Ephesians 2:11-12 Commentary

 

 

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Ephesians 2:11-12 Commentary
Updated 1/1/14

Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: Dio mnemoneuete (2PPAM) hoti pote humeis ta ethne en sarki, oi legomenoi (PPPMPN) akrobustia hupo tes legomenes (PPPFSG) peritomes en sarki cheiropoietou,
Amplified: Therefore, remember that at one time you were Gentiles (heathens) in the flesh, called Uncircumcision by those who called themselves Circumcision, [itself a mere mark] in the flesh made by human hands.  (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NET: Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands –
(NET Bible)
NLT
:  Don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders by birth. You were called "the uncircumcised ones" by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. (
NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips:  Do not lose sight of the fact that you were born "Gentiles", known by those whose bodies were circumcised as "the uncircumcised". (
Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest:  On this account be remembering that at one time, you, the Gentiles in the flesh, the ones habitually called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh made by hand, (
Eerdmans

Young's Literal: Wherefore, remember, that ye were once the nations in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands

REFERENCES
Updated 12/30/13

Henry Alford
Don Anderson
Paul Apple
Albert Barnes
Wayne Barber
Wayne Barber
William Barclay
Brian Bell
Johann Bengel
Joseph Beet
Joseph Benson
Biblical Illustrator
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Cambridge Greek
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Alan Carr
Alan Carr
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Alan Carr
Rich Cathers
Vincent Cheung
Adam Clarke
George Clarke
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Steven Cole
Thomas Constable
Ron Daniel
J N Darby
Bob Deffinbaugh
John Dummelow
J. Ligon Duncan
J. Ligon Duncan
John Eadie
Easy English
Charles Ellicott
Theodore Epp
Explore the Bible
Expositor's Bible
Expositor's Greek
A C Gaebelein
John Gill
L M Grant
James Gray
Oliver Greene
Joe Guglielmo
David Guzik
Robert Hawker
Matthew Henry
Charles Hodge
F B Hole
David Holwick
H A Ironside
Jamieson, F, B
S Lewis Johnson
S Lewis Johnson
William Kelly
Paul Kretzmann
Henry Law
John MacArthur
Henry Mahan
J Vernon McGee
F B Meyer
Heinrich Meyer
G Campbell Morgan
H C G Moule
Robert Neighbour
Phil Newton
Phil Newton
Phil Newton

James Nisbet
Net Bible Notes
Our Daily Bread
Joseph Parker
J C Philpot
Peter Pett
John Piper
John Piper
Matthew Poole
Preacher's Homiletical
Pulpit Commentary
Pulpit Commentary
Pulpit Commentary
Pulpit Commentary
A T Robertson
Phillip Schaff
Sermon Bible
Charles Simeon
Chuck Smith
Hamilton Smith

C H Spurgeon
C H Spurgeon
Ray Stedman
Ray Stedman
Sam Storms
Lehman Strauss
Joseph Sutcliffe
Louis Talbot
Geoff Thomas
Today in the Word
John Trapp
Bob Utley
Marvin Vincent
Daniel Whedon
Precept Ministries

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Ephesians Lesson 1 - 37 pages PDF

THEREFORE REMEMBER THAT FORMERLY YOU, THE GENTILES IN THE FLESH: Dio mnemoneuete (2PPAM) hoti pote humeis ta ethne en sarki: (Eph 5:8; Deuteronomy 5:15; 8:2; 9:7; 15:15; 16:12; Isaiah 51:1,2; Ezekiel 16:61-63; 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31; 1Corinthians 6:11; 12:2; Galatians 4:8,9) (Romans 2:29; Galatians 2:15; 6:12; Colossians 1:21; 2:13)

Therefore (for this reason) (1352) (dio) is a term of conclusion which can also be translated "on this account" or "consequently". This charge to remember refers the reader not just to the preceding verses but all the way back to Ephesians 2:1 (And you were dead in your trespasses and sins), because this entire section is a single sentence in the original Greek.

W G Blaikie comments on "therefore" noting that...

The practical tenor of the apostle’s teaching is indicated by his “wherefores.” He is always gathering up his views into some lesson. They are to “remember” the change between the past and the present—what they were by nature, and what they had become by grace. This is most useful to all, even though the contrast between the two be not so vivid as in the case of Paul and the Ephesians. (The Pulpit Commentary: Ephesians)

Expositors agrees noting that...

As dio (therefore) indicates, what follows is a personal, ethical application of what has been said; and the application is drawn, not from the immediate preceding sentence, but from the contents of the prior paragraph as a whole. The great things done for them by God’s grace should incline them to think of the past from which they have been delivered. The remembrance of that past will make them more thankful for their present privilege, and more careful to walk in the good works which God has in view for them. (The Expositor's Greek Testament)

Pulpit Commentary - The practical tenor of the apostle’s teaching is indicated by his “therefores.” He is always gathering up his views into some lesson. They are to “remember” the change between the past and the present—what they were by nature, and what they had become by grace. This is most useful to all, even though the contrast between the two be not so vivid as in the case of Paul and the Ephesians. The contrast is indicated in various particulars, both of outward condition and of inward privilege and character. First, the old condition. They were “Gentiles in respect of the flesh”—not bearing on their bodies the mark of the Israel of God, therefore not marked out for blessing, not apparently near it. (Ephesians 2 Exposition)

John Eadie -  lest any feeling of self-satisfaction should spring up within them, they were not to forget their previous state and character. This exercise of memory would deepen their humility, elevate their ideas of Divine grace, and incite them to ardent and continued thankfulness. The apostle honestly refers them to their previous Gentilism. (John Eadie Commentary)

S Lewis Johnson writes that...

it is never bad for us to take a look back at what we were and what we have become by virtue of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Never bad to shed a tear or two for the salvation that has come to us. John Newton, who is known for many things, was known also for the fact that he had on his desk a text from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 15 verse 15, it stayed on his desk after he had become a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“Remember that you were a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee. Therefore…”

And then he goes on to speak about the things that have to do with response to the revelation to God. So it is always good to remember the place from which we have come.

Therefore: that’s a good thing to apply, too. If you know what it is to be lost, and then to be saved, “Therefore” remember what you were. It always has a most salutary effect on our Christian life. (Made Nigh by Blood of Christ )

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits
Psalm 103:2-
note

THE BLESSED DISCIPLINE
OF REMEMBERING

Remember (3421) (mnemoneuo from mnaomai = remember, call to mind, recall information) means to use the faculty of memory given by God and keep in one’s mind people, things, and circumstances because memory is basis of learning and of motivation for future action.

The remembering Paul is calling for is not simply a recalling of certain facts or situations nor simply a mental exercise but involved an meditation on what had happened and an acting upon it as a result. And "remember" (pun intended) that all God's commands include the divine provision of His enabling power supplied by His indwelling Spirit, Who provides not only the power to obey but the desire to obey - see Phil 2:13-note).

Mnemoneuo - 21x in 21v - Mt 16:9; Mark 8:18; Luke 17:32; Jn 15:20; 16:4, 21; Acts 20:31, 35; Gal 2:10; Eph 2:11; Col 4:18; 1Th 1:3; 2:9; 2Th 2:5; 2Ti 2:8; Heb 11:15, 22; 13:7; Rev 2:5; 3:3; 18:5. NAS =  bearing in mind(1), made mention(1), recall(1), remember(14), remembered(1), remembering(1), remembers(1), thinking(1).

Paul uses the present imperative, thus issuing a command to continually remember the dismal spiritual condition you once were in as pagan Gentiles (Eph 2:1-3)! Second-generation Gentile believers, such as is likely the case with many who were reading Paul's epistle might be beginning to forget former abysmal dead spiritual condition outside of Christ. Paul is desirous for these Ephesians to truly apprehend what a tremendous thing it was that they should ever have become Christians, and not just that but that they should be members of the body of Christ Who is their Head! We must keep remembering these great miraculous truths, lest we slip into apathy and leave our first love as Ephesus did in only one generation removed from the readers. John records Christ's woeful words to the church at Ephesus (only some 30+ years later - beware of backsliding beloved!), the Lord Jesus Christ declaring...

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember (present imperative) therefore from where you have fallen, and repent  (aorist imperative) and do (aorist imperative) the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place-- unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-note, Rev 2:5- note)

Comment: The Ephesian church had lost its focus. They had taken their eyes off of Jesus and were now focusing on their works done for His name. This is the essence of idolatry. An important function of festivals, signs, and altars is to help men remember the earlier works of God and the dedications they made - Ge 9:15-16; Nu 15:39-40; Dt 16:13; Jos. 22:10, 27-28.

When was the last time you remembered your salvation experience or better yet remember your former state of utter depravity and desperation outside of Christ? Perhaps now is a good time to pause and recall your "so great a salvation" (Heb 2:3-note). It is excellent "preventative medicine" for your soul.  Nothing inspires gratitude more in a saved sinner than a look back to the pit from which he or she has been extracted by Divine, Amazing, Abounding Grace! Glory!!!

Why remember? Remembering should stimulate in believers an attitude of gratitude as well as an attitude of humility as we recall the striking contrast of the before/after pictures presented in the opening verses in Ephesians 2 (see notes Ephesians 2:1; 2:2; 2:3) and later in

for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk (present imperative = Command to make this your lifestyle!) as children of light (Eph 5:8-note) (Comment: Here we note that recall motivates right conduct. Remember that God's commands such as to walk in the light always include His enablements. Without the enabling power of His indwelling Spirit, it would be impossible to accomplish this supernatural endeavor, for our old nature naturally is repelled by the light and runs from it. Praise God for His abounding grace to enable His children to walk in the light as He Himself is in the light [1Jn 1:7-note] and in fact is Himself literally "Light" [1Jn 1:5-note]!)

To remember calls for one to make a decision (Remember is in the active voice = volitional choice, choice of one's will) with the implication that from that thought recalled flows heart felt gratitude to God. Perhaps however this suggestion finds you in the valley and remembering God's infinite mercies and abounding grace is not your heart's desire. Below is a worthy petition you might considering pleading before your Father in heaven (taken from the great resource Valley of Vision - a compilation of Puritan prayers)...

Enable me to remember that blood which cleanses

all sin,

to believe in that grace which subdues

all iniquities,

to resign myself to that agency which can

deliver me from the bondage of corruption

into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Now take a moment and bless the LORD, as you remember some of His great benefits. This will be good for your soul. (Ps 103:1,2)

The great Scottish expositor John Eadie wrote that...

This exercise of memory would deepen their humility, elevate their ideas of Divine grace, and incite them to ardent and continued thankfulness (John Eadie Commentary)

The famous Puritan Pastor John Bunyan penned these thoughts on "remembering" which are apropos to this verse and to most of us for most reading these notes are Gentile believers...

My dear children, call to mind the former days, and the years of ancient times: remember also your songs in the night; and commune with your own heart ( Ps. 77.5-12-note). Yea, look diligently, and leave no corner therein unsearched, for there is treasure hid, even the treasure of your first and second experience of the grace of God toward you. Remember, I say, the word that first laid hold upon you; remember your terrors of conscience, and fear of death and hell; remember also your tears and prayers to God; yea, how you sighed under every hedge for mercy. Have you never a hill Mizar (or here) (Ed: Quoted in Ps 42:6-note, read Ps 46:1-5-note for context) to remember? Have you forgot the close (Ed: Archaic meaning = a hostile encounter), the milk house, the stable, the barn, and the like, where God did visit your soul? Remember also the Word-the Word, I say, upon which the Lord hath caused you to hope. If you have sinned against light; if you are tempted to blaspheme; if you are down in despair; if you think God fights against you; or if heaven is hid from your eyes, remember it was thus with your father, but out of them all the Lord delivered me. (John Bunyan - Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners - Page 6. Published in 1666) (Summary of this Classic Work You might Find Interesting if you are unfamiliar with this book) (Bolding and notes Added)

The Pulpit Commentary has a nice section on "The Uses of Remembrance"...

The uses of remembrance. “Wherefore remember.” The present is built upon the past, and the memory of the past has much to do with the joys and sorrows of the present, as well as with the hopes and achievements of the future. It is well for believers to remember what they have been in view of their present mercies. Remembrance may thus become a means of grace.

I. IT TENDS TO DEEPEN THE HUMILITY OF SAINTS AS WELL AS TO INCREASE THEIR GODLY SORROW FOR SIN.

II. IT TENDS TO MAKE US GRATEFUL FOR OUR MERCIES AND TO MAKE US MAGNIFY THE GREATNESS AND FREENESS OF DIVINE LOVE. Where sin did much abound, we have found that grace did much more abound.

III. IT TENDS TO INSPIRE US WITH A STRONGER LOVE FOR CHRIST, WHO HAS PLACED US SO HIGH IN HEAVENLY PLACES. The woman in the gospel loved much when she remembered how much was forgiven her. “The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant in faith and love” (1 Tim. 1:14) to the Apostle Paul in the remembrance of his old blasphemies and injuries to the gospel.

IV. IT TENDS TO QUICKEN US TO GREATER ZEAL AND ACTIVITY IN THE LORD’S SERVICE. We think sadly of our lost time in the service of sin, and are led now to work with increased energy for the cause of our Redeemer.

V. IT TENDS TO MAKE US MORE HOPEFUL OF THE CONVERSION OF OTHERS WHO ARE NOW WHAT WE ONCE WERE AS SINNERS.

Yet this remembrance of our past condition is not to be a rueful, self-accusing thing that will kill hope and heart, but rather that which leads onward to a higher joy and a more complete consecration to the Lord’s work.—T. C. (The pulpit commentary - scroll down page)

That (3754) (hoti) gives the content of what is to be remembered.

Formerly (4218) (pote) means at some time and in context refers to the past. "You were at one time" is the idea. Note the repetition of this word in Ephesians 2 (Ep 2:2, 3, 11, 13-Ep 2:2; 2:3; 2:11; 2:13) in addition to the synonymous time phrase "at that time". (Ep 2:12-note). Clearly this is a key word in this section.

Pote - 48x in 45v - Matt 17:17; 24:3; 25:37ff, 44; Mark 9:19; 13:4, 33, 35; Luke 9:41; 12:36; 17:20; 21:7; 22:32; John 6:25; 9:13; 10:24; Rom 1:10; 7:9; 11:30; 1 Cor 9:7; Gal 1:13, 23; 2:6; Eph 2:2f, 11, 13; 5:8, 29; Phil 4:10; Col 1:21; 3:7; 1 Thess 2:5; Titus 3:3; Philemon 1:11; Heb 1:5, 13; 1 Pet 2:10; 3:5, 20; 2 Pet 1:10, 21; Rev 6:10. NAS = any time(1), ever(4), former(1), former times(1), formerly(8), last(2), never*(2), once(8), when(1), when once(1).

The principle of remembering what we formerly were is firmly rooted in the Old Testament, Moses for example recording...

'And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deut 5:15)

"And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. (Deut 8:2)

"Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD." (Deut 9:7)

"And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. (Deut 15:15)

"And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. (Deut 16:12)

In these OT passages, observe the repetition of the theme to remember what slavery was like (cf, Ex 2:23 "the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God"). How appropriate for Gentiles who are now believers to remember their former bondage to Sin and Satan! How prone to wander we all are! The remedy is to remember!

The "remember principle" is repeated in the New Testament...

You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols (they were led to worship idols by powers outside themselves; i.e., demons), however you were led. (1Corinthians 12:2)

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God ( Paul places special emphasis on being known by God. God knew us before we knew Him!), how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless (literally describes a pauper who has to crouch and cower to beg alms) elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (Galatians 4:8-9)

Gentiles (1484) (ethnos - English "ethnic") defines a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions. In this verse Gentiles is preceded by the definite article ("the") in the Greek text, marking Gentiles out as a distinct class.  Basically all of mankind can be divided into Jew and Gentile and thus "Gentile" is a synonym for anyone who is non-Jew, who is not a member of the "chosen people". The Hebrew word corresponding to Gentile is goyim. This description arises from a Jewish standpoint since neither Romans nor Greeks would call themselves Gentiles.

From Genesis 12 onward the majority of the Scriptures are about the Jews, with the Gentiles mentioned as they interface with the Jews. The NT does have more mention of the Gentiles after the formation of the Church (and Acts was written by a Gentile, Dr Luke), but the last book, the book of Revelation is predominantly Jewish with over 200 OT quotes or allusions to OT passages. Beloved, God is not finished with the literal nation of Israel as is erroneously and sadly taught even in evangelical churches.

In the flesh - Paul is not contrasting "in the flesh" versus "in the Spirit" as he does in Galatians (a different context) but in this context is referring to the covering of the body (specifically the prepuce).  Paul uses this imagery in Colossians writing to the predominantly Gentile church reminding them that...

when you were dead (compare notes Ephesians 2:1) in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him (see parallel note Ephesians 2:5), having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (See notes Colossians 2:13; 2:14)

WHO ARE CALLED "UNCIRCUMCISION" BY THE SO-CALLED CIRCUMCISION: oi legomenoi (PPPMPN) akrobustia hupo tes legomenes (PPPFSG) peritomes:  (1Samuel 17:26,36; Jeremiah 9:25,26; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 3:11)

Called (3004) (lego) means to speak or say something to explain more fully implications or intent of what has been said.

For modern day Christians it is somewhat difficult to fully appreciate the impediment that existed between those of the "uncircumcision" and those of the "circumcision".  And yet the ancient world was truly divided into these two main groups, Jews and Gentiles. Not only was it a fact that the Gentiles had not been circumcised but sadly the Jews had exaggerated that fact, and had made it a wall of division which seemed to create a gap that could not be bridged! The uncircumcision of Gentiles was evidence of their estrangement from God, which in Jewish eyes could only be dealt with if a Gentile became a proselyte to the Jewish faith.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones explains that...

The division seemed absolute, and any talk about reconciliation seemed monstrous and impossible. Jew and Gentile! Jews and ‘dogs’! But on the other hand the Gentiles had their classification, and particularly the Greeks. The whole world, for them, was divided up into Greeks and Barbarians—the knowledgeable people, the philosophers, the Greeks on the one hand; the ignoramuses, the illiterate, the Barbarians on the other. That was the position, and it seemed utterly impossible that these two sections, these warring sections who despised each other so heartily, could ever be brought together and reconciled, still less that they should ever be found on bended knee together worshipping and adoring the same God and the same Lord. But it has happened, says Paul. The astounding thing is that it is true. These Ephesians have been brought in, and are likewise in the membership. This is the astounding thing that nothing less than ‘the exceeding greatness of God’s power’ could ever have brought to pass. (Lloyd-Jones, D. M. Exposition of  Ephesians in 8 Vol. Baker Book or Logos Version)

Uncircumcision (203) (akrobustia [word study] from ákron = the extreme + búo = cover) refers to the prepuce or foreskin and thus to one who is uncircumcised and is known as the uncircumcision, which in context refers to the pagan Gentile. Uncircumcision was a name of contempt that the Jews flung at the Gentiles and was indicative of the low regard in which they were held.

Akrobustia - 20x in 17v - Acts 11:3; Ro 2:25, 26, 27; 3:30; 4:9, 10, 11; 1 Cor 7:18, 19; Gal 2:7; 5:6; 6:15; Eph 2:11; Col 2:13; 3:11.

Akrobustia is found in 16 verses in the non-apocryphal Septuagint all except Jeremiah speaking of literal circumcision - Gen 17:11, 14, 23, 24, 25; 34:14, 24; Ex 4:25; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:3; 1Sa 18:25, 27; 2Sa 3:14; Jer 9:25

Jer 9:25 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised– (used figuratively of their spiritually "uncircumcised" hearts - See Excursus on Circumcision Of the Heart)

Hodge writes that the term uncircumcision...

to the Jews it expressed a self-righteous abhorrence of the Gentiles as unclean and profane. This feeling on their part arose because they supposed that the mere outward rite of circumcision conveyed holiness and secured God’s favor...The Jews were a striking illustration of the effect of ascribing objective power to external rites and regarding them as conveying grace and securing the favor of God, irrespective of the subjective state of the recipient. This teaching made them proud, self-righteous, malignant, and contemptuous and led them to regard religion as an external service which was compatible with a profane heart and life. This teaching the apostle repudiates everywhere and denounces it as fatal. And therefore in this connection, while speaking of the real advantage of circumcision and of the covenant union with God, of which it was the seal, the apostle was careful to indicate clearly that it was not the circumcision in the flesh made with hands which secured the blessings of which he speaks." (Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary - Online)

W G Blaikie comments on "uncircumcision" noting that the Gentiles...

had a name which denoted the very opposite of that given to God’s people—another illustration of their apparent distance from blessing; they revolved round the sun, as it were, not in the nearer orbits of planets warmed, brightened, and beautified by the solar beams, but in the outermost ring of all—like the cold, dark orbit of Uranus or Neptune, which the sunbeams hardly reach to lighten or to warm. (The Pulpit Commentary: Ephesians)

David uses this same disparaging name ("uncircumcision") in his description of Goliath asking...

the men who were standing by him, saying, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?"...(addressing King Saul) "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God." (1Samuel 17:26, 36)

Circumcision (4061) (peritome [word study] from perí = around + témno = cut off) refers literally to cutting and removal of the foreskin. In context Paul is using peritome to refer not to the act of circumcision but to the people who were commanded to carry out this act, specifically the Jews.

Peritome - 36x in 32v - John 7:22, 23; Acts 7:8; 10:45; 11:2; Rom 2:25, 26, 27, 28, 29; 3:1, 30; 4:9, 10, 11, 12, ; 15:8; 1Cor 7:19; Gal 2:7, 8, 9, 12; 5:6, 11; 6:15; Eph 2:11; Phil 3:3, 5; Col 2:11; 3:11; 4:11; Titus 1:10

John MacArthur  - A rabbinic writer tells of an incident that explains the common Jewish attitude toward Gentiles. A certain Gentile woman came to Rabbi Eleazar, confessed that she was sinful, and told him that she wanted to become righteous. She wanted to be accepted into the Jewish faith because she had heard that the Jews were near to God. The rabbi is said to have responded, “No. You cannot come near,” and then shut the door in her face...God made Israel distinct for two reasons. First, He wanted the world to see and notice them, to realize that they did not live and act like other men. Second, He wanted them to be so distinct that they would never be amalgamated with other peoples. He gave them such strict dietary, clothing, marriage, ceremonial, and other laws that they could never fit easily into another society. Those distinctions, like the special blessings God gave them, were intended to be a tool for witness. But Israel continually perverted them into a source for pride, isolation, and self–glory...When a Jew entered Palestine he would often shake the dust off his sandals and clothing in order not to contaminate the Holy Land with Gentile dust. Because Samaritans were partly Gentile, most Jews would go far out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria. If a young Jewish man or woman married a Gentile, their families would have a funeral service, symbolizing the death of their child as far as religion, race, and family were concerned. For fear of contamination, many Jews would not enter a Gentile home or allow a Gentile to enter theirs. For many hundreds of years the animosity between Jew and Gentile had festered and grown. Although they were not always in open conflict, their mutual contempt continued to widen the gulf between them. (MacArthur, J: Ephesians. Chicago: Moody Press)

John Eadie writes  that circumcision "was the national distinction on which the Jews flattered themselves. Other Abrahamic tribes, indeed, were circumcised, but the special promise was—“In Isaac shall thy seed be called.”  (The Epistle of St Paul to the Ephesians)

The sign of circumcision was given as a command by God to Abraham in Genesis 17...

"And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you."

As time went on the command was neglected, especially during the days when the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Perhaps this was a sign that the nation had broken their covenant with God through their disobedience. The rite of circumcision was resumed when they entered the land of Canaan, with Joshua performing the ritual on the generation born in the wilderness (Joshua 5). Over the years that followed, the Jews came to take great pride in circumcision and in fact as alluded to here in Ephesians 2:11, circumcision came to be synonymous with Judaism and was touted as a badge of their spiritual and national superiority! This practice fostered an exclusivist mentality instead of a missionary zeal to reach the Gentiles which was God's original intent for His "chosen" people who were to be lights unto the Gentiles.

A daily prayer of a strict Jewish male was to thank God that he was neither a woman, a Samaritan, nor a Gentile. Gentiles came to be regarded by the Jews as the “uncircumcision,” a term of disrespect implying that non-Jewish peoples were outside the circle of God’s love. In divine irony, as discussed below, God applied the same term ("uncircumcised") to His "chosen" people. The terms “circumcised” and “uncircumcised” became emotionally charged symbols to Israel and their Gentile neighbors. This issue later brought discord into the fellowship of the New Testament church (see Acts 15) and especially caused confusion about how one obtained genuine salvation (read the epistle to the Galatians).

The Jews should have known the true spiritual meaning of circumcision for several reasons. One of the most important reasons is "chronological". That is God's command to Abraham to undergo circumcision was many years after his "day of salvation" recorded by Moses in Genesis 15...

Then he believed in the LORD (he believed the "gospel" - see Gal 3:8. He believed in "the Seed", the Messiah - see Gal 3:16); and He (God) reckoned (imputed, placed on his spiritual "bank account") it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Another reason the Jews should have understood the symbolic nature of circumcision was that Moses and several of Israel's prophets used the term “circumcised” as a symbol for purity of heart and readiness to hear and obey. For example, through Moses the Lord challenged the Israelites to submit and

Circumcise then your heart (clearly this could not have been a reference to external circumcision or to literal circumcision and by default had to be a call for spiritual circumcision, which in its essence would represent their salvation), and stiffen your neck no more.” (Dt 10:16).  (Comment: An uncircumcised heart reflected a will that was hardened toward God’s commands)

In short, the most significant aspect of the physical act of circumcision was that it was a symbol or sign and as such it pictured man's need for his heart to be cleansed from sin’s deadly disease. This "cutting" needed to happen internally, for God was calling for the removal of the "body of the flesh" (Col 2:11-note), which represent the "sin virus" inherited from Adam and which kept man dead in his transgressions and alienated and hostile toward God.  It may be that God selected the reproductive organ as the location of the symbol for man’s need of cleansing for sin, because it is the instrument that sadly is most indicative of man's depravity and since by it he reproduces new little sinners (who are infected with the same "sin virus" from Adam - Ro 5:12-note).

In summary, physical circumcision was a sign of being under God’s covenant with Abraham, a covenant that was entered into by faith, not by works. But the Jews for the most part turned it around and made circumcision a work by which they falsely thought one could enter into covenant with God.

In the midst of a series of warnings to Israel regarding punishment for disobedience to the LORD, Moses records a ray of hope in God's gracious promise that

"If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me— I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled (conveys the basic sense of being lowly, meek) so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land (this is the same covenant Abraham entered into by faith not works)." (Lev 26:40-42)

Comment: Note that the covenant God would remember was not the Mosaic covenant, the covenant of law, but was the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of grace, the covenant that could only be entered into by faith not by works

Much of the Old Testament is a record of Israel's continual rebellion against God, and the root cause of this rebellion was an “uncircumcised heart,” a heart that had never been changed by the LORD and one which therefore refused to bow  and to be humbled before Him.

