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HOSTILITY, DIVIDING WALL OF[Gk tó mesótoichon toú phragmoú] (Eph. 2:14); AV, ASV, MIDDLE WALL OF PARTITION; NEB DIVIDING WALL BETWEEN THEM.
The Greek expression tó mesótoichon toú phragmoú joins two words for wall. Gk. mesótoichon, which occurs only here in the NT, refers to a partition within a house. The other word for wall, Gk. phragmós, refers to a fence for protection and is so used in Mk. 12:1; Lk. 14:23. If the phrase is not merely a pleonasm, the joining of these words achieves the sense of a wall erected for both separation and protection.
Many have identified this wall with the stone wall of the Jerusalem temple, 1.5 m (5 ft) high, beyond which no Gentile was permitted to go. Inscribed on the pillars of the wall were warnings to Gentiles that trespassing was a capital offense. The destruction of this wall would be a particularly vivid metaphor for the new unity and equality between Jew and Gentile in the Christian Church.
Others have suggested that Gk. tó mesótoichon toú phragmoú be identified as the thick curtains that separated the holiest section of the temple from the rest. Only the high priest entered this holiest section and only on the Day of Atonement, when he performed the expiation for Israel’s sins (cf. Mk. 15:38 par; He. 10:19f.).
H. Schlier (pp. 125–133) suggested that the wall is a cosmic boundary that is broken through. He presupposed a mythological background for the passage, specifically Jewish Gnosticism, which gave to the principalities and powers a mediating position between God and mankind and made the law their instrument.
M. Barth took the wall to refer to “the fence around the law” created by the rabbis. This “fence,” with its scribal interpretation, applications, and additions, protected God’s law from being broken and effectively separated Jew from Gentile. Barth’s interpretation takes “has broken down the dividing wall” as a synonymous parallel with “abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances.” Barth also appealed to Gal. 2:18f, where Paul spoke of just such laws and statutes as having been torn down.
Each of these suggestions is plausible, but the “holy temple” image, which culminates the theological argument of Eph. 2:11–21, seems to favor the first suggestion. There is sustained contrast between the temple of Jerusalem and the new “holy temple” as well as between the restrictions on “access” (v 18, Gk. prosagōgḗ; the verb proságō has cultic associations) in the old temple and the unrestricted “access in one Spirit” in the new temple. Just as the temple and cultic access are “spiritualized” (see Wenschkewitz), so are the holiness of the temple, the distinction between clean and unclean, and “the law of commandments and ordinances.” Jesus Christ has created a “holiness” unrelated to race or nation. Thus Gentiles are no longer just “strangers and sojourners” vis-à-vis the temple but “built into it [the “holy temple in the Lord”] for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (v 22). In view of this sustained contrast, the “dividing wall of hostility” seems to refer to the wall of the old temple separating Jews and Gentiles and restricting gentile access.
Bibliography.—M. Barth, Ephesians 1–3 (AB, 1974), pp. 283–87; H. Schlier, Der Brief an die Epheser (KEK, 1958), pp. 125–133; H. Wenschkewitz, Die Spiritualisierung der Kultusbegriffe, Temple, Priester und Opfer im NT (1932).”
Verhey, A. D. (1979–1988). Hostility, Dividing Wall of. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 2, p. 768). Wm. B. Eerdmans.
“MIDDLE WALL Term is found in Eph. 2:14 and variously translated: “middle wall of partition” (KJV); “dividing wall of hostility” (HCSB, NRSV, NIV); “barrier of the dividing wall” (NASB); “barrier of enmity which separated them” (REB). Investigation of the term has yielded several possible interpretations. 1. The wall that separated the inner and outer courts of the temple and prevented Jews and Gentiles from worshiping together. Inscriptions in Greek and Latin warned that Gentiles who disregarded the barrier would suffer the pain of death. 2. The curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. This curtain was rent at the death of Jesus (Mark 15:38) and is representative of the separation of all humanity from God. 3. The “fence” consisting of detailed commandments and oral interpretations erected around the law by its interpreters to ensure its faithful observation. In reality, the fenced-in law generated hostility between Jews and Gentiles and further divided them, as well as furthering the enmity between God and humanity. Destruction of the Law’s mediators opens a new and living way to God through Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:18; 3:12; Heb. 10:20). 4. The cosmic barrier that separates God and persons, persons themselves, and other powers in the universe (Eph. 1:20–21)—angels, dominions, principalities. 5. Echoing Isa. 59:2, the term refers to the separation of humanity from God as a result of sin.
No one interpretation is sufficient by itself. The writer of Ephesians stressed that every conceivable barrier that exists between persons and between God and humanity has been destroyed by God’s definitive work in Jesus Christ. See Ephesians; Gentiles; Law; Salvation; Sin; Temple.
William J. Ireland, Jr”
Ireland, W. J., Jr. (2003). Middle Wall. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1121). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“MIDDLE WALL OF PARTITION. Acts 21:28; Eph. 2:14”
Swanson, J., & Nave, O. (1994). New Nave’s Topical Bible. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
“Hath broken down (λύσας). Lit., loosened or dissolved. Rev., giving the force of the aorist tense, brake down. The participle has an explanatory force, in that He brake down.
The middle-wall of partition (τὸ μεσότοιχον τοῦ φραγμοῦ). Lit., the middle wall of the fence or hedge. The wall which pertained to the fence; the fact of separation being emphasized in wall, and the instrument of separation in fence. The hedge was the whole Mosaic economy which separated Jew from Gentile. Some suppose a reference to the stone screen which bounded the court of the Gentiles in the temple.
15. Having abolished in His flesh the enmity (τὴν ἔχθραν ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ καταργήσας). The enmity immediately follows the middle wall of partition, and should be rendered in apposition with and as defining it, and as dependent on brake down, not on abolished: the middle wall which was the enmity. Iris used abstractly, as peace in ver. 14. The enmity was the result and working of the law regarded as a separative system; as it separated Jew from Gentile, and both from God. See Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 5:20; 7:7–11. For abolished, see on cumbereth, Luke 13:7, and make without effect, Rom. 3:3.
The law of commandments contained in ordinances (τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν ἐν δόγμασιν). The law, etc., depends in construction on having abolished, and is not in apposition with the enmity, as A. V. The middle wall of partition, the enmity, was dissolved by the abolition of the law of commandments. Construe in His flesh with having abolished. Law is general, and its contents are defined by commandments, special injunctions, which injunctions in turn were formulated in definite decrees. Render the entire passage: brake down the middle-wall of partition, even the enmity, by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances.”
Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, pp. 378–379). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
“The apostle describes the position of the Gentiles as partakers in relationship to the middle wall of partition in Ephesians 2:11–16: Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye that were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.
Paul points out that God made certain covenantal promises to the Jewish people. In verse 12, the word covenants is plural because he is dealing with the four unconditional, eternal covenants God has made with the Jewish people: the Abrahamic Covenant, the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant. God’s blessings are mediated by these four covenants. He also points out that God made a fifth covenant with the Jewish people, but unlike the other four, the Mosaic Covenant, which contains the Mosaic Law, was conditional and temporary. Among the purposes of the Mosaic Law, the purpose he deals with here was to serve as the middle wall of partition to keep Gentiles as Gentiles away from enjoying the spiritual blessings of the Jewish covenants. As long as the Mosaic Law was in force, if a Gentile wished to partake of the covenantal promises and blessings, he would have to undergo conversion to Mosaic Judaism, be circumcised, take upon himself the obligations of the Law, and live like a Jew had to live under the Law. So Gentiles as proselytes to Mosaic Judaism could benefit, but not Gentiles as Gentiles. Among the accomplishments of the death of the Messiah is that this middle wall of partition … the law of commandments was broken down. As Paul states it elsewhere, “the Law was rendered inoperative.”
The result of this is spelled out in Ephesians 3:5–6: which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it has now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
The key word for the position of the Gentiles is the word partaker. What Paul does not say is that Gentiles have become “takers over” of the promise, as replacement theology teaches, but he does say is that they have become partakers of the promise. The word promise is singular since he is emphasizing the key spiritual promise of salvation by grace through faith in the person of the Messiah. The position of the Gentiles, then, is that of partaking of the spiritual blessings of the Jewish covenants. They do not partake of the physical blessings, but they do partake of the spiritual blessings.”
Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (1983). The Messianic Bible Study Collection (Vol. 27, pp. 8–9). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.
Peace is the opposite of anxiety in the heart and of either discord or enmity between individuals and nations. Four aspects of peace should be considered:
1. WITH GOD (ROM. 5:1). That means the believer is now and forever on a peace footing in his relation to God, because he was justified. This aspect of peace is never an experience. It is wholly positional.
2. OF GOD (PHIL. 4:7; COL. 3:15; CF. HEB. 13:20). Referring not to position but to an experience, Christ said: “My peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). Here is inwrought peace, part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
3. IN THE COMING KINGDOM (ISA. 9:6–7). The two great kingdom words for Israel are righteousness and peace. Note in proof of this statement the whole Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–7:27).
4. IN ONE BODY. The agelong enmity between Jew and Gentile likened to a middle wall of partition is broken down when Jews and Gentiles are joined now to each other in one Body, the Church (Eph. 2:14–18; Col. 1:20).
