11.Wherefore remember. The apostle never once loses sight of his subject, marks it out clearly, and pursues it with increasing earnestness. He again exhorts the Ephesians to remember what their character had been before they were called. This consideration was fitted to convince them that they had no reason to be proud. He afterwards points out the method of reconciliation, that they might rest with perfect satisfaction on Christ alone, and not imagine that other aids were necessary. The first clause may be thus summed up: “Remember that, when ye were uncircumcised, ye were aliens from Christ, from the hope of salvation, and from the Church and kingdom of God; so that ye had no friendly intercourse with God.” The second may run thus: “But now ingrafted into Christ, ye are at the same time reconciled to God.” What is implied in both parts of the description, and what effect the remembrance of it was fitted to produce on their minds, has been already considered.
Gentiles in the flesh. He first mentions that they had wanted the marks of God’s people. Circumcision was a token by which the people of God were marked out and distinguished from other men: Uncircumcision was the mark of a profane person. Since, therefore, God usually connects his grace with the sacraments, their want of the sacraments is taken as an evidence that neither were they partakers of his grace. The argument, indeed, does not hold universally, though it does hold as to God’s ordinary dispensations. Hence we find the following language: “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man.”
Though he had devoured the whole tree, he would not, by merely eating it, have recovered the possession of life; but, by taking away the sign, the Lord took from him also life itself. Uncircumcision is thus held out to the Ephesians as a mark of pollution. By taking from the Ephesians the token of sanctification, he deprives them also of the thing signified.
Some are of opinion, that all these observations are intended to throw contempt on outward circumcision; but this is a mistake. At the same time, I acknowledge, that the qualifying clause, the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands,points out a twofold circumcision. The Jews were thus taught that they should no longer indulge in foolish boasting about the literal circumcision. The Ephesians, on the other hand, were instructed to abstain from all scruples on their own account, since the most important privilege—nay, the whole truth expressed by the outward sign—was in their possession. He calls it, Uncircumcision in the flesh,because they bore the mark of their pollution; but, at the same time, he suggests that their uncircumcision was no hinderance to their being spiritually circumcised by Christ.
The words may likewise be read in one clause, Circumcision in the flesh made by hands,or in two clauses: Circumcision in the flesh,meaning that it was carnal; made by hands, meaning that it was done by the hand of man. This kind of circumcision is contrasted with that of the Spirit, or of the heart,(Rom_2:29,) which is also called the circumcision of Christ.(Col_2:11 )
By that which is called.Circumcision may be viewed here either as a collective noun for the Jews themselves, or literally for the thing itself; and then the meaning would be, that the Gentiles were called Uncircumcision,because they wanted the sacred symbol, that is, by way of distinction. This latter sense is countenanced by the qualifying phrase; but the substance of the argument is little affected.
Wherefore remember – That ye may ever see and feel your obligations to live a pure and holy life, and be unfeignedly thankful to God for your salvation, remember that ye were once heathens in the flesh – without the pure doctrine, and under the influence of your corrupt nature; such as by the Jew’s (who gloried, in consequence of their circumcision, to be in covenant with God) were called uncircumcision; i.e. persons out of the Divine covenant, and having no right or title to any blessing of God.
Wherefore remember – The design of this evidently is, to excite a sense of gratitude in their bosoms for that mercy which had called them from the errors and sins of their former lives, to the privileges of Christians. It is a good thing for Christians to “remember” what they were. No faculty of the mind can be better employed to produce humility, penitence, gratitude, and love, than the memory. It is well to recall the recollection of our former sins; to dwell upon our hardness of heart, our alienation, and our unbelief; and to remember our wanderings and our guilt, until the heart be affected, and we are made to feel. The converted Ephesians had much guilt to recollect and to mourn over in their former life; and so have all who are converted to the Christian faith.
That ye being in time past – Formerly – (ποτε pote.)
Gentiles in the flesh – You were Gentiles “in the flesh,” i. e., under the dominion of the flesh, subject to the control of carnal appetites and pleasures.
Who are called Uncircumcision – That is, who are called “the uncircumcised.” This was a term similar to that which we use when we speak of “the unbaptized.” It meant that they were without the pale of the people of God; that they enjoyed none of the ordinances and privileges of the true religion; and was commonly a term of reproach; compare Jdg_14:3; Jdg_15:18; 1Sa_14:6; 1Sa_17:26; 1Sa_31:4; Eze_31:18.
By that which is called the Circumcision – By those who are circumcised, i. e., by the Jews.
In the flesh made by hands – In contradistinction from the circumcision of the heart; see the notes at Rom_2:28-29. They had externally adopted the rites of the true religion, though it did not follow that they had the circumcision of the heart, or that they were the true children of God.
12.That at that time ye were without Christ.He now declares that the Ephesians had been excluded, not only from the outward badge, but from everything necessary to the salvation and happiness of men. As Christ is the foundation of hope and of all the promises, he mentions, first of all, that they were without Christ.But for him that is without Christ, there remains nothing but destruction. On Him the commonwealth of Israel was founded; and in whom, but in Himself, could the people of God be collected into one holy society?
A similar observation might be made as to the tables of the promise On one great promise made to Abraham all the others hang, and without it they lose all their value: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
Hence our apostle says elsewhere, “All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen.”
Take away the covenant of salvation, and there remains no hope. I have translated τῶν διαθηκῶν by the tables,or, in ordinary legal phrase, the instruments.By solemn ritual did God sanction His covenant with Abraham and his posterity, that he would be their God for ever and ever. (Gen_15:9.) Tables of this covenant were ratified by the hand of Moses, and intrusted, as a peculiar treasure, to the people of Israel, to whom, and not to the Gentiles, “pertain the covenants.” (Rom_9:4.)
And without God in the world.But at no period were the Ephesians, or any other Gentiles, destitute of all religion. Why, then, are they styled (ἄθεοι) Atheists? for (ἄθεος) an Atheist,strictly speaking, is one who does not believe, and who absolutely ridicules, the being of a God. That appellation, certainly, is not usually given to superstitious persons, but to those who have no feeling of religion, and who desire to see it utterly destroyed. I answer, Paul was right in giving them this name, for he treated all the notions entertained respecting false gods as nothing; and with the utmost propriety do godly persons regard all idols as “nothing in the world.” (1Co_8:4.) Those who do not worship the true God, whatever may be the variety of their worship, or the multitude of laborious ceremonies which they perform, are without God: they adore what they know not. (Act_17:23.) Let it be carefully observed, that the Ephesians are not charged with (ἀθεϊσμὸς) Atheism,in the same degree as Diagoras, and others of the same stamp, who were subjected to that reproach. Persons who imagined themselves to be very religious are charged with that crime; for an idol is a forgery, an imposition, not a Divinity.
From what has been said, the conclusion will be easily drawn, that out of Christ there are none but idols. Those who were formerly declared to be without Christ,are now declared to be without God; as John says, “Whosoever hath not the Son, hath not the Father,”(1Jo_2:23;) and again, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.”(2Jo_1:9.)
Let us know, therefore, that all who do not keep this way wander from the true God. We shall next be asked, Did God never reveal himself to any of the Gentiles? I answer, no manifestation of God without Christ was ever made among the Gentiles, any more than among the Jews. It is not to one age only, or to one nation, that the saying of our Lord applies, “I am the way;” for he adds, “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” (Joh_14:6.)
That at that time ye were without Christ – Not only were not Christians, but had no knowledge of the Christ or Messiah, and no title to the blessings which were to proceed from him.
Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel – Ye were by your birth, idolatry, etc., alienated from the commonwealth of Israel – from the civil and religious privileges of the Jewish people.
Strangers from the covenants of promise – Having no part in the promise of the covenant made with Abraham, whether considered as relating to his natural or spiritual seed; and no part in that of the covenant made at Horeb with the Israelites, when a holy law was given them, and God condescended to dwell among them, and to lead them to the promised land.
Having no hope – Either of the pardon of sin or of the resurrection of the body, nor indeed of the immortality of the soul. Of all these things the Gentiles had no rational or well-grounded hope.
Without God in the world – They had gods many, and lords many; but in no Gentile nation was the true God known: nor indeed had they any correct notion of the Divine nature. Their idols were by nature no gods – they could neither do evil nor good, and therefore they were properly without God, having no true object of worship, and no source of comfort. He who has neither God nor Christ is in a most deplorable state; he has neither a God to worship, nor a Christ to justify him. And this is the state of every man who is living without the grace and Spirit of Christ. All such, whatever they may profess, are no better than practical atheists.
Ye were without Christ – You were without the knowledge of the Messiah. You had not heard of him; of course you had not embraced him. You were living without any of the hopes and consolations which you now have, from having embraced him. The object of the apostle is to remind them of the deplorable condition in which they were by nature; and nothing would better express it than to say they were “without Christ,” or that they had no knowledge of a Saviour. They knew of no atonement for sin. They had no assurance of pardon. They had no well-founded hope of eternal life. They were in a state of darkness and condemnation, from which nothing but a knowledge of Christ could deliver them. All Christians may in like manner be reminded of the fact that, before their conversion, they were “without Christ.” Though they had heard of him, and were constantly under the instruction which reminded them of him, yet they were without any true knowledge of him, and without any of the hopes which result from having embraced him. Many were infidels. Many were scoffers. Many were profane, sensual, corrupt. Many rejected Christ with scorn; many, by simple neglect. All were without any true knowledge of him; all were destitute of the peace and hope which result from a saving acquaintance with him. We may add, that there is no more affecting description of the state of man by nature than to say, he is without a Saviour. Sad would be the condition of the world without a Redeemer – sad is the state of that portion of mankind who reject him. Reader, are you without Christ?
Being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel – This is the second characteristic of their state before their conversion to Christianity. This means more than that they were not Jews. It means that they were strangers to that “polity” – πολιτεία politeia – or arrangement by which the worship of the true God had been kept up in the world, and of course were strangers to the true religion The arrangements for the public worship of Yahweh were made among the Jews. They had his law, his temple, his sabbaths, and the ordinances of his religion; see the notes at Rom_3:2. To all these the pagans had been strangers, and of course they were deprived of all the privileges which resulted from having the true religion. The word rendered here as “commonwealth” – πολιτεία politeia – means properly citizenship, or the right of citizenship, and then a community, or state. It means here that arrangement or organization by which the worship of the true God was maintained. The word “aliens” – απηλλοτριωμένοι apellotriomenoi – here means merely that they were strangers to. It does not denote, of necessity, that they were hostile to it; but that they were ignorant of it, and were, therefore, deprived of the benefits which they might have derived from it, if they had been acquainted with it.
And strangers – This word – ξένος xenos – means properly a guest, or a stranger, who is hospitably entertained; then a foreigner, or one from a distant country; and here means that they did not belong to the community where the covenants of promise were enjoyed; that is, they were strangers to the privileges of the people of God.
The covenants of promise – see the notes at Rom_9:4. The covenants of promise were those various arrangements which God made with his people, by which he promised them future blessings, and especially by which he promised that the Messiah should come. To be in possession of them was regarded as a high honor and privilege; and Paul refers to it here to show that, though the Ephesians had been by nature without these, yet they had now been brought to enjoy all the benefits of them. On the word covenant, see the notes on Gal_3:15. It may be remarked, that Walton (Polyglott) and Rosenmuller unite the word “promise” here with the word “hope” – “having no hope of the promise.” But the more obvious and usual interpretation is that in our common version, meaning that they were not by nature favored with the covenants made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., by which there was a promise of future blessings under the Messiah.
Having no hope – The apostle does not mean to affirm that they did not cherish any hope, for this is scarcely true of any man; but that they were without any proper ground of hope. It is true of perhaps nearly all people that they cherish some hope of future happiness. But the ground on which they do this is not well understood by themselves, nor do they in general regard it as a matter worth particular inquiry. Some rely on morality; some on forms of religion; some on the doctrine of universal salvation; all who are impenitent believe that they do not “deserve” eternal death, and expect to be saved by “justice.” Such hopes, however, must be unfounded. No hope of life in a future world can be founded on a proper basis which does not rest on some promise of God, or some assurance that he will save us; and these hopes, therefore, which people take up they know not why, are delusive and vain.
And without God in the world – Greek αθεοι atheoi – “atheists;” that is, those who had no knowledge of the true God. This is the last specification of their miserable condition before they were converted; and it is an appropriate crowning of the climax. What an expression! To be without God – without God in his own world, and where he is all around us! To have no evidence of his favor, no assurance of his love, no hope of dwelling with him! The meaning, as applied to the pagan Ephesians, was, that they had no knowledge of the true God. This was true of the pagan, and in an important sense also it is true of all impenitent sinners, and was once true of all who are now Christians. They had no God. They did not worship him, or love him, or serve him, or seek his favors, or act with reference to him and his glory. Nothing can be a more appropriate and striking description of a sinner now than to say that he is “without God in the world.”
He lives, and feels, and acts, as if there were no God. He neither worships him in secret, nor in his family, nor in public. He acts with no reference to his will. He puts no confidence in his promises, and fears not when he threatens; and were it announced to him that there “is no God,” it would produce no change in his plan of life, or in his emotions. The announcement that the emperor of China, or the king of Siam, or the sultan of Constantinople, was dead, would produce some emotion, and might change some of his commercial arrangements; but the announcement that there is no God would interfere with none of his plans, and demand no change of life. And, if so, what is man in this beautiful world without a God? A traveler to eternity without a God! Standing over the grave without a God! An immortal being without a God! A man – fallen, sunk, ruined, with no God to praise, to love, to confide in; with no altar, no sacrifice, no worship, no hope; with no Father in trial, no counselor in perplexity, no support in death! Such is the state of man by nature. Such are the effects of sin.
13.But now in Christ Jesus.We must either supply the verb, now that ye have been received in Christ Jesus,or connect the word now with the conclusion of the verse, now through the blood of Christ,— which will be a still clearer exposition. In either case, the meaning is, that the Ephesians, who were far off from God and from salvation, had been reconciled to God through Christ, and made nigh by his blood;for the blood of Christ has taken away the enmitywhich existed between them and God, and from being enemies hath made them sons.
Ye who sometimes were far off – To be far off, and to be near, are sayings much in use among the Jews; and among them, to be near signifies,
1. To be in the approbation or favor of God; and to be far off signifies to be under his displeasure. So a wicked Jew might be said to be far off from God when he was exposed to his displeasure; and a holy man, or a genuine penitent, might be said to be nigh to God, because such persons are in his favor.
2. Every person who offered a sacrifice to God was considered as having access to him by the blood of that sacrifice: hence the priests, whose office it was to offer sacrifices, were considered as being nigh to God; and all who brought gifts to the altar were considered as approaching the Almighty.
3. Being far off, signified the state of the Gentiles as contradistinguished from the Jews, who were nigh. And these expressions were used in reference to the tabernacle, God’s dwelling-place among the Israelites, and the sacrifices there offered. All those who had access to this tabernacle, or were nigh to it or encamped about it, were said to be nigh to God; those who had no access to it were said to be far off.
Hence the latter phrase is used to distinguish the Gentiles from the Jewish people; and this appears to be the meaning of the prophet, Isa_57:19 : I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; i.e. I give cause of praise and rejoicing to the Gentile as well as to the Jew. And to this scripture, and to this thing, the apostle seems here to allude. You Gentiles, who were unacquainted with God, and were even without God in the world, are brought to an acquaintance with him; and are now, through Christ Jesus, brought into the favor and fellowship of God. And as the Jews of old approached God by the blood of their sacrifices, so you approach him by the blood of Christ.
But now, in Christ Jesus – By the coming and atonement of the Lord Jesus, and by the gospel which he preached.
Ye who sometimes were afar off – Who were “formerly” – ποτὲ pote Tyndale translates it, “a whyle agoo.” The phrase “afar off” – μακρὰν makran – means that they were formerly far off from God and his people. The expression is derived from the custom of speaking among the Hebrews. God was supposed to reside in the temple. It was a privilege to be near the temple. Those who were remote from Jerusalem and the temple were regarded as far off from God, and hence as especially irreligious and wicked; see the notes at Isa_57:19.
Are made nigh – Are admitted to the favor of God, and permitted to approach him as his worshippers.
By the blood of Christ – The Jews came near to the mercy seat on which the symbol of the divine presence rested (the notes at Rom_3:25), by the blood that was offered in sacrifice; that is, the high priest approached that mercy-seat with blood and sprinkled it before God. Now we are permitted to approach him with the blood of the atonement. The shedding of that blood has prepared the way by which Gentiles as well as Jews may approach God, and it is by that offering that we are led to seek God.
14.For he is our peace. He now includes Jews in the privilege of reconciliation, and shows that, through one Messiah, all are united to God. This consideration was fitted to repress the false confidence of the Jews, who, despising the grace of Christ, boasted that they were the holy people, and chosen inheritance, of God. If Christ is our peace,all who are out of him must be at variance with God. What a beautiful title is this which Christ possesses, — the peace between God and men! Let no one who dwells in Christ entertain a doubt that he is reconciled to God.
Who hath made both one. This distinction was necessary. All intercourse with the Gentiles was held to be inconsistent with their own superior claims. To subdue this pride, he tells them that they and the Gentiles have been united into one body. Put all these things together, and you will frame the following syllogism: If the Jews wish to enjoy peace with God, they must have Christ as their Mediator. But Christ will not be their peace in any other way than by making them one body with the Gentiles. Therefore, unless the Jews admit the Gentiles to fellowship with them, they have no friendship with God.
And breaking down the middle wall of partition. To understand this passage, two things must be observed. The Jews were separated, for a certain time, from the Gentiles, by the appointment of God; and ceremonial observances were the open and avowed symbols of that separation. Passing by the Gentiles, God had chosen the Jews to be a peculiar people to himself. A wide distinction was thus made, when the one class were “fellow-citizens and of the household” (Eph_2:19 ) of the Church, and the other were foreigners. This is stated in the Song of Moses: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel: for the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” (Deu_32:8 )
Bounds were thus fixed by God to separate one people from the rest; and hence arose the enmity which is here mentioned. A separation is thus made. The Gentiles are set aside. God is pleased to choose and sanctify the Jewish people, by freeing them from the ordinary pollution of mankind. Ceremonial observances were afterwards added, which, like walls, enclosed the inheritance of God, prevented it from being open to all or mixed with other possessions, and thus excluded the Gentiles from the kingdom of God.
But now, the apostle, says, the enmity is removed, and the wall is broken down. By extending the privilege of adoption beyond the limits of Judea, Christ has now made us all to be brethren. And so is fulfilled the prophecy, “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” (Gen_9:27 )
For he is our peace – Jesus Christ has died for both Jews and Gentiles, and has become a peace-offering, שלום shalom, to reconcile both to God and to each other.
Who hath made both one – Formed one Church out of the believers of both people.
The middle wall of partition – By abolishing the law of Jewish ordinances, he has removed that which kept the two parties, not only in a state of separation, but also at variance.
This expression, the middle wall, can refer only to that most marked distinction which the Jewish laws and customs made between them and all other nations whatsoever.
Some think it refers to their ancient manner of living among the Gentiles, as they always endeavored to live in some place by themselves, and to have a river or a wall between them and their heathen neighbors. Indeed, wherever they went, their own rites, ordinances, and customs were a sufficient separation between them and others; and as Jesus Christ abolished those customs, admitting all into his Church, both Jews and Gentiles, by repentance and faith, he may be said to have broken down the middle wall of partition. When, at the death of Christ, the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom, it was an emblem that the way to the holiest was laid open, and that the people at large, both Jews and Gentiles, were to have access to the holiest by the blood of Jesus.
Some think there is an allusion here to the wall called chel, which separated the court of Israel from the court of the Gentiles; but this was not broken down till the temple itself was destroyed: and to this transaction the apostle cannot be supposed to allude, as it did not take place till long after the writing of this epistle.
For he is our peace – There is evident allusion here to Isa_57:19. See the notes at that verse. The “peace” here referred to is that by which a “union” in worship and in feeling has been produced between the Jews and the Gentiles Formerly they were alienated and separate. They had different objects of worship; different religious rites; different views and feelings. The Jews regarded the Gentiles with hatred, and the Gentiles the Jews with scorn. Now, says the apostle, they are at peace. They worship the same God. They have the same Saviour. They depend on the same atonement. They have the same hope. They look forward to the same heaven. They belong to the same redeemed family. Reconciliation has not only taken place with God, but with each other. “The best way to produce peace between alienated minds is to bring them to the same Saviour.” That will do more to silence contentions, and to heal alienations, than any or all other means. Bring people around the same cross; fill them with love to the same Redeemer, and give them the same hope of heaven, and you put a period to alienation and strife. The love at Christ is so absorbing, and the dependence in his blood so entire, that they will lay aside these alienations, and cease their contentions. The work of the atonement is thus designed not only to produce peace with God, but peace between alienated and contending minds. The feeling that we are redeemed by the same blood, and that we have the same Saviour, will unite the rich and the poor, the bond and the free, the high and the low, in the ties of brotherhood, and make them feel that they are one. This great work of the atonement is thus designed to produce peace in alienated minds every where, and to diffuse abroad the feeling of universal brotherhood.
Who hath made both one – Both Gentiles and Jews. He has united them in one society.
And hath broken down the middle wall – There is an allusion here undoubtedly to the wall of partition in the temple by which the court of the Gentiles was separated from that of the Jews; see the notes and the plan of the temple, in Mat_21:12. The idea here is, that that was now broken down, and that the Gentiles had the same access to the temple as the Jews. The sense is, that in virtue of the sacrifice of the Redeemer they were admitted to the same privileges and hopes.
15.Having abolished in his flesh the enmity.The meaning of Paul’s words is now clear. The middle wall of partition hindered Christ from forming Jews and Gentiles into one body, and therefore the wall has been broken down.The reason why it is broken down is now added — to abolish the enmity,by the flesh of Christ. The Son of God, by assuming a nature common to all, has formed in his own body a perfect unity.
Even the law of commandments contained in ordinances.What had been metaphorically understood by the word wall is now more plainly expressed. The ceremonies, by which the distinction was declared, have been abolished through Christ. What were circumcision, sacrifices, washings, and abstaining from certain kinds of food, but symbols of sanctification, reminding the Jews that their lot was different from that of other nations; just as the white and the red cross distinguish the French of the present day from the inhabitants of Burgundy. Paul declares not only that the Gentiles are equally with the Jews admitted to the fellowship of grace, so that they no longer differ from each other, but that the mark of difference has been taken away; for ceremonies have been abolished. If two contending nations were brought under the dominion of one prince, he would not only desire that they should live in harmony, but would remove the badges and marks of their former enmity. When an obligation is discharged, the handwriting is destroyed, — a metaphor which Paul employs on this very subject in another Epistle. (Col_2:14.)
Some interpreters, — though, in my opinion, erroneously, — connect the words, in ordinances,with abolished,making the ordinances to be the act of abolishing the ceremonies. This is Paul’s ordinary phrase for describing the ceremonial law, in which the Lord not only enjoined upon the Jews a simple rule of life, but also bound them by various statutes. It is evident, too, that Paul is here treating exclusively of the ceremonial law; for the moral law is not a wall of partition separating us from the Jews, but lays down instructions in which the Jews were not less deeply concerned than ourselves. This passage affords the means of refuting an erroneous view held by some, that circumcision and all the ancient rites, though they are not binding on the Gentiles, are in force at the present day upon the Jews. On this principle there would still be a middle wall of partition between us, which is proved to be false.
That he might make in himself. When the apostle says, in himself, he turns away the Ephesians from viewing the diversity of men, and bids them look for unity nowhere but in Christ. To whatever extent the two might differ in their former condition, in Christ they are become one man. But he emphatically adds, one new man,intimating (what he explains at greater length on another occasion) that “neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision, availeth anything,” (Gal_6:15,) but that “a new creature” holds the first and the last place. The principle which cements them is spiritual regeneration. If then we are all renewed by Christ, let the Jews no longer congratulate themselves on their ancient condition, but let them be ready to admit that, both in themselves and in others, Christ is all.
