1st Person Plural – Ephesians 1:13,14

Several unrelated comments came together this week.

Members of Bethany Church expressing the importance of this community of believers in their lives and in that of their families over many years.

A comment by a mission strategist saying that new believers who do not connect with a church often show no signs of continuing in the faith, suggesting that the Great Commission requires the planting of churches.

Noticing all the 3rd Person Plurals in the New Testament.

Years ago, with a copy of Ephesian and a few colored pencils, we noticed that there is a lot of Church and a lot of “we” in that letter.  That lead to noticing all the talk of church, community and “we” throughout the Epistles.

WE as Americans tend to think in terms of “me”.  For example, is the Sealing and Guaranteeing of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13,14 something that I can know and experience?  What is it that lets “me” know that I am signed, sealed and to be delivered to eternal glory?

Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV
    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, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  

(all red words are plurals, some 2nd some 3rd person, as are the verbs thourghout)

   Maybe part of the awareness of our “signed, sealed and to be delivered” status is from living in community with believers.  Not just having some Face Book Friends, or a Twitter Church, or by listening to Pod-cast church.  It is a living, breathing, sinning, forgiving, struggling, caring  group of people who are climbing the hill together.

Just a thought.

Weighing the options – Ephesians 1:11

Sometimes we find passages where the translations and the commentators can not agree.  In Ephesians 1:11 we find the aorist passive 1st person plural form of klēroō. 

This verb is used only once in the New Testament, thus it is a hapax legomena – a word used only once in the written record.  This makes the translation difficult.

It means literally “our lot was cast.”  In comparison to its cognates, the word has to do with lots, destiny, being chosen and inheritance.  Two Old Testament usages are cited.  Israel is sometimes  called God’s possession –

Deut. 32:9
    But the Lord’s portion is his people,
        Jacob his allotted heritage.

   Yet it can also refer to the portions of land that were given to the tribes if Israel after the conquest.  This is commanded in

Numbers 26:55-56
    But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. [56] Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.”

   And the process of this division by lot is described in Joshua 14 – 19.  Each tribe received title to a portion of land that was theirs to enter in and take possession. 

So the commentators and translations split – those opting for the translation that we are God’s portion cite the grammar, while those choosing that we receive an inheritance cite the context – especially verse 14.

One translation (RSV) seems to skip the whole thing!

In seminary the joke was that if you put all the commentaries who chose position A on one side of a scale and those choosing position B on the other, you could pick the “heaviest” choice.

We prefer to go with the context. In reading this section, Ephesians 1:3-14, it seems that words like choosing and electing are tied with benefits to us. 

v.  4 – Chosen – to be holy and blameless

v. 5 – Predestined – for adoption

v. 11 – Predestined – for an inheritance

v. 13,14 – Holy Spirit – guarantee of our inheritance

V. 14 has the noun form of the verb (klēronomia) and is translated as “inheritance” or “salvation”.

In general, we prefer to go with the context over the dictionary alone – as words have a range of meaning (semantic field) that is made specific by how it is used.

So we have received an inheritance according to God’s eternal plan (v. 11) which is sealed or guaranteed by the Holy Spirit to the believer (v. 14).

For the content of this inhertiance…well, the sermon is yet to be preached, drop by Bethany EFC  in Madison, WI and see what one FRESH READ might be.

Otherwise, ponder this:

Psalm 16:6  ESV
    The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
        indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

The Theory of Everything & Ephesians 1:10

 Albert Einstein looked in his later life for what he called a unified field theory.  The search is still ongoing for a “Theory of Everything.”  What can unite our knowledge of the universe under a single theory or principle?  To encourage the concept, the fields of electricity and magnetism, once thought to be separate are now seen as “electromagnetism.”  Apparently the difficulty is in combining general relativity with quantum mechanics.  String theory has been advanced, with others as new candidates to become the Theory of Everything.

Leaving theoretical physics aside, the biblical text has a unified theory of everything.  One such instance is in Ephesians 1:9,10

Ephesians 1:9-10 ESV
    making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

   The word for “unite” is in Greek, anakephalaioo.  This word has the idea of gathering together, or summing up.  A speaker might end a long address with a summing up of the main idea.  An accountant would add up the numbers in a column, and in Ancient Greece, put the sum at the top of the column.

