The Composition of Ephesians

Old Way of Looking at Ephesians

I used to think that the Letter to the Ephesians consisted solely of the four general rhetorical sections that occur in every speech. I gave a short description of this position here. I am now showing the actual chart in digitized form that convinced me of this position, although I have updated it slightly. This chart demonstrates the four rhetorical parts: the exordium; the statement of facts or the narratio; the proofs in support of the facts (in this case, it takes form in an exhortatio); and the peroratio. I used to take the prayer and doxology at the end of chapter 3 as part of the narratio, which was how I originally constructed my chart. But having considered further the composition of Ephesians, that is no longer my position. As you can see in the chart, the prayer and doxology have been separated from the narratio.

New Way of Looking at Ephesians

The usefulness of this chart is its demonstration of the parallels between the narratio and the exhortatio. But more importantly, it also shows the chiastic structure of the letter. This chart and description shows the chiastic structure of the letter in a different way, and I think it highlights much better the parallels from a categorical perspective than the first chart above. For example, it shows that the letter starts and ends with epistolary sections. It shows that the exordium and peroratio parallel each other as the speech’s “bookends.” It also demonstrates that the narratio and the exhortatio run parallel to each other. And it demonstrates that the prayer and doxology are a central piece of the letter.

More Chiastic Structures

My focus has primarily been on the relationship between the narratio and the exhortatio. I do not believe as Jeal does in Integrating Theology and Ethics in Ephesians that the narratio has no direct relationship with the exhortatio, that it only serves to predispose the audience to receiving the exhortations. I think that the narratio and exhortatio are more related than what he claims. Instead, it seems to me that there are solid literary connections between the two that cannot be ignored. This chart demonstrates two things: first, there are literary connections between the narratio and exhortatio; and second, each section is comprised of its own chiastic structure. As a result, the narratio ought to be understood as the foundation upon which the exhortatio is constructed. In other words, we have to interpret the exhortatio in light of the narratio.

The Exhortatio and Its Rhetorical Units

Now, you might be asking why I think that the exhortatio only has three sections. Many would say that there are at least four or perhaps five. In terms of rhetorical units, I think they would be right. In terms of composition, I think that there are three sections that directly run parallel to the three sections in the narratio. Rhetorical units themselves might be more than three in number within the exhortatio. But this chart demonstrates that we can have three main sections while having more than three rhetorical units. I believe that the second section is comprised of two rhetorical units. But as a whole, both rhetorical units relate to the second section of the narratio.


Perhaps a better chart to follow as a summary would be this one here. This chart demonstrates the chiastic structure of the letter as a whole as well as the individual chiastic structures of both the narratio and the exhortatio.


The Rhetorical Structure of Ephesians

I have thought that the Letter to the Ephesians was written with the appropriate epideictic style for the region it was sent to, an ornate and repetitious style. As such, it follows a rhetorical structure. Aristotle maintained that every speech has in its basic form an exordium, a narratio, a set of proofs, and a peroratio. Low and behold, we find such things in Ephesians. I have proposed in the past what I thought the structure is according to these four parts. I would like to lay it out again in a table form, because I have changed how I perceive said structure, but before I set out to correct myself, I want to display the structure as I used to think it was.

Upon further inspection, I don’t think that this rhetorical structure best describes what is going on in Ephesians. There are too many difficulties with it. I have tried explaining those difficulties, but my explanations have not been satisfactory. For example, is the prayer and doxology at the end of chapter 3 part of the narratio? If it is, why isn’t there a comparable section in the set of proofs, since the proofs appear to be parallel to the contents of the narratio? In addition to these difficulties, I found it odd that prayer functioned as a tool for making transitions, but there is no transition between the proofs and the peroratio as there is between the exordium and the narratio with the prayer and thanksgiving in Eph 1:15-23, and as there is between the narratio and the set of proofs as we see in the prayer and doxology in Eph 3:14-21. Furthermore, there is a transition from the peroratio and the epistolary post script in the section of prayer in Eph 6:18-20. But why is there no section of prayer between the proofs and the peroratio? I have stated that it is because the peroratio is similar to the force of the set of proofs, it is exhortatory in nature, and therefore it does not need such a transition. But perhaps something else is going on? Perhaps there is more to the structure of Ephesians than my previous proposal suggests?