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Asbury Bible Commentary – III. The Date
III. The Date

III. The Date

If Paul was the author of Ephesians, during which of the recorded imprisonments was it written? The overnight jailing in Philippi (Ac 16:23-26) hardly qualifies. The second recorded imprisonment in Jerusalem and Caesarea (Ac 21:27-22:29) seems too early (a.d. 57-59). At the end of Acts, Paul was in Rome under guard “in his own rented house” for “two whole years.” If Bruce (Letters, 160-61) and others are right that there was also an imprisonment in Ephesus, the date (a.d. 53-55) is too early. Therefore, the traditional view that Rome was the place of imprisonment common to Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians remains popular among evangelical scholars in spite of the problem of distance between Rome and Ephesus.

Those who deny Paul's authorship of Ephesians date the letter near the end of the first century. By then Gnosticism had made serious inroads into areas previously evangelized by Paul. If one sees the advanced system of thought as the false doctrine against which both Colossians and Ephesians were directed, then one must accept the later date. If, however, one sees emerging doctrine as the false wisdom attacked in both of these epistles, then one can move Ephesians into Paul's own lifetime. After all, the apostle had warned the elders of Ephesus with strong words: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Ac 20:29-31a). Does this premonition connect Paul to Ephesians?

The date a.d. 61-66 seems likely, but to fit the epistle into the chronology of Acts may not be possible. The view that Paul was released after two years in Rome, resuming travels before being rearrested, lacks textual support. However, such a hypothesis, if true, might resolve some of the problems associated with assigning to Paul both the Prison and the Pastoral Epistles.