20 November 2015

Ephesians 2:11-22

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 130


When the early Church began to include both Jews and Gentiles, male circumcision became a point of conflict. Should Gentiles have to submit to circumcision to become true members of the new people of God? Paul wrestled with this issue, for there were those who insisted that converts should be circumcised. Today's passage from Ephesians argues that Christ has reconciled both groups.

The writer begins by outlining the predicament of the Gentiles (verses 11-12), showing sensitivity to them in the way they are described as "the uncircumcision" but stressing that they were truly outsiders, separated from God because they were not part of God's people of old. But Christ has changed all that. Verses 13-18 speak of the work of Christ in reconciling the two groups. Whilst this is achieved through the cross, the writer speaks of the blood of Christ rather than his death, and piles up positive phrases about the work of Christ. Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Is this perhaps a reference to the veil in the temple being torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:51) so that all have access to God through Christ? Such access is emphasised in verse 18.

The sense of unity of all people, a new humanity sharing the peace that Christ gives is a very attractive picture, which we recognise liturgically as we gather around the Lord's Table today. In verses 19-22 the writer piles up more images to illustrate that unity, seeing the united believers as part of one household or family. Then the thinking moves from family to dwelling place, with firm foundations in the teaching of the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 3:10 Paul speaks of himself as an architect or master builder. But whereas he speaks of Christ as the foundation of the metaphorical building that is the Christian faith, in Ephesians 2:20, Christ is described as the cornerstone, which holds the building together. If Christ is the cornerstone, then the building becomes a holy temple, and the writer echoes 1 Peter 2:5 in speaking of believers as the structure of that building.

To Ponder

  • If the unity of all people still a work in progress, what are the implications for daily life, for the Church, and for the world?
  • Have you ever been an outsider, the subject of discrimination? What did that feel like?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.