Table of contents for Ephesians and Colossians / Charles H. Talbert.

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Contents
Foreword
Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction
Ephesians
Ephesians 1:1/2
Ephesians 1:3/14
Ephesians 1:15/2:10
Ephesians 2:11/22
Ephesians 3:1/21
Ephesians 4:1/16
Ephesians 4:17/5:21
Ephesians 5:22/6:9
Ephesians 6:10/20
Ephesians 6:21/24
Colossians
Colossians 1:1/2
Colossians 1:3/23
Colossians 1:24/2:5
Colossians 2:6/23
Colossians 3:1/4:6
Colossians 4:7/18
Bibliography
Index of ancient sources
Index of modern authors
list of figures to come
Foreword
Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament is a series that sets out to comment on the 
final form of the New Testament text in a way that pays due attention both to the cultural, 
literary, and theological settings in which the text took form and also to the interests of 
the contemporary readers to whom the commentaries are addressed. This series is aimed 
squarely at students; including MA students in religious and theological studies 
programs, seminarians, and upper-divisional undergraduates; who have theological 
interests in the biblical text. Thus, the didactic aim of the series is to enable students to 
understand each book of the New Testament as a literary whole rooted in a particular 
ancient setting and related to its context within the New Testament.
The name "Paideia" reflects (1) the instructional aim of the series; giving 
contemporary students a basic grounding in academic NT studies by guiding their 
engagement with New Testament texts; (2) the fact that the New Testament texts as 
literary unities are shaped by the educational categories and ideas (rhetorical, 
narratological, etc.) of their ancient writers and readers; and (3) the pedagogical aims of 
the texts themselves; their central aim being not simply to impart information but to 
form the theological convictions and moral habits of their readers.
Each commentary deals with the text in terms of larger rhetorical units; these are not 
verse-by-verse commentaries. This series thus stands within the stream of recent 
commentaries that attend to the final form of the text. Such reader-centered literary 
approaches are inherently more accessible to liberal arts students without extensive 
linguistic and historical-critical preparation than older exegetical approaches, but within 
the reader-centered world the sanest practitioners have paid careful attention to the 
extratext of the original readers, including not only these readers' knowledge of the 
geography, history, and other context elements reflected in the text but also to their 
ability to respond correctly to the literary and rhetorical conventions used in the text. 
Paideia commentaries pay deliberate attention to this extratextual repertoire in order to 
highlight the ways in which the text is designed to persuade and move its readers. Each 
rhetorical unit is explored via three angles: (1) introductory matters; (2) tracing the train 
of thought or narrative flow of the argument; and (3) theological issues raised by the text 
that are of interest to the contemporary Christian. Thus, the primary focus remains on the 
text and not its historical context or its interpretation in the secondary literature.
Our authors represent a variety of confessional points of view: Protestant, Roman 
Catholic, and Greek Orthodox. What they share in common, beyond being New 
Testament scholars of national and international repute, is a commitment to reading the 
biblical text as theological documents within their ancient contexts. Working within the 
broad parameters described here, each author brings his or her own considerable 
exegetical talents and deep theological commitments to the task of laying bare the 
interpretation of Scripture for the faith and practice of God's people everywhere.
Mikeal C. Parsons 
Charles H. Talbert
Preface
This volume has grown out of a doctoral seminar on Ephesians offered at Baylor 
University in 1996, 2002, and 2004. As usual, my students have consistently been my 
colaborers and frequently my teachers. My friends, I thank you. The volume itself was 
written during a sabbatical semester spent as a visiting professor at Duke Divinity School, 
spring 2005, where I taught a Greek exegesis course on Ephesians to eleven bright and 
interesting students and made good use of the wonderful libraries. For all the support 
system that enabled me to do my work, I owe a debt of gratitude to Dean L. Gregory 
Jones, Senior Associate Dean Willie Jennings, and Mrs. Jacquelyn Norris, Staff 
Assistant, Academic Programs. For a gracious, congenial community within which to live 
and work, I heartily thank Prof. Richard Hays (who was the catalyst behind my stay at 
Duke), Prof. Joel Marcus, Prof. Douglas Campbell, longtime friend Prof. James 
Crenshaw, Prof. Stephen Chapman, Emeritus Professor Moody Smith, and Prof. Curtis 
Freeman, Director of the Baptist House of Studies, with whom I had many late-afternoon 
conversations about matters of import. This project would never have been completed 
had it not been for the five months at Duke. I thank you one and all.
I thank Family Ministry: Empowering through Faith for the permission to use 
material from my article, "Are There Biblical Norms for Christian Marriage?" (15/1 
[2001]: 16/27). I appreciated the opportunity to share my views on the Haustafeln with 
students and faculty at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond in April 2005. 
Dean Richard Vinson and Prof. Scott Spencer made my visit a memorable one.
I am deeply indebted to my graduate assistant, Julien Smith, for his careful and 
dedicated efforts designed to bring my manuscript into line with the expectations of 
Baker Academic.
None of this effort would have been possible had it not been for my wife, Dr. 
Betty W. Talbert, Director of Spiritual Formation at Baylor's Truett Seminary, who 
shouldered my family duties in addition to her own professional responsibilities to make 
my sabbatical semester a reality.
Abbreviations throughout conform to those set forth in The SBL Handbook of Style 
(ed. Patrick H. Alexander et al.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999). Translations of 
biblical material are my own or from the NRSV unless otherwise indicated. Translations 
of Greek and Roman sources are usually from the Loeb Classical Library; those from the 
Pseudepigrapha are from James M. Charlesworth, editor, The Old Testament 
Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983, 1985); those from the 
Dead Sea Scrolls are from Florentino Garc¿a Mart¿nez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated 
(2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) unless otherwise indicated; gnostic documents 
are usually cited from James M. Robinson, editor, The Nag Hammadi Library (San 
Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977); material cited from the church fathers is normally taken 
from Philip Schaff et al., editors, Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene 
Fathers (repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994)
It is my hope that this small volume will facilitate communication between modern 
readers and these two ancient letters, Ephesians and Colossians. There is much benefit to 
be gained therefrom.
Charles H. Talbert 
Easter 2006
Abbreviations
list of abbreviations to come
Ephesians and Colossians
Introduction
Understanding the Relations between Ephesians and Colossians
Why, one may wonder, are Ephesians and Colossians separated by Philippians in the 
New Testament? The thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the Christian Bible (= canonical 
Paul) are arranged according to two principles. First, the letters are divided into two 
groups, the letters to the seven churches (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 
Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians) and the letters to the three individuals (Timothy, 
Titus, Philemon). Second, the letters are placed in the order of descending length in each 
group. Romans is the longest of the letters to the churches, 2 Thessalonians is the 
shortest; 1 Timothy is the longest of the letters to individuals, Philemon is the shortest. 
The one possible exception to this second principle is the respective lengths of Galatians 
and Ephesians. At least in the way length was counted by those responsible for the 
current order, Galatians is deemed longer than Ephesians, Philippians longer than 
Colossians. These formal principles account for the current positions of Ephesians and 
Colossians.
Map 1 goes on a page near here.
Title: The Roman Province of Asia
The Roman province of Asia encompassed a number of Greek cities in the western portion of the Anatolian 
peninsula, which came under Roman control during the second century BC.
In this commentary series, however, Ephesians and Colossians are treated together 
because of their similarities. Paul writes from prison in both (Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Col 4:3; 
4:10; 4:18). Tychicus delivers both letters (Eph 6:21/22; Col 4:7/9). The style shared by 
the two letters is more elaborate than the rest of the canonical Pauline writings (numerous 
relative clauses and parallel expressions, genitival constructions, etc.). Their contents are 
similar, sometimes in the same order. (See table 1.)
Ephesians
Colossians
Eph 1:1/2
//
Col 1:1/2
Eph 1:3/
18
//
Col 1:3/11
Eph 3:1/
13
//
Col 1:24/
2:5
Eph 4:17/
6:9
//
Col 3:5/
4:1
Eph 6:18/
20
//
Col 4:2/4
Eph 6:21/
22
//
Col 4:7/9
Table 1. Similar Passages in Ephesians and Colossians
These similarities have sometimes led scholars to posit a literary dependence of some 
kind, analogous to the way the similarities among the Synoptic Gospels or between 
2 Peter and Jude are interpreted. A few have argued that Colossians used Ephesians as a 
source (Synge 1941; Coutts 1958). Most scholars hold that Ephesians used Colossians as 
a source (see Lincoln 1990, xlvii/lviii). Still others have contended that Colossians and 
Ephesians used a third letter (e.g., van Roon 1974, 426). The argument for the use of a 
written source is based on the similarities in order.
Upon closer examination, the evidence of order unravels. The elements found in the 
same order consist primarily of the salutation, the prayer form, the parenesis, and the 
closing. These four components are standard ingredients in a Pauline letter and are in 
their natural order. When a more complete collection of similarities between the two 
letters is displayed, the impression is very different. Take the list of thirty-nine 
similarities set forth by Abbott (1897, xxiii; reproduced in table 2).
Ephesians
Colossians
Eph 1:7
//
Col 1:14
Eph 1:10
//
Col 1:20
Eph 1:15/
17
//
Col 1:3/4
Eph 1:18
//
Col 1:27
Eph 1:21
//
Col 1:16
Eph 1:22
//
Col 1:18
Eph 2:1, 
12
//
Col 1:21
Eph 2:5
//
Col 2:13
Eph 2:15
//
Col 2:14
Eph 2:16
//
Col 2:20
Eph 3:1
//
Col 1:24
Eph 3:2
//
Col 1:25
Eph 3:3
//
Col 1:26
Eph 3:7
//
Col 1:23, 
25
Eph 3:9
//
Col 1:26
Eph 4:1
//
Col 1:10
Eph 4:2
//
Col 3:12/
13
Eph 4:3/4
//
Col 3:14/
15
Eph 4:16
//
Col 2:19
Eph 4:22/
23
//
Col 3:8/10
Eph 4:25/
26
//
Col 3:8/9
Eph 4:29
//
Col 3:8; 
4:6
Eph 4:31
//
Col 3:8
Eph 4:32
//
Col 3:12
Eph 5:3
//
Col 3:5
Eph 5:4
//
Col 3:8
Eph 5:5
//
Col 3:5
Eph 5:6
//
Col 3:6
Eph 5:15
//
Col 4:5
Eph 5:19/
20
//
Col 3:16/
17
Eph 5:22*
//
Col 3:18
Eph 5:25*
//
Col 3:19
Eph 6:1*
//
Col 3:20
Eph 6:4*
//
Col 3:21
Eph 6:5/
8*
//
Col 3:22/
25
Eph 6:9*
//
Col 4:1
Eph 6:18/
20
//
Col 4:2/4
Eph 6:21/
22
//
Col 4:7/8
Table 2. Comparative Ordering of Similar Passages in Ephesians and Colossians
Taken as raw data, this list shows the violations of order (sixteen out of thirty-nine). The 
asterisks (*) indicate the household code's components (= traditional material). This 
evidence shows that where the two letters share a similar content, they do not agree in 
their order about 40 percent of the time. The agreements in order, moreover, are 
sometimes to be attributed to the order of the tradition used. If this is taken into account, 
then the two letters disagree on the order of the similar material about half the time.
One must also take into account the idiosyncrasies of the content of Colossians and 
Ephesians. That is, common material is developed or used in different ways. Selected 
examples should illustrate the point. In Colossians Christ is the creator of the cosmos 
(1:15/17); in Ephesians God is creator of the cosmos (3:9), while Christ is creator of a 
new humanity (2:15). In Colossians God's fullness fills Christ first and then the church 
(1:19; 2:9/10); in Ephesians Christ fills the church and all things (1:22/23; 3:19; 4:10). 
In Colossians Christ is the mystery (1:26/27; 2:2; 4:3); in Ephesians God's plan is the 
mystery (1:9; 3:3/4; 6:19). In Colossians the mystery is revealed to all the saints (1:26); 
in Ephesians the mystery is revealed to the apostles and prophets (3:5). In Colossians all 
things in heaven and earth are reconciled and the powers are defeated through the cross 
(1:20; 2:15); in Ephesians only through the resurrection of Christ are the powers defeated 
and the saints saved (1:18/2:10). In Colossians the saints are already filled with the 
fullness of God (2:9/10); in Ephesians the saints are being filled with the fullness of God 
(3:19). Colossians speaks of spiritual circumcision (2:11); Ephesians is silent on this 
matter. In Colossians Israel is not explicitly called the forerunner and partner of Gentiles 
in God's covenant; in Ephesians Israel is the forerunner and partner with the Gentiles in a 
new humanity (2:11/22; 3:6). In Colossians God is to be praised directly (3:16); in 
Ephesians God is praised through the Lord Jesus Christ (5:20). Colossians mentions the 
Spirit only once (1:8); Ephesians refers frequently to the Spirit (1:13/14; 1:17; 2:18, 22; 
3:5, 16; 4:3/4, 30; 6:17/18). In Colossians Paul is the only apostle; in Ephesians, he is 
one among other apostles, even if the chief among them (2:20; 3:5). In Col 4:15/16, 
ekkl_sia refers both to the local church (4:15, 16) and to the church universal (1:18, 24); 
in Ephesians it always refers to the universal church. In Colossians oikonomia refers to 
Paul's assignment or commission to preach the gospel (1:25); in Ephesians it refers to 
God's plan for the world's reunification (1:10), or it could mean either God's plan or 
Paul's stewardship (3:2, 9; Barth and Blanke 1994; Mitton 1951). These data, together 
with the disagreements in order, raise questions about either letter's use of the other. 
Indeed, the data also raise a question about the possibility of both letters' having come 
from the same mind within a short space of time.
If literary dependence is assumed, it is virtually impossible to detect which letter is 
the source for the other. The case for dependence can be argued for either side. For 
example, analyzing the alleged conflations, Polhill (1973) argues that Ephesians conflates 
in 1:7 (Col 1:14, 20); 1:15/16 (Col 1:4, 9); 2:1/5 (Col 2:13; 3:6), whereas Colossians 
conflates in 1:23 (Eph 3:7, 17); 1:21/22 (Eph 1:4; 2:16); 1:20 (Eph 1:10; 2:13). In other 
words, the directional indicators run both ways. Barth and Blanke (1994) and Best (1997; 
2004, 159 [Eph 1:15/16], 166 [Eph 1:18], 336 [Eph 3:13], 410 [Eph 4:16], 613/14 [Eph 
6:21/24]) argue that there are times when the directional indicators point to the priority 
of Ephesians. At times, however, they do not. The former contend, for example, that Col 
1:20 is best explained if Colossians excerpts and condenses Eph 2:11/16 into one brief 
sentence; also that Col 4:2/6 culls the elements from Eph 4:29; 5:15/16; 6:18/20 and 
combines them (Barth and Blanke 1994, 75/76, 79/80). They conclude, "While a close 
relationship of Colossians and Ephesians is certain, the question whether the dependence 
of one or both of these letters can be demonstrated is as yet open" (101).
