Ephesians 2:11-22 Discussion

Administrator Note; This welcome comment raises important points about criteria for chiasmus.

Author: Peter Heavyside (IP:,
Email: [email protected]
URL: http://www.globalorient.com/aigraphai

I believe it is useful to ask how we can discern actual chiasma rather than mistakenly identifying other and distinct textual features for a chiasm? For example, how can we be sure repetitions of terminology within a scripture are not just thematic connections as the writer deals with different facets of his subject? Or how can we be sure that the repetition of an expression actually serves to mark the resumption of an argument started earlier but which was interrupted by a parenthetic explanation rather than it being evidence of chiasm? This is a very common feature of Ephesians.

One key control is to recognise that scripture comprises much more than the terminology which makes up sentences. In identifying chiasma, grammatical structures and syntax, for example, should be incorporated into our assessment. Another key control, particularly but not uniquely pertinent to the genre of apostolic letters, is argument structure. While I recognise that very clear chiastic structures can sometimes assist in discerning an argument’s structure, it must also be recognised that identifying a chiasm which cuts across a clear argument structure has to be suspect. This doesn’t oppose the notion of interleaving chiasma but it does suggest that in the case of interleaving chiasma, there will be a corresponding interleaving argument structure.

I suggest the argument structure of Eph 2:11-22 is marked by chronological and logical expressions:

– “at one time [pote]” and “at that time [tō kairō ekeinō]” (Eph 2:11,12) indicate the time prior to the gentiles’ redemption
–  “but now [nuni de]” (Eph 2:13) commences a description of the gentiles’ (with the Jews) reconciliation to God; this is their “now” state

– “so then [ara oun]” (Eph 2:19) draws logical consequences of the gentiles’ changed state; “ara” is used on its own in the apostolic writings to mean “therefore” and so the combination “ara oun” (“therefore therefore”) seems to convey an emphatic conclusion; even a cursory reading of Eph 2:19-22 will note that the conclusion is framed in terms that are a reversal of the gentiles’ pre-redemption state in Eph 2:11-12.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary – such as overlapping argument structure – this means that it is Eph 2:19-22 which is the chiastic reversal of Eph 2:11-12 and this precludes chiastic clause relationships within Eph 2:13-18 to either of these two sections.

I propose the following chiastic structure (author’s translation) which slightly alters your edited version above:

A. 11a therefore remember that when you (were) gentiles in flesh , those called uncircumcision by those called circumcision in flesh

B. 11b made by hand

C. 12 that you were at that time without Christ, having been alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers of covenants of promise, hope not having and without God in the world

D. 13 but now in Christ Jesus you, those then afar off, became near in the blood of Christ

E. 14 for he is our peace, the one having made the both one and the middle wall of partition having broken.

F. 15a. the enmity in his flesh, the law of the commandments in decrees, having abolished

G. 15b in order that the two he might create in himself into one new man making peace

G’. 16a [in order that]  he might reconcile the both in one body to God

F’. 16b through the cross  having killed the enmity in himself

E’. 17 and having come he preached peace to you, those afar off, and peace to those near 

D’. 18 because through him we, the both, have access in one spirit to the father

C’. 19  then therefore you no more are strangers and sojourners but fellow-citizens of the saints and members of the family of God

B’. 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 22 in whom all [the] building being fitted together grows into a holy shrine in [the] Lord

A’. 22 in whom also you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in spirit.

Notes on this chiastic structure:
1. A “in flesh … in flesh” is reversed by A’ “in spirit”
2. For the contrast of B and B’, note the use of “made by hand [cheiropoiētos]” in Acts 7:48 and Stephen’s association of this with Isaiah 66 (cf Acts 7:49-50) and compare the resonance of the Lord looking to the one who is humble and contrite in spirit as his house and resting-place in Isaiah 66 with the apostle’s later statement about the same spirit (of Christ) being the dwelling-place of God (Eph 2:22)
3. I suggest that “without God in the world” is reversed by “members of the family of God”

So then, while, for example, you rightly note that “far off” and “made nigh” corresponds to “afar off” and “nigh” (G and G’), I believe my proposal above more faithfully sees the chiastic structures within the apostolic argument and at the same time is more sensitive to other aspects of the apostle’s scripture: – “Afar off” and “near” in Eph 2:13 corresponds to “the both” in Eph 2:18, while “the both” in Eph 2:14 corresponds to “those afar off” and “those near” in Eph 2:17.

Furthermore, seeing “and having come he preached peace to you, those afar off, and peace to those near” (Ep 2:17) as an intact clause within the chiastic structure elucidates the apostle’s citation of Isa 57:19.

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