Ephesians 2:11
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;
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(11) Gentiles in the fleshi.e., not having the bodily impress of circumcision, sealing the Jewish covenant.

Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision.—The 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.” The declaration of the nullity of circumcision as a religious distinction is often repeated, yet takes various forms. Thus, in 1Corinthians 7:19, it is contrasted with the practical reality of obedience to God’s commandments; in Galatians 5:6, with the inner reality of “faith working by love “; in Galatians 6:15, with the divine gift of the “new creation”; in Colossians 3:11, with the spiritual unity of all in Christ. (Comp. also the whole argument of Romans 2:25 to Romans 4:12.)

In the flesh made by hands.—St. Paul, however, not content with this, suggests by the addition of these last words a contrast between the false or carnal, and the true or spiritual circumcision, attributing the former to the unbelieving Jews, the latter to all Christians. This contrast is expressly announced in the other Epistles of this period. In Philippians 3:2-3, we read, “Beware of the concision; for we are the circumcision.” In Colossians 2:11, still more distinctly, in significant connection with the appointed means of entrance into the Christian covenant, and significant contrast with the effete Jewish ordinance, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision not made with hands . . . in the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, in which also ye are risen with Him.” In that true circumcision lies the distinction between the Church, which is the spiritual Israel, and the heathen world without.

Ephesians 2:11-12. Wherefore — To increase your sense of God’s goodness in saving you, and of the obligation he hath thereby laid on you to do good works; remember that ye being in time past Gentiles — Ignorant, vicious, and idolatrous, neither circumcised in body nor in spirit; who were accordingly called Uncircumcision — By way of reproach, by that which is called the Circumcision — By those who call themselves the circumcised, and think this a proof that they are the people of God; and who, indeed, have that outward circumcision in the flesh made by hands — By this description of circumcision, the apostle puts his readers in mind of the inward circumcision, the circumcision of the heart, made by the Spirit of God, of which the outward circumcision was only an emblem, (Romans 2:29,) and intimated that the Jews had no reason to boast of the outward circumcision, unless it was accompanied with the circumcision of the heart. That ye were without Christ — Having no faith in him, or knowledge of him, and so were destitute of all those blessings which he bestows on his believing and obedient people; being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel — Both as to their temporal privileges and spiritual blessings; and strangers from the covenants of promise — Namely, that made with Abraham, and that made with the Israelites at Sinai, which promised and prefigured Christ’s coming to procure and bestow those blessings. As the promises contained in these covenants centred in the great promise of the Messiah, and of salvation through him, he therefore speaks of them in the singular number, as only one promise. Having no hope — No sure hope, either of present pardon or future felicity, because they had no promise whereon to build their hope. That the heathens had among them the doctrine of a future state,” says Dr. Doddridge, “and that it was popularly taught, and generally believed by the common people, must, I think, appear incontestable, to any who are at all acquainted with antiquity; but it is as apparent that they reasoned very weakly upon the subject, and that they had no well-grounded hope of future happiness, and that they were but very little impressed with it, so that they had no Deity to which they prayed for eternal life, as the fathers often demonstrate. And by far the greater part of their most learned philosophers either expressly denied, in private lectures to their pupils, the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, or taught principles quite inconsistent with it.” And without God — Being wholly ignorant of the true God, and so in effect atheists. Such in truth are, more or less, all men, in all ages, till they know God by the teaching of his own Spirit: in the world — The wide, vain world, wherein ye wander up and down, unholy and unhappy. “Both the Christians and heathens,” as Dr. Whitby observes, “called each other atheists, though both worshipped some deity, real or imaginary; because each supposed the other to reject that which was the true object of adoration. But it is not to be conceived that the apostle would have given to the heathens the character of atheists, if the worship of the one living and true God had really prevailed among them to that degree which some Christian divines have incautiously maintained that it did. The truth of the matter seems to have been, that, though several of them speak of their Jupiter in terms proper to the one self-existent and eternal Deity only, yet they taught and believed other things of him quite inconsistent with such perfections. And those who had some knowledge of the one Supreme Eternal Cause, yet practically disregarded him: and, however they might reconcile it with the dictates of their consciences, worshipped inferior deities; and many of them such as were represented under the most scandalous characters, to the neglect of the Supreme Being, and the destruction of all true religion.”

2:11-13 Christ and his covenant are the foundation of all the Christian's hopes. A sad and terrible description is here; but who is able to remove himself out of it? Would that this were not a true description of many baptized in the name of Christ. Who can, without trembling, reflect upon the misery of a person, separated for ever from the people of God, cut off from the body of Christ, fallen from the covenant of promise, having no hope, no Saviour, and without any God but a God of vengeance, to all eternity? To have no part in Christ! What true Christian can hear this without horror? Salvation is far from the wicked; but God is a help at hand to his people; and this is by the sufferings and death of Christ.Wherefore remember - The design of this evidently is, to excite a sense of gratitude in their bosoms 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 faculty of the mind can be better employed to produce humility, penitence, gratitude, and love, than the memory. It is well to recall the recollection of our former sins; to dwell upon our hardness of heart, our alienation, and our unbelief; and to remember our wanderings and our guilt, until the heart be affected, and we are made to feel. 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.

That ye being in time past - Formerly - (ποτε pote.)

Gentiles in the flesh - You were Gentiles "in the flesh," i. e., under the dominion of the flesh, subject to the control of carnal appetites and pleasures.

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 pale 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; compare Judges 14:3; Judges 15:18; 1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 31:4; Ezekiel 31:18.

By that which is called the Circumcision - By those who are circumcised, i. e., by the Jews.

In the flesh made by hands - In contradistinction from the circumcision of the heart; see the notes at Romans 2:28-29. They had externally adopted the rites of the true religion, though it did not follow that they had the circumcision of the heart, or that they were the true children of God.

11. The Greek order in the oldest manuscripts is, "That in time past (literally, once) ye," &c. Such remembrance sharpens gratitude and strengthens faith (Eph 2:19) [Bengel].

Gentiles in the flesh—that is, Gentiles in respect to circumcision.

called Uncircumcision—The Gentiles were called (in contempt), and were, the Uncircumcision; the Jews were called, but were not truly, the Circumcision [Ellicott].

in the flesh made by hands—as opposed to the true "circumcision of the heart in the Spirit, and not the letter" (Ro 2:29), "made without the hands in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col 2:11).

In the flesh; either:

1. Carnal, unregenerate, as Romans 8:8,9. Or rather:

2. Uncircumcised in the flesh, as well as in heart, Ezekiel 44:7; such as neither had the grace signified, nor the sign representing it.

Who are called Uncircumcision, by way of reproach; to be uncircumcised being the badge of them that were not Israelites, and so were not in the number of God’s people.

By that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; i.e. by those that are circumcised; the abstract here, as in the former clause, being put for the concrete. He means the carnal Jews, who had the circumcision of the flesh which was made with hands, but not that of the heart, Romans 2:29, made without hands, Colossians 2:11.

Wherefore remember, that ye be in time past Gentiles in the flesh,.... This, with what follows in the next verse, the apostle puts the converted Ephesians in mind of, in order to magnify the grace of God in their conversion; and to humble them in a view of their former state and condition; and to teach them that they could never be saved by any works of theirs: particularly he would have them call to mind, that they were in "time past Gentiles"; which does not so much regard the nation and country they were of, for in that sense they were Gentiles still; but their state and condition; they had been very blind and ignorant, were Gentiles that knew not God; they had been very wicked and profligate sinners of the Gentiles; and they had been "Gentiles in the flesh": not according to the flesh, or by birth, for so they were then; but in the time of their unregeneracy they were carnal, and minded the things of the flesh, walked after it, and fulfilled the lusts, and did the works of it; particular respect seems to be had to their uncircumcision in the flesh, to which circumcision in the flesh is opposed in the next clause:

who are called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that is, they were by way of reproach and contempt called uncircumcised persons; than whom none were more abominable to the Jews, and hated by them, who were called circumcised persons 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"; which any one might be, except a Gentile (u); an Israelite adult and skilful 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.

(u) Maimon. Hilchot Milah, c. 2. sect. 1.

{10} Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are {k} called Uncircumcision by that which is {l} called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;

(10) Applying the former doctrine to the Gentiles, he shows that they were not only as the Jews by nature, but also after a special manner, strangers and without God. Therefore they ought so much the more remember that same so great a benefit of God.

(k) You were called in no other state than as Gentiles, so that all the world might witness your uncleanness.

(l) Of the Jews who were known by you by the mark of circumcision, the mark of the covenant.

Ephesians 2:11. Διό] Therefore, because such exalted and unmerited benefits have been imparted to us (Ephesians 2:4-10). These benefits should move the reader to remember his former miserable heathen state (ποτέ, Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:21), in order the more gratefully to appreciate, by contrast with the past, the value of his present state.

ὅτι ποτὲ ὑμεῖς τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί] Neither ἦτε nor ὄντες is to be supplied, but (observe the order critically vouched for: ποτὲ ὑμεῖς) ὅτι is taken up again by the ὅτι of Ephesians 2:12, and ποτέ by τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ, Ephesians 2:12; while τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί is a descriptive definition to ὑμεῖς, to which it is related by way of apposition, and οἱ λεγόμενοι κ.τ.λ. is attributive definition to ὑμεῖς τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί: that at one time ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, ye who (quippe qui) were named Foreskin … that ye at that time, etc.

τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί] is closely connected as one conception, and hence without the article before ἐν σαρκί. This ἐν σαρκί is, as to its meaning, necessarily defined by the undoubted meaning of the following ἐν σαρκί; on which account it is neither to be taken, as a contrast to regeneration, of the former unholy life of the readers (Ambrosiaster, Calovius, Wolf, Holzhausen), nor as origine carnali, natalibus (Bucer, Grotius, Estius, Koppe, Rosenmüller, Flatt), nor is it to be generalized into respectu status externi (Morus). It has reference to the foreskin. In the flesh, on account of the non-circumcised foreskin, the character ethnicus was inherent.

The τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σ., with the article, designates the readers as to their category. The contempt, however, incurred in their pre-Christian state lies not in τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σ. (for this they still remained), but in the following οἱ λεγόμενοι κ.τ.λ.; although we may not, by mentally supplying (with Chrysostom and his successors) the contrast οὐκ ἐν πνεύματι, make ἐν σαρκί into an element of recommendation.

οἱ λεγόμενοιχειροπ.] is not to be placed in a parenthesis (Griesbach, Scholz), seeing that it is a continued description of the Gentile state of the readers. As the ἔθνη τῇ σαρκί, they were those designated by the name Foreskin! And, then, the delineation of this despised relation is brought to a yet higher climax when it is specified by whom they were thus reproachfully designated, namely, by the so-called Circumcision, which is made in the flesh with the hand. So low was the position you occupied! By those who bear the name of this surgical operation performed on the flesh (counterpart of the ideal circumcision, Romans 2:28 f.; Php 3:3; Colossians 2:11; Acts 7:51), and hence have by it in and of itself no pre-eminence at all, you must allow yourselves to be designated, for want of this external rite, with the reproachful name of Foreskin! ἐν σαρκὶ χειροπ. does not pertain to λεγομ., but is an addition of the apostle himself to περιτ., describing how the matter stands. The abstracta ἀκροβ. and περιτ. do not here stand Proverbs concretis, but are stated names, by which the concretes were in accordance with their peculiar character designated. Comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 : ἐπὶ πάντα λεγόμενον Θεὸν ἢ σέβασμα. The circumstance that Paul, instead of ὑπὸ τῆς λεγομένης, has not again employed the plural expression ὑπὸ τῶν λεγομένων, is to be explained by the fact that he wishes to indicate the περιτομή as a name, which is not adequate to the idea of it in the case of the subjects so termed: by the so-called circumcision. The expression is depreciatory (comp. 1 Corinthians 8:5) as concerns the people who bore the name περιτομή; whereas οἱ λεγόμενοι ἀκροβυστία would indicate not the conception of “so-called,” but, in a purely objective manner, the mentioned fact: “those called Foreskin” (Hebrews 9:3).

Ephesians 2:11-22. The second half of this chapter makes a paragraph by itself. Its subject is the case of those Gentile believers whom Paul has immediately in view—their heathen past and their Christian present. They are reminded of what they once were—outside Christ, outside the special privilege of Israel, without hope, and without God; and of what they have come to be by the power of Christ’s death—placed on an equality with the chosen people, brought nigh to the Father, made part of the household of God and the living temple of the Lord.

11–22. Regeneration of the Ephesians, an instance of the equal welcome of Gentiles to the Covenant Church, the true Temple

11. Wherefore remember] Here first the Apostle deals with the special fact of the previous Gentilism of his converts. Hitherto he has spoken of their regeneration, and incorporation into Christ, with regard to the state of fallen humanity in general; “when we were dead … He quickened us,” &c. The further element in the phenomenon now appears, that the recipients of the Epistle had been “outsiders” as regarded any explicit covenant of redemption. In itself, spiritual regeneration was equally gracious and sovereign for Jew and for Gentile. But as to any previous intimations, it must needs come with a greater surprise to the Gentile.

It is perhaps impossible in the nineteenth century of Christendom to realize fully what was the marvel in the first century of the full revelation of an equal welcome for all nations to the Messiah’s covenant. But the fact that it was then a marvel remains a matter of permanent Divine instruction. Cp. in general on the subject Acts 10; Romans 2, 3, 9-11; Galatians 2-4.

in time passed] Lit., once.

