Ktismatics

23 December 2008

The New Man in Ephesians 2

Filed under: Christianity, Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 5:49 am

In trying to understand the Biblical idea of the “new creation” we’ve looked at the only two Biblical passages that explicitly use the phrase: Galatians 6 and 2 Corinthians 5. There are also three passages which refer explicitly to the “new man,” beginning with Ephesians 2:11-22.

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— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, hope and without hope and having no God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a building of God in the Spirit.

Parallels between this passage and Galatians 6 suggest strongly that for Paul the “new man” and the “new creation” are closely related concepts. The differences between the circumcision and the uncircumcision, between the Jews and the Gentiles, have been abolished. Previously Israel had been granted privileged access to God. But now, through Christ, everyone has access. Paul doesn’t say that the Gentiles have now been granted entry into the commonwealth of Israel, nor that the Jews were already the “new man” even before Christ. Instead, Paul asserts that the barrier that formerly separated Israel and the Gentiles has now been broken down. What previously had been two separate and antagonistic old men — the Jew and the Gentile — God has now joined together into one “new man.” Paul says that this joining-together by Christ is an act of “creating,” the verb κτιζω referring exclusively in the New Testament to God’s acts of creation (and serving as the root of my imaginary English word “ktismatics”).

What was it that had previously kept the two old men apart? Paul doesn’t blame the Gentiles’ sinfulness or unbelief. Instead, he says that the dividing wall was the Law: the commandments and ordinances that distinguished Israel from its neighbors. As in the Galatians passage, Paul here associates the Law with the flesh: circumcision is “performed in the flesh by human hands” (v. 11); Jesus “abolished in the flesh” the enmity between Jew and Gentile, which is the Law itself (v. 15). In destroying the barrier and in creating the one new man, God reconciles Jew and Gentile to one another and establishes peace (v. 15f). Now Jews and Gentiles are fellow-citizens (v. 19), being built together into a spiritual home of God (v. 21f).

Paul doesn’t say that Christ’s resurrection unites the Jew and the Gentile into the one new man. Death in the flesh is the great leveler of fleshly distinctions like Jew and Greek. We are all one man in death. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that Christ broke down the dividing wall of the Law that brought enmity between Jews and Gentiles. This was achieved by “the blood of Christ,” “in His flesh,” through the cross” — that is, through the physical death of Christ. But oneness in death is only the starting point. There’s a change in tone beginning in v. 17:

And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

I think it’s here that Paul shifts from death to resurrection, from flesh to spirit. The Gentiles were far away, the Jews were near, but in the crucifixion these distances were erased. Now, in the resurrection, Christ preaches peace to everyone, grants spiritual access to everyone. Again, Paul says nothing about his readers’ response: it is the efficacy of the resurrection that’s the source of this new spiritual life. The dividing wall is leveled in Christ’s death, making everyone equal in the flesh. In His resurrection everyone is “being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

*  *  *

Now that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been torn down, does all of humanity come together in the new creation as members of the collective “new man”? Or does the traditional interpretation hold: because the structural barrier is broken down, no one is barred access to the new creation, which is entered only by those who exercise faith? When Paul speaks of “God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone,” is he saying that the household includes only those who follow this trajectory of faith?

We’ve observed that Christ’s death is the great social leveler, breaking down the old distinctions between Jew and Gentile and uniting them in one new man. Paul says nothing about Christ’s death being made efficacious only by virtue of his readers’ response of repentance or faith or love. Later in Ephesians Paul begins to emphasize his readers’ active participation in Christ’s work. He entreats them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, with patience and love, in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. This is the new resurrection life that Paul is talking about here.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling. (Eph. 4:4)

The one body comes together in Christ’s death; the one Spirit arises from His resurrection: this is the twofold offer from God. Paul then outlines what will happen as his readers continue to walk in a manner worthy of this offer: grace, gifts, service, maturity. This leads to 4:17, the beginning of the next passage talking about the “new man,” and the subject of a separate post. The thrust of Ephesians is generally this: Christ reconciled everyone in the body of His death; Christ offered new life in the Spirit through His resurrection; Paul encourages his readers to respond appropriately to what Christ has already accomplished. Does Paul propose that a new distinction be made between Christian and non-Christian? Is he collapsing the old distinctions between Jew and Gentile, near and far, microcosm and macrocosm, only to open a pathway to a new microcosm along a different axis, leaving a newly-configured macrocosm separated from God outside a newly-erected dividing wall?

In Chapter 5 Paul does invoke certain threats about the loss of inheritance in the kingdom and about the wrath of God. And in 4:17 he encourages his Gentile readers not to live the way they once did, in a life excluded from God. But the thrust remains consistent: Christ did these things for you, therefore you should respond appropriately to what Christ has already done. If you don’t, then you’re living the life of the “old man,” where fleshly distinctions like Jew versus Gentile still hold sway. It would appear that even believers can slip back into the fleshly old man, separated from the spiritual life of God in the resurrected Christ. Does this mean that individual believers can go back and forth between saved and lost, between being Christian and being non-Christian? I don’t think that’s what Paul has in mind here.

* * *

It seems that, for Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection was an objective event that ushered in a new way of becoming a subject, of becoming a self. Paul presents this new subjectivity in contradistinction to the two main alternatives on offer in the first century: Israel and Greece/Rome.

Jewishness was based on exclusivity: the distinct geography, ethnicity, laws, and rituals were all intended to establish boundaries between inside and outside. To be Jewish would be to participate in this exclusivity, defining oneself according to collective and rigidly defined differences. The Gentile nations had their own distinctives too of course, turning the ancient Near East into a hodgepodge of separate nations whose perpetual conflicts derived from their essential similarity to one another as exclusionary microcultures.

The Empire model of Rome replaced exclusive communitarianism with universalism. Local distinctions could be maintained as long as everyone paid tribute to Rome. Military might ensured compliance. Greece provided a philosophical basis for this sort of universalism: all local differences constitute imperfect variations on the one ideal model of self, society, law, etc. To be Greco-Roman is to become generic, to define yourself in a way that disregards differences.

I think that Paul’s “new man” constitutes a different way. Local variations aren’t important, but not because they’re immersed in the universal solvent of comprehensive political, economic and legal systems that dissolve all differences. No law, says Paul; I’m dead to law, alive to love and the spirit. No Jew or Gentile, but no Roman or Greek either. One new man, but a man comprised of a wide diversity of men walking and working together toward some unprecedented truth and maturity and plenitude that can barely be glimpsed from here.

Whatever else Jesus was, he was a man. Jewish exclusivity and Roman universalism conspired together to do him in. But there arises in the resurrection some other way of being a subjective agent in the world rather than just an object defined by these two competing ways, both of which lead to the same death. I don’t think this makes the resurrected Christ a libertarian, carving his idiosyncratic course like some Nietzschean superman. Instead his is a subjectivity that’s characterized not by ego but by love: fellow heirs, free subjects freely working together. This is neither an us-versus-them exclusive cult nor a one-size-fits-all empire of universal indifference, nor even a scattered multitude of free-ranging individualists, but rather a new way of being an active collaboration of free subjects freely joining themselves together in common cause.

Advertisements

3 Comments »

  1. K: One new man, but a man comprised of a wide diversity of men walking and working together toward some unprecedented truth and maturity and plenitude that can barely be glimpsed from here….his is a subjectivity that’s characterized not by ego but by love: fellow heirs, free subjects freely working together. This is neither an us-versus-them exclusive cult nor a one-size-fits-all empire of universal indifference, nor even a scattered multitude of free-ranging individualists, but rather a new way of being an active collaboration of free subjects freely joining themselves together in common cause.

    Right on.

    Good distinctions here.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 26 December 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  2. This article was well said. True love by the new man can change the world. It is the only true way. No walls, only love, peace and tranquility. I thank God that Christ’ view on human beings was that of pure love. One day Christ will head up all things whether on earth or in heaven, and will according to 1st Corinthians turn the kingdom over to the Father. Not a half kingdom, or a kingdom where darkness exist, or some hell fire conjures up in some freaks mind. Christ will destroy the works of the devil, by the works of God. Death will one day meet his enemy. God is about life. That is the outcome of the human race once God is finished. But O’, it will only be the beginning.

    Like

    Comment by Vance — 1 January 2009 @ 12:39 am

  3. Thanks for the comment, Vance. It’s this version of Christianity I can live with, even though I’m not a believer myself.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 1 January 2009 @ 2:16 am


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: