August 10: Ephesians 2:14-16

Ephesians 2:11-22 [verses 14-16]

Today’s note is on Ephesians 2:14-16, within the context of Eph 2:11-22; it is supplemental to the article on Paul’s View of the Law (in Ephesians). As I have mentioned previously, many scholars today have serious doubts regarding the authorship of Ephesians, whether it is authentically Pauline. However, even commentators who argue that it is pseudonymous recognize that there is a good deal of ‘Pauline’ material in the letter, and nowhere more so than in this passage. Verses 11-13, in particular, effectively serve as a summary for much of what Paul says in Romans and elsewhere. Note, for example:

    • The emphasis on circumcision in verse 11 (cf. Rom 2:25-29; 3:30; 4:9-12; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 2:7-9; 5:6; 6:15, and esp. Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11). In Galatians, especially, circumcision serves as an element of the old covenant (and the Law) which separates Jews and Gentiles; and, it is for this reason that Paul argues against its importance for believers.
    • The idea that Gentiles were cut off from God’s covenant with Israel (and without the Law) prior to the Gospel is found especially in Rom 2:12-14; 9:30; 11:17ff.
    • The covenant based on the promise to Abraham is a primary theme in Gal 3:15-18ff; Rom 4:13-25.
    • Christ’s sacrificial death is said to bring reconciliation in Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Col 1:22.

However, beginning with verse 14, the orientation shifts somewhat—instead of viewing Gentiles in terms of being separated from Israel (cf. the illustration of the olive tree and branches in Rom 11:17-24), we find a different image: of Jews and Gentiles as united together in a single, new religious identity. Here is how verses 14-16 read:

“For he [i.e. Christ] is our peace, the (person) making the pair (of them) one and loosing [i.e. dissolving] the middle wall of the fence, th(at is) enmity/hostility, in his flesh, making inactive/ineffective the Law of the ‘injunctions’ in ‘decrees’, (so) that he might form in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace, and might make (things completely) different between the pair (of them), in one body to God, through the stake, killing off the enmity/hostility in him(self).”

It is useful to analyze the syntax of this complex and difficult sentence; it is built up of participles describing the work of Christ—he is the person:

    • making (poih/sa$) the pair (Jews & Gentiles) to be one
    • loosing/dissolving (lu/sa$) the middle wall between them
    • causing (it) to cease working (katargh/sa$), i.e., rendering inactive, or nullifying, the Law
    • killing off/away (a)poktei/na$) the hostility or enmity between them

All of these are aorist forms, which indicates past action—i.e., these things took place at Christ’s death. These four participles may also be divided into pairs:

    • making the pair (Jews/Gentiles) to be one
      • dissolving the middle wall (i.e. fence/barrier) between them
    • making the Law to cease working (insofar as it separated Jews/Gentiles)
    • killing of the hostility/enmity between them

Embedded between the last two participial phrases (in vv. 15b-16a) there is another construct involving a pair of phrases using aorist subjunctive forms, and governed by i%na (“so that…”):

    • he might produce [kti/sh| i.e. form/create] in him(self) the two [i.e. Jews/Gentiles] into one
      • making peace
    • he might make (things completely) different [a)pokatalla/ch|] between the pair, in one body
      • to God through the stake [i.e. the cross]

Also running through the sentence is a triad of references to the two becoming one:

    • the pair (to be) one [v. 14]
    • the two… into one [v. 15]
    • the pair… in one body [v. 16]

With regard to verses 14-16, there are two primary interpretive questions which I will address—the first of these is centered in verse 15a, and may be divided into the two elements which comprise this portion of the verse: (1) the expression involving the Law (o( no/mo$), and (2) the force of the verb katarge/w. The second question is: how should we understand the unity between Jews and Gentiles, as expressed in the phrase “that he might form in him the two into one new man” (v. 15b)?  These are to be discussed in the next daily note.

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