Sunday, September 06, 2015

Rereading Ephesians 1

In all my studying and thinking about predestination, I've tended to focus on Romans 8-11.  St Paul's definition of the relevant term preemptively in the first chapter of his epistle effected a rather techtonic shift in my thinking.  Ephesians 1, on the other hand, has long been a confusing and frustrating passage to me.  Try as I might, I've been unable to understand it in any way other than the traditional Reformed reading.  However, I've also been unsatisfied with that reading since my very Reformed pastor did a sermon series on the book: too much of Ephesians has to be read in other ways to make sense of it.  Did Paul go through a shift from the first chapter to the rest of the book?  How does the predestinating decree jive with his assertion that into Christ are being gathered all things (1:10)?

Aside from those things, there are various hiccoughs in the text itself that beg for exploration and evaluation.  The chief thereof, which has caused a "scales falling from my eyes" moment tonight, is the strange usage of pronouns in the first chapter.  The Aposte switches from "you (pl)" to "our" and back again in ways that make it difficult to tell who he is actually addressing at any given point.  The key, I think, lies in v. 12, where he states that the "we/us" he'd been talking about was, in fact, an exclusive group of people with an extraordinarily inclusive mission: "we who first trusted in Christ."  In itself, this is a rather strange statement from the Apostle who elsewhere describes himself as "one born out of due time" (1 Cor. 15:8): what he means will hopefully be clarified shortly.  Going back in the actual text, though, it starts to make sense of what he is saying and the possible meaning.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, just as He chose us ["we who first trusted"] in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having designated us before to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will..."

Seeing the "us" as the "first trusters" is made a bit more clear when we examine 2 Tim. 1:8-11:

"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortaility to light [that is, He has been resurrected] through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles."

Note the similarities between the two passages: both speak of being chosen/called "before the foundation of the world/before time began"; both talk about how this is God's purpose/the good pleasure of His will; both speak of the resurrection, Ephesians in terms of adoption (cf. Rom. 8:23), 2 Timothy in terms of the cosmic effects of such.  It isn't too far of a stretch to suggest that the Apostle is talking about the same thing in both passages.  For the Ephesians one, however, it necessitates a shift in how we understand what is being said: this predestination (which I translated as "designated before") is not exclusive to this "we/us" group, but is rather missional.  The whole point of selecting this group of people (the Apostles and their entourage fit the bill nicely for "we who first believed," especailly considering 3:5) is so that the "mystery of His will" could be revealed/passed onto those who would come after.  This starts to come out in v. 13, where Paul says "In Him you also trusted...".  This group of Ephesians, called saints, was not necessarily included in the "we/us" previously, but now is so that they themselves can take up the divine mission to "make known the manifold wisdom of God by the Church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose [to unite all things in Christ] which He accomplished in Christ Jesus" (3:10-11).

The language of predestination and election used in the first chapter, then, functions in a slightly different way than it did in Romans 8 (although I think the case could be made for an equivalence if the "foreknown" in 8:29 are the Jews, as they are in 11:2, more on this later), which makes sense considering Paul in Romans is seeking to "establish" the Church (1:11), whereas Ephesus has long been established and is ready for mission.  What the Saint is doing, then, is to press home the function of the apostolate and what happens next: the Church herself must start doing the work that Paul had been entrusted with.  In fact, he says that this mystery revealed to "we who first believed" of Gentile/all things inclusion has been his ministry (3:7), but that the apostles/prophets/evangelists/pastor-teachers who share it are to not hoard it, but "equip the saints [whom Paul is addressing this epistle to] for the work of the ministry" (4:11-12).  Just as Paul tells St Timothy to "guard the deposit entrusted to you," so he is telling the saints of Ephesus to do the ministry of the mystery.

Again, from the text itself, I think we can dispense with viewing predestination as an excluding concept and locate it firmly in the historical work of the Church for the sake of the world.  Hallelujah that our Lord saw fit to call certain men and women, as He had called Abraham, for this task: it has been passed down to us "until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (1:14).

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