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Ephesians: Apostles and Saints

Updated: Jun 11

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

As we jump into Ephesians, Paul begins his letter with a familiar introduction.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (NASB95)

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Paul's introduction in Ephesians, a seemingly familiar start, holds deeper meanings that often go unnoticed due to their common nature in Scripture. Who is an apostle, and what does this mean? What about saints, who are the saints? These often overlooked questions hold the key to a deeper understanding of Ephesians. Let's embark on this journey of discovery, starting with understanding who is writing and those being addressed.


Paul identifies himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God..." A quick word search finds the word apostle used 79 times in the New Testament. Today, some people in various religious traditions use the title apostle. What does this word or title mean?

The word 'apostle,' as found in our English New Testaments, is a transliteration of the Greek word 'ἀπόστολος' (apóstolos). This is a fascinating linguistic journey. In the New Testament, written in Greek, 'ἀπόστολος' was transliterated directly into Latin as 'apostolus' and subsequently into Old English as 'apostol,' before becoming 'apostle' in Middle English. This process preserved the original Greek pronunciation and form of the word while adapting it to other languages' alphabets and phonetic systems. The word's basic meaning is a delegate, an envoy, or a messenger (BDAG). This linguistic evolution is a testament to the enduring power of the word and its significance in the New Testament, offering a fascinating insight into the history and development of language.

When we read the word apostle in our New Testament, we often think of the 12 apostles commissioned by Jesus, the word's most common use. However, it is not always used in speaking of the 12. Barnabas, for instance, is referred to as an apostle in (Acts 14:4). This diversity of usage adds a layer of intrigue and depth to our understanding of the term. Barnabas accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey as they were sent out from the church at Antioch (Acts 13-14). In (Acts 14), Barnabas is called an apostle in the town of Lystra. Specifically, (Acts 14:14) mentions both Paul and Barnabas as apostles in the context of the events occurring in Lystra, where the people mistook them for gods after witnessing a miracle they performed. Barnabas is an apostle in the sense of one sent, a messenger. Barnabas, with Paul, was sent from the church at Antioch to proclaim the message of Jesus.  


Who Sent Paul?

While it is true that, in one sense, Paul was sent by the church at Antioch, it is crucial to note that Paul was commissioned directly by the risen Jesus. This commission adds a profound depth to Paul's role and writings, underscoring the weight of his words in the biblical text. The apostle Peter highlights this as he understood Paul's writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Paul is one of the most remarkable testaments to the transforming power of Jesus and the gospel. Paul (referred to as Saul) was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. As he approached the city, a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do" (Acts 9:4-6).

Saul was blinded by the light and had to be led into Damascus by his companions. For three days, he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus, a disciple named Ananias received a vision from the Lord instructing him to go to Saul. Jesus, speaking of Saul, said to Ananias:

Acts 9:15–16 (NASB95)

"..." Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."

Paul (Saul) was commissioned directly by Jesus as an instrument to proclaim the message of Christ to the Gentile nations. Paul's commission was not in the common sense of a messenger sent by another person or committee. Paul was commissioned directly by the risen Lord. He had witnessed the risen Lord and was directly instructed by Jesus.

Although some may use the title of "apostle" today, there were 12 like Paul sent directly from Jesus as His appointed messengers. Paul and the 12 carried a unique authority, unlike messengers of the gospel today.  

In the New Testament, the word apostle can be used in a general sense to refer to someone sent out by the authority of a committee or group and also to those commissioned directly by Jesus. Paul was an apostle commissioned directly by Jesus. As we read and study Ephesians, we look back at the Spirit-inspired words of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21), seeking their wisdom for our lives today.  

Who Are The Saints?

Paul addresses his letter "...To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus." When we hear or read the word saints, our minds often link it to stained glass portraits surrounding the walls of religious buildings. Is this what Paul means? Is Paul referring to or addressing a group of people who have received special recognition or designation?

In Greek, the word that translates as saints is "ἅγιοι" (hagioi), which means set apart or holy and is translated in various ways throughout the New Testament. At times, it's translated as sanctuary, like in (Heb. 8:2), or as Holy when referencing the Holy Spirit. In (Eph. 1:1), as we see in our text, it is translated as saints. Who is Paul addressing?

Set Apart:

Christians are called to be set apart in several places throughout the Scripture. In (1:4), Paul teaches that God chose Christians to be set apart as holy and blameless before Him. In (Rom. 12:1-2), Paul urges us as Christians not to conform to the patterns of this world; we are to be set apart. Also, the apostle Peter highlights Christians, God's covenant people, as set apart for God's purposes.

1 Peter 2:9 (NASB95)

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light"

In Ephesians, Paul writes to the saints, Christians who are set apart in Christ. These are people like you and me today who have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) and are dedicated, set apart, as we follow Him.

Why Is This Important?

As we begin our study of Ephesians, it's important to understand that this letter of Paul is given through the direction of the Spirit. As Peter makes clear, Paul's letters are God's wisdom, the Scriptures. Paul addresses those in Christ in Ephesus, the church.

Although Paul is writing into a specific culture, God's wisdom through this letter is also meant for those in Christ today. May we seek to understand and know God's wisdom for our lives today.


Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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