Ephesians Online—Chapter Two and Three

  • Posted on Feb 1, 2010

Comments on Chapter Two of Ephesians:

Hope that everyone is reading along in Ephesians. We had two comments this week–from Lucy and Mary Jo. Here is my response:

Chapter Two of Ephesians speaks to sin and grace. I have two primary points on this chapter about context. I’ll talk more about sin and grace as we move through the letter. Today I want to add to my comments last week about the religious context which Paul speak to in his Letter to the Ephesians. In her book Spiritual Life of the Early Church, Bonnie Thurston explains about the city of Ephesus and its religious character.

The City of Ephesus: According to Greek legend, Ephesus was founded by the Amazons. There were also several permutations of Ephesus. The silt in the harbor led to there being FIVE different locations of Ephesus over the years. In the first century, Ephesus had a quarter of a million inhabitants and was ranked with Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt as the three great cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. Ephesus was politically important as it was the capital of the Roman province in Asia. It was a major shipping center and was the terminal of important inland trade routes. The city was laid out in a Hellenistic plan with a stadium and theatre. Here is a good description from Thurston’s book: “The luxury of the city in Paul’s time(57 c.e.?) is attested to by the remnants of marble streets with statues of prominent citizens and canopied colonnades that shielded shoppers from the weather. The city contained public buildings and temples as well as restaurants, a brothel, and patrician homes. The city had six public baths with provision for both hot and cold water. ” (p. 68) I like to think of Ephesus like St Peter’s Square in Rome—with all those colonnades and statues.

The Religions of Ephesus: Second, in addition to being a major city in trade, population and culture, Ephesus was also a great religious center. First and foremost, Ephesus historically had been the center of the cult of Artemis along with the emperor cults, gnosticism and a magical form of Judaism. Artemis was a very popular form of goddess worship in the ancient Greek world. Artemis was the daughter of Leto and Zeus and the sister of Apollo. She is also known as Diana. In most Artemis worship, Artemis is seen as a virgin hunter and moon goddess who is the protector of maidens and women in childbirth. The Ephesian Artemis was different and was more of an Asian fertility goddess and earth mother. In Ephesus, there was the famous Artemision. The Artemision was a temple which served the goddess Artemis. The temple was staffed by eunuch priests, attendants, and thousand of female slaves (who may have been prostitutes). Magic played a large part in the worship of Artemis. Biblical Scholar B.M. Metzger wrote that “of all ancient Greco-Roman cities, Ephesus…was by far the most hospitable to magicians, sorcerers, and charlatans of all sorts.” (quoted in Thurston, p. 69) Thurston states that Ephesus “proliferated in magical practice, the aim of which was to gain power over the spiritual world (which, it was believed, exercised influence over all aspects of human life). Followers of Artemis saw her as more powerful than this demonic realm and that the purpose of Ephesians was to address the power of Christianity in relation to these demonic powers.

Take a look at Chapter Two once again: How might Paul be speaking to those Christian Ephesians that had been part of the cult of Artemis?

Chapter Three: This chapter has the great prayer in verses 14-21. If you were listening to the Letter being read in a home in Ephesus, what would you hear in this Chapter? What would you want to know about?