Ephesians 2.11-22 – The Destruction of the Temple, Theomachy, Necessity of the Gentile Mission

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This is a, um, you know… rough draft for a paper for NT2. 

What is commonly called Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is a short letter which is being written to a community that is being built across ancient lines of separation between the Jew and the non-Jew which many believed had been ordained of God. To couch it in the terms of racism and to seek to pin it to recent movements against modern racism is too neat of an analogy as within this epistle, there are physical and psychological barriers which are being torn down. The author of Ephesians is envisioning a community which is being built into a Temple upon the very real remains of the previous Temple and with a Temple ideology which stressed the cosmic struggle. I believe that there is in the text sufficient evidence in which the author envisions a particular cosmology as well as a Creation theology which functioned to decipher an understanding of the trajectory of the Jewish Christian mission to the Gentiles. Specifically, in 2.11-22, I contend that the author is rehearsing a theomachy myth in which Christ is the god defeating the other gods, or in the language of the Ephesian epistle, the powers, but this time, through death which was actually a victory and further, that the author is taking his cue from the actual destruction of the Temple. It is, then, from the body of Christ which springs forth the καινὸν ἄνθρωπον, mimicking other cultural myths. To that end, I will argue that the author is writing a dramatic piece in which the community is being built into a Temple to serve the victorious Christ who had, through the death of his body, defeated the powers with the Gentile mission being produced as a direct result.

Theomachy is a type of cosmological origin myth which focuses on divine warfare as the cause of order or creation. D.E. Aune submits that the “mythic narrative pattern of a primordial cosmic struggle between two divine beings and their allies for sovereignty was widespread throughout the ancient world… while the names of combatants, as well as their roles, change from culture to culture, many of the constituent folklore motifs of the combat myth or legend either remain constant or are subject to a limited range of variation.” Among the earliest myths related to the biblical text is Enuma Elish, in which the Babylonian goddess Tiamat is murdered by Marduk leaving her decaying body to become a part of creation. There is also the story of the Greek demigod Theseus who fought the mythical Minotaur only to later overturn archaic life and laws and institute a new Athens. This cosmic warfare motif is not absent from the Hebrew Bible itself and can be seen in Isaiah 51.9 as YHWH battles Rahab the great dragon and in Job 40.15-41.26 in which YHWH battles Behemoth and Leviathan. There are also images of this throughout the Old Testament in which YHWH battles the gods of other nations to protect Israel such as the most famous example found in Exodus 12-15 in which YWHW defeats the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12.12) and is declared the universal God (15.11). Further, there is this motif in the New Testament as well when we read John’s Apocalypse, especially chapter 12. We must then allow that the theomachy motif could be present in describing the new age if Jesus was seen as an apocalyptic prophet and his crucifixion as the beginning of the eschatological age.

Ephesians 2.11-22 speaks directly to the Jewish/Gentile divide which was happening in the early Church, but this only follows 2.1-10 in which a more universal view point, without mention of ethnocentrism, is established. The author builds his argument first by going into some detail about the grand cosmic transformation that has taken place in creation. The story of the Christ Jesus on the cross is first, for the epistle’s writer, very much into the theomachy motif. An understanding of the Cross as a theomachy myth means that we pay close attention to the language of vindication, restoration, and enthronement which is explicit in Ephesians. This section ends with a pointed expression of the Creation story in which the author notes that the great ‘we’, which by the end of the chapter is discovered to be the new humanity in the Temple of God, are indeed a creation, a “workmanship” which God has created beforehand (Ephesians 2.10) to walk in the good works (or open grace) which must pull the reader’s attention back to the Garden of Eden wherein Adam and Eve were said to walk with God.

After the description of what cosmic salvation is, the author speaks to both the Jews and the Gentiles in Ephesians 2.11-12 but seemingly only speaking to the Gentiles. In fact, I would consider that the author is speaking through the Gentiles to the Jews. For instance, in verse 11, the author says that Circumcision is an act by human hands. Throughout the Epistle, the themes of mystery take precedence over the flesh so that everything good and lasting is from God whereas those things which the Church wars against are that of the flesh. Here, it is no different. The circumcision that only exists in the flesh is not lasting, only serving until such a time as Christ has come in the flesh and dead. The connection between the circumcision which is the flesh and thus temporary and the flesh of Christ is temporary should not be missed, especially considering that both give way to something more lasting.

We may be easily lulled into thinking metaphorically about the great psychological barriers which existed between the Jews and the Gentiles. In Romans, Paul gives a detailed argument against the barrier which was ethnocentric no doubt, so we might easily take Ephesians 2.14-16 as something along those lines, however, we would miss the larger and historically tangible picture of the author of Ephesians. If this was only a psychological barrier or even just a religious barrier, then the cosmic view becomes muted at best and non-existent at worst, but if we turn to the Second Temple, we find that such a barrier physically existed. Josephus records it in Wars 5.193-194, but actual evidence was later found by Clermont-Ganneau. In 1871, the French archeologist found a stone which read,


This supports the scene in Acts 21.29 in which Paul was condemned for supposedly bringing Trophimus, an Ephesian, past the Court of the Gentiles. It is possible, then, that the barrier which the author of the Epistle was referring to was indeed the barrier which kept Jews and Gentiles separated.

