Nov 26, 2011

Observations on Ephesians 1:1-14

Paul HeneburyBy Dr. Paul Henebury
Veritas School of Theology

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The apostle Paul, now a prisoner in Rome, addresses the assembly of Christians at Ephesus, whom he had last seen about six years previously. [1] In the opening verse, he states his apostleship as being by the will (thelema) of God. No one could take to himself the title and authority of an apostle of Jesus Christ without the special call unique to an apostle. This calling included sign-gifts (2 Cor. 12:12) and witnessing the resurrected Lord (cf. Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1). In 2:20, the apostles and New Testament prophets are called the foundation upon which the household of God rests.

In some of his epistles (e.g. Phil.; 1 & 2 Thess.), Paul does not feel the need to state his apostleship at the head of the letter. Here however, where deep teaching about the plan and purpose of God for the Church is being put across, he perhaps saw a need to stamp it with apostolic authority from the start.

Paul writes to the saints (hagiois – separated [holy] ones), and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. Ephesians is written to all Christians; those at Ephesus, but also, we think, to churches around that city [2] and, because of its universal character (see esp. 3:15), to all God’s people.

Grace be to you, and peace…(v. 2). Both the words, grace and peace, are important words within this letter. [3] The reason we can know peace is because of God’s grace (cf. Rom. 5:1-2).

In the ancient world, letters usually began with a short salutation, not unlike the ones that Paul uses for his epistles. The author’s name and that of the addressee, and a short greeting was the usual way for letters to begin (e.g. Acts 15:23ff, 23:26). However, Paul makes of this characteristic greeting an address from God, the Bestower of a Christian’s blessings.

Chapter 1:3-14: Paul’s Thanksgiving

This magnificent flood of praise to the Father [4] comes from the wellspring of joy Paul feels when trying to communicate to the Ephesians what God has done for them. It is important for Christians to see that all of their many spiritual blessings - past, present, and future - are theirs because they are Christ’s: or, to use Paul’s own language, because they are in Christ. In the far reaches of eternity, God blessed us with all spiritual blessings. There is no reason to think that this equates to immaterial blessings only. We must be careful not to too strongly associate the spiritual with the non-substantial (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:42-49). These blessings are spiritual (not spiritualized!) because God is [a] Spirit, and all His children are fundamentally spiritual as well as corporeal creatures.

The blessings include joy, peace, faith, love, strength for the day, hope, and fellowship, in this life. These are perfected and conjoined with glorification, sinlessness, and as yet undefined ‘treasures’ in the future. The heavenly places (Gk. “Heavenlies” - 1:20, 2:6, etc.) probably refer to the spiritual realm of the kingdom of Christ (cf. Col. 1:13), and not just to Heaven. If the phrase referred only to Heaven, it would mean one could not know any of these blessings while still on earth.

Just as our blessings were held in store for us, even so our very choosing and destination were enacted in Christ before the foundation of the world (v.4). That is to say, we were chosen in Christ in eternity past to be holy, blameless, and loving, in imitation of our Divine Father. This implies that the creation was one in which service was integral to the perfecting of God’s world. The fall did not catch God unawares. It was within the Plan from the very beginning. The corruption and profanation of the original creation was no less evil because foreknown by God. God did not make man disobedient. And God did not forsake man in disobedience. Creation was a project from the start (Gen. 1:26-30), and the intrusion of sin has not altered God’s purpose. In line with this the verse clearly shows that God does not save simply to rescue, but to use (cf. 2:10; Tit. 2:14).

We cannot accede to the view that the phrase, “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” be construed in the Arminian sense of God simply foreseeing who would believe. Of course, that is part of it, but it is not the whole story, and cannot be. The Lord God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. That is, He knows all things, He empowers and upholds all things, and He observes all things. God knows all true states of affairs. If He predicts the naming of Cyrus, or the date and place of Jesus’ birth, or the demise of Satan; all of which were or are future events, these things must be utterly certain. They are not probabilities but pre-planned eventualities, designated by the mere will of the Almighty. God must never be thought of as One who must exert Himself in an impressive effort at keeping a universe full of plates spinning. They spin by the collusion of God’s will and power. We may say that the power of God is ‘pre-informed’ by the decision of God (though they are really one).

Nothing in creation operates outside the constraints of God’s power (i.e. His providence), since “He upholds all things by His powerful word” (Heb.1:2-3). There are no rogue facts out there, which have not been fully known about by Him. And since where God’s power is, He is, it stands to reason that whatever occurs happens because he wills it to happen, and that includes many things He hates!

Paul can elsewhere teach that, “whom He did foreknow (proegno), He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29), and these same individuals, “He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30). If the end result of foreknowledge is a still future glorification, then the Greek word prognosis means more than “to know beforehand.” It carries with it the connotation of involvement or relationship with what is foreknown; a meaning which is carried over from the Hebrew term yada. This, indeed, is its theological usage in the NT. Thus, I do not see how it cannot refer to God’s fore-choosing of individuals. And we do not feel compelled, either by Scripture or by reason, to back away from the fact that God’s omniscience is expressed in time in His Decree. [5]

In this passage (1:4-5), God’s children then, are to be holy and without blame before Him in love, because we have been ‘chosen’ (v.4) and ‘adopted’ (v. 5) into His family. In adopting us, the Father has taken on the responsibility of bringing us up as sons within His household, a responsibility He will not shirk (Heb. 12:5‑10), nor give up upon (cf. Phil. 1:6, 1 Cor. 1:8).

It is useless to argue that because the apostle employs a plural pronoun (humas – ‘us’) to define the objects of election he had to have been referring only to corporate election. As Hoehner points out, “The recipients of the choice, “us,” comprise a body or group of believers. Still, chosen make up this group. As individuals receive the blessings of verse 3 and individually are sealed in verse 13, so individuals are the objects of God’s election.” (H. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 176).

To the praise of the glory of His grace (v. 6). The wonder of God’s grace in planning and performing our redemption, and thereby making us accepted in the beloved, amazes the apostle (and it should us too!). But he hasn’t finished yet. Our redemption was accomplished through His blood 9v.7); i.e. the blood of Christ, which purchased our forgiveness and acceptance. It is important to note what the text does not say. It does not say through Christ’s death! Strictly speaking, it was not Christ’s death, but His blood, which purchased our salvation (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). This indescribable cost to God proves the riches of His grace.

By this means, “God has caused His grace to flow abundantly into us, in the gift of all wisdom and prudence.” (K. Braune, Ephesians, in Lange, 37). All wisdom and prudence (v.8), speaks of the provision of the spiritual understanding needed both to study and to meditate on these things (cf. 1 Cor. 2:15, 16). The mystery of His will (v. 9) includes the great truths of our salvation from eternity to eternity, which God now reveals.

Essential to proper Biblical thinking is the realization that God is over history, and that He administers events in history to fulfill His own purposes. What those purposes are, is described in verse 10 as the gathering together in one harmonious whole of all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth (v.10). This is the deepest theology! We get some idea of the cosmic importance of the Cross when we remember Paul’s words in Romans 8:18‑23. In that great passage, Paul reveals “that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together.“ Extremes in weather, volcanic activity, the savagery within nature, all reflect the truth that creation is awaiting the re-ordering touch of the Creator. And as we are told, the natural world “waits for the manifestation of the sons of God” (cf. Rom. 8:22, 19); the final glorification of the saints. When this is accomplished, with Christ as Supreme Ruler, this world will take on new aspects of tranquility and beauty (cf. Isa. 11: 6‑10; Mic. 4:1‑4; Am. 9:13‑15).

The key theological aspect to notice here is the pivotal role of Christ in the rectification of the fall and the perfecting of the original creative intent of God. Without him and His cross-work there is no clearing up the mess of history and there is no utopia on our horizon. The work of Jesus was sufficient not only to secure our eternal salvation, but it was enough to bring the entire universe to perfection.

When all things have been brought together in one under Christ, He will deliver up the kingdom to the Father and will resume His former equality within the Godhead (1 Cor. 15:23‑28), His work of voluntary submission being concluded.

We feel almost breathless, yet the apostle continues: in Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (v. 11). The Lord does not need to take advice from any creature, He “keeps His own counsel” (Rom. 11:34). God has thought to predestinate an inheritance for us (1 Pet. 1:4). An inheritance that we have already obtained, though we have not yet seen the splendor of it. “All things” here ought to be taken in its most expansive meaning, as the context makes clear.

The verse (12) that we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ, reveals that our completed redemption will be the cause of new anthems of praise to God by angels, cherubim, seraphim, and the redeemed (cf. Rev. 5:8‑10).

The personal pronoun we, changes to you in v. 13. Some interpreters suggest that the we in v.12 refers to Paul and his fellow Jewish Christians, while the you of v.13, the Gentile believers, who would make up the majority of Paul’s readership. As Paul unites the two in 2:11‑18, this may indeed be the case. But, it could also be that the apostle, under house arrest in Rome, simply speaks of himself and his associates there. The phrase in whom you also trusted (v. 13) would then refer to those at Ephesus and its environs. However one takes it, the point Paul is making in these verses (i.e. 12‑14) is that God’s redemptive work, though planned in eternity, is initiated in the believer after he or she hears the Gospel (the Word of Truth) and trusts in Christ. The Holy Spirit then seals the believer as His own (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22). This seal is the Holy Spirit Himself, Who not only regenerates us, but Who also indwells us because we are His. He is called, the earnest of our inheritance (v.14 ) - the first installment, or down payment, of our eventual glorification. Thus, Christians are eschatological creatures (1 Jn. 3:1-3). We are the purchased possession of God, He having purchased us for Himself by the blood of Jesus Christ. All Christians are blood-bought (cf. Acts 20:28), and are not their own, but have been bought back from sin and separated unto God to serve Him, and to praise His glory forever.


[1] If we take AD 60-62 for the date of Ephesians, then it would be six or seven years since his final visit to the city in AD 54 (cf. Acts 19). See R. B. Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, ixvii. Of course, Paul met with the Ephesian elders at Miletus shortly after (Acts 20:17ff).
[2] Many commentators hold that Ephesians is a “circular letter,” intended to be read to the different churches visited by Tychicus on his errand. They point out that the words “at Ephesus” are not in the “so-called best manuscripts” (meaning Mss ‘B’ and Aleph). For a strong assertion of this view see, for example, H. C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, 242-44. For an equally strong rebuttal in favor of the traditional (and ancient) view see R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians, 330-342. For ourselves, we agree with the following opinion:
“Perhaps the most probable solution to the problem is the position that the epistle was written to the Ephesians and addressed to them, but that the Apostle intentionally cast it into a form which would make it suitable to the…neighboring churches and intended that it should be communicated to them.” (D. E. Hiebert, An Introduction to the New Testament, II, 265)
[3] Grace is mentioned 12 times; Peace 7 times.
[4] These verses constitute but one sentence in the Greek texts. We see the same thing seven more times in 1:15-23; 2:17, 3:1-18; 3:14-19; 4:17; 4:11-16 and 6:14-16. The English of the KJV brings this out better than the modern versions do.
[5] The Calvinist/Arminian debate hinges on God’s exercise of His sovereignty. All but hyper-Calvinists allow God a permissive will (e.g. in allowing the Fall). It is the extent of that will which is the real issue. But I do not like to divorce God’s sovereignty from His overarching providence. Therefore, I assume a moderate form of Calvinism.