August 11 (2): Ephesians 2:15b

Ephesians 2:14-16

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.

Ephesians 2:15b

“…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
      —peace/reconciliation

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:

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)

August 11 (1): Ephesians 2:15a

Ephesians 2:14-16 [cf. vv. 11-22]

In the previous daily note, I examined the structure of Eph 2:14-16 and the context of verses 11-22; today, I will be looking specifically at two important interpretive questions. The first involves the two elements making up verse 15a, namely:

    1. The expression o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin, and
    2. The force of the verb katarge/w
Ephesians 2:15a

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin—This unusual compound expression needs to be examined in detail:

    • o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—In the Pauline letters, the word no/mo$ nearly always refers to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and so it should be understood generally here. However, Paul does occasionally use the word in a slightly different sense, as in the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=), which I believe (contrary to the view of many commentators) has a somewhat wider meaning, synonymous with the will of God, as indicated by the context of Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21. In Paul’s mind, of course, the “Law of God” is expressed and embodied in the Old Testament Law (cf. below).
    • tw=n e)ntolw=n—The word e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, though it literally means “something (i.e. a duty, charge) laid on (someone) to complete”; the rendering “injunction” is perhaps better, indicating something which a person is enjoined to do. In the New Testament, the term often refers to the commands of the Old Testament Law (esp. the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue), corresponding to the Hebrew hw`x=m!. The plural of e)ntolh/ signifies the commands of the Law collectively; subsequent Jewish tradition came to enumerate 613 specific commands.
    • e)n do/gmasin—The term do/gma is somewhat difficult to render consistently in English; fundamentally, it means “what one thinks or considers” about something, but often in the specific (or technical) sense of an authoritative opinion or decision. For example, the opinion/decision of high-court judges typically comes to have a legally binding status, so also the decisions (or “decrees”) of rulers, and so forth. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament of imperial decrees (Lk 2:1; Acts 17:7), and of the (authoritative) decision of the ‘council’ of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4). The word appears only once elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, in Col 2:14, where it refers to the written form of the Law—”the handwriting [xeiro/grafon] of the decisions/decrees [toi=$ do/gmasin] which was over (and) against us”, i.e. the Law in its condemning aspect (see esp. on the “curse of the Law”, Gal 3:10-14).

Now to put the elements together:

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n (“the Law of the injunctions”)—This is best understood as a subjective and/or qualitative genitive, i.e. “the injunctions which comprise the Law”. Such genitive constructs are frequent (and occasionally elaborate) in Ephesians, contributing greatly to the exalted style (typical of prayer/praise language) that pervades the letter. Some might prefer to see the “injunctions” as only part, or one component, of the Law, but I believer that this is incorrect—the phrase is meant to qualify and define more precisely the entire Law.

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin (“the Law of the injunctions in [written] decrees”)—The added prepositional phrase “in decisions/decrees” (e)n do/gmasin) is also meant to localize the commands/injunctions which make up the Law. As indicated above, the closest parallel is Col 2:14, where written decrees specifically are meant. Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the Old Testament Law primarily as something written (i.e. in Scripture), cf. Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 10:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 2 Cor 3:7; Gal 3:10, 22, and note the basic metaphor in Rom 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6. It is noteworthy, that he also seems to identify the written form of the Law as that which imprisons or “kills” (2 Cor 3:6-7ff; Gal 3:10; Rom 7:6; Col 2:14). For Paul’s unique view of the purpose of the Law in this regard, cf. Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 11:32, and the previous articles on Galatians and Romans.

In my view, with this compound (and admittedly awkward) expression, Paul (or the author of the letter) spells out clearly what is otherwise assumed in the simple use of o( no/mo$ (“the Law”). We might establish and parse the equation as follows:

    • The Law—that is, the “Law of God” = the will of God
      • as expressed in the injunctions—the commands, regulations, precepts, etc.—of the Old Testament Law
        • in their authoritative written form, as binding decrees

The force of the verb katarge/w—This verb (katarge/w) is distinctively Pauline (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters). Fundamentally, it means “make (something) cease working”, that is, render it inactive or ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”. Paul uses it in the context of the (Old Testament) Law in Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11. The verses in underlined italics specifically teach that, with the coming of Christ (and his sacrificial death), the Old Testament Law has been “nullified” or rendered inactive, i.e. it has ceased to work, meaning that it no longer has binding authority for believers—we are no longer “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon, Rom 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, etc). And this clearly is the context of Eph 2:14-15 as well:

“(Christ is the one) making inactive [katargh/sa$] the Law of injunctions in (written) decrees…”

However, it should be noted that in Rom 3:31, Paul appears to make nearly the opposite claim:

“Then do we make inactive [katargou=men] the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make (the) Law stand!”

A fair number of modern commentators understand Paul here to be saying that he continues to observe the Torah and/or considers it still to be binding for Jewish believers, and then proceed to qualify what is said in Eph 2:14-15, etc. on this basis. I consider this to be a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law, as well as a mistaken interpretation of Rom 3:31. This will be discussed in more detail in the next (concluding) article on Paul’s view of the Law; see also the earlier note on Rom 3:31. It should be mentioned that in Rom 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14, the nullifying is the result of God’s work in Christ; in Rom 3:31, Paul uses the first person (“we do not nullify…”) and specifies “through th(is) trust”. That is to say, our trust in Christ and proclamation of the Gospel message does not invalidate the Law as such; quite the opposite—Christ himself completes and fulfills the Law (Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:2-4; 9:30-33; 10:3-4), bringing it to an end. We now fulfill the Law (of God) through our trust in Christ.

In the next note, I will explore the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles expressed by the phrase “into one new man” (ei)$ e%na kainon a&nqrwpon) in verse 15b.

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.