The initial three chapters in Ephesians illuminate God’s actions on our behalf, and within this context, Ephesians 2:14 states, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” The “wall of hostility” is also called the “wall of separation” (NKJV), and it signifies the enmity that existed between Jews and Gentiles prior to the latter’s inclusion into God’s family through Christ’s sacrifice.
The symbolic wall of separation can be traced back to the Old Testament. After God rescued Israel from Egypt, He provided them with moral, civil, and ceremonial laws that set the Israelites apart. Israel was God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The distinction between Jews and Gentiles primarily had a spiritual dimension, as evident from Gentiles who turned to God being welcomed to the family. Notable examples include Rahab, Ruth, Uriah the Hittite, Naaman, and Jethro. Furthermore, the Torah contained laws for the fair treatment of foreigners, such as Leviticus 19:34, which states, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
However, due to cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles, the tension extended beyond matters of religious worship. Jews considered other nations to be ritually impure and consequently adopted an attitude of superiority. In fact, a literal wall of separation in the temple courtyard of Jerusalem barred Gentiles from some areas, and Paul faced hostility after being wrongly accused of bringing a Gentile across this barrier (Acts 21:27–29).
Fortunately, Christ has symbolically broken down the wall of separation between Gentiles and Jews. He accomplished this by “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). Christ forged a new creation from both Jews and Gentiles, as prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Micah 4:2).
The unity between Jews and Gentiles was a challenging concept for the Jews of Paul’s era to grasp, and conflict arose, beginning with Peter’s preaching to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. In Acts 11:1–18, Luke recounts the confrontation between Peter and disgruntled Jews regarding his visit to Cornelius. Although that particular conversation concluded positively (verse 18), ongoing tension persisted, culminating in a church council over whether Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15). The stern letter from Paul to the Galatians highlights this issue. Nevertheless, the fundamental truth remained that Christ had united both Jews and Gentiles, breaking down the dividing wall. The same applies to other categories, as Galatians 3:28 affirms that all in Christ have equal spiritual standing: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We may not encounter the same division between Jews and Gentiles today, but there are groups of people we may consider unclean. While we should lead holy lives that are separate from sin, we must resist constructing walls of separation that Christ has already broken down. Anyone in Christ is our brother or sister, regardless of tribe, country, skin color, language, etc.