The Blog of Jack Holloway

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Predestined in Christ: Ephesians 1 and Calvinism

A couple months ago, I discussed Romans 9 and whether or not it supports Calvinism (here). That was the first of a series of blogs I'm doing about the passages in Scripture typically used to support Calvinism. Here, I am dealing with Ephesians 1:3-14:
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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

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, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
At face value, this passage seems to support Calvinist ideas of predestination and election: "he chose us . . . before the foundation of the world," "he predestined us for adoption," "[we were] predestined according to the counsel of his will." This sounds like Calvinism, and I sympathize with everyone who reads this passage and either thinks, "See? There it is!" or "Well, I guess it is in Scripture." However, when one analyzes the passage, and considers its historical context, not only is the Calvinist understanding unnecessary, but also unlikely.


Before Christ, Israel was the elect. Such is common knowledge. Israel was the chosen vessel through which salvation would be brought to the world. However, as N.T. Wright observes, the people of Israel were "bound up in the problem instead of being the bringers of the solution."(1) Thus, if salvation was going to spread to the world, it would have to be accomplished through a very different means. Enter Jesus Christ. The story continued with the "Messiah [doing] for the world what Israel was called to do."(2) Christ, then, is the new elect. Paul spells out God's redefinition of election with Christ at its center. As Markus Barth states, "God administers and carries out election through Jesus Christ."(3) Likewise, Ralph P. Martin states, "Election is . . . universalized to include all who are in Christ."(4)

It then follows that, since Christ is the elect, Wright says, "those who hear the gospel and respond to it in faith are then declared to be [God's] people, his elect."(5) This can be seen quite clearly in our passage: "God . . . blessed us in Christ . . . [and] chose us in him. . . . he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. . . . he blessed in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood. . . . he set forth [the mystery of his will and purpose] in Christ . . . to unite all things in him. In him we have obtained an inheritance. . . . In him, you also . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit."

It is clear in this passage that the elect ones are what they are only in Christ. This may seem like a simple, commonsensical statement, but we have to stop and think about how this completely redefines election: election is no longer a chosen people group, nor is it made up of specific individuals who are chosen; rather, it is Christ who is chosen, the elect, and, subsequently, all those who are in Christ. Those who accept the gospel and believe in Christ become in him, they become elect: "when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" (v.13).


How, you might ask, does this perspective explain the references to predestination in this passage? Doesn't the passage suggest that those who are in Christ were predestined to be so?
Not necessarily.

I think all Christians can agree that the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, the Son of God, were predestined. But do passages like these suggest that we go a step further and say that all those who would be saved by his sacrifice were also predestined? It is unlikely that Paul was saying that in writing this passage, for one only has to affirm that Christ's saving act was predestined in order to say with Paul that we were predestined for adoption.

God predestined that Christ would be the elect and that he would call all people to salvation. Thus, when one says 'Yes' to Christ through faith, one becomes one of the elect and it can rightfully be said that he/she was predestined for adoption (Eph. 1:4-5, 11; Rom. 8:29-30), because it was predestined that Christ would be the elect for all people, and that all who accept him would then be the elect. I was predestined to for adoption, because it was God's purpose in Christ to adopt all who believe in him, and I chose to believe in him. Consider Greg Boyd's analogy:
Suppose you attend a seminar in which a certain video is shown. You might ask the instructor, 'When was it decided (predestined) that we'd watch this video?' To which the instructor might respond, 'It was decided six months ago that you'd watch this video.' Note that it was not decided six months ago that you individually would watch this video. What was decided was that anyone who took this seminar would watch this video. Now that you have chosen to be part of this seminar, what was predestined for the seminar applies to you. You can now say, 'It was decided six months ago that we would watch this video.'(6)
In the same way, Christ's saving act was predestined; it was predestined that all who would believe in Christ would be the elect. Election is an open invitation to all people, and all who say 'Yes' become the elect, who are predestined for adoption, "according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (v.11).


I believe this is the way we should look at Romans 8:29: 
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
If we look at the context, "those whom" does not refer to individual people that God elected for salvation; it refers to "those who love God" and "those who are called." Joseph Fitzmyer suggests that this verse refers to "all who have responded to the divine call."(7) Must we draw from this that the individuals who responded to the divine call were foreknown and predestined?

The Greek word οὓς ('those whom') does not go that far. In Romans 11:2, the word refers to the people of Israel in general. 8:28-30 tells us that God predestined to call people to be conformed to the image of his Son, and that those who love God are justified and glorified. That there would be a group of people--the elect--that would respond to God's call by loving him was indeed predestined and foreknown.

God predestined that he would call people to be conformed to the image of his Son. He foreknew the elect as all who would believe in Christ. Just like the presenter of the seminar in Boyd's analogy foreknew the attendees as all who would arrive for the seminar. The passage does not suggest that God predestined and foreknew the elect as specific individuals chosen for salvation. The passage does provide that God predestined that all who are in Christ would be justified, glorified, and conformed to the image of Christ, but it does not go beyond this. It does not suggest that individuals were foreknown and predestined. To say that would be to go beyond what the text itself provides.

(1) N. T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress press, 2005), 119.
(2) Ibid., 120.
(3) Markus Barth, Ephesians 1–3, Vol. 34 of The Anchor Bible, eds. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden City: Doubleday, 1974), 107.
(4) Ralph P. Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, ed. James Luther Mays (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991), 18.
(5) Wright, 122.
(6) Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 47.
(7) Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, Vol. 33 of The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 524.


  1. Paul was a Gnostic heretic. Its time -- high time -- to face the music on that. Its why he taught predestination. Changing the meaning of the word will not fix anything. The very word is an abomination in and of itself. And every Old Testament passage Paul uses in Romans 9 has been taken out of context and twisted. And when he comes to "the potter" he is not quoting from Jeremiah 18 like he should be, but he is quoting the Apocrypha(!) from Wisdom 15. Its time we stop taking Paul very seriously, and if we do that, Calvinism loses. We don't even need to debate these Gnostics on Romans 9 -- just say to them "Paul twists every passage he uses in Romans 9, so I reject his Gnosticism out of hand. There is nothing to debate! He even quotes the Apocrypha in his attempt to prove predestination! Talk about desperate!"

    By the way, although Paul has taken the phraseology from Wisdom 15 about the potter making from one lump both vessels for honor and dishonor (Wisdom 15 says clean and unclean uses) he has even taken the Apocrypha out of context! The context is that the author is speaking of idolators. A pagan potter takes a lump or clay and from that lump makes vessels both for clean and unclean uses, and even makes a god from the same lump! The point of the passage is to make fun of idolators, not to teach predestination. Way to go Paul!

    1. I'd be interested to see your research on Paul being a Gnostic.

      I think your assessment of the word predestination is too informed by misuses of the word. The Greek word for predestination does not mean what so many take it to me. I think it's about time we come up with a different word, because it's been misinterpreted and misunderstood because of Calvinism and other fatalistic tendencies.

      As far as the Apocrypha goes, we must remember that the Apocrypha wasn't the Apocrypha to ancient people like Paul; they were well-known writings. Paul was using them to make a point. He wasn't JUST alluding to Wisdom 15, but was also alluding to potter passages in Jeremiah and Isaiah.
      The tie to Wisdom 15 does make it quite interesting, though, as that binds the Jewish exclusivity and hardness of heart with idolatry. Wow!

    2. "He wasn't JUST alluding to Wisdom 15, but was also alluding to potter passages in Jeremiah and Isaiah."

      This is not a sustainable statement. Why does Paul bring up the potter to begin with? Because after Paul has set forth his Gnostic case for predestination, somebody objects (or he knows somebody will) that (allow me to paraphrase and expand a bit):

      "IF what you are saying is true, there is no such thing as sin. If we can't resist God in reality because God controls all our actions, then sin isn't real. Why does he still find fault?"

      Paul's answer: "How dare you speak against God!" as if speaking against Paul's Gnostic lie is speaking against God "Can not the potter make out of the same lump...."

      Where is Jeremiah 18 here? Jeremiah 18 in which the clay has freewill. In the house of the potter God says to Jeremiah that he deals with people as the potter does. Just as Jeremiah saw the clay marred in the potter's hand and the potter changed his intention on what to make of the clay, God says "If I decree to destroy a nation, but they repent, I will not destroy them." God changes his intention based on the freewill of the "clay"!!!!!! This is NOT Paul's point: this demolishes Paul's point! Because what is Paul's point? "That it is not of him who wills or runs" but God who controls everything to the point that it can be literally said that he predestined it all. This is Gnosticism.

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    Matthew 22:14 For many are called , but few are chosen."

    Definition of called: Invited or summoned.

    Definition of chosen: Those who are eligible or suited for election. Elected and chosen are synonymous.


    Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

    Every person who has heard the gospel has been called. The call is not limited to a select few who have been predestined for salvation.


    The chosen are the ones who are obedient to the call of the gospel.
    The chosen are those who have 1. Faith: John 3:16

    The chosen are those who 2. Repent: Acts 3:19 (Repent means to make the commitment to turn from sin and turn toward God).

    The chosen are those who 3. Confess: Roman 10:9-10

    The chosen are those who are 4. Baptized in water: Acts 2:38

    The chosen are not those who were supposedly, unconditionally selected, for salvation. The chosen have to be suited for election.


    Matthew 22:2-3 "the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.

    Many have had the gospel preached to them, but of their own free-will have rejected the call. If men reject the gift of eternal life by rejecting Jesus as Lord and Savior; then they have been called, but not chosen.

    Matthew 22:11-14 "But when the king came to look over the dinner quests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?" 13 Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 14 For many are called but few are chosen."

    This wedding quest was disinvited. He was called but not chosen ; because he was not suitable to be chosen. Improper clothing was a big deal.

    Galatalians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.




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  4. Very good post.
    Thanks for pointing me to it.
    I like N.T. Wright, know well his position on Justification, but don't like his approach to Scripture to much. I am committed to what is called theological exegesis. This being said, I'd like to comment on the following:

    >Those who accept the gospel and believe in Christ become in him, they become elect: "when >you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed >with the promised Holy Spirit" (v.13).

    Election is and must always be Christological.
    He is the Elect One.
    We share in His election.
    We can't do anything to become elect.
    All of humanity has been chosen.
    It's an accomplished reality because of the work of Christ
    To believe is to embrace our election in Christ,
    and as a result our membership in the Church, His body

    Also, it would have been helpful here to more carefully distinguish how in Eph1 Paul shifts from talking about the Election of Israel (we/us)to talking about the salvation of Gentiles (you) and how that changes traditional Jewish thoughts on election

    >I was predestined to for adoption, because it was God's purpose in Christ to adopt all who >believe in him, and I chose to believe in him

    We do choose. I would just say that we choose because the Spirit enables us to choose and respond to the Gospel. But in choosing we merely accept what God in Christ has done for us before we ever believed: He chose us. He became one of us. He made atonement for us. He reconciled us to God. All of this has been accomplished. All of this is true of every human. Not all have heard though. Not all believe. In believing we merely receive/embrace all these benefits in our union with Christ.

    >Election is an open invitation to all people, and all who say 'Yes' become the elect, who are >predestined for adoption, "according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the >counsel of his will" (v.11).

    I think we are the elect because God has chosen us in Christ, not because we say Yes to the previous Yes of God. To accept and embrace our chosen status is one thing. To say that we go from not chosen to chosen by choosing to believe is another thing entirely. Election is not something we complete. It is something we embrace/reject. Also, election is ultimately for the service of God to heal this world and take the gospel to all nations so that they can come in.

    Hope my comments made sense.
    Let me know if you have any questions.

    1. I absolutely agree with you.
      Where I might have misguided you is in that I was mostly talking about the subjective aspect of election. Objectively, you're right, we have all been chosen in Christ. But subjectively, as you said, we have to embrace that reality if we are to participate in it and, ultimately, reap the benefits of that participation. In this, you and I are very much singing the same song.

      I would add, however, that though we can only embrace that reality because of the Holy Spirit, I believe the Spirit is always trying to reconcile all people back to the Father. Humans simply have the power to reject that invitation.

  5. We're pretty much on the same page then:)

  6. Is someone else's Salvation dependent on YOU?

    One of the biggest criticisms of the Lutheran (and Calvinist) position on the Predestination of the Elect is that it removes the motivation to spread the Gospel/to do missionary work. "If God has already chosen who will be saved, why bother spending your time preaching the Gospel to sinners? God will take care of it, I don't need to worry about it."

    It is true that Lutherans believe that God has already chosen those who will be saved (but they do NOT believe that God has predestined anyone to hell, regardless of what some people believe Luther may have said at one point in his life). It is also true that we Lutherans believe that sinners do not have a free will to choose God. So no matter how hard we try to convince sinners of their need for a Savior, if God has not predestined them for salvation, they will NOT believe, they will not be saved.

