Sunday, July 19, 2015

With Upward Eyes of One: Notes on Ephesians 2:11-22

Last Sunday, Allison and I preached at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (our home church). Allison tackled v.11-16, and I focused on the latter half of our passage for liturgy. It was a truly invigorating experience. Here are my scattered notes, including initial notes I did on v.11-16. 

Enjoy!

In many ways, Ephesians 2:11-22 is a highly systematic compression of Paul’s work in Romans 1-3 and 9-11. For example, Romans 3:9 states that “both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin” (CEB), and even states to the potentially boastful Gentiles in 11:21 that “If God didn’t spare the natural branches, he won’t spare you either” (CEB). There is this sense of unique racial and ethnic tension that runs through Romans and Ephesians. However, the tension between Jew and Gentile has been abolished in Christ, removing any tension between the two groups, who have now become one.

We can find plenty of what God has done in Christ in the first major pericope in Ephesians, 1:3-14. In this text we find a reference to “the saints” (τοῖς ἁγίοις), which seems to presuppose the entirety of the new group in Christ Jesus (v.1b). This may be confirmed in v.3 where we (ἡμᾶς; plural pronoun) are blessed by God in Christ, indicating a wide net of people who are already included in the people of God. We see this sense of unity already assumed before we’ve even gotten to our main text. Remember, this is a church that is being written to, not a singular individual.

V.11 begins with an admonition to “therefore remember” (Διὸ μνημονεύετε). Because of Gentiles being “dead” in 2:1 (νεκροὺς), we “Gentiles” (ἔθνη) have now been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (V.13). This is made clear by the adjacent references to “alienation” and “strangers” in v.12. V.13 caps off v.11-12 by asserting that we are now “near” to one another and not separate.

V.14 asserts that αὐτὸς (the implication is that αὐτὸς refers to Christ given the immediate previous reference to him in v.13) “is” (ἐστιν: present) “our peace” (εἰρήνη ἡμῶν). The use of εἰρήνη occurs quite prominently in Paul’s opening addresses to his churches, specifically the εἰρήνη of God or from God. Specifically in Ephesians 1:2: “grace and peace to you from God” (ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ). Conflict undone. Or hesed (Allison’s note).

Because of Christ who, having made (ποιήσας) us one (ἓν), the barrier has been “broken down” (λύσας). However, λύσας seems more apt at describing something that has been (or is being) destroyed or dissolved (λύω; the root). F.F. Bruce notes that “not only has [Christ] reconciled his people to God through his death but he has reconciled them to each other” (Bruce, Commentary, 295). However, it seems premature to conclude that this reconciliation has already been accomplished with one another, as we are still a church divided. The foundation has been laid, but we have stopped building a place of unity for one another.

Thus, v.14 is a call in some sense for active participation with one another, as disciples, as parents, as brothers and sisters.

In v.15, John Muddiman writes, “As revealed Scripture and prophecy of the coming of Christ, the Old Testament Law still has an important place (see Rom. 3:21); it also provides moral guidelines of continuing validity (1 Cor. 10:11); it is only in its regulative and statutory aspects, the element of external compulsion, that it is no longer needed, because the spirit of freedom in Christ achieves the same end by other means and without the cost of creating division between Gentiles and Jews.” (Muddiman, 133).

The emphasis on the “annulment” of the Law and her ordinances results “in one new humanity” (εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον) by “making peace” (ποιῶν εἰρήνην). This εἰρήνη occurs 8 times in Ephesians, and seems to suggest a focal point in assuming unity: you cannot have εἰρήνη without the unity of the body.

Within v.16, we see a continuum with the conjunction καὶ and the subjunctive ἀποκαταλλάξῃ, “and might reconcile” the both, which is an adjective that qualifies the previous group of Jew and Gentile, specifically with it being in plural form (ἀμφοτέρους). The subjunctive indicates an aspect of accomplishment within the past (hence the aorist tense), with implications towards the future (hence the subjunctive active tense). A key component of this is the “already, not yet” aspect of Christian theology: for example, we await the redemption (or liberation) of our bodies, certain and yet hopeful for that which comes later, on the basis of the previous resurrection of the Son of God. The language of reconciliation appears in 2:16, specifically in a tense only found here. The 3rd person singular aorist subjunctive (ἀποκαταλλάξῃ) specifically states that “he might reconcile.” The use of subjunctives throughout this passage seems paradoxical: this is something that has been accomplished, and is something that is in the process of being accomplished.

We have been reconciled; how now do we live as a reconciled people? The text specifies a specific sequence of events: ἐν ἑνὶ σώματι τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ σταυροῦ (…in one body to God through the cross); this reconciliation in one body (the united church) has happened (and must continue to happen) because “by putting to death the hostility in him [Christ] (ἀποκτείνας τὴν ἔχθραν ἐν αὐτῷ). V.16 speaks very strongly—in violent language—of destruction or death. In this specific form, it is used to refer to the slaying of a person in John 16:2. The use of the aorist participle ἀποκτείνας reveals that this hostility is being utterly destroyed, or even killed. The NRSV captures this tense perfect when they write: “putting to death.” Paradoxically, it is the process of being destroyed or abolished or dissolved.


Christ’s proclamation of peace involves those who were far (Gentiles) and those who were near (Jews). Through the life and death of Christ all people now have access to God, and this access results in peace for both parties. There is no impartiality or discrimination in Christ. This access results in one people group being united together, knit together, into one new humanity.

Christ is seen here in Ephesians as the point of integration where the construction of the new building is to take place: the temple of God which is comprised of God’s people. Christ is at the center of this reconciliation, and has set a base for how the church is to be knit and built together. The church, in other words, is an organic being, comprised of many members all on a level playing field.

Verse 19-22 seems to comprise a singular sentence, focusing on the continual aspects of unity in Christ. Here in v.22, then, is the climactic statement: we are in the process of being knitted (united) together. The entirety of v.11-22 is so focused on the body of Christ being united and knit and integrated together that we almost miss the simplicity of this: in Christ, we are one. Jews and Gentiles are thus one new humanity, not two. They are not two groups living under one roof, they are one body, living under the holy auspice of God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are not separate but equal groups; rather they are one group period. While there are differences within the family, nevertheless they are one family.

This has happened because Jesus has died and been resurrected, offering himself as an end to the hostility between ethnic divisions. Now, as diverse believers in him, there is no “me” and there is no “us versus them” – there is “us.” As we await the consummation of Christ’s kingdom, we live as a holy body, a sanctuary dedicated to reconciliation and unity for one another.

Reconciliation with Christ means reconciliation with one another.

This does not mean I lose my distinctiveness, but that you and I are fully embraced members of my new family in Christ. And that is the central point of this passage.

  • What is the solution to these barriers or dividers? What concrete practices can we invoke? An example for myself, I was instantly welcomed and assumed to be part of the family when I came here. That is a positive breaking down of any potential barriers. How then, as the church universal, can we bring about reconciliation for all people?
The NOW and HOW of this reconciliation. 

Here is my own (rough!) translation of v.17-22. 

17.

Greek: 

καὶ ἐλθὼν εὐηγγελίσατο εἰρήνην ὑμῖν τοῖς μακρὰν καὶ εἰρήνην τοῖς ἐγγύς·

My translation: 

And having come, he proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace [to you] who were near.

Building off of the previous verse (v.16), we have a powerful statement of about peace for those who were far and those who were near. This proclamation includes a double repetition of “peace,” which indicates that this affects both Jew and Gentile; there is not partiality between both groups. The Jewish people who were close have peace, and the Gentiles who were far have peace. The grammatical construction explicitly includes εἰρήνην for both gentile and Jew.

The coming of Christ is the focal point of ἐλθὼν: his coming indicates what is to take place: peace and unity for his one people.

There appears to be an intertextual echo to Third Isaiah 52:7 and 57:19, and they have been combined to form a singular concept: peace for those who were far and near.

How is this peace enacted? It is explained in v.18.

18.

Greek: 

ὅτι δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἔχομεν τὴν προσαγωγὴν οἱ ἀμφότεροι ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα.

My translation: 

So that through him [Christ] we both have [Jew and Gentile] access in one Spirit to the Father.

Present active indicative verb: ἔχομεν – this is something we, as a Church, have now. The plural form includes all members of the church universal; all now have access to God through Christ in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 5:2).

Through the life and death of Christ all people now have access to God, and this access results in peace. There is no impartiality or discrimination in Christ.

19.

Greek:

῎Αρα οὖν οὐκέτι ἐστὲ ξένοι καὶ πάροικοι ἀλλὰ ἐστὲ συμπολῖται τῶν ἁγίων καὶ οἰκεῖοι τοῦ θεοῦ

My translation: 

So now you are no longer strangers and aliens, but rather you are fellow-citizens with the saints in the household of God.

Because of v.18, we are all fellow-citizens and members of God’s household. The conjunction (καὶ) includes the household members, as the issue of citizens and household bring two separate spheres of life together into one.

20.

Greek: 

ἐποικοδομηθέντες ἐπὶ τῷ θεμελίῳ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν, ὄντος ἀκρογωνιαίου αὐτοῦ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ,

My Translation: 

Having been built together on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.

The only other use of “cornerstone” in the New Testament is found in 1 Peter 2:6, where the author is quoting the Old Testament: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Is. 28:16). Christ is seen here in Ephesians as the point of integration where the construction of the new building is to take place. Christ is the center of this reconciliation, and has set a base for how the church is to be knit and built together.

21.

Greek: 

ἐν ᾧ πᾶσα οἰκοδομὴ συναρμολογουμένη αὔξει εἰς ναὸν ἅγιον ἐν κυρίῳ,

My translation: 

In whom [Christ Jesus] the whole building is being knitted together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord.

A reference to αὔξει (growing, increasing) is found in the parallel text in Colossians 2:19, where the body “grows” from God. The knitting of the body together is akin to a building being built is a temple in the Lord. Together, as Christians, we comprise something holy. The picture is of complete and holy unity.

This process of growing implies progression towards a singular goal, a goal that will be actualized when Christ comes to restore his kingdom.

22.

Greek: 

ἐν ᾧ καὶ ὑμεῖς συνοικοδομεῖσθε εἰς κατοικητήριον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν πνεύματι.

My Translation: 

And in whom you are also being knit together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Because X, now Y. It has broader implications beyond Jew and Gentile.

Questions to consider:

  • Given the church’s past and present history of segregation (white churches having only white members of affluence), how can the body of Christ work to remove these dividing walls? 
  • There is a completed sense at work, and also a work in progress in Ephesians 2:11-22. How do we as a church see this as accomplishment, and as process?
    What kinds of obstacles do we as a global church face for reconciliation? What obstacles do we as a congregation face for reconciliation? What barriers or dividers do we have?
  • What is the solution to these barriers or dividers? What concrete practices can we invoke? An example for myself, I was instantly welcomed and assumed to be part of the family when I came here. That is a positive breaking down of any potential barriers. How then, as the church universal, can we bring about reconciliation for all people?

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