Ed. note: This post was originally intended to be much more accessible than it turned out to be. My hope was to write something that accurately reflected a good conversation that I had with my wife about Ephesians 1, but I indulged myself a bit too much, and it became more than I expected. I felt it was still worth publishing, and hopefully it will be fruitful for those who decide to read it. I will try, with my wife’s help, to write something a bit more down-to-earth on this subject in the near future.
Biblical election is a much-studied and oft-debated topic. Does God choose certain individuals for salvation? And if so, does that imply that he chooses the rest to be condemned? There are a few key Scriptures that deal with the issue of election, and one of the most important is Ephesians 1. Verses 4 and 5 are central to this discussion, and in them Paul writes: “For he [God the Father] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (NIV) On the surface, this seems pretty straightforward: God chose believers before they were even born, predestining them for salvation.
Biblical election is headship election not individual election, it is rooted in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, and is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity.
I contend, however, that there are many factors in play that cause the apparently plain reading of the text to be false, and that this false interpretation has led to doctrines which teach falsehoods about God, particularly regarding both his character and nature. God does not arbitrarily choose some individuals for salvation, while leaving the rest to eternal condemnation with no opportunity of escape. This is, frankly, contrary to both the character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture, and more importantly, in his Son Jesus, whom Paul describes elsewhere as “the exact representation of [God’s] being.” But it’s not simply a contradiction of God’s revealed character that leads me to interpret Ephesians 1 in the way I will describe below. I am convinced that we haven’t dug deep enough into this text, choosing instead to rely upon the assumption that we understand perfectly well what Paul means when he uses words like choose and predestine. But if we question our assumptions and look more carefully at the text, we will see that biblical election is headship election not individual election, that it is rooted in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, and that it is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity.