Race and Scripture

Welcome to our exploration of St. Paul’s approach to addressing racial disparities by means of the Holy Trinity. The teachings of St. Paul, a foundational figure in early Christianity, offer invaluable insights into navigating and mending racial divisions within the community of believers. This dedicated page invites you to delve into the epistles of the Ephesians, where he eloquently articulates a vision of unity inspired by the theological principles of the Holy Trinity.

St. Paul’s writings reveal a remarkable understanding of the transformative power of the Holy Trinity in fostering harmony among diverse individuals. As we navigate the complexities of racial disparities within the context of the Coptic Orthodox Church, St. Paul’s approach becomes a compelling guide. His letters underscore the inherent equality of all believers, drawing parallels to the unity within the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Throughout this exploration, we will delve into a passage that illuminate his approach to addressing racial differences and promoting a sense of belonging within the Christian community. By examining how St. Paul integrates the principles of the Holy Trinity into his teachings, we aim to draw lessons that resonate with contemporary challenges. Join us on this insightful journey as we glean wisdom from St. Paul’s timeless guidance, seeking inspiration for fostering unity and inclusivity within our own faith communities.

Postmodernism encapsulates an ever-evolving social and cultural landscape; the challenge of addressing societal disparities persists across diverse cultural settings. In the broader context of Christianity, this contemporary challenge posits questions concerning the essence of God’s love, justice, and unity. Regarding the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America, inspiring racial unity and a harmonious ethos poses an ongoing challenge. Here we will journey into the heart of a biblical passage – Ephesians 2:11-22 – to shed light on the interplay between the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the issue of racial exclusivity in the Church. Ephesians 2:11-22 emphasizes the theme of reconciliation and unity, highlighting the transformative power of Christ’s work in bringing together diverse groups of believers. Ephesians 2:11-22 emphasizes the theme of reconciliation and unity, highlighting the transformative power of Christ’s work in bringing together diverse groups of believers.

The Trinity Explored in Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1 addresses the Father’s plan for salvation, the work of Christ in redeeming us, and the sealing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a promise of our inheritance. Once the role of the Trinity has been clearly identified through this initial analysis, we’ll examine Ephesians 2:11-22 where we’ll will continue to establish the Trinity’s role in the believers’ unity with the understanding of the Trinitarianism that has been established earlier.

Themes of the Trinity appear throughout the book of Ephesians, beginning in Ephesians 1:4-14. By first looking at verses 4-14, we can discern the distinct roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit while simultaneously elucidating how they collaborate in the overall narrative. Harold Hoehner, in Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, writes, regarding verses 1:4-14:

There has been much discussion on the form and structure of this passage. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was fashionable to see these verses as a hymn. Various interpreters up to the present time have proposed ways to divide it… After the doxology in verse three, it should be divided around the three persons of the Trinity with the words of praise ending each section, namely God the Father in verses 4-6, the Son in verses 7-12, and the Holy Spirit in verses 13-14.[37]

[37] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker Academic, 2002), 153-155.

Hoehner, in his description of the passage, brings awareness to what will be my focus of this initial examination. This scriptural passage presents a portrait of the triune Godhead, each person participating uniquely in the overarching divine plan of redemption.

[38] Although Paul is identified as the author in the first verse, many modern scholars have suggested that the true author could have been a more complex authorial reference. This website, however, will assume that Paul wrote the book of Ephesians. For a thorough discussion, see Lynn H. Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1940), 3-25.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.[39]

[39] Peter E. Gillquist, Alan Wallerstedt, Joseph Allen, and Saint Athanasius Orthodox Academy Saint Barbara, Calif., eds. The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms, New King James Version (Nashville, Tenn: T. Nelson, 1993), Ephesians 1:4-14. Unless otherwise noted, all Biblical passages will be referenced from this Bible.

In the opening of this passage (v. 1), the presence of both God and Christ is explicit in the text. (v. 1), and although not overtly mentioned, we do also see the Spirit at work here. God, in his divine plan, brought salvation to the world through the sacrifice of his Son, and it is through the Holy Spirit that God’s will is actualized, with Paul serving as his appointed apostle. This interplay between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is explicated by Marcius Victorinus, who writes, “When Jesus Christ elected Paul and made him an apostle, he elected him through the Spirit by the will of God or the power through whom God works his will” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.1.1.) [40]. Lynn Cohick, in The Letter to the Ephesians, elaborates on the roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit here, beginning with God the Father, saying that:

[40] Thomas C. Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 102.

Paul identifies God as “our” Father, who is also the Father of “our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:2-3) … First, God the Father is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. God brings salvation through this one, the Beloved (1:6). God raised Christ from the dead, seated Christ at his right hand, and has subjected all authorities and powers under Christ’s feet. God predestined before time began to accomplish redemption in the Son (1:4-5). God’s action in raising Christ identifies him in relation to Christ the Son. God kept hidden and now reveals the mystery of his redemption that in Christ Gentiles are coheirs with Jews as they both share in the promise of Christ (3:6).[41]

[41] Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians, 61.

If we look specifically at verses 4 and 5, we see that the scripture underscores the Father’s role as the sovereign chooser, the one who “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Paul emphasizes that God chose believers in Christ before the foundation of the world, predestining them to adoption as His sons and daughters (v. 4). Ambrosiaster’s commentary regarding this text reinforces this concept, highlighting that “God, foreknowing all, knew who was going to believe in Christ… Therefore those whom God is said to call will persevere in faith” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.4).[42] Ambrosiaster’s comment points towards God’s eternal plan to bring people into His family through Christ.

[42] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 144. 104.

Themes of the Holy Trinity in Ephesians 2:11-22

Now that Chapter 1 has provided the context of Trinitarianism, we can more clearly examine Ephesians 2:11-22 to highlight the Holy Trinity’s role in the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers and then relate this understanding to the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America. With the understanding of Ephesians 1 as the context for Paul’s attempt to unify Jewish and Gentile Christians in Chapter 2, the following examination of Ephesians 2:11-22 will first attempt to reflect the former division of Gentile Christians from the Jews and their journey to unification with one another by means of the Holy Trinity. Through this analysis, we will, again, highlight the individual roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit throughout the narrative to then reinforce their collaboration and participation as one in the achievement of unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. 

The Trinity will be mentioned with the understanding that Paul is assuming all that has been established in Chapter 1. Beginning in verses 11-12, we read, Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. In the face of persistent ethnic and religious tensions within the church, St. Paul here fearlessly addresses the animosity between Gentile and Jewish Christians. Verses 11 and 12 underscore Paul’s approach to urge the Gentile Christians to recollect that the Jews often referred to them with a derogatory term: “the uncircumcised.” This label (Uncircumcision) was a stark reminder that the absence of the physical mark of God’s covenant on their bodies placed them outside the accepted circle, making them subjects of contempt. 

Exclusion, as such, of Gentiles is made clear in verse 12, when they are regarded as “strangers from the covenants of promise,” thereby being thoroughly recognized as aliens to the people of God. Klyne Snodgrass in The NIV Application Commentary suggests that “Paul wants his readers to remember that they were Gentiles, confined to that which is weak and merely human, being bad-mouthed by Jews, who labeled them ‘the uncircumcision’ and themselves ‘the circumcision.’”[43] In so doing, Paul is preparing his Gentile Christian audience for a more meaningful understanding of the hidden truth (3:4-12) concerning redemption. By urging their recollection, Paul may be seeking to delineate, with clear contrast,their former life of emptiness to their existing united condition in Christ. Keeping in mind the context for Trinitarianism established in Chapter 1, Paul is here beginning to suggest the Trinity’s involvement as an agent of peace and reconciliation, highlighting that “without Christ” and “without God,” the Gentiles were “aliens to the commonwealth of Israel.” 

When Paul suggests their state of separation by describing it as being “without Christ” and “without God,” it logically follows that Christ and God play a role in their unification with the Jewish Christians. John Chrysostom articulates God’s love for humanity here, suggesting that when Christ came to save man, “God saved us through Himself” while remembering what we were and where He has brought us now (Homily on Ephesians 5.2.11-12).[44] It is clear through these first few verses that the Ephesians being brought near to God is contingent on their being “in Christ Jesus” (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ), similar to how in Ephesians 1:3-6, Paul repeatedly mentions being “in Him” or “in Christ” as the basis for receiving spiritual blessings and being chosen by God. Verse 2:11 underscores God’s intentionality for unity to be deep-seated in man by the blood of Christ. Here, the Son is restated from verses 11-12, emphasizing him as being the means for the fulfillment of unification and reconciliation. Although the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned until verse 18, we can also identify his role in our unity in Christ beginning in verse 11 through this relation to the flesh awaiting the Spirit and the uncircumcised becoming circumcised.

[43] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Academic, 1996), 4.

[44] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 129.

The following verse clarifies specifically what the roles of God the Father and Christ the Son are in this unification. Verse 13 reads, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” From this verse, it can be understood that God’s sacrifice of his Son on the cross is the means by which we become unified “by the blood of Christ.” God the Father initiated the plan of salvation, and his grace and love are the foundation of our unity with believers. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, plays a pivotal role as the means through which we are reconciled to God and, consequently, united with fellow believers. It is crucial to recognize that this unity is not merely a human achievement but a divine work orchestrated by God and fulfilled through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. This is mentioned earlier by Paul in Chapter 2:4-6, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Andrew T. Lincoln in Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians suggests the parallelism between 2:11-22 and 2:1-10, writing that “2:11-22 in its context in the letter as a whole stands in parallel to 2:1-10.”[45] Ultimately, we must understand the significance of God’s plan for salvation and Christ’s redemptive work in this plan to holistically understand their role in the unity between believers.

[45]Andrew T. Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 1990), 131.

While we have clarified the role of Jesus Christ as the agent of peace and reconciliation, this theme is most evident in verses 14-17. The verses state,
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.

At the beginning of verse 14, Jesus is explicitly called “our peace.” Christ being “our peace,” keeping in mind the context of having been “redeemed through His blood” (v. 1:7), according to “the good pleasure of His (God) will” (v. 1:5) and then “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (v. 13), indicates most clearly within this passage (v. 14-17) that the Holy Trinity is the agent by which unity may be achieved, as it is the peace that is Christ Himself that “has made both one” (verse 14). Although he also notes that Christ “makes peace” (verse 15) and “preaches peace” (verse 17), we are ultimately unified in Christ as He is peace. As previously mentioned, it is through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross that two sets of believers, in this case Gentiles and Jews, regardless of their differences, are brought to a level playing field. His atoning work not only reconciles us to God but also unites us in peace, erasing any barriers that may have once existed between us. Here, in verses 14-15, reconciliation and unity from what was once divided is now realized. He then mentions in the latter half of verse 14, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity,” noting that unification is attained “in His flesh.”

Tertullian suggests regarding the phrase in 2:15b, “that he might create in Himself one new man,” that “He was born in a singular way from a virgin by the Spirit of God. He was born to reconcile both Gentile and Jew to God, both of whom had offended God. He reconciled them into one body through the cross” (Against Marcion 5.17.15).[46] Marius Victorinus also comments on this verse, affirming the role of the Holy Spirit, writing, “Their souls have thus been reconciled to the eternal and the spiritual, to all things above. The Savior, through the Spirit, indeed the Holy Spirit, descended into souls” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.14-15).[47] Both Tertullian and Marius Victorinus highlight the extraordinary nature of Christ’s birth and the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the process of reconciliation. They affirm that through Christ, believers, regardless of their divisions, are brought together as one, and this reconciliation extends beyond the physical realm, reaching into the spiritual. Although Paul does not overtly mention this, it is something that follows from his thoughts expressed in verse 2:18 and also in Chapter 1.

In Ephesians 2:18, the Apostle Paul momentarily mentions all three persons of the Trinity in one verse, suggesting that they work in unison with one another in a collective effort to bring unity between Christians. He writes, “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Marius Victorinus writes, “For the Spirit, who is one with Christ, enters unto us when we believe in Christ” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.18).[48] Michael Allen, in Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Ephesians, writes: “The Holy Spirit plays a highlighted role here. Ephesians 2:18 said that our access to the Father was through Christ and ‘in one Spirit.’ Later we will look at verse 22, which recurs to this claim, saying, ‘In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit’… The language of ‘the Spirit’ (2:18, 22) echoes that of 1:3 (‘every spiritual blessing’…).”[49] We achieve access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit. God’s efforts are explicit that man has equal access to God, namely in one Spirit through Christ, as a consequence of our salvation (Eph. 1:5, 7, 2:13, 16, 18). Therefore, the relationship between race and the Trinity in Ephesians 2:11-22 holds strong implications for the whole Church, as conveyed in this verse, and specifically for the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Additionally, Michael Allen writes: “We must read 1:19 alongside 1:18, for there were three things to be known: our hope, our glorious inheritance, and the triune God’s might toward believers.”[50] In verses 19-22, we read,

[46] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 132.

[47] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 132.

