For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
Ephesians 2:15 uses the metaphor, “one new man,” to refer to all who have been reconciled to God through the cross of Christ, but scholars disagree on what the metaphor makes of these people. In one view, it denies any distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus, while the other view interprets “one new man” as confirmation of such a distinction.
One New Man presents the latter view as the theory of intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction or, simply, distinction theory. In order to resolve the problem of conflicting interpretations and test distinction theory, a lexical analysis of “one new man” is undertaken, examining the biblical meaning and use of each of the three words in the metaphor, together with some commentary. Other keywords in Ephesians 2:14-16, namely “body,” “create,” and “peace,” are also considered. Additionally, the supply by some Bible translators of the phrase, “in place of,” in the same verse is evaluated: Is the “one new man” created “in place of” the Jews and Gentiles comprising it? Finally, a test of internal evidence (that is, the text of Ephesians) is taken using personal pronouns to see if it refutes or establishes distinction theory.
The unequivocal conclusion of One New Man is that “one new man” in Ephesians 2:15 refers to a composite unity of Jews and Gentiles who retain their ethnic identities even after spiritual regeneration in Christ.
“One” refers to the unity of these two groups, not homogenized but perpetually differentiable members of a composite body. “New” indicates spiritual renewal of Jews and Gentiles in Christ who together constitute the metaphorical “man,” a humanity—not an individual man who is either Jewish or Gentile. The new humanity is not a creation ex nihilo nor a blending that eradicates the distinction between its Jewish and Gentile members. It is a renewed Israel, expanded to incorporate Gentile Christians as co-citizens. The continuance of Jew-Gentile distinction among believers makes the peace (which is also “new”) between them all the more remarkable.
Moreover, classification of people as believers or unbelievers in Jesus does not replace the biblical distinction between Israel and the nations; intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction remains significant to the author of Ephesians. This is implicitly confirmed through his mixed use of personal pronouns, sometimes identifying with all believers, whilst other times with the Jewish people; sometimes he even distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles within his Jesus-believing audience. All things considered, it is misleading to assert that the “one new man” is created “in place of” Jews and Gentiles.
Continued Jewish identity among Jesus-believers is not merely an ethnic or cultural curiosity; it has theological significance. Major implications include the validation of Jewish tradition and practice for Jewish believers, as well as recognition of them as the living connection between the nations and Israel. The peace Christ made by creating Jew and Gentile in himself into “one new man” is most evident in Messianic Jewish synagogues where Jews and Gentiles worship and have table fellowship together in unity, even whilst retaining their own distinctive faith traditions.
First Fruits of Zion has released a new free PDF eBook, One New Man, by David B. Woods, that delves into Ephesians 2:15 and the language of “one new man.” Download the PDF eBook here.