One of the major ideas—perhaps the culminating idea—in the second chapter of Ephesians is the unity of gentiles with Jews to form a single people for God. These two, formerly estranged, have been united, Paul says, through the blood of Christ: “He himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation . . . that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And he came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (2:14–17).
When Paul speaks of Jews and non-Jews outside of Christ, however, he concedes little advantage to the Jew over the non-Jew. The opening verses of Ephesians 2 may serve as an example. First, Paul tells the gentiles, “And you [he brought to life], who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked. . . .” Next, using the first-person plural, Paul speaks of the Jews: “and we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (2:1–3). Here, the emphasis on “and you” and “and we” is not mine; it is dictated in the word order of the Greek text. Both you and we, says Paul, are in very bad shape, apart from what God has wrought for both of us in Christ.
Although the Jews enjoy the blessings of the Torah, the covenant, and the divine oracles, the apostle argues, their moral failures are just as serious as those of the gentiles. We recognize here in Ephesians a thesis Paul already argued in the Epistle to the Romans: Because both are descendents of fallen Adam, neither Jew nor gentile may boast, inasmuch as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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