Ephesians 2
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

[2.The unity of all in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-22).

(1)—(a)THE QUICKENING OF MEN FROM THE DEATH OF SIN AND BONDAGE OF SATAN, by a personal union with Christ, making them partakers of His resurrection, His ascension, His endless glory (Ephesians 2:1-7).

(b)All this not of themselves, but by the free grace of God, accepted in faith and wrought out in good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).


(a)Nearness to God in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13):

(b)Union with Israel in Christ (Ephesians 2:14-18);

(c)A place, as living stones, in the great fabric of His Church (Ephesians 2:19-22).]

(1 a.) Ephesians 2:1-7 begin the fuller exposition of the doctrine implied in the thanksgiving and prayer of the previous chapter; starting from the individual and personal union of all with Christ, in virtue of which they partake of His spiritual life, His conquest of death, and the exaltation of His glorified humanity to heaven.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
(1) And you hath he quickened.And you also. St. Paul here begins the particular application to the Ephesians, which is the main subject of this chapter, broken off in Ephesians 2:3-10, and resumed in Ephesians 2:11. The words “hath He quickened” (or, properly, did He quicken) are supplied here from Ephesians 2:5—rightly, as expressing the true sense and tending to greater clearness, but perhaps not necessarily.

Trespasses and sins.—These two words, more often used separately, are here brought together, to form a climax. The word rendered “trespass” signifies a “swerving aside and falling”; the word rendered “sins” is generally used by St. Paul in the singular to denote “sin” in the abstract, and signifies an entire “missing of the mark” of life. Hence, even in the plural, it denotes universal and positive principles of evil doing, while “trespass” rather points to failure in visible and special acts of those not necessarily out of the right way.

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
(2) The course (or, age) of this world.—Here again are united the two words often rendered by “world,” the former signifying simply “the age,” or appointed period of this visible universe, the latter its material and sensuous character. When we are warned against the one (as in Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to this world;” see also 1Corinthians 1:20; 1Corinthians 2:6; 2Timothy 4:10), it is against the” vanity”—that is, the transitoriness and unreality—of the present life; when against the other (see Galatians 4:3; Galatians 6:14; Colossians 2:8-10), it is against its “pomp,” its carnal, material, unspiritual splendour. Here the former life of the Ephesians is described as at once transitory and carnal.

The prince of the power of the air.—The connection of the “world” with the Evil One as its “prince” is not uncommon in Holy Scripture (see John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11); and the “power” of this passage is exactly that which Satan claims as “committed” to him in Luke 4:32. But the phrase “the power of the air” is unique and difficult. We note (1) that this phrase signifies not “a power over the air,” but “a power dwelling in the region of the air.” Now, the word “power” (see Note on Ephesians 1:21), both in the singular and the plural, is used in this Epistle, almost technically, of superhuman power. Here, therefore, the Evil One is described as “the prince,” or ruler, of such superhuman power—considered here collectively as a single power, prevailing over the world, and working in the children of disobedience—in the same sense in which he is called the “prince of the devils,” the individual spirits of wickedness (Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:24). Next (2), Why is this spoken of as ruling “in the air”? There may possibly be allusion (as has been supposed) to the speculations of Jewish or Gentile philosophy; but it seems far more probable that the “air” is here meant simply to describe a sphere, and therefore a power, below the heaven and yet above the earth. The “air” is always opposed to the bright “ether,” or to the spiritual “heaven”; the word and its derivatives carry with them the ideas of cloudiness, mist, and even darkness. Hence it is naturally used to suggest the conception of the evil power, as allowed invisibly to encompass and move above this world, yet overruled by the power of the true heaven, which it vainly strives to overcloud and hide from earth. In Ephesians 6:12 the powers of evil are described with less precision of imagery, as dwelling “in heavenly places,” the opposition being there only between what is human and superhuman; yet even there the “darkness” of this world is referred to, corresponding to the conception of cloudiness and dimness always attaching to “the air.”

The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.—The Greek here shows that the word “spirit” must be taken in apposition, not to “prince,” as an English reader would naturally suppose, but to “power.” As the individual demons when considered as working on the human spirit are called spirits—“unclean spirits “in the Gospels, “evil spirits” in Acts 19:12 (comp. Acts 16:16), “deceiving spirits” in 1Timothy 4:1—so here the collective power of evil, considered as working in “the children of disobedience,” is called “a spirit,” like the “spirit of the world,” in 1Corinthians 2:12, but here even more distinctly opposed to the “Spirit of God.” In reference to this spiritual power over the soul our Lord’s casting out demons is described (Acts 10:28) as a deliverance of those who were “oppressed of the devil;” the apostolic work of conversion (Acts 26:18) as a turning “from the power of Satan to God,” and excommunication as “a deliverance to Satan” (1Corinthians 5:5; 1Timothy 1:20); and in 2Thessalonians 2:9 exactly the same word for “inward working” is applied to the action of Satan on the soul. From this half-personal use of the word “spirit” it is easy to pass to the more abstract sense of an inner spiritual principle (as in Romans 8:15; Romans 11:8; 2Timothy 1:7; 1John 4:6).

Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
(3) Among whom also we all . . .—Up to this point St. Paul had addressed himself especially to the Ephesians as Gentiles: now he extends the description of alienation to “all,” Jews and Gentiles alike, as formerly reckoned among the children of disobedience. It is indeed the great object of this chapter to bring out the equality and unity of both Jews and Gentiles in the Church of Christ; and this truth is naturally introduced by a statement of their former equality in alienation and sin.

In the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.—The parallelism of these two clauses illustrates very clearly the extended sense in which the word “flesh” is used by St. Paul, as may indeed be seen by the catalogue of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-20. For here “the flesh,” in the first clause, includes both “the flesh and the mind” (or, more properly, the thoughts) of the second; that is, it includes both the appetites and the passions of our fleshly nature, and also the “thoughts” of the mind itself, so far as it is devoted to this visible world of sense, alienated from God, and therefore under the influence of the powers of evil. In fact, in scriptural use the sins of “the flesh,” “the world,” and “the devil” are not different classes of sins, but different aspects of sin, and any one of the three great enemies is made at times to represent all.

And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (or rather, the others—that is, the heathen).—From this passage the phrase “children of wrath” has passed into Christian theology as an almost technical description of the unregenerate state. Hence it needs careful examination. (1) Now the phrase “children of wrath” (corresponding almost exactly to “children of a curse,” in 2Peter 2:14) seems borrowed from the Hebrew use in the Old Testament, by which (as in 1Samuel 20:30; 2Samuel 12:5) a “son of death” is one under sentence of death, and in Isaiah 57:4 (the Greek translation) “children of destruction” are those doomed to perish. In this sense we have, in John 17:12, “the son of perdition;” and in Matthew 23:15, “the son of hell.” It differs, therefore, considerably from the phrase “children of disobedience” (begotten, as it were, of disobedience) above. But it is notable that the word for “children” here used is a term expressing endearment and love, and is accordingly properly, and almost invariably, applied to our relation to God. When, therefore, it is used as in this passage, or, still more strikingly, in 1John 3:10, “children of the devil” (comp. John 8:44), there is clearly an intention to arrest the attention by a startling and paradoxical expression. “We were children,” not of God, not of His love, but “of wrath”—that is, His wrath against sin; “born (see Galatians 3:10-22; Galatians 4:4) under the law,” and therefore “shut up under sin,” and “under the curse.” (2) Next, we have the phrase “by nature,” which, in the true reading of the original, is interposed, as a kind of limitation or definition, between “children” and “of wrath.” In the first instance it was probably suggested by the reference to Israel, who were by covenant, not by nature, the chosen people of God. Now the word “nature,” applied to humanity, indicates what is common to all, as opposed to what is individual, or what is inborn, as opposed to what is acquired. But whether it refers to humanity as it was created by God, or to humanity as it has become by “fault and corruption of nature,” must always be determined by the context. Here the reference is clearly to the latter. “Nature” is opposed to “grace”—that is, the nature of man as alienated from God, to the nature of man as restored to his original birthright, the “image of God,” in Jesus Christ. (See Romans 5:12-21.) The existence of an inborn sinfulness needs no revelation to make it evident to those who have eyes to see. It needs a revelation—and such a revelation the gospel gives—to declare to us that it is not man’s true nature, and that what is really original is not sin, but righteousness. (3) The whole passage, therefore, describes the state of men before their call to union with Christ, as naturally “under wrath,” and is well illustrated by the full description, in Romans 1:18; Romans 2:16, of those on whom “the wrath of God is revealed.” There man’s state is depicted as having still some knowledge of God (Romans 1:19-21), as having “the work of the law written on the heart” (Romans 2:14-15), and accordingly as being still under a probation before God (Romans 2:6-11). Elsewhere we learn that Christ, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” died for all, even “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6-8; Revelation 13:1); and that none are wholly excluded from His atonement but those who “tread under foot the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing” (Hebrews 10:29). Hence that state is not absolutely lost or hopeless. But yet, when the comparison, as here, is with the salvation of the gospel, they are declared “children of wrath” who are “strangers to the new covenant of promise,” with its two supernatural gifts of justification by faith and sanctification in the Spirit, and their condition is described, comparatively but not absolutely, as “having no hope, and without God in the world.”

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
(4) Rich in mercy.—Not only merciful, but rich “in the multitude of mercy,” as attaching even to those dead in sin (see Chrysostom on this passage). The idea of richness in grace, glory, mercy, is especially frequent in this Epistle. (See Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:16.)

For his great love.—Again, as in Ephesians 1:4, stress is laid on the love of God, before all else, as the one moving cause of salvation. (Comp. Romans 5:8, “God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”)

Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
(5) Even when we were dead in sins.—These words should be connected, not with “loved us,” but with “hath quickened,” or rather, quickened. He brought life out of spiritual death.

(5, 6) The thought in these verses follows exactly the same course as in Ephesians 1:19-20. There the type and earnest of the working of God’s mighty power are placed in the resurrection, the ascension, the glorification of Christ Himself in His human nature. Here what is there implied is worked out—(1) All Christians are declared to be quickened (or, risen again) to spiritual life with Christ, according to His promise, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). (See the exact parallel in Colossians 2:13.) But there is a promise even beyond this: “I am the life: whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die” (John 11:25; comp. also John 5:24; John 17:2). Hence, even more emphatically, and in full accordance with this latter promise, we have in Colossians 3:4, “Christ who is our life;” as in 2Corinthians 4:10-11, “The life of Jesus is made manifest in us.” What this “life eternal” is He Himself declares (John 17:3)—“to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.” (2) Next, this partaking of the life of Christ is brought out in two striking forms—as a partaking, not only of His resurrection (as in Romans 6:5; 1Corinthians 15:20-22; Philippians 3:11), but also (in a phase of thought peculiar to these Epistles) of His ascension “to the heavenly places.” This is “in Christ Jesus,” in virtue of a personal and individual union with Christ. It implies blessings, both present and future, or rather one blessing, of which we have the earnest now and the fulness hereafter—for the resurrection and ascension of Christ are even now the perfection and glorification of humanity in Him. (3) So far as we are really and vitally His members, such perfection and glorification are ours now, by His intercession (that is, His continued mediation for us in heaven) and by His indwelling in us by the Spirit on earth. The proof of partaking His resurrection is “newness of life,” “death unto sin, and new birth unto righteousness” (Romans 6:5-11), which is in Colossians 3:12 expressly connected with the entrance upon unity with Christ in baptism. The proof of having “our life hid in Christ at the right hand of God,” is “the setting our affection on things above” (Colossians 3:1), by which “in heart and mind we thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell.” (4) These proofs are seen only in measure here. Through the change which we call death, we pass at once to a still higher stage of life, by fuller union with Christ (2Corinthians 5:6-8), and at the great day we shall have both in perfection—perfect newness of life in “likeness to Him” (1John 3:2), and perfect glorification in Him in that communion with God which is heaven (John 17:5; John 17:10; John 17:24). The one thing which St. Paul does not attribute to us is that which is His alone—the place “at the right hand of the Father.”

That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
(7) In the ages to come.—Properly, the ages which are coming on—the ages both of time and of eternity, looked upon in one great continuity. Here, again, the manifestation of the riches of God’s grace is looked upon as His special delight, and as His chosen way of manifesting His own self to His creatures.

In his kindness.—The word “kindness” (properly, facility, or readiness to serve another) is applied to that phase of God’s mercy in which it shows Him as “ready to receive, and most willing to pardon.” Thus we find it in Luke 6:35 used for His goodness “to the unthankful and evil”; in Romans 2:4 it is joined with “long-suffering and patience”; in Romans 11:22 opposed to abrupt “severity”; in Titus 3:4, connected with love to man, “philanthropy”; and it is also used in similar connections when attributed to man (1Corinthians 13:4; 2Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12). Hence in this passage it is especially appropriate, because so much stress has been laid on the former sinfulness and godlessness of those to whom God’s mercy waited to be gracious. There is a similar appropriateness in the repetition of the name of our Lord “through Christ Jesus,” for this gentle patience and readiness to receive sinners was so marked a feature of His ministry that to the Pharisees it seemed an over-facility, weakly condoning sin. “Through Him,” therefore, the kindness of God was both shown and given.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
(1 b.) Ephesians 2:8-10 (taking up and working out the parenthetical “by grace ye are saved” of Ephesians 2:5) form an instructive link of connection between these Epistles and those of the earlier group, especially the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans. (Comp. Philippians 3:9.) In both there is the same doctrine of “Justification by Faith,” the same denial of the merit of good works, the same connection of good works with the grace of God in us. But what is there anxiously and passionately contended for, is here briefly summarised, and calmly assumed as a thing known and allowed. Even the technical phrases—the word “justification,” and the declaration of the nullity of “the Law”—are no longer used.

(8) By grace are ye saved through faith.—Properly, ye have been saved; ye were saved at first, and continue in a state of salvation. In Ephesians 2:5 this thought is introduced parenthetically, naturally and irresistibly suggested by the declaration of the various steps of regeneration in Christ. St. Paul now returns to it and works it out, before passing on, in Ephesians 2:11, to draw out by “wherefore” the conclusion from Ephesians 2:1-7. Remembering how the Epistles were written from dictation, we may be inclined to see in this passage among others, an insertion made by the Apostle, on a revision of that already written.

The two phrases—“justification by faith” and “salvation by grace”—are popularly identified, and, indeed. are substantially identical in meaning. But the latter properly lays stress on a more advanced stage of the process of redemption in Christ. Thus, in Romans 5:9-10 (“having been justified,” “having been reconciled,” “we shall be saved”), salvation is spoken of as following on the completed act of justification (as the release of a prisoner on his pronounced pardon); and it is described, here and elsewhere, as a continuous process—a state continuing till the final judgment. Hence to lay especial stress on salvation accords better with the whole idea of this Epistle—the continuous indwelling in Christ—than to bring out, as in the Epistle to the Romans, the one complete act of justification for His sake. It is remarkable that the expression of the truth corresponds almost verbally with the words of St. Peter at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:11), “We believe that through the grace of God we shall be (properly, we were) saved,” except that here the original shows that the salvation is looked upon as a completed act, like justification. It is also to be noted that the use of the name “Saviour,” applied both to God and to Christ, belongs entirely to the later Epistles. It is used once in this Epistle (Ephesians 5:23) and once in the Epistle to the Philippians (Ephesians 3:20), but no less than ten times in the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul, and five times in the Second Epistle of St. Peter. The phrase in the text is, as always in this Epistle, theologically exact. Grace is the moving cause of salvation: faith only the instrument by which it is laid hold of.

