Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                           Date: 3/31/17  

Lesson 9: The Gentiles’ Former State: Isolation (2:11-13)  

Ephesians 2:11-13 (KJV)

11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;

12 That at that time ye were 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:

13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.    


The purpose of this passage evidently, is to excite a sense of gratitude in their hearts for that mercy which had called them from the errors and sins of their former lives, to the privileges of Christians. It is a good thing for Christians to “remember” what they were. No ability of the mind can be better employed to produce humility, penitence, gratitude, and love, than the memory. It is good for us to recall our former sins; to dwell upon our hardness of heart, our alienation, and our unbelief; and to remember our shame and our guilt, until the heart is affected, and we are made to see what, except for the grace of God, we could have become. The converted Ephesians had much guilt to recollect and to mourn over in their former life; and so have all who are converted to the Christian faith.    


11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called

Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;   “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh” With this and what follows in the next verse, the apostle puts the converted Ephesians in mind of their conversion, in order to magnify the grace of God, and to humble them by taking into account their former state and condition, and to teach them that they could never be saved by any works of their own. Above all, he would have them call to mind, that they were in “time past Gentiles”; which does not so much have to do with the nation and country they were from, for in that sense they were still Gentiles; but their state and condition. They had been very blind and ignorant, were Gentiles that did not know God; they had been very wicked and shameless sinners; and they had been “2Gentiles in the flesh”: not according to the flesh, or by birth. Before their conversion, they were carnal, and cared mostly for the things of the flesh, walked after it, and fulfilled the lusts of it, and did the works of it―they are to “remember” the change between the past and the present; what they were by nature, and what they had become by grace. Special attention seems to be given to their uncircumcision in the flesh, to which circumcision in the flesh is opposed in the next clause.

  “3who are  1called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh made by hands” That is, they were called uncircumcised persons (unbelieving Jews) out of a sense of reproach and contempt. He means the carnal Jews, who had the circumcision of the flesh which was made with hands, but not that of the heart (aRomans 2:29). None were more abominable to the Jews, and hated by them than those who were called circumcised persons (as a rebuke) from that circumcision which is outward, in the flesh, in a particular part of the body; and which is done by the hands of a man, who was called “the circumciser.” Anyone might be a circumciser, except a Gentile; an experienced Israelite adult was preferred; yet these were not circumcised persons with that circumcision that is inward, and is of the heart, in the Spirit, and is made without the hands of men, and by the Spirit and power of God―the true “circumcision of the heart in the Spirit, and not the letter” (aRomans 2:29).   ________________________ aRomans 2:29: “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”   1The use of the phrase “called”—with a touch of the contempt implied in our phrase “the so-called”—simply implies that now Circumcision and Uncircumcision were mere names, virtually “nothing.” 2You were Gentiles “in the flesh,” i. e., under the dominion of the flesh, subject to the control of carnal appetites and pleasures; Gentiles in respect to circumcision; sealing the Jewish covenant 3“Who are called Uncircumcision” - That is, who are called "the uncircumcised." This was a term similar to that which we use when we speak of "the unbaptized." It meant that they were without the light of the people of God; that they enjoyed none of the ordinances and privileges of the true religion; and was commonly a term of reproach  

12 That at that time ye were 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:  

“That at that time ye were without Christ” That is, without knowledge of Him, or interest in Him. The worst condition that any person can be in is to be “Without Christ.”  “Without Christ” is the foundation of all other miseries, but having Christ is salvation and the foundation of all that is good, and holy, and worthwhile; therefore, the apostle begins with this. “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 comforts 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 Savior. “Being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” Seeing that the church of God was confined formerly to the Israelites, their church and state was the same body, and God was the founder of and lawgiver to them in both respects.    This is the second characteristic of their state (of the Gentiles) before their conversion to Christianity―“Being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.”  This means more than that they were not Jews. It means that they were strangers to that "religion"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 Yahweh were made among the Jews. They had His law, His temple, His Sabbath, and the ordinances of His religion. To all these the pagans had been strangers, and of course they were deprived of all the privileges which resulted from having the true religion. The word rendered here as "commonwealth" means citizenship, or the right of citizenship, and then a community, or state. Here it means that arrangement or organization by which the worship of the true God was maintained. The word "aliens," as used here, means merely that they were strangers too. It does not denote, of necessity, that they were hostile to it; but that they were ignorant of it, and were, therefore, deprived of the benefits which they might have derived from it, if they had been acquainted with it. “And strangers from the covenants of promise”   “And strangers” means a guest, or a stranger, who is hospitably entertained; then a foreigner, or one from a distant country; and here it means that they did not belong to the community where the covenants of promise were enjoyed; that is, they were strangers to the privileges of the people of God.   “The covenants of promise” were those various arrangements which God made with His people, by which he promised them future blessings, and that the Messiah would come. It was regarded as a high honor and privilege to be in possession of them; 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.   The point of this clause is that they (Gentiles) were not by nature favored with the covenants made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., by which there was a promise of future blessings under the Messiah―the great promise of Christ and salvation by Him. These covenants differ in some respects, but the promise in them was one and the same, which was the substance of each.  “Having no hope” The apostle does not mean to claim that they did not cherish any hope, for this is hardly true of any man; but that they were without any proper ground of hope. It is true of perhaps nearly all people that they cherish some hope of future happiness. But the ground on which they do this is not well understood by them, nor do they in general regard it as a matter of particular importance. Some rely on morality; some on forms of religion; some on the doctrine of universal salvation; all who are impenitent believe that they do not "deserve" eternal death, and expect to be saved by "justice." Such hopes, however, must be unfounded. No hope of life in a future world can be founded on a proper basis which does not rest on some promise of God, or some assurance that He will save us; and these hopes, therefore, which people take up they know not why, are misleading and futile. The bottom line is this: They have “no hope” beyond this life, for they were without Christ, and without the promises.  “And without God in the world” It is not that they were without some general knowledge of a God, but without any saving knowledge of Him, since they do not know him in Christ: or they lived like they were without God, neglecting Him, and being neglected by Him, and so they lived to satisfy their own desires, and they do things in their own ways.    This is the last specification of their miserable condition before they were converted; and it is an appropriate conclusion. 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 favor, no assurance of His love, no hope of dwelling with Him! The meaning, as applied to the pagan Ephesians, was that they had no knowledge of the true God. This was true of the pagan, and in an important sense, it is true of all impenitent sinners, and was once true of all who are now Christians; true of you, and true of me. They had no God. They did not worship Him, or love Him, or serve Him, or seek His favors, or act with reverence toward 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."   13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.   “But now in Christ Jesus” “But now in Christ Jesus” means either in the kingdom of Christ (bGalatians 5:6); or, ye being in Christ, united to Him by the Spirit and faith. Being “in Christ,” here, is opposed to being in the world (2:12). It is being openly and visibly in Christ, created in Him, and believing in Him; but previously, they were secretly in Him, chosen and blessed in Him before the foundation of the world.   “ye who sometimes were far off” Those who in their lost condition were “far off” from God, and from His law, and from any spiritual knowledge of Him and fellowship with Him; and from Jesus Christ, etc. “Far off” is the Jewish description of the Gentiles; “far off” from God and from the people of God (Eph 2:17; Isa 57:19; Ac 2:39). This distance from Christ was due both to Adam's sin and to their own transgressions.   “are made nigh by the blood of Christ” That is, those who were at one time “far off” from God are now near Him, have access to Him and communion with Him―God, Father, Son, and Spirit―and the saints, by virtue of the blood of Christ; which gives boldness and brings peace; by which their persons are justified, the pardon of their sins is procured, reconciliation is made, and their garments are washed, and made white; and so they draw nigh with confidence by the faith of Him.  


bGalatians 5:6: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”      

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