Simple is often better. The more one has to abandon the common-sense reading, the more likely it is wrong. Let’s apply this to Ephesians 1:4. The text says God chose us in him.
- God chose us to be in him.
- God chose us by him.
- God chose us through him.
- God chose those who are in him.
- God chose the church.
All of these interpretations are wrong. This is simply not what the text says. Here is the right interpretation: “God chose us in him.”
The object of God’s choice is not “those who are in him” or “the church.” The object of God’s choice is “us.” Christ is not the agent of God’s choice (by) but the means (in). Furthermore, the means of God’s choice is not through Christ but in Christ, that is, by union with Christ (positional). The purpose of God’s choice is not to be in him, but to be “holy and blameless” before him.
This may seem like small nuances, but they are not. Faithfulness to the text means we do not add or take away from its meaning. The text says what it says. “God chose us in Christ.” Many are tempted for theological reasons to change this to “God chose those in Christ.” This is simply not what the text says or means. The common sense meaning of “us” is you plus anyone else that is included in the “us.” The common sense meaning of “us” is not some corporate group that you belong to.
When “us” refers to a corporate group that a party belongs to, this is a nonstandard use that is indicated by contextual makers. For example, consider the following: Eph 2:5 “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”
Who would think that Paul is speaking corporately here? Who would claim that Paul is saying that we corporately were dead, and were corporately raised together with Christ, and corporately saved? Nobody. But remember, supposedly the ancient mind primarily thought in corporate terms. So it is actually only a modern reading to think this primarily refers to individuals and that it is true of the corporate group by extension of the fact that it is true of its individual members.
Or consider Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Who thinks Paul is primarily talking corporate here? He isn’t primarily commanding individual Christians to walk in love but rather he is telling the corporate group to walk in love. He doesn’t mean that Christ individually loves each member of the church and gave himself up for each member, but just that he loves the church corporately and gave himself up for her corporately? This is a forced interpretation. Nobody consistently reads “us” “we” “you” in a corporate sense.
Why? Because it is completely unnatural. The ancient mind didn’t think “us” meant primarily the corporate group. They understood “us” primarily meaning me plus other individuals. This is exactly the same way we understand the phrase today.
Let me give a real example of when an author uses the term “us” or “we” in a corporate sense. Eph 2:14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” In this text, everyone recognizes that Paul is speaking in corporate terms. This is not because we have to tap into the ancient mind of the Ephesians and realize they thought in primarily corporate terms. No, it is because there are clear contextual clues. Paul says “us both” he has made one. Who are these two entities? In context, they are clearly not two people. In v.11, he calls his audience “you gentiles”; in v.12 he talks about “the commonwealth of Israel.” Thus, it is by context that we know he is talking corporately. We don’t just assume an ancient mindset of thinking that ancient people just thought “we” primarily meant the corporate group instead of a collection of individuals.
This is exactly the same way these terms are used today. For example, can you tell which statements are corporate and individual?
- I love living in America. We are the most blessed people in the world.
- I love living in Texas. We have a large ranch home.
- Let those who are wise, hear what I am saying.
- Let us hold onto the truth.
- Man is made in the image of God. We are God’s crowning jewel of creation.
Ancient and modern men would all be able to recognize that example 1 and 5 is corporate and example 2 is individualistic. But what about examples 3-4? According to the revisionist interpretation of linguistics and history, the ancient man would think those examples are corporate and the modern man would think they are individualistic.
This is completely false. The Bible is full of phrases like the examples in 3-4, and we have the early church’s interpretation of these phrases. They did not have a special corporate way of looking at them. They understood them exactly the way we do, that is individualistically and by extension true of the corporate group.
This can be demonstrated by looking at the early church’s (first 300 years) view of election. They did not believe phrases like “those whom he foreknew (Romans 8:28)” or God chose us in Christ (Eph 1:4) as referring primarily to the church corporately. They understood “us” and “those whom” the same way people today would understand those phrases, as referring to a collection of individuals primarily and by extension a group. This is why the early church strongly affirmed individual election of salvation based on foreknowledge of faith in Christ. If the revisionists are right, they apparently didn’t get the memo that ancient people thought “we” “those” and “our” was primarily corporate and not individualistic terms.
Many thanks to JD Martin for permission to repost his article on this blog. JD hosts the YouTube channel, Exploring Theology which can be found: