various indications marking them as his; and these Epistles are received as his at a very early date—alluded to by Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, formally included in the Muratorian Canon about the year 170. Accordingly, they are either his genuine Epistles, or Epistles written in his name at an early period by some adherent of the “Pauline School” desiring to claim a forged authority from his great master. Now, in the case of forgery, we should expect to find substantial inferiority of power and inspiration, and possibly some discrepance of the inner reality, as contrasted with the outward form, of doctrine; but certainly no marked difference of style, no peculiar words and phrases previously unknown, no change of expressions, which had become markedly characteristic of St. Paul in the acknowledged Epistles of the earlier group. In the case of genuineness, on the other hand, we should look for substantial identity of thought and teaching, coupled with free variation of expression and style, and with indications of a development of doctrine, corresponding to progress of time, change of scene and circumstance, increase of the power of Christianity over thought and society, as exemplified in the development of the Christian Church. It is all but impossible for any careful student to doubt that it is always the latter—never the former—condition which is distinctly realised in these Epistles. This will be seen clearly on examination both of their style and of their substance.
III. The Style of the Epistles.—There is unquestionably a marked difference of style, although in various degrees—the Philippian Epistle showing such difference far less than the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Now it is not a little remarkable that the nature of this acknowledged change of style singularly corresponds with the historical change in St. Paul’s circumstances. When he wrote the former Epistles he was in the full tide of his Apostolic work; at periods, moreover, of marked excitement and interest—just after the tumult at Ephesus, or on his circuit through Macedonia “round about into Illyricum,” or at Corinth in the very heat of the Judaising controversy. He was then emphatically the preacher and the church-founder. His Letters, written in the intervals of his busy work, would be like fragments of his preaching, marked by the incisive earnestness, the close argument, the impressive abruptness, of a pleader for God. When he wrote these later Epistles he was in the enforced inactivity and the comparative rest of imprisonment, and this imprisonment (as, indeed, we might have expected) appears to have been to him a time of study, in those “many writings” which Festus thought at that time to have “made him mad” (Acts 26:24), with such “books and parchments” round him as those which he asked for even in the greater severity of his second imprisonment (2Timothy 4:13). He is now not so much the worker as the thinker. The impassioned emphasis of the preacher might naturally be exchanged for the quiet, deliberate teaching of the Christian sage; sounding the lowest depths of thought; wandering, as it might seem, but with subtle links of connection, from one idea to another; rising constantly in secret meditation from truths embodied in the practical forms of earthly life, to truths as they exist above in the calm perfection of heaven. Who can doubt that this is exactly the change of style which we trace in these Epistles of the Captivity? The Epistle to the Philippians has least of it: for there his remembrance of earlier times would be strongest, and would tend most to reproduce the earlier tone of thought. But in the Colossian Epistle, written to a Church which he had never seen—knowing it, indeed, well, but only by hearsay—still more in the Epistle to the Ephesians, probably an encyclical letter, certainly approaching more nearly to the nature of abstract general teaching, this characteristic difference is most vividly marked.
It manifests itself in the appearance of many word? used in no other Epistles, and these frequently words compounded with a thoughtful felicity of compressed meaning. It manifests itself in sentences which, unlike the terse and often abrupt incisiveness of his earlier Letters, flow on without grammatical break, sometimes not without grammatical harshness and obscurity, but with an unfailing connection and evolution of thought, a singular and (so to speak) philosophical completeness of doctrine, a sustained perfection of meditative and devotional beauty. It manifests itself, again, in a constant looking upward to “the heavenly places” of the Ephesian Epistle; sometimes, as in the opening of that Epistle, to the source of all Christian life in the election of the divine love; sometimes to the angelic “principalities and powers,” invisibly fighting for or against that love of God in salvation; sometimes to the life of Christians “hid with Christ in God,” in virtue of which we sit with Him in heaven even now; most often, perhaps, of all, to Christ in His heavenly glory, seen now by the eye of faith, ready to reveal Himself in the Epiphany of the great day. Yet, with all this difference of style, the detailed links of connection, both in word and thought, are (as the Notes on the Epistles will show) simply numberless—mostly showing similarity, not absolute identity, of expression; an independent likeness, not an artificial copyism. Above all, the general impress of the mind and character of St. Paul comes out more and more clearly as we pursue the detailed study of the Epistles. Thus, the character which paints itself in the Epistle to the Philippians is obviously the same as that which we know in the Epistles to the Corinthians, or in that yet earlier Epistle to the other Macedonian Church at Thessalonica, which presents some striking similarities in detail. But there is a greater calmness and maturity, sometimes of peacefulness, sometimes of sadness: it is the picture of an older man. Again, the notion that the teaching of the Ephesian or Colossian Epistle could possibly have come from the weaker hand of a disciple will seem fairly incredible to any who have ever glanced at the writings of Clement of Rome, of Ignatius, or of Polycarp, the scholars of St. Paul and St. John. The inspired hand of the Apostle is traceable in every line; the very change of style argues at once identity and development. It is a strong internal evidence of the Apostolic authorship; it is in itself full of deep interest and significance.
IV. The Substance of the Epistles.—Still more striking is the corresponding phenomenon in relation to substance. In the doctrine of these Epistles there is the same indication of a true development.
(1) The Doctrine of Salvation.—Thus, for example, it is profoundly instructive to examine the relation of these Epistles to that primary doctrine of “justification by faith” which had been the one all-important subject of the Galatian and Roman Epistles. It is touched on here with the same master hand. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). “That I may be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). But it is no longer the one subject to which all else leads up. It is treated as a thing known and accepted, with a quiet calmness utterly unlike the impassioned and exhaustive earnestness of St. Paul’s pleading for it in the crisis of the Judaistic controversy. The emphasis on faith is less vivid and less constant. “Salvation by grace” takes the place of “justification by faith,” and leads the thoughts on from the first acceptance in Christ to the continuous work of grace, of which such acceptance is the first beginning. The Law, which before its idolaters in Galatia or at Rome was resolutely thrust down to its right secondary position, described as the servile “pedagogue to bring men” to the true Teacher, depreciated as the mere subsidiary guard of the covenant of promise, is now less often touched upon, and less unreservedly condemned. It has obviously lost the dangerous fascination with which such idolatry invested it. It is only “as contained in ordinances” that it is now viewed as a separation between Jew and Gentile, or between man and God, or considered as cancelled by “nailing it to the cross” of Christ. We feel that St. Paul is already passing on from the earnest pleading of advocacy of the freedom of the gospel to the judicial calmness which was hereafter to tell how “the law is good if a man use it lawfully” (1Timothy 1:8). Judaism has, in great measure, at least in the Eastern churches, changed its character. St. Paul’s earnest pleading for Christ as all in all has similarly changed its direction and its tone. Against new idolatries it is still necessary to fight to the death. But the old battle is substantially won; on the old field no more is needed than to maintain the victory.
(2) The Doctrine of the Catholic Church.—Nor is it less interesting to note how in these Epistles, and especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the prominence of the idea of the Kingdom of God has marvellously increased. The Galatian and Roman Epistles (as the history of the Reformation of the sixteenth century showed) are the treasure-house of the truths of personal Christianity; for the very thought of justification, dominant in them, brings each soul face to face with its own sin and its own salvation, in that supreme crisis of life and death in which it is conscious of but two existences—God and itself. These later Epistles are equally the storehouse of the less vivid, yet grander, conception of the Holy Catholic Church. The central idea is of Christ the Head, and the whole collective Christianity of the Church as His Body. He is conceived not solely or mainly as the Saviour of each individual soul, but rather as “gathering up” all humanity, or even all created being, “in Himself.” The two conceptions are, of course, inseparable. In the earlier Epistles the Church is constantly recognised; in these the individual relationship to God in Christ is never for a moment ignored. But the proportion (so to speak) of the two truths is changed. What is primary in the one case is secondary in the other.
It is obvious that this is the natural order. The Christian unity is directly the unity of each soul with Christ, the Head; indirectly the unity of the various members in one Body. When the gospel of salvation first speaks, it must speak to the individual. When the grace of Christ draws all men unto Him, each individual must move along the line of his own spiritual gravitation. But when the truth has been accepted in a faith necessarily individual; when the Saviour has been found by each as the Christ who “liveth in me”—then the question arises, What are His truth and His grace to that great human society, to which we are bound by a network of unseen spiritual ties? The first and proper answer to that question is the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. There is a second answer, larger, but less distinct, which goes even beyond this, to contemplate our Lord as the Head of all created being. The relation, therefore, of these Epistles to the earlier group is profoundly natural, even on the consideration of the right and necessary course of idea.
But here, again, it is impossible not to trace in these Epistles a special appropriateness to this period of St. Paul’s life and work. Of the three great threads of ancient civilisation—the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Roman—two had already been laid hold of by Apostolic hands, and fastened to the cross of Christ. Now, as “ambassador for Christ,” although “in bonds,” St. Paul had been permitted to “see Rome;” the circumstances of his imprisonment had placed him in the Prœtorium, in the very citadel of the Imperial grandeur, and had given him access to “those of Cæsar’s household.” The Epistles of the former group had been written from cities where Greek thought reigned supreme—from Ephesus, from Philippi, from Corinth. These later Epistles came from the centre of Imperial Rome. Now, it is a common-place to remark that the main element of all Greek thought was the freedom and sacredness of the individual, whether in the realm of thought, or of imagination, or of action. But the mission of the Roman (as Virgil has, with a true insight, declared in well-known lines) was to teach the greatness of the community—the family, the state, the whole race of humanity; to give laws, which were to be the basis of the “law of nations;” to unite all peoples in one great empire, and, perhaps by an inevitable inference, to deify its head. It can hardly be accidental that, while the former Epistles dealt with the individual, pointing him to the true freedom and the true wisdom, which Greek philosophy sought for in vain, these Epistles should similarly face the great Roman problem, and sketch out that picture which was hereafter to be wrought into the chief masterpiece of Latin theology—the picture of “the city of God.” We note in the Epistle to the Ephesians the emphatic reference to the three great social relationships, so jealously and sternly guarded by Roman law—the relations of parents and children, husbands and wives, masters and servants—as deriving a higher spiritual sacredness, above all law and convention, from the fact that they are types of the relations of man to God in the great unity in the Lord Jesus Christ. We read in the Epistle to the Philippians of the “city in heaven”—not now the “heavenly Jerusalem” of Jewish aspiration, but simply the city of which all are citizens, whether “Jew or Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free.” We find, both in the Ephesian and Colossian Epistles, a constant recurrence to the thought of all as “one body” or “one temple” in Jesus Christ—supplying that supreme personal relation, which changes the shadowy dream of a divine republic, where the individual is lost, to the solid reality of a well-centred Kingdom of God, preserving at once perfect individuality and perfect unity. We are reminded at every step of the “fifth empire”—“a stone cut out without hands” form the mountain of the Lord, and growing till it displaced the artificial fabrics of the kingdoms of the world, and filled the whole earth. We contrast the inevitable idolatry of the Roman emperor—remembering that, by a strange irony of circumstance, that emperor was now a Nero—with the worship of the true Son of Man and Son of God, of which all such idolatries are perverted anticipations. I pass over minor points of coincidence between idea and circumstance—such as the remarkable metaphor of the Christian armour, working out a figure previously touched by St. Paul, with an obvious detailed reference to the armour of his Roman jailor; or the adaptation of Stoic ideas and phrases in the Epistle to the Philippians, bearing (as Dr. Lightfoot has shown) peculiar resemblances to the later Stoicism of Seneca, then the leader of Roman thought. But taking only the main idea of these Epistles, and comparing it with the main principle of Roman greatness, it is impossible again not to be struck with a coincidence—which must surely be more than mere coincidence—between the teaching and the circumstances of this period of the Apostle’s life.
(3) The advanced Christology.—There is another true development, of infinitely greater importance and deeper interest, in respect of what is called the “Christology” of these Epistles. At all times the preaching of Christianity is the preaching of “God in Christ.” But attentive study of the New Testament shows that gradually, line by line, step by step, the full truth was revealed as the world was able to bear it—passing, according to the true order of teaching, from visible manifestations to invisible realities—guarding at every step the supreme truth of the unity of the Godhead, so jealously cherished by the Jew, so laxly disregarded in the elastic Polytheisms of the Gentile world. The manifestation of Christ in the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and Ascension, is, of course, really one. Yet at different times each of the different steps of that one manifestation appears to have assumed greater prominence in Christian teaching; and it may be noted, that as, when we dig through the strata of the earth, we uncover first what is latest, and come only at last to what is earliest in deposition, so in the realisation of gospel truth, the order of preaching is the reverse of the order of actual occurrence of the great facts of the divine manifestation. First, as is natural, came the preaching of “Christ risen;” for the Resurrection—the great miracle of miracles—was the seal of our Lord’s Messiahship, declaring Him who was “of the seed of David according to the flesh” to be “the Son of God with power.” As risen and exalted to the right hand of God, in fulfilment of oft-repeated ancient prophecy. He was declared to be both “Lord and Christ.” Even clear-sighted heathen ignorance could declare that the great question between Christian and unbeliever was then—as, indeed, it is now—“of one Jesus who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” But then, when men were called to receive in the risen Christ remission of sins, to see in His resurrection the pledge of a spiritual resurrection for themselves here, a resurrection of body and spirit in the hereafter, came the question, How can this be? To that question the answer is found in the one truth which St. Paul declared that in his teaching at Corinth, and (we may add) in his teaching to the Galatians and Romans, he cared to know—the truth of “Jesus Christ, and Him as crucified.” The Resurrection, in itself, was accepted as known; to unfold its meaning it was necessary to go back to the Atonement. Hence the great teaching of these Epistles is of Christ as the one Mediator between God and the countless souls which He has made. That mediation is described sometimes in the phrase “through Christ,” bringing out the access through His atonement to the Father who sent Him; sometimes in the phrase “in Christ,” dwelling not so much on our justification as on our regeneration in Him to the new life. Perhaps in the great struggle for Justification by Faith the former idea was the more prominent. In either phase, however, it is the sole and universal mediation of Christ which is the one leading conception of Apostolic teaching. But, again, the question arises, Who is He who thus is—what surely no merely created being can claim to be—a mediator between God and all human souls, in all lands and in all ages of the world? To answer that question it was needful to go back once more to “Christ Incarnate:” i.e., ultimately, to Christ as He is, not in manifestation, but in His own true being, before He was pleased to stoop to earth, and since He has ascended again to His own glory in heaven. It is on this last phase of thought that the Epistles of the Captivity appear to enter, standing in this respect parallel with the Epistle to the Hebrews, leading on to the yet fuller teaching of the Epistles and Gospel of St. John.
We notice that it is always through the knowledge of His mediation that they lead us into the region of yet higher truth. St. Paul, in brief yet exhaustive description of that mediation, tells us of Christ, as One “in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.” We notice, also, that the phrase “in Christ,” rather than “through Christ,” is the dominant note in these Epistles. As we have seen already in relation to justification and sanctification, so we find in relation to the objective truths corresponding to them, that it is not so much on “Christ crucified” as on “Christ living in us” that he emphatically dwells. But the especial point of transcendent importance is that he leads us on from the fact of this mediation to draw out explicitly what such mediation implies. The Philippian Epistle, simple and practical as its purpose is, recites, in the great passage of its second chapter (Ephesians 2:5-11) the whole creed of our Lord’s Nature and Office—the distinctive creed of Christianity. It marks the two-fold humility of His mediation for us: first, the “taking on Him the form of a servant;” next, the “humbling Himself to the death of the cross.” It turns next to the corresponding exaltation of His human nature in the Mediatorial kingdom (described in 1Corinthians 15:20-28), so that “in the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” But it does more than this. It speaks of Him as being essentially “in the form,” that is, in the nature, “of God,” in the eternal glory of which “He stripped Himself” for us; it tells us that to Him is given “the name which is above every name”—the awful and incommunicable name of JEHOVAH. In that deeper teaching it tells us, not of His office, but of Himself; not of His mediation, but of the divine nature which alone made such mediation possible. Again, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, starting from “the redemption in His blood, the remission of sins,” the idea of our Lord’s mediation is infinitely enlarged and exalted in the conception, that “in Him all things are gathered in one head, both which are in heaven and which are on earth;” that “He filleth all in all;” “ascending above all heavens,” “descending into the lower parts of the earth,” “that He might thus fill all things.” That He is, indeed, the Head of the Church we are told again and again in various forms of expression; but He is more. In Him all created being is summed up; He is, in all that relates to it, the manifestation of God. As in the unity of the Church, so in the wider unity of all creation, we have, co-ordinate with one another, the “one Spirit,” the “one Lord,” the “one God and Father of all.” But far even beyond this, the Epistle to the Colossians carries the same higher teaching. Standing face to face with an incipient Gnosticism, stiffened to some degree into a Jewish type, but presenting all the essential features of the Gnostic idea—of one supreme God and many emanations, all real and all imperfect, from the divine fulness—St. Paul declares explicitly all that the earlier teaching had implied with ever increasing clearness. Our Lord is not only “the firstborn of God before all creation,” “in whom,” “through whom,” “for whom,” “all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, were created,” and in whom “all things consist.” In this the Colossian Epistle would but draw out more forcibly the truth taught to the Ephesians of His relation to all created being. But what is He in Himself? St. Paul answers, “the image”—the substantial manifestation—“of the invisible God,” in whom “all the fulness of the Godhead dwelleth bodily.” The parallel is singularly close with the Epistle to the Hebrews, which, in similar connection with the great mediation of His one priesthood and one sacrifice, declares Him (Hebrews 1:3) to be “the brightness of the glory of the Father, and the express image of His person” (the “substance,” or essence, of the Godhead). There remains little beyond this to bring us to the full declaration of “the Word” who “was in the beginning,” who “was with God, and was God.” These Epistles of St. Paul correspond, with marvellous appropriateness, to that intermediate period, when his great evangelising work was almost done, and the time was coming for the growth of the school of deep thought on a now acknowledged Christianity, which was to surround the old age of “St. John the Divine.”
(4) The Condition and Trials of the Church.—The examination of the substance of the Epistles would not be complete without some brief reference to the condition of the Church which they disclose.
In this view, also, we trace the same coincidence with the natural growth of events. The whole tenor of the Epistles indicates that the Church had reached a condition in which the consideration, not so much of its extension, as of its unity, became the prominent idea. With but little hyperbole, St. Paul could say that the gospel had come into “all the world” of the Roman empire. His own career of active evangelisation had been stopped; in his prison at Rome, the centre of communication with all nations, he would, no doubt, hear of the growth and the trials of other churches, as we know that he heard of Philippi and Colossæ; he looked eagerly, as from a distance, on the building up of the Temple of God, which was going on by many hands and under many conditions. The one thought and prayer of his captivity was that it should grow as one, “fitly framed and joined together,” on the one foundation and in the one corner-stone. To the Philippian Church the burden of his exhortation is to unity of spirit. In the Ephesian Epistle the great central passage is that which brings out, with all the incisive emphasis of a creed, the description of the “one body” and the “one Spirit”; and the fundamental conception of the gospel, as the reconciliation of the soul to God in Jesus Christ, carries with it as a perpetual undertone, the union of Jew and Gentile in the covenant of God. Even in the Colossian Epistle, although there the main idea of the sole headship of Christ assumes a more absolute predominance, yet the great anxiety of St. Paul for Colossae and its sister churches was that their hearts might be “knit together in love” and the “full assurance of the knowledge” of a common gospel. The whole tenor of these Epistles, standing in contrast with those of the earlier group, thus corresponds with the needs of the more advanced period of Church history.
Nor is this coincidence less evident in relation to the forms of danger, by which the progress of the Church is here seen to be menaced. The old leaven of Judaism still works in the “so-called circumcision,” which now deserves, in St. Paul’s eyes, only the name of “concision,” or self-mutilation. But it has changed its character. The Pharisaic idolatry of the Law, as a law by obedience to which man might work out, if not his own salvation, at least his own perfection, has passed away in the East, though it lingers in the simple, unspeculative Christianity of Macedonia. Perhaps by the very extension of the Church the providence of God had clenched the victorious argument of St. Paul. A church truly catholic could hardly rest on a rigid code of law, or find the spring of a world-wide salvation anywhere, except in the grace of God accepted by faith. But now, as the Epistle to the Colossians shows, Judaism had allied itself with those wild speculations, weaving the gospel into philosophical or mystic theories of religion, which arose inevitably, when Christianity, assuming to be the religion of humanity, naturally came in contact with the various philosophies and religions of all mankind. Dr. Lightfoot has shown, with much probability, that one form in which it adapted itself to the new condition of things was the form of the old Essenic mysticism. The Epistle to the Hebrews suggests that, on the other hand, it had also fixed its faith on the ritual and sacrifice from which the Essenes shrank—doubtless as having in themselves a mystic efficacy, perhaps as enabling men to enter into the region of mystic speculation, where they might learn the secrets hidden from the mass of Christians, and revealed only to the perfect. In both forms it is seen as gradually dissolving its old rigidity and carnality, and claiming, in accordance with the spirit of the age, the title of spirituality and mystic perfection.
Still more is the progress of the times shown in this very tendency, to which Judaism so strangely and incongruously allied itself. Gnosticism, in later days, marked the attempts—sometimes serious, sometimes fantastic—to weave Christianity into systems designed to solve the insoluble problem of the relation of the infinite God, both in creation and manifestation, to His finite creatures; to fix the place to be assigned to matter and spirit in the universe; to answer the question how far evil is necessarily associated with matter; and in contemplation of the gospel itself, to determine the relation between the Old and New Covenant, and to define or explain away the mystery of the Incarnation. To what wild developments it ran is told in the true, but almost incredible, record of a subsequent chapter of Church history. But it showed itself—we may almost say that it could not but have shown itself—at the close of the Apostolic age: as soon as the gospel showed itself to be not only a divine life, but a divine philosophy, to an age radically sceptical, both in its eagerness of inquiry and its discontent with all the answers hitherto found. We find traces of it—easily read by those who have studied its after-development—in the “endless genealogies,” the false asceticism, or still falser antinomianism of the later Epistles of St. Paul and St. John, in the denial that “Jesus Christ was come in the flesh,” and the idea that “the Resurrection was passed already.” In these Epistles of the Captivity there are similar traces, but less fully developed, especially in the Colossian Epistle. The spurious claims to spiritual “perfection;” the “deceits by vain words;” the “systematic plan of deceit” of a specious antinomianism, for which St. Paul can hardly find language of adequate condemnation; the “philosophy and vain deceit” of the traditions of men, with its mere “show of wisdom” and its “intrusion” into the regions of the invisible; the supposed emanations from the Godhead taking the angelic forms of “thrones and principalities and powers”—all these mark the first beginning of that strange progress which ran its pretentious course in later times. To this time of St. Paul’s history they belong, and to no other.
Thus, as it seems every way, a careful study of the style and substance of these Epistles not only confirms the external testimony which refers them to St. Paul, but illustrates to us the course of the development of the gospel, the progress and the trials of the Church. They light up the historical darkness in which the abrupt close of the record of the Acts of the Apostles leaves us; they are full of those lessons for our own days in which the close of the Apostolic age is especially fruitful.
V. The Order of the Epistles.—That the Epistles to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, and to Philemon belong to the same time, and were sent by the same messengers, is tolerably clear. The one question is, whether the Epistle to the Philippians recedes or follows them; and this question can only be answered by probable conjecture. It is obvious, from the progress already made (Philippians 1:12-18), from the whole description of the mission and the sickness of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), from the anticipation of release (Philippians 2:24), that some time must have elapsed between St. Paul’s arrival at Rome and the writing of this Epistle. It has also been noticed, as at least a remarkable coincidence, that Aristarchus and St. Luke, who accompanied the Apostle to Rome (Acts 27:2), are named in the Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24), and not in the Epistle to the Philippians. But this last may be a mere coincidence; and the fact that the Philippian Epistle was not written early in the imprisonment determines nothing as to its priority or posteriority to the other Epistles. The only strong argument on the subject—which has been admirably worked out by Dr. Lightfoot in his Introduction to the Epistle to the Philippians, sect. 2—is the remarkable similarity in word and style between it and the Epistle to the Romans, its position as a link between the strong individuality of the earlier teaching and the characteristic universality of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, and its dealing with trials and difficulties more nearly resembling those of an earlier time. The argument is strong, yet not necessarily conclusive; for much in all these points depends on the character, and even the geographical position, of the Church addressed. To it, however, in the absence of any solid controverting evidence, we may give considerable weight and perhaps incline, without absolute decision, to place the Philippian Epistle before the other group in the Epistles of the Captivity.
[In relation to the treatment of the Epistles of the Captivity, it seems right to acknowledge the deep obligation of the writer to the Commentaries of Ellicott, Alford, Wordsworth, Meyer, Harless, and, above all, to the admirable and exhaustive treatment by Dr. Lightfoot of the Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; to Conybeare and Howson, and Lewin, for their full and learned summaries of all that illustrates the life and, in less degree, the writings of St. Paul; but perhaps not least to the Homilies of St. Chrysostom—simply invaluable as a commentary, venerable in its preservation of ancient tradition, critically precious as dealing with the Greek as still a living language, and yet modern in that breadth and simplicity of treatment, which contrast with the frequent mysticism of great ancient commentators. The writer desires also to add that, while he has not generally thought it desirable to confuse the reader by the enumeration of various translations and interpretations, he has yet, to the best of his ability, studied all these carefully, and has endeavoured to give in the Notes the result, rather than the process, of such study.]
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE EPHESIANS. I. The Date and Place of Writing.
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.
I. The Date and Place of Writing.—This Epistle, for reasons hereafter to be considered, has few detailed indications, either of the personal condition of the writer or of the circumstances of those to whom it is addressed. But one point is made perfectly clear, that it was written by St. Paul when he was the “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1), suffering some special “tribulations for them,” which he bade them consider as “their glory” (Ephesians 3:13), and being an “ambassador for Christ in a chain” (Ephesians 6:20)—the word here used being the same as in Acts 28:20, and being a word almost technically describing the imprisonment “with a soldier that kept him” (Acts 28:16). All these things point unmistakably to what we have spoken of in the General Introduction as the first Roman captivity. That captivity began about A.D. 61, and lasted, without change, for at least “two full years.” In the Letter to Philemon, sent by Onesimus, who is associated with Tychicus, the bearer of this Epistle, in Colossians 4:7-9, St. Paul prays him to “prepare him a lodging” against the speedy arrival, which he then confidently expected. Hence our Epistle must be placed late in the captivity—not earlier than A.D. 63.
II. The Church to which it is addressed.—The Epistle has borne from time immemorial the name of the “Epistle to the Ephesians.” To the Church at Ephesus most certainly, whether solely or among others, it is addressed.
EPHESUS.—Of St. Paul’s preaching at Ephesus we have a detailed account in the Acts of the Apostles. At the close of his second missionary circuit he had touched at Ephesus, and “entered the synagogue” to “reason with the Jews.” In spite of their entreaty, he could not then remain with them, but left Aquila and Priscilla there. From them, probably, with the aid of their convert Apollos, the Christianity of Ephesus began its actual rise. It is not, indeed, impossible that there may have been some previous preparation through the disciples of St. John the Baptist. The emphatic allusion to him and to the simply preparatory character of his work in St. Paul’s sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:24-25), seems to point to knowledge of him in Asia Minor. We know that afterwards St. Paul found some disciples at Ephesus, baptised only with St. John’s baptism (Acts 19:3); and we note that Apollos, while “knowing only the baptism of John,” yet still “teaching the things of the Lord,” found a ready acceptance at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-25). But however this may be, the full development of the Christianity of Ephesus was made under St. Paul’s charge in his third missionary circuit. His first circuit had been an extension of that Asiatic Gentile Christianity which began from Antioch; his second was notable as the first planting of European Christianity, having its chief centre at Corinth; now his headquarters for the evangelisation of the Roman province of Asia were fixed for three years at Ephesus, a city specially fit for the welding together of Asiatic and European Christianity—for there Greek civilisation met face to face with Oriental superstition and magical pretensions, in that which was made by Rome the official metropolis of pro-consular Asia; and the strange union is curiously symbolised by the enshrining in a temple which was the world-famed masterpiece of Greek art of an idol—probably, some half-shapeless meteoric stone—“which fell down from Jupiter.” The summary of his work there—his re-baptism with the miraculous gifts of the disciples of St. John Baptist; the “special miracles” wrought by his hands; the utter confusion both of Jewish exorcists and of the professors of those “curious arts” for which Ephesus was notorious; the sudden tumult, so skilfully appeased by the “town clerk,” who must surely have been half a Christian—make up (in Acts 19) one of the most vivid scenes in St. Paul’s Apostolic history.
Another—not less striking, and infinitely pathetic—is drawn in Acts 20:16-38, in the farewell visit and address of St. Paul to the Ephesian presbyters at Miletus, indicating, alike by its testimony and by its warnings, a fully-organised and widely-spread Christianity—the fruit of his three years’ labour. What had been the extent of the sphere of that labour we know not. We gather, with some surprise (Colossians 2:1), that the churches of the valley of the Lycus—Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae—had not been visited by him personally. Yet, whether by his own presence, or through such delegates as Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), “all which dwelt in Asia had heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). They might well “sorrow” and “weep sore” at the thought that they should “see his face no more.”
Now, in his captivity, certainly to Ephesus, and (as we shall see hereafter) probably to the other churches of Asia, he writes this Epistle—itself a representative Epistle, almost a treatise, bearing to the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church a relation not unlike that which the Epistle to the Romans bears to the fundamental truths of personal Christianity.
After this, in the interval between the first and second captivity, we find (see 1Timothy 1:1; 2Timothy 1:18) that St. Paul did revisit Ephesus at least once; that, in his deep anxiety for its welfare, he placed it under the quasi-episcopal charge of his “own son Timothy;” and that, in his last captivity, he sent Tychicus, the bearer of this Epistle, to Ephesus again (2Timothy 4:12), perhaps in view of the coming absence of Timothy in obedience to the Apostle’s summons.
From that time Ephesus passed into the charge of St. John, as the first of the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2:1), commended for its steadfastness, but yet rebuked as “having fallen from its first love.” Of this phase of its Christianity, and its subsequent importance in the future history of the Church, especially as the scene of the Third great Council and the previous Latrocinium, it would be out of place here to dwell.
THE CHURCHES OF ASIA.—But while there is no doubt that the Epistle was addressed to Ephesus, there seems very strong reason for the opinion, now held by many commentators, that it was an encyclical letter to the churches of Asia, of which Ephesus was the natural head.
The evidence of this opinion may be thus summarised:—
Direct Evidence.—Taking first the direct evidence, we observe (1) that in the opening salutation, which in the ordinary reading is addressed to “the saints which are at Ephesus, being also faithful in Christ Jesus,” the words “at Ephesus” are omitted in our two oldest MSS. (the Vatican and the Sinaitic), and in both supplied by a later hand. This omission is exceptional, all other MSS. and versions inserting the words. But it agrees with two remarkable ancient testimonies. Origen, the first great Biblical critic in the early Church (A.D. 186-254), (as appears from a fragment quoted in Cramer’s “Catenæ in Pauli Epistolae,” p. 102, Oxford edition, 1842), noticed that in the Ephesian Epistle alone there was the “singular inscription,” “to the saints who are, being also faithful.” Basil of Cæsarea (A.D. 329-379) expressly says (in his treatise against Eunomius, Book 2, c. 19), “this reading was handed down by those who have gone before us, and we ourselves have found it in the ancient MSS.”
Now (2) the effect of this omission is to make the passage obscure, if not unintelligible; for the only simple rendering of the Greek would be to “the saints who are also faithful,” and this would give an impossible vagueness and generality to the address. Accordingly, ancient criticism (perhaps derived from Origen in the first instance) actually faced the difficulty by giving a mystic sense to the passage. St. Basil, in the passage above quoted, explains it thus:—“But, moreover, writing to the Ephesians as to those truly united by full knowledge to HIM WHO IS, he gives them the peculiar title of the ‘saints who are.’“ To this interpretation, also, St. Jerome refers thus (in his Commentary on Ephesians 1:1):—“Some, with more subtlety than is necessary, hold that, according to the saying to Moses, Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, HE WHO IS hath sent me unto you, those who at Ephesus are holy and faithful are designated by the name of essential being, so that from HIM WHO IS these are called They who are;” and adds, with his usual strong critical good sense, “others more simply hold that the address is not to Those who are, but to Those who are at Ephesus.” Certainly, nothing could show a firmer conviction that the omission of the words “at Ephesus” was necessitated by MS. authority, than the desperate attempt to meet the difficulty of rendering by this marvellous interpretation.
But (3) we also find that Marcion the heretic, by Tertullian’s twice-repeated testimony (in his work against Marcion, Book 5, c. 11, 16), entitled this Epistle “The Epistle to the Laodiceans.” “I omit,” he says, “here notice of another Epistle, which we hold to have been written to the Ephesians, but the heretics to the Laodiceans;” and he then proceeds to refer to our Epistle. In another place:—“In the true view of the Church, we hold that Letter to have been sent to the Ephesians, not to the Laodiceans; but Marcion has made it his business to interpolate an address in it, to show that on this point also he is a most painstaking critic.” Now (as Tertullian adds) the question of the address was of no doctrinal importance; accordingly, Marcion could not have been tempted in this respect to falsify or invent. He gave the address on critical grounds; and Tertullian says that he “interpolated” it, presumably where there was a blank. Epiphanius, also (320?—402), in his notice of Marcion (adv. Hær., Lib. i., Tom. iii., xii.), after quoting “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” &c., adds:—“For the miserable Marcion was pleased to quote this testimony, not from the Epistle to the Ephesians, but from the Epistle to the Laodiceans, which is not in the Apostle’s writings,” He apparently refers to an apocryphal letter, of which he says elsewhere that “Marcion received fragments;” and such a letter is noticed in the Muratorian Canon. But looking to Tertullian’s clear declaration, we may, perhaps, see here a confused reminiscence of this same critical achievement of Marcion. Marcion, no doubt, was led to it by a consideration of the well-known passage in the Colossian Epistle (Ephesians 4:16) speaking of the “letter from Laodicea,” which he (it would seem, correctly) identified with our Epistle.
(4) Now, all these things lead plainly to one conclusion—that, while an unvarying tradition declared that the Letter was “to the Ephesians,” yet there was a blank in the oldest MSS. after the words “which are,” generally filled up (as in most of our later MSS.) with the words “in Ephesus;” but by Marcion, with no MS. authority, simply on grounds of critical inference, with the words “in Laodicea.” That this insertion of Marcion, if intended to infer that the Letter was addressed specially to the Laodicean Church, was unwarrantable, appears obvious, from the whole stream of ancient tradition assigning the Letter to the Ephesians, and the absence of any vestige of such a reading in the existing MSS. But if the Epistle were a circular letter, of which many copies were sent at one time, it would be at least probable that blanks might be left, to be filled up in each case with the proper name of the Church; and this supposition, which has been adopted by many, would furnish a very simple explanation—indeed, the only simple explanation—of this perplexing MS. phenomenon.
Indirect Evidence.—This being the state of the case in relation to direct evidence, we naturally pass on to consider what may be gathered indirectly, either to confirm or to confute this supposition, from the Epistle itself.
Now, the study of the Epistle, as a whole, must surely convey to the mind the impression of a certain generality and abstractness of character. It approaches closely—at least, as closely as the Epistle to the Romans—to the character of a treatise, dealing, with a singular completeness, accuracy, and symmetry of handling, with a grand spiritual truth—the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. The very opening—strongly reminding us in form, though not in substance, of the opening of the General Epistle of St. Peter to these churches and other churches of Asia Minor (1Peter 1:3-7)—is a complete and exhaustive statement of the mysterious truth of the election of the whole Church, as gathered up in Christ and redeemed by Him, in the eternal counsels of God. The celebrated passage (Ephesians 4:4-6) on the unity of the Church, while it is full of an almost poetic beauty, has all the fulness and precision of a creed. The practical exhortations of the Epistle are drawn, with a philosophic generality, from the fundamental conception of religious unity. Nor can we fail to notice that the Epistle is entirely destitute of any reference—such as is invariable in St. Paul’s other Epistles—to the particular condition, blessings, trials, graces, or defects, of those to whom it is addressed. They are simply spoken of as “you Gentiles,” in contradistinction to the children of the old covenant. The sins against which they are warned are the typical sins forbidden in the Second Table, or the sins specially rife in the heathen society of that time in general.
The comparison in this respect with the Colossian Epistle is most instructive. Everywhere the Ephesian Epistle is general and (so to speak) philosophical in treatment; while in the parallel passages the other Epistle is particular and practical. Now it so happens that in the Epistles of this period we have the Philippian, written to a Church personally known and. loved, while the Colossian is addressed to a Church known perhaps well, but indirectly, and not by personal intercourse. The former Epistle is pervaded from beginning to end with the personality of the writer, as fully as the Corinthian or Galatian. Epistles themselves. The latter is more distant and more general, introducing the special warnings of the second chapter with a half-apologetic reference to the deep anxiety felt “for them, and for the Laodiceans, and for those who had not seen his face in the flesh.” The Church of Ephesus must have been even more intimately known and bound to St. Paul than the Church at Philippi. How near it lay to his heart we know by the pathetic beauty and yearning tenderness of his address to the elders at Miletus. An Epistle written to this Church should surely have had all the strong personality of the Philippian Epistle; yet our Epistle, on the contrary, is infinitely less direct, personal, special, than the Epistle to the Colossians. The inference, even from these general considerations, seems unmistakable—that it was not addressed to any special Church, but least of all to such a Church as Ephesus.
But there are also some indications in detail, looking in the same direction, which are referred to in the Notes on the various passages. Such, for example, is the vagueness which has been noticed in the two passages (Ephesians 1:15; Ephesians 3:2), “after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus,” and “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God given me to you-ward.” It is true that the former may be explained of St. Paul’s hearing of them since he had left them; and, if confirmed by the parallel case of the Colossians (Colossians 1:4), may be neutralised by comparison with Philemon 1:5 (“Hearing of thy love and faith”). It is also true that in the latter case the “if” of the original is not, except in form, hypothetical, and the verb may be “heard,” not “heard of.” But, making all reservation, there still remains a vagueness, hardly conceivable in reference to such a Church as Ephesus, especially when we remember how St. Paul in parallel cases refers to his former preaching. (See, for example, 1Corinthians 2:1-4; 2Corinthians 1:12-19; 2Corinthians 11:6-9; 2Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 4:13; Philippians 4:9; 1Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1Thessalonians 3:4; 2Thessalonians 2:5.) Such, again, is the generality, absolutely without parallel elsewhere, in the salutation “which is the token in every Epistle”—“Grace be to all them who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity”—compared with the “Grace be with you” or “with your spirit” of the other Epistles. The conclusions, again, of the Ephesian and Colossian Epistles may be compared. I do not lay stress on the simple absence of greetings: for it has been shown (by Alford), by comparison with other Epistles, that this argument is precarious. But it is impossible not to be struck with the vague generality of the one, as compared with the fulness of detail and strong personality of the other. They coincide verbally in the quasi-official commendation of Tychicus, and in this alone.
These indications may be thought to be slight, but they all point one way, and their combined force is not to be lightly put aside.
The indirect evidence, therefore, appears strongly to confirm the supposition which alone gives any simple explanation of the MSS. phenomena. But is there any trace of such an encyclical letter? That there was an “Epistle from Laodicea” to be read by the Colossians, we know; and the context shows conclusively that this was an Epistle of St. Paul himself. Laodicea was near Colossæ, and evidently in close union with it. The special warnings of the letter addressed to the Colossian Church were probably applicable to it also, and accordingly it was to be read there. But why should Colossæ read the “Epistle from Laodicea?” Had it dealt with the peculiar needs of that sister church this would be inexplicable; but if it were what our Epistle is—general in character, and dealing with a truth not identical with the main truth of the Colossian Epistle, but supplementary to it—then the direction is intelligible at once. It is not (it will be observed) an “Epistle to the Laodiceans,” but an Epistle “coming from Laodicea,” which would be reached from Ephesus before Colossæ, and which, being the larger and more important town, might naturally be made the recipient of a letter intended for it and Colossæ, and perhaps Hierapolis.
It may be asked, If this be so, why have no MSS. any other address than to the “saints at Ephesus?” and why has tradition invariably called this “The Epistle to the Ephesians,” and nothing else? The answer which has been often given appears to be entirely sufficient. Ephesus was, as the metropolis of Asia, the natural centre of the Apostolic ministry, and the natural leader of the Asiatic churches: standing, as in the apocalyptic epistles (Revelation 1:11), at the head of all. There the Epistle would be first read; thence it would go out to the other Asiatic churches; there it would be best treasured up, and copies of it multiplied; and through these it would be likely to become known to the European churches also. It must have been quoted by some title. What title so natural as “To the Ephesians?” The use of this title evidently preceded the insertion of the words “in Ephesus” in the text. This is natural. We remember that no extant MS., except the Vatican and Sinaitic, is earlier than the beginning of the fifth century. By that time most of the Asiatic churches had sunk into insignificance. The tradition already prevalent of the address to the Ephesians would naturally express itself by the insertion of the words, without which the context of the opening passage is hardly intelligible.
This supposition seems also to be confirmed by the occasional appropriation to Laodicea. For, though after a long interval, Laodicea comes next after Ephesus in importance in Church history. On that ground St. Paul made it the centre of the churches of the Lycus valley. On that ground, also, some claim to the Epistle, as an Epistle to the Laodiceans, may have survived till the time of Marcion. It is curious that the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170?), after noting the Epistle to the Ephesians among St. Paul’s Epistles, adds: “There is in circulation also an Epistle to the Laodiceans . . . forged in the name of Paul, to aid the heresy of Marcion . . . which cannot be received into the Catholic Church.” Now the Apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans, still extant, is clearly of later date, made up of quotations or imitations of various passages of St. Paul’s Epistles, and in no way bearing on Marcionism. It may perhaps be conjectured that Marcion, not content with altering the title of our Epistle, tampered with it and mutilated it, as we know that he did in the case of other New Testament books. There maybe in the Canon (as afterwards in Epiphanius) a reference to this corrupted form of our Epistle, as a separate work; and this would be a kind of survival of the designation of it as an Epistle to the Laodiceans.
On all these grounds, therefore, we must hold it at least highly probable that we have in it an encyclical letter to Ephesus and the sister churches of Asia.
III. The Genuineness of the Epistle.—External Evidence.—The external evidence, as has been already said (see Introduction to the Epistles of the Captivity), is strong—as strong as for any other of St. Paul’s Epistles.
Among the Apostolic fathers there seem to be unquestionable allusions to passages in it: as in Clement of Rome, chap. 46, dwelling on “the one God, one Christ, one spirit of grace . . . one calling” (comp. Ephesians 4:4-6); and in Polycarp, chap. 12, uniting the two quotations: “Be ye angry and sin not,” “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (comp. Ephesians 4:26-27). In Ignatius (to the Ephesians, chap. 12) we have a remarkable reference to the Ephesians as “fellow-mystics” with St. Paul, sharing the mystery of the gospel with him (comp. Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:4-9; Ephesians 6:19); and he adds of St. Paul that, “in all his letter he is mindful of you in Christ Jesus.” In the “longer Greek” version of the same Epistle—interpolated at a later date—there is in chap. 6 a direct quotation, “as Paul wrote to you—one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4-6), and a clear reference to the address (Ephesians 1:1) in chap. 9.
Passing on to a later date, we have the Epistle formally recognised in the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170), apparently representing the tradition of the Church of Rome: quoted repeatedly, and in some cases unmistakably, by Irenæus in the Church of Gaul (about A.D. 130-200); quoted also by Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150-210), and Tertullian (A.D. 160-240), representing the opposite school of Carthage. It is found in all ancient versions; and henceforth held without doubt among the acknowledged books in the Church.
Dr. Westcott has also shown (“Canon of the New Testament,” pp. 314, 323, 338) that it is quoted by the heretical and Gnostic writers—the Ophites, Basilides, Valentinus, and others. Marcion’s recognition and criticism of it we have already seen.
Internal Evidence.—The doubts of its genuineness which have been advanced in our own times turn entirely on internal evidence.
(1) The differences in style and substance between these Epistles of the Captivity and the earlier Epistles of St. Paul have been already discussed. I have ventured to urge that, corresponding as they do to the time and circumstances of the captivity, marking a true and natural development of doctrine, abounding in points both of similarity and independent originality, these differences are decisive against the idea of imitation, and strongly confirmatory of Apostolic authorship. To the Epistle of the Ephesians these remarks bear a special application, for this Epistle bears most distinctly of all the marks of St. Paul’s later manner. I may add, also, that in a very special degree the grandeur and profoundness of treatment, which make it one of the great typical Epistles of the New Testament, speak for themselves as to its Apostolic origin. To lose it would be to leave a strange gap in the development of Christian doctrine, and to mar the harmony of the individual and corporate elements in the Scriptural exposition of the concrete Christian life. To ascribe it to the weaker hand of a mere disciple of St. Paul might, but for actual experience, have well been thought impossible.
(2) But this Epistle in particular has been described as simply an elaborate reproduction of the Colossian Epistle, and accordingly represented as of doubtful originality. It is, of course, obvious (as will be shown in the Introduction to the Epistle to the Colossians) that there is a very marked similarity, sometimes in idea, sometimes in actual expression, between the two Epistles. But the more both are studied, the more it must be seen that this similarity is exactly such as belongs to contemporaneousness, and is utterly incompatible with dependence of either upon the other.
In the first place, it is found that there are sections of the Colossian Epistle to which there is nothing to correspond in the Ephesian Epistle, and that these sections are principal and not subordinate. Such are, for example, Colossians 1:15-17 (on the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ), Colossians 2:8-18 (the warning against mingled Judaism and Gnosticism), and Colossians 4:9-17 (the special salutations and cautions). The absence of these in the one case, and their presence in the other, are perfectly intelligible on the theory of contemporaneousness, entirely inexplicable on the theory of dependence.
On the other hand, there are sections in the Epistle to the Ephesians of the most emphatic originality, which have no counterpart in the other Epistle. Such are the great opening on the “election of God and the gathering up of all in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3-14); the sublime Apostolic prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21; the celebrated and exhaustive passage on the unity of the Church in God (Ephesians 4:4-6); the profound comparison of marriage to the union of Christ with the Church in Ephesians 5:23-33; the magnificent description of the Christian armour (Ephesians 6:13-17). To these the same remark must apply: to suppose these the work of a copyist appears all but preposterous.