5. IN GENERAL. Observe the following points: (a) There can be no peace in this Christ-rejecting world (Isa. 57:20–21). (b) 1 Thessalonians 5:3 indicates that the nations will have reached a time of temporary truce or peace before Christ comes. (c) No strife is to characterize the coming kingdom reign of the Prince of Peace, for peacefulness shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9). At that time a blessing is to be pronounced upon all who are peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).”
Chafer, L. S. (1993). In Systematic theology (Vol. 7, p. 249). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
“In Ephesians 2:14, Paul says that Christ broke down the “dividing wall of hostility” (ESV). Paul may be drawing on imagery from the Jerusalem temple to show that Gentiles now enjoy the same access to God as Jews (see Key Word Study: Mesotoichon, “Dividing Wall”). In the first century, Gentiles were only allowed to enter the outer parts of the Jerusalem temple. A five-foot-high wall separated the outer court known as the court of the Gentiles from the inner sanctuary. Tablets hanging on pillars warned in both Greek and Latin that no Gentile could enter in the inner courts (see Josephus, Jewish Wars 6.2.4). One such inscription declares, “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” (see Arnold 2002, 317).
These laws directly influenced Paul. The Jews who arrested Paul in Jerusalem falsely accused him of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (Acts 21:27–29). While the physical wall remained in place in the temple until it was destroyed in AD 70, Christ’s sacrifice removed all barriers between Gentiles and God (see Eph 2:11–13).”
Brown, D. R., Custis, M., & Whitehead, M. M. (2013). Lexham Bible Guide: Ephesians. (D. Mangum, Ed.) (Eph 2:20). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“2:14 The middle wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles was vividly portrayed by an actual partition in the temple area, with a sign warning that any Gentile going beyond the Court of the Gentiles would receive swift and sudden death.
2:15 having abolished . . . the law: Paul was not saying that God had rejected the righteous standards of the law. Rather, in Christ the righteous standards that people could never reach have been accomplished. He is our righteousness; in Him, believers fulfill the law (see Matt. 5:17, 20; Rom. 3:21, 22, 31). The Christian church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, is described as one new man. In the earliest days of Christianity, the church was largely made up of Jews. But under the direction of God’s Spirit, the believers witnessed to Gentiles (Acts 10), who then outnumbered the Jewish members.”
Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Eph 2:14–15). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“Believers are spiritually equal in Christ, and again, the real mystery, given God’s unconditional election of Israel as His chosen nation (Gen. 12:1–3; cf. Rom. 11:29), is how Gentiles could be brought into the redemptive community on the same ground (Col. 1:27). According to Judaism, Gentiles could convert as proselytes, but they were still second-class citizens in the kingdom; for instance, the temple had a “court of the Gentiles” and a middle wall of partition they couldn’t pass. Now, “this mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6; cf. 2:12–16).”
Geisler, N. L. (2005). Systematic theology, volume four: church, last things (p. 55). Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
“Building arts.—The first part of the Apostolic Age witnessed great activity in building within Palestine, notably the completion of Herod’s ambitious projects. The Temple was finished, only to be demolished again by the Romans. The conquerors took up the like work for themselves, but along lines of there own. References to building in the Apostolic writings are, however, few. The work of the mason underlies such passages as Ro 15:20, 1 Co 3:9ff., 2 Co 5:1ff., 1 P 2:5ff., He 3:3f. Specific parts of buildings are named in the ‘middle wall of partition’ (Eph 2:14, perhaps reminiscent of the Temple), the ‘foundation’ and ‘chief corner-stone’ (Eph 2:20). The builder’s measuring-rod (reed) is mentioned in Rev 11:1. Carpentry appears only metaphorically in 1 Co 3:12, and in the figure of speech employed in Col 2:14.”
Cruickshank, W. (1916–1918). Arts. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (2 Vols.) (Vol. 1, p. 94). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
“Jews have God’s promise and if we Christians have it, too, then it is only as those chosen with them, as guests in their house, that we are new wood grafted onto their tree.
I think myself that the shocking reply to the Syrophonician woman (it came alright in the end) is to remind all us Gentile Christians—who forget it easily enough and even flirt with anti-Semitism—that the Hebrews are spiritually senior to us, that God did entrust the descendants of Abraham with the first revelation of Himself.
By the death of Christ, “the middle wall of partition … the law of the commandments contained in the ordinances”—which was at the same time a token of the enmity between God and sinners, and an occasion of distance and alienation between Jews and Gentiles—was abolished; and believing Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God and united into one body.
Water, M. (2000). The new encyclopedia of Christian quotations (p. 535). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.
