Tag Archives: eternal purpose

Ephesians: The Eternal Purpose of God

Ephesians: The Eternal Purpose of God—–A Brief Overview of The Epistle to the Ephesians

The Epistle to the Ephesians has been one of the most influential and earliest attested documents in the history of the Christian church.[1] Despite the letter’s early attestation, it is not among the indisputable writings of Paul.

Authorship & Recipients

Within the last few hundred years there have been a growing number of scholars that contend that the letter was written pseudonymously from a later follower of Paul because of its striking similarity to Colossians and its dissimilarity to other letters of the apostle.

Andrew T. Lincoln is convinced that the terminology used in Ephesians is unlike anything in the Pauline corpus.  He also argues that the theology contained in the epistle is far more developed than in previous letters.  Lincoln finds the letter impersonal “having no intimate connection” with the intended audience.[2]

Is it possible that readers have been a bit hasty in their decision to credit Ephesians to a later admirer of Paul?  Can the student or scholar be so quick to overlook the claims the letter makes concerning authorship (1:1; 3:1)?

H.J. Cadbury asked: “Which is more likely—that an imitator of Paul in the first century composed a writing ninety or ninety-five per cent in accordance with Paul’s style or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging five or ten per cent from his usual style?”[3] D.A. Carson mentions that the letter was viewed as Pauline by numerous apostolic fathers and it was not even questioned until the modern era.

Furthermore, writing under the name of someone else was not a wide practice within the early Christian church.[4] A closer examination of the epistle within the Pauline corpus, and an allowance for theological expansion upon earlier material, may enable the reader to accept Paul as the author and learn from his revelation.

The next matter of debate comes in the later part of the first verse:  “to the saints who are [in Ephesus] and the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Bruce Metzger writes that the words “in Ephesus” are absent from several important manuscripts.

Clinton Arnold believes there is still “strong manuscript support” for keeping the original reading.[5] It could be that the phrase “in Ephesus” was omitted in later manuscripts in order to universalize the letter and pass its message along to other churches in need.  This is a reasonable explanation.

The absence of “in Ephesus” has led many scholars to conclude that the letter was definitely intended to be circulated.[6] Scholars have weighed in on this problem and offered several other solutions. Conservative scholarship believes that the author intended the letter to be circulated among the churches in the city of Ephesus, a city with a first-century population of one-quarter million, and possibly in the entire west coast region of Asia Minor.[7]

Historical Setting and Purpose

The ancient city of Ephesus was first excavated in 1863.[8] The partially reconstructed ruins are some of the largest and most visited of all ancient cities. Today the city is located a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea along the west coast of Turkey.

In the first-century, Ephesus was a metropolitan port city with a thriving harbor. Like the city of Corinth, Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, was filled with temples and theaters. The temple to Artemis, the Greek god of fertility and hunting, was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. In Acts 19, Paul’s preaching conflicted with the religious practices that existed in Ephesus.[9]

Many scholars struggle to see any specific Sitz im Leben (setting in life) addressed in Ephesus. In fact, the epistle does not reflect the standard Pauline address directed to saints in a particular location. Ben Witherington writes: “Ephesians is a circular homily included in a document… it does not deal with any particular problems… this document should not be compared to letters, as it really is not one.”[10]

It is likewise acknowledged by other scholars that the epistle is styled much differently from the rest of the Pauline corpus, however, there is not sufficient evidence to remove the writing from the realm of letter (e.g. 4:17-6:9).

What can be known? What is the occasion and purpose for the epistle?

In the letter we learn that Paul is writing from prison (3:1; 4:1). Scholars insist that this places the epistle during the time of his house arrest in Rome toward the end of his life in the early 60’s. This would certainly allow for a theological development—a grand view of the eternal purpose—set forth in the letter.

Paul preached among the Ephesians and remained with them for some time (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:31). His love and affection for them can be seen in his farewell address (Acts 20:17-38). Scholars that doubt Pauline authorship find the letter lacking in emotion and thus affirming their suspicions. However, the argument for a letter lacking in emotion is contestable (1:15-16; 3:14-21).

Overview of Epistle

A simple reading of the epistle reveals that Paul is addressing a predominantly Gentile audience (2:11-22). It could be that the church has grown significantly since Paul’s last visit, for there seems to be some distance between them (3:1-6). His message to his audience is that the “mystery” hidden in Christ has now been disclosed to all saints, to bring all things in the cosmos under the headship of Christ Jesus (1:9-10), and to form one new humanity from Jew and Gentile (2:14-16; 3:5-6). Flowing from the glorious revelation of the “eternal purpose” of God in Christ (3:7-13), comes a “unity of the Spirit” in the building up of believers through the church—the dwelling of God (4:1-16). For the wisdom of God to be made known, the saints are called to live intentionally (i.e. put off/put on) as “children of the light” (4:17-5:21). This life “in Christ” permeates all relationships (5:22-6:9). Therefore, the saints must “stand firm” and be on guard against spiritual evil that works against God’s eternal purpose in Christ (6:10-18).

It has been said that Paul presents a cosmic Christ, a realized eschatology, and an advanced ecclesiology in this magnificent Epistle to the Ephesians.[11] As Paul pours out his divine revelation after years of service as Christ’s bond-slave, listen and be moved to join the triumphant Lord and his bride whom he has seated in the heavenlies.

The following overview of Ephesians may help you to capture the flow of the epistle before or as you read it:

1:1-2 Greetings—salutation to saints in Ephesus

1:3-3:21 God’s Eternal Purpose in Christ

1:3-14   Prayer of praise and thanksgiving—inclusion into promised Holy Spirit and guaranteed inheritance.

1:15-23   Continued prayer of thanksgiving and supplication—full knowledge of the hope and glorious riches in Christ.

2:1-10   God’s mercy and kindness in Christ—created to walk in goodness as a proper response to grace.

2:11-19   Remembrance of exclusion from promise—now included in Christ as a new creation.

2:19-23   New creation is set in motion by Christ, apostles, and prophets; manifested through the dwelling of God together with the saints.

3:1-13   Paul called to Gentiles—mystery of Christ made known through apostles and prophets—Gentiles are included in the mystery and the promise.

3:14-21   Paul’s ecumenical prayer for the experience of Christ’s riches with encouragement to discover love over knowledge (gnosis).

4:1-6:20  Living in Christ

4:1-16   Knowing the eternal purpose calls for living worthy of it—unity in the Spirit—obtain a full knowledge of Christ through the building up of the body—corporately grow up into Christ.

4:17-6:9  Living intentionally in Christ

4:17-5:2   put off former conduct of the flesh—put on Christ.

5:3-14      call to purity—be on guard.

5:15-6:9    live not as unwise, but as the wise—relationships.

6:10-20    Stand firm against spiritual warfare—put on the armor of God.

6:21-24  Final Comments—Tychicus sent to encourage saints

Conclusion–Applying the Text

If you have followed this brief overview of Ephesians, I think you should be able to see the aged apostle Paul used up for Christ in Rome.  The gospel has reached the heart of the empire, and the story that began ages ago has been fulfilled in Jesus.  Paul had previously described an astounding revelation of the cosmic Christ in his Letter to the Colossians.  He was so fond and familiar with his language to those saints—even having hidden it away in his heart—that it spills over into his Epistle to the Ephesians.

As Paul grew older, his vision of Christ matured.  This seasoned revelation is evident in his presentation of the “mystery” of God in Christ, which is the central message to the saints in Ephesus and all those who have believed on the Lord Jesus (Eph. 1:9-12).

The eternal purpose of God in Christ is that through the church God’s glorious grace might be known in all the earth; that all things would be gathered up into Christ.

The lack of historical and cultural issues in this epistle makes application fairly easy.  For the message is transferred to the reader with little to stumble over.

The God who existed before time, placed man in the Garden, traveling through the wilderness to Canaan, and sent the Son up a hill to Calvary, has been vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus.  He has revealed his eternal purpose in Christ.

Out of Adam… God brought forth Eve.  Out of Jesus… he called out a Bride.  The Trinitarian God, who is heavenly community, looks for a dwelling in his children upon the earth.  By the power of his Spirit and the fullness of his grace we are included in his plan.

Are you participating in the eternal purpose of God in Christ?

The overwhelming glory of God invites us to join him in the building of a spiritual house.

[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 1-2.

[2] Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians. Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), lix-lxi.

[3] H.J. Cadbury, “The Dilemma of Ephesians,” NTS 5 (1958-59): 101.

[4] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 480.

[5] Clinton E. Arnold, “Letter to the Ephesians.” The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament. ed. Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 324.

[6] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 532.

[7] Clinton E. Arnold, “Introducing Ephesians: Establishing Believers In Christ.” SWJT 39, no. 1 (September 1, 1996): 9.

[8] Hoehner, Ephesians, 79.

[9] Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 499-500.

[10] Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007), 217-218.  [Witherington says: “The profound theological and ethical reflections found in Ephesians would have sounded more like  a philosophical oration to Gentile ears.” p. 219]

[11] Charles B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 174-175.


From Eternity to Here (Book Review)

from eternity picGod’s Love Story

A Book Review of “From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God” by Frank Viola Reviewed by David D. Flowers

Growing up I remember hearing folks call the church the “Bride of Christ.” I only believed it to be one more way to speak of “heavenly” things.

Like many things within institutional Christianity, it was nothing more than a metaphor in a line of many metaphors that were used to talk of God’s love for his children. Viola explains in his book that it is more than a fanciful, nice way to speak of the church… it is “God’s central purpose.” Paul called it “the eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11).

From Eternity to Here is the fourth book in a five-book series on radical church restoration. (Fifth book is set to be released Sept. 09)  Out of all the books Viola has written, this volume reveals the driving passion behind his life and all of his work. He writes, “in beholding God’s central purpose, I found my own purpose. In touching His passion, I found my own passion” (p.13).

Viola effectively communicates this passion in three parts. The first part is entitled “A Forgotten Woman: The Bride of Christ.” Viola begins by pointing his readers to the “hidden romance” between the great lover (God) and his beloved (the church).

This story begins with Adam and Eve and continues throughout all of Scripture as the true lover is seen through foreshadowing. Viola beautifully describes in detail this great love story between the lover and the beloved that will one day be the wife of God. The story of Adam and Eve is a picture of a greater story. Eve came out of Adam after creation… she was a “new creation.”

Viola says, “There was a woman inside of God before time” (p.41).

Viola is a master storyteller. He has been captivated by God’s love story and is able to wonderfully reveal “the mystery” of Christ to a new generation. “The Holy Spirit must open the eyes of His people in every generation for them to grasp it” (p.25).

“Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come” (Rom. 5:14).

Out of Christ comes his Bride! Finally, a woman for the Lord to love. Viola writes, “All love stories, whether intentional or unintentional, are patterned after this heavenly romance” (p.91).

It is not that God was lonely or that the Trinitarian community was inadequate. It is because “God is love” that he is not content to keep this love to himself. Viola states that the “superabundance of God’s love required a receptacle that was not within the Trinity” (p.40).

God always intended to share his community with his creation. The nature of God’s love is that is given, received, and returned to him. Without God’s creation, he is a “frustrated lover” (p.58). God is sovereign and in control of the future, but indeed frustrated.

Part II is entitled “An Eternal Quest: The House of God.” The chapters within this section look at the divine passion from another perspective. God is homeless and he desires a house that he and his Bride may have a family.

Viola traces God’s quest for a house throughout the Scriptures. As he traces God’s search from Adam to Jesus, he says, “The house of God is not a thing… it is the Lord Jesus Christ” (p.155).

The last half of this section gets personal and compares our own journey to being like that of Israel’s history. Like Israel, as members of the Body of Christ, we must make a choice as to which house we will dwell in. Put another way… what kind of house are we going to be for God?

Egypt: the world system that is driven by pleasures and places earthly pursuits above pursuits of our heavenly home and King.

