I received the following question:

Eph. 2:11-22 and Eph. 3:1-7 (written to the Gentiles) seems to show that Gentiles are united to the Jews in the Jewish covenants which are not the Old Covenant.

Eph. 2:12 says that the Gentiles were strangers from the covenants (plural) of promise.

I know of only five covenants with Israel.
1. Abramic Covenant
2. Mosaic Covenant
3. Land Covenant
4. Davidic Covenant
5. New Covenant

Paul singles out the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) as being the one (singlar) that was the dividing wall of partition, the hostility that divided the Jew from Gentile.

There is a progression in the covenants (except for the Mosaic).  The Abramic contains the promise that a land will be given to his desendants, Gen 12:7 is an example (this is expanded in the Land Covenant).  The Abramic contains the promise that his family will go on forever, Gen 17:2-7 (this is expanded in the Davidic Covenant, where David’s throne is promised to be forever).  The Abramic Covenant contains the promise of blessings for Abraham’s family and all those outside of his family, Gen 22:17-18.

What I am asking is if the New Covenant could be a progression of these blessings, on Israel and the world.

In Eph. 2:12 Paul says the Gentiles WERE excluded from citizenship with Israel.  In Eph. 3:19 Paul says the Gentiles are NOW fellow citizens with Israel (the saints of Israel and the family members of God). In Eph. 2:12 Paul seems to be saying that the Gentiles WERE excluded from the covenantS of promise (Abraham’s covenant was a covenant of promise – notice that ONLY the Mosaic was conditional).  But NOW this has changed because the dividing wall has been broken (ie the Mosaic Covenant requirments have been abolished).

There remains a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but they are unified in Christ.  There are still physical quantities in the remaining covenants, which would hold with Israel, but the blessing found in the New Covenant would be confered upon the Gentiles as Abramic Covenant promised. We can see that the blessing given to the Gentiles would include salvation, and the saving work of Christ. This would help fulfill the promise of the Abramic Covenant.  The physical promises found in Jer 31:31 are still for Israel, but the gift of Christ, which is Christ’s saving blood is represented in the cup, is for the whole world. The communion ceases to be an ordinance, rather becomes an unrequired means to remember Christ (Luke 22:19-20). This New Covenant has specific Jewish physical fulfillment waiting for the future.  But there is a hint that there is a Abramic Covenant connection, in that something for the Jews has a component that Gentiles can be blessed by.  The Abramic Covenant is not specific as to what the blessings are.  The New Testament reveals that the blessing is Jesus the Messiah.  The New Covenant is ‘in’ the spilled blood of Christ (Luke 22:20).  This same blood has a clear component which is for the Gentiles.

I would like to hear your views on Eph. 2:11-22 and Eph. 3:1-7.  I’m sure you have something to say.

What exactly is going on in Ephesians 2 is a difficult issue, and one upon which I have not yet written an article.  One thing that constantly trips people up in dealing with the subject of Gentiles in the word of God is the fact that the word translated as “Gentile,” ethnos, actually means “nation,” not “Gentile.”  I have discussed this at length in my message on “Gentiles and Nations.”  As such, this word could refer to all non-Jewish nations and peoples, as we use it today.  However, it could be used in other contexts which our word “Gentile” does not cover, and in which our word “Gentile” is entirely misleading.  It could be used for all nations on earth ISRAEL INCLUDED.  A good example is Matthew 12:18-21 (quoting Isaiah 42:1-4):

18.  “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
19.  He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
20.  A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
21.  And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

The word ethnos (in its plural form ethne) occurs twice in this passage.  Can it be that Christ will declare justice to the other nations excluding Israel?  Will all nations except Israel trust in Him?  Not at all!  The word “Gentiles” here means “nations,” and it includes the nation of Israel just as much as any other nation.

A third use of the word ethnos can be for Jews living outside the land of Israel.  These could be referred to as “the nations,” since that is where these Jews were living.  Of course, this use is the exact opposite of our word “Gentile,” and so to translate ethne by “Gentiles” when this is the meaning of the word changes the entire meaning of the passage.  And this is what I believe has happened in Ephesians 2.  The fact is that Ephesians 3 discusses the place of other nations in God’s plan today: that they are joint heirs, joint bodies, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6.)  Ephesians 2, however, is dealing with an entirely different issue: that of the Israelites who were living outside the land of Israel.

