Date: 58-60 AD
The arguments against the authenticity of Ephesians center around style, its relationship to Colossians, and theological and ecclesiastical differences from Paul. Below is the case for Pauline authorship.
Language and Style. Regarding the objection from language and style Kümmel can best be quoted:
The appearance of numerous words not encountered in Paul [40 words], but in the later writings of the New Testament and in the apostolic fathers (e.g., aswtia, eusplagcnos, osioths, politeia), is striking only in connection with the fact that Ephesians also uses other vocables than Paul uses for important concepts (en tois epouraniois 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12 is found in addition to oi ouranoi, which [the latter phrase] alone is met in Paul; o hgaphmenos 1:6 as predicate for Christ; the sequence aima kai sarka 6:12; caritow 1:6 instead of the Pauline carin didomi). More important is the fact that the heaping up of synonyms and genitival connectives [i.e. in a non-Pauline manner], already observed in Colossians, is found in Ephesians to a still more considerable extent (see Percy, 186 ff., e.g., energeia tou kratous ths iscuos 1:19; kata ton aiwna tou kosmou toutou 2:2; dia pashs proseuchs kai dehsews ... en pash proskartehses kai dehsei 6:18, etc.), and proceeds with the predilection for overly long conglomerations of sentences which can hardly be classified (1:15-23; 4:11-16, etc.). And this language, which is reminiscent of the language in the Qumran texts, shows "such Semitic, syntactical phenomena four times as often as all other epistles of the Pauline corpus" (K. G. Kuhn, 334 f.; that also applies to the relation of Semitic and Greek influence on the syntax of the conditional sentences, cf. K. Beyer, Semitische Syntax in Nt I, 1, 1962, 298).
But this objection is not as weighty as it seems. It is true that the style of an author tends to be consistent over the years from writing to writing, but not necessarily if the writing has a completely different subject matter, purpose, or audience! As Grant writes:
The style is somewhat laboured and the thought moves very slowly, with the piling up of subordinate clauses and the use of words in the genitive case which convey the same meaning as the nominatives with which they are connected. To some extent this feature, known as 'pleonasm', is characteristic of the language of prayers; we might expect to find pleonasm in a letter which begins with a two-sentence prayer extending over twenty-one verses.
This may very well be the reason for the different vocables and sequences. Furthermore, he notes that, 'the Apostolic Fathers are neither uniform nor remarkably different from the New Testament.' Overall, Grant's summary of the problem seems accurate that we can't know how long Paul's mind took to change (for example, see 2 Corinthians):
It may be suggested, however, that just as Romans takes up themes already expressed in the Corinthian letters and Galatians and expresses them somewhat more systematically, so Ephesians recapitulates and further develops themes already present in Colossians."
In other words, the development that we see in Ephesians (and Colossians) is nothing different from the development of that from the earlier letters and Romans, which are separated in time by 2-3 years, and similarly so with Colossians and Ephesians with respect to Romans. In summary,
The language of prayer - and of meditation - is different from that employed in, e.g., the diatribe-style often found in other letters.
Computer-based studies that "support" the inauthenticity of letters like Ephesians are groundless. Computer-based studies have shown varied results, from both ends of the spectrum, one study even concluding that 2 Peter and 1 Peter were indistinguishable in style! This clearly means that they reflect the ideas of the person interpreting the data, not any valuable conclusion. As J.A.T. Robinson remarked, this clearly shows the limitations of the method.
Relation to Colossians
Mainly, Ephesians constantly quotes and develops Colossians. About one third of the words in Colossians are found in Ephesians, and the verbal parallel runs throughout the epistle. About half of the verses in Ephesians (73 out of 155) have a verbal parallel with Colossians. Only short, connected pieces of Ephesians (e.g., 2:6-9, 4:5-13, 5:29-33) have no parallels in Colossians. No Pauline letter has so much dependence on a previous one. Despite this, only Ephesians 6:21-22 (Colossians 4:7-8) has such an agreement as to presuppose literary dependence. The same author did not quickly write down Ephesians after Colossians because Ephesians exhibits parallels with the Pauline corpus in greater extent than the other Pauline epistles (except 2 Thessalonians [with 1 Thessalonians]). Kümmel notes, "And these parallels are found repeatedly in related sections of the other epistles (cf., e.g., Rom. 3:20-27; 11:32-12:5 with Eph. 1:19; 2:5, 8; 1:7; 3:8, 21; 4:1; 5:10, 17; 3:7; 4:7, 4, 25 and the lists in Mitton, 120 ff., 333 ff.)". Both of these factors are very strange for the same author. As Perrin summarizes it (X, p.130): "The same man could have written the two letters, Colossians and Ephesians, in much the same language within a short time, but he would scarcely have reached back into his memory for constant reminiscences of earlier letters written to meet quite different needs."
