Orientation for Study of Ephesians
Welcome to your Ephesians Bible Study. This web page contains lesson plans for a ten-week Bible Study.
Steps to Prepare for Your Study
The following steps will be helpful in getting the most from your Ephesians Bible study:
- If you are leading this study on Ephesians, I would encourage you to complete our Guide for Bible Study Leaders. It provides a helpful orientation to our lesson plans as well giving you some important guidelines for maximizing the impact of your Bible study.
- Read an introduction to Ephesians in a study Bible, Bible dictionary or one-volume commentary (you can check out my Bible Study Tools page for some of my recommendations.)
- Study the Ephesians outline. Notice where the natural divisions occur. You can view an online version here: Ephesians Bible Study Outline (Online) or download and print your own copy from our Print Lessons page. Look under the Ephesians Bible study.
- Read Ephesians through in one sitting.
- Keep a notebook handy with pencil to jot down questions, ideas and applications as you study Ephesians.
- Read the short background information for Ephesians below.
- Optional: To really jump ahead in your study of Ephesians, complete our How to Study a Book of The Bible lesson using Ephesians as your subject.
Background for Ephesians Bible Study
Paul’s Ministry in Ephesus
Paul first visited Ephesus on his return from his second missionary journey (Acts 18:21).
He promised to return shortly thereafter, a promise he kept with his third missionary foray (Acts 18:23; 19:1-20:1), a majority of which was in Ephesus.
Paul spent more than two years in the city, preaching the gospel to Jew and Gentile, ministering with power and building up the church there. His farewell speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38) summarizes his great success while in Ephesus and stands as one of the most poignant portions of the New Testament.
Occasion for The Letter
It is believed Paul wrote Ephesians during his imprisonment in Rome (61-62 AD).
On that occasion, Paul was returning Onesimus (a runaway slave) to his Christian master, Philemon, who lived in Colossae. The returning group would have traveled through Ephesus on their way home.
Paul took this opportunity to craft the letter to Philemon, as well as Colossians and Ephesians and sent them along with the returning group.
Ephesians is unlike other Pauline letters in that it is NOT addressed to a particular situation or problem. (We see the particularity in the divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians or the compromise of the gospel which Paul fought against in Galatians.)
There is a breathtaking and cosmic quality to the themes that are covered in Ephesians. Here we are treated to God’s universal plan which he had purposed from the foundation of the world.
This plan, which Paul calls a “mystery” is that the Gentiles and Jews would become one body, the temple in which God would dwell, the body of Christ united, the church.
Overview of Ephesians
In the first three chapters, we are treated to the way in which God joined Jew and Gentile into one glorious body. This is a grand picture of the church, replete with the sinful past we left behind and the spiritual blessings that are now accrued to every believer.
Once Paul has established our position in Christ, he then makes an appeal on what it means to walk worthy of our calling in Christ.
These chapters are filled with moral exhortations to lead us to the goal of Christ-like maturity. Paul ends his letter with his famous chapter on the armor of God, again demonstrating that our maturity is possible if we will but use our spiritual blessings.
Cultural and Historical Background for Ephesians
In order to understand the radical nature of the message of Ephesians or even some of Paul’s harsh language toward Gentiles, it is important to provide some cultural and historical context for the Jew / Gentile relationship in the ancient world.
From the perspective of a first-century Israelite, the world was divided between those who belonged to the covenant community of God (the Jews) and those that did not (the Gentiles). Indeed, the entire Old Testament reflected God’s election, love, blessing and discipline for the chosen nation of Israel.
In addition, Gentile culture was known for two egregious sins that ran counter to all Jewish sensibility, that is, idolatry and sexual immorality. In the Jewish mind, to be a Gentile was to be a sinner in the worst possible way.
Thus for Paul to say that God had purposed from the beginning to bring together both groups (Jew and Gentile) into one body in Christ was a rather shocking affirmation.
To be certain, this idea had been percolating in the Old Testament (Rahab the Canaanite and Ruth the Moabitess are notable examples of Gentiles being grafted into God’s covenant community and even becoming part Jesus’ messianic line).
However, no one could have foreseen what the Christian church eventually became within the pages of the New Testament. (This caused quite a bit of stress between Jewish and Gentile Christians and required a major readjustment in perspective from both sides (see Galatians, Romans, Colossians and Acts 15 for example).
But the view of Gentiles outside of those who had professed faith in Christ still remained nearly unchanged. Paul’s letters are especially filled with references to our former (sinful) way of life, in reference to Gentiles.
His descriptions of Gentile attitudes, speech and deeds (clearly seen here in Ephesians) serve various purposes: 1) They remind Gentile Christians of their former way of life; 2) They warn of behavior to avoid; and 3) They contrast with the moral and ethical excellence that should now characterize believers in Christ.