Ephesians 2.11-13

11 Διὸ μνημονεύετε…
[11] Therefore, remember…

ὅτι ποτὲ ὑμεῖς τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί, οἱ λεγόμενοι ἀκροβυστία ὑπὸ τῆς λεγομένης περιτομῆς ἐν σαρκὶ χειροποιήτου,
…that once you, who are physically gentiles and called “the uncircumcised” by those who called themselves “the circumcision” (physically, by hand);

…12 ὅτι τε τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ χωρὶς Χριστοῦ,
…[12] that you were at that time separated from Christ,

πηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς πολιτείας τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ξένοι τῶν διαθηκῶν τῆς ἐπαγγελίας
alienated from citizenship of Israel and foreigners of the Covenants of the Promise

ἐλπίδα μὴ χοντες καὶ ἄθεοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ.
with no hope, godless in this world.

13 νυνὶ δὲ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ὑμεῖς οἵ ποτε ντες μακρὰν γενήθητε ἐγγὺς ἐν τῷ αἵματι τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
[13] But now through Christ Jesus, you who once were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

In this first few clauses of this sentence, we find an interesting syntactical issue. There is an imperative, “Remember,” which flows from the exciting declarations in the first half of chapter two, especially in verses 4-10. But after that we have two ὅτι’s. Each of these could easily be connected to the verb μνημονεύω (remember – a verb of perception). It seems best to view the first ὅτι as being a marker of discourse content (BDAG, 731, 1c). The second, which begins verse 12, technically functions in the same manner as the first.

But what Paul is doing here is setting two identical clause constructions (discourse ὅτι’s) in apposition to each other, so that while a ὅτι does not necessarily function in such a manner, the clauses themselves do. Paul has renamed/defined the first clause, “that once you, who are physically gentiles and called ‘the uncircumcised’…” as being identical with, “that you were at that time separated from Christ.”

Thus, Paul is making two distinctions. The first is between the Covenant People, the Jews and his Gentile audience. The second is between his Gentile audience and God. In doing so, Paul maintains the Jews as God’s people. This leads into the next clause, that their lack of circumcision meant that the Gentiles were separated from God which concurrently meant separation from Israel and the Covenants of Promise. Before Christ, there was no distinction between being Jewish and being. The two participles function as a descriptive expansion of the status of being separated from God. To be separated is to not be a part of Israel and thus, pagan, godless.

This is a Jewish perspective, which fits well with the idea that Paul wrote this letter. Not being a Jew was to be godless because there is only one God. Saying that everyone else is godless is an idea drawn directly from Jewish monotheism.

What is also interesting about Paul’s words though is that not being Jewish had previously separated them from Christ. Its unfortunate that Gordon Fee gave Ephesians the short end of the stick because this has some serious Christological implications. We have three statements:

that once you, who are physically gentiles and called “the uncircumcised” by those who called themselves “the circumcision” (physically, by hand);

that you were at that time separated from Christ.

alienated from citizenship of Israel and foreigners of the Covenants of the Promise with no hope, godless in this world.

I would not go as far as to argue that this is a definite and intended chiasm (this particular instance might be better described as an inclusio), but the fact that Paul places this clause between two other clauses that describe the Ephesians separation from Israel.

Paul describes the Gentiles as being separated from Israel and godless, while at the exact same time he describes the Gentiles as being separated from Christ. Paul makes a thoroughly monotheistic statement and puts Christ right in the middle of it. Perhaps a bit of high Christology? I think so.

Up until now, Paul has describe the Ephesians’ past state. But now he turns to the present with the words, νυνὶ δὲ (But now). These two words have thoroughly eschatological and soteriological implications (Cf. Romans 3.21 or Colossians 1.22). These two words mark a shift in eras of salvation history.

What Paul says in describing the Gentiles being brought near might cause one to wonder where the Gentiles are being brought. But in the previous two verses we see Paul placing separation from Christ and separation from Israel in a parallel relationship. So there is really no difference between being brought near Christ and being brought near Israel.

Thus, while I’ve translated “ἐν Χριστῷ” as “through Christ” or “by Christ,” it seems here from the context that the phrase suggests relationship with Christ (which is in the semantic range of ἐν, cf. John 10). That is why my translation above is “But now to Christ Jesus, you who once were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” While this is a little structurally awkward in, I didn’t want to change a reference to Christ to a pronoun and this also helps maintain the emphasis of the original as well, which places ἐν Χριστῷ right after νυνὶ δὲ.

Reflections:

Its passages like this that make me wonder why Pauline authorship is so difficult to accept. There are so many parallels with this passage and Romans and Galatians, especially circumcision and reconciliation.

This is a passage that really acts as a call for humility. Where have we come from? Alienated from God and his people, we had nothing before Christ. But now. Those two words are thoroughly connected with Paul’s statement in verses 4-10. We have saved by grace, by God’s favor and generosity toward us. Remember from where you’ve come. By Christ’s blood, by God’s favor, the believer has been made a part of God’s community, his family, his people.

I’ve never actually met someone who believes such a thing (I’ve only heard of them), but this verse definitely ought to speak to those who believe that now that the Jews have missed their chance now that Christ came and was rejected (they should also read Romans 11). All of us who are Gentiles have been brought into God’s people by Christ’s blood.

Remember who you were.

Remember who you are.

And remember why.

2 thoughts on “Ephesians 2.11-13

  1. It seems that most passage have one. There’s a book about chiastic structures in Ephesians published too.

    Ephesians: Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ by John Paul Heil

    But yeah, I’m interested in any thoughts or observations you might have.

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