Preaching through the letter of Ephesians is both a joy and a daunting task! There is very little that is NOT covered in the letter, and there is a consequent danger of getting lost in the detail and missing the big picture. A few of the commentaries mentioned below fall into that trap, but remain useful repositories of information. Paul’s overall concern in Ephesians is the building and filling of the new temple founded on Christ and constituted by God’s people. The filling of this “dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22) to manifest the presence and character of the Triune God to the nations depends on individual and corporate “learning Christ” (Eph 4:20). The multiple themes of Ephesians (unity, love, grace, witness, wisdom, etc.) integrate in this larger purpose, and the various commentaries below can help the preacher to better understand the details. The challenge remains – as ever – to preach in such a way as our hearers are brought into the presence of the Triune God and are captivated by his perfections and works.
The first group of commentaries help primarily with the exegetical task and require some familiarity with Greek. Clinton Arnold’s volume for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series is an excellent guide to the letter, diving deep into the numerous exegetical challenges of Ephesians, but keeping an eye always towards contemporary application of theological insights. If a preacher had time for only one commentary, I’d recommend this. In a similar register would be Thielman’s Baker Exegetical Commentary or S.M. Baugh’s more recent Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. All these three are written within the last 15 years, come from a broadly evangelical perspective, and engage deeply with the Greek. They are helpful for the deep dive into particulars. (More technical, but nevertheless useful, is Merkle’s Ephesians volume from the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series. For those who like structural analysis of a passage with phrasing, Merkle will be especially helpful in unpacking and making sense of Paul’s longer sentences.)
On a more popular level, it’s hard to surpass Stott’s BST volume for packing a huge amount of insight and scholarship into concise and accessible prose. For those who want to see how Ephesians has been preached exhaustively verse by verse over the years, Lloyd-Jones’s six-volume series on Ephesians (published by Banner of Truth) will inspire, though it needs cultural translation now.
Amongst many others, Hoehner’s Exegetical Commentary is a treasure trove of word studies and detail, though it often misses the bigger picture of the literary features of the letter and their theological significance. Though by no means agreeing with all of Markus Barth’s or Ernest Best’s interpretations (they are both good examples of commentary shaped by their own contemporary cultural assumptions and concerns – easy to see with decades of hindsight, but perhaps more difficult to spot in ourselves?), they were both deeply engaged in the text of Ephesians and are provocative and stimulating company. Barth is especially helpful in considering wider background and literary relationships of the letter. Lincoln’s Word Biblical Commentary remains a standard technical commentary, though, like Barth and Best, not all readers will agree with his interpretations. He is most provocative in suggesting the author’s rhetorical strategy (he doesn’t believe it was Paul). Delving further back in time, John Eadie’s 19th-century commentary is wonderfully rich and deep and doxological and will repay a visit. Further yet, Chrysostom’s homilies are fascinating.
Lastly, and most recently, Michael Allen’s Theological Commentary on Ephesians seeks to reflect many of the theological concerns of the late John Webster, who was working on this commentary before his untimely death. Allen’s theological astuteness and rich reflections on Ephesians will benefit any preacher and will be a necessary complement to the more detailed exegetical works (though Allen is clearly deeply engaged with the text).
There are three more resources that will help a preacher, though they are not commentaries. The temple theme in Ephesians is important and relatively neglected. Anyone seeking an introduction (though a many hundreds of pages introduction!) to the theme, should get hold of Greg Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. For those who want to mine the treasures of John Owen and do the hard work of translating into our vernacular, his Communion with the Triune God takes as its starting point Ephesians 2:18 and will hugely enrich any preaching of this theme of Ephesians. Lastly, though not concerned directly with Ephesians, because the concept of union with Christ is so important to preaching the practical implications of the theology of Ephesians, Grant Macaskill’s Living in Union with Christ does a great job of contemporary prophetic critique and theological reflection that would provide a solid framework for any preacher’s attempts to bring the message of Ephesians to their flock today.
Allen, Michael. Ephesians. Brazos Theological Commentary on
the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2020.
Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians. Exegetical Commentary on the
New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Barth, Markus. Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 1– 3. Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.
–––. Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 4– 6. Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.
Baugh, Steven M. Ephesians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
Beale, Gregory K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. Leicester, UK: Apollos, 2004.
Best, Ernest. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998.
Chrysostom, John. Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in Church Fathers – The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. OakTree Software, Inc., 2008. Accordance Electronic Ed.
Eadie, John. A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. Glasgow: R. Griffin & Co, 1854.
Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.
Lincoln, Andrew T. Ephesians. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990.
Macaskill, Grant. Living in Union with Christ: Paul’s Gospel and Christian Moral Identity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.
Merkle, Benjamin L. Ephesians. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016.
Owen, John. Communion with the Triune God. Edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor. With a foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society. Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1991.
Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.
This post first appeared in The Big Picture, a publication of the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology.