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.
- 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
(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
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.