A Brief Look at Ephesians 2:11-22 and short Critique of J.B. Phillips on the passage

19 Feb

Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of the clearest passages in Scripture about the union of Israel and the Gentiles. I find it baffling at how J. B. Phillips tries to work around the “plain reading” of Scripture (something he claims sets him apart from those who would say Israel and the Church are one). While this is by no means an exhaustive commentary on the Ephesian passage, nor an exhaustive critique of Phillips’ work, I would like to take a brief look at the passage as well as some of Phillips’ comments and make a few of my own, and show how the dispensationalismsystem he holds (which has only been around since the 1830’s) is founded on an assumption not Scriptural teaching.

Here is the passage in discussion:


11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcision,” which is done in the flesh by human hands.12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.[d] 17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. 22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22


In speaking of vs 12, Phillips says, “prior to the great dispensational change that has now taken place, the only way a Gentile could partake of the spiritual blessings and covenantal benefits of Israel was to become a Jewish proselyte. Gentiles were natural-born aliens and had no part in the great covenantal promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. Cut off from these promises, the Gentiles had no hope and were without God.” He goes on to say that once the gospel came, “Now they [Gentiles] no longer needed to belong to the commonwealth of Israel; they could establish a direct relationship with God themselves.” (Exploring Ephesians and Philippians: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips, pg. 70)

There is much he assumes to be true here, but is found nowhere in this passage, or any other passage. While he is correct in the fact that Gentiles needed to be proselytes to be a part of the Jewish commonwealth and the covenant promises, he seems to fail to realize that at no point in the history of Israel was simply being a blood-born child of Abraham enough to establish a relationship with Jehovah. It was ALWAYS by faith (Romans 9:1-13, 30-33; Hebrews 11:13 to give just two examples). No one was ever privy to a relationship with Jehovah simply because of who their daddy or grandpa was. But Phillips, along with every other dispensationalist, has to assert this type of distinction. Even though there is no textual support for it, they have to keep Israel and the church separate. So you will see, from the above quote and further down, that every time Phillips speaks of the union of the two he is quick to qualify it in some way as to mark it out as a different type of union. (As you will see, he will even go so far as to take natural born Jews out of Israel and have them join the church.) Phillips states that while the Gentiles were separated from the promises of God to Abraham and his descendants, that now Gentiles are joined to God WITHOUT those things. That there is no need to be a part of the commonwealth of Israel. This line of thinking ignores what Paul said at the start of this passage. “At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”

1.Without the Messiah: a distinct promise Israel was waiting on. The Messiah was so united to Israel that He is called “Israel’s consolation” (Luke 2:25, also note Isaiah 61) and when Simeon sees Jesus he refers to Him as bringing glory to Israel. On that same day, Anna (also in the temple) began to tell everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem about The Messiah. He was the long awaited promise to Israel (Galatians 3:16).

2. Excluded from the citizenship (commonwealth) of Israel: to be outside of God’s people meant you were outside of God’s covenant promises. Now we know that all those who were born into Israel weren’t all partakers of the covenant to Israel, but there was a remnant of the faithful (I Kings 19:18, Romans 9:6, 9:27-29), but one could not be outside of Israel and partake of the promises. Which leads to the third point.

3. And foreigners to the covenants of the promise: To be outside the commonwealth of Israel was to be outside God’s people, thus a stranger to the covenants of the promise (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 17:8; 24:7; Galatians 3:16). The promises were to Abraham’s family.

4. without hope and without God in the world: This sums it up. Gentiles were not part of God’s people, we had no claim to the covenants, no claim to The Messiah, we were strangers among God’s people.

BUT! Paul uses a contrasting conjunction here. “But now in Christ Jesus [or Jesus The Messiah]” all that has changed. When the Messiah came, He didn’t just proclaim peace to Israel, but also to the Gentiles. He brought the kingdom to those who were near and far off. Notice the implications this has on us Gentiles. In verse 19, Pauls says, “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household” We who were outside Israel, are now inside Israel. In other words, we are adopted members into God’s household (Israel). It isn’t that God pulls Jews out of Israel and Gentiles out of the world and make a church apart from Israel, only to eventually go back later and fulfill the promises made to Abraham. Not only is Phillips’ view not taught in this passage, but is contradictory to what is taught. Paul explicitly states that the Gentiles are joined to Israel as God makes this new man. The new man is not just natural born Jews, but Natural born and Unnatural born. Nor is this “new man” something separate from Israel. We see Paul declaring this in Romans 11:11-24 that the natural branches (the physical descendant of Abraham) has been broken off from their OWN tree because they didn’t have faith in their own Messiah while the unnatural branches (the Gentile) is grafted into the Jews OWN tree. It’s not that believing Jews are grafted into a new tree with the believing Gentiles, but that the believing Jews are left in their own tree with the Gentiles being grafted into it. He also states that the Jew can be grafted back into his tree if he/she believes in the prophesied Messiah, but they only need to be grafted in if they were previously cut off due to unbelief).

Pauls also says in Galatians 3:27-28, “27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.” Being joined to Christ makes me a child of Abraham, which makes me an heir according to the promise given Abraham. There is no separating the covenants of Israel from salvation in Christ.


Dispensationalism creates a division within the Scriptures as well as the body of Christ that isn’t there. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah that the OT prophets spoke of. He is the hope that Israel was waiting for. He is the promise Jehovah gave David, the One Moses pointed to, the promised seed of Abraham. You cannot separate the mission of Jesus from Israel. It is clear from the OT and the NT that His very Jewish mission always included adopting the Gentiles into the family (Acts 15:14-18; Amos 9:11-12), and He did just that as we are taught here olive treein Ephesians 2:11-22, as well as in Romans 11, Galatians 3,  and Romans 8:15. Jesus is The Messiah – The Hope and Glory of Israel – and us Gentiles are grafted into that Israelite Olive Tree because of the love and grace of Jehovah! Amen!!



Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Apologetics, Church


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2 responses to “A Brief Look at Ephesians 2:11-22 and short Critique of J.B. Phillips on the passage

  1. Jeremiah Blasi

    February 22, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Good thoughts, Brother! I like how you show the necessity of the reversal of all four “exclusions” in verse 12. As I read this, I was noticing how the following verses deal with all four of those in turn, showing how we have been united in our inheritance of all four – the Christ, the commonwealth, the covenants, and the hope (I’d love a “c” word for this to finish the alliteration, but I’m content to let it lie!)!

    Most dispensationalists won’t argue that we are one in Christ NOW, their problem is that they deny the gospel by insisting that God will once again create a division. But, as Jesus said in another context, what God has brought together, let not man separate!

    Keep it coming. Now I’m thinking about writing more on how verse 12 is clarified in the following verses. Or maybe you can do it and I’ll just share it.

    • danielpulliam

      February 22, 2014 at 11:55 am

      I’d love to read your thoughts on further study/clarification into the following verses! Who says we both can’t blog it? 🙂


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