Eph 1:4 – Does It Really Support Unconditional Election?

For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Anyone delving into the doctrine of unconditional election has certainly come across Eph 1:4. I’ve had this verse tossed my way a number of times to “prove” that God really is the one choosing the elect. My Calvinist friends will chide me that I’m not be able to see the forest through the trees because, after all, there it is in plain “NIV” English – He chose us. What is there to not understand?

Fair enough. However, what if we were to read the verse without the prepositional phrases? After all, what is a preposition but a word that links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. 

Some simple examples of prepositions: The book is ON the table. The book is BESIDE the table. He read the book BEFORE class.

In the above sentences, the highlighted prepositions locate the book in space or time and provide a logical relationship of the book to the rest of the sentence. Certainly, if prepositional phrases are removed, then the intent and meaning of a sentence can be lost – as can easily be understood in the above examples. Regarding Eph 1:4, however, it appears to me that the intent of the verse remains the same with the prepositional phrases removed:

(For) He chose us (in Him) (before the creation) (of the world) to be holy and blameless (in His sight).

Without the prepositions, then, Eph 1:4 says; He chose us to be holy and blameless. The long and short of it, then, is that Eph 1:4 appears to have nothing to do with divine selection of individuals unto salvation. This is even more readily understood when I look up the word “chose” in my Webster’s dictionary and see different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”.  For reasons beyond my language skills, the authors of the NIV Bible selected the English word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English for a reason –  “chose” is the best translatable English word. I readily accept that. 

Therefore, using Webster’s common English understandings for the word “chose”, I believe a fair interpretation of this verse is that God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before He created the world

Hence, it seems to me that Eph 1:4 is not a verse that Calvinists can reasonably use to defend the doctrine of unconditional election.


Author: Bob

I’m an upper Midwestern guy who has recently entered the "Buick stage" of life and decided to migrate to Florida. This blog is an attempt to rectify discordant aspects within my Christian faith ... or what often feels like my lack of Christian faith. Things which make life more enjoyable include strong black coffee, charcoal grilling anytime of the year, putz'ing at a table saw, playing chess, a good orthopedic surgeon and an occasional IPA. Please feel free to poke around and comment as you wish. I welcome discussion and the insights of others.

8 thoughts on “Eph 1:4 – Does It Really Support Unconditional Election?”

  1. I’m not sure I follow your argument. Even after you take out over half of the words you still have God choosing people to be holy and blameless.

    Ephesians 1 starts with Paul addressing the saints and telling them God chose them before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him.

    Also, the very next verse says “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (NASB)

    Isn’t this clear?

    1. I appreciate the response and I take it, then, that you would agree that the “choosing” in this verse pertains to sanctification and not salvation. Clearly, God wanted his creation to be holy and blameless. But, we (his creation) failed. Hence, in Eph 1:7 Paul states that, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” in order that we might indeed be holy and blameless before God because of what Christ did on our behalf.

      That to me is clear. What isn’t clear (to me) is people stating that this passage (and verse 4 in particular) prove that God elected or chose only a select few to be saved.

      1. Yes, I do agree that this verse relates to sanctification. Let’s not forget that sanctification is all part of our salvation though.

        In this chapter, Paul is saying that the saints in Ephesus were chosen by God for sanctification (holy and blameless), justification (redemption through His blood), and glorification (adoption as sons). Instead of describing a mere possibility, he seems to be asserting the glory that God has purposed “after the counsel of His will”.

        1. It has been my sense that Calvinists often point out that if we’re “chosen” and “given grace”- before the world began, then God must have foreknown i.e. foreordained who would believe (and consequently, who would not believe). However, I think we agree that God’s predestination here was (is) for holiness. Perhaps you do – but I don’t see this passage referring to individual predestination to holiness – rather, this particular predestination (to holiness) is given to believers who choose to believe. That’s how I read and understand this passage. And so, my conclusion is that this passage in general and Eph 1:4 in particular doesn’t support unconditional election.

          1. I suppose I’m a few years late, but hopefully not TOO late :-) Bob, you seem more knowledgeable on scripture than even most Christians I know, I’m not sure if you believe, WANT to believe or in search of Belief, so I’ll just share what little revelation I believe I have on the subject.

            You may recall the events of Israel being led out of slavery, God tells Moses that He would “harden Pharaohs heart.” Not sure how Mr Webster defines to harden :-), but I do believe that indeed Pharaohs heart was very hard. Whether Pharaoh had a say in this, or whether it was his will to be hard, I’m not too sure. I also read in Malachi 1:3 (Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated) and Romans 9:9-17 (… Pharaoh, even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee…) of the same principle.

            I’m not a Calvinist, Methodist or any other such descriptor, but Romans 10:30 says it perfectly for me. “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” He predestinates us (before the world begins), He calls us (by the sounding of His Word), He Justifies and Glorifies us (In Christ). We do not believe merely because because because…

            On the subject of faith, when we say we have (saving) faith, who’s faith? when we say we are justified, by whom are we justified? when we say we live for Christ, by who’s life are we living for Him? Galatians 2:16-20. All the answers are contained in Christ.

  2. “It has been my sense that Calvinists often point out that if we’re “chosen” and “given grace”- before the world began, then God must have foreknown i.e. foreordained who would believe (and consequently, who would not believe.)”

    well, calvinists actually go further and say that God not only foreknew but enabled and made certain that certain individuals would believe – in other words, we love Him because He first and foundationally loved us, a fairly biblical notion.

    noncalvinists traditionally would at least admit that God foreknew those who would be smart enough or spiritual enough to choose Him (or for the true free-willers, those who would “choose Him for no reason at all”) and on the basis of that foreknowledge, He chose to love them as His Bride-to-be – in other words, He loves us because we foundationally (first in logical priority if not in space-time) chose Him…which is more murky biblically.

    noncalvinists try to scratch out that He chose “us” (actual believers like me and you and paul) and replace that with God chose “those” who would eventually choose to be “in Him.” God would never choose jacob over esau, or ninevah over tyre and sidon for salvation – He just made up His mind to save “whomever” checked the right box and waited to see how it would pan out. even discounting paul’s hebrew understanding of the verb “to know” – adam “knew” eve remember? – the context is pretty clearly intimate and personal. if you can convince yourself that the passage is cold and impersonal, suit yourself…

    but i prefer how you initially correctly if inadvertently put it: He chose us to be holy and blameless. the only reason we are “holy and blameless” is because we are counted righteous in Christ. He is not only the perfecter of our faith, in the sense of sanctification, but the author of our saving belief in Him…He began the work so of course He will be faithful to complete it.

    i look forward to your commentary on eph1:11 and paul’s teaching about “Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” what is your dictionary definition of “everything?” :)

    1. Miss Manners would begin a response to a question – Gentle Reader. I think, Charles, I’ll begin my responses to you with – Gentle Prodder. ;-)

      Let me already admit that Eph 1:11 is a bit troublesome when I read it straight: “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.

      FYI – and not to hide my “secret source” of definitions: my trusty Webster’s defines everything as a) all that exists, b) all that relates to the subject.

      It’s my sense, however, that the purpose of [God’s] will (vs 11) is to be holy and blameless (vs 4). As such, I read vs 11 of God working out everything in conformity with the purpose or his will to mean being washed clean of our sins because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It’s not that I doubt God’s election of some i.e. Moses, Abraham, Paul, etc. However, I simply don’t see personal election of individuals being brought to a saving faith being taught in this passage.

      1. I think he has most definitely already given us everything we need to change the world. I do believe it is a basic lack of obedience. There are a lot of reasons for that disobedience, but at the heart of it is that we are just plain sinful.

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