By John W. Moore
A literal wall of cardboard boxes 8 feet from the counter stood between me and the clerk at the U-Haul facility. It was rather strange to be securing my rental and conversing with someone at that distance, but it was yet another vivid reminder of the war being waged against Covid-19. Barriers this like this are often intended to separate and protect. Sometimes they are meant to secure and control, and at other times they are used to discriminate and divide. Whatever their purpose, barriers of all types have existed throughout history, and are even mentioned in the Bible. One such wall stood as the center of a debate and, for the apostle Paul, lay at the center of a major tumult and riot—a wall that was destined to be destroyed.
After completing his third major missionary journey, the Bible tells us that Paul came to Jerusalem to fulfill a personal vow at the Temple. He had come to the city with Christian Gentile converts and was later accused of bringing these non-Jewish brothers into an area of the Temple reserved only for Jews (Acts 21:26-29). It was in this hallowed place of worship that the apostle Paul found himself facing death at the hands of an angry mob of Jewish zealots. It seems he was accused of taking his Christian brothers past a well-known and clearly identified barrier meant to separate Jews from Gentiles. A resulting riot ensued and Paul was arrested, but eventually he ended up in Rome where he was placed under house arrest while he awaited a legal hearing before Caesar.
During his house arrest, Paul wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus, which included a rich treatise on the powerful working of Christ in the salvation of both Jew and Gentile. In the second chapter, Paul made reference to a wall of division existing between Jew and Gentile, to which he emphatically proclaimed should no longer exist. Because Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:14) all should have equal access to the throne of God. Christ, Paul argued, came to unite both Jew and Gentile in one church, and to break down “the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:14). But, did that wall of separation exist? Was Paul in the book of Ephesians referring to an actual “wall of hostility?”
Nearly 4 decades before the birth of Christ, the Bible says that an Idumean King named Herod the Great built an enormous Temple complex with elaborate buildings and furnishings. Scripture also reveals that the Temple was the epicenter of religious worship for Jews and that it was adorned with many beautiful buildings (Matthew 24). Proof for the existence of this Temple can be seen in the form of many large building stones, chiseled steps, elaborate cornices, other supporting structures. The main supporting structure was the platform on which the Temple stood. It covered an area of some 26 NFL-sized football fields. But what about a wall of separation: did it actually exist? In fact, it did, and this wall was the likely point of focus in the accusations made against Paul of bringing Gentiles into the Temple.
Confirmed by History
Both the Bible and the Jewish historian Josephus speak of a Temple sanctuary located at the center of the Herodian complex, with a holy place and the holy of holies where Jewish sinners could come near to the presence of God, make sacrifice for sin, and fulfill their vows and legal obligations. From these sources we also read of the existence of an altar located just outside the holy place, and that this entire inner sanctuary was surrounded by massive walls and doors.
Outside this sanctuary, but located within the enormous Temple complex, was the “Court of the Gentiles” where non-Jewish visitors could enter but were forbidden to go no further. It was here that an actual barrier existed separating Jews from non-Jews. Josephus himself verified the existence of this wall of separation when he said: “Proceeding … toward the second court of the Temple, one found it surrounded by a stone balustrade, three cubits high and of exquisite workmanship; in this at regular intervals stood slabs giving warning, some in Greek, others in Latin characters, of the law of purification, to wit that no foreigner was permitted to enter the holy place” (Wars 5.5.2).
Archaeology and the Wall of Hostility
In addition to Josephus, Archaeology also confirms a literal wall of separation. In the year 1871, while excavations were being made on the site of the Temple Mount, M. Clermont-Ganneau discovered a 2000-year-old inscription on a stone pillar which makes reference to a wall of separation that once existed in the sacred Temple of the Jews. The discovery is known today as the “Balustrade Inscription” and is on display in a museum in Istanbul. Decades later, in 1935, a second inscription was found during an excavation in a tomb outside the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem. This stone monument can now be seen at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and, much like the discovery of 1871, reads as follows:
NO MAN OF ANOTHER NATION TO ENTER WITHIN THE FENCE AND ENCLOSURE ROUND THE TEMPLE AND WHOEVER IS CAUGHT WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME THAT HIS DEATH ENSUES
This inscription not only testifies to the Bible’s claim of a Temple, but also confirms the existence of the wall of separation/hostility. Its discovery has also provided us with a larger historical context for better appreciating certain scriptures.
The Wall Destroyed
When Paul wrote in the Ephesian letter that Jesus died to break down “the wall of hostility,” he was making reference to the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15). The principle of separation was both symbolized and realized in the actual barrier that prevented Gentiles from having access to the inner sanctuary of God. If Paul wrote his letter in the year 60 or 61 AD, then a barrier at the Temple in Jerusalem still remained. However, just ten years after he penned those words, that literal barrier was destroyed in the Roman destruction of A.D. 70; a tiny part of which remains in two small inscriptions now on display among the relics of ancient history.
The broken and shattered remains of the once divisive inscription stand as a testament to what Paul revealed about the elimination of any such barrier between Jew and Gentile.
Prior to the sacrifice of Christ, Jews alone could be washed and purified to enter God’s holy Temple. Today, those of all races can enter the holy place of the church, God’s Temple, by means of the blood of Jesus and the washing of regeneration (Titus 2:5). Because of the sacrifice of Christ, religious and cultural barriers were to be removed. All baptized believers are considered one in Christ with equal access to the throne of God.
Because of archaeology, today’s Bible student can now have a clearer picture of the cultural context surrounding passages like Ephesians 2:14. The Balustrade Inscription is but a small part of the many evidences and facts that confirm the reliability of the Bible, and likewise serves to deepen our understanding of the Sacred Text. We can have confidence in the Bible and trust its promises; the promise that by the blood of Christ we can today enter into the holy place of God’s Temple, uninhibited by a wall of hostility. Debris and standing structures from the Herodian Temple complex along with the Balustrade Inscription are but a small part of the many facts that confirm the reliability of the Bible, and help us to make a connection between Fact and Faith.
Yes, some barriers are meant for good, but others were destined to be destroyed.
Photo by Doug Garner – Courtesy of Bible Land Passages and World Video Bible School