There are several letters ascribed to Paul that most modern biblical scholars consider to be authored by someone else. Ephesians is one such letter. This scholarly consensus is based on analyses of language, style, and content, which seem to point to the author as someone living later than Paul. Not all scholars agree as to the motive of an author ascribing to Paul something Paul did not write. Some argue that the author intended to deceive people while others argue that this was an accepted technique in the ancient world, and no deception was intended.

Ephesians does not address any particular problem or false teaching. Rather, the letter was written to give the readers greater understanding of the nature of the gospel. In the gospel, God has blessed his people with every spiritual blessing by virtue of their being “in Christ.” Those benefits extend to the believer, even now, being raised with Christ and seated with him in the “heavenly realms” (2:6). Of course, this is a spiritual raising and seating; the point is that Christians are already participating in blessings that one might think are located solely in the future. Ephesians tells readers that being a Christian means being resurrected and ascended to heaven, even as Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead and taken to heaven.

This knowledge, according to Ephesians, should spur Christians on to living as one, in harmony with each other. Further, Christians should live lives worthy of this high calling—putting off the “old self” and putting on the “new self” (4:24). In particular, this is applicable to households. Wives are to submit to husbands, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, children must obey their parents, and parents are not to exasperate their children. Also, slaves are to obey and respect earthly masters.

At the very least, the view of slaves described here is certainly a reflection culture at the time, and many say the same of the relationship of wives to their husbands. Wisdom, however, and common sense, must be used in reading these passages, regardless of how some of the details are parsed. For a wife to submit to her husband is not a general command to put up with emotional or physical abuse, for example. Likewise, children should not obey parents when they are told do something harmful to themselves or others. What is being outlined here is a general principle of proper social behaviors at the time so as not to bring discredit to the gospel itself. A modern western analogy might be trying to spread the gospel in America with a perceived communist agenda. It will fall on deaf ears. It is up to readers of every culture to see where cultural factors are reflected in the biblical books and make wise decisions about what is and is not binding.

– Peter Enns