The middle wall of partition – Misunderstandings regarding Eph 2:14-16

Ephesians 2:14-16 is one of the many verses used to say that God’s Commandments/Law written down in the Old Testament has now been abolished, in Christ. It is popularly taught that the “middle wall” that separated us from God, is God’s Commandments/Laws, and that they were taken down through Christ’s sacrifice, because they were hostile towards us.

Today, we will test this theory, taking archaeological evidence alongside historical context, to understand the true meaning of Paul’s words. It is this authors belief that this verse, like countless other statements made by Paul, has been misunderstood by mainstream Christianity today. And now let’s move on to the verse in question.

Eph 2:14-16 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition (between us); Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, (even) the law of commandments (contained) in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

In this study, we will break down this verse and research into what Paul is describing, to better understand what he is trying to teach the Ephesians. This study will focus on the following:
1. Context and background of the verse
2. What is the middle wall of partition/separation?
3. What is the “law of commandments in ordinances” which is called “enmity” by Paul?
4. Connecting the “law of commandments in ordinances” with the “middle wall of partition”

5. What are the “two” that are reconciled (made into one) through Messiah?
6. Conclusion

1. Context and background of the verse
Starting at the beginning of chapter 2, we see Paul making these following points:-
Eph 2:1-3 We were all living in sin and disobedience as Gentiles
Eph 2:4-7 But God who loved us, showed us mercy, by saving us through His grace
Eph 2:8-10 And through grace alone, are we saved – and not by anything that we do
Eph 2:11-14 You were all gentiles, called “uncircumcised” by the “circumcised” (Jews), without God and Christ, aliens to the citizenship of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise – but now have been brought close to God through Christ.

Note that Paul makes a clear statement that the Ephesians were gentiles without hope, living in Sin, till God saved them through His Grace. He says that they had no part in the citizenship of Israel and the covenants of promise, till they were brought near by Christ. In other words, through Christ and God’s Grace, they have been given citizenship of Israel and also ability to partake in the covenants of promise. This is the background and context of the verse in question.

2. What is the middle wall of partition/separation?
Even though most Christians believe that the “middle wall” mentioned in this verse is a metaphorical expression used to speak of God’s Law, this is far from the truth. The context of this verse, lets us know that Paul was speaking of the division of Gentiles and Jews(uncircumcised & circumcised), and how gentiles had no part in Israel before Messiah.

The interesting fact that many Christians are unaware of, is that there was a physical barrier(a middle wall) that separated gentiles and Jews in the days of Paul, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Known as the “soreg”, this partition prohibited gentiles from entering into the temple courts. We will look at a few pieces of evidence on this fact below.

It is important to note at this point, that “Jews” are only a part of Israel – and hence, all Israel cannot be called Jews. Please read the articles, “The Parable of the prodigal Son & the 2 Houses of Israel” , “Defining the terms Jew & Gentile” & “Defining the term Israel” for a better understanding on the above statement.

ESV-temple

Archaeological Evidence
The soreg was a low wall surrounding the Temple in Jerusalem, which served as a boundary/partition wall.

Museo della civiltà romana a Roma (Eur) - Room 15 (Christianity) # 4 - Cast of the plaque forbidding any non-Jews to enter the second precinct of the Temple of Jerusalem. The original stands in the National Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

Museo della civiltà romana a Roma (Eur) – Room 15 (Christianity) # 4 – Cast of the plaque forbidding any non-Jews to enter the second precinct of the Temple of Jerusalem. The original stands in the National Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

Beyond this point, entry was permitted only to Jews who were not impure through exposure to death.

The soreg featured signs, in a number of languages, that warned these unauthorized people against entering the area of the Holy Temple.

