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Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary
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"Commentary on Ephesians 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cgt/ ephesians-2.html. 1896.
"Commentary on Ephesians 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://studylight.org/
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Chapter 2:1 10. Regeneration of the Ephesians, an Instance of Gratuitous Salvation
1. And you hath he quickened] The construction is broken, and the gap is filled by the inserted verb, inferred from ver. 5 below, where however “ we ” has taken the place of “you.” Better, perhaps, did He quicken (as R. V.); the Gr. verb in ver. 5 being the aorist. Ideally, in their slain and risen Lord’s triumph, actually, in their spiritual regeneration, “believing on His name,” they had definitely received “eternal life.” The English reader will remember that in the A. V. “to quicken” means seldom if ever to excite what already lives, but to bring from death to life.
Observe here the great theme of the Church and its Head treated in the special aspect of entrance into the Body by Divine regeneration of persons. For close parallels, though they treat the matter more from the side of Christ’s atoning work, cp. Colossians 1:21 , Colossians 1:2 :13; passages which, if written shortly before this, may have suggested the form of the opening phrase of this.
who were dead ] Lit. being dead , “when you were dead;” devoid of spiritual and eternal life; see the next words. Obviously this weighty phrase needs to be read in the light of other truths; such as the existence of spirit , and the full presence of conscience, and of accountability, in the unregenerate. But those truths must not be allowed unduly to tone down this statement, which distinctly teaches that the state of the unregenerate has a true analogy to physical death; and that that analogy on the whole consists in this, that (1) it is a state in which a living principle, necessary for organization, growth and energy, in reference to God and holiness, is entirely lacking; (2) it is a state which has no innate tendency to develope such a principle of life. The principle must come to it altogether ab extra . The latest researches into nature confirm the conviction that dead matter has absolutely no inner tendency to generate life, which must come into it ab extra if it is to live; a suggestive analogy.
On the doctrine of spiritual death as the state of unregenerate man, cp. ch. 5:14; John 5:24 ; 1 John 3:14 , 1 John 3:5 :12; and see John 3:3 , John 6:53 . There are passages where “death” is used as a strong term to denote a comparatively lifeless state of the regenerate soul, needing (if it is to be escaped) not new birth, which is a thing once accomplished, but revival. But this modified sense of “death” must not be allowed to lower the absolute sense in a passage like this, with its peculiar doctrinal emphasis on the contrast of death and life. The state here described is not one of suppressed life, but of absence of life. Cp. 1 Timothy 5:6 ; Revelation 3:1 .
2 Corinthians 5:14 , sometimes quoted of spiritual death, is not in point: translate, “then did all die,” and interpret of the death, representatively in Christ, of “all” at Calvary.
in trespasses and sins ] Better, in respect of your trespasses , &c. The Gr. construction is the dative without the preposition “in,” (so Colossians 2:13 ); and indicates conditioning circumstances. What is the distinction between “trespass” and “sin”? It has been held that “trespass” is more of the conception, and “sin” of the act; or again that “trespass” is more of omission, “sin” of commission. But usage forbids any certainty in such inferences. In Ezekiel 18:26 the LXX. use the word paraptôma (trespass) of the sin which the “righteous” commits and in which he dies. Etymologically, it is a fall over; and this may be either over a pebble or over a precipice. In actual usage, however, there is a slight occasional tendency in “trespass” towards a mitigated idea of sin, a “fault,” as in Galatians 6:1 ; and it is possible that we have this here; as if to say, “in every form of evil-doing, whether lighter (trespasses) or heavier (sins).” But it is more probable still that the phrase is used designedly for accumulation’s sake alone, without precise distinction; as if to say, “evil-doing, however described.”
See Abp. Trench, N. T. Synonyms , under the word ἁμαρτία , &c. And above, note on 1:7.
2. Wherein … ye walked ] The transgressions were the road, or region, of the moral “walk,” i.e. the successive acts and practices of life. Contrast below, ver. 10, the region of the regenerate “walk.” The Gr. verb is aorist. The whole past experience, however long, is gathered up in memory into a point .
the course ] Lit. the age . But the A. V. perfectly represents the meaning. See above on 1:21.
this world ] This present sinful order of things, as characterized by discord with the will of God. Cp. for the precise phrase John 8:23 , John 8:9 :39, John 8:12 :25, John 8:31 , John 8:13 :1, John 8:16 :11, John 8:18 :36; 1 Corinthians 1:20 , 1 Corinthians 1:3 :19, 1 Corinthians 1:7 :31; 1 John 4:17 ; (and see Galatians 1:4 , where however “world” is aiôn ). In almost all the above passages the word ( cosmos ) will be seen clearly to mean not the physical world, (or certainly not it alone,) but the sinful human race, as now conditioned on earth. Full illustration will be found in very many passages where “ the world,” (not as here, “ this world”), occurs, and which context will distinguish from others ( e.g. 1:4 above) where the Cosmos of Creation is intended. The Gr. word rendered “world” in some passages of A. V. (Matthew 24:14 ; Luke 2:1 , Luke 2:4 :5; Acts 17:31 ; Romans 10:18 ; Hebrews 1:6 , Hebrews 1:2 :5; Revelation 3:10 , Revelation 3:12 :9, Revelation 3:16 :14; are the most important) is different, meaning literally “the inhabited earth,” and so either the Roman empire and its surroundings, or the mystic empire of the Messiah, according to context.
the prince , &c.] Lit., the Ruler of the authority of the air ; the great Personal Evil Spirit, Satan; whose existence, sparingly indicated in the O. T., is largely dwelt upon in the N. T. To the Lord and the Apostles he was assuredly no mere personification of evil, but an evil personality, as truly as for example “Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God,” is a good personality. As such, his existence is a fact-mystery, so to speak, not greater in kind, though in degree, than that of the permitted existence of an evil man who tempts and influences others. There is a strong prejudice in our time against the recognition of the personality of Satan; but it must stand on the level of other mysteries of Revelation; and the prejudice should never be fostered by exaggeration. Some food for prejudice has perhaps been found in the grotesque terrors of medieval art and legendary demonology; but this is not Scripture, rather the deepest contrast to Scripture. The belief of a Devil has been called ( Westminster Review , April, 1865, in an article on the Positive Philosophy), “a thoroughly polytheistic conception;” but what excuse is there for this statement in the Scripture portrait of the Enemy, save the solitary and quite explicable phrase, “God of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4 )?
For St Paul’s recognition of the great fact, cp. Acts 13:10 , Acts 13:26 :18; Romans 16:20 ; 1 Corinthians 5:5 , 1 Corinthians 5:7 :5; 2 Corinthians 2:11 , 2 Corinthians 2:11 :14; 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:9 ; 1 Timothy 1:20 , 1 Timothy 1:3 :6, 1 Timothy 1:7 , 1 Timothy 1:5 :15; 2 Timothy 2:26 ; and below, 4:27, 6:11.
“ The authority of the air: ” “The ruler of the authority” means the chief of all that is in power, the general of subordinate governors; an allusion to the organization of the evil spiritual world, of which much more is said below, 6:12. The word rendered “authority” does not necessarily mean lawful authority; indeed it often inclines to mean usurped or arbitrary authority. But it is authority as distinguished from mere dynamic force . See Bp. Lightfoot on Colossians 1:13 .
“ Of the air: ” on this phrase much has been written. It here stands alone (as connected with spiritual mysteries) in the N. T., and hence is the more difficult to analyse with certainty. In studying it we must dismiss the thought (Wetstein) that St Paul is speaking “the language of Pythagorean philosophy, in which his readers were versed,” or the like; no where is his tone more dogmatic. And we must seek a meaning of “air” literal and local, rather than otherwise, looking at his usage elsewhere (1 Corinthians 9:26 , 1 Corinthians 9:14 :9; 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). This however does not mean a narrow localization, or hard literality, only that “air” is not a mere figure of speech for “mystery,” “darkness,” or the like. On the whole we gather, as the revelation of this passage, that as earth is the present abode of embodied spirits, mankind, so the airy envelope of earth is the haunt, for purposes of action on man, of the spirits of evil, which, if not bodiless, have not “animal” bodies (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:44 ). Observe our Lord’s use of “the birds of the sky ” (Luke 8:5 ) as the figure for the Tempter in the parable of the Sower.
Abundant illustrations of such a view may be found in quotations from classical, Jewish, and medieval literature. But it would be a hasty inference either that the Apostle derived his doctrine from previous extraneous sources, or that below the wildest exaggerations there lay no fact.
the spirit ] This word is in grammatical apposition, in the Greek, with that rendered “power” or “authority” just before. That “authority” meant, as we have said, “those in authority,” the unseen lords of evil, including their head. “ The spirit ” seems accordingly to mean, practically, “ the spirits ,” summed up into one idea, and used by one central power.
that now worketh ] “ Now, ” as opposed to the “ then ” of its former action on those now rescued from it. For illustrations of its “working” cp. the language used of Satan’s power on Judas (Luke 22:3 ; John 13:2 , John 13:27 ), and Ananias (Acts 5:3 ), and of his energies (through men) at a time of persecution (Revelation 2:10 ). See also 2 Thessalonians 2:9 . The subtle power of human personal influence may well prepare us to believe in the mysterious depth, force, and variety, of Satanic influences.
in the children of disobedience ] I.e., in men characterized by moral resistance to the Holy God; a “disobedience” which, whether explicit or implicit, patent or latent, marks fallen man as such. There is that in the central Ego of fallen man which is antagonistic to the true claims of the God of Revelation , and which waits only the presentation of those claims to come out in action. For the phrase, sons of disobedience , cp. ch. 5:6, and Colossians 3:6 . It is an example of the frequent Hebrew phrase, “son of,” “child of,” in the sense of close connexion, whether a connexion, as here, of principle and motive, or, as Luke 20:36 (“sons of the resurrection”), and 2 Peter 2:14 (“children of a curse”), of result and reward. “ Disobedience: ” the Latin versions have diffidentia , unbelief; and so the A.V. renders the same word, Romans 11:30 , Romans 11:32 ; Hebrews 4:6 , Hebrews 4:11 . But the proper meaning of the word is resistance of the will . This is deeply connected with spiritual unbelief, but not identical. The same remarks apply to the kindred verb , which occurs John 3:36 ; Acts 14:2 , Acts 14:17 :5, Acts 14:19 :9; Romans 11:30 , Romans 11:31 , Romans 11:15 :31; Hebrews 3:18 , Hebrews 3:11 :31; places where A.V. has “believe not,” &c.
3. also we all ] Better we also all , the “also” emphasizing the “we.” “ We all: ” all present Christians, whether Jews or heathens by origin. St Paul often insists on this one level of fallen nature , wholly unaffected by external privilege. Cp. Romans 3:9 , Romans 3:23 ; Galatians 3:22 . It is met by the glorious antithesis of equal grace . Cp. just below, and Romans 1:16 , Romans 1:3 :29, 39, Romans 1:10 :12, &c. Observe the emphatic statement that man as (fallen) man, whether within or without the pale of revelation, begins as a “child of disobedience.” Observe too the change of person, from the second (ver. 2) to the first. The Apostle willingly, and truly, identifies his own experience with that of his converts.
had our conversation ] Lit., moved up and down ; engaged in the activities of life. Conversatio in Latin, like the Gr. word here, means precisely this; the goings in and out of human intercourse; not specially the exchange of speech , to which the word “conversation” is now restricted. In Philippians 3:20 the Gr. original is different.
the lusts of our flesh ] Better, the desires . “Lusts” is narrowed in modern usage to a special class of sensual appetites, but the older English knew no such fixed restriction; see e.g. Psalms 34:12 , in the Prayer Book (Cranmer’s) Version; “what man is he that lusteth to live? ” and Galatians 5:17 , where the Spirit, as well as the flesh, “lusteth.” Sinful “lusts” are thus all desires , whether gross or fine in themselves, which are against the will of God.
“ Our flesh: ” this important word, wherever it occurs in N.T. in connexion with the doctrine of sin, means human nature as conditioned by the Fall, or, to word it otherwise, either the state of the unregenerate being, in which state the sinful principle dominates, or the state of that element of the regenerate being in which the principle, dislodged, as it were, from the centre, still lingers and is felt; not dominant in the being, but present. (For its permanence, till death, in the regenerate, see the implied statements of e.g. Galatians 5:16 ; Philippians 3:3 .) We may account for the use of the word flesh as a symbol for this phenomenon by the fact that sin works so largely under conditions of bodily, fleshly, life in the literal sense of those words. See further, note on Romans 8:4 in this Series.
fulfilling the desires ] Lit., doing the wishes . This (see last note) does not mean that “we” were loose livers, in the common sense; we might or might not have been such. But we followed the bent of the unregenerate Ego, whatever on the whole it was.
of the mind ] Lit., of the thoughts ; in the sense generally of reflection and impression. The word is used (in the singular) e.g. Matthew 22:37 ; “with all thy mind,” representing the Heb. “heart” in Deuteronomy 6:5 ; and 1 John 5:20 ; “He hath given us an understanding.” Here probably the distinction is between sin in imagination and sin in positive action (“of the flesh ”); one of the many warnings of Scripture that moral evil lies as deep as possible in the texture and motion of the fallen nature. Cp. Matthew 15:19 ; 2 Corinthians 7:1 , and see Proverbs 24:9 .
by nature the children of wrath ] On the phrase “children of wrath” see last note on ver. 2. “By nature we were connected with, we essentially were exposed to, wrath, the wrath of God.” It has been suggested that “children of wrath” may mean no more than “beings prone to violent anger,” or even to “ungoverned impulse ” generally. But the word “wrath” is frequent with St Paul, and in 13 out of the 20 places it unmistakably means the Divine wrath, even where “of God” is not added, and where the definite article is absent. See for passages specially in point Romans 4:15 , Romans 4:5 :9, Romans 4:9 :22; below, ch. 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:9 . Add to this that this passage deals with the deepest and most general facts, and it is thus unlikely that any one special phase of sin would be instanced. N. T. usage gives no support to the suggested explanation “ungoverned impulse ” mentioned above. The word must mean “wrath,” whether of man or of God. Translate, certainly, with A. V. and R. V. On the truth that the fallen being, as such, lies under Divine “wrath,” see John 3:36 , where “the wrath of God remaineth against” the soul which does not submit to the Son. Not to “possess eternal life” is to have that “wrath” for certain still impending.
And what is the Divine wrath? No arbitrary or untempered passion in the Eternal, but the antagonism of the eternal Holiness to sin; only the antagonism of an Eternal Person. Von Gerlach, quoted by Monod on this verse, writes: “The forgetfulness at the present day of the doctrine of the wrath of God has exercised a baneful influence on the various relations in which man holds the place of God, and in particular on the government of the family and the state.” The antithesis to the truth about it is the dictum of the “Absolute Religion,” that “there is nothing in God to fear;” words in complete discord with great lines of revelation.
“ By nature: ” i.e., by our unregenerate state in itself, not only by circumstances. For illustration see Galatians 2:15 , (“Jews by nature”) and 4:8, (“by nature no Gods”). Such was our state antecedent to the new process, ab extra , of regeneration. We have here the doctrine of “Original or Birth Sin,” as given in Art ix. of the Church of England. “That which provokes the wrath of God is not only in the individual, but in the race and in the nature” (Monod). A greater mystery we could not state; but neither could we name a surer fact “Original sin is, fundamentally, simply universal sin. That is the fact which is at once the evidence and the substance of it … Universal sin must receive the same interpretation that any other universal does, namely that it implies a law , in consequence of which it is universal. Nobody supposes that anything takes place universally by chance … we know there must be some law working in the case … What we call the law is a secondary question. The great thing is to see that there is a law. If all the individuals who come under the head of a certain nature have sin in them, then one mode of expressing this law is to say that it belongs to the nature , the nature being the common property and ground in which all meet” (J. B. Mozley, Lectures , ix. pp. 136, &c.). See further, Appendix B.
even as others ] Lit, as also the rest ; the unregenerate world at large.
4. But God ] The Divine counter-fact now comes in, brighter for the awful contrast.
who is rich in mercy ] See note on “riches,” 1:18. The ultimate motive of the work of regeneration is here given, and it is simply the Divine Mercy. No claim or obligation is in the question, nor right inherent in the alienated race, nor “fitness of things” in the abstract; only the uncaused and supremely free choice of the God of mercy. Cp. Titus 3:5 ; 1 Peter 1:3 .
for his great love , &c.] On account of, &c.; another aspect of the same fact.
loved us ] the New Israel, the Church. Not the Philanthropy of God, His “love toward man” (Titus 3:4 ), but His inner and special love, is here in view; affection rather than benevolence . The whole context shews this. Observe the change from “ you ” (ver. 1) to “ us. ” For similar words regarding the Old Israel see Deuteronomy 7:8 ; “Because the Lord loved you, &c.”
5. dead in sins ] Better, in respect of our trespasses . See on ver. 1 the construction is the same.
hath quickened ] Did quicken , i.e., bring from death to life; ideally, when our Lord and Head rose to life; actually, when we, by faith, were united to Him.
together with Christ ] As vitally and by covenant one with Him. For all His true “members,” His Death of propitiation is as if theirs; His Life of acceptance before the Father, and of spiritual triumph and power, is as if theirs also. As it is to Him the Divine pledge of the finished work of satisfaction, that pledge is theirs; as He appears in it “in the power of indissoluble life” (Hebrews 7:16 ), they, “because He lives, live also” (John 14:19 ). For the phrase cp. Colossians 2:13 , which fixes the main reference to Acceptance. See accordingly Romans 4:25 ; “He was raised again by reason of our justification. ” Another reading, but not well supported, gives, “He quickened us together in Christ.”
( by grace ye are saved )] Lit. ye have been saved ; and so ver. 8. The verb is perfect. More usually the present tense appears, “ye are being saved;” e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:2 ; 2 Corinthians 2:15 (“them that are being saved; them that are perishing”); the Christian being viewed as under the process of preservation which is to terminate in glory. See 1 Peter 1:5 . And again a frequent meaning of the noun “salvation” is that glory itself, as in the text just quoted and Romans 13:11 . Here, where the whole context favours such a reference, the reference is to the completeness , in the Divine purpose and covenant, of the rescue of the members of the true Church. From the Divine point of view that is a fait accompli which from the human point of view is a thing in process, or in expectation. “ By grace: ” for commentary, see the Ep. to the Romans, esp. cch. 3, 4. and 11:5, 6. The emphatic statement here is due to the whole context, (so full of the thought of a salvation which the saved could not possibly have generated, dead as they were,) and, immediately, to the phrase “quickened with Christ ,” which involves the thought of the entire dependence of their “life” on Him.
6. and hath raised us up together , &c.] Better, did raise , &c. The radical idea of new life is here put into more detail, as a resurrection and ascension; the special form of the Lord’s Revival. “ Together: ” the Gr. grammar allows this to refer to either (1) union with the Church , or (2) union with the Lord; (1) “as a united company,” or (2) “as united to Him.” And the words just below “ in Him,” not “ with Him,” may seem to favour the former. But the previous verse, and Colossians 2:12 , Colossians 2:3 :1; are strongly for the reference to Christ. His resurrection and ascension are the basis of the spiritual (as well as future bodily) resurrection and ascension of His Church.
made us sit together , &c.] Our great Representative is there, “ sitting at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1 ). We, as “in Him,” vitally united to Him, are there also, in the sense of a supreme acceptance and welcome by the Eternal Father, and of the sure prospect of heavenly “glorification together [with Christ]” (Romans 8:17 ).
in heavenly places ] See on 1:3.
7. the ages to come ] All future periods of development in His Kingdom. The phrase must not be restricted to the future history of the Church on earth; it is akin rather to the frequent formula for the eternal future, “unto the ages of the ages,” and cp. esp. Jude 1:25 , “both now and unto all the ages ”. “The King of the Ages” (1 Timothy 1:17 ) alone knows what great “dispensations” are included in the one Eternity.
shew ] to other orders of being, angelic or other. Cp. 3:10, and note.
exceeding riches ] A phrase intensely Pauline. See on 1:7.
through Christ Jesus ] Lit., and better, in. Vital union with the Lord is the never silent key-note of the passage.
8. For by grace , &c.] The connexion of thought (“ for ”) is with the leading truth of vv. 4 7; the gratuitous “loving-kindness of the Lord” in the salvation of the Church. This, we have just read, will be the great future lesson of that salvation to the intelligent Universe; and this accordingly is re-stated here.
This important ver., and ver. 9, are rendered lit., For by grace ye have been saved, by means of faith; and that, not of you God’s is the gift; not of works, that no one should boast . Here the main teaching is clear in itself, and clearer than ever as illustrated by e. g. Romans 3:0 ; Philippians 3:0 . The salvation of the soul, and of the Church, is essentially and entirely a matter of sovereign Divine mercy in purpose and accomplishment. It is deliberately meant that no exception or reserve is to be made to that statement. But in detail, the verse presents a problem. Does it distinctly state that “faith” is the “gift of God,” or does it state, more generally, that “gratuitous salvation” is the “gift of God,” leaving it open whether the faith which accepts it is His gift or not? The question is largely occasioned by the construction of the Greek, in which “ that ” (neuter) does not agree with “ faith ” (feminine). Many great expositors, Calvin at the head of them, accordingly take “that” to refer to the main previous idea, and “through faith” to be a separate inserted thought. Alford, who takes this view, states the case for it briefly and well. Nevertheless we recommend the other explanation, and for the following simple reason: the phrase “ and that ” (lit., “ and this ”) is familiar in N.T. Greek to introduce an addition of thought , enforcing or heightening what has gone before. See 1 Corinthians 6:6 , 1 Corinthians 6:8 ; “ and that before the unbelievers;” “ and that , your brethren;” Philippians 1:28 ; Hebrews 11:12 , (A.V., “ and him , &c.”). But if it here refers only to the general previous idea, gratuitous salvation, it is hard to see what new force of thought it adds to the words “ by grace .” If on the other hand it refers to the last special statement, “ through faith ,” there is a real additional point in the assertion that even the act of believing is a gift of God; for thus precisely the one link in the process where the man might have thought he acted alone, and where therefore, in St Paul’s sense, he might claim to “boast,” is claimed for God. Let the clauses, “and that, not of you; God’s is the gift,” be taken as a parenthesis, and the point of the interpretation will be clear; while the Greek amply admits the arrangement.
That “faith” is a matter of Divine gift is clear from e. g. 2 Corinthians 4:13 ; Philippians 1:29 . Not that a new faculty of trust is implanted, but gracious manifestations of the soul’s need and the Saviour’s glory prevail upon the will to choose to repose trust in the right Object. The “gift” of faith is but one phase of the Divine action which (Philippians 2:13 ) “worketh in us to will.” And it may be said to be one aspect of the “gift of repentance” (Acts 5:31 ; 2 Timothy 2:25 ), for repentance is no mere preliminary to faith; it is the whole complex “change of mind” which includes faith.
See Bp O’Brien’s Nature and Effects of Faith , Note I.
9. lest any man should boast ] Lit., any one ; there is no emphasis on “man.” For the thought, cp. Romans 3:27 , (and see 4:2); 1 Corinthians 1:29 , 1 Corinthians 1:4 :7; Galatians 6:14 ; Philippians 3:3 ; in all which passages the Gr. word is the same. The Apostle is everywhere jealous for the sovereign claim of God to the whole praise of our salvation.
10. For , &c.] The connexion is, “works are not the antecedent, but the consequent, of your acceptance in Christ; for the true statement of the case is, that you were re-made, re-born, in order to work the will of God.”
his ] Strongly emphatic. “It is He that made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalms 100:3 ).
workmanship ] Better, making . The Gr. word ( poiêma ) is not akin to that rendered “works” ( erga ) in the passage, so that there is no intended antithesis . “ Making: ” i.e., He has made us what we are, members of His Son. The noun does not necessarily give the precise idea of a new “creation;” it may mean only an appointment to position. But the two, as a fact, coincide in this matter. In Romans 1:20 (its only other place in N.T.) the word is used of God’s handiworks in nature.
created ] A frequent word, in spiritual connexions, with St Paul. Cp. ver. 15, 4:24; 2 Corinthians 5:17 ; Galatians 6:15 ; Colossians 3:10 . As in the sphere of nature, so in that of grace, it means essentially the making of a new state of things, whether in a Universe or a personality; implying indeed the omnipotence which originally willed the very material into existence, but not necessarily dwelling on this; rather giving the thought of first, or new, arrangement . In practice, the thought of the sovereignty of the Worker’s will lies in the use of the word.
in Christ Jesus ] The third occurrence of these words within five verses. The Church was “ created in ” Him, in that its very existence as such depends on vital union with Him.
unto good works ] Lit., “ upon good works ,” i.e., as interpreted by usage, “with a view to them.” The same construction and meaning appear Galatians 5:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:7 (A.V., “ unto uncleanness); 2 Timothy 2:14 (A.V., “ to the subverting”).
hath before ordained ] Lit., and better, did prepare beforehand ; on the ideal occasion of His planning the salvation and the function of His true Church. The phrase does not state, but surely implies, the happy truth that the Divine pre-arrangement so maps out, as it were, the duties and the sufferings of the saint that his truest wisdom and deepest peace is to “do the next thing” in the daily path, in the persuasion that it is part of a consistent plan for him. There are some admirable remarks in this direction in Monod’s Adieux à ses amis et à l’ Église , no. 14; “ Le secret d’une vie sainte, active et paisible 1 1 The book has been translated, as A. Monod’s Farewell . ”.
11 22. Regeneration of the Ephesians, an instance of the equal welcome of Gentiles to the Covenant Church, the true Temple
11. Wherefore remember ] Here first the Apostle deals with the special fact of the previous Gentilism of his converts. Hitherto he has spoken of their regeneration, and incorporation into Christ, with regard to the state of fallen humanity in general; “when we were dead … He quickened us ,” &c. The further element in the phenomenon now appears, that the recipients of the Epistle had been “outsiders” as regarded any explicit covenant of redemption. In itself , spiritual regeneration was equally gracious and sovereign for Jew and for Gentile. But as to any previous intimations , it must needs come with a greater surprise to the Gentile.
It is perhaps impossible in the nineteenth century of Christendom to realize fully what was the marvel in the first century of the full revelation of an equal welcome for all nations to the Messiah’s covenant. But the fact that it was then a marvel remains a matter of permanent Divine instruction. Cp. in general on the subject Acts 10:0 ; Romans 2:3 , Romans 2:9-11 ; Gal. 2 4.
in time passed ] Lit., once .
Gentiles ] Lit., the Nations ; Heb., haggôyîm; the races outside Israel. Rabbinic Judaism regarded them with feelings akin to those with which an old-fashioned high-caste Hindoo regards a European. Some precepts of the Talmud (though much later, in their collected form, than St Paul’s day,) are fair illustrations: “It is forbidden to give good advice to a Gentile;” “it is forbidden to cure idolaters, even for pay; except on account of fear;” “he that steals from a Gentile is only to pay the principal; for it is said, He shall pay double unto his neighbour ” (McCaul’s Old Paths , p. 17, &c.).
Meanwhile, these gross distortions had behind them the spiritual fact here given by St Paul, that “the Gentiles,” before the Gospel, were on a really different level from Israel as to covenant with God in Christ. Pharisaism took a totally wrong line, but started from a point of truth.
in the flesh ] Does this mean, “ physically ,” or (Romans 8:8 ; and often) “ in the unregenerate state ”? Surely the former, for the same phrase immediately below clearly refers to a physical thing, literal circumcision. Here probably the special reference is to the absence of the bodily mark of covenant. They were uncircumcised Gentiles, at a time when no way was yet revealed, other than that of circumcision, by which to enter into explicit covenant with God.
called Uncircumcision ] Or, regarding English usage of the article, the Uncircumcision ; this was their sobriquet with the Pharisee; often used, no doubt, by the Pharisee Saul. The lack of the bodily mark was the condemning, and characteristic, thing, supplying a short expression for a state of entire difference and alienation.
called the Circumcision ] The race of the circumcised, the Jews. The point of this clause is best given by paraphrase: “So you were called by the bearers of the mark of the Abrahamic covenant, a mark divinely ordained, but spiritually valueless where there is no spiritual contact with God, and therefore, when vaunted as a title (‘ called the Circumcision’) by the unspiritual Pharisee, no better than a mere bodily operation, (‘circumcision in the flesh, wrought by hand’).” The best illustration is the close of Romans 2:0 , where the theme is the uselessness, for spiritual purposes, of the sacramental mark in unspiritual persons. This short clause is, as it were, a condensed statement of the truths fully stated in Romans 2:0 . But it is quite passing here; the main point here being, not the harsh estimate of Gentiles by Pharisees, but the real difference in covenant-position which that estimate exaggerated.
made by hands ] Better, wrought by hand . Cp. Colossians 2:11 for the antithesis, “the circumcision wrought without hands;” a thing spiritual, invisible, the covenant mark from the Divine point of view regeneration of nature. The Pharisees “called” themselves “The Circumcision;” St Paul vitiates the word of privilege, or rather their use of it, by the added words, “hand-wrought, in the flesh.”
