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An important argument in favor of the encyclical theory of the

epistle to the Ephesians is based upon the peculiarities found in the

epistle itself. Yet these unusual features (e.g., the lack of personal

greetings, the unusual statements in 1:15, 3:2, and 4:21, etc.) can all

be satisfactorily explained in the light of an original Ephesian destina-

tion. After an examination of early scribal habits and the theme of

the epistle, the author concludes that the peculiarities of the letter are

not conclusive reasons for rejecting the strong textual and historical

testimony in favor of the Ephesian address.


*   *   *




THE epistle which is commonly known as "Ephesians" has in

recent years been the subject of much critical discussion. The

chief question about the Ephesian letter is its authenticity: Did the

apostle Paul write the letter, as the epistle claims, or is it the work of

an imitator? Of lesser importance, but related to the previous ques-

tion, is the problem of the address of the Ephesian epistle. To whom

was the letter written?

Since the second century, the letter has been universally known

as the Epistle of the Ephesians. Many modern scholars, however, in

view of the omission in several manuscripts of the words “in Ephesus

(e]n   ]Efe<sw) in 1: 1, have rejected the Ephesian destination. A widely

held view, initially proffered by Beza and popularized by Ussher, is

that the Ephesian epistle was not written to any particular church,

but rather was an encyclical letter to a group of churches in Asia

Minor. The apostle Paul, therefore, when he penned the letter, left a

blank in the preface (1:1) which was to be filled in by Tychicus as he

distributed copies to the various churches. In this scheme, the reading


of the Textus Receptus goes back to a copy sent to Ephesus, whereas

the Alexandrian manuscripts p46, א, and B stem from a copy in which

the blank had never been filled up. It is hypothesized that since the

epistle was distributed from Ephesus, the seat of the chief church in

Asia Minor, it soon came to be known as the Epistle to the Ephe-

sians, and the words “in Ephesus(e]n   ]Efe<sw) subsequently found

their way into the majority of manuscripts.1

Arguments in favor of this view are presented in various ways by

its proponents. When condensed and combined, the main lines of

evidence appealed to in support of the encyclical theory are the


1. The omission of  e]n   ]Efe<sw  in 1: I is supported by the oldest

Greek manuscripts of the Pauline epistles: p46, א, and B. These

Alexandrian codices are generally considered to be the most reliable

authorities to the text of the NT, and to many, almost always

preserve the original reading.

2. Several early Church Fathers can be cited in support of the

omission of  e]n   ]Efe<sw.  Origen did not know of the words in his text.

Marcion attributed the epistle to the Laodiceans. Basil said that he

was aware of old manuscripts which did not contain e]n   ]Efe<sw.

Though there is disagreement on the point, the Latin Father Tertul-

lian may not have known the words in his text.2

3. The impersonal style of the letter is inexplicable if the epistle

was addressed to the Ephesian church. This argument is based on

internal evidence from the epistle itself. Thiessen gives the evidence

for it in detail:


The internal evidence strongly supports Aleph, B, and 672. It

would be strange indeed for Paul to say to the Church at Ephesus that

he knew of their conversion only by report (1:15, 4:21), since he had

spent three years with them (Acts 20:17, 31). It would be equally

strange for him to say that this church knew him only by hearsay (3:2)

and that they must judge by what he had written as to whether or not

God had given him a revelation of the truth (3:2-4). It would also seem

strange that he should send no greetings to a church that he knew so


1E. Gaugler, Der Epheserbrief(Zürich: EVZ-Verlag, 1966) 4. Cf. H. C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 243-44.

2The actual statements of these Fathers may be found in T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1897) ii-iii. As far as the testimony of Tertullian goes, the problem is his use of the word titulum. Did he intend for it to refer to the superscript of the epistle or to the prescript of 1: I? A good discussion of this question is offered by G. Stoeckhardt, Commentary on St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, trans. Martin S. Sommer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1952) 14-17.



intimately. As Findley says: “Not once does he address his hearers as

‘brethren’ or ‘beloved’; ‘my brethren’ in Eph. 6:10 is an insertion of the

copyists. There is not a single word of familiarity or endearment in the

whole letter. The benediction at the end (6:23, 24) is given in the third

person, not in the second as everywhere else.”3


Metzger adds that the epistle does not deal with the mistakes, needs,

or personalities of one individual congregation.4 These writers main-

tain that a letter written by Paul to his beloved Ephesus should

contain personal references and greetings. Since these features are

absent, the epistle could not have been intended solely for the church

at Ephesus.

