Ephesians 2

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United in Christ

This section is a theme of being “in” and “out.” What does it take to be accepted and what defines us? The Jews used to divide people into the circumcised and the not, and even the Gentiles accepted that separation, but Paul here makes the case that all are united through Christ because that is the only thing that makes us “in” or “out.” We are all one because of Jesus, and all are needed and are being use in God's plan.


Verse 11: Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— (NIV)

  • By calling the people to remember this, Paul is using “remember” in a Hebrew way, calling people to act based on this knowledge. The emphasis here probably being on “formerly”, that this is over. They were not acting like this was a thing of the past, like they had a new life now.
  • ”Remember” is an imperative, the mood of command.
  • ”By birth” is not in the original Greek, but instead it reads “in the flesh” and is the same word as that translated “the body” later on the verse.
    • This is a reference not to ethnicity, but to circumcision again.
    • The translation as “by birth” is the translators choice to emphasize that this was not by choice, but how they were born, uncircumcised.
  • It is important to notice that the readers were not calling themselves the circumcised, but were being called that “by” the ones who called themselves “the circumcision.” This was a title given to them, not one they chose (Bratcher 51).
  • ”Done by the hand to the flesh,” the literal translation of “done in the body by the hands of men” is a rather graphic description of what happens in circumcision, but the point is that this title was a human one, and the solution was something that people brought about by their own efforts in contrast to God changing them as mentioned later on.
  • ”Uncircumcised” is not simply a title without any value statements, but is ostracizing and by its use separates the uncircumcised from God and people who fear God.


Verse 12: remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (NIV)

  • That these people cared at all about being excluded from Israel's citizenship means that many of them were probably Jewish proselytes before becoming Christians. No one else would care about it, Roman citizenship was the one that mattered in that day.
  • The word translated as “foreigners” is a polite term for anyone of a different country, but became used as a greeting for people you don't know, and finally became nearly synonymous with “friend” (Liddell 539). In the context of this verse, Paul could be using the world in that later sense and implying that there was a connection, as friends, between the covenant and his readers, but it wasn't enough to get them included in Jewish life.
  • The word used here for “without God” is literally the Greek word for “atheist” (MacDonald 242). This same term was used later on to talk about Christians by the gentiles, and was then used to also isolate and exclude people (MacDonald 243).
  • The assumption here is that without being part of the covenant, there could be no knowing God. Exclusion from communion with God's people is equated with exclusion from God.


Verse 13: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (NIV)

  • “Far away” and “brought near” is language of exile, something that would have fit the Jews very well throughout their history and even right then, bearing striking similarities to Isaiah 57:9. The language steadily became more associated with the Gentile proselytes (MacDonald 243).
  • This “now” is of course the second part of the contrast that the “formerly” of verse 11 began.
  • What the readers had been brought close to is unclear from this verse alone, but refers back to being “separate” from Christ in the previous verse. This also alludes to being outside, or “away” from God. Paul elaborates on this, however, and says that because we have all drawn near to God we are near each other as well.


Verse 14: For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, (NIV)

  • ”Our is an important shift in wording here. Paul, as a circumcised Jew by blood is associating himself with these Gentiles. This isn't a hypothetical idea, but something Paul believes can be seen between him and the church in Ephesus.
  • The “two” here is those “within” and “without” the covenant, ie Jews and Gentiles.
  • The “dividing wall” or “barrier” is probably the wall within the temple that separated the gentiles from the Jews (Bratcher 55).
    • If this book was written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD/CE, then this was especially important to the readers, it was literally gone.
    • This would again imply that the readers were uncircumcised followers of Judaism if they used the temple and resented that dividing wall.
    • On top of a literal meaning, there is the metaphorical one that there is no barrier between people when they are in Christ.
  • The Greek reads more literally, “having loosed the hostility with his body.”
    • This is obviously a metaphorical breaking of walls here, and many translations simply skip this section to provide better clarity in English.
    • The NIV, against the critical Greek, places “in his body” in the next verse, with the laws instead of with the dividing wall. These are definitely related concepts, however.
    • The NRSV, however, leaves “in his body” out completely to avoid confusion.
  • That Paul is having to reinforce the destruction of this hostility says that the hostility between the parties, and possibly the feelings of inferiority among the Gentiles, still remained to some degree. The barrier, ie circumcision, is gone, and Paul is advocating that even the effects of that wall should be gone.