    The advocates of Free Will Theology say that a sinner IS capable of choosing God. Therefore, it is our job as Christians to witness to every human being with whom we come into contact in our daily lives, because our efforts may be the trigger for them to "accept" Christ." These Christians base their belief on the passage of Scripture that states, "for whom he did foreknow, those he did predestine...". They take this to mean that God's predestination is based on God foreknowing that at some point in the future, that a particular person would make a free will decision to believe in Christ.

    Lutherans and Calvinists say that this is impossible since Romans chapter 3 tells us that no one seeks God. Making a decision for God is "seeking" God, and therefore an impossibility according to God's Word.

    But are we Lutherans and the Calvinists really off the hook when it comes to sharing the Gospel? It is true, we absolutely should be out preaching the Gospel to our neighbors simply because Christ commands us to do it, but, really, what are the consequences of our disobedience on this one issue? A slap on the wrist when we get to heaven, but no direct consequences for the "un-elect" person to whom we failed to share the Good News?

    Lutherans state that we do not know what criteria God used to choose/predestine those whom he will save. But I would like to propose this idea: Yes, it is true that a particular person's election is not dependent on HIS decision to believe since Romans chapter three states that this is impossible. it possible that this person's election is dependent on God foreknowing that YOU would obey his command to go out into the world and preach the Gospel, and in particular, he foresaw that YOU would share the Gospel with this individual, and based on YOU being faithful/obedient and sharing the Good News with that person, God chose/elected that person to be saved??

    To believe this would certainly increase our motivation as Lutherans to share the Gospel instead of sitting at home enjoying the blessings of salvation all to ourselves. (Maybe we should share this idea with our Calvinist Christian brothers and sisters to light the "evangelism fire" underneath their behinds also.)

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    1. Look up Dr. William Craig on YouTube and listen to his explanation of Molinism.

  7. Wow, someone wrote Paul was a 'gnostic heretic' even though both he and John were warning against such teachings. Is that the kind of reader that this blog attracts? Paul is revealing what was hidden (mystery), and he did not go outside Scripture. It is pointless to run ahead with 'theories' as is the contention being made. Why are individuals, supposed Christians, in rebellion against something that is the foundation of our Hope into which you've been Called to begin with? It couldn't be clearer, you did not choose Me but I chose you. When. "From the foundation of the earth'. Trying to turn that around to mean something else doesn't change the fact except in ones imagination. If God did not Fore-Know those who are His in Eternity and Jesus, "Came for His Own' but they knew Him not...then it would have been impossible for Him to come for His Own and 'those whom My Father has Given Me will come to Me'...when did The Father Give Them to Him? In Eternity, otherwise there are things He doesn't Know and now He's dependent upon our reactions? (p.s., I'd watch out for N.T. Wright, something is 'wrong' in his teachings but that's another story...other than that he is brazen enough to 're-interpret Paul as if 'we had it wrong' for 2000 years? Seriously?

  8. ..and one last thing in regard to Paul, 'We can know for a fact it was not 'Paul's Idea' but The LORD's Commandment that He preach. To judge Paul is to Judge Jesus Christ. The LORD saw all this coming in advance, which is why LUKE (who scribed many things of Paul) wrote in Acts, and PETER who was in agreement with Paul mentions that, 'they do not understand him, to their own condemnation'. And Paul wrote many things in full agreement with what John also wrote, only John used different phraseologies to express the same realities. There is no need to 're-interpret' Paul. What that actually means is, 'rebel against the Lord'.

    Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him,

    “Go,for he is a Chosen Instrument of Mine to carry My Name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

    There we have it, the LORD chose Him from His Mouth, and Paul is not involved in any way. The LORD knows what He is doing, and He also foresaw rebellion against Paul as He also stated and can be read. So consider it Joy when we see people rebellion against him, for it was foretold that would be the case, and is the case all through his writings, and it continues to this very day. (Oh, so I won't outwardly 'attack Paul', I'll just change what he meant in what he wrote? Same difference). But why? What's the point. Why redefine what Predestination is? That is the thing that is most curious, and just as much a mystery as The Things of God. Yet Jesus Himself stated: "To them I speak in parables" and "he who has much much more will be Given but they who have little, what little they (think) have will be taken away".