From:  Busy Teacher’s Guide to Ephesians                        Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2021

 

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Busy Teacher’s Guide to the New Testament:

 

Quickly Understanding Ephesians

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

Copyright © 2021 by author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

           

For the reasons discussed at the end of the fourth volume of my detailed analysis of First Timothy, I will not attempt the kind of in-depth treatment that I did on that epistle of Paul.  I figured now was a good time to see how the approach I used in regard to the gospels would work in analyzing the letters of Paul and to do so by beginning with the one that came next in Paul’s writings.  I hope the different treatment will still benefit you!

            I have altered the “running title” of the series to Busy Teacher’s Guide to the New Testament for I am including additional materials that may prove especially useful to those intending to teach classes on the subject.      

            What I wrote in the Introduction to the gospel volumes remains relevant here however.  It is only slightly modified in order to better explain both what continues from the earlier analyses and how it has been modified and expanded with the special intention of benefiting teachers: 

 

            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to purchase all that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is also the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of their restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.) 

            Individual verses then follows.  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the New King James Version--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value of course but, hopefully, a few “nuggets” of something useful in every verse analyzed. . . .

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus and Paul intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            We have supplemented this with a limited number of side excursions into Alternative Translations, Greek, and Historical Context.  These should be useful for both those reading the book to gain a better understanding of the epistle and, perhaps even more so, for those whose responsibility is to teach on the letter.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should provide invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book. . . .  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  Hence the sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.

 

            A few supplemental thoughts:  That still leaves us with the question, however, of what are the differences between the earlier style of text and what we have here in the Teacher’s Guide version? 

            In the others we attempted to provide a short summary of some relevant thought and idea relevant to each verse studied.  Here we have in mind the needs of teachers of the text and not just that of readers.  Hence we have attempted to provide brief and concise remarks on virtually every key word or phrase in every verse--something vastly beyond what was attempted in the earlier works.  Even when I wander “longer than I would prefer”--some verses have so much substance in them that nothing else would do justice--it is still pages shorter . . . often many pages shorter . . .  than the “writing in depth” style that I prefer. 

            Yet it also has, I hope, a special benefit to the individual preparing to teach on these books by providing a variety of ideas and thoughts around which to center one’s presentation of the text to the class.  Truth be told, it offers a special benefit to myself as well:  writing “short” is just as much an “art” as writing “in depth.”  And one far more adaptable to my health in my old age.

                                                            Roland H. Worth, Jr.

                                                            Richmond, Virginia      

 

 

 

 

Alternative Translations Cited

Amplified        =          Amplified Bible

CEB                =          Common English Bible                     

CEV                =          Contemporary English Version

ESV                 =          English Standard Version

GNT                =          Good News Translation

GW                 =          God’s Word

Holman           =          Holman Christian Standard Bible

ISV                  =          International Standard Version

NASB             =          New American Standard Version (1977 edition)

NCV                =          New Century Version

NET                =          New English Translation

WEB               =          World English Bible

Weymouth      =          Weymouth New Testament

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s Greetings To The

Faithful in Ephesus

(1:1-2)

 

 

            From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus.  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:1       Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s status as an “apostle” did not arise out of any personal preference or desire.  In fact he had been dangerously hostile to the cause—an overt persecutor in fact (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:5-6).  Even so, God thought he would be so useful that the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus to confront him with his guilt and to temporarily blind him to make him unable to think about anything else (Acts 9:3-9).  Thus it was “the will of God” to both irrevocably get his attention and to make him a servant in the cause of Jesus Christ.

            This former persecutor is specifically addressing the Christians in Ephesus who are given two labels.  They are “saints”—not in the sense of centuries later of some who are “super pious” and seemingly not falling all that much short of a virtual divine status themselves.  They were “saints” in its original sense—those set aside from their sins for the service of God . . . individuals striving to be holy in attitude and behavior.   He is not claiming that all were exquisite examples of living up to that honorable goal, but that all were taught that this was the required goal of their service.  Anything less was to be a spiritual failure.   To use a more modern idiom, in doing so they are all “united with Christ” (GW).  Any and all Christians should have that status in every age of history.  We strive to walk with the Lord and not separate from Him.

Because they shared this aim, they were also “faithful” followers of Christ Jesus as well.  Reliable, trustworthy, steadfast.  That should have been the inevitable result of the first description, but in every age not everyone who initially agrees to take up the cause remains loyal to that goal.  

Destination of epistle:  The two oldest surviving complete New Testaments omit the name of “Ephesus” but the bulk of manuscripts retain it and it was found in the oldest translations from Greek into other languages.  Marcion (a mid-second century Gnostic) speculated that the letter was written to Laodicea, but even he declined to omit the name “Ephesus” from his own canon list.  Those who do not accept the Ephesian destination opt for it being a “circular epistle,” sent out to churches in general.    

 

            1:2       Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Both the Father and the Christ share the same essence, character, and attitudes.  Hence it is hardly surprising that both “grace” (Divine mercy, forgiveness, and blessing) and “peace” (reconciliation, acceptance, approval) are extended to the same people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before The Earth Was Created,

God Predestined That Those

In Christ Would Be Saved

(1:3-8)

 

 

            Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.  For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him in love.  He did this by predestining us to adoption as his legal heirs through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will— to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our offenses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.   --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:3       Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.  It is God’s will that “every spiritual blessing” that is available from heaven is provided to those who are “in Christ.”  For those new to New Testament language that may well sound strange, but not when one considers the reasoning that lies behind it:  Christians are baptized “into Christ [and] have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27); they are counted as part of Him.  In Colossians 1:24 Paul writes of how his own sufferings for preaching the gospel of Christ were “for the sake of His body, which is the church.”

            Hence our “bless[ing] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is quite natural since the Father is the one who set up the system whereby we would be the recipients of such generous Divine assistance.  As our verse notes, “every spiritual blessing” that exists is found by being part of the “body” of Christ’s followers..  True there are many blessings outside the church that Paul in no way would dismiss as unimportant.  But the key matters of life involve our spiritual state and relationship with God for that is what determines our place in eternity.

            These spiritual blessings originated “in the heavenly places.”  They were not native to earth but to the eternal realm.  Hence it required action on that side of the spectrum to make them available on earth. 

            Because of the vastness of our blessings we should count God as “blessed,” which surely also carries the obligation of thanking Him for them and giving Him praise for His generosity.  Two statements from the ancient Psalmist portrays this sentiment superbly.  In one we read “ . . . I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalms 34:1).  In the other are the words, “I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:1-2).  In Mark 14:61 the high priest goes so far as to speak of “the Blessed One” as a synonym of the Father.

 

            1:4       just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.  Before the creation of this world was even laid--to invoke the image of a builder he speaks of “the foundation of the world”--the moral character of His people had already been determined.  First they were to be “holy” (set apart for God’s service).  Hence Peter describes them as “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).  At their best, Old Testament Jews were callable by that name, And they shall call them The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (Isaiah 62:12).

            Their second characteristic was to be “without blame:”  “without fault” (GNT); “without blemish” (Weymouth).  Their fundamental character was to be honorable, upstanding, lacking any obvious fault that would encourage parents to tell their children,don’t be like him!”

            The third trait they were to exhibit was “love.”  This was a two-fold love.  Toward God and Christ above and toward our fellow mortal below.  Not some pious “feel good” emotion anywhere near as much as a practical and utilitarian attitude:  “What would be useful and best in this particular case?”  (It might not be in a different one!)                

 

            1:5       having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, acccording to the good pleasure of His will.  We were “predestined” to salvation not because we as individuals were chosen but because the entire category of obedient were predetermined to be the only ones to be saved and by our actions we fall into that category.  By sin and rebellion humankind consists of those who have cast themselves away from God.  Brought up not to consider scripture relevant to anything important or deciding “church and religion really doesn’t need to be all that important a part of our life any more.”  The end result in either case is alienation from God.  We have broken off from the family of God and become a separate people.      

Hence to return to God’s faithful family we have to go through “adoption as sons.”  The adoption is arranged, so to speak, “by Jesus Christ” and the family we are adopted into is His own (“adoption . . . to Himself”).  We could not have forced the entry into the Divine family; it was made possible only “according to the good pleasure of His will”—His generosity and love.  The GNT summarizes the closing words as meaning “this was His pleasure and purpose.”  He wasn’t forced or compelled into it.  Hence the rendering of these words by the GW, “He freely chose to do this.”      

 

            1:6        to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.  His willingness to be generous to rebellious mankind deserves “praise of the glory of His grace.”  He was not vengeful or vindictive over past human rebellion but offered the opportunity for an entirely new beginning.  He was not only willing to bestow Divine favor (“grace”), but this unlimited and unrestricted degree of offered reconciliation brought “glory” with it (= it deserved praise and honor for His being willing to grant it).

            Verse 3 refers to how we are “in Christ.”  It was God’s “grace” that placed us there and made this transformation in our status possible.  Hence it takes place within the One who is uniquely “the Beloved” in the Father’s sight.  Therefore the words of the heavenly voice are not surprising when it proclaims, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).  God’s “grace” is manifested in—and only in—the “Beloved Son.”   

 

            1:7       In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.  The need for “redemption” proves that we are lost.  It is not our natural state.  Born sinless, we too soon learn the ways of both pleasurable and stubborn rebellion.  Reversing that state was only made possible by Jesus being willing to shed “His blood” on our behalf.  Not the blood of animals or goats—as under Old Testament sacrifice—but that of Himself (Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:1-10).  The fact that this high a price was paid demonstrates the profound and abundant “riches of His grace.”  Nothing on this earth could ever have produced that result.  It is only “in Him”—the Son—that it is obtainable.  Nowhere else . . . in either person or ritual. 

 

            1:8       which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.  The divine “grace” of verse 7 “abound[ed] toward us”—was “lavished upon us” (in the bulk of translations, including ESV and NIV).  It was not like Ebenezer Scrooge begrudging a small seasonal gift for the poor; instead as much was generously given as there were human beings willing to receive it.  But—no desire, no receiving!  God refuses to be taken advantage of.

            The “wisdom and prudence” could refer to the fact that the grace we received was given out carefully to assure that only those genuinely seeking it would receive.  “Going through the motions” . . . a superficial obedience . . . was not enough.  We had to demonstrate real desire in His mind.  This approach is made more explicit in the translation of Weymouth, “the grace which He, the possessor of all wisdom and understanding, lavished upon us.” 

            Others see the reference being to what was given believers after their conversion, “He poured out his kindness by giving us every kind of wisdom and insight” (GW).     

             

 

 

 

 

 

When They Accepted The Truth

They Heard, They Were Embraced

As Part Of God’s People

(1:9-14)

 

 

                                                He did this when he revealed to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ—the things in heaven and the things on earth.  11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory.  13 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:9       having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.  This is how He “predestined” us to salvation (verse 5) . . . by revealing to us how to be saved . . . by telling us “the mystery of His will.”  Note how our verse quite clearly refers to how He “made known [its contents] to us.”  This quite clearly defines what a “mystery” is in its New Testament usage:  truth, promises, blessings that God had not previously revealed to humanity.  Things that were hidden and not made known but which are now openly shared with us.

            This revelation of “the mystery” was not somehow forced upon God through angelic or human intervention.  It was His own positive desire to act—“His good pleasure”—that He had decided within “Himself.”  Weymouth is one of the few that make this explicit, “this is in harmony with God's merciful purpose.”

Most translations, however, work from the fact that since Paul now shifts to our being “in Christ” (verses 10-11), that verse 9’s “Himself” should be interpreted with that emphasis in mind.  Hence the renderings “which He purposed in Christ” (NIV); “by means of Christ” (GNT); “decided to do this through Christ” (GW).   

 

            1:10     that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.  The time period when these things were to come to pass is described as “the dispensation of the fullness of the times.”  All the centuries that passed before simply did not fit the kind of world and world circumstances that God wanted to bring His Son into.  Consider Galatians 4:4, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”   It would be a one time event and He had to assure it was the right time.  In the first century the point for the true Messiah to be revealed had been reached.

            What God intended to do in His Son was to unite in one body both those “in heaven” (presumably angels being in mind) and those obediently following Him on earth.  Both shared the same core loyalty.  He would do this only when the right time the “fullness of the times” had arrived.  Now it had.

            The text is often used as proof of “universalism”—the salvation of all humanity.  The purpose of the coming of the Lord, however, was to join together all the obedient of all nations; there would no longer be an ethnic division.  Jesus Himself bluntly warns us that even some who are quite willing to acknowledge His authority as supreme—as “Lord”—will not enter the eternal kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23):  Their numbers will be large (“many”) and some will claim to even have worked miracles (verse 22)! 

 

            1:11     In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.  The “inheritance” we have been promised is eternal life.  This is the unique situation where each and every one of the redeemed receive the inheritance rather than it going to just one person!  It was predetermined before earth time began that whoever was obedient to Christ’s would automatically be added to the group “predestined” to heaven.  Only within that group could that ultimate destination be reached.

            This decision was not somehow imposed upon God; He is solely responsible:  it is solely “according to the counsel of His will.”  If you think this policy is somehow unfair you have to argue the matter with Him.  And it is far too late for that . . . it was determined countless thousands of years ago what the criteria would be for acceptability to Him.  Indeed this is but one application of that principle:  he “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (= what He deemed best.)

            Sidebar:  “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance” has often been read as a reference to the obedient Jews who had lived under the Mosaical Law.  A separate sub-group seems implied because in verse 13 the apostle refers to how “in Him you also trusted  [= Gentiles] after you heard the word of truth.”  In other words God had joined into a single body of dedicated loyalists both devoted Jews and Gentiles.

 

            1:12     that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.  Two aspects of our predestination are brought out in this verse.  The first is the intent of that predestination . . . that we would fully “trust” in Christ.  Place all our confidence in Him.  The second aspect of our predestination is the moral intent designed to be exhibited through that selection:  our lives and character “should [obviously and clearly] be to the praise of His glory” . . .  give honor and recognition to the standards He has laid down and exhibiting it in our careful conformity to it.  Even afterwards, these obligations continue to exist for “we who first trusted in Christ.”  No matter at what point in history the discipleship begins, the obligations continue to attach to it so long as we live.

 

            1:13     In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.  Now Paul stresses that their predestination of verse 11 in no way excluded accepting inherent obligations.  They had heard “the word of truth” (= gospel) and, accepting its validity, fully “believed” (= accepted, embraced) the authority of Jesus and His teaching.  If we choose to ignore those teachings we have voluntarily repudiated our relationship.  Trying to get to heaven that way would be like trying to fly on an airplane with a canceled ticket.

            Note that “the word of truth” is presented as synonymous with “the gospel of your salvation.”  It is the pure truth about how to obtain it and how to live worthy of it.  By embracing it, we have been “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”—been given the salvation that comes with accepting the message the Holy Spirit revealed to the human race in the first century:   Since He revealed the inspired message, we automatically received the salvational gift of/from the Spirit that could be obtained no other way than through embracing it (cf. Acts 2:38). 

Here that correlation may even go a step further:  The imagery could well be that “salvation” is like a legal document and the Spirit’s “seal[ing]” us “impressed” on the personified document the Divine verification and conformation of the fact.  And that, of course, involves far more than intellectual faith alone but also a change in moral behavior (repentance) and being baptized into the Lord for the forgiveness of our sin (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).  A full and total commitment.         

 

            1:14     who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.  Christ will continue to “guarantee” the availability and access to “our [heavenly] inheritance” throughout the rest of our lives.  Ultimately “the purchased possession” can be taken either as a collective reference to all believers . . . or as an individual reference to each of us.  The totality of all individuals obviously constitutes God’s church.  Two overlapping ways of describing all those who are faithful.

The Divine unchanging reliability—the “guarantee” we will receive what is promised--is so impressive that it inherently gives “praise of His glory.”  It shows how wondrous He really is.  Others take this as referring to the honor we give Him for what He is doing:  “God receives praise and glory for this” (GW); “Let us praise His glory” (GNT).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since Learning Of Their Faithfulness,

He Prayed That Their Spiritual Insight

Might Continue To Grow

(1:15-19)

 

 

            15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers.  17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 —since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you can know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:15     Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.  Paul had worked among the Ephesians previously, so this can not refer to this being the first knowledge of their faith that he had received.  It refers to his thrill at the new and more recent reports that had come his way.  To confirm that “old virtues” are also “current virtues” is thrilling to someone passionately interested in their spiritual welfare.  

            This more recent information could have been received either directly from members of that congregation who crossed paths with him or, indirectly, through Christians who had encountered both the congregation and afterwards the apostle.  That they spoke highly is seen from Paul’s personal reaction (in the next verse) to the reports.  He now knew of the intensity of their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and how it walked hand in hand with their “love [expressed in both attitude and action] for all the saints.”  Whoever was a congregational member was a recipient of this living–rather than theoretical—love.  

 

            1:16     do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.  In response to the good news he had received, he “d[id] not cease to give thanks for their faith and behavior” but continued to persist in doing so on a regular and ongoing basis.  It continued to be part of his regular prayer list.  This likely consisted not only of a collective prayer for their well being but, on varied occasions, a variety of individuals being specified by personal name as well.  

 

            1:17     that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.  Note the two-fold description of the Father that begins the verse:  first, he is “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Throughout His ministry, Jesus never forgot that it was the Father’s policy that was definitive in all His own decisions.  He taught believers to pray, “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  Even when He was less than a day away from death He Himself prayed, “ ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done’ ” (Luke 22:42).

            Also notice the inherent power and magnificence expressed in the Father’s existence—“the Father of glory.” Both splendor and grandeur are therefore displayed in both His essence and His actions.  Can the omnipotence attributed to the Father in the scriptures be described in any lesser terms?

Since they had manifested such great faith and love it was natural that Paul wished the Father to bless them.  Two blessings stood out in his mind as especially important.  First he wishes them to have “the spirit of wisdom”—the recognition of its profound importance . . . the mind frame that regards having greater knowledge as laudable and something to be actively sought.

But to have something to work with and use, they also needed greater “revelation in the knowledge of Him”—which could mean additional revelation of spiritual truths they were not yet well acquainted with.  Alternatively (and more likely) it could mean gaining a more profound revealing/understanding of what Divine truths meant.  In other words knowledge is now being combined with insight.  Weymouth seems to be thinking along this line when he translates, “to give you a spirit of wisdom and penetration through an intimate knowledge of Him.” 

 

1:18     the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.  The result of receiving additional “wisdom and revelation” (verse 17) would be that their “understanding” of spiritual things would grow.  Where they once only saw a dim image, now their minds were “enlightened” with the bright shine of comprehension.  Or as the GW explicitly renders it, “You will have deeper insight.” 

            Now they would be able to “know [= understand] what is the [real meaning of] the hope of His calling” . . .  the results and blessings that flow out of their having been selected as His people.  Consider the usage in Psalms 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”

These are further described as “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints [of God’s church in Ephesus and other places].”  God’s earthly followers are His “inheritance:  He “inherits” them from earth when Jesus returns.  He gets “rewarded” (so to speak) by having His millenniums long plans finally brought to fruition.  But we get rewarded even more obviously—by a glorious new homeland that war and disease can never harm or disfigure.      

 

            1:19     and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.  Understanding God’s “investment” in us (verse 18) will cause us to recognize “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us”—how profoundly He has intervened in earthly affairs to bring His Son to earth and to expose us to the truths that give us access to jubilant never ending eternal life.  “The exceeding greatness” expresses the idea of vastness—not power used to a modest degree but profoundly with few if any limits imposed.  (In fact the ESV renders it, “the immeasurable greatness of His power.’)  When God intervenes to this astounding degree, what can that power be described as other than “His mighty power?”  NET translates that as “His immense strength” and Weymouth as “His infinite might.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Same Power God Uses To Help Us,

He Used to Resurrect Jesus

(1:20-23)

 

 

            20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and gave him to the church as head over all things.  23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:20     which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.  The astounding power that God is willing to use in Christians’ behalf He demonstrated earlier by raising Christ from the dead.  After all, it was through Christ that our own place in heaven is assured through His shed blood washing away our sins.  Without the pain and anguish He went through we would have no place in heaven for even our greatest personal effort could never earn us a place. 

            After the resurrection Jesus was given the seat of honor at God’s “right hand in the heavenly places.”  (Traditionally the right hand seat next to the Monarch is for the person of pre-eminent importance in the kingdom.)  There He would rule over the spiritual kingdom of the church until it becomes time for Him to wrap up all human affairs.

            Aside on the resurrection:  Although it was God who raised Jesus from the grave, the Lord Himself had been given power to play a major role in accomplishing that result as well.  If you will, it was a complementary (i.e., joint action of the two).  It was not as if it were being involuntarily imposed upon the Lord.  Both regarded it as the essential conclusion to His earthly ministry.  Hence we read, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).  “I lay down my life that I may take it again” (John 10:17).  “I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again” (verse 18).      

 

            1:21     far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.  However you define authority, strength, and rulership, that of Jesus Christ is immeasurably beyond anything on earth.  Call it “principality” (the consensus substitute of other translations is “rule”) . . . or “power” (they replace with “authority”) . . . “might” (substituted with “power”).  No one seems to have one for “dominion.”

            No matter what the “name” of the person that occupies a major earthly position—or the human honorific exalting his kingly status and might--Jesus still remains profoundly above him or her in genuine clout.  That was true not only while Paul was alive (“this age”) but also in future history as well (“that which is to come”).  That profession of certainty could also intend to carry the connotation of not only “so long as this earth lasts” (= “in this age”) but also “after the earth cosmos passes away” (= “that which is to come”).  The honor and recognition would still be His by right.

If referring just to earthly conditions, the point is that there will never be any temporal power even centuries later that could offer any genuine competition to that held by the Lord.  If one reads this as a reference to the power of angels in heaven—and the language seems just as applicable to that context—there would never arise an individual angel or a category of angels that would ever match Jesus Christ’s unique and overwhelmingly superior “clout.” 

Hence the folly of embracing the worship of “worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” and imagination (Colossians 2:18).  The invention of categories of angels who would intervene in earthly affairs would grow dramatically after Paul’s death.  Now the foolishness was at an early stage but still worth a passing reference—since bad ideas never seem to fully die.

            Besides ten passages of the Greek New Testament which flatly refer to Jesus Christ as God, there are at least a hundred others such as this one which convey exactly the same teaching.  Of what mere mortal could it be said the he sits above ‘all rule and authority and power and dominion . . . not only in this world, but in that which is to come’?”  (James B. Coffman)

 

            1:22     And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church.  Since He was already over anything and everything that can be described as having power in this world (verse 21:  “principality . . . power . . . might . . . dominion”) the necessary inference has to be that all such power systems are now subject to being overruled by Him if deemed appropriate to act (= “under His feet”).  He leaves men in visible and direct charge and answerable for their abuse of power, but has the power to intervene if He deems it essential.   

If He is already the true sovereign over all political and national entities--though hidden from mankind’s direct view—it would have been rather absurd not to make Him “head over” the church (= God’s set aside people) as well.  They recognize that He is King of King and Lord of Lords.  The world may not know it or may even laugh at the very concept.  But He is the one with access to all the hidden reservoirs of cosmic power and wisdom and Christians recognize it full well.  Hence they recognize Him as being “head (= having authority) over all things to the church.”  He makes the rules; we follow them. 
 

            1:23     which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  Now we find that the church is “His [spiritual] body” . . . faithful to Him, loyal to Him and seeking to carry out His will while the remainder of humankind lives in ignorance or outright rejection of His will.  This devout entity is “the fullness of Him” . . . no one outside it can be considered as having the bond of loyalty and allegiance that they have.  They are uniquely His people and His loyal subjects; everyone else is an outsider.  He provides everything the church needs (“fills all in all”).       

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Were Spiritually Dead

Because of Sin

Before Christ Saved Them

(2:1-5)

 

 

            And although you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you  formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the domain of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 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.

            But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:1       And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.  Before we became Christians we were in a paradoxical situation:  our physical bodies were alive but because we were disobedient to God’s moral and spiritual code, we were spiritually dead.  We were not that way because of who our ancestors were or because of God having predestined us from eternity to be such.  It was caused by our own behavior—our evil misconduct, which Paul describes as “trespasses and sins.”  The first is sometimes rendered “transgressions” (NIV), “disobedience” (GNT), or “offenses” (ISV).  It is hard to find a substitution for “sins” but the Aramaic Bible in Plain English (2008, 2013) is right in telling us  what sins are (rather than providing an alternative translation) when it speaks of “dead . . . in your stupidity.”

            The reference to “trespasses and sins” was not intended as making a distinction of seriousness between the two.  (Today we would perhaps say, “our evil was evil no matter what we called it!”)  The interchangeability of the two expressions can be seen in the fact that in the two accounts of the Lord’s Prayer, violations of the Divine law are called “sins” in one case (Luke 11:4).  But these same acts are called both “debts” in the parallel account (Matthew 6:12) and “trespasses” no less than twice (verses 14-15).      

 

            2:2       in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.  The sinful lifestyle was how they had lived previously (i.e., had “once walked”) . . . but it is now in the past.  By its very nature, the inevitable tendency is for it to become the kind of extremes Paul depicts here and in the next verse. 

Memory of how profound our involvement was can, however, be a profound goad to our staying on the proverbial “straight and narrow.”  We should neither whitewash that past nor exaggerate our own evils either—their degree varies profoundly from individual to individual--but we should never forget that its heavy hand was unquestionably present and worked to our detriment rather than benefit.  Hand in hand with that memory goes the cultivation of our new positive virtues. 

            Our former lifestyle represents “the [normal, typical] course of this world.”  NET says it well, “you formerly lived according to this world’s present path.”  You followed the (sinful) norm.  You weren’t a societal aberration; you easily met its lack of standards.  “At that time you followed the world's evil way” (GNT).

This worldly “normal” was “according to [the standards, preferences, and encouragement of] the prince of the power of the air”—i.e., Satan.  The imagery of “the power of the air” centers on our ability to be moved in one direction or another by the wind:  in this case rationalizing and embracing whatever evils the Devil encourages.  It is as if a demonic wind were blowing us varied destinations, none of them to our good. 

Compare the imagery of 4:14, which warns Christians not to be “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.”  Even Christians can be “blown off course” if they do not remain steadfast.  When we were not such we had nothing to impede our worst instincts.  The Devil doesn’t really care what direction we go in.  He is happy to steer us to Hell by whatever road we prefer.  The only thing he is firm on is that we stay off the road to heaven for that would destroy his power and influence over us.            

            The pseudo-royal figure promoting this is called a “prince” because he is effectively ruling them, guiding them, leading them even if its only by promoting their own delusion that following their self-destructive course is actually the path of self-beneficial “wisdom” . . . that  will do them the most “good” . . . throwing principles and scruples out of the way in the process.  In John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11, Jesus describes this person as “the ruler of this world.”  In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul describes him as “the god of this age” who blinds the eyes of unbelievers. 

            This evil entity is “the spirit”—the mind frame, the core attitude, the essence of their thinking—that guides their behavior and which is what “now works in the sons of disobedience.”   Its totally non-existent (or minimal!) moral code permits and encourages them to do whatever they please . . . unless it involves constructive and faithful service to God.  At this it rebels and this is why they become “the sons of disobedience” . . . imitating his attitudes just as if they were their physical father.  As Satan defied God so do they.   

 

            2:3       among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  Although Paul was a virtuous and deeply religious man, even he gave in to human weakness:  note how “we all once conducted ourselves” in a wrongful manner.  Doubtless his failures were far less often and far less extreme than others, but that still did not stop them from happening.  Nor does it for us even when we were “raised in the church.”  They will, hopefully, be far less extreme, blatant, and repeated but they should be regarded as more than sufficient to assure our humility in such matters.

            What brought us into disrepute with God often fell into the category of fleshly preferences . . . “fulfilling [= carrying out] the desires of the flesh” even though we knew they were wrong.  Although we easily correlate this with pre-marital and extra-marital sexual dalliances, “the flesh” is a sufficiently broad expression to cover anything and everything that appeals to our fleshly instincts.  Hence drunkenness, gluttony, drug abuse, and other self-destructive behaviors would be included.

            Even if those don’t motivate us in the path of self-destruction, then “the desires . . . of the mind” can do so:  Chronic dishonesty, the desire to humiliate or even physically abuse others, envy . . . such are only a few of the ways our mind’s inflated ego can steer us into wrongly harming others . . . and into personal sin as the result.   

            Note how Paul lumps both “the desires of the flesh” and “the desires . . . of the mind” under the broad category he had just mentioned, “the “lusts of our flesh.”  Both flesh and ego (“mind”) are pleased when they are justified and satisfied.  Flesh and the mind’s desire to obtain and enjoy those behaviors are interlocked and reinforce each other.

            The result of such behaviors was that we “were by nature [= ongoing habit and lifestyle] children of wrath.”  This covers deserving punishment (Divine “wrath”) for our behavior and also for striking out and inflicting our own anger (“wrath”) upon others.  Think of the behavior of abusive bosses and spouses.  (And not all of them are male!) 

Paul is not in the least interested in discussing our character when born—the supposed inherited depravity assumed by many.  He is interested in describing what we are “by nature” (habit, custom in adulthood) rather than what we are by birth.  This is because of “little children” the Lord proclaimed, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).  Jesus couldn’t possibly be having Paul teach that those born inherently depraved are the prototypes of those to be in God’s kingdom!   

            In living in such a self-depraving manner, our behavior was “just as the others” . . . like that of everyone else.  If we live like everyone else, how can we expect avoiding the Divine punishment that everyone else will receive?  But the next two verses remind us that we took advantage of the Divine love that offered us a way out of our sin.            

 

            2:4       But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.  What motivated God to redeem us?  In light of the severe character description that was just given, it obviously wasn’t our superb moral insight and behavior!  In fact our behavior had made us His outright “enemies” (Romans 5:10); we were “hostile to God” (Weymouth).  What overcame it was His profound “love”—so deep, so comprehensive, so determined to do the best for us when we actually deserved the worst, that it can only be described as “His great love.”  Weymouth prefers “the intense love.” 

            Furthermore God’s willingness to act in spite of the failed human record reveals how “rich in mercy” He actually is.  Provoked grievously, He still wanted a way to save us from our own failures.   

 

2:5       even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).  Although our bodies had been physically living, our sins had killed our spiritual well being and, in eternal results, our souls:  We had committed spiritual suicide.  He restored us to spiritual life through Christ.  As Jesus Himself had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Even the repentance and baptism the Lord demanded of us were salvational only because they were the means of access to the “grace you have been saved” by.  On that phrase the notes to the NET makes the observation, “The perfect tense in Greek connotes both completed action (‘you have been saved’) and continuing results (‘you are saved’).”  This statement assumes continued obedience—in that case that ongoing status is guaranteed.  But if we decide to spurn the grace that once saved us, God has no further obligation to provide the salvational benefits that grace provides.  And, to be candid, in that situation we have demonstrated we no longer seek it; our delusion has caused us to think we no longer need it.

 

 

 

 

 

God Saved Them So Those Who Came Later

Would Recognize That Divine Mercy

Was Possible For Them As Well

(2:6-10)

 

 

            and he raised us up together with him and seated us together with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.  10 For we are his creative work, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:6       and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  Our spiritual resurrection involved being raised up out of the watery grave of baptism in a parallel to Jesus being raised out of the physical grave of earth (Romans 6:3-8).  As a consequence our conversion caused us to have a place (= “sit together”) in heaven through Christ’s presence there.  We aren’t yet there personally, but our dedicated and loving leader is.  And one day so shall we.    

 

            2:7       that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  “Coming ages” could refer to the endless times in heaven that dwell in the future.  Our presence there will be a continuing manifestation to the angels how merciful Jehovah is.  The more likely idea is that God’s generosity to those living in the first century would demonstrate to future generations how willing to provide grace and forgiveness that God is.  They could feel confident that it was available for them also because it had been available for first century Christians—they were the proof and demonstration of its availability. 

            If our understanding of Paul’s point is correct, then it is one of those varied indications that however much the apostle’s preference was for the Lord to return in the short term, he suspected that it would actually be after a profoundly long period--“ages to come” surely can imply no less!  All he knew as fact was the same thing we know:  no mortal knew or would be informed in advance of the date (Matthew 24:35-36; Mark 13:31-33).  Watch therefore (= be prepared for, be alert for), for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).  Or, as He says in His final parting words before leaving earth, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7).

This mercy will prove “the exceeding riches of His grace”—how abundant and unlimited it is.  There is no sinner it can not save if they are willing.  To convey the unlimited implication of “exceeding,” other translations are known to substitute expressions such as “incomparable” (NIV), “immeasurable” (ESV), and “extraordinary greatness” (GNT).  

            This Divine favor (“grace”) is expressed in His “kindness” of saving us through His son, “Christ Jesus.”  Since “grace” embodies unmerited favor, what else can that express other than God’s vast “kindness” (generosity) toward His creation? 

 

            2:8       For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.  Note how “grace” is expressed by salvation being provided “through faith.”  “Grace” is God’s contribution; “faith” is ours.  For a more worldly parallel think of grace as you winning a million dollars and receiving a check for that huge amount; think of “faith” as you putting it in the bank confident that the written pledge is genuine.  If you don’t put it in the bank you don’t have the money do you?  Similarly you are an exile from God’s forgiving grace if you do not embrace and practice obedient faith toward His son.

            One of the oddities of Protestant theology is its grim determination to insert the word “only” after the word faith.  Worse yet to come up with the inherently contradictory idea of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  If two things are involved, “alone” can not logically be solely attached to either.  Rather it is a matter of one plus the other. 

            The salvation that is gained is “not of yourselves”—it is nothing you’ve earned by outstanding virtue or importance.  It is “the gift of God”—willingly given . . . in spite of your past . . . because of the potential you have for the future.  You might say God is making an “investment” in you.  And He expects you to “repay” it through loyalty and service. 

 

            2:9       not of works, lest anyone should boast.  Our salvation does not have its fundamental root in “works.”  That targets in particular the Old Testament kind that Judaizing Christians wanted to make essential for Gentile believers.  Under that system what was most important was that you did the right thing, at the right time, and in the right manner.  Whether your faith motivated it was a virtual irrelevancy; the deed and not the motive was pre-eminently in mind.  Under the gospel, the faith motive becomes “center stage” rather than the action taken.

            “Works” in the sense of “doing what God has told us to do” remained vitally important and core to Christian faith however.  “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” as this same apostle said on a different occasion (Philippians 2:12).  And it wasn’t “works” separate from faith but your “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). 

Nor are benevolent and humanitarian “works”—such as in James 2--what merits our salvation either.  Not even “works” in the sense of good Christian morality.  These are things that are rightly expected, demanded, and required by God, but that which directly saves is our faith that is being expressed and the ongoing “grace” bestowed in Christ Jesus (verses 7, 8).  Praiseworthy “works” are our evidence of how much we wish to gain that favor and how profound is our dedication to the Lord’s cause . . . how great is our faith and commitment.  Without such actions have we not proven we lack this kind of full commitment?

            However much God expects works of a Christian character to manifest our faith in service to our family, friends, and community, they never provide a legitimate excuse for pride and arrogance.  They are simply what should automatically occur as the result of our being blessed by God’s grace and salvation.  Hence we can never rightly “boast” or brag about them.   

 

            2:10     For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  Unlike our past rebellious days, we have changed our mind frame, priorities, and goals into ones reflecting His intents.  Through conversion, He has “remanufactured” us so to speak, utilizing His grace and power to transform us into what is His “workmanship” rather than our own:  “God has made us what we are” (GNT, GW).  Although going a little further than the text actually states, it is hard not to smile at the ISV rendering of, “We are God’s masterpiece.”

            This transformation is supposed to be the universal norm when we become Christians—this is when we are “reworked”—“created in Christ Jesus for [i.e., with the purpose of] good works.”

The paradox of Christianity!  “Works” don’t save but “good works” (= behavior) must be at the core of our being.  When our “old man was crucified with Him” in conversion and died (Romans 6:6), we put on the “new man” dedicated to faithfully serving God (Ephesians 4:20-24). 

            That we should live in this manner, He determined long ago.  In other words, He had decided (“prepared beforehand”) what our lifestyle should be--how we should “walk” = behave, act.  There is perhaps a kind of pun in Paul’s remark:  If, in our conversion, we are created “for good works,” is it surprising since “we are His workmanship”?  If the One who had “designed” us as Creator was holy and perfect, is it startling that His design for us would be to reflect purity, good intentions, and constructiveness through our “good works”?

             

 

 

 

 

Before Conversion They Were

Outsiders To God’s People

Because They Were Gentiles

(2:11-13)

 

 

            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— 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.  13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:11     Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands.  In modern English we would likely sum this up:  As Gentiles you were collectively dismissed as the unimportant “Uncircumcision” by those who were Jews (“the circumcision”).  And that dismissal had far more than a modest degree of truth—they were rejected as outsiders to God’s people (verse 12).  What was overlooked was the possibility that the breach would be healed through the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus (verse 13).  Those ancients would have been horrified at the thought that the true Jew is the one who has had the sin circumcised out of the heart rather than one who has had part of the physical skin removed (Romans 2:28-29).  In Paul’s day there now was a “circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11).     

 

            2:12      that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  At this earlier time they were without any of the benefits of being a follower of the Lord (= “were without Christ”).  As the result four natural consequences resulted:  First, they were “aliens [outsiders] from the commonwealth of Israel,” not part of God’s ordained people and, to be blunt, hostile to it.  They were “excluded from citizenship in Israel” (NIV); “did not belong to God’s chosen people” (GNT).  Since the Israelites were the sole designated people of God at that time, that exclusion was massively important.

Secondly, they were “strangers from the covenants of promise.”  “No share by birth in the Covenants that are based on the Promises” (Weymouth).  The use of “covenants” in the plural is also applied to those “who are Israelites” in Romans 9:4. It has been argued that primarily “the reference is to the many Compacts, as with Abraham, Moses, Levi, David, Joshua . . .  (A. E. Humphreys, Cambridge Bible).  Alternatively the individual “covenants” might refer to major promises made to various Jewish ancients.  The “promise” of a Redeemer was included and that is surely the one that would be most naturally placed at the front of any list as having the largest long term impact. 

            Thirdly, they had “no hope . . . in the world.”  The Jews were explicitly given things to look forward to, but not the Gentiles.  They might speculate, but they had nothing they regarded as authoritative to assure anyone that it would become a reality.

            Fourthly because they worshipped non-existent gods instead of the only truly existing one, they were “without God in the world.”  They were not made this way by God; rather, their own weaknesses and culture made them this way.   

 

            2:13     But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  They had been “far off” from the people of God not only because they were not counted part of that nation, but also because of their behavior and belief.  What healed the breach was the sacrificial “blood of Christ.”  What had been two people could now became one.  Or as the apostle Peter put it, “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).  

Israelite sacrifices were mere animal ones.  The giver merely “lost” a piece of property.  In contrast the Father had His Son lay down His own physical life . . . “imitate” a lamb being sacrificed . . . but one totally without sin and because of His unique relationship to the Father beyond the value of anything on planet earth. 

 

 

 

 

 

To Unite Both Ethnic Gentiles and Jews

In One Spiritual Body Required

Old Testament Ceremonial Laws

To Be Removed

(2:14-18)

 

 

            14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 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, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.  17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:14     For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.  Jews and Gentiles were polar opposites:  the Jews were God’s promised people while Gentiles were outsiders “having no [spiritual] hope and without God [approving their character and religion] in the world” (verse 12).  Hence their lifestyles were so incompatible that there was normally mutual contempt and it was only through Christ that “peace” was established.  That was done in the most radical manner:  He removed (“broke down”) that “wall of separation” that divided them into two peoples. 

That “wall” was the Old Testament system, as Paul stresses in the next verse.  But it is unfair to gloss the translation, as some do, into “the dividing wall of hostility” (ESV, NIV).  The removal of hostility and enmity was the intended mutually obligatory result and obligation, of course . . . but the necessity for the change in attitude was that what had previously divided them asunder (i.e., the Old Testament).  It was no longer authoritative.  Now all of humanity that wished His approval were joined together in one spiritual body wherein there were no longer ethnic lines of division.

By doing this God was using Jesus to become “our peace” between the two groups, fusing them into one when previously they were rigidly separate and hostile.  Their attitude toward each other had been contemptuous if not outright hateful.  In Christ’s church they were now one body and the old ethnic differences should no longer matter.       

Historical note:  Although Paul has in mind, the dividing “wall” created by their ethnic differences, the imagery invokes what was literally visible in the first century Temple.  There was an area of the Jewish Temple available to Gentiles and there was a literal stone wall dividing that off from the area open only to Jews.  It was a death penalty offense for a Gentile to enter it.  Indeed Paul was nearly killed when he was falsely accused of having brought an Ephesian into that section (Acts 21:27-29). 

Secondarily there was another “wall”—actually a giant heavy duty curtain—between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  Priests could enter the first but only the high priest the second.  When Christ died “behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51).

 

            2:15     having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.  Although Jews and Gentiles had a different ethnic background, that is not the thing that Paul considers crucial to their alienation and separation.  Rather it was the Old Testament, which was “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” . . . referring to the wide array of varying regulations found in the Torah establishing proper behavior for the various areas of life.  As such he is not just describing the “ceremonial law” but its entirety . . . the entirety being replaced with the authoritative and universally applicable gospel of Jesus Christ.  Note how broadly and comprehensive that coming “new covenant” was promised to be in the Old Testament itself:  Hebrews 8:7-13 quotes a key prediction at length!

            It was through the Lord’s sacrificial death that the “enmity” between the two groups was “abolished in [= through] His flesh,” i.e., through His death on “the cross” (verse 16).  Previously there had been “two” distinct and irreconcilable peoples.  By combining the two, He made “peace” to replace the previous enmity.  He created thereby one new person . . . “one new people” (GNT).  “The Gentile is not turned into a Jew nor the Jew into a Gentile, but both into one new man, thus removing all grounds of jealousy.”  (H. D. M. Spence, editor, Pulpit Commentary on Ephesians)

It should never be forgotten just how intense the revulsion often was of Jew toward Gentile and vice versa.  To unite in one religious system those from both groups was a revolutionary and seemingly impossible goal.  And the price of unification was Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  

 

            2:16     and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.  In verses 14 and 15 the imagery is built around uniting both groups together in one spiritual body but now we learn that it was also done to “reconcile them both to God in one body.”  As one reads the four gospels, it is easily seen that much of first century Jewish practice had drifted far from what God either wanted or encouraged.  Judaism needed a major reformation just as Gentiles did—though the latter, of course, to a far greater degree. 

Furthermore God wished to unite both groups “in one body” rather than parallel systems.  This was done “through the cross:  the old Jewish system was removed by this means--it was “nailed . . . to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

            The merger of those faithful to God from both groups meant “putting to death the enmity” that had long existed.  In other words, in many translations, “the/their hostility” (Holman, ISV, NET, NIV).  Weymouth reminds us that it was not all on one side when he renders the passage as “their mutual enmity.”  For both sides the distance from contempt to love was an extraordinarily wide river to cross.

            The antagonism was not merely reduced or tempered; it was “put to death”—removed totally and completely.  Obviously if God had done this, why were they to cherish or inflame old animosities?  What they may once have gloried in, they are now to be ashamed of and vigorously avoid.  That was in the past; it needed to be kept there.

            How did the cross bring about reconciliation and unification of Jew and Gentile?  In reference to the sense in which reconciliation was effected by the cross of Jesus, some say it was only as the cross demonstrated to men the love of God and His willingness to bless them; while others maintain very strongly that it was as providing a satisfaction to God's justice for their guilt, and thus enabling him to receive and bless the sinner.

“Not only the analogy of other passages of Scripture as well as of this Epistle justifies the latter view, but preeminently the words, ‘by the cross.’  If Christ had only to proclaim God's friendship toward sinners, why should he have suffered on the cross?  The cross as a mere pulpit is hideous; as an altar it is glorious.  The love of God is ill revealed, if it subjected Jesus to unnecessary agony.  The love of both Father and Son is indeed commended, if the agony was voluntarily borne by the Son, and permitted by the Father, as being indispensable for the pardon of the sinner.”  (H. D. M. Spence, editor, Pulpit Commentary on Ephesians)

 

            2:17     And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.  “He [= Christ] came and preached” to both Jews and Gentiles this message of reconciliation.  The latter was not done personally but through the apostles, such as Paul, that Christ had inspired.  In this context what is stressed is the message of Jewish-Gentile reconciliation (“peace”).  It needed to be heard by those who were “afar off” for they stood in need of the gospel as well and this was a radically new message that was being spread.  These were the Gentiles who were typically long sunken in the morass of polytheism and widespread depravity.  They needed not only moral reformation, but they also needed to suspend their anti-Jewish biases as well.

But even for those “who were [already] near” to God (the Jews) there was a considerable distance to cross.  For many of them it was the “everyday prejudices” that were deeply engrained.  They had to learn—and retain in mind—that a new and far more comprehensive access to God was now available through the Lord.  Disconcerting it often was, but it was still the new reality.  The one God Himself had ordained.

They also needed to take another look at how they interpreted Scripture.  Even many of those deeply interested in the Torah, had “reasoned” their way around its true intent:  Remember the repeated occasions when Jesus rejected the traditional misunderstanding of key ideas and presented what the texts really meant in the Sermon on the Mount?  (Matthew 5:21-48.)  Remember the times when even the most theoretically faithful Jews were drowning themselves in minute and needless rulemaking — not to mention ego satisfying religious posturing?  (Matthew 23:1-36.)  And this is not to mention the inclination we read of in the Pauline epistles of trying to make Gentiles be circumcised like Jews.  That this division was now supposed to be “past history” was hard for many to bear. 

Old Testament precedent:  In Isaiah 57:19 Jehovah plead with His people to have this reconciling attitude, “ ‘I create the fruit of the lips:  Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near,” says the Lord, ‘And I will heal him.’   In the original context, the point may well be mutual reconciliation and respect among the Jewish communities still in their homeland and those who had been taken into foreign captivity.  If Paul has this text in mind, his point in building on this precedent is that similar “peace” should now be extended by everyone--to all who are now part of God’s people.  Neither side should be rejective of the other.     

 

            2:18     For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.  Both Jews and Gentiles alike now had access to the Heavenly Father.  This was “by [the] one Spirit,” seemingly arguing that the Spirit is involved in helping our prayers gain the attention or acceptance of the Father.  The closest we have to a description of how this assistance is given is found in Romans 8:26-27 where the point is that our human limitations require such assistance in presenting our wishes to the Father. 

This assistance is not limited to those who were raised under the Torah.  Instead now “both” Jewish and Gentile Christians share that access.  What would have been previously a strictly Jewish characteristic was no longer limited in that manner. 

 

 

 

 

 

Due To The Spiritual Unification

Of Gentiles With Jews,

Both Were Now Blended

Into One Spiritual Temple Serving God

(2:19-22)

 

 

            19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:19     Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.  Because of Christ’s death creating a new religious system in which Gentiles were fully welcome, they were no longer “strangers and foreigners.”  Sometimes “foreigners” is replaced by “aliens” (ESV) or “outsiders” (GW).  They are now equals (“fellow citizens”) with those who are “saints and members of the household of God.”  Since they are now all counted as  saints” [i.e., set apart for God’s service], it is natural that they are also part of His “household”—those attached to His extended family and carrying out responsibilities on His behalf. 

            Note on “foreigners:”  “In secular matters, the word would mean a resident alien, a non-naturalized foreigner; liable to legal removal at any moment, e.g. on outbreak of war. If such a word were true of Gentile Christians, they would be merely tolerated sojourners, as it were, in the ‘city’ of Messianic light and mercy, without any claim to abide.  The glorious contrary was the case.  ‘If they were Christ’s, they were Abraham’s seed, and heirs [of the Gospel Canaan] according to Promise’ (Galatians 3:29).”  (A. E. Humphreys, Cambridge Bible)   

 

            2:20     having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.  The “foundation” of Christ that this spiritual house is built on was laid by both “the apostles and prophets.”  The first refers to those twelve set aside to be the inspired propagators and leaders of the new faith.  The second could refer to others also inspired by God to teach it—New Testament age prophets (as in Ephesians 3:5 and 4:11).  However it seems more likely to mean the Old Testament “prophets” who spoke of the coming Messiah and also laid down firm principles of moral behavior.  In all fairness, Paul may well have avoided “specificity” so the reader could feel comfortable applying it to both.  (For it does fit both!) The Old Testament ones were laying the gospel foundation many centuries before while the New Testament era ones were doing it within their own contemporary world.

The “chief cornerstone” of the entire new spiritual edifice that now exists is “Jesus Christ Himself” since He was the Messiah predicted to bring full redemption and the completed revelation of what God wanted among mortals of all nations.  He is the authority figure core to all believers and who links them together in one spiritual temple (cf. verse 22).  The description is probably invoked because the Psalmist had predicted that the Messiah would be both “rejected” (by the Jewish leadership and the bulk of the nation) but would still become “the chief cornerstone” of the faithful in spite of it (Psalm 118:22).     

 

            2:21     in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  Firmly rooted in the teachings and principles of Jesus, “the whole building”—not just the Jewish part—was “being fitted together” in such a manner that it would “grow into a holy temple in [service to] the Lord.”  The growth image refers to both their numerical growth into a massive number but also their spiritual growth as their maturity grows as well.

            Under the Old Testament, an earthly structure served as “a holy temple.”  Now it was the people who become a holy temple by their character and behavior.  

 

            2:22     in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  By being part of this growing spiritual temple, the members are being constructed (“built together”) into “a dwelling place of God.”  What else could their spiritual collectivity be since they had just been described in the previous verse as “grow[ing] into a holy temple”? 

The capitalization of “Spirit”—which is designed as a printed allusion to the Holy Spirit—could be used to complete the picture:  the church is (1)  “a holy temple in the Lord [Christ]” (verse 21), (2)  “a dwelling place of God” and (3)  quite naturally and inevitably of the “[Holy] Spirit” as well.  Personally I find it more likely that the reference is to our individual “spirit[s]” as the worshippers of Deity in that holy temple.  They are being reshaped, adapted, improved through our spiritual development . . . becoming the most appropriate “dwelling place of God.”