Monday, January 11, 2021

A Letter to the Ephesians?

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus"" (Ephesians 1:1).

If you look in your Bible, you may find something odd about Ephesians 1:1. Depending on what version you have, the phrase “in Ephesus” may not be present. A few ancient manuscripts do not have this phrase, and because of that, in recent years there has been considerable debate about whether this was a letter written to a church in Ephesus or a circular letter designed for many churches (including Ephesus), but no one church in particular.

This is a question of textual criticism. There are basically two kinds of “criticism” when it comes to the Bible. So-called “higher criticism” assumes that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that the books of the Bible are composites, put together out of “sources” by scribes pretending to be Moses or Isaiah or someone else. Thus, “higher critics,” in their unbelief, seek to determine the “sources” from which these scribes supposedly put a given book together. Christians do not accept “higher criticism,” and, in fact, there is no scientific or historical basis for it at all. “Higher criticism” is nothing more than satanic unbelief and rebellion parading itself in academic gowns.

What is sometimes called “lower criticism” or “textual criticism” is another matter. For His own reasons, God has seen fit to preserve for us from the ancient world many copies of the books of the New Testament that do not always agree with one another at every point. There are not that many places in the New Testament where we run into textual conflicts, but when we do, then we as Christians have to investigate the matter and seek to determine which reading is the most likely to transmit the inspired original. We cannot avoid this task. God has given it to us, and we must be engaged in it.

Ephesians 1:1 is an example. Most manuscripts include “in Ephesus,” but a few don’t. Which is correct? It is not supremely important because this letter is still God’s Word and clearly was designed not only for the Ephesians but for other churches as well. If it was a circular letter, then it went to Ephesus along the way. If it was for Ephesus first, other churches read it also.

Today’s example of a textual critical problem is typical of many that can be resolved either way without making any difference to the primary teachings of the Bible. Perhaps you should make a study of other verses that have come under textual criticism. The following verses could help you get started.