Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 2

Wow.  What an awesome conversation about predestination tonight at Bible study!  I am so thankful for a group of women who value the discussion of these sensitive and sometimes difficult issues of faith.

Following are lesson notes from Week 2 and homework questions for Week 3. May we rejoice that not only has God blessed us with every spiritual blessing but he has lavished upon us the riches of his grace. Hallelujah!


Ephesians 1:3-14

A.      Blessing = Hebrew “berekah

1.       Structure

a.       In Greek, 1 long sentence

b.       In English translations, broken up into shorter sentences (Today’s English Version translation has 15!)

2.       Origin

a.       Matter of debate

  • Pre-existing liturgical text: hymn? prayer associated with baptism?
  • Redaction of Colossians 1:5, 9, 13-14, 16?
  • Ad hoc composition with no pre-existing source?

3.       Organization

a.        Various proposals but no conclusion

  • 3 sections (3-4, 5-8, 9-14) marked by the use of 3 participles that indicate action (eulogēsas “having blessed,” proorisas “having predestined,” and gnōrisas “having made known”)
  • 3 sections (1-6, 7-12, 13-14) each ending with the refrain “to the praise of his glory”
  • 4 sections (3-6, 7-10, 11-12, 13-14) marked by the use of enhō (“in whom”)
  • 6 sections (3b-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14) with sections 1, 2, and 4 using the action participles noted above to describe the action of God, and sections 3, 5, and 6 introduced by en hō to describe redemption through Jesus

b.       Function

  • P.T. O’Brian states that introductory Pauline blessings had 4purposes:

Pastoral: expressing concern and love for recipients

Didactic: instruction related to the gospel

Parenetic: emphasizing ethical implications of the instruction

Epistolary: indicating key themes of the letter

  • O’Brian then asserts that the berekah of Ephesians uses 3 of these techniques: epistolary, didactic, and parenetic

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

(Note throughout this section the use of “our/us/we” and “you.” The former is thought to refer to Jewish Christians and the latter is thought to refer to Gentile Christians who are the readers of the letter.)

[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Generalized introductory blessing following the common ancient pattern of first uttering praises before beginning to pray.

Verse 3 is seen as the heading or main statement of this section upon which vv. 4-14 elaborate. Many scholars believe that the verb in 3a should be “is” instead of “be” because the blessing of God was not a wish (ie, “may God be blessed”) but a declaration (“God is blessed”).

God is blessed because of who he is (the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; 3a) and what he has done (blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing; 3b).

Spiritual blessings are characterized as being in Christ and in the heavenly places. The heavenlies are mentioned 5x in Ephesians, and it is clear that this is the dwelling place of God/Christ, spiritual rulers and authorities, and evil spiritual forces as well.

[4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace,

Movement 1 of this section (vv. 4-10) speaks of God’s gracious acts both before the creation of the world (vv. 4-6a) and within history (vv. 6b-10) that benefit all Christians.

The text begins with 2 synonymous expressions for God’s precreation activity: he chose (exelexato) us (4a) and he predestined (proorisas) us (5a). We were chosen “in him” meaning that Christ was the instrument and means through which God elected us.

When did these acts take place? Before the foundation of the world. Why did these acts take place? So we should be presented to him as holy and blameless (4b) and so that the purposes of his will could be fulfilled (5b).

God fulfilled the purpose of His will even before the foundation of the world by predestining us for adoption (“sonship”) through Jesus Christ.

The result of this predestining act is the praise of his glorious grace (6a). This goes back to the notion of benefaction mentioned in Week 1; because of God’s gracious act of adoption we owe him eternal praise.

with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Verse 6b begins a new thought segment on God’s grace that builds on the preceding verses. He has “blessed us in the Beloved,” which is another term for Christ (cf. Mark 1:11, 9:7). In other words, the location of God’s blessing is in his Beloved, the Christ.

How does God accomplish blessing us in his Beloved? We receive redemption through the death of Christ (ie, “his blood”). This redemption comes in the form of “forgiveness of our trespasses” and comes as a result of the riches of God’s grace.

