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“IF YE HAVE HEARD”: FROM WHOM HAD THEY HEARD?

“IF YE HAVE HEARD”: FROM WHOM HAD THEY HEARD?

We read in Eph. 3:2, “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery…..”. . The note on the word translated “if” in the Companion Bible reads, “Followed by the Indicative Mood, the hypothesis is assumed as an actual fact, the condition being unfulfilled but no doubt being thrown upon the supposition”. This verse tells us that Paul assumed as an actual fact that those to whom he was writing had already heard of the the mystery.

We will discuss the following topics in search of the answer to the question “from whom had the Ephesians heard of the mystery revealed to Paul and when had they heard of it?

HAD THEY HEARD OF THE MYSTERY FROM PAUL THROUGH PAUL’S FOLLOWERS?

WHEN WAS COLOSSIANS WRITTEN IN RELATION TO EPHESIANS?

A FULLER EXPLANATION OF THE MYSTERY IN EPHESIANS

HAD THEY HEARD OF THE MYSTERY FROM PAUL THROUGH PAUL’S  FOLLOWERS?

We know that Paul had many fellow servants who could very will have visited him in Rome while he was under house arrest and they could have taken the message from him to the believers at Ephesus. While that is a very logical assumption, there is no Scriptural evidence for it. To prove that there is no Scriptural evidence for that assumption we will look at each time one of Paul’s fellow servants are mentioned after the end of the Acts period to see for ourselves if the Holy Spirit tells us if they had shared the mystery revealed to Paul with those in Ephesus.

Phil. 2:25, “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants”. In verses 26-28 Paul explains that Epaphroditus was sick and in verse 28 we read, “I sent him therefore the more carefully, that when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful”. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that Epaphroditus was sent to Ephesus or that he was sent to teach the mystery.

Phil. 4:18 also mentions Epaphroditus, “……I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell…..” In this verse the subject is what Epaphroditus brought to Paul, not what he may have brought to Ephesus.

Col. 4:7-17, “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful Minster and fellowservant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you…. that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus sister’s son to Barnabus….and Jesus, which is called Justus….”. Epaphras who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you…….Luke the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. …….And say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it'”. Again, there is no hint of these men having preached the mystery to the Ephesians.

Several of Paul’s fellowservants are mentioned in II Timothy but because II Tim. was written after Paul wrote Ephesians it will not help us in determining if any of these men had preached the mystery to the Ephesians before Paul wrote his epistle to those at Ephesus.

Phil. 10-12, “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds;…..whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is mine own bowels”. Note that Onesimus was sent to Philemon, not to the church at Ephesus. And again there is nothing here to suggest that he preached the mystery.

Phil 23-24, “Salute thee Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers”.

The point of this section is that it may be perfectly logical to assume that Paul’s fellowservants visited him in Rome and that he told them to preach the mystery and that they did so at Ephesus. But there is no Scriptural evidence to prove that assumption. Because there is no Scriptural evidence to prove that assumption I do not believe that we can say with surety that Scripture teaches that that is how the Ephesians had heard of the mystery.

WHEN WAS  COLOSSIANS  WRITTEN IN RELATION TO EPHESIANS?

I have tried to show in the section above that there is no Scriptural evidence which tells us how or by whom the mystery was preached to the Ephesians before Paul wrote the epistle to Ephesus so that he could write, “since ye have heard” of the mystery. We might just conclude that indeed the Ephesians had somehow heard, but in my opinion, there is another option.

We do indeed read of the new dispensation in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We read in Col. 1:24-27, “who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sakewhich is the church; whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints, to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”.

Note the common thoughts or phrases in Ephesians and Colossians. In Col.1:24 we read “His body’s sake” and in Eph. 1:22-23 “the church which is His body”. Note that in Col. 1:25 we read of the “dispensation of God which was given to me for you” and in Eph. 3:2 we read of “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-wards“.

My point is that Colossians speaks of the mystery which, when compared to the parallel passage, is clearly the same mystery. If we accept that Colossians was written before Ephesians our question as to how and by whom the Ephesians had heard of the mystery is answered. Ephesus is quite close to Colosse. I believe that we may conclude that when Paul wrote to the Ephesians “since ye have heard” he was referring to his own letter that he had previously written to the Colossians. This conclusion is based on Scripture, not assumption.

A FULLER EXPLANATION

As stated in the section above, I believe that when Paul wrote to the Ephesians “since ye have heard” he was referring to the fact that they had indeed heard from the letter Paul had sent to the Colossians. This means of course, that Colossians was written before Ephesians. There are only two arguments that I can find that are reasonable arguments for the placing of Ephesians before Colossians. I will address them both.

1) The church fathers who arranged the New Testament epistles put Ephesians before Colossians. I have read many articles about when Ephesians was written in relation to Colossians and have found no Scriptural evidence for placing Ephesians before Colossians. Furthermore, the church fathers placed I and II Thessalonians after Ephesians and Colossians, which, when one understands the Word rightly divided, is clearly an error. Let me explain.

I Thess. 4:15 tells us that when Paul, through the Holy Spirit, wrote I Thess. he was expecting the return of  Christ in his life time. That verse reads, “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord…..“. But when Paul wrote the prison epistles he knew that Israel had been put aside as God’s chosen nation and that the Lord would not return in Paul’s life time.

The point is that the church fathers were incorrect in their placing I and II Thess. after three prison epistles and could also have been in error in their placing Ephesians before Colosssians.

2) Ephesians is a much more complete explanation of the new dispensation than is Colossians and therefore must have been written first. I must say, that on the surface that seems like a very logical assumption. But it is not consistent with how other truths have been explained in God’s Word. That is to say, several very important Biblical truths are spoken of briefly in epistles before they are more fully explained in a later epistle.

Let us consider, for example the truths of the  resurrection. According to the Appendix 180 in the Companion Bible I and II Thess. were written about five years before I Corinthians. We read of the rapture and the resurrection just very briefly in I Thess. 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first”. But in I Cor. 15 Paul explains in verse 23 the order of resurrection, “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming”. In verses 35-44 Paul goes into a very lengthy explanation of the resurrection body. There is nothing of that in I Thess. 

The point is that  resurrection is briefly mentioned in an earlier epistle and then explained more fully in a later one. Therefore, there is a precedence for the conclusion that even though Ephesians explains the new dispensation more fully than does Colossians, Colossians could have been written before Ephesians.

I believe one more example of a very important subject being written of after it is alluded to many times in earlier epistles would suffice in proving the point. Let us consider the truths of the basic message of salvation by faith. Obviously, the most extensive explanation is found in Romans chapters 4-5. But according to the Appendix 180 in the Companion Bible, Romans was the last epistle written by Paul in the Acts period.

CONCLUSION

I believe that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. So when we read in Ephesians 3:2 that Paul knew that the Ephesians had heard of the mystery, we must conclude that they had. We are not told from whom they had heard. I see one of three possibilities.

1) Paul had sent some of his fellow-workers to them. This is certainly a logical assumption, but there is no Scriptural evidence.

2) They had heard but we are simply not told how they had heard. This is also logical, but again there is no Scriptural evidence on which to draw that conclusion.

3) Paul wrote Colossians first and the Ephesians had heard from his previous letter.This is logical and has Scriptural evidence.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: janjoyce@aol.com

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