Select Resources for Preaching Ephesians
I recently concluded 42 sermons through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It was exhilarating, convicting, and encouraging to study this amazing letter. Preaching this book has further refined my theology, ignited my pastoral zeal for the flock, and deepened my love for the gracious work of God’s redeeming grace in Christ.
I agree with Clinton Arnold, who says, “This letter summarizes what it means to be a Christian better than any other book of the Bible.” He’s not alone. It was John Calvin’s favorite letter (he preached forty-eight sermons from Ephesians). The wife of the Scottish Reformer John Knox is said to have read Calvin’s Ephesian sermons to her husband almost every day. More recent Ephesians scholars like F. F. Bruce have described it as the “quintessence of Paulinism,” and P. T. O’Brien calls Ephesians “one of the most significant documents ever written.”
For the expositor, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to helpful resources designed to aid his study of Ephesians. My intention here is not to lay out every conceivable resource available, but to offer what I think will assist the preacher in his task of expositing Scripture. Seasoned preachers typically learn, over time, that a select few books prove more helpful than trying to scour many shelves each week in search of the hidden gem. You learn to trust certain resources and they become sparring partners and confident companions along the journey. A good resource will challenge your assumptions, confirm or caution exegetical conclusions, and encourage your trust in the text.
My journey in preaching Ephesians started with 25 commentaries, dozens of journal articles, and a large assortment of background materials, dictionaries and the like. Everyone has a different system, but I categorize resources across four general areas: exegetical handbooks, exegetical commentaries, expositional commentaries, and reference works or specialized dictionaries. I can confidently now say the following seven resources will more than do the job for preaching Ephesians, save you time, and enormous amounts of money (books ain’t cheap!). Rather than skimming many, often redundant, resources hoping to find some nuanced insight, one’s time may be better spent diving deeper into a few books that bring together the best scholarship and also truly aid the expositor.
This last point is important because preaching a sermon is not remotely the same as preparing for a dissertation or presenting a paper at a theological society meeting. Many commentaries, for example, are simply conversation partners with other specialists in a particular field and rarely speak to the people of God in the church from a place of biblical conviction. A sermon is not an exegetical digest of interesting syntactical facts or strung-together word studies. A sermon is the declaration of God’s Word rooted in the divine-human authorial intent expressly for the encouragement, reproof, enjoyment, and obedience of God’s people. If resources do not aid this design then they are probably not worth your money, shelf space, and precious sermon-prep time. Your own study of Scripture must always begin in the text itself and never be replaced with such resources. Such books are aids to the study, not surrogates for what God calls us to do as expositors (cf. 1 Tim 4:14–16; 2 Tim 2:15; 4:2). With this in mind, here are some suggestions:
Larkin, William. Ephesians: A Handbook of the Greek Text. Baylor University, 2009.
This compact work presents the author’s translation of each pericope followed by concise information regarding parsing and certain syntactical features of the text. Very little discussion is given to literary features or to discourse or grammatical analysis (see pp. 91, 129 for some limited examples). I found this most helpful as a supplement to Merkle’s work mentioned below.
Merkle, Benjamin L. Ephesians: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H, 2016.
I love the design layout and aim of this series. This is by far the best resource of its kind I’ve seen on Ephesians. Each section begins with a brief discussion of the structure followed by a block-style diagram and structural analysis of the Greek Text. This is followed by a phrase-by-phrase discussion of each section and its relevant vocabulary. The reader is parenthetically pointed to relevant commentaries where further study is needed. A helpful topical list for further study is also provided in each section which pointed me to many beneficial secondary resources I might have otherwise missed. Each section closes with an outline of basic homiletical suggestions in outlined form.
Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
This series from Zondervan is extremely well-thought-out in layout and usefulness. The many features include literary context, outline of each section, a paragraph stating the main idea, translation and block diagram, literary structure, exegetical outline, all followed by explanatory commentary and then a “Theology in Application” section. Arnold may be the most gifted living evangelical scholar on Ephesians. His broad scholarship on Paul and Ephesus is sifted through many tremendous pastoral insights that arise from the text. I’m grateful for this brother’s work as a ministry to the Body of Christ and our understanding of Ephesians.
Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
The late Harold Hoehner (d. 2009) was a titan of NT scholarship in the evangelical tradition. What Markus Barth (Karl’s son) is for more neo-orthodox critical scholarship of Ephesians, Hoehner is for conservatives who actually believe the Scriptures yet also take rigorous scholarship seriously. Almost a thousand pages of sustained exegetical dissection and discussion will give the expositor more than enough to understand the issues at stake. I first met Dr. Hoehner in 2002 while taking his class on Ephesians for the winter session at The Master’s Seminary. Our class, he said, was the final test audience for this commentary which would appear later that year. While certainly open to debate, once published, I believe his work immediately rose to the top among all exegetical commentaries.
Hughes, R. Kent. Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Preaching the Word. Wheaton: Crossway, 1990.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
This grouping of commentaries is not the place I start so much as the place I occasionally finish. These are usually commentaries that are based on sermons preached and aimed at a more general audience, setting aside most or all critical discussion. I find they can be useful in helping me think through some of the implications of the text for my flock. Also, seeing how other expositors have arranged the material is insightful. While I used Stott and Hughes the most, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, and John MacArthur were also reliable resources along this path.
Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Ralph P. Martin. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Like any multi-author works of this nature, unevenness is to be expected. I’ve learned that some articles and contributors can be ignored altogether. However, many individual entries proved to be extremely helpful. If you only read the entries by Leon Morris and P. T. O’Brien (28 in all!), you will be richer for it. Yet, there are many articles from others that provide insight into the theology, background, and nuances of Paul’s writing and the world he addressed. Merkle’s work, mentioned above, often points the reader to specific articles in DPL which allows this volume to serve as a nice compendium to his exegetical handbook.
Paul Lamey is the pastor of one of our nine TES campuses, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.