Keith Hunt - Church History #32 - Page Thirty-two   Restitution of All Things

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History of the Church #32

The Epistles of Paul #2


30-100 AD

From "History of the Christian Church " by Philip Schaff




When Paul took leave of the Ephesian Elders at Miletus, in the
spring of the year 58, he earnestly and affectionately exhorted
them, in view of threatening disturbances from within, to take
heed unto themselves and to feed "the church of the Lord, which
he acquired with his own blood."
This strikes the key-note of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is
a doctrinal and practical exposition of the idea of the church,
as the house of God (2:20-22), the spotless bride of Christ (5:
25-27), the mystical body of Christ (4:12-16), "the fulness
of Him that filleth all in all" (1:23). The pleroma of the
Godhead resides in Christ corporeally; so the pleroma of Christ,
the plenitude of his graces and energies, resides in the church,
as his body. Christ's fulness is God's fulness; the church's
fulness is Christ's fulness. God is reflected in Christ, Christ
is reflected in the church.

This is an ideal conception, a celestial vision, as it were, of
the church in its future state of perfection. Paul himself
represents the present church militant as a gradual growth unto
the complete stature of Christ's fulness (4:13-16). We look in
vain for an actual church which is free from spot or wrinkle or
blemish (5:27). Even the apostolic church was full of defects, as
we may learn from every Epistle of the New Testament. The church
consists of individual Christians, and cannot be complete till
they are complete. The body grows and matures with its several
members. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be" (1 John 3
Nevertheless, Paul's church is not a speculation or fiction, like
Plato's "Republic" or Sir Thomas More's "Utopia." It is a reality
in Christ, who is absolutely holy, and is spiritually and
dynamically present in his church always, as the soul is present
in the members of the body. And it sets before us the high
standard and aim to be kept constantly in view; as Christ exhorts
every one individually to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father
is perfect (Matt.5:48).

With this conception of the church is closely connected Paul's
profound and most fruitful idea of the family. He calls the
relation of Christ to his church a great mystery (5:32), and
represents it as the archetype of the marriage relation, whereby
one man and one woman become one flesh. He therefore bases the
family on new and holy ground, and makes it a miniature of the
church, or the household of God. Accordingly, husbands are to
love their wives even as Christ loved the church, his bride, and
gave himself up for her; wives are to obey their husbands as the
church is subject to Christ, the head; parents are to love their
children as Christ and the church love the individual Christians;
children are to love their parents as individual Christians are
to love Christ and the church. The full and general realization
of this domestic ideal would be heaven on earth. But how few
families come up to this standard.


Paul emphasizes the person of Christ in Colossians, the person
and agency of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians. For the Holy Spirit
carries on the work of Christ in the church. Christians are
sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption
(1:13; 4:30). The spirit of wisdom and revelation imparts the
knowledge of Christ (1:17; 3:16). Christians should be filled
with the Spirit (5:18), take the sword of the Spirit, which is
the word of God, and pray in the Spirit at all seasons (6:17,

The pneumatology of Ephesians resembles that of John, as the
christology of Colossians resembles the christology of John. It
is the Spirit who takes out of the "fulness" of Christ, and shows
it to the believer, who glorifies the Son and guides into the
truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13-15, etc.). Great prominence is
given to the Spirit also in Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, and
the Acts of the Apostles.

John does not speak of the church and its outward organization
(except in the Apocalypse), but he brings Christ in as close and
vital a contact with the individual disciples as Paul with the
whole body. Both teach the unity of the church as a fact, and as
an aim to be realized more and more by the effort of Christians,
and both put the centre of unity in the Holy Spirit.


Ephesians was intended not only for the church at, Ephesus, the
metropolis of Asia Minor, but for all the leading churches of
that district. Hence the omission of the words "in Ephesus" (1:1)
in some of the oldest and best MSS. Hence, also, the absence of
personal and local intelligence. The encyclical destination may
be inferred also from the reference in Col. 4:16 to the Epistle
to the church of Laodicea, which the Colossians were to procure
and to read, and which is probably identical with our canonical
Epistle to the Ephesians.


Ephesians is the most churchly book of the New Testament. But it
presupposes Colossians, the most Christly of Paul's Epistles. Its
churchliness is rooted and grounded in Christliness, and has no
sense whatever if separated from this root. A church without
Christ would be, at best, a praying corpse (and there are such
churches). Paul was at once the highest of high churchmen, the
most evangelical of evangelicals, and the broadest of the broad,
because most comprehensive in his grasp and furthest removed from
all pedantry and bigotry of sect or party. Ephesians is, in some
respects, the most profound and difficult (though not the most
important) of his Epistles. It certainly is the most spiritual
and devout, composed in an exalted and transcendent state of
mind, where theology rises into worship, and meditation into
oration. It is the Epistle of the Heavenlies (Greek), a solemn
liturgy, an ode to Christ and his spotless bride, the Song of
Songs in the New Testament. The aged apostle soared high above
all earthly things to the invisible and eternal realities in
heaven. From his gloomy confinement he ascended for a season to
the mount of transfiguration. The prisoner of Christ, chained to
a heathen soldier, was transformed into a conqueror, clad in the
panoply of God, and singing a paean of victory.

The style has a corresponding rhythmical flow and overflow, and
sounds at times like the swell of a majestic organ. It is very
involved and presents unusual combinations, but this is owing to
the pressure and grandeur of ideas; besides, we must remember
that it was written in Greek, which admits of long periods and
parentheses. In ch.1:3-11 we have one sentence with no less than
seven relative clauses, which rise like a thick cloud of incense
higher and higher to the very throne of God.

Luther reckoned Ephesians among "the best and noblest books of
the New Testament." Witsius characterized it as a divine Epistle
glowing with the flame of Christian love and the splendor of holy
light. Braune says: "The exalted significance of the Epistle for
all time lies in its fundamental idea: the church of Jesus Christ
a creation of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit,
decreed from eternity, destined for eternity; it is the ethical
cosmos; the family of God gathered in the world and in history
and still further to be gathered, the object of his nurture and
care in time and in eternity."

These are Continental judgments. English divines are equally
strong in praise of this Epistle. Coleridge calls it "the
sublimest composition of man;" Alford: "the greatest and most
heavenly work of one whose very imagination is peopled with
things in the heavens;" Farrar: "the Epistle of the Ascension,
the most sublime, the most profound, and the most advanced and
final utterance of that mystery of the gospel which it was given
to St. Paul for the first time to proclaim in all its fulness to
the Gentile world"


The church of Christ, the family of God, the fulness of Christ.


God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we
should be holy and without blemish before him in love (1:4). In
him we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of
our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (1:7). He
purposed to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the
heavens, and the things upon the earth (1:10). God gave him to be
head over all things to the church, which is his body, the
fulness of him that filleth all in all (1:23). God, being rich in
mercy, quickened us together with Christ and raised us up with
him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in
Christ Jesus (2:4-6). By grace have ye been saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works,
that no man should glory (2:8,9).

Christ is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle
wall of partition (2:14). Ye are no more strangers and
sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of
the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief
corner stone (2:19,20). Unto me, who am less than the least of
all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the
unsearchable riches of Christ (3:8). That Christ may dwell in
your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and
grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know
the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled
unto all the fulness of God (3:17-19). Give diligence to keep the
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:3). There is one
body, and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God
and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all
(4:6). He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some,
pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints (4:11,
12). Speak the truth in love (4:15). Put on the new man, which
after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of
truth (4:24). Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved
children, and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and
gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an
odor of a sweet smell (5:1,2). Wives, be in subjection unto your
own husbands, as unto the Lord (5:22). Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it
(5:25). This mystery is great; but I speak in regard of Christ
and of the church (5:32). Children, obey your parents to the Lord
(6:1). Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to
stand against the wiles of the devil (6:11).

*Colossians and Ephesians Compared and Vindicated*


The Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians were written about
the same time and transmitted through the same messenger,
Tychicus. They are as closely related to each other as the
Epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans. They handle the same
theme, Christ and his church; as Galatians and Romans discuss the
same doctrines of salvation by free grace and justification by
But Colossians, like Galatians, arose from a specific emergency,
and is brief, terse, polemical; while Ephesians, like Romans, is
expanded, calm, irenical. Colossians is directed against the
incipient Gnostic (paganizing) heresy, as Galatians is directed
against the Judaizing heresy. The former is anti-Essenic and
anti-ascetic, the latter is anti-Pharisaic and antilegalistic;
the one deals with a speculative expansion and fantastic
evaporation, the latter, with a bigoted contraction, of
Christianity; yet both these tendencies, like all extremes, have
points of contact and admit of strange amalgamations; and in fact
the Colossian and Galatian errorists united in their ceremonial
observance of circumcision ... Ephesians, like Romans, is an
independent exposition of the positive truth, of which the heresy
opposed in the other Epistles is a perversion or caricature.
Again, Colossians and Ephesians differ from each other in the
modification and application of their common theme: Colossians is
christological and represents Christ as the true pleroma or
plenitude of the Godhead, the totality of divine attributes and
powers; Ephesians is ecclesiological and exhibits the ideal
church as the body of Christ, as the reflected pleroma of Christ,
"the fulness of Him who filleth all in all." Christology
naturally precedes ecclesiology in the order of the system, as
Christ precedes the church; and Colossians preceded Ephesians
most probably also in the order of composition, as the outline
precedes the full picture; but they were not far apart, and arose
from the same train of meditation.

This relationship of resemblance and contrast can be
satisfactorily explained only on the assumption of the same
authorship, the same time of composition, and the same group of
churches endangered by the same heretical modes of thought. With
Paul as the author of both everything is clear; without that
assumption everything is dark and uncertain. "Non est cuiusvis
hominis," says Erasmus, "Paulinum pectus effngere; tonat,
fulgurat, means flammas loquitur Paulus"


The genuineness of the two cognate Epistles has recently been
doubted and denied, but the negative critics are by no means
agreed; some surrender Ephesians but retain Colossians, others
reverse the case; while Baur, always bolder and more consistent
than his predecessors, rejects both.

They must stand or fall together. But they will stand. They
represent, indeed, an advanced state of christological and
ecclesiological knowledge in the apostolic age, but they have
their roots in the older Epistles of Paul, and are brimful of his
spirit. They were called forth by a new phase of error, and
brought out new statements of truth with new words and phrases
adapted to the case. They contain nothing that Paul could not
have written consistently with his older Epistles, and there is
no known pupil of Paul who could have forged such highly
intellectual and spiritual letters in his name and equalled, if
not out-Pauled Paul. The external testimonies are unanimous in
favor of the Pauline authorship, and go as far back as Justin
Martyr, Polycarp, Ignatius, and the heretical Marcion (about
140), who included both Epistles in his mutilated canon.

The difficulties which have been urged against their Pauline
origin, especially of Ephesians, are as follows:

1. The striking resemblance of the two Epistles, and the apparent
repetitiousness and dependence of Ephesians on Colossians, which
seem to be unworthy of such an original thinker as Paul. But this
resemblance, which is more striking in the practical than in the
doctrinal part, is not the resemblance between an author and an
imitator, but of two compositions of the same author, written
about the same time on two closely connected topics; and it is
accompanied by an equally marked variety in thought and language.
2. The absence of personal and local references in Ephesians.
This is, as already remarked, sufficiently explained by the
encyclical character of that Epistle.
3. A number of peculiar words not found elsewhere in the Pauline
Epistles. But they are admirably adapted to the new ideas, and
must be expected from a mind so rich as Paul's. Every Epistle
contains some hapaxlegomena. The only thing which is somewhat
startling is that an apostle should speak of "holy apostles and
prophets" (Eph.3:5), but the term "holy" (Greek) is applied in
the New Testament to all Christians, as being consecrated to God
(Greek, John 11:11), and not in the later ecclesiastical sense of
a spiritual nobility. It implies no contradiction to Eph.3:8,
where the author calls himself "the least of all saints" (comp. 1
Cor.15:9, "I am the least of the apostles").
4. The only argument of any weight is the alleged postPauline
rise of the Gnostic heresy, which is undoubtedly opposed in
Colossians (not in Ephesians, at least not directly). But why
should this heresy not have arisen in the apostolic age as well
as the Judaizing heresy which sprung up before A.D.50, and
followed Paul everywhere? The tares spring up almost
simultaneously with the wheat. Error is the shadow of truth.
Simon Magus, the contemporary of Peter, and the Gnostic
Cerinthus, the contemporary of John, are certainly historic
persons. Paul speaks (1 Cor.8:1) of a "gnosis which puffeth
up," and warned the Ephesian elders, as early as 58, of the
rising of disturbing errorists from their own midst; and the
Apocalypse, which the Tubingen critics assign to the year 68,
certainly opposes the antinomian type of Gnosticism, the error of
the Nicolaitans (2:6,15,20), which the early Fathers derived from
one of the first seven deacons of Jerusalem. All the elements of
Gnosticism-Ebionism, Platonism, Philoism, syncretism, asceticism,
antinomianism - were extant before Christ, and it needed only a
spark of Christian truth to set the inflammable material on fire.
The universal sentiment of the Fathers, as far as we can trace it
up to Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Polycarp found the origin of
Gnosticism in the apostolic age, and called Simon Magus its
father or grandfather.

Against their testimony, the isolated passage of Hegesippus, so
often quoted by the negative critics, has not the weight of a
feather. This credulous, inaccurate, and narrow-minded Jewish
Christian writer said, according to Eusebius, that the church
enjoyed profound peace, and was "a pure and uncorrupted virgin,"
governed by brothers and relations of Jesus, until the age of
Trajan, when, after the death of the apostles, "the knowledge
falsely so called" (Greek  comp. l Tim.6:20), openly raised its
head. But he speaks of the church in Palestine, not in Asia
Minor; and he was certainly mistaken in this dream of an age of
absolute purity and peace. The Tubingen school itself maintains
the very opposite view. Every Epistle, as well as the Acts, bears
testimony to the profound agitations, parties, and evils of the
church, including Jerusalem, where the first great theological
controversy was fought out by the apostles themselves. But
Hegesippus corrects himself, and makes a distinction between the
Secret working and the open and shameless manifestation of
heresy. The former began, he intimates, in the apostolic age; the
latter showed itself afterward. Gnosticism, like modern
Rationalism, had a growth of a hundred years before it came to
full maturity. A post-apostolic writer would have dealt very
differently with the fully developed systems of Basilides,
Valentinus, and Marcion. And yet the two short Epistles to the
Colossians and Ephesians strike at the roots of this error, and
teach the positive truth with an originality, vigor, and depth
that makes them more valuable, even as a refutation, than the
five books of Irenaeus against Gnosticism, and the ten books of
the Philosophumena of Hippolytus; and this patent fact is the
best proof of their apostolic origin.

To be continued


The expounding of Ephesians can be found on this website under
"The New Testament Bible Story" and also on my Youtube

Keith Hunt 

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