The dividing wall of the “Court of the Gentiles” in Herod’s temple (Ephesians 2)

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Gentiles were allowed to enter the outer temple enclosure in Jerusalem. This large, paved area surrounding the temple and its inner courts was enclosed by a double colonnade of pillars standing 10 m high. The perimeter of this area measured 1,2 km. This outer court was also called the court of the Gentiles.

But Gentiles were physically prevented access to the inner courts of the temple by a 1,4 m high barrier (Paul’s “dividing wall of hostility” in Galatians 2:14). The Jewish historian Josephus pointed out that 13 stone slabs with writing in both Greek and Latin were placed at intervals on the barrier, warning Gentiles not to enter. In Josephus’ words, “There was a partition made of stone… Its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigner should go within that sanctuary'” (Wars, 5.5.2). Archaeologists have discovered two of these warning slabs, which state: “No foreigner is allowed to enter within the balustrade surrounding the sanctuary and the court. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death.”

This dividing wall had great significance for Paul, who was arrested in Jerusalem for reportedly bringing a Gentile into the inner court of the temple (see Acts 21:16-30). Paul and other Jewish followers of Christ recognized that the God who had previously resided in the temple had entered humanity in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection had in effect broken down the dividing wall, effecting spiritual unity between Jews and Gentiles. As a resul, Paul knew, all people have been granted access to God through saving faith in Jesus Christ.


 

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