Mar 6, 2009 David Lang

The Dividing Wall of Hostility

A while back, I was reading through Ephesians with my family, and we stumbled across the phrase, "the dividing wall of hostility." To explain what this means, and to show that Paul was not just being metaphorical, I opened the Bible Lands PhotoGuide. The first thing I did was to go to the Temple Mount subarticle of the Jerusalem article and show a reconstruction of the Herodian temple.


Using this image, I was able to show my wife and kids the various temple courts, explaining that Gentiles were only permitted in the outer court of the Gentiles, that Jewish men and women were permitted in the Court of the Women, and that only Jewish men were permitted inside the Court of the Men. I then turned to the Inscriptions article and showed the Greek temple inscription which warned Gentiles not to enter.


This inscription contains the ominous words, "Whoever is captured will have himself to blame for his subsequent death."

Showing these images really helped to make real what Paul was referring to when he spoke of the "dividing wall of hostility" between Jews and Gentiles.

It later occurred to me that there might also be some useful diagrams of the temple complex in the Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions. Doing a quick search for the word "temple" in that module led me to a useful floorplan of the temple complete with indications of where those inscriptions were located.


Now, I happened to be familiar enough with the PhotoGuide to know which images I was looking for and which articles contained them, but had I not, I could easily have found the inscription by selecting either the verse reference for Ephesians 2:14 or the words "dividing wall" and amplifying to the PhotoGuide. I then could have selected the word "temple" in the PhotoGuide and clicked the search button on the Resource palette to find the images of the Temple mount.

The PhotoGuide is a tremendous resource for information about the historical and geographical background behind the text of the Bible. If you have it, be sure to search it for the verses you happen to be studying. You may very well find that a picture from the PhotoGuide is worth a thousand words of commentary.

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Archived Comments


March 08, 2009 9:00 PM

Well, neat feature, but wrong text ;-) The "dividing wall" that Paul mentions is the Law, as explained and alluded to in the context (see next verse). To expect Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, over 600 miles away from Jerusalem, to know anything about this historical "dividing wall" is a bit naive. The wall was certainly there, as Josephus and archaeology make clear, but most of the Ephesians probably had no idea it was.

David Lang

March 09, 2009 12:05 AM

Luke, I don't see verse 15 as clearly identifying the "dividing wall" with the "law" per se. Rather, I see the whole sentence as listing a series of ways Christ made peace using three separate and parallel participial phrases. Add to that the fact that the following context uses extensive temple imagery (see verses 17-22), and identifying the "dividing wall" with an actual feature of the Herodian temple certainly seems plausible.

As far removed as Ephesus was from Jerusalem, it was nevertheless a cosmopolitan port city with a sizable Jewish community. I don't think it's naive to believe that Ephesian Gentiles would have been aware that they were not permitted to enter the temple in Jerusalem.


March 09, 2009 11:52 AM

I think you're both right, in a sense. The dividing wall was the Law, and a concrete (no pun intended) representation of the Law was the dividing wall in the temple. Paul probably was referring to that wall and how it stood for the division between Jew and Gentile in the law. When you think about it, Paul was a master in using imagery and symbolism to make a powerful point for his readers about something abstract, like the law.


March 19, 2009 10:06 AM

Great reflection.  I guess I should move the PhotoGuide up on my wishlist : )  Thanks

Sheldon Cole

August 16, 2010 9:19 PM

The dividing wall is NOT God's Law. God never gave a commandment to separate Jew from "Believing" gentile as was happening in Ephesians. The word Paul used for "barrier" was the greek Phragmos which means a fence put around something to protect it (at least that's the way it is used in the Septuigant to translate Hebrew words conveying that concept). The wall or barrier was the "fence" the religious leaders put around the commandment of not defiling themselves like the "pagan" gentiles. 

In order to avoid breaking this commandment altogether, they erected a fence around the Perfect Law of God, effectively alienating their new gentile brothers. However by avoiding all gentiles (even those who are of the faith), they "made void with their tradition" the plethora of commandments to not treat the "strangers sojourning among them" with hostility. Therefore, Jesus stripped away the authority (abolished) those man-made commandments contained in ordinances.The greek word Paul used for abolished is Katargeo meaning: "to deprive of force, influence, power." I wouldn't dare say that Jesus was sent by God to remove the the authority, influence, or power of His Law.

The Law of God was not the problem; never is the problem; how dare we say that it's the instrument of hostility when God says that His Law is "for our good always and for our survival - Deut 6:24. 

The barriers or fences proclaimed in ordinances in order to avoid defiling themselves that these men put in place was the instrument of hostility. For it prohibited fellowship and true worship as one new man. The commandment to be separate from the worls is still in place (for ALL of God's people  - Jew and Gentile), however, man-made commandments were being used to separate God's people from those gentiles "who are no longer of the world." To say that God's purity laws were in the way of unity is a false dilemma. It assumes that Jesus' goal was to bring Jew and pagan gentile together. Jesus' goal is revealed in His prayer in John 17 "I don't ask on behalf of these alone (jewish disciples) but for those (gentiles) who BELIEVE in me through their word." Jesus is asking on our behalf that we be sanctified together from the world. Sanctified by His word or commandments.

Something else was in the way of "true" unity between believers. Therefore, the man-made commandments had to be stripped of their authority by our Messiah in order for believing Jew and and believing Gentile to be one as God intended all along.


September 07, 2011 2:24 PM

Actually I am thriulled to say that Jesus most certainly did come to confront the power of the law, which is mainly to condem.  


February 22, 2012 12:05 PM

That Jesus broke down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile is evident. My question is why was there an actual wall dividing them in the first place? Conccidering Isaiah 56:4-7

4For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

 5Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

 6Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;

 7Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

Would not this wallof partition that existed in Jesus day made Isaiah 56:4-7 impossible?


February 05, 2013 3:11 PM

Paul is in prison (Ephesians 4:1) because the Jews accused Paul of taking Trophimus the Ephesian into the temple area (Acts 21:29). This started off the whole process of Paul going to Rome as a prisoner. "The dividing wall" of the temple was very significant to the Ephesians, and Trophimus who was not invited to have peace with God or with the Jews under that system. 


March 27, 2013 2:56 PM

Well according to scripture the Pharisee's were the problem of this Divided wall not just within the temple but just about everywhere within isreal. There man made ordinances and them mis interpreting Gods Law by them according to matthew 5 but also sense they were overtime so self-righteous and thought so High of themselves they were trying to keep themselves pure at all costs. There is no where in the law that says to hate the enemy but overtime the Pharisee's taught Hate even the though the Law says to love your neighbor even the enemy. but God did use His chosen as an instrument of punishment but also allowed them to protect and establish the physical Kingdom that God promised them. but when they strayed from God, He used,Persia, Assyrian,Greece,Babylon and then finally Rome to punish His people to lead them to repentance. we have to remember that mankinds love is conditional which allowed such things to be taking place.It was not until the fullness of time occured on the cross is when things changed the course of History for all whom believe on the name of our Lord. on the cross in His blood was those ordinances that were man made that caused division but also in order to accomplish Gods will He needed to Give us His love which is unconditional and then He established a different Kingdom that is not of this World so there is no reason for Physical War to protect nor to establish. God brought a sword and He said He did not come to bring peace to the world  but He never brought a physical sword for He was that sword "the word in flesh" sorry for the scattered message