New Life Individually
2:1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2:2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 2:3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest …
Here is another unfortunate chapter division. Many scholars have pointed out the unity of the section that extends from Eph 1:15 to Eph 2:10. In fact, v1 begins with the word ‘and’ in the original. The thought is that the same power which has raised Christ from the dead and exalted him to highest place of authority in the cosmos (Eph 1:19-23) has been operative in the lives of believers, raising them with Christ from death to life. ‘This paragraph, then, is really a part of Paul’s prayer that they (and we) might know how powerful God is.’ (Stott)
Remember that the impetus for what Paul is about to say has come from thanksgiving, prayer, and intercession.
It seems that Paul had intended to say, ‘and you, being dead in your transgressions and sins, he made alive with Christ …’, but was temporarily diverted from this by the need to explain what being ‘dead in your transgressions and sins’ means. This death is not only very bleak, but involves, not just ‘you’, but ‘us all’. Paul’s original point is resumed in v5.
Lincoln remarks that the metaphor of death is very natural in context: ‘If Christ’s resurrection introduced the life of the age to come ahead of time, then one’s state prior to participation in that resurrection life must, comparatively speaking, be viewed as death.’
‘They were made in God’s image to live as children in his family, aware of his presence, rejoicing in his direction. Freedom was given, but with it a warning that it involved the possibility of disobedience, and that disobedience would lead to death (Gen. 2:17).’ (Foulkes)
The natural state of all human beings is a kind of spiritual death, and a state of rebellion against God. This rebellion is
- Universal – involving both Gentiles, v2, and Jews, v3.
- Active – ‘gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts’, v3.
- Satanic – under the control of the devil, v2, cf. Gal 4:3 Col 1:13
- Helpless – powerless to change themselves, cf. Jn 3:3.
- Condemned – exposed to the righteous anger of God, v3; cf. Rom 1:18-20.
‘As in the great exposition of salvation by Christ in Rom 1-8, the apostle does not show the grace of God until he has made inescapably clear the desperate need and universal sinfulness of man.’ (cf. Col 1:21-22) (Foulkes)
What we were. Before being made alive by God, we were:-
- Dead in our transgressions and sins
- Following the ways of this world
- Following the ways of the rule of the kingdom of the air
- Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts
- By nature objects of wrath
Here, in verses 1-5, is indicated both the need for, and the nature of, effective evangelism.
‘As in the great exposition of salvation by Christ in Romans 1–8, the apostle does not show the grace of God until he has made inescapably clear the desperate need and universal sinfulness of humanity (cf. Col. 1:21–22).’ (Foulkes)
‘This is the biblical diagnosis of fallen man in fallen society everywhere. True, Paul begins with an emphatic you, indicating in the first place his Gentile readers in Asia Minor, but he quickly goes on to write (verse 3a) that we all once lived in the same way (thus adding himself and his fellow Jews), and he concludes with a reference to the rest of mankind (verse 3b). Here then is the apostle’s estimate of everyman without God, of the universal human condition. It is a condensation into three verses of the first three chapters of Romans, in which he argues his case for the sin and guilt first of pagans, then of Jews, and so of all mankind.’ (Stott)
Dead in your transgressions and sins – ‘Spiritual life is not a natural achievement, but the result of an activity of the Holy Spirit. By nature we are “dead through (trespasses and sins,” Eph 2:1 “The mind of the flesh is death,” Rom 8:6. There is no point in bidding a physically dead man get up and live. Shout as you will, he will not hear. And there is a similar phenomenon in the realm of the Spirit. We would not even begin to be Christians without some work of the Spirit within us. The natural man likes to think that his salvation stems from his own strong right arm. The cross teaches us that this is not so…Left to ourselves, we would not wish to make even the motion of turning from sin. We would simply stay where we are. Every preacher of the gospel knows that his principal difficulty is that he is proclaiming a wonderful way of salvation to men who do not particularly want to be saved. It is not until the Spirit of God begins to work in their hearts that men are stirred enough to accept the gospel offer that is made to them.’ (Leon Morris, Spirit of the Living God, 71f)
‘Those bound in sin are doomed to death, and so already belong to its realm; the very thing they think of as ‘life’ is but a foretaste of death, because it is without God (cf. Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14 and 1QH 11:10–14).’ (NBC)
‘These two words seem to have been carefully chosen to give a comprehensive account of human evil. A ‘trespass’ (paraptōma) is a false step, involving either the crossing of a known boundary or a deviation from the right path. A ‘sin’ (hamartia), however, means rather a missing of the mark, a falling short of a standard. Together the two words cover the positive and negative, or active and passive, aspects of human wrongdoing, that is to say, our sins of commission and of omission. Before God we are both rebels and failures.’ (Stott)
Paul’s words here ‘express a whole social value-system which is alien to God. It permeates, indeed dominates, non-Christian society and holds people in captivity. Wherever human beings are being dehumanized—by political oppression or bureaucratic tyranny, by an outlook that is secular (repudiating God), amoral (repudiating absolutes), or materialistic (glorifying the consumer market), by poverty, hunger, or unemployment, by racial discrimination or by any form of injustice—there we can detect the sub-human values of “this age” and “this world”.’ (Stott)
Transgressions – The word is paraptoma, which means to slip or fall. It is used of a person losing his way and taking the wrong road.
Sins – The word is hamartia, which means to miss the target. Sin is failure to be what we should be, whether we are notorious criminals or respectable people.
‘The spiritual state of the readers when they were outside of Christ, as well as of the rest of humanity, is death. The apostle’s description is not that of some particularly decadent tribe or degraded segment of society, or even of the extremely corrupt paganism of his own day. Rather, it is the biblical diagnosis of fallen man in fallen society everywhere.’ (O’Brien)
‘In v 2 Paul attributes this life marked by sins chiefly to two related factors—the influence of this world (i.e. the present fallen creation and the forces it generates in society, seen as standing in rebellion against God and in contrast to the ‘new age’ or ‘new creation’ awaited), and the influence of Satan, described here as the ruler of the kingdom of the air.’ (NBC)
‘The reader’s former lifestyle, which characterizes all who are outside of Christ, was not true freedom but evidence of a fearful bondage to forces over which they had no control. Three compelling influences directed their lives: the world (v.2), the devil (v.2), and the flesh (v. 3).’ (O’Brien)
‘The past is recalled not because the emphasis falls upon it, but in order to draw attention to God’s mighty action in Christ.’ (O’Brien)
Paul uses the word ‘kata‘, ‘under’ to introduce the influence of the world and of the devil. Arnold explains: ‘Although most translations render it with the expression “according to,” the use of the preposition in this context includes, but goes beyond, the idea of conformity to a norm, especially in relationship to the second phrase, which speaks of the influence of the devil. Thus, Ernest Best rightly comments, “the preposition rather implies that in some way they have come under the control of the devil.” Similarly, Paul can speak of walking under the control of the Spirit (κατὰ πνεῦμα; Rom 8:4), under the control of the flesh (κατά σάρκα; 2 Cor 10:2), or even under the control of elemental spirits (κατά τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου; Col 2:8).’
You followed the ways of this world – lit. ‘the age of this world’. They had lived according to the standards and habits of this present age. We are so immersed in our culture and environment that it is difficult to see just how profoundly it shapes our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
‘The “age of this world” is the unhealthy and ungodly social, cultural, economic, and political environment in which we live. It represents organized evil in the form of peer pressure, ideologies, systems, and structures that provide us with a script for living life totally apart from God and his purposes.’ (Arnold)
‘Those without Christ are captive to the social and value system of the present evil age, which is hostile to Christ. They are willing slaves to the pop culture of the media, the “group think” of the talk shows, post-Christian mores, and man-centered religious fads. The spiritually dead are dominated by the world!’ (Kent Hughes)
The ruler of the kingdom of the air – Satan. As Lincoln says, behind the supernatural powers mentioned in Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:11f lies ‘an ultimate personal power of evil’, referred to in Eph 4:25; 6:11 as the devil, and in Eph 6:16 as the evil one.
For similar expressions, see Mt 9:34; 12:24; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15; Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. But what is this ‘kingdom of the air’? It was a popular belief in the ancient world that the atmosphere was thickly populated by spirits or demons. We do not have to take this ‘geography’ literally in order to accept the reality of the spirit world. ‘Paul’s consciousness of the spirit world “above” the physical one, which is especially clear in Ephesians, appears here also as he writes of the evil one who rules the kingdom of the air.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
‘Air’ is a suitable medium for Satan, since he is not at home either in heaven or on the earth. Lincoln argues that ‘the air’ is synonymous with ‘the heavenly places’.
O’Brien notes that ‘Ephesians…contains more about the principalities and powers than any other New Testament letter and provides the most detailed response to these spiritual authorities. Further, it draws special attention to the ultimate authority of evil lying behind them, namely, the devil (Eph 4:27; 6:11) or evil one (Eph 6:16), who is here called the ruler, or prince, a term used in the Old Testament for a national, local, or tribal leader, and refers to him as the chief or leader among these powers of darkness. In the Gospels he is called the ruler of the demons (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15) and the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He is the god of this age (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4), a personal centre of the power of evil.’
‘The kingdom of the air…is another way of indicating the heavenly realm, which, according to Ephesians 6:12, is the abode of those principalities and powers, the world-rulers of this darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness, against which the people of Christ wage war.’ (O’Brien)
For Wright, the metaphor includes the idea that the devil, and his schemes for defacing God’s good creation, are ‘in the air’: in the very atmosphere of certain places (a room, an organisation, a city).
The spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient – ‘The old life, without the energizing of God (see Eph 1:11 and 20) is subject to the energizing (Gk. energountos) of the powers of evil, controlled by the spirit which has the evil one as its source. For a person’s inner life must be surrendered to the working of God or to that of the powers of evil (cf. Luke 22:3; John 13:2, 27; Acts 5:4; and especially see Luke 11:24–26). And if people are surrendered to the power of evil, they become those whose habit of life is contrary to the living God, and so they are rightly called the sons of disobedience (cf. 5:8).’ (Foulkes)
‘Satan is…the unholy “spirit” (1 Cor 2:12) who apes the operations of his divine counterpart by being constantly “at work” (the same basic word as used of the Holy Spirit in Eph 1:19–20, implying a mutual rivalry).’ (EBC)
Lincoln: ‘Although the ruler of this world has been defeated (cf. 1:20–22), he is not surrendering without a struggle and without still making his powerful influence felt.’
Those who are disobedient – Lit., ‘the sons of disobedience’ (Cf. 1 Thess 5:5); ‘God’s rebel subjects’ (NEB). Their lives are characterised by disobedience, preferring as they do to obey the promptings of the Devil rather than those of God. Whatever the malign influences of the world and the devil, our sin is our own fault: we do it knowingly and willingly.
‘Although the ruler of this world has been defeated by Christ at the cross (Col. 2:14–15; cf. Heb. 2:14–15; Eph. 1:20–22), he does not surrender without a struggle and he continues to make his powerful influence felt. He is effectively at work in those who have not personally benefited from God’s deliverance in Christ, while he still poses a threat to believers (Rom. 8:38–39; Eph. 4:27), who must steadfastly resist him by God’s power (Eph. 6:10–20; cf. 1 Pet. 5:8–9).’ (O’Brien)
All of us – including the sincerely religious, such as Paul had been, Phil 3:6. Jews would customarily suppose that they had an advantage over Gentiles, because they had the law. Or, it might be thought that Gentiles had an advantage, precisely through their ignorance of the law (which might give them an excuse before God). But no: all are ‘dead’ until raised with Christ. None of us can say, “But I’m different.”
Among them – refers to the disobedient.
The cravings – ‘The televised sex and violence that concern many today portray the lack of self-restraint in our society, expressing what Paul calls the “flesh.”‘ (IVP NT Commentary)
Sinful nature = sarx, ‘flesh’. This expression denotes human nature, especially as conceived as sinful and opposed to God (Lincoln). ‘The word frequently approximates to “human nature”, while a related meaning evokes kinship or family ties. The link between “flesh” and guilty propensities to evil is significant for doctrine. This link is not obvious in the Old Testament, despite the term’s connotations of frailty, transitoriness and vulnerability…Paul’s extraordinary development of the idea, whereby the flesh becomes the seat and power of indwelling sin, even the hypostasis of sin’s tyranny, maintains continuity with previous usage; “being fleshly” (sarkikoi) equals “walking in the human way” (kata anthropon) and “being human beings” (1 Cor 3:3f)…John 3:6, contrasting flesh born of the flesh with kingdom requirements, does imply a radical human inadequacy and inability in spiritual matters.’ (Blocher, Original Sin, p27)
‘Many Jewish people sought to explain all sin as the direct result of demonic activity (cf. especially the “spirit of error” in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Paul does not see sin as always directly inspired by demons but thinks that the world is pervaded with the devil’s less direct influence (including in racial division—Eph 1:21–23); one is not delivered from this influence by one’s Israelite ancestry but (vv. 4–6) through faith in Jesus.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
Desires and thoughts would summarise the sins of the body and the mind respectively. As Wright comments, we must not suppose that the mind is less a source of danger than the body.
Like the rest – Notice the increasing emphasis in the verdict – ‘you…we all…all the rest’. Paul is emphatically including Jews such as himself in this verdict, notwithstanding his personal CV, of which he might have been so proud, Phil 3:5. The expression is ‘hoi loipoi’, which was used by many Jews as a term of disparagement against Gentiles.
By nature – ‘Physei refers to ethnic origin, birth, and lineage, just as it does in a close parallel passage, Gal 2:15…The whole emphasis of the paragraph points to the same interpretation…we were children of wrath, sons of disobedience, dead in trespasses and sins, and led by the tendencies (thelemata) of the flesh.’ (Blocher, Original Sin, p26).
This expression ‘should not of course be taken to mean that sinfulness is of the essence of human nature. In Pauline thought sin is always abnormal, a disorder, but in a fallen world the natural condition of human beings involves experience of that abnormality and disorder.’ (Lincoln)
According to Article 9 of the Church of England, ‘Original sin…is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.’
What we were ‘by nature’ contrasts with what we are ‘by grace’, v5.
Objects of wrath – Lit., ‘children of wrath.’ It means that they were ‘deserving of and liable to wrath’ (Lincoln). This idiom is frequently found in Scripture, 1 Sam 1:16; 2:12; 25:17; Lk 10:6; Jn 17:12; Eph 5:6-8.
‘This wrath is clearly God’s wrath (cf. Eph 5:6; also Col 3:5, 6) rather than merely an impersonal process of cause and effect or a principle of retribution in a moral universe. The wrath of God is a concept which occurs frequently in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It refers to God’s active judgment going forth against all forms of sin and evil and is evidence of his absolute holiness (cf. Rom 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4, 5).’ (Lincoln)
These expressions (‘by nature’ and ‘objects [children] of wrath’) might be thought to teach a doctrine of ‘original guilt’. But that is probably pushing their meaning too far. Certain it is, however, that Paul intends his readers to understand that our natural condition and tendency is to sin.
2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 2:5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!—2:6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 2:7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
What a stark and breathtaking contrast (NBC) there is between the death that Paul has just been describing and the life that he will now expound! Scripture also characterises this contrast in terms of light/darkness.
But…God – Stott calls this a ‘mighty adversative’. Here is a bright ray of hope shining into an almost impossibly bleak scene. Set against the desperate plight of humankind, we have the mercy and life-giving power of God.
‘It is possible for the reader to concentrate so closely on the rich proliferation of descriptive words in this section that the overarching theme of life and death is forgotten. As the chapter progresses the contrast will widen to include a chronological dimension (then and now) and what might be called a spatial dimension (away from God and near God).’ (IVP NT Commentary)
His great love for us – Lincoln remarks that ‘against the background of vv 1–3, it is at once apparent that God’s love is not conditional on the suitability of the objects of that love.’
‘God loves his people of his own will. Paul excludes any consideration of merit, effort, or ability on the part of those who come to life. (cf. Deut 7:7,8) The hopeless condition of sinners apart from Christ that Paul has described in Eph 2:1-3 is the basis for understanding his teaching on God’s election in Eph 1:4-6, and on his gift of life here in Eph 2:4-10.’ (New Geneva)
Rich in mercy – ‘God’s mercy is an overflowing mercy; it is infinite. ‘Plenteous in mercy.’ Ps 86:5. ‘Rich in mercy.’ Eph 2:4. ‘Multitude of mercies.’ Ps 51:1:The vial of wrath drops, but the fountain of mercy runs. The sun is not so full of light as God is of mercy. God has morning mercies. ‘His mercies are new every morning.’ Lam 3:23. He has night mercies. ‘In the night his song shall be with me.’ Ps 13:8. God has mercies under heaven, which we taste; and in heaven, which we hope for.’ (Thomas Watson)
‘There is longing in the heart of God for humanity—the us now means Jews and Gentiles alike—to be restored to the highest and best that he had planned for them (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9–10); and so he has shown himself full of mercy, and has acted in grace towards them.’ (Foulkes)
This verse may be regarded as the centre and summary of the entire section (vv1-10), especially if we slightly re-order the wording:-
- Even when we were dead in trespasses and sins
- [God] made us alive with Christ
- It is by grace you have been saved
Made us alive…raised us up…seated us – ‘God…made us alive with Christ’ is the structural centre of this passage. It is only at this point that the main verb is introduced. (Lincoln)
‘Made alive’ translates a word often used for ‘resurrection’. It is this term that Paul has already used for Christ’s resurrection.
The Christian faith is not, at heart, a matter of morality or of church attendance: it is a matter of moving from death to life.
Although Paul certainly wants to emphasise the ‘already’ of new life in Christ, it is quite likely that he has an eye on a ‘not yet’ consummation. He is saying, in effect, ‘we shall be resurrected with Christ to new-creation life, and we may speak of that as though it were an already-accomplished event because first, the decisive event of the resurrection of the representative Man Jesus lies in the past and secondly, we already begin to participate in aspects of that new-creation life in our present union with him’. (NBC)
- ‘Without Christ’ – the sinner’s problem, Eph 2:12.
- ‘Through Christ’ – the way of salvation, Eph 2:13.
- ‘In Christ’ – the believer’s position, Eph 2:10.
- ‘With Christ’ – the believer’s prospect, Eph 2:5.
‘These are historical ‘events in the life of Christ: his resurrection from the dead and enthronement at the right hand of God. But Paul also applies them to what has happened to believers. Paul teaches a union between Christ and those who come to trust him, (Eph 1:3 Col 3:1-4) so that what is said of the Redeemer can also be said of the redeemed. What once happened to Jesus will one day happen to believers as well: (2 Cor 4:16) they will be resurrected to glory at his return. (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15) For the present, there is a new mind, (Eph 4:23,24; Rom 12:1,2) a new identity as God’s children, (Rom 8:14-17) and a new ability to live free from the control of Satan.’ (Rom 8:1-4; 2 Cor 5:17) (New Geneva)
Discussing Bart Ehrman’s treatment of v5f, Michael Kruger writes that, ‘Incredibly, on the basis of this verse, Ehrman concludes, “Here believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection . . . precisely the view that Paul argued against in his letter to the Corinthians!” (p. 111, emphasis his). This surface-level exegesis, however, does not do justice to the complexities of Paul’s thought. The context of Eph 2:5–6 is not dealing with the resurrection at all, but with spiritual conversion. The fact that this passage uses the root word ζωοποιέω (“to make alive”) does not necessarily mean it is referring to the resurrection because Paul uses this same term elsewhere to refer to conversion, namely in 2 Cor 3:6 and Gal 3:21 (both undisputed Pauline letters!). Neither does describing believers as already seated with Christ in the heavenly places demonstrate that Ephesians teaches a non-bodily resurrection. Rather, such language is just another instance of Paul’s already-but-not-yet theological paradigm. In Paul’s mind, our present conversion is a down payment that guarantees our future place in heaven with Christ—so much so that he is able to speak of it as if it were, in some sense, already here. Beyond all of this, are we really to think that early Christians would have widely affirmed the canonicity of Ephesians if it so plainly denied the bodily resurrection, one of the most cherished beliefs in early Christianity? Ehrman would have us believe that all early Christians (not to mention later Christians) were just too blind to notice such a thing until modern scholars have come along to point it out for them.’
‘Here is the further disclosure of the nature of God’s power in the church that Paul prays his readers will comprehend, for it will assuredly give meaning to their lives, joy to their hearts, thankful worship to their lips, and strength to their fight.’ (NBC)
…with Christ… – ‘Paul’s readers have experienced the same power of God which was effective in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation. God has made them alive with Christ (Eph 2:5). Believers have been raised from the dead with him (Eph 2:5, 6; cf. Eph 1:19), they have been seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6; cf. 1:20), and the coming age(s) has particular reference to both (Eph 1:21; 2:7). Christ’s destiny has become theirs.’ (O’Brien)
Each person – each one of us, and each member of our families and circle of friends – is in one of two states. Either, we are ‘dead in our trespasses and sins’, or we have been ‘made alive with Christ’.
By grace you have been saved – ‘χάρις is the term especially characteristic of the Pauline corpus, where it occurs about one hundred times (most frequently in Romans—twenty-four times), and where more often than not it points to the special nature of God’s saving action as one of gratuitous generosity to an undeserving sinful humanity.’ (Lincoln)
‘The reality and generosity of grace is appreciated all the more after a statement which shows how seriously God takes human sinfulness, deeming it to be deserving of his wrath (v 3). And from the human standpoint, the necessity of an intervention of grace is underlined when set in contrast to the bankruptcy and doom of a humanity left to itself, left to what it is “by nature” (v 3).’ (Lincoln)
‘“To save” here is an inclusive term characterizing God’s acts of making p 105 alive, raising up, and seating with Christ as a deliverance from the plight of the old situation to all the benefits of the new.’ (Lincoln)
As with v5, Paul emphasises the ‘already’ aspect, although there is a future dimension to this too. ‘While Paul teaches that believers will be involved in the judgment and rule of the new creation (see e.g. 1 Cor. 6:2; cf. Rev. 3:21) he equally firmly insists we do not yet (1 Cor. 4:8).’ (NBC)
God raised us up with Christ – ‘The salvation of sinners involves all the exercise of power that is put forth in the resurrection of the dead, Eph 3:5. It is not a work to be performed by man; it is not a work of angelic might. None can impart spiritual life to the soul but he who gave it life at first. On that great Source of life we are dependant for our resurrection from spiritual death; and to God we must look for the grace by which we are to live.-It is true that though we are by nature “dead in sins,” we are not in all respects like the dead. Let not this doctrine be abused to make us secure in sin, or to prevent effort. The dead in the grave are dead in all respects. We, by nature, are dead only in sin. We are active in other things; and indeed the powers of man are not less active than they would be if he were holy. But it is a tremendous activity for evil, and for evil only. The dead in their graves hear nothing, see nothing, and feel nothing. Sinners hear, and see, and feel; but they hear not God, and they see not his glory, any more than if they were dead. To the dead in the grave, no command could with propriety be addressed; on them, no entreaty could be urged to rise to life. But the sinner may be commanded and entreated; for he has power, though it is misdirected; and what is needful is, that he should put forth his power in a proper manner. While, therefore, we admit, with deep humiliation, that we, our children, and friends, are by nature dead in sin, let us not abuse this doctrine as though we could be required to do nothing. It is with us wilful death. It is death because we do not choose to live. It is a voluntary closing our eyes, and stopping our ears, as if we were dead; and it is a voluntary remaining in this state, when we have all the requisite power to put forth the energies of life. Let a sinner be as active in the service of God as he is in the service of the devil and the world, and he would be an eminent Christian. Indeed, all that is required is, that the misdirected and abused energy of this world should be employed in the service of the Creator. Then all would be well.’ (Barnes)
‘A number of commentators have urged that Ephesians here breaks away from the real Paul, teaching that salvation is complete, the battle is over, and that believers already reign in the heavenly places. The writer (usually assumed to be a Pauline disciple) is then accused of being triumphalistic. But this fails to take seriously the emphasis on hope in Eph 1:3–23; and it plays down Eph 4:20–5:15, 6:10–18 and especially 6:12, which certainly depict present Christian existence as being in conflict with the pattern of our old sinful humanity, and with the powers of this age. Vs 5–6 are best understood as looking forward: what they say is now only fully true of Christ, but it can be affirmed of us in the secondary sense that he is our representative, that he is determinative for our future, and that we are united with him now by the Spirit. Similarly, the perfect tense you have been saved in v 5 (and in v 8) does not mean the writer thinks our salvation is already completed, but that our complete salvation has already been assured and revealed in Christ, and it is under way in us: we have truly begun to experience transfer from the realm of death to that of resurrection and life. These verses should be understood as a fuller elucidation of the kind of assertion Paul makes in Col. 1:13; 3:1–4. V 7 (echoing Eph 1:6–7, 18, 21) shows that it is the future that will disclose the salvation and grace now known only to faith.’
‘These verbs (‘made alive’, ‘raised’ and ‘made to sit’) refer to the three successive historical events in the saving career of Jesus, which are normally called the resurrection, the ascension and the session. We declare our belief in them when we say the Creed: ‘The third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and he sits at the right hand of God the Father.’ What excites our amazement, however, is that now Paul is not writing about Christ but about us. He is affirming not that God quickened, raised and seated Christ, but that he quickened, raised and seated us with Christ.’ (Stott)
Note the stress on what we are ‘with Christ’ and ‘in Christ’. as throughout chapter 1, Paul sees the people who belong to Jesus as being somehow ‘in’ him, so that what is true of him is true of them. He has been raised—and so have they! He has been installed in glory, in the heavenly realms—and so have they! This is the secret truth of the life of all those who belong to Jesus.
Lincoln notes that ‘the phrase ἐν δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ, “at his right hand,” in Eph 1:20 is reserved for Christ and not repeated in the case of believers in 2:6. Although believers share in Christ’s exaltation, his position in the heavenly realm and his relationship to God are unique.’
Many commentators have associated the idea of being raised and seated with Christ with the experience of baptism. (Lincoln)
But if believers now find themselves thus raised and seated with Christ, ‘the writer is under no illusion that sharing in Christ’s victory brings removal from the sphere of conflict. The rest of the letter provides ample evidence that those who have been seated with Christ in the heavenlies are at the same time those who must walk in the world (cf. Eph 2:10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15) and stand in the midst of the continuing battle with the powers (cf. Eph 6:11–16).’ (Lincoln)
In the coming ages – Possibly: ‘all future times’; ‘for all time’. Calvin: ‘It was the design of God to hallow in all ages the remembrance of so great a goodness.’ And Hodge understands the phrase ‘without limitation, for all future time.’
Some, however, see the phrase as meaning not simply, ‘in the future’ but, ‘in the life to come’. This is ‘a plural of immensity’ (Vos) and the meaning is ‘that only eternity will suffice for the complete display of the surpassing riches of God’s grace in that kindness which he has shown us “in Christ Jesus”.’ (Wilson)
The “ages to come” are invoked by the prophets to underscore God’s unending blessings for his people. (Isa 45:17 Dan 7:18)
‘The plural “ages” is not simply a stylistic variation of the singular, but a more general conception, implying one age supervening upon another like successive waves of the sea, as far into the future as thought can reach. In the light of this meaning it may thus be claimed: “Throughout time and in eternity the church, this society of pardoned rebels, is designed by God to be the masterpiece of his goodness.”‘ (O’Brien, quoting Bruce)
He might show – or ‘display’. The same word is used in Rom 2:15; Tit 3:2. ‘The Church is to be the exhibition to the whole creation of the wisdom and love and grace of God in Christ.’ (Foulkes) The thought is anticipated in Eph 1:6,12,14, and made explicit in Eph 3:9-10.
The incomparable riches of his grace – ‘Grace’ is often defined as ‘unmerited favour’. This is not wrong, but it is incomplete. Paul makes it clear in this chapter that we did not simply lack merit, but rather that we were in a state of demerit – in rebellion against God. See the discussion in Croteau. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions.
Comparing this expression with ‘his incomparably great power’ in Eph 1:19, Lincoln finely says that ‘if the raising of Christ from death to sit in the heavenly realms was the supreme demonstration of God’s surpassing power, then the raising of believers from spiritual death to sit with Christ in the heavenly realms is the supreme demonstration of God’s surpassing grace.’
His kindness to us in Christ Jesus – On the atonement as an expression of God’s grace and mercy, see Rom 8:32; Eph 2:4,5; 1 Tim 2:4; Heb 2:9.
At least part of what is signified here is that ‘what God has done is now a reality for believers, but only in the coming ages will it be fully shown for what it is. Only then will it become evident to all what an abundance of grace and kindness God has bestowed on his people through Christ.’ (Lincoln)
2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 2:9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.
Although vv8f reflects the teaching of Galatians and Romans on salvation by grace, the main point here is that new life in Christ is entirely the work of God. We contribute nothing.
‘Here are three of the keywords of the New Testament: “grace”, “saved”, “faith”. Once, these terms were strange and new. Now, they are old and threadbare. Once, they were like lava, glowing and cast up from the central depths. But it is a long while since the eruption, and the blocks have got cold and the corners have been rubbed off them. I am afraid that some people, when they read such a text, will shrug the shoulder of weariness and think that they are in for a dreary sermon.
But, the more familiar a word is, the more likely are common ideas about it to be hazy. We substitute acquaintance with the sound for penetration into the sense. A frond of seaweed, as long as it is in the ocean, unfolds its delicate films and glows with its subdued colors. Take it out, and it is hard and brown and ugly, and you have to plunge it into the water again before you see its beauty. So with these well-worn Christian terms: you have to put them back, by meditation and thought – especially as to their bearing on yourself – in order to understand their significance and to feel their power.’ – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910).
Kent Hughes tells the story of a communion service at which the pastor noticed a former burglar kneeling beside the very judge who had sent him to prison. ‘After the service, the judge was walking out with the pastor and said to him, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it was natural for the burglar to receive God’s grace when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.
‘”But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.”‘
For it is by grace you have been saved – It is by this grace you have been saved – the grace that just been spoken of in v7.
