Ephesians 1:1-23

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Paul identified himself as the writer of the letter. His being an “apostle of Christ Jesus through God’s will” indicates that his apostleship did not come from a human source or through any human agency. He was an apostle on the basis of God’s gracious favor, his commission as one sent forth being to advance the cause of Christ. (1:1)

Believers are “holy ones,” for they have a pure standing before God on the basis of their faith in Christ and the cleansing from sin that his sacrificial death made possible. The “holy ones” are either called “faithful ones in Christ Jesus” or “believers in Christ Jesus,” for the Greek word pistós can designate either an individual who is faithful or one who believes. If the meaning is “faithful ones in Christ Jesus,” this would indicate that they are such by reason of their being at one with God’s Son. As believers, they are united to him as members of his body. (1:1; see the introductory comments about the words “in Ephesus.”)

“Favor,” unmerited or unearned kindness, or grace would include all the help and guidance that come from the Father and his Son. The peace of which God and Christ are the source denotes an inner tranquility. It is the sense of well-being and security that believers enjoy because of knowing that, as beloved children of God and brothers of Christ, they would be sustained and strengthened in times of trial and distress. (1:2)

In the Greek text, no verb follows the word meaning “blessed” or “praised,” and many translations have added “be” after “blessed.” “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the one to be praised. “In Christ,” he has blessed believers “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” By reason of their coming to be united to Christ as members of his body, believers experience no lack in the blessings they have been granted. These blessings include the guidance and aid they receive as God’s beloved children. Being in the “heavenly places,” the blessings relate to the heavenly estate into which they have been brought because of having been constituted children of God with a heavenly inheritance in prospect. Moreover, Jesus Christ is in heaven and, from the standpoint of their union with him, believers can also be spoken of as receiving “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (1:3)

“Before the founding of the world,” the heavenly Father chose believers “in” his Son. The expression “before the founding of the world” may be understood to mean “from the beginning” or “from of old.” The quotation from Psalm 78:2 (77:2, LXX) in Matthew 13:35 supports this significance. Greek manuscripts either read “from [the] founding” or “from [the] founding of [the] world” in the quotation from Psalm 78:2 (77:2, LXX). In the Septuagint, the passage from the book of Psalms reads, “from [the] beginning.” (1:4)

God’s choosing “in Christ” finds a parallel in the choosing of the nation of Israel. Even before a single member of the nation came into existence, God, “in Abraham,” chose the nation to be his people as the one through whom his Son would come in the flesh. Likewise, the real Israel (God’s approved people) is considered as existing in Christ before any member thereof came into a relationship of oneness with him. This indicates that the choosing is totally independent of any merit on the part of the chosen ones, the choosing being solely an expression of God’s gracious favor. His will has always been for humans to be at one with his Son as part of his beloved family, and the purpose of his choosing is that those who come to be his children lead “holy” or pure and “blameless” lives “before him” or in his sight. (1:4)

“In love” could be understood to mean that those chosen were to live in love, their holiness or purity and blamelessness finding full expression in the love that would be evident in all their conduct. A number of translations are explicit in linking love to believers. (1:4) “Before the foundation of the world he chose us in Christ to be his people, to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love.” (REB) “Before the world was created, God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people.” (CEV)

There is a possibility, however, that the words “in love” apply to God, indicating that he is the one who, in his love, predetermined that believers would be adopted as his sons or children. (1:4, 5) Numerous translations convey this significance. “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” (NAB) “He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ.” (J. B. Phillips) “Because of his love, God had already decided to make us his own children through Jesus Christ.” (NCV)

It is “through Jesus Christ” that believers come to be sons or children of God, as his sacrificial death provided the basis for their being forgiven of sins and reconciled to his Father as approved members of his family. God’s granting sonship to them is “according to the good pleasure [eudokía] of his will.” This indicates that God wants to bring humans into his family of approved children, and it pleases him. (1:5; see the Notes section on verses 5 and 9 regarding eudokía.)

When, in his good pleasure, God willed to grant sonship to believers, he revealed the “glory,” splendor, or magnificence of his gracious favor or unmerited kindness. Nothing about the manner in which believers are adopted as sons is attributable to personal merit. God is the one who took the initiative in making sonship possible “in his beloved one,” or by what he effected through his unique Son Jesus Christ. The Father’s adopting believers as his children is the exclusive expression of his gracious favor. As a consequence of having been graciously granted the status of sons or children, believers praise the “glory” of the incomparable favor that has been extended to them. (1:6; see the Notes section.)

It is because of what God did through his Son that he brings believers into his family of approved children. “In Christ” (or by what Christ accomplished when laying down his life), believers are redeemed, or set free from sin, by his blood. According to God’s purpose, his Son’s blood is the precious price that secured the release of those who, in faith, accepted this payment for them to have their trespasses forgiven. Their being forgiven is “according to the riches of [God’s] favor.” It is an incomparably generous expression of his freely granted kindness. (1:7)

The phrase about “abounding” (“which he [caused] to abound in us”) relates to God’s lavish or bountiful bestowal of his gracious favor to believers, which favor embraces everything that has made it possible for them to be his sons and to share in the privileges and blessings that members of his approved family enjoy. It is not possible to be certain, however, about whether the words “wisdom” (sophía) and “insight” (phrónesis) relate to the action of God in causing his gracious favor to abound. (1:8)

The thought could be that God, “in all [his] wisdom and insight,” lavished his gracious favor on believers. A number of translations take the words about wisdom and insight as introducing verse 9. “In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” (NAB) “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” (NRSV) Another possibility is that God generously bestowed his favor on believers along with wisdom and insight. The Revised English Bible represents God, “in the richness of his grace,” as lavishing on believers “all wisdom and insight.” (1:8; see the Notes section.)

If the reference is to the wisdom and insight that God has imparted to believers, their coming to have this wisdom and insight would make it possible for them to know or understand the “mystery” of his will. It is called a mystery because, in past ages, God’s will respecting the deliverance of humans from sin had been concealed and did not become fully known until after his Son came to the earth. “According to,” or in keeping with “his” (not included in all manuscripts), “good pleasure” (eudokía) or his kindly resolve to benefit humans, which resolve “he purposed in him [or, in himself],” God made the mystery known. To benefit from the good that God had purposed for them, humans needed to understand the divine mystery, and he took delight both in his resolve that had long remained secret and then in his making it known. (1:9)

Many translators (in verse 9) have replaced the concluding Greek pronoun for “him” with the proper noun, Christ. They thus represent God’s kindly resolve respecting humans to have been determined beforehand in or through his Son, or to have been revealed through him. “He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ.” (NJB) “He has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ.” (REB) “He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.” (NRSV)

If the pronoun “him” is to be understood as meaning “himself,” the thought would be that God, within himself and without any outside factors or influences, made the kindly resolve to benefit humans and found delight in doing so. (1:9)

God purposed to have a “stewardship [at] the fullness of the times,” to bring “all things in heaven and on earth” into union with Christ as head. This “stewardship” is God’s own arrangement for producing oneness with his Son and began functioning after his Son came to the earth at the “fullness of the times” or when the time proved to be just right to put into effect the predetermined arrangement for unifying everything in heaven and on earth. Sin had brought about an alienation between humans on earth and the holy ones who are in heaven. Only through an arrangement that could bring about forgiveness of and liberation from sin could harmony be restored. (1:10)

The significance of what God has done “in Christ” depends on the meaning of the Greek word kleróo. This term can either signify “to appoint by lot” or “to obtain by lot” (as an inheritance). In case the meaning is to “appoint by lot,” this could denote that God has chosen believers in Christ. Already in verse 4 the choosing in God’s Son is mentioned, and so it does not appear that “to appoint by lot” would be the preferable meaning. (1:11; see the Notes section.)

It is more likely that, in this context, “to obtain by lot” or “to inherit” conveys the intended sense. Jewish believers are assured of obtaining their heavenly inheritance on account of being “in” Christ or at one with him. God had predetermined that they would be heirs. He is the one who “according to his purpose” does everything “according to the counsel of his will.” God always acts in keeping with what he decides to be his will. (1:11)

The purpose for the divine predetermination respecting the Jews who would respond in faith is that they would serve to praise his glory. This glory would particularly relate to God’s action in bringing about a liberation from sin through his Son and reconciling Jewish believers to himself. Based on the sacred writings that God had committed to them as a people and which pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah or Christ, the Jews were the first to hope in Christ, and Jews were the first ones to put faith in him, were forgiven of their sins, and came to be reconciled to God as his beloved children. Having become part of God’s family of sons or children, they were also heirs, with a precious heavenly inheritance in prospect. (1:12)

The non-Jewish believers to whom the letter is addressed became sharers in the same benefits and blessings. When they heard “the word of truth, the evangel of [their (literally, ‘your,’ in the text of many Greek manuscripts)] salvation,” they recognized the message as revealing the truth about how they could be saved or freed from the condemnation of sin. Accordingly, they put faith in Christ, accepting the evangel or good news about the provision for forgiveness of their sins on the basis of his sacrificial death. Then, “in” Christ, or by reason of their union with him, they were sealed with the promised holy spirit. Through the Hebrew prophets, God had promised to impart his spirit to those who would be forgiven of their sins, and the working of his spirit within them constituted the proof that they were his approved ones. (1:13; compare Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28, 29[3:1, 2]; Acts 2:33, 38, 39.)

For believers, the spirit is the deposit, first installment, or pledge that guarantees their inheritance. In prospect is their full redemption, which will mean the attainment of the sinless state as God’s possession, “for the praise of his glory.” The glory to be praised likely is the splendor or magnificence God has revealed in the outworking of his marvelous purpose for believers. (1:14)

Probably to link the words that follow with the previous expression about the future redemption, the apostle introduced the thought about his praying with the Greek expression meaning “therefore.” Because of the marvelous redemption believers would attain, Paul, upon hearing about the faith of believers in the Lord Jesus and their “love for all the holy ones,” did not cease giving thanks to God for them whenever he remembered them in his prayers. Their faith in Jesus would have included recognizing him as their Lord and God’s unique Son and acknowledging what he accomplished by laying down his life sacrificially. Love for the “holy ones” or for fellow believers would have been expressed in efforts to provide assistance in times of need. (1:15, 16; compare 1 John 3:14-18; 4:11, 12, 20, 21; see the Notes section regarding verse 15.)

The apostle petitioned the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” to give believers a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” When identifying the Father as the God of our Lord Jesus, Paul could base this on Jesus’ own teaching. After his resurrection and prior to his ascension to heaven, Jesus had told Mary Magdalene to inform his “brothers” or disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.” (John 20:17) As the “Father of glory,” God is the one to whom all splendor or magnificence belongs. He is the “all-glorious Father.” (REB) The purpose for his granting a “spirit of wisdom” (or the capacity for comprehension) and of “revelation” (the disclosure of what may previously have been hidden) would lead to their truly knowing him, fully comprehending their relationship to him as beloved children. (1:17)

Through the divinely granted wisdom and revelation, believers would be able to appreciate the aspects that the apostle next mentioned. The “eyes of [their (literally, ‘your,’ according to numerous manuscripts)] hearts” would be illuminated, making it possible for them to “know” or understand the hope to which they had been called. This suggests that they would come to see the greatness of the hope of coming to be united with Christ in the sinless state and enjoying all the blessings associated with their approved standing as God’s children. The illumination of the “eyes of [their] hearts” would refer to the discernment they would come to have in their inmost selves. (1:18; see the Notes section.)

Paul also wanted believers to be enlightened within themselves respecting the “riches of the glory of his inheritance [the inheritance God has promised] among the holy ones.” All the “holy ones” or all of God’s people share in this inheritance. The inheritance would include the privileges and blessings they would come to have by reason of being God’s children. This inheritance is unparalleled in glory, splendor, or magnificence. As a bountiful inheritance, the “glory” attached to it is described in terms of “riches.” (1:18)

The apostle next focused on divine power. He desired that believers would be illuminated regarding the “exceeding greatness” of God’s power at work in believers. That power corresponded to the might of God’s strength, which incomprehensibly great power was at work in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at God’s right hand in the “heavenly places.” (1:19, 20)

In his highly exalted state at his Father’s right hand, Jesus is “above all dominion and authority and power and lordship, and [above] every name named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” His Father, in the exercise of his sovereign power in connection with the resurrection of Christ, granted him all authority in heaven and on earth, and no one else, at any time in the future, will ever occupy such an exalted position. As “King of kings and Lord of lords,” Jesus Christ has a name of unparalleled greatness. (1:21; Revelation 19:16)

The Father placed “all things under his feet,” subjecting everything to him, and gave him [as] head over all things to the congregation.” Accordingly, in relation to all creation and the congregation or community of believers, Christ is the head. Everything and everyone else is subject to him. (1:22)

The congregation is Christ’s body, with the individual members being at one with him as their head. This reference to Christ’s body is followed by the words, “the fullness of the one who fills all things in all.” The measure of obscurity reflected in these words makes it difficult to establish the meaning. Either Christ or God could be understood as the one who fills all things in all, with everything (the “fullness”) that is in union with him being pervaded by his influence and sustained by his power. In view of the emphasis on his exaltation, it appears more likely that the reference would be to Christ. (1:23)

The phrase about “the fullness” could also be read to mean that the congregation is Christ’s fullness and that it completes him as his body, the members of which he brings into union with himself. This significance would seem to be less likely, as it is difficult to see how a discussion of Christ’s exalted state would then focus on the congregation as being contributory to him. (1:23; see the Notes section.)

Notes:

In the Greek text, the words of verses 3 through 14 constitute just one sentence. This makes it difficult to determine for a certainty whether a particular phrase relates to the words that follow or precede it.

Especially verses 4 and 5 have been used in the development of the doctrine of predestination, which doctrine represents everything as having been divinely determined beforehand, including the evil of those who persistently remain in unbelief. It should be noted, however, that these verses are but part of a very long sentence, and this in itself should serve as a restraint in using them to support a doctrinal formulation that greatly expands on the actual words contained in the Scriptures. The sacred writings emphasize God’s love for the world of mankind, and the greatness of this love transcends anything we humans can even imagine. In expression of his love, God sent his Son to the earth to lay down his life. By thus taking the initiative in reaching out to sinful humans, God made it possible for them to turn to him, be forgiven of their sins, and be reconciled to him as his beloved children. His desire is for no member of the human family to perish but for all to attain to repentance and to be reconciled to him, gaining the status of approved children in accord with his predetermined gracious purpose. (John 1:10-12; 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9.) It is inconceivable that God would act contrary to his predetermined purpose and his desire for all to attain to repentance by predestining to eternal condemnation any member of the human family for whom Christ died.

In verses 5 and 9, the Greek term eudokía can refer to the state of being favorably disposed and can include the thought of finding delight or satisfaction.

In verse 6, a number of later manuscripts add “his son” after “the beloved.”

One objection that has been raised for viewing “wisdom” and “insight” as relating to God is that the Greek word for “insight,” phrónesis is a faculty more commonly associated with humans. In the Septuagint, however, the term phrónesis is used with reference to God in connection to his creative activity (Proverbs 3:19; Jeremiah 10:12), and so there is no reason to rule out the application to God in Ephesians 1:8.

In verse 11, the form of the Greek word kleróo is a first person plural passive verb. If understood to mean “to obtain by lot” or “to inherit,” this verb could be rendered “we have received an inheritance,” and this significance is reflected in numerous modern translations. “In Christ indeed we have been given our share in the heritage, as was decreed in his design whose purpose is everywhere at work; for it was his will.” (REB) “And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will.” (NJB) “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.” (NRSV)

For the significance “to obtain by lot,” the form of the Greek verb kleróo (in verse 11) could be translated “we were chosen.” “In Christ we were chosen to be God’s people, because from the very beginning God had decided this in keeping with his plan. And he is the One who makes everything agree with what he decides and wants.” (NCV) “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (NIV) “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will.” (NAB)

A shorter reading of verse 15, which does not include the reference to love, is found in the oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and a number of other manuscripts.

In verse 18, the oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and a number of other manuscripts do not include the plural form of “your” with reference to the “heart.”

The measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the concluding verse is evident from the variety of different renderings. “The church is filled with Christ, and Christ fills everything in every way.” (NCV) “The church ... is his body, the fullness of him who is filling the universe in all its parts.” (REB) “For the Church is his body, and in that body lives fully the one who fills the whole wide universe.” (J. B. Phillips) “And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence.” (NLT) Die Gemeinde ist sein Leib: Er, der alles zur Vollendung führen wird, lebt in ihr mit seiner ganzen Fülle. (The congregation is his body: He, who will lead everything to its completion, lives in it with all his fullness. [German, Gute Nachricht Bibel]) A footnote in the German Neue Genfer Übersetzung includes an alternate rendering that represents Christ as being completed by the congregation (just like the head needs the body). Another alternate rendering in the same translation refers to God as living in Christ with all his fullness.