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Ephesians Chapter 2

(What did the Messiah abolish?)

 


          Ephesians chapter two is one passage commonly used to incorreclty demonstrate that the Law of God is abolished, but a careful study will show that this is not true.  God's Law is for our benefit and it is tragic that verses such as this are taken off point and out of context to show that we no longer need to practice the Law of God.  It is the purpose of this article to discuss Ephesians chapter two and how this chapter defends the practice of God's law.  The verse in question is Eph. 2:15.  This article will focus mostly on this verse, but will lightly touch on the prior and latter verses to gain proper context.  We need to remember that the Apostle Paul is "the Apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13) and he is speaking to the Ephesians who are also Gentiles.  Before continuing, please read Ephesians chapter two.
          The chapter starts with a reminder to the Gentiles of where they came from.  They were, "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1), they, "walked according to the course of this world" (Eph. 2:2), and they, "were by nature the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3).  "But God, who is rich in mercy," (Eph. 2:4) changed this while they were, "dead in sins", He, "quickened [them] together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5).  God did this to show, "the exceeding riches of his grace" (Eph. 2:7).  The Ephesians are reminded of where they came from and the great gift God has given them.
          This all leads to one of the most popular verses in all of scripture.  "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).  We are saved by grace through faith apart from any work we can do ourselves.  This is our justification where God forgives us of all our sins, but the next verse explains our sanctification where we work with God to become the person He wants us to be.  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).  It is important to point out the contrast between verse two and verse ten.  In verse two Paul describes how they, "walked according to the course of this world" and in verse ten Paul explains how God had "ordained that we should walk."  The question might be asked, where did God ordain how we should walk?  Afterall, this is past tense.  We are God's, "workmanship," "created in Christ Jesus unto good works," that, "God hath before ordained."  When did God before ordain our good works?  The answer is in Exodus 16:4 where God clearly states that we should, "walk in [His] law."  This is echoed over and over throughout the Old Testament as well (see 1 Kings 6:12, Neh. 10:29, Psalm 119:1).  The point here is that God told us how to walk, but we didn't.  In the Old Testament, the prophets continually told the people of God to repent and turn back to following His law, and in the New Testament the Messiah and the Apostles are doing the same (Dan. 9:10, Neh. 10:29).  Fortunately for us, God has offered us forgiveness that He might work with us to bring us back to walking according to His Law.  The good works that we were created for in Christ Jesus is the Law of God.
          In verse eleven Paul moves on to another aspect of this work, the Jew and Gentile division.  In the past they were called, "Gentiles in the flesh" and, "Uncircumcision" by the, "Circumcision in the flesh made by hands," or, the Jews (Eph. 2:11).  The Jews segregated from the Gentiles which caused the Gentiles to be, "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" and, "strangers from the covenants of promise" (Eph. 2:12).  But now they, "are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13) who has, "broken down the middle wall of partition between [them]" (Eph. 2:14).  This, "middle wall" was a division in the temple where the court of the Gentiles was separated from the Jews.  The Jewish extra-biblical laws, most of which we have contained in a writing today called the Talmud, had many laws that require segregation from the Gentiles.  These laws are not found in the scripture.  For example, in the Talmud a Jew does not have to pay a Gentile his wages (Sanhedrin 57a), a Jew has superior legal rights (Baba Kamma 37b), and a Jew may lie to a Gentile to gain financial advantage (Baba Kamma 113a).  These principles are found nowhere in scripture.  The scriptures do have laws concerning, "strangers," but these laws are different.  If a stranger lives in the land they are to keep God's laws and be treated as brethren (Ex. 12:49, Ex. 22:21, Ex. 23:9).  God does show a distinction between those who practice His laws and those who don't, but this is not based upon race, it is based upon the practice of His Laws.

          It is important to identify what the, "commonwealth of Israel" is.  The Greek word for "commonwealth" is politeia, which means, "citizenship; concretely a community" (Strong's Concordance - G4174).  These Gentiles were once excommunicated from having citizenship in the Kingdom of Israel (God's Kingdom).  Remember, a stranger, or alien, was always allowed to become part of the Kingdom of Israel, but they had to practice God's law (Ex. 12:49, Ex. 22:21, Ex. 23:9).  Unfortunately, the Jews were keeping Gentiles away contrary to God's law.  This is what the "middle wall of partitian" was.  The Scribes and Pharisees were adding to and taking away from God's law.  This was done prejudiciously to keep the Gentiles away from the promices of God.  Paul is not stating anything new, but putting things back to the way they should be.  When we put our faith in the Messiah, we are changing our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven/Israel.  This is important.  If someone were to change citizenship from the United States to Australia, wouldn't they stop practicing the law of the United States and start practicing the law of Australia?  The same is true for us in salvation.  When we put our faith in the Messiah, we are to stop practicing whatever law we were practicing and start practicing the law of God.  This is why we are called, "ambassadors" (2 Cor. 5:20, Eph. 6:20).  This is a legal term.  An ambassador lives in a foreign land, but practices the law of their homeland.  The ambassador for the U.S. might live in Australia, but he practices the law of the U.S.  We do the same.  We live on this earth, but we practice the law of our homeland (law of God).  This is what makes us a "peculiar people" (1 Pet. 2:9).
          This is the background that leads up to the verse in question.  "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace" (Eph. 2:15).  The Messiah abolished the, "enmity" (echthra - hostility), which is the, "law of commandments contained in ordinances."  The greek word for ordinances is dogma which means, "a law (civil, ceremonial or ecclesiastical): - decree, ordinance" (Strong's Concordance G1378).  This word appears in the New Testament five times, three times it is translated as, "decree" and two times as, "ordinance."  In every instance it refers to a law of man (Luke 2:1, Acts 16:4, Acts 17:7, Eph. 2:15, Col. 2:14).  Paul is speaking of the religious dogma of the Scribes and Pharisees as recorded in the Talmud, which is contrary to God's law.  This passage of scripture in no way endorses the abolishment of God's law, rather it holds up God's law by supporting the statute to not add to or take away from God's law (Deut. 4:2, Deut. 12:32).  The Jews added statute upon statute to God's law which oppressed the Jewish people, as well as the Gentiles.  It is this law that was abolished.  The end result is that both Jew and Gentile are, "reconcile[d] ... unto God in one body by the cross" (Eph. 2:16).
          These ordinances that Paul is speaking of are mentioned in the gospels over and over again.  The Messiah Himself constantly had to deal with these extra-biblical laws.  Remember, the Messiah was constantly being accused of breaking God's law, but this could not have been true or He could not be the Messiah.  The reality was that the Jews were accusing Jesus not of breaking God's law, but of breaking the, "tradition of the elders" (Matt. 15:2-3).  The law of God is, "holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but the, "tradition of the elders" adds to and takes away from God's law.  This law is oppressive and divisive and not according to God's will.
          This passage is concluded by demonstrating the result of the Messiah's work.  The Messiah, "preached peace to [them] which were afar off" (Eph. 2:17).  And now both Jew and Gentile, "have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph. 2:18).  They are, "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.  Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:19-20).  This concludes the previous thought.  The Gentiles were once alienated from citizenship, but now they are "fellowcitizens."  This alienation came from man (Scribes and Pharisees) and not God.  The Messiah is building a new temple which contains both Jew and Gentile, as a "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:21-22).  This is echoed by Paul in 1 Cor. 6:19 where he said, "know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?"  We are God's temple, and Christ is building this temple now through our justification and sanctification.
          The Messiah has accomplished a tremendous amount by His work on the cross, but He did not abolish God's law.  The Messiah abolished man's laws of division and racism and brought all who have faith in the Messiah of Israel together.  God's law is good for us.  His health laws keep us healthy, His financial laws keep us financially stable, and his government laws keep us holy.  Why would we not want to follow His laws?  To read more about the, "ordinances" that were abolished please read the article on Colossians Chapter Two.

        

By Steve Siefken
 

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV