Corporate Election in Ephesians 1:4 – Argument 2 – Part 2

by Oct 13, 2019Ephesians0 comments

- ...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17 NRS) -

Continued from Argument 2, Part 1 –

When did the choosing take place?

Corporate election does not suggest that the choosing is not before creation. What it argues is that it is gnomic, a principle that those who will be “in Christ” will be holy and blameless.

The reference “before the foundation of the world” (PRO KATABOLE KOSMOU) makes sense only if there is a reference to something that exists at that time and we should not imply either the preexistence of individuals or of the church. As Andrew Lincoln (Word Biblical Commentary 24) states, this does not suggest a preexistence of the church (collectively), but only an “ideal” preexistence in the mind of God. That is, it is a gnomic of what is to be for all who are (or will be) “in Christ.” This would only make sense if God planned to create something “in his image and likeness,” and that is the case with humanity. If redemption itself is “in Christ,” then it is restorative to that image.

The phrase “before the foundation of the world” is a prepositional phrase, and prepositions are, at least in some respect, extended adverbs. However, they do occasionally act adjectivally and govern nouns, providing more information that a mere adverb. Prepositional phrases generally follow the simple case uses: the accusative and dative are usually connected to a verb, the genitive is usually connected to a noun (Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics). It is genitive in this case, but I am not sure how much of a difference that would make. As noted above, I am not suggesting that the choice, in a corporate sense, is not before the foundation of the world. In fact, I would affirm that it is based on John 17:5, which is recapitulated in John 17:24, one of those two other uses of “before the foundation of the world.”

It could be argued that based on some translations of Revelation 13:8 names are written in the Lamb’s book of life “before the foundation of the world,” and hence we do have a pretemporal election of individuals, at least in that text. However, in the Greek that text is not PRO KATABOLE KOSMOU as in Ephesians 1:4, but APO KATABOLE KOSMOU, which means “from the foundation of the world.” While the “foundation of the world” (KATABOLE KOSMOU) is the reference point, any first-year Greek student who looks at a preposition chart will see that the preposition APO shows things moving away from that reference point in time. That is, the events occur either AT or AFTER the reference, from that point forward in time. Consider the following examples.

Matthew 25:34 says that the kingdom was prepared from the foundation of the world. That is, it has existed since creation was completed, waiting for the righteous to enter it.

Luke 11:50 states that the blood of the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah was shed “from the foundation of the world.” This is not a statement of preexistence or of foreordination, but it is descriptive of the events throughout history that occurred.

Hebrews 4:3-4 uses this phrase referencing the “rest” of God, which takes place after creation (Genesis 2:1-3).

Hebrews 9:26 uses this phrase to suggest that Jesus did not to suffer repeatedly through history (APO KATABOLE KOSMOU), but his sacrifice was once for all.

Given the above, it seems to me that it is more reasonable to read Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 as referring to the writing of names in the book of life throughout time. That is, it is a register of those who enter the kingdom.

Given the scarcity of examples of PRO KATABOLE KOSMOU (“from the foundation of the world”), it would be unwise to draw any hard conclusion. However, we should not ignore the other two uses completely since they do give evidence of what would be in view in a pretemporal setting, and what is in view is “Him.”

So, I would summarize my four points as follows:

  1. Election is corporate and gnomic. It is the corporate people of God who are chosen because they are “in Christ.”
  2. While corporately this choice is unconditional and covenantal, individual one must enter the covenant through faith.
  3. The election is purposeful in that it is restorative to that image of God, where we are holy and blameless before Him.
  4. The covenant is established before the foundation of the world – this is not contested.  However, the covenant is with Christ and is for those who are “in Him.” Entry into that covenant occurs in time, at the point of faith.

Application or Practical Implications

What are the practical implications of this view? First, corporate election is Christocentric, not anthropocentric. That is, if focuses our attention not on ourselves and what we are receiving, but on what God is doing in Christ. Since the barakah where the statement of choosing is found focuses on what God is doing in Christ, corporate election becomes the logical meaning of the text with inclusion dependent on faith.

Second, it is consistent with the mandate given to the church to be the instrument of God’s grace to the world. Paul says that as an apostle, he was given the mandate to “bring to light for EVERYONE what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things…” (3:9). That mystery is not that some are chosen and some are not, but that the Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews (3:6). This is also the mandate for the church, that corporate body that is in Christ, “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10). Simply put, God’s plan is to unite all things in Christ (1:10), and those who are in Christ are co-laborers in this this effort (2 Cor. 6:1). Therefore, it should compel us to labor for Christ in the ministry to all persons.

Finally, it provides a basis by which we can view all persons as those who are loved by God. It tears down a “wall” of separation comparable to what Paul says has been torn down by Christ (2:14). One of my concerns with the doctrine of individual election is that it does precisely the opposite of what Paul was trying to achieve. Where Christ tore down the wall between the Jews (the elect) and the Gentiles (those outside the community), individual election seems to raise it up again, providing a paradigm of those who have grace and those who do not.

How then does one enter the new community that is found in Christ and become part of his Body, the church? The answer is found in Ephesians – when you believe, you are sealed with the Spirit of promise (1:13). You who once were far off are now brought near (2:12). That, of course, is also the principle that we have in Ephesians 2:8. God saves us by his grace through faith. We have a wonderful promise that no matter who you are, or what your background, you can be found in Christ and be holy and blameless in him.

As a final comment, I would like to thank my opponent for being a gracious and challenging debate partner. As I noted in my first response, our goal was to provide you with two different perspectives, and if nothing else, I hope we have accomplished that. I would also like to thank our moderator for organizing this, and the two judges who had the task of sorting all this out. And for those who watched this discussion and waded through my very long discourses, I especially thank you for your patience and tolerance of my verbosity.