[8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

As done in v. 6b, v. 8 begins a new thought segment on God’s grace that builds on the preceding verses. In what manner has God given grace to all Christians? He has “lavished [it] upon us.” The word “lavish” means extravagant, profuse, and abundant. This act was done based on his wisdom and insight.

By lavishing grace upon us through Christ, he has revealed to us the mystery of His will that was set forth in Christ.

[10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

What is the mystery of His will? In the genuine Pauline letters, this mystery refers to the participation of believers in the glory of the world to come (Rom 11:25; I Cor 2:6, 15:51). In Ephesians, the mystery is both eschatological and universal. The mystery in Ephesians refers to God’s complete and overarching plan for the fullness of time that will ultimately gather all things to Him and unite the entire cosmos through Christ.

One must infer from this passage that the cosmos (both the heavens and the earth) is currently not united to God and is therefore in disunity. Christ alone is able to overcome all hostility and division, both on earth and throughout the universe, in order to set all things right and restore order to the cosmos.

[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, [12] so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Movement 2 of this section (vv. 11-14) speaks of God’s gracious acts as setting the goal for all Christians, both Jew (ie, “we/us” in vv. 11-12) and Gentile (ie, “you” in vv 13-14).

The Jews have obtained their promised inheritance, the hope of Messiah that is their heritage. As God’s chosen people, they were the first to have this hope, and many came to faith in Christ before the Gentile readers of this letter.

And of course, the fact that the Jews have accepted Christ as the promised Messiah results in rightful praise to the glory of God.

[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.

The Gentiles who have responded to hearing the gospel (“the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”) by accepting Christ and believing in him have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

The notion of “sealing” in the ancient Mediterranean world indicated many things including ownership, authenticity, or even protection (cf. Ezek 9:4-6; Rev 7:3).

In Ephesians, “sealing” functions as both protection and spiritual empowerment through the Holy Spirit as a pledge of a future inheritance (ie, the day of redemption, when God’s people are finally fully and completely restored to Him).

And, as with the experience of the Jews, the fact that the Gentiles have accepted Christ for their salvation results in rightful praise to the glory of God.

C.      The Major Issues

1.       Predestination: Arminius vs. Calvin

a.        The Arminian view

  • The view of Arminius and the Eastern Orthodox Church was that God knew beforehand how creatures would choose; on the basis of this foreknowledge he predestined them either to life or to death. In other words, predestination is based on God’s pre-creation knowledge of his creatures’ future behavior.

b.       The Calvinist view

  • The view of John Calvin (who drew on Augustine and the Qumran) was that God preordained some to eternal life and some to death and damnation. In other words, man is predestined to life or to death.

This notion was repulsive to Arminius, who stated that this was “repugnant to the nature of God” (who is merciful and just), “contrary to the nature of man” (who has freedom of will), and “injurious to the glory of God” (since it makes God the real sinner). (Talbert, p. 51)

c.        Ephesians response according to Talbert

  • God’s predestining activity arises out of the good pleasure of his will (1:5, 1:11).
  • In Ephesians there is no hint of predestination based on foreknowledge.
  • In both Ephesians and canonical Paul, election before the foundation of the world and predestination are God’s choice and not the sinner’s (cf. Romans 8).
  • Christians are elect through Christ just as they are predestined through Christ (1:5), and some will not inherit the kingdom of God (5:5-6).
  • “The pre-creation [saving] activity of God/Christ precludes any notion of human merit as playing a part in establishing or maintaining the relationship between creator and creature.” (Talbert, p. 52)

Homework for Week 3:

Read Ephesians 1:15-2:10 and consider the following questions:

  • Based on 1:20-23, how is God’s power at work in Christ?
  • Based on 2:1-10, how is God’s power at work in Christians?
  • Different religions and philosophies have different views on the interaction of supernatural beings and humans. Do you believe that heavenly beings (both good and evil) are interested in humans? If so, do they involve themselves in human affairs?