Hymn of Peace (Ephesians 2:14-16)

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Paul breaks his speech to the Ephesians in verses 2:14-16, and begins a short discourse that is composed as a hymn. This is well discerned by a change of the personal prepositions from the first person plural (we) to the third person singular (he).

In this discourse, Paul brings to the foreground a Christology of peace beginning with the introductory statement of “for he is our peace (αὐτὸς γάρ ἐστιν ἡ εἰρήνη ἡμῶν [autos gar estin hé eiréné hémón])” (Eph 2:14) that is also announcing the main topic for the whole hymn.

The hymnic nature is even more enforced by using aorist participles: ποιήσας (made), λύσας (breaking down), καταργήσας (inactivate), ἀποκτείνας (destroy). These participles bring out the essence of Christ’s peacemaking.

The reconciliation of peace is made first on a horizontal level - humanity (Eph 2:14-15a), and then on a vertical level - God (Eph 2:15b-17). Both of these levels are described in progression from the horizontal gradually causing changes up in the vertical.

The horizontal level pictures a division in humanity that is broken down in order to make a place for a new kind of united humanity. First, the division is described by the word “enmity (ἔχθρα [echthra])” which is an aptly summary for statements “both groups (τὰ ἀμφότερα [ta amfotera])” and “dividing wall by a fence (τὸ μεσότοιχον τοῦ φραγμοῦ [to mesotoichon tú fragmú]).” Both of these enmities are reconciled - broken down (λύσας [lysas], later designaed as καταργήσας and ἀποκτείνας) by uniting them by means of “in his flesh (ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ [en té sarki autú])” (Eph 2:14).

In the following verses (Eph 2:15a), this enmity is further specified as regarding the Law - “the Law of commandments in ordinances (τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν ἐν δόγμασιν [ton nomon tón entolón en dogmasin]).” That the Law is in view is attested by the preceding context in Ephesians 2:11-13 pointing to circumcision (περιτομή [peritomé]) and covenant (διαθήκη [diathéké]). This division mark is also apparent in the cultural context in the prohibition of Gentiles from entering the inner courts of the Temple or in ethnocentric delineation as outlined in the Letter of Aristeas (see 139…).

Now, in crescendo - the vertical level (Eph 2:15b-17), the effects of Christ’s actions are causing two particular changes marked by two subjunctive aorist verbs (κτίσῃ, ἀποκαταλλάξῃ). Right at the beginning of this part, we can see that these particular changes are argued as purpose (ἵνα [hina]) (Eph 2:15b). Therefore, the purpose behind the peacemaking here is to “create the two … into one new human/humanity (τοὺς δύο κτίσῃεἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον [tús dyo ktisé … kainon anthrópon])” (Eph 2:15b) who are also united in “one body (ἑνὶ σώματι [heni sómati])” (Eph 2:16).

In the second stated purpose, the act of newly restored humanity is climaxing in the relationship with God on the vertical level since they are “reconciled … with God (ἀποκαταλλάξῃ τῷ θεῷ [apokatallaxé … tó theó])” (Eph 2:16). The concrete tool used for the reconciliation is explicitly described as “through the cross (διὰ τοῦ σταυροῦ [dia tú staurú])” causing the destruction of the enmity between humanity and God.

Throughout the hymn Jesus Christ is mentioned as the sole mediator of these changes: “he is (αὐτὸς ἐστιν [autos estin])”, “in his flesh (ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ [en té sarki autú])”, “in him (ἐν αὐτῷ [en autó])”.

The whole hymn is using parallel concepts with the Colossians 1:15-20 hymn such as reconciliation and crucifixion. This seems natural since these two letters are commonly regarded as very similar having multiple parallels.