Corporate Election in Ephesians 1:4 – Part 2

by Oct 11, 2019Debates, Ephesians, Pauline Epistles0 comments

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

— Continued from Part 1

The Pronoun Shift

In Ephesians, as in other letters he writes, Paul is concerned with the unity of the church between Jews and Gentiles. So, the berakah does not end in verse 12 but continues with 13-14.

13 In him YOU ALSO, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Here the pronoun shifts to the audience with the second person plural. The audience here is Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-12), and Paul is saying that the blessings that are found in the Jewish Messiah are ALSO received by the Gentiles WHEN they heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, AND BELIEVED in him. This is the same pattern that Paul puts forward in Romans 10:13-15 for how one comes to faith. However, what is important here is that it is WHEN THEY BELIEVED that they were “sealed” (sphragizō) with the promised Holy Spirit (see also Ephesians 4:3). This Greek word (sphragizō) means “to mark with a seal as a means of identification” (BDAG). This means that their identity with respect to God changed when they believed. It seems odd to suggest that they were pre-temporally elect, identified as individuals in Christ prior to this time, since the language of the setting of identity is at the point in time when they believed.

In this case, it is better to understand the language of election and predestination from a Jewish covenantal perspective. Israel was elect based on the covenant that God initiated with Abraham. That is, individuals inherited their election through Abraham. As the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ is the inheritor of this covenant, effectively initiating a new covenant in which Jews and Gentiles have fellowship because of their unity in Him.

PRO KATABOLE KOSMOU (“before the foundation of the world”)

What then are we to do with Ephesians 1:4, where Paul says, that “he (the Father) chose us in him before the foundation of the world”?

The key to understanding this lies in the Greek prepositional phrase PRO KATABOLE KOSMOU (“before the foundation of the world”).

This prepositional phrase is used only three times in Scripture – John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4, and 1 Peter 1:20. In John 17:24, Jesus speaks of the love the Father had for him “before the foundation of the world.” This text argues strongly that Jesus, in some manner, was pre-existent, with the Father before the foundation of the world. In 1 Peter 1:20, Peter is speaking of Jesus and says that “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” Here once again, Christ is the focus, since in Trinitarian theology, Christ pre-exists creation. Peter is saying that while Christ was known before creation, it is now (“at this time”) that he is made manifest.

Given that these other two references refer to Christ, then it would make sense in Ephesians to understand this phrase in the same way, as a reference to Christ who was “before the foundation of the world,” and that all / any who are “in him,” inherit both the blessing and the mandate to be holy and blameless. A collective reading of Ephesians 1:4 makes this consistent with other uses of the term and with the covenantal framework of salvation. It is the whole of the assembly of followers of the Messiah that is chosen to be holy and blameless (5:27), the Israel of God found in the Messiah.

God’s Choosing

It may be argued, however, that despite all this, the text still teaches that God chooses. That is true. The term certainly is used in Ephesians 1:4. In that use, Paul says we are chosen to be “holy and blameless,” which is a consequence of salvation, not salvation itself. That is why the concept of being “in Christ” is so important in Ephesians. We “inherit” this holiness through Him via the Spirit. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” In Ephesians, Christ is raised from the dead and then seated at the right hand of God the Father (1:20). We are THEN raised up and seated with him (2:4-7) by God’s grace through faith (2:8). We are corporately included in him to inherit his righteousness through faith.

Individuals fulfill this when they become part of that community, the one building that is composed of both Jews and Gentiles (2:19-22). When we are in Christ, we become part of a larger whole, the community which is holy where God dwells in the Spirit. Individuals within this community participate in Christ’s election, inheriting it the same way Jews inherited the choice of Abraham.

Is the picture being painted by the Jewish berakah one where only particular individuals are destined to participate, or is it more universal than that? Paul makes one of his most universal statements about God’s intent in this berakah, that God’s plan was “to unite ALL THINGS in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (1:10). Paul reiterates this in Ephesians 4:10 when he states that the one who descended (to us), is also the one who has ascended “far above all the heavens, THAT HE MIGHT FILL ALL THINGS.” Ephesians 3:9 states that Paul’s commission was “to bring to light for EVERYONE (PANTAS) what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.” It really does not get much more universal in scope than that.


I would summarize my argument as follows:

  1. 1. The author of this text is Jewish and the text has a Jewish character in form (barakah plus elaboration) and content, with references to concepts within the Jewish Scripture.
  2. 2. The “choosing” is in the Messiah, the pre-existent chosen one, and is both corporate and gnomic (a general principle). We inherit the aspect of being chosen when we are included in Him.
  3. 3. Individual inclusion in Christ and the “sealing” occurs when one has faith and is incorporated into the covenant community.

I will deal with the practical implications of this view in my final argument.

The rebuttal is next:

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