Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jew and Gentile: Breaking Down the Barrier or Abolishing the Commandments?

In a discussion with a friend, the passage in Ephesians 2:14-16 came up to support the idea that the commandments of the Law (Torah) were done away with in Christ. In a superficial reading, this sounds true.
Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which he put to death their hostility. (NIV)
First, we need to look at the context of this passage. What is the overall theme that Paul is presenting here? This portion of Paul’s letter begins with verse 11 which argues for the inclusion of the Gentiles with the Jews in the covenants (plural) of promise.  The two parties that Paul talks about in verse 14 are Jew and Gentile. Jesus has made Jew and Gentile one abolishing the barrier between them. Young’s Literal Translation of verses 14 and 15 shed additional light on this passage.
Ephesians 2:14-15 YLT 14 for he is our peace, who did make both one, and the middle wall of the enclosure did break down, 15 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,
The Literal translation of the NIV phrase “barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” is “the middle wall of the enclosure.” Notice the word hostility isn’t even in the literal text.  The term “middle wall of the enclosure” is an idiom that refers specifically to the wall in the temple that separates the court of the Gentiles from the rest of the temple. More generally, it refers to the wall separating the Gentile area of a synagogue from the Jewish area. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible 2008 edition comments on this phrase that “It is used here to describe the total religious isolation Jews and Gentiles experienced from each other.” So, we are not talking about a separation between God and man here which is the context of the Law or Torah, we are talking about the separation between two groups of people.  Verse 15 sounds like the law is being abolished but in the literal version it is the enmity or hostility that has been abolished!
So, Jesus abolished the enmity between Jew and Gentile. But what is the “law of the commands in ordinances” that has been done away? Again, quoting from the Zondervan NIV Study Bible 2008 edition:
Since Matthew 5:17 and Romans 3:31 teach that God’s moral standard expressed in the OT law is not changed by the coming of Christ, what is abolished here is probably the effect of the specific commandments and regulations in separating Jews from Gentiles, whose nonobservance of the Jewish law renders them ritually unclean.”
Let’s examine the enmity between Jew and Gentile a little more. At the time of Jesus, the Jewish leadership, the Pharisees, etc. enacted extra regulations separating themselves from their Gentile neighbors. We already mentioned the wall that separated Gentile God-fearers who participated in synagogue worship. They also forbade any Jewish person from eating with a Gentile (Acts 11:2) or even going into the home of a Gentile (John 18:28). These additional “laws” were called a barrier around the Torah. The Greek word used in the Talmud to describe this barrier is the same Greek word used for “wall of the enclosure” in the Ephesians passage. Paul, as a Pharisee, was familiar both with this practice and this phrase.  Jesus also refers to these additional man-made laws in Mat. 15:2. The phrase “laws of the commandments in ordinances” could just as easily refer to these man-made laws.
Indeed, this very enmity between Jew and Gentile is easily seen as we continue with this passage in Ephesians. Paul concludes this section on Gentile inclusion in the covenants of promise by calling the inclusion the mystery of the gospel.
Ephesians 3:3 NKJV 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery … 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.
When Paul went to Jerusalem and proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead and was the Messiah they were looking for, the Jewish people were willing to listen. But, as soon as he said that Jesus told him to take the message to the Gentiles, the Jewish leaders rose up in anger and rejected his message.
Acts 22:21-22 NKJV 21 "Then He (Jesus) said to me, 'Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.'" 22 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!"
Paul refers to this incident in Acts in the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians. He says he is in chains because he proclaimed the mystery of the gospel that the Gentiles are included.
Ephesians 6:19-20 NKJV 19 and (pray)  for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Finally, before concluding, let’s look a little more at the Gentile inclusion. Paul tells us that this inclusion is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone(Eph. 2:19-20). Where does Jesus and the prophets talk about the inclusion of the Gentiles? Jesus mentions the inclusion of sheep of another flock in John 10:16. The prophet Isaiah writes in three different places that the Messiah will be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 60:3). Isaiah 56 explains how the Gentiles will be included in the covenant and have access to God’s temple which will be a house of prayer for all nations.
Isaiah 56:1-8 NKJV 1 Thus says the LORD: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness to be revealed. 2 Blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who lays hold on it; Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil." 3 Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the LORD Speak, saying, "The LORD has utterly separated me from His people"; Nor let the eunuch say, "Here I am, a dry tree." 4 For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, 5 Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off. 6 "Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants-Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant- 7 Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, "Yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him."
The word for salvation in verse 1 is the Hebrew word Yeshua which just happens to be Jesus’ Hebrew name. Isaiah says to keep justice and do righteousness because Yeshua is about to come and God’s righteousness will be revealed. He goes on to say that the foreigners (Gentiles) who join themselves to the LORD in love, keep His Sabbaths, and cling to His covenant will be accepted. The barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down in Yeshua, God’s salvation.
Now, going back to the Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Ephesians 2:14-16, what does it mean that “God’s moral standard expressed in the OT law is not changed by the coming of Christ?” The apostle John taught in his first epistle that sin is lawlessness.
1 John 3:4-6 NKJV 4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
Since sin is lawlessness, verse 5 could read that whoever lives in Him does not break the law.  Paul tells us that the Law teaches us what sin is.
Romans 3:20 NKJV 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Paul says that not only does faith not do away with the Law, it establishes the Law.
Romans 3:31 NKJV 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
We are not justified by the law but are convicted of our sin by knowledge of the Law. From that conviction, we repent and, through faith, receive salvation from our sins. But what comes next; now that we have salvation, shall we continue to sin, that is break the Law? Paul answers that as well.
Romans 6:15 NKJV 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
So, we are saved through faith and after salvation, we are called to live our lives pleasing to God as defined by His Holy Scriptures.  We conclude with the words of Jesus about His followers keeping God’s commandments.
Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV 17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

שלום ברוך
Shalom and be blessed
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

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  1. As one who is always trying to defend and protect the word of God, I appreciate how you explained this passage. It will be helpful in showing people that Paul didn't teach a different gospel.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Peggy. That is one of the things that concerns me greatly about the the Hebraic Roots movement, the tendency to reject Paul. Rabbi Shaul is very difficult to understand (Even Peter thought so himself) speaking and writing in broad concepts and finely detailed apologetics which span multiple chapters of His letters. Ephesians 2:14-16 is a classic illustration of the prejudices of Bible translators. They will inevitably slant the translation to their preconceived doctrinal notions.



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