The complexity of the evidence has led some to think that the two letters were 
written by two different authors from the same Pauline circle of disciples, who drew on 
early Christian oral tradition (King 1952) and opposed related forms of doctrine and 
practice (Dahl 1963, 71/72; 2000, 458; Best 1997). This proposal has significant support 
within the scholarly community. Barth and Blanke (1994, 125), Cannon (1983), and 
others, however, continue to argue for Pauline authorship of both letters. Their proposals 
agree on the literary independence of Colossians and Ephesians and seek a hypothesis 
that will account for both the similarities and differences between the two writings. In 
this commentary Colossians and Ephesians are taken together because of their 
similarities. To say they are similar, however, does not mean that one used the other as a 
source. We will treat the two letters as literarily independent writings, even if related 
closely by common thought worlds and traditions. Nor do the similarities and differences 
determine one's answer to the question of authorship.
Authorship
The idea of authorship in antiquity was complex and covered a broad spectrum of 
practices. 
First, "authorship" could mean the author wrote the work with his own hand. At the 
end of Galatians, Paul writes "See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own 
hand!" (Gal 6:11; cf. 1 Cor 16:21; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17; Phlm 19).
Varieties of Authorship: Illustrations from Cicero
1. Authorship as writing in one's own hand: "I do not think you ever 
before read a letter of mine that I had not written myself."; Letters 
to Atticus 2.23.1
2. Authorship as writing by dictation: "The bare fact that my letter is 
by the hand of a secretary will show you how busy I am."; Letters to 
Atticus 4.16.1
3. Authorship as collaboration in writing: "For my part I have 
gathered from your letters; both that which you wrote in conjunction 
with others and the one you wrote in your own name; what I saw 
myself too. . . ."; Letters to Atticus 11.5
4. Authorship as authorizing someone else to write: "If there are any 
people to whom you think that letters ought to be delivered in my 
name, pray compose them and see them delivered." Cicero, Letters to 
Atticus 3.1.5
"I am so fearfully upset both in mind and body that I have not been 
able to write many letters; I have only answered those who have 
written to me. I should like you to write in my name to Basilus and to 
anyone else you like, even to Servilius, and say whatever you think 
fit."; Letters to Atticus 11.5
5. Writing "as if" by the putative author: "But, good heavens! what 
credit I have given you in his eyes! I read him the letter written, not 
by you, but by your amanuensis."; Letters to Atticus 6.6
Second, it could also mean the author dictated the writing. Thus Paul is the author of 
Romans, in which the person who took dictation adds "I, Tertius, the writer of this letter, 
greet you in the Lord" (Rom 16:22). A secretary's role varied greatly. Some secretaries 
took dictation in longhand, a procedure that often required the use of multiple secretaries. 
According to Pliny the Elder, Julius Caesar would dictate from four to seven letters at 
once, using multiple secretaries (Nat. 7.91). Other secretaries knew a form of shorthand. 
Seneca spoke about "signs for whole words, which enable us to take down a speech, 
however rapidly uttered, matching speed of tongue by speed of hand" (Ep. 90.25). 
Quintilian expressed his concern that such rapid dictation resulted in sloppy writing (Inst. 
10.3.19/20). (Further on shorthand in the first century BC, cf. Plutarch, Cat. Min. 23.3/5; 
in the first century AD, cf. Suetonius, Tit. 3.2, and Dio Cassius 55.7.) A secretary in 
antiquity had considerable leeway in what was written, as secretaries do today (Richards 
1991). Some secretaries went beyond being copyists to being copy editors who even 
corrected slips made by their employers (Cicero, Fam. 16.17.1).
Third, collaborators could have functioned as coauthors (cf. 1 Thess 1:1, "Paul, 
Silvanus, and Timothy"; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1/2; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1; 
Phlm 1).
Fourth, someone could have authorized the writing, causing it to be written. Thus 
the NRSV translates "wrote" as "had . . . written" in John 19:19 ("Pilate also had an 
inscription written and put on the cross"); we may translate the same verb similarly in 
John 21:24: "This is the disciple who has caused these things to be written."
Fifth, a piece could be written "as if" by one individual but actually composed by a 
friend or disciple. Thus Cicero once dictated a letter to himself, using the secretary of 
Atticus and under Atticus's name. The letter contained words of praise for Caelius. In 
order to gain Caelius's favor for Atticus, he then read the letter to Caelius, as if it had 
come from Atticus. The letter had not been authorized by Atticus. (See Cicero, Att. 6.6.) 
To this practice we may compare the Pastoral Epistles or 2 Peter. The "as if" category of 
authorship is the one that is often applied to Ephesians. An exercise in ancient rhetorical 
education was the composition of speeches as though one were some ancient noteworthy 
figure. In such a composition one took the identity of another and spoke in his vocabulary 
and style, and with his values. This practice was called pros_popoeia. One took on the 
"face" (identity) of another and spoke for him in first person as if the past figure himself 
were speaking. When ancient Pythagoreans wrote not in their own names but in the name 
of their master, Pythagoras, this is what they were doing (Metzger 1972). The practice of 
writing in the name of one's teacher was also a way to acknowledge the source of the 
ideas. This practice, then, was the moral equivalent of the modern footnote system. The 
practice of speaking in the voice of another came from rhetorical training; the function of 
the practice in this type of case was the acknowledgment of the source of one's ideas. As 
Tertullian (Marc. 4.5) put it, "The works that disciples publish belong to their masters."
A sixth and final possibility is outright forgery (2 Thess 2:2, "Do not be shaken or 
alarmed . . . by a letter, as though from us, that says the day of the Lord has already 
come"). The difference between an "as if" letter and a forgery one was that the former 
maintained continuity with the master's thought while the latter distorted it, manifesting 
discontinuity with his teaching.
If Colossians is understood to have been written by Paul, it would represent a 
combination of the first, second, and third types: the author's own handwriting, dictation 
to a secretary, and coauthorship. Paul and Timothy agreed on the content, which was then 
dictated to a scribe in one way or another. At the end Paul would have written his 
authenticating sentence in his own hand. If, as Dunn hypothesizes, at the end of his life 
the apostle authorized Timothy to write to the Colossians, it combines the first, second, 
and fourth forms: Paul would have authorized Timothy to write, Timothy would have 
dictated the letter, and then at the end Paul would have written his authenticating 
sentence in his own hand. If one believes, as most scholars do, that Colossians is deutero-
Pauline, this would involve the second and fifth types of authorship. A close disciple of 
Paul who knew the apostle's mind would have invoked the apostle's authority in a new 
situation. He would have dictated the letter to a secretary and then have added the 
authenticating sentence, allegedly from Paul. Because the content of the letter reflected 
continuity with the apostle's thought, it would not have been considered a forgery but an 
expression of genuine Pauline conviction. The same processes would apply to Ephesians 
as well.
Scholars who consider Colossians or Ephesians, or both, deutero-Pauline (the fifth 
type, "as if") do so largely because their theology seems to differ at points from that of 
the authentic seven letters. Several examples illustrate the matter.
For Paul, baptism is a dying with Christ and resurrection is future (Rom 6), whereas 
for Colossians baptism is being buried and rising with Christ (2:12; 3:1, 3) and for 
Ephesians baptism is the raising of those who were dead through trespasses and sins 
(2:5).
For Paul, "mystery" refers to an eschatological teaching about the participation of 
believers in the glory of the world to come (Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 2:6; 15:51), but for 
Colossians the mystery is Christ (1:27; 2:3; 4:3) and for Ephesians the mystery is God's 
plan to reunify the cosmos, which involves inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God 
(1:9/10; 3:3/6).
