Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay
Key Texts: Eph 2:11-22
- What does Paul say in Eph 2:11-22 about Christ’s work of reconciliation performed at the cross? (See the phrases “by the blood of Christ,” Eph 2:13; “in His flesh,” Eph 2:15; “through the cross,” Eph 2:16). How does that work relate to Paul’s earlier “announcement of theme” (in Eph 1:9, 10)?
- How might Eph 1:11-22 help believers bring something distinctive and effective to current conversations about race relations? How might it add value to usual concepts of diversity? (And, should Christians be less interested in relationships among races or more so?)
- While Paul’s emphasis in Eph 2:11-22 is on the horizontal—the impact of the cross on relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers—he also has the vertical relationship between believers and God in view. How does Paul address the “vertical” in our passage?
- Imagine a scenario in which a local congregation is in significant conflict. How might they actualize Christ’s completed work of reconciliation? Be concrete in your suggestions.
How might we outline the passage? It may prove helpful to think of our lengthy passage in three parts:
- Why the reconciling work of Christ was necessary (Eph 2:11, 12)
- The reconciling work of Christ on the cross and what it accomplished (Eph 2:13-18)
- Celebrating the reconciling work of Christ (through a set of “telescoped” metaphors that culminate in the inclusive metaphor of “a holy temple in the Lord,” Eph 2:19-22)
Were Jews and Gentiles really at loggerheads in the ancient world? There are certainly accounts of Jews and Gentiles navigating life together in positive ways. However, there is significant evidence of a deep hatred and wide gulf, including our passage this week, which refers to the practice of name-calling between the groups (Eph 2:11). Ancient author Tacitus describes the divide between Jews and Gentiles from his Roman and Gentile perspective: “The Jews are extremely loyal toward one another, and always ready to show compassion, but toward every other people they feel only hate and enmity” (Hist 5.5).”
Why and in what sense is the law invalidated or nullified? Some of our evangelical friends turn to Eph 2:14-16 to defend the idea that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to Christians. This view is difficult to defend since Paul, in the ethical instruction he offers in Ephesians (4:1–6:9), advocates a behavioral code endorsed by the Ten Commandments. He cites the fifth commandment (Eph 6:1-4) and seems to allude to others as well (7th in Eph 5:31-4, 21-33; 8th in Eph 4:28; 9th in Eph 4:25-32, esp. v. 25; 10th in Eph 5:5). Scott Moonen, concludes that “Paul draws from all ten commandments, with a significant amount of overlap” (see the bibliography). Paul’s use of the Ten Commandments makes the following views more attractive:
What is abolished may be the ceremonial requirements of the law, inclusive of later additions. “What is abolished in Ephesians as ‘the Law of commandments contained in ordinances’ are the ceremonial laws and legal regulations [including both ‘the very specific ceremonial laws in the Old Testament’ and ‘in the Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, in which Jewish laws multiplied’ and in which ‘the idea of separation was strongly emphasized”] that made it difficult for Gentiles to become part of God’s people. When this barrier of separation was overcome by the Cross, which was the fulfillment of the Old Testament ceremonial system and which put to death the hostility (Eph 2:16), what emerged was ‘one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace’ (Eph 2:15).” Ivan Blazen (see bibliography).
Or, Paul’s focus may be on the misuse of the whole OT system of law, as it had come to be interpreted, augmented, and misused as a wedge to distance Jews from Gentiles. The law is being “abolished” or “annulled” in the function it had acquired of separating Jews and Gentiles. “Paul assumes that the torah, as given by God and properly understood, would lead to the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, each being reconciled to God. Under Sin’s influence the torah became both a source and an instrument of hostility. Ephesians asserts that in his passion (i.e., ‘in his flesh’) Christ nullifies this hostility, fulfilling the law rather than abolishing it” (Stephen Fowl, see bibliography).
How might we know whether or not we are taking Eph 2:11-22 seriously? “Christians bear witness to Christ only when their words and deeds make it plain that Christ is as much the outsiders’ and opponents’ Christ as their own. He is the end of division and enmity. . . . When no tensions are confronted and overcome . . . then the one new thing, peace, and the one new man created by Christ, are missing; then no faith, no church, no Christ is found or confessed.”—Markus Barth, The Broken Wall, 44-45 (see bibliography).
Is it really appropriate to apply Eph 2:11-22 to the modern, fraught context of race relations? To do so could feel a little faddish. Friday’s lesson addresses this question in some detail, arguing that: (1) The specific context of Eph 2:11-22 addresses relationships between Jews and Gentiles within the church; (2) Unity, in Ephesians, is grand and broad taking in “all things” and “every family in heaven and on earth”(Eph 1:9, 10; 3:15); (3) That ultimate plan is to be signaled through the unity of the church (Eph 3:10); (4) Therefore, it is appropriate to apply 2:11-22 to the topic of relationships among people groups or races. Audit that rationale. Is it sound? What might you add or subtract?
Why is Paul so interested in shared access on the part of both Jewish and Gentile believers “in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18)? Given the context, especially the mention of the destruction of “the middle wall of separation” (Eph 2:14, NKJV) and the temple imagery (Eph 2:19–22), Paul seems to be thinking of “access” (Greek, prosagōgē; Eph 2:18) in relationship to the temple and the desire for access to worship God (see the text of the prohibition against Gentiles entering “The Court of Israel” in the Sabbath Afternoon” segment of our lesson).
“Access” implies more than being in someone’s presence. Ancient author Xenophon tells of Sacas, the cupbearer, whose job it was to “introduce” (prosagō) those who wished to conduct business with Astyages, King of the Medes. Xenophon also describes how Cyrus expected anyone wishing for “access” (prosagōgē) to him to request it through his friends, who could grant entrance into the royal presence with the privilege of making requests of the king. Such a background suggests the image of Christ as “the ‘bringer’ of the suppliant into God’s presence”—David Williams (see bibliography). Paul reminds us that when we enter to lay our business before the King, we discover that He is our Father.
- Markus Barth. The Broken Wall: A Study of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Chicago: Judson, 1959.
- Ivan T. Blazen. “Did Christ Abolish the Law at the Cross? Ephesians 2:15.” In Interpreting Scripture: Bible Questions and Answers, edited by Gerhard Pfandl, 381–84. Biblical Research Institute Studies, 2. Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2010.
- Stephen E. Fowl. Ephesians: A Commentary. New Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2012, 89-95 (with the quote coming from p. 94).
- Scott Moonen. “Ephesians and the Ten Commandments,” I gotta have my orange juice [blog], 21 Oct 2013, https://scottmoonen.com/2013/10/21/ephesians-and-the-ten-commandments/.
- David J. Williams. Paul’s Metaphors: Their Context and Character. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999, 196, 205 n. 38.