Study Guide

Ephesians and Colossians

Ephesians and Colossians Introduction

Hi, everyone! We're Shmoop, and we like warm hugs! We also like heart-to-heart talks, nuzzling kittens, and skipping and holding hands while walking the street. We're pretty big into togetherness.

You know who else really loves for people to be together? The Bible. Specifically, the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. Both of these letters are way into unity and harmony. They were written by the Apostle Paul, a guy who thought that Jesus was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He also thought that the coming of Jesus did away for the need for every single division on Earth.

Because of Jesus, Paul says, Christians are all in this together. They're like individual bricks making up God's temple. They're like different body parts that all come together to make one rocking bod. Sure, everyone is unique and different, but the magic really happens when everyone is united as one big happy family. Paul even says that because of Jesus, "there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3:11).

Funny story about that quote: Paul didn't really mean it literally.

Even though all people are equal in God's eyes, that doesn't mean that all people are gonna be equal in the eyes of society. This means no 1st-century feminism for wives. You just have to obey your husbands, ladies. Also, kids shouldn't rebel against their parents. And slaves? Keep right on slaving away.

At first, this might seem like a total contradiction. If everyone is equal and there's "no longer slave and free," then why are there still slaves and free people running around? Doesn't make much sense. But while Paul thought that Jesus could get rid of every division in the world, he had a harder time convincing the rest of the Roman Empire. So in these letters, he kind of takes the middle ground. People from opposite ends of the spectrum need to be nice to each other, but they don't cease to be who they are.

Sure, you could call that a cop-out. Or you could call it a step in the right direction. But however you think of it, can we just have a group hug?

What is Ephesians and Colossians About and Why Should I Care?

Cue the spooky music and call the Scoobies because we've got a real mystery on our hands.

Yup.

When most people think of the Bible, they imagine a book filled with answers. Can I sing in church? Oh, yeah! Should I have sex before marriage? That's a big fat no. But the Good Book is also filled with a lot of riddles and unknowns. One of them is the identity of the author for these two epistles.

Sure, we just said that Paul of Tarsus wrote them both. But you don't believe everything you read on the Internet, do you? See, the epistles are generally referred to as "the disputed letters." That just means that scholars can't say for sure who wrote them. Both of them are signed by Paul, but they could also be… forgeries.

Lots of super smart folks have tried to sort through the different arguments for or against Paul being the author, but in the end no one can come up with a solution that totally satisfies everyone. You might say that we should try getting Mystery Inc. or Sherlock Holmes on the case. But when you've been investigating the truth for two millennia and still haven't come up with an answer…well, we'd say that this case has gone cold.

Of course, we here at Shmoop have our own theories. Maybe the butler wrote them? 

Ephesians and Colossians Resources

Websites

St. Paul's Cathedral in London
Named for our favorite biblical author, this is one of the must-see sites in London. The cathedral famously survived bombings during WWII and hosted the wedding of Charles and Diana as well as the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. So, yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

The Word of St. Paul
The Word of St. Paul is a term for what happens when an authoritative source, other than the original author, fills in key information about a book, movie, or TV show. Paul definitely fills in some of the gaps where Jesus left off.

The Armor of God Playset
Why just read Ephesians when you can play dress-up with it? This Armor of God Playset features everything you need for spiritual warfare according to Ephesians 6:13-18. Comes complete with the Helmet of Salvation, the Breastplate of Righteous, the Belt of Truth, the Spirit-of-the-Word Sword, the Shield of Faith, and the Shin Guards of Peace. Take that, evildoers!

Movies or TV Productions

Peter and Paul
This 1981 movie stars Anthony Hopkins as Paul, a guy who just can't seem to get along with his fellow apostles. Go figure.

Saint Paul
This mini-series follows the story of Paul throughout his entire life. Whoa. How did this get the title "mini" again?

Paul
In this 2005 play, Paul is tricked by Peter and Mary Magdalene into seeing the vision of Jesus that would start his entire missionary journey. Hey, sometimes bad deeds can have good results.

Historical Documents

The Epistle to the Ephesians
The New Revised Standard translation of everybody's favorite epistle.

The Epistle to the Colossians
And even more goodies about Jesus. Do the Bible fun times ever end?

Video

Smart Guys Talk Ephesians and Colossians
This video is part of Yale's open course on the New Testament and packs in some good scholarly commentary on our two favorite epistles.

John Green Talks Jesus
Man, this whole history of Christianity thing is tough to figure out. Don't you wish that someone could come along and explain it in about 11 minutes? Check out this awesome and super thorough video by John Green on how Jesus went from Judean peasant to world-wide icon.

Paul's Journeys
The creator of Veggie Tales has an awesome (and totally adorable) web series called What's in the Bible. This video gives an easy breakdown of all the places that Paul ever visited.

Slaves Obey Your Masters
A group of atheists in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania kicked up a little controversy when they paid to erect a billboard quoting Colossians 3:22. They were right about the whole Bible condoning slavery thing, but the folks who had to drive by it weren't too impressed by their point.

Jesus Confronts Paul
In the movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus imagines that he survives the crucifixion and then runs into Paul preaching about him years later. It's kind of awkward.

Audio

The Man Reads the Bible
We'd probably listen to Johnny Cash read the phone book, but it's way more fun to hear him read the Bible instead. Here's Ephesians from the Man in Black.

On the Hunt
Professor John Dominic Crossan talks about his book In Search of Paul on Fresh Air.

Saved by Grace
The classic hymn is inspired by Ephesians 2:5: "By grace you have been saved."

Now to Him
This worship song quotes the New International Version of Ephesians 3:20-21: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Scripture has never sounded so harmonious.

My City and Let No Man by 116 Clique
Ever wondered what Ephesians and Colossians would sound if someone rapped them? Check out these two songs (the other is here) that break down the letters Paul wrote when "dog was locked in chains." Word to your Father in Heaven.

Lullaby by Scaterd Few
Christian punk band Scaterd Few echoes Ephesians 5:14 with the lines "Wake up, sleeper!" and "Awaken, sleeper, and the light will shine on you!"

Images

Paul's Travels
A map of the Roman Empire with Paul's travel routes highlighted. Talk about frequent walker miles.

Paul in the Flesh
This is what some folks think Paul might have looked like live and in person. That's the kind of guy you want to get some letters from.

Shield of the Trinity
This handy-dandy symbol that explains the Trinity is generally called the "shield of faith." This title comes from Ephesians 6:16: " take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." Powers of holiness, activate!

Church of St. Paul in Tarsus
Located in his birthplace, which is now in modern-day Turkey, this church dedicated to Paul hasn't held up quite as well as St. Paul's in London.