Dividing Wall in Ephesians 2:14
What is It? Who Made It? How was It Broken Down?
by Tim Hegg
Initially, my interest in the “dividing wall” spoken of by Paul in Eph 2:14 centered on the place of the Torah in the life of the Messianic believer.1 Since Eph 2:14-15 is an often used text by those who hold that Yeshua abolished the Mosaic Torah by His death, I felt it warranted a concerted study.
Recently I have heard teaching among Messianic groups that brought this text to mind once again. This teaching attempts to move the Messianic communities beyond the initial “vision” of the movement to a strategic “mission” of identity and purpose. To put it simply, the call has been issued to the Messianic community at large to move beyond the initial phase of recovering the Jewish roots of our faith and increasing our love for Israel. This call admonishes us to go further by living an authentic Jewish life that would mark us as distinct in culture from both the non-believing Jewish community as well as from the non-Jewish Christian church. “If one simply wants to enjoy the festivals and give support to Israel, this can be done within many Christian churches today,” so the teaching goes. “But what the Messianic community needs today are Messianic believers who are willing to stand as distinct from both the unbelieving Jewish community and the non-Messianic Christian church—to boldly embrace a Messianic-Jewish culture which is new and distinct—a third culture.”2The emphasis is placed upon “Jewish,” not upon Torah.
My own reaction to this teaching was varied. Some of what I heard rang true to me. I too have encouraged Messianic believers (both Jew and non-Jew) to take upon themselves a Torah lifestyle and be recognized as those who, in practical ways, live in the footsteps of Messiah. But a great deal of what I heard caused me no small alarm. I am concerned not only that this teaching may be divisive, but that it also may be contrary to Scripture. At the least it deserves a fuller discussion and a thorough investigation. Perhaps the present paper will advance us in that direction.
“Community” — What Does it Look Like from God’s Perspective?
This paper is not about “community” per se, but it is important for us to understand at least one key issue with regard to a biblical perspective of community. We need to mark the difference between a Hebrew view of community, and that of the Greek. For the Greek, “community” may exist purely within the realm of ideas. That is to say, agreement upon an essential body of truths or ideas from a purely philosophical perspective is enough to constitute “community.” The idea that we have true community with people we’ve never met, simply because we all “believe” the same thing, is in harmony with this Greek mindset.
In contrast, the Hebrew perspective of community inevitably entails actual life involvement. Paul, from His Hebrew perspective, refers to the “church” (ekklhsia) in terms usually reserved for the “family.”3 We speak to one another, we exhort each other, we put up with one another. We bear the burdens of one another, and by so doing, we fulfill the Torah of Messiah.4 James likewise assumes that the commands he gives are fulfilled within a community that weeps and rejoices together, prays together, where elders are called when one is sick.5
This is not to negate the concept that the body of Messiah consists of all believers throughout the ages, and that there is among these a sense of true unity, a unity based upon the indwelling Ruach HaKodesh. But the commands of the Scriptures, both the Tanakh and the Apostolic Writings, are given to be lived out in actual life-to-life contexts, not in the ethereal world of philosophy. I cannot, on the one hand, affirm the essential unity of the body of Messiah while on the other hand separate from those in that body on the basis of differing cultures. It is both dangerous and in error to encourage Messianic believers to adopt a lifestyle which, for its very maintenance, requires a practical, life-separation between Jews and Gentiles within the body of Messiah. The Apostolic message (which was based upon the present fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham that “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”) commanded the followers of Yeshua to participate in the filling up of Isaiah’s prophecy: .” . . My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations ” (Is 56:7).
- I delivered a paper at the regional Evangelical Theological Society meeting in 1994 entitled “‘Law’ in the NT and oral Torah.” A copy of this paper is available at www.torahresource.com.
- The sentences in quotation marks are my own words, paraphrasing some of the ideas taught by Murray and Kay Silberling in a Seminar entitled “Building Messianic Community” taught at Congregation Emmaus in 1996.
- Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19; 1 Tim 3:5, 15. Note that Peter uses similar language in 1 Pt 4:17.
- Gal 6:2.
- James 2:1-10; 5:14-16.