The Dividing Wall of the "Court of the Gentiles”in Herod's Temple

EPHESIANS 2 Gentiles were allowed to enter the outer temple enclosure in Jerusalem.This large, paved area surrounding the temple and its inner courts was enclosed by a double colonnade of pillars standing 37 feet (10 m) high.The perimeter of this area measured three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km). This outer court was also called the court of the Gentiles.

But Gentiles were physically prevented access to the inner courts of the temple by a 4.5 foot (1.4 m) high barrier (Paul's "dividing wall of hostility" in 2:14). The Jewish historian Josephus pointed out that 13 stone slabs with writing in both Greek and Latin were placed at intervals on the barrier, warning Gentiles not to enter., In Josephus's words,"There was a partition made of stone ... Its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some-. in Roman letters,that 'no foreigner should go within that sanctuary— (Wars, 5.5.2). Archaeologists have discovered two of these warning slabs, which state:"No foreigner is allowed to enter within the balustrade surrounding the sanctuary and the court enclosed. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death."

This dividing wall had great significance for Paul, who was arrested in Jerusalem for reportedly bringing a Gentile into the inner court of the temple (see Ac 21:16-30). Paul and other Jewish followers of Christ recognized that the God who had previously resided in the temple had entered humanity in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection had in effect broken down the dividing wall, effecting spiritual unity between Jews and Gentiles. As a result, Paul knew, all people have been granted access to God through saving faith in Jesus Christ.

The Authorship of Ephesians

EPHESIANS 4 Did Paul truly write the letter to the Ephesians? The answer has great significance for the let-tees canonical authority, In Ephesians 3:1-7 Paul placed great emphasis on his apostolic authority (see also 1Co 9:1-2; 2Co 12:11-12; Gal 1:1). So rejection of Pauline authorship would significantly diminish the letter's authority.

Some scholars question Paul's authorship of this book because its vocabulary differs somewhat from his other letters and its sentences are unusually long and complex.The theology of Ephesians also incorporates the idea of the church universal, suggesting that this letter might be dated to a time after the apostle's death, when the church was better established and theology was more developed (although Paul certainly espoused this concept).The letters of Ephesians and Colossians are in fact quite similar, raising the possibility that Ephesians was modeled after Colossians but written later and by a different author.

Other evidence, however, does support Pauline authorship:

  • The letter itself twice claims Paul as its author (1:1; 3:1) and contains biographical material corresponding to Paul's life (3:1-13).

  • Personal remarks are in keeping with Pauline authorship (see 6:21-22).

  • Centuries of church tradition support this premise.The letter's authenticity was never questioned by the early church.

  • Analyzing the writing style of Ephesians is too subjective a process to be a serious basis for disputing Pauline authorship. No doubt Paul was capable of employing variety in his writing style. Throughout this letter he created a worshipful context, particularly in Ephesians 1-3, and the elevated style of writing was appropriate in light of the book's portrayal of believers' exaltation in Christ.

  • The suggestion that Ephesians may have been written as a circular letter (i.e., intended for multiple churches rather than addressing a specific crisis in a specific church) may also help to account for its stylistic distinctives. Since this epistle was not written to address a particular controversy, it lacks the direct, hard-hitting and sometimes harsh tone found in the books of 1 Corinthians and Galatians.

  • The structure of Ephesians, which moves from a doctrinal foundation (chs.1-3) to practical exhortation (chs. 4-6), is also found in letters that are indisputably Pauline, such as Romans and Galatians.

  • The theology of Ephesians is consistent with Paul's message elsewhere. For example, the description of Gentile sin in Ephesians 4:17-19 is similar to that found in Romans 1:21-23.

  • Slight differences between Ephesians and other letters may actually support Pauline authorship of Ephesians, where Paul sometimes took familiar ideas in new directions. For example, the picture of the church as the body of Christ (4:15-16) is expressed differently from what we read in Romans 12:3-5, but both passages are examples of what for Paul was a standard image of the church. An imitator of Paul would most likely not have taken this idea in a new direction but would have slavishly followed Paul's use of the image found in Romans.

On the other hand, similarities between Ephesians and Colossians do not suggest non-Pauline authorship. The same author could quite possibly have written two letters with similar style and content at about the same time. Paul may simply have addressed similar thoughts to different audiences.

