Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentEphesians 2
And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins.
"To be dead in trespasses and sins does not mean unconsciousness or non-existence." F1 (1 Timothy 5:6; Revelation 3:1). In the Scriptural view, sin equals death; and there is no light or casual view of either in the Bible.
You did he make alive ...
Beare pointed out that the various pronouns "you" (Ephesians 2:1,2), "we all" (Ephesians 2:3), and "us ... we" (Ephesians 2:4), "refer to the distinction between Jews and Gentiles only to nullify it. Both are shown to have been alike guilty and in need of God's mercy." F2
Trespasses and sins ...
Barry suggested a difference in the meaning of these terms, making "sins" to "denote universal and positive principles of evil doing, and trespasses, failure in visible and special acts of those not necessarily out of the right way." F3 However, such a distinction is not corroborated by other New Testament use of the terms. For example, the Matthew and Luke accounts of the Lord's Prayer use the words interchangeably; and, as Blaikie said, "The distinction cannot be carried out in all other passages. F4 The full thought would seem to be "all kinds of sin."
It is evident in this verse that the deadness of unregenerated people is a derivative, not of their birth, but of their sins. Death always implies a change from the state of being alive. Therefore, the thought of total human depravity as something inherited must be incorrect. Sinners in their pre-Christian state were "dead in sins"; but that deadness was not something they inherited, but came about through the guilt of sins committed.
There is a world of difference in being dead in sins, as here, and being dead to sin in Christ Jesus. Those in Christ are legally dead to sin, in the sense of being free of the penalty of it, through the death of Christ. They are in Christ; Christ died, and therefore they died. Neither in that blessed state in Christ, nor in the wretched condition mentioned here, is there any such thing as "being dead to sin" in the sense of exemption from the temptations to sin. Even Christ was tempted.
Verses 2, 3
Wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Walked according to the course of this world ...
"This refers to the behavior which is characteristic of unregenerated people. Such persons do what people are normally expected to do, from motives that are common to all, and invariably governed by selfishness. The course of this world is laid out in harmony with self and selfish desires. The person walking after this manner regards not the will of God but only the passions, appetites and ambitions of egocentric self.
The prince of the powers of the air ...
The character in view here is most assuredly Satan, who is called the "god of this world" in 2 Cor. 4:4, and who was called the "prince of this world" (John 14:30; 16:11) by none other than the Christ himself. Only those who consciously reject the teaching of the New Testament can deny the existence of the personal ruler of this world's darkness. Christ himself taught people to pray, "Deliver us from the evil one!" Therefore, all people should reject the snide arrogance which says:
The idea of a personal devil is all
but unimaginable to the mind of our
own times, and is capable of
interpretation only as a
personification of the external forces
of evil which play upon the human
The greatest deception Satan ever perpetrated upon people is that of persuading them that he does not exist! The intelligent organization of complementary and interlocking systems of wickedness all over the world proves the intelligent and personal nature of the evil one. The intellectual snobbery that sets aside the teaching of the Christian Scriptures on this subject has already run its course; and, as Wedel said, "Sober theologians are again wrestling openly with the problem of the `demonic'." F6 Such things as psychology, social pressures, poverty, etc., are simply not an adequate explanation of evil; and the more thoughtful and perceptive scholars are already aware of this; but the great rank and file of mankind have never been deceived for a moment. They invariably accept the terminology of the New Testament for what it says. Again from Wedel, "Simple folk are often better theologians than the learned of the schools." F7
It is clearly Satan which Paul referred to in this place; but what is meant by "powers of the air"? In this also, it is necessary to discard many current interpretations. This is not merely "a reference to the prevailing superstitions of those times that the air was full of evil spirits." F8 It is not an accommodation of Christian thought to "later Gnostic" F9 theories. This authentic Pauline epistle antedates Gnosticism.
Powers of the air ...
This is the same as "power of darkness" (Luke 22:53; Colossians 1:13) and the "spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). This possible meaning was pointed out by Bruce, who based it upon the fact that the word Paul used for "air" is not [Greek: aither], meaning the clear upper air, but [Greek: aer], which means the obscure, misty, lower air. F10 The logic of construing Paul's meaning here as "darkness" is further supported by the truth noted by Barry:
Air here describes a sphere, and
therefore a power, below the heaven
and yet above the earth. The word and
its derivatives carry with them the
ideas of cloudiness, mist and even
darkness. Hence it is naturally used
to suggest the evil power as allowed
invisibly to encompass and move about
this world, yet overruled by the power
of the true heaven, which it vainly
strives to overcloud and hide from the
Thus, inherently, the designation of Satan as prince of the powers of the air (in the sense suggested above) is precisely accurate and instructive. Satan's awesome power is above that of human beings, but below that of Christ. Furthermore, Paul's reference later in this epistle (Ephesians 6:12) to "spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" is more accurately understood, in the light of this, as not being on a parity with the dominion of Christ (also in the heavenly places), but confined to that lower, obscure heavenly place in view here.
The spirit that now worketh ...
A spirit is a living being; and from this it is plain that Paul considered Satan to be at work in the people of his generation; and we are certain that he is no less at work now.
Barclay pointed out that these first three verses have a description of the life without Christ, the same being: (1) a life lived on the world's standards and with the world's values; (2) a life under the dictates of the prince of powers of the air; (3) a life of disobedience; (4) a life at the mercy of desire. "To succumb to that desire is inevitably to come to disaster." F12 (5) a life that follows the desires of the flesh, and (6) a life which deserves only the wrath of God. To this list there should also be added: "It is a life which follows the desires of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3). The unregenerated mind itself is at enmity with God; and the imaginations of it are a source of rebellion against God.
Lusts of the flesh ... desires of the flesh ...
These certainly include the gratification of bodily appetites; but, as Lipscomb said, "The flesh, the world and the devil are not different classes of sin, but aspects of sin; and any one is made at times to represent all." F13
With regard to the powerful spiritual hosts over whom Satan is said to be their prince, MacKnight identified these with the fallen angels of Jude 1:6 and 1 Pet. 5:8, supposing that "they have arranged themselves under the direction of one chief F14 the better to carry on their evil work. He also supposed that Satan might have been the leader of the angels who rebelled against God, hence "the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
By nature, children of wrath ...
Apart from God, there is nothing in nature that leads people into paths of righteousness; and rejection of the knowledge of God by the pre-Christian world promptly issued in their unbelievable debauchery.
We also all once lived ...
How could Paul have included himself here with the godless pre-Christian Gentiles? Of course, in the sense of all people being guilty before God, the Jew and Gentile alike were without merit; but that is not the meaning of this place. Paul had always sought to have a pure conscience before God, and he was a practicing Pharisee of the noblest and purest motives; and one may not escape the certainty that in this place Paul was including himself with the pre-Christian Gentiles in an accommodative sense. The writings of Paul abound in examples of this same fundamental courtesy and consideration on his part; and one may only marvel at the blindness that refuses to see it in a passage like Heb. 2:3.
Verses 4, 5
But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved).
Dead through our trespasses ...
"This describes the existing state from which we were made alive with Christ." F15 The same thought is in Rom. 5:10 where our being enemies was the existing state from which we were reconciled to God.
By grace have ye been saved ...
In this Paul referred to salvation from past sins and induction into the kingdom of Christ. The apostle Peter mentioned this as salvation from one's "old sins" (2 Peter 1:9). As Lipscomb said:
We are already saved from our past sins, but we must continue faithful to the end; for the Saviour says, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). F16
Paul's reference to salvation in the past perfect tense as something done and accomplished already has no reference to final destiny but to the primary obedience that makes a true child of God. See under Eph. 2:8.
And raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.
Raised us up with him ...
Paul was speaking of obeying the gospel in the preceding verse, of being saved from "old sins," of becoming a part of Christ, being made alive "with Christ," etc. In that light, this clause is a plain categorical reference to Christian baptism, the same being the means by which God makes the penitent believer to be "in Christ." How astounding are the comments which would make "raised up with" Christ in this place to mean: "the resurrection of believers at the last day," F17 "a spiritual transformation," F18 "believers are viewed (here) as already seated there (in heaven) with Christ," F19 "in spirit already, and ere long our bodies too will be raised" F20 - but the true meaning is given by Paul himself thus:
We were buried with him through
baptism into death: that like as
Christ was raised from the dead
through the glory of the Father, so we
also might walk in newness of life
Having been buried with him in
baptism, wherein ye were also raised
with him, through faith in the working
of God who raised him from the dead
... you, I say, did he make alive
together with him (Colossians 2:12,13).
The full meaning of this verse is that Christians who have been baptized into Christ, therein being "made alive together with Christ" and being "raised up with him," are partakers of the full rights and privileges of the heavenly kingdom. People have removed baptism from their own theology, but they have not removed it from that of Paul.
That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Exceeding riches ... in kindness ...
The marvelous tenderness and consideration of God for his erring human children must ever inspire with admiration, wonder and awe the soul that becomes conscious of the fullness and glory of such wonderful love.
In Christ ...
Like a constant drumbeat, this Pauline concept is hammered into every line of his writings. The love, the goodness, the hope, the forgiveness, the joy, the salvation - everything is in Christ.
In the ages to come ...
The apostle Paul did not anticipate the end of the world in a few days, or a few weeks, or in his lifetime, but on the other hand considered that God's grace would be available in the salvation of sinful men for "ages to come." This is only one of a very great many such texts and intimations in the New Testament which demonstrate the perverse error, both of those who charge all of the sacred writers with expecting the Second Coming any minute and those who refer this to "the ages that will follow Christ's Parousia." F21
Verses 8, 9
For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory.