Verse 15: by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, (NIV)

  • The use of “law” here is problematic. Paul does not recommend elsewhere casting aside the Hebrew scriptures, but “the law” is probably not referring to just specific commandments. This causes a problem of interpretation to the readers.
  • ”In his flesh” is moved from verse 14 where it is located in the critical Greek.
    • It is an interpretation to better indicate how the translators believe Jesus abolished the law.
    • The two ideas are probably connected, however, because it was the law that made gentiles stay outside the inner courts and required circumcision.
    • So the way Jesus brought peace in this context was through fulfilling and abolishing the laws that separated Jew and Gentile.
  • This is not simply a statement that the gentile and the Jew could get along, but that everything that was separating them no longer applied with Christ, they were the same.


Verse 16: and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (NIV)

  • The word translated as “body” is different in this verse than in verse 11. This is probably a purposeful contrast.
  • Here Paul makes explicit what was strongly implied before, that it is specifically through Jesus' death on the cross that all of this is made possible.
  • The use of death here is important. Paul is not only referring to Jesus' death that killed hatred, but making a point about how completely this hostility needs to be over and done with.


Verse 17: He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (NIV)

  • ”Preached” is more literally “proclaimed good news” (Bratcher59). In this context compressing it to “preached” loses a bit because this truly was good news, about peace.
  • Peace should not be considered to be the only message Paul thought Jesus preached, but the most important one for this conversation about hostility and differences.


Verse 18: For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (NIV)

  • The words used here were traditionally used for people who are qualified to enter into the king's presence (Bratcher 59). Here, the elite are not the only ones to come into God's presence.
  • The father is of course one as well, but the emphasis here is not just on the number but that the path to get to God is the same for all, through the same Jesus and the same Spirit.


Verse 19: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, (NIV)

  • ”Aliens,” in Greek as in English, refers to people living somewhere they are not citizens.
    • In a metaphorical sense as used here, it indicates that these people had a connection to Judaism were partly there but still separated.
    • The use of this word, as opposed to just using foreigners, adds more evidence that the original readers had been interested in Judaism before becoming Christians, but had never really been accepted by the Jewish community.
  • ”God's people” is more literally “saints.”
  • ”Household” is a more generic term in English that has recently gotten quite extended. The original Greek word was for members of a family, blood relatives (Arndt 556), and is distinguished from members of a household who are slaves (oikeios versus oiketes or oiketeia).


Verse 20: built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (NIV)

  • The purposeful element of a building should not be diminished. This is a building designed and being built by God, it's got a plan (Simpson 66).
  • Families often lived in a communal dwelling place that housed multiple generations of the family. This is a description of a family living together in one sprawling complex.


Verse 21: In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (NIV)

  • Where we live, as part of God's household, is here equated as also where God dwells and is worshipped, his temple.
  • If the temple was destroyed at this point, which this verse seems to imply that there isn't a temple at the moment, then this takes on a lot more significance. The holy place was still alive, it wasn't lost forever. And they were part of the rebuilding, we are part of the rebuilding of that temple.


Verse 22: And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)

  • In verse 19 we are said to be part of God's household, living with God in one place in verse 20. Where we live is where God lives too.
    • But here a double meaning enters the picture. Not only are we members of the household, but we are part of the temple itself. We are houses for God as well as family with God.
    • These are two important and contrasting ideas that both need to be kept in place.
  • There is also an element of continuity and incompletion here. The verse does not say that the temple was completed by the readers. Jesus was the base layer, then the apostles, then these people. We today are still building on them.


Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

 VerseDirectionTopicAudienceOccasionCategory
Aliens19-22We are aliens (sojourners) in this world.Culture
Citizenship
GeneralGeneralMessage Idea
Nothing to Divide Us11-22No matter what tries to divide us into little groups, we are ONE in Christ.UnityYouthGeneralMessage Idea