To Ephesus, the flourishing metropolis of Ionia, the capital and commercial center of the great and wealthy Roman province of proconsular Asia, in Western Asia Minor, the seat of Greek learning and science, the home of the heathen cult of the goddess Diana and of witchcraft and superstition as well, St. Paul had come on his second journey, Act_18:19-21. Finding it impossible to remain for the length of time that he himself desired and that the few Christians of the city pleaded for, he returned to Ephesus on his third journey, at the end of the year 52 or somewhat later, Act_19:1, remaining there for almost three years, and preaching the Gospel with remarkable success, "so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks," Act_19:10. The congregation at Ephesus, although begun with a nucleus of Jewish Christians, consisted chiefly of Gentile Christians, Act_20:21; Eph_3:1, and, by reason of its size and growth in knowledge soon held the position of chief church in that region of Asia, Act_20:17-38. After the end of the first Roman captivity, Paul visited the congregation once more, leaving Timothy in charge of the work, 1Ti_1:3; 1Ti_3:14; 1Ti_4:13; 2Ti_1:18. Still later the Apostle John lived in Ephesus. One of the messages which the Lord gave to John on the isle of Patmos for the seven churches in Asia Minor was addressed to the congregation at Ephesus, Rev_2:1-7.
There was no immediate, urgent reason which caused Paul to write this epistle, as, for instance, in the case of those addressed to the Corinthians and to the Galatians. His object was merely the desire to strengthen and establish the congregation at Ephesus and with it the daughter congregations in the entire region, to remind the Asiatic Christians of the great mercy and honor which they owed to Christ and of which they should be conscious at all times, and to urge them to fulfill their calling as followers of Christ with all earnest endeavor. The one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, is the central, the fundamental thought of the entire epistle. Incidentally, all those that were in danger of being led astray by false doctrine were called upon to remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the true wisdom and therefore inseparably connected with the idea of true sanctification. Luther writes: "In this epistle St. Paul teaches, in the first place, what the Gospel is, how it was ordained by God alone in eternity and merited and caused to go forth through Christ, in order that all that believe in it might become just, pious, quickened, saved, and free from Law, sin, and death... Moreover, he teaches us to avoid the false doctrines and precepts of men, in order that we may remain with the one Head, become certain, justified, and perfect in Christ alone, in whom we have everything, needing nothing outside of Him. Finally, he teaches us to exercise and prove our faith in good works, to avoid sin, and to battle with spiritual weapons against the devil, in order that through cross we may be confirmed in hope."
As to the time and place of the epistle's composition, it is evident that Paul wrote while he was a prisoner, Eph_3:1; Eph_4:1; Eph_6:20. The note below the text (which is not a part of the letter, but was added by some copyist as an explanation) in this case states a fact, namely, that the letter was "written from Rome unto the Ephesians by Tychicus. " Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, during which it was composed, began in A. D. 61 and ended in 63. The date of this letter, therefore, is probably A. D. 62.
The character of this letter is such as to endear it to every Christian. Unlike the letter to the Galatians, which was obviously written in great agitation, its atmosphere is that of quiet meditation. "The diction and style assume an exaltation such as is hardly found in any other of Paul's letters. 'It is one of the richest and most valuable of the epistles, having a singular fullness of matter, depth of doctrine, solemnity of style, and warmth of emotion, which render it precious to the Christians of every land. '"
The letter naturally falls into two parts, the doctrinal section, chaps. 1-3, and the hortatory section, chaps. 4-6. After the salutation Paul breaks forth in a wonderful paean of thanksgiving for God's eternal election in Christ Jesus, for the salvation in time, and for the regenerative power of the Spirit, followed by a prayer that the Ephesian Christians might come to the proper knowledge of this work of redemption and of the position of Jesus as the Head of the Church. He shows his readers how God had quickened them out of the death of sin and united Jews and Gentiles in the Church, the holy temple of the Lord. This glorious message is entrusted to him especially as the apostle of the Gentiles, for which reason he inserts a fervent prayer for the strengthening of their faith. In the second part Paul admonishes his readers to walk worthy of their calling, in true unity, in contrast to their former heathen condition of uncleanness in holiness, purity, and love, as true children and disciples of the Lord. There follows a table of duties for the various stations and finally an urgent admonition to wage the war of the Spirit without ceasing, and to be untiring in the proper intercession. The letter closes with a recommendation of the bearer and with greetings.