Moses gave Israel a prophetic promise that

"the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live." (Deut 30:6)

Comment: Read the preceding verses, Deut 30:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, for the context of which indicates that this promise will ultimately be fulfilled just prior to the Millennial Reign of Christ

What God's law demanded, God's grace enabled. As noted above, Deuteronomy 30:6 primarily refers to the future salvation of Jews alive at the return of Christ, when by faith they will have their hearts circumcised. In the intervening centuries, God has partially fulfilled this promise, as there have always been physical Jews who by faith received God's promise of new life in Christ (and how we praise God for these dear souls who compose the remnant!) In the OT, the believers were looking forward to the Cross (cf Gal 3:8, 16), whereas in the NT they (and all believers today) look back to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Thus circumcision of heart defines an internal work by God's Spirit and is another way to describe genuine salvation, a salvation that imparts to that individual a new heart and a new will (a "want to") that out of love and a longing for holiness, desires to to obey God instead of to rebel against Him. This promise of a new heart would allow the Israelites to love the Lord with all their heart and soul, and reaches its fullest expression in the New Covenant (read Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 11:19, 36:26 - see also notes on topic New Covenant in the Old Testament).

The physical circumcision God had called for was always meant to be an external sign of an internal change of heart resulting in a love for God. Thus Paul wrote that in Christ the believers at Colossae

"were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (see note on Colossians 2:11)

Here Paul is explaining the figurative meaning of circumcision as the "cutting off" of Christ at His Crucifixion.

In Romans Paul had made it clear that

"he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." (Ro 2:28, 29- notes).

This internal "circumcision" is what Jesus was alluding to when He declared

"You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Mt 23:26)

On the basis of the previous explanation, now you can understand what Jeremiah meant when he addressed faithless, unbelieving Judah and Jerusalem commanding them to...

"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it." (Jer 4:4)

As Biblical history records they refused to heed the warning and were utterly defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in 589BC.

Jeremiah characterized rebellious Israel as having “uncircumcised” ears declaring

"To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are closed (Hebrew literally = uncircumcised) and they cannot listen. Behold, the word of the LORD has become a reproach to them." (Jer 6:10)

Corollary Comment: Note the effect of the Word of God when a person is a non-believer!

Through Jeremiah the LORD later says

"Behold, the days are coming, that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised (alluding to failure to receive spiritual, internal circumcision of the heart by faith in Messiah - it always surprises many today to discover that from a Biblical perspective, the majority of OT Israel was not saved, a sad truth to which the Old Testament repeatedly testifies!)-- Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the sons of Ammon, and Moab, and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised (referring to the fact that most of the Gentiles were physically uncircumcised), and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart. (referring to spiritual circumcision)" (Jer 9:25, 26)

The Jews boasted in the covenant sign of circumcision, but it was only in their physical flesh and not "the foreskin of their heart". The true spiritual circumcision God always desired had never transpired in their hard hearts. In a similar way, people today who depend on baptism, any church sacrament (ordinance) or any supposed "meritorious" work, and yet who have never repented and trusted in Christ, are in the same situation as the Jews in Jeremiah’s day - they may think that they are a part of the God's New Covenant, but their confidence is false and they stand deceived and in imminent danger of entering into a Christ-less eternity. (cf the notes on Jesus' loving but stern warning in Mt 7:21, 22, 23-Mt 7:21, 22; 23)

In Acts Stephen infuriated his Jewish audience with the indictment that

"You men who are stiff-necked (literally "hard necked" and thus obstinate, stubborn, rebellious) and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting (rushing against; striving against, opposing, resisting by actively pressure) the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did." (Acts 7:51)

Corollary Comment: Unsaved men resist the warnings and wooing of the Holy Spirit.

Their uncircumcision in heart and ears marks the Jews as just like the unsaved Gentiles (who Paul refers to here in Ephesians 2:11 as the "uncircumcision"). Their sin had never been forgiven. They were as unclean before God as uncircumcised Gentiles and they therefore stood condemned before God.

A crisis erupted in the church at Antioch when some men

“some men (Judaizers) came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1)

The Judaizers insisted that a believer from a non-Jewish background (Gentile) must first become a Jew ceremonially (by being circumcised) before he could be admitted to the Christian brotherhood. A council of apostles and elders was convened in Jerusalem to resolve the issue (Acts 15:6-29). Among those attending were Paul, Barnabas, Simon Peter, and James, a leader of the Jerusalem church. To insist on circumcision for the Gentiles, Peter argued, would amount to a burdensome yoke (Acts 15:10,19). This was the decision handed down by the council, and the church broke away from the binding legalism of Judaism which demanded physical circumcision.

How do these truths about circumcision apply today? We have already inferred that there are many who may have been taught as children, and even as adults that the thing that makes them acceptable to God is the fact that they were baptized or that they joined a church, etc. To the Jew it was the rite of circumcision that gave them the false confidence that they were acceptable to God. But tragically they distorted the clear teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. Why? Because they failed to read what had been clearly stated -- that circumcision as originally commanded was only meant to be a sign of the covenant (Ge 17:11). To reiterate, circumcision was an external sign of an internal work of grace by faith (Genesis 15:6), when Abraham believed. Remember, as discussed above, that Abraham's belief and "day of salvation" (the day his heart was "spiritually circumcised") preceded by many years God's call for physical circumcision.

The Jews read what the "sages" and "wise" rabbis wrote in the Talmud and other writings about the meaning of circumcision -- they read and heard what other men said (the "commentaries" so to speak) but failed to check it out with what God said (Acts 17:11) and it cost them dearly (and eternally). The question one must ask is have many in the modern day church gone the same route placing more emphasis on what men say about the Word of God than in what God says in His Word? Have many based their eternal destiny on a physical act performed in the flesh or on a spiritual transaction performed on the heart by the Spirit?

WHICH IS PERFORMED IN THE FLESH BY HUMAN HANDS: en sarki cheiropoietou: (Colossians 2:11)

Performed by human hands (5499) (cheiropoietos from cheir = hand + poieo = make) describes whatever is handmade or is manufactured and thus is of human construction and human skill.

Paul emphasizes that circumcision is performed “in the flesh by human hands” so that the reader will recognize circumcision for what it is—an imperfect, outward sign of an inner-spiritual reality. The New Testament parallel over which many stumble is baptism. The physical act of baptism doesn’t save but is merely the outward expression of the inner heart transformation God produces in the individual who is saved by grace through faith.

In the Septuagint (LXX) cheiropoietos is used of idols. For example in Leviticus 26 we read...

I am the Lord your God: ye shall not make to yourselves gods made with hands, or graven; neither shall ye rear up a pillar for yourselves, neither shall ye set up a stone for an object in your land to worship it: I am the Lord your God. (Lev 26:1 from Brenton's translation of the Septuagint)

O'Brien adds this note on cheiropoietos...

The adjective cheiropoietos (‘made with hands’) was employed in the LXX to denote idols (Lev. 26:1; Isa. 2:18), an idol’s sanctuary (Isa. 16:12), false gods (Isa. 11:9), or images (Lev. 26:30). It therefore described the gods as made with human hands and standing over against the living God. In all of its New Testament occurrences cheiropoietos (‘made with hands’) is used to set forth the contrast between what is constructed by human beings and the work of God (E. Lohse, TDNT 9:436; cf. Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; 17:24; Heb. 9:11, 24). So to speak of something ‘not made with hands’ (cheiropoietos) is to assert that God himself has created it: e.g., the temple that Jesus would erect in three days (Mark 14:58), the heavenly house that will be given to believers at death (2Co 5:1), and that circumcision which stood in contrast to Jewish circumcision and was truly the work of God, namely, Christ’s death (Col 2:11). (O'Brien, P. T. The letter to the Ephesians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans)

Flesh (4561) (sarx) in this context refers to the physical flesh. In summary, Paul makes it abundantly clear in three ways that the Jews to whom he refers are not saved - "so called circumcision" (God was always more interested in the internal heart circumcision), "in the flesh" (not in the heart), "by human hands" (not by the Spirit of God) (See notes Romans 2:28; 2:29).

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Harry Ironside was on a train going to a preaching assignment in southern California when he was accosted by a gypsy who said

“How do you do, gentleman. Would you like to have your fortune told? Cross my palm with a silver quarter, and I will give you your past, present, and future.”

To which Ironside replied...

“Are you very sure you can do that? You see, I am Scottish, and I wouldn’t want to part with silver without getting a full value for it.”

The gypsy replied earnestly

“Oh, yes, gentleman. Please. I will tell you all.”

At that point Ironside reached into his pocket and brought out his New Testament.

“It is not really necessary for me to have you tell my fortune, because here I have a book that gives me my past, present, and future. Let me read it to you.”

With that introduction Ironside turned to Ephesians 2 and read the words “you were dead in your transgressions and sins...” declaring...

“That is my past”

The woman tried to get away protesting

“That is enough! I do not care to hear more.”

To which Ironside replied...

“But wait. There is more. Here is my present: ‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. …’ ”

“No more!” she protested.

Undeterred Ironside continued

“Here is my future, too ‘...in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus ”

By this time the gypsy was on her feet and on her way down the aisle, exclaiming...

“I took the wrong man!” (Adapted from H. A. Ironside, In the Heavenlies: Practical Expository Addresses on the Epistle to the Ephesians: Loizeaux Brothers, 1938), 96–98)

 

Ephesians 2:12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: hoti ete (2PIAI) to kairo ekeino choris Christou, apellotriomenoi (RPPMPN) tes politeias tou Israel kai xenoi ton diathekon tes epaggelias, elpida me echontes (PAPMPN) kai atheoi en to kosmo.
Amplified: [Remember] that you were at that time separated (living apart) from Christ [excluded from all part in Him], utterly estranged and outlawed from the rights of Israel as a nation, and strangers with no share in the sacred compacts of the [Messianic] promise [with no knowledge of or right in God’s agreements, His covenants]. And you had no hope (no promise); you were in the world without God.  (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NET: that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world
(NET Bible)
NLT:  In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from God's people, Israel, and you did not know the promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips:  You were without Christ, you were utter strangers to God's chosen community, the Jews, and you had no knowledge of, or right to, the promised agreements. You had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom you could turn.   (
Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest:  that you were at that time without a Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of the Israel and strangers from the covenants of the promise, not having hope and without God in the world. (
Eerdmans

Young's Literal:  that ye were at that time apart from Christ, having been alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God, in the world;

REMEMBER THAT YOU WERE AT THAT TIME SEPARATE FROM CHRIST: hoti ete (2PIAI) to kairo ekeino choris Christou: (John 10:16; 15:5; Colossians 1:21)

You Gentiles were characterized spiritually by 5 "less attributes" - Christ-less, country-less, covenant-less, hope-less and god-less!

Remember has been added here by the translators for continuity.

Now Paul enumerates five things that were true of the uncircumcised Gentiles. If you don’t understand the history behind the Gentile nations and where Israel came from, then you don’t really understand the significance of how powerful the before/after truths in Ephesians 2 really are. Most of us are Gentiles and naturally we have a "Gentile mentality" thinking we deserve salvation and the Jews have received their due. We mistakenly think that God immediately came to save Gentiles. Many even forget that Jesus Himself was a Jew! Gentiles don’t seem to understand we are the late comers. We were the ones far off who have been brought near as Paul describes in Ep 2:13-note.

Were (2258) (ete) is in the imperfect tense  

At that time - before your salvation experience when you were still dead in your trespasses and sins. Synonymous with "formerly" as discussed above.

Time (2540) (kairos [word study]) means a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with the implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology. It means a moment or period as especially appropriate the right, proper, favorable time (at the right time). Kairos speaks of a limited period of time, with the added notion of suitableness ("the suitable time", "the right moment", "the convenient time"). Kairos refers to a distinct, fixed time period, rather than occasional moments.

Kairos is not so much a succession of minutes (Greek chronos 5550), but a period of opportunity. Chronos refers to chronological time, to clock time or calendar time, to a general space or succession of time. Kairos, on the other hand, refers to a specific and often predetermined period or moment of time and so views time in terms of events, eras, or seasons. In other words, kairos defines the best time to do something, the moment when circumstances are most suitable, the psychologically "ripe" moment.

Separate (5565) (choris) is used as an improper preposition to mean apart from, separate from, at a space. It means separately and serves as a marker of dissociation indicating a distinct separation from something.

Choris - 41x in 38v - Matt 13:34; 14:21; 15:38; Mark 4:34; Luke 6:49; John 1:3; 15:5; 20:7; Rom 3:21, 28; 4:6; 7:8f; 10:14; 1 Cor 4:8; 11:11; 2 Cor 11:28; 12:3; Eph 2:12; Phil 2:14; 1 Tim 2:8; 5:21; Philemon 1:14; Heb 4:15; 7:7, 20; 9:7, 18, 22, 28; 10:28; 11:6, 40; 12:8, 14; Jas 2:18, 20, 26

Christ (5547) (Christos from chrio = to rub or anoint, consecrate to an office) is a transliteration of the Greek word Christos and refers to the Anointed One and thus is a title of the Messiah (the English translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach = besmeared or anointed), Who is the Divine One the Jews were looking for and of Whom the Old Testament bore prolific prophetic witness.

NET Bible Notes - Both “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew and Aramaic) mean “one who has been anointed.” Because the context refers to ancient Israel’s messianic expectation, (Ed note: not that the majority Jews had received Messiah as Savior though, cf John 1:11,12 and remnant) “Messiah” was employed in the translation at this point rather than “Christ.” (The NET Bible Notes. Biblical Studies Press)

The Uncircumcised Gentiles had no connection with Christ. The Jews (even those who were not saved) lived with an attitude of at least hoping and waiting for the coming of their Messiah (e.g., note this same belief among Orthodox Jews in Israel persists in our time - but they are looking for His "first coming" not accepting the truth that He has already come once as Savior and next as King of kings). On the other hand the Gentiles had no expectation of a Messiah to light up their spiritual darkness and they knew nothing at all about Him.

Albert Barnes - You were without the knowledge of the Messiah. You had not heard of him; of course you had not embraced him. You were living without any of the hopes and consolations which you now have, from having embraced him. The object of the apostle is to remind them of the deplorable condition in which they were by nature; and nothing would better express it than to say they were "without Christ," or that they had no knowledge of a Saviour. They knew of no atonement for sin. They had no assurance of pardon. They had no well-founded hope of eternal life. They were in a state of darkness and condemnation, from which nothing but a knowledge of Christ could deliver them. All Christians may, in like manner, be reminded of the fact that, before their conversion, they were "without Christ." Though they had heard of him, and were constantly under the instruction which reminded them of him, yet they were without any true knowledge of him, and without any of the hopes which result from having embraced him. Many were infidels. Many were scoffers. Many were profane, sensual, corrupt. Many rejected Christ with scorn; many by simple neglect. All were without any true knowledge of him; all were destitute of the peace and hope which result from a saving acquaintance with him. We may add, that there is no more affecting description of the state of man by nature than to say, he is without a Saviour. Sad would be the condition of the world without a Redeemer-sad is the state of that portion of mankind who reject him. Reader, are you without Christ? (Albert Barnes. Barnes NT Commentary)

MacArthur writes that the Gentile's...

history had no purpose, no plan, and no destiny—except the ultimate judgment of God, of which they were unaware. The popular Stoic philosophers taught that history repeated itself in three–thousand–year cycles. At the end of each cycle the universe is burned up and then reborn to repeat the same futile pattern. (MacArthur, J: Ephesians. Chicago: Moody Press)

Eadie - The Jewish nation had Christ in some sense in which the Gentiles had Him not. It had the Messiah—not Jesus indeed—but the Christ in promise. He was the great subject—the one glowing, pervading promise of their inspired oracles. But the Gentiles were “without Christ.” No such hopes or promises were made known to them. No such predictions were given to them, so that they were in contrast to the chosen seed—“without Christ.” The rites, blessings, commonwealth, and covenants of old Israel had their origin in this promise of Messiah. On the other hand, the Gentiles being without Messiah, were of necessity destitute of such theocratic blessings and institutions. Such seems to be the contrast intended by the apostle. (John Eadie Commentary)

Wuest explains that...

The word “Christ” here is not to be taken in its Christian sense, but in its Jewish one. The point is not that these Ephesians were without Christ as Saviour, but as Gentiles, they had no covenant connection with Him as the Jews had with Him as Messiah. (Wuest, K. S. Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans)

Jeremiah pleaded with God on the basis of His Messianic Name, the "Hope of Israel" (God's Names all reveal some aspect or attribute of His character), declaring

"Thou Hope of Israel, its Savior in time of distress. Why art Thou like a stranger in the land Or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night?" (Jer 14:8)

In spiritual terms to be without Christ meant the Gentiles were (among other things) without salvation for there is none in any other name (Acts 4:12), without the real Life of which He is the Only Source (John 14:6), without the Light of which He is the Only Source (John 8:12),  without peace for He Alone made peace through the blood of His Cross and without the rest He Alone gives (Mt 11:28).

In Romans 9 Paul has a similar list of "Jewish advantages" writing...

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, Who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (See notes Romans 9:3; 9:4; 9:5) (Comment: The Messiah came to Jews and was perceived by Jews. Since they were not Jews, Gentiles were cut off from this advantage)

It is interesting that although the Gentiles were separated from Christ, Christ still had them on His heart declaring in John...

I have other sheep (referring to Gentiles), which are not of this fold (referring to Jews); I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock (parallels "one body" see notes on Ephesians 2:16 "might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross") with one shepherd (parallels Christ the Head - see note Ephesians 1:22).

EXCLUDED FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL: apellotriomenoi (RPPMPN) tes politeias tou Israel: (Eph 4:18; Ezra 4:3; Isaiah 61:5; Ezekiel 13:9; Hebrews 11:34)

KJV translates excluded "aliens from". In respect to the nation of Israel, the Gentiles were aliens or those who did not “belong.” They were strangers and foreigners, without the rights and privileges of citizenship in the nation of Israel. As far as the community of Israel was concerned, the Gentiles were on the outside, looking in. In the OT God had a covenant with the nation of Israel and governed that state directly. Those who were not Jews were foreigners or aliens.