“Emphasizing the equal incorporation within the Christian community of Jews and Gentiles—two groups which had previously been estranged from each other—Ephesians says that Christ “has made both one and has broken down the middle wall of partition”—the breaking down of this wall being otherwise described as his removal of the hostility between the two groups, his annulling of “the law consisting of commandments, ordinances and all” (Ephesians 2:14 f.).36
It is a commonplace with British commentators on Ephesians to suppose that this “middle wall of partition” may have been suggested by the barrier which separated the inner courts of the Jerusalem temple from the court of the Gentiles, a barrier which Gentiles were forbidden to penetrate on pain of death.37 German commentators, on the other hand, are more inclined to think of the barrier which, in some gnostic texts, separates the world beneath from the upper world of light.38
Without examining the question whether this concept in its gnostic form was current as early as the first century A.D.,39 we may ask which of the two barriers provides the more apt analogy to the thought of Ephesians 2:14. The barrier in the temple was a vertical one; the “iron curtain” of the gnostic texts was horizontal. The division in view in Ephesians 2:14 is not a division between the upper and lower world; it is a division between two groups of people resident in this world, and is therefore more aptly represented by a vertical barrier than by a horizontal one—the more so as the two groups which were kept apart by this “middle wall of partition” are exactly the same two groups as were kept apart by the barrier in the Jerusalem temple.
It may indeed be asked, as it is by Martin Dibelius,40 if the readers of Ephesians 2:14 would have understood such an allusion. Perhaps not; but would they have understood a gnostic allusion any better? There is in any case no emphasis on a material barrier. But whatever the readers may or may not have understood, the writer may well have had at the back of his mind that temple barrier which played an important part in the chain of events through which Paul became (to quote Ephesians 3:1) “the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles”. For, according to Acts 21:27 ff., Paul’s arrest came about because he was charged with aiding and abetting illegal entry by a Gentile through the temple barrier. The charge could not be sustained when it came to court, as no witnesses were forthcoming, but Paul was not released; he remained in custody, first in Caesarea and then in Rome. That literal “middle wall of partition”, the outward and visible sign of the ancient cleavage between Jew and Gentile, could have come very readily to mind in this situation.
This is further suggested by the emphasis laid a few lines later on the common access to the Father which Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ now enjoy “in one Spirit”.41 The barrier which formerly kept Gentiles at a distance from the God of Israel has been abrogated, and even Jewish believers have now more unimpeded access to God in this “holy sanctuary” of living men and woman than was available to them in the earthly temple where, in accordance with their status, they had to maintain a respectful distance. For the barrier which excluded Gentiles from the inner courts was not the only barrier there. There was a further succession of barriers in the inner precincts, barring various groups of Israelites from nearer access. Beyond the court of the women Jewish women might not proceed; beyond the court of Israel Jewish laymen might not proceed. Into the court of the priests and the outer compartment of the holy house itself priests and Levites might enter in the performance of their prescribed duties, but the heavy veil which curtained off the inner compartment barred all access to the throne-room of God’s invisible presence except to the high priest when he entered it annually on the Day of Atonement with sacrificial blood. His direct access then was an occasion for soul-affliction; in the spiritual sanctuary of Ephesians 2:21 the direct access to God which all believers enjoy is an occasion for gladness and praise. This direct access is a major theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians and the Epistle to the Hebrews alike; but whereas the barrier which Hebrews uses as an illustration is the veil which hung before the holy of holies, that which is more probably envisaged in Ephesians is the one which forced Gentiles to keep their distance.
36 With this annulment of the law cf. the statement in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law” (see pp. 190 ff.).
37 E.g. J. A. Robinson, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (London, 1904), pp. 59 f. (On the barrier see Josephus, BJ v. 194.)
38 E.g. H. Schlier, Der Brief an die Epheser, pp. 126 ff., following his treatment of “die himmlische Mauer” in Christus und die Kirche im Epheserbrief, pp. 18 ff.
39 This question is especially provoked when attempts are made to reconstruct the concept of the heavenly wall (or other gnostic concepts) on the basis of Mandaean texts which are several centuries later than the New Testament age.
40 M. Dibelius, An die Kolosser, An die Epheser, An Philemon (Tübingen, 3 1953), p. 69; cf. H. Schlier, Christus und die Kirche im Epheserbrief, p. 18. E. J. Goodspeed sees the temple barrier here, but considers that its figurative use in this context was suggested by its actual destruction in A.D. 70 (The Meaning of Ephesians, p. 37).
41 Ephesians 2:18, 21.”
Bruce, F. F. (1977). Paul: apostle of the free spirit (pp. 434–436). Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster