2.5 A New Creation

A Newly Constituted People of God
F. Thielman

a. From Existence without God to Membership in the People of God (2,11-22)

2,11-13: The special plight of the Gentiles and God's response

Paul begins to describe how God has made his great power available to the church at the corporate level. He does this by reminding his believing Gentile readers of the plight in which they had existed as people who were separated from Israel and by reminding them of what God has done for them to remedy that plight. Both groups, Gentiles and Jews, considered circumcision an insuperable barrier between them. Paul's readers were separated from the Messiah and so from all the blessings of being “in Christ“. They were without hope and without God in a rebellious world headed for the experience of God's wrath. God incoperated them into his people: they are now “in Christ Jesus“ and so, although once far from God, have been brought near to him (159).

2,14-18: Christ is the believing community's peace

By his death on the cross, Christ tore down and set aside the Mosaic law. It had formed a wall of hostility that divided Jews from Gentiles and, as Paul's use of the term “access“ (2,18) hints, blocked the way between humanity and God. Paul seems to assume that the Mosaic law's “decrees“ (15) separating Israel and the nations led to enmity between the two groups. He also seems to assume that these “decrees“ have codified the enmity between all humanity and God (2,1-3; Col 2,14f). Through no fault of its own, the Mosaic law's introduction increased the trespass and only made rebellion against God worse (Rom 5,20; 7,11f). With its removal, the way was clear for the union of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ (Eph 2,15) and the Spirit (2,16) and for the reconciliation between all humanity, across ethniclines, to God: "He himself is our peace" (2,14) (163).

2,14-15a: The Jews of Ephesus were distinguished from everybody else because they “ovserved“ and “practiced“ Jewish rites, they kept the Jewish law. The law was compared to “iron walls“ that God used to “enclose“ Israel “with a fence“ and so to keep them from mixing with “other nations“. Since we know that observing the law was the main distinguishing characteristic of Ephesian Jews during the same period, it seems most likely that by the phrase (to mesotoichon tou phragmou lysas) “he tore down the middle wall, that is the fence“ (die Zwischenwand des Zaunes) Paul meant the Jewish law. The Jewish law was both a “partition“ that separated Jews from Gentiles and a “fence“ that enclosed the Jewish people, keeping them safe from Gentile influences (166f).

The Paul of Ephesians did not think that Christ had set aside the need for “commandments“ within Christianity, nor did he think the Mosaic law had been “nullified“, if that word is taken to mean that the Mosaic law is no longer useful for believers. His use of a “command“ from the Dekalogue in his ethical instruction in Ephesians (6,2f; cf. Exod 20,12; Deut 5,16) is enough to demonstrate this. Paul apparently thought that when believers obeyed the parts of the Mosaic law that he incorporated into his ethical teaching, they were not obeying the commands as the Mosaic law. In Paul's thinking, the Mosaic law governed Israel for a specific period of time (Gal 3,19). Although it was glorious in its day (2Cor 3,7-10), it had now served its purpose and come to its divinely appointed end (2Cor 3,13; Rom 10,4). God had established a new people, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. The law governing their conduct Paul called “the law of Christ“ (Gal 6,2; 1Cor 9,21). The Mosaic law was still authoritative Scripture within the new people of God, but in a different way than it had been for Israel. Its commandments no longer governed the behavior of God's people without first passing through the filter of the gospel (169f).

The toxic mixture of the law and human sinfulness (Rom 5,20; 7,5.7; 1Cor 15,56) probably led Paul to speak of the law in 2,15 in negative terms. The sinful use of the law produced a hostility that deprived Gentiles of access to God through the Scriptures (2,12). Paul is aligning the Mosaic law closely with “enmity“ and is saying that Christ has set it aside (170).

2,15b-16: When Christ set aside the Mosaic law, he created a new, unified human being in himself and so made peace between believers from among Jews and Gentiles. Paul has the new creation in mind, but now conceived as a corporate event, making peace between the two estranged groups, Jews and Gentiles. In bringing these groups together, Christ has created one new human being and has done this in himself. By their union with Christ, believers become united with another across the social barriers that formerly divided them and so like Christ himself become a new Adam. So the result of this newly created man, Paul says, is peace between formerly hostile Jews and Gentiles (170f).

All people are “sons of disobedience“ and “children of wrath“ (2,1-3). Thus, although the Jewish advantages Paul has described in 2,12 mean that Jews were in some sense “nearer“ to God than Gentiles were (2,17), they were still in need of reconciliation to him through the death of Christ. They are reconciled to him in one body. The body to which Paul refers is the church, a body of people unified with each other across ethnic lines and at peace with God (cf. Col 3,15). When Christ set aside the law through his death on the cross he reconciled to God all who believe the gospel, whether Jew or Gentile (172f).

2,17: Christ is the messenger of Isa 52,7, who proclaims to Israel the glad tidings of peace and who is also, as Peter puts it, “Lord of all“. Paul's primary concern is with Isa 57,19. The Gentiles have received the message of peace just as decisively as God's own people. Their greater distance from God has made no difference. The “peace“ is a peace between both groups and God (173f).

2,18: Both Jews and Gentiles who are in Christ have peace with God. Both have been reconciled to God, for both groups are united in the Spirit and have access to the Father through Christ (174).

Christ set aside the Mosaic law to create in himself one new human being out of two formerly hostile factions and he reconciled this unified group of Jewish and Gentile believers to God (175f).

2,19-22: Gentile Christians as an integral part of God's household

Paul tells his readers that although they are Gentiles, they are fellow citizens with all God's people. They are members of God's household and part of the temple in which God's Spirit dwells. The temple's foundation is the witness of the apostles and prophets who first went to the Gentiles with the gospel of human reconciliation to God through the death of Christ. The temple's most important stone is Christ Jesus. Paul's readers are the carefully shaped and fitted building blocks presently being added to the building. The way in which Paul describes this temple recalls the OT expectation of a rebuilt temple in which Israel and the nations would join together in the worship of God. Because God is merciful, he saved them and brought them into fellowship with his people, giving them a home in which he is a Father, a home that turns out to be the temple where God's spiritual presence dwells (185f).

b. Paul's Divinely Given Task and His Suffering for the Gentiles (3,1-13)

3,1-7: Paul's role in the administration of the mystery

“The mystery“ came to Paul by means of a divine revelation (3f). The mystery was utterly unknown until the Spirit revealed it to Christ's holy apostles and prophets (5). The content of the mystery is the union in one body, on fully equal terms, of Jewish and Gentile believers through the gospel (6). The mystery is one part of the grand scheme – the unification of two formerly separated ethnic groups in one body through the gospel. Paul is describing his own administrative responsibility (3) in God's administration (1,10) of this all-encompassing plan and Paul's role is focused on bringing Gentile believers into the newly constituted people of God (189).

3,5: The text describes the mystery about Christ, which was unknown in former times but was revealed by the Spirit to two distinct groups: the holy apostles of Christ and the prophets (200).

Paul contrasts the period of the revelation of the Gentiles' full inclusion in God's people, on equal terms with the Jews, with the period “now“, after that revelation. This revelation came not only to Paul at the time of his conversion but also to the other apostles and prophets (Peter, Barnabas, Apollos...) in this new era and it was revealed to them by the Spirit of God. Within this group, the apostles (including Paul) hold a special place, which Paul signals by calling them “holy“. He uses this unusual term for them because the link that most of them have with the historical Jesus gives them an especially critical role in the founding and guidance of the church (203).

3,6: “The Gentiles are heirs together and one body together and sharers in the promise together with (Jewish believers) in Christ Jesus, through the gospel“ (syn..syn...syn..). In 2,19.21.22 (syn...syn...syn...) they are citizens together, being joined together, being built together with its focus on the complete unity of Jewish and Gentile believers and on their common function as building blocks in the metaphorical building that is becoming the dwelling place of God. The mystery is not merely the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the worship of the one God but their equality with each other (2,11f) (198).

Without the clarifying lens of the gospel, some OT passages could be misunderstood to mean that the Gentiles would serve Israel during the time of its restoration. The mystery unknown to people in other generations and now revealed is that in Christ Jesus and through the gospel, Gentile Christians are fully equal members of the newly constituted people of God with Jewish Christians (198).

Gentile believers are full and equal participants with others in the newly constituted people of God because they too are in Christ Jesus. In 1,10 Paul has identified the mystery as God's intention to sum up all things in heaven and on earth “in Christ“ (cf. 3,10f) and in 2,11-22 Paul has described how Christ has started to accomplish the earthly part of this plan by making Jewish and Gentile believers into one new human being “in“ himself “through“ his death on the cross (2,13.15). Not all Jews and Gentiles are now one people, but only those who are “in Christ“. One becomes “in Christ“ and therefore part of the one, new multiethnic people of God through the gospel, that is, by hearing the gospel preached and believing it (1,13) (205f).

This complete equality between Gentile and Jewish believers in one new people of God is something that neither Paul nor the other apostles and prophets could have known apart from God's revelation of it to them. It is in this sense a “mystery“ (207).

