May 4: Ephesians 2:13-18

Ephesians 2:13-18

The final passage from the Pauline letters to be examined in these notes is Ephesians 2:11-22, focusing specifically on the portion from verse 13 to v. 18. In the view of many commentators, Ephesians is pseudonymous. This is not the place to consider the various arguments for and against Pauline authorship; the main point to note is that even scholars who would maintain that the letter is pseudonymous recognize its Pauline character. That is to say, the author (if not Paul) was certainly influenced by Paul’s writings, and himself writes in a way that very much reflects the Pauline theology and manner of expression.

An important theme in Ephesians, especially in the first half of the letter, is the unity of believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles alike. This was also a central theme for Paul in Romans, and relates to his distinctive (and controversial) view regarding the place of the Torah in the new covenant. His line of exhortational argument in 2:11-22 reflects the same religious and theological viewpoint, and could serve as a summary of Paul’s thoughts on the matter.

The key statement is in verse 13, where Paul (or the author) indicates that this unity—between Jewish and non-Jewish believers—was brought about through the death of Jesus:

“But now, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, you, the (one)s being in times (past) far off, (have) come to be near, in [i.e. by] the blood of the Anointed.”

The expressions “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” and “in the blood of the Anointed” are clearly parallel, and largely synonymous. They reflect the key Pauline themes of believers being “in Christ” and of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ —that is, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous notes, we have seen how, in Paul’s view, this participation is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit.

The main focus in this passage, however, is on how our shared participation in Jesus’ death means that there is no longer any separation or division between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. The old religious identity, with its distinctions and exclusivity, no longer applies for believers in Christ. This new reality is expressed here in terms of those who were “far away” (makra/n), i.e. Gentiles, coming to be identified (along with believing Jews) as God’s people—they now come to be “near” (e)ggu/$). As part of God’s people, Gentiles are able to come near to God, in a covenant bond of relation to Him (cf. below on v. 18). This is, of course, a new covenant, which supersedes the old covenant and its Torah (on the definite contrast, see esp. 2 Cor 3:6, 14, in context).

The emphasis on unity between Jew and Gentile is expressed powerfully in verse 14, stressing again how this unity was achieved through Jesus’ death—and of our participation, as believers, in his death (“in his flesh” [e)n th=| sarki\ au)tou=]). Such unity could only be achieved by abolishing the old religious differences (which were ethnically and culturally defined). The Torah regulations represent the terms of the old covenant, which were binding for God’s people. Now, with the coming of Christ—and, specifically, through his sacrificial death (on the cross, cf. Gal 2:19ff; Col 2:14)—these regulations of the old covenant are no longer binding for believers in Christ.

This is the essence of Paul’s view of the Law, expressed (as I see it) in unmistakable terms, throughout Galatians, Romans, and in 2 Corinthians 3. It is also expressed quite clearly here in verse 15. Following the thought in v. 14, where it is stated that Jesus’ death ‘dissolved’ (vb lu/w) the “middle wall of the fence” that previously separated Jew from non-Jew. This “wall” is further identified, in verse 15, as “the law [no/mo$] of e)ntolai/ e)n do/gmasin.” This particular qualifying expression is difficult to translate. The noun e)ntolh/ fundamentally refers to a charge or duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is obligated to complete. In context, it clearly refers to the regulations and requirements in the Torah, and is typically translated flatly as “command(ment)s”. The word do/gma essentially means an (authoritative) opinion, often in the sense of a view that is presented as a guiding principle; in a governmental or legal context, it can refer to an official ordinance or decree. Here, the expression e)n do/gmasin refers to the specific Torah regulations/requirements in their written (legally binding) form.

Jesus’ death literally made these binding regulations “cease working”; that is the fundamental meaning of the verb katarge/w, which Paul uses repeatedly to express the idea that the Torah regulations are no longer binding for believers in Christ. It occurs 4 times in 2 Corinthians 3 (vv. 7, 11, 13-14) and twice in Rom 7:1-6 (vv. 2, 6); Paul also uses it, in the same context, but in the reverse sense—viz., that continuing to live under the old covenant effectively invalidates the Gospel and faith in Christ! (cf. Rom 4:14; Gal 5:4, 11). Paul was fully aware how controversial this view of the Torah was, especially for Jewish Christians. In Rom 3:31—a verse that can easily be misunderstood—he declares that his view of the Torah does not nullify/invalidate (same verb, katarge/w) the Law. God’s Law continues to be upheld, but through the Spirit and by following the example of Jesus (esp. the ‘love command’), rather than by continuing to treat the Torah regulations as legally binding.

The thought in vv. 14-15 is developed and restated in vv. 16-17, emphasizing again how the unity of believers was achieved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. In the climactic verse 18, Paul (or the author) ties this unity directly to the presence of the Spirit:

“(for it is) that, through him, we hold the way leading toward (God)—the both (of us) in one Spirit—toward the Father!”

The death of Jesus gives believers direct access to God the Father. The noun used is prosagwgh/, which essentially refers to the way “leading toward” something (or someone); it can also have the more active (verbal) meaning of bringing someone forward. In any case, believers are brought (or allowed to come) “toward” (pro/$) God (the Father). This coming toward God is made possible through our participation in Jesus’ death (“through him”), but it is realized “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). The exact expression, e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati (“in one Spirit”), could conceivably refer more generically to a ‘spirit of unity’ between human beings. While this would be valid, any ‘spirit’ of unity among believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The concluding use of the word pneu=ma in verse 22, makes absolutely clear that the focus is on the Spirit of God (and Christ). From the Pauline theological standpoint, as we have seen, it is through the presence of the Spirit that the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) is communicated to us. I have no doubt that the author of Ephesians—if that person is not Paul himself—shares this same Pauline perspective.

In the next daily note, our final note in this series, we will look at the statement in Hebrews 9:14, which is one of the very few passages in the New Testament indicating a role for the Spirit in Jesus’ actual death.