In a previous post, Bekah discussed the ancient Mesopotamian mouth-cleansing ceremony for an idol. I commented on the hand-made-ness of the idols, and connected it to Paul’s use of χειροποιητος (“hand-made”) in Ephesians 2. This post will explore this relationship in more detail.
In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul writes to the Gentiles, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands [χειροποιητος]–remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Paul refers to Jews as “those circumcised in flesh with hands.” He uses the term χειροποιητος (”hand-made”), which is used in the LXX to translate these words:
* אלילם (”images;” Lev. 26:1, Isa. 2:18, 10:11, 31:7, etc.)
* אלהים (”gods;” Isa. 21:9)
* במה (”high place”/”altar;” Lev. 26:30)
* Aramaic אֱלָהּ (”god;” Dan. 5:4, 23, 6:28)
In Colossians 2:11, Paul again writes to Gentiles (cf. 2:13), “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands [αχειροποιητος], by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…”
These two Greek antonyms are used elsewhere in the NT with reference to the temple or tabernacle of God (Mar. 14:58, Acts 7:48, 17:24, 2 Cor. 5:1, Hebrews 9:11, 24). In each case, that which is “made without hands” is superior to that which is “made with hands.” God himself has made this new temple, this church, this new Holy of Holies, in which Jesus serves as priest. That which is made with hands is either a worthless copy or a frail sign of that which is to come.
At least for the Jews who translated the LXX, the ideas of “idols” and “hand-made” were linked and used polemically against the nations. In the second half of Ephesians 2, Paul then turns this polemic back on the Jews whom he feels place undue emphasis on the physical sign of the Abrahamic covenant and their ethnic background, rather than on circumcision of the heart. The Psalmist wrote, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but YHWH made the heavens” (96:5). Paul might exaggeratedly paraphrase thus: “For the circumcision of the fallen new-Adam-people is become a worthless idol, but YHWH has made a true new-Adam-people in Christ.”
In Ephesians 2 (paralleled somewhat in Col. 2), he shows that Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace through faith (vv. 1-10) and then that the dividing wall between the two peoples has been brought down (vv. 11-22). These two ideas are inextricably linked in Paul’s theology; yet Reformation folk and NPPers seem to feel the need to emphasize one over-against the other.