And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins which used to make up your way of life when you were living by the principles of this world, obeying the ruler who dominates the air, the spirit who is at work in those who rebel. We too were all among them once, living only by our natural inclinations, obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim; our nature made us no less liable to God's retribution than the rest of the world. But God, being rich in faithful love, through the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, brought us to life with Christ—it is through grace that you have been saved—and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus. This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. (Ephesians 2:1-10)1
-St. Paul's 'Catholic' Epistle: The Authorship and Background
-The General Outline of Ephesians
-The Controversy: Ephesians 2:8-9 and the Doctrine of Sola Fide
-Examining Ephesians 2:1-10
-Dead in sin: Ephesians 2:1-3-Application: Our Way of Life
-Brought to life in Christ: Ephesians 2:4-7
-God's work of art: Ephesians 2:8-10
Preachers and theologians, even from ancient times, have loved the writings of St. Paul. Seeking to emulate both his faith and devotion to Christ, and his often direct and forceful proclamation of the Gospel, pulpits throughout the centuries have quoted and commented on his words, exhorting congregations to greater faith and to perseverance in the same. Yet St. Paul is not always particularly clear in his meaning. Using the Greek language in an often unique way, his writings have caused many difficulties in interpretation and translation.2 In fact, St. Peter himself remarks on this difficulty in his second encyclical:
Think of our Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved; our brother Paul, who is so dear to us, told you this when he wrote to you with the wisdom that he was given. He makes this point too in his letters as a whole wherever he touches on these things. In all his letters there are of course some passages which are hard to understand, and these are the ones that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture—to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).While, on the one hand, St. Paul's letters seem already to be recognised as having Scriptural authority, St. Peter gives the Church the same caution regarding them as he does the rest of Scripture: be careful to read them rightly, and understand them in accordance with the fullness of the faith of the Church.
St. Paul's letter "to the Ephesians" is but one example of his writings which has led to controversial theological interpretation. Through the singling out of passages, devoid of their proper context, and interpreted in such a way as to justify a particular theological conclusion, St. Paul's words have been used to both cause and perpetuate one of the major schisms in the Church that Christ founded. The tragic irony of it is that this particular interpretational twist occurs in a letter that is perhaps St. Paul's clearest appeal to the authority and the unity of the Universal Church (cf. Eph 4:1-16).3
St. Paul's 'Catholic' Epistle: The Authorship and Background
When the New Testament was compiled, it was done so primarily in terms of genre. The Gospels were grouped together, followed by the history of the Early Church contained in the Acts of the Apostles. Next comes the corpus of St. Paul's letters—first, those written to specific churches, then those termed "pastoral" as they were written to leaders of particular churches. Hebrews follows this collection, as it was often attributed to St. Paul, but with uncertainty. Following Hebrews come the "Catholic Epistles", so called because they are not addressed to any particular congregation, and thus are for the whole (i.e., Catholic) Church. These were written by (or at least, in some cases, attributed to) the Apostles whose names they bear. Last, as it pertains to the end, comes Revelation.4
The letter to the Ephesians makes for an interesting exception to this organisational structure. While traditionally, the first verse of the Epistle addresses it to the Ephesians, Origen and St. Basil, among others, attest that the earliest manuscripts do not have this designation5 (a fact preserved in the New Jerusalem Bible)6. This absence, as well as the absence of any hint of intimacy with the congregation at Ephesus, a church St. Paul himself founded and spent three years with, have led scholars to question whether Ephesus was actually the intended recipient, or, on the other hand, whether St. Paul was its actual author. Theories range from suggesting that a companion, disciple, or successor of St. Paul actually wrote the letter in his name, to suggesting that perhaps the epistle is actually a compilation of St. Paul's teaching, and not a self-contained epistle. Others suggest that it was perhaps the epistle to the Laodiceans mentioned in his letter to the Colossians (4:16).7 A final possibility, and the one that this author finds most compelling, is that put forward by P. Ladeuze, STD:
How, then, admitting that St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians, shall we explain the origin of this document? The Apostle, who was a captive at Rome, was informed by Epaphras of the dogmatic and moral errors that had come to light in Colossae and the neighboring cities, in churches of which he was not the founder. He also learned that he had been censured for not bringing to the perfection of Christianity those whom he had once converted, and for not taking sufficient interest in churches that had sprung up side by side with his own, although without his personal intervention (Col 1:28-2:5). At the same time that Paul received the news concerning Colossae and its surroundings, he also heard (Eph 1:15) that in a distant part of Asia Minor Christian communities had been brought to the Faith, perhaps by evangelists (Eph 4:11). Impressed by the accusations made against him, Paul took advantage of the departure of Tychicus for Colossae, to enter into communication with those Christians who had heard of him (Eph 3:2) and to address them a letter in which he had to limit himself to general considerations on Christianity, but he wished to prove his Apostolic solicitude for them by making them realize not only the dignity of their Christian vocation, but the oneness of the Church of God and the intimate union by which all the faithful, no matter what their history, are constituted a single body of which Christ is the head.8As such, unlike with the Epistles, say, to the Corinthians or the Galatians, St. Paul is not addressing a particular crisis or conflict in this epistle—much less a conflict going on at Ephesus. Rather, much like his Epistle to the Romans, he was writing an introductory letter, laying out the Gospel message, in part to show his own place in the Apostolic hierarchy and tradition, as well as to test, and if need be, adjust the orthodoxy of the community which he was addressing for the first time. This accounts, as we shall see, for the impersonal tone and the orderly presentation of the Gospel, neither reacting to Judaisers nor to those of an antinomian persuasion. Writing later on in life, imprisoned in Rome, we understand as well the mature and catholic (i.e. universal) ecclesiology espoused by St. Paul in this letter, which, in the absence of any other title, we shall nevertheless refer to as "Ephesians".