Having abolished in his flesh – By his incarnation and death he not only made an atonement for sin, but he appointed the doctrine of reconciliation to God, and of love to each other, to be preached in all nations; and thus glory was brought to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will were diffused among men.
The enmity of which the apostle speaks was reciprocal among the Jews and Gentiles. The former detested the Gentiles, and could hardly allow them the denomination of men; the latter had the Jews in the most sovereign contempt, because of the peculiarity of their religious rites and ceremonies, which were different from those of all the other nations of the earth.
The law of commandments – Contained in, or rather concerning, ordinances; which law was made merely for the purpose of keeping the Jews a distinct people, and pointing out the Son of God till he should come. When, therefore, the end of its institution was answered, it was no longer necessary; and Christ by his death abolished it.
To make in himself – To make one Church out of both people, which should be considered the body of which Jesus Christ is the head. Thus he makes one new man – one new Church; and thus he makes and establishes peace. I think the apostle still alludes to the peace-offering, שלום shalom, among the Jews. They have a saying, Sephra, fol. 121: Whosoever offers a peace-offering sacrifice, brings peace to the world. Such a peace-offering was the death of Christ, and by it peace is restored to the earth.
Having abolished – Having brought to naught, or put an end to it – καταργήσας katargēsas.
In his flesh – By the sacrifice of his body on the cross. It was not by instruction merely; it was not by communicating the knowledge of God; it was not as a teacher; it was not by the mere exertion of power; it was by his flesh – his human nature – and this can mean only that he did it by his sacrifice of himself. It is such language as is appropriate to the doctrine of the atonement – not indeed teaching it directly – but still such as one would use who believed that doctrine, and such as no other one would employ. Who would now say of a moral teacher that he accomplished an important result by “his flesh?” Who would say of a man that was instrumental in reconciling his contending neighbors, that he did it “by his flesh?” Who would say of Dr. Priestley that he established Unitarianism “in his flesh?” No man would have ever used this language who did not believe that Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin.
The enmity – Between the Jew and the Gentile. Tyndale renders this, “the cause of hatred, that is to say, the law of commandments contained in the law written.” This is expressive of the true sense. The idea is, that the ceremonial law of the Jews, on which they so much prided themselves, was the cause of the hostility existing between them. That made them different people, and laid the foundation for the alienation which existed between them. They had different laws; different institutions; a different religion. The Jews looked upon themselves as the favorites of heaven, and as in possession of the knowledge of the only way of salvation; the Gentiles regarded their laws with contempt, and looked upon the unique institutions with scorn. When Christ came and abolished by his death their special ceremonial laws, of course the cause of this alienation ceased.
Even the law of commandments – The law of positive commandments. This does not refer to the “moral” law, which was not the cause of the alienation, and which was not abolished by the death of Christ, but to the laws commanding sacrifices, festivals, fasts, etc., which constituted the uniqueness of the Jewish system. These were the occasion of the enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles, and these were abolished by the great sacrifice which the Redeemer made; and of course when that was made, the purpose for which these laws were instituted was accomplished, and they ceased to be of value and to be binding.
Contained in ordinances – In the Mosaic commandments. The word “ordinance” means, decree, edict, law; Luk_2:1; Act_16:4; Act_17:7; Col_2:14.
For to make in himself – By virtue of his death, or under him as the head.
Of twain one new man – Of the two – Jews and Gentiles – one new spiritual person; that they might be united. The idea is, that as two persons who had been at enmity, might become reconciled and be one in aim and pursuit, so it was in the effect of the work of Christ on the Jews and Gentiles. When they were converted they would be united and harmonious.
16.And that he might reconcile both.The reconciliation between ourselves which has now been described is not the only advantage which we derive from Christ. We have been brought back into favor with God. The Jews are thus led to consider that they have not less need of a Mediator than the Gentiles. Without this, neither the Law, nor ceremonies, nor their descent from Abraham, nor all their dazzling prerogatives, would be of any avail. We are all sinners; and forgiveness of sins cannot be obtained but through the grace of Christ. He adds, in one body,to inform the Jews, that to cultivate union with the Gentiles will be well-pleasing in the sight of God.
By the cross. The word cross is added, to point out the propitiatory sacrifice. Sin is the cause of enmity between God and us; and, until it is removed, we shall not be restored to the Divine favor. It has been blotted out by the death of Christ, in which he offered himself to the Father as an expiatory victim. There is another reason, indeed, why the cross is mentioned here, as it is through the cross that all ceremonies have been abolished. Accordingly, he adds, slaying the enmity thereby.These words, which unquestionably relate to the cross, may admit of two senses, — either that Christ, by his death, has turned away from us the Father’s anger, or that, having redeemed both Jews and Gentiles, he has brought them back into one flock. The latter appears to be the more probable interpretation, as it agrees with a former clause, abolishing in his flesh the enmity.(Eph_2:15.)
And that he might reconcile both unto God – This was another of the effects of the work of redemption, and indeed the main effect. It was not merely to make them harmonious, but it was that both, who had been alienated from God, should be reconciled to “him.” This was a different effect from that of producing peace between themselves, though in some sense the one grew out of the other. They who are reconciled to God will be at peace with each other. They will feel that they are of the same family, and are all brethren. On the subject of reconciliation, see the notes on 2Co_5:18.
In one body – One spiritual personage – the church; see the notes at Eph_1:23.
By the cross – By the atonement which he made on the cross; see Col_1:20; compare the notes at Rom_3:25. It is by the atonement only that men ever become reconciled to God.
Having slain the enmity – Not only the enmity between Jews and Gentiles, but the enmity between the sinner and God. He has by that death removed all the obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God and on the part of man. It is made efficacious in removing the enmity of the sinner against God, and producing peace.
Thereby – Margin, “in himself.” The meaning is, in his cross, or by means of his cross.
17.And came and preached peace. All that Christ had done towards effecting a reconciliation would have been of no service, if it had not been proclaimed by the gospel; and therefore he adds, that the fruit of this peace has now been offered both to Jews and to Gentiles. Hence it follows, that to save Gentiles as well as Jews was the design of our Savior’s coming, as the preaching of the gospel, which is addressed indiscriminately to both, makes abundantly manifest. The same order is followed in the second Epistle to the Corinthians. “He hath committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ. For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin.” (2Co_5:18.)
Salvation through the death of Christ is first announced, and a description is afterwards given of the manner in which Christ communicates to us himself and the benefit of his death. But here Paul dwells chiefly on this circumstance, that Gentiles are united with Jews in the Kingdom of God. Having already represented Christ as a Savior common to both, he now speaks of them as companions in the gospel. The Jews, though they possessed the law, needed the gospel also; and God had bestowed upon the Gentiles equal grace. Those therefore whom “God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”(Mat_19:6.)
No reference to distance of place is conveyed by the words afar off and nigh.The Jews, in respect of the covenant, were nigh to God. The Gentiles, so long as they had no promise of salvation, were afar off— were banished from the kingdom of God.
And preached peace; not indeed by his own lips, but by the apostles. It was necessary that Christ should rise from the dead, before the Gentiles were called to the fellowship of grace. Hence that saying of our Lord, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”(Mat_15:24.)
The apostles were forbidden, while he was still in the world, to carry their first embassy to the Gentiles. “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans, enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mat_10:5,) His apostles were afterwards employed as trumpets for proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles. What they did, not only in his name, and by his command, but as it were in his own person, is justly ascribed to none other than himself. We too speak as if Christ himself exhorted you by us. (2Co_5:20 ) The faith of the gospel would be weak indeed, were we to look no higher than to men. Its whole authority is derived from viewing men as God’s instruments, and hearing Christ speak to us by their mouth. Observe here, the gospel is the message of peace,by which God declares himself to be reconciled to us, and makes known his paternal love. Take away the gospel, and war and enmity continue to subsist between God and men; and, on the other hand, the native tendency of the gospel is, to give peace and calmness to the conscience, which would otherwise be tormented by distressing alarm.
18.For through him we both have access.This is an argument from the fact, that we are permitted to draw near to God. But it may be viewed also as an announcement of peace; for wicked men, lulled into a profound sleep, sometimes deceive themselves by false notions of peace, but are never at rest, except when they have learned to forget the Divine judgment, and to keep themselves at the greatest possible distance from God. It was necessary, therefore, to explain the true nature of evangelical peace, which is widely different from a stupefied conscience, from false confidence, from proud boasting, from ignorance of our own wretchedness. It is a settled composure, which leads us not to dread, but to desire and seek, the face of God. Now, it is Christ who opens the door to us, yea, who is himself the door. (Joh_10:9.) As this is a double door thrown open for the admission both of Jews and Gentiles, we are led to view God as exhibiting to both his fatherly kindness. He adds, by one Spirit; who leads and guides us to Christ, and “by whom we cry, Abba, Father,” (Rom_8:15,) for hence arises the boldness of approach. Jews had various means of drawing near to God; now all have but one way, to be led by the Spirit of God.
For through him – Christ Jesus, we both – Jews and Gentiles, have access by one Spirit – through the influence of the Holy Ghost, unto the Father – God Almighty. This text is a plain proof of the holy Trinity. Jews and Gentiles are to be presented unto God the Father; the Spirit of God works in their hearts, and prepares them for this presentation; and Jesus Christ himself introduces them. No soul can have access to God but by Jesus Christ, and he introduces none but such as receive his Holy Spirit. All who receive that Spirit are equally dear to him; and, whatever their names be among men, they are known in heaven as children of God, and heirs of eternal glory.
For through him – That is, he has secured this result that we have access to God. This he did by his death – reconciling us to God by the doctrines which he taught – acquainting us with God; and by his intercession in heaven – by which our “prayers gain acceptance” with him.
We both have access – Both Jews and Gentiles; see the notes at Rom_5:2. We are permitted to approach God through him, or in his name. The Greek word here – προσαγωγή prosagōgē – relates properly to the introduction to, or audience which we are permitted to have with a prince or other person of high rank. This must be effected through an officer of court to whom the duty is entrusted. “Rosenmuller,” Alt und neu Morgenland, in loc.
By one Spirit – By the aid of the same Spirit – the Holy Spirit; see notes, 1Co_12:4.
Unto the Father – We are permitted to come and address God as our Father; see the Rom_8:15, note 26, note.
19.Now therefore ye are no more strangers. The Ephesians are now exclusively addressed. They were formerly strangers from the covenants of promise,but their condition was now changed. They were foreigners,but God had made them citizens of his church. The high value of that honor which God had been pleased to bestow upon them, is expressed in a variety of language. They are first called fellow-citizens with the saints,— next, of the household of God,— and lastly, stones properly fitted into the building of the temple of the Lord. The first appellation is taken from the comparison of the church to a state, which occurs very frequently in Scripture. Those who were formerly profane, and utterly unworthy to associate with godly persons, have been raised to distinguished honor in being admitted to be members of the same community with Abraham, — with all the holy patriarchs, and prophets, and kings, — nay, with the angels themselves. To be of the household of God,which is the second comparison, suggests equally exalted views of their present condition. God has admitted them into his own family; for the church is God’s house.
Ye are no more strangers – In this chapter the Church of God is compared to a city, which, has a variety of privileges, rights, etc., founded on regular charters and grants. The Gentiles, having believed in Christ, are all incorporated with the believing Jews in this holy city. Formerly, when any of them came to Jerusalem, being ξενοι, strangers, they had no kind of rights whatever; nor could they, as mere heathens, settle among them. Again, if any of them, convinced of the errors of the Gentiles, acknowledged the God of Israel, but did not receive circumcision, he might dwell in the land, but he had no right to the blessings of the covenant; such might be called παροικοι, sojourners – persons who have no property in the land, and may only rent a house for the time being.
Fellow citizens with the saints – Called to the enjoyment of equal privileges with the Jews themselves, who, by profession, were a holy people; who were bound to be holy, and therefore are often called saints, or holy persons, when both their hearts and conduct were far from being right in the sight of God. But the saints spoken of here are the converted or Christianized Jews.
Of the household of God – The house of God is the temple; the temple was a type of the Christian Church; this is now become God’s house; all genuine believers are considered as being οικειοι, domestics, of this house, the children and servants of God Almighty, having all equal rights, privileges, and advantages; as all, through one Spirit, by the sacred head of the family, had equal access to God, and each might receive as much grace and as much glory as his soul could possibly contain.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners – You are reckoned with the people of God. You are entitled to their privileges, and are not to be regarded as outcasts and aliens. The meaning is, that they belonged to the same community – the same family – as the people of God. The word rendered “strangers” – ξένοι xenoi – means “foreigners in state,” as opposed to citizens. The word rendered “foreigners” – παροικοι paroikoi – means “guests in a private family,” as opposed to the members of the family. “Rosenmuller.” Strangers and such as proposed to reside for a short time in Athens, were permitted to reside in the city, and to pursue their business undisturbed, but they could perform no public duty; they had no voice in the public deliberations, and they had no part in the management of the state. They could only look on as spectators, without mingling in the scenes of state, or interfering in any way in the affairs of the government.
They were bound humbly to submit to all the enactments of the citizens, and observe all the laws and usages of the republic. It was not even allowed them to transact any business in their own name, but they were bound to choose from among the citizens one to whose care they committed themselves as a patron, and whose duty it was to guard them against all injustice and wrong Potter’s Greek Ant. i. 55. Proselytes, who united themselves to the Jews, were also called in the Jewish writings, “strangers.” All foreigners were regarded as “strangers,” and Jews only were supposed to have near access to God. But now, says the apostle, this distinction is taken away, and the believing pagan, as well as the Jew, has the right of citizenship in the New Jerusalem, and one, as well as another, is a member of the family of God. “Burder,” Ros. Alt. u. neu. Morgertland, in loc. The meaning here is, that they had not come to sojourn merely as guests or foreigners, but were a part of the family itself, and entitled to all the privileges and hopes which others had.
But fellow-citizens with the saints – Belonging to the same community with the people of God.
And of the household of God – Of the same family. Entitled to the same privileges, and regarded by him as his children; see Eph_3:15.
20.And are built. The third comparison illustrates the manner in which the Ephesians, and all other Christians are admitted to the honor of being fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.They are built on the foundation,— they are founded on the doctrine, of the apostles and prophets.We are thus enabled to distinguish between a true and a false church. This is of the greatest importance; for the tendency to error is always strong, and the consequences of mistake are dangerous in the extreme. No churches boast more loudly of the name than those which bear a false and empty title; as may be seen in our own times. To guard us against mistake, the mark of a true church is pointed out.
Foundation,in this passage, unquestionably means doctrine; for no mention is made of patriarchs or pious kings, but only of those who held the office of teachers, and whom God had appointed to superintend the edification of his church. It is laid down by Paul, that the faith of the church ought to be founded on this doctrine. What opinion, then, must we form of those who rest entirely on the contrivances of men, and yet accuse us of revolt, because we embrace the pure doctrine of God? But the manner in which it is founded deserves inquiry; for, in the strict sense of the term, Christ is the only foundation. He alone supports the whole church. He alone is the rule and standard of faith. But Christ is actually the foundation on which the church is built by the preaching of doctrine; and, on this account, the prophets and apostles are called builders. (1Co_3:10.) Nothing else, Paul tells us, was ever intended by the prophets and apostles, than to found a church on Christ.
We shall find this to be true, if we begin with Moses; for “Christ is the end of the law,” (Rom_10:4,) and the sum of the gospel. Let us remember, therefore, that if we wish to be reckoned among believers, we must place our reliance on no other: if we wish to make sure progress in the knowledge of the Scriptures, to him our whole attention must be directed. The same lesson is taught, when we consult the word of God as contained in the writings of the prophets and apostles. To shew us how we ought to combine them, their harmony is pointed out; for they have a common foundation, and labor jointly in building the temple of God. Though the apostles have become our teachers, the instruction of the prophets has not been rendered superfluous; but one and the same object is promoted by both.
I have been led to make this remark by the conduct of the Marcionites in ancient times, who expunged the word prophets from this passage; and by that of certain fanatics in the present day, who, following their footsteps, exclaim loudly that we have nothing to do with the law and the prophets, because the gospel has put an end to their authority. The Holy Spirit everywhere declares, that he has spoken to us by the mouth of the prophets, and demands that we shall listen to him in their writings. This is of no small consequence for maintaining the authority of our faith. All the servants of God, from first to last, are so perfectly agreed, that their harmony is in itself a clear demonstration that it is one God who speaks in them all. The commencement of our religion must be traced to the creation of the world. In vain do Papists, Mahometans, and other sects, boast of their antiquity, while they are mere counterfeits of the true, the pure religion.
Jesus Christ, himself is the chief corner-stone Those who transfer this honor to Peter, and maintain that on him the church is founded, are so void of shame, as to attempt to justify their error by quoting this passage. They hold out that Christ is called the chief corner-stone,by comparison with others; and that there are many stones on which the church is founded. But this difficulty is easily solved. Various metaphors are employed by the apostles according to the diversity of circumstances, but still with the same meaning. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul lays down an incontestable proposition, that “no other foundation can be laid.” (1Co_3:11.) He does not therefore mean, that Christ is merely a corner, or a part of the foundation; for then he would contradict himself. What then? He means that Jews and Gentiles were two separate walls, but are formed into one spiritual building. Christ is placed in the middle of the corner for the purpose of uniting both, and this is the force of the metaphor. What is immediately added shews sufficiently that he is very far from limiting Christ to any one part of the building.
And are built upon the foundation – Following the same metaphor, comparing the Church of Christ to a city, and to the temple, the believing Ephesians are represented as parts of that building; the living stones out of which it is principally formed, 1Pe_2:4, 1Pe_2:5, having for foundation – the ground plan, specification, and principle on which it was builded, the doctrine taught by the prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles in the New. Jesus Christ being that corner stone, or ακρογωνιαιος, the chief angle or foundation corner stone, the connecting medium by which both Jews and Gentiles were united in the same building. Elsewhere Jesus Christ is termed the foundation stone. Behold I lay in Zion a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, Isa_28:16; but the meaning is the same in all the places where these terms, foundation and corner stone, occur; for in laying the foundation of a building, a large stone is generally placed at one of the angles or corners, which serves to form a part of the two walls which meet in that angle. When, therefore, the apostle says that Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone, it means such a foundation stone as that above mentioned.