The jubilation with which some hail this text would be much more restrained by a little careful study of it. There is no release in this text from obligations God has bound upon sinners who desire to be saved. It cannot mean, nor does it say, that "faith only" saves sinners, and that even that faith is supplied by the Lord, not by sinners, being "not of yourselves"! Because of arrogant and persistent error which people strive to fasten upon this beautiful passage a careful study of it is included here.
The error of people in their interpretations of this passage is evident in such comments as "our salvation ... is appropriated by us through faith alone." F22 "Here is the basis for the watchword of Reformation theology: solo gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria (`by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory')." F23 The Old Testament injunction was "Thou shalt not yoke the ox with the ass"; but, in the so-called "watchword" of Reformation theology the ox is yoked with two asses, namely solo gratia and sola fide. If salvation is by grace alone, it cannot, at the same time be of faith; and if it is of faith alone, it cannot, at the same time, be of grace also. Could a man be married to Ruth alone and to Ann alone at the same time? Thus, the "watchword" is a contradiction on its face; and, besides that, the so-called "Scriptures" grace only and faith only, are bastard Scriptures, being nowhere mentioned in the word of God, with the lone exception of James 2:24, where that sacred writer says "we are not justified by faith alone."
But what does the text say?
By grace have ye been saved through faith ...
Some of the critical scholars declare the past perfect tense here to be un-Pauline; F24 but, while it is true that Paul often spoke of salvation as a continuing process (as in 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1:18 and Romans 5:9), he was here speaking of being "saved" in the sense of having obeyed the gospel. Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16); and Paul was here addressing people who had believed and had been "raised with Christ" by baptism into newness of life (Ephesians 2:6); and, therefore, in the sense of Paul's thought here, it was mandatory to use the past perfect. The primary salvation accomplished when a sinner believes and obeys the gospel is complete, final and perfect, as regards his old sins. The use of the past perfect makes it certain that that primary salvation was referred to here.
By grace ...
The connotations of this word as used in the New Testament include the principles: (1) of human beings (all of them) being unworthy of the salvation God provides; (2) of the impossibility of any man's meriting or earning salvation, even if he had a million lives to live; and (3) that salvation bestowed upon people originated in the heart of God and that it flows out from God to people, being from God and of God alone. It is clear then that God's grace is to all people, for all people alike, and that it is available for every person who was ever born on earth (Titus 2:11). If then, salvation is by grace only, all people are already saved; for God's grace has appeared to all. Christ himself, however, taught that all people will not be saved; and the only intelligent reconciliation of those twin facts lies in accepting the premise of human salvation's being conditional, that is, made to turn upon human acceptance of it through human compliance with the conditions upon which God through Christ and the apostles promised it. The Reformation heresy was simply that of removing or negating all conditions of salvation except the sinner's subjective trust/faith, thus proclaiming what was called "salvation through faith alone." Such preconditions of salvation as repentance, confession, baptism and the acceptance by the convert of his Christian obligations - all these are declared to be "works" and therefore unnecessary to be performed as conditions of salvation, and this despite the truth that none of them is a "work" at all, except in the sense that the sinner's faith is also a "work."
Through faith ...
The most likely meaning of this phrase, as attested by the Emphatic Diaglott rendition of it, is "through the faith," F25 that is, "through the Christian faith," or the Christian religion. One thing is absolutely certain: this cannot mean the subjective trust/faith of sinners. Three reasons deny such an interpretation: (1) the Diaglott rendition is supported by the Vatican manuscript which has the article (the); and furthermore the inclusion of it is often understood anyway so that the absence of the article in some manuscripts does not deny it; and, in all probability, the translators would have supplied it (as permitted) if they had properly understood the meaning of it. (2) The qualifying clause next given, "and that not of yourselves," absolutely denies that the faith of sinners is in view here. See under the clause below. (3) Recent extensive studies by George Howard of the University of Georgia disclose that the usual meaning of "faith" in the New Testament is not sinner's trust/faith at all, but fidelity. F26 "Faith" as used in the vocabulary of current theological jargon to mean sinner's trust/faith experienced inwardly and subjectively is not a New Testament concept at all. Also, it is impossible to reconcile such a perverted understanding of the word "faith" in this clause, because of the qualifier thundered in the next clause.
And that not of yourselves ...
The placement of this modifying clause applies it to faith, no matter whether the word for "that" is rendered as here, or "this" as it should be rendered Both the Nestle Greek Interlinear Greek-English Testament and the Emphatic Diaglott translate the word "this" making it absolutely mandatory to understand "the faith" as being that which is "not of yourselves." Those who have already interpreted "faith" here as sinner's faith, however, are under the necessity of removing the meaning of this qualifier which so effectively denies their interpretation; and they have labored prodigiously in a losing cause:
- MacKnight injected a word foreign to the Greek text, mistranslating the verse thus, "By grace are ye saved through faith, and this affair is not of yourselves, etc." He added, "I have supplied this affair (making it mean)your salvation through faith is not of yourselves!" F27 Well, that's one way to deal with a troublesome text! Others have sought to base their objections to the obvious meaning upon grammatical considerations.
- Robertson made faith in this passage sinner's faith, saying, "Grace is God's part, faith is ours," basing his conclusion on the fact of the adverb, this (mistranslated that in the English Revised Version (1885)) being of neuter gender, and thus not corresponding to the word faith which is feminine gender, flatly affirming that there is no reference at all in this place to faith as used in that same clause, but referring to salvation as used in the clause before! F28 Lenski called this "careless," and then used the same argument himself! The simple truth is that no rule of grammar requires an adverbial phrase to agree in gender with its antecedent. This writer has long insisted that it is grammar, not Greek, that foils the work of many interpreters. F. F. Bruce exposed the poverty of this argument from grammar thus:
The fact that the Greek word for faith ([pistis]) is feminine, while the pronoun that is neuter here, is no barrier to regarding faith as the gift of God. The phrase "and that" is really adverbial! A similar usage by Paul is in Philp. 1:28 thus:
A token ... of your salvation, and
that from God; and in that reference
that is similarly neuter, while both
token ([Greek: endeixis]) and
salvation ([Greek: soteria]) are
- Hendriksen and others, being aware of the total failure of the argument from grammar to sustain their thesis, support still another theory, credited to A. Kuyper, St., which makes "faith" in this verse to mean "faith exercised by the sinner" (which is the essential error in all of these theories) "is not of yourselves but is God's gift." F30 This, of course, is the prize winner, being, without doubt, the most unbelievable of all these false explanations. If allowed, it would make the New Testament say that people are saved by faith, but there is no need really for them to believe, since God himself gives the faith he requires! The human theories would then have to be revised to teach that people are saved by faith only; but people do not even have to believe, for God gives them faith! This to be sure would remove all conditions without exception, making salvation of all men to depend utterly upon the action of God. The conception that "faith" in this place means some kind of subjective (inward) faith exercised by a person must really be dear to its adherents who will subscribe to any theory as ridiculous, unscriptural and unbelievable as this.
There is only one possible way of understanding "faith" as the subjective response of a person (in this passage), and that is by referring it to the faith of Jesus Christ. If this is done, of course, then the availability of Christ's faith as the basis of human redemption is indeed the gift of God. Such an interpretation would have the grace of not contradicting the Scriptures; but, in all likelihood, the simple meaning here is "the Christian faith," which carne about as a gift of God to mankind, and not as a result of any human contribution whatever. See more on "faith of Christ" under Gal. 2:16,20.
Not of works, that no man should glory ...
This refers to works of the Law of Moses, to nothing else; and the expression itself had become a kind of proverb in Paul's writings during those long years of his struggles against Judaizing teachers. It is simply outrageous that a scholar will ignore this and apply this verse (9) to mean that "God rejects every work of man." F31 Paul never taught anything like that. He said "work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2:12), and he also praised the Thessalonians for their "work of faith" (1 Thessalonians 1:3). If God rejects "every work of man," Paul never heard of it! Alfred Barry caught the true meaning here perfectly, thus:
In this verse we have the echo of the
past Judaizing controversy; it sums up
briefly the whole argument of
Rom. 3:27 to Rom. 4:25. There is
another reminiscence, but more distinct
and detached in Philp. 3:2-9. F32
That no man should glory ...
This intention of the Father absolutely removes the primary steps of Christian obedience from any possibility of inclusion in the words "not of works," because there is nothing in any of the steps of primary obedience which by even the wildest stretch of human imagination can be construed as "glorying," or providing any basis for human glorying.
not in one's self, but in the crucified Saviour - any ground of glorying here?
entails godly sorrow for sins committed, issuing in a reversal of the human will - any ground of glorying?
is not a confession of how saved one is, or what wonders the Lord has done for one, but of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God - any ground of glorying here?
Baptism into Christ ...
In this act, which is the sinner's only in the sense that he is commanded to "have himself baptized," he is passive, silent, meek, helpless; with hands folded over a penitent heart, he permits his entire person to be buried in baptism, this action showing that he does not trust himself for salvation any more than he would trust a dead body, fit only to be buried - any ground of glorying here? NO! NO! NO! Those who are glorying in this generation are not those who are obeying the gospel in order to be saved, as the Scriptures teach; but, on the other hand, they are those who are screaming to high heaven that they are being saved in a better way, by doing nothing except "believing" or "trusting." They are glorying in being saved without "obeying the gospel"; and they are glorying against those whom they denounce and decry as "legalists" because they do render obedience to these primary commandments and strive to teach all people to do likewise.