1. All Scripture quotations are taken from The New Jerusalem Bible, Henry Wansbrough, gen. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
2. Pope, Hugh, OP, STM, "St. Paul's Epistles", Bible Study: New Testament. (http://www.veritasbible.com/resources/articles/St._Paul%27s_Epistles, last updated December 3, 2012), part B.
3. Ladeuze, P., STD, "Epistle to the Ephesians, Bible Study: New Testament Books. (http://www.veritasbible.com/resources/articles/Epistle_to_the_Ephesians, last updated December 3, 2012), II, 2.
4. Just, Felix, SJ, PhD, Eight Tips About Canonical Arrangement. (http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/NT_Canon.htm#Arrangement, last updated July 27, 2009).
5. Footnote on Ephesians 1:1 in the New American Bible. (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992).
6. "Paul, by the will of God an apostle of Christ Jesus, to God's holy people,a faithful in Christ Jesus." The note, 'a', reads, "Some authorities add 'who are at Ephesus' or 'who are...', leaving a gap for a place-name to be filled in."
7. "Introduction" to Ephesians in the New American Bible.
8. Ladeuze, "Epistle to the Ephesians", V. Earlier, in section IV, Ladeuze argues,
Now, in the course of his three journeys, Paul had traversed all parts of Asia Minor except the northern provinces along the Black Sea, territory which he did not reach prior to his captivity. Nevertheless, the First Epistle of St. Peter shows us that the Faith had already penetrated these regions; hence, with the historical data at our disposal, it is in this vicinity that it seems most reasonable to seek those to whom the Epistle was addressed. These Christians must have been named in the authentic text of the inscription of this Epistle, as they are in all of St. Paul's letters. Now, whenever the substantive participle appears in one of these inscriptions, it serves the sole purpose of introducing the mention of locality. We are therefore authorized to believe that, in the address of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 1:1: τοῑς ἁγίοις οῡσιν καὶ πιστοῑς ἐν Χριστῷ ̓Ιησοῡ (tois hagiois ousin kai pistois en Christo Iesou)), this participle, so difficult to understand in the received text, originally preceded the designation of the place inhabited by the readers. One might assume that the line containing this designation was omitted owing to some distraction on the part of the first copyist; however, it would then be necessary to admit that the mention of locality, now in question, occurred in the midst of qualifying adjectives applied by the Apostle to his readers ἁγίοις τοῑς ... πιστοῑς (hagiois tois ousin ... pistois), and this is something that is never verified in the letters of St. Paul. Hence we may suppose that, in this address, the indication of place was corrupted rather than omitted, and this paves the way for conjectural restorations. We ourselves have proposed the following: τοῑς ἁγίοις τοῑς κατ̓ ῏Ιριν τοῑς ἐν Χριστῷ ̓Ιησοῡ (tois hagiois tois ousin kat' Irin tois en Christo Iesou). (Ladeuze in Revue biblique, 1902, pp. 573 sq.) Grammatically, this phrase corresponds perfectly with the Apostle's style (cf. Gal 1:22; 1 Cor 1:2; Phil 1:1) and palaeographically, if transcribed in ancient capitals, it readily accounts for the corruption that has certainly been produced in the text. The Epistle to the Ephesians was, therefore, written to distant churches, located perhaps in various provinces [Pontus, Galatia, Polemonium (the kingdom of Polemon)] and, for this reason, requiring to be designated by a general term, but all situated along the River Iris.
(Category: Soteriology: Justification)