And are built upon the foundation – The comparison of the church with a building, is common in the Scriptures: compare the notes at 1Co_3:9-10. The comparison was probably taken from the temple, and as that was an edifice of great beauty, expense, and sacredness, it was natural to compare the church with it. Besides, the temple was the sacred place where God dwelt on the earth; and as the church was the place where he delighted now to abide, it became natural to speak of his church as the temple, or the residence of God; see the notes at Isa_54:11-12. That building, says Paul, was permanently founded, and was rising with great beauty of proportion, and with great majesty and splendor.
Of the apostles – The doctrines which they taught are the basis on which the church rests. It is “possible” that Paul referred here to a splendid edifice, particularly because the Ephesians were distinguished for their skill in architecture, and because the celebrated temple of Diana was among them. An allusion to a building, however, as an illustration of the church occurs several times in his other epistles, and was an allusion which would be everywhere understood.
And prophets – The prophets of the Old Testament, using the word, probably, to denote the Old Testament in general. That is, the doctrines of divine revelation, whether communicated by prophets or apostles, were laid at the foundation of the Christian church. It was not rounded on philosophy, or tradition, or on human laws, or on a venerable antiquity, but on the great truths which God had revealed. Paul does not say that it was founded on “Peter,” as the papists do, but on the prophets and apostles in general. If Peter had been the “vicegerent of Christ,” and the head of the church, it is incredible that his brother Paul should not have given him some honorable notice in this place. Why did he not allude to so important a fact? Would one who believed it have omitted it? Would a papist now omit it? Learn here:
(1) That no reliance is to be placed on philosophy as a basis of religious doctrine.
(2) that the traditions of people have no authority in the church, and constitute no part of the foundation.
(3) that nothing is to be regarded as a fundamental part of the Christian system, or as binding on the conscience, which cannot be found in the “prophets and apostles;” that is, as it means here, in the Holy Scriptures. No decrees of councils; no ordinances of synods; no “standard” of doctrines; no creed or confession, is to be urged as authority in forming the opinions of people. They may be valuable for some purposes, but not for this; they may be referred to as interesting parts of history, but not to form the faith of Christians; they may be used in the church to express its belief, but not to form it. What is based on the authority of apostles and prophets is true, and always true, and only true; what may be found elsewhere, may be valuable and true, or not, but, at any rate, is not to be used to control the faith of people.
Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone – see the note at Isa_28:16; Rom_9:33, note. The cornerstone is the most important in the building.
(1) because the edifice rests mainly on the cornerstones. If they are small, and unstable, and settle down, the whole building is insecure; and hence care is taken to place a large stone firmly at each corner of an edifice.
(2) because it occupies a conspicuous and honorable place. If documents or valuable articles are deposited at the foundation of a building it is within the cornerstone. The Lord Jesus is called the “cornerstone,” because the whole edifice rests on him, or he occupies a place relatively as important as the cornerstone of an edifice. Were it not for him, the edifice could not be sustained for a moment. Neither prophets nor apostles alone could sustain it; see the notes at 1Co_3:11; compare 1Pe_2:6.
21.In whom all the building groweth. If this be true, what will become of Peter? When Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, speaks of Christ as a “Foundation,” he does not mean that the church is begun by him and completed by others, but draws a distinction arising out of a comparison of his own labors with those of other men. It had been his duty to found the church at Corinth, and to leave to his successors the completion of the building. “According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth on it.” (1Co_3:10.)
With respect to the present passage, he conveys the instruction, that all who are fitly framed together in Christ are the temple of the Lord. There is first required a fitting together, that believers may embrace and accommodate themselves to each other by mutual intercourse; otherwise there would not be a building, but a confused mass. The chief part of the symmetry consists in unity of faith. Next follows progress, or increase. Those who are not united in faith and love, so as to grow in the Lord,belong to a profane building, which has nothing in common with the temple of the Lord.
Groweth unto an holy temple. Individual believers are at other times called “temples of the Holy Ghost,” (1Co_6:19; 2Co_6:16,) but here all are said to constitute one temple. In both cases the metaphor is just and appropriate. When God dwells in each of us, it is his will that we should embrace all in holy unity, and that thus he should form one temple out of many. Each person, when viewed separately, is a temple, but, when joined to others, becomes a stone of a temple; and this view is given for the sake of recommending the unity of the church.
In whom – That is, “by” whom, or “upon” whom. It was in connection with him, or by being reared on him as a foundation.
All the building – The whole church of Christ.
Fitly framed together – The word used here means “to joint together,” as a carpenter does the frame-work of a building. The materials are accurately and carefully united by mortises and tenons. so that the building shall be firm. Different materials may be used, and different kinds of timber may be employed, but one part shall be worked into another, so as to constitute a durable and beautiful edifice. So in the church. The different materials of the Jews and Gentiles; the people of various nations, though heretofore separated and discordant, become now united, and form an harmonious society. They believe the same doctrines; worship the same God; practice the same holiness; and look forward to the same heaven.
Groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord – see the 1Co_3:17 note; 2Co_6:16 note.
22.In whom ye also are builded together,or in whom also Be Ye Builded together. The termination of the Greek verb, συνοικοδομεῖσθε, like that of the Latin, cooedificamini,does not enable us to determine whether it is in the imperative or indicative mood. The context will admit either, but I prefer the latter sense. It is, I think, an exhortation to the Ephesians to grow more and more in the faith of Christ, after having been once founded in it, and thus to form a part of that new temple of God, the building of which through the gospel was then in progress in every part of the world.
Through the Spirit. This is again repeated for two reasons: first, to remind them that all human exertions are of no avail without the operation of the Spirit; and secondly, to point out the superiority of the spiritual building to all Jewish and outward services.