Chosen before the foundation of the world

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every blessing of the Spirit in the heavenly places in Christ, as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world for us to be holy and blameless before him. In love he pre-appointed us for adoption through Jesus Christ in him, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, with which he favoured us in the beloved….

In him also we were allotted an inheritance, having been pre-appointed according to the purpose of the one working all things according to the counsel of his will, in order that we might be for the praise of his glory, those having hoped beforehand in the Christ, in whom also you, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also having believed, were sealed by the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is a down payment of our inheritance, for redemption of the possession, for praise of his glory.

Paul says that the God who has given the Spirit to his people, chose (exelexato) us in him before the construction of the world (1:4), pre-appointed (proorisas, prooristhentes) us for adoption and to be “for the praise of his glory” (1:5, 11-12).

Paul’s language of election echoes God’s original choosing of a people—not of individuals—from amongst the nations of the earth (cf. Deut. 7:6; 14:2). But the eschatological framework of the argument here makes the repeated description of Jacob as YHWH’s chosen servant in Second Isaiah the more relevant background (cf. Is. 41:8-9; 43:10; 44:1; 49:7). It underlines the point that Paul is thinking, in the first place, not of the election of individuals for personal salvation but of the election of a community for the sake of the eschatological renewal of the people of God.

This community finds its identity and purpose specifically in Christ, which is why those who have been chosen have also been pre-appointed (proorisas) “for adoption through Jesus Christ” (1:5). If Jesus was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20), so too are those who will have to live out his story in the coming time of eschatological crisis. It is perhaps not at the forefront of Paul’s argument in this chapter, but the New Testament generally presents the church as a dispersed community that in different ways, and in different contexts, will have to suffer as Christ suffered in order to be vindicated and glorified as Christ was vindicated and glorified.

On the meaning of the proorizō see on Romans 8:29-30. It is not the selection of some people from among others that is important in Paul’s argument—that may merely be prophetic rhetoric, though important rhetoric under the circumstances. It is the purpose for which they have been chosen and appointed that matters.

The election and pre-appointment of a servant community in Christ has in view a future inheritance or salvation (1:13-14). As evangelicals we naturally suppose that Paul is describing a final and comprehensive (not universal) salvation at the end of human history. I would suggest, however, that what Paul has in mind is a realistic crisis in the foreseeable future of the people of God when their salvation will be realized, when they will need to put on the “armour of light” (Rom. 11-12), when they will need the whole “armour of God” if they are to survive the onslaught of evil (Eph. 6:11), when the suffering, persecuted church will finally come into its inheritance, when the one who has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named”—not only the present age of God’s wrath against Israel and against the Greek world but also in the centuries to come—will be publicly confessed as Lord by the pagan world (cf. Phil. 2:9-11).

This is the overriding purpose of the election of this servant community in Christ: it is for “the praise of his glory” (1:6, 12), for the acknowledgement of the glory of Israel’s God across the pagan world.