writing things down…

10 Quick takes on Ephesians 1:3-14

In the spirit of an earlier post on Ephesians 5:21-33, I offer some quick comments on 1:3-14.

  • These 12 verses are one long and complicated sentence, focused on the actions of God, specifically God’s blessings to the author and his audience. The kernel of the sentence is at the beginning with “Blessed be God…, who….” The rest of the sentence expands on that “who.” For more on a three part structure demarcated by the three aorist participles (blessed, decided beforehand, and made known) see this older post.
  • The author is not primarily concerned with developing a full-blown theology of predestination in the beginning of his letter. In looking at things as they stand, the author cannot help but see these blessings having been established beforehand. It’s easier to hold to the notion of predestination in retrospect. The strong initial predestination language serves an epistolary purpose more than anything else. The big question is not, “What is the understanding of predestination?” but “Why is predestination important to the point Ephesians is making?” Still, predestination/foreknowledge/etc. is and will be an important theme in Ephesians. We will have to wrestle with explicit predestination language like “elect/choose” (eklegomai), “before the foundation of the world” (pro kataboles kosmou), “destine/decide beforehand” (proorizo), “set forth/purpose” (protithemi), and “choose” (kleroo) together with the language of God’s will (thelema) and purpose (eudokia).
  • Predestination is not the only theme introduced in this opening sentence. Notice also, and sometimes even more importantly, the following. (For more on the of themes introduced in 1:3-14, see this older post. A few words on some of these themes also below.)
    • God’s blessings, love, grace, riches, which are freely bestowed to, and lavished upon us.
    • in Christ
    • holy and blameless lives lived for the praise of God’s glory/glorious grace
    • redemption, forgiveness, salvation
    • mystery
    • unity of all things
    • promised Holy Spirit, guarantee, inheritance
  • “in love” of v. 4? – Are the recipients selected before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in love? Or, is it in love that God decided beforehand to adopt the readers as sons and daughters? I’m inclined toward the latter.  It makes for a nice bookend to the short section—”in love” God decided beforehand (v. 4)…God graced us “in the beloved” (v. 6).  But, I do not see a need to choose one over the other. It could very well be placed in the ambiguous position on purpose.
  • “in all wisdom and knowledge” of v. 8? – Did God provide the riches of God’s grace “in all wisdom and knowledge” or did God make known the mystery “in all wisdom and knowledge”?  I am inclined toward the latter for the simple reason that it parallels my inclination for “in love” previously.  But again, I am not convinced that we are faced with an either/or decision.
  • “in Christ” is everywhere – this term is so ubiquitous in this passage as to infuse the entire book with the mantra.  Readers should not be able to get it out of their heads as they read the rest of the epistle.
  • Aside from the grand themes introduced here, the sentence gives the book a universal scope (“unite all things…in heaven and on earth”), a particular import (“you, who have heard the word of truth,…were sealed”), and a unifying purpose (“unite all things…”; “we who first…you also…we…”). The author, though possibly speaking to a fairly particular audience (for reflections on author and audience see here) or at least to people of an identifiable region, has in mind the whole catholic church.
  • The climax of the sentence is in v. 10. God, who is blessed and who has blessed, destined, and made known, has a plan for God’s house (oikonomian), a plan which was set forth “in him [Christ]” (of course)—to bring together (what to make of anakephalaiosasthai?) all things “in Christ” (of course).
  • This sentence, though not formally a synopsis of the whole letter, encapsulates the general direction of the letter: God has blessed us in Christ and in the scheme of bringing all things in Christ, God has mysteriously saved us from a former life and brought together into a new body formerly irreconcilable peoples.  It sets up the dizzying mixture of mystery and knowledge, Jews and Gentiles, individual and corporate newness, theoretical reflections and practical living, local and universal.  No node in one of these dyads is understood apart from its partnering, and seemingly opposite, node.
  • I’m not a fan of forcing trinitarian structure onto NT passages, but throughout Ephesians, and especially here, the three persons of the Trinity are hard to miss: starts with God and finds God working and doing things throughout, ends with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, and paints the whole passage with the “in Christ” theme.


  B-W wrote @

Have you read this week’s SEMI? Predestination was the theme this week. I actually have my two cents on the topic, for what it’s worth.

  mike aubrey wrote @

two thoughts:

I’m inclined to translate the first clause as “Blesses is…” rather than “Blessed be…” but that’s a matter of taste. I see the statement more as a declaration of a reality rather than a command (which “be” suggests).

I think I prefer to take the ????? in verse 4 off the main clause rather than the “who blessed” kathos is adverbial so it seems it either fills in the gapped copula rather than adjectival participle.

But with that said, I think both are viable options – just my preference.

Question: would you view the kathosas causal in verse 4?

Anyway, I really like your thoughts on Ephesians. Its my favorite NT book/letter.

  Mark wrote @

I got this from someone else, but it seems to work well. When I teach this chapter, I have students chart the use of person, i.e. whether he’s using first or second (the “we’s” vs. the “you’s”). Whenever Paul says “we,” he seems to be referring to Jews, and the “you’s” are the Gentiles. Students enjoy the puzzle, and it really helps explain the peace motifs in Chapter 2. (It’s also a restatement of the contrast Paul makes between Jews and Gentiles in Romans 1 – 2.)

As a side note, though, all of the predestination language is in the “we” section. Is it possible that Paul merely means that the Jews are predestined in the sense of being God’s chosen people? This would not only help interpret Romans 9 – 11, but it would also take a lot of pressure off this text.

  Chris wrote @

Mike: be vs. is seems to be a matter of preference. I do not see how “be” implies command. How does one command God to be blessed? How does one command anyone to be blessed? But, I will concede that the “be” might imply some sort of command to the readers to bless God because God deserves to be blessed. That “command” would be inherent in the simple declaration “God is blessed.” Paul certainly wants his readers to see God’s wonderful works. He wants his readers to bless God. Blessing is not a trait one has without it coming from another. For instance, I cannot be blessed unless one blesses me. God is certainly worthy of being blessed, but how can God be blessed without being blessed by someone? Paul encourages his readers to recognize God’s works and bless God for them. So if there is a “command” here it is to the readers, not to God. In speech-act notions, Paul is, by is declaration, blessing God. The perlocutionary intent is for the readers to bless God as well.

kathos – It seems to me that the whole of 3b-14 is an explanation of the reason God is blessed. This reasoning begins with the first participle phrase. kathos is not causal in my opinion. Cause implies effect. What is the effect you have in mind? If we read this as cause/effect, then, as you translate on your site, “He is blessed because he chose us in Christ…” The blessing is an effect of the choosing. I’m splitting hairs here, but again, blessing is not a trait; it is something received. It is a good (eu) word (logia) given, so to speak. I would agree that God is worthy of being blessed because God chose us in Christ. If I were to “amplify” the translation, it would go something like… “Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God deserves to be blessed because God is the one who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, in Christ. God’s blessings include God’s choosing us in him before the foundation of the world…” So in short, I don’t think kathos is causal (using that grammatical category strictly), but I do think that it is a part of the reasoning Paul gives for his blessing God and his desire for his readers to do likewise.

Mark: I am familiar with the you/we language discussion, and I think it holds up in many places in Eph. But, I tend to think Paul is speaking in such universal terms for the first 2/3 of this pericope that the “we” found there has in mind himself and his largely Gentile readers. It is in v. 12 that he switches to a more particular use of “we.” And to make sure the readers know that he has particularized the pronoun, he ends the verse with the adjectival clause tous proelpikotas en to Christo, “the ones who first hoped in Christ,” that is “we” Jews. From here on, most of the rest of the use of the pronouns in Eph are particularized, with occasional uses that seem to have in mind Paul and his Gentile readers together.

  More Harink: Redemption « katagrapho wrote @

[…] The context for this quote is a discussion of Rom 8:12–39.  But, I find it resonates well with Eph 1:3–14. […]

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