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ὅτι ἦτε ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ χωρὶς Χριστοῦ ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς πολιτείας τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ξένοι τῶν διαθηκῶν τῆς ἐπαγγελίας ἐλπίδα μὴ ἔχοντες καὶ ἄθεοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ

(Eph. 2:12 TR)

Paul makes a statement that "once" the Gentiles, apart from Christ, have no "citizenship" in Israel, and are "strangers from the covenants of promise"-the benefits of citizenship.

Furthermore, in vs 19, he says,

"ἄρα οὖν οὐκέτι ἐστὲ ξένοι καὶ πάροικοι ἀλλὰ συμπολῖται τῶν ἁγίων καὶ οἰκεῖοι τοῦ θεοῦ" implying, that such rights of citizenship are given in Christ.

Is this an accurate rendering of πολιτείας? Or is Paul simply making a rhetorical comparison, which the syntax allows him to do?

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Short Answer: Yes.

In verse 12 'ἦτε' is in the imperfect tense, which is "past time" (similar to our "past tense" in English). Paul is describing the state of Gentiles prior to the unification of the two groups in Christ.

Thus, it is inaccurate to render this by saying Gentiles have no citizenship and are strangers (present tense), rather it should be rendered by saying they had no citizenship and were strangers (past tense). He goes on to say "but now you who were far off have been brought near".

Verse 19 picks this up saying that though they were once strangers, now they are fellow citizens.

Regarding your specific question about πολιτείας the term can be accurately rendered 'citizenship'. It is essentially the same term that is used in verse 19 where (by virtue of Christ's work) Gentiles are now "co-citizens" with the Jews.

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    Thank you for your response! I suspected this, but I have no knowledge of Greek idioms, I thought maybe Paul was using an idiom when he described "citizenship"(a legal term which establishes one's relationship with a sovereign entity), with the believer's inheritance in Christ. This opens up more questions-but this one needed to be answered before I could procede further. Thx – Tau Aug 17 '14 at 22:31
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It does not imply that Gentiles are given the citizenship or they become citizens of Israel. It says they were alienated from kingdom of Israel (Gentiles were untouchable, unclean for the Jews), now they have been brought near. They share same religion with Israel with equal status. The unity of Gentiles with Jews is in Christ, their membership is in citizen of household of God (v19). Paul maintains that Israelites and Gentiles both retain their identity and nationality but are united in Christ, spiritually in religion; just as master-slave; male-female are united as one, that is to say, there is no partiality in God's eye. To conclude that the passage suggests Gentiles joining Israelite nationality becoming Jewish through Christ, is to stretch the context and mix verse 12 and 19 deliberately.

Messianic scholar David Stern writes in his commentary on Eph 2:12

  1. at that time had no Messiah. You were estranged from the national life of Isra’el. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise. You were in this world without hope and without God. You Gentiles were at that time — "in your former state" (v. 11), when you were "dead because of your sins" (vv. 1-10) — lacking in five respects:

(1) You were without any relationship to the Messiah, since "Messiah" is entirely a Jewish concept. The word "Chrisl" has such a Gentile ring to Jews that they sometimes forget that the very idea of "Christ" is not Gentile but Jewish. The relationship to the Messiah is mentioned first because it is the direct means through which the other four deficiencies are remedied.

(2) You were estranged, excluded, alienated, from the national life of Israel. The Greek word translated "national life" is "politeia" which gives us English words like "polity" and "politics." Arndt and Gingrich's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament offers as possible meanings "citizenship; commonwealth, state; way of life, conduct." But Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament points out that in the Septuagint, "politeia"

"does not mean civil rights, constitution, or state, [but) rather the pious order of life which, ordained by the Law of Moses, is inherited from the fathers. [With one exception it) is a religious and moral concept rather than a political concept; it denotes the 'walk' determined by the Mosaic Law." (Volume 6, p. 526)

The same article states that in the present verse "politea" means "civil rights" and is

"used in the figurative sense of the privileged religious position of Israel as the recipient of the promise,"

corresponding to deficiency (3) below. But this conclusion strikes me as capricious, tendentious and antisemitic. Why should "politea" be deprived of its normal meaning, with its implication that Gentile Christians are joined to and obligated with the Jewish people.

My own understanding is very different. Gentiles should not think of their union with Israel as only a matter of rights and privileges. Rather, it implies an obligation to observe a godly way of life that has its origin in God's relationship with the Jewish people. More than that, it implies an obligation to relate as family to the Jewish community to whom their faith has joined them (Ro 11:17-24&NN, Ro 15:27&N).

When Ruth joined Israel, she said, "Your people shall be my people," even before she said, "Your God shall be my God" (Ruth 1:16). Gentile Christians should remember that being "no longer foreigners and strangers" but "fellow-citizens with God's people" (v. 19) means being fellows as well as citizens, i.e., being involved with the Jewish people, both Messianic and non-Messianic. Gentile Christians who regard Jewish Christians as the strangers and themselves as the rightful possessors, and those who accept Jewish believers but reject nonbelieving Jews, are not submitting to the message of these verses. Sha'ul does not say that Israel was estranged from the communal life of Gentiles, but the opposite, implying that Israel constitutes the norm and the center of gravity, not the Gentiles. In Ro 11:16-26, he portrays Gentiles as wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated olive tree which is Israel, the Jewish people, and cautions Gentile Christians against pride.

See also Ro 11:26a on "all Israel" and Ga 6:16&N on "the Israel of God," because these discuss the key word "Israel," which appears only here in the book of Ephesians.

(3) Because you Gentiles were estranged from the communal life of Israel, you were foreigners to the covenants embodying God's promise; these include the covenant with Avraham (see Galatians 3-4&NN, Romans 4&NN), the covenant with Moshe, and the New Covenant with Yeshua (see Messianic Jews 8&NN). The New Covenant was given not to Gentiles but to Israel; Gentiles are foreigners to it except through faith, which, as Sha'ul points out, makes them full participants. (4-5) You were in this world, fourth, without hope and, fifth, without God; for apart from God there is only the false hope offered by false religions and non-religions, which sooner or later reveal themselves as disappointing illusions. Otto Rank, the Jewish psychoanalyst who broke with his teacher Sigmund Freud, wrote that everyone needs and produces illusions to sustain himself in a world without purpose. He could write such a peculiar thing because he did not believe in the God of Israel. Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, as atheists who were also existentialists, bravely faced up to the hypocrisy and self-deception of depending on illusions but gave no satisfactory remedy for the resulting hopelessness, other than suggesting that it is more "hopeful" to face the reality of hopelessness than to retreat into fantasy. But hopelessness cannot be palmed off as hope, nor is it reality, except for people without God. Through the centuries many people whose intellectual capacity and integrity match those of Rank, Sartre and Camus have found that the Bible not only fits the real world but provides a spiritual reality that does offer hope in an otherwise hopeless world.

In conclusion, the difference between Gentiles and Jews prior to the Messiah's coming was not merely the external fact that the latter were circumcised, but the spiritual and ontological fact that God dealt with them differently. God chose the Jewish people to receive certain promises and called them to exemplify God's involvement in human life and history. Through making the Bible known to the world, through presenting an example of dedication to God even when apart from Yeshua, but most of all through Yeshua the Messiah himself and his Jewish followers, the Jews have in a measure fulfilled that calling. By being joined to Israel, as explained in the following verses, believing Gentiles have a share in both the promises and the calling.

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