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.