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Why Ephesians 1:4-5 Does Not Teach Calvinism

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, and author of Biblical Prayer for Today's Believers: Transform Your Prayer Life (available on Amazon).

Choice and Predestination

Ephesians 1:4-5 is loved by Calvinists because it sounds like something John Calvin himself would have written, but it isn't.

"4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,"

Ephesians 1:4-5, KJV

In these, verses Paul tells us that God chose us in Christ before He created the world, and that He predestined us to be adopted by Him as His children through Jesus Christ. The words chose and predestined sound very Calvinistic, especially when we consider that God did all this before He created the world.

The Greek word translated chose means selected from the rest, and the Greek word translated predestined means determined beforehand. But these concepts are not in themselves Calvinist, for even Arminians believe God chose and predestined people before He even created the world.

The real issue is the criteria God used to choose and predestine people.

Explanation of Calvinism

Calvinists believe that God, before He ever created the world, chose people and predestined them to be saved on the basis of His own wisdom. It had nothing to do with the choices we would make, much less with the works we would do.

From the Calvinist point of view, those who have not believed in Jesus Christ are spiritually dead to the extent that they could never choose to believe in Jesus (even if the gospel is presented to them) because dead people do not make choices.

Consequently, God first chose (set apart) a finite number of people from the rest of humanity and predestined them (determined beforehand) to believe in Jesus Christ.

Then, once they came into existence (or rather, when He created them), He gave them life and thus enabled them to believe in Jesus (which they did because now they were alive).

God's Foreknowledge

Nevertheless, Ephesians 1:4-5 does not teach what Calvinism teaches. Of course, it is compatible with Calvinism if we define chose and predestined in Calvinistic terms, without considering the personal choice the person has to make. In other words, we have to read Calvinism into the text (eisegesis), but we cannot derive it from the text (exegesis).

We cannot derive Calvinism from these verses because Paul is not saying that God chose and predestined the believers to belive in Jesus Christ or to be saved. Instead, Paul is saying that God (1) chose the beleivers to be holy and blameless, and (2) predestined them to be adopted by Him as His children through Jesus Christ.

We normally associate being holy and blameless with salvation, but being holy and blameless is not the same as salvation, rather it is associated with salvation. If we are saved by God and given eternal life, we shall be holy and blameless before God in heaven (or, as some would argue, at the judgement seat of Christ). So if we are saved from God's wrath, then we will be given the blessing of standing before God as holy and blameless. In other words, this portion of the Scriptures could have in mind our eternal state rather than our present state. Thus, from my perspective, God chose certain individuals to stand as holy and blameless because He knew beforehand (He foreknew) that they woud believe in Jesus Christ.

Foreknowledge is different from predestination. God, for example, knew the choices Abraham would make (and only our theological assumptions will cause us to conclude that God caused Abraham to make these choices, since the passage makes no mention of God predestining Abraham to make these choices):

"And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him."

Genesis 1:17-19, KJV

Similary, Isaiah 46:10 speaks of God's foreknowledge without implying that God ordains what will happen:

"Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:"

Isaiah 46:10, KJV

Also, 1 Peter 1:2 clearly states God elects believers according to his foreknowledge (note that the sanctification phrase is modifying the verb elect):

"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied."

1 Peter 1:2, KJV

Moreover, the book of Acts tells us that God's cousel works together with God's foreknwoledge (God foreknew their response to Christ and He determined to send Christ anyway):

"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:"

Acts 2:23, KJV

Predestined to be Adopted

God could have also predestined the believers according to His foreknowledge. The text does not say that He predestined them to be saved or to believe, but to be adopted by Him through Jesus Christ.

Here, the phrase through Jesus Christ is crucial. Look at John 1:12 and see that it is by faith in Jesus Christ that we become God's children:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

John 1:12, KJV

What Paul may mean is that God predestined to adopt as His own children all those who would believe in Jesus. Because God foreknew that they would believe in Jesus, He determined that they would not only be saved from wrath and be absolved from all their sins, but that He would also adopt them as His own children. He determined beforehand to reward their faith in Jesus not only with salvation, not only with holiness and blamelessness, but also with adoption.

You See What You Want to See

As you can see, Ephesians 1:4-5 cannot be used to support Calvinism because it does not specifically teach Calvinist doctrines; instead, the passage uses general terminology and phrases whose interpretation largely depends on the reader's theological assumptions.

The purpose of Ephesians 1:4-5 is to ellaborate on the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places that, according to verse 3, God has bestowed on us.

© 2019 Marcelo Carcach


Marcelo Carcach (author) from Westminster, MD on May 13, 2019:

I think the reason the requirement of believing in order to be justified would sound unpleasant to anyone is because that person is focusing on the intellectual challenge of believing (how is this possible) rather than on how easy it is to believe when compared to earning one's salvation by works. God is not asking us to believe in something that we are convinced isn't true; rather, He is asking us to believe in something that we are convinced is true: the idea of believing is accepting God's gracious gift. Now, there is nothing unpleasant about that.

Marcelo Carcach (author) from Westminster, MD on May 13, 2019:

Faith and works go together in this sense: a person with true faith produces good works. But they do not go together in this sense: a person must have true faith AND good works to be justified.

I think the reason the requi

John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 12, 2019:

Don't the two go together, with "faith without works" being condemned at various junctures? To be honest, I have always thought that the notion that you have to "believe" in order to be "justified" is one excellent reason for rejecting Christianity as a viable religion - there is something basically unpleasant about the whole business.

Marcelo Carcach (author) from Westminster, MD on May 12, 2019:

Ah! But you see, first of all the reward is not for behaving in certain ways, but for faith; and this is not an extrabiblical concept, for rewards are biblical.

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." Hebrews 10:35, ESV

"He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward." Hebrews 11:26, ESV

John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 11, 2019:

Even given your interpretation, the whole concept of deciding in advance what you are creating the world for - i.e. as a home for human beings who will behave in certain ways and deserve heavenly rewards - seems utterly bizarre to me!

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