The Cult of Dionysus

EPHESIANS 5 The cult of Dionysus, the god of wine, also called Bacchus, appears to have emigrated from Asia to ancient Greece. Dionysus worship was notorious for its unrestrained, orgiastic character, involving wine, music,dance and sex (although festivals officially sanctioned by Greek cities tended to downplay some of the wilder elements).

Euripides, the ancient Greek playwright, included a memorable account of Dionysus worship in his play Bacchae. This play highlights the efforts of Pentheus, king of Thebes, to stifle Dionysus worship in his city.At the end of the play,frenzied female devotees of Dionysus (a group that included Pentheus's mother) tore the unfortunate king limb from limb.

The cult remained popular throughout the Hellenistic age. Although suppressed in Rome during the second century B.C., Dionysus worship experienced a resurgence, becoming an authorized religion of the Roman Empire. Outsiders sometimes confused Jewish worship with that of Dionysus, possibly for the following reasons:

  • Prior to the Jewish Maccabean revolt, which began in 167 B.C., Greek overlords forced their Jewish slaves to participate in Dionysus worship (See 2Mc 6:7).1,2 Observers may have believed that these Jews had become involved in the Dionysus cult voluntary.

  • Jewish society used symbols also associated with Dionysus worship (such as the vine leaf, grape cluster and cup).

  • Ecstatic worshipers of Dionysus often shouted out a meaningless exclamation, Euoe Saboe! This could have been confused with the Jewish term for God, Yahweh Sabaoth, which was sometimes pronounced lao Sabaoth.

Dionysian drunkenness was more than mere self-indulgence; it was a counterfeit spirituality.3 In the frenzied and ecstatic Dionysian rituals, intoxication with wine was equated with being filled with the spirit of Dionysus. Some of the new believers in Asia Minor were probably carrying this form of worship with them into the church by associating wine with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul did not want anyone to confuse a drunken frenzy with the power of the Spirit. He repudiated this notion by denouncing drunkenness and associating Spirit filling with other activities.

Husbands and Wives: Family Life in the Greco-Roman World

EPHESIANS 6 The Latin phrase pater familias, which means"father of the family,"signified the Roman father's place as the head of the family.' Roman writers commonly discussed family life in terms of three sets of fundamental relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children,and masters and slaves., This organizational pattern, called the"household code," was strictly hierarchical. By following the code, the patriarch/ householder adhered to the generally accepted, "proper way" to rule his household. In Roman culture people understood that society's structure and stability were rooted in the family's structure and stability. The empire itself was viewed as a great family in which the Roman emperor stood at the top and everyone else had a predetermined, designated place.

Fathers were expected to provide for their families, although mothers often imparted the most direct moral influence on young children. As a son grew up, however, the father would assume primary responsibility for his education and discipline.

The Roman mother held a place of high honor in society and was expected to behave with honor and chastity. She handled day-to-day responsibilities of her household, held the household keys and managed any domestic servants. Beginning with the Augustan Age,a Roman woman who had at least three children was free to conduct business on her own. Some Roman women were renowned for their wisdom and virtue. For example, the Roman statesman Cicero read and admired the letters of a famous Roman matron named Cornelia.

Modern Bible students do well to be cautious of popular but false generalizations stating that women and girls, even in the upper echelons of Roman society, were regarded as little more than property, on a par with domestic animals, or that Roman men had no love for their wives and daughters. Roman women definitely had fewer legal rights than men, but they and their children (including to some extent their daughters) still had rights and often enjoyed deep affection from their husbands and fathers. Cicero maintained a close relationship with his daughter Tullia and was devastated when she died. Pliny the Younger, another Roman, wrote tender love letters to his wife, Calpurnia.

Greek and Roman epitaphs often record great sorrow and affection for deceased wives and daughters, and epitaphs written for departed husbands are often equally tender. One mourning widow described how she and her husband had been bound by love from the moment they met.

We are unwise to attempt to project attitudes/cultural perspectives on to ancient people simply because their social order was hierarchical or their marriages often arranged. For additional information on women during the New Testament period, see "The Role of Women in Religious Life in the Greco-Roman World" on page 1879 and "The Demeanor of Wives".

Paul, in Ephesians 5:25 —6:8, not surprisingly assumed a top-down, male-dominated social order. Still, people of the Roman world would not have perceived his injunction that a husband was to love his wife (5:25 —33) as contrived, peculiar or revolutionary.