For Paul, "church" refers to the local church (e.g., 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:22; 
1 Thess 1:1; Phlm 2). The Lord will return and take believers to be with him (1 Thess 
4:13/17). For Colossians, the church is both local (4:15/16) and universal (1:18, 24). 
Believers are now hidden with Christ in God and will be manifested when Christ is (3:3/
4). For Ephesians, the church is always universal. It is growing through time toward the 
full stature of Christ (4:12/13). There is no mention of the Lord's return.
Paul occasionally refers to Satan (1 Cor 5:5; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thess 3:5) but never to 
the devil or to the prince of the power of the air. Though powers are mentioned (Rom 
8:38/39), there is no sense of intense, ongoing spiritual warfare. In Colossians, the leader 
of the evil forces is the authority of darkness (1:13), and his legions are the stoicheia of 
the cosmos (2:8, 20) and the rulers and authorities (2:10, 15). Christians have died to 
these powers (2:20). In Ephesians, the enemy is the devil (4:27), the ruler of the power of 
the air (2:2), and a host of evil spirits that dwell in the heavens (2:2; 6:12; Kirby 1968, 
10/17, agreeing with Masson's arguments).
Colossians and Ephesians lack characteristic Pauline terms like sin, law, promise, 
and righteousness/justification. Nothing is said about Christ's victory over sin, law, and 
death. The stress is on Christ's triumph over the cosmic powers. Imminent eschatology is 
gone (Lohse 1975, 178). Many scholars see these differences as evidence of a profound 
change in Pauline theology. Paul, therefore, cannot be considered to be the direct or 
indirect author of these letters; rather, theologians of the Pauline circle composed the 
letters to deal with a new situation in the life of the church. While Romans and Galatians, 
genuine Pauline letters, are focused on the problem of the Gentiles, Colossians and 
Ephesians are concerned with the problems of Gentile Christians.
Attribution of Authorship to an Honored Teacher
Pythagoras, a thinker and teacher of the sixth century BC who made 
important discoveries in mathematics and music theory and founded 
a religious society, may have left no writings of his own, but his 
devoted followers customarily signed his name to their works, as the 
author of a much later biography states:
"But the men shut out all lamentation and tears and the like, letting 
neither gain nor desire nor anger nor love of honor nor any other 
such thing become a cause of difference. Rather, all the 
Pythagoreans have the same attitude toward each other as a diligent 
father would have toward his children. And they consider it a noble 
thing to attribute and allot all of their investigations to Pythagoras, 
claiming none of the honor for themselves; unless perhaps rarely, 
for there a very few whose writings are known to be their own."; 
Iamblichus (AD 250/324?), Life of Pythagoras 31.198
To modern ears, the claim that Colossians and Ephesians are pseudonymous 
documents, written by a disciple or disciples of Paul in his name after his death, often 
sounds like a charge of forgery; a dishonest practice. According to ancient sensibilities, 
however, the letters would be perceived as forgeries only if the ideas presented were not 
in continuity with those of the alleged author. So modern scholars treat Colossians and 
Ephesians as deutero-Pauline letters, meaning that they differ enough from the authentic 
Pauline letters to show that they do not come from Paul himself, but they exhibit 
sufficient continuity with his letters to warrant the conclusion that they were written by 
followers of his who saw themselves as carrying on his work and writing under his 
authority. Since Colossians and Ephesians are in the canon and part of canonical Paul, 
their religious authority for the church is unaffected by issues of authorship.
Date
External evidence locates both letters in the early Christian period. Ephesians was known, 
used, and revered early. There may be an echo of Eph 4:4/6 in 1 Clement 46.6. Ignatius, 
in To the Ephesians, echoes Eph 1:3/5 (prescript) and alludes to Eph 2:20/22 (9.1). 
Polycarp, in To the Philippians, echoes Eph 2:5, 8/9 (1.3). Elsewhere he echoes both Eph 
4:26 and Ps 4:4, calling both scripture and making Ephesians the first New Testament 
book to be called scripture by the early fathers (Pol. Phil. 12.1).
No exact quotations from Colossians can be found among the Apostolic Fathers. 
Marcion, however, quotes from every chapter of Colossians but omits, or deletes, Col 
1:15/17 and 2:17, which have to do with Christ's "body." The Valentinians also used 
Colossians quite early.
Colossians and Ephesians show similarities with the Pauline letters commonly 
deemed authentic. This data can be interpreted in two very different ways. On the one 
hand, the similarities can be taken as evidence that Colossians and Ephesians depend 
literarily on the authentic Pauline letters, indicating that these two letters are deutero-
Pauline (for Ephesians: Goodspeed 1927, 1933, 1956; Mitton 1951; for Colossians: 
Sanders 1966; Leppa 2003). Or if deutero-Pauline authorship is assumed, then the echoes 
or allusions of the authentic letters may reflect the Pauline school's intimate knowledge 
of their foundational literature. In either of these scenarios, Colossians and Ephesians are 
later than the authentic seven. On the other hand, if Paul is the author, one would expect 
to hear echoes of his earlier letters. Even so, Colossians and Ephesians must come from a 
period after the letters they "echo." Taken together, the data locate Colossians and 
Ephesians between the late 50s and the end of the first century.
Locale
Map 2 goes near here.
Title: Cities of the Province of Asia
The cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were located in the fertile Lycus River Valley. Colossae 
was about 120 miles east of Ephesus, 11 miles southeast of Laodicea, and 15 miles south-southeast of 
Hierapolis. An earthquake devastated the area in AD 60 or AD 64.
The links between the letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians, and the links between 
Colossians and the other cities of the Lycus River valley (Laodicea and Hierapolis, Col 
4:13, 16), together with key Colossian individuals' connections with Ephesus and the 
province of Asia (Timothy, 1 Tim 1:3; Tychicus, 2 Tim 4:12) point to the province of 
Asia, or at least western Asia Minor, as the likely geographical setting for the two letters.
Purpose
Taking Ephesians first, scholarship breaks into two main camps on this issue. In the first, 
scholars attempt to isolate a particular problem that Ephesians addresses and see the 
purpose of the letter in relation to that problem. Proposed problems include persecution 
(Lindemann 1985), gnostic tendencies (Pokorn_ 1992), threats from hostile powers 
(Arnold 1989), Gentile Christians' contempt for Jewish Christians (D. C. Smith 1977; 
R. P. Martin 1978, 224), a Paulinism that has lost its Jewish roots (Meade 1986, 149), and 
Jewish Christian visionaries (Goulder 1991). Since, however, no particular problem is 
specifically mentioned in the letter, all attempts to find a purpose for Ephesians in the 
correction of or defense against a single problem have failed.
The fact that no specific issue is being explicitly combated has led another group of 
scholars to a more general proposal. Some of these scholars identify the purpose of 
Ephesians as identity formation (Sampley 1993, 23; Hendrix 1988, 10; Snodgrass 1996, 
23; Lincoln 1990, lxxv; Lincoln and Wedderburn 1993, 82, 145; O'Brien 1999, 56/57; 
Mouton 2002, 112) or reorientation/resocialization/character formation (Mouton 2002, 
46, 47, 186). Others do not employ such terminology but seem to point in the same 
direction, although using a variety of schemes. When Best (2004, 75) says the purpose of 
Ephesians is to tell converted Gentiles the nature of their new life and the conduct 
required of them in it, or when Dahl (2000, 416) describes the contents of Ephesians as 
baptismal anamn_sis (remembrance) in chapters 1/3 and baptismal parenesis 
(instruction) in chapters 4/6, or when Kirby (1968) argues that Ephesians is a prayer 
(Eph 1/3) and a discourse (Eph 4/6) used liturgically as a call for the renewal of 
baptismal vows, or Jeal (2000, 59, 60/61) contends that the author's concern is for his 
audience's growth and maturity, even though the language of identity/character formation 
is not used, the idea is present. One may speak, therefore, of an emerging front in the 
study of Ephesians that sees the purpose of the letter as identity formation in a more 
general sense than the correction of a specific problem.
The purpose of Colossians has usually been seen as the defense against the problem 
of the "Colossian philosophy" (2:8). The debate among scholars has then been over the 
nature of the philosophy, whether it is a problem caused by mystery religion piety, 
Neopythagorean or Cynic philosophy, Judaism, or syncretistic folk religion (see the 
commentary on 2:6/23 for details). For this camp of scholarly opinion, Colossians is a 
defense against a worldview that is alien to Christian convictions. Recently, however, 
Meeks and Wilson have mounted a case for seeing Colossians against the backdrop of 
Hellenistic philosophy's strategies to form the moral character of its adherents. 
Colossians certainly does employ the main strategies used by moral philosophers in the 
Mediterranean world of the time (see the commentary on 1:1/2 and 1:3/23 for details). 
The letter seems to be a Christian adaptation of conventional philosophic strategies to 
form the readers of Colossians so that they might make progress in their Christian walk.
Approach
Both Colossians and Ephesians are to be read as efforts to shape Christian identity and 
enable Christian growth. They differ in that Colossians aims at progress in the face of a 
specific problem, while Ephesians is not focused against a specific problem but directed 
to Christian identity formation and growth within the context of the general cultural ethos 
of the early imperial period.
This difference requires different approaches to the two letters. Colossians is less 
problematic because scholars are accustomed to interpreting Pauline letters that focus on 
a particular problem. This traditional tack, combined with attention to the strategies of 
Hellenistic moral philosophers, should suffice to make for an intelligible reading of the 
Colossian letter. The case of Ephesians is more complex. This letter has proved to be 
"something of an enigma" to modern scholars who work with the historical method 
(O'Brien 1999, 3). As one contemporary scholar puts it, "The trouble with Ephesians can 
be summed up quite simply; it has no setting and little obvious purpose" (Muddiman 
2001, 13). Consequently, E. J. Goodspeed described Ephesians as "the Waterloo of 
commentators" (1933, 15).
The normal historical questions do not yield the necessary answers: To whom was 
the letter sent? Where did it originate? Who was its author? What were its sources? What 
problem is it trying to solve? This commentary is able to conclude only that Ephesians is 
probably a deutero-Pauline letter written between the late 50s and AD 100, literarily 
independent of Colossians, likely addressed to some audience in western Asia Minor, and 
intended to reinforce their Christian identity and promote their Christian growth. This is 
very general. What is needed is a different set of questions, a different perspective, a 
different approach that will render Ephesians less of an enigma.
To help find this new perspective I make two suggestions. First, one must recognize 
that the audience functions not only as the cause of the composition of Ephesians but also 
as the catalyst for the selection of its language, style, arguments, and topoi. That is, the 
author would have had to adapt himself to his audience in order to establish a mutual 
frame of reference between them (Mouton 2002, 117). There is nothing radical here. 
Communicators in general attempt to produce texts that are maximally relevant to their 
audiences. This requires the use of information shared with an audience as a springboard 
for introducing new information (Sperber and Wilson 1986). Ephesians must reflect to 
some degree the cultural, intellectual, and religious ethos of its intended audience. If so, 
from the letter one may infer various dimensions of the Zeitgeist of the readers. This 
"world" of the audience may then be fleshed out from what we know otherwise about the 
milieu.
Second, a reading of Ephesians should then be done in terms of the authorial 
audience (Rabinowitz 1977, 1987, 1989). The questions to ask are: How would the 
ancient auditors at the end of the first century have heard Ephesians? What would it have 
meant to them in their "world"? This involves a close reading of the text of Ephesians in 
dialogue with aspects of the culture that have been signaled by the letter's argument. In 
this approach, it is not this or that particular problem that is addressed but the culture at 
large, or at least the parts of the larger culture reflected in the topics addressed in the 
argument of the letter.
Because of the ongoing dominance of the historical paradigm in New Testament 
studies it is necessary to say a word about comparative material and its use in this 
commentary. In the History of Religions School, parallels detected in the larger culture 
were assumed to demonstrate borrowing by Christians from non-Christian sources. 
Christianity was portrayed as a syncretistic religion created out of pieces taken over from 
here, there, and everywhere. Commentators who rejected this approach and defended the 
integrity of the Christian movement were tempted to discredit pagan parallels with 
arguments like, "The parallel material is too late to have been of use by the New 
Testament authors," or, "The parallels may reflect verbal similarity but lack essential 
continuity with Christian positions and are hence irrelevant for New Testament studies." 
This is not the way comparative material is understood or used in a reading that is 
sensitive to the authorial audience; rather, one should ask, "How would the original 
auditors have heard what was said?"
It is assumed that the Christian movement has its own essential integrity. It is also 
assumed that no one could communicate in the Mediterranean world without some 
participation in the culture. Every reader brought a cultural repertoire to the text. In this 
method, then, parallels are used to reconstruct the authorial audience. Only thereby can 
one hope to answer the question, "How would an ancient Mediterranean auditor have 
heard Ephesians?" In what immediately follows, I will attempt to describe those parts of 
the ancient cultural repertoire that seem indicated by the points of interest in Ephesians 
(and Colossians as well).
Unity
Given the pervasive theme of unity in Ephesians, the "world" of Ephesians must 
have included a desire for or emphasis upon unity and the overcoming of factions. In 
other sources geographically and chronologically close to Ephesians, one also hears 
arguments urging unity on divided factions (Dio Chrysostom, Orations 34, 38/41, 48; 
Aelius Aristides, Orations 23/24; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4.8/9; Pliny, 
Epistles 6/8). These sources continued a long Greek tradition (e.g., Isocrates, Ep. 1, 2, 3, 
9; Demosthenes, Epistles 1; cf. Mitchell 1991, 62/63). That factions were also a problem 
for early Christian communities is evident from 1 Cor 1/4, in the 50s, and 1 Clement, in 
the 90s.
Alexander the Great as the Great Uniter
"[Alexander] came as a heaven-sent governor to all and as a 
mediator for the whole world; those whom he could not persuade to 
unite with him, he conquered by force of arms, and he brought 
together into one body all men everywhere, uniting and mixing in one 
great loving-cup, as it were, men's lives, their characters, their 
marriages, their very habits of life. He bade them all consider . . . as 
their stronghold and protection his camp."; Plutarch, On 
Alexander's Great Fortune and Virtue, Moralia 4.329C
Augustus as the Great Bringer of Peace
"Janus Quirinus, which our ancestors ordered to be closed whenever 
there was peace, secured by victory, throughout the whole domain of 
the Roman people on land and sea, and which, before my birth is 
recorded to have been closed but twice in all since the foundation of 
the city, the senate ordered to be closed thrice while I was 
princeps."; The funerary inscription of Augustus (Res gestae divi 
Augusti 13)
"Never have the Romans and their allies thrived in such peace and 
plenty as that which was afforded them by Augustus Caesar from the 
time he assumed absolute authority."; Strabo, Geography 6.4.2
"Dread Sire and Guardian of man's race,
"To thee, O Jove, the Fates assign
"Our Caesar's charge; his power and place
"Be next to thine.
"Whether the Parthian, threatening Rome,
"His eagles scatter to the wind.
"Or follow to their eastern home
"Cathay and Ind,
"Thy second let him rule below
"Thy car shall shake the realms above;
"Thy vengeful bolts shall overthrow
"Each guilty grove."
; Horace, Ode 1.12 (trans. John Conington)
Mediterranean peoples looked back to Alexander the Great as the great uniter. For 
Plutarch, ever since Augustus, the Caesars had assumed the role of Alexander the Great 
and were fulfilling what he had begun. "Rome's political and military successes were the 
means of overcoming factionalism and establishing a single state in which all would be 
governed under a single justice and obey a single purpose" (Odell-Scott 2003, 161). A 
dominant theme in the propaganda of imperial Rome was that the ideal king, Augustus, 
had restored order and brought peace to the Mediterranean world, the pax romana (e.g., 
Virgil, Aen. 6.851/53; Ecl. 4). In the ancient Mediterranean world it was widely assumed 
that the harmony of the political unit was an imitation of the concord of the universe. The 
king's rule was necessary to produce this ideal condition (Cairns 1989, 10/28). This 
unity, Roman propaganda asserted, the Caesars had accomplished. Horace describes 
Augustus as Jupiter's terrestrial regent and viceroy (Odes 1.12.49/52).
Ephesians would have been heard by people who shared this concern about 
overcoming factionalism and restoring order and were familiar with Roman imperial 
propaganda that touted the pax romana. Given this cultural obsession for a unity that 
would overcome the deep divisions among peoples, and given the Roman propaganda 
that this reunification of the cosmos is precisely what the Caesars had done, the theme of 
the reunification through Christ in Ephesians (e.g., 1:10; 2:14/15; 3:10; 4:3, 13, 31/32; 
5:22/6:9) would certainly have shaped the identity and formed the character of readers 
from western Asia Minor over against the regnant imperial propaganda. This letter's 
focus on unity and the reunification of the cosmos takes on fresh meaning when read 
against the background of the Mediterranean hunger and thirst for just such a reality.
Hostile Powers
Given the repeated references to evil powers in Ephesians, the "world" of the letter 
must surely have been concerned about such hostile forces and their effect on human 
lives. This is the significant contribution of Arnold (1989) to the study of Ephesians. The 
Greek magical papyri reflect this ethos. "The people whose religion is reflected in the 
papyri agree that humanity is inescapably at the whim of the forces of the universe. . . . 
Individuals seem to be nothing but marionettes at the end of power lines, pulled here and 
there without their knowledge by invisible forces" (Betz 1986, xlvii). Magic provided a 
sense of security to the insecure, a sense of help for the helpless, and a sense of comfort 
for the hopeless. For example, a first/second-century papyrus is concerned with gaining 
relief from demon possession (PGM LXXXV. 1/6). Plutarch says that magi instructed 
those who were possessed by demons to repeat to themselves magical words in order to 
drive out the evil spirits (Quaest. conv. 7.5). These words were the Ephesian Grammata, 
six terms (askion, kataskion, tetrax, lix, danameneus, sision) believed to have power over 
evil spirits (so Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.242; cf. Usami 1983, 17). People also felt 
victimized by an impersonal, amoral Fate that affected them down to the minutiae of their 
lives and by fickle Fortune that seemed like a tempest at sea. Best summarizes the 
situation well: "Almost everyone in the ancient world believed that the way they lived 
was controlled by the stars, various deities and sub-deities and by magic exercised by 
other people. Fate . . . determined what should happen" (Best 2004, 48). No deity who 
did not offer relief from such oppression could expect devotees in this milieu. So in an 
aretalogy of Isis from the end of the first/beginning of the second century, the goddess 
says, "I am Isis. . . . I overcome Fate. Fate hearkens to me" (Grant 1953, 133). In 
Apuleius's Metamorphoses, when Isis has delivered Lucius from being in the form of a 
donkey, the priest says to him, "Fortune has no power over those who have devoted 
themselves to the majesty of our goddess" (11.15, Grant 1953, 139). He declares, "See, 
here is Lucius, freed from his former miseries by the providence of the great goddess 
Isis" (Grant 1953, 140). At the end of Book 11, Lucius addresses the goddess:
O holy and eternal guardian of the human race. . . . Neither day nor night, nor any moment 
in time, ever passes by without thy blessings, but always on land and sea, thou watchest 
over men; thou drivest away from them the tempests of life and stretchest out over them thy 
saving right hand, wherewith thou dost unweave even the inextricable skein of the Fates; the 
tempests of Fortune thou dost assuage and restrainest the baleful motions of the stars. Thee 
the gods above adore, thee the gods below worship. (Grant 1953, 143)
When Mediterranean peoples heard Ephesians and Colossians read, they would have 
understood their words about hostile powers and would have listened intently to what 
they said about victory over these alien forces. The proclamation that Christ was exalted 
"far above all rule and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not 
only in this age but also in the age to come" (Eph 1:21), with "all things under his feet" 
(1:22) was a claim to which citizens of Mediterranean antiquity would listen with rapt 
attention. The assertion that Christians also have been exalted and are seated together in 
the heavenlies (2:6) would have made a Gentile's heart beat faster with its promise of 
deliverance from victimization. The assurance that the very armor of God could be 
assumed by Christians to enable them to stand against the hostile powers (6:11/17) 
would have been thrilling. For followers of Christ to experience such saving strength and 
to think of themselves as free from alien powers would have been an identity-shaping 
event.
Benefaction
The readers of Ephesians lived in a world whose public spaces were knee deep in 
honorific inscriptions. These decrees were the most ubiquitous public documents of 
Greco-Roman antiquity. They were designed to honor benefactors, both human and 
divine, for significant public or private service.
DESIGN: Illustration A, if usable, goes near here. (For captions, credits, 
file names, etc, please refer to the document titled "Illustrations for 
Talbert, Eph-Col."
Although the format of these decrees could vary, either by omission or relocation of 
some of the elements, the basic structure was as follows (Harrison 2003; Gauthier 1985, 
9/10; Ma 1999, 183/84):
	1.	A preamble, which named the magistrate under whom the proposal was made, the 
date of the proposal, and other information that helped identify the resolution 
(e.g., "To Domitian when the proconsul was Marcus Fulvius Gillo").
	2.	An announcement that a resolution had been passed (e.g., "It was resolved by the 
people and the city and the ephors to praise Poseidippos").
	3.	Identification of the one who proposed the resolution (e.g., "Dionasodorus 
Alopekethen the son of Zopyros moved the motion").
	4.	The eulogy, introduced by "whereas" and followed by the reasons for honoring 
the benefactor (e.g., "Whereas Krateia, the priestess, both offered the sacrifice at 
the beginning of the year and came to offer the remaining sacrifices on behalf of 
the guild . . ."). The style of this section involved long, ponderous sentences that 
could go on perhaps for as many as eighty lines.
	5.	A manifesto clause, introduced by "therefore" and summing up the response of 
the people to the generosity of the one just eulogized (e.g., "In order that our 
gratitude is manifest, we shall show our goodwill and shall reverence Tiberius, 
son of Augustus, and we will consider his friends our friends and his enemies our 
enemies . . ."). The ethos of reciprocity is evident here: the return of favors for 
favors done.
	6.	A wish for good fortune for the resolution's implementation.
	7.	The resolution proper, listing the honors apportioned to the benefactor (e.g., "It 
was resolved to set up this decree on a stone stele in the most conspicuous place 
in the gymnasium"; or, "It was resolved to praise Krateia and crown her with an 
olive branch crown and to set up this decree on a stone monument").
These honorific decrees reflected the reciprocity system of ancient Mediterranean culture. 
That is, a gift was given; a gift was returned; the gift returned then became an incentive 
for more benefactions, and so the cycle continued (e.g., "Whereas X has acted for the 
common good, therefore we honor this benefactor so as to show proper gratitude and so 
that others, when they see us bestowing honors on deserving people, will themselves be 
moved to do the same type of things for our city").
The apostle Paul knew this system and wrote about benefaction, both human and 
divine. An example of human benefaction is found in the letter of Philemon. One hears of 
the slave, Onesimus, who seeks out the apostle to intercede for him with his master. Paul 
was the respected spiritual father and benefactor of Onesimus's master, Philemon, and so 
was in a position to appeal for a return on his prior benefaction on Philemon's behalf 
(Harrison 2003, 328/43). An example of divine benefaction may be found in Rom 1:18/
32. There Paul portrays God as the dishonored benefactor. Whereas the culture regarded 
it as axiomatic that humans owed the gods honor (tim_) and glory/repute (doxa) for their 
beneficence, Paul portrays unregenerate humanity as incapable of giving appropriate 
honor and glory to their creator. God, then, is a dishonored benefactor. Yet in Rom 5:6/
11 God is depicted as responding with an unparalleled act of favor: Christ died for the 
ungrateful enemies of God (Harrison 2003, 215/27).
Recently there has been an attempt to view Ephesians not only within the system of 
ancient benefaction, with its reciprocity principle, but also as a Christian adaptation of the 
honorific decree (Danker 1982; Hendrix1988; Mouton 2002). Ephesians, however, does 
not conform to the formal structure of the honorific decree sketched above. It is, 
therefore, not possible to call it such. Having said this, however, it should be noted that 
the ethos of the system of benefaction and its accompanying principle of reciprocity are 
found beyond honorific decrees. Consider the royal letter from Ptolemy II to Miletus 
(262/261 BC; Welles 1934, 71/73). The king says that he has formerly shown kindness 
to the city. He then says that the city has demonstrated goodwill toward him. He praises 
the city and says he will try to return benefactions to them. He then summons or 
encourages (parakaloumen) them to maintain the same policy of friendship toward him in 
the future, so that in view of their faithfulness he may exercise even more care for the 
city. Here the reciprocal exchange between the king and the city continues in an ongoing 
cycle. It is recounted in the first person by the king.
Letter of Ptolemy II to Miletus (c. 262/261 BC)
"King Ptolemy to the council and the people of Miletus, greeting. I 
have in former times shown all zeal in behalf of your city both 
through a gift of land and through care in all other matters as was 
proper because I saw that our father was kindly disposed toward the 
city and was the author of many benefits for you and had relieved you 
of harsh and oppressive taxes and tolls which certain of the kings had 
imposed. Now also, as you guard steadfastly your city and our 
friendship and alliance; for my son and Callicrates and the other 
friends who are with you have written me what a demonstration you 
have made of good-will toward us; we knowing these things praise 
you highly and shall try to requite your people through benefactions, 
and we summon [parakaloumen] you for the future to maintain the 
same policy of friendship toward us so that in view of your 
faithfulness we may execise even more our care for the city. We have 
ordered Hegestratus to address you at greater length on these 
subjects and to give you our greeting. Farewell." ; trans. Welles 
1934: 72/73.
Ephesians portrays God as a divine benefactor. The letter, however, does not have 
God speaking in the first person, recounting his blessings, benefactions, and grace 
directed toward humanity. Instead, God's ambassador (Eph 6:20) speaks. He is an 
ambassador to whom the divine benefactor has revealed his eternal plan for the cosmos 
(3:3, 7/9; cf. Col 1:25/26). "Paul" begins by blessing God. Ephesians 1:3/14 is a eulogy 
(berakah) of the divine benefactor that looks forward to the expected, appropriate 
response of praise (1:6, 12, 14) for the divine benefactions bestowed. The ethos of the 
benefaction system is clearly present. Furthermore, the intercessory prayer (1:16b/19; 
3:13, 14/19) offered by the ambassador asks God for the auditors of the letter to have 
experiential awareness of the divine benefactions. The doxology (3:20/21) then offers 
praise to the divine benefactor for the power of his working in the readers. Again the 
ethos of the benefaction system is present.
Since the reciprocity system involved the beneficiaries in the performance of certain 
duties on behalf of the benefactor, duties that expressed their continuing gratitude and 
loyalty, Eph 4:1/6:20 can be read as part of the expected response of Christians to their 
divine benefactor. It begins, "I, therefore . . . summon [beseech, encourage; parakal_] 
you to walk worthily [axi_s] of the calling with which you were called." The term 
parakalein was used in royal letters that reflected the benefaction system to call 
beneficiaries to an appropriate response. Two examples suffice. The letter of Ptolemy II 
to Miletus, cited above, has the king say, "We summon [parakaloumen] you to maintain 
the same policy of friendship in the future" (Welles 1934, 71/73, line 12). The letter of 
Antiochus II to Erythrae, after 261 BC, relates how the city sent the king an honorific 
decree. The king accepts the honor and responds by granting the city autonomy and tax 
exemption. He then summons (parakaloumen) the city to remember suitably those by 
whom they have been benefited (Welles 1934, 78/80, line 30). In Eph 4:1, God's 
ambassador uses the technical term employed in the benefaction system to call for an 
appropriate response from the beneficiaries. Such a response would include maintaining 
the unity God has given in uniting Jew and Gentile in one new humanity (4:1/16); 
putting off the ways of Gentile excess and putting on the truth as they have learned it in 
Jesus (4:17/5:21), which includes not only one's daily walk but also one's way of 
worship; concord in the household (5:22/6:9); and empowered resistance to spiritual 
forces of evil (6:10/20).
One may legitimately conclude that although Ephesians does not adhere to the 
structure of the honorific decree and is not precisely a royal letter, it does breathe the 
same air of benefaction and reciprocity. It is difficult to think that the Gentile auditors in 
western Asia Minor would have heard it otherwise. The very participation of the letter in 
the culture of benefaction with its corollary of reciprocity would, however, have posed 
significant risks for the Christian ethos of Ephesians (and Colossians) if left without 
critique and uncorrected. These dangers were most ominous in the sphere of soteriology.
The cultural assumption of many was that the gods were beneficent and showed it 
through their gifts to humans. Human gratitude to the gods originates here in the divine 
initiative (Seneca, Ben. 2.30.2). There would have been no problem for a Paulinist here. 
Paul and his school believed the same thing. The culture held two other assumptions, 
however, that would have raised a red flag for the Pauline tradition. First, the reciprocity 
system of antiquity supposed that the gifts given by the gods elicited gratitude from 
humans. This gratitude was believed to be the motivation and driving force for an 
appropriate response of humans to the gods. The Pauline tradition, however, held that 
humans, in and of themselves, are incapable of showing honor and gratitude to their 
divine benefactor (cf. Rom 1:18/32). The reciprocity system did not take human 
sinfulness adequately into account. If humans are to respond rightly to God, God must 
enable it (cf. Phil 1:27; 2:13). Second, the reciprocity system assumed that once the 
divine beneficence had been shown to humans, the gods placed themselves under 
counter-obligation. Humans through proper cultic activity could obligate the gods so they 
would be required to show gratitude to their worshipers. The Pauline tradition, however, 
held that in the divine-human relationship God always has the initiative, humans always 
respond. Any attempt by humans to seize the initiative in the relationship and obligate 
God to respond favorably is regarded as legalism, false religion.
In summary, for the Pauline tradition God always has the initiative and humans 
always respond. Further, when humans respond rightly, it is only because God has 
enabled them to do so. Ephesians, then, uses the cultural phenomenon of benefaction in 
its understanding of God. At the same time, however, Ephesians corrects the cultural 
understanding of reciprocity. As the late first-century auditors listened to the reading of 
the letter, they would have been aware throughout of a variety of devices whereby the 
author of Ephesians focused repeatedly on the divine enablement of humans' relationship 
to their heavenly benefactor (e.g., in Christ, sealing, exaltation, the working of God's 
power in believers, believers' being clothed with God's armor, etc.).
Loose Living, Disorderly Worship
Yet another concern in the world of the auditors of Ephesians (and Colossians) in 
western Asia Minor would have been "loose living" and disorderly worship. The 
Ephesian letter reflects on the readers' loose living as a problem before their conversion 
(2:1/2, "You were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked"; 2:5, "we were 
dead through our trespasses") and after their initiation into Christ (4:17, "no longer live 
as the Gentiles do"; 4:22, "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner 
of life"; 4:28, "Let the thief no longer steal"; 5:11, "Take no part in the unfruitful works 
of darkness"; 5:18, "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery"). Some, starting 
from Eph 5:18, have contended that the auditors were influenced by the practices of the 
cult of Dionysius that, according to Plutarch (Ant. 24.3) existed in Ephesus, Smyrna, 
Pergamon, and Philadelphia (Rogers 1979). This cult certainly involved drunkenness, but 
this vice was not limited to just the one cult. Achilles Tatius relates, "It was the festival of 
Artemis and drunken people were roaming everywhere, so that all night long a crowd 
filled the entire agora" (Leuc. Cli. 6.3). Quite apart from religious cults, there was also 
the everyday debauchery such as one reads about in Petronius's Satyricon (e.g., 
Trimalchio's nighttime revelries). Others have linked the cult of Demeter/Cybele in 
Hierapolis to crude language and shameful things done in secret (Kreitzer 1998b). Once 
again, things done in secret have a much broader scope than one specific cult. Fear of 
secret nighttime meetings was widespread in antiquity. Such gatherings were generally 
suspect of both conspiracy (e.g., Cicero, Cat. 1.1; 3.5/6; Juvenal, Sat. 8.231/35) and 
immorality (e.g., Cicero, Leg. 2.35; Livy 39.8). Furthermore, the issues addressed in 
Ephesians are broader than drunkenness or secret nighttime gatherings.
Wisdom of Solomon's critique of Gentile culture covers a broad spectrum closer to 
what we read about in Ephesians. In 14:22/27 a roll call of Gentile misbehavior is 
described.
It is not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife . . . 
and they call such evils peace. . . . They no longer keep either their lives or their marriages 
pure, but they treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a 
raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, 
confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sex perversion, 
disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery. For the worship of idols . . . is the beginning 
and cause and end of every evil. (RSV; emphasis added)
Against the background of such a value system, Gentile converts had to be taught a 
different way. Ephesians refers to being "taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus"
(4:21; cf. Rom 6:17; 1 Thess 4:1/2; 2 Thess 3:6).
Early Christian worship also sometimes took on the disorder of disreputable pagan 
cults. Acts 2:13 indicates that some opponents believed the Christians' enthusiasm was 
due to drunkenness ("They are filled with new wine"). In 1 Cor 14:23, prophecy was 
preferred over uninterpreted tongues because if the latter characterized Christian worship 
"and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" In 1 Cor 14:26/
33 the apostle instructs the congregation to worship in an orderly fashion "for God is a 
God not of disorder but of peace." Jude 12/13, 16, speaks about Christians who were 
blemishes on the church's love feasts (cf. 2 Pet 2:13; 1 Cor 11:21, "and another becomes 
drunk" at the supper). Gentiles needed guidance about both loose living and disorderly 
worship.
These data indicate that Gentile values were at odds with the Jewish and Christian 
tradition and that a thorough reeducation of Gentile converts was needed. The Christian 
walk had to be spelled out at length. Against such a background, it is not at all surprising 
to be confronted with an elaborate Two Ways form in Eph 4:17/5:21 (and Col 3:1/17). 
Christian formation had to address Gentile loose living and disorderly worship. 
Resocialization was an imperative.
Households
For Romans in the early imperial period, the household provided the basic 
undergirding of the state. The health of the household was considered essential to the 
stability of the state (Jeffers 1998, 376). According to Aristotle a household (oikos), in its 
simplest form, involved property, a marriage partner, and either an ox or a slave (Pol. 
1.1252b 10). Several households made up a city; several cities made up a state. Hence 
Pythagoras (Iamblichus, Vita 30) says, "For again, a just arrangement of household 
[oikia] concerns is the principle of good order in cities. For cities are constituted from 
households (oik_n)."
Given the centrality of households to cities and to states, it is not surprising that 
there was a science of household management. Several extant manuals are known. 
Xenophon's Oeconomicus is a discussion about estate management, as is pseudo-
Aristotle's Oeconomica. In addition, one finds numerous portions of such instruction 
remaining from antiquity (cf. Balch 1988). One stream of opinion about household 
management comes from the Neopythagorean moralists. One may get a feel for the ethos 
of the times by listening to this succession of opinion (for which see Balch 1992, the 
source of the following references). Bryson says, "The topos 'household management' is 
complete in four things. The first of them concerns money, the second slaves, the third 
the wife, and the fourth children" (Oecon.).
We may take first the relation of wife and husband. Consider Callicratidas, who 
discusses the husband's rule of the wife: "But he does not rule over her with despotic 
power: for he is diligently attentive to her welfare" (De dom. felic. 106.1/10). Also, he 
says, proper wives "are also naturally well disposed to be instructed by and to fear 
(phob_th_men) and love their husbands" (107.8/11). Charondas commands, "let everyone 
love his lawful wife" (Proem).
The relation of children and parents may be taken up next. Iamblichus has 
Pythagoras teach that children should love their parents (Vita 22.13), honor them (22.18/
19), and be obedient to them (23.8/9). Regarding parental responsibility, Diotogenes 
asks, "What therefore is the principle of every polity? The education of youth" (De piet. 
76.2/4).
Regarding slaves, the Neopythagoreans address only masters. Zaleukos says, "It is 
fitting that slaves should do what is just through fear" (Proem 228.13/14). Theano says, 
"Too much relaxation produces the dissonance of disobedience, but where severity is 
urged too far, nature herself gives way. In all things, moderation is the best policy" 
(198.25/28).
In the societies of Gentile western Asia Minor, where the health of a household was 
the barometer of the health of the state, the issue of household management would have 
been a central concern. That society understood household health in terms of the proper 
submission of wives, children, and slaves. The converted Gentile readers of Ephesians 
and Colossians would have wanted to know what difference Christ made in the 
organization and management of a Christian household.
Having thus begun to enter into the social world of the late first-century AD and to 
get a feel for what concerned its citizens, it is time to proceed from introduction to 
interpretation. But first let us note one final implication of the similarities between 
Ephesians and Colossians. Since the two letters cover much of the same content, there 
will inevitably be some repetition in the commentary. Since Ephesians will be treated 
first, the greatest amount of detail will be encountered there. When reading the 
commentary on Colossians in the parts with parallels in Ephesians, the reader, after 
perusing the commentary on Colossians, is urged to turn to the similar content in 
Ephesians for additional information. When reading the commentary on Ephesians, the 
reader should consult the parallel in Colossians, where there may also be comments that 
supplement the material in Ephesians.
Ephesians

Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:

Bible. N.T. Ephesians -- Commentaries.
Bible. N.T. Colossians -- Commentaries.