This writer has never known a Christian throughout many years of preaching and teaching God's word who ever gloried in rendering primary obedience to the gospel, or who for one moment believed such obedient actions on his part "earned" salvation, or "placed God under obligations to him," or put him in a position of "deserving" or "meriting" eternal redemption. The implied (or stated) slander of Christians who believe that Christ meant what he said when he declared that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" is not merely arrogant and dishonest, but it is also without love. Since the groups who believe and practice obedience to the primary conditions of redemption most certainly include "faith in Christ Jesus" as being the very first of those preconditions, are such believers then disqualified as Christians because they also obeyed the Lord's word in those areas? Such is the love that people have for their theory that they will denominate anyone who denies it as a Pharisee, a legalist and a truster in works. This evident hatred of those who accept for themselves and teach others the "obedience of faith" betrays the true allegiance and sonship of them that manifest it. They are the true Pharisees of our day. "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees."
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.
Good works ...
One who is a Christian works under the same imperative compulsion as that which rested upon the Christ who said, "We must work the works of him that sent me" (John 9:4). Any theory which divorces the works a Christian must do from having any connection with his salvation is a false theory. It is true, to be sure, that even the good works of Christians are in no sense adequate grounds of God's justification lavished upon them in Christ; but they are conditions antecedent to eternal life, which may indeed, for cause, be waived by the Father in love, but which may not, under any circumstances, be rejected with impunity by arrogant man who simply decide they will do it "by faith alone." Most of the commentators who advocate the "faith only" heresy are very broadminded (!) in dealing with this verse. They say: "The essential quality of the new life is good works." "If we are not living a life of good works, we have no reason to believe that we have been saved by grace." F34 "Paul reminds us that works have a place in God's salvation." F35 Etc., etc. Well, what is that place? Paul spelled it out, thus:
God will render to every man according
to his works: to them that by patience
in well-doing seek for glory and honor
and incorruption, eternal life: but
unto them that are factious and obey
not the truth, but obey
unrighteousness, shall be wrath and
indignation, tribulation and anguish,
upon every soul of man that worketh
evil, of the Jew first and also of the
Greek (Romans 2:6-9). Also see
2 Cor. 5:10.
The truth is clear enough for all who wish to know it.
Verses 11, 12
Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in this world.
There is a progression in these two verses describing the pre-Christian state of Gentile Christians. "Physically they lacked the ancient sign of the covenant; politically they had no part in Israel's national or religious life, and spiritually they had no knowledge of the true God." F36 Also in Eph. 2:12 (beginning after the words "made by hands") "there is a fivefold negative description with a cumulative effect, the situation becoming graver and more terrible; and the last clause is the climax." F37
Wherefore remember ...
It might be good for any Christian to pause now and then and look up to God and remember the way it was with himself before he began to follow Christ. Few indeed are they who remember nothing for which they feel strong emotions to praise God and thank him for all his benefits.
Uncircumcision ... Circumcision ...
Circumcision was the sign of God's covenant with the children of Israel; but instead of accepting their responsibility of teaching all nations of the true God, they usurped for themselves alone the privileges of the true knowledge of God and became exclusive, arrogant, proud and conceited, looking down upon Gentiles with the utmost contempt and detestation. No modern person can fully appreciate the exclusiveness of ancient Israel; but the following paragraph from Barclay provides some suggestion of what it was like:
The Jew said that God created Gentiles
as fuel for the fires of hell, that of
all the nations God made, he loved
Israel alone, that the best of
serpents crush and the best of
Gentiles kill, that it was not even
lawful to aid a Gentile women in labor
because it would only bring into the
world another Gentile. The barrier
was absolute. If a Jewish boy married
a Gentile girl, a funeral for that boy
was carried out. Even setting foot in
a Gentile's house defiled a Jew! F38
Most of the "glorying" Paul had in mind in his letters regarded such inordinate conceit as that depicted by Barclay above. Paul, having himself been a participant in such thinking, understood it completely and totally rejected, repudiated and forsook it; and, when something of the same arrogant pride, conceit, and vain-glory which once pertained to Israel began to rear its serpentine head among Gentile Christians, Paul struck a blow against it, much of the book of Romans having that as the objective.
Separate from Christ ...
Gentiles, prior to Christianity, had no longing for a Messiah, as did the Jews.
Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel ...
The use of this expression shows that Paul was already thinking of the commonwealth of the new Israel, the spiritual Israel, which is the church, which is not exclusively the possession of any race or class of people, but for "whomsoever will." All nations, races and divisions of human beings are invited to membership in the new commonwealth. By bringing into view in these verses the Jews and Gentiles (Circumcision and Uncircumcision), Paul indicated that all other similar distinctions are likewise abrogated in Christ. The Jewish exclusiveness was actually hardly worse than that of the educated Greeks who divided the whole world as "Greeks and barbarians," or that of the Romans who classified all people as either "citizens or non-citizens." Summarized, any of these classifications actually meant, "We vs. all other people on earth"!
Strangers from the covenant of the promise ...
All of the great and precious promises of the Old Testament, looking to the blessing of "all kindreds of the earth," were literally unknown by the Gentiles. The Jews knew, or should have known, that God also had plans for their salvation, but no evangelical message ever went out from Jerusalem under the old covenant.
