The word of the day is “therefore.” In today’s reading of Ephesians 2:19-3:7, Paul writes that though they are gentiles, the Ephesians are “no longer strangers and foreigners.” They are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (vs. 2:19). That is, non-Jews are equal members of the church. And both Jews and Gentiles are being “built together” into a temple, a dwelling place of God.
The Controversy is Over: Gentiles Are Fully Accepted
Note the triumphant tone of this letter compared with Paul’s earlier letters. Time has passed. The controversy over the incorporation of the Gentiles into the church has been resolved. The Holy Spirit has made known the “mystery” of God’s plan “to His holy apostles and prophets” (vs. 3: 4-5). The apostle no longer must defend His mission to preach the Gospel to those who were once “strangers and foreigners” to the People of God (vs. 3:19). No one disputes that because the Gentiles believe the Gospel, they should be considered “fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ” just as the Jewish Christians are (vs. 3:6).
How was this seemingly insurmountable rift between Jews and Gentiles bridged? We find the answer in what Paul writes before today’s reading. The seemingly insignificant word “Therefore” (vs.19) ties what we are reading today to the earlier verses. This term connects the new status of the Gentiles with what has caused this change.
All Have the Same Access to God the Father
If we translate the “Therefore” in this verse as “consequently,” the meaning becomes clear. Through the reconciliation of the cross of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles have the same “access” to God the Father. By (or in) one Spirit, they are escorted into the presence of Almighty God (Strong’s #4318, 212-13) as one would enter the court of a king.
Their access to God is the consequence of the work of the Holy Trinity. By the cross, the Son of God wiped out the ancient hostility between Jews and Gentiles (vs. 16). This work of our salvation was to the Father, through Jesus Christ, the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we also have admittance to the presence of God by the Holy Trinity.
The incorporation of the Gentiles into the church was so miraculous that it seemed to be a sign of the ultimate hope in Christ. Paul put it “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He [God] might gather together into one all things in Christ, “things in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10).
The Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles and the Unity of Creation
The connection between the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles and the unity of all creation in Christ is natural to Orthodox thought. For example, Fr. George C. Papademetriou writes, “In the new Israel, the Church, all human beings are incorporated without regard to their race and gender-united into one Body of Christ, both Jews and gentiles, brought together in Christ. The formerly “separated” and “distanced” Jews and gentiles now exist in harmony in the Church as the Body of Christ. The salvific mission of Christ is universal” (Papademetriou 2008).
Note here that Father Papademetriou’s thought shifts without pause from the incorporation of “all human beings” “into One Body of Christ to the reconciliation of “both Jews and gentiles” Then Papademetrius goes back to the “universal mission of the Church.” It is as if the gathering of both Jews and Gentiles in the church prefigures the unity of “all things in heaven and earth” in Christ at the end of time.
Papademetriou, George C. 2008. “The People of God an Orthodox Perspective.” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. https://www.goarch.org/-/the-people-of-god-an-orthodox-perspective.