We seldom consider this today, as to us a Jew is a Jew, but at that time the Jews who lived outside the land of Israel had a huge disadvantage over their brethren who lived in the land.  The fact was that God’s law could only be properly kept inside the land of Israel.  In order to perform the proper sacrifices, to visit Jerusalem three times a year, to perform the proper rituals upon your children…all these things could only be done with Jerusalem readily accessible.  And those who lived far from the land could not afford to travel this long this often.  A journey from Israel to Rome could easily take six months or more.  How could one possibly do this three times a year?  And how could someone who was not very wealthy pack up and leave for Israel every time they found out they were pregnant in order to perform the proper rites for a child being born?  The fact is that it was utterly impossible for many of these Israelites outside the land to keep the law properly.  And an Israelite who didn’t keep the law was out of fellowship with his God.  Keeping the law was a necessity to the religious life of an Israelite.  Without the law and the rite of circumcision, he was cut off from God’s promises and alienated from God’s covenant with His people.

We might say, why didn’t they all just pack up and move back to Israel then?  Well, Israel’s economy was a mess.  The people in the land were dirt poor.  There were no jobs for you!  You couldn’t move back there and hope to make a fraction of what you were earning elsewhere.  To move back to Israel was to almost guarantee poverty, and even to risk starvation.  It would be a hard thing to ask of these people to do…a very hard thing.  Moreover, with as few jobs as there were to go around, the native Israelites would not be all that happy to see you move there, either, unless you brought money with you rather than competing for the jobs there were.  It is easy for us to point fingers and say they should have taken the risk and moved back to Israel, but then it is not our lives and families on the line!  Therefore, many of these Israelites felt trapped.  They couldn’t please God outside the land, and yet they couldn’t support their families inside the land.  They were caught in an impossible situation, between a rock and a hard place, and it was very frustrating for those who truly wanted to serve God from their hearts.

Now, however, the message of Christ had come to these frustrated, alienated Israelites.  Suddenly, they had a way back into God’s good graces without moving to Israel and risking their lives and livelihoods.  They could believe in their Messiah, and God would accept them apart from keeping the law!  This was a watershed for them, and must have come as blessed news indeed to those whose hearts had long yearned for the relationship with God it seemed they could never have.

Now whom was Paul talking to in Ephesians 2, non-Israelites “nations,” all nations including Israelites, or Israelites who were living among the nations?  I believe the last to be true.  There are several clues to this.

Firstly, it is said that these were “once Gentiles in the flesh.”  What does this mean, “once Gentiles?”  Do we cease being Gentiles once we come to Christ?  There is no indication in Scripture of any such thing!  And how could one be a “nation in the flesh?”  I am a Gentile, a “nation” in both flesh and spirit (mind.)  Yet these people were Jewish people who were born outside the land of Israel.  They were Ephesians by birth (assuming this book really was to Ephesus,) and yet in their minds and hearts they were Israelites.  Thus, though they were “nations” in the flesh, they were Israelites in their spirits.

Secondly, these people are those who once were “far off” as opposed to those who were “near.”  (Ephesians 2:13)  Who were these who were “far off?”  Were they Gentiles who were “far off” from God?  Yet Paul in Acts 17:27 told the Gentiles of Athens that “He is not far from each one of us.”  What can “far off” mean then if not far off from the land of Israel and all that is involved with it?  This same terminology is used by the Holy Spirit through Peter in Acts 2.  There, he tells the “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven,” (Acts 2:5) that, “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  This is the same terminology as in Ephesians 2, and clearly is meant to indicate the Jews who were “afar off.”  (Compare this to Acts 3:26 if you still need proof of this.)

Thirdly, it was never the problem of non-Israelites that they were cut off from the promises or strangers from the covenant.  They were never upset that they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.  These were problems that the Israelites outside the land and among the nations faced, the Israelites for whom keeping the law and being properly circumcised were impossible.  Before there had been, as it were, a wall dividing them from those who were in the land and in relationship with God.  This wall had kept them from relationship with God, kept them from inheritance in His promises, kept them from hope, kept them in frustration and despair for a long, long time.  But now that wall had been broken down in Christ…and praise God that it was broken down!  Now, these who had onetime been disenfranchised from their place in Israel could, in Christ, become fellow citizens with the saints in Israel.

That is my interpretation of that verse in Ephesians 2.  May I point out that even if you reject my interpretation and go with the common idea regarding this passage, however, there is no mention here of these far off ones becoming part of the covenants of promise again…only that they are “brought near.”  It is a stretch to say that they are actually brought into the covenant at this time.  Prophecy seems to clearly indicate that even the Israelites are gathered together once more before they are brought back into the bond of the covenant.

As for Ephesians 3:6, this declares that the Gentiles (nations) are “fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.”  In Greek, these three nouns all have the same prefix, which might be put into English as, “joint heirs, of a joint body, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.”  This proclaims that all nations, including Israel, are now “joint.”  They are all equal in God’s sight: equal heirs, equal members of a body, and equal partakes of His promise in Christ through the gospel.  This is a “mystery,” or a secret that had never before been revealed.  It had always in the past been revealed that the nations would all be blessed through Israel (Genesis 22:18,) but never had it been revealed that all nations would be blessed jointly with Israel rather than through them.  This is new information.  Yet this has nothing to do with covenants!  Never is it stated here that a covenant is in view.  The nations shared in blessings through Christ, but not through the covenant God made with Israel.  There is no evidence that they were “added to the contract” here or anywhere else in Scripture.

The law was the rules God gave Israel for the way they were to govern their nation.  It was never intended for the other nations to keep.  Note that I am not saying that others in other nations did not need to keep the moral laws of God.  All men have always been responsible to Him as their Creator.  Yet the laws of Israel codified many things, not just moral laws, but ceremonies, punishments, and so forth.  Both the United States’ law and Canada’s law include moral judgments.  Just because I am not under Canada’s law does not mean I have no moral responsibility to my country.  Yet I do not have to keep Canada’s speed limits, and so forth.  In the same way, the other nations were not responsible for keeping Israel’s law.  They still had moral responsibility before God, but not under the law God gave Israel.

Deuteronomy 4:7-8 says:

7. “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? 8. And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?

Clearly, the answer is, “No nation!”  Israel was the only one that had the law.  This was not a problem for the Gentiles.  Their countries had their own laws that they had to keep.  Yet for an Israelite living outside the land, this was a big problem.  He was still one of God’s people, yet he was not living in the land and not under the law.  Thus, he could not keep the law properly, and this cut him off, as you say, from keeping the Mosaic Covenant, and thus pleasing God.  The law was the dividing wall of partition for him, in a way it never was for those Gentiles of other nations.

The blessings of the New Covenant, as they affect Israel, will surely spread throughout the entire world as well.  This does not mean that the rest of the world is under the covenant together with Israel, however.  My contract to work at my job (hopefully) helps the entire company in at least some small way, though the rest of the company is not involved in my contract with the company.  God’s contract with Israel will likewise affect the whole world positively in a major way!

It is not Gentiles in Ephesians 2.  It is those who WERE Gentiles IN THE FLESH.  These were disenfranchised Jews living and having their citizenship in other parts of the Roman Empire.  You meant “2:19” in your second reference.  There, these disenfranchised Jews are allowed to become fellow citizens with the saints in Christ.  Yet even then they are not said to become citizens OF Israel, for that was still not strictly true, as they were still outside the land, and could never go back and be born in the land.  Yet they were fellow citizens now in God’s sight, and were brought back into the blessings they had been cut off from before.  They were fellow citizens now with the saints.  Saints here does not have to mean “Israel.”  These Jews outside the land were now fellow citizens with all who could be called saints.  This had nothing to do with an earthly nation, but had to do with citizenship in the government of God to come.

You are ignoring the fact that he also says that these people WERE Gentiles.  Do I become a Jew automatically when I am saved?  Why do I still eat unclean foods?  Do the foreskins of those uncircumcised suddenly, magically disappear?  Do my ancestors suddenly shift to being descended from Abraham, even though they were not before?  How could one used to be a Gentile, and then become a Jew?  These people were “in the flesh” nations, as they had been born outside the land of Israel and thus had a non-Israelite citizenship.  Yet they were Israelites in their minds and hearts because they were descendents of Abraham.  I both was a Gentile before I was saved, and still am one now.  That fact did not change when I believed.

Which “blessing found in the New Covenant” is conferred upon me now?  Are you guilty of adding to the New Covenant, just as our mutual acquaintance did?  The blessing of the New Covenant is that the law is written on their hearts!  Did you keep the Sabbath last week?  Was that idea written on your heart?  The result of the New Covenant is that everyone knows God, from the least to the greatest.  Has this blessing been transferred?  What other blessing is found in the New Covenant?  The blessings found in the New Covenant are the ones stated in the Bible, not random blessings we have received that we want to transfer to the New Covenant.

Of course salvation and the saving work of Christ are made available to the Gentile nations today.  But this was not part of the New Covenant, as stated.  Of course, the New Covenant never could have come to pass if it weren’t for the saving work of Christ, but this does not mean that that is a blessing of the covenant, when it is not stated to be such.

How is the law written on your heart a “physical promise”?  Are you saying that the words are physically inscribed on the organ that pumps your blood?  How is this a “physical promise”?

“The communion” never was an ordinance, so it could not “cease to be” one.

Just because the blood has a component for the Gentiles does not mean that the covenant does as well.  A couple you know may invite you along on a vacation they are taking.  This does not mean that they are also inviting you to come live in their house.  I can use the same pen to ratify a contract, and to write a love note to my wife.  This does not mean that I also love the person I am writing the contract for, or that I view my relationship with my wife as nothing more than a contract agreement.  Just as the same ink can be used for two different purposes, so can the same blood of Christ.

Keep studying the Word!