In my first argument, I provided a basic exegesis of Ephesians 1:3-14 to gain an understanding of what the text was saying. That is because I believe exegesis must drive doctrine. My rather lengthy analysis was based on an understanding (rightly or wrongly) that we would post only one argument. Since that turns out to be not the case, I will elaborate here with a bit more theological approach and a concluding application.
Election means that we are being chosen for something.
When defining election and how it is presented in the text, the following aspects should be examined.
- Is it Individual or corporate? That is, are named individuals in view, or are we looking at a group, a corporate entity in total (like the church)?
- Is it unconditional or conditional? Is there a basis of election?
- What is the purpose of election? Is it for salvation, or is it for something else?
- When does it occur? Is it pretemporal or temporal?
Let us examine each of these aspects of election as it relates to Ephesians 1:3-14.
Individual or corporate?
It could be argued that the view in Ephesians is both corporate and individual, that there is no reason to see the “us” in Ephesians 1:4 as not referring to individuals. After all, collectives are made up of individuals. Even more, “us” is the direct object of the choosing in Ephesians 1:4. So Paul is focusing on those people who were chosen “before the foundation of the world.” In Calvinism and classical Arminianism, the object of election is individuals. For example, Robert Picirilli argues from a classical Arminian perspective that the individuals are in view here (Ephesians, Randall House Commentary).
Also, per Picirilli, Charles Hodges, the 19th century Presbyterian (Calvinist) theologian, posited that there are two unions with God, the first being federal (covenantal) which is eternal and the second actual (voluntary) by faith (Ibid.). Picarilli disagrees, arguing that only the second is valid.
I would argue that both are only partially correct. Hodges is correct that there is an eternal union, a covenant that is eternal, but it is a single covenant that is found in the Messiah. God did not initiate a covenant with each individual, which is what would take place if individuals were elect in a pretemporal setting. Rather, he established a single covenant in which we participate when we have faith. Hence, it must be corporate since there is a one-to-many relationship in this union. That is why Ephesians 1:4-6 specifies that it is “in Him” or “in Christ.”
Second, individual election suggests that there is some form of preexistence of what is chosen. That is, there must be an object existing in some sense for the union to take place. That is what I see as the main problem with Hodge’s view (as described by Picirilli). This moves us too close to the suggestion of some level of preexistence. This would be a violation of God aseity (his independence and self-existence) and there is no suggestion of foreknowledge in the Ephesian text. What we strip away all the theological baggage, what we can know is that the choosing is “in Christ” (covenantal), and that salvation (the actual union with God) is “through faith.”
Conditional or Unconditional?
The question of conditionality really needs to be understood in terms of the repeated phrase “in Him” (or one of its variations). What Paul never suggests that someone could be chosen outside of Christ, and that makes “in him” the primary condition of the choosing.
The key here is in the berakah, which we need to read through the Jewish eyes of the author. Election for Jews was inherited from the patriarchs – specifically Abraham – to whom the promise was given. It is covenantal in that we enter this relationship through faith. Christians inherit the concept of election from the Jews, and we need to understand that the model here is a Jewish model of what God is doing. We inherit our election and its consequences THROUGH Christ (1:5), who is the seed of Abraham. So, the language here is covenantal and conditional.
Are there those in Scripture who are chosen unconditionally? Certainly, Jeremiah was chosen to be a prophet before he was in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and Paul echoes this language in Galatians 1:15. However, these are instrumental callings, to a purpose or task that God has set out for that individual. It is not speaking of salvation. One thing we want to avoid in our analysis is conflating choosing or callings for instrumental purposes with election to salvation.
In Ephesians 1:4-6, the choosing is covenantal – “in Christ,” and that, in and of itself, makes it conditional.
What is the purpose of the choosing?
As I noted above, we must not synthesize verses that show various types of “choosings” into a monolithic view that becomes “election.” But in Scripture there is generally a purpose in why God chooses and context must dictate what that purpose is. In addition, verses that speak of Israel’s choosing, which is corporate, are often used with reference to individuals. For example, in Isaiah 41:8-9, it is Israel who is chosen, and they are called “My servant.” Israel was chosen to be a light to the world (Isaiah 42:6; 49:9; 51:4, 58:8-10, 60:14; Matthew 5:14; Acts 13:47), mirroring the role of the Messiah (John 1:9, 3:19, 8:12).
Briefly, the term “predestine” (προορίζω) almost always has a state or event to which it is directed. We are always predestined to something. In Ephesians, “we” are predestined to adoption (υἱοθεσία / HUIOTHESIA). This too is gnomic in character, that when one has faith, which for Paul is faith in the Messiah, he will be incorporated into Abraham’s faith (adopted via the Spirit; Romans 8:14-15). In Ephesians 1:5, adoption is “through Jesus Christ,” meaning that he is the instrument of adoption. As such, we inherit it through him. (As a note, the concept of adoption does relate to Israel as in Ezekiel 20:5, where the choosing is denoted by the verb AIRETIZŌ (αἱρετίζω), which carries an aspect of adoption (BDAG).)
My point here is simple. When we discuss the “choosing,” it is not a question of who is being chosen, but why we are chosen. In Ephesians, the choosing is directed towards being “holy and blameless,” which is the result of that union with God by the Spirit. In my exegesis, I noted that this reflects the state of humanity at creation, and the character defined for Israel in the covenant. Therefore, we should understand God purpose in the choosing is the restoration of that predefined state for humanity and Israel (his people).