Though the author of Ephesians is not widely debated, its recipients are. Most English Bibles read “to the saints in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1, but some of the earliest Greek manuscripts do not include “in Ephesus,” naming no one specifically. There are several points of interest surrounding this. First, Paul was a prisoner at the time of writing (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1), which took place after his third missionary tour which consisted of almost three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10). Second, Paul normally included many personal names and greetings in his letters, which makes Ephesians odd, because not a single personal greeting is given, even though he was there for so long. Third, the content is very similar to Colossians, which refers to a letter coming from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). Ephesus and Laodicea were the “bookend” cities on a trade route through southern Asia Minor, on which Ephesus was first and Laodicea last (see Revelation 2-3). All of these details combined give evidence that this letter was probably intended to be a general letter for all of the churches in the region. It likely went to Ephesus first, but he did not want it to remain there.
The layout of the letter is easy to determine. The first three chapters are heavily concentrated doctrine regarding salvation and the Church. The last three chapters present a series of applications on how members of the Church are to grow and live. As all of this is general doctrine and application, its usefulness and relevance to the Body of Christ is just as poignant today as it was when it was written. With the exception of the description of God’s armor, there is nothing in this letter that even references cultural issues. Its status as one of the best-loved books of the New Testament is directly tied to the way that it spans and addresses every generation and every culture.
Chapter one does not just open the letter, it also lays the foundation for the two primary doctrines Paul intended to address: salvation (Ephesians 1:3-14) and the Church (Ephesians 1:15-23). In the first section, Paul demonstrated that all three members of the Trinity are integrally involved in salvation. First, the Father made the plan. He determined that all believers would be “in Christ” and chosen to become “holy and unblemished.” He predestined all believers to be adopted “as his sons.” He also “freely bestowed on us…his grace.” All of this was done “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”
Second, Jesus provided redemption and forgiveness “through his blood…according to the riches of his grace.” This was according to the Father’s plan “that he set forth in Christ.” Believers are not only adopted as sons but also “claimed as God’s own possession” since that was part of God’s adoption plan. This, too, was “to the praise of his glory.”
Third, the Holy Spirit is given to every believer as “the seal…the down payment of our inheritance.” We received the Holy Spirit, “when [we] believed in Christ,” and he remains in us “until the redemption of God’s own possession,” which Paul already said we were. Again, this is done “to the praise of his glory.” Thus, all of salvation – the planning, the execution, and the finalization – all demonstrate the doxological center of all things: to God be the glory.
In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul gave his traditional prayer of thanksgiving (which usually came immediately after the greeting), also asking that God would enlighten these saints so that they would understand three things: 1) “the hope of his calling”; 2) “the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints”; and 3) “the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” This power, he went on to explain, is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and that will one day subject all things to Christ. Until then, Christ is serving as the head of the church, and “the church his is body.”