And that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.—This attribution of all to the gift of God seems to cover the whole idea—both the gift of salvation and the gift of faith to accept it. The former part is enforced by the words “not of works,” the latter by the declaration, “we (and all that is in us) are His workmanship.” The word here rendered “gift” is peculiar to this passage; the word employed in Romans 5:15-16; Romans 6:23, for “free gift” (charisma) having been appropriated (both in the singular and plural) to special “gifts” of grace.

Not of works, lest any man should boast.
(9) Not of works, lest any man should boast.—In this verse we have the echo of the past Judaising controversy; it sums up briefly the whole argument of Romans 3:27 to Romans 4:25. There is a similar reminiscence, but more distinct and detached, in Philippians 3:2-9.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
(10) We are his workmanship.—This verse, on the contrary, is unique and remarkable, characteristic of the idea with which this Epistle starts—the election and predestination of God, making us what we are—and applying it very strikingly, not only to the first regeneration, but even to the good works which follow it. The word rendered “workmanship” is only used elsewhere in Romans 1:20, where it is applied to the “works” of God in creation. Probably here also it does not exclude our first creation. We are His wholly and absolutely. But the next clause shows that St. Paul refers especially to the “new creation” in Christ Jesus.

Created in Christ Jesus.—This creation, when spoken of distinctively, is the “new creation” (2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15); as, indeed, is the case below (Ephesians 2:15), “to create in Himself . . . one new man.” In this passage, however, St. Paul dwells, not on distinction from the old creation, but rather on analogy to it; in both we are simply God’s creatures.

Unto good works.—Properly, on the basis (or, condition) of good works (as in Galatians 5:13; 1Thessalonians 4:17; 2Timothy 2:14). The good works, in themselves future, being (as the next clause shows) contemplated as already existent in God’s foreknowledge, and as an inseparable characteristic of the regenerate life.

Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.—There is, perhaps, in all Scripture, no stronger expression of the great mystery of God’s predestination; for it is here declared in reference, not only to the original call and justification and regeneration of the soul, but also to the actual good works, in which the free-will and energy of man are most plainly exercised; and in which even here we are said not to be moved, but “to walk” by our own act. In much the same sense St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Philippians (Ephesians 3:12-13), uses the well-known paradox, “Work out your own salvation . . . , for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Both truths—God’s preordination and man’s responsible freedom—are emphasised. For the reconcilement of the two we must wait till we “know even as we are known.”

(2 a.) Ephesians 2:11-13, resuming the thread of argument from Ephesians 2:7, dwell on the drawing of the Gentiles into a personal unity with God in Christ-not, however (as before), out of the deadness of sin and bondage of Satan, but rather out of the condition of alienation from God, from His covenant and His promise, in which they stood contrasted with His chosen people.

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
(11) Gentiles in the fleshi.e., not having the bodily impress of circumcision, sealing the Jewish covenant.

Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision.—The use of the phrase “called”—with a touch of the contempt implied in our phrase “the so-called”—simply implies that now Circumcision and Uncircumcision were mere names, virtually “nothing.” The declaration of the nullity of circumcision as a religious distinction is often repeated, yet takes various forms. Thus, in 1Corinthians 7:19, it is contrasted with the practical reality of obedience to God’s commandments; in Galatians 5:6, with the inner reality of “faith working by love “; in Galatians 6:15, with the divine gift of the “new creation”; in Colossians 3:11, with the spiritual unity of all in Christ. (Comp. also the whole argument of Romans 2:25 to Romans 4:12.)

In the flesh made by hands.—St. Paul, however, not content with this, suggests by the addition of these last words a contrast between the false or carnal, and the true or spiritual circumcision, attributing the former to the unbelieving Jews, the latter to all Christians. This contrast is expressly announced in the other Epistles of this period. In Philippians 3:2-3, we read, “Beware of the concision; for we are the circumcision.” In Colossians 2:11, still more distinctly, in significant connection with the appointed means of entrance into the Christian covenant, and significant contrast with the effete Jewish ordinance, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision not made with hands . . . in the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, in which also ye are risen with Him.” In that true circumcision lies the distinction between the Church, which is the spiritual Israel, and the heathen world without.

That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
(12) This verse gives a dark and terrible picture of the former heathen condition of the Ephesians, intentionally contrasted in every point with the description of Christian privilege in Ephesians 2:19-20. That condition is first summed up in one expression. They were “separate from Christ.” Then from this are drawn two gloomy consequences: first (1), that they had no part in God’s special covenant, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” and so “strangers to the (often repeated) covenants of the promise” of the Messiah; next (2), that, thus left in “the world,” they had “no hope” of spiritual life and immortality, and were “godless” in thought and act. For Christ is at once the end and substance of the covenant of Israel, and the Revealer of God, and therefore of spiritual life in man, to all mankind. To be without Him is to lose both covenant and light. On (1) it is to be noted that the word used is not “aliens,” but “alienated.” implying—what is again and again declared to us—that the covenant with Israel, as it was held in trust for the blessing of “all families of the earth,” so also was simply the true birthright of humanity, from which mankind had fallen. The first “covenant” in scripture (Genesis 9:8-17) is with the whole of the post-diluvian race, and is expressly connected with the reality of “the image of God” in man (Genesis 9:6). The succeeding covenants (as with Abraham, Moses, and David) all contain a promise concerning the whole race of man. Hence the Gentiles (as the utterances of prophecy showed more and more clearly while the ages rolled on) were exiles from what should have been their home; and their call into the Church of Christ was a restoration of God’s wandering children. In relation to (2) it is impossible not to observe, even in the highest forms of heathen philosophy, how their comparative “godlessness”—the absence of any clear notion of a real spiritual tie of nature between God and man—made their “hope” of life and immortality, though still cherished, shadowy and uncertain, always stronger in itself than in its grounds. But St. Paul’s description ought to be applied strictly, not to heathen life in its nobler and purer forms, but to the heathen life of Asia Minor in his days. What that was in moral degradation and in loss of all spiritual religion, ill compensated by the inevitable proneness to various superstitions, all contemporary literature testifies. From it came, as the Romans declared, the corruption which overspread the whole empire, and which St. Paul describes so terribly in Romans 1:18-32.

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
(13) This verse speaks of the restoration of the heathen as taking place, first, “in Christ Jesus”—in virtue, that is, of union with Him through all the acts of His mediation; and next, “by the blood of Christ”—that is, through that especial act of mediation, which is emphatically an atonement for sin—such sin as St. Paul had been declaring above to be the cause of spiritual deadness. They had power now “to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19).

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
(2 b.) Ephesians 2:14-18 pass on from the description of the call of the heathen to personal union with God in Christ, to dwell on the perfect unity and equality of Jew and Gentile with each other in Him, and the access of both to the Father.

(14) He (Himself) is our peace.—There is clearly allusion, as to the many promises in the Old Testament of the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:5-6, et al.), so still more to the “Peace of Earth” of the angelic song of Bethlehem, and to the repeated declarations of our Lord, such as, “Peace I leave with you: My peace I give unto you.” Here, however, only is our Lord called not the giver of peace, but the peace itself—His own nature being the actual tie of unity between God and mankind, and between man and man. Through the whole passage thus introduced there runs a double meaning, a declaration of peace in Christ between Jew and Gentile, and between both and God; though it is not always easy to tell of any particular expression, whether it belongs to this or that branch of the meaning, or to both. It is well to compare it with the obvious parallel in Colossians 2:13-14, where (in accordance with the whole genius of that Epistle) there is found only the latter branch of the meaning, the union of all with the Head, not the unity of the various members of the Body.

Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.—In this verse the former subject is begun. The reunion of Jew and Gentile is described in close connection with the breaking down of “the middle wall of the partition” (or, hedge). The words “between us” are not in the original, and Chrysostom interprets the partition as being, not between Jew and Gentile, but between both and God. But the former idea seems at any rate to predominate in this clause. Whether “the middle wall of the hedge” refers to the wall separating the court of the Gentiles from the Temple proper (Jos. Ant. xv. § 5), and by an inscription denouncing death to any alien who passed it (see Lewin’s St. Paul, vol. ii., p. 133), or to the “hedge” set about the vineyard of the Lord (Isaiah 5:2; comp. Matthew 22:33)—to which probably the Jewish doctors alluded when they called their ceremonial and legal subtleties “the hedge” of the Law—has been disputed. It may, however, be noted that the charge of bringing Trophimus, an Ephesian, beyond that Temple wall had been the cause of St. Paul’s apprehension at Jerusalem (Acts 21:29), and nearly of his death. Hence the Asiatic churches might well be familiar with its existence. It is also notable that this Temple-partition suits perfectly the double sense of this passage: for, while it was primarily a separation between Jew and Gentile, it was also the first of many partitions—of which the “veil of the Temple” was the last—cutting all men off from the immediate presence of God. At our Lord’s death the last of these partitions was rent in twain; how much more may that death be described as breaking down the first!

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;
(15) The connection in the original is doubtful. The words the “enmity in His flesh” may be in apposition to the “wall of partition” in the previous verse; or, as in our version, to “the law of commandments.” The general sense, however, is but little affected in either case.

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances.—In this difficult passage it will be well first to examine the particular expressions. (1) The word rendered “to abolish” is the word often used by St. Paul for “to supersede by something better than itself”—translated “to make void,” in Romans 3:31; to “bring to nought,” in 1Corinthians 1:28, and (in the passive) “to fail,” “to vanish away,” “to be done away,” in 1Corinthians 13:8-10. Now, of the relation of Christ to the Law, St. Paul says, in Romans 3:31, “Do we make void the Law? God forbid! Yea, we establish the Law.” The Law, therefore, is abolished as a law “in ordinances”—that is, “in the letter”—and is established in the spirit. (2) “The law of commandments in ordinances.” The word here rendered “ordinance” (dogma) properly means “a decree.” It is used only in this sense in the New Testament (see Luke 2:1; Acts 16:4; Acts 17:7; Hebrews 11:23); and it signifies expressly a law imposed and accepted, not for its intrinsic righteousness, but on authority; or, as Butler expresses it (Anal., Part ii., Ephesians 1), not a “moral,” but “a positive law.” In Colossians 2:14 (the parallel passage) the word is connected with a “handwriting” that is a legal “bond”; and the Colossians are reproved for subjecting themselves to “ordinances, which are but a shadow of things to come”; while “the body,” the true substance, “is Christ.” (See Ephesians 2:16-17; Ephesians 2:20-21.) (3) Hence the whole expression describes explicitly what St. Paul always implies in his proper and distinctive use of the word “law.” It signifies the will of God, as expressed in formal commandments, and enforced by penalties on disobedience. The general idea, therefore, of the passage is simply that which is so often brought out in the earlier Epistles (see Romans 3:21-31; Romans 7:1-4; Romans 8:1-4; Galatians 2:15-21, et al.), but which (as the Colossian Epistle more plainly shows) now needed to be enforced under a somewhat different form—viz., that Christ, “the end of the law,” has superseded it by the free covenant of the Spirit; and that He has done this for us “in His flesh,” especially by His death and resurrection. (4) But in what sense is this Law called “the enmity,” which (see Ephesians 2:16) was “slain” on the Cross? Probably in the double sense, which runs through the passage: first, as “an enmity,” a cause of separation and hostility, between the Gentiles and those Jews whom they called “the enemies of the human race”; next, as “an enmity” a cause of alienation and condemnation, between man and God—“the commandment which was ordained to life, being found to be unto death” through the rebellion and sin of man. The former sense seems to be the leading sense here, where the idea is of “making both one”; the latter in the next verse, which speaks of “reconciling both to God,” all the partitions are broken down, that all alike may have “access to the Father.” Comp. Colossians 1:21, “You, who were enemies in your mind, He hath reconciled;” and Hebrews 10:19, “Having confidence to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated to us, through the veil, that is to say His flesh.”

For to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.—In this clause and the following verse the two senses, hitherto united, are now distinguished from each other. Here we have the former sense simply. In the new man “there is neither Jew nor Gentile,” but “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:12). This phrase, “the new man” (on which see Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10), is peculiar to these Epistles; corresponding, however, to the “new creature” of 2Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15; and the “newness of life” and “spirit” of Romans 6:4; Romans 7:6. Christ Himself is the “second man, the Lord from Heaven” (1Corinthians 15:47). “As we have borne the image of the first man, of the earth, earthy,” and so “in Adam die,” we now “bear the image of the heavenly,” and not only “shall be made alive,” but already “have our life hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). He is at once “the seed of the woman” and the “seed of Abraham”; in Him, therefore, Jew and Gentile meet in a common humanity. Just in proportion to spirituality or newness of life is the sense of unity, which makes all brethren. Hence the new creation “makes peace”—here probably peace between Jew and Gentile, rather than peace with God, which belongs to the next verse.

And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
(16) And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body.—In this verse the latter subject opens—the reconciliation of all to God. On the reconciliation of man to God, see the great passage 2Corinthians 5:18-21. But it should be noted that in the original the word used here and in Colossians 1:20-21 (and nowhere else) is a compound signifying not simply to “conciliate,” but properly to “reconcile,”—that is to reunite those who were originally united, but afterwards separated by the sin of man. This brings out the profound idea, which so especially characterises these Epistles, of a primeval unity of all created being in Christ, marred and broken by sin, and restored by His manifestation in human flesh. Note that the passage in the Colossians (on which see Notes) has a far wider scope than this passage—“having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself; by Him (I say), whether they be things on earth or things in heaven.” On the other hand, this passage characteristically still lays stress on the idea “in one body”—that is, as throughout, His mystical body, the Church—although probably the phrase is suggested here by the thought of the natural body of the Lord offered on the cross, which is clearly referred to in Colossians 1:21. There is a similar connection of thought in 1Corinthians 10:16-17, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we are all one bread, and one body.”

By the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.—In this verse (in accordance with the context) “the enmity,” which by His death He “slew,” is the barrier between God and man, created by sin, but brought out by the Law, as hard and rigid law, “in ordinances” of which St. Paul does not hesitate to say that “sin took occasion by it,” and “by it slew” man (Romans 7:11). This is illustrated by the cognate, though different, metaphor of Colossians 2:14, where it is said of Christ that He “blotted out the handwriting of ordinances which was against us, which was contrary unto us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.” Compare also, in Galatians 2:19-20, the connection of spiritual “death to the Law” with our partaking of our Lord’s crucifixion: “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. . . . by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” By His death Christ has both redeemed us from sin, and also “redeemed (properly, bought) us from the curse of the Law” (Galatians 3:13).

And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
(17) And came and preached peace.—The word “came” certainly carries back our thoughts to our Lord’s own preaching, when, after the Resurrection, He came “and stood in the midst of them, and said, Peace be unto you” (Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:21). But we note that at that very time He repeated the salutation “Peace be unto you,” with the expressive addition, “As my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you,” and with the charge, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” for the future mission “to remit or retain sins.” In the same connection we have in John 14:25-28, the promise of the Comforter, and the words “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you. . . . I go away and come again to you.” Hence we cannot limit His “coming” to the appearance after the Resurrection. At all times through the witness of the Holy Spirit, whether with or without the preaching of His servants (John 15:27), He “stands at the door and knocks” (Revelation 3:20) with the message of peace. For since the “peacemakers” are “called the children of God,” He, the Son of God, must be emphatically the Peacemaker.