Next, a careful study shows repeatedly and unmistakably that these differences are not accidental; they arise from a fundamental distinction between the leading ideas in the two Epistles. The Epistle to the Ephesians is the exposition of the reality, the blessing, and the glory, of the Catholic Church as the body of Christ. The famous image of the spiritual temple (in which, perhaps, we may trace some recollection of that magnificent Temple of Artemis, “which all Asia and the world worshipped”) belongs to this Epistle (Ephesians 2:20-22), and has no place in the other. The passage to which all else works up as a climax is Ephesians 4:4-6, on the “one Body and the one Spirit.” Even the ordinary moral duties and social relations of life are treated in Ephesians 4, 5 with a characteristic reference to this great principle of unity with man in Christ, which is wanting in the parallel passages of the Colossian Epistle. On the other hand, the Colossian Epistle, having to deal with an incipient Gnosticism, is specially emphatic on the sole headship and the true Godhead of Christ. Its great teaching is of Him, as “the image of the invisible God,” “in whom all the fulness (the pleroma) of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 1:15-17; Colossians 2:3-8; Colossians 2:10). The passage which occupies the chief place, corresponding to the great passage on Unity in the Ephesian Epistle, is that which dwells on our life as risen with Christ, and hid in God with Him, who Himself “is our life” (Colossians 3:1-4).
But besides this, it will be seen in the Notes on various passages that, on the one hand, in detailed passages parallel to each other, the similarity is almost always mingled with clear and characteristic difference, marking an independent coincidence; and on the other, that identical expressions occur again and again in entirely different contexts, and in different degrees of prominence. These are exactly the phenomena which we may expect when two letters are written at the same time to churches neither wholly identical nor wholly dissimilar in character, and under the guidance of distinct, yet complementary, ideas. They are wholly incompatible with dependence or deliberate copyism.
On this particular subject, therefore, I cannot but draw the same conclusion as on the general subject of the Epistles of the Captivity, viz., that the indirect evidence which has been thought to weaken, will be actually found to confirm the strong external evidence for the genuineness of the Epistle.
IV. The Contents of the Epistle.—The general character and substance of the Epistle have been already glanced at, both in the General Introduction and in the preceding sections of the Special Introduction, and they will be found to be treated in detail in the Notes on the chief passages of the Epistle itself. Full analyses, moreover, are given in each chapter.
It will be sufficient here simply to repeat that the Epistle falls into two great sections: Doctrinal and Practical. In both the one great subject is the UNITY IN CHRIST, in some sense of all created being, in a closer sense of humanity, in the closest and most sacred sense of the Holy Catholic Church.
In the doctrinal section (Ephesians 1:1 to Ephesians 4:16), we find this unity noticed in the first chapter as ordained in the eternal predestination of God’s love, and manifested in the actual communication to His members of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and glorification of Christ, their head. Next it is shown (in Ephesians 2) how the Gentiles are called into this regenerating unity out of the deadness of their old life; and thus at once brought into the covenant of God, and so united with His chosen people of Israel, that all alike, as living stones, are built into the great Temple of God. Then (in Ephesians 3), after an emphatic declaration of the newness of this mystery of grace, and of the special commission for the revelation of it entrusted to St. Paul, there follows a solemn and fervent Apostolic prayer for their knowledge of the mystery, not by human wisdom or thought, but by the indwelling light and grace of Christ. Finally, the whole is summed up in a grand passage (Ephesians 4:1-16), which brings out in perfect completeness the whole doctrine of this unity first in its grounds, its means, and its conditions; next in its variety of spiritual gifts; lastly, in the oneness of the object of all, in the reproduction of the life of Christ in the individual and the Church.
The practical section (Ephesians 4:17 to Ephesians 6:24) opens with an unique treatment of morality and of human relationship, as dependent upon the mysterious unity of man with man and of man with God. First (Ephesians 4:17 to Ephesians 5:21), that unity is made the basis of ordinary moral duties towards man, and the safeguard against the besetting sins of heathen society—bitterness, impurity, and reckless excess. Next (Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9), it is shown as the secret of the sacredness of earthly relations of marriage, of fatherhood, and of mastership. In the first case this idea is worked out with a transcendent beauty and solemnity, which have beyond all else hallowed Christian marriage; in the others it is more briefly touched upon, with a view chiefly to temper and soften the sternness of a recognised authority. Finally (Ephesians 6:10-24), this portion of the Epistle is wound up by a magnificent and elaborate description of the full panoply of God; and the Epistle then ends, briefly and rather vaguely, with commendation of Tychicus and a general form of salutation.
The general sketch of this wonderful Epistle will, perhaps, be best explained by the analysis here subjoined, shortened from the analyses of the various chapters.
(1)THE INTRODUCTION (Ephesians 1):
(a)Salutation (Ephesians 1:1-2);
(b)Thanksgiving for the election of the whole Church in God’s love, given through redemption by unity with Christ, shown in the calling and faith both of Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 1:3-14);
(c)Prayer for their fuller knowledge of this unity with the risen and ascended Christ, the Head of the whole Church (Ephesians 1:15-23).
(2)THE CALL OF THE GENTILES (Ephesians 2):
(a)Out of the deadness of sin and power of Satan into the new life of the risen Christ, accepted in simple faith, wrought out in good works (Ephesians 2:1-10);
(b)Out of alienation from the covenant, into perfect unity with God’s chosen people, all division being broken down, and full access given to the Father; so that Jew and Gentile alike, built on the one foundation, grow into the living Temple of God (Ephesians 2:11-22).
(3)PRAYER FOR THEIR FULLER KNOWLEDGE (Ephesians 3):
(a)The mystery of the universal call, new in revelation, specially intrusted to St. Paul (Ephesians 3:1-13);
(b)Prayer for their full knowledge of it (though passing knowledge) through the indwelling of Christ, accepted in faith and love (Ephesians 3:14-19);
(c)Doxology to the Father through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:20-21).
(4)FINAL SUMMARY OF DOCTRINE (Ephesians 4):
(a)The unity of the Church in one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:1-6);
(b) The diversity of gifts in the glorified Christ (Ephesians 4:7-11);
(c)The unity of the purpose of all, viz., the individual and corporate regeneration (Ephesians 4:12-16).
(1)THE NEW LIFE: learning Christ and growing unto His image (Ephesians 4:17-24).
(2)CONQUEST OF SIN:
(a)The conquest of sin in general in virtue of the sense of unity with man in Christ (Ephesians 4:25-30);
(3)REGENERATION OF SOCIAL RELATIONS:
(a)The relation of husbands and wives consecrated as a type of union of Christ with His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23);
(b)The relation of parents and children hallowed as in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4);
(c)The relation of masters and servants made a brotherhood of service to one Master (Ephesians 6:5-9).
(4) FINAL EXHORTATION:
The armour of God and the fight against the powers of evil (Ephesians 6:10-17).
(a)Special desire of their prayers for him in his captivity (Ephesians 6:18-20);
(b)Commendation of Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21-22);
(c)Salutation and blessing (Ephesians 6:23-24).
In conclusion I may add that it does not appear to me fanciful to suppose that the teaching of this Epistle has as special an applicability to our age as the teaching of the Galatian or Roman Epistles had to the sixteenth century. For in all spheres of life—the political, the social, and the ecclesiastical alike—it would seem that our prominent questions are not those of individualism, but of socialism in the true sense of the word. Society is contemplated in its corporate life; in its rights over the individual; in the great eternal principles which it truly embodies and partially represents; and, moreover, this contemplation has a breadth of scope which refuses to be confined within the limits of family, or nation, or age. Humanity itself is considered, both historically and philosophically, as only the highest element in the order of the universe, which is itself bound together in a unity of unbroken connection and continuous development. It is asked, What has Christianity to declare as a gospel to society at large, and as a key to the mysterious relation of humanity with creation, and so with Him who created it? To that question, perhaps, the answer is nowhere more truly given than in the Epistle to the Ephesians. We need a real and living unity; but it must be such as will preserve the equally sacred individuality of freedom. This Epistle presents it to us in its magnificent conception of the unity of all with God in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:(1) By the will of God.—This phrase, used in 1Corinthians 1:1; 2Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 2Timothy 1:1 (comp. the equivalent expression of 1Timothy 1:1), appears to be St. Paul’s ordinary designation of the source of his apostolic mission and authority; used whenever there was nothing peculiar in the occasion of the Epistle, or the circumstances of the Church to which it was addressed. It may be contrasted, on the one hand, with the more formal enunciation of his commission, addressed to the Roman Church (Romans 1:1-5), and the indignant and emphatic abruptness of the opening of the Galatian Epistle—“an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:1). On the other hand, to the Thessalonian churches, in the Epistles written shortly after their conversion, he uses no description of himself whatever (1Thessalonians 1:1; 2Thessalonians 1:1); in the Epistles to the Philippians and to Titus he is simply “the servant of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1): to Philemon (for special reasons) “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” The phrase in the text stands midway between the emphasis of the one class of Epistles and the more familiar simplicity of the other.
To the saints. . . . and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.—Here, as in Colossians 1:2 (“the saints and faithful brethren”) the same persons are described by both epithets. They are “saints,” as “called” (see Romans 1:7; 1Corinthians 1:2) into “the communion of saints” by the grace of God; they are “faithful,” as by their own act believing in Christ and holding fast that faith. The two epithets are correlative to each other. Without the call and the grace of God, men cannot believe; without the energy of faith they cannot be, in effect as well as in opportunity, “saints.” Both epithets belong in capacity and profession to all members of the Church militant; and St. Paul applies them accordingly to the whole body of any church which he addresses, without hesitation or distinction. In living reality they belong only to the “Invisible Church” of the present, which shall form the “Church triumphant” of the hereafter. It has been noted that the use of the word “saints,” as the regular and ordinary name of Christians, is more especially traceable in the later Epistles of St. Paul. So in his speech before Agrippa he says, “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison” (Acts 27:10). The phrase, “in Christ Jesus,” belongs to both the words “saints” and “faithful;” but it is here more closely connected with the latter.
Which are at Ephesus.—On these words, omitted in the oldest MSS., see the Introduction.
Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.(2) Grace be to you, and peace.—On this, St. Paul’s all but invariable salutation in every Epistle (found also in the Epistles of St. Peter, 2 John, and Apocalypse), see Note on Romans 1:7.
(2 a.) In Ephesians 1:3-6, the first section of the Introduction, the Epistle ascends at once into “the heavenly places,” naturally catching therefrom the tone of adoration and thanksgiving. It dwells on the election of the children of God by His predestinating love—an election based on His will, designed for His glory, and carrying with it the blessings of the Spirit, through which they become holy and unblamable before Him. On the whole section comp. Romans 8:28-30.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:(3) It may be noted, as bearing on the question of the general or special character of this Epistle, that (with the single exception of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which may be looked upon as virtually a continuation of the First Epistle) all St. Paul’s Epistles addressed to particular churches pass at once from the salutation to refer to the particular circumstances, gifts, and needs of the Church, generally in the form of thanksgiving and prayer, sometimes (as in Galatians 1:6) in rebuke. In St. Peter’s First Epistle, on the other hand, addressed to those “scattered” through many churches, we have an opening exactly similar to the opening of this Epistle. There is, indeed, here a thanksgiving below (Ephesians 1:15-22), but it is entirely general, belonging to the whole Church.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.—On this phrase (used in Romans 15:6; 2Corinthians 1:3; 2Corinthians 11:31; 1Peter 1:3) see Note on Romans 15:6. It is, however, to be noted here, that in the Vatican MS. the words “and Father” are omitted, and that the phrase “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” occurs below in Ephesians 1:17.
Blessed be . . . who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings.—The frequent phrase “Blessed be God” (Luke 1:68; Romans 1:25; Romans 9:5; 2Corinthians 1:3; 2Corinthians 11:31; 1Peter 1:3) is here used with an unique antithesis. We can “bless” God only in thanksgiving of heart and voice, with which He deigns to be pleased, as He “rejoices over the works of His hands.” God blesses us in real and life-giving “spiritual blessing,” i.e., blessing of the gift of the Spirit, for which we can return nothing except thanksgiving. So in Psalm 116:12-13, the natural question of the thoughtful soul—“What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?”—is answered simply by the words, “I will receive the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.”