But these objections are fairly weightless. First, as Kümmel and all other scholars have universally noted, Ephesians' parallels to Colossians are not direct copies of Colossians' verses, but similarities in thought and expression, with the sole exception of Ephesians 6:21 (Colossians 4:7) which is a note about Tychicus and could very well be a non-literary dependence as well if Paul wrote this letter soon after Colossians. It is not strange that Ephesians has parallels with the other Pauline epistles, as they all have parallels to each other, and the greater extent is nothing spectacular as it could be very well due to the specific nature of Ephesians, or its purpose. From the way the parallels are arranged (especially the way the parallels are so cut-up and unconnected in Ephesians) the author does not seem to have reached into his memory, but is applying the theology he already knew which he had put into the previous letters. These earlier letters did not meet needs that were entirely different, since they present the perennial problems of correct conduct, and the specific problems that would qualify as strange in Ephesians (such as 2 Thessalonians and their eschatological expectations, the non-working brothers in 1 Thessalonians, etc.) are entirely absent.
Another argument raised against Ephesians being written soon after Colossians is the literary dependence on Colossians and basic, factual differences from Colossians. As for literary dependence, Colossians 3:7 says naturally after a list of vices "You used to walk in these ways", whereas Ephesians 2:2-3 adds at first naturally "in which you used to live" (after 2:1, amartias), but then awkwardly adds "All of us also lived among them at one time" (Eph. 2:3), and thus in clear reminiscence of Colossians 3:7.
In answer to the above, noting the already mentioned relationship between Colossians and Ephesians as not necessarily due to forgery, we should answer that the phrase "all of us also lived among them [sins] at one time" is just as natural in Ephesians 2:3 as it is in Colossians 3:7; Paul simply wants to add comments about the Devil, and the construction doesn't really have any smoother way of being made, and therefore gives the impression of an awkward construction, especially in comparison with Colossians.
Secondly, Colossians 3:18-25 is strongly Christianized further in Ephesians 5:22-32, has the same sequence and wording, but the command for wives to obey husbands in Colossians becomes subordination in Ephesians (Colossians 3:18 - "as is fitting in the Lord", whereas its parallel, Ephesians 5:22 - "as to the Lord"). This is true, but it is unknown why Paul could not have written an extended Haustafel in Ephesians, seeing how the one in Colossians is so skeletal and barely has anything. In any case, the explanation in Ephesians 5:28-31 is definitely strongly reminiscent of Paul, and the turning of obedience to subordination from Colossians to Ephesians is a) given a theological reasoning and example and b) does not seem strange in view of the lack of subordination "in the Lord" in Colossians 3:20, compared to Ephesians 5:1. It cannot be maintained that the empty list in Colossians was expanded because it looked empty, since the exhortations for slaves to obey masters and masters to be kind to slaves are completely unexpanded, and are in fact written in such a way in Ephesians (the re-written, but unexpanded version of Colossians 4:1 in Ephesians 5:9) to suggest that Paul was reiterating something he had just written to the Colossians. Thus the expansion of the list should probably not be seen as a later addition, but perhaps, seeing from the somewhat hurried letter to the Colossians (it is short in all it addresses, including the problem in chapter 2), the list was a fuller expression of Paul's thought.
In regards to basic and factual differences, the word mysteirion in Colossians (1:26-27, 2:2, 4:3) signifies God's salvation in Christ, in agreement with 1 Corinthians 2:1, 7, but in Ephesians 3:3-13 mysteirion relates that both Gentile as well as Jew see salvation, and the linguistic similarities between Colossians 1:25-27 and Ephesians 3:2-6. Also, the meaning of marriage as a mystery in Ephesians 5:32 as well as the uniting of Jew and Gentile in 1:9, making these three meanings completely foreign to Paul. Similarly with oikonomia, which in Colossians 1:25, as in 1 Corinthians 4:1, 9:17, the word means the commission to preach about the mystery of Christ, whereas in Ephesians 3:2, in spite of its linguistic parallel with Colossians 1:25, oikonomia means God's plan of salvation, and has the same sense in Ephesians 1:10, 3:9, and according to this word, the plan of salvation has mystery in its content, of which there was talk even in reference to Ephesians 1:9, 3:3-13. There is also the different meaning of peripoiesis in Ephesians 1:14 as opposed to 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:14. Thus, "We may regard the possibility as excluded that Paul in a writing of almost the same time as Colossians should have given such completely new meanings to the word mysteirion and oikonomia."
