Matthew 5:17 Ministries

A Brief Exegesis of Ephesians 2:1-7

Focus Passage:

Ephesians 2:1–7 (CJB)
1 You used to be dead because of your sins and acts of disobedience. 2 You walked in the ways of the ‘olam hazeh and obeyed the Ruler of the Powers of the Air, who is still at work among the disobedient. 3 Indeed, we all once lived this way—we followed the passions of our old nature and obeyed the wishes of our old nature and our own thoughts. In our natural condition we were headed for God’s wrath, just like everyone else.
4 But God is so rich in mercy and loves us with such intense love 5 that, even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah—it is by grace that you have been delivered. 6 That is, God raised us up with the Messiah Yeshua and seated us with him in heaven, 7 in order to exhibit in the ages to come how infinitely rich is his grace, how great is his kindness toward us who are united with the Messiah Yeshua.

Outline

The verse-by-verse outline is as follows:

  1.  Jews and Gentiles were once dead in their sins. This verse describes the condition or state of a person before the gracious act of G-d. Spiritually dead people have no power to bring life to themselves (v. 1).
  2. Unbelievers are characterized as disobedient because they do not believe in what G-d has provided (v.2). They follow the passions of the yetzer hara (the old nature, evil inclinations) and obey its desires. Those without new life in Messiah conform to the standards of the present world order.
  3. In the Brit’Chadasha (New Testament), the flesh opposes G-d (v.3).
  4. G-d is introduced as the subject of the gracious act of redemption (v.4).
  5. G-d, in his mercy and because of his love, made us alive together with Yeshua (v.5).
  6. The believer’s spiritual resurrection is in conjunction with Messiah’s physical resurrection (v.6). 
  7. This describes the entire work of salvation (v.7).

Introduction

The book of Ephesians is one of Sha’ul’s many letters, or epistles, to the Messianic assembly that was in its early stages. At the time of its composing, Sha’ul is in Rome, imprisoned for championing the truth of Messiah and growing the assembly. We see numerous occurrences where Sha’ul, a man of very little concern for the status quo, is imprisoned or fleeing capture by Jewish or Roman authorities, as recorded in Acts 19: 23-41. The date of Sha’ul’s letter to the Ephesians is believed to have been penned between 60-62 A.D., depending on differing research. While this is undoubtedly one of his epistles known as the “prison letters,” Ephesians was penned before Sha’ul’s first roman imprisonment, along with the letter to Colossae. [1]

The book of Ephesians is broken up into a few different sections: 1) Sha’ul begins with an exhortation and greeting followed by thanksgiving for their continued belief (1:1-23); 2). The realization of G-ds purposes for the assembly (2-3); 3). Applying the purposes of G-d set out (4-6), and 5) and his standard conclusion to the assembly and benediction. Similarly, Ephesians 2 is separable into sections. Verses 1-3 refer to the former life of the assembly and the result of the world outside the body. In turn, verses 4-7 explain the result of G-d’s mercy and grace given to those who call on his name.  

The following verses describe how the Gentiles’ problems are solved in Yeshua. Not only are they brought to G-d and the Messiah, but they also become fellow citizens with G-d’s people. Sha’ul reminds believers of this reality and that this union of Jewish and Gentile believers as equals in the body of the Messiah is accomplished through Yeshua.  In Ephesians, Sha’ul proclaims that Jewish believers in Yeshua are to consider Gentiles as “fellow citizens” with the believing remnant of Israel. Sha’ul seeks to build upon the believer’s current knowledge of G-d’s purpose for his assembly and, by grace and expand upon the high goals he has set for those in the new covenant in Yeshua. Through an exegesis of Ephesians 2:1-7, this paper will shed light on how the grace of G-d is paramount in a relationship with Yeshua.

Context

The letter to the Ephesians, considered by many to be one of the greatest works of Sha’ul, is one of the epistles written to a specific region where the early assembly had a significant presence. This is not to put down the other perspective assemblies in other regions, but Sha’ul knew the exact importance, strategically, the assembly in Ephesus held. It was not only growing but was also flourishing just as the city itself flourished.  Thus, he addresses this letter directly to the body in Ephesus.

Greek influences eventually took over in the region, evidenced by the goddess of Ephesus taking the name Artemis. Therefore, Paul, employing Adonai’s wisdom, ensured the body was viable and G-dly in a city of equal importance to Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria. In his ministry, Sha’ul makes multiple journeys to Ephesus to ensure that the word is growing in such a grounding city. On his first missionary journey, he diverted to Macedonia at the L-rd’s prompting, prohibiting him from traveling to the region. However, Sha’ul leaves behind Aquilla and Pricilla (Acts 18:18-21) on his second journey as more of an advance party to begin establishing the assembly.[2]

The Ephesian economy was tainted with pagan religion and Judaism and relied heavily upon trades, such as idol making, which related to worshipping pagan gods. For example, the temple of Artemis sustained an industry of silversmiths and idol makers. This was a necessary move, as total exertion by Sha’ul to teach in Ephesus would not have gone successfully.

During his second and third journeys, his effective ministry in Ephesus disrupted pagan commerce and incited a mob to eradicate him from the city. The assembly remained despite his hasty departure. Sha’ul centered his basis of teaching in this city during his third missionary journey. As a result, this allowed him to contend with problematic churches elsewhere, such as Corinth and Galatia, while allowing a more refined message of G-d’s purpose for their lives in Messiah and polishing the believers in Ephesus.

A Brief Exegesis

To begin with, and as Snodgrass states, this passage in Ephesians 2 is one of the best descriptions of salvation throughout the bible.[3] “It contains all pertinent evaluations of the life lived before Christ, the purpose of God’s grace, and the result. In the first seven verses, several comparisons are presented so that comparison between the life of Christians before Christ and after; transgressions and sins compared to living in Christ, death versus life, sinful nature of the flesh compared to relationship in Christ.”[4]

In using this literary feature, Sha’ul highlights the importance of our sinful nature before Messiah brought us into a renewed covenant. Here, he takes these seven verses, part of a more cohesive section through verse 10, and breaks them into two major sections. First, 2:1-3 primarily refers to and reminds us of our pre-Messiah condition. Recall that, at the time this passage was written, several decades had passed since Yeshua’s ascension, and the assembly was still in the early stages of growth.

2:1-2 refers explicitly to the Gentile believers’ former lives before they had a covenant with Messiah. Gentiles were excluded entirely from favor in G-d’s eyes, as Israel was his chosen people according to the promises given to Moshe. The phrase “dead in our transgressions” (2:1) describes the spiritual condition of the Gentiles exactly. They had a total separation from G-d because of their sinful lives, which they had no control over. The author uses the Greek word paraptōma for trespasses in 2:1, which translates to “a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness; a sin, misdeed.”[5] Being mindful that this is a past condition, in which their sins, unable to reconcile, provided separation from G-d.

Sha’ul continues to describe how vast this disconnection from G-d’s love was through imagery. The Gentiles’ lives consisted of everything worldly and nothing of Adonai. The reference to “this age” (2:2) refers to the present age at the time of authorship but also applies to this age. Much of the world had little affinity for followers of the Messiah, especially for Sha’ul, who, following the Messiah, disrupted substantial commerce in worshipping pagan entities, as seen in Acts 19:23.

Sha’ul, a former Rabbinical Jew turned Messianic Jew, relates everything mentioned in 2:1-2 to the assembly so that the message includes all believers. The word “them” refers explicitly to those “sons of disobedience” described in 2:2. In doing this, he establishes a clear before-and-after relationship that the early assembly could understand.

