Ephesians 1:5 and the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election

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

He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Ephesians 1:5 ESV

προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ

“If there were no election, none would be saved—it is an act of grace. God chose us for a purpose, namely, that we might “be holy and without fault in his eyes” (1:4). “God decided in advance” (1:5) refers to predestination. The biblical discussion of predestination emphasizes more what God’s children have been predestined to than who has been predestined. God has predestined us to something, here, it is namely adoption into God’s family. In other words, the believers’ predetermined destiny is their adoption as full-fledged sons of God through Jesus Christ, the agent of the adoption (Hoehner, 2008).”

The participial phrase in verse 5, προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν(“he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ”). In his exposition of Ephesians 1:5(Winter semester, January 12, 1922), Karl Barth says that he agrees with most exegetes that ἐν ἀγάπῃ modifies the phrase that follows it, but with a qualification. I do not think we can rule out the possibility that the phrase refers to the human creature’s love for God as the correlate of divine election, as in Romans 8:28. The evidence for this reading is that the parallel phrase in verse 8, ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ φρονήσει, cannot modify the phrase that follows. On this reading of Ephesians, human love for God would be associated with εἶναι ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους, in contrast to this objective, “juristic” human characteristics, and would refer to the unprecedented human act by which the divine act is affirmed and grasped, just as love for God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, according to Romans 5:5, as I understand it.

However, the evidence against this interpretation is that such a syntactical relation between ἐν ἀγάπῃ and ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους is unattested. Above all, it does not fit the context of the passage as a whole, in which human action plays no sustained role because the emphasis is on the praise of the divine εὐλογία. In his commentary of Ephesians(World Biblical Commentary), Andrew T. Lincoln’s judgment of Ephesians 1:5 is very close to the statements of Karl Barth, Lincoln says, the sonship to which believers are predestined has God as its goal. Believers bless God the Father because his choice of them is intended to bring them into a relationship with himself. This theocentric emphasis is maintained throughout vv. 5, 6. προορίσας, “predestined,” also reemphasizes God’s initiative in salvation and develops the notion of God’s choice from v 4. It focuses on the divine decision which makes sonship the goal for those who are elect. God’s foreordination is celebrated in a hymnic context in the Qumran writings (cf. 1QH 15.13–22). In Paul, προορίζειν is used in 1 Cor 2:7 and in Rom 8:29, 30 where it is also connected with the theme of sonship.

The term υἱοθεσία, “adoption as sons,” is a Pauline one found also in Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; and Gal 4:5. It is a term taken from Greco-Roman law where it referred to the adoption as sons of those who were not so by birth. The word can be found in second century B.C.E. inscriptions and in the first century B.C.E. writings of Diodorus Siculus and Nicolaus Damascenus. A well-to-do but childless adult who wanted an heir would adopt a male, usually at an age other than in infancy and frequently a slave, to be his son. In Paul this is applied to the privileged new relationship believers have with God, but must also be seen against the OT background of Israel’s relationship with God. Indeed in Rom 9:4 adoption as sons is listed among Israel’s privileges by Paul. It becomes a corresponding privilege of the Church also (cf. Rom 9:26; also 2 Cor 6:18). The relationship awaits completion (Rom 8:23) but has the present witness of the Spirit in the meantime (Rom 8:14, 15). Ephesians emphasizes that by God’s free predestining choice he adopts believers, taking them into his family and intimate fellowship, establishing them as his children and heirs(Lincoln, 1990, WBC) . It stresses that this privileged relationship of knowing God as Father for those who at one time were “sons of disobedience,” “children of wrath” (cf. 2:2, 3) is through the agency of Christ (διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). Such an assertion sums up the thought of passages such as Gal 3:26, 4:4, 5; and Rom 8:29 that link believers’ reception of adoption as sons with the life and work of Christ as God’s Son. Sonship is a benefit of the salvation of the end-time and it comes to those included in the Son through whom that salvation has been inaugurated—cf. also “in the Beloved” (1:6). (On adoption, see further T. Whaling, “ Adoption,” PTR 21 [1923] 223–35; H. J. Flowers, “Adoption and Redemption in the Beloved,” ExpTim 39 [1927–28] 16–21; W. H. Russell, “NT Adoption—Graeco-Roman or Semitic,” JBL 71 [1952] 233–34; D. J. Theron, “Adoption in the Pauline Corpus,” EvQ 28 [1956] 6–14; M. W. Schoenberg, “The Adoptive Sonship of Israel,” AER 143 [1960] 261–73; “ υἱοθεσία : The Word and the Institution,” Scr 15 [1963] 115–23; “St. Paul’s Notion of the Adoptive Sonship of Christians,” Thomist 28 [1964] 51–75; F. Lyall, “Roman Law in the Writings of Paul: Adoption,” JBL 88 [1969] 458–66; E. Schweizer, “ υἱός, υἱοθεσία ” TDNT 8 (1972) 334–99).

κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, “in accordance with his good pleasure and will.” This is one of the instances of the redundancy of concepts in this writer’s style. εὐδοκία, “good pleasure,” corresponds to the Hebrew , rāṣôn, and highlights God’s will as his good pleasure or favor, while θέλημα, “will,” in the LXX most frequently translates ḥēpeṣ, and in this context can be seen as stressing God’s will as his active resolve, his redemptive purpose. The two terms are in close proximity again in 1:9. A similar redundancy can be found in the language of the Qumran writings: cf. CD 3.15 (wḥpṣy rṣwnw), “and the desires of his will.” Here in Eph 1:5 it serves the function of reemphasizing that Christian existence as sonship not only has God as its goal but has him as its source, for it is grounded in him and is in accordance with his sovereign good pleasure and gracious resolution to redeem men and women.

Understand clearly, Paul adds immediately, this possibility is God’s possibility; and he establishes this claim by describing the promise given to us as God’s promise. God wills and determines that we should become his children κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ. Εὐδοκία, the good pleasure of his will,121 is not merely a second, weaker description of ἐν ἀγάπῃ.

It means being loved and esteemed freely by God. “Gratuito non mercenario amore Deus nos complectitur” (Calvin); and “Dominus nos adoptando, non respicit quales simus, nec conciliatur nobis ulla personae nostrae dignitate: sed una illi causa est beneplacitum aeternum, quo nos praedestinavit” (Calvin).122 God loves us for his own sake. God himself constitutes the possibility that we become his children. God himself gives us this promise. In God himself and only in him is its fulfillment and reality to be found. Regarding this point, Calvin says: “Hic verus fons est unde haurienda est divinae misericordiae cognitio.” He and his kin do not shake their heads, baffled and horrified at the possibility that everything—everything—could hang on the single thread of God’s will, or—we might as well go ahead and speak the horrible word out loud—the arbitrary act, namely, God’s free election. For them, this knowledge alone affords knowledge of God’s saving mercy because it is founded on unshakable certainty, whereas they found in any allegedly reciprocal relation between God and man the element of uncertainty, which was unbearable for their faith.

Conversely, all domesticated piety, which regards living with God to be more important than living with God, finds this insight to be objectionable and relegates it to the background as much as possible. What becomes of us if, even for a second, we are separated from the bene placitum of God? What becomes of our certainty if we lack the kind of certainty that God himself gives? How can we live with God when we can only believe in God? Any rapprochement between Pauline-Reformation piety and this domesticated-bourgeois piety is out of the question. Anyone who contends that the former is valid merely as a corrective and counterweight, and who wishes to raise the banner for a more practical form of piety, will find plenty of justification in history to do so. It is even more certain that Pauline logic is supported by the subject, whereas the luxuriant vines of Pelagianism and Semipelagianism, otherwise known as church history, live fundamentally from their resources. One person considers the honor of God to be preeminent and waits for the salvation of man with the sole concern that God may receive the honor; another is concerned above all for man’s salvation and asks about the honor of God only for the sake of this goal. These two people will always talk past each other, and no formula of concord between them is possible. Here, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ is essential. Here, the recognition of what is beyond us is essential. Here, election is essential.

And now finally: Where does the journey lead? What are God’s intentions in Christ? For what purpose does he determine that we should be his children through him? Answer: εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ. With that phrase, the first circle that Paul describes here is complete. It brings to mind the famous formula in Romans 11:36: ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ δι’ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα. God’s purpose resides in himself. It is to glorify himself that he goes his wonderful way with us.

Therefore, at each moment he necessarily has the last word and fills [?] the room [?]. For that reason, we never arrive at a point of stasis with regard to knowing, possessing, and enjoying what God has in mind for us. For the same reason, the divine reality that we encounter in Christ is merely [?] the crisis of everything human. Open your eyes and look. Open your ears and listen. The crisis is where our salvation is found. See and hear the good news of grace that is announced there. Because if God himself is the goal, then grace is his goal. Grace is his essence and is revealed to us only in Christ when we come to the place where we seek God himself and him alone. Then he speaks with us. Then he gives himself to us. Then he is our God, our Father. Is this true? we ask(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. English edition © 2017 by Baker Publishing Group).


Can a person be led to the place where he seeks only God himself and him alone? What distinguishes the tidings of despair from the tidings of grace? What gives man the right to say, “If I have only you, I ask for nothing in heaven or earth” [Ps. 73:25]? How does God’s freedom become our freedom and his goal, which is himself? How does it become our salvation? Paul answers: by the grace with which God has graced us in the Beloved. The election of our existence as the elect exists in Christ. The determination of God concerning us is love. The bene placitum of God is his good pleasure to us. Here the mystery is revealed. Why? Because precisely here God comes as word on the cross of Christ but becomes word as God in his resurrection. (Karl Barth)

Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

One thought on “Ephesians 1:5 and the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election

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