12. at that time ] Strictly, at that occasion . The Gr. word habitually marks limited periods; though this must not always be pressed. Here possibly there is a suggestion of the transient period of exclusion, opposed to the long eternity of acceptance.
without Christ ] Apart from Christ; out of connexion with the Messiah. Here no Pharisaic prejudice is in view, but the mysterious fact that only through the great prophesied Redeemer is there life and acceptance for man, and that in order to contact with Him there needs “preaching,” “hearing,” “believing” (Romans 10:13 , Romans 10:15 ). Scripture does not present this fact without any relief; but all relief leaves it a phenomenon of Revelation as mysterious as it is solid.
being aliens ] Lit., having been alienated (the same word as 4:18; Colossians 1:21 ); as if they had once been otherwise. So, in idea, they had been. Every human soul is (occasionally) viewed in Scripture as having been originally unfallen, and, if unfallen, then in a covenant of peace with God of which the covenant of Israel was but a type. Such a view is wholly ideal, referring not to the actual history of the individual soul, but to the Nature of which the individual is a specimen. Such popular phrases as, “we are fallen creatures,” have this truth below them. Historically, we begin prostrate; ideally, we began upright , and have fallen.
the commonwealth of Israel ] Perhaps, “ the citizenship .” The Gr. word occurs elsewhere, in N. T., Acts 22:28 only (A. V., “this freedom; ” the Roman citizenship). But the A. V. here (and so R. V.) is favoured by the word “ alienated .” It is rather more natural to say “made aliens from a state ,” than “made aliens from state-rights .” The two interpretations, however, perfectly coincide practically. “ Israel ,” (the Covenant-People with its special name of sacred dignity; see Trench, N. T. Synonyms , § 39;) is viewed as an ordered commonwealth or empire under its Divine King; and to be free of its rights is the one way to have connexion with Him. By “Israel” the Apostle here doubtless means the inner Israel, of which the outer was as it were the husk; see Romans 9:6 . But he does not emphasize a distinction. Under the Old Covenant, it was generally necessary to belong, in some sense, to the outer Israel in order to be one of the inner.
strangers ] The Gr. is a word familiar in civic connexions; non-members of a state or city.
the covenants of promise ] Lit., and better, of the Promise , the great Promise of Messiah, according to which those who “are of the Messiah, are Abraham’s seed, and heirs by promise” (Galatians 3:29 ). In the light of Galatians 3:18 , we may say that the Promise is more specially of Justification, Acceptance, (as in Abraham’s case,) through faith, securing vital connexion with the Messiah.
“ Covenants: ” for the plural cp. Romans 9:4 . The reference is to the many Compacts, as with Abraham, Moses, Levi, David, Joshua; and perhaps to the New Covenant itself, as of course “connected with” the Promise. The Promise indicated, from the first, blessings for the world, “all the families of the earth”; but these blessings were to be found only “in Abraham and his seed” (Genesis 12:3 , Genesis 22:18 ); and thus to those not yet connected with Abraham and the Messiah there was no actual portion yet in the “covenants.”
having no hope ] The Gr. just indicates (by its special negative particle) that this was not only so, but felt by the Gentiles to be so; “having, as you knew , no hope.” (So, precisely, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 .) The deep truth of this is fully attested by classical and other heathen literature, old or modern. Aspiration and conjecture there often was, but no hope , in the Scripture sense; no expectation on a firm basis. A profound uncertainty about the unseen and eternal underlies many of the strongest expressions of the classical poets and philosophers. And in the special reference of “hope” here, hope of a Redeemer and a redeemed inheritance, there was (and is) a total blank, apart from revelation. “In Hellas, at the epoch of Alexander the Great, it was a current saying, and one profoundly felt by all the best men, that the best thing of all was not to be born, and the next best to die.” (Mommsen, Hist. of Rome , Eng. transl. Vol. iv. pt. ii. p. 586). See the thought still earlier, Sophocles, Œd . Col . 1224 (Dindorf).
without God ] Lit., Godless ; without true knowledge of the true God. “Gods many” were indeed, in some sense, popularly believed in; and large schools of thought recognized a One Supreme, though often with the very faintest views of personality. But this recognition, at its best and highest, lacked some essentials in the Idea of the True God, above all, the union in Him of supreme Love and awful Purity. And for the average mind of ancient heathenism He “was not, in all the thoughts,” as truly as the impersonal Brahm “is not” in the average Hindoo mind. See further, Appendix D.
in the world ] Words which complete the dark picture. “In the world” of fallen humanity, with its dreadful realities of evil, they did not “know the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He had sent” (John 17:3 ), and so lacked the one possible preservative and spiritual life-power.
13. but now ] under the changed conditions of actual and accepted Redemption.
in Christ Jesus ] In living union with the true Messiah. Just before, ver. 12, we have “without Christ ” merely; here, “in Christ Jesus .” The Messiah of Prophecy is now known as also the Jesus of the Gospel.
sometimes ] Once , as R. V. The A. V. uses a word now antiquated in this sense, or appearing only as “sometime” the word used here in Wiclif’s Version (1382), in “The Great Bible” (1539), and the Rhemish Version (1582).
far off … nigh ] That is, from and to the Citizenship of Israel and the Covenants of promise; the realm, in fact, of Messiah. Cp. Acts 2:39 , and see Isaiah 57:19 . The thought of remoteness and nearness in respect of God is of course implied, and comes out clearly in ver. 18; but it is not the immediate thought of this passage, which rather speaks of the incorporation of once heathen souls into the true Israel . But the two views cannot be quite separated. “Nigh” and “far” were familiar terms with the Rabbis in the sense of having or not having part in the covenant. Wetstein on this verse quotes, inter alia , the following from the Talmud: “A woman came to R. Eliezer, to be made a proselyte; saying to him, Rabbi, make me nigh . He refused her, and she went to R. Joshua, who received her. The scholars of R. Joshua therefore said, Did R. Eliezer put her far off, and dost thou make her nigh? ”
by the blood of Christ ] Lit. and better, in the blood , &c. To illustrate the phrase cp. Hebrews 9:22 , Hebrews 9:25 ; “almost all things according to the law are purged in blood; ” “the High Priest entereth the Holy Place … in blood not his own.” Whatever the first use of the phrase, it had thus become an almost technicality of sacrificial language, nearly equalling “ with (shed) blood” as the accompanying condition of acceptable approach. It is not necessary to import into the idea here the other, though kindred, idea of washing in blood, or even of surrounding with a circle of sprinkled blood. The “ in ” is, by usage, as nearly instrumental as possible. The sacred bloodshedding of the Messiah’s sacrificial death for His true Israel was the necessary condition to, and so instrument of, the admission of the new Gentile members. It is the “blood of the covenant ” (Exodus 24:8 ; quoted Hebrews 9:20 ); and cp. the all-important words of the Lord Himself (Matthew 26:28 ), “This is My blood of the new Covenant , which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
14. he is our peace ] “ He: ” the glorious living Person gives its essence to the sacrificial Work.
“ Our peace: ” i.e., as the connexion indicates, the “peace” between the Tribes of the New Israel, the Gentile and Jewish believers; such peace that now, within the covenant, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28 ; Colossians 3:11 ). The special aspect of this truth here is the admission of the non-Jewish believer to the inmost fulness of spiritual privilege; but this is so stated as to imply the tender companion truth that he comes in not as a conquering intruder but as a brother, side by side with the Jewish believer, in equal and harmonious peace with God.
who hath made both one ] Lit., Who made both things one thing . “Both” and “one” are neuters in the Gr. The idea is rather of positions and relations than of persons (Monod). “ One: ” “one thing,” one community, or rather, one organism. (By the same word is expressed the Unity of the Father and the Son, John 10:30 .) In Galatians 3:28 (“ye are all one”) the Gr. has the masculine, “one [person],” “one [ man ],” as expressly in the next verse here.
hath broken down … partition ] Lit., did undo the mid-wall of the fence , or hedge . The next verse makes it clear that this means the Law. In Divine intention the Law was a “hedge” (Isaiah 5:2 ) round the Old Israel, so long as their chief function was to maintain a position of seclusion. And it thus formed a “partition” between the Old Israel and the outer world, not only hindering but, for the time, forbidding such fusion as the new order brought in.
It is possible that the phrase was immediately suggested by the demarcation between the Court of the Gentiles and the inner area of the Temple.
15. having abolished , &c.] Lit., The enmity, in His flesh, the law of the commandments in decrees, annulling . In this difficult verse our best guide is the Ep. to the Romans, esp. 7:1 6, 8:2, 3, passages very possibly in mind when this was written. See also the closely parallel passage, Colossians 1:21 , Colossians 1:22 . With these in view we may interpret this to teach that the Lord, by His death (Colossians 1:22 ), “in the likeness of the flesh of sin” (Romans 8:3 ), broke (“annulled”) for all believers their condemning relations with the Law (in the highest sense of the word Law), as a preceptive code, prescribing but not enabling, a code imposing absolute decrees as the absolute condition of acceptance; and thereby, ipso facto , brought to an end the Mosaic ordinances with their exclusions, which existed mainly to prefigure this Work, and to enforce the fact of its necessity, and incidentally to “fence in” the race through whom the Messiah, as the Worker, was to come.
The passage thus teaches that Christ has “annulled” the old antipathy between Jew and Gentile, by what He did in dying. But it cannot teach this without teaching also the deep underlying truth that He did it by effecting relations of acceptance and peace between Man and God; not putting aside the Preceptive Law as a thing obsolete, but so “going behind it” in his Atonement as to put believing man in a different relation to it, and so, and only so, removing the external hedges of privilege and exclusion. Comparing Colossians 1:21 , Colossians 1:22 , it is plain that this greater reconciliation lies, in the Apostle’s thought, behind the lesser, though the lesser is more immediately in point.
“ The commandments in decrees ” are, doubtless, in part, the “touch not, taste not,” of ceremonial restrictions; but not these only. They are the whole system of positive edict, moral as well as ceremonial, taken apart from enabling motive, and viewed as the conditions of peace with God .
“ The enmity, even the law &c.,” may be fairly paraphrased, “the enmity, expressed and emphasized (under the circumstances of the Fall) by the Law, by its existence and claims as preceptive Law.”
for to make ] In order to create . “It is a new creation,” 2 Corinthians 5:17 ; where the reference is to the regenerate individual, as here to the community of the regenerate.
in himself ] Perhaps, in Him . But the reference is in either case to Christ, the subject of the whole context. Cp. Colossians 1:16 , where “ In Him were created ” is used of the First Creation. In both Creations, Old and New, Christ is the Cause and Bond of being. The New Man, like the Universe, exists and consists by vital union with Him.
one new man ] The phrase “new man” occurs only here and 4:24, where see note. Here the great organism of the saints, Jew and Gentile, is viewed as, so to speak, one Person; a view closely akin to that of the “One Body” of Christ; 1 Corinthians 12:0 , &c. “We are all in God’s sight but one in Christ, as we are all one in Adam” (Alford).
The Old Race is solidaire with its Head, Adam, by solidarity of Nature in itself and of standing towards God. So the New Race is solidaire with its Head, Christ, in Whom, and at once, it both receives the standing of justified acceptance for His Merits, and derives “Divine Nature” by His Spirit. And solidarity with the Head seals the mutual solidarity of the members. As the Old Race is not only men, but Man, so the New Race is not only new men, but New Man.
so making peace ] Here, as just above, the immediate thought is of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ, but behind it lies the thought of that greater reconciliation which is expressed fully ver. 18; “access through Christ, for both, in one Spirit unto the Father;” and just below.
16. reconcile both unto God ] The Gr. verb here rendered “reconcile” occurs elsewhere (in exactly the same form) only Colossians 1:20 , Colossians 1:21 ; but a form nearly identical occurs e. g. Romans 5:10 ; 1 Corinthians 7:11 ; 2 Corinthians 5:18 , 2 Corinthians 5:19 , 2 Corinthians 5:20 . The idea of the verb is on the whole that of the propitiation of an alienated superior, to whom offending inferiors are, with his consent, led back as accepted suppliants. God (2 Corinthians 5:19 ) “reconciled the world unto Himself” by providing, in His Son, the Divine pacification of the Divine displeasure against the world. Christ “reconciles us to God” by being and effecting that pacification. Hence Reconciliation, in practice, nearly approaches to both the ideas, Atonement and Justification. The Lord, here, “ by the cross ,” reconciles the Church to God; effects its acceptance; secures the “non-imputation of trespasses” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ).
“ Both ” : here in the masculine plural; both great groups , Jewish and Gentile believers.
in one body ] A phrase in contrast (see last note) to “both;” the two groups become the One Body, the One Man, of ver. 15.
by the cross ] The only mention of it in this Epistle. Observe here, as consistently in the N. T., the isolation of the Lord’s Death from His Life-work, where ideas of atonement are in view; a fact most suggestive of the doctrine that that Death was a true and proper propitiatory Sacrifice, an altar-work, and not only a supreme act of self-sacrificing sympathy with man’s need and God’s holiness. For on the latter view there is no clear line of demarcation between the Death and the self-sacrificing Life. Cp. the parallel, Colossians 1:20 (“the blood of the Cross”), and see above on 1:7.
having slain the enmity thereby ] I.e. by the Cross, the Atoning Death. “ The enmity: ” that spoken of ver. 15; immediately, that between Jew and Gentile; ultimately (for this underlies the conditions of the existence of that other) that between man and God (Romans 8:7 ). “ Slain: ” a word chosen, instead of e. g. “cancelled,” “abolished,” because the work was done through death . What was really, in final effect, executed at Calvary was the obstacle to peace; whether peace in the sense of the harmony of redeemed souls, or peace in the sense of reconciliation to God, the basis of the other. Cp. Colossians 2:14 .
17. and came ] from the work of the Cross, from the Grave. “Peace” was His first word in Resurrection-life to His gathered Church (John 20:19 ); and that Church was then, and not till then, sent to the world, “far off” as well as “nigh,” to be an “ambassador on behalf of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ), representing Him in His preaching ministry of peace. Thus vicariously, but really, had He “come” to the Ephesians among others. Cp. Acts 3:26 ; “God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you; ” and, for the phrase “ preaching peace,” Acts 10:36 .
peace ] The word and thought still, as before, refer immediately to the inner harmony of the New Israel, ultimately to that Israel’s “peace with God.” The next verse suggests this double reference; (1) “we both have access &c.;” (2) “we have access unto the Father .”
to you … nigh ] See on ver. 13. The whole phrase is from Isaiah 57:19 , “Peace, peace, to him that is far off and to him that is near, saith the Lord” (LXX., “to them that are far off &c.”). The Apostle implicitly claims the Prophet as foretelling (whether he knew it or not) peace in and to the New Israel. The best reading here repeats “peace;” “and peace to them that were nigh.”
18. for ] It is possible to render “ that ,” and so to make this the substance of the message of “peace.” The difference is not important. But it is grammatically better to retain A. V. (and R. V.).
both ] Masculine plural, as ver. 16, where see note. Both the great groups , in all their individual members , have this access.
access ] Better, our introduction ; the proper meaning of the original word, reminding the accepted Christian that he owes his freedom of entrance to Another. True, the freedom is present, perpetual, and assured; but it not only was first secured by the Redeemer’s work, but rests every moment on that work for its permanence. We are, thanks be to God, evermore free to and in His presence-chamber, but we are also evermore free there “ through His Son,” Who “ ever liveth to make intercession for us.” The word occurs elsewhere Romans 5:2 ; and below, 3:12.
by one Spirit ] Lit. and better, in one Spirit ; surrounded, animated, penetrated, by the Spirit. This is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, so largely in view in this Epistle. Cp. 2 Corinthians 13:14 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ; Jude 1:20 , Jude 1:21 ; among other passages, for a similar implicit recognition of the Persons of the Holy Trinity in the Divine harmony of their actions for and relations to the saints.
“ One: ” in contrast to the “ both .” See Acts 5:0 for the fact that even to Apostles after Pentecost it was still a discovery that the Holy Ghost should visit and bless Gentiles with the same freedom and fulness as Jews.
the Father ] “His Father and our Father;” John 20:17 . This profound word, rich in life, love, and joy, was indeed a new treasure, in its Christian sense, to “them that were afar off.” No pagan mythology, or philosophy, though the word was not unknown to them, knew the thing; the Divine reality of an eternal and paternal Holy Love. To the Israelite the Lord was indeed known as “like unto a Father pitying his children” (Psalms 103:13 ); “doubtless our Father” (Isaiah 63:16 ); but even to him the word would develope into inexhaustible riches when read in the light of the Sonship of the true Messiah.
Observe that the approach of the soul is here, as always, ultimately to the Father. Not that the Son, and the Spirit, are not eternal and Divine; but He is the Father.
19. Now therefore ye ] He now turns direct to the Gentile believers, and rejoicingly recounts to them the actual grandeur of their privileges in grace.
no more ] as you once were. See on ver. 12 above. The finished work of Christ, realized by accepting faith, has entirely broken for them the old régime .
strangers ] “to the covenants of the Promise;” ver. 12.
foreigners ] In secular matters, the word would mean a resident alien, a non-naturalized foreigner; liable to legal removal at any moment, e.g. on outbreak of war. If such a word were true of Gentile Christians, they would be merely tolerated sojourners, as it were, in the “city” of Messianic light and mercy, without any claim to abide. The glorious contrary was the case. “If they were Christ’s, they were Abraham’s seed , and heirs [of the Gospel Canaan] according to Promise ” (Galatians 3:29 ).
but ] Insert, with MSS., ye are , after this word; an additional emphasis of assertion.
fellowcitizens ] Cp. Galatians 4:26 ; Philippians 3:20 (Greek); Hebrews 11:10 , Hebrews 11:16 ; Revelation 3:12 , &c.
the saints ] “Not angels , nor Jews , nor Christians then alive merely, but the saints of God in the widest sense all members of the mystical body of Christ” (Alford). See further on the word, note on 1:1.
of the household ] Members of the family, kinsfolk. So the word always means in N. T. (Galatians 6:10 ; 1 Timothy 5:8 ; here;) and LXX. The idea is not of domestic service , but of the “child at home.” In the deepest sense the Gentile believer, once “far off” in both position and condition, is now at home with his Living Father in Christ.
20. and are built ] Better, Having been built ; once built (aorist), by your Redeemer. The metaphor here boldly changes, from the inmates of city and house, to the structure. Possibly the element “ house ” in “household” suggested this. For similar imagery, cp. 1 Corinthians 3:9 , 1 Corinthians 3:10 ; 1 Peter 2:4-8 ; Jude 1:20 ; and see Matthew 7:24 , Matthew 7:25 . And for curious developments of the imagery here, in very early Christian literature, see St Ignatius Ep. to the Eph ., ch. ix, and the Shepherd of Hermas , ‘Vision’ iii. And for an application of the imagery in ancient hymnology, the hymn (cent. 8 or 9) Urbs beata Hirusalem (Trench, Sacr. Lat. Poetry , p. 311).
the foundation of the apostles and prophets ] The foundation which consists of them; in the sense that their doctrine is the basis of the faith, and so of the unity, of the saints. Cp. Revelation 21:14 ; and the words spoken (Matthew 16:18 ) to Peter, “upon this rock I will build My Church.” Not to enter into the details there, it is plain that the personal address to Peter is deeply connected with the revelation to and confession by Peter of the Truth of Christ. The Collect for the day of SS. Simon and Jude, constructed from this passage, is a true comment on it.
“ The apostles and prophets: ” Who are the Prophets here? Those of the O. T. or those of the Gospel, (for whom cp. e.g. 3:5, 4:11; Acts 15:32 ; and often)? For the first alternative, it is a strong plea that the O. T. prophets are always regarded in the N. T. as Evangelists before the time; cp. e. g. Luke 24:25 ; Acts 3:18 , Acts 3:21 , Acts 3:24 , Acts 3:10 :43; Romans 16:26 . The last passage regards the “prophetic scriptures” as the great instrument of apostolic preaching. But on the other hand we should thus have expected “prophets and apostles” to be the order of mention. And 3:5, giving the same phrase with distinct reference to the “prophets” of the Gospel , is a parallel nearly conclusive in itself in favour of that reference here. In 4:11, again, we have the “prophet” named next to the “Apostle ” among the gifts of the glorified Saviour to this Church; a suggestion of the great prominence and importance of the function. We take the word here, then, to mean such “prophets” as Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32 ); men, we gather, who, though not of one office with the Apostles, shared some of their functions; were directly inspired, on occasion, with knowledge of the future (Acts 11:28 ), and with truth of spiritual doctrine (3:5, and 1 Corinthians 14:0 ); and were specially commissioned to preach and teach such things revealed. May we not probably class the non-apostolic writers of the N. T. among these “prophets”? See further, Appendix F.
The mention of them here is in special point, because public faith and doctrine is in question. The work of the “prophets” had, doubtless, greatly contributed to the wide spread and settlement of the truth of the free acceptance in Christ of all believers, Gentiles with Jews. Observe that in Acts 15:32 it is two “ prophets ” who “exhort and confirm ” (the Gr. word suggests precisely settlement on a foundation ) the Gentile believers at Antioch, in the very crisis of the conflict between Pharisaic limits and the universality of the Gospel.
Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone] It is possible to render “the chief corner stone of it (the foundation) being Christ Jesus;” but far less probable. The “Himself” is almost demanded by the separation and contrast of the supreme position of the Lord. So R. V. There is a slight emphasis, by position, on “ being .”
“The chief corner stone: ” one word in the Gr.; found also 1 Peter 2:6 ; where Isaiah 28:16 (LXX.) is quoted nearly verbatim. Precisely, the LXX. there runs, “I lay among the foundations of Sion a stone costly, chosen, chief of the corner, precious;” words which indicate that the idea, to the Greek translators, was that of a stone essential to the foundation , not in the higher structure; and this is confirmed by St Peter’s use of the quotation. Thus on the whole we take the image to be that of a vast stone at an angle of the substructure, into which the converging sides are imbedded, “in which” they “consist;” and the spiritual reality to be, that Jesus Christ Himself is that which gives coherence and fixity to the foundation doctrines of His Church; with the implied idea that He is the essential to the foundation, being the ultimate Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11 ). Apostles and Prophets reveal and enforce a basis of truths for the rest and settlement of the saints’ faith; those truths, at every point of juncture and prominence, are seen to be wholly dependent on Jesus Christ for significance, harmony and permanence.
In the Heb. of Isaiah 28:16 (and so, or nearly, Job 38:6 ; Psalms 118:22 (Messianic); Jeremiah 51:26 ) the phrase is “stone,” or “head,” of “corner,” or of “prominence.” See too Zechariah 10:4 , where the solitary word “corner” appears to convey the same image.
21. in whom ] In close and vital connexion with Whom. See last note.
all the building ] R. V., “ each several building; ” as if the great Temple were viewed for the moment in its multiplicity of porches, courts, and towers; each connected with the great bond of the substructure, in and on which the whole architecture was rising. An interesting grammatical question arises over the reading here and this rendering, and will occur again 3:15: does the Greek phrase, in the best attested reading, demand the rendering of the R. V. as against that of the A. V.? We incline to the reply that it does not. The law of the definite article (the absence of which here occasions the question) is undoubtedly somewhat less exact in the Greek of the Scriptures than in that of the classics. And this leaves us free to use (with caution) the context to decide problems which in the classics would be decided by pure grammar. Such a case we take this to be; and the question to ask is, does the context favour the imagery of detail or that of total? Surely the latter. The idea points to one great building, getting completed within itself, rising to its ideal. We retain accordingly the A. V. See further, next note.
fitly framed together ] One word, a present participle, in the Greek. The same occurs below, 4:16 (“fitly joined together”), and nowhere else in N. T. The idea is not of a completed but of a progressive work, a “framing together” of the structure ever more closely and firmly. The building shrinks into greater solidity, binds itself into more intense coherence, as it grows. The spiritual union of the saints needs but to be more believed and realized to tell more on their actual closeness of connexion. The idea conveyed by this word, which is of course in the singular number, is (see last note) far rather that of one great building growing in internal solidity than of many buildings growing in contact.
groweth ] with the perpetual addition of new “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5 ) and the resulting new connexions. Observe two distinct ideas in harmony; growth in compactness, growth in extension.
unto a holy temple ] R. V., margin, “into an holy sanctuary .” The Greek ( nâos ) is not the temple- area with its courts and porches ( hiëron ), but the temple- house; the place of the Presence. The phrase, “unto,” “into,” suggests (like that in the next verse) a sanctuary not yet complete and ready for the Presence. The true Church, indeed, is already (1 Corinthians 3:16 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; and cp. 1 Corinthians 6:19 of its individual members) “the sanctuary of the living God.” But it is this as a still imperfect thing, and still imperfectly; the absolute and final in the matter is yet to come; and this will so transcend the partial and actual that it is spoken of as if the Indwelling were not yet. We may faintly illustrate by an unfinished cathedral, used already for Divine worship, but not yet ideally prepared for it. See Revelation 21:22 for another side of truth in temple-imagery. There, in the final state, there is “no sanctuary,” for God and the Lamb “are the sanctuary of” the holy City. All, absolutely all, is hallowed by Their Presence indwelling; Sanctuary and Shechinah are, as it were , one; and nothing is there that is not Sanctuary.
Great indeed is the conception in this passage. The saints, in their community “in the Lord,” are preparing, through an Indwelling partial though real, for an Indwelling complete and eternal; the two being, in continuity, one. In no mere figure of speech, their God already “dwells” in their bodies, and in their community; dwells there as in a Sanctuary in manifested Light, in Peace of covenant and propitiation, in Oracle-speech of “the Spirit’s witness,” in eternal Life. And this precious present fact is germinating to the future result of a heavenly and everlasting Indwelling (likewise in individuals and in community), when the Sanctuary shall reflect without a flaw its Indweller’s glory; when our union and communion with Him, in other words, shall be perfect, absolute, ideal. “We shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”
in the Lord ] The Lord Christ. We have “God” in the next verse, in a way which indicates this distinctive reference here. The imagery leaves the precise idea of the Corner Stone, to present the Lord as the living bond and principle, the secret both of growth and sanctity.
22. you also ] He reminds them of the joyful fact that they are special examples of the general truth that “the Gentiles are fellow-heirs.”
are builded ] A present tense in the Greek; are building, being builded . It is a process; carried on in new accessions of regenerate souls, and new and deeper “framing together” of the already regenerate.
for a habitation ] For the significance of “for,” see remarks on “unto” in ver. 21. The word rendered “habitation” (elsewhere Revelation 18:2 only) means, by its form, emphatically a permanent abode. The true idea is of the eternal Indwelling of God in the glorified Church. But this is reached through the lasting, though partial, Indwelling now. See notes above; and below, on 3:17.
God ] Not here specially Christ. The prospect is of the world where “God shall be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28 ), words which foretell no removal (God forbid) of “the Lamb” from “the Throne,” but a manifestation of the Father supreme and unimaginable. Meanwhile, again, the present is the germ of that Future; “My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23 ) 1 1 The one passage where the coming of the Father is spoken of. What awful grandeur is bestowed by this ‘We’ on the believer! (Note by the Dean of Peterborough). ; and “ye are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16 ).
through the Spirit ] Lit. and better, in (the) Spirit . The living Temple, in its every stone, is what it is by the immediate action of the Holy Spirit, “Who sanctifieth the elect people of God.” They are thus “ in the Spirit”(Romans 8:9 ), surrounded, as it were, by His presence and power. And so it will be, as this passage indicates, in the final state where the “pure River” will still “proceed from the Throne of” the Father and the Son. Will not the Holy Spirit’s work, far from ceasing, be supremely effectual, in the world of “ spiritual bodies ” (1 Corinthians 15:44 )?
We undoubtingly explain “in spirit” here to mean “in the Spirit” (with A.V. and R.V.), remembering the prominence in the whole Epistle, and not least in this part, of the subject of the Holy Spirit’s work.
Thus closes the special revelation of the plan and nature of the great Living Sanctuary, built on the Son, by the Spirit, for the Father, to be the scene of the manifestation of His Glory to whatsoever spectators Eternity shall bring to see it.