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Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
SECTION 4. — PAUL AND HIS READERS WERE ONCE DEAD BY REASON OF THEIR SINS. — CH. 2:1-3.
And you, being dead through your trespasses and sins, in which formerly ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, of the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience; among whom also we all lived formerly in the desires of our flesh, doing the resolves of the flesh and the thoughts: and we were by nature children of anger as also the rest.
In § 3 Paul prayed that his readers might know the great power of God at work towards those who believe; and, as a measure of it pointed to Christ raised from the dead and enthroned with God. He sees Christ not only raised above all but the Head of all, and given to the Church to be its Head and the Church His body and His fulness. The original purpose of this reference to Christ’s resurrection and ascension, viz. as a measure of the power at work in us, now reappears. In Ephesians 2:1, (§ 4,) Paul turns suddenly to his readers and declares that, like Christ, they once were dead: in Ephesians 2:2-3 he proves this. in § 5 he goes on to say that in Christ they also have been raised and enthroned.
Ephesians 2:1. And you: the Christians at Ephesus and elsewhere, in contrast to the Risen Saviour.
Being: as in Colossians 1:21.
Dead through trespasses: as in Colossians 2:13, where see note. Trespasses are moral falls: sins are moral failures. This twofold description of the same actions emphasizes the cause of spiritual death. Their former position was analogous to that of Christ in the grave. For they also were dead; and their death, like His, was caused by human sins. These sins had robbed them of the only true life; and had given them up, unless rescued by Him who raises the dead, to eternal corruption. Such was their awful state, utterly beyond reach of human help.
The words in italics (A.V. and R.V.) are an anticipation of Ephesians 2:5, inserted to complete the English sentence. The verb governing the accusative you in Ephesians 2:1 is pushed back to make way for the relative sentences in Ephesians 2:2-3, which describe further the sad condition of the persons referred to, until in Ephesians 2:4 its place is supplied by a new sentence. All this is characteristic of Paul: a close parallel in Romans 5:12. Paul keeps us under the shadow of death that the darkness of the shadow may throw into greater prominence the splendour of the light of life.
Ephesians 2:2. In which sins: as the surrounding element of their life and movement. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:17.
Ye walked: see under Colossians 3:7.
Of this world: the whole realm of men and things around, looked upon as existing in space and as hostile to Christ.
The course, or age: the whole stream and tendency of things around, looked upon as moving forward in time.
According to the course etc.: carried along by the moving current of men and things around, all belonging to this world. The two words course and world represent the same idea in its reference to time and space respectively. And each word recalls the vast complexity of things and movements around. The combination presents this idea with a completeness not found elsewhere.
Ruler, or prince: same word in Romans 13:3; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8, of earthly rulers; in Revelation 1:5, of Christ as the Ruler of the kingdoms of the earth; and in John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11, of Satan.
According to the ruler etc.: parallel with according to the course etc., and another view of the same truth. Steps guided by the current of things around are guided by the unseen ruler of that current. For the visible stream is animated and directed by an unseen spirit.
Authority: a controlling influence, as in Colossians 1:13. A genitive after this word usually denotes either the person exercising authority or those under authority. But we cannot conceive the air, the imponderable element around and above us, as either ruling or being ruled over. It must therefore be the locality of this controlling influence. The authority which directs the course of those who float down the stream of things around must be that of evil spirits. That these were conceived, both by Jews and by others in the ancient world, as having their abode in the air, we have in Rabbinical literature and elsewhere, e.g. Diogenes Lærtius bk. viii. 32, abundant proof. And this agrees with their comparative power, greater than men and less than the powers of heaven. Apparently, Paul accepted and used this common conception as sufficiently embodying a truth he wished to teach. His Words remind us that all around are spiritual enemies, as near as the air we breathe. Over these reigns a tremendous potentate. Along a path marked out by him, led by unseen powers who do his bidding and by the current of things around, once walked the Christians to whom Paul now writes.
The spirit which now works etc.: parallel with the authority of the air, and further describing the agency which does the bidding of the prince of darkness, as an animating principle moving men from within in contrast to the course of this world which carries them along as an influence from without. With the spirit, contrast the Spirits in 1 John 4:1. This latter passage looks at the infinite variety, the former at the essential oneness, of these evil influences. A variety of spiritual foes is also portrayed in Ephesians 6:12.
Works, or inworks: as in Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 2:13. This interior working is a characteristic of spirit. To the Christians at Ephesus this inward influence is past: to others it now works.
Sons of disobedience: Ephesians 5:6. See note under Colossians 3:6. As a description of the unsaved, it prepares the way for the fuller description in Ephesians 2:3.
After asserting that his readers were once dead through their sins, Paul further describes their former state of death. The sins which had been the means of their destruction were also an element In which they moved. And their path was guided by the current around them, a current belonging to the present material world. It was guided, not by a blind force or unconscious influence, but by a personal ruler, under whose sway was a controlling power as pervasive as the air. This power Paul speaks of as an active animating principle, prompting disobedience to God and making those who yield to it personal embodiments of the principle of disobedience.
Ephesians 2:3 a. To the foregoing description of the former state of the Gentile Christians, Paul now adds an equivalent description including himself and the Jewish Christians: also we all. He thus completes his picture of unsaved mankind. By now including all men, he brings the Jews specially before us.
Among whom: as belonging to their number. Paul thus asserts that all men, Jews and Gentiles, were once sons of disobedience.
Lived: same word as behaved-ourselves or had our manner of life in 2 Corinthians 1:12; also 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 1:17. It denotes life not as an inward principle, but as an outward activity and movement; and is thus parallel and similar to the word walk in Ephesians 2:2.
Formerly: parallel to the same word in Ephesians 2:2.
In the desires: same words in Romans 1:24.
The desires of our flesh: see under Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:24; cp. 1 John 2:16. The plural number recalls the variety of tendencies inherent to the constitution of our bodies and going out after objects pleasant to the senses. These tendencies are the world in which the unsaved move.
Doing the resolves etc.: further description of the manner of life in the desires of the flesh, asserting the fulfilment of these desires in action.
The resolves: Acts 13:22 : the plural form of the word rendered will in Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11. It denotes a deliberate wish. The plural number corresponds with the foregoing plural desires. The resolves differ from the desires of the flesh as a definite wish differs from the general liking from which it springs. The repetition of the word flesh is emphatic.
The minds: same word in the singular in Colossians 1:21, where see note, and in Matthew 22:37. The plural number reminds us that, whereas all men have one flesh, they have many minds. Moreover, our minds, like our flesh, have wills of their own. The condemnation implied in this verse teaches that these wills do not bow to the will of God; and that, consequently, they who do them come under the anger of God. On the flesh, see note under Romans 8:11.
Verse. 3b. The last detail in Paul’s description of the unsaved. In order to show its importance as in itself claiming attention, Paul adds it as an independent statement: and we were etc. He declares that in former days his readers were children, by nature, of anger, i.e. exposed to the anger of God. Cp. John 17:12, the son of destruction: close Hebrew parallels in Deuteronomy 25:2, a son of stripes; 1 Samuel 20:31; 1 Samuel 26:16; 2 Samuel 12:5, a son of death, i.e. doomed to death. So terrible was the position of those about whom Paul writes that to his vivid thought they seemed to be an offspring of the anger of God. And they were this by-nature: i.e. their exposure to the anger of God was an outworking of forces born in them. Same word in Romans 2:14, where see note; Galatians 2:15; Galatians 4:8.
As also the rest: i.e. of men. Paul solemnly concludes his description of the former state of his readers and himself by saying that the description is or has been true of all men.
These last words must be read in the light of the statement in Ephesians 1:1 that the Ephesian Christians were formerly dead by reason of their own personal sins. All is explained if we assume that men are born in such position that, apart from the salvation wrought out for them in Christ, none can avoid committing actual sin, and that in Christ salvation is offered to all men. If so, the universality of actual sin is a result of the lost state into which we were born. But, to those who have heard the Gospel, present condemnation is a result of rejection of offered salvation, and of actual sins from which Christ would have saved us. This evil nature is easily explained by Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:12. By his first trespass Adam sold himself into bondage to sin and death. This double bondage his children inherit. No power of theirs can save them from actual sin and from the grave. But in Christ God offers to men deliverance now from the bondage of sin and ultimately from the grave. They who continue in sin do so because they reject the offered salvation. The word by-nature inserted at the close of Paul’s picture of lost humanity increases the darkness of the picture. For it tells us that not only are all men sinners but they are so in consequence of the position in which they were born. None can save them except one who can change their inborn nature.
Notice that, without professing to do so, Paul has virtually in Ephesians 2:2-3 explained and justified Ephesians 2:1, dead through your trespasses. For he has asserted that his readers went once with the mass of mankind along a path marked out by the prince of evil, and were animated by an evil influence under his direction. The lower side of human nature was the element in which they lived: all men are or were numbered among the sons of disobedience, and were under the anger of God. If so, all men are guilty of actual sin; and all are dead except those whom God has raised from the dead. For the anger of God involves exclusion from the only real life, and leads inevitably to eternal corruption. Consequently, they who thus live are dead through their own sins.
This section is Paul’s fullest description of unsaved mankind. And it is a picture of utter and universal ruin. He assumes in Ephesians 2:1 that all men have committed trespasses and sins; and in Ephesians 2:3 that all were once numbered among the sons of disobedience and were under the anger of God. We have here universal sin and universal condemnation. This moral ruin Paul traces to a cause common to all men, viz. their flesh, the material and lower side of their nature, this being to the unsaved the encompassing and determining element of their life and activity. In harmony with this, the anger of God resting upon all men is traced to the constitution received at birth. This inherited evil is further traced to a personal source mightier than man, viz. to a ruler from beneath who leads men along from within by an animating principle under his direction. Naturally, this inward force of evil operates on man through the lower and material side of his being, giving to it power to control his entire activity. It thus impresses its will on man’s own nature, and forces him along a path on which God frowns.
A further analysis of sin is given in Ephesians 4:17-19.
SECTION 5. — GOD HAS MADE US SHARERS OF THE RESURRECTION LIFE OF CHRIST.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His much love with which He loved us, and we being dead through our trespasses, has made us alive together with Christ-by grace ye are saved-and raised us with Him and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that He may show in the ages coming on the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace ye are saved, through faith and that not of yourselves; the gift is God’s; not of works, that no man may glory. For His workmanship we are, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God before prepared in order that we may walk in them.
Ephesians 2:4-5. But God: in conspicuous contrast to lost and sinful mankind. This new sentence supplies the place of the grammatical conclusion of the foregoing sentence, which was postponed to make way for the further delineation of those dead in sins, and not afterwards added. Similarly, the sentence broken off in Romans 5:12 has its virtual completion in Romans 5:18. This delineation is a dark background for the glory which suddenly and majestically now bursts upon us.
