The Dividing Wall of Ephesians 2:14

May 12th, 2012

This is the third message I ministered to my congregation when our Rav was away ministering in Africa to Torah Observant congregations that are beign raised over there. It took me awhile to get this up as I used a lot of power point and so I had to go back through my notes and try my best to fill in all the blanks for what would have been said with each of the slides. I have finally had the time to put it all together in article format. Please enjoy this crucial teaching on one of the central themes of contention during the first century: the fellowship of the Jew and the Gentile as one new man.

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We read in Psalm 119 the following words,

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your Torah” (Psalm 119:18)
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible and it’s a beautiful Psalm that speaks very clearly about the beauty and importance of Torah. In fact, it contains my favourite verse in the entire NIV translation,

all your righteous laws are eternal.” (Psalm 119:160b NIV)
Now there are two things that make this verse very controversial and very difficult for some streams of theology. The fact that it says ALL His Laws, and that ALL these Laws are eternal! This we know was fully supported by Mashiach’s teaching when He came and proclaimed in Matthew 5 that He didn’t come to abolish Torah but to fulfill, or as we learned before, properly explain and teach. This lines up well with what haShem spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying,

“The L-RD is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the Law, and make it honourable..” (Isaiah 42:21 KJV)
We read this in our liturgy every Shabbat, he will magnify the Torah. And if we continue reading Mashiach’s words in Matthew 5-7, we can see that during the Sermon on the Mount He did exactly that. He took a command and he magnified it by saying “if you think you’re doing well by not committing adultery, well, guess what, if you even look at a woman to lust after her you’ve already committed adultery with her in your heart”. This magnifies the Torah command concerning adultery.

Now, considering our theological stance here, I’m preaching to the choir. We know that Torah was not abolished but still has a valid place within the Believers life, so I don’t have to go on about that, amen? (amen!)

Okay, but if that’s true, then how do we explain the following verse,

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:14-15a NIV 1984)
Now I should give a little disclaimer about Bible translations. Some translations are done in a less literal style and are more paraphrased. We call this dynamic equivalence. The more loose you get in your translation the more you are going to begin getting translator commentary as opposed to the Word of G-d. Sometimes this can be good, because an overly literal passage may be difficult to understand, but sometimes this is not so good as you are trusting the translator interpretation of the text. And no matter how pure your intentions are, you will always come with a bias. This right here is a perfect example, and the 1984 NIV is the most popular Bible translation available. So the vast majority of Christians today are reading these very words, and so when people are convinced that Torah has been abolished, I really can’t blame them when we have translations like this and no proper contextual teaching to help us understand the text.

So, in order for us to understand this passage we need a more accurate translation,

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances*” (Ephesians 2:14-15a NASB)
Okay, so now that we’ve read an accurate translation we can see that it is in fact the enmity that has been abolished. This enmity here is being references to the Law of commandments contained in ordinances. The Greek word for ordinance here is dogma. In simplicity, what we have here is a dogmatic set of commandments that was being imposed as law and creating enmity (i.e. hostility or hatred) between Jew and Gentile.

The most pertinent question to ask now is, is this the Torah of HaShem? Interesting to note is that the word dogma in Greek is never once used to refer to the Torah of HaShem. We do read of it being used to refer to "ancestral traditions" in the 3rd book of Maccabees however, and as you will later see, this is going to line up very nicely with what our passage is really saying.

But beyond those linguistics, if we actually go to the Torah and see what it says, I think we can get a pretty good indication that this is probably not what Paul was saying that Messiah abolished. We read from Torah,

‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the L-RD your G-d.” (Leviticus 19:33-34 NASB)
So if Torah tells Israel to love the foreigner, then I don’t think that Torah is the cause of hatred or hostility between the Jew and the Gentile. So in trying to understand this issue we need to ask ourselves several questions,

What is that enmity and how did it start?
How did Yeshua the Messiah get rid of it?
How does this fit into the context of the Apostolic Writings?
How is this relevant today?

First we need to establish the context of Ephesians chapter 2. This entire chapter is focusing on one of Paul's most passionate points of theology that he above all other Apostles emphasized the best - that of the fellowship and unity of the Jewish and Gentile believer. This chapter is a key passage which explicitly explains the relationship of Jew and Gentile within the community of fellowship as it existed in the first century. But in order to understand Paul's words we have to understand the cultural context from which he is speaking from and then we can understand the barrier that Paul often found himself arguing against.

Before going any further, we need to properly define community as Paul is using it. You know oftentimes we use the term "the Church" and the other terms like "Israel" and so on. But, the meanings that these words carry today are not actually reflective of what they mean within the Scripture, and so, when reading the Scripture it's easy to get confused or miss certain things that G-d's word is trying to tell us because we're applying modern meanings to a word that was never intended to be understood like that.

In Greek, the original word is “ekklesia” which in a literal sense means “a called out people” like when Abraham was called by HaShem to pick up his bags and go. But it ahs the connotation that they are called out to assemble together for a purpose. We read in Exodus 35:1 “And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel” The word here in the Hebrew for assembled is Kahal, and when the Rabbi’s translated this text into Greek before the time of Mashiach, the word they chose was actually “ekklesia”! So when the children of Israel and the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt are being assembled at the foot of Mt.Sinai, they are called an ekklesia, what many translate as church. So if anyone tells you the church wasn’t at the foot of Mt.Sinai the linguistics actually work against them here.

Now, when we talk about "the Church" we are often referring to the Body of Messiah as a whole, or in some cases, the building in which we meet in. But in reality, the word for church is talking about an assembling or gathering together of real people. And it's interesting because, our bible translations actually get this totally mixed up because in James 2:2 it says "If a man comes into your assembly" when the word for assembly is actually Synagogue, the building!

The point I'm making here is that the Grecian mind sees a community as being people who believe the same thing, regardless of whether or not they've actually met, or whether or not they actually practice what they believe. But the Hebrew mind however views community as something that deals with actual life involvement; a group of people who assemble together and live out their faith as a vibrant community.This is important to establish because when Paul talks about the "church community" he is referring to the actual real life fellowship of Believers, and in this case, the crucial first century issue of Jewish and Gentile believers fellowshipping, worshipping, and living out the faith together as one body.

This is a critical issue because for years Israel had stood apart as a nation, the chosen people of G-d, and though set apart from the rest of the nations, they welcomed others who would come to believe in and serve the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in fact, the prophet Obadiah was one such person. But in order to join Israel, there was one stipulation. You had to convert and become Jewish. You had to go through a process of first becoming a proselyte and learning about Torah and Judaism, and then once you sufficiently grasped key concepts, you had to ritually convert through circumcision and the waters of mikvah. Only then would you be given full covenant status and in some streams of thought, guaranteed a place in the world to come. But the Apostles received a revelation and teaching that was much different than what the religious status quo was teaching, and that was that Gentile believers were to be accepted as full citizens of Israel without undergoing the proselytizing process that ended with circumcision and Jewish conversion. Rather, all that was required was a faith in and joining together with, Messiah. Two passages in particular emphasize this point,
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are of G-d’s household” (Ephesians 2:19)

“to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the Good News” (Ephesians 3:6)
Now, why was this such a stumbling block? Why is it that even today, Paul is viewed as a heretic by Torah Observant Jews on the basis of these statements? Biblical scholar E.P. Sanders in his work gives good evidence that in the 1st Century there were varying opinions about the Gentiles and how they would receive a place in the world to come. Data suggests that the Rabbi's didn't see the written Torah as being clear enough on what to do with the Gentiles (although, I disagree with that because there are several places from Exodus to Deuteronomy that to me seem very clear that when a foreigner wishes to serve the G-d of Israel he is able to appear before HaShem in the exact same way as the native born Israelite). But the Jewish people have often been under persecution time and time again, and under such conditions it was only natural for the Rabbis to take an increasingly harsher stance towards outsiders.

A few weeks ago Pastor Andrew spoke to you all about how within the Temple in the first century there was an inner court for the Jews and an outer court for those who were deemed unclean, which included all the Gentiles. The first century historian Flavius Josephus tells us best when he writes,

“No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death” (Antiquities of the Jews 8:67,71)
However, I don't believe that the dividing wall that Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 2 was the dividing wall within the temple, and I believe this for two reasons. The word used for the dividing wall in the temple in historical writings is always drufacto, where as Paul uses the term fragmos. Secondly, at the time Paul was writing his letter to the Ephesians, the Temple was still up and as such the wall still existed. This is why biblical scholar Markus Barth suggests that Paul's imagery is meant to be placed somewhere else, although I believe that the imagery of that literal dividing wall is still hinting at a spiritual barrier that Messiah indeed abolished in His flesh.

So let’s briefly review our key passage here:

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity…” (Ephesians 2:14-15a NASB)
So enmity, what is “the enmity”? The single best thing I can give you to explain what this was in the first century is from an ancient epistle written just prior to Messiah’s coming. Let’s examine the following,

‘our lawgiver… fenced us about with impenetrable palisades and with walls of iron to the end that we should mingle in no way with any of the other nations, remaining pure in body and in spirit’ and ‘so that we should be polluted by none nor be infected with perversions by associating with worthless persons, he has fenced us about on all sides with prescribed purifications in matters of food and drink and touch and hearing and sight’ (Epistle of Aristeas [2nd century BCE, quoted from “H.B. Swete, The Old Testament in Greek {KTAV, 1969} p.575”])
So, enmity can mean hostility or hatred... do you think that such an attitude would promote hostility between a Jew and Gentile? I think so... and as we read in Torah, this was not actually anything which was commanded by the L-rd our G-d. Rather, once again, in Leviticus 19 it says that the foreigner shall be as a native of the land and you shall love him as yourself. But this is so critical for us to understand. I wanted to make this message today somewhat more of a lecture and provide these historical quotes for you because it is absolutely paramount that we see and understand these underlying issues that form the basis of what Paul is arguing against. Because when we don't know what Paul is arguing against, we end up making assumptions about what he's saying and get this idea that Paul is doing away with Torah when that's not the case what so ever.

So, now it's time to put the puzzle pieces together and see what Messiah really did for us!

In this Epistle I quoted above, the word used for "fenced us about" comes from the same verbal root as the word Paul uses for wall in Ephesians 2:14 - fragmos. When we look at the use of this term in the historic literature, we can confidently come to a conclusion that I think Biblical Scholar Tim Hegg sums up nicely when he says,

The Greek term fragmos was used in the 1st Century to identify oral Torah as a “wall” or “fence” around the written Torah and the Pharisees as “builders of the wall.”(Hegg: Ephesians 2:14-15 – 9)
The oral Torah was written down in what we know as Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers. In the very first verse of this we read,

“The Men of the Great Assembly would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many talmidim. And build a fence of protection around Torah.” (Pirkei Avot 1:1b)
Now Pirkei Avot was written in Aramaic and not Greek. But the Aramaic term here for fence is Syaga, and when we go to the Aramaic New Testament in Ephesians 2:14, guess what the word for wall is? Syaga! The exact same word! So it doesn’t matter what language you go to, there’s no doubt in regards to what this is referring to. And very interesting to note is that a synonym for syaga is ta'area, which means door or gate, and this is the very word Yeshua uses when in the Aramaic of John when He proclaims that He is the door or gate. So while some may be busy erecting a fence and keeping Gentiles out (which is what Yeshua means when He accuses some of shutting up the Kingdom of Heaven) Yeshua is pulling down this fence and allowing everyone access to the Father through Himself by one Spirit!

So to me, Tim Hegg is bang on with saying that this term is referring to aspects of the oral Torah. It is very clear that this is EXACTLY what our passage is referring to, because once again Paul is referencing a barrier of separation between Jew and Gentile, and when we contrast the Epistle of Aristeas that I posted earlier which I think explains this fence, this oral Torah so well; when we contrast that with what the Scriptures actually say, there should be no doubt whatsoever that it is the oral Torah and NOT the written Torah which ruled for separation between Jew and Gentile.

(And before I go any further, for those of you who are big into the oral Torah, don’t think that I’m condemning all of it; there are plenty of instances when Yeshua followed oral Torah so I’m not trying to tell everyone to throw the baby out with the bathwater here)

But as far as what we’re talking about here, I want to give you a few examples. According to the oral Torah, simply sitting with non-Jews could make a person unclean (Pes 8:8, Shek 8:1, Yom HaKipp 4:20, Josephus Ant. xviii,90, Acts 10:28), as well as just contact with the residence of a non-Jew (Oholot 18.7,9). And this we can see very clearly in Scripture if we turn to John 18:28,

Then they led Yeshua from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. (John 18:28)
Truly, within 1st century Judaism, the oral Torah acted in such a way so as to separate the Jew and Gentile in many ways. So we can see how radical, confusing and controversial of an idea this unity of Jew and Gentile is. Because, even though it's not the same thing at all, to a Jew in the first century this would be like eating a meatloaf that had both clean and unclean animals. So guess how our L-rd decided to reveal this to His beloved apostles? I want to take us all back to Acts 10 today; Pastor Andrew had us here just a few weeks ago, but I really want to make sure we understand the significance of what happened,

“On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, L-rd, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What G-d has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. (Acts 10:9-16)
What G-d has cleansed… so, what has G-d cleansed? As we keep reading,

Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; (Acts 10:17)
So we have these Gentiles show up and ask for Peter, and normally Peter would be a little hesitant to hang out with these guys. But now he starts to understand the vision when he says in verse 28

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet G-d has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.
Ah, so we see that it is man who G-d has cleansed. Then afterwards as Cornelius explains his encounter with G-d, a light bulb goes on and suddenly Peter reeeaally gets it; his vision and all the puzzle pieces suddenly come together when he says in verse 34 and 35,

“I most certainly understand now that G-d is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
So now we have Jew and Gentile… not a native born Jew and a converted Jew, but a Jew and a Gentile coming together as one body, that is, one community… the one NEW community in Messiah!

But we still have to ask now, how did Yeshua actually break this barrier down? It's easy for us to see that Yeshua says so therefore it's true because He is our Master and we don't question Him, but not everybody would have been thinking that way. So where is the proof? What really convinced Peter and the other Apostles? Let's go to Acts 15 and see what Peter has to say.

First however, we need to establish the context of Acts 15 quickly. Here we have men from the teachings of the Pharisees, not from the teaching of Torah, who were emphasizing the fact that Gentiles needed to be circumcised; that is, convert to be Jewish in order to be accepted into the community. So in this council they discuss this matter and Peter then goes on to say beginning in verse 6,

The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days G-d made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And G-d, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:6-9 NASB)
So we can see that it is the witness of the Holy Spirit that truly showed everyone the reality of G-d’s grace and saving power through Messiah. You can come up with all the silly theology in the world, but there’s no denying it when you see G-d’s spirit working within someone’s life, and this is exactly what was promised to happen upon the resurrection and ascension of Messiah. It says in John 7:39,

“But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet, because Yeshua was not yet glorified.”
And then later in John 12:32 Yeshua proclaims,

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
And so He did! He broke down that theological barrier, that dividing wall, and drew all men, us included, by His Spirit, which was able to be poured out in a most powerful way because of the atoning power of His blood for all nations once and for all, to make them clean. And the proof of this is the presence and working of the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit working within our lives is truly our most powerful witness just as we always emphasize around here. A witness not only to others but to ourselves, too! I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was saved when I could see the Spirit of G-d working in my life, and then I started running around hugging people joyfully and full of all this energy and then everyone decided that I’m never allowed to have coffee lest the earth implode…

The Spirit should be working so hard in our lives that when other people see us they just want what we have. They want that fullness of joy, that peace which surpasses all understanding. You know, it’s interesting when the Holy Spirit works within people’s lives and just how evident it can be from the simplest things. For example, Jessica here first came to our congregation at Passover when Sarah had invited her. But believe it or not I actually ran into her at Concordia a couple weeks earlier when I was waiting around trying to surprise someone. As I was sitting there in the hall she came up to me and said “waiting for someone” and I said “yup!”. And you would not believe, but from that simple encounter I could tell that she was a Believer and that the Holy Spirit was working in her life. All it took was one simple, brief conversation.

But when we consider the context of our passage, I think there is something especially powerful here. You see, one of the most difficult mission fields for a Christian is the Jewish community and on a general basis over the past 2000 years, we’ve done a poor job at letting them know about the Good News of their Messiah. And even now, the Christian community in general is very poorly educated on Judaism and Torah and it would be very easy for anyone to get tripped up in trying to discuss matters of faith with an Orthodox Jew. Or even worse, it’s very easy to offend them when we… basically… don’t have a clue because... that’s all “Old Testament”, right?

But when we look at our passages, we see very clearly that the Apostles weren’t convinced of the Gentiles salvation because they successful went through the process of becoming proselytes and then becoming circumcised and learning Torah inside and out (and, don’t get me wrong, learning the Word of G-d and being sensitive to the customs of Judaism is not a bad thing what so ever), but it was the evidence of the Holy Spirit working within their lives that really spoke to them and forever changed the course of history. And so we really need to be aware that this is our greatest tool when reaching out to Jewish people and awakening them to the reality of Yeshua the Mashiyach. Our greatest tool is the love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness gentleness and self control that shines through us because we have the Spirit of the living G-d and He has changed us, He has awakened us out of our lost slumber of spiritual death, and being born from the beginning, from a time when there was no sin… the love that we’re capable of should be enough to win the hearts of anyone. As 1 Peter 4:8 boldly says, love covers a multitude of sins! But let us be reminded, lest we boast in our flesh, that it is not we who are winning the hearts, but the Spirit of the living G-d which is inside of us. And He fills us with a love that is so selfless it’s… kind of hard to comprehend! Because naturally we’re sort of selfish creatures; but when the righteousness of HaShem can get in there, there’s no doubting that one has been redeemed from the perils of this world. And if anyone is not feeling that then they need to get on their face before G-d and cry out to Him for help. Cry out to Him that you want that joy, that… fullness… and He will show you what to do and guide you along the way so that you can be the over comer that revelation speaks about.

Let’s go back now to Ephesians 2 and beginning in verse 11 read the rest of the chapter in context and see how Paul brings everything we’ve been discussing out so very elegantly (my comments in brackets and italics).

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “ Uncircumcision” by the so-called “ Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel(Okay, so right here, we see that we are now part of the commonwealth of Israel which means, every single time it says within Torah “speak to the children of Israel” it is actually speaking to you!), and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without G-d in the world (notice how covenants is PLURAL; this means that we who are grafted in to Israel are part of more than just some new covenant). But now in Messiah Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah(How? Well…). For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances(those dogmatic oral laws that created all that cultural hostility between the two groups), so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to G-d through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity(Just as it says in the prophets right, that all flesh and all nations will come to bow down before Him). And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father(Again, it is the Spirit of the living G-d that bears witness to this reality). So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones, and are of G-d’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the L-rd, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of G-d in the Spirit (and His blood and only His blood has purified us so that we can be that temple for the Holy Spirit).
Isn’t that just amazing? I could just sit there and ponder over the beauty of such statements, a beauty that is realized when we see people walking in the Spirit and manifesting the glory and righteousness of G-d in their everyday walks of life. And it is by this that we know that we are keeping the Torah or that we are walking in His ways correctly. Not according to religiosity which is full of our own fleshly pride and might and power… but no, according to His Spirit which then draws all flesh towards Him so that everyone might be saved as they are wooed by the love of G-d. Amen?

Let’s just ask the L-rd’s blessing on the word this morning,

Father we thank you. We thank you for Your awesome presence, Your Spirit, which is poured out on all of us because of the redemptive work of your revealed arm, the Messiah Yeshua, our life-giver. We thank you for His atonement and we thank you for all the blessings you have bestowed upon us. The joy and peace, the happiness and love that come from Your Spirit dwelling within us! As James says, all good things come from above, and we just ask that these abundant gifts you have given us would help to draw all flesh towards you; Jew or Gentile, so that as one people we can serve you truthfully and make your righteousness known to the ends of the earth. As you have blessed us may we also bless others. And may nothing stand in the way of our sharing Your love. In Yeshua’s precious name we pray; amen v’amen.