Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bless God...For the Work of The Trinity

Thus far we have seen the furnishing of Spiritual blessings from Ephesians 1:3. Our text clearly states that God is to be "praised" because He is worthy of praise. First, God is worthy of our praise simply because of who He is. Since God owes us nothing and if God had never given us one thing other than the knowledge of His glorious existence, He would be worthy of praise for his character and nature. Second, God did not merely reveal Himself and retreat. The text tells us, "who has blessed us in Christ..." Blessed us how or with what? "...with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies..."

First, the furnishing of Spiritual blessings. Now we turn to the foundation of Spiritual blessings. Paul will now explain to the Ephesian believers that these blessings are "founded" or based upon the work of the three members of the Godhead. We will embark on a phrase by phrase examination of verses four through fourteen. The break down of these verses go something like this: The Selection by the Father (vv. 4-6); The Sacrifice of the Son (vv. 7-12); and The Seal with the Spirit (vv. 13-14).

So, let's take a quick but close look at verse four today:

καθως εξελεξατο ημας εν αυτω προ καταβολης κοσμου ειναι ημας αγιους και αμωμους κατενωπιον αυτου εν αγαπη

"...even as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and blameless before him in love."

καθως εξελεξατο ημας - "just as he chose us..."

The word  καθως is translated "just as" (NASB, NRSV); "even as (ASV, RSV) and "according as" (AV). This word seems to suggest the manner in which God blesses all believers is through the three persons of the Trinity. This word can also according to Hoehner and Hodges, have a casual sense, especially when it introduces a new sentence. Thus it can also be translated as "because, since, or inasmuch as." The issue at stake here is the foundation or basis of all these spiritual blessings. What is deduced  by this understanding is that the Selection by the Father, the Sacrifice of the Son, and the Seal with the Spirit are both spiritual blessings and the foundation of all spiritual blessings.

Why is this important? It drives home the truth that all things including Spiritual blessings come from the triune God. The God-head, in perfect harmony is the source of all things. The Holy Spirit regenerates or gives life to the elect and is very active in our lives. The Son of God is the means by which we are redeemed and reconciled to God. All of these things and all of what the Son and the Spirit does in our lives are the result of the determined counsel of God. The fullness of the God head provides believers with all spiritual blessings.

εξελεξατο ημας - "he chose us..." 

Right away it seems Paul opens what you and I commonly know as "a can of worms." Paul tells us very clearly the basis or foundation of our receiving these spiritual blessings. God chose us to receive them. These words should be the most comforting words in any language other than possibly, "you are forgiven." The depraved human nature despises and even hates this truth. Human nature is so devoid of truth that it actually demands to be the source of choosing. The human nature will do almost any type or sort of acrobatics to turn the choosing of believers by a Sovereign God into the choosing of fallen, depraved, unrighteous, and sinful man. 

First, in all most every instance that this word is used, God is the subject. In other words it is God who does the choosing. Second, God did not "choose" in a vacuum. God chose in light of or even in spite of all known options. Third, keep in mind there is nothing within this word or doctrine that shows any dislike by God towards those who had not been chosen. For example:

  • When the tribe of Levi had been "chosen" to be the priestly tribe did not imply dislike of the other eleven tribes.
Fourth, this verb is in the middle voice. This indicates a personal interest or for personal benefit of the one chosen. God chose with a great personal interest rather than a random impersonal choice.  Fifth, the one who is chosen has no legal claim on the one who has done the choosing. God did not choose anyone because they had a reason including a legal claim to be chosen. God chose freely, absolutely uninhibited, and according to His own reasons. Truthfully, all human beings are sinners, have fallen short of God's glory, and do not have one reason to indicate that they should be chosen. God was under no obligation to choose anyone at all or anyone in particular. God exercised grace and determined to chose some for salvation who had no reason to be chosen whatsoever. The question to settle, as if it could ever be settled, is not why did God chose some, but why did God choose at all. This is why God is to be praised. God, the Father, freely, without any obligation, compulsion, or pressure exercised personal interest and chose some of humanity to be the recipients of salvation while without any disdain leaving other members of humanity unchosen for salvation.

The object of God's personal choice was "us." Those whom were chosen are part of a body or a group. The members are individually chosen but they still are members of the overall group. Individuals receive the blessings of verse three. This gives great encouragement and hope to individual believers - God chose "us" out of the entire human race.

εν αυτω- in him"

These words comprise a prepositional phrase. They refer us back to "in Christ" in verse two. This tiny phrase tells us that God chose "us" in connection with Jesus Christ. There is a lot riding on these two Greek words used in the manner that they are used.

Chrysostom (The Golden-Mouth) would have you believe that God chose us "through faith in Christ." However, the problem with this theory is self-evident. It would force or compel God to choose those who exercised faith. These "believers" would have had a legal claim on God that they could exercise compelling God to choose them against God's will. Barth, Bengel, and possibly Calvin want you to believe that Christ is "the elect" and believers are in him because the object of the verb "chose" is "us" and not "Christ." Lastly, the choosing is not because God seeing far into the future decided to "choose" those whom he knew would exercise faith. All these so called "theories" suggest more than the passage teaches and destroys the Sovereign will of God. Besides look at verse five:

"..."according to the purpose of his good will." God chose some for salvation for his glory. 

προ προ καταβολης κοσμους κοσμου

God chose before he created the world. This tells us the "time" believers were selected by God.The word  καταβολη comes from two words that have been put together. We call this a compound noun.  κατα means down and βολη means throw. Hence we get the idea of "to throw down, or throwing down." The verb form is used of throwing down seed in the ground giving us the idea of sowing seed or throwing down seed in a female giving us the idea of "conception." It was even used of giving birth to a new idea, relating it to a person's thoughts. It was also used of stones that were "thrown down" for the foundation of a building. The noun is used in the New Testament eleven times, and ten of those eleven times the word is followed by the word "world." The usage gives us the idea of the "foundation or the beginning of the world." God chose us for salvation before he threw down the foundation or before he created the world.

Why? What was the purpose of choosing us or choosing believers?

ειναι ημας αγιους και αμωμους κατενωπιον αυτου

"...that we might be holy and blameless before him..."

Our verb in this phrase is what we call an infinitive. Paul used this infinitive to express the purpose of choosing. The purpose for being chosen by God's personal interest is that we are to be holy and without any blame. God did not choose any holy people, he choose those whom he knew would be depraved, wicked, and sold into the bondage of sin people. He didn't choose holy people he chose people to make them holy. But not only holy but blameless.

The word Paul used means without blame, without defect, or without blemish. God chose certain human beings from among humanity in order to make them holy and without any blemishes.

Think of this concept. In the Old Testament, an animal could not be offered to God that had any blemished or defects of any kind. God was "above" having any animal offered to him that wasn't physically perfect. Remember in Malachi, what was one of the charges God brought against Israel? Animals with blemishes and defects were being offered by the people. Priests in the Aaronic line could not have any "defects or blemishes." The men could not serve as priests if they were physically imperfect. In our context God has chosen some human beings from humanity in order that he would make them holy and without any physical or spiritual defects.

One day we will find ourselves in the presence of God. Those whom God has chosen will live in God's presence as sinners who have been made holy and who no longer have any physical or spiritual defects.

εν αγαπη - in love

"In love."

We run into an exegetical problem right here. What does this prepositional phrase modify? Apparently we have three (3) views to choose from. 

View #1 - Some think it modifies εξελεξατο. If this is the case then it would mean that God's choice of some sinners is grounded in God's love. They like this choice because it supports the idea that God did not simply and without any feeling randomly choose some members of the human race for salvation. 

This view has some serious problems. First, if Paul wanted it to reflect God's choice, he probably wouldn't have placed it so far away from the verb he wanted to modify. Second, the very act of choosing demonstrates God's love for the sinner chosen. Inherent in the Greek word predestination is the concept of a love or loving relationship with the predestined one. This word doesn't need a modifier to reflect the choice was based on love.

View #2 - Some bible commentators (such as The Big Mac) and translations (RSV, NASB, NIV) places it with προορισας in verse five. Those who do think that to make it modify "holy and without blame" would be awkward. They would state that Paul doesn't not have an example of εν αγαπη modifying αγιους και αμωμους. So they would argue that it is very fitting to see God's predestination born out of love.

This view seems to have some problems even though the Big Mac and the NASB translate it this way. First, it  isn't awkward to have the prepositional phrase modify the two adjectives. The purpose of being chosen is to be "holy and blameless" before God himself and not before human beings. Second, Paul does these two adjectives in two other places, Ephesians 5:27 and Colossians 1:22). Third, in Jude 24 αμωμους is followed by a further defining prepositional phrase -"with great joy." Fourth, we don't need this phrase to tell us that being chosen is based in love. The very act of predestination demonstrates this in and of itself.

View #3 - Able commentators and translations (AV, RV, ASV, NEB, JB) hold that εν αγαπη modifies αγιους και αμωμους, "holy and without blame or blemish." This seems to make the most sense in the context. First, in the context the verbs and participles describing God's actions always precede the modifying phrases. Second, four out of five times, Paul uses εν αγαπη in Ephesians and  it follows the clause that it modifies. Third the use of εν αγαπη in Ephesiand refers to human love and not to God's love. Fourth, it just seems fitting to modify holiness and blamelessness. They balance each other out.

Now, you as the interpreter must make a choice. Sometimes when you study a passage there are alternative translations. You must read the passage to see what it says, what it means by what it says, and then what application to make from what it says. Sometimes in doing so you come across different ways of translating a word or phrase and you must make the best choice.

I don't know what the Big Mac was thinking when he made his choice, and I surely don't know what the translators of my beloved ESV were thinking when they made the call. Maybe someone yelled it was break time, or let's get some Pizaa or something. I am taking view # 3. It makes the most sense to me and I know that inherent in predestination is the fact that those whom God elected to salvation , He had a loving relationship with. Inherent in predestination is the root word from which we get the word "know." This word means to "know" in an intimate sense, such as a husband's sexual experience with his wife or vice-versa. We don't need to make another word say the same thing. I think the KJV, the Revised Standard Version, the American Standard Version, the New English Bible, the Jerusalem Bible and the New Revised Standard Version got it right.

Bottom line is this: God is to be praised because He is worthy to be praised. He is worthy to be praised because he chose us before he created this world to render us holy and without blemish before him in love. It is a state of moral excellence which consists of love.

How about you which view do you take? Why?

Tuesday: "Priceless Pearls" - Stories of Christian Truths

-Weekly Devotions for Disciples

Follow along on Tuesdays as we offer filling and fruitful devotional commentary on various Scriptures.


JD Curtis said...

Great stuff Gregg.

Anonymous said...

a great reminder of the love God has for my unworthy self. Causes praise to spring from my heart.

Cathy M. said...

I don't know Greek at all, but I'm trying really hard to understand the distinctions you're making.

Why doesn't "in love" compliment "we" alongside "holy" and "blameless" suggesting the condition we abide in "before Him?"

I think I may be agreeing with view three, but I'm too stupid to be sure. (ha!)

Gregg said...

I did not mean to make this so "technical" or difficult. I truly wanted to bring out the richness of this verse. It is bursting with God's grace and mercy as He operated in the lives of those whom He chose to be the recipients of salvation. I will be careful in the future to not overwhelm anyone with to much technical stuff. I do make it a habit of taking people through the exegetical process in order for you to see why or how I come to my conclusions. It is one thing to tell you what is says, but to give you confidence that it is what it says I love to take you through the process so that you can see it and say , oh yea that is right. Not that I am right, but that together we have come to the proper conclusion of the text.

I think in love does compliment holy and blameless.

Please, you aren't stupid. Hebrews tells us that we must "exercise" our discernment to make it strong. Sometimes we need to be stretched as we examine Scripture. Study is hard work. It takes practice. Dilligence is called for. Bible study is not easy, that is why so many people who call themselves Christians don't do it. Truth and accuracy are rarely on the surface, they are found after careful digging, sifting, polishing, and thinking.

I have no desire to "show off" or be an academic - this is really basic (if you do the hard work), I want you to revel in and rejoice in the truth as I have.

Hang in there!


welcome to my world of poetry said...

An exceptional post Gregg.