Mercy: compassion for the helpless. It recalls the helplessness of those under the anger of God, and thus completes the picture given in § 4.
Rich in mercy: cp. Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:18.
Because of His much love; traces this mercy to its source in the central attribute of God. Upon this unique attribute Paul lingers: His much love with which He loved us. The past tense refers to the love manifested in the salvation of Paul and his readers.
And we being dead etc.: a repetition of Ephesians 2:1, for vivid contrast with the foregoing description of God and His love. A close parallel with Romans 3:23, where for a similar contrast we have a similar summary of foregoing teaching. This love of contrast, especially of contrast between past and present, is an almost certain mark of Pauline authorship.
Has-made alive-with-Christ: as in Colossians 2:13, where the same word is explained by having forgiven you all the trespasses. It reverses all that is implied in the words dead through trespasses. We were once, in consequence of our sins, a spiritual corpse given up to corruption utter and helpless, from which nothing could save us except the life-giving power of God. But God has pardoned our sins and given back to us the eternal life for which we were created. This eternal life is already our assured possession: and the witness of it is the Holy Spirit, the Breath of immortality, already moving our hearts with the pulse of divine life and prompting all Christian activities.
With Christ: as in Colossians 2:13. Our new immortal life is an outflow of the life breathed on the first Easter morning into His sacred corpse. For, had He not risen, there had been no saving faith, no Gospel, and no life eternal.
By grace (cp. Romans 3:24) ye-are saved: each word emphatic. Salvation is by the undeserved favour of God: it is already actual: and this is emphatically asserted. Contrast Romans 5:10; Romans 13:11. We are already saved from the sinking wreck into a lifeboat which cannot sink: but we are not finally safe until the perilous voyage of life is past. Hence Paul can say as here we are saved; or as in 1 Corinthians 1:18 we are being saved; or as above we shall be saved.
Ephesians 2:6. Raised with Him: as in Colossians 2:12; Colossians 3:1. It further pictures the new life as a participation in the act of God which raised Christ from the grave and brought Him back to the land of the living.
Made-to-sit-with Him: only here and Luke 22:55. A new feature of the Christian life. We are not only made alive, and raised from the surroundings of death, but are also sharers of the throne of Christ. Cp. Ephesians 1:20 : raised Him from the dead and made Him sit. Notice the close connection between the Christian’s life on earth and the life of his risen and glorified Lord. See under Colossians 2:12.
In the heavenly places: same words as in Ephesians 1:3, which they expound. They give further definiteness to the picture of Christ’s enthronement in heaven, and declare that already we share even its glorious environment. This resurrection and enthronement are with Christ and in Christ. For He will be both the companion and the encompassing element of our future glory. And whatever we shall be, to Paul’s faith, believers already are. Thus (Ephesians 1:3) has God blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 2:7. Aim of God in raising and enthroning us. Close harmony with Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14.
That He-may-show: more fully show something in Himself i.e. reveal His own inner nature. Same word in Romans 2:15; Romans 9:17; Romans 9:22; 1 Timothy 1:16.
The ages coming on: beginning with the coming of Christ. For only then will God’s kindness to men be worthily manifested. To the prophetic eye of Paul, successive ages of future glory are already approaching, like successive waves of blessing; an endless vista of splendour. That this manifestation is to take place during the ages of glory, suggests that it will be for angels as well as men: cp. Ephesians 3:10.
The surpassing riches of His grace: a superlative term embracing and surpassing Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:19.
Kindness: so Romans 2:4, riches of His kindness; also Romans 11:22. It is mercy and grace represented as gentleness.
In Christ Jesus: objectively, through His death and resurrection, as in Ephesians 1:20; Romans 3:24; and subjectively through inward contact with Him, as in 2 Corinthians 5:17. This aim of God in raising us together with Christ proves the infinite greatness of the blessing thus conferred on men. For the means must be sufficient for the end in view. God resolved to manifest the surpassing abundance of His grace; and, to this end, loaded us with kindness. A similar, but further, purpose in Ephesians 3:10.
Ephesians 2:8-9. In order to justify and expound the riches of His grace, Paul now repeats and amplifies a few words which, in Ephesians 2:4, burst through the grammatical order of the sentence.
By-grace: by the grace of God; referring definitely to the grace mentioned in Ephesians 2:7.
Through faith: added in order to give a more complete account of salvation. It embodies a thought ever present to Paul, and ever ready to find expression: compare the casual mention of faith in Romans 3:25-26. The favour of God is the divine source, and faith is the human channel, of salvation.
This or this thing; refers almost certainly to the salvation just mentioned. For it is neuter, whereas faith and grace are feminine. Moreover, not from works, which must refer to ye are saved, is evidently parallel to not from yourselves, and thus gives to these words the same reference. They are added as an emphatic exposition, negative and then positive, of the words by grace. ‘You are not the source of your own salvation: it is a gift: and the gift is God’s. It is not from human works.’
Not from works, that no one may glory: marked characteristics of Paul: Romans 4:2; Romans 4:6; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:6; Romans 3:27; 1 Corinthians 1:29; Galatians 6:14 From every side, Paul shuts out, as his wont is, all self-salvation.
Ephesians 2:10. Proof and amplification of the statement that our salvation is not from ourselves or from works, but from God; viz. that we are ourselves God’s workmanship.
Having-been-created etc.: proof of the foregoing. Paul refers evidently, in words taken from the old creation, to the new creation of the spiritual life. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15. Another trace of the hand of Paul.
Created: a word predicated only of God, and thus denoting a putting forth of power possessed only by God. Even when creating out of existing materials, as in Genesis 1:21, God breathed into them new life; which man cannot do. The word here teaches that the Christian life is not only a workmanship of God but is a new putting forth of creative power.
In Christ: as in Ephesians 2:6-7. Notice the emphatic and characteristic repetition.
Good works: as in Romans 2:7; Romans 13:3; 2 Corinthians 9:8 : a phrase found only with Paul. The word good includes beneficence and intrinsic worth: another word, noting only excellence, in Matthew 5:16. Just as God created certain animals for certain activities which were a part of His creative purpose, so He designs the new life in Christ to reveal itself in good works. The words following lay further stress on this definite purpose of God.
Before-prepared: in eternity, when the new life was only a thought in the mind of God. He then designed that good works should be its environment and outward expression. Same word in Romans 9:23, ‘before-prepared’ for glory.
That we should walk in them: God’s purpose touching these good works. He designs them to be the surrounding element of our movements; in absolute contrast to in which sins ye walked.
It is now quite clear that salvation is in no way from ourselves or from works. For even our own good works are a part of God’s eternal purpose to give spiritual life to those who believe in Christ. And if they are an outworking of His purpose of mercy, they cannot be a ground of merit, or a source of salvation.
Notice here another reference to the eternal purpose of salvation already mentioned in Ephesians 1:4-5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11; also in Ephesians 3:11. It is a conspicuous feature of this Epistle, and a fuller development of teaching already found in Romans 8:28-29; Romans 9:11; Romans 9:23.
The chief significance of § 5 is derived from its relation to § 3. Paul there prayed that God would reveal to his readers the glory awaiting them and the great power of God which some day will realise their hopes and which already is at work in them. As a measure of that power and of that hope, he pointed to the power which raised Christ from the grave and set Him at the right hand of God. In order to make practical use of this comparison, Paul showed in § 4 that all the unsaved are in a position analogous to that of the body of Jesus as it lay dead in the grave. For, through their sins, they were separated from the only real life and were doomed to corruption. This state of ruin Paul further described. Although dead, they were capable of movement: but it was a mere floating down a stream, in a channel marked out by the great enemy, under influences directed by him; a mere surrender to the promptings of the lower side of their nature. That the prince of darkness and their own nature led them along the same path, proved that their nature is corrupt, and that they who follow it are under the anger of God. Now the anger of God is death in its worst form.
At the beginning of § 5 we see God looking down with compassion and infinite love upon the lost human race. Paul asserts that He who gave life to the lifeless body of Christ has made alive those who once were dead through their sins. This can only mean that He has rescued them from the corruption which was their inevitable doom and has given back to them spiritual activity and growth. This life is an outflow of that which entered into the silent body of Christ. And, as with Christ so with them, life has been accompanied by removal from the surroundings of death and by exaltation to heaven. All this God did in order to reveal His infinite favour to men. The same truth Paul repeats for emphasis in another form. Since his readers have been made alive, he can rightly say that they have been saved. And, since their resurrection with Christ is an outflow of the mercy and love of God, they are saved by grace. To make this the more conspicuous, Paul adds that salvation is not from themselves or their works, but is the gift of God; and that it has come in this way in order that no one may boast. And he cannot forbear to remind his readers that it is through faith. To complete his proof that salvation is altogether from God and not at all from man, he says that the new life is a work of the creative power of God and an accomplishment of an eternal purpose.
Thus Paul, after raising his readers to the throne of God and setting them beside their risen Lord, leads their thoughts back to the eternal purpose of which the actual salvation of men is an historic realisation. This tracing of the phenomena of time to their source in the eternal thought of God is a conspicuous feature of Paul, a feature nowhere so conspicuous as in this Epistle.
SECTION 6. — THROUGH CHRIST, BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR TO GOD. CH. 2:11-22.
For this cause remember that formerly ye, the Gentiles in flesh, those called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in flesh, made by hands- that ye were at that time separate from Christ alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who formerly were far off have become near in the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one and has broken down the middle wall of partition, having made of no effect the enmity, in His flesh, even the law of commandments in dogmas; in order that He may create in Himself the two into one new man, making peace; and that He may reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. And He came and announced peace, as good news, to those far off and to those near; because through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Therefore no longer are ye strangers and sojourners but fellow-citizens of the saints and members of the household of God, having been built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the chief corner stone being Christ Jesus Himself in whom every building, being fitly framed together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom also ye are being built together for a dwelling-place of God in the Spirit.
Like §§ 4 and 5, § 6 depicts the contrast of past and present. This is indicated by the word formerly in Ephesians 2:2-3 and in Ephesians 2:11; Ephesians 2:13. But the earlier contrast was that of men once dead through their sins but now reigning in life. The contrast here is of the same men once far off from the people of God but now united with them in the one rising temple. The first contrast was personal and spiritual: this one is social and in a sense ecclesiastical. Paul comes now to look at salvation in its bearing on the great distinction of Jew and Gentile, a distinction ever present to his thought and already faintly indicated by the change from we to you and you to we in Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:3. This distinction, and the equal importance here given to Jew and Gentile are indications both of early date and of Pauline authorship. For no such conspicuous distinction is found in sub-apostolic writings; nor can we conceive it coming from a writer of the second century: and even in the N.T. it is peculiar to Paul.
As containing respectively the dark and bright sides of the contrast, Ephesians 2:11-12 correspond to § 4, Ephesians 2:13-22 to § 5.