Solomon’s Temple contained the ability to have the foreigner worship YWHW in the Temple (see 1 Kings 8.41-43). It wasn’t until later, during Herod’s rebuilding project, that barriers were put into place to keep Gentiles and women in their respective places, with promises of punishment, as we have seen, for those who disobey. This may be because of the political reality of the time. Herod was a non-Jew himself and all of Israel was overrun by the Romans. As a reactionary move, the Temple priests, with Herod’s support, would have had barriers built to keep out the undesirables. Or, alternatively, given the political reality, Herod could have built the barriers on his own accord so as to keep down the threatening tensions which would soon erupt, as history records. Regardless, we know three things. First, the exclusion of Gentiles from Temple worship stood against First Temple Tradition. Second, it was spoken against in the Gospels and now, it seems, in this Epistle as well. And finally, the exclusion of the Gentiles from Temple worship prevented a barrier in and of itself to the Christian community which by necessity included Gentiles and Jews worshipping together.

What is commonly called the Third Temple is found in Ezekiel 40-48 which follows three well known passages involving dry bones, Gog and Magog filled with apocalyptic imagery and promises of the end of Exile. It is a Temple of the Eschaton and was not seen as Herod’s great establishment. It is this passage in Ezekiel, 37-48, which I believe gives depth to the epistle’s author as he pictured the new community as the New Temple. To begin with, there is the connection made in 2.15 in which we read “the two into one new man.” This image fits well with the imagery in Ezekiel 37.15-23 in which the prophet joins two sticks, one representing Judah and another representing Israel, and they become one. Throughout the larger passage, there is a constant refrain of combining the two nations as well as in 38.16-39.7 of the Gentiles coming to know God through his sanctification and judgment of Israel. Further, there is in Ezekiel 43.1-12 a parallel of 1 Kings 8 but as well of Ephesians 2.18 and 2.22 in which the Spirit of God is said to occupy the Temple. Along with this connection, Ezekiel writes of the Prince who will have his own gate into the Temple.

Nothing in the Gospels records the move by Jesus to destroy the actual barrier, although we do know that Jesus preached and taught from the outer courts where women and Gentiles were welcomed (Jn 2:14, Mt 21:12, Lk 19:45, among other places). The wall which separated the courts, that separated the non-Jew and the Jew, was not actually torn down until the Temple itself was destroyed by the Roman Legions in 70CE. If this letter was written after the destruction of the Temple (I would argue for a date post 70, but before 110), then the image which the author is presenting is an apocalyptic one in which the readers could have associated the destruction of Herod’s Temple with the fulfillment of the New Covenant. Rather, the final destruction of Herod’s Temple finally erased the physical boundaries which kept the Gentile and Jewish Christian from worshiping one with another.

Creation language is inextricably tied to Temple theology, something we can see expressly in this passage. In Ephesians 2.14, the author uses the verb ποιέω while in 2.15 he is found using κτίζω. Both of these words are used in the Septuagint version of Genesis in regards to the Creation accounts in relation to ‘create’ and ‘made’. Space does not permit the interconnection of thought between Creation, New Creation, and the Eschatology of the New Testament writers, but I mention this here to maintain that within this passage is a diffident view towards a New Creation while the phrase itself is not mentioned, and if there is a New Creation, then there is a New Temple.

That the author of the epistle is looking towards the promised eschatological age is not surprising and should be noted when we turn to 2.17. Beale suggests that this verse is a conflation of several Isaianic promises of the Messianic Age to come. It is a quotation, although not given with the usual formula of καθὼς γέγραπται·, which is making use of Isaiah 52.7 and 57.19. Further, it could be part of a third which includes Micah 5.5, as the chart below demonstrates:

17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; (Eph 2:17 NASB)7 How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isa 52:7 NASB)19 Creating the 1apraise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Says the LORD, “and I will heal him.” (Isa 57:19 NAU)5 This One will be our peace. When the Assyrian invades our land, When he tramples on our citadels, Then we will raise against him Seven shepherds and eight leaders of men. (Mic 5:5 NASB)


In all of the above Old Testament passages, there is a battle taking place between God and the nations which surround Israel, although admittedly, the connection in Isaiah 52 is weaker than the other two. If the author is indeed conflating from all or a combination of the two, the author may be also trying to drag along through the use of a merism the complete narrative contexts of the passages which relate well to the theomachy mythos. Further, we must consider that Isaiah is replete with promises of the inclusion of the Gentiles, including an important one to the argument here which is about the destruction of a barrier which prevented the Gentiles.

