Corporate Election In Ephesians 1:4 – Rebuttal 1 Part 1

by Oct 13, 2019Debates, Ephesians0 comments

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

This was my response to my opponent’s rebuttal, which challenged my understanding of πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (PRO KATABOLES KOSMOU) in Ephesians 1:4.  He felt it was improper to ignore the seven other uses of καταβολῆς κόσμου where ἀπὸ (APO) is used as the preposition instead of πρὸ (PRO).  Without his permission, I cannot show you his actually post.  You can find it on Facebook around July 2018.


Since our moderator has given us some liberties with the length of our postings, let me make a few comments before I assess Aaron’s argument. I agreed to entertain this debate/discussion for the following reason. I believe formal debate can be a great learning tool for those involved and for those watching – when it is done right. Much of what goes on in the Facebook forums in unbecoming of those who bear the name of Christ, and one of my goals is to show how this can be done properly to raise your awareness of the different perspectives of this text. Second, I am always more interested in what a text says and means in its original context than I am in proving a theological perspective. Theology must be based on solid exegesis, not vice versa. Therefore, this is an opportunity to show what I believe the text is saying and how I approach exegesis. I believe my approach is solidly based on that Reformed principle of ad fontes – “to the sources” – which I believe includes the historical/cultural contexts.

My debate partner has argued from a different perspective, one which understands the text as speaking of individuals who are elected to salvation. I do not know him personally, and we are from different traditions. However, I have the utmost respect for anyone who labors in the faith and has dedicated himself to fulltime ministry. Such a calling requires a high commitment to Christ and a willingness to sacrifice and share the pains of others. We hold different viewpoints on this text as you have discovered, but we are of one faith, the faith of Jesus Christ. And as such, I honor him in Christ. So, while we are exchanging ideas and perspectives, understand that we are co-laborers in God’s vineyard, laboring together with God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one raised from the dead by the Father in the power the Spirit, to bring about the obedience of faith in his name (Romans 1:5). My desire is that you who watch will grow in your perspective of the unity we have in Christ, and that we might “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10 ESV). So, here are my comments on his argument.

The “run-on sentence” that he references is what I refer to as the Berakah, that Jewish outpouring of praise to the divine. We are both beginning in the same place for the argument. The Jewish character of this blessing is affirmed by contemporary scholarship, and this form should point us towards a Jewish understanding of what Paul is saying. Paul, after all, is a Jewish believer in the Messiah. So, part of the context to be applied to this text is the cultural paradigm of Judaism, if we want to maintain a view that this text was written by Paul.

It seems to me that much of difference here between our views is in the use of the first-person, plural pronoun “we” or “us”. I am reading this collectively, as defining a corporate entity. He is reading this as a collection of individuals. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings and in the gospels, we see this corporate use is present when someone of a group speaks for the group. Consider the following examples: What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; (Rom. 3:9 NAS). In this text, Paul is speaking collectively of the Jews, affirming that like the Gentiles they are under the power of sin. “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; (Gal. 2:15 NAS). Here Paul contrasts the Jews to the Gentiles using the first-person plural. From the gospels we have the same use: The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7 NAS). Here the Jews affirm a common law, not for a group of individuals, but for themselves collectively.

The context will always dictate how we should interpret this, but as I showed in the context, there is a distinction between the first-person plural pronoun here and the second-person plural, which is used for the Gentile audience. The other part of the context, of course, is the broader text of Ephesians and includes the linguistic and formal frame of the letter itself. Jewish Midrash often takes a text (usually Scripture, but in this case, I would suggest the barakah), and after presenting it, expounds on it. I believe Paul is doing this in Ephesians to show how the blessings of God reach the Gentiles who are now included in the community of God through faith. He expands on this in Ephesians 2 and 3. In fact, I would suggest that Ephesians 3:4-6, with particular reference to 3:6, is the core principle Paul is driving towards in Ephesians.

. . . that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:6 NRS)

A collective reading of the first-person plural pronoun seems to be best here and this would indicate that Ephesians 1:4-5 is gnomic – all who are in the Messiah are chosen to be “holy and blameless.”

As I noted in my main post, the corporate character here is affirmed as Paul elaborates in 5:27, where he applies the same language to the church or assembly. The fact that this is “before the foundation of the world” is what gives this a gnomic character (making it a principle or rule) since people did not exist before the foundation of the world to be “in Him.”

Concerning the use of the aorist, this tense has a variety of uses in Greek, but in most cases with the indicative, it does looks to something in the past. So, Aaron is correct there. However, from the author’s time of writing, all the events referenced in this text would be in the past, even the advent and ascent of the Messiah. So, I do not think we can draw any implications from the aorist tense here.

A careful examination of Ephesians 1:7-14 identifies things are related to events that occur in time either with Christ or with the believer that led them to believe in Christ. Therefore, verses 4-6 should be our focus for any pretemporal view of what is happening.

The analogy of the boat used by my debate opponent in his argument is problematic in that it really does not address the issue of corporate election. Rather, it seems to be dealing with salvation. Even Reformers will tell you that you must be “in Christ” (in the boat) to be saved. People leaving the boat is also not a question of election, but of perseverance, which is not the subject of our discussion. Aaron repeats this concern at the end of the argument. However, I would suggest that one could believe in the perseverance of the saints (since we are united to God’s Spirit in salvation) and still hold to corporate election. The problem with argument by analogy is that you can form analogies and makes comparisons for almost anything you want to prove. For example, William Booth (Methodist founder of the Salvation Army) used a similar analogy of humanity drowning in his compelling vision of the lost, where Christ himself was in the sea laboring to bring the lost to the rock of salvation. I personally find Booth’s vision compelling in that it shows Christ’s participation in humanity and a call for our participation in his work. But I would not use it in a theological argument. Analogical arguments may be compelling by their appeal to our emotions, but they do not necessarily align with what the text is telling us. It is the text that is in question here.

— Continued —

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