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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Partition, the Middle Wall of
1. The Barrier in the Temple
What Paul here asserts is that Christ is our peace, the peace of both Jewish and Gentile believers. He has made them both to be one in Himself, and has broken down the middle wall of partition which divided them from one another. Then the apostle regards Jew and Gentile as two, who by a fresh act of creation in Christ are made into one new man. In the former of these similes he refers to an actual wall in the temple at Jerusalem, beyond which no one was allowed to pass unless he were a Jew, the balustrade or barrier which marked the limit up to which a Gentile might advance but no farther. Curiously, this middle wall of partition had a great deal to do with Paul's arrest and imprisonment, for the multitude of the Jews became infuriated, not merely because of their general hostility to him as an apostle of Christ and a preacher of the gospel for the world, but specially because it was erroneously supposed that he had brought Trophimus the Ephesian past this barrier into the temple (Acts 21:29 ), and that he had in this manner profaned the temple (Acts 24:6 ), or, as it is put in Acts 21:28 , he had 'brought Greeks into the temple and polluted this holy place.' In the assault which they thereupon made on Paul they violently seized and dragged him out of the temple-dragged him outside the balustrade. The Levites at once shut the gates, to prevent the possibility of any further profanation, and Paul would have been torn in pieces, had not the Roman commander and his soldiers forcibly prevented.
2. Herod's Temple; Its Divisions; the Courts:
In building the temple Herod the Great had enclosed a large area to form the various courts. The temple itself consisted of the two divisions, the Holy Place, entered by the priests every day, and the Holy of Holies into which the high priest entered alone once every year. Immediately outside the temple there was the Court of the Priests, and in it was placed the great altar of burnt offering. Outside of this again was the Court of the Sons of Israel, and beyond this the Court of the Women. The site of the temple itself and the space occupied by the various courts already mentioned formed a raised plateau or platform. "From it you descended at various points down 5 steps and through gates in a lofty wall, to find yourself overlooking another large court - the outer court to which Gentiles, who desired to see something of the glories of the temple and to offer gifts and sacrifices to the God of the Jews, were freely admitted. Farther in than this court they were forbidden, on pain of death, to go. The actual boundary line was not the high wall with its gates, but a low stone barrier about 5 ft. in height, which ran round at the bottom of 14 more steps" (J. Armitage Robinson, D.D., Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians , 59; see also Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ , 46).
The middle wall of partition was called
3. The Court of the Gentiles:
The Court of the Gentiles formed the lowest and the outermost enclosure of all the courts of the sanctuary. It was paved with the finest variegated marble. Its name signified that it was open to all, Jews or Gentiles alike. It was very large, and is said by Jewish tradition to have formed a square of 750 ft. It was in this court that the oxen and sheep and the doves for the sacrifices were sold as in a market. It was in this court too that there were the tables of the money-changers, which Christ Himself overthrew when He drove out the sheep and oxen and them that bought and sold in His Father's house. The multitudes assembling in this court must have been very great, especially on occasions such as the Passover and Pentecost and at the other great feasts, and the din of voices must oftentimes have been most disturbing. As already seen, beyond this court no Gentile might go. See TEMPLE .
In the year 1871, while excavations were being made on the site of the temple by the Palestine Exploration Fund, M. Clermont-Ganneau discovered one of the pillars which Josephus describes as having been erected upon the very barrier or middle wall of partition, to which Paul refers. This pillar is now preserved in the Museum at Constantinople and is inscribed with a Greek inscription in capital or uncial letters, which is translated as follows:
While Paul was writing the Epistle to the Ephesians at Rome, this barrier in the temple at Jerusalem was still standing, yet the chained prisoner of Jesus Christ was not afraid to write that Christ had broken down the middle wall of partition, and had thus admitted Gentiles who were far off, strangers and foreigners, to all the privileges of access to God in ancient times possessed by Israel alone; that separation between Jew and Gentile was done away with forever in Christ.
4. The Throwing down of the Barrier:
If Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians in 60 or 61 AD, then the actual barrier of stone remained in its position in the Court of the Gentiles not more than some 10 years, for it was thrown down in the burning of the temple by the Roman army. And out of those ruins a fragment has been excavated in our own day, containing the very inscription threatening death to the Gentileintruder, and reminding us that it is only in Christ Jesus that we now draw nigh unto God, and that we are thus one body in Christ, one new man. Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition, for He, in His own person, is our peace.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Partition, the Middle Wall of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/p/partition-the-middle-wall-of.html. 1915.
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12