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the congregation meeting for worship in his house. also sends salutations from several others whose names are given at the close, and even throws out a hint that it may not be long before he visits Philemon in person (verse 22).
1. Authorship.-As regards external evidence, this is one of the best-attested of Paul's epistles; and until recently its genuineness was never doubted.
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Internally it bears a strong resemblance to Colossians, 78 of its 155 verses containing expressions that are also found in that epistle. No doubt the resemblance is due to the fact that the two epistles were written at the same time on kindred subjects to kindred Churches. In both epistles Tychicus is referred to in similar terms as the apostle's messenger; and they both bear to have been written by the apostle while he was a prisoner (vi. 21, 22 ; Col. iv. 7-9). From the occurrence of the significant word "also" in the parallel passage of this epistle, we may infer that it was written later than the other, although but a few days may have intervened the closing verses of Colossians (iv. 15-18) having been subsequently added. As might have been expected under the circumstances, the similarity between the two epistles does not extend to continuous passages, but is confined to single verses and occasional expressions such as would be likely to remain in the writer's memory and reappear in his language if he were writing a second time within a very short interval.
We have a remarkable token of the genuineness of this epistle, as of several others attributed to Paul, in the fact that while the writer dwells with great satisfaction on the admission of the Gentiles to the blessings of the Gospel, he expresses himself with regard to it in the language of a patriotic Jew, to whom this expansion of the Messiah's kingdom is a new and marvellous dispensation of divine providence. He speaks with the greatest reverence of the position and privileges of God's ancient people, showing that in a spiritual sense the Gentiles are now raised to an equality with them, and that, in this sense, the rite of circumcision, in particular, is realised in the hearts of all true Christians (ii. 11-20; iii. 1-9; cf. Col. ii. 11; Phil. iii. 2, 3; Gal. vi. 16; Rom. ii. 28, 29). This is a state of feeling which was most natural in a Jewish-born Christian like Paul, after the struggle against the bondage of the Law, in which he had himself taken a leading part, was practically over.
2. The Readers. It is now generally agreed that this epistle was not addressed to the Church at Ephesus exclusively, but was of the nature of a circular-letter for the general use of the Churches of Proconsular Asia.1
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1 In favour of this supposition are the facts (1) that the words "in Ephesus" (i. 1) were absent from many of the ancient MSS. known to Basil (360 A.D.), and are wanting in the two oldest MSS. that have come down to us ( and B); (2) that no personal salutations are found in
years the epistle although Paul had laboured successfully for several
at forming many intimate friendships (Acts xx. 17-38), nor any reference whatever to his experiences during that time; (3) that he writes as if the Christian graces of his readers were only known to him by report, and as if his apostleship to the Gentiles were only known to them by hearsay (i. 15-19; iii. 1-4; iv. 17-22; cf. Col. i. 3-9); (4) that the usual apostolic autograph is absent, owing, we may suppose, to copies of the epistle for the several Churches having to be made out in the course of the messenger's journeys or at the different places at which they had to be delivered. The indirect form of the Benediction at the close of the epistle (vi. 23): "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith," is also a corroborative circumstance, being found nowhere else in Paul's epistles; cf. Col. iv. 18: "Grace be with you." The great thought of the epistle, too. viz.
There can be little doubt, indeed, that we have here the epistle referred to in Col. iv. 16, where the apostle directs the Colossians to read also "the epistle from Laodicea," and to send their own letter in exchange, for the benefit of the Christians there. Even before the middle of the second century we find a heretical writer (Marcion) giving this epistle the title "To the Laodiceans." Yet it is evident that it could not have been specially addressed to Laodicea, as the apostle sends his salutations to "the brethren that are in Laodicea" through another channel (Col. iv. 15). The difficulty is met by supposing that we have here a circular-letter of which Laodicea received a copy in common with other Churches of the province, to be communicated to the neighbouring church at Colossæ. The name of the Ephesian Church would naturally become associated with the epistle owing to its being the leading Church of the district, probably receiving the first copy from Tychicus when he landed at its port on his way to Colossæ, and becoming the source of many later copies to Churches in other parts of the world.
3. Date and Place of Composition.-At Rome, 61-62 A.D. (see pp. 108-110).
4. Character and Contents. It has been said by Coleridge that this is "one of the divinest compositions of man. It embraces every doctrine of Christianity; first, those doctrines peculiar to Christianity; secondly, those precepts common to it with natural religion." In its doctrinal part (i.-iii.) the epistle is distinguished by a tone of exultation which will not stoop to controversy, expressing itself in the flow of a sublime eloquence rather than in the form of a logical argument. Instead of
the unity of the holy catholic Church, is eminently suitable for such a letter; and Asia Minor was rapidly becoming the leading province of Christendom; cf. Rev. i. 4: "John to the seven Churches which are in Asia."
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labouring to demonstrate those truths, regarding the standing of the Gentiles and his own position as the apostle of the Gentiles, for which he had contended in his earlier epistles, the writer takes these things for granted, and soars into far loftier regions-viewing the Gospel and the Church in relation not to time, but to eternity, not to the nations of the world, but to the universe at large. Here, as in Colossians, Paul recognises Christ as the appointed Head of the universe—material as well as spiritual-and sees in His atoning death the universal centre of divine providence. Here, as there, he is thrilled with a sense of joy not untouched with awe when he contemplates the great mystery of the divine will-the eternal purpose of God so long concealed, but now at length revealed and so far realised through his instrumentality, to wit, the destined union of Jew and Gentile in the mystical body of the risen and exalted Christ. In this union he sees the pledge and token of that universal gathering together in one of "all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth," which is to be the consummation of God's purposes in Christ (i. 10). But, whereas in Colossians he dwells mainly on the person of Christ as the "fulness of the Godhead bodily," here he is impelled rather to the contemplation of the Church as "the body of Christ, the fulness of him that filleth all in all," and expatiates upon the ideal glory and riches of the spiritual blessing with which its members are blessed in heavenly places in Christ.1
1 The word "spirit" or "spiritual" occurs thirteen times in this epistle, "the heavenlies" five times, "the grace of God" thirteen times. Prof. Findlay (The Epistles of Paul, p. 180) suggests that the "amplitude of style which is a new feature in the apostle's manner as a writer was "due perhaps to the leisure of prison and the habit of meditation which it fostered"; and he points out that it is not altogether absent from Colossians (i. 9-11, 16-20, 27-29).