Ephesians 1:1–4 and the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election

This is a guest blog by a friend from Misquoting Truth.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love

Ephesians 1:1-4 ESV

Critics claim Ephesians 1:1–4 doesn’t affirm the doctrine of Unconditional Election. In his article entitled, Ephesians 1:4: How Calvinistic Exegesis is Logically Impossible, Johnny Sakr asserts that,

“it is logically impossible for God to choose [some] individuals to be saved solely based upon His Love for them. For God must love all individuals thus if God does choose individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world, then Universalism logically entails. However, Calvinism ensues that God selects those whom He loves thereby rendering His lack of love for the rest. Since this is logically impossible it thus renders the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 false.”

The text of Ephesians 1:4 says, “Even as he ἐξελέξατο us in him πρὸ the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him”(Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Let us examine thoroughly the structure of Ephesians 1:4 to get the exact exegesis of this text that robust the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

On the nature and purpose of the Epistles to the Ephesians, Henry Chadwick supposes that many people in Paul’s environment were somewhat embarrassed by the idea that the true revelation of God, which the gospel claimed to disclose, should have been given so late in time.

“In the ancient world, it is a generally acknowledged truth that nothing new can be true.”

In Ephesians, therefore, the continuity of the new community with the people of God in earlier times is stressed; not only so, but the new community is viewed sub specie aeternitatis.

It was divinely chosen in Christ before the world’s foundation (Eph. 1:4), it is the means by which God will accomplish His eternal purpose “in the fullness of the times” (Eph. 1:9-10), and at present, it provides an object-lesson of “God’s manifold wisdom” to “the principalities and powers in the heavenly realm” (Eph. 3:10). The subject acts for (or sometimes by) himself or herself, or in his or her interest.

The theological foundation for the letter (in the sense of “theology proper”) is the opening liturgical blessing of Eph. 1:3–14, which succinctly designates as salvation history the beginning point of all theological thought: praise and thanks to God (1:3).52 God had already chosen those who believe in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (1:4, πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), he “destined” us “in advance” (1:5, προορίσας) for sonship (υἱοθεσίαν, NRSV “adoption as his children”), and revealed to them “the mystery of his will” (1:9, τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ).

God’s grace in Christ is freely given to believers (1:6). It is God’s will that everything in heaven and on earth is summed up in Christ (1:10), whom he has raised from the dead by his mighty power and installed at his right hand in the heavenly world (1:20).

According to God’s “purpose” (πρόθεσις), believers in Christ are appointed as heirs (1:11; cf. 3:11). God’s actions in Christ for believers—acts that take place before creation and permeate the universe—constitute the basis of the argument for the whole of Ephesians, for grace, faith, and good works (2:8–10) are just as many gifts of God as are peace, mercy, and forgiveness (2:4; 4:32–5:2).

Finally, it is God who acts in the event of the believer’s being raised with Christ (2:4–6) and in the creation of the new humanity concretized in the “new self” (4:24). God is universally active as the Father “who is above all and through all and in all” (4:6). With great emphasis, the author of Ephesians praises the riches of God’s grace (3:14–17), whose surpassing power rules over every “rule and authority and power” (1:19–21; 3:10).

With his remarkable emphasis on God’s prior activity for believers and the concomitant strengthened consciousness of election, the author evidently intends to address a feeling of insecurity within the churches.53 God’s eternal election applies not only to Jesus Christ but also to the community of baptized believers. Ephesians 1:4 ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς (“he chose us[for himself]), the word ἐξελέξατο does not occur as an active verb in the NT, it does in Hellenistic Greek in general and hence ought not to be taken as a deponent. God chose us for himself, by himself, or for his own interests.

This does not, of course, imply that God needed believers. Rather, just as the chief end of human beings is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, so too God is in the business of glorifying himself. As is mentioned three times in Ephesians 1, the elect belongs to God “for the praise of his glory.” The author’s portrayal of this text is selective at times and simply brings out the aspect that he wants to emphasize that election took place before creation indicates that God’s choice was due to his own free decision and love, which were not dependent on temporal circumstances or human merit.

The reasons for his election were rooted in the depths of his gracious, sovereign nature and God’s decree is dependent on his omniscience(c.f. Acts 2:23). To affirm this is to give to Christians the assurance that God’s purposes for them are of the highest good, and the appropriate response from those who are chosen in Christ from all eternity is to praise him who has so richly blessed us.

The emphasis lies on “decide beforehand” (BDAG); therefore, to “predestine.” As in the letter’s salutation (1:1), God’s call is the expression of God’s prior will, which in this case is further intensified by the phrase “before time began” (lit. “before the ages”).

What God determined “before the ages” has been worked out in the present age, which is being brought to its conclusion as the final glorious age has dawned and is awaiting its consummation—“for our glory.” Of the manuscripts of Ephesians 1:4 ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ (“he chose us in him”). Two manu­scripts (F G) change this to ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς αὐτῷ (“he chose us in (by) himself”).

The difference could have been accidental (the omission of one letter, nu) or intentional (in order to make God the Father both the elector and the source of election). But as it is in the text, the Father is the elector and Christ is the source and sphere of the election.

The structure of Ephesians 1:4 has similarity with the text of Luke 2:14, it was God’s good pleasure to select certain people to be the recipients of his peace that came with the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Various documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls affirm this Semitic expression, such as “the sons of God’s good pleasure” (lQH a 4:32-33) and “the elect of God’s good pleasure” (1QH11:9).

The Coptic Sahidic translation of Luke 2:14 also affirms this reading:

“peace among men of his pleasure.”

Unaware of this Semitism or uncomfortable with εὐδοκίας, scribes corrected it to εὐδοκία. Indeed, two separate correctors emended א and B in this fashion. (In this light, it is quite unlikely that the final sigma was accidentally dropped.)

The resultant text yields the well-known triplet “glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Even though this sounds poetic, the couplet (joined by καὶ) is far more balanced poetry. Furthermore, the expression “goodwill toward men” can be misleading, because Jesus did not come to promote a kind of goodwill among human beings (often associated with Christmas cheer). Jesus was sent by God to those whom God had chosen according to his good pleasure.

This is close to Eph 1:3-6,9, wherein Paul reveals that God’s election was motivated by his good pleasure (εὐδοκίαν). The meaning of the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ(“in him”), it constitutes the formal key to the section. We are placed before God, claimed by God, born from God, and determined for God. God himself has blessed us, and for this reason, we should praise him. We are ἐν Χριστῷ; therefore, God has blessed us so that we should praise him. There in the is the creator and we the creature.


Calvin regards the phrase “in Christ” as a “second confirmation of the freedom of election” (the first being that it took place before the world’s foundation). “For if we are chosen in Christ, it is outside ourselves.

It is not from the sight of our deserving, but because our heavenly Father has engrafted us, through the blessing of adoption, into the Body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of themselves; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.”

There is a dominant ethical quality about the divine election, as is inevitable in view of the character of the electing God.

In 1 Peter 1:15-16, where the wording of our present text is echoed, this lesson is pointed with a quotation from the OT law of holiness: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ’You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ “ 33 No other way of life is fitting for those who are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter. 1:2). So here, the purpose of God’s choosing his people in Christ is that they should be “holy and blameless” 34 in his presence, both here and now in earthly life and ultimately when they appear before him.

The perspective is the same as in Col. 1:22, where the purpose of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of his people “holy, blameless, and irreproachable in his presence.” There they appear in the presence of Christ, while here they appear in the presence of God; but it is one and the same appearance: for Paul the tribunal of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and the tribunal of God (Rom. 14:10) are the same tribunal. The “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14) is progressively wrought within the lives of believers on earth by the Spirit and will be consummated in glory at the parousia, the time of the “redemption” anticipated in Eph. 1:14; 4:30. If “holiness” expresses the positive quality, “blamelessness” expresses its negative counterpart: freedom from blemish or fault.

If the phrase “in love” is attached to what precedes (as it is in the Greek text followed in this commentary), then it adds a specific quality to holiness and blamelessness: the consummation of holiness is perfect love. The preposition is best understood as having a “comitative” force: the purpose of God is that his people should be marked by holiness and blamelessness, coupled with love.


  • F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians(TNICNT), © 1984 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Daniel B. Wallace, Basics of New Testament Syntax(An Intermediate Greek Grammar), Zondervan, © 2000, 184.
  • Theology of the New Testament by Udo Schnelle, M. Eugene Boring, Originally published as Theologie des Neuen Testaments © 2007 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen. All rights reserved.
  • English translation © 2009 by Baker Publishing Group Published by Baker Academic.
  • The Epistle to the Ephesians Karl Barth Introductory essays by Francis Watson and John Webster, English edition © 2017 by Baker Publishing Group
  • Originally published in German as Karl Barth, «Erklärung des Epheserbriefes W.S. 1921/22», Erklärungen des Epheser- und des Jakobusbriefes, 1919–1929, hg. Jörg-Michael Bohnet, Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe 46.
  • German edition © 2009 by Theologischer Verlag Zürich, page 557.
  • Prolegomena to St Paul’s Epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians by Fenton John Anthony Hort, Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York http://www.cambridge.org Information on this title: http://www.cambridge.org/9781108007511 © in this compilation Cambridge University Press 2009 This edition first published 1895 This digitally printed version 2009, page 112.
  • New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Commentary on the variant readings of the ancient Testament manuscripts and how they relate to the major English translations) by Philip W. Comfort, Copyright © 2008 by Philip W. Comfort. All rights reserved.
  • TYNDALE and Tyndale’s quill logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, pages 171, 579.

Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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