[48] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 134.

[49] Michael Allen, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Ephesians (Madison, WI, Brazos Press, 2020), 55-56.

[50] Allen, Ephesians, 56.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

These verses, although they do not overtly mention the three hypostases [51]of the Holy Trinity, suggest insights that can be related to his theology. It effectively demonstrates the unity and transformation of believers and their unification into the family of God through Jesus Christ. In verse 20, just like the apostles, the foundation of our faith relies on the teachings of Christ, and it is through the Spirit that our unity in Christ is achieved, thereby underscoring our unity to the saints, apostles, and prophets. In this passage, believers are depicted as no longer being strangers and foreigners but as integral members of the household of God. This relational imagery explicitly shows that God the Father is the head of the household of God. Within this divine household, believers, both Jews and Gentiles, find acceptance and inclusion, underscoring the Father’s role in adopting them into his family.

The passage further underscores Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone of the spiritual structure being presented (v. 20). O’Brien, in The Letter to the Ephesians, writes: “Salvation is more than believers receiving forgiveness of their sins, deliverance from the grip of the powers, adoptions as children of God, and union with Christ in the resurrection and exaltation. Salvation means union with one another.”[52] One might suggest that the final line should read, “Salvation includes unity with one another.” Psalm 118:22 affirms, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The keystone of the entire structure (as seen in Isaiah 8:14, Mark 12:10, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:6-8) holds everything together only when it is cut to perfection.

Again, while not explicitly mentioning the Holy Trinity, it aligns with the Trinitarian understanding of God. Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. He serves as the central figure around whom the entire spiritual community is built. In the same way that a cornerstone provides stability and alignment to a building, Jesus offers unity and cohesion to the body of believers. Additionally, the notion of believers collectively becoming a dwelling place of God in the Spirit suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit among them, as mentioned in 1 Cor. 3:16. The Holy Spirit dwells within believers, guiding, empowering, and uniting them as one in pursuit of their salvation. Therefore, while the primary focus of this passage is on the unity and transformation of believers through Jesus Christ, it indirectly reflects the Trinitarian nature of God. It underscores how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work in harmony to create a united and spiritually enriched community of believers – Jewish and Gentile Christians. In this sense, the Trinitarian framework provides the theological basis for the unity and transformation portrayed in the passage.

[51] “Hyopstates” is patristic language, however, I will use the term here to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

[52] Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 235.

Themes of Reconciliation and Unity in Ephesians 2:11-22

In this passage, Paul discusses reconciliation with God and among individuals, emphasizing that these aspects are not distinct but rather constitute a single, profound reality accomplished by Christ. Through the shedding of his blood, we have been drawn closer to God. Jesus Himself is the embodiment of our peace, breaking down the barrier within his own flesh and extinguishing animosity through his sacrificial death on the cross. The division and animosity that exist between a holy God and sinful humanity, as well as among various groups of sinners, can only be resolved in one manner: through the cross of Jesus Christ. This represents God’s ultimate purpose in redeeming the world, harmonizing his holiness with his mercy. Michael Allen writes,

If the preceding ten verses (2:1-10) fixate on God’s power made manifest in personal salvation, then these twelve verses (2:11-22) turn our attention to corporate reconciliation wrought by that same power of the Almighty God. In moving to a new realm, however, we are not leaving behind the notion of the new creation – that is, that the Triune God has created us in Christ Jesus.[53]

[53] Allen, Ephesians, 47-48.

Verses 11-13 allude to the Gentile Christians’ former condition without Christ, a time prior to reconciliation, unity, and peace among both Gentile and Jewish Christians. Michael Allen suggests:

An in-depth analysis of their Gentile life must begin with their relationship to Christ, and that relationship has to be defined by ‘separation’ or being ‘apart from’ Christ. This segregation must be understood in juxtaposition to the many instances of inclusivity found earlier in the Epistle, where repeatedly Christians are said to be in Christ in some way (e.g., 1:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10).”[52]

[54] Allen, Ephesians, 50.

I, therefore, argue that this urging to recollect this former time could have been an attempt to bring awareness to their already existing accessibility to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and the role of the Trinity in the salvation of persons.

In the second half of verse 14, we read, “Who has made both one…” Here, we are told that Christ has united Jewish and Gentile believers into one. While Jesus had previously shattered numerous barriers during his earthly ministry—such as dining with tax collectors, affirming the role of women, engaging with Samaritans, and befriending sinners—the most profound act of reconciliation occurred through his death. To be “in one body” (verse 16) signifies a fresh start in understanding the essence of humanity alongside those who were once considered adversaries. Through Christ’s work, Gentile believers are reconciled with their Jewish counterparts by being “brought near by the blood of Christ” (verse 13). This reconciliation bridges the historical divide and brings about unity.

Now, in verse 14, Paul introduces Jesus Christ, saying, “He Himself is our peace,” indicating that Christ is the source of reconciliation. He is depicted as the one who breaks down the “middle wall of separation” (verse 14) and abolishes the enmity, making peace (verse 15). Marius Victorinus writes,

Christ… “is our peace.” Elsewhere, Paul calls him mediator. He interposed himself of his own accord between divided realms. Souls born of God’s fountain of goodness were being detained in the world. There was a wall in their midst, the sort of fence of partition made by the deceits of the flesh and worldly lusts. Christ, by his own mystery, his cross, his passions, and his way of life, destroyed this wall. He overcame sin and taught that it could be overcome. He destroyed the lusts of the world and taught that they ought to be destroyed. He took away the wall in the midst. It was in his own flesh that he overcame the enmity. The work is not ours. We are not called to set ourselves free. Faith in Christ is our only salvation. (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.14-15).[55]

[55] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 130-131.

Through the cross (verse 16), Christ reconciles both groups to God in one body, putting to death the enmity and restoring a harmonious relationship with God.

We continue into verse 15, reading, “so as to create in Himself one new man from the two.” One benefit of setting aside the law was to completely create a new humanity. This indication suggests that Gentile Christians were not absorbed into Judaism, and Jewish Christians did not need to become transformed into Gentile Christians. An entirely new race of humanity was created. John Chrysostom reinforces this point by saying, “The Greek does not have to become a Jew. Rather, both enter a new condition. His aim is not to bring Greek believers into being as different kinds of Jews but rather to create both anew” (Homily on Ephesians 5.2.13-15).[56] Through this act of new creation, Christ makes peace. Those who are in him become new individuals, or when seen as a collective entity, Christ aligns Himself with this communal identity. It is this newly created collective identity that fosters peace. The peace brought about by Christ signifies a coming together or reconciliation among individuals, bridging gaps between people. Snodgrass suggests:

[56] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 132.

In this passage, Paul discusses reconciliation with God and among individuals, emphasizing that these aspects are not distinct but rather constitute a single, profound reality accomplished by Christ. Through the shedding of his blood, we have been drawn closer to God. Jesus Himself is the embodiment of our peace, breaking down the barrier within his own flesh and extinguishing animosity through his sacrificial death on the cross. The division and animosity that exist between a holy God and sinful humanity, as well as among various groups of sinners, can only be resolved in one manner: through the cross of Jesus Christ. This represents God’s ultimate purpose in redeeming the world, harmonizing his holiness with his mercy. Michael Allen writes,

Peace dominates this section both explicitly (vv. 14,15,17 [twice]) and implicitly (unity, destruction, division, hostility, access, and reconciliation). Christ is our peace, makes peace, and proclaims peace. Paul seeks to connect Christ and peace as comprehensively as possible. He is the one who makes peace possible, who announces its availability, and in whom peace is enjoyed. This theology of peace is both a Christological and soteriological statement.[57]

[57] Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary, 4.

We can actively see the Trinity’s participation in facilitating our peace through verses 15-20, as it is through Christ’s resurrection that the division of people is destroyed. Furthermore, in verses 16 and 17, the Scripture points to the reconciliation between humanity and God. Verse 17 mentions how Christ “came and preached peace” to both those who were “afar off” (Gentiles) and those who were “near” (Jews). 

This emphasizes the universal message of reconciliation that Christ proclaimed but also highlights the fullness of our reconciliation being made in Christ through one Spirit. Jerome writes, “It should not be thought possible to achieve perfect and complete reconciliation in this world… The making of the new person in Christ will be fully consummated when earthly and heavenly things have been reconciled when we come to the Father in one Spirit and with one affection and understanding” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.15 SEQ).[58]

[58] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 134.

As we move into verse 20, we read, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Ambrosiaster suggests that “the household of God is built upon both the old and the new covenants. For what the apostles preached had been foretold by the prophets” (Epistle to the Ephesians 2.20).[59] In this verse, Paul is, therefore, speaking of the prophets of old. Ambrosiaster’s interpretation underscores the unity of revelation within the Christian faith. He suggests that the “household of God” is constructed upon both the teachings of the apostles (representing the New Testament) and the prophecies of the prophets (representing the Old Testament). 

This concept highlights the continuity and harmony between the old and new covenants in Christianity. It indicates that what the apostles preached was not a departure from the prophetic tradition but a fulfillment of it. By including both apostles and prophets, Paul and, subsequently, Ambrosiaster highlight the divine source of these teachings. Apostles and prophets were seen as receiving revelations from God, and their teachings were viewed as divinely inspired. This underscores the unity of the message and the common source of divine revelation that unites believers. 

In verse 20, we read, “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” As discussed earlier, this cornerstone was strategically placed as the very first stone in the foundation, serving as the essential reference point for the entire building, essentially guiding and defining the purpose of the entire structure. A new standard has emerged in the current era, that being Christ. Christ here is the center of reconciliation. We have become reconciled to God through Christ’s death on the cross, and so Christ is central to our unification with others. 

The Gentile Christians, therefore, were bound to the Jewish Christians and necessarily unified in Christ through the cross, and therefore to Father and Spirit. Verse 18 highlights that both Gentile and Jewish believers have access to the Father through Christ by one Spirit. This suggests that the Holy Spirit plays a role in facilitating this reconciliation and granting believers access to God.

[59] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 135.

Verses 19-22 depict believers as no longer “strangers and foreigners” (verse 19) but as “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (verse 19). This imagery reflects a profound reconciliation—believers from different backgrounds are now united as part of God’s family. The metaphor of a building emphasizes this unity, again with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. Together, believers form a holy temple in the Lord and a dwelling place of God in the Spirit, signifying their reconciliation and unity as God’s chosen people.

Continuing into verse 21, we read, “In whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Regarding this verse, Marius Victorinus writes, “All souls made spiritual through Christ are joined and built up into a holy temple, where God dwells, As Christ is in all and God in Christ, all are a temple of God through Christ” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.21-22).[60] Here, he begins by emphasizing the transformation of souls through Christ. He speaks of souls being made “spiritual through Christ.” This transformation signifies a fundamental change in individuals. They are no longer defined solely by their earthly characteristics but have undergone a spiritual transformation. He continues to describe how these transformed souls are “joined and built up into a holy temple.” This unity and building-up process symbolize the collective transformation of believers as they come together in Christ. The idea of being “built up” suggests a continuous process of growth and development, further highlighting the ongoing nature of spiritual transformation within the Christian journey. Christ’s presence is foundational as being the source of growth. Reinforcing this notion, Snodgrass writes:

[1] Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 136.

Not only is the building built on Christ Jesus the cornerstone, the whole building exists in him as well. Both 2:21 and 2:22 begin and end with ‘in’ …: In him, the building is bound together and grows into a temple in the Lord; in him, the Gentiles are built together with the Jews to be a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”[61]

[61] Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary, 4.

This notion signifies a profound transformation in identity, aligning believers closely with the character and mission of Christ. Believers, once transformed and united in Christ, become living temples of God. This transformation elevates their purpose, as they are now consecrated vessels, sanctified, and set apart for God’s dwelling.

Moreover, Jesus Christ, identified as the Son, is highlighted as the means for redemption and the agent through whom believers receive forgiveness of sins. His redemptive work through his blood signifies his central role in the salvation narrative (v. 7). Paul demonstrates the relationship between God the Father and Christ by repeatedly mentioning being “in Him” (v. 10) or “in Christ” (v. 12) as the basis for receiving spiritual blessings and being chosen by God. As we progress to verses 10-12, we continue to see Paul reinforcing the idea that “all things” (v. 10) are in Christ. Cohick’s commentary deepens this understanding in writing: “The Son and the Father existed before the creation of the world (1:4), and the mystery now revealed highlights the identity of God as Father, whose son died and was raised so that redemption and a new people might be established.”[62] The relationship between God the Father and the Son is thereby evident in Paul’s writings when he mentions: “In Him, also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him…” (v. 11), as he is suggesting that it is in Christ that believers become adopted into the family of God. It is clear here what the role of God the Father and the Son is in the unity of believers. Having explored the roles of God the Father and the Son in the unity of believers, we now turn our attention to the pivotal role of the Holy Spirit in that unity.

We learn through the text that accessing Christ is accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit. Verses 13 and 14 say, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” The Holy Spirit is thereby the means by which our adoption into God’s family is assured. Cohick writes:

[62] Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians, 63.

The Holy Spirit is integral to the believers’ redemption. First, the Spirit’s presence in the believers’ lives is assurance that they have an inheritance in God’s future Kingdom. Paul described this as being marked with a seal (1:13-14; 4:30). The Holy Spirit is a deposit that guarantees the promises of redemption (1:14).[63]

[63] Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians, 62.

Upon accepting the Gospel of their salvation, which centers around the death and resurrection of Christ, the believers were chosen by God and had his seal, represented by the Holy Spirit, placed upon them (v. 13). This seal serves as a declaration of ownership, signifying that anyone who sincerely believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledging his sacrifice for their sins and his triumph over death, is unmistakably identified as God’s cherished possession through the indwelling of his Spirit. This divine claim extends to every aspect of the believer’s being, encompassing body, soul, and spirit. Moreover, it assures that even the mortal body, which will eventually experience death, will be claimed and transformed when the Lord Jesus returns.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can now be understood in relation to one another, thereby reinforcing their harmonious work that is completed as a unified being. Ephesians 1 has, at this point, set the stage for understanding God’s overarching plan. Ephesians 2 will now demonstrate the practical outworking of that plan in reconciling diverse groups.

Ephesians employs imagery to celebrate God’s transformative work through Christ, profoundly changing the circumstances of the Gentiles who have embraced the gospel, undergone baptism, and received the Holy Spirit. In unison with all believers, they have been blessed with spiritual gifts, as highlighted in Ephesians 1:3-14. The concept of receiving is further emphasized through the language: those who were spiritually dead have been resurrected in Christ and elevated to positions of honor in the heavenly realms. Formerly marginalized as strangers, the Gentile Christians have now experienced reconciliation and peace, gained unrestricted access to the Father, and have become fellow citizens and members of God’s household, as seen in 2:1-10, 11-22. Once shrouded in darkness, they are now illuminated by the Lord’s light. It is evident here the theme of the holy and divine Trinity as being an agent of peace and reconciliation and accessible to both Gentiles and Jews.

The church’s mere existence as a unified body in Christ, wherein Gentile Christians are seamlessly joined with Jewish Christians, serves as a revelation of God’s profound wisdom to the spiritual powers and authorities. These entities had previously assumed they would forever govern various fragments of the world (Eph 3:10). Ephesians portrays Paul as the conduit for unveiling divine knowledge, whereby his mission to the Gentiles transforms the Creator’s hidden plan into a tangible reality (3:1-13). Within this context, Christian Gentiles are representative of the entire non-Jewish segment of humanity. Their inclusion aligns with the mysterious fulfillment of God’s will, aiming to gather together all things in Christ (Eph 1:10).

The exegetical examination of Ephesians 2:11-22, understood within the larger context expressed in the whole book of Ephesians, provides valuable insights into the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and reconciliation, which can begin to address the pertinent issue of racial exclusivity within the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America. The Trinitarian theological implications and themes of reconciliation among persons are demonstrated in this text, and its teachings can extend into contemporary America, paralleling issues of division in the church but realizing our shared unity in Christ. Ephesians 2:11-22 conveys a profound theological perspective on the reconciliation of diverse groups into a unified body in Christ, thereby effectively demonstrating the Trinity as a basis for unity. Implicitly, it underscores the Triune nature of God, highlighting the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the redemptive process. This unity serves as a compelling model for addressing racial inclusivity within the Church, emphasizing the oneness of believers regardless of their cultural or ethnic backgrounds. However, Ephesians 2:11-22 is only one example of racial conflict. Therefore, applying its teachings to this specific concern requires careful consideration of other examples as well.

Ancient historical and cultural contexts differ significantly from the contemporary North American setting, which complicates the passage’s applicability to present-day circumstances. Given that today’s often-complex cultural and social features of North America can make it difficult for the average parishioner to look towards the Trinitarian implications among Jew-Gentile relationship as a model example for unification in the church. The Coptic Orthodox Church maintains a survivalist form of self-preservation as a product of persecution. To navigate these challenges and limitations effectively, it is prudent to explore additional biblical texts that emphasize the unity of believers in Christ, the equality of all before God, and the universal mission of the Church. These passages may include II Corinthians 3 and 4, Acts 17:10-28, John 17, and Genesis 11:1-9.

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