Best Commentaries on Paul, with Nijay Gupta: Ephesians

Ephesians is widely considered one of the most beautifully composed texts of the New Testament. And yet, because some scholars argue that Paul did not write the letter, it is often left out of academic conversations about Paul, his ministry, and his theology. Since the authorship question is so crucial to how Ephesians is interpreted, we will note where each commentary writer lands on the matter.

Let me say explicitly that I am not endorsing only commentaries that I agree with, and I am not ignoring commentaries I disagree with. I suggest that students of Ephesians read good discussions across the spectrum of the authorship debate. 

As a quick guide, here is how I define these terms:

Pseudonymous: The text was not commissioned, dictated by, or written by Paul; rather, someone else at a later time wrote the text in Paul’s name. Some scholars see epistolary pseudepigrapha as intentionally deceptive, while others see it as a “transparent fiction” that was a cultural convention.

Authentic: The text was commissioned, dictated, or written by Paul. It was not written after Paul’s death.

Other: The author does not interpret the text from either an assumption of pseudonymity or authenticity. 


Technical

Clinton Arnold (ZECNT) [Authentic]. Arnold has made a name for himself in the subject matter of the historical, cultural, and religious environments of the early Christians. When it comes to Ephesians and Ephesus, his commentary attempts to shed light on the religious landscape of Asia Minor and ancient Ephesus in particular.

Andrew Lincoln (WBC) [Pseudonymous]. This commentary is widely regarded as a classic. Lincoln is thorough and judicious. The “explanation” sections of the commentary offer expert guidance through the flow of this letter. 

Markus Barth (AB) [Authentic]. Barth, son of theologian Karl Barth, offers a helpful continental perspective on the study of Ephesians. His work is richly detailed and he is sensitive to theological matters in the text.

Own it: Lincoln


Semi-Technical

Stephen Fowl (NTL) [Other]. Fowl is one of the most skilled and respected Pauline theologians in the academy. While his work on Ephesians is rather brief, he demonstrates well his own way of reading texts theologically and canonically.

Frank Thielman (BECNT) [Authentic]. Thielman is a widely-respected Pauline scholar in the Reformed tradition. His expertise is especially geared towards Paul’s theology of the Law and his use of the Old Testament. 

F. F. Bruce (NICNT) [Authentic]. Bruce’s exquisite commentary is packaged together with Colossians and Philemon. Therefore, the section on Ephesians is rather brief, but I recommend owning every commentary Bruce has written! His historical knowledge is encyclopedic and his theological insight often incisive. He is from an earlier generation, so his work does not engage the latest debates and controversies (e.g., Paul and politics).

Own it: Bruce


Non-Technical

Lynn Cohick (NCCS) [Authentic]. Cohick offers a cogent exposition of Ephesians. Her expertise is in situating Paul within the Jewish and Greco-Roman world. She has written the revised NICNT commentary on Ephesians (forthcoming), which will offer a more comprehensive scholarly treatment of this letter with more direct interaction with academic scholarship.

Klyne Snodgrass (NIVAC) [Authentic]. Snodgrass supplies a well-balanced reading of Ephesians that offers hermeneutical wisdom and suggestions for applying the ancient text for today. 

Mark Roberts (SOGBC) [Authentic]. Roberts has doctoral training in New Testament and Christian origins from Harvard and has extensive experience in full-time pastoral ministry. He brings a blend of scholarship and church-life wisdom to this very readable commentary.

Own It: Cohick or Roberts


Hidden Gem

I am happy to commend the fine work of Thomas B. Slater (SHBC). He offers mature reflections on racial reconciliation in his commentary. Slater teaches New Testament at McAfee School of Theology, and he has served in pastoral ministry in the African Episcopal Methodist Church.

Also, I cannot help but mention here The Drama of Ephesians by Timothy Gombis. Gombis’ book is not a commentary but more of an introduction to Ephesians that reads the text through the narrative arc of the apocalyptic triumph of God in Jesus Christ. It is masterful and illuminating.


See the rest of the Best Commentaries series at this link.

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Written by
Nijay Gupta

Nijay Gupta is Associate Professor of New Testament at Portland Seminary, George Fox University.

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