The Book of Ephesians has been one of the great treasures of Christianity for almost 2,000 years. The great 19th century English preacher C.H. Spurgeon called Ephesians “a complete Body of Divinity.” Other commentators have called Ephesians the “queen” of the epistles and the “divinest” composition of man.
I first read Ephesians soon after becoming a Christian and knew I had struck gold. Ephesians is a wealth of spiritual revelation and insight given to the Apostle Paul by God for the benefit of every follower of Jesus Christ. Ephesians has been one of my favorite New Testament writings to study and teach. It is amazingly logical and extremely helpful in staying on the path God has established for us.
I invite you to join me in a special journey in learning how to teach Ephesians in small group settings. Let’s begin with the reasons we teach God’s Word.
Basic Premises for Studying Scripture
- God is worth knowing
- His Word is worth learning and obeying
- Because God is worth knowing and His Word is worth learning and obeying, we will follow a proven method of knowing Him and learning His Word.
- Inductive – Methodical – Direct – Independent
- Inductive study – “logical, objective, impartial reasoning” … examining specifics of Scripture before reaching conclusions
- Methodical study – “a way or path of transit” (Greek – methodos) … focused on taking the proper path to gaining knowledge about God
- Direct study – “relying on Scripture as the primary tool for learning”
- Independent study – “original thinking combined with Spirit insight”
- Observe (See and Record)
- Question (Ask and Answer)
- Interpret (Determine the Holy Spirit’s Intent)
- Apply (How God’s Truth applies to life)
Teaching Ephesians begins with historical context. You can include maps, photos and images to help visualize the locations and archaeological discoveries connected to the text. I have included links to some of the maps, photos and images to help you in preparation to teach the historical context of Ephesians. These are just some of the online tools available, so enjoy searching for others that will benefit you and your students.
At the time the Apostle Paul wrote “to the saints who are in Ephesus,” the city was one of the largest in Asia Minor with a population of more than a quarter-million people. The ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus are located near the town of Selcuk in the Izmir Province of Turkey near the Mediterranean Sea. It is a favorite tourist attraction.
Archaeological excavations have revealed that the area around Ephesus was inhabited thousands of years ago. Burial grounds found in the area have been dated from about the 16th Century BC. Much of what historians know about that time comes from the writings of the Greek poet Homer (e.g. Iliad, Odyssey, Trojan War, Nostoi, Cypria, Epigoni) who wrote in the 8th Century BC.
Ephesus was founded as an Attic-Ionian colony during the 10th Century BC. One legend is that a prince named Androklos was the founder of Ephesus and joined 12 cities together into what was known as the Ionian League. Another legend has Ephos, Queen of the Amazons, as the founder of the city. The legend of the Amazons is based on Greek mythology. They were a nation of all-female warriors.
Ephesus became famous for the Temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, the wilderness, wild animals, virginity, fertility and childbirth. Most of the Greek world worshiped Artemis as a secondary deity, but the Greeks in Asia Minor (location of Ephesus) worshiped her as a primary deity. The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and reportedly the largest building of the ancient world. The building was also known as the Temple of Diana (Diana is the Latin name for Artemis).
The Cimmerians attacked Ephesus about 650 BC and destroyed the city, including the Temple of Artemis. The people of Ephesus eventually drove out the Cimmerians and rebuilt the city. The king of the Lydians conquered Ephesus about 560 BC, but treated the people well and helped rebuild the Temple of Artemis. Archaeologists found the king’s signature on the base of one of the temple’s columns. The Persians defeated the Ephesians and made the city part of the Achaemenid Empire. The Ephesians were eventually able to remove the Persians from power about 479 BC. The Temple of Artemis was burned down in 356 BC, but the people of Ephesus rebuilt the temple and made it even larger than the one before.
Alexander the Great defeated the Persian forces in 334 BC and all the Greek cities of Asia Minor were freed. Alexander died in 323 BC and one of his generals took over rule of Ephesus many years later. Ephesians moved the city about two miles away from the Cayster River after silting led to marshes, mosquitoes and malaria, killing many people. Ephesus became part of the Seleucid Empire in 281 BC, then came under Egyptian rule in 263 BC and the Attalid Dynasty in 197 BC. Ephesus became part of the Roman Republic in 133 BC.
In 27 BC, Emperor Augustus made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia instead of Pergamum, which led Ephesus into a time of great prosperity as a seat of government and center of commerce. Eventually, Ephesus became second only to Rome in size and importance with a population of almost 500,000 people. Ephesus would have been at its peak when Paul visited in the middle of the 1st Century AD.
Through all the centuries of trying times in the life of the Ephesians, they remained committed to the goddess Diana (Artemis) as we see during the Apostle Paul’s visit to Ephesus.
“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: ‘Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.’ Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: ‘Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.’ And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.” Acts 19:23-41
What happened to Ephesus after Paul wrote his letter to the Christians there? The Goths destroyed the Temple of Diana in 263 AD. Roman Emperor Constantine I rebuilt much of the city during the 4th Century and several Christian councils were held in Ephesus during that time. An earthquake destroyed portions of Ephesus in 614 AD and the city’s importance declined because of silting in the harbor by the Cayster River, causing it to lose access to trade from the Aegean Sea. People moved to higher ground and used ruins from the temple and other buildings for new houses. Muslims sacked Ephesus in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Christians and Muslims fought over the city for many more centuries, but Ephesus eventually became part of the Ottoman Empire and was abandoned after many years.
We will move from history to theology in the next part of our study as we consider teaching the Book of Ephesians in small groups.
“The Epistle to the Ephesians is a complete Body of Divinity. In the first chapter you have the doctrines of the gospel; in the next, you have the experience of the Christians; and before the Epistle is finished, you have the precepts of the Christian faith. Whosoever would see Christianity in on treatise, let him ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ the Epistle to the Ephesians.” C. H. Spurgeon
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.