First, with respect to mysteirion, the meaning in Ephesians about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in God's plan is also found in Paul (Romans 11:25; 16:25). Johnson also notes that oikonomia is used in the same sense of Ephesians 3:2 but in a different form of the word, oikonomos, in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, where Paul refers to himself as the dispenser of the mysteries of God. As far as the other meanings of "mystery" and peripoiesis, one has to wonder why Paul couldn't, shortly after writing Colossians, describe the relations of a marriage and the Church as a mystery, which doesn't contradict Colossians (nor does oikonomia) and may simply be a new application of the word (and peripoiesis).
1. Colossians 2:7 says Christians are "rooted and built up in him" but Ephesians 2:20-21 says "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone," which "represents a clear displacement in respect to the exclusive statement of 1 Cor. 3:11." But as Grant notes, "He [Paul] does not sharply differentiate the work of God and the work of Christ, nor that of Christ and that of the apostles."
2. When Ephesians 3:5 describes the revelation of the mystery to "holy apostles and prophets" (compared to Colossians 1:26 "saints"), "then this evaluation of the apostles as the foundation of the church is just as impossible for Paul as the designation of the apostles as "holy" in a special sense" unless of course it was an author looking back on Paul's time, long after it had passed (i.e. a forger). Also, Paul never distinguishes apostles in this way and never regards them as holy in a way Christians are not.
As noted above, it is not impossible for Paul to have designated the apostles as foundations. And Paul clearly considered the apostles to have a more responsible and therefore deserving of recognition status in some ways that the other believers didn't (1 Cor 12:27-31 [where apostles are listed first]; Romans 11:13; 2 Cor 11:5-6, 12:11-12). He also displays humility for the suffering that he and other apostles have endured for the sake of the gospel and Church (1 Cor 4:8-13; 2 Cor 11:16-33; whereas 1 Cor 11:5-11, 12:13 show that this humility and its relationship to the Christians isn't to be abused). I don't know why Paul wouldn't be able to call the apostles holy, just like he does in 1 Thessalonians 2:10, especially in the middle of a general panegyric. He could easily distinguish apostles as of a more respectable position than other Christians as anyone can see the general mood on this from his letters, not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things. In Colossians 1:26 he's speaking of the mystery disclosed to the saints; in Ephesians he's speaking of who disclosed it. So the two aren't a good comparison to prove theological development. Also, though this may be purely subjective, Ephesians 3:5 seems to presuppose the early days of Christianity by the contrast of "other generations" in the past when these things weren't revealed as they apparently now have.
3. Ekklesia is used entirely of the universal church in Ephesians, as opposed to local churches as well as the universal church in the Pauline epistles. The ecclesiology seems developed toward seeing "The Church", characteristic of after Paul. But as Grant notes,
It cannot be said that premonitions of these ideas are absent earlier. In I Corinthians 6.17 the Christian is the bride of Christ; in II Corinthians 11.2 (cf. Rom. 7.4) the Church is his bride.
In other words, this "development" is not at all un-Pauline, even if not found so extensively in previous letters.
4. Mysteirion in Ephesians 3:6 is not Christ as in Colossians 2:2, but the unity of the Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ, which wasn't achieved in Paul's life and, in addition, now the Christology is interpreted almost exclusively by the ecclesiology.
It is true that in Romans 9 the unity between Jew and Gentile is still wanting, but in contrast to Romans 9, Ephesians 3:6 talks about the absense of a difference between a Jew and Gentile in the saving act of Christ, similarly to Galatians 3:28.
5. It is sometimes cited as a sign of development of Christology beyond Paul the fact that, despite Paul's only use of the verb apokatallassein in Colossians 1:20, in Ephesians 2:16 the subject of the verb is Christ, whereas in Colossians it is God. Also, in Ephesians 4:11 it is Christ who appointed the apostles and prophets and not God as in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Yet this objection also fails for the simple reason that we see this "development" in Paul's undisputed letters as well. For example, in Romans 14:10c, it is God who judges, but in 2 Corinthians 5:10 (and Romans 2:16!) it is before Christ's judgment seat that all appear. In Galatians 2:19 and 1 Corinthians 8:6 one lives for God, but in Romans 14:8 it is for Christ. In Romans 11:36 it is through God that "all things are" but in 1 Corinthians 8:6 it is through Christ. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4, it is God who has chosen, but in Romans 1:5 it is Christ. It is not really a development, as it seems for Paul, Jesus Christ is a mediator between God and men not merely in the spiritual and theological way, but the physical as well, creating the world, appointing apostles and prophets, and so on. It is God's will carried out through Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6, Romans 1:8, 2:16, 5:11, 21, and Romans 3:22, 24, 7:24 in that theological sense, which is although is technical as Romans 8:37, nevertheless reinforces this point).
Other theology contradicts Paul:
• Kümmel objects that we see the characteristic expression "every good work" in Colossians 1:10 become plural in Ephesians 2:10, which was avoided by Paul, even in Colossians.
A: It may be true that we don't find the expression "good works" but only "good work" such as in 2 Corinthians 8:11; 9:8, but those are the only two other places where "work" is used in such a context that we have an example of! Elsewhere, the context more or less demands either the singular (Philippians 1:6, similarly to Philippians 2:22, Romans 14:20) or the plural (Romans 4:2, 6; 9:12, 32; 11:6), so can we really judge based on 3 examples?
• Also Ephesians knows several en-formulas, which Paul does not have (en to Christo 'Ieisou 3:11; en to 'Ieisou 4:21; en to kurio 'Ieisou 1:15), and in 1:15 joins pistis with kurios, whereas in Paul we see only the connection with Christos.
A: They may be unique. But Paul sometimes uses constructions like these apparently (e.g. "en Christo 'Ieisou" 1 Corinthians 1:2,4,30, "en gar Christo 'Ieisou" 1 Corinthians 4:15). As far as pistis being in conjunction with Kurios only in Ephesians 1:15, this is simply a happenstance occurance; Paul refers to Jesus as Lord throughout his letters (Romans 1:7,4:24, etc), so this is not a point for inauthenticity. Romans 3:22 connects pistis with 'Ieisou Christou, 3:26 only with 'Ieisou, so the prayerful language of Ephesians (with its parallels in the prayer sections of the undisputed language) has a connective of pistis with Kurios, which is certainly not impossible for Paul.
• Kümmel writes, "Is it an accident that only in Ephesians (1:17 and 3:14), unlike all other Pauline epistles, we see the address of God as Father in supplication found?"
A: But what about Romans 1:7, 6:4, 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3?
• Furthermore, unlike all other Pauline letters, there is no mention of the parousia (Ephesians 3:21 hardly expects an imminent parousia).
A: Colossians has only one reference, 3:4. This proves that like Colossians, Ephesians was probably more concerned with correct living. That 3:21 presupposes many generations is nothing different from the metaphorical language used in 2 Corinthians 6:2, which means it is not impossible. The question of whether Paul believed the imminent parousia would occur in his lifetime is shown to be false in THE PAROUSIA BEFORE 70 AD.
• Second, the comparison between marriage and the relationship of Christ and his church could hardly be Pauline in view of 1 Corinthians 7.
A: Can we really believe that because of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul couldn't say anything positive about marriage? The example between Christ and his Church is certainly adequate, and is a metaphor, not an example of the superiority of marriage over celibacy. Ephesians is simply speaking to those who are already married. In any case, it is somewhat subjective to say that 1 Corinthians 7 sees marriage negatively. For example, Johnson considers the positive connotation of the "mystery" of marriage in Ephesians 5:32 implicit in 1 Corinthians 7.
• The statement that Paul was commissioned to proclaim the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the promise of Christ (3:2-13) is contradicted by Paul's statements, even Colossians 1:25-29.
A: Ephesians 3:2-13 doesn't contradict Colossians 1:25-29. In both the mystery is the salvation of Christ, ending the differentiation between Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3:28). Paul's statements do not contradict this being his commission, in the overall sense of the grand-view of history: Galatians 2:6-8.
• Ephesians 3:8 is hardly a comprehensible exaggeration of 1 Corinthians 15:9.
A: It is certainly not an incomprehensible exaggeration, given statements like 1 Corinthians 4:13 and 2 Corinthians 12:11. Even though 1 Corinthians 4:13 is in a different context, the point nevertheless is that Paul certainly can purposely exaggerate to absurdity in order to prove a point.
On the other hand, we don't find any hint of the controversies that plagued the second century. The ecclesiology does not even seem to be developed to the time of 1 Clement (96). All that Ephesians mentions in that respect is the pastors and teachers, prophets, apostles, and evangelists (Acts 21:8).
In sum, the arguments against Pauline authorship are not forceful, certainly not to accept Ephesians as inauthentic.
- Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, 14th ed., pp.252-253
- We can't say that the author who had just written Colossians used it and explain the literary dependence of Ephesians, because the point of the similarities between the two is supposed to be due to the same frame of thought being used for both, and not any literary dependence from something the author had just written.
- Johnson, L.T., The Writings of the New Testament: an Interpretation, p.370. Interestingly, he also considers Colossians 1:27 to have the same meaning, the very verse Kümmel contrasts Ephesians 3:3f. with.
- Grant, p.201
- Grant, ibid.
- Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, p.254
- Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, p.370
- Johnson, ibid.
- The difference between the imagery in 1 Corinthians 4:13 and verses like Ephesians 3:8 and 1 Corinthians 15:9 is that it has to do with respect to treatment of the world, and also Paul includes the other apostles with himself. But the point nevertheless still stands.