The arguments in support of the encyclical theory at first appear

to be very convincing. However, the view is open to numerous

objections. Of major importance is the fact that there is absolutely no

textual evidence to support the suggestion that Paul left a blank space

for the addresses of the various churches after the words “who are”

(toi?j  ou#sin). The reading preserved in p46, א, B, and others shows

only an uninterrupted sequence of words. This reading, however, is

most unnatural, and it is obvious by comparison with the other

Pauline epistles that after  toi?j ou#sin a geographical designation is

intended to be read. Unless one is willing to resort to an emendation

of the text,5 the only candidate with textual attestation for the

original address is the reading  e]n   ]Efe<sw  supported by the great

majority of Greek manuscripts (including Alexandrinus and several

other Alexandrian witnesses), the entire phalanx of ancient versions,

and most early Fathers. It is, furthermore, the only address supported

by ecclesiastical tradition. No other church (or group of Asian

churches) ever claimed the epistle for itself. The only exception to this


3Thiessen, Introduction, 243.

4Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (New York: Abingdon, 1965) 235.

                    5 James P. Wilson (“Note on the Textual Problem of Ephesians 1:1,” ET 16 [1948-

1949] 225-26) suggests that after toi?j ou#sin the numeral e]ni is to be read. Other

conjectures are the following: A. van Roon (The Authenticity of Ephesians, trans. S.

Prescod-Jokel [Leiden: Brill, 1974], 84) suggests toi?j a[goi<j toi?j ou#sin e]n  [Ieropo<lei 

kai>  Laodikei% pistoi?j  e]n  Xrist&?   ]Ihsou?  ("The Text of Ephesians 1:1, “NTS 15

[1968-1969] 248). Richard Batey thinks ou#sin is a corruption of  ]Asi<aj (“Critical—The Destination of Ephesians,” JBL 82. [1963] 101).  Though none of these emendations are

unreasonable, the principal objection is over the validity of such a procedure in a

passage where a reading with good documentary support is extant. A good critique of

the conjectural readings in 1:1 is found in a recent article by Ernest Best, “Ephesians

1:1” (Text and Interpretation: Studies in the New Testament presented to Matthew

Black, eds. Ernest Best and R. McL. Wilson [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1979] 36-44.

                        GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL             62


tradition is the claim of the heretic Marcion that the letter was

addressed to the Laodiceans, an assertion that Tertullian insisted was

attributable to Marcion's propensity to “tamper” (interpolare) with

the text.6 Thus if the words “in Ephesus” are original, the traditional

view that the epistle was addressed and sent to the church at Ephesus

is correct and must be accepted, regardless of whatever interpretive

problems this may produce.

What of these frequently cited internal objections to the Ephe-

sian address? Can they be answered if the traditional view is upheld?

Those who favor the reading of the Chester Beatty papyrus and early

uncials are convinced that the general nature of the epistle is the final

argument for their position. There are, however, many scholars who

see no contradiction at all between the epistle’s unusual features and

the inclusion of the words “in Ephesus.” In the remainder of this

article the writer would like to suggest simple alternative interpreta-

tions for the lack of personal greetings, the peculiar statements in

1:15, 3:2, and 4:21, and other internal objections to the Ephesian

address in the hope of showing that there is no necessary contradic-

tion between these features and the traditional view, and that, in fact,

these peculiarities may possibly best be understood in the light of an

Ephesian destination.




On the surface, it appears strange indeed that Paul would include

no greetings in an epistle addressed to a church in which he had

served for nearly three years. The facts, however, seem to present us

with a different situation. Lenski, for instance, calls the arguments

from the impersonal style of the letter “unconvincing.”7 He points out

that 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians all lack

personal greetings, yet all were written to congregations founded by

Paul, as was the church at Ephesus. On the other hand, the Epistle to

the Romans has more greetings than any other epistle of Paul, yet

this church was not founded by the apostle. Of the nine Pauline

epistles which are addressed to churches (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and

Philemon being excluded), five lack personal greetings (2 Corin-

thians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Ephesians), and four

contain them (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Philippians,

this latter epistle not mentioning any individuals by name). Lenski



6Adv. Marc., V 17, quoted by Brook Foss Westcott, Saint Paul's Epistle to the

Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950) xxiii.

7R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, to the

 Ephesians and to the Philippians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1951) 334.



Why this difference? This is the real question and not the one

regarding Ephesians alone. A blanket answer regarding the five cannot

be given. Each letter stands by itself whether it is with or without

greetings from or to individuals or from churches. That means that we

can give only very tentative and partial answers to the questions as to

why five letters are minus greetings, why four have greetings, and why

these greetings are what they are, in one letter (Romans) a long list, in

one only a summary (Philippians), both of these letters being different

from the other two as far as greetings are concerned. As regards

Ephesians, personal greetings are not missed by those who see the

exalted subject and tone of the epistle.8


Lenski, in another place, concludes:

Therefore, the presence or absence of greetings determines neither

whether a congregation was founded by Paul nor whether a letter

written by him is intended for only one or for several congregations

whether these were founded by him or not.9


In a similar vein, Guthrie discusses the remarkable number of

personal greetings in the Roman epistle, a phenomenon which has

prompted some scholars to conclude that chapter 16 of Romans was

originally sent to Ephesus and later attached to the book of Romans.10

In the course of that discussion he makes the following observation:

There would be no parallel if this long series of greetings were sent

to a church such as Ephesus which Paul knew well, for the only other

occasion when he appended many personal greetings was when writing

to Colossae which he had never visited. It was apparently against his

policy to single out any individuals in churches that he knew well since

he considered all the Christians to be his friends. But in a church like

Rome, where he was not personally known, it would serve as a useful

commendation that so many of the Christians there were his former



In other words, it seems that the better Paul knew a church to which

he was writing, the fewer personal greetings he included.

If Guthrie's observation is correct, and there is no reason to

doubt it, one should expect a noticeable lack of personal greetings in


8Ibid., 684-85.

9Ibid., 334.

10Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity,1975) 400-404.

11Ibid., 401. Harry Gamble, Jr. (The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977] 48) writes: “Are these greetings not rather the exception which prove the rule: Individuals are not greeted in letters to churches with which Paul is personally acquainted.”

64                          GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


an epistle written by Paul to a church he had founded and in which

he had served for three years. Thus the argument for the encyclical

theory based on the lack of personal greetings in Ephesians can be

logically used to yield the opposite result.

The other features of the epistle are also explainable. The fact

that Paul “heard” of their faith (1:15) may refer only to recent

intelligence.12 Years had gone by since Paul had been in Ephesus. In

the meantime, the congregation no doubt had grown, and there were

probably many new members whom Paul did not know personally

when he wrote this epistle. This verse may be a reference to them. Yet

another possibility exists. Paul could write to people whom he had

never met that he had heard of their faith (Col 1:4), but he could also

say to his friend and co-worker (sunergo<j) Philemon, “I hear of your

love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and

toward all the saints” (Philemon 5). Lenski writes in this regard: “One

may hear about persons whom one has never met (the Colossians) as

well as about persons whom one has met (the Ephesians, Phile-

mon).13 For Paul, therefore, to say that he had “heard” of these

believers’ faith and love does not necessitate the conclusion that he

had not previously known them. The verse can easily be interpreted

as a reference to the progress of the Ephesian Christians since Paul's

departure from Ephesus.

Eph 3:2 is another verse which is often used to support the

circular hypothesis, where Paul writes, “…if indeed you have heard

of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you.”

