Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Ephesus?

What to do when many of your early textual witnesses omit the addressee in an epistle?

As with most of the books of the New Testament, there are several critical issues regarding the book of Ephesians that have been debated by scholars for centuries. These are mainly questions pertaining to the dating and setting of the autograph (when and where was it written?), its authorship (by whom was it written?), and its recipient (for whom was it written?). With regards to the latter question, would it surprise you to learn that there is no absolute proof that the epistle to the Ephesians was written to the Church in Ephesus?

In How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Gordon Fee notes the following about Ephesians:
Recipients: uncertain; perhaps a circular letter to many churches in the province of Asia, of which Ephesus is the capital (no city is given in the earliest manuscripts; Paul assumes the readers do not know him personally, 1:15; 3:2)
Here’s how Eph 1:1 appears in the NA28. Notice the brackets (coloured red by me for emphasis). In the Novum Testamentum Graece, the “authenticity of text enclosed in brackets is dubious.”
Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν [ἐν Ἐφέσῳ] καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,
The CNTTS apparatus in BibleWorks gives all the manuscript variants of this verse:

1. Manuscripts with the phrase.
2. Manuscripts without the phrase.
The capital “A” in highlighted row “1.” stands for “Alexandrianus”, the codex from which the picture above was taken.

As you can see by row “2.”, the prescripts of many very early extant manuscripts, such as P46, א*, B*, 1739, the phrase “in Ephesus” (ἐν Ἐφέσῳ) is not found. F. F. Bruce, on page 249 of his New International Commentary on Ephesians, tells us that the phrase was also omitted in the texts known to patristic writers Marcion, Origen and Basil.

So, what does the exegete do in the face of these disagreements between the manuscript evidence and our canonical tradition? Well, that’s when we use Fee’s “enlightened common sense” and make intelligent, educated guesses.

D. A. Carson’s New Bible Commentary does just that:
The letter we have bearing the name ‘Ephesians’ was, however, not written primarily to the ‘saints in Ephesus’ (1:1). Indeed, the words ‘in Ephesus’ are not found here in the earliest manuscripts, and 1:15 and 3:1–3 assume that Paul and the majority of his readers have heard reports of each other, but not necessarily more. The letter also ends without the customary personal greetings which we would expect in a letter addressed to Ephesus (cf. Rom. 16; Col. 4:10–17). These features have suggested to many that Ephesians was actually intended as a circular letter for the churches of the whole Roman province of Asia (including the seven mentioned in Rev. 1–3). Perhaps, more plausibly, it was written for the churches along or near the road Tychicus would have taken from Ephesus to Colosse, including Magnesia, Tralles, Hierapolis and Laodicea. (Ephesians may in that sense be the letter Col. 4:16 refers to as the ‘letter from Laodicea’.)
And N. T. Wright, also employing “enlightened common sense,” concurs. “If we suppose that [Paul] intended the letter to go to several young churches within a hundred miles or so of Ephesus,” Wright says on page 5 of his commentary on the Prison Letters, “we shan’t go far wrong.”

The last word goes to the inimitable Bruce Metzger, who sums it all up nicely in his book A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament:
The words ἐν Ἐφέσῳ are absent from several important witnesses (P46 א* B* 424c 1739) as well as from manuscripts mentioned by Basil and the text used by Origen. Certain internal features of the letter as well as Marcion’s designation of the epistle as “To the Laodiceans” and the absence in Tertullian and Ephraem of an explicit quotation of the words ἐν Ἐφέσῳ have led many commentators to suggest that the letter was intended as an encyclical, copies being sent to various churches, of which that at Ephesus was chief. Since the letter has been traditionally known as “To the Ephesians,” and since all witnesses except those mentioned above include the words ἐν Ἐφέσῳ, the [editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies’ 4th Edition of the Greek New Testament] decided to retain them, but enclosed within square brackets.


Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.

Carson, D. A., R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, eds. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

Metzger, Bruce Manning, United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994.

Nestle, Eberhard, and Erwin Nestle. Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece. Edited by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger. 28. revidierte Auflage. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012.

Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. London: SPCK, 2002.

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