2:11 “Wherefore remember that once you were the nations in the flesh, named “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision” in flesh made by hand.
Circumcision. The Greek word is PERITOME, a compound word of PERI- (around) and TOME (cutting), and therefore it exactly describes the medical act of removing the foreskin. Our English word is CIRCUM (around) and CISION (cutting), so that it is a word-for-word translation of the Greek.
Uncircumcision. Strangely, the Greek is not APERITOME, which might be expected, though the word is found just once, in Acts 7:51 in a metaphorical sense. In all other references to uncircumcision in the N.T. the word AKROBUSTIA is used. This is a compound word from AKROS (top, or tip) and BUSTIA, from the verb BUO (to be bunged full). It would seem therefore that the Jews had coined a word with a degree of vulgarity and mockery to describe the state of the rest of the world.
Circumcision was practised by the Jews. But this only came about since the days of Abraham about 2,000 B.C. Because of the influence Abraham had, the practice gradually spread to other tribes, and according to Hastings’ Bible Dictionary, it was found amongst the Arabs, Colchians in Asia, Egyptians, Mandingos, Gallas, Falashas, Abyssinians, (i.e. Ethiopians), some Bantu tribes in Africa, Otaheitans, Tonga Islanders, and some Melanesians in Polynesia, certain New South Wales tribes in Australia, and the Athabascans, Nahuatl, Aztecs, and certain Amazonian tribes in South America. I am far from certain where some of these people lived, but have just copied the list. When we were teaching in Kenya, we found that the dominant tribe, the Kikuyus, practiced circumcision, but the more northern Luosdidn’t, and it created a similar (though not so violent) distinction as between Jew and Greek.
Circumcision was practised on the eighth day. This is of great symbolic interest, because 8 is the number of a new beginning, and also of resurrection. In the symbolism of the N.T. circumcision is used by Paul to be a type of the “cutting off of the flesh”, that a man may begin “walking in the spirit.”
The Jewish practice was a ceremonial occasion. The night before the operation was due, the parents would say special prayers to ward off the predator spirit known as Lilith, who was traditionally a child-slayer. Many Jewish mothers placed an amulet around the baby’s wrist, on which prayers against Lilith were written. The surgeon, known as the Mohel, arrived on the eighth day, and all the children were gathered together to listen to his brief sermon, and the reading of the Shema and portions from Deuteronomy and Numbers. He would then sit apart from the rest, with an empty chair by his side for Elijah, whom he invoked to assist him in his task. When the operation was complete, the child received his name, followed by the Mohel’s blessing, and a feast in the parent’s home.
The child’s name being given at this time is in remembrance of Abram and Sarai receiving their new names, Abraham and Sarah. These names were identical to their old names but with the addition of the Hebrew letter He, whose number is 5, and therefore symbolic of God’s grace being granted to them. Hence to be circumcised was to enter into the Lord’s covenant, and become a child of God’s grace. This was the positive teaching of the O.T. concerning circumcision. However, in time the nation began to look upon itself as high and mighty, above all the Goiim, the Gentiles in adjacent nations, whom they grew to despise, treat with scorn, and in Jesus’ day even avoid physical contact lest they be ceremonially defiled.
Such was the Jewish mind-set in the days of our Lord, and of His apostles after Him. That is why Paul speaks as he does in this letter about circumcision (or the lack of it.) When writing to the Romans he spelled out the Jewish abuse of circumcision, showing that it could never engender new life in Christ, any more than infant baptism can in the churches of today.
The overcomers in Revelation were promised a white stone on which would be written their new name, which no one else would know. This is connected with “spiritual circumcision,” in the sense that when finally we put off our fleshly tabernacle and are clothed with our new bodies, our heavenly Father gives us our “new name”, something special, a name that no one else knows, so that when He calls us no one else will respond. One is reminded of our Lord calling for Lazarus. Had He not used the name, (as someone once pointed out,) every other dead person in that tomb would have come forth as well!
2:12 “That you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”
Paul began this chapter by calling his readers “corpses”. As if this was not enough, he now tells the Gentile readers that they were not only “dead”, but were utterly and completely cut off from all religious privileges that accrued to Israel, the sole nation under heaven to be called by God.
Without Christ. Perhaps this should have been rendered “without a Messiah,” because prior to the birth of Christ the Jews were awaiting their Messiah, whereas no other nation had this prospect in view.
Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. The alienation resulted from the lack of covenants enjoined withIsrael as a people. Circumcision was the sign, or token of the basic covenant. Hence all other nations were alienated, cut off, from Israel.
Commonwealth. Greek POLITEIA, meaning the condition and rights of a citizen of a state, hence citizenship, with all its benefits.
Strangers from the covenants of promise. Stranger is XENOS, a word that was used, especially by Homer, ofguests, as opposed to the host. Hence it applies to any stranger, who is always entitled to the rights of hospitality. This was true in O.T. days, when a stranger would be welcomed into an Israelite family, and once he had submitted to circumcision, he could enjoy as a proselyte many (but not all) of the benefits of the home-born.
Having no hope. Hope is ELPIS, and it signifies more than is attached to the word’s meaning today. A better translation would be “Expectation,” as long as the thought of certainty was attached to it. This is far removed from the modern usage of “hope” where a person says he hopes to win on the lottery, or hopes it will be fine for his holiday, or even that he hopes when this life is over he has a place in heaven. There is never any certainty attached to such hopes, but the O.T. prophets gave Israel a strong certainty in the prospects for the future.
Without God in the world. Means either “without God”, or “denying God”, which is equivalent to being an atheist.The former is preferred here, because it fits into the list of other things just mentioned. Paul is not denigrating his readers for atheism, rather is he pointing out their poverty-stricken position as separated from Israel.
2:13. “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were formerly far off became near by the blood of Christ.
In Christ Jesus. Jews were still Jews; Gentiles were still Gentiles as far as national status applies, but a wholly new realm developed, where these national tags disappeared, namely “in Christ.” As members of Christ’s Body, “our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we await our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil.3:20) The Gentiles used to find a partial blessing by becoming proselytes, but that meant joining the commonwealth of Israel,whereas “in Christ” the commonwealth of Israel no longer exists. In its place we find a realm in which the Jew has no advantage over the Gentile, where these very names disappear, having no further significance.
Became near. Literally “were brought near” by the blood of Christ. There is no room for personal action here. Paul was not saying that Gentiles were able to “cross the divide” and march into the Jewish blessings. He was saying that the shed blood of Christ abolished the old order completely. It was equally necessary for the Jews, on believing, to forget their Old Covenant position (in respect of former advantages and blessings), as it was for the Gentiles to rejoice at their inclusion into the realm of life.
Some might say, yes, that is all very well, but what about all the blessings promised exclusively to the Jews? The answer is that all those blessings are to be found in Christ Himself. Paul taught this very clearly in 2 Cor.1:20. “All the promises of God in Him are Yea, and in Him Amen!” It is quite inappropriate for anyone to claim the fulfilment of promises outside of Christ.
There is a great divide today between those who believe that all the O.T. promises have been transferred to the Church, and those who believe that God still has obligations to fulfil towards the Jewish nation. The latter group refer to the former as “replacement theologians” and rise up in revolt against all attempts to transfer Israelite blessings to the Church. The former group are equally hostile, saying that Israel is finished as a nation, because Jesus is the Head of the Church. Furthermore, they say that Israel has no future as “God’s chosen people.”
This great divide is as ridiculous as the war between Calvinists and Arminians, both of which have some truth, but deny the bigger picture. It is impossible for a Jew to claim God’s blessings apart from Christ, because Christ is the fulfilment of the whole ceremonial law of the O.T. All the covenantal blessings are contained within Him. He “envelops” them all. Try as he may, the Jew will never be able to find those blessings anywhere else. They are locked away in the breast of the Son of God. In Him alone can they be enjoyed by New Birth, and Sonship.
What about the future? The pro-Jewish lobby insists that God must return to the Jews and fulfil His promises to themas a nation. In that case, God would be going back to that which has been destroyed, as the following verses make abundantly clear. If in the future God reaches out and uses the nation of Israel, He will do so on a national basis, as He might use any other nation. There is much prophesied about nations in the Millennial Kingdom age. But those nations will not be the Body of Christ as described in this epistle. They will receive national blessings, but the blessings of the covenants have been transferred into the Person of Jesus Christ.
Their return to the land in unbelief was prophesied, and has come about. Likewise a day will come when they will “look upon Him whom they pierced, and will mourn for Him as an only son,” but this only proves the point. They can only achieve God’s future blessing when they recognise, and believe in, Jesus as the Messiah. “They will see me no more until they say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Paul looked forward to that day, when he said, “Thus all Israel will be saved.” Yes, there are many prophecies about the future of the Jewish nation, but to say that God will return to working with them under the terms of the Old Covenant is to ask Him to adopt a partial work when He has entered into a much fuller work. God never goes back.
2:14 “For He is our peace, who made the both one, having broken down the middle-wall of partition.”