Ephesians 2:11. For which cause: ‘because God has so wonderfully saved you, remember what you once were.’
Formerly: placed for emphasis at the beginning of the clause. It recalls the same word in Ephesians 2:2, and resumes conspicuously the contrast of past and present.
The Gentiles: the well-known class to which they belonged. Its distinguishing mark, viz. absence of circumcision, is in the perishing body: in flesh. These added words give definiteness to the distinction.
Who are called; further depicts the readers as they were looked upon by those who with some right claimed to be the people of God. Cp. 1 Corinthians 8:5.
Uncircumcision… circumcision: abstract terms put for the persons in whom the abstract quality is found: close parallel in Romans 2:26-27. They who, with evident contempt, called the Gentiles uncircumcision, called themselves circumcision. That the distinction is said to be, on both sides, a matter of a name, suggests that it was now practically only a name.
In flesh, made by hands: not governed by the word called: for Jews would not so speak of circumcision. It is rather Paul’s own reflection, confirming the above suggestion. He remembers that circumcision was, in the case of those who spoke of the Gentiles as uncircumcised, a mere cutting of the flesh by the hand of man. Yet such was once his readers’ position that men who had nothing better than this could speak of them as lower than themselves: for the absence even of this external rite marked them out as destitute of the many advantages of the ancient people of God. The repetition of the words in flesh and the added word made-by-hands keep vividly before us that the vaunted rite was in the lower side of man’s nature and was only a work of man.
Ephesians 2:12. The grammatical order is broken by a repetition of the word that, added for the sake of greater clearness after a rather long description of the Gentiles.
At that season; corresponds to formerly in Ephesians 2:11, referring to the readers’ heathen life. Contrast Romans 3:26; Romans 11:5, ‘in the present season.’
Separate from Christ: destitute of all the spiritual blessings which flow from inward union with Him. This full sense is required by the very conspicuous contrast in Ephesians 2:13, but now in Christ Jesus; and by the contrast maintained throughout this chapter between the past and the present. But the words following show that this spiritual destitution is here looked upon in the light of the separation of the Gentiles from the nation to which the ancient promises were given. In those days they had not so much as heard the name of the promised Messiah.
Now follow four further descriptions of those Gentiles, arranged in two pairs. The relation of these items to the main assertion, ye were separate from Christ, is left to the readers.
Commonwealth: either a community of citizens looked upon as definitely constituted, or the rights of its members. Same word in this last sense in Acts 22:28. The former sense here, and, with a cognate word, in Philippians 3:20 : but in these two passages the difference is not great.
The commonwealth of Israel: the nation looked upon as a community in which each citizen had personal rights. The whole tone of the verse reminds us that Israel possessed the highest spiritual advantages on earth. Cp. Romans 3:1; Romans 9:4.
Israel: a name of honour, as in Romans 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:22, etc. Before Christ came there was a privileged community: but its members looked upon the Gentiles as aliens.
Alienated: same word and form in Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 1:21. [The perfect participle does not imply that they had once been citizens; but simply calls attention to the process of alienation, thus depicting more vividly the sad state of those alienated.]
The Covenants: the mutual engagements into which God entered with Abraham, and through Moses with Israel. From these covenants came all the spiritual advantages of the Jews. Same word in same connection in Romans 9:4 : a close coincidence of thought. A conspicuous feature common to these covenants, and the source of their value, was the promise. It is here spoken of as one because all the promises looked forward to one glorious consummation. Otherwise in Romans 9:9, which recalls the many promises. To these covenants and to this promise, the Gentile readers of this Epistle were once strangers: same word in Hebrews 11:13.
Now follows an awful result of the foregoing. The only hope on earth worthy of the name rests upon the great promise given in outline to Israel. Consequently, they who have not this hope have no hope. To them the roughness of the present life is not cheered by any reasonable and assured prospect of good things to come.
Without-God: literally atheists, i.e. destitute of all the help and peace and joy which comes through knowledge of God and faith in God. This subjective absence of God is quite consistent with the objective truth (Acts 17:28) that in Him we live and move and are. The lack of conscious intercourse with a personal God is a marked feature of the best classic writings as compared with the Old Testament. The heathen have no Father in heaven on whose bosom they can rest.
In the world: the locality of this destitution. In the seething mass of sinful humanity, dominated by the god of this world, away from the brightness of the smile of the God of heaven and from the joy of hope, these Gentiles were: for they had no part in the covenants which God made with Israel nor place in the sacred nation.
Ephesians 2:13. But now: a conspicuous and favourite phrase of Paul recalling the contrast, ever present to his mind, of the past and the present. Same words in same sense in Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:26; Colossians 3:8; Romans 3:21; Romans 6:22; Romans 7:6; Romans 11:30, etc. They are another note of authorship.
In Christ Jesus: objectively, in the actual and historic person born at Bethlehem, whom Paul acknowledges to be the hoped-for Messiah. Hence the fuller title. Same words and sense in Romans 3:24. They are more fully expounded at the end of the verse.
Ye who formerly were far off: sums up the description in Ephesians 2:12. This summing up of the lower side of a contrast is, as in Ephesians 2:5, an indisputable trace of the hand of Paul.
Become near: to God and to the people of God. For distance from Israel and from God are the chief points of the description in Ephesians 2:12. And in Ephesians 2:14-15 we have peace between Jews and Gentiles given as an explanation of this verse, and in Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 2:18 reconciliation and approach to God through Christ.
In the blood of Christ: more specific than in Christ. It suggests (cp. Ephesians 1:7) the continued validity of the violent death of Christ as the means of salvation.
