Third and Last Section – e. Ephesians and Colossians

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by Neil Godfrey


The Ephesians and the Colossians Letters

I fully agree with the explanation given by Dr. Baur regarding the reproduction of Gnostic ideas in the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, and I only find it necessary to provide some further clarification on the question of the chronological relationship between this Christian transformation and the emergence of the original Gnosis.

The Valentinian concept of the cosmic nature of Christ’s activity, which encompasses both the earthly and heavenly spheres of the world, the visible and invisible, and is of decisive importance for the world of spirits as well as for earthly historical life, is Gnostic in nature.

The Pleroma, which took up residence in Christ and decided to return everything to itself through reconciliation (Col. 1:19-20), is the Valentinian Pleroma, in which the totality of determinations that constitute the essence of the Absolute has come into existence – but unified, so that the majority of Aeons are abolished, and the dialectic between the Absolute and its revelation is simplified into a dialectic between the original abundance of the Godhead and its manifestation in the only means of its historical representation.

Just as in the Valentinian series of Syzygies, the heavenly marital unions in which the development and connection of the Degrisse world is idealistically executed, the church is the spouse of the ideal man (the Anthropos), so in (Eph. 1:23) the church is the Pleroma of Christ – its execution and fulfillment – its body, just as the woman (Eph. 5:28) is the body of the man – but at the same time, that Gnostic distinction between the mediator and his Pleroma is cancelled in the Catholic interest, as Christ is once again the one who fulfills everything in all.


Now, since the mystery has been revealed, the Church also teaches the wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 3:10). This is again the Catholic transformation of the Valentinian assumption that the work of redemption was of decisive importance for the heavenly world as well – the Catholic Church accomplishes here and now what the Sophia Valentiniani does as the Syzygos Christi for the completion of the heavenly world (the Pleroma) when it returns with the pneumatic content of the Church to the same.

The “manifold” character of the wisdom *) that the Church reveals to the heavenly rulers and powers is a Gnostic catchword that only has a real meaning in the context of the Valentinian system, where the Sophia goes through a series of forms and modifications **) in her suffering state, while here, where the absolute and unique revelation is meant, it is completely meaningless.

*) 3:10 ἡ πολυποίκιλος σοφία τοῦ Θεοῦ

**) and therefore (Irenaeus asserts, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1) πολυμερης  and πολυποίκιλος [mean the same?]


The undoubtedly Gnostic turn is finally when the Christ of the Ephesians (chapter 4, 8-10) descends into the lowest regions of the earth to fill everything up and leads the prisoners thereof as the prize of his victory into the highest regions of heaven – it is the imitation of the descent into hell, which in Marcion’s system is necessary for the liberation of the negative spirits of the Old Testament, i.e. the opponents of the Demiurge, which Marcion regards as the positive and good ones.

As I said, the fact that Gnosticism forms the historical assumption for the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians is so undeniable and obvious that it is only denied by those who, according to their basic assumption, must adhere to the ecclesiastical view of the origin of the canon. Only the question of the time when this modification of Gnosticism was possible and the extent to which this modification occurs in the New Testament canon, particularly within the collection of the so-called Pauline letters, can still be maintained.

In this respect, I have already shown that the first letter to the Corinthians has Gnosticism as its assumption. I only mention that the enumeration of the spiritual powers that Christ must still subject to the end so that the rule of God is completed (1 Corinthians 15: 24-28) – an enumeration that is literally identical to that of the letter to the Ephesians (chapter 1, 21) and is based on it also in terms of writing – was only possible after the emergence of Gnosticism and that the angels and powers and rulers, the height and depth, which according to the conclusion of the first section of the letter to the Romans (chapter 8, 38-39) have no more power over believers, are already the ecclesiastical modification of the Gnostic view of the Aeon series.


And the age of this transformation? Mr. Tr. Baur is of the opinion*) that the Letter to the Ephesians and its companion, the Letter to the Colossians, were written in a time “when the just-emerging Gnostic ideas still appeared as innocuous Christian speculations” — but the historical analogy, whereby the basic ideas and keywords of a speculative system are only transferred into religious and church thought and language when both have fought through their original opposition, leads me to a later time, to which the course of the above investigation has also assigned those letters that were previously considered genuinely Pauline.

*) The Apostle Paul p. 436.

Finally, everything in the two letters to the Ephesians and Colossians that has its origin in Gnosticism has by no means taken on the form of having been involuntarily and innocuously swept into the realm of church and Catholic consciousness, and here accepted as involuntarily and innocuously as before – the Gnostic elements have rather been catholicized – philosophy has been transformed into theology, metaphysics into religion, the category of necessity into that of free divine self-determination, cosmic physics into morality – but according to the testimony of history, this transformation is a lengthy process and always presupposes the struggle between both worlds and perspectives and, after the struggle, an intermediate period in which the opposition has collapsed into indifference.


Also, the allusions to Montanism, which Mr. Baur and Mr. Schwegler have demonstrated in the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, are not unique to them – at least the distinction between the perfection and maturity of adulthood and the weakness of childhood and the designation of the prophets as continuers and fulfillers of the apostolate have already been demonstrated by me in the first Corinthians letter.

And the authors of those two letters were aware of and used the latter. The natural language of the passage in the first Corinthians letter, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” attests to its originality, while the clumsiness of the passage in the Ephesians letter, “And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,” *) reveals its secondary character. (Likewise, the list of vices that revoke inheritance rights in the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5), as well as the parallel passage in the Colossians letter (3:5) are formed according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and the remark in Colossians 3:7 “in which you once walked when you lived among them” has its original in the expression of the first Corinthians letter (6:11), “And such were some of you”).

*) 1 Cor 12:28 οὓς μὲν ἔθετο ὁ Θεὸς . . . . . πρῶτον ἀποστόλους δεύτερον προφήτας
Eph. 4:11 ἔδωκε τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας

That the Christ of the Ephesians and Colossians letters, as the focal point of all cosmic contradictions, has also proven himself as the unifying force in history and, in the organism of the church, in the new person of his community has overcome the historical contradiction of paganism and Judaism, no longer requires further elaboration after the discussions of Mr. Baur and Mr. Schwegler. I only remark on the form of that opposition, according to which the pagans lived outside the citizenship of Israel, were strangers to the covenants of promise, and stood far away, while the Jews were close to the access to God (Ephesians 2:12, 17), that this preference for the Jews “does not completely contradict the genuine Pauline discussion of this question,” as Mr. Schwegler, in agreement with Dr. Baur, *) believes, since even in the first section of the Romans letter, the privilege and prerogative of the Jews is that they have been entrusted with the revelations of God (3:1-2).

*) The Apostolic Age, Vol. 2, pp. 365, 380.



Those whose apologetic consciousness is capable of transforming the later transformation of dogmatic efforts into the original expression of the first beginnings of Christian reflection will be in vain to try to refute the following evidence for the late origin of these two letters.

To the author of the letter to the Ephesians (3:5), the apostles are already a holy and past event. He refers to them as “the holy apostles,” while calling himself “the least of all saints” (3:8), thus copying the designation used by the author of the first letter to the Corinthians (15:9). He tries to present his relationship with the Ephesians as a familiar one, but he forgets himself to the extent that he questions *) whether they have heard of his mission to the Gentiles. It is a pretentious vividness when he refers them to his writing (3:4) from which they can understand his understanding of the mystery of Christ. He copies the Galatians’ letter (1:10) when he refers (3:2) to the revelation in which the mystery was communicated to him by God. Finally, in his description of the new man, the author of the letter to the Colossians (3:1) also reveals that he had the letter to the Galatians (3:28) in mind **).

*) Ch 3:2 εἴγε ἠκούσατε

**) Compare the baseless “if indeed you have heard” of the Ephesians (3:2) with the correct and natural “for you have heard” of the Galatians (1:13 ἠκούσατε γὰρ). The antitheses that are abolished in the new man of the Colossians (3:11) are too far-reaching and particularly lack the contrast of “barbarian and Scythian,” whereas in the Galatians (3:28) they are at least correctly formulated. Another point on which the letters to the Galatians and the Colossians converge is their description of legal regulations as “the elements of the world” (Gal. 4:3, Col. 2:20).



The comparison of the Montanist interpretation of these letters with the Catholic assimilation of Montanism in the Gospel of John leads to an important observation. It is Montanistic when the Holy Spirit in the Ephesians is described as the mediator and completer of revelation, and the purpose of this revelation is the glorification of Christ (Eph. 1:14, 17), and when in the Gospel of John the Paraclete testifies of Jesus and glorifies him (John 15:26, 16:14). It is a Catholic assimilation of a Montanistic element when the mature adulthood of the church is called the Pleroma Christi in the Ephesians (4:13), and when in the Gospel of John, the Paraclete reveals to the disciples what Jesus could not tell them because of their weakness and immaturity. Finally, the coincidence of the Ephesians and the Gospel of John in the view that the exaltation of Christ is the condition for the communication of the gifts of the Spirit will answer the question of which of the two writings is older and will prove that the author of one had the other in mind.


When it says in the Ephesians (4:9): “He who descended is also the one who ascended,” and further (4:8): “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended,” this is a clear and effective argumentation about the correlation of the two correlatives. The statement of the Jesus of the Fourth (John 3:13): “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven,” has received a affected and floating attitude due to the evasive wording of “no one”—in short, it is a failed copy of that passage in the Ephesians. *) The antithesis of the Fourth, moreover, (John 4:34) “God does not give the Spirit by measure,” is affected and even baseless, as it lacks the opposite assumption to which it should be attached—clear and correctly executed, however, is the statement of the Ephesians (4:7): “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Finally, in the context from which the Fourth has taken these expressions (Ephesians 4:7-10), the idea that Christ’s ascension is the necessary prerequisite for the distribution of spiritual gifts is really worked out—whereas the Fourth has completely disregarded this connection of ideas where he has brought in the catchwords of the Ephesians, and only later (7:39) does he add the remark that the ascension of Christ is the prerequisite for the communication of the Spirit.

*) Eph. 4:9 τὸ δὲ ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν εἰ μὴ ὅτι καὶ κατέβη . . . .
John 3:13 καὶ οὐδεὶς ἀναβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς . . . . 

The Ephesians letter, however, already presupposes late elaborations of the original gospel. The saying “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27) has its parallel in the Clementine Homilies* – the saying that one should not let the sun set on their anger is refined in the Apostolic Constitutions and designated as a scriptural passage in Polycarp’s letters**).

As for the question of which of the two letters was written first, whether they were written by different authors or were variations by one and the same author on the same topic, I do not dare to determine anything for now, as I do not wish to add a new hypothesis to those already proposed.

*) Eph 4:27 μηδὲ δίδοτε τόπον τῷ διαβόλῳ
Hom. 19:2 με δοτε προφασιν τω πονηρω

**) Apost. Const. 2:53. Polyc ch. 12