Saturday, November 26, 2005

Drive-By Comments on Ephesians 1:1-14

I've been going through Ephesians in my on-again off-again NT studies. Being rather burnt-out on Greek for the time being from doing Romans and the Corinthian epistles, I've just been going through my NET translation of Ephesians, banking on the fact that I went through the Greek of Ephesians a few years back, so it is still in the back of the brain if I need it.

Anyway, let's see what Paul is saying in 1:1-14, and then I'll put up some simple comments that come to mind.

(1) Paul makes the salutation in 1-2. OK, this epistle makes the claim that Paul is the author. He wishes the readers --- who may or may not have been the Ephesians depending on the textual question --- grace and peace.

(2) Turning to vv 3-12 now:

(a) Paul blesses God, referring to Him as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul notes that God has conferred blessing on the Christian readers of the epistle --- more precisely, God has conferred "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ" on the Christian readers of the epistle.

(b) But why or how has God conferred such aforementioned blessings? Context seems to clearly indicate that Paul is answering the "how" question just asked. Proceeding, then:

God has conferred great blessings on us:

(i) God chose us in Christ before creation, predestining Christians to adoption as His sons through the person/work of Christ. [3-5]
(ii) God has conferred upon us redemption through the blood of Christ. [7]
(iii) Similar to (i), we have been claimed as God's very own possession "in Christ" by virtue of the predestination mentioned in (i). [11]

(3) Focusing now on 13-14:

(a) "Those who heard the word of truth" seems, according to the NET translation, linked with "when you believed in Christ." Is Paul stating here that truly hearing the word of truth, that is, truly being open to the content of such a message and being able to starkly discern the dichotomies between the gospel and the world, concomitant with belief in Christ?

If I'm understanding the NET correctly here, the answer to the question is yes: truly hearing the message and belief in Christ are simultaneous.

Now, I have no problem with this possibility. In my own lifetime, I'm not sure the true hearing of the message and my belief were simulataneous. Does Paul mean by "true hearing" a sort-of hearing of God's irresistable and effectual call? I'm not quite sure here.

(b) What does seem perfectly clear is that belief in Christ is followed [immediately] by a marking with "the seal of the Holy Spirit." The HS is mentioned as the down payment made by God to us of our inheritance to come eventually at the terminus of time as we know it.


Let me offer some comments now, using Eph 1:1-14 as a pretext for making them. So far as I know, there is nothing special about the order of the comments as they're made.

(A) Predestination. I have heard various people over the years stating that the doctrine of predestination [which is, I'd assert, a starkly plain and clear doctrine] is meant as a comfort to a troubled believer who perhaps wonders something along the lines of "Am I really saved?" The idea, if I'm representing it correctly, is that the troubled believer, being a believer, was predestined to believe, and this is supposed to help a troubled soul.

FWIW, I don't find the doctrine particularly comforting, but not particularly troubling either. When I went through a few years' worth of wondering if I was really regenerate or if I had merely deluded myself into thinking I was, thinking about predestination never particularly comforted me. If I was certain that I was a believer, I could take comfort from predestination. But the very question happened to be whether I was a believer, so the doctrine, as I understood it [and still understand it in its simplistic form] offers no comfort.

On a philosophical level, predestination seems quite natural. God, who exists outside of time and indeed created our universe with its inherent sense of time, would at the very least seem to predestine things. On the other hand, predestination's negation would seem to undercut the omniscience [and perhaps the omnipotence] of God. In other words, if God doesn't in His timeless existence see an agnostic graduate student [none other than the PP!] coming to faith sometime in '94 or so, I would seriously have to question God's omniscience.

One other point to make here is that while believers are mentioned to be predestined, nothing is said here about unbelievers being predestined to enmity with God. However, the philosophical paragraph above would seem to imply that unbelievers are predesinted as well to their particular fate, because otherwise, it would seem that the above paragraph, if correct in the former case, would also apply in the latter case, allowing God's omniscience to be questioned.

[I wonder if any pastors use this doctrine for comfort and such in dealing with parishoners who come to them.]

The most likely option is that my amateurish thoughts in matters of free will and causality are verified in their amateurism!

(B) Paul isn't discussing charismata here in 1:1-14 specifically, but he does state that belief in Christ is accompanied with the Holy Spirit. Now in Romans 8 Paul discusses the role of the HS who is already present in the person who is justified by faith alone. One needn't wait for the agency of the HS to begin.

This perhaps seems like a truism, but I've had some fellow Evangelicals tell me that I have to ask God to give me the HS. However, those who believe already have the HS.
[Now, to be sure, some seem to have much more of the HS than I do, but the question isn't about the degree to which the HS' agency manifests itself, but is rather instead a question of mere existence. ] It irks me when I hear people tell other believers to ask for the HS. He's already there, "inside" them.

(C) 1:1-14 seems very heavy in terms of Pauline use of prepositions. Paul didn't write for somebody sitting at a desk in 2005 in a first-world Western culture, but, it doesn't stop me from wishing he were more clear at times!

BTW --- these drive-by comments are spoken with a very tentative stream-o'-consciousness tone, and represent some thoughts being sketched out moreso than serious theological discourse.


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