Gentiles] Lit., the Nations; Heb., haggôyîm; the races outside Israel. Rabbinic Judaism regarded them with feelings akin to those with which an old-fashioned high-caste Hindoo regards a European. Some precepts of the Talmud (though much later, in their collected form, than St Paul’s day,) are fair illustrations: “It is forbidden to give good advice to a Gentile;” “it is forbidden to cure idolaters, even for pay; except on account of fear;” “he that steals from a Gentile is only to pay the principal; for it is said, He shall pay double unto his neighbour” (McCaul’s Old Paths, p. 17, &c.).

Meanwhile, these gross distortions had behind them the spiritual fact here given by St Paul, that “the Gentiles,” before the Gospel, were on a really different level from Israel as to covenant with God in Christ. Pharisaism took a totally wrong line, but started from a point of truth.

in the flesh] Does this mean, “physically,” or (Romans 8:8; and often) “in the unregenerate state”? Surely the former, for the same phrase immediately below clearly refers to a physical thing, literal circumcision. Here probably the special reference is to the absence of the bodily mark of covenant. They were uncircumcised Gentiles, at a time when no way was yet revealed, other than that of circumcision, by which to enter into explicit covenant with God.

called Uncircumcision] Or, regarding English usage of the article, the Uncircumcision; this was their sobriquet with the Pharisee; often used, no doubt, by the Pharisee Saul. The lack of the bodily mark was the condemning, and characteristic, thing, supplying a short expression for a state of entire difference and alienation.

called the Circumcision] The race of the circumcised, the Jews. The point of this clause is best given by paraphrase: “So you were called by the bearers of the mark of the Abrahamic covenant, a mark divinely ordained, but spiritually valueless where there is no spiritual contact with God, and therefore, when vaunted as a title (‘called the Circumcision’) by the unspiritual Pharisee, no better than a mere bodily operation, (‘circumcision in the flesh, wrought by hand’).” The best illustration is the close of Romans 2, where the theme is the uselessness, for spiritual purposes, of the sacramental mark in unspiritual persons. This short clause is, as it were, a condensed statement of the truths fully stated in Romans 2. But it is quite passing here; the main point here being, not the harsh estimate of Gentiles by Pharisees, but the real difference in covenant-position which that estimate exaggerated.

made by hands] Better, wrought by hand. Cp. Colossians 2:11 for the antithesis, “the circumcision wrought without hands;” a thing spiritual, invisible, the covenant mark from the Divine point of view—regeneration of nature.—The Pharisees “called” themselves “The Circumcision;” St Paul vitiates the word of privilege, or rather their use of it, by the added words, “hand-wrought, in the flesh.”

Ephesians 2:11. Μνημονεύετε, remember) Such remembrance sharpens gratitude and strengthens faith, Ephesians 2:19.—τὰ ἔθνη) הגוים, the Gentiles. ἐν σαρκὶ, in the flesh) Paul purposely joins this expression with Gentiles, for the Jews simply called the Gentiles the uncircumcision, not the uncircumcision in the flesh.—οἱ λεγόμενοι ἀκροβυστία, who are called uncircumcision) intended as a great insult to you. The word called, masc. and neut. (λεγόμενοι, λεγομένης), applied to the uncircumcision and the circumcision, shows that these words are no longer in use, since the distinction is taken away.—λεγομένης, called) This word is construed with the circumcision, apart from the epithet, in the flesh made by hands.[26] And the circumcision is used in the concrete for the people circumcised; in the flesh made by hands, in the abstract.

[26] i.e. λεγομένης does not apply to these last words.—ED.

Verses 11-22. - CONTRAST BETWEEN PAST AND THE PRESENT. Verse 11. - Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh. The practical tenor of the apostle's teaching is indicated by his "wherefores." He is always gathering up his views into some lesson. They are to "remember" the change between the past and the present - what they were by nature, and what they had become by grace. This is most useful to all, even though the contrast between the two be not so vivid as in the case of Paul and the Ephesians. The contrast is indicated in various particulars, both of outward condition and of inward privilege and character. First, the old condition. They were "Gentiles in respect of the flesh" - not bearing on their bodies the mark of the Israel of God, therefore not marked out for blessing, not apparently near it. Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands. Nicknamed, as it were, Uncircumcision by those who in a fleshly or mechanical, but not always in the true spiritual sense (comp. Romans 2:28, 29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11), were called Circumcision; they had a name which denoted the very opposite of that given to God's people - another illustration of their apparent distance from blessing; they revolved round the sun, as it were, not in the nearer orbits of planets warmed, brightened, and beautified by the solar beams, but in the outermost ring of all - like the cold, dark orbit of Uranus or Neptune, which the sunbeams hardly reach to lighten or to warm. Ephesians 2:11Uncircumcision - circumcision

Abstract for concrete terms, the uncircumcised and circumcised.

Which is called

Notice the irony, giving back the called of the circumcised.

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