Ephesians 1 – Going Greek

Ephesians 1 Bible with Endangered Species Forest Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s Passage: Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1 Greek Interlinear Bible

Let’s get Greek. This photo is the opening page of Ephesians 1 from my Greek/English Interlinear New Testament. This is what Paul’s original writing would have looked like if someone had added accent markings to his Greek, put spaces in between the words, and written word-by-word English translations under every line. If you’re curious what Paul’s original letter looked like, check out this page for a photo of an original Greek manuscript fragment.

Our English translations break it down into shorter, more digestible sentences, but Paul originally wrote vv.3-14 as one single sentence. Just about every place you see the words “in him?” That’s actually an “in whom” keeping the sentence going. The sentence is a call to praise, beginning with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (3) and moving into a litany of reasons why God is worthy of blessing. And the first reason? It’s because God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (3). The Greek word for “bless” here is εὐλογέω, from which we get the word “eulogize.” Paul is telling his readers: bless God, because in Christ he has blessed us.

Ephesians 1 also contains predestination. Paul tells us that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (4) and “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (5). God set this deal up beforehand. Before he created anything, he picked us out, planned for our salvation, wrote up and signed his own figurative adoption papers. He took the initiative. He made the choice.

As a guy who thinks we have free will, I’ve got my work cut out for me in interpreting passages like this. Paul’s writing, here and elsewhere, is clear on the point: predestination is a reality. The question isn’t free will vs. predestination; the question is whether, given predestination, free will can even exist. After all, the word “predestination” actually occurs in the Bible. The phrase “free will” doesn’t, except in a contextually irrelevant verse in Philemon (1:14).

Then again, the word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible either. But the point remains: God’s predestination of people for salvation is a Biblical given. If you’re going to argue for free will, you have to explain how our unconstrained choice to accept salvation can coexist alongside God’s prior choice of us, and how then salvation can be a matter of God’s grace rather than our own works. Genuine free will, if it’s present in the world and in the text of scripture, isn’t on the surface. It’s a matter of theology.

But to get back to the Greek: why do I bring this stuff up? It’s because I continue to be amazed at how many people are unaware the New Testament was first written in Greek, at a time when English didn’t even exist. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Bible, and sometimes I learn that what I thought I knew about the Bible is actually wrong. I make mistakes. It’s important to keep learning about the Bible: where it came from, what it means, what God wants to communicate to us through it. God is in the process of teaching us, and while you don’t necessarily need to know a second language for God to get his point across, it’s good to be aware of the breadth of what’s going on here, if only to know how little each of us knows.

 

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4 thoughts on “Ephesians 1 – Going Greek

  1. Free will is a matter of simple logic, given the truths we know.
    1) If we do not have free will, then we are not responsible for our actions.
    2) We *are* held responsible for our actions (wages of sin is death, hell)
    3) Therefore, it is not true that we do not have free will. I.e., we have free will.

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    1. That’s certainly a valid syllogism. However, some would argue that God, as God, is within his rights to hold us responsible for our actions even if we don’t have free will (i.e. if our actions are causally determined in their entirety), and that the first premise consequently doesn’t hold. For a variety of reasons, I’m inclined to agree with you that we have some measure of free will. But every now and then I ask myself: how do I know God wouldn’t make a universe, make moral rules for the universe, make causal rules for the universe, make human beings, and then make the causal rules make the human beings break the moral rules, and punish some human beings for it and save others–and that’s God’s goodness? It sounds insane, and for the most part I think it’s not the case. But when I read passages like Ephesians 1 here, I’m not quite ready to dismiss that scenario as impossible.

      At some point soon, I should probably read some actual books on Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

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  2. I guess we have to back up a bit, then, to demonstrate the truth of (1). If you as a father were to hold your infant son responsible for not performing actions he is literally incapable of performing and punished him for it, you would be evil. God is not evil, therefore he would not behave this way towards us.

    He *could* do so (“how do I know God wouldn’t make a universe…”), but He hasn’t. He couldn’t and still be good as we know Him to be.

    God as Creator can do what He wants with His creation, but as Father, there is a lot of evil that He could do that He doesn’t. (I don’t remember reading any books on Calvinism or Arminianism, let alone one comparing them, either.)

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    1. Thanks for the follow-up explanation. The Father angle is helpful in clarifying it. I guess what it boils down to is that God created us, and at least in some respects our intuitive conceptions of what makes goodness “good” can be trusted. When God calls himself “Father,” he’s telling us something about himself and how he interacts with us. A good father sets reasonable rules, has reasonable consequences, is willing to forgive as the child learns proper behavior. A good father teaches responsibility and allows for trial and error.

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