SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...notice that in that first line, Paul talks about being “in Christ Jesus”. This is one of the central themes in the Pauline letters, the idea of being “in Christ” — the idea that there are two spheres of reality. You’re either in Adam, if you’re still in part of the old creation and under the sin of Adam (under what we could call Original Sin) or you’re in Christ, if you, through faith and Baptism, have become a member of His Mystical Body.
So here Paul is speaking to the Ephesians, and he’s talking about the nature of the reality of them being in Christ Jesus. And one of the aspects that he brings up is that if those to whom he is speaking are Gentiles — which they are, this is in the city of Ephesus, a Gentile city — then now that they were in Christ Jesus, although they used to be far away from the people of God, from the covenant with Israel, they’ve now been brought near to God through the blood of Christ. In fact, they’ve been brought so near that there’s now a unity between Jew and Gentile “in Christ” — in that new sphere of reality. In verse 14, it says very clearly:
For he is our peace, who has made us both one…
It’s really difficult for us in our day of multiculturalism to kind of really grasp just how strong a division this was in the first century AD. One of the reasons the Jews were reviled by many Gentiles was because they saw the Jewish people as willingly separating themselves from pagan culture and Gentile culture, as having a line of division between themselves and the pagans.
And this division was very stark; it was very real. There was certainly no unity between the Jewish people as a people and the pagan peoples of the world who worship various gods and goddesses, deities. They worshipped emperors, they worshipped kings. It was just a very, very stark dividing line between the two.
So Paul here is trying to express to the Ephesians that through the death of Christ — through the blood of Jesus, through entering into Christ — that although they are Gentiles by birth, they really have become one now with the people of Israel. They’ve become one with the Jews, so that there’s no more division between Jew and Gentile.
And the image he uses to describe the unity that’s now been found between peoples in Christ is very striking. He says that Christ:
...has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…
Now on the one hand, it is possible that Paul is just using the image of a wall as a metaphor for division. So even to this day, if you want to keep someone out of your country, you build a wall. If you want to keep someone out of your house, you build a wall. If you want to keep someone out of any sacred area (like a temple or a church), you make walls around it. That’s what walls do — they divide things, and they can be intended to keep certain people out and certain people in. That’s how they function.
So it’s possible Paul is using it as just a general metaphor, but it seems more likely that he’s actually alluding to an architectural reality that was part of Judaism in the first century AD, namely the dividing wall that was present in the first century Jewish temple at the time of Jesus and at the time of Paul, before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
So for example, Josephus (first century Jewish historian, who was a priest in the temple before it was destroyed) actually tells us that in the first century AD, unlike — this is important, this is important. Unlike the tabernacle of Moses, which had no place for Gentiles, in the first century AD, by the first century, there was what was known (or what scholars refer to) as the Court of the Gentiles. There was an outer court in the temple which was a place where people from the pagan nations of the world, people from the Gentile nations of the world, who were “God fearers”, who believed in the God of Israel but had not received circumcision — so they accept the tenants of Israelite faith but they haven’t entered into the people of Israel through the covenant of circumcision, for various reasons … they could come to the temple and pray. They could come to the temple and worship, but they couldn’t pass this wall that divided the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Israelites. So listen to Josephus’ first hand description of the wall. He says this:
Such, then was the first court [a.k.a. “Court of the Gentiles”]. Within it and not far distant was a second one, accessible by a few steps and surrounded by a stone balustrade with an inscription prohibiting the entrance of a foreigner (Greek alloethnē
) under the threat of the penalty of death.
That’s Josephus’ Antiquities
, book 15, paragraph 417. So what Josephus is describing here is he says that if you went to the temple in the first century AD, the first court that you would enter would actually not be the Court of Sacrifice of Israelites. The first court you would enter was the Court of the Gentiles … or what he just calls the first court, the outer court.
If you wanted to pass through that and actually get to where you could offer your sacrifices, there were a few steps up to a higher level and then a low stone balustrade, a stone wall, that separated Israel from the Gentiles — literally, separated the Israelites from the Gentiles. The Gentiles — and notice, these are not idolatrous Gentiles. These are Gentiles who believe in God, but they’re still second rate citizens in the sense that they can’t go in. They can’t draw near to God. They can’t draw as
near to God as an Israelite could because of the wall of separation. And Josephus tells us that on that wall there was an inscription that prohibited a Gentile from going any further on the threat of the penalty of death.
