Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
–Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)
I suppose this is something of a detour from the recommended reading list for the New Covenant I presented in Part 6 of this series, but a person named “Zion” (presumably, not his real name) suggested I put it at the top of my list in a comment he made on another one of my blog posts:
Ephesians 2 establishes gentiles as now part of the covenants, which I wonder how you deal with such, as I have never seen you address Ephesians.
Really? That only sort of lines up with the path I’ve been following thus far. On the other hand, I do want to be fair, and hence, my taking a small detour into Ephesians 2 and sampling the relevant verses in that part of Paul’s letter.
I feel that after reading the relevant portion of Paul’s aforementioned letter, my original response to Zion on the previously referenced blog post will do quite nicely as my analysis of this scripture’s relationship (or not) to the New Covenant.
The quote begins here (I’ve edited my original comments somewhat to make it more relevant)—
I read Ephesians 2 (ESV) and particularly verses 11-22 which are supposedly the ones that should lead me to believe that Jews and Gentiles in Christ have both been made “one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” (vv 14-15)
So Christ made Jews and Gentiles one by abolishing the law, which is how most traditional Christians read it. Sorry, but I disagree. Being “one” doesn’t necessarily mean we’re a single, great, homogeneous mass of humanity (but I know you don’t believe this because of our past conversations).
However, if you don’t believe in the absolute obliteration of Jewish and Gentile distinctions, then “one new man” can’t possibly mean to you what it means to a lot of traditional Christians. For all I know, the law of “commandments expressed in ordinances” that was abolished was the halakhah of Paul’s day that erroneously stated that a Jew even entering a Gentile’s home made the Jew unclean (see Acts 10). That’s just a guess of course, but it’s as good as any.
I’ll assume (though I’ve been wrong before) that you’re focusing on vv 19-20:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, (or sojourners) but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”
I suppose another way of saying it would be that “you are no longer strangers and God-fearers…” meaning that the non-Jewish disciples entered into a covenant relationship with God through Israel and specifically the living embodiment of Israel, Jesus Christ.
Verse 22 is interesting: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
In fact, this whole sequence of verses reminds me of an argument I once made relative to the Good Shepherd:
“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” –John 10:16 (ESV)
I once tried to make an argument that Gentiles and Jews are equal in the Messiah across all theological attributes because we are two pens that have been merged into a single flock with Jesus as our good shepherd. Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the results of a conversation between Gene and I which I called Lamb Chop. You can read the whole blog rather than have me copy and paste all the text over here. You should know that Ovadia’s blog no longer exists (that info will make sense when you read “Lamb Chop”) and I can only find “Shelters and Housing for Sheep and Goats” at issuu.com now, which is not the ideal interface for reading the document (but it’s better than nothing).
The core statement from “Lamb Chop” is this:
“Farmers have many sheep pens on a farm for the same flock. When it’s time to lead the flock to pasture you let them all to lead them to pasture. After they return from feeding, a shepherd separates each sheep into their respective pens.”
You can be part of the same flock but for various reasons, still be kept in different “pens”. That’s how I consider myself as being “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19) We can be fellow citizens of the household of God as covenant people, and I believe we all are, Jews and Christians alike, but trying to either eliminate our covenant distinctions or “shoehorning” the Sinai covenant into the Gentile sheep pen (forgive the mixed metaphor) seems a bit of a stretch given the text available.
So what were we before we came to God through Christ and what are we now? Consider something from last week’s Torah Portion:
They provoked Me with a non-god, angered Me with their vanities; so shall I provoke them with a non-people, with a vile nation shall I anger them.
–Deuteronomy 32:21 (Stone Edition Chumash)
This compares well with both of the following:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
–Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
–1 Peter 2:10 (ESV)
The commentary for Deut. 32:21 in the Chumash states:
Israel angered God by worshiping deities that had no power or value. Measure for measure, God will let them be defeated and subjugated by nations that have no cultural or moral worth…
All of that describes us, the nations of the earth before coming to Christ and through him, being reconciled to God.
Not a pretty picture, but it gets worse.
Not for our sake, Hashem, not for our sake, but for Your Name’s sake give glory, for Your kindness and for Your truth! Why should the nations say, ‘Where now is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; whatever He pleases, He does! Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear; they have a nose, but cannot smell. Their hands – they cannot feel; their feet – they cannot walk; they cannot utter a sound from their throat. Those who make them should become like them, whoever trusts in them!
–Psalm 115:1-8 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
That’s us, or rather, that was us before turning away from our sins, repenting, confessing Christ, and coming to God. That was the state of Paul’s audience in his letter to the Ephesians before they too became disciples of the Master and worshipers of the God of Israel.
But what did they become and indeed, what do we become when we start calling ourselves Christians; when we choose to escape our fate as people of “nations that have no cultural or moral worth?”
Did we become “Jews” and convert to “Judaism?” It would appear not, even though it seems possible that some non-Jews did convert to Judaism in Paul’s day. In fact, the formerly-pagan Gentiles couldn’t have automatically converted to Judaism when they first became disciples of the Jewish Messiah. Here’s why.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
–Galatians 5:2-3 (ESV)
So when we stopped being pagan idol worshipers, if we didn’t become Jews and start practicing Judaism, what did we become and what did we start doing? Did we become “Israelites” and convert to some sort of “Israelism”. I’ve recently discovered a term and a movement called Adonaism, so did we convert to that and become “Adonai-ites?”
For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
–Acts 11:26 (ESV)
According to traditional Christianity, it was the Jews who surrendered their Judaism and converted to Christianity, but my long-term readers know I reject this claim. Rather, the Jews who came to faith in Jesus as Messiah became one of the number of sects of Judaism that existed at that time, in this case, a Judaism referred to as “the Way” or “the Nazarenes.” Christianity is just another way of saying “Messianism” or “Messianic,” so I suppose we could render Acts 11:26 as saying in part, “And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Messianics.”
But that still doesn’t appear to provide any differentiation between the Gentile and Jewish believers. We only know that prior to coming to Christ, the Gentiles were totally lost, separated from God and from His covenant people Israel. In entering into covenant with God through Christ (through the Abrahamic and New Covenants, though they are not specifically mentioned in Ephesians 2), we, along with Israel, have entered into closeness with our God.
But Israel was a covenant people long before the coming of the Messiah as recorded in the Gospels. We Gentiles depend totally and completely upon Christ to enter into any kind of relationship with God at all. The Jews, on the other hand, have had such a relationship with God since Moses and arguably, since the days of Abraham. We have not. That does not mean that the Jews do not need the Messiah. Far from it. In Judaism, it is well-known that the Messiah will restore all of Israel; all of the people; all of the Jews, to national and personal redemption and reconciliation with God, restoring them as the most honored among all nations; bringing to them the full measure of the promises.
And if their nation is not restored and their covenants are not all upheld, we Christians have no hope, because it is through those covenants; through Israel itself; through her firstborn son, the Jewish Messiah alone that we are also saved. It is in our own best interest as Christians to uphold and support the Jewish return to Torah as their birthright as a people, and to claim all of Israel as their national heritage.
So who are we?
We are sheep. We are sheep from a certain pen, a really, really big pen. The Jews are also sheep in a pen but a different pen from ours. Yes, we were all brought together in the same flock and indeed, we all answer (or someday will answer) to the voice of our one “good shepherd.” We Gentiles were once far off but have been brought near (which is not the same as being fused into) the people of Israel. We have commonality with the Jews in that we enjoy covenant relationship with God, but this does not change or diminish the specialness and the uniqueness of the specifically Jewish covenant responsibilities they alone must discharge for Hashem.
But why should we complain? We have been grafted into the root and from its sap, we are given life; eternal life with God through Jesus Christ. What more could we want?
Part 8 goes back to the roots of this series and takes a closer look at Abraham and why the covenant he made with God is so important to Christians.
Update, October 18, 2012: I found a rather interesting interpretation of Ephesians 2 and the “one new man” passage that quite clarifies my position. Go to a comment made by someone named “benkeshet” on Gene Shlomovich’s blog for the details.