A Response to Leighton Flowers on Ephesians 1

This article provides a critique of Leighton Flowers’ treatment of Ephesians 1:3-14 given on March 14, 2015. This is a narrow and specific focus. I am not engaging all of Flowers’ material on the subject.

Point 1: Verses 3-14, Not Just 13-14, Answer the Question

I recognize this specific blog was not intended to be a grammatical commentary. So we cannot call “fowl” when his starting position is philosophical and not exegetical. This is not an error, but it means this examination of the text is framed by whatever Flowers places it in. A more robust approach, I suggest, would begin with the grammar alone and ask questions regarding systematic theology later on. To Flowers’ credit: “Let’s drop any preconceived ideas we have about this text and attempt to answer the question as honestly as we can.”

He continues: “Some focus so much attention on the first 12 verses that they fail to see the last two verses where Paul gives an answer to this vital question; ‘How does one come to be in Him?'” So in Ephesians 1, we are not told how an individual is placed in Christ until verse 13. By merit of this, verses 1-12 can be excluded from the discussion. The answer to the question, “How does one come to be in Christ” must lie somewhere after verse 12. Flowers’ conclusion depends on this point. There are other propositions to engage, but this seems the most fundamental.

The main point of verses 3-14 is that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (v.3). Verses 4-14 are a zoomed-in look at verse 3. Paul says God has blessed us and he proceeds to explain how He has blessed us. No less than eleven times we see the equivalent of “in Christ.” All of these blessings, then, are within the context of Christ. Further, all of these blessing are summed-up in verse 3: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Verse 13 states that after we heard the message of truth, we believed and were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. So after faith comes sealing. Where does Paul submit that God’s purpose is only to provide a plan and not to save specific individuals? Where is the clause teaching that God’s effectual, salvific pursuit of this individual began after his faith? The text suggests that sealing is appropriated by an individual’s faith, but further conclusions seem eisogetical.

“How does one come to be in Christ?” Flowers provides no grammatical evidence for answering this question from verses 13-14 alone. Given this deficiency, and lack of any discussion regarding verses 3-12, I cannot see any reason to accept Flowers’ conclusion: “This passage is not about God predetermining which individuals will be in Christ. It is about God predetermining what will become of those who are in Christ through belief in His truth.”

Point 2: God’s Choice in Verse 4 is of Persons, not a Plan

Flowers links to an article by Ron Hale on SBC Today. In the article, Hale engages with Hobbs on Ephesians 1:4-6 and Flowers seems to consider this capable commentary: “I strongly urge everyone reading these words to consider the exegesis given by Dr. Hershel Hobbs” (an embedded link followed). Here is the substance of Hobbs’ argument, according to Hale (and I believe he is correct): “In teaching this passage, Dr. Herschel Hobbs saw that God sovereignly chose or elected a specific plan of salvation.”

So the object of God’s choice is an “it” – a plan of salvation. The “who” is left to man’s will, ultimately. God marked out the boundaries of salvation and everyone who steps into those boundaries is saved. Hale and Flowers seem satisfied with Hobbs’ conclusion, as if we can build our theology around the single word proorisas regardless of Greek syntax.

Firstproorisas is taken from verse 5 where God determines the specific end designed for hemas (us). If Hale had quoted Hobbs’ exegesis in relevance, we would be reading comments on verse 4: kathos exelexato hemas en auto pro kataboles kosmou einai hemas hagious kai amomous katenopion autou en agape. Hale (and perhaps Flowers) don’t seem to catch this, because Hale actually cites the verb proorisas (trans. predestined) as being in verse 4, rather than verse 5.

Second, the direct object of the most relevant sentence to this discussion (v.4) is hemas (us). “He chose,” Paul says, and one may rightly ask, “What? Who? What is the object of God’s choice?” The answer: “He chose us.” The object of God’s selection is personal. It is of persons. These articles provide no engagement with this grammatical fact.

Conclusion: We Need to Look at the Grammar

I found two other links in Leighton Flowers’ article: this short video and this podcast. I have listened to both and see no points going beyond what I have already addressed. Flowers seems sincere and firmly convinced of his position, but what objective evidence does he provide for his conclusion? I cannot see any grammatical argumentation that directs us to accept his conclusion.

If the Bible is our highest authority, our most fundamental question should be, “What does the text say?” Flowers clearly agrees, but his exegetical methods do not reflect his convictions regarding the nature of Scripture. If they did, his question “How does one come to be in Christ?” would have addressed: 1) verses 3-14, not just verses 13-14, and 2) “He chose us” in verse 4.

I understand that Leighton Flowers has produced several other works on Ephesians 1. I will be reading and reviewing this in the future.

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6 thoughts on “A Response to Leighton Flowers on Ephesians 1

  1. You wrote: ‘Second, the direct object of the most relevant sentence to this discussion (v.4) is hemas (us). “He chose,” Paul says, and one may rightly ask, “What? Who? What is the object of God’s choice?” The answer: “He chose us.” The object of God’s selection is personal. It is of persons.’

    A possible objection to your viewpoint might be:
    us = a group, not necessarily each individual?

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Yes that is a common objection to the interpretation I argue for.

      You cannot actively choose a group without choosing the individuals. The only way to choose a group & not specific individuals is to choose the means by which individuals would enter the group. But Paul’s focus is personal here, God acting upon the church. Further, a group is made up of individuals. While “us” could have a corporate meaning, it just as easily could convey the multiplicity of individuals chosen.

      But lets take the strictly corporate understanding of “us,” for sake of argument, and apply it consistently in this chapter. If the election and predestination of verses 4-6 is only corporate, then the redemption/justification of the cross is only corporate (vv.7-8), as is the inheritance and sealing (vv.11-14). The corporate interpretation of vv.4-6, if to be hermeneutically consistent, must confess that (at the very least) justification and the indwelling Spirit are not things that happen to individual believers. Rather, they are blessings found in the corporate body if the church.

      I have other things I could say, but for myself, these reasons are enough to see “us” as referring to multiple individuals whom God chose.

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      1. How about that chapter talking about the corporate goal of the body; the Spirit having revived us and not talking about individuals, as that is a very Western thing? (individualism) The same goes for Romans 9.

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      2. 1. Which chapter? What book?

        2. The West is heavily individualized – but it would be an elementary logical error to read individualism out-of Scripture, simply because our society is more individualistic. Further, that’s simply historically untenable, the notion that individualistic ideals, ideas, and mindsets were not present in Biblical times. The burden of proof is on you for providing sources to support that claim.

        3. What point would you like to make from Romans 9?

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      3. Starting from individual election is NOT a Jewish concept. Read this conclusion for example: https://crosstheology.wordpress.com/the-outright-disaster-of-the-augustinian-calvinist-formulation-of-election/

        Romans 9 is clearly portraying a corporate, vocational election: https://crosstheology.wordpress.com/crosstheology-on-romans-9/ (see also the other views at the bottom of the link)

        Romans 9 individual election I believe is only from Augustine’s later interpretations on Romans (around the 5th century). It is simply not a 1stcentury, Jewish interpretation.

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      4. 1. I’ll ask again: which chapter: what book?

        2. I’m not starting from individual election, I’m starting from the text. Scripture is our authority – whatever doctrines the grammar communicates, we should believe. Linking me to your blog where yourself and another person simply say, “Augustine was wrong,” doesn’t prove anything. What would be relevant, however, is if you have source material on Judaic and early Christian uses of pronouns in reference to the individualism discussion. // I am more than willing to discuss a Biblical text with you, but Augustine’s use of Plato is not relevant to how we should interpret Ephesians 1, Romans 9, etc.

        3. Unconditional Election can be found in early church fathers just like other ideas about election can – neither side will win a debate of trying to claim history. Let’s just set that issue aside and call it a draw.
        //
        I appreciate you linking to that post on Romans 9, but I’m afraid it does nothing to advance this discussion. You inject “vocational election” from thin-air into verse 6a and then, apart from other eisegetical injections to follow, interpret every section of this passage in light of it. The context (Romans 8:1-39 and 9:1-5) is clearly in regards to salvation – you admit yourself that this is Paul’s burden. I’ll start a new thread on your post so that we can focus on Ephesians 1 in this comment thread.

        4. If my commentary on Ephesians 1:4 is insufficient, what is your explanation of the verse?

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