There isn’t a lot of meat in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Mostly, we get introductions, prayers and a recap of Paul’s ministry to the Gentile world.
So, let’s take this opportunity to a little background on Ephesians, and the whole idea of “pseudo-Pauline.”
There is a lot of scholarly debate about whether these next few books-Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy-were actually written by the apostle Paul. There are strong arguments for each, with Ephesians having the most claim down to 2 Timothy, which seems the least likely (I’m proceeding through them in order of most to least likely.)
So if not Paul, then who?
Good question. And not one we can really answer. But I have a theory. I think, especially for books like Ephesians and Colossians that seem especially close to Paul and his thought, that a close follower or student synthesized some Pauline thought, through their own eyes, into something they could send out to churches.
And remember, assigning another’s name to something even if they didn’t write it was a fairly common thing in the ancient world. Paul’s name carried a lot of weight in the early church, and so signing something in his name was a way to gain legitimacy, and to pay tribute.
Now, the condensation of Pauline thought in these letters is not perfect by any means. The theology is a little less universal than Paul was in his letters. In their great book “The First Paul,” John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg identify three distinct “Paul’s” among the authentic and pseudo letters: radical, conservative and reactionary. The authentic letters fall into the “radical” category; Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as “conservative”; and the three pastoral epistles as “reactionary.”
Borg and Crossan justify this categorization like this:
Our purpose is not to raise a debate about the use of terms like radical, conservative, and reactionary. Rather, it is to insist that the post-Pauline pseudo-Pauline letters are anti-Pauline with regard to major aspects of his theology. They represent a taming of Paul, a domestication of Paul’s passion to the normalcy of the Roman imperial world in which he and his followers lived.
Although it is the closest to the authentic Paul, you can definitely see a taming of Paul already present in Ephesians. We’ll explore that more as we move into the meat of this letter.
Next: Ephesians 4-6