A Theology of Church in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians
A Biblical Theology Paper Submitted to Clinton Arnold, Ph.D.
In Partial Fulfillment of The Requirements of the Course Exegesis in Ephesians TTNT 644
by Laura K. Springer, November 16, 2005

The Context of Ephesians

This theology of the church in Ephesians is drawn from the contextual meaning of the body, building, and bride images. Three levels of context apply. First, cultural context: what is the Ephesian culture may have prompted this letter? Second, epistolary context: what is the core message of the letter as a whole? Third, immediate contexts: what are the immediate contexts of these images? We turn first to the Ephesian culture.

Cultural Context

The cultural context is the Roman Province of Asia in the first century. In his book, Power and Magic, Clint Arnold makes a strong case for a cultural context overwhelmed by concern for spiritual powers. He says, “Ephesians appears to have been written to a group of churches in western Asia Minor needing help in developing a Christian perspective on the ‘powers’ and encouragement in their ongoing struggles with these pernicious spirit forces.” [i] The Artemis cult, magical practices, and a multiplicity of deities were integral to Ephesian society, and remained sources of temptation and persecution for the Ephesian church.

Epistolary Context

The epistolary context is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and the constellation of images he employs to describe the church. Ephesians is Paul’s epistolary treatise describing Christ and the Church. In this letter, he uses these descriptions to teach the Ephesian churches how to live in and respond to a cultural context permeated with concern for spiritual powers. In describing the church, Paul employs constellation of images revealing the identity of the church in relation to Christ. Table 1 lists these images, the Greek terms, and the passages where each term is found.

Table 1. Images of the Church in Ephesians
Image;Greek term;Passages
pleroma; Eph. 1:10, 23; 3:19; 4:13
oikodome; Eph. 2:21; 4:12, 16, 29
aner teleios; Eph. 4:13
One new humanity;
anthropos kainos; Eph. 2:15
sumpolites; Eph. 2:19
oikeos; Eph. 2:19
gune; Eph. 5:22ff, 28, 31, 33
soma; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 28, 30
naos; Eph. 2:21
ekklesia [ii]; Eph. 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23ff, 27, 29, 32
katoiketerion; Eph. 2:22
Built together;
sunoikodomeo; Eph. 2:22
Fitted together;
sumarmologeo; Eph. 2:21; 4:16
United together;
sumbibazo; Eph. 4:16

In this constellation of images, three images–body, building, and bride–provide the bulk of the description. They are found in four major sections of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: 1:15-23; 2:11-22; 4:7-16; and 5:22-33.

Immediate Context

The immediate contexts are the four passages in which Paul employs the body, building, and bride images. In 1:15-23, Paul reports his ceaseless, berakah-based thank-prayer for the Ephesian believers. In this prayer, he asks that God give them spiritual wisdom and revelation for the purpose of knowing him. The knowledge of him includes knowing the hope of his calling, the glorious wealth of his inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of his power.

In 2:11-22, Paul describes Christ’s blood-accomplished work of horizontal and vertical reconciliation. Through this work, Christ brings near the once-far Gentiles, creates one new humanity by reconciling Jews and Gentiles to God, and builds one new holy, worshiping people of God.

In 4:7-16, Paul describes Christ’s gift of grace to each believer and his gift of messengers, prophets, good news preachers, and pastors and teachers to the whole church. These individual and corporate gifts equip the saints to build the body to maturity in Christ.

In 5:22-33, Paul gives instructions concerning the submission of wives and the sacrificial love of husbands. The relationship between husbands and wives reveals the great mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church.

Previous Posts:

Future posts:
Description of the Images: Body
Description of the Images: Building
Description of the Images: Bride
Summary and Theological Conclusions
Practical Implications

for Bibliography see introduction

[i] Clinton E. Arnold, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians, (Reprint by Wipf and Stock Publishing. Previously published by Baker Book House, 1989) 167.
[ii] While this author understands ekklesia as an image, Paul employs it as a technical term. Therefore it is mentioned only in reference.