Peace. One hears so much these days about peace. At the United Nations headquarters they constantly pass resolutions calling for peace between hostile nations and tribes, but almost always fail to achieve what is ratified in their resolutions. Why is this? Because peace cannot come to fallen people and nations except through the blood of Christ. One hears warm and encouraging stories of true brotherhood being achieved between, say, an Israeli and an Arab, or a Protestant and a Catholic in Northern Ireland, when both parties have experienced New Birth. This can, and does happen to individuals, but never on a national basis in this world. However, there is no other way to reconciliation.
Made both one. The Jews and the Gentiles “in Christ.”
Broken down the middle wall of partition. In the structure of the Jerusalem Temple there were various “walls”. The innermost sanctum was reserved for the priests and Levites. The next area was reserved for male Israelites, thenthere was the “court of the women”, and finally the “court of the Gentiles.” Paul here refers to the “wall” that maintained the separation of Gentile from Jew. But in another place he showed quite clearly that other “walls” had also been demolished. See for example in Colossians 3:11. “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision noruncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” And also in Galatians 3:28.“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These verses declare emphatically that the blood of Christ has demolished all such walls.
Let us take a look at the lists. We have already spoken about the distinction between Jews and Greeks being demolished, also circumcision and uncircumcision. What about Barbarians? The Greek word BARBAROS is onomatopoeic, referring to the sound of a foreigner’s language that he couldn’t understand. And so one’s language is no barrier to membership of Christ’s Body. Neither are the Scythians excluded. This was a race of very violent people who scalped the heads of their enemies. In God’s mercy He reaches down to the lowest, most violent and wretched of human beings and makes them “new men in Christ.” Then we have “bond and free.” The bondmen were slaves, the freemen were of a higher class altogether. Finally male and female, where a separation was made in the Temple, but had now been abolished.
Let me recall a heart-warming tale that I heard about people in the West Country in days gone by. There was a certain gentleman farmer who employed many hands. He was an ardent Christian, and attended the local Open Brethren Assembly on Sundays. So also did several of his “hands.” During the week they would address him as “Sir”, but on Sundays, whilst within the sanctity of their assembly room, he asked them to use his Christian name, as a token of the “oneness” that God had made, where the distinction between “bond and free” was demolished. Outside the building, ordinary human distinctions applied, but not in the fellowship of the Body of Christ. This is a useful story. It teaches us that whereas “in Christ” all these distinctions are abolished, in our ordinary lives they may still operate.
Paul taught the Jewish people in Hebrews that even the wall that separated the Israelites from the Priests had been demolished. See 10:19-20 “Brethren, we have boldness to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the Veil, that is to say, His flesh.” This was a very major step, because the place beyond the Veil could only be entered by the High Priest once a year. But now it became possible for all people to enter the Holy of Holies symbolically. Such is the great privilege afforded us by the Son of God.
2:14 “The enmity in His flesh.” We must stop here and ponder the significance of these words. In the last section of our exposition we spoke about the necessity of viewing Jesus’ corpse, that we have been identified with His death-state. In this verse we are told even more clearly that whilst Jesus was a man, with the form of human flesh, He could not bring redemption to the world. His flesh was the symbol of enmity between man and God. It was therefore necessary in the purposes of God that His flesh should be crucified, that the enmity could be destroyed. See how it came out in the verse from Hebrews, quoted above. The Veil in the Temple was a symbol of Jesus’ flesh. But we are told that “the Veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom,” at the time of the Lord’s death. (Matthew 27:51) This Veil was a huge curtain. Josephus tells us it had the thickness of a man’s hand. No man could have split it. Furthermore it was torn from top to bottom, showing that angelic hands had been at work, making the way open into the Holy of Holies.
Our identification with the Lord’s death is declared by Paul in the most fitting way in Galatians 2:20. “I am crucified with Christ.” He realised that it was necessary for him first to understand his identification with Christ’s death, before speaking about his identification with His resurrection. It is quite in order for us to speak about “being crucified with Christ.” This is symbolic language, and we are asked to think in terms of “reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 6:11)
2:15. “Even the law of commandments in decrees.” The O.T. decrees were all for the benefit of one nation. These decrees had now been abolished, so that both Jew and Gentile could enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31 we read about this New Covenant, where God’s laws would be written in men’s hearts rather than just on stone tablets, but the decrees were still in force, that the Covenant would only be for the nation of Israel.
2:15. “In order that He might create the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity in it [or, in Him.]”
The two. This has reference to Jew and Greek.
Reconcile. The Greek is interesting and informative. The verb is APO-KATA-LATTO, a compound word found only in Ephesians and Colossians. The normal word for reconciliation is just KATALATTO, and Paul uses it in Romans 5:10 “While we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.”
God first of all reconciles each human being to Himself. But in Ephesians and Colossians a further reconciliation is accomplished. In our present passage it refers to the reconciliation wrought between erstwhile hostile nations. In Colossians 1:20 it goes even further. “Having made peace by the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile ALL THINGS to Himself, whether they be in heaven or upon earth.” This is why Paul uses an intensive form of the Greek verb to describe God’s greater works.
But KATALATTO is itself a compound word, and it is instructive to see how the basic verb ALLATTO is used. It means “to change”. In Hebrews 1:20 the writer tells us about the present heavens and earth, saying that God will“fold them up as a mantle, and they shall be changed.” This change will be to the “new heavens and new earth.” Of more personal interest, Paul tells us about “a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the wink of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
Taking all three words together we can enjoy the theme. First of all we are reconciled to God from sin, then reconciled to others when the partition wall is demolished. Looking ahead, we await the day when we shall be changed into our new body, and finally God will change the heavens and earth, making them new. This is truly a wonderful vista of accomplishment.
2:17. “And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to you who were near.”
Preached. The verb is EUANGELIZO, the normal word “to evangelise”, or more literally, “to bring good tidings.” However, this verb is in the Middle Voice, and a strict translation would be, “He announced Himself as the glad tidings, saying ‘Peace’ to those far and near.”
2:18. “Because through Him we both have introduction by one spirit to the Father.”
Introduction. A poor translation. It should read “We have an Introducer to the Father.” One is immediately presented with the image of the Son of God standing there, beckoning to us with His hand, saying ‘Come, meet my Father!’ What a wonderful privilege. O Lord, hasten that day!
2:19. “Now therefore you are no strangers and sojourners, but fellow-citizens of the saints and members of God’s family.”
Strangers and sojourners. In other words Gentiles and proselytes.
Fellow-citizens. Greek SUMPOLITAI, another one of those words that presents a togetherness.
Members of God’s family. This is how it ought to be translated. See how Paul uses the word “family” in 1 Timothy 5:4 “If any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first of all learn piety in their own family, to requite their parents, for this is acceptable before God.” In these references, the Greek word is OIKEIOS, from OIKOS, a house, or home.
One is reminded of our Lord’s words in John 14:2 “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” Here the word is OIKIA, of the same root as above. The word “mansions” seems strange, that a house might contain mansions. This is not how we define buildings today. But the word means literally, “places to stay, or reside.” The Lord was saying in effect, “My Father’s house is large and has many rooms, and you will have opportunity to enjoy using all of them from time to time.” Later in the chapter He said, (verse 23) “If anyone loves me, he will keep my words and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him.” The “abode” is the same as “mansion”. It shows that wherever the saints happen to be in resurrection, the Godhead enjoys their company. How much better than even the best homes we have ever known.
2:20. “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.”
Peter said, “You are living stones being built into a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:5) Here again we read about the “house.” So the Father’s house is in fact composed of “living stones”, and therefore they are not cemented together into an immoveable structure, but must be seen as a spiritual house, where all the members are fluid, able to move about as well as rest. However, it is also necessary to imagine a structure, in the same way that one may envisage the large workforce of an office, from the Managing Director down to the lowest paid operative.
Chief corner stone. The Greek word is AKROGONIAIOS, a compound word of AKROS (top) and GONIA (angle). The only way to translate this word is to imagine the capstone of a pyramid. Hence this building grows from heaven downwards, the opposite of earth-based buildings. Jesus is seen as the capstone, and beneath Him are the apostles and prophets. After them come the various layers of stone of which the building is composed. Presumably this is the New Jerusalem that John saw in his vision, having height, length and breadth of equal measure, and which he saw growing downwards from heaven to earth. (The usual interpretation of a cubic city descending en bloc from heaven to earth is faulty.)
2:21. “In whom all building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
All building. Better to translate “the whole building”.
Fitly framed together. The Greek is SUNARMOLOGEO a compound word from SUN (together), HARMOS (joint), and LEGO (usually to speak, but also takes on the meaning of put). Hence the phrase means “the whole building having been jointed together in all its parts.”
Holy temple. Greek NAOS, refers to the actual building of the temple, in which only the priests were allowed to enter.
2:22. “In whom you are also being built together into a habitation of God in spirit.”
Habitation. Greek KATOIKETERION, which is found in only one other place in the N.T. in connection with Babylon, which is described as “a habitation of demons.” (Rev.18:2) What greater contrast can there be between the Holy New Jerusalem, and the defiled Great City of Babylon? And so we reach the end of chapter two.