Constable summarizes this Gentile deficit writing that...

God excluded them as a people from citizenship in Israel. Individual Gentiles could become members of the nation of Israel, but as a whole the Gentiles had no part in what God planned to do in and through Israel. The Gentiles were aliens from Israel in this sense (Ephesians Expository Notes)

Excluded (526) (apallotrioo from apó = marker of dissociation implying rupture of former association with emphasis on the idea of separation + allotrióo = alienate from allotrios = strange, foreign, an enemy) means to alienate entirely, to be alienated or to be estranged from. To be cut off entirely. Alienated always implies loss of affection or interest. It is not simply being called aliens but living in that state, a state of complete estrangement, the state prior to man’s reconciliation to God. 

The idea of separation and estrangement is strongly expressed by apallotrioo.

Webster adds that alienate means to  to make unfriendly, hostile, or indifferent where attachment formerly existed.

Paul's use of the perfect tense speaks of the permanence of the Gentile condition of alienation. Thus apallotrioo is a powerful term, indicating the desperate and settled state of the lost. Had God's Spirit not intervened this would our settled state, fellow saint. This truth should stimulate at least an "arrow prayer" of thanksgiving to our Father for having performed so great a salvation!

In Ephesians 4 Paul is describing lost Gentiles as...

being darkened in their understanding, excluded (apallotrioo in the perfect tense = speaks of the permanence of this condition) from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (see note Ephesians 4:18)

The only other NT use of apallotrioo is also by Paul and again to remind his believing readers that...

And although you were formerly alienated (apallotrioo in the perfect tense = speaks of the permanence of this condition) and hostile (hateful to God by attitude!) in mind, engaged in evil deeds (Col 1:21-note)

Comment: Non-Christians are detached from God because of sin. Stated another way, there is no such thing as an “innocent heathen.” They are hostile toward God - they hate Him and resent His holy standards and commands because they are engaged in evil deeds. Thus all unbelievers suffer separation from God unless they receive the reconciliation provided in Jesus Christ.

In sum, the three NT uses of apallotrioo describe the tragic threefold state of alienation of every unbeliever - from God (Colossians 1:21), from life of God (Ephesians 4:18) and from the commonwealth of Israel.

There are 9 uses of apallotrioo in the Septuagint (LXX) (Josh 22:25; Job 21:29; Ps 58:3; 69:8; Jer 19:4; 50:8; Ezek 14:5, 7; Hos 9:10)

Apallotrioo is used by Josephus to denote a sentence of expatriation. (Antiquities 11.4)

Apallotrioo is used in the Septuagint where David explains that

"The wicked are estranged (apallotrioo) from the womb. These who speak lies go astray from birth." (Ps 58:3)

David's point is that their corruption is not a development of later life but can be traced back to their birth - they were alienated and estranged from birth. Their lawlessness and rebellion are inborn, so that as men begin to talk, they begin to lie! They don't have to be taught! In Ezekiel God says that

"the hearts of the house of Israel...are estranged (apallotrioo) from Me through all their idols.” (Ezekiel14:5)

Commonwealth (4174) (politeia from politeúo = to behave or act as a free citizen <> compare polites = citizen, inhabitant of a city, one who has the right of citizenship) is literally the condition and the civic rights belonging to members of a political entity. It defines the right to be a member of a sociopolitical entity. The literal use thus describes citizenship, with the inherent rights and freedom belonging to a citizen.

Politeia indicates the government of Israel framed by God in which religion and polity were joined (a far cry from the so-called separation of church and state argument we hear almost daily on the news in post-Christian America).

Politeia was a significant word in the Roman Empire and Paul draws on his privilege as Roman citizen in order to keep from being scourged, Luke recording that...

the (Roman) commander answered, "I acquired this citizenship (politeia) with a large sum of money." And Paul said, "But I was actually born a citizen." (Acts 22:28)

Here in Ephesians 2:12 Paul uses politeia figuratively as an allusion to the privileged religious position of Israel in God's plan of the ages.

Barnes writes that "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel"...

means more than that they were not Jews. It means that they were strangers to that polity--politeia or arrangement by which the worship of the true God had been kept up in the world, and of course were strangers to the true religion. The arrangements for the public worship of Jehovah were made among the Jews. They had His law, His temple, His sabbaths, and the ordinances of His religion. See Ro 3:2 [note]. To all these the heathen had been strangers, and of course they were deprived of all the privileges which resulted from having the true religion. The word here rendered commonwealth--politeia--means, properly, citizenship, or the right of citizenship, and then a community, or state. It means here that arrangement or organization by which the worship of the true God was maintained. (Albert Barnes. Barnes NT Commentary)

Expositors comments that "excluded from the commonwealth"...

“does not necessarily imply a lapse from a former condition of attachment or fellowship, but expresses generally the idea of being a stranger as contrasted with one who is at home with a person or an object. The term politeia (commonwealth) has two main senses—a state or commonwealth, and citizenship or the rights of a citizen. The first of these is most in harmony with the theocratic term ‘the Israel,’ and so it is understood by most. These Ephesians, therefore, had no part in the theocracy, the OT constitution under which God made Himself known to the Jew and entered into relation with him.” (Nicoll, W Robertson, Editor: Expositors Greek Testament: 5 Volumes. Out of print. Search Google)

John Eadie has an interesting note writing that...

The commonwealth of Israel” is that government framed by God, in which religion and polity were so conjoined, that piety and loyalty were synonymous, and to fear God and honour the king were the same obligation. The nation was, at the same time, the only church of God, and the archives of the country were also the records of its faith. Civil and sacred were not distinguished; municipal immunity was identical with religious privilege; and a spiritual meaning was attached to dress and diet, as well as to altar and temple. And this entire arrangement had its origin and its form in the grand national characteristic—the promise of Messiah. The Gentiles had not the Messiah, and therefore were not included in such a commonwealth...National distinction did not, indeed, exist in patriarchal times, but by the formation of the theocracy the other races of men were formally alienated from Israel, and no doubt their own vices and idolatry justified their exclusion. And therefore they were destitute of religious privilege, knowledge of God, modes of accepted worship, enjoyment of Divine patronage and protection, oracle and prophet, priest and sacrifice.  (John Eadie Commentary)

Israel (2474) (Israel) refers to the people and/or nation of Israel.

Marvin Vincent in his note on Acts 3:12 explains that the title Israel was

An honorable and conciliatory form of address. The term Israelite gradually gave place to that of Jew; but Israel was the sacred name for the Jews, as the nation of the theocracy, the people under God’s covenant, and hence was for the Jew his especial badge and title of honor.

“To be descendants of Abraham, this honor they must share with the Ishmaelites; of Abraham and Isaac, with the Edomites; but none except themselves were the seed of Jacob, such as in this name of Israelite they were declared to be. Nor was this all, but more gloriously still, their descent was herein traced up to him, not as he was Jacob, but as he was Israel, who, as a prince, had power with God and with men, and had prevailed” (Trench, “Synonyms”).

So Paul, in enumerating to the Philippians his claims to have confidence in the flesh, says he was “of the stock of Israel.” It is said that the modern Jews in the East still delight in this title. (Word Studies) (Bolding added)

AND STRANGERS TO THE COVENANTS OF PROMISE: kai xenoi ton diathekon tes epaggelias: (Genesis 15:18; 17:7, 8, 9; Exodus 24:3-11; Numbers 18:19; Psalms 89:3-18; Jeremiah 31:31, 32, 33, 34; Jeremiah 33:20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; Ezekiel 37:26; Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Romans 9:4,5,8; Galatians 3:16,17)

Strangers (3581) (xenos) describes a person (Gentile) belonging to socio-political group other than reference group (Jew). Xenos has the particular meaning of one who is not a member of a state or city, is used here in a general sense of foreign to a thing, having no share in it. Gentiles were spiritually "homeless", not having any share in or access to the Messianic promises in the Covenants.   In this respect, the Gentiles were in the position of aliens who could not claim the prerogatives of nationals.

One can find numerous books in Christian bookstores which catalogue the thousands of promises of God in the Bible, but Paul's implication in this verse is that (with few exceptions), the Gentiles had no access or right to partake of these "promise books" because the majority of the promises apply to those who are in Christ!

Peter writes of the exclusivity of the divine promises explaining  that God

has granted (perfect tense = speaks of  the permanence of the promises)  to us (believers) His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (see note 2 Peter 1:4)

A stranger is one ignorant of or unacquainted with someone or something, in this case the "covenants of promise" which God gave to Israel. In a certain sense this is still true of all unbelievers.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes that unbelievers...

They can read their Bible and it does not move them. They can look at these ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ and say: To whom does this apply, what is all this about? They are strangers; they are like people from another country; they do not understand the language.”

Covenants of promise - means covenants having the promise as their distinctive possession, and characterized by it.

Wayne Barber writes that...

These covenants were the anchor that pointed to the faithfulness of a God to deliver what He promised. The Gentiles had no anchor. They were sailors on a captain less boat on uncharted seas. (Ephesians 2:11-15 Christ the Author of Our Peace - 1)

Covenants (1242) (diatheke from dia = two + tithemi = to place pictures that which is placed between two Thus, a covenant is something placed between two, an arrangement between two parties.) was a commonly used in the Greco-Roman world to define a legal transaction in settling an inheritance.  Diatheke denotes an irrevocable decision, which cannot be cancelled by anyone. A prerequisite of its effectiveness before the law is the death of the disposer and thus diatheke was like a "final will and testament".  In reference to the divine covenants, such as the Abrahamic covenant, diatheke is not a covenant in the sense that God came to agreement or compromise with fallen man as if signing a contract. Rather, it involves declaration of God’s unconditional promise to make Abraham and his seed the recipients of certain blessings.

Promise (1860) (epaggelia from epí = intensifies verbal meaning + aggéllo = to tell, declare) originally referred to an announcement or declaration but in later Greek came to mean a declaration to do something with the implication of obligation to carry out what is stated (thus a promise or pledge). It is notable that in the Greek the definite article ("the" - tes epaggelias) indicates not just any promise but "the" promise, which in turn probably alludes to the promised Messiah as the ultimate promise.

In Acts Luke records this instructive passage...

"And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob to whom and through whom the Abrahamic Covenant passed) that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'THOU ART MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE.' (Acts 13:32-33)

In Romans Paul speaks of the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant writing...

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU") in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. (See notes Romans 4:14; 4:15; 4:16; 4:17)

Barnes - The covenants of promise were those various arrangements which God made with his people, by which he promised them future blessings, and especially by which he promised that the Messiah should come. To be in possession of them was regarded as a high honour and privilege; and Paul refers to it here to show that, though the Ephesians had been by nature without these, yet they had now been brought to enjoy all the benefits of them. (Albert Barnes. Barnes NT Commentary)

Vincent feels the promise here is specifically

The messianic promise, which was the basis of all the covenants. (Word Studies)

Excursus on
Covenants of Promise
(1) Abrahamic Covenant

The Covenants of promise would include the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant.

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)

The promises to Abraham were based on this covenant, a covenant the Gentiles had no share in. In the same way the Gentiles were "strangers to" the encouraging blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant.

And He (Jehovah) took him (Abram) outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness... 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram... (Genesis 15:5-6, 18)

And so we see that the Gentiles were "strangers to this covenant of promise" the ultimate promise being that of righteousness imputed by God through faith in God's promises which ultimately culminated in the promised Messiah as Paul explains to the Galatians writing that...

And the Scripture (reference to the Old Testament), foreseeing that God would justify (declare righteous) the Gentiles by faith (so even though the Gentiles were strangers to the covenants of promise, God had not totally forsaken them), preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU (this promise would include the Gentiles)." So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer...16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his Seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to One, "And to your Seed," that is, Christ. (Galatians 3:8-9, 16) (Comment: And although we do not fully comprehend the specific facts Abraham was aware of concerning Messiah, we see that in Genesis 15:6 Abraham believed the good news and ultimately believed in the Seed that would could from his line. He was looking forward to the Cross in faith. Believers today look back to the Cross in faith. Salvation in both the Old and New Testaments has always been by faith alone, in Christ alone. Abram was childless, but God promised a son of faith from his own body. He believed the Lord and was counted righteous. Abraham was declared righteous or saved by faith not works.)

(2) The New
Covenant

The New Covenant was first given to Israel (not to the "Church" as is commonly misunderstood) in the prophecy of Jeremiah.

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (note who this covenant is initially promised to!), 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34 )

Although the name "New Covenant" is not found in Ezekiel's prophecy, nevertheless this prophecy clearly gives further truths regarding this covenant.

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

At the Last Supper (the Passover meal) Jesus shared with His disciples, He explained to them that what they were about to partake of was symbolic of His coming sacrifice on the Cross. When Jesus offered His body as the perfect sin offering, the New Covenant was inaugurated, His blood representing the blood of the New Covenant. Remembering that this covenant was initially offered to Jews in the OT and was inaugurated in the presence of Jesus' Jewish disciples, we begin to understand the import of the declaration that they Gentiles were "strangers to the covenants of promise."

And when the hour had come He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him...19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:14, 19-20)

(3) The Davidic
Covenant

The promises of this covenant are first described in 2 Samuel 7 where we see God speaking to King David declaring...

"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom (fulfilled first in Solomon but ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah as explained below). 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever... 16 And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." (2 Samuel 7:12-13,16)

Although the word "covenant" is not used in this preceding passage, the following passage identifies God's word as one of the "covenants of promise".

Yet the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David because of the covenant which He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and his sons forever. (2 Chronicles 21:7)

The fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant which was promised "forever" would of necessity have to pass through the line of David, a lineage which Paul summarizes in the opening verses of Romans writing...

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through Whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake (See notes Romans 1:1; 1:2; 1:3; 1:4; 1:5)

Jesus Christ was in the line of David and it would be through Him that the covenant promises of an everlasting kingdom would be fulfilled. The apostle John elaborates on this fulfillment in the Revelation, explaining that when Jesus returns at the end of this age...

on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." (Re 19:16-note)

And thus we see the fulfillment of the promises of the Davidic Covenant as the Suffering Servant returns as King of kings to begin His reign on earth for 1000 years (Millennium, Part 2, Part 3) after His defeat of the Antichrist and his allies. John records this in a vision writing...

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Millennium, Part 2 , Part 3). (See Re 20:4-note) (See Millennial Reign of the Saints.)

HAVING NO HOPE: elpida me echontes (PAPMPN): (Jeremiah 14:8; 17:13; John 4:22; Acts 28:20; Colossians 1:5,27; 1Thessalonians 4:13; 2Thessalonians 2:16; 1Timothy 1:1; Hebrews 6:18; 1Peter 1:3,21; 3:15; 1John 3:3)

Having (2192) (echo) means literally to have or hold something and figuratively of possessing something in the present context.

Having no ground for looking forward to better times, no reasonable expectation of improvement in your religious condition. Gentiles were hopeless. Like all men they had aspirations for the present and lived for the present moment, but cherished no hope for the future and the life after death.

Hope (1680) (elpis [word study]) in Scripture is not the world's definition of "I hope so", with a few rare exceptions (e.g., Acts 27:20.) Hope is defined as a desire for some future good with the expectation of obtaining it. Hope is confident expectancy. Hope is the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment. All of these aspects of Biblical "hope" were something the pagan Gentiles sorely lack.

If there is no hope, all is lost. Without hope there is nothing. Hopeless is surely one of the most dreadful words in the English language.

As Hodge writes...

They had nothing to hope for, as they were shut out of the covenant of promise. The promise of God is the only foundation of hope, and therefore those to whom there is no promise have no hope. (Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary - Online)

John MacArthur explains hope writing that...

True hope can be based only on a true promise, on confidence in someone who can perform what he promises. Hope is a profound blessing that gives meaning and security to life. Living without hope of future joy and enrichment reduces man to a piece of meaningless protoplasm. Hope is the consummation of life, the confident assurance that we have a blessed future in the plan of God. The saddest feature of Job’s great lament is found in these words:

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to an end without hope” (Job 7:6).

The opposite of that pessimistic outlook is the joyous truth celebrated among the Jews and stated succinctly in Psalm 146:5—

“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God!”

(MacArthur, J: Ephesians. Chicago: Moody Press)

In the OT we see that God is referred to by this term "hope", Jeremiah recording...

"Thou Hope of Israel, Its Savior in time of distress, Why art Thou like a stranger in the land Or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night? (Jeremiah 14:8)

O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake Thee will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:13)

In Acts Paul testifies...

"For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel." (Acts 28:20)

Comment: The hope of Israel, as explained previously, refers to the fulfillment of the promises made to the Jewish patriarchs, especially the promise of the Messiah. Inherent in the fulfillment of these promises was the resurrection of the dead. The messianic hope, incarnate in Jesus Christ, the fulfiller of OT promises.

Paul mentions "no hope" in his letter to the saints at Thessalonica writing that...

we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. (1Thes 4:13)

Expositors Greek New Testament adds that...

“It is not only that they had not the hope, the Messianic hope which was one of the distinctions of the Israelite, but that they were utterly without hope. Ignorant of the divine salvation and of Christ in whom it was found, they had nothing to hope for beyond this world.” (The Expositor's Greek Testament)

The only hope a pagan Gentile could count on was a desire for some future occurrence of which they could not be assured of attaining. In fact, because of this fact, the ancient world did not generally regard hope as a virtue, but merely as a temporary illusion. Historians tell us that a great cloud of hopelessness covered the Gentile world. Philosophies were empty; traditions were disappearing; religions were powerless to help men face either life or death. People longed to pierce the veil and get some message of hope from the other side, but there found none unless they found Christ.

Seneca, Rome's leading intellectual figure, tutor of the depraved emperor Nero (who forced Seneca to commit suicide!) and contemporary of Paul, tragically defined hope as “an uncertain good”, the antithesis of Biblical hope! but really the only correct definition of a Gentile's hope! What a difference the new birth in Christ makes in one's perspective.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's gave a Gentile perspective on hope writing that it is “the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.”

A study of WWII concentration camp survivors found that those prisoners who were able to hold onto their sense of hope (‘things are going to get better’ or ‘we’re going to get out of here one day’) were much more likely to survive. Hope was not optional but for the prisoners proved to be a matter of life and death.

Hope in Scripture is the absolute certainty of future good and believers are to be continually, actively, expectantly "looking for (prosdechomai) the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus."  (Titus 2:13-note)

A living hope motivates a "looking" hope" so that believers are those who are (at least they should be) waiting eagerly, expectantly and anxiously for Christ's return at any moment, this Messianic hope (certainty) providing great incentive to "discipline (one's self) for the purpose of godliness" (1Ti 4:7-note) knowing that godliness "is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1Ti 4:8-note

AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD: kai atheoi en to kosmo: (2Chronicles 15:3; Isaiah 44:6; 45:20; Hosea 3:4; Acts 14:15,16; Romans 1:28, 29, 30, 31, 32; 1Corinthians 8:4, 5, 6; 10:19,20; Galatians 4:8; 1Thessalonians 4:5)

Without God (112) (atheos from a = without + Theós = God) is literally without God and is equivalent to an "atheist"! 

The verse could be paraphrased "and atheists in the world".

The Gentiles were atheists in the original sense of being without God and also in the sense of hostility to God from failure to worship Him. It was not that the Gentiles were intellectual atheists, because most of them believed in many gods. Some were pantheists, believing that divinity was in everything, animate and inanimate. To reiterate, the problem was not that the Gentiles had no god but that they did not have the true God.

In Classic Greek atheos primarily meant godless, describing one who did not care about existence of gods and consequently did not honor them.

In Sophocles "Oedipus Tyrannus, 661" we read "“Since I wish to die godless, friendless,” etc. and thus is used in the sense of "without God's help".

Blaikie writes that atheos means...

atheists; but not in the active sense of denying God, rather in the passive sense of unconnected with God; without any friendly and beneficial relation to him, without any vital nexus that would bring into their soul the fulness of God. The words “in the world” intensify “without God.” (The Pulpit Commentary: Ephesians)

John Eadie writes that the idea is...

The Gentile world were without God to counsel, befriend, guide, bless, and save them. In this sense they were godless, having no one to cry to, to trust in, to love, praise, and serve; whereas Jehovah, in His glory, unity, spirituality, condescension, wisdom, power, and grace, was ever present to the thinking mind and the pious heart in the Israelites theocracy, and the idea of God combined itself with daily duty as well as with solemn and Sabbatical service. (John Eadie Commentary)

Notice how Paul begins with separated from Christ and ends with without God. This is a dismal description of their former state. God is the source of every good thing (James 1:17-note), including hope. So if we are without God, we are without everything, despite appearances to the contrary.

The Gentiles were without God, specifically without the knowledge of the only true, living God and thus destitute of any God. Paul address this Gentile disadvantage in Galatians writing

at that time when you did not know God, you were slaves (in bondage, devoid of spiritual freedom) to those which by nature (their inherent constitution or natural condition) are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God (Salvation begins with God's knowledge of us, rather than our knowledge of Him), how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again (Those who know God must recognize and live in light that they have been freed from all masters but Christ)? (Galatians 4:8-9)

World (2889) (kosmos) in this context could refer to the planet earth as their place of inhabitation but could also refer to the present evil, godless world system dominated by Satan and adamantly opposed to and alienated from God.

In the world - what does Paul mean by this addendum? Blaikie has an interesting thought noting that...

It were bad enough to be without God (without his holy fellowship and blessed influence) anywhere, but it is worse to be without him in the world, in “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4-note), in a world dominated by so subtle and evil a god (v2 and 2Cor. 4:4-note). The fivefold negative description of this verse has a cumulative effect; the situation becomes graver and more terrible, and the last clause is the climax. (The Pulpit Commentary)

Barnes writes the following regarding "without God in the world" that they are...

those who had no knowledge of the true God. This is the last specification of their miserable condition before they were converted; and it is an appropriate crowning of the climax. What an expression! To be without God--without God in His own world, and where He is all around us! To have no evidence of His favour, no assurance of His love, no hope of dwelling with Him! The meaning, as applied to the heathen Ephesians, was, that they had no knowledge of the true God. This was true of the heathen, and in an important sense also it is true of all impenitent sinners, and was once true of all who are now Christians They had no God. They did not worship Him, or love Him, or serve Him, or seek His favors, or act with reference to Him and His glory. Nothing can be a more appropriate and striking description of a sinner now than to say that he is "without God in the world." He lives, and feels, and acts, as if there were no God. He neither worships Him in secret, nor in His family, nor in public. He acts with no reference to His will. He puts no confidence in his promises, and fears not when he threatens; and were it announced to him that there is no God, it would produce no change in his plan of life, or in his emotions. The announcement that the emperor of China, or the king of Siam, or the sultan of Constantinople, was dead, would produce some emotion, and might change some of his commercial arrangements; but the announcement that there is no God would interfere with none of his plans, and demand no change of life. And if so, what is man in this beautiful world without a God? A traveler to eternity without a God! Standing over the grave without a God! An immortal being without a God! A man--fallen, sunk, ruined, with no God to praise, to love, to confide in; with no altar, no sacrifice, no worship, no hope; with no Father in trial, no counselor in perplexity, no support in death! Such is the state of man by nature. Such are the effects of sin. (Barnes' Notes)

Hughes writes that...

The first century was an age of suicide. Tacitus tells of a man who killed himself in indignation that he had been born. The French philosophers are not so nouveau after all! For the Gentiles, history was going nowhere. There was no Messiah, no hope. That is the way it is today also, apart from Christ.

Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer wrote:

“My own feeling respecting the ultimate mystery is such that I cannot even try to think of it without some feeling of terror so that I habitually shun the thought.”

Those apart from Christ typically wrap their lives around things and refuse to think about ultimate reality. The escape can be very intellectual on one hand, or on the other an eternal Nintendo game. As a believer who has found hope, I cannot imagine living without God.

The word which describes all of this is alienation. The Gentile dilemma (which is the world’s dilemma) produces alienation from God and alienation from man with all its dehumanizing and debilitating results. (Hughes, R. K.: Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Crossway Books)

Warren Wiersbe nicely sums up this first section writing

It is worth noting that the spiritual plight of the Gentiles was caused not by God but by their own willful sin. Paul said the Gentiles knew the true God but deliberately refused to honor Him (Ro 1:18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23-see notes Ro 1:18; 19; 20; 21; 22; 23). Religious history is not a record of man starting with many gods (idolatry) and gradually discovering the one true God.

Rather, it is the sad story of man knowing the truth about God and deliberately turning away from it! It is a story of devolution, not evolution! The first eleven chapters of Genesis give the story of the decline of the Gentiles; and from Genesis 12 on (the call of Abraham), it is the story of the Jews. God separated the Jews from the Gentiles that He might be able to save the Gentiles also. “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).

God called the Jews, beginning with Abraham, that through them He might reveal Himself as the one true God. With the Jews He deposited His Word, and through the Jews He gave the world the Saviour (Ro 9:1, 2, 3, 4, 5-see notes Ro 9:1; 9:2; 9:3; 9:4; 9:5). Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles that they too might be saved. But sad to say, Israel became like the Gentiles, and the light burned but dimly. This fact is a warning to the church today. When the church is least like the world, it does the most for the world. (Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)

Diogenes a Gentile (Greek) philosopher wrote:

“I rejoice in sport in my youth. Long enough will I lie beneath the earth bereft of life, voiceless as a stone, and shall leave the sunlight which I love, good man though I am. Then shall I see nothing more. Rejoice, O my soul, in thy youth.”

The Roman poet Catullus (circa 50BC) wrote:

The sun can set and rise again
But once our brief light sets
There is one unending night to be slept through.

Spurgeon said regarding "Ye were without Christ ... aliens ... strangers ... having no hope . . . without God"...

I saw on a board this morning words announcing that an asylum was to be built on a plot of ground for a class of persons who are described in three terrible words—"HELPLESS, HOMELESS, HOPELESS." These are the kind of people whom God receives; to them he gives His mercy. Are you helpless? He will help you. Are you homeless? He will house you. Are you hopeless? He is the hope of those who have no other confidence. Come then to Him at once!

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Several famous people were asked what they felt was the saddest word in the English language. Here’s what some of them said...

Poet T. S. Eliot:

“The saddest word in the English language is, of course, ‘saddest.’”

Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II:

“But.”

Writer John Dos Passos quoted John Keats:

“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell.”

Psychiatrist Karl Menninger:

“Unloved.”

Statesman Bernard M. Baruch:

“Hopeless.”

President Harry Truman quoted John Greenleaf Whittier:

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

Alexandra Tolstoy:

“The saddest word in all languages, which has brought the world to its present condition, is ‘atheism.’”

Put all of these answers together and you have a faint picture of a soul without Christ. I think of that word which Keats used so dramatically—“forlorn.” It is the English form of the Dutch word verloren, which means “lost.” But the Word of God, through the apostle Paul, gives the ultimate description, “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). (Source unknown)

 


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