July 9: Ephesians 2:18-22

Ephesians 2:18-22

As we continue the study of our recent notes, on Paul’s view of the Spirit, the question of the development of early Christian tradition within the Pauline corpus depends, in no small measure, on one’s view of the authorship of the disputed letters—especially Ephesians and the Pastorals. References to the Spirit are more significant and extensive in the case of Ephesians, where there are several passages that warrant careful study.

If the letter was genuinely written by Paul, then it was likely composed in the early 60’s A.D. (probably no earlier than 60); if pseudonymous, then presumably it would have been written some years later, in which case it would also provide evidence for the development of the tradition (regarding the Spirit) during the years 70-100 A.D. On the question of authorship, strong arguments can be made on both sides, and the matter is much too complex to address here in this setting. However, a comparison of the references to the Spirit in Ephesians, with those in the undisputed letters of Paul (previously examined), may offer some evidence in this regard. That is to say, we may be able to discern whether the treatment of the Spirit in Ephesians is comparable to that in the other letters, or whether there is indication of any distinct or substantial further development—which might then indicate the work of a later author.

There are two references to the Spirit in the introductory sections—1:3-14 and 15-23. Eschewing the standard rhetorical-epistolary categories, it is perhaps best to view all of chapter 1 as the “introductory” division of the work, which establishes the main theme(s) and purpose for writing (causa / propositio). Verses 3-14 are framed as a blessing (benedictio), while 15-23 as a thanksgiving, such as we find at the beginning of other Pauline letters. The references to the Spirit (vv. 13, 17) have already been mentioned in the previous note, and they have an important place in each section:

    • vv. 3-14—Blessing to God for what He has done in choosing/saving believers, which entails sealing them with His Spirit (v. 13)
    • vv. 15-23—Thanksgiving to God for the believers to whom Paul is writing, with the wish that they will obtain a true and complete knowledge of God, through the presence and work of the Spirit (v. 17)

The central theme of the first half of Ephesians (chaps. 1-3) is the unity of believers in Christ—Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers alike. This emphasis on Jewish/Gentile unity is a key point for Paul, and one that he expounds fervently—and at considerable length—in Galatians and Romans. However, here in Ephesians there is no carefully argued defense of the point, such as we find in the earlier letters. Rather, the principle is simply assumed and affirmed, and then subsequently developed as part of a broader theological treatment of Christian unity and identity. This development—in rhetorical terms, the probatio—begins in 2:1-10, expounding the traditional message of how God saved believers (Gentiles and Jews) through the work of Jesus Christ. Among the regular Pauline themes in this passage, that of deliverance from bondage to the power of sin (in the flesh) is expressed in vv. 1-3.

When we turn to the next section (2:11-22), the nature of Christ’s sacrificial work (his death and “blood”) is expounded as the basis for the new life believers have in Christ (vv. 11-13). This is treated further, in a more poetic fashion, in vv. 14-18, emphasizing the effect of Christ’s work on believers—Jew and Gentile “both” (a)mfo/tero$). The declaration in verse 14 is that the Anointed One (Christ)

“…is our peace, the (one hav)ing made both [a)mfo/tero$] (into) one [e%n], and (hav)ing loosed [i.e. dissolved] the middle wall of the enclosure, (and) the hostility, in his flesh”

This formula goes beyond the Pauline argument that there is no difference between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, as framed in the negative context of the proposition that we are no longer under the old covenant Law (Torah). Now, instead, we are given a positive statement regarding this equality, in its own right—that we are all one (ei!$, neuter e%n). To be sure, the message of the abolition of the old Law is prominent here as well (v. 15), and the Torah regulations certainly represent part of the “middle wall” (meso/toixon) that separates Jews from Gentiles. But the overriding emphasis on unity—in terms of essential existence and identity—for believers in Christ is something of a new development in the Pauline corpus. This is expressed powerfully in vv. 15-16:

“…(hav)ing made the Law cease working…(so) that the two might be formed, in him, into one new man, making peace, and (that) he might make (things completely) different (for) them with God, in one body, through the stake [i.e. cross]”

An even more direct, positive statement comes in verse 18:

“…that through him the both (of us), in one Spirit, hold the way leading toward the Father.”

The Greek syntax of this verse cannot be reproduced with precision in English; a somewhat more literal rendering would be:

“…that through him we hold the way leading toward (Him)—the both (of us), in one Spirit—toward the Father”

This perhaps better captures the specific emphasis on the unity of believers. This unity occurs “in the Spirit” —in one Spirit (e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati), and the Spirit thus represents the “(way) leading toward” (prosagwgh/) God the Father. One is immediately reminded of Jesus’ famous words in the Johannine Last Discourse, to the effect that he is the “way” (o(do/$) to the Father (14:6). It is clear from the context of the Last Discourse, however, that this is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit, which is the abiding presence of Christ himself, that unites us with the Father. The message is thus ostensibly the same as we find here in Ephesians. As we have discussed, at some length, Paul uses the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably in his letters, and the Spirit is to be understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. To be “in Christ” is essentially the same as being “in the Spirit”. Admittedly, Paul does not explain or develop this theological point in much detail (nor is it so here in Ephesians), but the fundamental premise can be well established from a careful reading of his letters (cf. the recent notes for further discussion).

In the next daily note, we will continue our study on verses 18-22.

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