Bible blog 2274

TRANSLATION OF EPHESIANS WITH COMMENT

Now remember that once you Gentiles by birth, called “the foreskinned” by those who call themselves “the snipped”, referring to a manual operation on their flesh, remember that you were at that time outside Messiah, excluded from the state of Israel, and alienated from the covenants of the Promise, having no hope or God in the world. But now in Messiah Jesus you who were formerly distant, have been brought near in Messiah’s blood. For he is our peace, since he has made the two of us one, dismantling the dividing wall between us, by destroying in his own flesh the cause of enmity, namely the law of rules and regulations, so that out of the two he could create in himself one new humanity, thereby making peace; and that he could reconcile us both to God in one body through his execution stake, on which he killed the enmity.

As the author’s argument proceeds, his style of expression, which has been pretty expansive tightens up; he places words and clauses with great exactitude to define his theology of God’s rescue of humanity. Readers may be surprised by my use of the verb “snip” for the Greek “peritome” and “foreskinned” for the Greek “akrobustia”, usually translated “circumcised” and “uncircumcised”. My chosen translations are accurate enough but also reflect the slight note of affectionate mockery which is part of the Pauline tradition on this issue.

The former condition of the Gentiles is of course as imagined by Jewish followers of Jesus. For them, the vibrant life of Greek communities with their acceptance of many Gods and moralities, was no more than licentious atheism. Perhaps, however the Jewish perception, communicated by Christian preachers, touched areas of doubt and dissatisfaction which the hearers had not suspected in themselves.

The author reminds his hearers of the radical division between Jew and Gentile, picturing it as a wall: he sees it as not merely division but enmity, due to the Jewish Law with its fundamental distinction between Israel as God’s people and Gentiles as the others, the unholy people. Jesus, he says, has by his challenge to the Law and his condemnation by the Law, destroyed it as a divinely- authorised wall between Jews and Gentiles. His death by the Law, and his being raised by God to new life confirmed for this author the nullity of that Law. The body of the condemned Jesus on the execution stake is the locus of the creation of an undivided humanity: namely those Jews and Gentiles who put their trust in Jesus, thus “killing” the enmity. This is a profoundly political assertion: there had been one institution in the world which demolished racial and national boundaries, the Roman Empire; now the church, the multiracial Assembly of Jesus, claims a similar status, based on persuasion rather than conquest.

It’s interesting to note that in this letter, the Jewish Law, which had ultimately been seen by Paul as almost a demonic power, is dismissed as merely a cause of ethnic division. Paul’s analysis of the Law as an instrument by which sin gets power over the human person is totally absent.

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