What is the Genre of Ephesian?

This was a search hit yesterday. And its a good question, a very good question.

Much of the authorship debate, I think is a result of genre confusions.

Ephesians is so different than Paul’s other letters in a number of ways, some of which relate to theological emphasis and other relate to form.

Ernest Best on both of this bases, argues that Ephesians is not written by Paul. He then turns around and says that Ephesians also is only a letter in a superficial sense. Its actually more of a homily or sermon.

When I read that in his commentary, I thought, “Wait, Best, if you had come to that second conclusion first, would you have needed to reject Pauline authorship?”

I doubt it. I think the form differences and the theology difference between Ephesians and Paul’s other letters can be explained by admitting that Ephesians should not be understood as a letter. Its a homily. Its a sermon – with a specific theological focus. Understood from this perspective, the problems disappear rather easily.

So then, “What genre is Ephesians?”

Ephesians is a homily wrapped up in a letter.

12 thoughts on “What is the Genre of Ephesian?

  1. Good thing I didn’t start drinking my coffee yet, the above comment would have caused it to be all over my monitor

  2. I agree with you. I don’t think, based on the genre differences, that there is enough to warrant a rejection of Pauline authorship. I have no real problems either way. Even if it wasn’t Paul, it was obviously someone in the Pauling community–under Pauline influence.

  3. I was wondering your thoughts on Clinton Arnold’s approach to Ephesians and his articles in IVP’s DPL? He argues for Pauline authorship and

  4. and…?

    and Ephesians as the correct location?

    Yes, I know. I don’t find it convincing. Like many others (Best, Witherington, O’Brien, Bruce, etc.), there impersonal nature of Ephesians seems to be simply too great for it to be a letter to the Ephesians – not to mention that the structure is not a typical 1st century letter either.

    Personally, I imagine Paul, having finished writing Colossians, thinking, “Hmmm, some of these themes are very important and I haven’t written at length about a few of them to the churches. Perhaps I’ll write and send a sermon to them…”

  5. Or its possible that it went the other way around…he wrote Ephesians and thought, “Wow, some of this stuff the Colossians really need to hear, maybe I can put some of these thoughts into a letter for them…”

  6. I think if I’m ever going to follow half of the things you discuss I’m going to have to re-read Ephesians and make my first WBC read through be Lincoln’s.

  7. Well, what I’ve said is pretty simple just from reading Ephesians and Acts – Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus, yet Ephesians has no personal greetings to anyone in the church!

  8. …and there’s the textual issue. Our earliest manuscripts of Ephesians do not have the phrase “in Ephesus” in the first verse. So its not just speculation about Acts & Ephesians – there’s definite historical evidence too.

  9. No one has voiced the opinion of Ephesians being a circular letter written to the churches in the Lycus River Valley. Under this assumption most arguments dissipate, most importantly the lack of personal greetings and the presence of vague first person statements (1:15, 3:2, 4:21) stating Paul had heard of these believers in the Lycus River Valley but did not know them directly. My question is this; given Paul’s lack of correspondence with the churches in that area in the years prior to his Roman imprisonment and the Ephesian church’s dedication to the gospel, would there not be a new crop of believers in need of Paul’s direct teaching? This is not to mention a more developed theology, Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology (all found in Ephesians) that Paul would have surely developed over the years prior to authorship. Regarding the early manuscripts issue, it was common for circular letters to not have specific addresses attached to them as the letter would be circulating from church to church. It is possible that the later manuscripts that do have “in Ephesus” are based on copies of the letter found in Ephesus.

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