Vol. 17 New Series December, 1955 No. 6
EPHESIANS 2:11-18

One who declares his firm belief in the importance of accuracy in the study of Holy Scripture, nevertheless, within a couple of pages of his declaration, produces without a qualm an outstanding example of inaccuracy in this study.
He writes:—
"In Eph. 2:16 we read of two parties, the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision united into one body and both reconciled to God. There is peace between the two and with God, so that, not only God was conciliated to them but they were conciliated to God."

As a matter of actual fact, the two parties named are "the Gentiles in flesh" and "the one being termed 'circumcision.'" The one (singular) who makes the claim for himself terms the Gentiles in flesh (plural) 'uncircumcision.' In choosing this rather strange form of words, the Apostle Paul is plainly implying that the one being termed 'circumcision' has no longer any right to call himself by that term. The circumcision he formerly had has become uncircumcision, as Rom. 2:25 declared years before Ephesians was written.

It is those who once were far off who are become near by the blood of Christ. He Who is our peace is the One Who makes both one. And who are covered by the word "both"? Clearly, the two parties named.

This is further elucidated in vv. 17, 18. To those afar, that is, the Gentiles in flesh, it is the evangel of peace which is brought. To those near, it is peace. There is a distinction here which is not to be ignored. The Evangel of the uncircumcision is not for those who have the circumcision: it is for the Gentiles. Those who have the circumcision can have peace in Christ Jesus too; but at the present time only in Christ Jesus, that is to say, only by surrendering their peculiar covenant claim on God, their circumcision.

Let us now take a look at what the passage does NOT say.

First, it does not say that Israel and the Gentiles are both made one. The reference to Israel is concerned with the previous condition of the Gentiles in flesh. Apart from that, "Israel" does not come into the transaction at all. Also nothing is said about the two kinds of person being able to live together in amity or some sort of "peaceful co-existence." On the contrary, the whole point is that the two kinds of person have been enabled to become one kind of person, and an altogether different kind of person.

Second, it does not put, the two parties on or on to equal terms. As pointed out above, the parties referred to are respectively" one single individual, so-called circumcision in flesh, and the Gentiles in flesh termed by this individual 'uncircumcision.' Only the individual who has claimed covenant privilege, not the group of what were once the Covenant People as a whole, can come into the transaction; and then only in Christ Jesus and in the blood of Christ through the Cross—that is to say, only by complete surrender of his covenant privileges. The party termed 'uncircumcision' cannot come in under that term any more than the other party does under his term. The individual of it, too, has to surrender all physical claims, even the claim of not being bound to covenant, which does not cease to be true, but does cease to be relevant. Both distinctions are submerged in the greater distinction which has been created—one new humanity, one body.

Third, there is no mention of THE circumcision or THE uncircumcision, in spite of what the quotation declares. These ideas are diametrically opposite poles of thought. It is, and must remain, utterly impossible to reconcile the circumcision which was given by Moses (John 7:22) with the uncircumcision in which Abraham's faith is reckoned for righteousness (Rom. 4:9, 10). After my past eludication of this matter, there is no excuse, whatever for the horrid confusion shown in the pronouncement I have quoted above.

This pronouncement plainly implies that the covenant man can enter the Body AS a covenant man, whatever may happen to him after he has entered, even the setting aside of his covenant standing on entering or even its abolition. But this is not what other scriptures say, and certainly not what Ephesians says. To talk about the breaking-dawn of the central wall of the barrier, and then in the same context to maintain the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision as still in effective operation, would be not only to stultify oneself, which does not matter much, but to make nonsense of Scripture, which is disastrous.

Recently an expositor has told us that none of us understand Ephesians. No wonder, when the epistle is so grossly misread and expositors can put out such abominably careless exegesis as this quotation. For one thing, most expositors ignore the place of Ephesians in the canon, immediately after Galatians. It is easy to retort that this arrangement is not divinely inspired; but, if not, its appropriateness is something to marvel at. Eph. 2:11-22 is really an expansion of and a commentary on Gal. 6:14, 15; and it can be properly under stood only when Galatians is properly understood. It is sheer nonsense, and a most dangerous delusion, to talk of "the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision united into one body and both reconciled to God," in the face of the plain declaration that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation."

R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 5.2.2006