Now this is really interesting. Up until the 19th century, we just had to take Josephus’ word for that. That’s what he said, but we didn’t have any external verification of it. But in 1871, due to archaeological explorations in the city of Jerusalem, an inscription was found from that wall that actually tells us what the words were, what was said … what you would have seen if you were a Gentile going into the temple. So here’s a copy of the words of this temple inscription. It says this — the plaque that was discovered in 1871 reads:
No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the Temple. Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for the death which follows.
Alright, very blunt sign there that if you think as a Gentile, you can go up those steps and enter into the Court of Israelites, you’re taking your life into your own hands, because if they execute you as a result, it’s your own fault. Okay, so that’s what Paul’s experience would have been of going into the temple, what Jesus’ experience would have been of going into the temple. And so when Paul writes (while the temple is still standing with this inscription that we found, right there above the wall), when he says that Christ:
...has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…
… in verse 14, it’s very likely that he’s describing the fact that now we are in Christ, whether you’re a Jew or Gentile, there is no more wall of division. You all have equal access to God through the blood of Christ. Why? Well, as he’ll say elsewhere in his letters, like 1 Corinthians 6 (and 1 Corinthians 3 as well):
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19a)
And the Church is the new temple of God, and there is no more divisions between peoples. Now, how did this lack of division happen? Here we get into a difficulty. Paul says in verse 15:
….by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both…
...meaning both Jews and Gentiles...
... to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.
And there was hostility between Jews and Gentiles. But the problem here is this: How can Paul say that Jesus abolished the law of commandments in His flesh in Ephesians 2:15, when Jesus Himself in Matthew 5:17 says:
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.
This is one of those apparent contradictions that you see in Scripture. And I remember, I was very young, I had just started studying the Bible — really probably in my undergraduate years, probably my first year in college — when I stumbled onto this difficulty. If you’re reading through the New Testament in order, and Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the law” and then in Ephesians chapter 2 you read Paul say “He abolished the law”, it’s striking. It catches your attention. How do we understand this? How do we make sense of it?
So I’ll say something in a second about that; we’ll get a little help from our friend St. Thomas Aquinas who thought about this some time ago. I wasn’t the first person to notice it. Before I do that, just notice the context, because context is always crucial. If you have a difficulty, that’s usually the solution. He says he abolished in his flesh the flaw … for what end? Because the law was bad? No. Because there are two gods, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament? No. What’s the reason? So:
… that he might create in himself one new man …
In Greek, kainon anthrōpon
or kainos anthrōpos
— a new anthrōpos
. We get the word “anthropology” from that, “new man”. So:
… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.
So that everyone, Jew and Gentile:
… both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So notice the Trinitarian context here. He’s talking about making one new man so that everyone can have access to the Father in the Spirit through the Son, by being in the Son.
Alright, so what is this image of one new man? Well, whenever you said that word kainos
in Paul (“new”), you should think old and new creation. This is that classic two circles that I’ve talked about in many videos — the two overlapping spheres of reality, the old creation and the new creation. And remember, the old creation can be described as being in Adam, like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, just like the new creation can be described as being in Christ.
And so what Paul was saying here is that although in Adam, in the old creation, there were divisions between Jews and Gentiles — like we see in the temple meant to separate them from one another, because they did not have equal access to the Father. “Now that you, Ephesians, are in Christ, that’s gone. That line of division is gone, and you now both have equal access to the Father in Christ through the Spirit.”
Okay, so that’s the context, that reconciliation between peoples has come about through the blood of Jesus. It gives access to God in a way that wasn’t there before. Alright, so how then … What is the relevance of this for my conundrum that I raised about Jesus abolishing the law? How does this not contradict what Jesus says? And this would be my suggestion to you, and then I’ll read St. Thomas. You can take my suggestion with a grain of salt. You can take Thomas’ a little more seriously.
So my suggestion to you is this...
For full access subscribe here >