When we as Christians affirm the unity of the Church, what is it that we’re affirming? Or when Jesus prays for those who will believe in him through the preaching of the apostles “that they may all be one” (Jn. 17:21). How should we understand this oneness, a oneness shared by the Father and the Son (cf. Jn. 17:22)? At least one way to understand this is through Paul’s teaching on the oneness of the Church in Ephesians 4:4–6. Let’s look at what he has to say about the Church’s unity with some help from the Ephesians volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Ephesians by Constantine R. Campbell is the newest volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary. This long-awaited volume replaces the previous Ephesians volume written by Peter O’Brien.

Paul’s “Oneness List”

The theme of oneness and unity comes into sharp focus now, with a “oneness list,” comprising one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (4:4–6). The list does not concern exhortation, but establishes the basis for it (cf. 4:1–2). Since Paul has already addressed the importance of keeping the unity of the Spirit (4:3), it is unsurprising that the first two items in his “oneness list” are “one body” and “one Spirit.”

One Body

The body metaphor is Paul’s primary image in this letter for depicting the unified people of Christ, and it is a key motif in this section (4:1–16). It is a brilliant metaphor that underscores the essential importance of unity, while also demanding diversity—a body must be unified to function properly, and it depends on its diversity of parts (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–31). Immediately after the “oneness list,” Paul turns his attention to the vital importance of diversity for building and strengthening the unity of the body (4:7–16).

One Spirit

Paul already stressed the importance of the Spirit for the oneness of the body in 4:3—he manifests the presence of God among all believers, dwelling among them as God’s holy temple (2:18, 22). As the third person of the Godhead, the presence of the Spirit naturally seals all believers as one (1:13–14; 4:30), since he is one person dwelling within the many.

One Hope

The third item in the list is “one hope,” which God called believers to (cf. 4:1; 1:18), after having had no hope (2:12). Though Paul does not here specify the content of this hope, the letter itself contains many grounds for hope, including the blessings of God in Christ (1:3–14), the supremacy of Christ over his enemies and his headship for the church (1:20–23), salvation by grace through faith (2:8–9), and the revelation of the mystery of Christ to the gentiles (3:1–13). God has been working his purposes out through history, and the ultimate reconciliation of all things in Christ (1:10) is an enduring hope that binds all believers.

One Lord

The fourth, fifth, and sixth items on the oneness list are offered in quick succession—“one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In keeping with virtually all of Paul’s uses of the term—even when citing Old Testament texts in which “Lord” refers to the God of Israel—the “Lord” refers to Christ Jesus. Indeed, as Arnold points out, the confession of “one Lord” would echo the daily confession of the Jewish Shema, in which Yahweh is acknowledged as the one Lord. Jesus is thus identified with the God of Israel.

The Spirit (4:3), the Lord Christ (4:5), and God the Father (4:6) are each included in Paul’s oneness list, demonstrating the unifying power of each person of the Godhead. The inclusive power of Christ is obvious in the letter, since he is the head of the body, the church (1:22–23), all believers are blessed “in Christ” (1:3–14), salvation comes from being made alive with, raised, and seated with Christ (2:5–6), and he brings peace between Jew and gentile (2:14–16). Every person who knows Christ as Lord is united to each other person in Christ as members of his body.

One Faith

Paul says “one faith” unites believers, which here most likely refers to the set of commitments shared by believers rather than their subjective experiences of faith (cf. 4:13). Just as the “one hope” of their calling refers to a shared objective hope (4:4), rather than the subjective experience of hope, so too the one faith refers to an objective set of beliefs. This use of “faith,” then, finds a parallel in Jude 3, in which Jude’s readers are “to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (see also Rom 1:5; 10:8; Gal 1:23; 1 Tim 3:9; 4:1, 6). The common set of beliefs and commitments are, then, yet another factor that establishes the oneness of the body of Christ.

One Baptism

The sixth item on the oneness list is “one baptism.” Parallel to “one faith,” this baptism does not likely refer to individual experiences of the act of water baptism—though water baptism was the common practice of the early church (e.g., Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 10:47–48). It more likely refers, rather, to believers’ common participation in the death of Christ (Rom 6:3). Each individual’s experience of water baptism is, therefore, a personal expression of their participation in Christ—the one baptism into his death. Since all believers participate in the death of Christ, this common sharing further establishes their oneness in Christ.

One God and Father of All

The final item on the oneness list is one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Being the last item on the list, with its own relative clause adding weight, Paul presents God the Father as the dramatic conclusion to the list of major factors that create the oneness of believers. It is not accidental that God is also the seventh item on the list—seven being “God’s number,” the symbol of divine fullness.


The ultimate cause of the oneness of the body of Christ is God the Father—whose own oneness undergirds the oneness of the body (cf. Deut 6:4). In Ephesians, the one God has blessed believers with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3). He raised Christ from the dead, seating him above all other authorities and appointing him head over everything for the church (1:20–23). God has made believers alive with Christ, raising them with him, and seating them with Christ in the heavens (2:5–6). And it was God who appointed Paul apostle to the gentiles to reveal to them the mystery of Christ, thus granting them the opportunity to become partners in the promise in Christ Jesus (3:1–6). Through all these acts and more, the one God is the ultimate agent for the oneness of the body of Christ.

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