The authorship of Ephesians (Ephesians 4)

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Did Paul truly write the letter to the Ephesians? The answer has a great significance for the letter’s canonical authority. In Ephesians 3:1-7 Paul placed great emphasis on his apostolic authority (see also 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, 2 Corinthians 12:11-12, Galatians 1:1). So rejection of Pauline authorship would significantly diminish the letter’s authority.

Some scholars question Paul’s authorship of this book because its vocabulary differs somewhat from his other letters and its sentences are usually long and complex. The theology of Ephesians also incorporates the idea of the church universal, suggesting that this letter might be dated to a time after the apostle’s death, when the church was better established and theology was more developed (although Paul certainly espoused this concept). The letters of Ephesians and Colossians are in fact quite similar, raising the possibility that Ephesians was modelled after Colossians but written later and by a different author.

Other evidence, however, does support Pauline authorship:

  • The letter itself twice claims Paul to be the author (1:1, 3:1) and contains biographical material corresponding to Paul’s life (3:1-13).
  • Personal remarks are in keeping with Pauline authorship (see 6:21-22).
  • Centuries of church tradition support this premise. The letter’s authenticity was never questioned by the early church.
  • Analyzing the writing style of Ephesians is too subjective a process to be a serious basis for disputing Pauline authorship. No doubt Paul was capable of employing variety in his writing style. Throughout this letter he created a worshipful context, particularly in Ephesians 1-3, and the elevated style of writing was appropriate in light of the book’s portrayal of believers’ exaltation in Christ-
  • The suggestion that Ephesians may have been written as a circular letter (i.e. intended for multiple churches rather than addressing a specific crisis in a specific church) may also help to account for its stylistic distinctives. Since this epistle was not written to address a particular controversy, it lacks the direct, hardhitting and sometimes harsh tone found in the books of 1 Corinthians and Galatians.
  • The structure of Ephesians, which moves from a doctrinal foundation (chapters 1-3) to practical exhortation (chapters 4-6), is also found in letters that are indisputably Pauline, such as Romans and Galatians.
  • The theology of Ephesians is consistent with Paul’s message elsewhere. For example, the description of Gentile sin in Ephesians 4:17-19 is similar to that found in Romans 1:21-23.
  • Slight differences between Ephesians and other letters may actually support Pauline authorship of Ephesians, where Paul sometimes took familiar ideas in new directions. For example, the picture of the church as the body of Christ (4:15-16) is expressed differently from what we read in Romans 12:3-5, but both passages are examples of what for Paul was a standard image of the church. An imitator of Paul would most likely not have taken this idea in a new direction but would have slavishly followed Paul’s use of the image found in Romans.

On the other hand, similarities between Ephesians and Colossians do not suggest non-Pauline authorship. The same author could quite possibly have written two letters with similar style and content at about the same time. Paul may simply have addressed similar thoughts to different audiences.


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