The next book we are looking at in the Forum is Ephesians. It was written by the Apostle Paul with a general message delivered to the church he planted in Ephesus, with the intent of spreading the letter around his church plants in Asia Minor. Because the history of Ephesus is so rich, I wanted to take a blog to write about it to set the stage of the book of Ephesians.
Ephesus was a large port city with a population of around 250,000. Only Rome and Alexandria had more people. One of the Seven Wonders of the World was in Ephesus, the Temple of Diana or Artemis. Pilgrims from went to the Temple to worship Diana.
Ephesus was a progressive city which contained a massive library, a medical college, and even and underground sewage system. Ephesus was a multi-ethnic center of trade, commerce and culture. Homes were opulent, with many exceeding 10,000 square feet, with a split level.
Christianity on the Rise
Christianity was not a widely accepted or “politically correct” religion in the Greco-Roman Empire at the time the Letter to the Ephesians was written. Emperor Nero came to power very shortly thereafter, in AD 64, and he was one of the most horrific persecutors of Christians ever in all of history. Under these circumstances, the Christians of the period – while their numbers were growing by the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit – did not enjoy open, public acceptance or presence within Greco-Roman society.
Moral beliefs, like religious ones, were diverse, and considerable moral depravity was accepted, perhaps considerably more so than in our modern American culture. The wide-ranging social acceptance was maintained in the name of tolerance and syncretism. As a result, anyone claiming to have “the” right religion, “the” only god, and “the” ultimate truth was bound to face acute rejection and social pressure and persecution.
One can imagine that a certain number of people would quickly (and emotionally) embrace the Christian religion as one more exciting way among many, but perhaps not become rooted in the faith in a way in which they would stick fully to the exclusive truth of the Gospel or commit fully to the faith community. This sounds familiar to our culture today in America.
When it came to the goddess Artemis in Ephesus, a large industry developed and grew up around the cult and the Temple of Artemis, the latter being a great architectural marvel and attraction to people from all over the Empire. Think “Disneyland” with religious, cultish intensity. A vacationer to Ephesus would very likely carry away a collection of souvenirs, such as small (or larger) statue of the goddess, made and sold in Ephesus.
Ephesus was heavily defined and influenced in its daily life by the occult, including belief in magic, incantations, and spirit powers, particularly as these birthed out of an animalistic worldview. This view held humans and animals to be quite connected on earth and in the world of the gods.
There was also a heavy influence of Artemis-inspired feminism, and this threatened the stability of marriages and families. As in American culture, there was a strong tendency to think of truth as nothing more than relative. What could be “true for you” might not be “true for me.”
Central Theme and Purpose of Ephesians
Paul does not appear to address a particular crisis among the believers in Ephesus, but he does write to a church that has been impacted by a chaotic cultural and is temptation-laden. This drove Paul to instruct and encourage Ephesian believers in their journey, to both Jew and Gentile, helping them gain Christian maturity.
In A.D. 54, after beginning his third missionary journey, Paul returned to Ephesus. While there, he discovered some disciples who had not yet been baptized into Christ, namely Aquila and Priscilla, who became his disciples. They, like Paul, were tentmakers and worked with textiles, fabrics and dyes.
While in Ephesus, Paul went into the synagogue and spoke boldly about the gospel for three months, persuading the Jews about the kingdom of God that had come down to the earth, fulfilling the Scriptures. Ephesus was ideally situated for the spreading of the gospel. Within the three years that Paul lived and worked in Ephesus, the gospel shined like a beacon throughout the region of Ephesus. This was probably a result of the many people from around the world that passed through the city, heard Paul preach the gospel, and carried the message back to their homes located throughout Asia.
Another special tidbit of history about Ephesus, early church tradition claims that the apostle John lived there for two decades, from about A.D. 70 until his death, and Mary, Jesus’ mother, was there with him until her death, too. With this, there is a strong foundation laid concerning Ephesus. In my next blog, we will begin to look at this powerful book written by Paul.
Written by Jori Sams
Jori Sams is a Christian author and freelance writer with nearly 2000 published pieces on the Internet, with over 1500 being published by Yahoo. Her books are published through Writeious Books. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her following the sun…