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Jews and Gentiles United in the Body of Christ

Bible Study of Ephesians
The Reconciliation and Consummation of All Things through Christ

Week Four: Jews and Gentiles United in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22)

While last week’s section (2:1-10) covered more of an individual perspective of salvation, the apostle Paul will now discuss the corporate aspect of our salvation in 2:11-22. This passage is the heart and soul of the letter as well as the theological basis for Paul’s practical applications in chapters 4 through 6. Also, the repetition of certain terms such as “peace,” “one,” and the “far” being brought “near,” confirm that the overarching message of 2:11-22 is all about reconciliation of once hostile parties (this includes both horizontal reconciliation: peace and fellowship between ethnic groups and vertical reconciliation: peace and fellowship between God and man).

After centuries of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, Paul saw the need to explain how reconciliation was made possible and why believers in Christ should get along and dwell together in unity. The apostle previewed Christ and His body in Eph. 1:22-23 and will now develop the “body” metaphor which describes an amazing spiritual reality and unveils a profound mystery—when two become one (cf. Eph. 5:32).

In order to see the big picture and trace the flow of Paul’s thought in this section, here is a brief outline:

1. The hopeless predicament of the Gentiles is resolved by Israel’s Messiah (Christ) through His atoning, sacrificial death (2:11-13)
2. The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles into Christ’s body (lit. “one new man”) results in permanent peace and access to the Father (2:14-18)
3. The ongoing result of Christ’s work of reconciliation is the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s family and the construction of a new temple (2:19-22)

And, for good measure, here is a chiastic structure of 2:11-22 based on key terms and phrases that highlight the big idea (adapted from Kuruvilla, 24):

 A   you; in the flesh (x2); strangers; without God (2:11-12)
    B   you who were once far...near; our peace (2:13-15a)
  C  that he might create in Himself (2:15b)
into one new man (2:15c)
D  both in one body (2:16a) 
C   killing the enmity in Himself (2:16b)
 B  peace to you; far...near; we have access (2:17-18)
A  strangers; you; dwelling of God; in the Spirit (2:19-22) 

2:11-13:

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Paul had just finished taking his readers, a predominantly Gentile audience,* up to the heights of heaven so that they could bask in God’s glorious grace (2:4-10). But now he gives them a down-to-earth reality check, similar to Eph. 2:1-3, and tells them to reflect on their former condition as hopeless outcasts who were alienated from God and His people, Israel.**

*Considering the rather unfruitful evangelistic enterprise of Paul in the synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 19:8-9) and his productive engagement with Gentiles in that city (19:19-20), it is likely the Ephesian church had a Gentile majority" (Kuruvilla, 67, footnote, 2).

**See Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 32:9. These passages confirm that God (YHWH) had a covenant relationship with Israel alone and the rest of the nations were excluded.

In a previous age/dispensation, when God entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham, He required that every male be circumcised as a “sign of the covenant” (Gen. 17:11). However, instead of keeping the spiritual meaning of this outward sign and reaching out to the world, Israel continued to rebel against God and used the physical act of circumcision as a way to look down upon the Gentiles (“uncircumcision”) and keep their distance from the heathen nations.

Though God had exclusively chosen Israel to be His people and commanded the males to be circumcised, the sign of circumcision turned into a physical and social barrier that resulted in perpetual hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Physical circumcision, however, was never meant to be a way for Jews to permanently separate themselves from the rest of the nations, because New Testament revelation shows God’s true purpose and intent for circumcision. For example, the same author of Ephesians proclaims in Galatians 6:15: “For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation” (HCSB).*

*Paul calls attention to the new creation in Eph. 2:10, and he will emphasize it again in 2:15.

Also, in a letter that closely parallels Ephesians, the apostle Paul affirms that a spiritual circumcision is superior to one made by human hand, “In him [Christ] you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11, ESV).* Thus, physical circumcision represents the “cutting off” or removal of the sinful flesh, the old corrupt nature, in favor of the “new man” (Eph. 2:15; 4:24).

*The Greek word cheiropoietos, found in Col. 2:11 and translated in Eph. 2:11 as "made in the flesh by hands," is Paul's way of communicating the inferiority of physical circumcision in comparison to the new creation in Christ. In other words, man's work is always inferior to the superior work of God (cf. Eph. 2:8-10; Php. 3:2-3).