Ephesians 2:14-15. Explanation and justification of the triumphant assertion in Ephesians 2:13, and especially of its last words.
He is: each word very emphatic, pointing conspicuously to Him in whose blood the Gentiles have been brought near.
Our peace; implies that the distance involves hostility. The words following prove that Paul’s first thought is peace between Jews and Gentiles. But the words reconciled to God in Ephesians 2:16 followed by access to the Father in Ephesians 2:18 prove that this involves peace between men and God. In both references, Christ is our peace. For where He is, and there only, is peace. Cp. John 11:25, I am the Resurrection and the Life.
The plain statement He is our peace, which explains and justifies Ephesians 2:13, is itself expounded and supported in Ephesians 2:14-18. The result of the whole is stated triumphantly in Ephesians 2:19-22.
Made or has-made: simple statement of fact without reference to any definite time.
Both one: literally the both things into one thing. As in Colossians 1:16, etc., the neuter looks upon persons merely as objects of thought without reference to personality.
And has broken down etc.: additional detail explaining the general assertion.
Middle-wall: between houses or courts. Found elsewhere only once: but the meaning is clear. It is further defined by the addition, of the partition or fence. Same word in Matthew 21:33. It denotes something designed to keep away intruders. Here the fence is represented as a wall between the men to be kept apart. The whole phrase unites the ideas of separation and solidity. This barrier, Christ has broken down. He has thus made the two hostile divisions into one whole.
At the Temple of Jerusalem, between the court of the Gentiles and that of the women, the latter being a part of the sacred enclosure, was a dividing wall on which were inscriptions in different languages warning foreigners, on pain of death, not to pass: Josephus, Wars bk. v. 5. 2. This was a visible embodiment of the barrier which Paul here depicts in the metaphor of a wall; and helps us to realise the spiritual separation of Jews and Gentiles. But his words do not betray any direct reference to it.
Having-made-of-no-effect (as in Romans 3:3) the enmity: means by which Christ has broken down the barrier. Consequently, the enmity is that between Jew and Gentile; especially as the aim of its removal is to create the two into one new man.
In His flesh: evidently our Lord’s crucified flesh and blood: so Ephesians 2:16.
The law of commands in dogmas: in apposition to the enmity. By rendering invalid the Law, Christ brought to nothing the enmity.
The commandments or commands: definite prescriptions of the Law. An example is quoted in Romans 7:8-13. These were a characteristic feature of the Law. And they took the form of dogmas, i.e. decrees by a superior authority: same word in Colossians 2:14, where see note. This Law can be no other than that of Moses. In what sense Christ has made it invalid, we learn from Galatians 3:25-26. As first given, obedience to the prescriptions of the Law was a condition of the favour of God: Leviticus 18:5. This Condition made the favour of God impossible. For none can keep the Law, as it claims to be kept. By proclaiming righteousness through faith, Christ set aside, as a condition and means of the favour of God, the ancient Law. Paul says here that by doing so He removed also the hostility between Jew and Gentile. This we can understand. For the Law of Sinai, given only to a part of mankind, became a separation between those who had, and those who had not, received it. And this separation was followed by mutual hatred and hostility. This hatred and its occasion, Christ removed. In Him, both Jew and Gentile, the Law now powerless to condemn or to separate them, become brethren.
That He may create etc.: purpose for which Christ has set aside the Law and its decrees, viz. to unite by creative power into one new unity the two parts into which the Law divided mankind. In Ephesians 2:14 this unity is represented as already attained: who made both one. For it will infallibly result from what Christ has already done. It is here represented as a purpose: for its full realisation is still future, dependent on each one’s faith.
Create; recalls the same word in Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:16. It implies that this unity is wrought by the creative power of God, breathing new life and order into hitherto discordant elements. Creation always produces something new. Same thought in 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15 : an important coincidence.
The two persons into one new man: the masculine form calling attention to the personality of the reconciled ones. So, but less conspicuously, in Galatians 3:28.
In Himself: Christ being the surrounding element in which the new creation takes place, and in which the resulting unity abides. While cherishing and working out this purpose, Christ is making peace. These words, which describe the entire process of salvation from its conception in the heart of God to its full accomplishment, link the new creation to the peace mentioned in Ephesians 2:14, thus keeping it before us.
Ephesians 2:16. And that He may reconcile etc.: a second purpose of Christ, parallel with that He may create etc. He designed not only to unite together the two hostile divisions of mankind but to reconcile the united race to God. This implies that. behind the hostility of man against man there was also hostility between man and God. Each kind of hostility Christ resolved to remove. The two reconciliations are so closely related that either may be placed before the other, according to the point of view chosen. In this section and Epistle Paul’s chief thought is unity of Jew and Gentile. He therefore mentions first peace between man and man. But he remembers that this can be only by peace between man and God. Hence these words.
Reconcile to God: cp. Colossians 1:22, where see note. Another mark of Pauline authorship: Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.
Both persons, or the two persons: a mode of thought different from Ephesians 2:14 the two things into one thing, and keeping before us the personality of those to be reconciled.
In one body: viz. the Church, which is the body of Christ. It is thus parallel to one new man in Ephesians 2:15; and keeps up the dominant thought, viz. the unity of Jews and Gentiles. This exposition agrees better with the tenor of the context than to interpret the one body as that nailed to the cross. Moreover, nowhere in the N.T. is attention directed to the oneness of the human body of Christ.
Through the cross: as the instrument of reconciliation: so through His death in Colossians 1:22; Romans 5:10.
Having-slain etc.: mode by which Christ purposed to reconcile men to God. It thus expounds through the cross.
The enmity: probably, of Jews and Gentiles. For this is at once suggested by the same word in Ephesians 2:15; and is the chief thought of this section. And the removal of this ancient enmity, itself a result of man’s sin, comes through the death of Christ. For, had He not died, its removal would have been impossible. While writing about Christ’s purpose to break down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, Paul remembers that this can be done only by breaking down another barrier, that between man and God. Now man can be reconciled to God (see my Galatians Diss. vii.) only through the death of Christ. Consequently, thereby or therein, i.e. in the cross on which He died, Christ slew not only the enmity between man and God but that between man and man, in order to bring in universal harmony. For had He not died, this unity would have been impossible: now it is certain.
Ephesians 2:17. Another detail in this reconciliation, added as an independent assertion.
And He came: at His incarnation.
And announced-good-tidings-of-peace: on earth before His death. Cp. Luke 4:21. For the words then spoken were a proclamation of peace for all mankind, and, in view of their subsequent announcement throughout the world by the Apostles, may be said to have been spoken to all mankind. This is better than to understand these words as referring to the preaching of the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost under the influence of the Holy Spirit whose descent is in John 14:18 spoken of as a coming of Christ. For the preaching of the Apostles was but a re-echo of the words spoken by Christ on earth, who not only obtained for us peace through His death but announced through His own lips the good-tidings-of-peace. To this end He came from heaven to earth.
Good-tidings: see under Romans 1:1; cp. 1 Thessalonians 3:6.
Peace: between man and man, as throughout the section. This implies peace with God. But to this last we have no need to assume any direct reference here.
Those far off: put first, although the Gospel came first to the Jews, because the entrance of the Gentiles into the one fold of Christ is the chief matter of this section. This order shows that Paul is thinking of Christ’s words, not as spoken to those who heard them on earth, but as spoken virtually to the whole world.
Far off: as in Ephesians 2:13.
Those near: the Jews who from childhood had beard of the coming Messiah and of the blessings He would bring. They were the sons of the Covenant: Acts 3:25.
Ephesians 2:18. A fact, later in date, yet virtually underlying the assertion of Ephesians 2:17. It is practically a re-statement of Ephesians 2:13.
Through Him: the emphatic words of the verse.
Access: same word and almost the same phrase in Romans 5:2, through whom we have obtained access; a very close parallel. A cognate verb in 1 Peter 3:18. Christ took us by the hand and led us to the Father. Similarly Ephesians 2:13 : made near in the blood of Christ. It includes the whole work of salvation.
We both: Jews and Gentiles, whose union in Christ is the dominant thought of this section.
In one Spirit: the divine Agent of all abiding harmony of man with man. So Ephesians 4:4; Philippians 1:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13 : important coincidences.
Notice here the relation of each Person of the Trinity to the work of salvation. Both Jews and Gentiles were far away from God; and consequently each far from the other. Through the agency of the Son, and in the Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of all His people, they have been led into the presence and smile of God, and into the harmony of spiritual brotherhood. And to this end the Son Himself came into the world and proclaimed peace to men. Notice also that of this salvation the death of Christ is conspicuously pointed to as the means. In His blood we have been made near. And Christ’s aim is to reconcile us to God through the cross, and in that cross to kill the previously-existing enmity.
Ephesians 2:19. Argumentative summing up of § 6.
Therefore: two Greek words, a collocation favourite with, and peculiar to, Paul. It sums up the foregoing and draws from it an inference. A close parallel in Romans 5:18.
Strangers: as in Ephesians 2:12.
Sojourners: foreign residents without civic rights. Same word in Acts 7:6; Acts 7:29; 1 Peter 2:11. Even in this summing up Paul states, as his wont is, the full contrast of past and present.
But ye are: solemn repetition of the verb, stating not only what they have ceased to be but what they actually are.
Fellow-citizens: sharing all municipal rights. It represents the Church as a city.
The saints, or holy ones: the sacred people of God. Israel at Sinai was called a holy nation: Exodus 19:6. The priests were specially holy: Numbers 16:3; Numbers 16:5. In the New Covenant, they who believe the Gospel become the peculiar people of God, and receive as their usual designation the name saints: see under Romans 1:7; cp. Acts 9:13; Acts 9:32; Acts 9:41. Of this sacred company, the earliest members were Jews. Then Samaritans were added to it; and now these far off Asiatic Greeks.
Members-of-the-household: same word in Galatians 6:10, where see note. In the great household of God, all are both sons and servants. And to this house and home belong now these far off Gentiles.
Ephesians 2:20. Process by which these aliens were received into the city and house of God. It further describes their present position. The household of God suggests easily a favourite metaphor, viz. the Church as a building, and more specifically as the temple of God. In this splendid metaphor culminates Paul’s teaching here about the union in Christ of Jews and Gentiles. Cp. Matthew 16:18 from the lips of Christ; 1 Corinthians 3:9-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Romans 15:20; 1 Peter 2:5. It underlies the word rendered edify or build. The composite word here used is found also in 1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 3:14; Colossians 2:7; and denotes to carry up a building already begun.
The foundation of the Apostles: that laid by them. So 1 Corinthians 3:10, where Paul stated his own relation to this foundation. And nothing more is suggested now. Another conception in Matthew 16:18. But of this there is no hint here. Upon Christ rests firmly, and rises, the Church.
By preaching Christ and leading men to Him, the Apostles laid this foundation in actual human life. See under 1 Corinthians 3:11. Now the Apostles, in laying this foundation, were building the house and city of God. To it therefore belong those who were being built into the rising walls.
Prophets: conspicuously mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28 as holding the second rank in the Church. And this is indisputably the meaning of the same word in Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11. As in O.T., they were men who spoke under special inspiration: see note under 1 Corinthians 14:40. Had the reference here been to the O.T. prophets, the order would have been inverted, prophets and apostles.
Corner-stone: 1 Peter 2:6, quoted from Isaiah 28:16; but not found elsewhere. Same idea in Psalms 118:22, quoted in Matthew 21:42. Christ is both the foundation underlying the entire building and a conspicuous corner stone uniting its walls and thus giving solidity to the whole. This word, which recalls an ancient prophecy touching the Church of Christ, is very appropriate here in a summary of Paul’s teaching that in Christ Jews and Gentiles are united into one whole.
Christ Jesus Himself: cp. Ephesians 2:14, He is our peace.
Ephesians 2:21. Further account of this building and of its relation to Christ.
Every building: various parts of the one great structure. Such were the various Churches, Jewish or Gentile. So Matthew 24:1, the buildings of the Temple: i.e. the various parts of the Temple at Jerusalem. Frequently a great building is begun at different points; and in the earlier stages its parts seem to be independent erections: but as it advances all are united into one whole. So there were in Paul’s day, as now, various Churches. But, to his eye, they were parts of, and were advancing towards, one great temple. The separation was apparent and passing: the unity was real and abiding.
Being-fitly-joined-together: as a living body is united by its joints. Same word in Ephesians 4:16. [The present participle describes the process of union as now going on. So does the next word.]
Is-growing: for the progress of the building is a development of its own inner life. This word supplements the metaphor of a building by that of a tree. Similar metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 3:9; Romans 11:16-24, John 15:1-8.
A holy temple: a conception familiar to Paul: see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, and my note. The various buildings, separate as they are during erection, are designed to become one great temple. And the temple is essentially holy: for it belongs to God. Consequently, they who are built upon the one foundation are numbered among (Ephesians 2:19) the citizen saints.
A holy temple in the Lord or a temple holy in the Lord: Christ Himself being the surrounding element of this holiness. It notes a closer relation than the O.T. phrase, holy to the Lord. In virtue of their inward union with the one Master, the Jewish and Gentile Churches are growing into one holy temple.
Ephesians 2:22. In whom: as in Ephesians 2:21. It keeps before us Christ as the element of growth.
Also ye: as in Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 1:13. It brings the Christians at Ephesus conspicuously under the foregoing general assertion; a thought present throughout the Epistle.
Are-being-built-together: as stones in a rising building. It is, under another metaphor, practically the same as fitly joined together, in Ephesians 2:21, which suggests the union of bones and members in a living body.
Dwelling-place (same word in Revelation 18:2) of God: parallel with holy temple in Ephesians 2:21. For this is the central idea of a temple: 1 Corinthians 3:16, where see note.
In the Spirit: the Agent of this indwelling of God in man. They in whom the Spirit dwells are also in the Spirit: Romans 8:9. For the Spirit within raises them into a new element of life. Thus these last words connect Paul’s teaching about the holy temple with His frequent teaching about the Holy Spirit. Cp. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19. They are also parallel to in one Spirit in Ephesians 2:18. For the Spirit is the surrounding element both of man’s approach to God and of God’s presence in man. Same words also in Ephesians 3:5.
In view of the great work wrought in them by God, Paul reminds his readers of their former heathen state. Even before Christ came there was an organized community on earth in special covenant with God, holding special promises and cherishing glorious hopes. By its members, the readers of this Epistle were looked down upon as aliens. And, having no share in its hopes and in its covenant with God, they were without hope and without God. Through the death of Christ, all this is changed. The barrier between Jew and Gentile, which separated both Jews and Gentiles from God, Christ has through His own death broken down; in order that, by creative power, He may make out of two enemies one new man reconciled to God. Of this peace, He is not only the Author but the Herald. And of this approach to God the Holy Spirit is the Agent and Element. Then all is changed. The aliens have become members of the sacred commonwealth and of the family of God. That city and family are a temple whose foundations have been laid by men divinely sent and inspired, and whose conspicuous corner stone is Christ Himself. On this foundation day by day living stones are being laid and fitted together. And thus, in virtue of its own inherent life, the temple is growing. It seems to consist of various separate buildings. But, as it rises, these various parts are becoming, through the one indwelling Spirit, one holy temple of God.
Very conspicuous in this section is the death of Christ as the means by which (Ephesians 2:13) the far off ones have been brought near, the barrier between Jew and Gentile broken down, and both Jew and Gentile reconciled to God. The barrier thus broken down is the Law with its prescriptions. Similarly in Ephesians 1:7 the violent death of Christ is the means of the forgiveness of sins. All this is in close harmony with Paul’s constant and varied teaching that salvation comes through the death of Christ upon the cross. It can be explained only on the principle asserted in Romans 3:26, viz. that God gave Christ to die in order to harmonize with His own justice the justification of believers, or in other words that the need for this costly means of salvation lay in man’s sin viewed in the light of the justice of God.
The union of Jews and Gentiles suggests the unity of the Church, a thought already implied in the universal purpose asserted in Ephesians 1:1 ff.
To and further developed in Ephesians 4:3-6. This unity is a conspicuous feature of the Epistle.
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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