The focus here is upon the words “if indeed you have heard” (ei@ ge),

which seem to imply that the recipients of this letter had

not heard all of this. The force of ei@ ge, however, is not doubt, but

certainty. Hendriksen writes:


A strict literal translation of what Paul actually writes is perhaps

impossible in English. The nearest to it would be something like this:

“If, indeed, you have heard.” Cf. A. V., “If ye have heard”; A.R.V., “If

so be that ye have heard.” However, that type of rendering will hardly

do, since it might suggest that Paul is questioning whether or not the

Ephesians, by and large, have ever heard about the task committed to

him by his Lord.14


12Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856) xii.

13Lenski, Ephesians, 388.

14William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967) 151.



Lenski agrees:


It is difficult to imitate the little intensifying ge in English; our

“indeed” is a little too strong. The condition of reality with its gentle

particle [sic] states the matter in a mild and polite form: “if, indeed,

you have heard” (the Greek is satisfied with the aorist “heard,” the

simple past fact), meaning: I know that you have.15


Therefore, Hendriksen prefers to translate the words ei@ ge h]kou<sate

“for surely you have heard”,16 so as to avoid implying that they had

not heard the apostle. Or, as Vincent says, “the words are a reminder

of his preaching among them.”17

The words ei@ ge h]kou<sate appear again in 4:21: “if indeed

you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in

Jesus.” To some, this verse indicates that the readers of this epistle

had not learned Christian truths through Paul and therefore shows

that Paul could not have been writing to the Ephesians. Yet here

again, Paul is net implying doubt, but certainty, in his remark.

Vincent says: “The indicative mood implies the truth of the supposi-

tion: If ye heard as ye did.”18 Furthermore, the emphasis of Paul's

statement is upon the teaching of Christ in contrast to the teaching of

men. But Paul is not stating here that he had never instructed these

believers or that he did not know them personally. When Paul wrote

to congregations with which he was not personally acquainted, he

always mentioned that fact.19 Of the thirteen Pauline epistles, only

two epistles fit into this category.(unless Ephesians be admitted):

Romans and Colossians. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul specif-

ically mentions his desire to visit them and to see them for the first

time (1:8-15). In Colossians, Paul writes: “For I want you to know I

how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at

Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face”

(2:1). Yet, in the Epistle to the Ephesians there is nothing even similar

to this.

The argument that points out that Ephesians does not deal with

the mistakes, needs, or personalities of a single congregation, and

therefore is a circular letter, is also explainable and may be dealt with

briefly. As far as mistakes or needs are concerned, Tenney points out


15Lenski, Ephesians, 465-66 [italics added].

16Hendriksen, Ephesians, 151. Cf. The New English Bible, “for surely you have heard.”

17Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1965), 3. 380.

18Ibid., 394.

19See Stoeckhardt, Ephesians, 22.



that Ephesians was not written to novices in the Christian faith, but

to those who had achieved some maturity in Christ.20  Lenski notes

that there was little need for correction in this epistle because Paul

had received only good news from Ephesus (1:15). He writes:


This explains the general character of Paul's letter. Ephesians is

unlike any other of Paul's letters in that it treats a great subject for the

sole purpose of edification only.21


As far as Paul's personal interest in the Ephesian church goes,

the Apostle does mention that Tychicus was to make an oral report

about Paul’s condition and plans to the recipients of the letter. The

very wording of Eph 6:21-22, being almost identical to Col 4:7-8,22

implies that Paul had a definite church in mind when he wrote the

epistle. Referring to these two passages, Stoeckhardt writes:


To every unprejudiced reader these words clearly convey the

following facts: Paul had entrusted to his faithful co-laborer Tychicus

both of these Letters, the one to the Colossians, the other to the

Ephesians, in order that he should deliver them to those for whom the

Letters were intended, and Paul had also given Tychicus a companion,

Onesimus, who was to return to his master in Colosse. No one doubts

that Tychicus did exactly that with which he had been charged.23


It seems certain, then, that Tychicus reported Paul’s condition and

plans to the Ephesian church, just as he did in Colosse. Could this

not be an indication of Paul's personal concern for the believers in


It may be seen, therefore, that the “unusual”features of this

epistle can be understood just as easily, if not more easily, by holding

to the traditional view. As a result, proponents of the Ephesian

destination feel justified in their denial of any contradiction between

the words e]n   ]Efe<sw and the contents of the letter. Assuming,

however, that the Ephesian Christians were the epistle’s original

addressees, how does one account for (1) the textual variation in 1:1,

and (2) the general nature of the letter? These are valid questions

which must be addressed. That both of these questions can be

satisfactorily answered in the light of an Ephesian destination is the

focus of the remaining discussion.


20Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 318.

21Lenski, Ephesians, 327-28.

22See Hendriksen, Ephesians, 25, for the comparison.

23Stoeckhardt, Ephesians, 25.





If the Ephesian address is original, is there any evidence to

explain the omission of the words  e]n   ]Efe<sw? The usual reasons for

accidental omission, such as homoioteleuton, homoioarcton, itacism,

etc., do not seem to apply in this case. It is also difficult to explain

the omission on the basis of an error of the ear, memory, or

judgment. A remote possibility is that the name “Ephesus” was

abbreviated and somehow in its shortened form overlooked by a

careless scribe. No evidence exists, however, that Christian scribes

ever accepted into their system of contractions the names of cities.24 If

accidental omission is ruled out as a plausible explanation for the

shorter reading, there remains only the possibility of an intentional

omission. But why would a scribe want to excise these words from his


Perhaps the most plausible answer to this question is that the

address was deleted in order to convert the epistle into a catholic

letter. By the omission of the words  e]n   ]Efe<sw, the epistle would lose

its specific address and thus acquire a more general pertinence. This

hypothesis has the following arguments in its favor. First, van Roon

has pointed out that there was a “tendency in ancient Christianity to

stress the ecumenical validity of the epistles of Paul.”25 This tendency

may have prompted the omission of geographical indications in the

Pauline letters. Second, an example of the careful omission of place

names is actually found in Rom 1:7 and 15. In these verses the ninth

century majuscule Boernerianus (G) omits the words e]n  [Rw<m^ after

toi?j ou#sin. The editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’

Greek New Testament interpreted the omission “either as the result of

an accident in transcription, or more probably, as a deliberate

excision, made in order to show that the letter is of general, not local,

application.”26 In this connection, Gamble made a study of the

textual history of Romans, an epistle which has been preserved in

three basic forms: one of fourteen chapters, another of fifteen, and a

third of sixteen. Both of the shorter forms omit the last chapter,

which is replete with personal references. Gamble came to the follow-

ing conclusion about this phenomenon:


Therefore the emergence of both the fourteen- and the fifteen-

chapter forms of the text must be sought at a later point in the


240nly Jerusalem, the “Holy City,” was included among the nomina sacra.

25Van Roon, Authenticity of Ephesians, 81.

26Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: The United Bible Societies, 1971) 505.



tradition of the letter, and we have seen that of the various possibilities

only an early effort to “catholicize” the Roman letter suffices to explain

the origin of the shorter and generalized textual forms.27


Gamble goes on to explain that to some scribes of the ancient world

the Roman epistle could not maintain both a specific address and

catholic relevance. As a result, the shorter forms of Romans were


If Gamble’s conclusions are correct, the Roman epistle is a clear

example of what van Roon mentioned was the tendency in early

Christianity, namely, to make Paul’s epistles catholic. Why could this

same thing not have happened in Ephesians? The possibility that it

could have happened is strengthened by the impersonal style and

general theme of the epistle. On the surface at least, the fact that

Ephesians contains no personal greetings and addresses itself to the

theme of the universal church makes the epistle appear that it was

intended for a wider circulation than Ephesus alone. In Romans, the

greetings in chap. sixteen had to be omitted as well as the place

designation in order to give the epistle a catholic appearance; in

Ephesians, the form was already suited to such editing.

Interestingly, of the thirteen epistles of Paul, only Romans,

1 Corinthians,29 and Ephesians contain addresses which were tam-

pered with by copyists. The fact that in all three of these letters the

specific recipients are omitted in some manuscripts leads Gamble to



It is not difficult to suppose, therefore, that at an early time Paul's

letters were adapted for more general use in an unsophisticated and

rather mechanical way by textual revision which aimed at omitting

specific matter. The short form of Romans which omits the address can

be understood as a consequence of this interest, and we probably have

to do with the same cause for the variants in the addresses of

1 Corinthians (1:2) and Ephesians (1:1), as Dahl has suggested. Accord-

ing to evidence, precisely these three letters enjoyed the greatest

ecclesiastical use in the late first and early second centuries, and so

would seem to have called for some resolution of the problem of



27Gamble, Textual History, 128.


29The variant in 1 Cor 1:2 involves the transposition and/ or possible omission of a specific reference to Corinth. In Col 1:2 there are differences in the spelling of “Colossians,” but this hardly relates to the present discussion.

30Gamble, Textual History, 117-18.



Gamble is referring to an article by N. A. Dahl in which he shows

that the particularity of the Pauline epistles was a major problem in

the ancient church.31 He points out that for early Christians it was no

easy task to see how epistles which were written to particular churches

(or individuals) under particular circumstances could be regarded as

catholic, and therefore could be read in all the churches as relevant to

believers in general. In the conclusion of his article, Dahl writes:


I Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians are the three epistles which

are most often echoed in writings of pre-Marcionite Christian authors.

It is reasonable to assume that these epistles circulated among the

churches before the publication of a Corpus Paulinum. Each of them, I

would think, was published in separate editions; in such editions the

particular addresses could be left out in order to make the letter

“catholic.” Some vestiges of them are still left in the textual tradition of

the collected corpus.32


Dahl goes on to show that as the years passed by and these epistles

came to be published and distributed in the Pauline Corpus, the

problem of their particularity eased. The epistles of Paul, even the

ones which dealt with the most particular subject matter (as Phile-

mon), came to be read in all the churches '”as Scriptures relevant to

the whole church and not simply as historical documents.”33

Therefore, it may have been no mere coincidence that Ephesians

was one of the three Pauline epistles to have its address tampered

with. This letter was uniquely suited to just such an editorial corrup-

tion: it lacks direct personal greetings; its theme is the universal

church; it contains certain phrases which en apparence imply catho-

licity. For these reasons, the hypothesis that the words  e]n   ]Efe<sw

were omitted to convert the letter from a specific writing to a

particular church into a letter intended for all believers may be

accepted as a plausible explanation for the reading of  p46, x, B, and

others. Then, in the course of time, it came to be generally recognized

that the letters of Paul, as canonical and therefore catholic, no longer

needed to be “adapted” for the more general use, and the shorter

format of the address was rejected. If this hypothesis is correct, the

absence of a place designation, and not its presence, should be

considered anomalous.


31Nils A. Dahl, “The Particularity of the Pauline Epistles as a Problem in the Ancient Church,” Neotestamentica et Patristica: Freundesgabe Berm Professor Dr. Oscar Cullmann zu Seinem 60. Geburtstag Uberreicht, ed. W.C. van Unnik (Leiden: Brill, 1962) 261-71.

32Ibid., 270-71.


70                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL




When all the evidence is considered, the peculiarities of the

Ephesian epistle are at least as difficult to explain on the encyclical

hypothesis as they are for the Ephesian destination. However, many

writers feel that a case could be made that the peculiarities of the

epistle are best understood in the light of the general purpose of the

letter rather than the encyclical theory. Hodge, for instance, admits

that the unusual features of the epistle are remarkable, but he goes on

to point out that “they prove…nothing more than the apostle’s

object in writing this epistle was peculiar.”34  What was Paul’s purpose

in writing Ephesians? It seems clear from the general content and

spirit of the letter that it was not for correction primarily, nor does it

appear that there were special needs which required attention. Rather,

in Ephesians Paul seeks to magnify the Christian church and to remind

his readers of their glorious union with Christ (chaps. 1-3) and of the

duties which arise from such a union (chaps. 4-6).35 Paul's great subject

is the church, the universal body of Christ.

As a result, Ephesians is the only epistle in the NT in which the

word “church” (e]kklhsi<a) means exclusively the universal church

rather than the local group. Hendriksen expands on this when he says

that the term “church” in Ephesians indicates “the totality of those,

whether Jew or Gentile, who were saved through the blood of Christ

and through him have their access in one Spirit to the Father (2: 13,

18).”36 Therefore, the local church at Ephesus was overshadowed in a

sense by this emphasis upon the universal church, which was the

central and overriding thought of the writer as he penned the letter.

When seen in its historical context, it seems only fitting that the

apostle Paul should have chosen the church at Ephesus to receive this

opus magnum on the body of Christ. The Epistle to the Ephesians

was composed in A.D. 61 or 62, after many churches had been

founded. Sitting in his place of confinement in Rome, Paul had the

opportunity to contemplate the full significance of the new organism

which had come into being and to formulate for the first time the full

meaning of the doctrine of the church.37 The question arose, to which

church should he send the letter, and he chose by the guidance of the

Holy Spirit the assembly of believers at Ephesus. But why would he

have chosen the Ephesian church? Stoeckhardt writes:


34 Hodge, Ephesians, xii.

35Stoeckhardt, Ephesians, 32-33.

36Hendriksen, Ephesians, 63. This is not the first time, however, that Paul uses the

word e]kklhsi<a in its general sense. Cf. Gal 1:13, 1 Cor 14:19, and Phil 3:6.

37Tenney, New Testament Survey, 317-18. Cf. Ernest F. Scott, The Literature of the New Testament (New York: Columbia University, 1933) 184.

                        BLACK: EPHESIANS AND THE EPHESIAN ADDRESS               71


The congregation at Ephesus was the largest, the most prominent,

and the best indoctrinated congregation of the Orient. At that time it

was still aglow with its first love. This congregation was a bright light

in the Lord, which with its beams illuminated wide stretches of pagan

darkness. It was therefore entirely proper that the Apostle, her old

teacher, who at present had no special instruction or admonitions

which he wished to impress upon her, should remind that congregation

of her high honor and grace, gifts of Christ, and of her communion

with the Church of Christ and her high calling which as a congrega-

tion of Christ she was to fulfill in the world.38


Thus the epistle was written to the Ephesians and addressed to them,

but Paul used a form to emphasize the Ephesian assembly as a

representative of the universal church, rather than as a local church.

This was appropriate, because for Paul the local church is nothing

more than the result of the expansion of the one universal church.39

That a single congregation could represent the universal church

is a point upon which many NT scholars agree. Lohse Writes:


Whether in the plural number or singular, whenever the e]kklhsi<a

is spoken of, it is always a matter of the congregating of the Christian

church as God's holy people. The single church fails in no way to

perfectly represent the church of Jesus Christ. It is the people of God

who are assembled in Thessalonika, Phillipi, Corinth, Rome, Braun-

schweig, Gandersheim, and anywhere else.40


Reicke agrees:


In fact, Paul is inclined to regard each local church not only as a

copy in miniature of the universal church, but as being the universal

church itself, realized in this world.41


38Stoeckhardt, Ephesians, 27-28.

39Bo Reicke, “Unite Chretienne et Diaconie,” Neotestamentica et Patristica (Leiden Brill, 1962) 212.

40Ob in der Mehrzahl oder in der Einzahl van der e]kklhsi<a gesprochen wird, immer handelt es sich in der Versammlung der christlichen Gemeinde urn Gottes heiliges Volk. Der einzelnen Gemeinde fehlt also nichts, urn die Kirche Jesu Christi vollstandig repräsentieren zu können. Gottes Volk ist versammelt in Thessalonich, Philippi, Korinth, Rom, Braunschweig, Gandersheim und wo immer sonst.” Eduard Lohse, Die Entstehung des Neuen Testaments (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1972) 192.

41“En effet, Paul est enclin à regarder chaque église locale, non seulement comme une copie en miniature de l'église universelle, mais comme étant l'eglise universelle ellemême, réalisée dans ce monde.” Reicke, “Unité Chrétienne et Diaconie,” 203. Cf. H. Bavinck: “In de verschillende plaatselijke vergaderingen der geloovigen komt de ééne gemeente van Christus tot openbaring,” Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok, 1911), 4. 302.

72                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Really, one need go no further than the letters of the apostle Paul to

see this, as, for instance, when he writes to the church at Corinth, “Ye

are the body of Christ”(1 Cor 12:2). In fact, Paul regarded the

Corinthian believers as “the church of God which is at Corinth

(1 Cor 1:2). Thus Reicke could observe: “The totality of the church is

for St. Paul the primary fact; its localization is but a corollary of


There is therefore no problem in saying that the epistle was

written and addressed to the Ephesians, if one also understands that

the epistle's focus is upon the body of Christians as a class, rather

than upon the Ephesians as a local church. Ephesus, as the seat of the

“great mother church,” had the right to receive such an epistle. But in

keeping with his theme Paul may have used a style to suit it to all

Christians, including those in the neighboring churches to whom it

would invariably be communicated.43 (Perhaps it is in this sense that

the Ephesian epistle should be considered “encyclical,”)44 Thus the

general nature of the epistle does not argue against the Ephesian

address as such, but rather may simply be in keeping with the general

theme of the epistle.




The encyclical theory grew out of the uncertainty regarding the

reading of 1:1 and offers to many the most plausible explanation of

why the two words  e]n   ]Efe<sw are missing from .such early and note-

worthy manuscripts as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Because it is sup-

ported by seemingly unanswerable internal arguments, numerous

scholars are convinced that this view is the most credible. However,

though much could be said for such a line of evidence, these

arguments cannot be considered as conclusive for there are alterna-

tive interpretations for each. All of the internal objections have been

answered satisfactorily by capable scholars in the light of an Ephesian

address, In fact, some of these peculiarities, much more than being

objections to the Ephesian destination, may instead be taken as

supports for it. For example, the fact that Ephesians lacks personal


42“La totalité de l’église, c’est pour saint Paul le fait primaire, sa localisation en est seulement un corollaire.” Reicke, “Unite Chretienne et Diaconie,” 203.

43Hodge, Ephesians, xiii.

44Referring to the collection and distribution of the Pauline epistles, F. F, Bruce writes: “But when his letters were published in one corpus (and even earlier, if they circulated in smaller collections), it was because the authority of each, and of all together, was believed to extend beyond the first addressees to the Church at large,” (“New Light on the Origins of the New Testament Canon,” New Dimensions in New Testament Study, eds. Richard Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974] 10.)

            BLACK: EPHESIANS AND THE EPHESIAN ADDRESS               73


greetings is apparently more in keeping with Paul's policy than if he

had attached a long series of greetings, and therefore becomes a

possible argument in favor of the traditional address.

Furthermore, the textual phenomenon in 1: 1 seems to argue for

the Ephesian address rather than against it. It would appear that

either the words  e]n   ]Efe<sw were intentionally added or intentionally

omitted. From both intrinsic and transcriptional evidence it is not

difficult to decide in which direction the change went. On the one

hand, the reading  e]n   ]Efe<sw is characteristically Pauline, and its

omission would be a singular exception among all of the epistolary

addresses in the Pauline Corpus. The omission also leaves the text

with insoluble syntactical problems which make the translation and

interpretation of Ephesians 1: 1 without  e]n   ]Efe<sw extremely difficult,

if not impossible.45 On the other hand, there is good reason to believe

that a scribe may have omitted the words “in Ephesus.” By so doing

he would have given the epistle the appearance of being universally

addressed. With its absence of personal greetings and its general

theme, the Ephesian epistle was uniquely suited to just such a


In addition, the fact that the epistle’s focus is upon the universal

church, and not upon the Ephesians as a local church, does not argue

against the Ephesian destination as such. To proceed from the

impersonal style of the letter to the conclusion that therefore Paul

could not have been writing to a local congregation is a non sequitur.

The general theme of Ephesians provides an adequate explanation for

the general nature and style of the epistle.

Plausible as the encyclical theory may seem, when the evidence is

considered the traditional view appears to best account for all the

facts: the textual variation in 1:1, the non-local flavor of the epistle,

the universal tradition of the church that the letter was written to the

Ephesians, and the weighty documentary evidence in support of the

Ephesian address. As a result, it may be concluded that the peculiar-

ities of the letter are not conclusive reasons for rejecting the strong

textual and historical testimony in favor of the Ephesian destination.


45F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, trans. Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1975) 213.




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