Having no hope ...
The pessimism of the entire pre-Christian Gentile world is one of the saddest and most wretched chapters of human history. In the vanity of his own intellectual conceit, ancient man rejected the knowledge of God, which at one time he most certainly did have; and the story of what then followed is recounted in the first two chapters of Romans. Every man should read it as a prophecy of what will surely happen to "modern man" when he has finished with removing God from his thoughts.
Without God ...
translates a single word in the Greek (atheists), the same being the only New Testament occurrence of it. This word was commonly used by Christians to describe the pagans.
When Polycarp, the aged bishop of
Smyrna, was led into the arena before
a howling multitude clamoring for his
death, the Roman Procurator took pity
on his gray hairs and invited him to
save his life by renouncing Christ and
saying, "Away with the atheists."
(The pagans called the Christians
atheists.) But Polycarp waved his
hands toward the bloodthirsty throng
in the arena, and cried, "Away with
the atheists!" thus turning the word
back upon those who used it. F39
For full discussion of the godlessness of the pre-Christian Gentiles, see the first two chapters of Romans, with comments in this series.
But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Jesus.
The Old Testament Scriptures seem to have been constantly in Paul's mind; and in this verse the background was apparently this passage:
Peace to him that is far off, and to
him that is near saith the Lord; and I
will heal him. But the wicked are
like the troubled sea when it cannot
rest ... There is no peace, saith my
God, to the wicked (Isaiah 57:19-21).
Thus, Paul showed the salvation of Gentiles to have been in God's plan always, Gentiles being clearly included in Isaiah's prophecy of those whom God would heal. Peter also, in the Pentecostal sermon, extended the terms of admission to God's kingdom to "all that are afar off" (Acts 2:39).
Far off ...
From the above, it is clear that in both Old Testament and New Testament these words are a reference to Gentiles, but the implications and connotations of the expression are far greater than that of a mere term of identification. In the ancient cultures of both the pagans and the Jews, that which was "far off' was held to be detestable. Both Horace and Virgil described the opening lines of pagan worship ceremonies thus:
Hence! O hence! Ye profane!
I abominate the profane vulgar,
And drive them from the temples. F40
The English word "profane" derives from the Latin procul a fano, which is literally far from the temple. F41 The utter depravity of the whole pre-Christian Gentile civilization is expressed by the words "far off."
Made nigh in the blood of Christ ...
It is the blood of Christ which cleanses from sin, making it possible for the profane to enter the temple of God; it was the ransom paid for the redemption of the souls under bondage to sin; it was the purchase price paid for his church. The blood references in the New Testament are precious, and only the spiritually reprobate are capable of rejecting them as in any manner offensive.
For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition.
Our peace ...
The mind of the great apostle still lingered upon the glorious prophecies of Isaiah (see under Ephesians 2:13); and in such a frame of mind Paul would most certainly have included in his thoughts the prophecy of the Son of God who had assured his apostles that the Jewish temple itself would be utterly devastated and destroyed within the time-span of a single generation after Jesus spoke (Mark 13:30), and that the destruction would be so complete that not one stone would be left on top of another (Mark 13:2). Furthermore, as Paul wrote, he could not have failed to recall that he himself had barely escaped with his life when the Jews wrongly accused him of taking a Gentile beyond the "middle wall of partition" in the temple (Acts 21:28f). And yet ... here he was dictating a letter to a congregation containing many Gentiles, all of whom, together with himself and many other Jews, were now, all of them, members of that greater temple in Christ! As one of the most prominent and successful Pharisees of his generation, Paul would also have had first-hand information about the rending of the temple veil that hung between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, a sensational event that took place at the moment of Christ's death (Matthew 27:51), the significance of this being in the fact that the sacred veil was the largest, highest, most important and most symbolical of all the "middle walls of partition" (of which there were several) in the ancient Jewish temple. Thus, when God rent it in twain, all of the middle walls of separation were broken down and destroyed. A little fuller comment on this situation is purposefully included here with the intention of showing the absurdity of a critical remark such as:
It is improbable, however, that the
figure (of the broken down middle wall
of partition) would have occurred to
any Christian writer while the wall
itself was still standing: the
expression therefore points to a
post-Apostolic dating of this
Only if Paul had been a spiritual ignoramus could he have failed to know at this time of his first imprisonment when this letter was written that God had broken down the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles. Paul's whole apostolic mission had been carried forward in the stern and certain conviction that God had broken it down; and for anyone to imagine that Paul would have needed the actual destruction of the temple itself (which occurred after Paul's death) to suggest the figure which he employed in this passage it would first have to be supposed that Paul was a spiritual dunce. The whole Christian world knew that the temple was doomed to destruction by Christ's prophecy; and not even all of the cunning and power of the Jews and Gentiles alike who tried to save it could prevent the prophecy's fulfillment. Not only by Paul, but by every Christian, the Jewish temple was looked upon as already destroyed! Inherent in such a criticism as that just quoted is not only the bias which prompted it but an amazing lack of spiritual discernment. All such criticisms of the word of God have a quality of solving "problems" by creating greater and more numerous problems. For example, if it is assumed, for the moment only, and for the purpose of argument, that some post-Apostolic writer wrote Ephesians, attributed it to Paul the apostle, sent it forth, and achieved universal acceptance of it as a genuine Pauline letter by the churches of all nations for nineteen centuries - if such a monstrous and improbable supposition should be allowed, then it would be true that the book of Ephesians was produced by a true genius who gave humanity some of the noblest teaching in all of the sacred Scriptures, but that this genius (!) did not even know that Paul died before the Jewish temple was destroyed, and that he betrayed the fraudulent nature of his deception by the reference in Eph. 2:14!
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace.
Abolished in his flesh ...
The thought here is similar to that in Heb. 10:20, where the new and living way is said to have been opened up through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, thus lending probability to the view of Russell that Paul was referring to the veil of the temple ("middle wall" in 2:14) which was torn when Christ died. He said:
Regarding the "middle wall of
partition ..." This probably is a
symbolical reference to the partition
in the temple which set apart the
court of the Gentiles. Its
destruction was typified in the
rending of the veil of the temple at
the time of the crucifixion (Matt.
Abolished the enmity ...
"No iron curtain, color bar, class distinction or national frontier of today is more absolute than the cleavage between Jew and Gentile in antiquity." F44 Christ abrogated, annulled and replaced the entire Jewish system with another institution, that of the New Covenant, in which all former distinctions were canceled.
Abolished ... the law of commandments ...
This refers to the totality of the entire Jewish system of religion, and is not restricted in meaning to "the ceremonial law," or any lesser part of Judaism. All of that system was nailed to the cross of Christ. See my Commentary on Hebrews, Heb. 8:8ff.
That he might create ...
The spiritual creation "in Christ" is of equal rank in the holy Scriptures with the creation of the universe itself, as recorded in Genesis.
In himself of the twain ...
"The twain" are the Jews and the Gentiles, both of whom are now united as one new man "in Christ."
So making peace ...
Thus the key words of Isa. 57:19-21 continue to sparkle in Paul's writings here: "them that are far off ... them that are near ... peace ...
And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.
All of the enmity and hatred of previous class distinctions are dissolved and disappear through the creation of a new man, the Christian, who is then no longer a Jew nor a Gentile but a participant of the newness of life in Christ Jesus.
In one body ...
This is equivalent to the church, the commonwealth of the new Israel, the spiritual body of Christ, the community of new creatures forming God's creation through Christ upon the earth.
Through the cross ...
The centrality of the cross of Christ is an essential Christian concept. No person can be a "new man" until he is willing to forsake the old man, an act referred to by Christ as "to deny" one's self. The cross was literally the death of Christ; but for all Christians, the cross means the renunciation of self, the denial of self, followed by union with Christ, in Christ and as Christ, in which state the new man has a new life, a new name, a whole set of new value-judgments, actually a new mind, the mind of Christ.
Having slain the enmity thereby ...
The instrument of Christ's triumph over sin was the cross, in which all evil, of every kind, was brought to naught, potentially at the present time, and in the absolute sense eventually.
And he came and preached peace to you that were afar off, and peace to them that were nigh.
The key words of Isa. 57:19-21 are still a kind of refrain, repeated over and over by Paul in this passage.
He came and preached peace ...
Christ's entry into the world to bring the word of the Father to sinful humanity had a far greater purpose than merely making peace between Jews and Gentiles, worthy and epochal as such an achievement would be. As Blaikie expressed it:
The repetition of the word "peace" (in
this passage) is expressive; if the
subject had merely been peace between
two classes of men, we should not have
had the repetition. The repetition
denotes peace between each of the two
classes, and a third party, namely
For through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.
This verse is exceptional in that Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Father are all named in it.
So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.
As Taylor observed, there are no less than three metaphors of unity in Eph. 2:19-21, expressed as: (1) common citizenship, (2) membership in a single household, and (3) mutual parts of one holy temple. F46
Paul was a Roman citizen and had received signal blessings from such a relationship. Thus it was natural that he should have compared the privileges of being in Christ to citizenship in a kingdom much higher and holier than any other ever known on earth. It was one of Paul's favorite metaphors (see Philippians 3:20).
Of the household of God ...
This is a reference to God's family, extended and expanded to include all who would be saved. A similar word was used in antiquity to describe the "family" of slaves belonging to some mighty ruler, or wealthy landowner. Several such "households" are mentioned in Romans 16. "The household of Chloe" (1 Corinthians 1:11) is also mentioned.
Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone.
The foundation of the apostles and prophets ...
