Summary: Ephesus was a modern-day New Orleans, filled with voodoo, occult practices and mysticism. Paul carried out his most dramatic ministry in this city.
An Overview of Ephesians: Paul’s Letter to the Christians at Ephesus
Historical/Grammatical Method of Interpretation requires us to first look at the historical context in which Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians and in which the Christians in that city received it.
What was the Religious/Political/Social/Cultural situation in Ephesus at the time Paul wrote this letter? Could this give us some clues as to why Paul wrote this letter and to its content?
1. THE CHRONOLOGY OF PAUL’S MINISTRY IN EPHESUS – ACTS 18:18-20:1
After spending a year and 6 months preaching in Corinth (Acts 18:11). Paul sailed to Syria with a Christian couple, Aquila and Priscilla, on what may be called his second missionary journey. Paul and his two companions arrived in Ephesus (Acts 18:19).
Paul left Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus while he sailed to Jerusalem to keep a feast promising to return if God willed.
It’s possible that Aquila and Priscilla were the first people to bring the gospel to the city of
Ephesus. After Paul left this couple in Ephesus, God sent a man named Apollos, who was mighty in the scriptures to Ephesus to preach and teach God’s Word (Acts 18:24-28).
Aquila and Priscilla mentored Apollos after hearing him preach the gospel of Christ.
While all of this is taking place in Ephesus, Paul spent some time traveling around the region of Galatia and Phrygia giving strength to the disciples.
Finally, Paul returned to Ephesus where he preached and taught for at least 2 years and possibly 3 (Acts 19:1). After Paul left, according to John McArthur, Timothy pastored the church at Ephesus for perhaps a year and a half.
Paul began his ministry in Ephesus around 53 AD. Historically he wrote the Ephesian letter in around 62 AD from Rome.
2. THE CONTEXT OF PAUL’S MINISTRY IN EPHESUS AND HIS LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS
The ancient city of Ephesus was famous for having one of the seven wonders of the ancient world "The Temple of Diana" within its borders. Worshippers of Diana or Artemis formed a cult of people who aggressively sought to convert people to worship of their goddess Diana.
• Diana/Artemis was attributed to have cosmic powers, able to exercise her powers for the benefit of the devotee against the powers from other ’spirits’ or ’gods’.
• Artemis was also a goddess of the underworld, possessing authority and control over the multiplicity of demons of the dead as well as the demons of nature and everyday life.
It’s well documented that Ephesus in the first century was a magnet for the practitioners of magic. Not David Copperfield magic, where he does illusions and makes things disappear, but Uri Gellar magic, like bending spoons or metal objects with your mind, etc. The kind of magic practiced by witches and wiccans where they cast spells and chant incantations, use symbols embedded with power and other objects of worship.
Clinton Arnold, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Biola University and Talbot School of Theology has written a study of Ephesians titled Ephesians, Power and Magic.
In this book Clinton states:
"The epistle was written to an area famed as the center for magical practices in western Asia Minor; presumably (and according to Luke), many converts came into the church forsaking a background of magical practices. It is then certainly conceivable that the epistle could be concerned with addressing issues arising in the community related to the former (or, perhaps continuing) practice of magic on the part of some of the converts."
In other words, the reason Paul included the most comprehensive instruction on spiritual warfare contained in the entire New Testament was because Christians needed help in this area of getting and remaining free from occult habits and satanic/demonic attacks.
"…a city in the grip of superstition, fear, demonism and darkness. It was a city devoted to sex and to religion--in other words it was the San Francisco of the Roman empire...it was a center for witchcraft, superstition, demonism. A weird mixture of black arts, worship of demons, astrology, occult practices of various kinds...(which) filled this city of priests, magicians, witches, warlocks and quacks of every kind." - Ray Stedman, Off Witchcraft
It was into a context of mysticism and magical practice that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians. It seems logical to conclude at this point, that if Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians to Christians coming out of the occult, that all of the truths and themes making up the content of Ephesians should in some way relate to or be useful for "doing battle with the devil and evil spirits."
3. THE CONTENT OF PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS
"The first 3 chapters are theological, emphasizing NT doctrine, whereas the last 3 chapters are practical and focus on Christian behavior." - Dr. John McArthur