God has given Paul the responsibility of administering this mystery to the Gentiles, of making known to them that they can have a place in God's people if they believe the gospel. When God gave this responsibility to Paul, he was the least likely person God could have chosen for the task, but this is how God works: he uses his great power in gracious ways to transform his enemies into his servants (207f).

3,8-13: How Paul fulfills his task

Paul has fulfilled the role that God gave him in two ways: He has proclaimed the good news of the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles (8b) and he has illumined everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, about the mystery that the Creator of the universe has now revealed (9) (209).

Paul proclaims the gospel to the Gentiles and the mystery to everyone in order to assemble a unified church of Jews and Gentiles who will bear witness to the inimical powers of the universe that the Creator's purposes are being fulfilled (10). This fulfillment, planned before time began, is taking place in the Messiah (11) because those who believe in him, whether Jews or Gentiles, have the kind of relationship with Got that friends have with each other, a relationship characterized by candid speech and confident access (12) (209).

3,8b-9: Once again (5) Paul emphasizes that the mystery of the unity of Gentile with Jewish believers was unknown until God revealed it in the gospel. It was hidden: God's plan to place Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing within his newly constituted people was known only to God prior to his revelation of it to Paul and other apostles and prophets (2-5,7f). It was “untraceable“. The mystery was hidden “from the Aeons“, that describes the massive length of time that it remained hidden. The mystery was hidden “in the God who created all things“: God chose a people for himself prior to the world's creation (1,9f; 1,4f.11; 2,10) and this people is itself a new humanity or a new creation (2,10.15; 4,13; 5,31f). Prior to the time that his Spirit revealed it to Paul (and other apostles and prophets) only God knew that in Christ he would fully overcome the division between Jews and Gentiles. God has graciously given Paul a strategic administrative role in the plan according to which this mystery is being worked out: he is to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and to enlighten everyone – whether Gentile or Jew – about the ethnically inclusive nature of this new creation (214f).

3,10: The church is unified across ethnic lines and is a newly created human being. By its very existence as a unified body the church makes known to the evil spiritual rulers and authorities the vastness of God's creative wisdom: he not only created the universe with its endless variety, but in a wholly surprising way he has also begun to restore the crowning achievement of his creation – humanity – to its original unity (216).

The powers are conquered and beneath the Messiah's feet (1,20-22). Since the church is one with the risen and enthroned Christ (2,6), the powers are also conquered and beneath the church's feet (1,20-23). From this position with Christ, the church can “now“ testify to the powers that their designs will ultimately fail (217).

3,11: God decided before the world began not only to fulfill his purposes for the universe through his anointed king Jesus but also to make the fulfillment of his purposes through the Messiah Jesus known to the inimical spiritual powers of the universe (218).

c. Paul Prays for His Readers' Inner Strength and Praises the God Who Can Give It (3,14-21)

3,14-19: Paul prays for his readers' inner strength

Paul prays in order that God might, by his Spirit, give his readers strength in their inner selves to understand that Christ dwells in their hearts. He prays this so that they might be able to grasp what no human being can understand without God's help: the extent of Christ's love, a love so massive that, as the revelation of the mystery has shown, it includes “all the saints“ in all their diversity (2,11-22; 3,6.10). Grasping this truth will enable Paul's readers to progress toward the goal of reaching “the fullness of God“, that is, of being everything God created human beings individually and his people corporately to be (226).

3,20-21: Paul praises the God who is able to strengthen his readers

Paul concludes the first major section of his letter with a doxology that praises the God who is able to accomplish what Paul desires for the letter's readers. God's power is immense and he has made that power available to the church through the relationship that the church has with Christ Jesus. God's power works “in“ the church by giving it resurrection life, victory over God's enemies, unity across ethnic lines and peace with himself. God's power also works within the church by means of God's Spirit and the indwelling Christ, who encourages the church through helping it to understand the immensity of his grace. The God who is able to do all this – and much more – for the church ist the God whom Paul praises and when the church understands all that God has done for it in Christ Jesus, it too will praise God forever (245).

 

Anhang

a. Prescript and Greeting (1,1-2)

Paul writes to those in Ephesus whom God has set apart as his people. They believe the gospel and their existence is defined by relationship with Christ. As God's people they are recipients both of God's grace and of the peace that his grace brings, peace with God and peace with others. God the Father has given his people these blessings through the Lord Jesus Christ (36).

b. Praising God Who Has Blessed His People in Christ (1,3-14)

1,3-6: Praise to God for his grace in making believers his people

Paul praises God for the good things God has done for those who have been united with Christ by their faith in the gospel. These blessings come through the work of the Spirit and are experienced in the dimension of existence where God and all the cosmic powers dwell. God chose those who are in Christ. He adopted them as his children and this was something he took great pleasure in doing. God wanted a people who would be separate from the world around them both in their dedication to him and in their love for one another and he wanted a people who would praise him for the glorious grace he had shown them in the Beloved Son (54).