Circumcision (or no circumcision) aside, Paul’s main intent of 2:11-12 is to remind his Gentile readers of their desperate situation before the coming of Israel’s Messiah. The apostle adds five points of distinction in order to convince his Gentile readers of the severity of their former condition; namely, their exclusion from the covenant benefits of God’s chosen nation, Israel:

1. They were “without Christ,” or more specifically, they had no national hope of a coming Messiah and Redeemer.
2. They were excluded from the blessing and security of the only earthly citizenship that mattered, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.”
3. They were “strangers from the covenants of promise.”*
4. They were hopeless, “having no hope.”
5. They were God-less, “without God in the world.”**

*The "covenants of promise" refer to the unconditional, eternal, and irrevocable covenants such as the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New (contrary to the Old, or Mosaic, covenant which was strictly conditional and temporary; see Heb. 8:6, 13).

**The phrase "without God" is actually one word in the Greek, atheoi, from which we derive our modern term "atheist." Contrary to how we use the term today, here in this context "atheist" refers to those who worshipped many gods (polytheism) but did not have knowledge of or a relationship with the one true God.

Then, in verse 13, Paul directs their full attention to “Christ Jesus.” The first two words, “But now,” provide the same encouragement and relief as, “But God,” in 2:4. All seemed lost and hopeless, except for the fact that God had other plans. Gentiles, who were once “far off” have now been “brought near” to God and His chosen people, Israel, by means of Christ’s sacrificial death—a one-time offering that paid for the sins of all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile (cf. John 1:29; Romans 3:21-26).*

*In Ephesians, Paul first mentions the redemption through "the blood of Christ" in 1:7. Regarding the context of Romans 3:22-23, when Paul says "there is no distinction" and "all have sinned," he is referring specifically to both Jews and Gentiles (see chapters 1–2 of the letter; cf. Rom. 10:12).




2:14-18:

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, [that is], the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man [from] the two, [thus] making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), is the sole mediator and peacemaker between Jews and Gentiles (1 Tim. 2:5-6). He not only ended the hostility between these two groups, but He also “made both [into] one” and, in other words, “[created] one new man [from] the two.”*

*The phrase "one new man" is a very literal but faithful translation of the Greek: hena kainon anthropon. While some English versions paraphrase to the effect of something like "one new humanity" (NIV, NLT), the word translated "man" is, indeed, singular in the Greek, not plural, and emphasizes the spiritual union of Jews and Gentiles and their incorporation into Christ himself.

Keep in mind that this new creation, the one new man, is not a separate creation wholly distinct from the resurrected Christ; on the contrary, it is “His body” (1:23), created “in Christ Jesus” (2:10), and created “in Himself” (2:15). Elsewhere in Scripture you will find singular terms (e.g. “Christ,” “seed,” “man/new man”) that all represent the same corporate reality of Christ and the Church; for starters, see 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Galatians 3:16, 27-29; Colossians 2:2; 3:10-11.*

*On the concept of the "one new man," Hoehner comments, "In the church, Gentiles do not become Jews, nor do Jews become Gentiles. Instead, believing Jews and Gentiles become Christians, a whole new single entity" ("Ephesians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, 626).

However, before peace could be achieved and the one new man established, Christ had to first break down “the middle wall of separation,” and abolish/nullify “the enmity,” which is also called “the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances.” These three phrases are essentially synonymous: 1) the wall of separation, 2) the enmity/hostility, and 3) the law of commandments.

What exactly does Paul mean when he says “the law” is a hostile barrier that prevents peace and reconciliation, not only between Jews and Gentiles (2:14), but also between man and God (2:16)? Furthermore, how do we reconcile Ephesians 2:15 with Romans 3:31 and Matthew 5:17-20?

In answer, here is a clarifying comment from Kuruvilla (76-77):

It is not that God’s demands/laws have been removed en masse [all together], but only the condemnation of the law pronounced upon the sinner, for the price of sin has now been paid. Thus, ‘law of commandments in decrees [ordinances],’ here in 2:15, serves as a convenient shorthand for the condemnation that it lays upon sinners. But ‘in Christ’ there is no longer any condemnation for sin that affects the standing of believers with God for eternal life (Rom. 8:1).”

Therefore, God’s law is not the problem (Rom. 7:7; 1 Tim. 1:8); rather, sin is the problem and always has been since the Fall (Gen. 3). The law serves to expose sin inside the heart of fallen man (Rom. 3:20) with the intent and goal that the condemned sinner would seek God’s mercy and provision for his salvation. Ironically, Christ “put the enmity to death” by means of His own death “through the cross” (Eph. 2:16).*

*In a helpful parallel passage (Col. 2:14), Paul describes "the enmity" of Eph. 2:15 as a "record of debt" owed to God. Consequently, the only person who could cancel this monumental debt was the perfect, spotless Lamb of God. To seal the deal and solidify that mankind's debt to God had been canceled (or paid in full), Jesus cried, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

In summary, the One who is peace (2:14), has made peace (2:15), in order to proclaim peace (2:17). Jesus now proclaims the message of peace and reconciliation through His apostles to the rest of the world. When Paul says, “And He came and preached peace…,” the “He” points back to Jesus in the preceding verse. However, to be more specific, the coming of Christ mentioned here refers to the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit of Christ* who empowers the apostles to carry the message of peace and reconciliation to those who are near (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria) and to those who are far off (“the ends of the earth,” see Acts 1:8).

*The Holy Spirit is called the "Spirit of Christ" in Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; and 2 Cor. 3:17-18.

This peace proclamation spoken by the Spirit through the apostles and then passed down through the centuries is a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In Eph. 2:17, Paul confirms that the prophet Isaiah spoke about the gospel of peace and reconciliation going forth to the entire world: “Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,’ says the LORD, ‘And I will heal him” (Isa. 57:19, NASB).*

*See also Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation..." (NLT). Paul uses the same verb found in the Greek text of Isaiah (LXX), euaggelizo, which means "to bring, or proclaim good news [gospel]."

In Ephesians 2:18, we see the Trinitarian operation of salvation that Paul previewed in 1:3-14 now condensed into a single verse: Through Christ Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles have equal access by means of one Spirit to the Father. Amazing!



2:19-22:

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

The once hopeless Gentiles have gone from worst to first and from outcasts to insiders. They were at one time far, far away from the only God who could save them, but now they have a relationship with their Creator and a key to His house! This direct access to the Father by one Spirit was made possible only because of the finished work of Christ and His creation of a new “body,” consisting of Jews and Gentiles united together as one.

In the Church, which is Christ’s body (Eph. 1:23; 2:15-16), Gentiles, together with a chosen remnant of Israelites (Rom. 11:1, 5), are now members of God’s family, having been adopted as His children (Eph. 1:5) and given all the privileges that come with an eternal, heavenly citizenship (Eph. 2:19; cf. Php. 3:20).*

*The theme of God's household is abundantly clear in the Greek text; Paul uses six compound words in 2:19-22 that stem from oikos, "house." Here are the words in order: paroikos, "alien," 2:19; oikeios, "household," 2:19; epoikodomeo, "build upon," 2:20; oikodome, "building," 2:21; sunoikodomeo, "co-build," 2:22; and katoiketerion, "dwelling," 2:22. All of these oik-words relate to the current dispensation (oikonomia) and our theme verse, Eph. 1:10, "...this union of humanity in Christ is an integral part of the grand scheme of God to consummate all things in Christ" (Kuruvilla, 80-81).

To clarify Paul’s remark about being a fellow citizen in 2:19, Gentiles are not made citizens of the earthly “commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12); rather, like Abraham who was on the earth before there was even a nation called Israel, the Gentiles look forward to the city of God which is in heaven, the New Jerusalem (Heb. 11:10, 16; 12:22-24; Rev. 3:12; 21:3).*

*Another point of clarification: While the Church has a heavenly citizenship, this does not mean that the Church replaces Israel or that God has broken His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [Israel]. The Scriptures are clear, from the Old Testament to the New, that Israel will one day be redeemed as a nation and enjoy her King—Jesus, the Son of God/Son of David who will reign from the Land of Israel over the rest of the nations in the coming age. For a few NT confirmations of OT promises to Israel, see Matt. 5:5; 19:28; Lk. 13:34-35; 21:24; Acts 1:6; 3:19-21; Rom. 11:25-27; Rev. 7:1-8; 20:4-6.

Paul comforts his Gentile readers by telling them that they are not merely leftovers, afterthoughts, or second-class citizens. Though the gospel came to the Jews first (Rom. 1:16; cf. Jn. 4:22), and the very first members of Christ’s body were ethnic Israelites (Acts 2:5, 22, 36), in this current age, Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ, co-fitted, and “built together” upon a firm foundation.

The foundation of God’s new temple—His current dwelling place on earth—is the message of the New Testament apostles and prophets (e.g. Peter, James, John, Paul, etc.) with Christ Jesus himself being “the chief cornerstone.”* Paul’s words “the whole building, being fitted together” implies that God’s temple is still under construction, which also means that believers who make up this spiritual dwelling will go through periods of adjustment and re-alignment. However, the crucial foundation of God’s temple will always remain fixed and immovable:

In ancient building practices ‘the chief cornerstone’ was carefully placed. It was crucial because the entire building was lined up with it. The church’s foundation, that is, the apostles and prophets, needed to be correctly aligned with Christ. All other believers are built on that foundation, measuring their lives with Christ” (Hoehner, 627).**

*Key cross-references are found in Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22; and 1 Pet. 2:5-7. 

**Even though false teachers will twist the Scriptures and deviate from the apostles' teaching, Paul encourages his beloved disciple, Timothy: "Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm..." (2 Tim. 2:19). In the context of Eph. 2:19-22, Gentile believers have been built upon this solid foundation, a.k.a., the sound doctrine of the Spirit-indwelled apostles who learned from Christ and kept His word.




Application to the Body of Christ:

Summary of 2:11-22:

“All (believing) humanity has been united in one body, the work of Christ removing the condemnation of the law, winning access to God, and building believers together into the dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Kuruvilla, 82). 

Through the course of Ephesians 2:11-22, the Gentiles started out stuck “in the flesh” (2:11), but by the end, they are now soaring “in the Spirit” (2:22). After studying this week’s section, the various applications to the body of Christ today relate to maintaining unity and peace with our fellow siblings in Christ (cf. Eph. 4:2-5).

In 2:11-22, we find that unity does not come from physical circumcision (or water baptism, for that matter). Additionally, peace and unity in the body of Christ is not maintained by eating certain foods, observing certain days, or abiding by a stringent list of “do’s and dont’s” (see Colossians 2:16-23; and check out, or re-visit, Gary's comprehensive post entitled, "The Law").

Unity in the body of Christ requires faith in the finished work of Christ—the belief that the blood of Christ has canceled (or paid) our debt, removing the barrier to fellowship with God and other believers. Therefore, dwelling together according to the gospel is to live continually under the banner of grace and peace (Eph. 1:2). These are the two monumental themes introduced at the beginning of the letter and covered in depth in chapter 2.

In the body of Christ, ethnicity, race, genetics, and social status are no longer the focus, and as a result of Christ making peace and creating the one new man, no physical barrier of any kind should drive a wedge between the members of God’s family (unless, of course, a boundary is needed for the sake of discipline).

Think about it—Jews and Gentiles for whom Christ died are changed from two into one and from being physically divided by birth into being spiritually united by new birth. We all have access and equal standing before the Father, through Christ, by the power of one Spirit (Eph. 2:18, 22). Amen!


Post A Comment

6 comments :

  1. This passage alone has a lot to say about topics swirling around among Christians:

    1. Faith or works?

    2. Two gospels - Jews vs Gentiles?

    3. "One man" - Rev. 12:5!!

    Nice work brother. I'm enjoying these.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amen, bro! I wanted to make a point about keeping Eph. 2:15 free from paraphrase, because the Greek is very literal "one new man." That way, we can at least try to minimize confusion and connect the dots all the way to Rev. 12:5, where the "one new man" is fully formed and taken up in glory.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for another amazing study! Our Lord Jesus is blessing everyone through your willingness to surrender to Him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Lita. I appreciate your encouragement!

      Delete
  3. What a thing it is, to be 'called aside'!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Krazo! The called-out one! Hello again!

    ReplyDelete


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