Through faith – The preposition dia shows that faith is just the ‘instrumental means’ of our receiving God’s grace. ‘The hands of all other graces are working hands, but the hands of faith are merely receiving hands.’ (Goodwin)
”“By grace” and “by faith” are inseparable companions which together provide the antithesis to any suggestion of human merit. God’s act of grace is the ground of salvation and faith is the means by which it becomes effective in a person’s life.’ (Lincoln)
Most commentators understand ‘faith’ to refer to our faith in Christ. However, it could be taken to refer to the faith (or faithfulness) of Christ. ‘On this interpretation Paul is asserting that God’s gracious salvation comes about through Christ’s faithfulness, that is, his unflinching obedience to the Fathers will.’ (O’Brien) Either way, Paul’s main point remains the same: salvation is a free gift, and not based on any kind of human merit.
‘This verse does not teach what some Calvinists would like it to teach. That which is “the gift of God” in the verse is not faith or grace but the entire act of salvation. This view has the support of the Greek text since the relative pronoun that is in the neuter gender while the word faith is feminine. Too, the context supports this view since the emphasis is upon salvation by grace and not by works.’ (Lightner, The Death Christ Died, p49)
And this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – Is Paul referring to (a) the whole process of salvation; or (b) faith? In favour of the latter is the consideration that if Paul were saying ‘you have been saved by grace, and this salvation is the gift of God’, this would be tautological. This is consistent with v7, which makes it clear that Paul wishes to magnify the ‘incomparable ‘riches of God’s grace’. According to many recent commentators (and Calvin), however, ‘the context demands that this be understood of salvation by grace as a whole, including the faith (or faithfulness) through which it is received.’ (O’Brien)
Lightner: ‘That which is “the gift of God” in the verse is not faith or grace but the entire act of salvation. This view has the support of the Greek text since the relative pronoun that is in the neuter gender while the word faith is feminine. Too, the context supports this view since the emphasis is upon salvation by grace and not by works.’ (The Death Christ Died)
‘We must never think of salvation as a kind of transaction between God and us in which he contributes grace and we contribute faith. For we were dead, and had to be quickened before we could believe. No, Christ’s apostles clearly teach…that saving faith too is God’s gracious gift.’ (Stott)
‘God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief, but for his worthiness who is believed.’ (Hooker)
Not by works – In Gal 2:16 and Rom 3:20 Paul specifies that salvation does not come by works of the law. In Ephesus, however, there was no controversy with Jews about observing the law. So Paul makes the more general point to his mainly Gentile readers that no amount of good deeds can merit acceptance with God. ‘This inclusive reference to human activities does not exclude but includes the practices required by Judaism’ (O’Brien). Salvation is a gift. Cf. Tit 3:5.
“Works? Works? A man get to heaven by works? I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand!” (Whitefield)
‘Any kind of human self-effort is comprehensively ruled out by this terse expression. The reason is immediately attached: it is to prevent the slightest self-congratulation. If salvation is by the sheer unmerited favor of God, boasting is altogether out of place.’ (EBC)
‘Imagine that an airplane flies over the South Atlantic and crashes a thousand miles from any coast. In the plane there are three individuals: a great Olympic swimmer, an average swimmer, and someone who cannot swim at all. The Olympic star calls out, “Follow me — I’ll get you out of this!” and takes off with an impressive crawl, heading for the tip of South America a thousand miles away. The other two jump after him. In about thirty seconds the non-swimmer goes down to Davy Jones’ Locker. It takes about thirty minutes for the average swimmer to be deep-sixed. But the champion swimmer churns away for twenty-five hours, covering an impressive fifty miles. Terrific! Only 475 more hours to go! He’ll be there in nineteen days if he doesn’t slow down.’ (Kent Hughes)
‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.’ ‘God helps those who help themselves.’
In the light of what Paul has just said about the terrible plight of human beings by nature – dead, in bondage, and condemned – it would be impossible for them to do anything that might recommend them to God.
So that no one can boast – All the glory belongs to God, and none to ourselves. Paul emphasises this many times, Rom 3:27; 1 Cor 1:29; 4:7; Gal 6:14; Php 3:3.
‘Boasting accompanies works because they become the ground for self-congratulation and pride in the presence of God (Rom 3:27; 4:2), and drag in the notion of merit, or earning one’s reward (Rom 4:4).’ (Lincoln)
Rather than boasting in anything we might do, we should boast in the Lord, 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17; Rom 5:11; Phil 3:3, and, especially, in the cross of Christ, Gal 6:14. (Lincoln)
Some scholars claim that there is no polemic against legalism in Paul’s writings. However, as Schreiner writes: ‘If [Eph 2:8-10] represents later Pauline teaching, does not this text indicate that Paul was concerned about boasting in works even after the problem with legalistic Judaizers was over? The reason for this is that boasting in one’s deeds is not intrinsically a Jewish malady. We are all, as C. S. Lewis warns, prone to “The Great Sin”–pride. Boasting in works, the Pauline gospel suggests, even though it did not plague every Jew or all of Judaism, is an unceasing temptation for human beings to which we are all prone.’
‘There are large numbers of people who…are seeking to commend themselves to God by their own works. They think it noble to try to win their way to God and to heaven. But it is not noble; it is dreadfully ignoble. For, in effect, it is to deny both the nature of God and the mission of Christ. It is to refuse to let God be gracious. It is to tell Christ that he need not have bothered to die. For both the grace of God and the death of Christ become redundant, if we are masters of our own destiny and can save ourselves.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 167)
‘There will indeed be display in heaven. Not self-display, however, but rather a display of the incomparable wealth of God’s grace, mercy and kindness through Jesus Christ.’ (Stott)
2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
We are God’s workmanship – The first and most emphatic word is the word ‘his’ – ‘His workmanship are we…’ Paul is giving a further reason for excluding boasting.
‘This word sometimes has an artistic ring to it. It may be hinting that what God has done to us in King Jesus is a work of art, like a poem or sculpture. Or perhaps, granted what he goes on to say, we are like a musical score; and the music, which we now have to play, is the genuine way of being human, laid out before us in God’s gracious design, so that we can follow it.’ (Wright)
‘Believers are God’s work, and the good deeds which he has purposed for us to walk in, which are achieved only through his enabling power, can be thought of as already prepared in his mind and counsel from before eternity. His plan from of old was not simply to introduce his sons and daughters into a relationship with himself through his Son, but to bring us fully to glory (cf. Heb. 2:10), and this included the intermediate steps by which we were to reach our final goal (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13–14). These embrace the good deeds he has marked out for us beforehand. Thus, once again the apostle stresses the absolute priority of divine grace.’ (O’Brien)
‘It is possible that Paul chose this word to emphasize God’s skillful and intelligent design’ (Arnold). He is the master artist, who has produced a masterpiece; he is the skilful surgeon, who has brought the fatally wounded back to life.
The noun – poiema – is from a different root from the ‘works’ – ergon – of v9. The present word occurs elsewhere in the NT only in Rom 1:20. It is God who has created us, and he who has re-created us.
Created in Christ Jesus to do good works – ‘Created’ underscores again that fact that salvation is God’s work from beginning to end. Self-creation, as Stott says, is a contradiction in terms.
As elsewhere in the letter, the emphasis is on what God has already accomplished in Christ. The new creation has already taken place. Cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Cor 5:17.
It is clear that good works do not precede salvation (how can anyone do anything before s/he has been created?!), but rather flow from it.
‘In Christ’ may either indicate the instrumental means of this new creation, or it may point to our union with Christ, as the sphere in which our new life is lived.
Although works are excluded as a cause of our salvation, they are the essential fruit of it. They are not optional extras: good works are inseparable from saving faith. As Lincoln says: ‘good works are not the source but the goal of the new relationship between humanity and God. Salvation is not “by works” but “for works.”’
‘Grace always stands in antithesis to a life of sin and involves obedience and moral righteousness, as Rom 6 demonstrates. Faith is only authentic when it is working through love (Gal 5:6). Believers can be urged to do good (1 Thess 5:15; p 115 Gal 6:10; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 13:3) and such conduct can be called good work (Rom 2:7; 13:3). The expression “every good work” is used in 2 Cor 9:8 (cf. also Col 1:10; 2 Thess 2:17).’ (Lincoln)
‘These “works” should be understood broadly and not in the more narrow sense of “works of the law” (e.g., circumcision, Sabbath observance, maintaining Jewish purity regulations, et al.). The works he is commending here are those that would be equivalent to “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5 and include the tangible manifestation of Christian virtues such as love, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.’ (Arnold)
Wright, similarly: ‘The ‘good works’ which he mentions in verse 10 are not…the same as the ‘works of the law’ which [Paul] rules out as part of justification in Romans, Galatians and Philippians. They are the way of life which he will describe more fully in chapters 4–6 of the present letter. They are the road which Christians must now travel in the right direction, after the disastrously wrong journey described earlier.’
‘How may it be shown that a living faith necessarily leads to good works? 1st. From the nature of faith. It is the spiritual apprehension and the voluntary embrace of the whole truth of God,—the promises, the commands, the threatenings of the Scripture,—viewed as true and as good. This faith occasions, of course, the exercise of the renewed affections, and love acted out is obedience. Each separate truth thus apprehended produces its appropriate effect upon the heart, and consequently upon the life. 2nd. The testimony of Scripture.—Acts 15:9; 26:18; Gal. 5:6; James 2:18; 1 John 5:4. 3rd. The experience of the universal church.’ (A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 479.)
Which God prepared in advance for us to do – ‘that we should walk in them’. Previously, our ‘walk’ (manner of life) had been a living death. Now, our lifestyle is characterised by works that are pleasing to God and which he designed for us from eternity past.
It is not simply that God prepared us, or our circumstances, so that good works would follow (cf. NEB – ‘the good deeds, for which God has designed us’.) Lincoln explains: ‘If believers are God’s work, then their ethical activity must also proceed from God and so can be thought of as already prepared in God’s counsel. Not just their initial reception of salvation, but the whole of believers’ lives, including their practical ethical activity, is to be seen as part of God’s purpose. The thought of 2:10 is that the good works were already there, and when, through his grace, God made believers alive, raised them up, and seated them with Christ, he created them for these works.’
Thielman, similarly: ‘The good works that God’s people will do…have all been planned since the beginning of the world, just as the blessing of God’s people and his plan for the universe were carefully determined “beforehand.” Therefore, even when believers “walk worthily of the calling with which” they were called (4:1), they have nothing to boast about before God: in this, too, God took the initiative by carefully preparing these good works before the foundation of the world.’
Lincoln further explains that this formulation underlines ‘the ethical dimension already present in the assertion of Eph 1:4 that God chose believers before the foundation of the world, in order that they might be holy and blameless before him in love. To say that God has prepared the good works in advance in his sovereign purpose is also to stress in the strongest possible way that believers’ good deeds cannot be chalked up to their own resolve, but are due solely to divine grace. It is grace all the way.’
‘In eternity past, God not only chose a people to be in a relationship with himself, but he marked out a path for them to walk…Paul’s thought here in Ephesians corresponds to his statement on the purpose of election in Eph 1:4, where he says that God “chose us … so that we would be holy and blameless.”‘ (Arnold)
The thought is probably not that God has prepared specific works for each of us to do (although that may be true), but rather that he has purposed that the whole course of our lives should be characterised by good works.
‘”It is not against works that we contend,” said Luther, after trying both plans, salvation by dint of hard labour and then by faith, “but against trust in works,” a very different affair.’ (Simpson)
‘For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.’ (Augustine)
‘It is a true saying, that believers should not act for life, but from life. They must act as those that are not procuring life by their works, but as such who have already received and derived life from Christ, and act from the power and virtue received from him.’ (Walter Marshall)
‘Too many Christians think that conversion is the only important experience, and that nothing follows. But this is wrong. We can use the resurrection of Lazarus as an example. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He said, “Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44). In other words, “This man is now alive. Get him out of the graveclothes!” Paul has this concept in mind in Ephesians 4:22–24 when he writes, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation [behavior] the old man, which is corrupt … and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Colossians 3:1 has the same message: “[Since] ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above.”‘ (Wiersbe)
‘It is too bad that many believers minimize the place of good works in the Christian life. Because we are not saved by good works, they have the idea that good works are evil; and this is a mistake. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We do not perform good works to glorify ourselves, but to glorify God. Paul desired that Christ would be magnified in his body, even if it meant death (Phil. 1:20–21). We should “abound to every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8), and be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10). One result of a knowledge of the Bible is that the believer is “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17, nasb). As believers, we are to be “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Our good works are actually “spiritual sacrifices” that we offer to God (Heb. 13:16).’ (Wiersbe)
‘These good works cannot be the ground of our salvation or the subject of our boasting since they are the goal of the new creation. They are the fruit of salvation, not its basis or cause.’ (O’Brien)
‘This new entity transcends natural distinctions: God’s purpose was to create one new humanity out of Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:15).’ (O’Brien)
‘The New Testament generally and the apostle in particular consistently urge those who have experienced God’s gracious redemption to lead holy and godly lives. A true and lively faith is to work itself out in love (Gal. 5:6). God’s people are urged to do good under all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:15; Gal. 6:10; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 13:3). In the companion letter to the Colossians Paul prayed that his readers might bear fruit in every good work (Col. 1:10; cf. 2 Cor. 9:8; 2 Thess. 2:17) as they were filled with a knowledge of his will and purpose for their lives. The phrase good works occurs often enough in the Pastoral Epistles. In Titus 3:8 the context is similar to that of Ephesians: God saves men and women through his great mercy, not because of righteous things they have done (v.5). Having trusted in God, they are now to be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good (lit. good works). In Ephesians 2:10 good works is a general and comprehensive expression for godly behaviour. It is not further defined, but its implications will be taken up and amplified in the exhortatory sections of the letter (in 4:17–6:20). Put simply, it is God’s will that those who belong to the new creation should be characterized by a lifestyle which ultimately reflects his own character and action.’ (O’Brien)
Here, as everywhere else in Scripture, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are viewed as perfectly compatible. God prepared beforehand the good deeds that we should do; and yet it is our duty to walk in them. ‘We have a responsibility to live in the world so as to please him. There was a time when we walked in disobedience and sin, followed the ways of this world, were in terrible bondage to the devil, and were destined for wrath. But now because of God’s mighty salvation in which a glorious change has been effected, we are expected, through the agency of his Holy Spirit, to demonstrate a changed life-style. Our attitudes and behaviour are to show all the hallmarks of the new creation. And when we walk in these ways which are according to his purpose, it is he himself who is powerfully working in our lives (Phil. 2:12, 13).’ (O’Brien)
Reviewing this section, Arnold remarks: ‘It is difficult to conceive of a set of sharper contrasts than those Paul presents in this passage. From death to life, from the sentence of God’s intense anger to an experience of his incomparable love, from a life controlled by various forces of evil to a life sustained by the grace of God—this is the wonderful message of Eph 2:1–10…The central point of this message is that God has made them alive. This can be appreciated and fully understood only if the readers first know the full extent of their predicament prior to God’s gracious action toward them. But Paul also wants them to know why God has done this and what he now wants to accomplish in their lives.’
New Life Corporately
2:11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands—2:12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Stott outlines the structure as follows:-
the portrait of an alienated humanity, or what we once were (verses 11–12)
the portrait of the peacemaking Christ, or what Jesus Christ has done (verses 13–18)
the portrait of God’s new society, or what we have now become (verses 19–22)
Within the cosmic reconciliation of which Paul has already written, Eph 1:9f, there is a horizontal dimension (reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles), and a vertical dimension (reconciliation between both Jews and Gentiles on the one hand, and God on the other hand).
Remember – ‘The privileges which they now enjoy would be appreciated all the more if they reflected carefully upon the spiritual condition from which they had been rescued.’ (O’Brien)
Remember (v11f)…But now (v13) – Here is summarised life ‘before Christ’ and life ‘after Christ’. The contrast is spelled out in terms of past alienation (12, 19), exclusion (13), and hostility (16), in contrast with present reconciliation (16), unity (15–16), or peace (17).
‘There are some things which Scripture tells us to forget (like the injuries which others do to us). But there is one thing in particular which we are commanded to remember and never to forget. This is what we were before God’s love reached down and found us. For only if we remember our former alienation (distateful as some of it may be to us), shall we be able to remember the greatness of the grace which forgave and is transforming us.’ (Stott)
Called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” – ‘Paul did not disparage circumcision as an institution. It was to him the God-given sign of the covenant; but if the outward sign was not matched by an inward faith and an obedience of life to the covenant, it became worthless and just a work of the flesh (1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; 6:15). The circumcision that mattered, whether or not there was any outward sign, was spiritual circumcision, a putting off of sin and an obedience to Christ (Rom. 2:25–29; Phil. 3:2–3; Col. 2:11).’ (Foulkes)
This circumcision was done in the body by the hands of men, ‘an expression which drives home the point that it was merely human and stood in contrast to the work of God. It belongs to the old order of Judaism with its external and material features, in contrast to the new spiritual order that was inaugurated with the coming of Christ. In the Old Testament Moses and the prophets had spoken of the true circumcision or cleansing of the heart for which God looked from his people (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4). The circumcision done in the body by the hands of men is not the real circumcision. That true circumcision was not made with hands; it is the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:11), which is now available to Gentiles and Jews in the new order established in the gospel of the Lord Jesus (cf. Rom. 2:28, 29; Phil. 3:2, 3).’ (O’Brien)
‘It is as if Paul is declaring the unimportance of names and labels, in comparison with the reality behind them.’ (Stott)
‘It is almost impossible for us…to think ourselves back to those days when humanity was deeply divided between Jews and Gentiles. The Bible opens with a clear declaration of the unity of mankind. But after the fall and then the flood it traces the origins of human division and separation. It may seem that God himself contributed to the process by choosing Israel out of all the nations to be his ‘holy’ or ‘distinct’ people. But we need to remember that in calling Abraham he promised through his posterity to bless all the earth’s families and that in choosing Israel he intended her to become a light to the nations. The tragedy is that Israel forgot her vocation, twisted her privilege into favouritism and ended by heartily despising—even detesting—the heathen as ‘dogs’.’ (Stott)
‘The Gentiles were called the uncircumcision by those who laid claim to that circumcision which is a physical and man-made thing. This was the first of the great divisions. The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. They said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of Hell; that God loved only Israel of all the nations that he had made; that the best of the serpents crushed, the best of the Gentiles killed. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. The barrier between Jew and Gentile was absolute. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death; even to go into a Gentile house rendered a Jew unclean. Before Christ the barriers were up; after Christ the barriers were down.’ (DSB)
‘Let us remember our former course of life, Eph 4:11,12. Nothing is more profitable for a Christian than to sit down and reflect on his former life-on his childhood, with its numerous follies and vanities; on his youth, with its errors, and passions, and sins; and on the ingratitude and faults of riper years. Had God left us in that state, what would be now our condition? Had he cut us off, where had been our abode? Should he now treat us as we deserve, what would be our doom? When the Christian is in danger of becoming proud and self-confident, let him REMEMBER what he was. Let him take some period of his life-some year, some month, or even some one day-and think it all over, and he will find enough to humble him. These are the uses which should be made of the past. 1st. It should make us humble. If a man had before his mind a vivid sense of all the past in his own life, he would never be lifted up with pride. 2nd. It should make us grateful. God cut off the companions of my childhood-why did he spare me? He cut down many of the associates of my youth in their sins-why did he preserve me? He has suffered many to live on in their sins, and they are in “the broad road”-why am I not with them, treading the path to death and hell? 3rd. The recollection of the past should lead us to devote ourselves to God. Professing Christian, “remember” how much of thy life is gone to waste! Remember thy days of folly and vanity! Remember the injury thou hast done by an evil example! Remember how many have been corrupted by thy conversation; perverted by thy opinions; led into sin by thy example; perhaps ruined in body and soul for ever by the errors and follies of thy past life! And then REMEMBER how much thou dost owe to God, and how solemnly thou art bound to endeavour to repair the evils of thy life, and to save at least as many as thou hast ruined!’ (Barnes)
In Rom 9:3-5, Paul lists the privileges of Jews. Here he lists five disadvantages of Gentiles.
Separate from Christ – or, ‘without hope of a Messiah’. Whereas the Jews clung to the hope of a better day, the day when Messiah would reign, the Gentiles had no such hope. The Gentile view of history was essentially cyclical: the Stoic, for example, believed that history went on for three thousand years; ‘then came a conflagration in which the whole universe was consumed in flames; then the whole process began all over again, and the same events and the same people exactly repeated themselves.’ (DSB)
Excluded from citizenship in Israel – or ‘commonwealth’. The Jews had an acute sense of being the people of God; and of their nation being a theocracy, Jud 8:23.
‘Paul’s choice of the term ‘commonwealth’ (with the NRSV against the NIV’s less probable citizenship) suggests he is not thinking here of national Israel, but more particularly of faithful Jews seen as living as a theocracy.’ (NBC)
‘Such a one hath no more to do with any covenant-promise, than he that lives at Rome has to do with the charter of London, which is the birthright of its own denizens, not of strangers.’ (Gurnall)
Foreigners to the covenants of the promise – The essence of the covenant was, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Ex 6:7).
The plural, ‘covenants’, suggests ‘a series of covenants with Abraham (Gen. 15:7–21; 17:1–21), Isaac (Gen. 26:2–5), Jacob (Gen. 28:13–15), Israel (Exod. 24:1–8), and David (2 Sam. 7).’ (O’Brien) ‘The promise’ would then be the original promise made to Abraham.
As Gentiles, they were excluded from the very considerable privileges that had been accorded to Israel, Rom 3:2; 9:4f.
Without hope – The Gentiles were without hope. ‘Even as far back as Homer that is so. In the Iliad (6: 146-149) Glaucus and Diomede meet in single combat. Before they close in fight, Diomede wishes to know the lineage of Glaucus, and Glaucus replies: “Why enquirest thou of my generation? Even as are the generations of leaves such are those likewise of men; the leaves that be the wind scattereth upon the earth, and the forest buddeth and putteth forth more again, when the season of spring is at hand, so of the generations of men one putteth forth and another ceaseth.” The Greek could say: “We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, And wither and perish.” But he could not triumphantly add: “But nought changeth thee.”‘ (DSB)
‘Sinners are by nature without any well-founded hope of salvation, Eph 2:12. They are living without Christ, having no belief in him, and no hope of salvation through him. They are “aliens” from all the privileges of the friends of God. They have no “hope.” They have no well-founded expectation of happiness beyond the grave. They have a dim and shadowy expectation that possibly they may be happy; but it is founded on no evidence of the Divine favour, and no promise of God. They could not tell on what it is founded, if they were asked; and what is such a hope worth? These false and delusive hopes do not sustain the soul in trial; they flee away in death. And what a description is this! In a world like this, to be without hope! Subject to trial, exposed to death, and yet destitute of any well-founded prospect of happiness beyond the tomb! They are “without God” also. They worship no God; they confide in none. They have no altar in their families; no place of secret prayer. They form their plans with no reference to the will of God; they desire not to please him. There are multitudes who are living just as if there were no God. Their plans, their lives, their conversation, would not be different if they had the assurance that there was no God. All that they have ever asked of God, or that they would now ask of him, is, that he would let them alone. There are multitudes whose plans would be in no respect different, if it were announced to them that there was no God in heaven. The only effect might be to produce a more hearty merriment, and a deeper plunge into sin. What a world! How strange that in God’s own world it should thus be! How sad the view of a world of atheists-a race that is endeavouring to feel that the universe is without a Father and a God! How wicked the plans which can be accomplished only by labouring to forget that there is a God; and how melancholy that state of the soul in which happiness can be found only in proportion as it believes that the universe is without a Creator, and moves on without the superintending care of a God.’ (Barnes)
‘The life of the unregenerate consisteth in presumptuous hope: this is the very foundation of their carnal security. So Christ tells the Jews, Jn 8:54,53 “Of whom ye say that he is your God, and yet ye have not known him.” The world is full of hope without a promise, which is but as a spider’s web, when a stress comes to be laid upon it, Jn 2:7-8. Unregenerate men are said indeed to be without hope, Eph 2:12. but the meaning is, they are without any solid, well-grounded hope; for in scripture- account, vain hope is no hope, except it be a lively hope, 1 Pet 1:5. A hope flowing from union with Christ, Col 1:27. A hope nourished by experience, Rom 5:4. A hope for which a man can give a reason, 1 Pet 3:15. A hope that puts men upon heart-purifying endeavours, 1 Jn 3:5. It is in the account of God a cipher, a vanity, not deserving the name of hope; and yet such a groundless, dead, christless, irrational, idle hope is that which the unregenerate live upon.’ (John Flavel)
Philips Brookes was too ill to see his friends. He had no hesitation, however, in receiving Robert Ingersoll, the well-known agnostic. “It good of you to see me,” said Ingersoll, “but why is that you will see me but not your friends?” “Well, it’s like this,” replied the sick man. “I feel confident of seeing my friends in the next world, but this may be my last chance of seeing you.”
‘True hope is a jewel that none wears but Christ’s bride; a grace with which none is graced but the believer’s soul. Christless and hopeless are joined together, Eph 2:12.’ (Gurnall)
‘In fact they were not only without the hope that Israel had, but they were without any real hope at all. This was a very evident characteristic of the Gentile world of the time when Jesus came. People had no prospect for the future, no assurance of life beyond this. The Greeks, for example, looked back on a golden age in the past rather than to a future glory; or more philosophically they took a cyclic view of history. There was in consequence no concept of a goal to which all things were moving, and this lack of hope was seen most notably in their view of death.’ (Foulkes)
Without God – This ‘does not mean that they refused to believe in God, or that they were forsaken by God, or godless in their conduct, but that they had no real knowledge of God.’ (Foulkes)
The Gentiles were not, of course, without their gods (some Greeks still worship their ancient gods today); but they were without knowledge or experience of the one true God. The same can be said today of the multitudes who have a religion, who have a ‘spirituality’, but know not ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘They were ‘hopeless’ because, although God had planned and promised to include them one day, they did not know it, and therefore had no hope to sustain them. And they were ‘godless’ (atheoi) because, although God had revealed himself to all mankind in nature and therefore had not left himself without witness, yet they suppressed the truth they knew and turned instead to idolatry.’ (Stott)
2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
But now – this corresponds to the ‘But God’ in Eph 2:4.
In Christ Jesus – Paul’s meaning is not, ‘but now you are in Christ Jesus and as a consequence have been brought near’, but rather, ‘but now you have been brought near in Christ Jesus.’
You who once were far away have been brought near – The language of being ‘far from’ or ‘near to’ God is common in the OT. See Deut 4:7; Psa 148:14; Isa 49:1; 57:19.
The language of ‘drawing near’ was using of proselytes, who in coming near to God also came near to his people. Here, however, this meaning is transcended, for it applies to Gentile believers who do not become members of the commonwealth of Israel but jointly with Jewish believers constitute a new community enjoying access to God on the basis of the blood of Christ, and not because of any law-keeping on their part.
‘This ‘nearness to God’ which all Christians enjoy through Christ is a privilege we take too frequently for granted. Our God does not keep his distance or stand on his dignity, like some oriental potentate, nor does he insist on any complicated ritual or protocol. On the contrary, through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit we have immediate ‘access’ to him as our Father (verse 18).’ (Stott)
The blood of Christ – We have been brought near ‘in Christ’ and ‘through the blood of Christ’. If the first expression suggests our experience of union with Christ, then the second certainly refers to his objective atoning work on the cross. God’s principle for uniting human beings is not by conquest (as in Islam), but by redemption.
‘Covenants were ratified by blood; (Ex 24:8 Heb 9:18-20) “and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Heb 9:22) “We enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” (Heb 10:19) Almost every important circumstance connected with our salvation has reference to the blood of Christ. We are redeemed by his blood. (Eph 1:7 Col 1:14 1 Pet 1:19 Rev 5:9) Justified by his blood; (Rom 5:9) washed, cleansed by his blood (1 Jn 1:7 Rev 1:5, and Rev 7:14); we conquer through his blood; (Rev 12:11) we are made nigh by his blood.’ (Biblical Illustrator)
2:14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 2:15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 2:16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.
He himself is our peace – cf. Isa. 9:6; 52:7; cf. Mic. 5:5.
O’Brien says that this phrase serves as a title to the entire passage (vv14-18), and suggests that it is little wonder, given Paul’s emphasis on ‘peace’ (and its antonym, ‘enmity’) in these verse that ther verses serve as a locus classicus on peace in his letters.
‘The term ‘peace’ in both Old and New Testaments came to denote well-being in the widest sense, including salvation, the source and giver of which is God alone. Peace was used for harmony among people (Acts 7:26; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:3; Jas. 3:18) and especially for the messianic salvation (Luke 1:79; 2:14; 19:42). The term could describe the content and goal of all Christian preaching, the message itself being called the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15; cf. Acts 10:36; Eph. 2:17). The biblical concept of peace has to do with wholeness, particularly with reference to personal relationships. Peace describes an order established by the God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33; cf. Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9). Christ himself is the mediator of that peace (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20). He gives peace to believers (2 Thess. 3:16); indeed, he himself is that peace.’ (O’Brien)
It is interesting that Paul does not simply say that Christ ‘makes’, or ‘brings’, or ‘proclaims’ peace (although all these things are true = Eph 2:15, 17, for example).
As the immediate context shows, the focus of attention in the first instance here is on the horizontal dimension of peace (peace between Jews and Gentiles), although the vertical dimension which is the foundation of this is explicated in Eph 2:16-18 (O’Brien). As Stott says, ‘The ‘both’ whom he has made … one seems clearly to mean Jews and Gentiles, but the reconciliation was broader than that, for, as we saw earlier, the dividing wall of hostility which he has broken down symbolized Gentile alienation from God as well as from Israel.’
Who has made the two one – the two groups of people, Jews and Gentiles. ‘They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (cf. vv. 15, 16, 18). In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world.’ (O’Brien)
People may be brought together by force or by compromise, but in neither case is there true unity. How much more thorough, far-reaching, and deep-seated, is the unity that Christ brings in the gospel!
Destroyed the barrier – Many commentators think that Paul is alluding here to a dividing wall which was ‘a notable feature of the magnificent temple built in Jerusalem by Herod the Great. The temple building itself was constructed on an elevated platform. Round it was the Court of the Priests. East of this was the Court of Israel, and further east the Court of the Women. These three courts—for the priests, the lay men and the lay women of Israel respectively—were all on the same elevation as the temple itself. From this level one descended five steps to a walled platform, and then on the other side of the wall fourteen more steps to another wall, beyond which was the outer court or Court of the Gentiles. This was a spacious court running right round the temple and its inner courts. From any part of it the Gentiles could look up and view the temple, but were not allowed to approach it. They were cut off from it by the surrounding wall, which was a one-and-a-half metre stone barricade, on which were displayed at intervals warning notices in Greek and Latin. They read, in effect, not ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ but ‘Trespassers will be executed.’’ (Stott)
‘The reader of Acts will remember that on Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, a riot arose in the temple because the rumour got around that he had polluted the sacred precincts by taking Gentiles into them. Gentiles might enter the outer court, which was not really part of the temple buildings proper; but they might not penetrate farther on pain of death. So anxious were the Roman authorities to conciliate the religious susceptibilities of the Jews that they even sanctioned the execution of Roman citizens for this offence. That none might plead ignorance of this rule, notices in Greek and Latin were fastened to the barricade separating the outer from the inner courts, warning Gentiles that death was the penalty for trespass. One of the these Greek inscriptions, found at Jerusalem in 1871 by C. S. Clermont-Ganneau, is now housed in Istanbul, and reads as follows:
NO FOREIGNER MAY ENTER WITHIN THE BARRICADE WHCH SURROUNDS THE TEMPLE AND ENCLOSURE. ANYONE WHO IS CAUGHT DOING SO WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO THANK FOR HIS ENSUING DEATH.
‘When Paul wrote in Eph 2:14 of “the middle wall of partition” between Jew and Gentile which is broken down in Christ, it has been thought that his metaphor was drawn from this temple barrier, which forbade Gentiles to trespass on ground reserved for Jews alone.’ (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, 93f)
‘Only about three years previously he had nearly been lynched himself by an angry Jewish mob who thought he had taken a Gentile with him into the temple, interestingly enough an Ephesian named Trophimus.’ See Acts 21:27-31. ‘Taking a non-Jew beyond a particular dividing point in the temple was such an important breach of Jewish law that the Romans even permitted Jewish leaders to execute violators of this law. Paul’s readers in Ephesus and Asia undoubtedly know why Paul is in prison (Acts 21:27, 29); thus for them, as well as for Paul, there can be no greater symbol of the barrier between Jew and non-Jew than “the dividing wall” of verse 14. But Paul says that this dividing wall is shattered in Christ.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
‘The groaning frame of nature declares the world unhinged and out of course. Things have gone amiss between man and his Creator. The field of history is scarred with the thunderbolts of of his displeasure. The King of the Ages is not the almighty Sentimentalist some would make him to be. God is love; but he is also a consuming fire…Yet in his wrath he remembers mercy: hence the cross. No peace without that; no peace that did not satisfy God in all his attributes and that law, deep as the deepest in God, that binds suffering to wrong-doing and death.’ (G.G. Findlay, Q by Simpson)
Canada and the United States have long been the best of friends, justly proud of the undefended border between them. It has not always been so. During the War of 1812, between the United States and Britain, the Americans crossed the border and destroyed York, modern day Toronto. The British retaliated by burning Washington, D.C. Finally, on December 24, 1814, representatives of the two countries, who had been meeting in Belgium signed the Treaty of Ghent, which agreed on the details of an armistice. Unfortunately, the news of the peace was delayed, and, on January 8, 1815, unaware of the armistice, the two armies met in the Battle of New Orleans. More than 2,000 men lost their lives in a totally unnecessary battle, because they were ignorant of the peace treaty.
‘This announcement which Paul makes of the breaking down of the wall by Jesus Christ is extremely remarkable. For literally and historically speaking, the wall was not broken down until the Roman legions entered Jerusalem in ad 70. So it was still standing, still surrounding the temple, and still excluding the Gentiles, while Paul was writing this letter. But though materially it remained, spiritually it had already been destroyed in AD 30 or so, when Jesus died on the cross.’ (Stott)
O’Brien, while recognising that the wall that separated the court of the Gentiles from the inner courts and the sanctuary in the temple, doubts that the Ephesians would have understood this allusion. In any case, the real barrier was the Mosaic law itself. It was this that separated Jews from Gentiles, and caused great hostility.
‘By the death of Christ, “the middle wall of partition…the law of the commandments contained in the ordinances” – which was at the same time a token of the enmity between God and sinners, and an occasion of distance and alienation between Jews and Gentiles – was abolished; and believing Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God and united into one body.’ (John MacArthur, Jr.)
Abolishing in his flesh the law – How can the law be said to be abolished by Christ, when he himself declared that he had not come to abolish it, but to fulfil it (Mt 5:17)? In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord was referring to the law’s moral demands, which are abiding. And Paul declared that we do not nullify, but rather uphold, the law, Rom 3:31. It has been suggested, then (by Calvin and others), that Paul is here referring to its ceremonial demands, which have been fulfilled, and then set aside ‘in [Christ’s] flesh’, that is to say, in his death. This is confirmed by reference to the parallel passage in Col 2:11-21. Additionally (as Stott suggests), Paul may be thinking of Christ as having abolished the moral law in its accusing and condemning function.
O’Brien suggests that ‘what is abolished is the law-covenant, that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles. The relationship between the stipulations of the old covenant and those of the new covenant still needs to be worked out. But because the old Torah as such, that is, the law-covenant, has gone, it can no longer serve as the great barrier between Jew and Gentile.’
Thielman, similarly, says that Jews would be distinguishable first and foremost by their observance of the Torah. The law was sometimes referred to both as a partition that separated Jews from Gentiles and also a fence that kept the Jews safe from Gentile influences.
Arnold takes essentially the same view. He adds: ‘We must be careful, however, not to go too far and assume that the moral content of the Mosaic code is now irrelevant. To this extent, the older interpreters who made the ceremonial/moral distinction in the law were not too far off the mark. The Mosaic code was filled with commands that reflected the holiness of God and his expectation that his people would display that holiness in their lives (Lev 11:44–45). To the degree that the Mosaic laws give expression to this, they are to be obeyed. This is why we find much of the moral teaching in Eph 4–6 corresponding to laws in the Torah.’
‘In Paul’s thinking, the Mosaic law governed Israel for a specific period of time (Gal. 3:19). Although it was glorious in its day (2 Cor. 3:7–10), it had now served its purpose and come to its divinely appointed end (2 Cor. 3:13; Rom. 10:4). God had established a new people, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, and the law governing their conduct Paul called “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf.1 Cor. 9:21). The Mosaic law was still authoritative Scripture within the new people of God, but in a different way than it had been for Israel. It revealed the character of God, the nature of humanity, and the centrality of faith to a right relationship with God, but its commandments no longer governed the behavior of God’s people without first passing through the filter of the gospel.’ (Thielman)
The law’s debt has been paid, its curse removed.
‘Much of the law (e.g. the sacrificial ritual) was preparation for, and foreshadowing of, the Christ, and so was fulfilled by what he did when he came. The moral demands and principles of the law were not lightened by Jesus, but made fuller and more far-reaching (Matt. 5:21–48). In the discipline of obedience that its detailed regulations demanded, and as the revealer of right and wrong, it was intended to lead to Christ (Gal. 3:24). In an absolute sense it cannot be said to be made of no effect in Christ (Rom. 3:31). But as a code ‘specific, rigid, and outward, fulfilled in external ordinances’ (Westcott), and so serving to separate Jews and Gentiles, it was abolished (cf. Col. 2:20–22).’ (Foulkes)
‘Concerning these regulations the Letter of Aristeas (c. 100 bc) maintains, ‘the legislator [Moses] surrounded us with unbroken palisades and iron walls to prevent our mixing with any of the other peoples in any matter, being thus kept pure in body and soul … worshipping the one almighty God’ (139) or, again, ‘And therefore, so that we should be polluted by none nor be infected with perversions by associating with worthless persons, he has hedged us about on all sides with prescribed purifications in matters of food and drink and touch and hearing and sight’ (149). A literal barrier in the temple itself which prohibited Gentiles, on pain of death, from entering the inner courts where Israel worshipped, was merely the outward expression of the Mosaic requirements.’ (NBC)
‘Paul writes this letter from prison because he has been falsely charged with taking a non-Jew inside the temple in Jerusalem. (Ac 21:28) Taking a non-Jew beyond a particular dividing point in the temple was such an important breach of Jewish law that the Romans even permitted Jewish leaders to execute violators of this law. Paul’s readers in Ephesus and Asia undoubtedly know why Paul is in prison; (Ac 21:27,29) thus for them, as well as for Paul, there can be no greater symbol of the barrier between Jew and non-Jew than “the dividing wall” of verse 14. But Paul says that this dividing wall is shattered in Christ. “He is our peace” might (but need not) reflect the Hebrew of Mic 5:5.’ (NT Background Commentary)
‘Abolishing’ is lit. ‘killing’. The slain becomes a slayer!
One new man – that is to say, ‘one new humanity’. ‘Behind the language of creating one new humanity lies the Jewish hope that at the end God would recreate the world more wonderfully even than his first creation before the fall. As part of this God’s people would be transformed and given resurrection bodies to match the world they came to live in, and so be a new sort of humanity living in total harmony with God and with each other. For Paul, exactly that is begun by Christ’s resurrection, which is the pattern for ours, and is even beginning in us (see Rom. 8; 1 Cor. 15:45–49; 2 Cor. 3–5; Gal. 6:15; Phil. 3:21). But note that all this is true only in himself, in Christ; it is only the church in union with Christ that actually begins to experience this cosmic unity.’ (NBC)
‘This new unity through and in Christ does more than span the Jew-Gentile divide. In other passages Paul says that it also does away with sexual and social distinctions. ‘Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all,’ Col 3:11. Again, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ Gal 3:28.’ (Stott)
So, membership of the people of God is not a matter of assimilation (Gentiles becoming Jews). Nor is it a matter of replacement. No: God has created in Christ a new society, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers. Chrysostom put it like this: it is as if God took a silver statue and a copper statue, and out of them has made one of gold.
2:17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
He came and preached peace – this, says Stott, ‘must refer rather to his post-resurrection appearances, in which the very first word he spoke to the apostles was ‘Peace be with you’, and to his proclamation of the gospel of peace to the world through the apostles and through subsequent generations of Christians. Jesus Christ is still preaching peace in the world today, through the lips of his followers.’
Foulkes, on the other hand, is inclined to be less specific: ‘The form of expression, thus dependent on the Old Testament words, is not to be pressed too far. We are not to ask what preaching of the gospel of peace this refers to—before or after the resurrection, before or after Pentecost. The point is that Christ came ‘with a gospel of peace’ (Moffatt). Through his cross peace was made, and he through his church takes out the message of reconciliation and peace to the world (cf. Acts 10:36; 2 Cor. 5:18–20).’
You who were far away – The Gentiles.
Those who were near – The Jews.
We both have access – ‘The essence of the Old Testament is that God was the person to whom access was forbidden. When Manoah, who was to be the father of Samson, realized who his visitor had been, he said: “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” (Jud 13:22) In the Jewish worship of the Temple the Holy of Holies was held to be the dwelling-place of God and into it only the High Priest might enter, and that only on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. The centre of Christian belief is the approachability of God. H. L. Gee tells a story. There was a little boy whose father was promoted to the exalted rank of brigadier. When the little lad heard the news, he was silent for a moment, and then said, “Do you think he will mind if I still call him daddy?” The essence of the Christian faith is unrestricted access to the presence of God.’ (DSB)
Note the trinitarian structure of this verse.
‘Prosagōgē (access) conjures up the scene in an oriental court, when subjects are granted an audience with the king or emperor, and are presented to him. The flavour of the word remains, but the emphasis changes because our access is not to a king but to a Father, before whom we have ‘boldness and confidence of access’ (Eph 3:12).’ (Stott)
Access to God: ‘This I take to be the removing of obstructions out of the way between a man and God, so that the man is admitted to come near. We are said to have access to a great person when the doors are cast open, the guards removed from about him, and we admitted to come close to him: so it is here. Now this access, in Scripture, is sometimes taken for Christ’s preparing of the way, the removing of enmity between God and sinners, so as men now have an open way to come unto God through Christ-‘For through him we both have an access by one Spirit unto the Father.’ (Eph 2:18) Sometimes it is taken for the actual improvement of that access purchased by Christ, when a man finds all obstructions and differences which do ordinarily fall in between him and God removed: God doth not act towards him as a stranger, keeping up himself from him, or frowning on him, but the man is admitted to ‘come even to his seat.’ (Job 23:3) Of the want of which he complains, whilst he saith, ‘Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backwards, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him.’ (Job 23:8,9) The first sort of access is common to all believers: they are brought near by the blood of the covenant, and are no more afar off, as the deadly enmity between God and them is removed; but access in the other sense is dispensed more according to the Lord’s absolute sovereignty and pleasure, and it is left in the power of believers to obstruct it to themselves, until it please the Lord mercifully and freely to grant it unto them again; so it is up and down; and there needs be no question as to a man’s state about it.’ (Guthrie)
‘Let us rejoice in the privileges which we now have as Christians. We have access to the Father, Eph 2:18. None are so poor, so ignorant, so down-trodden that they may not come to God. In all times of affliction, poverty, and oppression, we may approach the Father of mercies. Chains may bind the body, but no chain can fetter the soul in its intercourse with God. We may be thrown into a dungeon, but communion with God may be maintained there. We may be cast out and despised by men, but we may come at once unto God, and he will not cast us away. Further.-We are not now strangers and foreigners. We belong to the family of God. We are fellow-citizens with the saints, Eph 2:19. We are participants of the hope of the redeemed, and we share their honours and their joys. It is right that true Christians should rejoice; and their joy is of such a character that no man can take it from them.’ (Barnes)
‘In all this Paul does not explicitly state how the cross effects reconciliation between humankind and God. The very use of the word implies an estrangement or enmity on both sides which is healed. On humanity’s side, hostility to God is occasioned by our rebellious reaction to his rightful and loving claim to our filial obedience. On God’s side too one may speak of a certain element of estrangement from humankind; namely, his loving and holy wrath against our sin (Eph 2:3; 4:17–18; 5:3–6). It is the latter that Paul consistently, as here, believes is our most fundamental problem and to have been dealt with at the cross (i.e. before any of us believed and appropriated this reconciliation offered). This is why he consistently emphasizes the rich ‘mercy’ (4) and ‘grace’ (Eph 1:2, 6–7 etc.) of God. He does tell us how God accomplished this—he does not state that it is by substitutionary atonement (for which see the Commentary on Rom. 3:25; 5:9–11; 2 Cor. 5:19–21; Gal. 3:13). He seems rather to assume it (1:7; 5:2, 25–26) and in this letter appears more concerned to elaborate its consequences—restoration of relationship with God, and particularly the universal scope of the unity, harmony and peace God purposes in Christ.’ (NBC)
2:19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 2:20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
‘It is customary to characterize the church on earth as “one” (because it really is so in Christ, as Eph 4:3-6 shows, despite the great number of local churches and denominational groupings), “holy” (because it is consecrated to God corporately, as each Christian is individually, Eph 2:21), “catholic” (because it is worldwide in extent and seeks to hold the fullness of the faith), and “apostolic” (because it is founded on apostolic teaching, Eph 2:20). All four qualities may be illustrated from Eph 2:19-22.’ (J.I Packer, Concise Theology)
Fellow citizens – ‘Around the time Paul was writing these words, arguing for racial unity in Christ, Jews and Syrians were massacring each other in the streets of Caesarea, a city where he had been not long before. (Ac 23:23) Here Paul does not simply mimic a common stand against racism in his culture; he condemns racism and segregation of a religious institution even though he has to challenge his culture to do so.’ (NT Background Commentary)
Built on the foundation – ‘The comparison of the church with a building is common in the Scriptures. The comparison was probably taken from the temple, and as that was an edifice of great beauty, expense, and sacredness, it was natural to compare the church with it. Besides, the temple was the sacred place where God dwelt on file earth; and as the church was the place where he delighted now to abide, it became natural to speak of his church as the temple, or the residence of God. That building, says Paul, was permanently founded, and was rising with great beauty of proportion, and with great majesty and splendour.’ (Barnes)
The foundation of the apostles and prophets – ‘Paul speaks of these “apostles and prophets” as foundational to the Church. All non-Pentecostal evangelicals agree that the apostles are no longer extant as an active office in the governance of the Church. A foundation, by the very nature of the case, is laid but once, while the superstructure may be erected over a long period of time.’ (Ken Gentry)
This verse defines what we mean (or should mean) when we talk about apostolic succession: it is not a transmission of power or grace or authority from one cleric to another, but a grounding of the church’s beliefs and practices in those of the apostles.
‘The doctrines of Divine revelation, whether communicated by prophets or apostles, were laid at the foundation of the Christian church. It was not founded on philosophy, or tradition, or on human laws, or on a venerable antiquity, but on the great truths which God had revealed. Paul does not say that it was founded on Peter, as the Papists do, but on the prophets and apostles in general. If Peter had been the “viceregent of Christ,” and the head of the church, it is incredible that his brother Paul should not have given him some honourable notice in this place. Why did he not allude to so important a fact? Would one who believed it have omitted it? Would a Papist now omit it? Learn here,
(1.) that no reliance is to be placed on philosophy as a basis of religious doctrine.
(2.) That the traditions of men have no authority in the church, and constitute no part of the foundation.
(3.) That nothing is to be regarded as a fundamental part of the Christian system, or as binding on the conscience, which cannot be found in the “prophets and apostles; ” that is, as it means here, in the Holy Scriptures. No decrees of councils; no ordinances of synods; no “standard” of doctrines; no creed or confession is to be urged as authority in forming the opinions of men. They may be valuable for some purposes, but not for this; they may be referred to as interesting parts of history, but not to form the faith of Christians; they may be used in the church to express its belief, but not to form it. What is based on the authority of apostles and prophets is true, and always true, and only true; what may be found elsewhere may be valuable and true or not, but, at any rate, is not to be used to control the faith of men.’ (Barnes)
Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone – ‘Let us evince always special regard for the Lord Jesus, Eph 2:20. He is the precious Corner-Stone on which the whole spiritual temple is reared. On him the church rests. How important then, that the church should have correct views of the Redeemer! How important that the true doctrine respecting his Divine nature, his atonement, his incarnation, his resurrection, should be maintained. It is not a matter of indifference whether he be God or man; whether he died as an atoning sacrifice, or as a martyr; whether he be the equal of God, or whether he be an archangel. Everything depends on the view which is held of that Redeemer-and as men entertain different opinions about him, they go off into different systems as wide from each other as the poles. Everything in the welfare of the church, and in the individual peace of its members, depends on proper views of the Lord Jesus.’ (Barnes)
2:21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 2:22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Believers are now portrayed as the very stones with which the heavenly temple itself is gradually being built. Much of Judaism expected a new temple in the Jerusalem of the age to come, and already certain parts of Judaism had come to think that God’s people would constitute that holy dwelling-place of God (cf. Jesus’ teaching in Jn. 2:19). This is the view expressed here, and it is said already to find fulfilment (as at 1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16–17; 1 Pet. 2:4–10). Paul’s readers are, he says, even now being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Joined together – ‘as a carpenter does the frame-work of a building. The materials are accurately and carefully united by mortices and tenons, so that the building shall be firm. Different materials may be used, and different kinds of timber may be employed; but one part shall be worked into another, so as to constitute a durable and beautiful edifice. So in the church. The different materials of the Jews and Gentiles; the people of various nations, though heretofore separated and discordant, become now united, and form an harmonious society. They believe the same doctrines; worship the same God; practise the same holiness, and look forward to the same heaven.’ (Barnes)
A dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit – ‘The church is designed as the place of the special residence of the Holy Spirit on earth, Eph 2:21,22. It is the beautiful temple where he dwells; the edifice which is reared for his abode. How holy should that church be; how pure should be each Christian to be an appropriate habitation for such a guest! Holy should be the heart where the Spirit dwells. With what anxious care should we cherish the presence of such a guest; with what solicitude should we guard our conduct that we may not grieve away our friends from our dwellings! Should an illustrious guest become an inmate in our abode, how anxious should we be to do all that we can to please him, and to retain him with us! How much more anxious should we be secure the indwelling of the eternal Spirit! How desirous that he should make our hearts and the church his constant abode!’ (Barnes)