1,7-10: Praise to God for his grace in redemption and revelation

God has puchased his people out of a metamorphorical slavery by forgiving their transgressions against him. This has happened at the high price of the death of his Beloved Son on the cross. God is in the process of organizing the entire universe, both its heavenly dimension and its earthly dimension, around Christ (67f).

Just as in the other letters, the union of all peoples – Gentiles and Jews – in one eschatologically restored people is a mystery (Eph 3,4.6; Rom 11,25; 16,25; Col 1,27), but in Ephesians this element of the mystery rises to prominence. Paul defines “the mystery of Christ“ as the union of Jewish and Gentile believers together in one new body (Eph 3,3.6; 2,16) and defines the unified body, in turn, both as the church (3,10; 1,23) and as the body of Christ (4,12f; 5,23.30). In 5,32 Paul reveals to his readers the “great mystery“ that Gen 2,24 refers not merely to the union of husband and wife but also to the union of Christ with the Church (70).

In 1,9, the mystery refers to the knowledge that God intends to sum up all things in Christ. The content of the mystery is that God is unifying the cosmos in Christ. Because the church is comprised of both Gentiles and Jews (2,11-22; 3,4-7) and as a united entity forms the body of Christ (4,13.16), it plays a critical role in the outworking of this mystery (70).

1,11-12: Praise to God for making his people heirs and giving them hope in Christ

Paul praises God because he has made his adopted children his heirs. They have all the blessings that come with membership in God's household. Their status as God's heirs God carefully planned in advance to give them these blessings. He did this so that his people might exist to praise him not only in the future but also in the present as they wait in hope for all things to take their assigned place in relationship to Christ (76).

1,13-14: Praise to God for the conversion and future salvation of Paul's readers

Paul adresses his readers directly to emphasize that all the blessings that come to those who are in Christ (1,3-12) belong to them. This happened when they heard the gospel, believed the gospel and entered the sphere of existence defined by Christ. In that place the Holy Spirit began his work in their lives. The Holy Spirit sealed Paul's readers, keeping them safe from God's eschatological wrath and provided them with a guarantee of the inheritance that God has promised to his people. God did all this in order that Paul's readers, as members of God's people, might praise him (84).

c. Thanksgiving for Conversion and Intercession for Understanding (1,15-23)

1,15-19: Thanksgiving for faith and love and intercession for illumination

Paul's thanksgiving was motivated by his particular interest, as apostle to the Gentiles, in the genuineness of his Gentile reader's conversion. His intercessory prayer for his readers focuses on his request that the Spirit might reveal the knowledge of God to them. He is concerned (1) that they have a firm hope for a bright, eternal future because God has called them to be his people, (2) that, as God's people, they are his glorious inheritance and (3) that God has put his vast power into effect for their benefit (101f).

1,20-23: God's great power displayed in Christ and for the church

God's great power is the power that has raised Christ from the dead, seated him victorious at his right hand and placed all the cosmic enemies of God beneath Christ's feet. God has given Christ to the church in his role as victor and head over all things, including the enemies of God and his people. Christ and the church, his body, are one; thus Christ's victory is also the church's victory (116).

d. From Children of Wrath to New Creation (2,1-10)

2,1-3: Children of wrath like all the rest

All believers, including Paul, at one time lived in rebellion against God and all unbelievers, without exception, also live in this way. Paul describes the human plight as something that effects the entire person. By birth human beings posses flesh and thoughts that lead to sinful desires and sinful actions. Paul argues that rebellion against God is a state integral to the human condition apart from the gospel: it affects everyone without exception and it affects everyone profoundly (120).

2,4-7: Objects of God's mercy

God has demonstrated the merciful, loving and gracious nature of his character by giving believers life with Christ, raising them with Christ and seating them with Christ in his place of victory. God rescued those who are in Christ from the domination of the world, the devil and the flesh so that he might demonstrate forever the gracious nature of his character (139f).

2,8-10: The nature and consequences of God's grace

Those who receive the free gift of God's salvation do not remain unchanged. God re-creates them so that they do the work God planned for his people to do before the creation of the world. God has rescued those who are in Christ from the desperate plight of sinful rebellion against God and subservience to the devil by uniting them with Christ in his new life and position of victory over the enemy forces of the transcendent realm. He has re-created them so that they now walk not in transgressions, sins, the course of the world, the evil desires of their minds and in fealty to the devil, but as God created human beings to live from the beginning (147).