We are sharing a special series about teaching the Book of Ephesians in small groups. If you haven’t read the Introduction to the series, we invite you to read it here.
Whether you are interested in studying Ephesians for the purpose of teaching it to small groups or for your own personal study, we believe you will find this series helpful.
Basic Premises for Studying Scripture
- God is worth knowing
- His Word is worth learning and obeying
- Because God is worth knowing and His Word is worth learning, we will follow a proven method of knowing Him and learning His Word.
- We will use the I – M – D – I method of Bible study:
- Inductive – Methodical – Direct – Independent
- Inductive study – “logical, objective, impartial reasoning” … examining specifics of Scripture before reaching conclusions
- Methodical study – “a way or path of transit” (Greek – methodos) … focused on taking the proper path to gaining knowledge about God
- Direct study – “relying on Scripture as the primary tool for learning”
- Independent study – “original thinking combined with Spirit insight”
- Observe (See and Record)
- Question (Ask and Answer)
- Interpret (Determine the Holy Spirit’s Intent)
- Apply (How God’s Truth applies to your life)
Bible Study – The Group Process
We invite you to model the process of observing, asking questions for interpretation, interpreting for meaning, and applying for discipleship for your small group. This process may be new to some of the people in your group, so going through it with them for awhile may help them feel comfortable with how to do it.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in reading the Bible is trying to interpret the meaning of individual verses before observing everything in the verses. Studying in context also helps keep us from making incorrect interpretations. That means starting the observation process at the beginning of each Bible book.
The challenge in studying alone or with the group is trying to determine the meaning of passages in the Bible before assuring that we’ve observed everything in the passages and asked every possible question. We carefully answer all of the questions before reaching a conclusion to the meaning.
Read the Scripture and go through each step with your group. You may be able to cover observation,questions, interpretation and application in one meeting, but don’t rush the process. It takes time to see everything in a text, ask good questions, get good answers to those good questions, interpret the meaning of the text and apply the meaning to life. If it takes two or three meetings to do that for each text, that’s fine! The goal is to rightly divide God’s Word, not finish by a certain date.
Observe – Write what you see
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
One of the primary differences between Jews and Gentiles in the 1st Century AD was circumcision. Jews were circumcised and Gentiles were not. For Jews, it began almost 2,000 years before Christ.
This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.Genesis 17:10-11
Circumcision was known and practiced in some areas of the ancient world, though many nations did not participate in it or it was just for the higher classes. However, by the time Paul wrote Ephesians circumcision had become one of the primary differentiations between Jews and Gentiles.
The word “circumcise” in Hebrew is namal and means “cut off.” The word “circumcise” in Greek is peritemnō and means “a cutting round.” While Jews of Paul’s time considered circumcision a sign of God’s covenant with them, Greeks and Romans viewed circumcision as mutilation.
The issue of circumcision was at the heart of one of the most contentious disagreements among mid-1st century believers. Some of the believers in Judea who were of the sect of the Pharisees argued that it was necessary for Gentile converts to undergo circumcision and keep the Mosaic Law (Acts 15). Paul and Barnabas strongly argued that it was not necessary. James, Peter, John and other leaders in Jerusalem determined that God did not require Gentile converts to be circumcised or keep the Mosaic Law (Galatians 2).
Ephesians 2:11-13 in Greek
Therefore remember that you once Gentiles in the flesh … διο μνημονευετε οτι υμεις ποτε τα εθνη εν σαρκι
remember is μνημονευετε and means “to call to mind, recall by memory”
once Gentiles is ποτε τα εθνη and means “formerly nations, culture” (distinct from Israel) .. Christians in Ephesus were majority Gentile, but notice that Paul used an adverb to describe that description as former ..
in the flesh is εν σαρκι and means “body, human nature” ..
who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision … οι λεγομενοι ακροβυστια υπο της λεγομενης περιτομης
who are called Uncircumcision is οι λεγομενοι ακροβυστια and means “the ones being called physically uncircumcised” .. that word ακροβυστια was also a slang word Jews used for Gentiles .. Jews looked down on Gentiles because they were not circumcised and part of God’s covenant people ..
by what is called the Circumcision is υπο της λεγομενης περιτομης and means “by that being called physically circumcised, cut around” .. notice that the emphasis is on Jews calling Gentiles a slang name ..
made in the flesh by hands … εν σαρκι χειροποιητου means “performed by hands” .. baby boys are not born circumcised .. it’s not a natural condition .. someone has to “cut around” to circumcise the male child ..
that at that time you were without Christ … οτι ητε εν τω καιρω εκεινω χωρις χριστου
that at that time you were … οτι ητε εν τω καιρω εκεινω means “that you were at the opportune time, season” .. Paul was referring to the time before the Ephesian believers were saved ..
without Christ … χωρις χριστου means “separate from, apart from, without, Christ, Messiah, anointed One” .. the Gentile believers had been separated from Christ before they believed ..
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel … απηλλοτριωμενοι της πολιτειας του ισραηλ
being aliens from … απηλλοτριωμενοι means “alienated from, estranged from”
the commonwealth of Israel … της πολιτειας του ισραηλ means “the citizenship of Israel, the Jewish people”
and strangers from the covenants of promise … και ξενοι των διαθηκων της επαγγελιας
and strangers … και ξενοι means “foreigner, alien, stranger” ..
from the covenants of promise … των διαθηκων της επαγγελιας means “to the set agreement, testament, will, of announced promise” ..
God made His covenants of promise with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and expanded them through Moses and David. The Gentiles were not partakers of the covenants of promise. In fact, they were strangers, foreigners, aliens.
having no hope and without God in the world … ελπιδα μη εχοντες και αθεοι εν τω κοσμω
having no hope … ελπιδα μη εχοντες means “confident expectation not possessing” ..
and without God in the world … και αθεοι εν τω κοσμω means “godless, ungodly within the ordered system of the world, universe”
This is a powerful declaration of the utter hopelessness of Gentiles prior to Jesus dying on the Cross and rising from the dead.
- without Christ
- aliens from the commonwealth of Israel
- strangers from the covenants of promise
- having no hope
- without God in the world
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ … νυνι δε εν χριστω ιησου υμεις οι ποτε οντες μακραν εγγυς εγενηθητε εν τω αιματι του χριστου
But now in Christ Jesus … νυνι δε εν χριστω ιησου means “precisely now however within the Messiah Jesus”
you who once were far off … υμεις οι ποτε οντες μακραν means “you at one time existing a long distance away”
have been brought near … εγγυς εγενηθητε means “have emerged, transitioning from one point to another, near in place or time”
by the blood of Christ … εν τω αιματι του χριστου means “by the, through the, shed blood of Messiah”
Paul reminded the Gentile Christians in Ephesus that they once were far from Christ. They weren’t connected to God through the promises He had made to Israel (members of the Circumcision). They had no hope in this world because they were godless. However, as Gentiles had once been far away from God, the shed blood of Jesus Christ had brought them near to God. That is the wonder and glory of being a Christian.
Non-Christians often ask why Christians sing about the blood of Jesus. What’s the big deal, they ask? The big deal is that without the shed blood of Jesus, we have no way to know God or approach Him. Without the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we are strangers, aliens, hopeless, without God in this world.
Observe – Write what you see
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:11-13
Question – Ask and answer questions based on observations
Interpret – What is the Holy Spirit’s intent in these verses?
Apply – How can you apply these spiritual truths to your life?
We will look at Ephesians 2:14-18 in the next part of our series, Teaching Ephesians.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.