The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Ephesians 2:11-22

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 16, 2017

THE GENTILES, TOGETHER WITH THE JEWS, ARE CALLED TO SHARE IN THE BLESSINGS OF CHRIST IN THE ONE CHURCH

A summary of  Eph 2:11-22~St. Paul’s pagan converts will better understand the exalted life to which they have been elevated in the Church of Christ, if they first recall their former miserable condition as Gentiles, then reflect on the benefits they now enjoy, and finally compare their present with their former state.

Eph 2:11. For which cause be mindful that you, being heretofore Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh, made by hands:

For which cause (i.e., since you have been redeemed without any merit on your part) be mindful, etc. (i.e., remember your former deplorable condition when you were “Gentiles in the flesh,” that is, without even any external sign, like circumcision, of belonging to God), when you were contemptuously called the “uncircumcision” by those who were “called circumcision in the flesh”—that is, by the Jews, who bore on their bodies the external mark of belonging to the commonwealth of God, but in many of whom this physical mark was merely hand-made, and so without spiritual value, since it is the circumcision of the heart alone that counts in the sight of God (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11).

Eph 2:12. That you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the conversation of Israel, and strangers to the covenants, having no hope in the promise, and without God in this world.

The Apostle continues the thought broken off after the phrase, “be mindful that you” (verse 11). The Gentiles before their conversion to Christianity were “without Christ” (i.e., apart from Christ), inasmuch as they had not the Scriptures and prophecies which contained the Messianic promises of a coming Redeemer; they were “aliens, etc.,” as being excluded from the theocratic kingdom and from the family of God’s chosen people; they were “strangers to the covenants” (i.e., to the promises of a Messiah made by God to Abraham and renewed to Isaac, Jacob, David, etc.); they were without “hope in the promise” of a Redeemer to come, and hence their best writers and philosophers all expressed the prevalent thoughts and sentiments of sadness and despair, the deep unhappiness at their existing state and the hopeless darkness of the future outlook, holding that the best thing that could happen to man was never to be born, and the next best thing was to die (cf. Mommsen, Hist, of Rome, Eng. trans., vol. IV, p. 586); they were “without God in this world” (i.e., without a correct knowledge of the true God in a dark and sinful world), having obscured by their sins the natural light of reason, and being devoid of the positive divine revelation which the Jews possessed.

Eph 2:13. But now in Christ Jesus, you, who some time were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

The Apostle has just briefly reviewed the sad state of the Gentiles before their conversion to Christianity (ver. 11-12). Now he will speak of their new and glorious condition as Christians, and of the peace they enjoy in the Messianic Kingdom (ver. 13-18).  Formerly they were without Christ, but now they are “in Christ” (i.e., living intimately united to the promised Messiah and in union with “Jesus,” the Saviour of mankind). In their previous condition as pagans, they “were afar off” from the kingdom of God, being outside the citizenship of Israel and the covenants of promise; but now they “are made nigh, etc.” (i.e., they have been incorporated in Christ by membership in His Church, through the merits of the passion and death of Jesus). It was Christ’s blood offered in sacrifice for them, as for the whole world, that merited for these Gentile converts their redemption and the consequent peace they now enjoy in the Church of Christ: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28; Heb 9:12 ff.). The Apostle will now show how this has been done by the pacifying work of Christ.

Eph 2:14. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmity in his flesh:

For he is our peace. Isaias (9:6) foretold that the Messiah should be the Prince of peace. And Christ is said to be our peace, first because, through the abrogation of the Mosaic Law with its statutes and precepts, He has destroyed the barrier that made enmity between Jew and Gentile (ver. 14-15); and secondly because He has reconciled men with God by forgiving their sins (ver. 16). Thus, He “hath made both one” (i.e., He has made the Jewish and the Gentile sections of the human race one community), not by making Gentiles Jews, but by elevating both to the supernatural order and producing, as it were, a new race called Christians. The “middle wall of partition” refers to the Mosaic Law which kept the Jews separated from the Gentiles and was the cause of the enmity that existed between them. The figure here was likely suggested by the stone wall which separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Temple Court of the Israelites. Any Gentile who dared to trespass beyond this wall incurred the penalty of death.

Enmity. This word is more probably to be taken in apposition to “middle wall of partition,” and it signifies the reality of which that wall was a figure. This enmity and its cause Christ has been broken down and removed “in his flesh” (i.e., by means of His passion and death).

Eph 2:15. Making void the law of commandments contained in decrees; that he might make the two in himself into one new man, making peace;

Some expositors connect “in his flesh” of the preceding verse with what follows here; but this does not affect the sense, since it was by His passion and death that Christ both removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles and abrogated the Law with its statutes and precepts.

Making void, etc., by abrogating the Mosaic Law which contained numerous commands and ceremonies regarding foods, feasts, etc.„ all of which were calculated to isolate Israel from the rest of the world, and were figures or types of realities to come. With the advent, therefore, of Christ and the Gospel these ancient precepts and ceremonies were abrogated, as the shadow vanishes with the appearance of the light (cf. Col 2:14-20). It must be understood, of course, that the moral precepts of the Mosaic Law did not cease; they were rather perfected and confirmed (Matt 5:17; cf. Rom 3:31; 1 Cor 3:14).

That he might make, etc. (better, “in order to create, etc.”). The purpose was not merely to unite Jew and Gentile, but from the two to create a new human type that should be neither Jew nor Gentile, but Christian. The Apostle uses the masculine plural here (τους δυο), because there is now question of two men, Jew and Gentile, and not of two systems, Judaism and heathendom, as in ver. 14 where the Greek neuter is used. The justification or sanctification of a soul is as much a generation in the supernatural order as the production of the soul and the human organism is in the natural order (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).

In himself. Christ has united Jew and Gentile into one mystical body of which He is the head and life-giving source, thus “making peace” between them.

Eph 2:16. And might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, killing the enmity in himself.

A further purpose of the propitiatory death of Christ was to reconcile both Jew and Gentile to God by means of the sacrifice of the cross, having destroyed by His own suffering the enmity that existed between them, and having united them both into one new man “in one body,” which is His Church.

In one body. By this phrase some understand the physical body of Christ affixed to the cross ; but others with greater probability take the phrase to refer to the mystical body of Christ, the Church.

In himself should more likely be “in it,” the reference being to the cross (εν εαυτω), rather than to Christ. The Greek, however, can refer to either Christ or the cross (cf. Col 1:19-22).

Eph 2:17. And coming, he preached peace to you that were afar off, and peace to them that were nigh.

And when the Saviour came into this world, He preached first in person to the Jews, and then through His Apostles to the Gentiles, the Gospel of peace among all men and reconciliation to God. The Gentiles were said to be “afar off,” because they were without the Law and the special revelation which the Jews possessed, and in consequence of which the latter were said to be “nigh.” The perfect peace which Christ brought to the world, and of which He spoke at the Last Supper (John 14:27, 16:33), rests on perfect justice; and hence, as St. Thomas says, it is impossible to have peace without justice. This peace of Christ which we enjoy is the fruit of our reconciliation with God, and the cause of it the Apostle will now explain in the following verse.

Eph 2:18. For by him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father.

Christ is our peace, and He has given us peace because through Him we, Jews and Gentiles, have been freed from our sins, animated by the Holy Ghost, reconciled to God, and thus introduced to the Father. Note the mention here of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. It is more probable that the word “access” here should be given an active transitive sense, and so should be translated “introduction,” because we have not ourselves come into the
presence of the Father, but Christ has introduced us; “we do not come in our own strength, but need an introduction—Christ” (Sanday, on Romans v. 1-2).

Robinson and some others understand “one Spirit” here to refer to oneness of mind and heart among the Christians; but as the unity of the body results from the unity of the head, so the unity and concord of the faithful come from the unity of the Spirit by which they are animated. Thus, this second explanation is included in the first, and presupposes it.

Eph 2:19. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints ; and the domestics of God,

In verses 19-22 St. Paul will show the difference between the present and the former state of the Gentiles and their existing perfect equality with the Jews. He will illustrate this equality of Gentiles with Jews in the Christian commonwealth by several different metaphors—by a city or state, in which they enjoy the rights of naturalized citizens; by a household, in which they are members of God’s family; by a building, of which they and the Jews are the living stones and Christ the chief cornerstone.

Now therefore. The Apostle is going to draw a conclusion from what he has just been saying in the preceding verses.

You are no more strangers, to the covenants of the promise (ver. 12), and foreigners, i.e., aliens, without the rights of citizenship in the spiritual commonwealth of God; but you are fellow citizens, etc., i.e., full members of the mystical body of Christ and of the household of God, together with those of Jewish origin; you are all now inmates of the Father’s house in Christ.

Eph 2:20. Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:

Built, etc., or better, “having been built upon the apostles and prophets” of the New Testament as a moral foundation, with “Jesus Christ himself” as the chief cornerstone of that foundation, who thus gives coherence and fixity to it and to the whole superstructure erected upon it. Having spoken at the end of ver. 19 of the inmates of the household of God, the Apostle in this verse passes to the building itself. The past tense of the verb here shows that the Gentiles became fellow-citizens in the New Jerusalem and members of God’s family at the time of their conversion (Hitchcock, op. cit., h. I.). It is more probable that the “foundation” here refers to the apostles and prophets themselves, than to the doctrine they preached (1 Cor 3:10), since they are paralleled by “Jesus Christ” which follows. Nor is it likely that we should take Christ as the foundation here, as in 1 Cor 3:11, since just below He is said to be the “chief cornerstone.” We are likewise to understand “apostles and prophets” to refer to the New Testament teachers and ministers of the Word (Acts 11:28, 15:32; 1 Cor 14), rather than to the Prophets of the Old Testament, as we judge from the order of the words here, from the fact that both nouns are preceded by only one article in Greek, from the parallel passages in Eph 3:5 and 4:11, where the reference is certainly to New Testament prophets, etc. On the other hand, it is true that the Old Testament Prophets are frequently regarded in the New Testament as Evangelists before the time (Luke 24:25; Acts 3:18, 21, 24, 10:43; Rom 16:26).

Eph 2:21. In whom the whole building, being fitly framed together, groweth up into a holy sanctuary in the Lord.

In whom (i.e., in which cornerstone, namely, Christ) the whole building (i.e., every part of the Church, becoming more intensely and solidly united, part with part and all the parts with the foundation and head) groweth—i.e., becomes ever more and more extended, as living stones are prepared and laid on living stones (1 pET 2:5), rising to completion and perfection-into a holy sanctuary, worthy of the divine presence that dwells therein (cf. Apoc 21:22), in the Lord (i.e., in Christ, who is the living bond of unity, coherence, growth, and sanctity of the entire Church). We have given what we consider the best and most probable rendering of the passage, “the whole building, being fitly framed together,” the Greek of which is difficult and is variously translated.

“Sanctuary” (Gr., ναον= NAOS), the more sacred part of the Temple, where the divine presence is especially manifested, as distinguished from the courts and outer area (ἱερόν = HIERON).

Eph 2:22. In whom you also are built together into a habitation of God in the Spirit.

In whom. The reference is again to Christ, the cornerstone.

You also, i.e., you Gentile readers of this Epistle.

Are built. Better, “are being builded” together with the rest of the Christians. The present tense is used in Greek, showing that the process is going on but is not yet complete; the Church is becoming more extended without and more united within as it gradually approaches its perfection and its goal as a permanent habitation for the Divine Presence in its glorified state hereafter.

Into a habitation is parallel to “into a holy sanctuary” above, and the thought is that of a building that is being perfected as an abiding dwelling place for God in the world to come, where “God shall be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

In the Spirit, i.e., in the Holy Ghost, “who sanctifieth the elect of God.” “In the Spirit” is parallel to “in the Lord” of the preceding verse, and hence it is to be interpreted of the Spirit of God. The Church is built on the Son, by the Holy Ghost, for the Father; and the description here given of it by St. Paul, from the revelation he had received, began with a reference to the Messianic Kingdom of the Old Dispensation (ver. 11-12), then proceeded to a reflection on the peace now enjoyed in the Messianic Kingdom of the New Dispensation (ver. 13-18), and finally terminates (ver. 19-22) with a vision of the Messianic Kingdom of the New Jerusalem, where a manifestation of the glory to come (Rom 8:18), supreme and unimaginable, awaits all those who by perseverance in faith and good works are destined to be heirs of the riches of God in heaven.

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