We must remember that the early assembly did not have religious universities or seminaries that devoted their efforts to understanding G-d’s will. The knowledge of Yeshua and the Tanakh was taught through the apostles because the New Testament, or the Bible as we know it today, did not exist at this time. Thus, he uses precise figures of speech, such as “flesh” in 2:3, to make a clear parallel for sin. In this case, flesh carries an obvious negative connotation. However, the word does not merely represent our physical being that is sinful. He is also referencing the realm of humanity.

Finally, Sha’ul leads to the following three verses with the phrase, “But G-d,” which gives the audience a clear transition point to something greater. He uses this literary device to afford the reader hope. The letter points out nothing but faults and judgment until this point. However, the stark characterization of life before Messiah alludes to G-d’s surprising love to come.

There needs to be no other reason for why he intervened in the lusts of humanity, doomed for destruction. He does this simply because he is Elohim and desires for us, his creation, to be in fellowship with him. Therefore, Sha’ul’s description of G-d, “being rich in mercy,” follows sequentially to qualify the opening statement. The depth of his mercy, or eleos in Greek, means “…of God towards men: in general providence; the mercy and clemency of God in providing and offering to men salvation by Christ.”[6]

The phrase “it is by grace you have been saved” appears at the end of 2:5 as a clarification for this is given. Grace, or charis in Greek, is G-d’s unmerited favor that benefits his people. According to the Mosaic covenant, this is the nation of Israel. However, the assembly in Ephesus is, as we are, part of the renewed covenant made possible through the Messiah. Thus, grace extended freely is available through Yeshua Ha’Mashiach. Sha’ul finishes the passage with vivid imagery that conveys the result of grace.

Without breaking a sentence, he mentions that G-d has raised us up with him (Yeshua) and seated us with him. What Paul is talking about here is inclusion with Messiah. In other words, as G-d did for Messiah, he will do and has done for us. “This sense of equivalency indicates the intimate relationship believers have with Messiah.”[7]

Application

Organized mainly by the local churches, Ephesians is regarded for its teachings on grace. At this point is where many stride into dangerous territory, considering what the passage means. To avoid such a trap, it is imperative to look at the passage and break it down into contextual and literary divisions. The theme for Ephesians 2:1-7 is that of redemption and then grace, broken up into 2:1-3 and 2:4-7.

Fortunately, in these seven verses, symbolism is not widely used. In turn, his intended meaning alleviates pressure upon the reader to discover hidden meaning. However, this does not mean the principles are easily found. Believers must recognize that before life in Messiah, G-d held no favor for us. The word dead means just that. Due to our transgressions, there was no hope for eternal life, or grace, in G-d. The lives of the wicked equate to living entirely outside of G-d’s grace.

Sha’ul’s main point to the Messianic assembly in Ephesus exceeds the limitation of a one-word definition. His heart for them was to love Adonai first and to exemplify agapē love. Yet, he wanted so much more for them. He wanted to refine them, broadening their understanding of who G-d is and his purposes for the assembly. Despite Ephesians being considered a more accessible book to read, the central theme surrounding G-d’s purpose for the assembly required clear understanding to avoid misapplication and misinterpretation. In addition, Ephesians 2, specifically 2:1-10 encompasses the iconic message of salvation.

To do this, Sha’ul utilized repetition and figures-of-speech, to name a few, painting a word picture so that the values taught, now considered core concepts of our faith, remained in their hearts. Contemporary believers should make it a point to study the book of Ephesians in-depth so that the many practical applications and teachings he describes stay in their hearts and minds. The absence of such leaves the modern believer poorly equipped to present the Gospel message and left to their assumptions on G-d’s purpose for the assembly.


[1] Morris, Leon. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1978.

[2] ibid

[3] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians: The Niv Application Commentary; from Biblical Text … to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

[4] ibid

[5] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon (Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), STRONGS G3900.

[6] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon (Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), STRONGS G1656.

[7] Andrew T. Lincoln et al., Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 42 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publ., 1990).