by Richard Mansel, managing editor
Paul had to get them past petty grievances, so they could be receptive to God’s overall plan for the gospel. Redemption and reconciliation transcended racism and bigotry. The Jews and Gentiles needed the transformation of the gospel (Romans 12:1-2).
Jews called the Gentiles the “Uncircumcision,” to focus on their spiritual inferiority. Once we label a group in derision, we forget about them as equals.
The circumcision of the Gentiles was “made in the flesh by hands” (2:11). The adjective expressed in “in the flesh” “always depicts what a person does with his or her hands in contrast to the work of God.”/1
Circumcision was no longer a requirement to be in a covenant relationship with God. Therefore, it was sinful to require that Gentiles submit themselves, just to satisfy the prejudices of the Jews. It was nothing more than mutilation (Philippians 3:2).
“Physical circumcision is in contrast with circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:2-3; Colossians 3:2-3)./2
Instead of placing Gentiles into a mold God did not authorize, Gentiles needed to remain focused on truth and memory. Prior to the cross, they were without Christ and salvation. Paul paints a bleak portrait of their condition.
The Gentiles were not only separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:1-2), they were also set apart by flesh (Ephesians 2:11).
Hughes says that the Gentiles suffered “fivefold alienation”/3
First, they were “Christless.” Their lives were foreign to God (Romans 1:2-32). Their spirituality consisted of idol worship and non-existent gods.
Second, they were “stateless.” “Israel was a nation under God, a theocracy, but the Gentiles had no part or franchise in this.”/4
“Paul is using these descriptions only to make it vivid and so remind the Gentiles not to forget their past alienation from God and the great disparity between them and Jews”/5
They were not sons of God’s kingdom, so they did not have the blessings that came from such a union. They were outside the door, rather than in the arms of their Father.
Third, they were “friendless.” “God had bound himself unconditionally to bring blessing upon and through Israel.”/6 Gentiles were strangers and foreigners. A stranger or foreigner is someone who is “allowed to be in a country but with no rights.” /7
Fourth, they were “hopeless.” “A more bleak assessment of the Gentile world could not be imagined.”/8 They had no “basis for hope.”/9 They had nothing to hold onto as the years waned and death became a reality.
“They knew no atonement for sin. They had no assurance of pardon. They had no well-founded hope of eternal life. They were in a state of darkness and condemnation, from which nothing but knowledge of Christ could deliver them.”/10
Fifth, they were “godless.” There is no loneliness like being without God. Spiritual fatherlessness is like nothing else than man can experience. “Because the Gentiles did not have Israel’s revelation, they had nothing to look forward to. They had no expectation that God would work in their lives.”/11
Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross changed the lives of the Gentiles. Their spiritual prospects brightened immediately. They were “made near by the blood of Christ” (2:13).
1/ Harold H. Hoehner (2002), Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 354.
2/ Hoehner, 354
3/ Hughes, R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 90
4/ Hughes, 90
5/ Hoehner, p. 355
6/ Hughes, 90
7/ Hoehner, 357
8/ Tom Wacaster, (2010), Studies in Galatians and Ephesians (np, 2010), 301
9/ Wacaster, 301
10/ Wacaster, 301
11/ Hoehner, 360
by Richard Mansel, managing editor