Why Ephesians 1:4-5 Does Not Teach Calvinism
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).
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.
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© 2019 Marcelo Carcach