Who hath blessed us . . . in heavenly-places.—It should be, who blessed us (once for all), in the election and predestination spoken of in the next verse. If this be noted, the sense of the phrase “in heavenly places” becomes far clearer. It has been doubted whether we ought to supply the word “places” or “things” (as in John 3:12) in rendering this phrase, which is peculiar to this Epistle, and used in it no less than five times. In three out of the other four places (Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 3:10) the local sense is manifest; in the fourth (Ephesians 6:12) and in this it might be doubtful. But (1) it is altogether unlikely that so unique a phrase would be used in two different senses; (2) the original word for “heavenly” has most properly and most usually a local meaning; (3) the transference of the thoughts to heaven above suits especially the whole tone of this Epistle and the parallel Epistle to the Colossians; and (4) the local sense agrees best with the context here, for the Apostle is speaking of the election “before the foundation of the world” as made by the foreknowledge of God in heaven, where Christ is “in the beginning with God.”
It has been noticed here that we have one of those implicit references to the Holy Trinity—the blessing from God the Father, in Christ, and by the Spirit—with which St. Paul’s Epistles abound.
In Christ—i.e., in the unity with Christ, which is “the life eternal,” ordained for us in the foreknowledge of God, and viewed as already existing. (See the whole of John 17, especially Ephesians 1:21-23.)
(3) In Ephesians 1:15-23, this introductory chapter ends in a prayer for the enlightenment of the readers of this Epistle, that they may understand all the fulness of the blessings of the gospel. In accordance with the heavenward direction of the thought of the whole Epistle, these blessings are viewed in their future completeness of glory and power, of which the present exaltation of the risen Lord to the right hand of God, as the Lord of all creatures, and the Head of the Church His body, is the earnest and assurance.
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:(4) According as (i.e., inasmuch as) he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.—Again it should be, He chose us for Himself. The eternal election of God is inseparably connected with the blessing of the Spirit. This passage stands alone in St. Paul’s Epistles in its use of this word “chosen” in connection with God’s eternal purpose, “before the foundation of the world”—a phrase only applied elsewhere to the eternal communion of the Son with the Father (John 17:24), and to the foreordaining of His sacrifice in the divine counsels (1Peter 1:20). The word “chosen” itself is used by our Lord of His choice of the Apostles (John 6:70; John 13:18; John 15:16-19); but in one case with the significant addition, “one of you is a devil,” showing that the election was not final. It is similarly used in the Acts (Acts 1:2; Acts 1:24; Acts 6:5; Acts 15:7; Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25) of His choice or the choice of the Apostles; and once (Acts 13:7) of the national election of Israel. In 1Corinthians 1:27-28 (the only other place where it is used by St. Paul), and in James 2:5 it refers to choice of men by God’s calling in this world. Clearly in all these cases it is applied to the election of men to privilege by an act of God’s mercy here. In this passage, on the contrary, the whole reference is to the election “in Christ,” by the foreknowledge of God, of those who should hereafter be made His members. From this examination of Scriptural usage it is clear that the visible election to privilege is constantly and invariably urged upon men; the election in God’s eternal counsels only dwelt upon in passages which (like this or Romans 9, 11) have to ascend in thought to the fountain-head of all being in God’s mysterious will. It will be observed that even here it clearly refers to all members of the Church, without distinction.
That we should be holy and without blame before him.—In these words we have the object of the divine election declared, and the co-operation of the elect implied, by the inseparable connection of holiness with election. There is an instructive parallel in Colossians 1:22 :—“He hath reconciled you in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable, and unreprovable in His sight.” The word “without blame,” or “unblamable,” is properly without blemish; and the word “unreprovable” more nearly corresponds to our idea of one unblamable—i.e., one against whom no charge can be brought. Here God is said to have “chosen” us, in the other passage to have “presented” us (comp. the sacrificial use of the word in Romans 12:1), in Christ, to be “holy and without blemish.” It seems clear that the words refer not to justification in Christ, but to sanctification in Him. They express the positive and negative aspects of holiness; the positive in the spirit of purity, the negative in the absence of spot or blemish. The key to their interpretation is to be found in the idea of Romans 8:29, “whom He did foreknow, He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The word “without blame” is applied to our Lord (in Hebrews 9:14; 1Peter 1:19) as a lamb “without blemish.” To Him alone it applies perfectly; to us, in proportion to that conformity to His image. The words “before Him” refer us to God’s unerring judgment as contrasted with the judgment of men, and even our own judgment on ourselves. (Comp. 1Corinthians 4:3-4; 1John 3:20-21.)
In love.—If these words are connected with the previous verse, they must be taken with “He hath chosen us,” in spite of the awkwardness of the dislocation of order. But it is best to connect them with the verse following, “Having predestinated us in love.”
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,(5) Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.—The idea of Election depends on the union of the sense of actual difference between men, as to privilege and spiritual life, with the conviction of God’s universal sovereignty. Hence, in all cases, it leads back to the idea of Predestination, that is, of the conception of the divine purpose in the mind of God, before its realisation in actual fact. On the doctrine of predestination see Romans 9. It will suffice to note that here (1) its source is placed in God’s love; (2) its meritorious cause is the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ; (3) its result is adoption, so that He is (see Romans 8:29) “the firstborn of many brethren,” who are conformed to His image, and redeemed by Him from bondage to sonship (Galatians 4:5). (It is clear that the adoption here is not the final adoption of Romans 8:23; but the present adoption into the Christian covenant, there called “the firstfruits of the Spirit;”) (4) it is in itself the expression of “the good pleasure of His will” on which all ultimately depends; and (5) its final purpose is to show forth God’s glory in the gift of His grace. In a few words the whole doctrine is summed up, with that absolute completeness, so eminently characteristic of this Epistle.
According to the good pleasure of his will.—In our version, “good pleasure,” there is an ambiguity, reproducing the ambiguity of the original. The word used may signify (as in Matthew 11:26; Luke 10:21; Philippians 2:13) simply God’s free will, to which this or that “seemeth good,” or (as in Luke 11:14; Romans 10:1; Philippians 1:15) “His good will towards us.” Even the old Greek interpreters were divided upon it, and either sense will suit this passage. But the close parallel in Ephesians 1:11, “according to the counsel (deliberate purpose) of His will,” turns the balance in favour of the former rendering.
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.(6) To the praise of the glory of his grace.—That is, for the acknowledgment by all God’s creatures of the gloriousness of His grace; or, in other words, for the acknowledgment that God’s essential glory is best manifested in His grace—that He “declares His almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity.” So in Exodus 33:18-19, to the request, “Show me Thy glory,” the answer is, “I will make my goodness to pass before thee . . . and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” (Comp. Exodus 34:5-7.) He is pleased to consider His glory best realised in the spectacle of souls redeemed and regenerate by His grace, and to decree that it should be thus realised for our sakes. “Wherefore would He have us praise and glorify Him? It is that our love to Him may be kindled more fervently. He desires not our service, nor our praise, nor anything else except our salvation” (Chrysostom’s First Homily on the Ephesians).
Wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.—The verb here rendered “made us accepted,” is the same verb used in Luke 1:28 (and nowhere else in the New Testament), where we translate “highly favoured.” Etymologically it means to “bestow grace upon;” the tense here is the past tense, not the perfect Hence the meaning is (in connection with the previous clause), “His grace, which He bestowed upon us in the Beloved”—in virtue of our unity with “His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This special title is given to our Lord to mark a connection with the “love” declared in the last verse to be the source of God’s predestination. It is a love to all mankind, as in God’s foreknowledge already made one with His beloved Son. (See John 17:23; John 17:25, “Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me . . . for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.”)
(2 b.) Ephesians 1:7-10 form the second section of this Introduction to the Epistle, linked to the former by the words, “in the Beloved.” From the declaration in the former section of the source of salvation in God’s love, it leads us on to the mystery of the Mediation of Jesus Christ, in Whom all Being is gathered up for redemption.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;(7) In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.—This passage is identical in sense and expression with Colossians 1:14, except that the word here used for “sins” means, properly, “separate acts of transgression,” while the word there is the more general word for sin in the abstract. (In Ephesians 2:1, both are used.) In both passages we have united, as correspondent to each other, the two expressions under which our Lord Himself describes His atonement—in Matthew 20:28, as the “giving His life a ransom for many,” in Matthew 26:28, as “the shedding of His blood for the forgiveness of sins.” These two expressions appear to be complementary to each other, rather than identical. (1) The primary idea in “redemption” is deliverance from a bondage, mostly the bondage of sin itself (see Romans 8:23; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:15; 1Peter 1:18-21); occasionally (and in this sense with a different Greek word), the bondage under sentence of punishment for sin (Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5). Into that bondage man has plunged himself; God’s mercy redeems him from it at an unspeakable price (John 3:16; Romans 7:24-25). (2) The primary idea in “the forgiveness of sins through His blood” is propitiation, that is, the offering to God “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice” for sin, by One who is the Head and Representative of the human race (Romans 3:25; 1John 2:2; 1John 4:10). So St. Paul interprets our Lord’s words by the declaration that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1Corinthians 5:7); and it is notable that exactly in His words is the Atonement designated in the earliest apostolic preaching (Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38; Acts 26:18). Hence the former phrase looks at the Atonement from the side of God, the latter from the side of man; both being wrought by Him who is Son of God and Son of Man at once. Together they represent the whole truth.
According to the riches of his grace.—As above, in relation to praise, stress is laid on the gloriousness of God’s grace, so here, in relation to enjoyment of it, on its overflowing richness. (See Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:16; and Romans 3:24; Romans 9:23.)
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;(8) Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.—It should be, which He made to overflow to us in all wisdom and prudence—the word “overflow” having an emphasis which our word “abound” has lost, and signifying here that the richness of God’s grace not only fills the soul with the blessing of salvation, but overflows into the additional gifts of “all wisdom and prudence” in us, which gifts are here dwelt upon in anticipation of the declaration of the next verse. Of these two gifts, wisdom is clearly the higher gift, signifying (as in the Old Testament) the knowledge of the true end of life, which can only come from some knowledge of the “wisdom of God,” that is, the divine purpose of His dispensation. (See especially Proverbs 8:22-31.) Such knowledge is revealed to us through the “mind of Christ,” who is Himself the true wisdom or “Word of God.” (See 1Corinthians 1:24; 1Corinthians 1:30; 1Corinthians 2:6-10; 1Corinthians 2:16.) Hence wisdom is spoken of in connection with various other gifts, which are but partial manifestations of it. Here with “prudence,” that is, wisdom in action; in Colossians 1:9, with “intelligence,” that is, wisdom in judgment; in 1Corinthians 12:8, Colossians 2:3, with “knowledge,” that is, wisdom in perception; in Ephesians 1:17 of this chapter, with “revelation,” the means by which wisdom is gained.
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:(9) Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.—In the same connection we read in 1Corinthians 2:7, “we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.” The word “mystery” properly signifies a thing which (see Ephesians 3:5; Colossians 1:27) “was hid from all ages, but is now made manifest.” So our Lord evidently uses it (in Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). For the rest, except in four passages of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 10:7; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7), it is used by St. Paul alone, and by him no less than twenty-one times, of which ten belong to this Epistle and the parallel Epistle to the Colossians—always in connection with such words as “knowledge,” “declaration,” “dispensation.” The ordinary sense of the word “mystery”—a thing of which we know that it is, though how it is we know not—is not implied in the original meaning of the word; but it is a natural derivative from it. Reason can apprehend, when revealed, that which it cannot discover; but seldom or never can it comprehend it perfectly. In this verse the mystery is declared to be accordant to the good pleasure of God’s will, which (it is added) “He purposed in Himself.” In this seems to be implied that (see Ephesians 3:19) though in some sense we can know it, yet in its fulness “it passeth knowledge.”
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:(10) That in the dispensation of the fulness of times.—The connection marked in our version seems certainly erroneous. The words should be connected with the previous verse, and translated thus: which He purposed in Himself for administration (or disposal) of the fulness of the (appointed) seasons, to gather, &c. We note (1) that the word “dispensation” is usually applied to the action of the servants of God, as “dispensers of His mysteries.” (See Ephesians 3:2; 1Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25.) Here, however, and in Ephesians 3:10, it is applied to the disposal of all by God Himself, according to “the law which He has set Himself to do all things by.” Next (2) that the word “fulness,” or completeness, frequently used by St. Paul, is only found in connection with time in this passage, and in Galatians 4:4 (“when the fulness of time was come”). There, however, the reference is to a point of time, marking the completion of the preparation for our Lord’s coming; here, apparently, to a series of “seasons,” “which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1:7) for the completion of the acts of the Mediatorial kingdom described in the words following. (Comp Matthew 16:3; Luke 21:24; 1Thessalonians 5:1; 1Timothy 2:6; 1Timothy 4:1; 1Timothy 6:15; Titus 1:3.)
That he might gather together in one all things in Christ.—In these words St. Paul strikes the great keynote of the whole Epistle, the UNITY OF ALL IN CHRIST. The expression “to gather together in one” is the same which is used in Romans 13:9 (where all commandments are said to be “briefly comprehended,” or summed up, “in the one saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”). Here, however, there is the additional idea that this gathering up is “for Himself.” The full meaning of this expression is “to gather again under one head” things which had been originally one, but had since been separated. The best comment upon the truth here briefly summed up is found in the full exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians (Colossians 1:16-20), “In Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth . . . all things were created by Him and for Him . . . and in Him all things consist. It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, and . . . by Him to reconcile all things to Himself . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven.” In Christ, as the Word of God in the beginning, all created things are considered as gathered up, through Him actually made, and in Him continuing to exist. This unity, broken by sin, under the effect of which “all creation groans” (Romans 8:22), is restored in the Incarnation and Atonement of the Son of God. By this, therefore, all things are again summed up in Him, and again made one in Him with the Father. In both passages St. Paul uses expressions which extend beyond humanity itself—“things in heaven and things in earth,” “things visible and things invisible,” “thrones and principalities and powers.” In both he immediately proceeds from the grand outline of this wider unity, to draw out in detail the nearer, and to us more comprehensible, unity of all mankind in Christ. (Comp. Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:21.) So also writes St. John (John 1:3-4; John 1:12), passing from the thought that “all things were made by Him,” first to the declaration, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men,” and next to the power given to those who believed on Him to become sons of God. The lesser part of this truth, setting forth the unity of all mankind in the Second Adam, forms the basis of the argument of 1 Corinthians 15, that “in Christ all shall be made alive,” in the course of which the existence of the Mediatorial kingdom of Christ is described, and its continuance till the final triumph, when it “shall be delivered up to God, even the Father,” “that God may be all in all” (1Corinthians 15:24; 1Corinthians 15:28). In virtue of it, those who are His are partakers of His death and resurrection, His ascension, even His judgment (Ephesians 2:6; Matthew 19:28; Romans 6:3-10; 1Corinthians 6:2-3; Colossians 3:1-3).
(10, 11) Even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance.—We have here (in the repetition, “even in Him”) an emphatic transition to the truth most closely concerning the Apostle and his readers. The word “we” is not here emphatic, and the statement might be a general statement applicable to all Christians; but the succeeding verse seems to limit it to the original Jewish believers—the true Israel, who (like the whole of Israel in ancient days) have become “a people of inheritance” (Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 9:29; Deuteronomy 32:9), so succeeding to the privileges (Romans 11:7) which their brethren in blindness rejected. Possibly this suggests the peculiar word here (and here only) used, meaning either “we were made partakers of a lot” in God’s kingdom (to which Colossians 1:12, “who has made us meet for a part of the lot of the saints,” closely corresponds), or “we were made His lot or inheritance;” which perhaps suits the Greek better, certainly accords better with the Old Testament idea, and gives a more emphatic sense. A third possible sense is “were chosen by lot.” This is adopted by the Vulgate, supported by the only use of the word in the Septuagint (1Samuel 14:41), and explained by Chrysostom and Augustine as signifying the freedom of election without human merit, while by the succeeding words it is shown not to be really by chance, but by God’s secret will. But this seems quite foreign to the genius of the passage.
Being predestinated . . . that we should be to the praise of his glory.—This is an application of the general truth before declared (Ephesians 1:5-6) that the source of election is God’s predestination, and the object of it the manifestation of His glory.
After the counsel of his own will.—The expression evidently denotes not only the deliberate exercise of God’s will by “determinate counsel and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23), but also the guidance of that will by wisdom to the fulfilment of the Law Eternal of God’s righteous dispensation. Hooker, in a well-known passage (Eccl. Pol. i. 2), quotes it as excluding the notion of an arbitrary will of God, “They err, who think that of God’s will there is no reason except His will.”
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:(2 c.) Ephesians 1:11-14 form the third part of the Introduction, applying the general truth of election by God’s predestination in Christ, first to the original believers (the Jews), and then to the subsequent believers (the Gentiles).
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.(12) That we . . . who first trusted in Christ.—That the reference here is to the first Christians, in contradistinction to the Gentiles of the next verse, is clear. But the meaning of the phrase “who first hoped” (or, more properly, who have hoped beforehand) is less obvious. Our version seems to interpret it simply of “believing before” the Gentiles, i.e., of being the “first believers;” and this interpretation may be defended by the analogy of certain cases in which the same prefix signifying “beforehand” has this sense (e.g., Acts 20:5; Acts 20:13; Romans 3:9; Romans 12:10; 1Corinthians 11:21). But the more general analogy strongly supports the other interpretation, “who have hoped in the Christ before He came”—that is, who, taught by prophecy, entering into that vision of a great future which pervades the older Covenant, looked forward “to the hope of Israel,” and “waited for the consolation of Israel;” and who accordingly in due time became, on the Day of Pentecost, the firstfruits of His salvation.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,(13) In whom ye also trusted . . . in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed.—The insertion of the word “trusted” (suggested by the word “trusted” in the previous verse) is probably erroneous, nor is it easy to find any good substitute for it. It is far better to refer the whole to the one verb, “ye were sealed.” The irregularity of construction (arising from the addition to “hearing” of its proper accessory of “faith,” Romans 10:17) will surprise no one who studies St. Paul’s Epistles, and especially these Epistles of his Captivity, remembering that they were dictated, and in all probability read over again to the Apostle for addition or correction.
After that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.—There is a contrast hero between the Jewish believers, looking on in hope and gladly embracing its fulfilment, and the Gentiles, who had no such hope, and who therefore waited “for the word of the truth” (the full truth, not veiled in type or symbol), the glad tidings of a present salvation. The greater emphasis laid on the latter process seems intended to impress on the Gentiles a sense of the simpler and fuller means by which they were led to Christ.
After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.—The order is to be noted, and compared with the experience of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). First, the light of the gospel shines before men; next, by faith they open their eyes to see it; then they are sealed by a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Such faith is, of course, the gift of God by the Spirit; but our Lord teaches us (John 16:8-13) to distinguish between the pleading of the Holy Spirit with “the world” “to convince of sin, because they believe not in Christ,” and the special gift of His presence in the Church and the believing soul “to guide unto all the truth.” This fuller presence is the seal of the new covenant.
Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.—This word “sealed” is found in exactly the same connection in 2Corinthians 1:22. The original idea of this sealing (which, it should be observed, is not of documents, but of men) is best seen in the “sealing of the servants of God in their foreheads,” in Revelation 7:3-8. In that passage, and in the passage of Ezekiel which it recalls (Ezekiel 9:4), the sealing is simply an outward badge, to be at once a pledge and means of safety amidst the destruction coming on the earth. In like sense, circumcision appears to be called “a seal” of previously existing righteousness of faith, in Romans 4:11; and the conversion of the Corinthians “a seal” of St. Paul’s apostleship, in 1Corinthians 9:2. (Comp. also John 3:33; Romans 15:28; 2Timothy 2:19.) But the word is used in a deeper sense whenever it is connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then it corresponds to the “circumcision not made with hands” (Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11); it has the character of a sacrament, and is not a mere badge, but a true means of grace. In this connection we read first of our Lord, “Him God the Father sealed” (John 6:27), with a clear reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at His baptism (comp. John 1:33; John 5:37; John 10:33); next of His people (as here, in Ephesians 4:30, and in 2Corinthians 1:22) as being, like Himself, baptised with the Holy Ghost. In this passage the very title given to the Spirit is significant. He is called (in the curious order of the original) “the Spirit of the Promise, the Holy One.” “The promise” is clearly the promise in the Old Testament (as in Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-32) of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people in “the latter days.” The emphatic position of the epithet “Holy One” seems to point to the effect of His indwelling in the actual sanctification of the soul thus sealed. From this passage was probably derived the ecclesiastical application of the name “seal” to the sacrament of baptism, which is undoubtedly made the seal of conversion in Acts 2:38.
Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.(14) Which is the earnest of our inheritance.—On the word “earnest” (arrhabôn), a precious gift, as surety for a fuller gift hereafter, see 2Corinthians 1:22. The word “inheritance” has a correspondent meaning. It is a present possession (as in Acts 7:5), which shall be developed into a more precious future. “We are very members, incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, and also heirs through hope of His everlasting kingdom.”
Until the redemption of the purchased possession.—The “redemption” here is the complete and final salvation from sin and death (as in Romans 8:23). The original word here rendered “purchased possession” properly means “the act of purchase or acquisition,” and is so used in 1Thessalonians 5:9; 2Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 10:39. But it seems clear that it is here used (in the sense of our version) with that confusion of idea, common in English, though rare in Greek, under which the result of an action is understood instead of the action itself, so that the word “purchases” is used for “things purchased,” “acquisitions” for “things acquired” and the like. The transition is marked in relation to this same word in Malachi 3:17; 1Peter 2:9, where the Israelites are spoken of as “a people for acquisition,” that is, as a people acquired or purchased.
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,(15) After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.—These words have an almost exact parallel in Colossians 1:4, addressed there to a church which St. Paul had not seen, and have been quoted in support of the belief that this Epistle cannot have been addressed, properly and solely, to the well-known Ephesian Church. They are not, however, decisive, for we have a similar expression to Philemon (Philemon 1:5), St. Paul’s own convert.
We may note a distinction between “faith in the Lord Jesus” and “faith towards the Lord Jesus” (like “the love towards the saints”). Comp. 2Timothy 1:13 (“faith and love in Christ Jesus”). “Faith in Christ” is a faith which, centred in Christ, nevertheless rests through Him on the Father; recognising a “life hid with him in God” (Colossians 3:3) and a sonship of God in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). The connection of the two clauses here shows that such a faith abounds (i.e. overflows) unto love, first necessarily to God, so being made perfect (Galatians 5:6), but next towards all His children. For “this commandment we have from Him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also” (1John 4:21).
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;(16) Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.—Almost all St. Paul’s Epistles are introduced by this union of thanksgiving and prayer, which is, indeed, characteristic of the right harmony of all Christian worship. (See Romans 1:8-9; Philippians 1:3-4; Colossians 1:3-4; 1Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2Timothy 1:3; Philemon 1:4.) In the Galatian Epistle the omission of both is characteristic; in the two Epistles to the Corinthians thanksgiving alone is explicit, though prayer may be implied. But the proportion of the two elements varies. Here the thanksgiving has already been offered, although in the widest generality. Accordingly all that follows is prayer. In the parallel Colossian Epistle (Colossians 1:3-13), which has no corresponding preface of thanksgiving, both elements are co-ordinate, with perhaps a slight predominance of thanksgiving.
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:(17) The God of our Lord Jesus Christ.—See John 20:17, “I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God.” It has been noted that, while on the cross, our Lord, in the cry, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” adopted the common human language of the Psalmist, He here, after His resurrection, distinguished emphatically between His peculiar relation to God the Father and that relation in which we His members call God “our Father.” St. Paul’s usual phrase (see above, Ephesians 1:3) is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;” the phrase here used is unique, probably substituted for the other on account of the use of the word “Father” in the next clause. It refers, of course, entirely to our Lord’s nature as the true Son of Man. In that respect God is in the full sense (which in us is interrupted by sin) His God, in whom He lived and had His being. In proportion as we are conformed to His likeness, “God is our God for ever and ever.”
