Chapter 2:11-22 The One New Man.
The Apostle has just shown that the way out of the deathly grip of sin and Satan is the way of God’s grace. Now he moves on to discuss some practical implications of salvation in Christ. The Gospel reaches out to all men, Jew and Gentile, and makes them brothers. In this way, it reconciles two opposing parties. But it also reconciles men to God. The Gospel therefore, brings peace both horizontally—between man and man—and, vertically—between man and God.
Therefore, remember…(v. 11). The apostle, a Jew, invites the Ephesian Gentiles to remember their condition previous to the coming of Christ into the world. The Jews thought the Gentiles were dogs. The Letter of Aristeas, for example, written by a Jew about 170 years before this epistle, refers to Gentiles as “worthless persons.”4 To distinguish themselves from the heathen, the Jews referred to themselves as “the Circumcision.” They did this, not because they alone practiced the rite,5 but because of its significance in identifying Israel with the God of the Old Testament Mosaic Law. It is hardly surprising to learn of the Jews speaking about Gentiles as the Uncircumcision (v. 11). By drawing their attention to this, Paul is not exhibiting racist tendencies, but he is highlighting the social gulf, which existed between Jews and Gentiles. This he continues to do in verse 12, where he reminds his hearers that at that time (before the Gospel came to them) you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.
Only Israel was the recipient of the prophecies concerning Christ (the Messiah). He was sent primarily to the twelve tribes (Matt. 10:5, 6) and then as a light to the Gentiles (Is. 42:6, Lk. 2:32). Paul puts this even more lucidly in Romans 9:4, 5. As one commentator has said it, “Though some Gentiles were admitted into Judaism as proselytes, Gentiles as a whole were excluded; they were thus alienated.” (H. Hoehner, Ephesians in The Bible Knowledge Comm. Vol. 2, 625). The term commonwealth of Israel probably refers to godly Jews rather than the nation itself. The covenants of promise were made by God with Israel and with no other nation (Rom. 9:4). So Jesus truly could say, “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22).
With no promises and no covenants and no revealed Law, the Gentile world indeed had no hope, and [was] without God (though they had many gods) in the world (v. 12). All that Paul said of the Ephesians is true of any unsaved person. Without Christ we have no hope and are without God; we are godless!
But now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were afar off (as shown by verses 11‑12) are brought near (v. 13). The Gentiles were brought under the umbrella of God’s promises in Christ. What accomplished this? The blood of Christ (cf. Col. 1:14). It is the Blood that accomplished this reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, and made peace between the two factions. Paul continues, for He (Christ) is our peace…(v. 14). Now Paul, who employed the pronoun you in verses 11‑13, can once again talk of our peace, because Christ has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us (v. 14). This He did on the Cross (cf. Col. 2:14ff), thus the Cross resolves racial conflict by resolving the spiritual man versus God conflict.
The enmity (v. 15) between the two sides was heightened by the role ascribed by the Jews to the law of commandments contained in ordinances. One may take this either as “the entire Mosaic legal system with all its commands that decree: ‘Thou shalt! Thou shalt not!”‘ (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of …Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians, 441), or, as a reference to “the ceremonial laws, including dietary regulations, circumcision, rites of purification, sabbath and festival observances, sacrifices, and so forth.” (A. Patzia, 195). Colossians 2:14‑22 inclines us to choose the latter, especially when one calls to mind the power of ceremonies and ordinances to exclude. On the other hand, the whole Law itself served the Jews’ purpose of negative discrimination, and so this aspect of the Law is also probably meant here.
Christ’s work on the Cross did not just save our souls; it paved the way for the creation of God’s new people, the Body of Christ. This is what is meant by Christ making in Himself one new man from the two [Jew and Gentile], so making peace (v. 15). Peace, that is, between the two groups.
Paul has dealt with the horizontal aspects of the Gospel; now in verse 16ff he can deal with the vertical effect. Christ died that He might reconcile both to God in one body by the Cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (v. 16; 3:6). This one new body is the entire number of born again believers of every age: the Church universal. (The theology of Ephesians does not support the notion that only the local church is significant in the New Testament. Paul’s idea here is much grander than that.)6
Verse 17 is interpreted in a number of different ways by commentators. We know that Jesus Himself did not preach peace to the Gentile nations (those which were afar off) though He did preach peace to them that were near (the Jews). What then is Paul’s meaning? As the Cross has been alluded to in verses 13, 15, and 16 (explicitly) he could be referring to the death of Christ which, metaphorically speaking, preached the Gospel to all men. But more than likely he means that the Gospel was spread by the apostles and prophets (cf. 2:20) and other believers; Christ working in them.
For through Him (Christ) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (v. 18). Both Jew and Gentile are one in the Spirit (cf. I Cor. 12:13). Both are now the sons of God, there being no more difference between them. Note here the Trinitarian formula in verse 18. The Father sent the Son to die for sinners, the Spirit, sent forth by them both (Jn. 15:26) is the Agent of the new birth. This is most important for dispensational interpreters to take to heart, because it is easy to ignore the marvel that is the Church in this age in ones zeal for the Jews. We must remember that God is now dealing with the Church!
In these closing verses Paul uses the simile of a building. The Ephesians are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints of the household of God (v.19). In line with the thought-flow of these verses “the saints” are believing Jews with whom the Gentiles are now unified in Christ. This building has as its foundation the apostles and prophets. This refers either to the apostles and the New Testament prophets, such as Agabus (Acts 21: 10, 11; cf. also, I Cor. 12:29, 14:29‑37) which appears to be the apostle’s meaning in 4:11, or, it may simply refer to the apostles as prophets (cf. M. Turner, 1232). Either way, Old Testament prophets are not meant. The inspired teaching of these men (and women,7 cf. Acts 21:8, 9) really did lay the foundation of the New Testament Church. Of course, Paul does not leave out Jesus Christ. He is styled the chief corner stone. The function of the cornerstone was to align all the other stones of the building with itself, both horizontally and vertically.
In Christ, the building is framed together (v. 21) and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In other epistles, the individual Christian’s body is called “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:19). Here, however, the temple is a picture of the one spiritual building of God (cf. 4:15, 16; 1 Pet. 2:5). All Christians are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit (v. 22) and so each individual within the Body of Christ ought to add to (and not detract from!) to its ongoing growth by his Spirit‑led life (cf. 4:13‑16).
4 “This points to the hereditary antipathy cherished, or the sacred recoil felt toward [Gentiles] on the part of the covenant people, so long as they were in their heathenish state; for to be called Uncircumcision by them was all one with being accounted reprobate or profane.” (P. Fairbairn, The Revelation of Law in Scripture, 454; emphasis his.)
5 See M. Turner, Ephesians, New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition, 1230.
6 This matter has been briefly covered in the Introduction.
7 Prophetesses were not Pastors. Their office was only temporal (like that of prophets). With the close of the Canon and the distribution of the Scriptures, their office ceased. Hence this verse can not be used to prove that the Bible sanctions women preachers.