Someone suggested on Facebook that Ephesians 1:7 contradicts my argument about the narrative logic of salvation:
In him we have redemption (tēn apolutrōsin) through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses… (Eph. 1:7)
This is the ESV translation. It seems to suggest that Paul regarded Jesus’ “blood” as effective for “redemption” not only for Israel but for the mostly Gentile “saints who are in Ephesus”, to whom he is writing.
I would argue, however, that tēn apolutrōsin (“the redemption”) refers not to redemption in a general sense—the possibility of being redeemed—but to the specific historical event of the redemption of Israel by means of Jesus’ death. This would also apply to the parallel passage in Colossians: “his beloved Son, in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
I think that apolutrōsis (“redemption”) in the New Testament refers to a collective event, the redemption of a group, either in the past or in the future, rather than to the arbitrary redemption of individuals. Jesus’ death brought about the apolutrōsis of Jews who sinned under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15). The day of Christ’s parousia would mean the apolutrōsis of the persecuted disciples (Lk. 21:28), the apolutrōsis of the bodies of the persecuted churches in the pagan world (Rom. 8:23), the apolutrōsis of possession of the inheritance (Eph. 1:14; 4:30).
It also seems likely to me that in verses 3-12 Paul is speaking self-consciously on behalf of redeemed Israel or as a Jewish apostle. Certainly, a distinction appears in verses 12-13: “we who were the first to hope in Christ… you also, when you heard the word of truth…”.
It is, therefore, specifically those Jews who first hoped in Christ to whom God made known (gnōrisas) the “mystery” of his purposes (1:9). This looks like a strong limiting factor. Paul later says that the gospel was “made known” (egnōristhē) to him by revelation for the sake of the Gentiles, a “mystery” which had not been “made known” (egnōristhē) to previous generations of Jews (3:3-5). It is the early Jewish apostolic community, in the context of this argument, that was predestined to inherit “to the praise of his glory” (1:11-12). Paul has in mind the specific role of the Jewish apocalyptic community in the narrative of the salvation of Israel, the inclusion of Gentiles, and the extension of Christ’s rule over the nations.
So I don’t think that this passage necessarily contradicts the argument that Gentiles were saved (from the coming judgment on the pagan world) by their belief in the story about the redemption of Israel by means of the death of Jesus.
The propitiation for the sins of the whole world
It was also pointed out that in 1 John 2:2 Jesus is said to be “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world”.
This would certainly appear to generalise or universalise the direct saving significance of Jesus’ death. But there is very little overlap between the Johannine tradition and the main apocalyptically interpreted historical narrative of the rest of the New Testament.
John, to my mind, marks the beginning of the shift away from the Jewish narrative that emerges out of the Old Testament and shapes the thought both of Jesus himself and of the early apostolic community, including the author of Revelation. Theologically, it is understandable that the narrative shape of the belief was compressed into the much simpler idea that Jesus’ death was an atonement for all people. But that theological simplification should not be allowed to bar the way to a recovery of the narrative complexity of the original material.