The Father of glory.—Better, of the glory. This phrase is again unique. We have, indeed, such phrases as “Father of Mercies” (2Corinthians 1:3), “Father of Lights” (James 1:17); and, on the other hand, “the King of Glory” (Psalm 28:5), “the God of Glory” (Acts 7:2), “the Lord of Glory” (1Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1). In all these last instances “the glory” seems certainly to be the Shechinah of God’s manifested presence, and in all cases but one is ascribed to our Lord. But “the Father of the glory,” seems a phrase different from all these. I cannot help connecting it with the missing element in the preceding clause, and believing (with some old interpreters), in spite of the strangeness of expression, that God is here called “the Father of the glory” of the incarnate Deity in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14), called in 2Corinthians 4:6, “the glory of God in the face (or person) of Jesus Christ.” (See Excursus A to St. John’s Gospel: On the Doctrine of the Word; dealing with the identification of “the Word” with the Shechinah by the Jewish interpreters). The prayer which follows connects the knowledge of the glory of our inheritance with the exaltation of our Lord in glory.
The knowledge of him.—The word here rendered “knowledge” signifies “perfect and thorough knowledge;” and the verb corresponding to it is used distinctively in this sense in Luke 1:4; 1Corinthians 13:12. It is employed by St. Paul more especially in his later Epistles (Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 3:10), dealing as they do with the deeper things of God, and assuming more of a contemplative tone. It is represented here as coming from distinct “revelation.”
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,(18) The eyes of your understanding.—The true reading is of your heart, for which the words “of your understanding” have been substituted, so as to yield a simpler and easier expression. The heart is similarly spoken of in relation to spiritual perception in Romans 1:21; 1Corinthians 2:9; 1Corinthians 4:5; it signifies the inner man in his entirety; and the phrase here used seems to convey the all-important truth, that for the knowledge of God all the faculties of understanding, conscience, and affection must be called into energy by the gift of the light of God.
That ye may know.—The knowledge which St. Paul here desires for the Ephesians, in accordance with the whole tone of this Epistle, is a knowledge of heavenly things, only experienced in part upon earth—with an experience, however, sufficient to be an earnest of the hereafter. The succession of ideas follows the order of conversion—first, “calling;” then acceptance to “inheritance;” lastly, “inward working of divine power” in the accepted. To each the conception of looking onward is attached; to the “calling” “hope,” to the “inheritance” “glory,” to the “power” the exaltation of Christ (and of us with Him; see Ephesians 2:6) to the right hand of God.
The hope of his calling.—(See Ephesians 4:4.) That is, probably, “the thing hoped for,” because promised, at our calling (as in Galatians 5:5; Colossians 1:5; Titus 2:3; Hebrews 6:18; and perhaps 1Timothy 1:1), for the other objects of knowledge with which it is here joined are certainly objective or external to ourselves. This hope is of the perfection of all, which we are called to enjoy really, but imperfectly, here.
The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.—Comp. Colossians 1:27, “the riches of the glory of this mystery . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The inheritance of God is the unity with Christ, in which lies the earnest and hope of glory. “Among the saints” is best connected with the word “inheritance,” showing that our personal inheritance of Christ gives us a place in the kingdom of heaven here and hereafter.
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,(19) According to the working of his mighty power.—More correctly (see margin), the working of the might of His strength. The word “power” is a general word for force, which may be latent, and, in fact, often describes force which is latent, in contradistinction to the word here used for working or energy. St. Paul, therefore, adds that this power of God is not latent; it actually works “according to,” that is, up to the full measure of “the might of the strength” of God—of that strength which is a part of His nature. The whole phrase forms a glorious climax, in which the Apostle accumulates words ever stronger and stronger to approach to the description of the omnipotence of the Spirit. It is a “force of exceeding greatness;” it is an ever energetic force; its only measure is the immeasurable might of the divine nature. (Comp. Ephesians 3:7; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:29; Colossians 2:12.)
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,(20) Which he wrought in Christ.—The reality of the work of God upon us is insured by the reality of that work upon the true Son of Man, whose members we are, in His resurrection, His ascension, His exaltation over all things at the right hand of God, and His headship of the Church. It is notable that, while it is on the spiritual meaning of the resurrection of Christ that the chief stress is laid in the earlier Epistles (as in Romans 6:4-11; 1Corinthians 15:12-22; 1Corinthians 15:50-57), in these later Epistles the Apostle passes on beyond this, as taken for granted (see Colossians 3:1), and dwells on “Christ in heaven,” exalted far above all created things, but yet vouchsafing to be in a peculiar sense the head and life of the Church on earth. See, for example, Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:14-19; and compare the pervading conception of the Apocalypse. In this advance of thought he approaches to the idea of our Lord’s own great intercession (John 17:5 et seq.), constantly connecting the unity of His Church in Him with the glory which was His from all eternity, and to which He was to return—“Now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. . . . I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory.”
Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:(21) Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion.—The words here used are intended to include all possible forms of power, corresponding to the exhaustive enumeration in Philippians 2:10, “of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” The words rendered “principality and power” (more properly signifying “government and the authority committed to it”) are used in Luke 12:11; Luke 20:20; Titus 3:1, distinctively for earthly-powers; in 1Corinthians 15:24, generally for all created powers whatever. But St. Paul mostly employs this whole group of words, especially in the Epistles of the Captivity, with a manifest reference to angelic powers of good or evil. Thus in Romans 8:38 we read, of “angels, and principalities, and powers” (as in 1Peter 3:22, “angels, and authorities, and powers”); in Ephesians 3:10 of this Epistle, of “principalities and powers in the heavenly places;” and in Ephesians 6:12, of “wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,” &c.; and in Colossians 1:16, of “things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.” It is likely that he was induced so to do by the half-Gnostic speculation on the nature and worship of angels, prevalent in the later Judaism, of which we have a specimen at Colossæ (Colossians 2:18)—in the same spirit which leads the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews to dwell so emphatically (in Ephesians 1, 2) on the infinite superiority of the Son of God to all angels. We observe that his references to these orders or aspects of the angelic hierarchy vary both in fulness and in order. (Comp., for instance, this passage with Colossians 1:16.) Hence we gain no encouragement for the elaborate speculation in which men have indulged as to the right succession and relation of the hosts of heaven. In this passage the names rather point to different aspects, than to different orders, of superhuman power. The first two words signify appointed government and the authority which is committed to it; the last two the actual force and the moral force of dignity or lordship in which it is clothed. In the Colossian passage the words here placed first come last, though in the same mutual connection, and the words “dignities or lordships” is connected with the word “thrones,” not here found. His purpose is, indeed, better served by this comparative vagueness: for that purpose is to exalt the majesty of our Lord over all other, whatever it may be, and whatever name it may wear.
Not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.—The word “world” is here age, and the antithesis is exactly that of our Lord’s words in Matthew 12:32 (see Note there). Manifestly, however, it here signifies “this life” (or dispensation) and “the future life,” that is, the life on this side, and on the other side, of the Second Coming of Christ.
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,(22) And hath put all things under his feet.—See 1Corinthians 15:25-28, where St. Paul deals with the quotation from Psalm 8:6, in application to our Lord’s Mediatorial kingdom. In this passage these words fill up the picture of our Lord’s transcendent dignity, by the declaration of the actual subjugation of all the powers of sin and death, rising up against Him, in the spiritual war which is to go on till the appointed end. They therefore form a natural link between the description of His lordship over all created being, and of His headship over the Church, militant on earth, as well as triumphant in heaven.
And gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body.—This is the first time that this celebrated phrase is used, describing Christ as the Head, and viewing the Church as a whole as His body. It is characteristic that in 1Corinthians 11:3, Christ is called “the Head of each man,” as “the man of the woman;” whereas in this Epistle Christ is the Head of the whole Church, on occasion of the same comparison (see Ephesians 5:23). The consideration of all Christians as the “body of Christ” is indeed found in Romans 12:4; 1Corinthians 12:12-27 : but it is notable that in these passages the leading idea is, first, of the individuality of each member, and then, secondarily, of their union in one body; and in 1Corinthians 12:21, “the head and the foot,” just as much as “the eye and the hand,” are simply looked upon as members. (Comp. also 1Corinthians 6:15; 1Corinthians 10:17.) Here, in accordance with the great doctrine of this Epistle—the unity of the whole of humanity and of the whole Church, ideally co-extensive with that humanity, with Christ—the metaphor is changed. The body is looked upon as a whole, Christ as its Head. The idea is wrought out again and again (see Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 5:28; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19) in these Epistles of the Captivity. It is from these that it has become a household word in all Christian theology. With some variation it is expressed also in other metaphors—the building and the corner-stone, the bride and the bridegroom. But under the title of the “Head” Christ is looked upon especially in His ruling, guiding, originating power over the Church. Probably the idea of His being the seat of its life, though not excluded, is secondary; whereas in His own figure of the vine and the branches (John 16:6) it is primary.
Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.(23) The fulness of him that filleth all in all.—The word pleroma, “fulness,” is used in a definite and almost technical sense in the Epistles of the Captivity, and especially in the Epistle to the Colossians, having clear reference to the speculations as to the Divine Nature and the emanations from it, already anticipating the future Gnosticism. The word itself is derived from a verb signifying, first, to “fill;” next (more frequently in the New Testament), to “fulfil” or complete. It is found (1) in a physical sense of the “full contents” of the baskets, in Mark 6:43; Mark 8:20; and of the earth, in 1Corinthians 10:26-28; and in Matthew 9:16, Mark 2:21, it is applied to the patch of new cloth on an old garment. It is used next (2) of fulness, in sense of the “complete tale or number,” “of time” and “seasons,” in Ephesians 1:10, Galatians 4:4; of the Jews and Gentiles in Romans 11:12; Romans 11:25. In the third place (3) it is applied to the full essence, including all the attributes, of a thing or person; as of the Law (Romans 13:10), and of the blessing of Christ (Romans 15:29). Lastly (4), in these Epistles it is applied, almost technically, to the fulness of the Divine Nature. Thus, in Colossians 1:19 we have, “It pleased the Father that in Christ all the fulness”—i.e., all the fulness of the Divine Nature—“should dwell;” or (to take an admissible but less probable construction) “In Him all the fulness is pleased to dwell;” and this is explained in Ephesians 2:9, “In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Similarly, though less strikingly, we read in this Epistle, that those who are in Christ are said (in Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13) “to be filled up to all the fulness of God,” and “to come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. In which of these last senses is the Church here said to be the “fulness of Christ?” If in any, probably in the last of all. As the individual, so the Church, by the presence “of Him who filleth up all things for Himself in all,” comes to be “His fulness,” the complete image of Him in all His glorified humanity. But it may be questioned whether it is not better to take here a different sense, corresponding to the “patch” in Matthew 9:16, and signifying the “complement.” In the original Greek of Euclid (in Book 1., Prop. 4), the cognate word, parapleroma, is used of “the complements.” In this compound word the idea is, no doubt, more unequivocally expressed. But of the simple word here employed it may be reasonably contended that, if one thing or person alone is contemplated, the pleroma must be the fulness of the one nature; if, as here, two are brought in, each will be the “complement” to the other—as the patch to the garment, and the garment to the patch. So here (says Chrysostom) “the complement of the Head is the Body, and the complement of the Body is the Head.” Thus by a daring expression, St. Paul describes our Lord as conceiving His glorified humanity incomplete without His Church; and then, lest this should seem to derogate even for a moment from His dignity, he adds the strongest declaration of His transcendent power, “to fill up for Himself all things in all,” in order to show that we are infinitely more incomplete without Him than He without us. This sense, bold as it is, certainly suits exactly the great idea of this Epistle, which differs from the parallel Colossian Epistle in this—that while both dwell emphatically on Christ the Head, and the Church as His Body, there the chief stress is laid on the true Deity of the Head, here on the glory and privileges of the Body.