(5) Jew and Gentile as one people of God on the basis of Christ and the Spirit

The Ephesians, a circular letter to the churches of Asia; a case-specific letter

G.D. Fee

The Pauline nature of the epistle, particularly the subtleties of vocabulary, language and theology are such that it is difficult to imagine someone so thoroughly imbibing the thinking of another as to reproduce him in this way. Just as the (considerable) differences between Galatians and Romans are best explained on the basis of the differences in their respective historical contexts and thus in occasion und purpose, so here (659f).

Three concerns dominate the letter: (1) The passion of Paul's life – the Gentile mission in terms of God's reconciling both Jew and Gentile to himself and thereby making of the two a new anthropos / humanity as the ultimate expression of his redeeming work in Christ. (2) Christ's victory over the powers for the sake of the church, with the Spirit playing a key role in his readers' participation in that victory. (3) Paul's concern that they maintain the “unity of the Spirit“ (4,1-16) by the way they “walk“, that is by the way they live out the life of Christ in their corporate relationships, including their worship (4,1 - 5,20) and in their Christian households (5,21 – 6,9). Through the weapons and amor provided by Christ and the Spirit (6,10-20) they are urged to stand as one people in their ongoing conflict with the powers (661).

1,3: The Spirit is the present means whereby God appropriates to the believing community the “blessings“ that flow form the redemptive work of Christ. God in love has chosen us to be blameless before him; he has “marked us out for himself“ for adoption as his own children; he has lavished his grace on us to this end in Christ Jesus. This “adoption“ was effected for us historically through the death of Christ, who thereby procured our redemption. Jew and Gentile have realized this redemption together as one people. God's love initiates redemption, Christ's death effects it historically and the Spirit appropriates it to the life of the believer and believing community (667f).

1,13f: Paul concludes by “blessing God“ because redemption which came to the Jew first as an inheritance (1,11f), has come as an inheritance to the Gentile recipients of this letter as well.

(1) Gentiles and Jews together as one people of God in fulfillment of God's promise to his ancient people and (2) the inheritance has already been realized in part and will be realized in full at the Eschaton. (The Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of the “promise“ that includes Gentiles among the people of God echoes Gal 3,14) (669).

As in 2Cor 1,21f there is no allusion to water baptism in this context, there is nothing that suggests a baptismal motif. For Paul the Spirit, not baptism, is the “seal“ of ownership, the primary evidence that one belongs to the new people of God. The emphasis in the passage is not on individual conversion, but on the reality that the reception of the Spirit by these Gentile believers is what brings them into the inheritance of the new convenant and guarantees their final destiny. The Spirit is the sine qua non of Christian existence. The Spirit alone marks off the people of God as his own possession in the present eschatological age (670).

The Holy Spirit of the promise“ probably refers to the coming of the Spirit in the new convenant of Ezek 36,26f and 37,14, understood eschatologically by way of Joel 2,28-30. The Holy Spirit, the crucial element of the promised new covenant with Israel, has been received by Gentiles as the seal that they too are God's possession as the new eschatological age unfolds (671).

2,3: Paul's present concern is to make sure that his Gentile readers understand that from the new perspective in Christ, their own sinfulness described in 2,1f is not greater than that of Paul and his fellow Jews. The perspective is that of Rom 7, where in our pre-Christ existence we lived in keeping with what “the flesh“ desired, which is then further described as living by what “the flesh“ wills in its over-against-God mindset. As in Rom 7 it is by means of the flesh, as the place where sin dwells, that Jew and Gentile find common ground in their need of Christ's redemption (680f).

2,11-22: In the present section Paul picks up the theme of their “before and after“ in terms of what it means for them as Gentiles to become with Jews the one people of God: “one body“ (2,16); fellow “citizens“; “members of God's household“ (v19); bonded together as God's “temple“ (2,21f) (681f).

2,14-18 spell out both the how (through the cross) and the what (Jew and Gentile reconciled and formed into one new humanity, in “one body“) of their present existence in Christ. Gentiles are no longer “aliens“; on the contrary, they are members together of God's household. They are God's temple in whose midst God now dwells. The Spirit in whom they jointly have “access“ to God is the same Spirit by whom God himself now dwells in their midst (on earth). In the Spirit, we are united as one in God's own presence; and also by the Spirit God's presence is manifest on earth in the community of faith (682).

2,17f: In place of the two Christ created one new humanity and in doing so he established peace. Christ is our peace by his having made “the both of them one“, and he did so by abolishing the Law in order that he might reconcile “the both of them in one body“. Both of them as one new humanity have access. Jew and Gentile stand together as one people in God's presence with old distinctions no longer having significance. “In the one Spirit“ replaces the temple as the place of “access“ into the presence of God (683).

On the one hand, Christ's death made the new humanity, the one body, a possibility; he accomplished this by abolishing that which divides. But the realization of this “one body“ comes through their being one people together in the one Spirit of God (683f).

The usage here resembles 1Cor 12,13 where all believers (including Jew and Gentile) are “immersed“ in the one Spirit so as to form the one body of Christ. For Paul it is the common experiance of the one Spirit, by Jew and Gentile alike, that attests that God has created something new in the body of Christ (2,15). The one Spirit who has formed them into the one body also brings them together as that one body into the presence of the Father. The emphasis is not on the activity of the Spirit here, but on the Spirit as the common sphere of their life together.

They are both in the one body because they are both in the one Spirit. What has made one body possible is the death of Christ; what makes the one body a reality is their common, lavish experience of the Spirit of God. As they live together in the Spirit they now have access to the Father (684).

Paul emphasizes that as one people of God in the one Spirit we have access into God's presence. Not only did the “dividing wall of hostility“ alienate Jew and Gentile, but our common fallenness (2,1-3) equally served as a dividing wall of hostility between us and God. That wall too has come tumbling down in Christ, which makes it possible for Jew and Gentile together now to have access to God. Equally sinful, both have been equally given life and have been raised together and seated together in the heavenlies in Christ (684f).

2,21f: The church as the “new temple“ the present place of God's habitation on earth: Here is the place of God's presence – in the midst of his people, especially as they are gathered to worship him and to instruct one another (as 5,18-20 indicates). They are being built into a habitation of God by the Spirit, which means that God by his Spirit abides among them. By the indwelling of the Spirit, both in the individual and in the community, God (or Christ) indwells his people. It is God's own presence among us that marks us off as the people of God. God himself by the Spirit has chosen to be present in our world in the gathered church. Through the Lord Jesus Christ the church comes into existence and is growing into a holy temple as it lives in him; as such it thus becomes the habitation of God by his Spirit (689f).

3,6: “(the mystery) that by Christ Jesus through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together (with Jews), members together of the body and participants together in the promises (made to Israel)“.

As an apostle Paul was responsible for the founding of churches, especially among the Gentiles; as a prophet he was given to understand what God had done in Christ on behalf of the Gentiles. The mystery was given to Christ's holy apostles and prophets. The relevation has come to a much larger circle than just himself. The apostles and prophets serve as foundational ministries for the church – because through their ministry, based on the revelation of the Spirit, the church has been established among the Gentiles, “built“ in such a way that it includes Jew and Gentile together as one people of God. It is through the Spirit's revelation that Paul's readers will be able to understand their place in the people of God (692).