Recently I recognized an amazing message many have overlooked regarding the referent of Eph 2:14’s first participial phrase that contains the words “both one” that centers on and emphasizes the literal physical incarnation of Christ Himself.
How could we have missed this before?
What I have found is that in most cases in which believers and scholars alike place an improper referent in a text, it is 10 out of 10 times because we have put ourselves, mankind, in the place of Christ. I saw this first in modern translators switch of the phrase “faith of Christ” to “faith in Christ” in Galatians, which makes the referent Paul intended our faith “choosing” Christ, rather than what it actually refers to which is Christ’s faith toward us as the foundation on which salvation stands.
Likewise, in Hebrews 10:9, men are often so preconditioned to see Scripture as broken into pieces where only certain parts “still apply,” (i.e. Gen 2:3 for example), they completely overlook the important grammatical “hook” change from feminine to neuter in Eph 2:14-18 that refers to the sowing of Christ’s incarnate body in order to establish His new life giving eternal body through which we are all saved.
Now, here in Eph 2:14-18 we see another dynamic transition in Greek gender of a literary “hook” that indicates the same kind of change in referent as previously mentioned in Heb 10:9. Let me explain.
In Eph 2:14, the first phrase and verb establishes the central focus of the three participial phrases that follow it. “Αὐτὸς γάρ ἐστιν ἡ εἰρήνη ἡμῶν,” (literally “Our Peace is Him or He Himself” emphatically speaking). This opening phrase focuses the referent as Christ Himself incarnate, or God in human flesh literally He Himself emphatically is our peace. Or quite literally, Yeshua (Jesus) is the manifestation of God and man at peace together in Christ Himself literally.
Thus, the first participle (that follows the main “is” verb) ties to this Messiah centered primary referent. The phrase “having made both one,” ὁ ποιήσας τὰ ἀμφότερα ἓν, does not refer HERE to Jew and non-Jew, but refers instead back to the main noun “He Himself” associated with the main verb “is.” Thus, the opening phrase that refers to Christ Himself provides the context and justification for this unique use of the neuter for “both” here only. This distinction is made more clear because of the specific change from neuter to masculine when the word “both” is used elsewhere in verses 16 & 18 (in reference to “the two” of vs. 15 i.e. Jew and non-Jew in Christ that “become one” in Christ).
The dynamic switch can be seen in verse 16 for example when it states, “καὶ ἀποκαταλλάξῃ τοὺς ἀμφοτέρους ἐν ἑνὶ σώματι τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ σταυροῦ ἀποκτείνας τὴν ἔχθραν ἐν αὐτῷ,” (i.e. And reconciled both (masc.) (i.e. Jew and non-Jew who are in Christ) in one body (i.e. Christ’s) to God through the cross, having destroyed (or put to death) the enmity in Himself).
Here, when it says “and reconciled both,” (both is now in the masculine plural not the neuter). The most important thing to recognize that justifies this understanding of the referent in 8:14 for “both one” is the contextual and grammatical difference between the different phrases in which “both” is used in Eph 2:14-18.
The first, vs. 14, ὁ ποιήσας τὰ ἀμφότερα ἓν (“who made both one,” i.e. made God and human flesh come together as one in the person of Messiah quite literally, or as we say it doctrinally speaking: The Incarnation) which is expressed here in the neuter gender. The idea of the Incarnation, or the recognition of the identity and authority of Christ as being more than just a man is central to the Gospel and central to Paul’s point.
Contrast this to the second “both” in vs. 16 ἀποκαταλλάξῃ τοὺς ἀμφοτέρους (“reconciled both”) in which case we see the masculine plural used, as also in vs. 18 “ὅτι διʼ αὐτοῦ ἔχομεν τὴν προσαγωγὴν οἱ ἀμφότεροι ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα,” (“for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father”) and even with regard to the two becoming one in vs. 15 τοὺς δύο κτίσῃ ἐν αὐτῷ (“So that He created in Himself the two (i.e. Jewish and non-Jewish believers) into one new man: making peace.”).
In all cases when the referent is contextually speaking of Jew and non-Jew, the “both” is in the masculine (and the word “body” in vs. 16, which makes them one, is neuter of course since “body” is a neuter term, but contextually more significant here). Thus, when the context speaks of Christ’s physical body in vs. 14 saying “both one” and vs. 16 “one body,” the gender is neuter. Whereas in the previous cases mentioned in vs. 15, 16, & 18, the referents are masculine and referring to Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Christ.
Just as Hebrews 10:9’s hook word “first” (and “second”) changes from feminine to neuter, in reference to Christ’s physical body, so also in Eph 2:14-18, wherein there is a change from masculine (in reference to Jew and non-Jew in Christ) to neuter (in reference to Christ’s physical body itself, or the Incarnation).
When speaking of dual or contrasting realms (i.e. earthly and heavenly) such a gender switch always refers to a “person,” and in this case the mind blowing reality of The Incarnation itself (which was especially mind blowing at that time) as distinct from the result of the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that resulted in making two (Jew and non-Jew who are in Christ) one in Messiah.
Therefore, we should understand the central teaching of Eph 2:14-18 is rooted in the importance and centrality of The Incarnation: God and human flesh in one body, Christ’s.
No really, think about it. God dwelling in human flesh? . . . Mind, blown! In Christ literally God and man dwelt in the person of Christ in perfect peace. That is something to get excited about.
So the lesson here is this. Whenever there is controversy about the meaning of a particular text. Put Christ in the middle of it and see what happens. You may discover that the problem is resolved when you get man out of the way and let the text speak and glorify Christ alone.