Predestination in Ephesians 1:3-14

Matt Perman

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Christ Jesus to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace...In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" -- Ephesians 1:2-5, 11.

This passage seems clear enough. However, some interpreters argue that this was not an election of which individuals would be in Christ. Instead God simply chose that there would be a "thing" called the church, but left it up to each individual to decide whether they would belong to the church. So on this view, predestination was God's election of a group without electing any individuals who would be in the group.

This interpretation does not work because it does not fit the context. In this passage, predestination is placed together with many other blessings that God gives us--such as redemption, being holy in His sight, and being blessed with every spiritual blessing. These blessings are clearly directed towards specific individuals, not merely an undefined corporate entity. Therefore, it is inconsistant to single out predestination as being something merely corporate and not individual when everything else in this text is true of each Christian specifically and individually. Let us examine this further.

First, let's examine verse three. It says that "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Did God simply bless the church corporately but not bless any individual in it? How could God bless the church as a group without blessing each individual within it? God has clearly blessed each individual in the church with every spiritual blessing, not just the church as a non-defined group. Since verse four continues "just as He chose us in Him..." I would conclude that just as God has blessed every individual believer with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, God has also chosen every believer individually. I see no warrant for interpreting the blessing to be individual but the election merely corporate.

Next, verse four says that we were chosen "that we should be holy and blameless before Him." Is it just the church as a group that will be holy and blameless, or every individual within the church? How could God elect the church to be holy and blameless without electing every individual in the church to be holy and blameless? I think almost all would agree that it is individuals whom God makes holy and blameless. Since the purpose of God's choice was to make us holy and blameless, and it is individuals who are made holy and blameless, God must have chosen specific individuals to be holy and blameless. There is no warrant for applying the "holy and blameless" aspect to individuals, but the "chosen" aspect to merely a corporate entity.

Now let's look at verse six, which says God freely bestowed His grace upon us. Isn't this bestowal of grace upon individuals? Verse seven says, that "in Christ we have redemption." Isn't redemption individual as well? Then we could look at verse eight, etc.... but I think you get the point. There is no basis to make God's predestination corporate in this text while every other blessing of God as individual. It seems clear that the context argues for an individual election, not corporate.

The one who holds to a corporate view might slightly alter their position now and admit that the election is individual. But they might add "It may be individual, but it is not unconditional. You become chosen when you believe. You make yourself chosen." But if what we examined above holds true, this interpretation does serious violence to the meaning of "chosen." Most importantly, Paul is clear that God's choice was made "before the foundation of the world." His reason for naming the time of the choice seems to be that it was unconditional -- it was not based on us since we didn't exist. Saying that God chose those whom He "foreknew" would believe seems to take away the whole point of the phrase "before the foundation of the world." Significantly, Paul uses a very similar phrase in Romans 9:11 to denote individual, unconditional election. This passage in Ephesians itself militates against the view that God chose those that He knew beforehand would believe on their own -- Paul says that God's choice was "according to the good pleasure of His will," not our will (v. 5).

The corporate interpretation does not seem to fit with verse eleven either: "we were predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will."

Also, "the ordinary meaning of the word for 'choose' in verse four is to select or pick out of a group (cf. Luke 6:13; John 13:18; 15:16, 19). So the natural meaning of the verse is that God chooses His people from all humanity, before the foundation of the world by viewing them in relationship to Christ their redeemer "(What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism, Bethlehem Baptist Church Staff, p. 18).

Finally, many other passages in the Bible make it abundantly clear that predestination is of individuals. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-30, James 2:5 and Revelation 13:8; 20:15 (among many others).

One other twist people sometimes give to this text is the interpretation that Christ was elected, not believers. But verses four, five, and eleven are clear that God chose Christians, not just Christ: "...He chose us...He predestined us...we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined." So this view would lead to the question "who is us--a nondefined, corporate entity or individuals?", which is precisely what we have just investigated. God chose the specific individuals in Christ unconditionally. A person's belief in Christ is not the reason that God choose them. God's choosing them is the reason they believe.

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