GENTILES ARE NOW UNITED WITH JEWS IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD ON THE BASIS OF THE RECONCILING WORK OF CHRIST
Frank Thielman: The focus of 2:11–22 is the social alienation between Israel and the Gentiles and Christ’s role in solving this problem through his death, which set aside the Mosaic law, with its tendency to divide Jews from Gentiles. Although the death of Christ also overcomes the hostility between God and humanity, this element of the passage serves the passage’s more prominent theme of the peace that now exists between Jews and Gentiles. By overcoming the hostility between God and all human beings, Christ’s death breaks down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
Andrew Lincoln: The past lack of privilege in comparison with Israel is not depicted for its own sake, but to assure the readers of the greatness and reality of their salvation by highlighting their privileged present situation as members of such a community as the Church is shown to be.
Clinton Arnold: This passage contrasts the former godlessness of the Gentiles and their exclusion from the people of God with their new experience of closeness to God and inclusion in his people. This change has taken place on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross, which resulted in the abrogation of the Mosaic covenant and the creation of a new people of God. This new humanity enjoys a relationship of peace with God and peace with one another, especially between Jews and Gentiles.
Grant Osborne: Salvation history narrates God’s change from the old covenant centrality of the law to the new covenant reality of Christ. God’s salvation and God’s final kingdom have entered this world through Jesus Christ, and a new reality has taken over. This change involves the reconciliation of all peoples of the world and results in a new peace and unity between former enemies. In this a new community has been forged—the church, a new Israel, a new people of God no longer based on ethnicity but based solely on relationship with Christ. The old barriers and hostility between the groups have been eradicated in the cross, and both peace and unity are the result.
Bruce Hurt: In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul is painting a picture of how the body of Christ was formed in the beginning. He is unveiling the mystery of the Church, and how it began with Jews and Gentiles who were hostile to each other. He begins by emphasizing the impossible to cross magnitude of the division, and then how God through Christ’s work on the Cross and the work of the Spirit supernaturally bridged the centuries long unbridgeable spiritual chasm! He uses many pictures and phrases to essentially point out how such diverse groups were brought into one, the Church, His Body.
I. (:11-13) THE INCLUSION OF THE GENTILES IS A BIG DEAL
I am inclined to minimize things … “It’s no big deal” is one of my favorite expressions.
Clinton Arnold: The call to “remember” (μνημονεύετε) is reminiscent of the numerous times that the people of Israel were called to remember the mighty deliverance God had secured for them following years of painful slavery in Egypt. Moses told the Israelites, “Remember (μνημονεύετε; NIV ‘commemorate’) this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand” (Exod 13:3). Israel’s failure to remember God’s wondrous works and his powerful acts of deliverance often resulted in a failure to appreciate God, to obey him in their present situation, and to keep themselves pure (see, e.g., Pss 78:42; 106:7). Because God has now granted Gentile Christians redemption and a new hope, Paul wants them to recall their former plight—especially how distant they were from the one true God, the God of Israel, and the nature of their exclusion from their only source of hope.
A. (:11-12) Remember the Pain of Exclusion
- (:11) Excluded by Derisive Designation
a. “Gentiles in the flesh“
b. “who are called Uncircumcision by the so-called Circumcision“
Limitations of Physical Circumcision: (in contrast to spiritual)
– “which is performed in the flesh“
– ” by human hands“
- (:12) Excluded by Lack of Theological Privilege
Frank Thielman: Paul lists five theological disadvantages of the Gentiles, and all except the last, summative item (“without God in the world”) are related to the Gentiles’ lack of access to the Scriptures. Because Israel’s Scriptures contain the promise of the Messiah and outline the way of life God expected his people to follow, Gentiles were left on their own, without real hope or guidance, a fate that we know from 2:1–3 placed them at the mercy of the world, the devil, and the flesh (cf. 4:17–19).
This echo of the terrible plight of those outside of Christ according to 2:1–3 brings to a fitting close Paul’s description of the desperate situation of Gentiles prior to the gospel’s advent. Israel was God’s people and the repository of God’s Word. Prior to the coming of the gospel, only those within the boundaries of Israel had hope for salvation from the wrath that God would pour out on the disobedient. As uncircumcised Gentiles, however, Paul’s readers were by definition excluded from this people and this hope and were therefore in an especially desperate position of hopelessness.
a. “separate from Christ“
Grant Osborne: They were “apart from Christ,” meaning that they knew nothing of Jesus (or of the Jewish Messiah more generally) and were completely cut off from him. Some may have been God-fearers (see above) or even converts to Judaism, but most would have known nothing of Judaism or Christianity. Not only were they cut off from the Messiah; unlike the Jews they were removed from any understanding of a messiah, a royal deliverer who would redeem them. For these Gentiles coming to know Jesus as Messiah was a double blessing.
b. “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel“
Grant Osborne: There had always been animosity between Israel and the nations that surrounded it, but here it is more than just a social estrangement; there is a religious dimension as well. Citizenship was very important, indicating not just belonging and membership in a community but also protection and privileges. The Ephesians were cut off from the covenant, having no access to the blessings of being the chosen people.
c. “strangers to the covenants of promise“
Grant Osborne: The term “covenant” implies a solemn divine-human treaty involving both promises and obligations, and the three main covenants in the Old Testament were the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1–4), the Mosaic (Exod 24:1–8), and the Davidic (2 Sam 7:12–17). The Gentiles had missed out on all this. They were foreigners not just to Israel but to God himself. It is true that the Abrahamic covenant had intended that the Jews bless “all peoples on earth” (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4), but that did not take place until the Gentile mission launched by Christ (Matt 28:18; Acts 3:25). Until Christ, these people (with a few exceptions like Ruth) were given no share in these promises.
d. “having no hope“
David Thompson: Israel had a definite hope of a promised land, a righteous king and a glorious kingdom. But we had none. Don’t miss this point- apart from Jesus Christ and the grace of God we have no hope for ever having any relationship with God, and there is no hope of our status with God ever changing. You will not find any hope in yourself. If you look at yourself what you will likely find is failure. It is Jesus Christ who is our hope and it is Jesus Christ who gives us hope. Apart from Jesus Christ a person’s heart is restless. Something is nagging and something is missing. Jesus Christ fulfills life and gives hope.
e. “without God in the world“
Clinton Arnold: What Paul means here, however, is that the Gentiles were alienated from the one true God, who is the source of life (see 4:18). Paul has no concern about the degree of their devotion to Artemis, Hekate, Isis, Zeus, or any of the local deities; his concern is that they did not know the one God who made the heavens and the earth. Although this is the only time the term appears in either the LXX or the NT, Paul’s use of this expression influenced the subsequent generation of Christians who could refer to pagans as “godless” (ἄθεοι; see Mart. Pol. 9.2; Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 3.11.80).
B. (:13) Appreciate the Price of Inclusion
- Accomplished by virtue of Union with Christ
“But now in Christ Jesus“
Clinton Arnold: The extraordinary news is that Gentiles who have been chosen by God and put their faith in Christ now experience a closeness to God and a reversal of their plight because of their participation in the benefits of the death of the Messiah. This sentence serves as a banner over the entire passage. . .
“In Christ Jesus” once again stands as a crucial theological expression in a pivotal text in Ephesians. Although some have taken this in an instrumental sense (i.e., “by Christ Jesus”), it is best to take it in the sense that predominates throughout its abundant usage in Ephesians, that is, in a local, incorporational significance. Paul uses it to speak of being united with Christ in a profound, dynamic relationship that not only extends to a present experience of the risen Christ, but reaches back to an objective participation with him in his death, resurrection, and exaltation (see 2:6).
- Former Position
“you who formerly were far off“
- Present Position
“have been brought near“
“by the blood of Christ“
Frank Thielman: In 2:11–13 Paul begins to describe specifically how God has made his great power available to the church at the corporate level. He does this both by reminding his believing Gentile readers of the plight in which they had existed as people who were separated from Israel and by reminding them of what God has done for them to remedy that plight. He begins by describing the tension-filled divide that existed between Gentiles and Jews prior to the coming of the gospel: both groups considered circumcision an insuperable barrier between them. This social barrier was matched by a theological barrier. As unbelieving Gentiles, Paul’s readers were separated from the Messiah and so from all the blessings of being “in Christ.” They were alienated from Israel’s Scriptures, both from the way of life described there and from the promises the Scriptures contained of a coming Messiah and of the outpouring of God’s Spirit. This meant that they were without hope and without God in a rebellious world headed for the experience of God’s wrath. God responded to this desperate plight, however, by incorporating Paul’s Gentile readers into his people: they are now “in Christ Jesus” and so, although once far from God, have been brought near to him.
Clinton Arnold: This entire passage coheres around the declaration made in 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far have become near by the blood of Christ.” The idea of nearness to God is the central idea of the text. The prior section (2:11–12) illustrates the metaphorical distance between the Gentiles and God. The following verses (2:14–16) explain how this new status was made possible and what its implications are for Jew-Gentile relationships in the body of Christ.
II. (:14-18) THE RECONCILING WORK OF CHRIST MADE IT HAPPEN
Two types of Reconciliation intertwined here:
– between Jew and Gentile
– between man and God
Frank Thielman: The second step (vv. 14–18) explores precisely how Christ’s death brought “peace” (vv. 14, 15, 17) to a divided humanity and to a humanity divided from God. The spotlight now falls on Christ himself rather than on God’s action through Christ, and Paul shifts from speaking to his readers as a separate group (“you Gentiles,” v. 11) to including himself, although a Jew, with them (“He himself is our peace,” v. 14). Paul explains that the death of Christ on the cross tore down the dividing wall (the Mosaic law) that enclosed the Jews and separated them from the Gentiles. In the hands of sinful human beings, the law had become an instrument of hostility, but when Christ’s death set it aside, he created in himself one new, undivided human being. Sinful human beings had also used the Mosaic law as an instrument of hostility against God (cf. Rom. 4:15; 5:20; 7:5, 7–8, 11), and the death of Christ also solved this problem for both Jews and Gentiles.
A. The Essence of Reconciliation is Peace
“For He Himself is our Peace“
“thus establishing peace“
Clinton Arnold: Paul ends this section by repeating the emphasis with which he began, that is, by highlighting Christ as the source of peace. Structurally, this forms an inclusio that stresses the new covenant blessing of peace. This is heightened all the more with an emphasis on peace in the center of the text:
- He is our peace (v. 14a)
- He makes peace (v. 15c)
- He proclaims peace (v. 17b)
B. The Result of Reconciliation (between Jew and Gentile) is Union
“who made both groups into one“
“that in Himself He might make the two into one new man“
C. The Obstacle to Reconciliation was the Enmity Associated with the Requirements of the Law
- Christ Abolished the Enmity
“by abolishing in His flesh the enmity“
Clinton Arnold: One of the key ways that Christ has created unity between Jews and Gentiles is by abrogating perhaps the greatest obstacle to unity, that is, the Torah. The law was like a fence that separated the Jewish people from their Gentile neighbors. This fence, or dividing wall, was symbolically represented by a literal wall that separated the court of the Gentiles from the inner courts reserved for the Jews in the sanctuary of Jerusalem, the holy place where God mediated his presence to the people.
Grant Osborne: The verb “set aside” (katargeō) can be translated “render ineffective” or “nullify.” Christ, by becoming our sacrifice (“in his flesh” = “by his death”), has nullified the need for the law and therefore set aside the enmity it had created between Jew and Gentile. By being made right with God both groups are also made right with each other. The “commands and ordinances” are the specific injunctions of the law. When the law is set aside, the hostility it produces disappears as well.
- The Enmity consisted of
“the Law of commandments contained in ordinances“
D. The Ultimate Reconciliation for both Jew and Gentile = Free Unlimited Access to the Father
- Same Mediator = Jesus Christ
- Same Access for Gentiles as for Jews
“we both have our access“
- Same Empowerment
“in one Spirit“
- Same Family Relationship
“to the Father“
Frank Thielman: In 2:14–18 Paul places the spotlight directly on Christ, who, he says, is the “peace” of the believing community. He is their peace in the sense that he has united Jews and Gentiles to each other in himself and therefore overcome the hostility vividly portrayed in 2:11–12. Paul’s description of how Christ did this moves forward in three steps. These steps are not related to one another sequentially but examine the same action in increasing detail, like a microscope clicking through three levels of magnification to examine the same organism:
- Christ made the two groups one.
- Christ tore down the Mosaic law as both a “partition” separating Jews from Gentiles and as a “fence” enclosing the Jewish people and keeping them safe from Gentile influences.
- Christ tore down this “partition” between Jews and Gentiles by setting aside the Mosaic law’s commandments, issued in the form of decrees. When the Mosaic law passed away, its use as an instrument of hostility between Jews and Gentiles also passed away.
Christ set aside the Mosaic law for two reasons. First, he did this to create in himself one new human being out of two formerly hostile factions. Paul’s description of this purpose summarizes all that he has just said. The second purpose, in contrast, introduces a new thought: when Christ set aside the law, he reconciled this unified group of Jewish and Gentile believers to God.
Christ did all this, Paul says, through his death on the cross. His death made it possible for him to present to God both Jewish and Gentile believers, now united peacefully with each other as a newly created human being.
III. (:19-22) THE CHURCH (BELIEVING GENTILES UNITED WITH BELIEVING JEWS) CONTINUES TO BE BUILT TOGETHER AND INDWELT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Frank Thielman: This third step (vv. 19–22), with its progressive imagery of God’s people as “household,” “building,” and “dwelling place,” fully resolves the plight that Paul laid out in the first step (vv. 11–12). The tension and estrangement between Israel and the Gentiles and between the Gentiles and God has disappeared. Paul’s Gentile readers are now part of the society of God’s people, part of the household over which God presides as Father (v. 19), part of a firmly founded, tightly fitted building currently under construction (vv. 20–21a). Indeed, Paul says climactically, they help form the temple in which God’s Spirit dwells (vv. 21b–22). In all this, they participate as “citizens together” with all the saints, whether Jewish or Gentile, because they are now part of a new people of God in which ethnic and national divisions have disappeared.
Grant Osborne: We have a new home and a new citizenship, but we also have a new family—we are “members of the household of God.” We are no longer a part of this world but are part of the eternal family of the Triune Godhead. We are children of the heavenly Father (Eph 3:14–15) and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). The theme of the church as the household of God is developed further in 1–2 Timothy (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Tim 2:20, 21). The imagery of the church as consisting of fathers, young men, and children is developed in 1 John 2:12–14.
A. (:19) New Position of Privilege and Inclusion for the Gentiles
- Old Position
“you are no longer“
- New Position
“fellow citizens with the saints“
“of God’s household“
B. (:20) New Structure for the Church — different than the OT patriarchs
it all starts with Him and depends upon Him
Grant Osborne: The “chief cornerstone” of this new building is Christ Jesus, meaning that the entire edifice rests upon him. There is some debate as to whether the image is of the foundation stone at the corner of the building or the capstone at the top of the arch. If the latter, the emphasis is on Christ’s prominence and splendor in the most conspicuous part of the building. If the former, the imagery centers upon his strength and importance, with the stones of the structure resting on him. While the idea of a capstone would make sense, the evidence for this image is slightly later than the New Testament period, and the imagery in the New Testament favors the cornerstone option.
Clinton Arnold: The vast majority of interpreters correctly understand Paul to be referring to the apostles and prophets of the first-century church. . . Paul’s most extensive discussion of the function of prophets is in 1 Cor 14. There we learn that one of the key roles of the prophet is to “edify/build up the church” (ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἐκκλησίαν οἰκοδομεῖ; 1 Cor 14:4)—an expression that corresponds to Paul’s comments here that the church is built upon (ἐποικοδομηθέντες) the foundation of the apostles and prophets. They hear from the Lord and speak what they hear. Thus, they bring revelation and speak mysteries (14:6, 30), which function to comfort, encourage, and build up the church (14:3, 31).
C. (:21-22) Mutual Growth — Jew and Gentile need one another
- “in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing“
- “in whom you also are being built together“
D. (:21-22) Ultimate Goal
the church = God’s holy dwelling place, indwelt by the Holy Spirit
- “into a holy temple in the Lord“
- “into a dwelling of God in the Spirit“
Frank Thielman: In 2:19–22 Paul explores the idea with which he concluded the previous section (v. 18), that Christ had created access for both Jews and Gentiles, as one people, to God the Father. Paul tells his readers that although they are Gentiles, they are fellow citizens with all God’s people. They are members of God’s household and part of the temple in which God’s Spirit dwells. This temple’s foundation is the witness of the apostles and prophets who first went to the Gentiles with the gospel of human reconciliation to God through the death of Christ. The temple’s most important stone—the stone that guides the building’s construction and tops it off when it is finished—is Christ Jesus. Paul’s readers are the carefully shaped and fitted building blocks presently being added to the building. The way in which Paul describes this temple recalls the OT expectation of a rebuilt temple in which Israel and the nations would join together in the worship of God.
This paragraph brings to a close Paul’s effort to explain in greater detail what he meant in 1:19–23 when he said he prayed for God to illuminate the eyes of his readers’ hearts so that they might understand the magnitude of the power he has placed at their disposal in Christ. They had been mired in rebellion against God and alienated from God’s revelation of himself through his people Israel. They were utterly without hope of escape from God’s wrath. Then God, because he is overwhelmingly merciful, saved them and brought them into fellowship with his people, giving them a home in which he is Father, a home that turns out to be the temple where God’s spiritual presence dwells.
Grant Osborne: The temple was holy because God’s Shekinah glory (from the Hebrew shakan, to dwell) dwelt in it in the most holy place. The church is a temple because the Spirit is God’s Shekinah dwelling in it.