There are five foundations of the Christian faith mentioned in the New Testament: (1) The foundational teaching is composed of the teachings of Christ delivered through the apostles and prophets of the new dispensation (Matthew 7:24-26). (2) The foundational fact is that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-20). (3) The foundation person is Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 3:11). (4) The foundational personnel was made up of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, as revealed here. (5) The foundational doctrines of Christianity (six of these) are enumerated in Hebrews 6:1,2.
Significantly, many different metaphors are needed to set forth the many facets of Christ's relationship to his people on earth. He is called the bridegroom, the lord of the vineyard, the foundation, the cornerstone, the good shepherd, the true vine, the door of the sheep, the pioneer, the forerunner, the head of the body, etc., etc.
Corner stone ...
In this verse, perhaps the ancient cornerstone was the basis of the metaphor. It was more than what is usually called a cornerstone now. Several lines of the building were bound together, completed and held together by the cornerstone. For more extended comment on this subject, see my Commentary on Romans 9, "Christ the Living Stone."
In whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord.
Each several building ...
There is no compelling reason to follow the English Revised Version (1885) in this rendition. The RSV has "the whole structure"; the New English Bible (1961) has "the whole building"; and the KJV has "all the building." F. F. Bruce discussed this variation thus:
The evidence for and against the
omission of the article is rather
evenly balanced, although on the whole
the case appears to be stronger for
its omission. But there is some New
Testament authority for the meaning
"all," even when the article is
absent, so that the rendering "all the
building" would be possible whichever
reading be preferred. F47
On the basis of the context, it seems to this writer that the preferable view is presented in KJV, RSV, and New English Bible. After all, it is the unity of all things in Christ which Paul stressed; and the holy temple of the Lord would therefore seem more logically represented under the figure of a whole building, rather than as a conglomeration of many buildings, as in "each several building." If the English Revised Version (1885) has accurately translated for us Paul's true meaning, on the other hand, then the words of David Lipscomb would appear to be the best understanding of them:
The New Testament clearly recognizes
each separate congregation as the body
of Christ. God through his Spirit
dwells in each distinct and separate
church (in the sense of congregation).
The church is the body of Christ in
the community where it exists. It is
not a foot in Corinth, an arm in
Ephesus, an eye in Philippi, or an ear
in Antioch .... A child of God in a
strange land has only to worship God
himself and multiply the word of God
in the hearts of others; and the
result is a church of the living God,
complete without reference to any
other organization in the world. F48
In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.
Regarding the basic concept of the church of our Lord being the true temple of God, see full comment on this in my Commentary on Acts, 7:44ff, also under the heading "The Church the Temple of God" under 1 Cor. 3:16 in this series of commentaries.
In whom ...
is the equivalent of "in Christ"; and thus we have here another verse in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are designated.
Footnotes for Ephesians 2
1: John William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 476.
2: Francis W. Beare, The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), Vol. X, p. 638.
3: Alfred Barry, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), Vol. VII, p. 23.
4: W. G. Blaikie, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 20, Ephesians, p. 61.
5: Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 639.
6: Theodore E. Wedel, The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), Vol. X, p. 640.
8: John William Russell, op. cit., p. 476.
9: Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 640.
10: F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Ephesians (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961), p. 48.
11: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 23.
12: William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), p. 116.
13: David Lipscomb, New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1939), Ephesians, p. 40.
14: James MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles with Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), Vol. III, p. 278.
15: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 104.
16: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 42.
17: James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 282.
18: Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 643.
19: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 50.
20: John Wesley, One Volume New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), in loco.
21: William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 120.
22: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 51.
24: Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 645.
25: Emphatic Diglott (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, n.d.), p. 649.
26: George Howard, article: "The Faith of Christ" in Expository Times, Vol. 7, pp. 212-214, April, 1974.
27: James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 282.
28: As quoted by William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 121.
29: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 104.
30: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 122.
31: Ibid., p. 123.
32: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 26.
33: Francis Foulkes, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 77.
34: W. G. Blaikie, op. cit., p. 64.
35: Williard H. Taylor, Beacon Bible Commentaries, Vol. IX (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), p. 174.
36: George E. Harper, A New Testament Commentary, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 463.
37: W. G. Blaikie, op. cit., p. 63.
38: William Barclay, op. cit, p. 125.
39: Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 653.
40: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. XI (New York and London: Carlton and Porter, 1830), p. 780.
42: Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 655.
43: John William Russell, op. cit., p. 477.
44: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 54.
45: W. G. Blaikie, op. cit., p. 66.
46: Williard H. Taylor, op. cit., p. 181.
47: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 105.
48: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 54.
49: John Mackay, God's Order (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1953), p. 97.
50: Herman N. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 72.
51: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 948.
52: Arthur W. Pink, op. cit., p. 231.
53: Herman N. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 74.
54: R. A. Cole, op. cit., p. 59.
56: The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 80.
57: The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1961), p. 599.
58: R. V. G. Tasker, op. cit., p. 169.
59: John William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 415.
60: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 79.
61: John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.
63: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 123.