Addressing non-Jewish believers, Paul described the condition in which they had found themselves. They had been dead in trespasses and sins, for their defiled conduct would have led to death. From God’s standpoint, they were in a state of condemnation, with the record of their having lived contrary to the prompting of their consciences exposing them as wrongdoers. (2:1, 11)
They had “walked” or lived in a manner typical of the age that characterized the “world,” the Greco-Roman world of that time. Theirs had proved to be a way of life that conformed to the “ruler of the authority of the air.” This ruler is doubtless the devil, with his influence seemingly being represented as coming from above the earth. There is also a possibility that the designation “ruler of the authority of the air” describes the devil as one who controls the corrupt element that the world of mankind alienated from God imbibes (or breathes in like the air). (2:2)
Either the devil himself or the evil influence emanating from him as “ruler of the authority of the air” is designated as “the spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Persons who persist in unbelief and conduct themselves contrary to God’s ways are “sons” or offspring of disobedience in that they reveal themselves to be subject to disobedience in the same manner as children are subject to their parents. The “sons of disobedience” are rebels against God, with disobedience to him governing their lives. (2:2)
Manuscripts vary in whether Paul included himself among those who previously lived contrary to God’s ways (“also we”) or whether he continued to direct his words to non-Jewish believers (“also you”). The basic thought, however, is the same. Among the “sons of disobedience,” all believers formerly had yielded to the desires of their flesh, doing what their flesh or sinful human nature wanted. By nature, or in their fallen or sinful state, they proved to be “children of wrath” just like the rest of humankind at enmity with God. Their corrupt way of life merited his wrath. (2:3)
Nevertheless, God, the one who is “rich in mercy” (or whose mercy is abundant and bountifully bestowed), “because of the great love with which he loved us,” made us alive with Christ. The surpassing greatness of divine love was manifested while believers were in a state of alienation, “dead in trespasses.” Upon putting faith in Christ and what he accomplished in laying down his life for them, they ceased to be under condemnation for their sins but came to have a newness of life as approved children of God. Having been brought into living union with Christ by allowing themselves to be drawn to God’s love and responding in faith to his Son, they became sharers in Christ’s righteousness (his absolute uprightness and purity). Thus it proved to be by God’s gracious favor that they were saved or delivered from the condemnation that their sins merited. As sinners, they did not deserve to be rescued from their fallen state. (2:4, 5; see the Notes section.)
With his Son, God raised believers from being dead in sins and under condemnation. In this way, they became sharers in Christ’s resurrection and came to have a new life as God’s approved children. He seated believers with his Son in the heavenly places, exalting them as his own precious ones. This seating in the heavenly places is “in Christ Jesus,” for believers are united to him as their head. Whereas believers were despised in the world that was alienated from God, their having been made one with his Son seated them in heavenly places, far above the world’s great ones who contemptuously looked down upon them. (2:6)
In coming ages, their being raised to a newness of life and seated in the heavenly places would serve to show the “exceeding riches” or the superabundance of God’s gracious favor in the kindness he expressed toward believers. He acted in kindness toward them “in Christ Jesus,” dealing with them as dearly beloved ones by reason of their having come to be at one with his Son and sharers in his Son’s uprightness and purity. (2:7)
Through their faith in Christ, believers were saved or delivered from the condemnation of sin. Whereas they responded in faith to the divine arrangement for having their sins forgiven, they were saved by God’s gracious favor. Nothing they had personally done entitled them to have Christ die for them and provide the basis for being forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God as his approved children. Everything proved to be God’s gift, unearned and unmerited. (2:8)
The standing of believers as divinely approved ones, persons who did not have their sins reckoned against them, had not come about as a result of personal efforts. It was not “out of works,” precluding any boasting. (2:9)
When it comes to salvation, believers have no basis for pride in personal achievement, for they became what they are on account of God’s action. By him, they have been made his sons or children. “In Christ Jesus” or as persons at one with him, they have been created “for good works.” These good works God prepared beforehand so that believers might “walk in them.” He had predetermined the way of life that would distinguish his beloved children, with love prompting upright conduct and selfless responsiveness to the needs of others. (2:10)
In view of their dignified standing as God’s children, Paul wanted the non-Jewish believers to remember their former state as Gentiles “in [the] flesh” or by natural descent. Jews who took pride in circumcision (the sign of their covenant relationship with God) disparagingly called the Gentiles “the uncircumcision.” Jewish circumcision had been carried out by human hands and so contrasted with the circumcision of the heart that God performed through the operation of his spirit and which circumcision resulted in upright conduct prompted by the responsive heart or the inmost self of the individual believer. (2:11)
At the time Gentile believers were in their former state, they were without the Messiah or Christ. They knew nothing about the coming of the promised Messiah and had no hope of a future deliverance through him from their sinful state that had death in view. In relation to the community of Israel or God’s people as a nation, they were aliens. Non-Jews were strangers to the “covenants of the promise,” knowing nothing about the covenants nor the promise inherent in them. These covenants could include the ones God made with Abraham, with the nation of Israel in the time of Moses and, finally, with David. The covenants contained the promise about the coming Messiah who would be the seed of Abraham, a prophet like Moses, and a king in the royal line of David. (2:12; Genesis 15:1-21; 22:15-18; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; see the Notes section.)
Non-Jews had no hope of a coming Messiah and the blessings that would come through him, including forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God as his children. They, as part of the world that was at enmity with the true God, did not know him. Having no relationship with him, they were without God. (2:12)
“In Christ Jesus,” or by having come to be at one with him, non-Jews who were once far off as strangers came to be near as God’s beloved children. This had been effected “by [literally, ‘in’] the blood of Christ.” The power inherent in his blood, which he shed sacrificially, made it possible for all who put faith in him and the surrender of his life for them to be forgiven of their sins, to be incorporated into his body, and to be acknowledged by his Father as his approved sons or children. (2:13)
Therefore, with reference to both Jews and non-Jews, Paul could say regarding Jesus, “He is our peace.” Through his death, he ended the marked separation between Jews and non-Jews, with all those putting faith in him coming to have an equal standing as children in his Father’s family. The former separation, division, or alienation was thus abolished, being replaced by the peace existing in a united family. Apart from Christ this peace is impossible. (2:14)
He made the two peoples, Jews and non-Jews, one and broke down the dividing wall that functioned as a barrier between them. This wall is called “the enmity,” for division does not produce peace but leads to disunity and hostility. “In his flesh,” or in the element of his fleshly or human body, he brought about the oneness of Jews and non-Jews, demolishing the former barrier. Christ sacrificed his physical body of flesh so that, through his death, both believing Jews and non-Jews could be united to him as head and members of his corporate body. (2:14)
The “wall” is identified as “the law of the commandments in decrees.” This literal reading of the majority of extant Greek manuscripts may be understood to mean that the law given to the Israelites contained commandments that consisted of single decrees or ordinances. It was the law, with its specific requirements (including circumcision, dietary restrictions, and distinctive grooming and clothing features) that brought about the marked separation between Jews and non-Jews. (2:15) At the temple in Jerusalem, this division existed in tangible form. A wall, with openings for passing through to courts having higher degrees of sanctity, marked the limits of the Court of the Gentiles. Large stones bore an inscription warning non-Jews not to go beyond the barrier. (See the Notes section.)
By fulfilling the law, living up to its purpose and then dying sacrificially, Jesus abolished it as a barrier between Jew and non-Jew. Thereby, “in his flesh” (or by means of the fleshly body that he sacrificed), he created a “new man” or new corporate person “in himself.” On the basis of having given up his body of flesh in sacrifice, he created this “new man” (or “new people”) in himself upon bringing believing Jews and non-Jews into unity with himself as the one body of which he is the head. In this manner, he also “made peace,” for through his death he removed the divisive barrier existing between Jews and non-Jews. (2:15)
The “cross” (staurós) here represents what Christ accomplished through his sacrificial death, making possible forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father. Through his death on the staurós, Jesus Christ reconciled both Jews and non-Jews “in one body to God.” To have an acceptable standing with his Father, Jews and non-Jews needed to put faith in him and the efficacy of his sacrificial death. In this way both peoples came to be united in “one body,” the body of which Christ is the head. The Son of God, “in himself” or through the surrender of his body in death, also removed the barrier that separated Jews from non-Jews, killing the “enmity” that had existed between them and their mutual alienation from God on account of their sinful state. (2:16; see the Notes section.)
After his baptism in the Jordan and later through the disciples whom he commissioned, Jesus came as one who could be recognized as the promised Messiah or Christ and proclaimed the glad tidings of peace “to those far off, and peace to those near.” Those “far off” are the non-Jews, as they had no relationship with the true God and were without the sacred writings that revealed his will and promises. From the standpoint of being in a covenant relationship with God and in possession of divine revelation conveyed through the prophets and recorded in the sacred writings, the Jews are designated as “those near.” Jesus carried out his activity among them, with rare exceptions interacting with non-Jews. Through the disciples, however, he declared the good news of peace to those who were far off, the non-Jews. The message of peace indicated how both Jews and non-Jews could come to be reconciled to God. Both peoples needed to put faith in him as the Son of God and accept the provision his Father made through him to be forgiven of their sins. (2:17; see the Notes section.)
Believers had God’s spirit imparted to them and, “through” Christ, are granted approach to the Father. Based on Christ’s death for them, both peoples, Jews and non-Jews, gain an acceptable standing before the Father and, through Christ, are able to draw near to him as his dear children. It is only by recognizing Jesus Christ as the one through whom deliverance from sin has been made possible and him as Lord by his Father’s appointment that anyone can acceptably approach God. As sharers in the “one spirit,” God’s spirit, Jewish and non-Jewish believers are united as one in their access to the Father. (2:18)
For non-Jewish believers, their former state of alienation ended and they ceased to be “far off” from the true God. No longer were they strangers and like aliens passing through a foreign country. They were “fellow citizens of the holy ones,” having the same standing as Jewish believers, and came to belong to God’s household, the family of his beloved children. (2:19)
Non-Jewish believers had come to be part of a sacred edifice. The apostles and prophets serve as the foundation of this edifice, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. Non-Jewish believers were built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. In the capacity of the foundation, the apostles and prophets had been entrusted with the message about Christ, and they were the first ones to proclaim it. Jesus Christ had personally taught the apostles, and their testimony about him provided the solid basis for putting faith in him. Likewise many Christian prophets had a direct link to Jesus’ teaching. All who become part of the sacred edifice must, like building blocks, be aligned in conformity with the most important stone, Jesus Christ himself. (2:20)
It is “in” Christ, or with the individual members being at one with him, that the entire “building, bonded together, is growing into a holy sanctuary in the Lord.” The unifying element is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the growth into a holy sanctuary is also in him as Lord. This holy sanctuary or temple is not portrayed in a static state, but in one of continual growth. An increasing number of believers continue to be built “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” with all seeking to be conformed to the pattern of the principal stone, Jesus Christ. (2:21)
Continuing to address the non-Jewish believers, Paul added, “In whom [in the Lord Jesus Christ to whom he had just referred] you also are being built up together [with all others] into a dwelling place of God in spirit.” As persons who had been united to Christ, non-Jewish believers along with Jewish believers collectively came to be a place where God would dwell by means of his spirit. His spirit would be in their midst, guiding them and serving as the means for supplying essential aid. (2:22; see the Notes section.)
In verse 5, the oldest Greek manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus represent believers as having been made alive “in Christ,” enjoying a newness of life by being at one with him. The majority of manuscripts, however, indicate that believers were made alive with Christ.
The covenant promise to Abraham was also repeated to Isaac and Jacob. (Genesis 26:2-5; 28:13-15; 35:11, 12) When relating the incident of Aaron’s making atonement for the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness, the book of Wisdom (thought to have been written in the first century BCE) refers to his appealing on the basis of the “oaths and covenants” given to the forefathers. (Wisdom 18:21-23; compare Exodus 32:13; Numbers 16:41-50.) Therefore, the “covenants of the promise” mentioned in Ephesians 2:12 could have included the oath-bound promise God made to both Isaac and Jacob.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus (War, V, v, 2) wrote that the stone barrier had a height of three cubits (about 4.5 feet [c. 1.4 meters]), and “upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigner should go within that sanctuary.’”
In 1871, Clermont-Ganneau found an almost complete warning notice inscribed on stone having a thickness of nearly 6 inches. This notice indicates that no foreigner should enter the protective barrier “around the sanctuary” and then says, “Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” A very fragmentary inscription, with similar wording, was discovered in 1935.
In itself, the Greek word staurós, commonly translated “cross” (in Ephesians 2:16), denotes a stake or pole, and the staurós which Jesus and later Simon carried was a beam. A long stake with a transverse beam would have been too heavy for one man to carry or to drag. The Latin term crux, from which the English word “cross” is derived, can designate a tree or a wooden instrument on which victims were either hanged or impaled.
In the allegorical Epistle of Barnabas (thought to date from the early second century and so from a time when the Romans continued to practice crucifixion), the staurós is linked to the letter tau (T). Moreover, very limited archaeological evidence does indicate that the Romans did make use of upright poles with a transverse beam.
Ancient abbreviated forms of the noun staurós and the verb stauróo (a number of preserved occurrences in P66 [second century] and P75 [though not consistently used in this late second-century or early third-century manuscript]) combine the letters tau (T) and rho (R) in a manner that is visually suggestive of a cross. This tau-rho ligature also appears in pre-Christian and non-Christian texts as an abbreviation for a number of terms, including the word trópos (meaning “way,” “manner,” or “habit”). Possibly Christian copyists adopted this ligature when abbreviating staurós because of associating the implement on which Jesus died with the letter tau (T). The existence of other abbreviated forms for the noun staurós and the verb stauróo in ancient biblical manuscripts which do not use the tau-rho ligature would seem to support the conjecture that early copyists chose this ligature for its visual effect.
The Greek word rendered “crucify” (stauróo) can denote hanging, binding, or nailing a victim on or to a stake, a tree, or an implement with a transverse beam. Doubtless the availability of wood and the number of individuals who were executed determined the shape of the implement used for crucifixion. In a Latin work attributed to Vulcatius Gallicanus, Emperor Avidius Cassius had criminals tied from the top to the bottom of a 180-foot high wooden stake. The manner in which these persons were attached to this stake is referred to as crucifixion (in crucem sustulit, according to the Latin text). Roman soldiers do not appear to have followed any specific method when carrying out crucifixions. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (War, V, xi, 1), the soldiers, out of wrath and hatred for the Jews, nailed those they caught, one in one way, and another in another way.
It is commonly believed that upright stakes were already at Golgotha or that the beams that had been carried to the site were attached to three adjacent trees (or possibly even the same tree) there. The minority view (expressed, for example, in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) is that Jesus was nailed in an upright position to the pole that Simon had carried and that it was not used as a transverse beam.
In verse 17, many later manuscripts do not include the word “peace” with reference to “those near.” Likely considering the repetition of “peace” to be redundant, copyists did not include it.
Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, unlike the majority of manuscripts, says, in verse 22, “dwelling place of Christ” (not “God”).