July 12: Ephesians 2:18-22 (continued)

Ephesians 2:18-22, continued

Having discussed verses 18-22 in the wider context of vv. 11ff (and chaps. 1-3) in the previous note, today we will examine them in more detail. Verse 18 marks the climax of the exposition in this section, declaring that the unity of believers—Jews and Gentiles—is realized through the Spirit:

“…that through him the both (of us), in one Spirit, hold the way leading toward the Father.”
or, in a somewhat more literal rendering:
“…that through him we hold the way leading toward (Him)—the both (of us), in one Spirit—toward the Father”

To state the matter with more precision, the unity is realized through Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit. As I have mentioned repeatedly, from the Pauline standpoint, the Spirit means both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, and to be “in the Spirit” is the same as being “in Christ”. This reality of being “in the Spirit” also means that we hold, in and among us, the way “leading toward” the Father (cp. John 14:6).

In verse 19, the imagery shifts to that of a house (oi@ko$), utilizing the motif of a building—a constructed dwelling—as an illustration of this unity in the Spirit. Paul (or the author) continues alluding to the idea of the separation between Jews and Gentiles, prior to the saving work of Jesus, with the traditional contrast between the Israelite people and others (non-Israelites) who simply dwell among them. The common Hebrew term for the latter is rG@, with the comparable Greek word being pa/roiko$ (one who “houses [i.e. dwells] alonside”). This word is used in v. 19 along with ce/no$ (“foreigner, stranger”), and is contrasted with sumpoli/th$, one who lives “together with” other citizens/natives of the same city. Here is how this is phrased:

“So then, (now) no longer are you foreigners and (one)s housing alongside, but you are (resident)s together (in the) city of the holy (one)s, and (the) house-hold [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)

Believers are citizens of one city, and even belong to a single household. It is the city and house of God, residency shared by all the “holy ones” (a%gioi), both in heaven and on earth.

“(the) house (hav)ing been built upon the (foundation) set (down) of the apo/stoloi and the profh/tai, (the stone) at the top corner being (the) Anointed Yeshua himself” (v. 20)

The compound verb e)poikodome/w encapsulates the idea of a house (oi@ko$) being built upon (e)pi/) a foundation. This foundation (qeme/lio$) is literally something “set down” on the ground, at the base, in preparation of building. It is identified by the pairing “apostles and prophets” —those “se(n)t forth” (a)po/stoloi) and the “foretellers” (profh/tai), the latter term either in the sense of speaking something beforehand or speaking it before (in front of) an audience. The latter meaning more properly captures the sense of the corresponding Hebrew term ayb!n`, i.e. one functioning as a spokesperson for God, who declares His word and will to the people.

Traditionally, this pairing of apostles and prophets has been understood in terms of the unity of the new and old covenants, respectively. To be sure, early Christians held widely to the belief that the Gospel of Christ was foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and also that the inspired ministers of the Gospel functioned in a manner comparable to the Prophets of old. Paul affirms this correspondence a number of times in his letters (e.g., Rom 1:2; 16:26; 1 Thess 2:15), however it seems rather out of place to read it into the passage here. The same pairing of apostles/prophets in 3:5 rather confirms that the reference is to Christian prophets—and the pairing signifies the leading Christian ministers who possess the spiritual gifts of apostleship and prophecy. Apostles and prophets have the highest place in the ministry list in 4:11, as also in 1 Cor 12:28-29.

The apostles were the missionaries who played a leading role in the proclamation of the Gospel in a particular territory, and in the founding and maintenance of local congregations. The prophets were the primary teachers and preachers within the congregation, those who proclaimed the word and will of God to others through inspired revelation. Here it is said that such ministers serve as the foundation for all other believers, presumably in the practical sense that they are the ones, primarily, who proclaimed the Gospel message for congregations in their formative stage. This tends to contradict the illustrative language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, but follows the traditional imagery associated with the Twelve (Matt 16:18f; Gal 2:2, 6-9, etc).

Verse 20 does, however, agree with Paul in 1 Cor 3:10-11, in affirming that Christ is the true foundation of the house/building of God. The adjective used here is a)krogoniai=o$, meaning something like “at the top corner”. Elsewhere it occurs only in the citation of Isa 28:16 in 1 Pet 2:6, where the Scripture quotation makes very much the same point (cf. also the citation of Psalm 118:22 and Isa 8:14 in vv. 7-8; cp. Mark 12:10-11 par). More than simply a reference to the foundation stone of a building, the motif seems to locate the Christ-stone as central to the entire edifice, and may more properly allude to the keystone used to top an arch (cf. Barth, p. 318, citing earlier studies by J. Jeremias).

“in whom all (the) building [oi)kodomh/], being joined (close) together, grows into (the) holy shrine [na/o$] in (the) Lord” (v. 21)

Here the “house” is specifically identified as the shrine (na/o$), i.e. Temple sanctuary, of God. This follows the longstanding tradition of referring to the Temple as the house (tyB@) of God. The term oi)kodomh/ refers specifically to the edifice or structure of a house. Paul makes use of such a Temple-motif in his letters, most notably in 1 Cor 3:16-17; cf. also 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16, and cp. the context of 1 Cor 9:13. Long before the Jerusalem Temple was actually destroyed, early Christians had already begun reinterpreting and “spiritualizing” the Temple, identifying believers in Christ—collectively and individually—as the true dwelling-place of God. We find the same emphasis, for example, in the book of Revelation (3:12; 21:22, etc), and a strong argument can be made that the entire line of thought has its origins in the Gospel traditions in which Jesus identifies himself with the Temple building (Matt 12:6; John 2:19, cp. Mk 14:58 par). A marked anti-Temple tendency can be detected, for example, in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:41-50, cf. 6:13-14), and this attitude towards the sacrificial ritual of the Temple cultus generally pervades early Christianity. At the same time, the Temple itself continued to serve as a positive symbol—not for the ritual of the old covenant, but as a metaphor depicting the presence of God’s Spirit in and among believers.

The “in whom” (e)n w!|) at the beginning of the verse refers to Jesus Christ (“[the] Anointed Yeshua”) at the close of v. 20. Similarly, the same expression (“in whom”, e)n w!|) begins verse 22, and refers to “(the) Lord” at the end of v. 21. Syntactically, v. 22 is subordinate to v. 21, but in reality these are parallel statements, referring to believers as those being “in Christ” (= “in the Lord”). Even so, we should keep in mind that the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) had a dual-usage in early Christianity, and could refer to God the Father or Jesus, interchangeably.

“in whom you also are built together into a (place) for God to put down house, in (the) Spirit.” (v. 22)

The “you also” (kai\ u(mei=$) applies to the audience of the letter as Gentile believers, alluding again to the key emphasis throughout these chapters on Jewish-Gentile unity for believers in Christ. The use of the term katoikhth/rion brings out the aspect of the Temple sanctuary as the place where God “puts down (his) house”, i.e. where he dwells. The verse (and the entire pericope) concludes with the expression “in the Spirit”, which is clearly parallel with the “in whom” (i.e. in Christ / in the Lord) at the start of vv. 21 and 22. It functions as a comprehensive reference, even if its immediate place in the syntax of the verse is somewhat ambiguous. It can be understood four different ways, according to four points of reference:

    • “you”, i.e. believers as those who are “in the Spirit”
    • “God”, that God dwells in/among believers “in the Spirit”
    • house/building—believers make up this building, but it exists and has its substance/reality “in the Spirit”
    • “built…in the Spirit”, it refers to primarily to the process of building/growth

It is difficult to isolate and give preference to just one of these aspects, but I would tend to focus on the first two as the most consistent with early Christian and Pauline tradition. That it is God’s Spirit that dwells in believers is certainly made clear by Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 and 6:19, and may be the intended point here as well, given the proximity of the expression “in the Spirit” to katoikhth/rion tou= qeou= (“a [place] for God to put down house”, i.e. “dwelling-place of God”). However, the overall theme of chapter 2 relates to the unity of believers, and that this is realized “in the Spirit”; it is perhaps best to view these concluding words here along the same lines—as the source, basis, and fundamental reality of Christian unity.

References above marked “Barth” are to Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 34 (1974).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *