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Recently I heard a preacher quote Ephesians 2:14-15. He claims that the verses are mistranslated and he gave his translation as follows.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 rendering powerless the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

His translation is basically the same as the ESV, but he replaces "by abolishing" with "rendering powerless". Then, he says that, rather than Jesus rendering the law powerless, it was the dividing wall of hostility that rendered the law of the commandments powerless. Is it possible for the text to mean what he says it means?

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    – agarza
    Oct 1 '21 at 14:53
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The operative verb in Eph 2:15 is καταργέω (katargeó) which the OP's source translates as "rendering powerless". According to BDAG, this verb has four basic meanings:

  1. to cause something to be unproductive, use up, exhaust, waste, eg, Luke 13:7
  2. to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless figurative extension of #1, eg, Rom 3:3, 31, 4:14, Gal 3:17, 1 Cor 1:28, Eph 2:15
  3. to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside, eg, 1 Cor 13:11, 15:24, 2 Thess 2:8, etc.
  4. to cause the release of someone from an obligation (one has nothing more to do with it), be discharged, be released, eg, Rom 7;2, Gal 5:4.

Thus, according to BDAG, Eph 2:15 is best translated something like:

by invalidating in His flesh the law of commandments ...

or

by making powerless in His flesh the law of commandments ...

This is the sense that most versions have such as:

  • ESV: by abolishing
  • BLB: having annulled
  • NKJV: having abolished
  • NASB: by abolishing
  • CSB: made of no effect
  • HCSB: made of no effect
  • ISV: rendered the Law inoperative
  • NET: nullified

Thus, most version appear to get the meaning fairly clear.

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    It looks like he was correct in his translation of the word καταργέω (katargeó). He goes on to suggest that the dividing wall of hostility is making the law powerless. Every translation I've seen suggests that Jesus is making the law powerless. This completely changes the meaning of the verse. Is the Greek ambiguous concerning who or what is acting on the law? Or, can his interpretation be proven false?
    – PF1540
    Oct 1 '21 at 10:58
  • @PF1540 - the problem with you translation above is the omission of "in his flesh" and important phrase - Christ does not invalidate the law (compare Matt 5:17-19) but does so in the flesh. Be very careful here. You appear to have ignored what is written in the answer.
    – Dottard
    Oct 1 '21 at 11:10
  • The translation I posted places "in his flesh" earlier in verse 14. I'm not sure what I ignored in your answer.
    – PF1540
    Oct 1 '21 at 11:24
  • @PF1540 - the last 3 sentences are at odds with the answer above. "In the flesh" in in V15 thus, the version above is misleading.
    – Dottard
    Oct 1 '21 at 11:31
  • So, you are saying that the Greek is not ambiguous and that Jesus is acting on the law by rendering it powerless or abolishing it?
    – PF1540
    Oct 1 '21 at 12:07
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The meaning is essentially the same.

However; the preacher reveals his motivation as to lessen the verses Power. Because he does not make distinction that Ordinances are not the totality of Gods laws. ( Most fellow Christians make the same mistake).

Going off what you stated he said:

( "rather than Jesus rendering the "law" powerless,")

. So the preacher emphasizes Law. Rather than what the verse does laws concerning "Ordinances"). Thus he maybe assuming much here and not totally familiar with Gods words.

So in his attempt to honor Gods word, he reduces Gods word concerning the blotting out of The Ordinances that were contrary to us and against us. its a important verse; God by Christ is who can only forgive sins.

Not the Ordinances.

But the preacher totally misses a chance to teach this. Because he likely does not understand what Ordinance as defined in scriptures means.

The word is:

G2673 καταργέω katargeō kat-arg-eh'-o From G2596 and G691; to be (render) entirely idle (useless), literally or figuratively: - abolish, cease, cumber, deliver, destroy, do away, become (make) of no (none, without) effect, fail, loose, bring (come) to nought, put away (down), vanish away, make void.

as used in

Romans 3:3 King James Version 3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God [without effect]?

Hebrews 10:6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

(read all of Hebrews 10)

Ordnance is dogma, related to ceremonial law, surrounding blood sacrifice, which God said never could truly atone for our sins. So I think hes being overly cautious without cause.

So Abolish is appropriate.

Colossians 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Blotting out = Having blotted out. See Acts 3:19 . Blotting out is a even stronger word.

If it helps I'll share E.W.Bullingers notes from The Companion Bible. (Notes start from the kjv reading).

Verse 14 peace . Peace itself, objectively, and its Author (1 Thessalonians 5:23 . 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ), to us and in us. Compare Isaiah 9:6 ; Isaiah 52:7 ; Isaiah 53:5 ; Isaiah 57:19 . Micah 5:5 .Haggai 2:9 . Zechariah 9:10 . Luke 2:14 .John 14:27 ; John 20:19 , John 20:21 , John 20:26 .

hath = having.

both . Jews and Gentiles.

hath broken down = having destroyed. See 1 John 3:8 .

middle wall. Greek. mesotoichon . Only here. The type is seen in the stone palisade, about three cubits high, which separated the Court of the Gentiles from that of the Jews, to pass which was death to any Gentile. A notice, of which Josephus speaks, was found in 1871.

partition = the partition. Only here; Matthew 21:33 .Mark 12:1 .Luke 14:23 (hedge).

between us . Omit.

Verse 15 abolished = done away with. Greek. katargeo. See Romans 3:3 .

His flesh . i.e. His death.

enmity . See Romans 8:7 .

the law . . . in ordinances = the law of the dogmatic commandments. Compare Romans 8:4 .

ordinances . Greek. dogma. See Co Ephesians 1:2 , Ephesians 1:14 .

for to make = in order that (Greek. hina) He might create (as Ephesians 2:10 ).

twain = the two, Jew and Gentile.

one new man = into (Greek. eis) one new (Greek. kainos. See Matthew 9:17 ) man.

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For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; (Ephesians 2:14, KJV)

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; (Ephesians 2:15, KJV)

The key to understanding the verb usage is to understand the noun (object) upon which it is acting. The object, in this case, is "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" (KJV).

Throughout the Bible, the "ordinances" were the ceremonies and ceremonial laws. In the Old Testament system of types and sacrifices, these ceremonial ordinances pointed forward to Christ. Christ's bodily death on the cross is what ended these ordinances. This is why Paul references "in his flesh" as the manner in which these were ended. At the cross, type met antitype, and these ordinances were fulfilled and ended.

Now, to look again at the verb. Knowing what was ended, and the reason for this, we could reasonably conclude that the sense of meaning expressed by a word like "abolished" or "caused to cease" or "annulled" would be in line with the concept of the text. If one wished to say "rendering powerless," it would imply, to my mind, at least, that the ordinances still existed but had lost their effectiveness. I would hesitate to consider such an expression a valid translation in this case, for those ordinances are no longer binding. We no longer need to offer animal sacrifices to atone for our sins, for Christ has offered his body once and for all.

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28, KJV)

As for the breaking down of "the middle wall of partition between us," this is an allusion to the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place where God's presence resided. This veil was torn, top to bottom, by an unseen hand, when Christ died.

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; (Matthew 27:51, KJV) [See also Mark 15:38.]

That veil was the "partition" that separated between God and the people, and the veil itself represented Christ's flesh.

By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; (Hebrews 10:20, KJV)

Like the veil, the partition, Christ's body was broken for us.

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:24, KJV)

Reading the text in Ephesians 2:14-15 carefully, we see that the partition itself is not the "enmity." The enmity was abolished by it, as the enmity is a reference to those sacrifices and ordinances of the ceremonial system.

Conclusion

The translation presented in the question takes an interpretive tangent which would be difficult to support in light of the full body of texts on this subject. The Greek verb καταργήσας/katargēsas is well translated as "abolished."

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  • Thank you for your answer. What I don't understand is why Paul would preach that the law was abolished, then go and offer sacrifices at the temple. I've heard it said that "middle wall of partition" could be referring to the wall of the outer court that existed in second temple period times. You've made it clear that the verb "abolish" is acting on the object "the law and the commandments contained in ordinances". What is the subject? Is Jesus abolishing the law or is the middle wall of partition rendering powerless the law?
    – PF1540
    Oct 1 '21 at 12:43
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    The Greek indicates that it is the law OF commandments contained in ordinances. The "and" (Gr. καὶ) is nowhere in the Greek text for this verse. Only the ordinances were abolished, not other laws, e.g. the Ten Commandments. We are still to follow God's law today. The Greek verb for "annulled" is in singular, requiring a singular subject. "Commandments" and "ordinances" are plural, so cannot be the subject, and "the law" is in accusative case, meaning it must be the object, not the subject. There is no clear subject in the Greek, which is more akin to English passive voice.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 1 '21 at 12:53
  • The theory that I am trying to prove or disprove states that it was the "middle wall of partition" that rendered the law powerless because it kept the gentiles separate from the Jews and prevented them from keeping the law. If the Greek doesn't allow for the "wall" to be the subject that acts on the "law", then this interpretation of this verse must be false. You've made it clear that the verb "abolish" is acting on the object "the law and the commandments contained in ordinances". What is the subject? Is Jesus abolishing the law or is the middle wall of partition rendering powerless the law?
    – PF1540
    Oct 1 '21 at 12:56
  • The Greek sentence is basically saying "The enmity, the law of commandments in ordinances, was abolished in his flesh in order to make in himself of two one new man, making peace." There is no clear subject, just like there is no subject if I say "the book was read." Who read it? We are not told. However, the "in his flesh" might be interpreted as "by his flesh," thus seeing in it the subject. It is not the partition itself, it seems, that is the implied subject, so much as the breaking in two of the partition.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 1 '21 at 13:21

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