The primary theme of Eph 2:11-22 is the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, which is expressed most clearly in the central verse 15, especially in the second half of the verse (15b; on 15a see previous note). Before proceeding, it may be helpful to see again the context in the sentence of vv. 14-16:
“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).”
The above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering; here it is in more conventional translation:
“For he is our peace, who made them both one, dissolving the barrier in the middle, the hostility, in his flesh, and nullifying the Law (with its) commands in (written) decrees, so that he might in himself make the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile them both to God in one body, through (his death on) the cross, killing off the hostility in his (own body).”
For the structure and syntax of this passage, see the earlier note.
“…so that he might produce [i.e. form/create] in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace”
…i%na tou\$ du/o kti/sh| e)n au)tw=| ei)$ e%na kaino\n a&nqrwpon poiw=n ei)rh/nhn
In Eph 2:14-16, Christ’s work (his sacrificial death) is understood specifically in terms of its effect on Jews and Gentiles, and the religious-cultural differences that exist between them. The effect is negative (what it removes or negates), as well as positive (what it makes or creates):
- Negative—it removes or negates:
—the middle wall (i.e. barrier, fence) that stands between Jews and Gentiles
—the commands, etc. of the Old Testament Law which separates Jews and Gentiles
—the enmity/hostility that exists between Jews and Gentiles
- Positive—it creates or makes:
—unity: the two become one
- Negative—it removes or negates:
It is striking that Paul (or the author of the letter) specifically associates the Old Testament Law with the barrier (and the enmity) which exists between Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, apart from the mention of circumcision in verse 11, there is little in the passage which would indicate just how the Law separated them; this must be inferred from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, or from general considerations:
- The very nature of the covenant: God chose Israel from among all other peoples, to be separate (Lev 20:24; Num 23:9; Deut 7:6; 28:1, etc)
- There are specific warnings and commands in the Torah not to mix with the other peoples (Deut 12:30; 18:9ff; 20:16; Josh 23:6ff; Acts 10:28; 11:3; Gal 2:11-14)
- The separation is frequently understood in terms of purity, i.e. clean vs. unclean (Lev 18:24; 20:24-26; Acts 10:28)
- Circumcision (Gen 17:10ff; 34:15ff; Exod 12:48; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:2-8; Lk 1:59; 2:21) was a special mark that clearly indicated a distinction between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10:45; 11:2-3; 15:1ff; 16:3; Rom 2:25ff; 3:1; 1 Cor 7:18; Gal 2:3ff; 5:2ff; Phil 3:5; Col 3:11)
- Especially with regard to the dietary laws (cf. Lev 5, 7, 11; Deut 14), Gentiles who did not observe them would be ritually unclean (cf. Acts 10-11)
- While many laws in the Torah have parallels in the laws and customs of the peoples, certain regulations and (ritual) requirements are spelled out in specific and technical detail (e.g., sacrificial offerings, purification rites, etc)—these could not possibly be observed without knowing the Torah. Much of the old covenant, therefore, was simply inaccessible to Gentiles.
- It became customary for Jews to regard Gentiles generally as “sinners”, whether or not they lived particularly immoral lives (Matt 5:47 / Lk 6:32ff; Gal 2:15)
Clearly, it is not simply one portion of the Law that separates Jew and Gentile, but the divisiveness is fundamental to the Law and the old covenant as a whole. If we adopt here the Pauline teaching that the Law serves to increase awareness of sin and brings people (further) into bondage to it, this may help to explain the reference to “enmity/hostility” (e&xqra) twice in vv. 14-16. Just as human beings are at enmity with God, requiring reconciliation (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20), so we are enemies to each other and need to be reconciled. This reflects the two sides of the so-called Great commandment—love of God and love of neighbor (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18; Mk 12:28-34 par). In Col 1:20-22 we read that Christ’s death actually reconciles “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).
More to the point, Paul, in his writings, frequently emphasizes that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God—both equally enslaved under sin, and both saved/delivered only through Christ (Rom 1:16, and chapters 2-3; cf. also throughout Galatians). This is all the more true for Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith (1 Cor 1:24; Rom 9:24; 15:16ff; Gal 2:14b, 15ff). There are several passages, in particular, which suggest that, in Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been effaced or eliminated:
Gal 3:28: “in (Christ there is) not Jew and not Greek, (there is) not slave and not free (person), (there is) not male and female—for you all are one in Christ Jesus”
Virtually the same statement is made in Col 3:11:
“…where in (Christ there is) not Greek and Jew, circumcision and foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised], … slave (and) free, but (rather) Christ is all (thing)s and in all (thing)s”
The context of both passages is the ritual symbolism of baptism (putting on Christ), as also in 1 Cor 12:13:
“for in one Spirit we all were dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], into one body—even if Jews (or) if Greeks, if slaves (or) if free (person)s—and (we) all were made to drink one Spirit”
Eph 2:14-15ff, like 1 Cor 12:13 mentions both one body and one Spirit—certainly the same basic thought informs all of these passages. With regard to the reference to circumcision in verse 11, we should also note Rom 2:28-29; Phil 3:3; Col 3:11, along with Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19, where Paul clearly states that the Jewish religious distinctiveness marked by circumcision no longer applies to believers in Christ.
How exactly should we understand the nature of this unity (between Jews and Gentiles) in Christ? Eph 2:15b summarizes the dynamic at work: Christ, by his death on the cross, made the Law to cease working, the purpose (and result) being—
“…so that he might produce/form [kti/sh|] in him(self) the two into one new man“
Is this “new man” (kaino/$ a&nqrwpo$) symbolic or is to be taken in a concrete sense? Paul only rarely uses the adjective kaino/$ (“new”), and in two distinct expressions:
- kainh/ diaqh/kh (“new testament/covenant”)—in 2 Cor 3:6 the “new covenant” replaces the old covenant, which has come to its end (and fulfillment) in Christ (cf. also 1 Cor 11:25).
- kainh/ kti/si$ (“new production/formation”, often rendered “new creation”)—in 2 Cor 5:17, every person in Christ is a “new creation”, likewise replacing what was previously there (the old/original nature), the old having passed along (i.e. passed away); in Gal 6:15, the “new creation” in Christ is contrasted specifically with the old Jewish/Gentile religious distinction, marked by circumcision.
The expression “new man” is used again in Eph 4:24, also with the verb kti/zw:
“and you sunk in(to) [i.e. put on] the new man th(at) is produced/formed according to [i.e. by] God in justice/righteousness and in holiness/purity of the truth [i.e. in true holiness]”
The baptismal context that is evident here would indicate primarily a symbolic significance to the expression “new man”; but, on the other hand, the unity is unquestionably real—if the old covenant and old created human nature were tangible, so too is the new covenant and new creation. The only difference is that the new covenant/creation is spiritual, realized in and by the Spirit. This is clear from the context of what follows in Eph 2:17-22:
V. 18—”through him [i.e. Christ] we hold—the pair (of us) in one Spirit—the way leading toward the Father” (cf. Rom 5:2)
V. 22—”in whom [i.e. Christ] you also were put together as a house, into a house set down for [lit. of] God, in (the) Spirit“
Verses 18-22 draw heavily on religious imagery and terminology related to the Temple:
- The Temple with its apparatus (sacred space and objects, priesthood, sacrificial offerings) provided the ritual means of access to God (v. 18)
- The Temple was often referred to as the “house [oi@ko$] of God”, and believers become intimate members of the “household [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)
- This house is built upon [e)poikodome/w] a sacred (and sure) foundation—upon the Prophets (of the old covenant) and the Apostles (of the new covenant), with Christ himself as the main cornerstone (v. 20)
- The entire house-building [oi)kodomh/] is fit together precisely (and entirely) in Christ (v. 21a)
- This building in Christ comes to be (lit. grows into) a (new) Temple-shrine (nao/$) (v. 21b)
- We (all believers) are built together as a house [sunoikodome/w] and become a house laid down [katoikth/rion] for God—i.e. a new Temple building (v. 22)
- This new Temple/house is spiritual (e)n pneu/mati, “in/by [the] Spirit”) (v. 22)