The Key to Election is a Preposition? Eph 1:4


An article about how sinful we are led to this comment:

But also we will see that if it had not been for His “everlasting love” with which He loved us in Christ in Election “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and “the grace that was given to us in Him before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9), there would be no hope whatsoever for any one of us because of How Sinful We Are.

The article was about how sinful we are. Yet, the above sentence is an obvious statement in favor of the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election. Calvinists seem to use Eph 1:4 a lot to defend personal election. And, fair enough, there it is – “he chose us”. What is there not to understand? However, reading the verse without the prepositional phrase sheds a completely different meaning to the verse.

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

Without the prepositions, then, the fundamental point of Eph 1:4 is that [God] chose us to be holy and blameless. To which, Eph 1:4 appears to have nothing to do with divine election of individuals unto salvation. Rather, this verse seems to be about holiness. This is, I believe, even more readily understood when I look up the word “chose” in my trusty Webster’s dictionary and see different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”. The authors of the NIV Bible selected the English word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English. Perhaps given the constraints of translating from one language to another, “chose” is the best translatable English word. I accept that.

However, using Webster’s common English understandings for the word “chose”, I believe a fair interpretation of this verse is:

God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before He created the world.

How that came about was through the law in the OT and through faith in Christ in the NT. Hence, I would argue that Eph 1:4 is not a verse that Calvinists should use in their defense of unconditional election. The prepositions are the key.

Reference Article


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.

14 thoughts on “The Key to Election is a Preposition? Eph 1:4”

  1. Ummm… “to” is also a preposition. If you remove all the prepositional phrases, you have no verse left! The idea that there is an end result to God’s choice does not define in any way how God made the choice, or why God made the choice. There is no hina clause in the Greek, which would have easily made the essence of the verse to be: for this reason God chose you… Therefore, the basic facts we are left with are that 1) God chooses, and 2) those chosen will be made holy. It supports “Calvinistic” election more than it does not.

  2. I appreciate your response, Robin. But, irrespective of my error in not recognizing that “to” is a preposition, I still maintain that the premise of the verse/passage is not about the individual salvation of certain individuals but rather that is bestowing spiritual blessings. God is taking the initiative for everyone’s salvation. His desire is that none should perish. I find it interesting where it says in vs 13, “Having believed, you were marked with a seal . . .” Your argument would have to be the opposite – the person was saved before he believed. And, if so, then we obviously disagree.

  3. Thanks for your kind response. I’m a bit curious as to what being “marked with a seal” corresponds to. Are you saying it equals regeneration?

  4. Well, our salvation comes the moment we accept, by faith, Christ’s sacrifices for our sins. To which when a person positively responds to the gospel, they become sealed in Christ and receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. There’s no indication that this sealing, or to use your word – regeneration happens before one believes. There’s no indication of one being unconditionally elect (chosen) prior to acceptance by faith.

  5. What would you say is the purpose for being born again? If a person can determine with his will to choose Christ, what is keeping that person from just continuing to exercise his will in obedience to God for the rest of his life? Maybe I don’t know how to express my question clearly… but I’m wondering why there is a necessity of new birth (aka. regeneration)? In my thinking, the new birth is necessary because in it God is giving life to one’s spirit, which now enables the person’s spirit to be the vehicle through which spiritual truth can be communicated, and subsequently, accepted.

  6. Something I once heard long ago still resonates – and that is, God in his holiness recreates us as newborn spiritual beings when we are washed clean with Christ’s blood because it is only in holiness that we can be in God’s eternal presence. We are then, a new creation. We have been born again. Perhaps because of the times and the fact that Jews being the chosen people – they seem to struggle with this concept more than folks today. At least that is my perspective. Jews thought that by following the law, that was good enough. But it certainly seems that the law became a stumbling block. Gentiles, I sense, had an easer time accepting this concept.

  7. I’m not sure the Gentiles had an easier time. I Cor. 1: 23-27 shows how the gospel was a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks… But to those who are “called” the gospel is the power of God. So, all people generally speaking have the ability to understand the basics of the gospel. I mean, I know of some atheists who know more Scripture than the average Christian. Even a child can comprehend that they do wrong, Jesus took the penalty, etc. But the real question is, What makes the difference as to why someone rejects the gospel and someone else receives it? Why do some people embrace the gospel eagerly? I think this ability to embrace comes from being directly taught spiritual truth by the Father and the Son. (John 6:45 and Matt. 11:27). Good examples of this are Matthew 16:16, 17: “And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Also, Acts 16:14: “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” This goes along with the idea that it is God’s prerogative to reveal knowledge at His discretion: “Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ear to hear, to this very day.” (Deuteronomy 29:4)

  8. I like the analogy Bob George gives in Classic Christianity that the same sun which hardens clay also melts wax. In a word, why some accept and others reject Christ – pride. God’s message of grace hardens some hearts while his grace melts the hearts of others. I don’t see it as the fault of the “sun” but rather what that “sun fall on. The Bible is replete with folks having to make decisions…..which is also true in everyday life for everybody everywhere. I’ll try to comment later as to why the verses you list above don’t necessarily prove your point that it is God alone who chooses the very small percentage of mankind that goes to heaven (the elect) and in like manner determines who is reprobate.

    1. Looking at the second half of John chapter 6, I would give it this title: Jesus Explains Why Some Believe and Some Do Not. Jesus’ explanation: Vs. 37: The ones who believe are the ones that were given by the Father (note the order here, that the giving comes before the believing, and that the result is that they truly do come/believe; Vs. 44: No one is able to come unless drawn; Vs. 63: The flesh profits nothing (that is, man can do “no-thing” in regards to gaining spiritual life; Vs. 65: Jesus reiterates that no one can come unless it has been granted by the Father. This line of Jesus’ reasoning would not make sense if He intended to convey that anyone, at any time, has the power to believe. Rather, Jesus is giving a precise explanation as to why some do not believe, in spite of his miracles (first half of John 6) and in spite of their being Jewish and having experienced God’s dealings with Israel in the past. I’m glad that the idea of “drawn” troubles you. This is what exegesis is all about, yes? Words have meanings. The regular method of biblical interpretation includes examining how words are used elsewhere in Scripture. The conclusion I reach is based on this, in spite of the philosophical difficulties we must then wrestle with.

  9. Allow me to toss out another $0.02 comment here – I’ll concede to finding the wording in John 6:44 a little troubling and can certainly understand Calvinist thought that due to being “spiritually dead” to sin, no one can bring himself to God unless God first gives His grace to the elected. However, in John chapter six, Jesus makes no distinction as to the elect and the non-elect. As I read the chapter, it seems apparent (at least to me) that ANYONE who believes shall be saved. Wouldn’t this have been an opportune time for Jesus to explain TULIP? But clearly, he doesn’t.

    As I look at John 6:25-59, it’s a discussion between Jesus and unbelieving Jews. I would submit that these Jews know of Jesus (vs 42) and were indeed struggling to understand how this “boy” they knew is now the Messiah. I would further submit that those unbelieving Jews were likely troubled with previous statements Jesus had made regarding not having the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42). Jesus continued in John 5:43 that [the Jews] did not accept [Christ]. I presume this to mean that many (but certainly not all) Jews had rejected Christ’s offer of forgiveness through faith and instead were holding on tight to the law for their justification. Again, Jesus did not explain TULIP. Nor did Jesus tell the elect to rejoice and explain to the non-elect that their eternal destiny is sealed and, well, too damn bad for them – they’re eternally screwed. The overriding principle that I see from verses such as John 3:16 & 2 Pet 3:9 is that God indeed reaches out to everyone and desires that everyone be saved and wants no one to perish. Yes, we’re dead in our sins and without Christ’s forgiveness – which must be individually received, we’re toast. To their eternal peril, most people do choose to reject Christ. And that’s the point – they have made a choice.

    So, in the middle of all this is John 6:44 – no one comes to [Jesus] unless he’s “drawn” by God? Again, I admit to finding this phrase a little troubling. But could it be that there are some translational aspects involved in which a Greek to English translation doesn’t accurately convey the thought that the Holy Spirit is moving within people and works to bring about a desire to seek forgiveness of sins? Everyone has the opportunity to accept or reject that God’s love, grace and mercy. To which, I simply don’t see John 6:44 as a solid of a foundation for unconditional election as Calvinists would believe.

  10. Ultimately, we may be reaching the limit of my ability to provide a constructive rebuttal. Your points are cogent and not altogether unreasonable. A significant issue as to Calvinism for me is that Reformed doctrines do not appear to be consistent throughout scripture. and when one gets to debating Greek words along with punctuation and placement, well, I’m completely out of my element. And I’m okay with that and don’t feel the need to delve into a specific word per se to derive meaning. As is, the approximately 100 scholars who pieced together the NIV Bible (my favorite) came to an agreement as to how to phrase and otherwise translate into English from the original languages. I lack the knowledge of language, history and culture. We, as “Bible consumers” have to trust in the ability of others. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of James White when he explains that John 3:16 doesn’t actually state that God so loved the world. He spends 45mins on the word (I think) “pas” and how a comma completely alters the intent and meaning of the verse. The problem, then, is that for the (I’m guessing) 100 different translations, everyone to my knowledge states that God so loved the world and whoever believes shall be saved – not one incorporates White’s verbiage.

    There are many passages that clearly state that God loves all, desires all to be saved, wants none to perish and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. As Dave Hunt asks, “If Calvinism is true, there ought to be at least one Scripture that clearly states that God’s love and grace are limited to a select group.”

    We’ve touched on Eph 1 – which is written to “the saints” i.e. believers. I’ve noted above how I do not think John 6 supports Calvinist doctrines as you do. More power to you if you’re comfortable with Calvinist doctrines. I’m not. And I recently left a church primarily because of the continued infusing of Reformed theology within that body of believers. This blog is my attempt to deal with the obvious and apparent discordant perspectives related to the nature and character of God within a Calvinist perspective. And I don’t think I’m alone.

  11. I sure do appreciate all your thoughtful responses. I do not wish to believe a lie, and I welcome correction. I think these are all important topics since God desires to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. I don’t want to have a god of my own imagining, and want to worship Him as He is, so if I’m wrong in how I view Him and His work, I would want to know. Understanding the doctrines of grace (Calvinist is too strong a title for my liking, although it’s somewhat useful) has been a very long, ten year journey for me. Learning the methods of biblical interpretation, doing word studies, learning about the original languages, etc. are what led me to my current beliefs. I had a list of “problem” verses that seemed to go against Calvinism, but one at a time, after examining them more closely, they got scratched off the list. I literally ran out of “problem” verses. Each one that you’ve listed, I believe I can confidently give a reasonable answer for. I won’t bother you, if you think we’ve exhausted the conversation. Blessings! Keep studying.

  12. You’ve been gracious and kind in your responses. I appreciate that. All too often arguments come about – which is unfortunate. I certainly don’t mind disagreement and I welcome the input of others as I seek the truth. When you mentioned doing Greek word studies earlier in this thread and also in another thread, then for me, I’m not able to continue if only because I lack the knowledge of language, history and culture. And I see no need to delve into that. I rely on the NIV as being, well, good enough. And I’m okay with that. Perhaps that will change later. And though in our discussions here you’ve not come across as arrogant and pompous, suffice it to say that I’ve had my share of interactions with Calvinists who seem to claim special dispensation as to understanding the hidden meanings of verses and passages which has led to being told I’m not of the elect (aka – not a Christian, not saved, etc.) due to my unwillingness to accept Reformed theology. So, my dander can sometimes be “up”. But that said, what I find most troubling is that good willed folks on both sides are able to put forth convincing arguments. Yet, to me, given that these are dichotomous perspectives, they both can’t be right. To which, I tend to lean towards that which, to me, is more intrinsically believable. Simply put, I find Calvinism, or in your preferred vernacular – the doctrines of grace to be anathema to the nature and character of God who loves all and wants none to perish. I didn’t grow up “Christian” and it wasn’t until later in life did I come to understand and accept Christ. Maybe that colors my perspective. Maybe that inhibits my ability to fathom and accept TULIP. But as is, the logic of TULIP, although it makes sense on its own with its logical progression, appears to be totally inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. We’ve already been through John 6 and have our respective understandings. Ultimately, I see the god of Calvinism as being arbitrary, capricious, mean spirited, and desiring that many/most would suffer.

    You’ve obviously poked around this blog a bit. Perhaps you stumbled upon what I wrote here:

    I would welcome our discussion to continue. But, for me, I think it would be more beneficial to pick a topic and focus on that. To which, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, unconditional election is the most vile of the doctrines of grace. Perhaps you would like to provide me with your perspective as to why you revel (I don’t have a better word) and love the concept of unconditional election.

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