So the unified theory of life is that “everything in heaven and earth will be summed up in Christ.”   A similar usage of the word is found in Romans 13:9 where all the Law is “summed up” or “united” in the command to love:

Romans 13:9
    The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up (anakephalaioo) in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

   What does this mean that all things are or will be summed up in Christ?  Well here are a few scribbles on that

  • The universe is ultimately personal – it is Christ, not a formula that unites and explains all things.
  • Jesus is not merely my buddy or personal assistant.
  • There is a unifying wisdom or principle to all things, even if theoretical physicists can not come up with one in their field.
  • Only God can create this unity, it would appear our attempts will fall short of the mark.

We will be thinking about this for a while, and would value your thoughts.

Telescope and Compass – Ephesians 1:8

Ephesians 1:8 speaks of  wisdom and insight.  When we look within the book of Ephesians we find two passages that also refer to wisdom.

  • Ephesians 1:15-22.  “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation…”  This section goes on to develop a big picture of Christ’s accomplishment.
  • Ephesians 5:15-21.  “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…”  This goes on the give some advice for daily living in Christ.

So wisdom has a big picture – that we realize all that is in store for us “in the heavenlies” to use a phrase repeated in Ephesians.

It has a small picture — that we make use of wisdom in choosing a daily path.

Hence, telescope

and compass.

Redemption – Ephesians 1:7

Redemption means to gain freedom or liberty for a captive.  It was used historically to apply to war hostages who were bought back from the enemy, or for slaves who were bought from slavery. 

This description makes it clear that there are two circles of meaning.  One circle is “Freedom” and the other  is “Payment.”  These two circles overlap.

Scholars dispute whether in Ephesians 1:7 we are to think of freedom only or also to the price of freedom.

The verse reads like this: 

Ephesians 1:7  ESV
    In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

The context draws these circles together for if redemption only meant “freedom” or “restoration” the following clause says that this was accomplished “through his blood.”  The most likely understanding of that is that it refers to the sacrificial death of Christ. 

 A similar verse is found in Colossians 1:14, wich also associates redemption with the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians does not answer how sins are forgiven, but Ephesians adds “through his blood.”

Translations & Ephesians 1:5

If you have the bible in translation, realize that it is also a commentary on the text.  If you compare several, you can gain insight.  Here is a test case, using a rather meaningless phrase from Ephesians 1:5.

  According to the purpose of his will

This phrase is a literal translation of the original.  As is often the case in translation, a literal word for word translation does not say much of anything.  So I have looked for other translations that capture the meaning of these words.  Here are two of them.

 The New Century Version says,

“That is what he wanted and what pleased him.”     

 This shows that our adoption was something that God wanted to do.  When parents tell their adopted children the truth, they often say, “We chose you.”   God chose us.  Why?  It is not because he had to, but because he wanted to.  It was something that pleased him.

The New Living translation says:

“This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”  

 This is the translation I like best.  I get no real sense from reading “according to his purpose”.  But when I hear that God wanted to adopt me, and that it gave him pleasure to adopt me, that is meaningful.

 A good place to compare translations in English and other languages is www.biblegateway.com

We need a Fresh Read! Ephesians 1:4,5

Ephesians 1:4,5 has been the grist of theological debate for centuries.  It is such that we can not read these verses without girding our loins for battle over election, predestination and all the related cascade of issues.  It is almost that for a pastor who wants to preach Ephesians, you can hear the cry “Don’t open that closet McGee!”

Ephesians 1:4-5  ESV
    even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  [5] he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

   The concept of Fresh Read is to let the text talk, not the history of the discussion of the text.  What we see in these two verses are the words “chose” and “predestined.” 

  but notice that the emphasis on this passage is not so much on the abstract theology, as the purpose of God. 

  “We” were chosen “to be holy and blameless”.  “We” are predestined “for adoption.”   If we abstract the words chosen and predestined out of this passage, we are quickly going to find ourselves joining Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Arminius, and many more in a theological food fight.

  If we read the words “chosen” and “predestined” in context, then we are moved out of theological abstraction to what God has purposed to do with us.  He has purposed to make us “holy and blameless” and for “adoption.”

