It seems like all I do these days is discuss Calvinistic philosophy. I don’t wish to spend my life doing that. I want to get to know the Word of God in truth and purity. Not in debate. But an advantage of this is that it draws me closer to God by motivating me to study His Word. Furthermore, I learn from it, and I believe the Holy Spirit uses it to shape my Biblical philosophy. What follows is my understanding of Ephesians 1 and what it means when it says that we are predestined. This is my reasonable interpretation of God’s Word. I’m not a Bible expert. Lord, help me.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
This passage is often used in relation with other passages to support the concept of ‘unconditional election.’ As I understand this concept it means that God determines before a person is born whether or not that person will have eternal life. This is in contrast to the more Armenian view that a person is not pre-elected, but rather has a lifetime to choose to receive eternal life. In both cases eternal life is not earned by the person’s merit. It is earned by Christ our Lord through His life and sufferings.
In reference to the verse above the key as I presume is to understand what is meant by the word “us.” Here are the three ways that I believe that the word “us” can be interpreted. Afterwards will follow a type of exegesis which attempts to determine what is the best interpretation of the word “us” in context with this passage.
“Us,” can be understood as follows, though I do not believe that all of these interpretations are appropriate:
1) Us – Paul and the specific group of believers that he was writing to living at the time that he wrote Ephesians.
2) Us – Believers in general living during any period, though it includes Paul and those whom he was specifically directing this letter to
3) Us - People who have been pre-elected to become believers.
• Us cannot refer to unbelievers since Paul’s greeting directs the letter to the “saints living at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus” v. 1
I believe that the first interpretation of the word “us” can be quickly eliminated based on two things. A) The letter is directed to the faithful in Christ Jesus. Though historically Paul was writing to the Ephesians, he addresses himself to all the faithful in Christ Jesus. There is no time limit in his address. All who are the faithful in Christ Jesus would benefit from his message. B) This letter being part of the inspired, canonized Word of God is meant for all Christians across the centuries, as is the rest of the Bible. Hence, the word “us” cannot mean just Paul and the specific people of the church he was writing to.
The last interpretation that “us” refers to only believers who have been pre-elected is the least obvious interpretation. In other words, a general reading of this letter would not immediately cause one to think this. Particularly because of verse 19, in which Paul himself defines who he means by the Word “us.” ---
Ephesians 1:19 “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,” – KJV
“And [so that you can know and understand] what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe, as demonstrated in the working of His mighty strength,” – Amplified
“I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power” – NLT
“and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength” - NIV
So who are the “us?” Those who believe. If you say that it’s those who have been pre-elected to believe then you are doing an eisegesis. You are imposing on the word a presumptive doctrine rather than letting the natural reading of the word define itself. Why is this so important?
Let’s go back to verses 4-6 and look at it under the understanding that the most natural interpretation is that “us” refers to those who believe. What then are these verses stating?
• That those who believe will be “holy and without blame with him in love.” V.4
o Keep in mind that you have to read the whole verse to get the complete idea. You can’t stop at “God has chosen [those who believe]..before the foundation of the world.” You have to complete the thought. He didn’t choose them for salvation, rather He chose them to be “holy and without blame.” In other words, it doesn’t say that He predestined who will become His children, but rather that He predestined those that become His children to be holy.
• He has predestined those who believe to be adopted as children by Jesus Christ to Himself. V.5
o Believers are adopted, but there is a future celebration of this adoption. As Paul states in Romans 8:23 “and not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” So yes, those who believe are predestined to be adopted. Again the thought has to be completed. You can’t stop at “having predestinated us.” The thought has to be completed. What did He predestine believers to? Adoption. In other words, it doesn’t say that He predestined who will be adopted or who will believe, but rather that those that believe are promised the adoption…those that become believers are predestined to be adopted, whoever they may be. Furthermore, it is in His “good pleasure” that those who believe are adopted as children by Jesus Christ to Himself.
• He has made us who believe accepted, and it brings Him praise and glory. V. 6
Recap: A careful reading of Ephesians shows that the most ‘natural,’ least eisegetical, interpretation of Ephesians, taking entire verses in context reveals that the predestination is not of believers. God doesn’t predestine believers. God predestines believers to…something. God predestines believers to be holy. God predestines believers to be adopted. All who choose Christ of their own volition can be guaranteed that they will be holy and blameless before Him, and adopted because He has predestined all who believe to be so.
My Greek word research, and verse comparison was possible thanks to www.blueletterbible.org