Some of the signs which were placed on the “soreg” have been discovered, of which one is pictured to the left. The inscription says “No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have himself to blame for the ensuing death” – (Translated by K. C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman)

Biblical Evidence
A) It is a known fact, that there were Gentiles who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to Worship God.
Joh 12:20  And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
Act 8:27  And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

B) The fact that the Gentiles were kept separate from the Jews is also apparent
Act 21:28  Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

Historical Evidence
In the “Wars of the Jews” written by the scholar Josephus Flavius around 75AD, he says the following:
When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple,
there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that “no foreigner should go within that sanctuary” for that second [court of the] temple was called “the Sanctuary,” and was ascended to by fourteen steps from the first court. (A description of the temple – Book 5, Chapter 5, Verse 2)

Considering all of the above facts, it is safe to say, that Paul was referring to this “partitioning wall” in his letter to the Ephesians, as it was a prominent feature of the Jerusalem Temple at that time, which restrained gentiles from entering in. It is also important to note that this wall was not part of the design God had given, but was a later addition made by the Jews in authority, to keep gentiles from entering the temple precinct. Nowhere in the Old Testament would you be able to find of such a structure that separates people into two groups. But this had become the norm in the 2nd Temple times, and no Gentile could enter into the Temple precinct because of it. As such, this was a man made barrier, and a man made commandment which kept Gentiles from coming to God’s Temple.

3. What is the “law of commandments in ordinances” which is called “enmity” by Paul?
Most Christians would jump to the conclusion that the “law of commandments in ordinances” mentioned by Paul, is none other than the Law which was given through Moses, in the Old Testament by our Heavenly Father. What most of us fail to see is that this term is completely different to “The Law of God” and “The Commandments of God”. To understand this difference, we must look into the meaning of the word translated as “Ordinances”.

In the Original Greek Manuscripts, the English word translated as “Ordinances”, comes from the following : G1378 – δόγμα – dogma – From the base of G1380; a law (civil, ceremonial or ecclesiastical): – decree, ordinance. This word is seen only 5 times in the New Testament in the following verses:
Luk 2:1  And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree(G1378) from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Act 16:4  And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees(G1378) for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
Act 17:7  Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees(G1378) of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
Eph 2:15  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances(G1378); for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
Col 2:14  Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances(G1378) that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Looking at the above verses, one thing should become apparent to you. The word “ordinance”, means and can even be translated as “Decree” – which means “an official order that has the force of law”. While God had given Commandments and His Law, Decrees were laws that were man-made. If Paul was indeed speaking of God’s Law & Commandments, he would not have needed to use the word “ordinance”/”decree” in his letter. Paul could have only been referring to man-made orders, in this verse through the term “Ordinance”. These “ordinances” were indeed hostile, as they restrained anyone other than “Jews” worshiping God. These ordinances made a clear separation between Jew and Gentile, by elevating one above the other, to the extent where gentiles were looked down upon and disassociated, by Jews everywhere (Joh 4:9,27, 7:35, Act 10:28, 11:2,3, Gal 2:12)

Added on 13th August 2017: Contributed by Joanne Smith
The Greek word dogma (G1378 in Strong’s) is used in the Septuagint (Greek OT) only in the book of Daniel. Daniel 2:133:10,12,29; 4:6; 6:8,9,10,12,13,15,26

4. Connecting the “law of commandments in ordinances” with the “middle wall of partition”
It is a clear fact that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, spoke of the broken down “middle wall of partition” to be connected solely to the “law of commandments in ordinances”. As we have seen above, if Paul was speaking of the physical wall of partition at the temple, and man-made decrees that enforced such separations, this makes perfect sense, as the partition wall was a man-made decree which separated the Jew from the Gentile. In other words, the Jews in authority at the time of Paul, had made a decree that was regarded as official Law and a Commandment, that Gentiles could not enter into God’s sanctuary, even though it was allowed for Jews. Paul was merely saying that this separation that men had imposed on people was now no more because of Messiah. To understand more about the decrees (which were regarded as Law) imposed on the 1st century people by the ruling Jews such as the pharisees, please watch the this teaching.

5. What are the “two” that are reconciled (made into one) through Messiah?
What puts this argument completely in place, is the idea Paul speaks about in connection with the broken down wall of partition. Paul says that Christ has “made both one” and again, that “twain one new man”. What or who are these two parties which are made one?

Let’s review the facts that we know already
1. The context of the Chapter speaks about how, gentiles had no part in the covenants of promise and they were excluded from the citizenship of Israel, before they were saved through God’s Grace and sacrifice of Christ.
2. History proves that there was indeed, a physical partitioning wall at the Temple which kept Gentiles separate from Jews. Paul spoke of this wall to have been broken down through Christ’s sacrifice.
3. The original Greek wording seen in the verse in question, is specifically speaking of man-made decrees, and not God’s Law. There were many such laws/decrees imposed on people by the ruling parties, such as the pharisees.

If Paul is speaking of this partitioning of Gentiles and Jews, and that this “man-made” partitioning or “middle wall” was not in effect because of Messiah, what are these 2 parties he is referring to? Is he not saying that there is no more division? there are no more jews & gentiles? that no one can keep the covenants of promise from the gentiles? that gentiles are now fellow citizens of Israel?

Consider the following:
1. Christ came to gather Jews & Gentiles into one nation
Joh 11:49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

2. Christ said there would be one flock under one shepherd
Joh 10:16  And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

3. Paul says Gentiles are fellow heirs and partakers of the promises given to Israel
Eph 3:6  This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

4. Paul says that the gentiles are grafted into the Olive tree which is Israel
Rom 11:17  But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (Please read the whole of Chapter 11)

5. Paul says that there are no more divisions such as Jew & Gentile – we are all one in Christ
Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In short, this is what Paul is trying to say:
As sinful gentiles, we had no part in the covenants of promise, and were also excluded from the citizenship of Israel. But when Christ came and saved us through God’s Grace, the partitioning wall that kept us outside, was broken down. No man-made decree can keep us away from enjoying the covenants of promise or the Citizenship of Israel, as all who believe in God are now made into one people. We were once hostile to God, but now through the blood of Messiah, we have been drawn into His sanctuary, not to be separated ever again.

6. Conclusion
Even though Eph 2:14-16, is usually used as a proof text for “the Law of God being done away”, we have made every effort in the above study to understand this passage in its original historical and biblical context. This has led us to the conclusion that Paul was speaking of a separation of God’s People, rather than an abolishing of God’s Law. Paul used a physical wall of separation to show how Gentiles had no part with God, before Christ. He further showed the Ephesian congregation, that the man-made decrees of separation were no more in power, because of God’s grace, as he had drawn believers, both Jew & Gentile unto Him, to make both one in Him. There are no more gentile. No more Jew. No separate flocks or peoples. Only His people “Israel”. If we consider ourselves His people, we are “Israel” – let us not separate, what God has made one, through the sacrifice of Yeshua.

Essential Reading:
The Parable of the prodigal Son & the 2 Houses of Israel
Defining the terms Jew & Gentile
Defining the term Israel
The betrothal, Divorce & Re-Betrothal of God’s People through Messiah

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14 thoughts on “The middle wall of partition – Misunderstandings regarding Eph 2:14-16

  1. Kent

    Very interesting article; thank you. Much to contemplate.

    In your Section 5: Consider The Following, toy can add a point 6: Paul actually defines “the gospel add being the message that Gentiles, only with Israel, would also justified – [Gal 4:8 ]The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Good News beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you all the nations will be blessed.”

    Reply
    1. Kent

      Wow! Was I asleep when I wrote that response above? (Obviously written on my phone, using Swype and the predictive keyboard, and not proofing before hitting Send.) Here it is cleaned up:

      In your ‘Section 5: Consider The Following’, you can add a point 6: Paul actually defines “the gospel” as being the message that Gentiles, along with Israel, would also be justified – [Gal 3:8] – The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Good News beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you all the nations will be blessed.”

      Reply
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  4. Farouq Ibrahim Aimar

    This are the types of teachers that this generation needs. I did a study on this and is amazing to realized the truth when you are open to reality. I recently had this understanding that without understanding the Hebrew backgraound of the scripture one will just be teaching error in the church. God bless u sir.

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Hi Farouq, Thank you for the encouraging words. No matter who shows you the facts, only YHVH Himself can open a person’s eyes – To Him be the glory, for what He is doing!

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
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  7. Keith Meadows

    Hi there. I would like to reference this article in a paper that I am writing on Ephesians 2. I can’t seem to find the author or when this article was written. Would you please help me with this info?

    Reply
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  10. rameshdesilva Post author

    The following was contributed by Joanne: – (Thank you Joanne)
    I’d like to add that the Greek word dogma (G1378 in Strong’s) is used in the Septuagint (Greek OT) only in the book of Daniel.
    Daniel 2:13; 3:10,12,29; 4:6; 6:8,9,10,12,13,15,26

    Reply

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