In our Sunday school class this morning, while continuing the study of Ephesians in chapter 2, we came across one of the many misread and misunderstood passages concerning law and the power of the gospel. Read verse 16,
“…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is a law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, establishing peace.”
Under current popular interpretation this verse seems to substantiate the dispensationalist view that the Old Testament is of no importance to us today, the law has been set aside in favour of grace, that the law of God itself is the enmity from which we now are free. But oh how wrong this is. Not only does it directly contradict the teachings of Paul and Christ but it leads us to discounting and undervaluing one of the most essential gems of the gospel of Truth.
First we MUST place such verses as Ephesians 2:16 within the correct context. The entire discussion of this chapter is about the cultural/religious separation between Jews and Gentiles (anyone not a Jew), and how the Blood of Christ makes the two, one new kind of man in a new kind of family which we call the commonwealth of Christ. In verses 11 & 12 Paul contrasts a list of Gentile cultural/religious FACTS with those of the assumed claims of the Jewish faith and bloodline. Gentiles we’re strangers to the covenant, God delivered the covenant to the Jews hundreds of years ago. Gentiles were excluded from the Jewish commonwealth by the Jews who believed that the circumcision of their flesh set them apart. (I would like to make it perfectly clear that such exclusion was the fault of the Jews because GOD made provisions in the early covenant/law for strangers to become a part of the chosen nation. see the sundry laws if Exodus and Deuteronomy). Therefore the context in which verse 16 appears is one of cultural contrast between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
Second, we MUST clarify the type of law Paul is specifying as being an “enmity”. This is very very important because all of the New Testament teachers know the difference between the Pentateuch laws and covenants and the Saduccidical and Pharisitical laws. Hebrew has different words and articles which make the difference obvious. Greek uses a longer description, but also will use direct or indirect articles. Look again at verse 16,
“a law of commandments contained in ordinances.”
First you should notice that this is not THE law. Second, if he were talking about the laws of the Torah (Hebrew name for the pentateuch) he would say “The Law of God” or “The Law of God and the prophets.” This is none of those. This is “a” law, nomos, of commandments in, literally, dogma, translated here as ordinances. In the Greek language and culture of that day dogma means “man composed instructions for religious living.” A collection of laws and traditions composed by human beings within a religious culture. If this is placed in the context of trying to bring peace within two drastically different people groups, it becomes obvious that the laws bringing enmity between the Jews and Gentiles is NOT the Law of God, but the laws and traditions of the Pharisees! He is condemning the man made circumcision of a man’s flesh in favour of the circumcision of the HEART, which was preached by the prophets long before Christ by the way.
Any other interpretation which would minimize the holy Law of God and the commandments and teachings of the Old Testament is a thorough misreading of the gospel, and an injury to it’s power in our lives. You see, the Law of God, the Torah, has NEVER BEEN IN CONFLICT WITH SALVATION. There was never a need for it’s abolishment because Christ added to the true law the gift of his blood, which breaks down all barriers of culture, religion and gender in the new birth. This view agrees, rather than contradicts the message of Christ who came to fulfill the law (Matthew) and Paul who most profoundly teaches that the Law, the law of God, brings us to Christ by showing us our desperate need for him, (Romans).
Finally, it is with this understanding of the true purpose of the Law of God and the prophets is what makes it possible for salvation by faith to take place. “How can a man be saved except he know that he NEEDS to be saved?” Paris Reidhead. If we take away the law, we take away the need and will therefore erroneously lead the Lost to an empty salvation, based upon a love of which they have NO UNDERSTANDING. However, if the law be used as Christ used it, if the law be used as God used it for thousands of documented years in the Old Testament then those who give their lives to the Lord do so with a full and deep comprehension of their desperate need for salvation. They will understand the depravity of their sin and thereby what is the True Power of Grace that the enormity of their sin can be overcome.
This is the misread gospel. May we seek to know better how to examine.His Word and know the truth, for the truth sets us free.