Ephesians 2:11-12

“So, then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.” 

Ephesians 2:1-10 discussed the alienation of humans from God. The second half of Ephesians 2, verses 11-22, discusses humans alienated from each other. John Stott breaks up the verses in the following way: verses 11 and 12 show the portrait of alienated humanity on what we once were, verses 13-18 show the portrait of what Christ has done for us as peacemaker, and verses 19-22 as the portrait of God’s new society or what we have now become.

Let’s look at what we once were. Looking at the first verse, the Matthew Henry commentary on the Blue Letter Bible app says it’s as if Paul had said “You should remember what you have been, and compare it with what you are now, in order to humble yourselves and to excite your love and thankfulness to God.” It is good to remember how far that God has brought us.

Paul is addressing the Gentiles in this passage, and he calls them “the uncircumcised.” He then refers to the Jews as “the circumcised” and gives the qualifier “which is done in the flesh by human hands.”  The fact that these two names are in quotes suggests that they were calling each other names. There was a great division between the Jews and the Gentiles at that time. We’re going to start with the Jews. Paul points out to the Jews that circumcision was done by human hands. In many of his letters, he addresses the issue of true faith and the attitude of one’s heart. Here are some examples:

“For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God.”(Romans 2:28-29)

“Circumcision does not matter and uncircumcision does not matter. Keeping God’s commands is what matters.” (1 Corinthians 7:19)

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

The Jews were bragging about something that was done by human hands and Paul was pointing out that God was wanting an attitude of faithfulness.

But this passage is really about the Gentiles. Not only were they alienated from God, they were alienated from the Jews also. They were relegated to the Court of the Gentiles when worshiping at the temple. I looked up a picture of the temple during this time and this is how it was laid out. The temple was on an elevated platform. Around this was the priests’ courtyard. Just past this was the Israelites’ courtyard. These were entered through gates. Then, there was another courtyard for the women. These were all within the temple walls. On the other side of the wall, down many steps, to another wall beyond which was the outer court, was the court of Gentiles. They could look up and see the temple, but they could not approach it. There were signs on the walls in Greek and Latin that said trespassers would be put to death.

William Barclay, the Scottish theologian wrote the following in his book “The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians.” It summarizes the animosity of the Jews toward the Gentiles at the time Paul wrote this letter.

 “The Jews had an immense contempt for the Gentiles. They said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell, and that God loved only Israel of all the nations that he had made. ‘The best of the serpents crush,’ they said, ‘the best of the Gentiles kill.’ It was not even lawful to give help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. The barrier between Jews and Gentiles was absolute. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death; even going into the house of a Gentile made a Jew unclean. Before Christ, the barriers were up; after Christ, the barriers were down.”

My biggest takeaway from this passage is that there was more division in the world then than now, and Christ came to unify us as one body. Paul was writing to a world just as broken as ours. Alistair Begg, in his sermon on this passage, points out that the purpose of God through all eternity was to unite all things in heaven and earth through Jesus. This was always his plan. It wasn’t plan B because Adam and Eve sinned. His purpose was always in Jesus. He says, “God’s purpose for his people is that his people, united in Christ, in their community of friendships with one another should be something of a microcosm that shows to the world what God will ultimately achieve in a new heaven and a new earth.

 The next verse goes on to say, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  So the contrast will be, as we move into the next verses, is what these Jews and Gentiles were to what they are now. Who has brought them together? Jesus!

Grace be with you!


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