In Isaiah 56.6-7, we read,

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Isa 56:6-7 NASB)

If this was in the backdrop of the author’s vision, he might have assumed that his readers would have understood it as well. Further, this idea of an eschatological peace or herald of peace, in 2.17 is completed with the full realization of the Spirit now working in the new community as seen in 2.18. Thus, because of the presence of the Spirit (which is activity working to build the community and is present in the community, 2.22), the victory of Christ has been assured. It is because of the death of Christ, then, that the New Temple can be built, which is the community. If the New Temple is built, it will be more glorious than the smoldering ruins which now occupy Jerusalem, assuming that Ephesians is post-70CE.

The closing section of this passage deals expressly with God’s building. An architectural formula is used as well. The Gentiles are said to be of God’s οἰκεῖοι which stands on a θεμελίῳ. At the beginning of all this is the ἀκρογωνιαίου which is said to be Christ. Further, we find the author repeating these concepts using οἰκοδομὴ, συναρμολογουμένη, ναὸν, συνοικοδομεῖσθε and κατοικητήριον in the short space of 2.21-22 to hammer home the constructive concept which he has been building as if he was using a master plan to show that the community was established to be the New Temple. These latter points of the holy temple founded with Christ as the first laid stone is found as well in Ephesians 1.22-23 in which the Church is said to be the body of Christ.  It is then, not merely Tradition that the author is suggesting the community stands upon, but the cosmic outcome of Christ defeating the powers (1.19-2.2) through his death which is the sacrificed body of Christ, combining two mythos which the author was sure to know of and have access to and which we know was extent during the supposed time of composition of the Epistle.

The crescendo of this passage hits its peak in 2.14-16 and is followed by an adagio in 2.17-18 wherein the consonance of the passage is harmonized in 2.19-22. The author is orchestrating an elegy for the dead Christ and is employing an energico to build to the oratio in that because of the death of Christ, a new Temple can be built upon the remains of the old and accomplish by divine might what had been hindered by human hands. A recapitulation is seen then, not just of the Old Covenant but of the entire Creation theology in which through the death of the divine, and in this instance this death does not mean defeat but victory, a new creation has been established. In this passage, the author uses the theomachy motif, which includes the destruction of the old Temple, to call for the establishment of the new Temple. Because of the destruction of this barrier, and as I argue the visible image here is that of the destruction of the Temple, it has become necessary that the Gentiles be included in the mission of the community as without both Jew and Gentile, there will be no new Temple. It is through the death of Christ that the Powers which enslave the world are defeated; it is on an out of the body of Christ that the Temple is built.


Aune, D.E, WBC 52B; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998, p 667

I do not mean to suggest that the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians was drawing from ANE mythology nor do I mean to suggest that the Christ Myth is pulled from Greco-Roman mythology, only that like the authors of 2nd Baruch 29.3-4 and 1st Enoch 60.7-8, the author was drawing subconsciously from the ANE mythology behind parts of the Old Testament and that like other New Testament writers, this writer made use of his cultural surroundings.

Timothy Gombis, in his works on Ephesians, including his book, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God, and an article published in 2004 (JSNT 26.4 (2004, 403-418), allows that this is only a metaphorical wall, as do most commentators, and yet calls for a strong position on the destruction of the Law as enmity.

When you go through these cloisters, to the second temple, there was a partition made of stone all around, 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 temple was called “the Sanctuary,”(Jwr 5:193-194)

See also, Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, Eph 2:11–19 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), for a further discussion on the likelihood that the barrier was a physical barrier in the Temple.

It is worth noting that Joel Marcus has effectively argued that Mark 11.17 is speaking to the situation in which Gentiles were being excluded from the Temple worship which Jesus is able to speak against as something that angered his Father. (See: Marcus, Joel. “The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature 111 (1992): 441-462.)

The Prince is not given the same role as Solomon and could very well be the Chief Priest of a new, Zadokite, line in which the Chief Priest serves as both the cultic and political figure.

I would argue for a more middle date, given the psychological aspects of the destruction of the Temple is not as evident as it would be had the Temple just been destroyed. Further, Ignatius of Antioch, writing about 110 to the church at Ephesus, makes use of this Epistle.

See Markus Barth, Ephesians: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on Chapters 1–3 (New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1974), 50-51

G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 817-18 (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).

Jackson, T. Ryan. New Creation in Paul’s Letters. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010 ; Jackson makes the point that Paul’s use of ‘new creation’ is a merism which relates not just to the phrase but to the whole Isaianic thought.

Isaiah 44.3, 59.21; Ezekiel 39.29; and Joel 2.28-32 are passages which relate the eschatological belief that the Spirit would be present in the Eschatological Age.

cf Eph 4.12

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