To you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.—As the enmity was the enmity with God, so the peace is peace with God; but still the Apostle, having the idea of reunion between Jew and Gentile present to his mind, cannot refrain from bringing out clearly the call of both to one peace, and therefore to unity with one another. The passage is a quotation from Isaiah 57:19.

For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(18) For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.—In this verse the two meanings again unite. In the original the order is emphatic: “Through Him we have the access, both of us in one Spirit, to the Father.” The greater idea of access to God is still prominent; but the lesser idea of union with each other in that access is still traceable as an undertone. “Access” is properly “the introduction” (used also in Ephesians 3:12; Romans 5:2), a technical word of presentation to a royal presence. So says Chrysostom, “We came not of ourselves, but He brought us in.” The corresponding verb is found in 1Peter 3:18, “Christ also suffered for sins—the just for the unjust—that He might bring us to God.” It will be noted that we have here one of the implicit declarations of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, so frequent in this Epistle. The unity of the whole Church, as united “to the Father,” “through the Son,” and “in the Spirit,” is here summed up in one sentence, but with as much perfection and clearness as even when it is unfolded in the great passage below (Ephesians 4:4-6). The ultimate source of all doctrine on the subject is necessarily in the words of the Lord Himself. (See John 14-17, especially John 14:6; John 14:16-18; John 14:23-25; John 15:26; John 16:13-15; John 17:20-21.) For these are the “heavenly things”; and “no man hath ascended into heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:12-13).

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
(2 c.) Ephesians 2:19-22 sum up the two-fold idea of this chapter—union of the Gentiles, with God and with God’s chosen people—in the metaphor of the One Temple, of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, and which, both collectively and in the individuality of each part, grows into a habitation of God.

(19) Strangers and foreigners.—Here the word rendered “stranger” means properly an alien, or foreigner; while the word translated “foreigners” signifies the resident aliens of an ancient city, who were but half-aliens, having free intercourse with the citizens, although no rights of citizenship. The latter word is used literally in Acts 7:6; Acts 7:29 (there rendered “sojourner”), and often in the LXX. version; perhaps metaphorically in 1Peter 2:11. Such a sojourner, though in some sense less an absolute alien than the mere “stranger,” was one on whom by daily contrast the sense of being an alien, excluded from power and privilege, was more forcibly impressed.

Fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.—In sense this double expression preserves the double idea running through the whole chapter. The phrase “fellowcitizens of the saints” is applied to the Gentiles, as now united with the Israel of God in one “commonwealth.” (See above, Ephesians 2:12.) “Members of the household of God” refers rather to the union with God, restored by the blood of Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians 2:13.) As to the metaphor, the word “stranger”—that is, alien—seems to be opposed to “fellowcitizen”; the word “foreigner”—that is, half-alien—to members of the household: for the resident aliens stood opposed to the “houses,” the families or clans, of the citizens—the unit in ancient law being always the family, and not the individual. The Gentiles were now brought into a “household,” and that household the household of God Himself.

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
(20-22) In these verses there is a sudden change from a political to a physical metaphor, possibly suggested by the word “household.” The metaphor itself, of the Church as “a building of God”—frequently used in the New Testament—reaches its full perfection in this passage. (1) It starts, of course, from the words of our Lord (Matthew 16:18), “On this rock I will build my Church;” but in the use of it sometimes the prominent idea is of the growth by addition of individual stones, sometimes of the complex unity of the building as a whole. (2) The former idea naturally occurs first, connecting itself, indeed, with the still more personal application of the metaphor to the “edification” of the individual to be a temple of God (found, for example, in 1Thessalonians 5:11; 1Corinthians 8:1; 1Corinthians 10:23; 1Corinthians 14:4; 2Corinthians 5:1; 2Corinthians 10:8). Thus in 1Corinthians 3:9, from “ye are God’s building,” St. Paul passes at once to the building of individual character on the one foundation; in 1Corinthians 14:4-5; 1Corinthians 14:12; 1Corinthians 14:26, the edification of the Church has reference to the effect of prophecy on individual souls; in 1Peter 2:5, the emphasis is still on the building up of “living stones” upon “a living stone.” (Comp. Acts 20:32.) (3) In this Epistle the other idea—the idea of unity—is always prominent, though not exclusive of the other (as here and in Ephesians 4:12-16). But that this conception of unity is less absolute than that conveyed by the metaphor of the body will be seen by noting that it differs from it in three respects; first, that it carries with it the notion of a more distinct individuality in each stone; next, that it conveys (as in the “graffing in” of Romans 11:17) the idea of continual growth by accretion of individual souls drawn to Christ; lastly, that it depicts the Church as having more completely a distinct, though not a separate, existence from Him who dwells in it. (On this last point compare the metaphor of the spouse of Christ in Ephesians 5:25-33.) Hence it is naturally worked out with greater completeness in an Epistle which has so especially for its object the evolution of the doctrine of “the one Holy Catholic Church.”

(20) Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.—In spite of much ancient and valuable authority, it seems impossible to take “the prophets” of this verse to be the prophets of the Old Testament. The order of the two words and the comparison of Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11, appear to be decisive—to say nothing of the emphasis on the present, in contrast with the past, which runs through the whole chapter. But it is more difficult to determine in what sense “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” is used. Of the three possible senses, that (1) which makes it equivalent to “the foundation on which apostles and prophets are built,” viz., Jesus Christ Himself, may be dismissed as taking away any special force from the passage, and as unsuitable to the next clause. The second (2), “the foundation laid by apostles and prophets—still, of course, Jesus Christ Himself—is rather forced, and equally fails to accord with the next clause, in which our Lord is not the foundation, but the corner-stone. The most natural interpretation (3), followed by most ancient authorities, which makes the apostles and prophets to be themselves “the foundation,” has been put aside by modern commentators in the true feeling that ultimately there is but “one foundation” (1Corinthians 3:11), and in a consequent reluctance to apply that name to any but Him. But it is clear that in this passage St. Paul deliberately varies the metaphor in relation to our Lord, making Him not the foundation, or both foundation and corner-stone, but simply the corner-stone, “binding together,” according to Chrysostom’s instructive remark, “both the walls and the foundations.” Hence the word “foundation” seems to be applied, in a true, although secondary sense, to the apostles and prophets; just as in the celebrated passage (Matthew 16:18) our Lord must be held at any rate to connect St. Peter with the foundation on which the Church is built; and as in Revelation 21:14, “the foundations” bear “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” It is true that in this last passage we have the plural instead of the singular, and that the passage itself, is not, as this is, a dogmatic passage. But these considerations are insufficient to destroy the analogy. The genius therefore of this passage itself, supported by the other cognate passages, leads us to what may be granted to be an unexpected but a perfectly intelligible expression. The apostles and prophets are the foundation; yet, of course, only as setting forth in word and grace Him, who is the corner-stone.

Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.—The metaphor is drawn, of course, from Psalm 118:22 (applied by our Lord to Himself in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; and by St. Peter to Him in Acts 4:11), or from Isaiah 28:16 (quoted with the other passage in 1Peter 2:6-7); in which last it may be noted that both the metaphors are united, and “the tried corner-stone” is also “the sure foundation.” In itself it does not convey so obvious an idea of uniqueness and importance as that suggested by the “key-stone” of an arch, or the “apex-stone” of a pyramid; but it appears to mean a massive corner-stone, in which the two lines of the wall at their foundation met, by which they were bonded together, and on the perfect squareness of which the true direction of the whole walls depended, since the slightest imperfection in the corner-stone would be indefinitely multiplied along the course of the walls. The doctrine which, if taken alone, it would convey, is simply the acceptance of our Lord’s perfect teaching and life, as the one determining influence both of the teaching and institutions, which are the basis of the Church, and of the superstructure in the actual life of the members of the Church itself. By such acceptance both assume symmetry and “stand four-square to all the winds that blow.” (See Revelation 21:16.) That this is not the whole truth seems to be implied by the variation from the metaphor in the next verse.

In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
(21) In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.—There is some difficulty about the rendering-”all the building.” Generally the best MSS. omit the article in the original. But the sense seems to demand the rendering of the text, unless, indeed, we adopt the only other possible rendering, “in whom every act of building”—that is, every addition to the building—“is bonded to the rest, and grows,” &c. The clause agrees substantially, and almost verbally with Ephesians 4:16—“From whom the whole body, fitly joined (framed) together and compacted . . . maketh increase of the body unto the edifying (building up) of itself.” In this latter passage the leading idea is of the close union of the body to the head, to which, indeed, the metaphor more properly applies than to the relation of the building to the corner-stone. For we note that St. Paul, apparently finding this relation too slight to express the full truth of the unity of the Church with Christ, first speaks of the whole building as compacted together in the corner-stone, and growing—that is, being gradually built up—in that closely compacted union; and next, calls the temple so built up a “temple holy in the Lord” (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ), deriving, therefore, all its sacredness as a temple from a pervading unity with Him. The corner-stone is only a part, though a dominant part, of the building. Christ not only “keeps all together, whether you speak of roof, or wall, or any other part whatsoever” (Chrys.), but by contact with Himself makes the building to be a temple.

In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
(22) In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.—This verse seems primarily intended simply to emphasise the truth already enunciated (in Ephesians 2:20), that the Ephesians themselves are now being made part of the Church of Christ, “being built up together in Christ.” But it may also illustrate to us the character of the unity of the Church, as, primarily, a direct individual unity with Christ—each stone being itself a complete and living stone—and, secondarily and indirectly, an unity with others and with the whole. The Ephesians are said to be, not a part of the habitation of God, but themselves built into Christ for an habitation of God—“Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith,” and they “therefore being filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). The addition of this clause, therefore, links the teaching of this Epistle with the earlier and more individual forms of teaching, noted on Ephesians 2:20.

This verse contains, again, the declaration (as in Ephesians 2:18) of the union of Christians with each Person of THE HOLY TRINITY. The soul made one with THE SON becomes a temple for the indwelling of THE FATHER in the gift of THE HOLY SPIRIT. (See John 14:23.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Ephesians 1
Top of Page
Top of Page