We are currently doing a bible study on Ephesians through our church.
Ephesians 2:14–16 (ESV) says:
14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Nearly every commentary I reviewed, followed the view that the law had been abolished. Really? How does this reconcile with Jesus' position in Matthew 5:17 (ESV):
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Or that Jesus calls those that do not know him as "lawless" in Matthew 7:23 (ESV):
Or that James the Righteous says to Paul that there is a vicious rumour that Paul is teaching all to forsake the law. In order to dispel this myth, James has hatched a plan for Paul to go up to the temple and to pay for the sacrifices on behalf of two Nazirites.23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Paul accepts the plan but is recognized along the way. A riot ensues and he never gets there. Ultimately he is arrested, appeals to Caesar and ends up in Rome, where he writes this Epistle.
Thomas Lancaster says that most translations are flawed. He offers the following alternate translation:
"for He Himself in our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity..."The KJV places a similar emphasis on enmity rather than on the law itself.
How does the Torah cause enmity between Jew and Gentile? We have already seen how the Oral Law, the rabbinic interpretation of Torah, excluded Gentiles. The Greek word for "regulations" speaks specifically to those man-made contrivances, not to the actual Torah. According to those Oral commandments and regulations, one needed to make a formal conversion to Judaism before participating in Israel. The dividing wall of the Temple is itself an architectural innovation based on rabbinic interpretations. in first century Jerusalem, the dividing wall of hostility was more than just a metaphor.
But the written Torah actually sets up parameters for participation in Israel, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, and abstaining from adultery. Those are all commandments and ordinances found in Torah.
Observance of the commandments and ordinances is compulsory for Israelites because the Torah is Israel’s covenant with God. The Gentiles, however, as strangers to the covenants of promise, are oblivious of these laws. The result is a sharp distinction between Jew and Gentile. Add to that the first century theological supposition that Torah was only for Jews, and it created a very distinct and clear line of separation between Jew and Gentile.
There is enmity engendered by the Torah between Israelite and Gentile, and the enmity is this: Israel is God’s chosen and redeemed people, and the Gentiles are not. Israel is in covenant with the Father and the Gentiles are not. Every command and ordinance given to Israel marked out the parameters of who Israel was and who Israel was not. The Torah determined who was in and who was out.
The enmity that Messiah abolished is this separation between Jew and Gentile. It is abolished in the sense that Messiah has brought Gentile believers into Israel. He seats them at the table with Israel and invites them to be partakers in the New Covenant with Israel. As Gentiles brought into covenant through Messiah begin to engage in the commandments and ordinances along with Israel, theline of distinction, the dividing wall of hostility vanishes. The enmity between Jewish and Gentile believers caused by commandments and ordinances, is abolished in Messiah’s flesh. How so? Because Messiah brings the Gentiles into the fold of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah provides a vivid illustration of this principle. He declares tha the stranger who keeps the Sabbath and holds fast to God’s covenant will be received in the innermost courts of the temple. His sacrifices will be received on the altar and the temple will be a house of prayer for Gentiles from every nation (Isaiah 56:7). It was probably this very passage that Paul had in mind as he wrote of Messiah abolishing the dividing wall. For the dividing wall, which would forbid the Gentile from entering the temple to offer sacrifice, is completely absent in Isaiah’s messianic age prophecy: Isaiah 56:6-7.
Therefore the Ephesians passage (2:11-15), is not a contradiction of the Master’s words in Matthew 5:17 (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah…), nor is it a textual justification to sin and sin boldly. Instead, it shows us how Gentiles are able to retain their Gentile identity while at the same time being regarded as part of Israel, living out the law of Israel.
Because the enmity has been abolished, Gentiles need not find a genetic justification for keeping the laws and ordinances of Torah nor must they make a formal conversion to Judaism. The enmity of distinction has been removed; the laws and ordinances of Torah are open to Gentiles. The dividing wall has been removed. Gentiles are free to move from the metaphoric Court of the Gentiles into the metaphoric Court of Israel. They are given free access to the Torah life that identifies Israel: they are given access to the House of God.Perhaps his comments throws light on Paul's "Israel of God" from his epistle to the Galatians.
Thomas Lancaster, "The Mystery of the Gospel", pp 181-183.