This Come Out Of Her post provides commentaries from the great theologians of the 16th-19th centuries, about the meaning of Ephesians 2:15.
To give context, here’s the narrative of Ephesians 2:11-22. Verse 15 is in bold.
Wherefore, remember, that ye were once the nations in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands, that ye were at that time apart from Christ, having been alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God, in the world;
and now, in Christ Jesus, ye being once afar off became nigh in the blood of the Christ, for he is our peace, who did make both one, and the middle wall of the enclosure did break down, the enmity in his flesh, the law of the commands in ordinances having done away, that the two he might create in himself into one new man, making peace,
and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, having slain the enmity in it, and having come, he did proclaim good news–peace to you–the far-off and the nigh, because through him we have the access–we both–in one Spirit unto the Father.
Then, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being chief corner -stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together doth increase to an holy sanctuary in the Lord, in whom also ye are builded together, for a habitation of God in the Spirit.
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Having abolished. Having brought to naught or put an end to it.
In his flesh. By the sacrifice of his body on the cross. It was not by instruction merely; it was not by communicating the knowledge of God; it was not as a teacher; it was not by the mere exertion of power; it was by his flesh–his human nature–and this can mean only that he did it by his sacrifice of himself. It is such language as is appropriate to the doctrine of the atonement–not indeed teaching it directly–but still such as one would use who believed that doctrine, and such as no other one would employ. Who would now say of a moral teacher that he accomplished an important result by his flesh? Who would say of a man that was instrumental in reconciling his contending neighbors, that he did it by his flesh? Who would say of Dr. Priestly that he established Unitarianism in his flesh? No man would have ever used this language who did not believe that Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin.
The enmity. Between the Jew and the Gentile. Tindal renders this, “the cause of hatred, that is to say, the law of commandments contained in the law written.” This is expressive of the true sense. The idea is, that the ceremonial law of the Jews, on which they so much prided themselves, was the cause of the hostility existing between them. That made them different people, and laid the foundation for the alienation which existed between them. They had different laws; different institutions; a different, religion. The Jews looked upon themselves as the favorites of Heaven, and as in possession of the knowledge of the only way of salvation; the Gentiles regarded their laws with contempt, and looked upon the peculiar institutions with scorn. When Christ came, and abolished by his death their peculiar ceremonial laws, of course the cause of this alienation ceased.
Even the law of commandments. The law of positive commandments. This does not refer to the moral law, which was not the cause of the alienation, and which was not abolished by the death of Christ, but to the laws commanding sacrifices, festivals, fasts, etc., which constituted the peculiarity of the Jewish system. These were the occasion of the enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles, and these were abolished by the great sacrifice which the Redeemer made; and of course when that was made, the purpose for which these laws were instituted was accomplished, and they ceased to be of value and to be binding. Contained in ordinances. In the Mosaic commandments. The word ordinance means decree, edict, law, Luke 2:1; Acts 16:4; 17:7; Colossians 2:14.
For to make in himself. By virtue of his death, or under him as the head.
Of twain one new man. Of the two–Jews and Gentiles–one new spiritual person; that they might be united. The idea is, that as two persons who had been at enmity might become reconciled, and become one in aim and pursuit, so it was in the effect of the work of Christ on the Jews and Gentiles. When they were converted they would be united and harmonious.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
Having abolished in his flesh – By his incarnation and death he not only made an atonement for sin, but he appointed the doctrine of reconciliation to God, and of love to each other, to be preached in all nations; and thus glory was brought to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will were diffused among men.
The enmity of which the apostle speaks was reciprocal among the Jews and Gentiles. The former detested the Gentiles, and could hardly allow them the denomination of men; the latter had the Jews in the most sovereign contempt, because of the peculiarity of their religious rites and ceremonies, which were different from those of all the other nations of the earth.
The law of commandments – Contained in, or rather concerning, ordinances; which law was made merely for the purpose of keeping the Jews a distinct people, and pointing out the Son of God till he should come. When, therefore, the end of its institution was answered, it was no longer necessary; and Christ by his death abolished it.
To make in himself – To make one Church out of both people, which should be considered the body of which Jesus Christ is the head. Thus he makes one new man – one new Church; and thus he makes and establishes peace. I think the apostle still alludes to the peace-offering, שלום shalom, among the Jews. They have a saying, Sephra, fol. 121: Whosoever offers a peace-offering sacrifice, brings peace to the world. Such a peace-offering was the death of Christ, and by it peace is restored to the earth.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, The ceremonial law, as appears by what follows,
even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; which consisted of many precepts, and carnal ordinances; and is so called because it was an indication of God’s hatred of sin, by requiring sacrifice for it; and because it was an occasion of stirring up the enmity of the natural man, it being a burden and a weariness to the flesh, by reason of its many and troublesome rites; and because it was the cause of enmity between Jew and Gentile: the Jews say, that Sinai, the mount on which the law was given, signifies “hatred”; and that it is so called because from it descended שנאה, “hatred” or “enmity” to the nations of the world: now this Christ abolished, “in his flesh”, or by it; not by his incarnation, but by the sacrifice of his flesh, or human nature, and that as in union with his divine nature; but not until he had fulfilled it in himself, which was one end of his coming into the world; and then he abolished it, so as that it ought not to be, and so as that it is not, and of no use and service; and that because it was faulty and deficient, weak and unprofitable, as well as intolerable; and because there was a change in the priesthood; and because it was contrary to a spirit of liberty, the great blessing of the Gospel; and that there might be a reconciliation and a coalition between Jew and Gentile, as follows:
for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; which explains what is meant before by making both one; and expresses the strictness of the union between Jew and Gentile, they became as one man; and points at the manner in which they became so strictly united; and that is by being made new men, or new creatures, by having a work of grace upon their souls, and so baptized into one body, and made to drink of one and the same Spirit; the foundation of which union is in himself; for Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond and free, are all one in Christ Jesus; he is the cornerstone in which they all meet, and the head to which the whole body is joined.
Rather, make “enmity” an apposition to “the middle wall of partition”; “Hath broken down the middle wall of partition (not merely as English Version, ‘between us,’ but also between all men and God), to wit, the enmity (Romans 8:7) by His flesh” (compare Ephesians 2:16; Romans 8:3).
the law of commandments contained in–Greek, “the law of the commandments (consisting) in ordinances.” This law was “the partition” or “fence,” which embodied the expression of the “enmity” (the “wrath” of God against our sin, and our enmity to Him, Ephesians 2:3) (Romans 4:15; 5:20; 7:10; 8:7). Christ has in, or by, His crucified flesh, abolished it, so far as its condemning and enmity-creating power is concerned (Colossians 2:14), substituting for it the law of love, which is the everlasting spirit of the law, and which flows from the realization in the soul of His love in His death for us. Translate what follows, “that He might make the two (Jews and Gentiles) into one new man.” Not that He might merely reconcile the two to each other, but incorporate the two, reconciled in Him to God, into one new man; the old man to which both belonged, the enemy of God, having been slain in His flesh on the cross. Observe, too, ONE new man; we are all in God’s sight but one in Christ, as we are but one in Adam [ALFORD].
making peace–primarily between all and God, secondarily between Jews and Gentiles; He being “our peace.” This “peace-making” precedes its publication (Ephesians 2:17).
Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible
Having abolished; abrogated, taken away the power of binding men.
In his flesh; not the flesh of sacrificed beasts but his own flesh: before he mentioned his blood, and now his flesh, to imply the whole sacrifice of Christ, comprehending his flesh as well as blood. The ceremonies had their accomplishment in Christ, and so their abolishment by him.
The enmity; by a metonymy he so calls the ceremonies, which were the cause and the sign of enmity between Jew and Gentile: the Jews hated the Gentiles as uncircumcised, and the Gentiles despised the Jews for being circumcised.
Even the law of commandments contained in ordinances: either, by the law of commandments, the apostle means the law of ceremonial rites, and by the word which we render ordinances, he means doctrine, and then (the word contained not being in the Greek) the sense is, that Christ, by his doctrine or commandments, abolished those ceremonial rites: the word commandments seems thus to be used, Deuteronomy 16:12; 1 Kings 2:3; Ezekiel 18:21. Or else (which yet comes to the same) the word rendered ordinances signifies such ordinances as depended upon the sole will of the lawgiver; and is, Colossians 2:14, taken for ceremonial ones, and so is to be taken here. This the apostle seems to add, to show what part of the law was abrogated by Christ, viz. nothing of the moral law, but only the ceremonial.
For to make, or create, or form, in opposition to abolish.
In himself; by union with himself, as the Head, in which the several members agree.
Of twain; two bodies, or two people, Jews and Gentiles.
One new man; i.e. new body, or new (viz. Christian) people. As the body of a commonwealth is one civil person, so the body of the church is in a like sense one person.
So making peace, between Jew and Gentile, having taken away those ceremonial laws, which were the cause of the difference between them.
Here’s what I think about their explanations.
Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, John Gill and Matthew Poole; are describing Messiah’s sacrificial work as the Spotless Lamb, who atoned for our sins with His blood, which ended the need for carrying out the ceremonial laws. This ended the enmity between Jewish and gentile believers, as we are all one in Messiah.
But it seems to me that they didn’t make the connection that the saints should still celebrate the seven Holy Feast days, as they point to our High Priest. I celebrate them not to earn salvation, but to remember that they are divine appointments, which our beloved Messiah is fulfilling in exacting detail, as no man ever could. The law and the prophets point to Messiah the Prince, who has become our King.
I celebrate them to praise our Heavenly Father who sent His only begotten Son that the world may be saved through Him.
I created a new study called The True Gospel Story Decoded, which shows how Messiah is fulfilling His Father’s seven Holy Feast Days to redeem the set-apart saints. Here’s a link to the PDF of the study.
What do you think about their explanations?
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