For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace. Ephesians 2:14-15 (almost) NASB
Enmity – What a difficult passage! Especially when various English translations add punctuation and dependent relative pronouns that subtly alter the meaning of the verses according to an accepted theology (e.g. which is has been added in this NASB translation). Once again we should be looking at the Greek text, not the English. In this case, the only way to understand Paul’s Greek is to interpret what he says in light of other Pauline passages and statements of Yeshua. The question is whether “enmity” refers to “the dividing wall” or to “Torah.” Try reading the English text without the additional words “which is” and see if you can determine the proper reference. It’s far more difficult. Here is the Greek text literally: “and the middle wall of partition having broken the enmity in the flesh of him the law of the commandments in decrees having abolished that the two he create in himself into one.” Now what does “enmity” refer to?
David Stern offers perhaps the most reasoned explanation of this passage. He notes that no one considers the Torah to be enmity. Paul and Yeshua both declare the Torah good and holy. Furthermore, Yeshua expressly declares that he has not abolished Torah (Matthew 5:17) and Paul refutes the idea that Torah causes sin (Romans 7:5-14). Stern argues that the sense of this passage is that Jews and Gentiles are separated from each other and express enmity toward each other as a result of the Jewish response to Torah. In other words, Torah “occasions” the opportunity for this enmity. As Jews express the truth of Torah and live accordingly, they stand opposed to the lives of Gentiles and call into question the gods of the Gentiles. This opposition creates enmity between Jew and Gentile. This enmity is itself sin because it creates hostility between men.
Yeshua tears down the wall separating Jew and Gentile through the sacrifice of his own flesh. Because he died, Jew and Gentile no longer stand on opposite sides of the chasm of obedience. Both are given free access to God’s grace. Both are empowered to follow Torah. Once enemies, they are now brothers. Yeshua died for all so that all might enter into the Kingdom. The “law of commandments contained in ordinances” once stood as an occasion for hostility between Jew and Gentile. No longer. Gentiles no longer are excluded from fellowship. God’s grace touches them too. Jews are no longer constrained from embracing Gentiles. God’s grace includes all. The artificial wall constructed from ethnic animosity is gone. Yeshua has removed it. Therefore, what once looked like strife caused by Torah-observant living has been shown to be of no consequence to the operation of grace. Now all may enter into the Kingdom.
Many English translations portray these verses as if they suggest Paul considered the crucifixion as the abolition of Torah. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ambiguity in the Greek text means that these verses cannot be used by themselves to argue for Torah nullification. We must look at this subject in relation to all of the New Testament writings (of course, we’ll have to look at the Old Testament too, since the New Testament is commentary on the Old Testament).
Have you been disturbed by the English translations? Do they challenge your thinking? Let those questions drive you to dig. Look for the bigger picture. Listen to what Paul says about his own life after the Damascus road. Think – and learn. Ask yourself if you are ready to discover that Torah obedience is for all believers. Maybe your hesitancy is about the implications for your own life. Maybe the questions are not exegetical but rather personal.
Topical Index: Torah, enmity, abolish, Ephesians 2:14-15