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16 July 2018

Predestination and the Ephesians.

God has a wonderful plan for your life… if you choose to accept it.

Ephesians 1.1-10

Eleven years ago I led a year-long bible study on Ephesians.

Seriously, a year. Every Sunday I took about two or three verses and analyzed the pants off ’em. Some of the participants in our group loved it, ’cause they’d never dug into the scriptures to such depth. Others figured I could’ve whipped through that letter in four weeks, ’cause every other bible study they’d been to had done so. Taking 50 weeks (’cause you gotta take a week or two off, y’know) felt to them like overkill.

Meh; maybe. I will say I’ll take considerably less than a year in this go-around. So let’s start.

Ephesians 1.1-3 KWL
1 Paul, by God’s will an apostle of Christ Jesus,
to those in Ephesus who are holy and trusting Christ Jesus.
2 Grace to you. Peace from God our Father, and master Christ Jesus—
3 blessed God, and Father of our master Christ Jesus!
God’s the one who blesses us,
in every supernatural blessing in the high heavens, in Christ!

The “to Ephesus” in verse 1 was blank in the original. That’s because Paul’s letters were form letters: His secretaries copied them and sent them to multiple churches. Paul sent this copy with Týhikos, Ep 6.21 who was from Asia Minor, Ac 20.4 and since Ephesus was Asia’s capital, stands to reason it’d go there.

Paul wrote Ephesians late in his life, as indicated by his being a prisoner Ep 3.1 in chains, Ep 6.20 possibly awaiting trial before Nero Caesar, who ultimately had Paul beheaded. It’s considered a later letter also because its theology appears to be way more thought through than Paul’s other letters—yep, even Romans. In fact some scholars kinda wonder whether Paul wrote it, and whether some other clever student or fan of Paul wrote it instead, pretending to be Paul so the letter would get read.

Me, I figure those scholars are trying to make a name for themselves by pitching controversies. (And some of them did succeed, y’know.) The idea Paul never grew more mature in his beliefs, or that he only wrote them down once-and-for-all (or twice, considering the same subjects in Galatians and Romans) is naïve. How many Christian authors do you know who only discuss a subject once-and-for-all? Some of ’em rehash their favorite ideas in every single book. And unless they’re intellectually lazy (and let’s be blunt, a number of ’em are) you’re gonna see those ideas evolve. Not necessarily change, but get deeper. Show greater insight and complexity. Get a little more patient with people who think differently than they. They also grow as writers, too.

Those who assume Paul never grew in maturity, as a Christian and as a writer, tend to be two sorts of people. The ones I bump into most often are the cessationists, who don‘t understand how revelation and prophecy work, and therefore have no idea how it worked when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul. They assume Paul got all his revelation once-and-for-all… then wrote letters. They’ve no clue—because they won’t listen to the Spirit!—that he doesn’t work like that. Some revelations we’re simply not yet ready for. Jn 16.12 We’re not mature enough; we’re not patient enough; we haven’t learned enough. We’ll trip over ourselves like Jesus’s teenage students. Not for nothing did Jesus wait till John was in his 70s before giving him his Revelation.

The other sort consists of lazy writers. They don’t try to grow as writers; they figure they know what they’re doing, or they’ve achieved enough success at it, and don’t make any efforts to get any better. And they assume everybody gets that way. Everybody peaks in their thirties, and as they age, they take their younger, unrefined selves, turn that into their persona, and milk it for what they can get out of it. You’ve seen actors and musicians do this. Writers do it too. Christians do it too. More immaturity.

Spirit-led Christians grow. Which is why I like Ephesians: We get to take a look at how Paul grew. Hope we’re growing too.

Real blessings. Not mythological ones.


Artemis, as she was worshiped in first-century Ephesus. Wikimedia

My Hermeneutics 2 thesis back in seminary was on a passage of Ephesians. So I researched the letter itself, and learned about the main religion of Ephesus: The Artemis cult.

Westerners assume Artemis was the Greek moon goddess, the sister of Apollo the sun god, the virginal hunter. That’s because the Greeks got ahold of her and changed her backstory. Originally she was the Anatolian mother nature goddess. Note the photo of the statue the Ephesians kept in her temple: Those round things between her forearms are meant to be breasts. Seems Artemis had a lot of people to nurse.

The story the Ephesians told was that her image was Diopetús/“Zeus-sent,” (KJV “which fell down from Jupiter”). Zeus himself had given them the image. Some historians speculate the Artemis cult began as a meteorite cult: Rocks would fall from the sky (either from space or volcanoes) and the locals would, I kid you not, worship them. The Kaaba in Mecca was one of those meteorites, and before Muhammad domesticated it for Islam, the locals actually would worship the rock. Maybe Artemis’s original statue was made of one of those rocks. We don’t know.

The Ephesians considered her statue a supernatural blessing from the highest heaven. Artemis’s temple became listed among Antipater of Sidon’s “seven wonders of the world.” It got famous. You might recall the story in Acts where Artemis’s followers balked ’cause this new religion called Christianity was spreading, so they wanted to return Ephesus to traditional values, and remind everyone they were an Artemisian nation. And so they had a really noisy, angry rally. Ac 19.23-41 Hey Americans! Sound familiar?

But as you know, pagan gods aren’t real gods, Ac 19.26 whereas Jesus is God, and Paul described Jesus in the very same way the Ephesians described Artemis. He’s not some inanimate rock you worship with ritual sex, whose will you seek by looking for signs. He’s a living man we worship with our whole being, who does speak to us.

And in the next verses, we see some of the other great spiritual things God does for us.

Predestination.

This next bit is a tricky passage to translate. Back in seminary the UBS Greek New Testament was only in its third edition (currently it’s in its fifth) and for some bonkers reason the editors figured verses 3-14 make up one long run-on Greek sentence. Yikes. Imagine translating that after only three semesters of Greek. But I did.

I’ve retranslated it a few times since, as my Greek got better. Thankfully, and properly, the fourth edition broke it up into four sentences. It’s still a bit of a run-on, but that’s because Paul dictated his letters to the guys who physically wrote ’em. When speaking aloud, we don‘t always remember to use complete sentences. Or verbs.

So in my translation, I keep its run-on nature in mind. Hence all the dashes.

Ephesians 1.3-10 KWL
3B God’s the one who blesses us,
in every supernatural blessing in the high heavens, in Christ!
4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy—
spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation!
In love, 5 through Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself—
according to the goodwill of his will,
6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love.
7 Because of God we have redemption, through Christ’s blood—
forgiveness of our carelessness!— 8 through his gracious riches which abound in us—
every wisdom and intent, 9 making known the mystery of God’s will,
through his goodwill which looks out for us
10 in God’s arrangement of the whole of history—wrapping up everything in Christ,
putting stuff in heaven and stuff on earth in him.

Lots to unpack here.

This passage is about predestination, the idea God pre-decided our eternal destination. Before we were created, before the world was even created, God set up a plan to get you and me and every other human saved: Sending us Jesus. Jn 3.16-17

We aren’t God’s afterthought: “Holy Me, Adam and Eve sinned; wasn’t expecting that. Now what am I gonna do? Guess I gotta come up with plan B.” Nope: When God created the cosmos, he simultaneously came up with plan A (“don’t sin”) and plan B (“if you do sin, there’s Christ”). 1Jn 2.1 Hey, if you’re gonna create humanity with built-in free will, you gotta be prepared when we use that free will to do the wrong thing. And God was totally prepared.

Problem is, a lot of the people who love to teach on predestination, don’t define it properly. Because determinism. They don’t look at predestination as God’s plan to save the world… because obviously not everyone in the world will be saved. Loads of people choose to have nothing to do with God and his kingdom. And determinists can’t fathom God would just allow this to happen.

To a determinist, God rules the universe in such a way that there is no plan A or plan B. God only has one plan. It’s playing out right now: Adam and Eve’s sin is the plan. The corruption of humanity is the plan. The sin, sickness, murder, mayhem, war, destruction, and the eventual fires of hell for everyone who stands apart from God, is the plan. True, the plan looks absolutely evil… but it’s the plan.

In this evil plan, predestination isn’t about saving the world. Predestination is about saving some. Jesus died for the sins of the world, 1Jn 2.2 but these folks—Calvinists in particular—insist Jesus only died for Christians. We’re predestined for God’s kingdom. Everybody else is predestined for the burning lake and the second death.

True, certain Calvinists hate the idea God planned hell for all the non-Christians. Or at least hate saying so. John Calvin sure didn’t.

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. Institutes 3.21.5

In medieval Europe, kings didn’t permit their subjects much in the way of freedom. This seriously bent the way Calvin imagined God works. To his mind, if God decided we’re saved, we are. We have no say in the matter; we’re the subjects and God’s the sovereign. And since not everybody is going into the kingdom, God must have decreed it so, for if he truly wanted everybody to be with him, we would be. God’s will overrules everybody else’s will. Arguably we don’t even have a will.

It’s a seriously problematic view, because God is love, 1Jn 4.16 and love doesn’t demand its own way. 1Co 13.5 Sovereignty, as Calvin imagined it to work, violates God’s character. Predestination, as Calvin redefined it to suit his ideas of sovereignty, takes the two-thirds of the world which isn’t Christian, and tells them, “God only made you because he’d like to fill hell to the brim with you.”

Nope, it’s not what the scriptures teach at all. God wants to save everyone. 1Ti 2.4 Jesus paid sin’s penalties for everyone. 1Ti 2.6 Before God created the cosmos, he determined to create humans, love us, and live with us forever. That’s predestination. Not this sick idea that God determined to arbitrarily select a few, love those few, hate all the rest, and burn the rest forever—just to show how good his kingdom is by way of comparison with the screams of the damned. Makes Calvinists feel really good about themselves, but it’s still demented.

Have you read Exodus? Do. The LORD chose the entire people-group of the Hebrews, Ex 20.2 to save them from Egypt, turn ’em into his kingdom, love them, and live with them. But, chosen people or not, they rebelled against the LORD, who let the rebels, even though he saved them, die in the wilderness. Nu 26.65 Doesn’t matter that he predestined a “land of milk and honey” for them, where they’d live in peace and prosperity. Milk and honey?—they’d rather have Egyptian food. Nu 11.4-6

The fact the Hebrews could defy God’s predestination, means the idea can’t possibly be as locked-in as determinists insist. And it’s not. God has prearranged a the whole of history into a glorious destiny for his children, wrapping everything together in Christ. Ep 1.10 Don’t resist him, and he’ll freely, generously, graciously give you this destiny. But it’s up to you.

Double predestination.

Properly, predestination is about God’s plan to save the world. Calvin redefined it as God’s plan to save some, and destroy others. In the centuries since, Calvinists have kinda reduced that definition to only mean God’s plan to save some.

When the subject of God destroying others comes up… well they faff around a bit. Like I said, they hate the idea. It makes God sound evil, and they don’t like to make God sound evil. So they just avoid Calvin’s statements, avoid the implications of their definition of predestination, and at most they talk about God “passing some people over for salvation.” As if God forgot to include ’em in the kingdom, so whoops!—they’re going to hell.

Think of it like a Coast Guard pilot who deliberately ignores certain drowning sailors. ’Cause even though she has the time and wherewithal to rescue everybody, she only cares to save a select few. For whatever personal reasons she has. Maybe she likes their skin color. We’d call her immoral, but God gets a free pass on doing much the same with predestination. ’Cause he created people, so he has every right to save them… or leave them to suffer miserably for all eternity. Either way.

Thing is, if you buy the Calvinist definition of sovereignty, you can’t accept the idea of a God who passively lets people perish. A micromanagerial God doesn’t do anything passively. People perish because God damned well decrees they’re gonna perish. That’s why Calvin insisted predestination includes God preordaining people to destruction.

Calvinists coined a new term for this divine plan to destroy people: Double predestination. Single predestination (meaning plain ol’ predestination) only refers to God saving people; double predestination refers to God saving and damning people. So to return to our metaphor of a Coast Guard pilot arbitrarily saving some: Now, whenever she decides not to rescue someone, she picks ’em off with a machine gun.

Again, in anybody else we’d call this immoral. Not just immoral; kinda psycho. But Calvinists would never say such a thing of God, so they argue… that we can never say such a thing of God. ’Cause he’s good! Bible says so.

For some reason they never notice this is a circular argument: “God’s good because he’s good.” Yeah, but the way they describe him, he sure doesn’t act good. Must be some new definition of “good” they’ve invented, where whatever God does is called good… even when it’s absolutely not.

Ephesians and predestination.

Now, how does Paul define predestination in Ephesians? Um… he doesn’t.

No really. He just uses the word proorísas/“predestined” (KJV “predestinated”) —meaning to pre-decide, pre-determine, pre-arrange—and figured his readers would know what he meant. God decided in advance he’d adopt us as his kids, bless our socks off, and seat us with Jesus in heavenly places.

The rest of the stuff about when and how God pre-decided it, whether we have any say in his decision, and the rest: That’s all extrapolated by various Christians. Determinists decided to spin it as an absolute decree of God. The rest of us read it for what it says: God planned ahead. We’re not an afterthought: He wants to adopt us. He wants to bless us. He loves us. It’s good news!

As opposed to the really bad news Calvinists present: God saves some, but good luck to everyone else.

Yeah, I’m picking on the Calvinists a bit, mostly because their alternative view of predestination is pretty common. But there are others. Among some Arminians, predestination has to do with the very same thing—only now, God’s chosen to save nations and people-groups, not individuals. And at the same time, God’s chosen to pass over other people-groups. Think of it as double predestination on a national scale. Which civic idolaters are all too happy to do: God saved our nation, but not so much yours.

Meh. These other interpretations are poorly cobbled-together attempts to create an alternative to Calvinism. But they only replace one bad idea with another.

They’re not dealing very well with the core motivation which makes people embrace the determinists’ ideas about predestination in the first place: They wanna know they’re saved. They want eternal security. The idea God chose to save us, and chose us not only before we knew what was going on, but before we were even created? That surely does make us feel secure about our salvation. Makes it feel like a done deal. ’Cause if the Almighty wants it, it is a done deal, right?

It is, but how do we know it is? By embracing some freewill-denying doctrine of predestination? Nope: By fruit of the Spirit.

We have the Holy Spirit within us. He corrects us, empowers us, and produces good fruit. This fruit is far more concrete than any speculation of what God might’ve planned for us in the beginning. Especially since y’notice this speculation presumes God invented an evil plan.

Predestination is simply God’s plan for a glorious future in a world saved via Christ Jesus. 1Jn 2.2 Those of us who follow Jesus, who see the fruit of God’s plan take shape in our lives, know his plan’s been activated in us. It’s potentially for all. It’ll only be seen by some, ’cause everybody else resists God’s grace. But God doesn’t wanna only save some. He wants everybody.

So when Paul wrote about predestination, he wrote about his common experience with the Ephesians who followed Jesus. God adopted “us”—meaning Paul, his ministry team, and the Ephesian church. God poured out his grace, in love, on “us.” God granted redemption, through Christ’s blood, to “us.” God forgave “our” carelessness, granted “us” riches and wisdom and goodwill. “We” get every supernatural blessing in the high heavens.

Applies to us present-day Christians too. Follow God, get included in the plan. Resist God, get bupkis, just like the Hebrews of the Exodus. God has predestined wonderful things for the world. Don’t get left out!