Babylon: organized religion that is a mixture of fallen humanity and the divine; characterized best by hypocrisy and described best as the “counterfeit of the New Jerusalem.” Babylon can be compared to the institutional church of today. Many of God’s people live there and they will only find themselves building a community centered on man and not Christ and his purposes.

The Wilderness: this is the place where those who leave the world and organized religion will find themselves. It is a place of transition. “To sift us, to reduce us, and to strip us down to Christ alone” (p.191). This is a time of detox. Yet… it is not our home!

The old wineskin must be done away with so that the new can come. The home for which we were made is a land of freedom and one that flows with “milk and honey.”

Part III is entitled “A New Species: The Body of Christ & The Family of God.” This section speaks of Christians being resident aliens. The Bride of Christ is to remain pure and holy as she awaits her bridegroom.

The church is a “new species.” Viola traces this language through the New Testament. A language that many Christians have failed to recognize and apply to their lives.

Viola simplifies Body life as an act of gathering around Jesus Christ. This is our purpose. Likewise, it should be our passion. Yet, the Body of Christ has been forced into an institution and she has forgotten God’s eternal purpose. She has lost sight of the bigger picture and the great landscape of God’s love story. She has been preoccupied and polluted by a theology that leaves out the ageless purpose of God.

How does the church live out the ageless purpose of God? Viola writes, “Very simply: by loving the Lord Jesus as His bride and learning to live by His indwelling life” (p.288).

The book closes with a brief glimpse into Viola’s journey and a call to return to the Headship of Christ in the church that is reflective of the divine image and God’s eternal purpose.

frank-violaViola writes, “Recognizing that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of all spiritual things will change your prayer life. It will change your vocabulary and the way you think and talk about spiritual things. And it will ultimately change your practice of the church” (p.303).

If we seek the centrality and supremacy of Christ and know that our riches are in a Person and not in things meant to further our individual pursuits… we shall be fashioned into that beautiful Bride and usher in the Kingdom. At last… God will dwell with his people when heaven comes to earth at the marriage of the Great Lover and his Beloved.

I recommend this book, especially for those who have been lost in our narcissistic evangelical ecclesiology.

For the brave… I suggest:  Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices

For those who know there must be more to Body Life than you are experiencing… I encourage you to read:  Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity

I also recommend reading:

Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal
Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, Revised Edition


Today (June 9th), the following blogs are discussing Frank Viola’s new bestselling book “From Eternity to Here” (David C. Cook, 2009). The book just hit the May CBA Bestseller List. Some are posting Q & A with Frank; others are posting full reviews of the book. To read more reviews and order a copy at a 33% discount, go to Amazon.com: From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God

For more resources, such as downloadable audios, the free Discussion Guide, the Facebook Group page, etc. go to the official website: http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org

Enjoy the reviews and the Q and A:

Out of Ur
Shapevine (June newsletter)
Brian Eberly
Greg Boyd
Vision 2 Advance
David D. Flowers
kingdom grace
Captain’s Blog
Christine Sine
Darin Hufford – The Free Believers Network
Church Planting Novice
Staying Focused
Take Your Vitamin Z
Jeff Goins
Bunny Trails
Matt Cleaver
Jason T. Berggren
Simple Church
Emerging from Montana
Parable Life
Oikos Australia
West Coast Witness
Keith Giles
Consuming Worship
Tasha Via
Andrew Courtright
Leaving Salem, Blog of Ronnie McBrayer
Jason Coker
From Knowledge to Wisdom
Home Brewed Christianity
Dandelion Seeds
David Brodsky’s Blog- “Flip the tape Deck”
Chaordic Journey
Renee Martin
Bob Kuhn
Living with Freaks
Real Worship
Fervent Worship
Julie Ferwerda
What’s With Christina?!
On Now to the Third Level
Irreligious Canuck
This day on the journey
Live and Move: Thoughts on Authentic Christianity
Spiritual Journey With God
The Jesus Feed
Book Disciple
My Journey – With Others
On Now to the Third Level
Christine Moers
Breaking Point
Hand to the Plough
Jon Reid
D.L. Webster
Searching for the Whole-Hearted Life

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