New Testament Sunday School Lesson 39: Ephesians

MsFor a variety of reasons most New Testament scholars do not believe that this book was ever an actual letter written to a specific Christian congregation in Ephesus. For one thing, the words “to the Ephesians” in verse 1 is not part of the best manuscripts. Instead of a letter, it appears to be a treatise written as if it were a letter. A significant number of scholars, though perhaps not a majority, also question whether the book was written by Paul.

As with Hebrews, for me the best response is that answering those questions doesn’t matter, though I assume that Ephesians was written by Paul. The book is from early Christianity (approximately 62 AD at the latest, if written by Paul). It was either written by Paul or someone reasonably familiar with his teaching.

We might think of Ephesians 4:1-3 as the thesis of this book: “1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” As you read the assignment, keep that thesis in mind to help you see how the various parts fit together as a whole.

For these study questions I will focus on the context of the verses suggested for the Sunday School lesson.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Verse 13: Why is it important that Gentile converts remember that they are “made nigh by the blood of Christ”? Nigh to what or whom?

Another translation of verse 14’s “middle wall of partition” is “the dividing wall of hostility” (New International Version). Why had there been a wall of hostility between Jews and others? Is there anything like that wall of hostility in the contemporary Church? Within our own cities and country? Between our country and others?

Verses 14-18: How did Christ break down the wall of hostility of Paul’s time? How does he do it for us? Specifically, how did his sacrifice of himself make peace between us possible (verses 15-16)?

Verses 19-22: In what sense had some early Christians been “strangers and foreigners”? In relation to what / whom? What does it mean to be “a fellow citizen with the saints”? Of what are they citizens?

Why does Paul compare the church to a household?

Is there a discrepancy between verse 20, which says that the apostles and prophets are the foundation of God’s house and 1 Corinthians 3:11, which says that the only foundation is Jesus Christ?

Ephesians 4:7-16

Verse 7 is the beginning of the section in which we find the scripture we often quote and on which this lesson focuses, Ephesians 4:11-14. It speaks of the grace given each of us “according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” What does verse 7 say?

One translator understands the verse this way: “The gift of the Messiah is the measure after which grace was given to each one of us” (Markus Barth, Ephesians, page 425).  Does that help or hinder your understanding of the King James translation? Can you say any better what Barth’s translation means than you can what the King James translation means?

One commentator (Ralph Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, page 49) uses the heading “Christ’s Gift and his Gifts” to describe these verses. Can you understand why he would do so? Does using his description help you see the verses differently? Do you think that a different description would be more accurate?

What is the gift that Christ has given us that Paul is referring to here? Himself? The Holy Ghost? Something else?

How are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers a gift?

How does the teaching of verse 11 fit with the teaching of verse 7, that grace is apportioned to us with Christ’s gift as a measure? In other words, in what sense are these offices in the Church a gift measured by Christ’s gift?

Compare 1 Corinthians 12:18 to see that this gift is more than an occasional blessing to some persons. Christ has given a structure to the church, a structure that includes these offices.

Except for prophets, all of the words used in verse 11 to describe officers in the Church are taken from secular titles rather than from Old Testament religious titles. Why do you think that was done?

The Greek word for “evangelist” means, literally, “one who preaches the good news.” Latter-day Saints understand it to refer to those who are ordained patriarchs because Joseph Smith taught “an Evangelist is a Patriarch” (Teachings, page 151). Why do you think that “evangelist” was used as the name for the office of the patriarch in the early Church?

In verse 12, the word translated “perfecting” means “equipping,” “training,” or “discipline.” Put those words into the verse and see whether using them changes the meaning for you. Which word do you think would be the best translation?

The word translated “ministry” in verse 12 is diakonia, the word from which we get the word “deacon.” The Greek word means “service” or “ministry.” It indicates almost any kind of service. Why do you think the word was adopted as the name of a priesthood office? After all, all priesthood offices are opportunities for service and ministry.

Why do you think that Paul uses the metaphor of Christ’s body to refer to the Church (verse 12)?

Verse 13 sets out the goal of the Church: unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God.

Is the “perfect man” of which Paul speaks here supposed to be understood as the perfect individual who is a member of the Church (compare Colossians 1:28), or is “man” a metaphor for the Church itself? Or is the perfect man whom Paul has in mind Christ?

To think about the answer to this question, think about its grammar in the King James translation: the subject of the sentence is “we all.” The verb is “come.” “Unto” introduces a prepositional phrase that is the object of the verb. How do those translators seem to have understood what Paul was saying?

What does the last phrase of verse 13, “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” mean?

Verse 14 tells us why Christ has given us the gift of a church hierarchy: the goal is the maturity described in verse 13, and that maturity will deliver us from the instability described in this verse.

Why does Paul imply that the instability against which we must guard isn’t merely the consequence of our human frailty, but behind it we find “the trickery of men who are experts in deceitful scheming” (Markus translation)?

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