  The text reaches back to before the creation of the world.  So before Genesis 1:1, whatever that might mean, God has chosen.  Was there time before there was a creation? (Science suggests that time is a dimension, and would say that there would be no time before creation or the big bang.)  The initiative is clearly with God, not with us, because we had not, nor had our ancestors, nor had our world come into existence.

  Did God choose a purpose only?  That is, did God choose to make someone “holy and blameless” and someone ‘for adoption?”  The subjects would be unknown, but the object decided in this view.  It would seem not because of the “us”.   He chose “us” before the foundation of the world.

  Since we read Ephesians 1:3-14 as an extended introduction to the book, we can find in later passages the call to a holy and blameless life (e.g. 5:1-14).  This emphasis is forward looking.  In other words, you or I can ask, “What does God want for me?”  The answer is that we are to become “holy and blameless” and to be adopted.

  Our before-the-world-began calling (hidden in the unsearchable mind of God) is  to live toward the purpose God has intended.

Overture – Ephesians 1:3-14

What is this?

Verses 3 through 14 form one sentence in Greek.  Many scholars agree that this introduction  is an Old Testament style “berakah“, or blessing.  There are other examples such as: Genesis 14:20; Psalm 72:18-19.  Praise or “blessing” is directed toward the Almighty for his character and actions.

I believe it is also an Overture.  In a musical composition the overture serves as the preview of what is to come.  My wife and I recently attended a showing of the Pirates of Penzance, and we were able anticipate some of the action from the musical score.

There are connections between verses 3 through 14 and the rest of the book of Ephesians.  In sermon preparation, the following pattern emerges of later passages expanding on the introductory sentence.

The point for all this is that to understand the introductory sentence, look within the book of Ephesians to related passages.  This is not a wooden or exact correspondence, but the process of looking internally is fruitful for the reader.

v. 3 – “Blessings in the heavenlies” / 1:20-23; 3:14-21

v. 4 – “Holy and Blameless” / 4:1-5; 5:1-14

v. 5 –  “Adoption” / 2:11-22

v. 6 –  “Grace” / 2:1-10

v. 7 –  “Redemption” / 2:1-5; 4:1-5

v. 8 –  “Wisdom” / 3:7-13; 5:15-21

v. 9-10  – “Unity” / 2:15-22; 4:1-5; 4:9-15; 4:25-32

v. 11 –  “Inheritance” / 1:18-19

v. 12  – “Hope” / 4:17-32

v. 13 –  “Gospel” / 3:6-21; 2:1-10

v. 13-14  – “Holy Spirit” / 6:10-20

Bless and Blessing – Ephesians 1:3

Ephes. 1:3
    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,

   Greek is the language of the New Testament.  In Greek the same word is used for praise and bless.  Verse 3 says that we bless God because he has blessed us with every blessing.

     In English we use two words.  We say that we praise God because God has blessed us.  I began to wonder why this is important.   What the bible says is that God “Blesses” us by giving us the gifts of salvation.  We do not give anything for those gifts.  We do not pay for them.  All we can do is offer words of praise, and live a life of praise to God.

     In other words – God’s blessing is a gift and our blessing is a word.

      God’s words and our words are different.  When we use words they can be meaningless or they can be lies.  They can be incorrect.

       God’s words are always meaningful.  His words are always true.  He is never wrong.  God’s words are also actions. 

            Do you know how God created the world?  He spoke.  “God said, ‘let there be light’…..God said, ‘let there be sky” and “let the waters separate’ and “Let us make man in our own image.”

          God blesses us, and his word is an action.  His promises are true.  What he has said that he has given us has already been given to us Our only response can be to Praise him with our words and with our lives.

Planning for Fall

So the summer is the time to make plans for teaching, preaching and study.  So the FR columns will start to take shape as well.  Currently planning a Word-Study series of messages in Ephesians 1:3-14, entitled Free Stuff.  “Blessed be…God…who has blessed us…with every spiritual blessing…” In the adult class we will be studying Keeler, The Reason for God, which is not biblical theology directly, but may yield some fruiful coments.  On Sunday evenings, we are discussion Walter Kaiser’s Promise Plan – we managed to get through 2/3 of the OT.  I also plan to do some serious writing for an undetermined project on Wisdom in the Streets – the concept of wisdom literature as a bridge language to people unfamiliar with the biblical narrative.