A Follow-Up on Leighton’s Rebuttal (1/2)

Leighton Flowers responded (source) to an article I wrote (source) in which I critiqued his commentary on Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 9:6b. I will follow-up on Leighton’s video in two ways: first, in written form with two articles, second, in video form on YouTube (I’ll share the video when it’s released).

Some of Leighton’s comments dealt with systematic theology and other texts I did not address in my original article. I will not be responding to those comments, unless I deem it helpful in discussing the particular meaning of Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 9:6a. So this article (and the next), to be clear, only deals with comments Leighton made specifically about Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 9:6a. I may comment further in the coming video.

The Cordial Exchange

I pointed-out that in verse 4, God chooses both the plan and the persons who will be included in this plan. This, I proposed, would be in stark contrast to Leighton’s position, where before creation God chose the plan but not the particular persons who would be included in this plan. My grammatical basis for this was mainly pointing to the direct object: “us” (the saints mentioned in v.1).

Leighton did not explicitly rebut my point that the object of God’s choosing is “us.” However, I believe there is a grammatical rebuttal strongly implied in what he said, and so I will respond to what I perceive his argument is. He refers to his position as “the corporate view of election.” The argument (if the reader has a better way of presenting it, please inform me in the comment section below) says that God chose a people (corporate) and when someone believes upon Jesus, he becomes part of that elect people and therefore elect himself. Christ is the elect one, redemption is the elect plan, faith is the elect means by which one is included in the elect church, and once you through faith are united to Christ, you become elect yourself.

Initial Thoughts

We first must decide whether “in Him” functions in an adjectival or adverbial sense. The immediate word order may suggest it is in reference to “us.” However, notice how Paul utilizes the phrase (or its equivalent) in the rest of this passage: adverbially. For example: “In Him we have redemption” (v.7), “He purposed in Him” (v.9), “In Him also we have obtained” (v.11). While several instances are obscure, the only clear cases point to an adverbial usage. (Below the reader will find an explanation for interpreting all such instances of “in Him” together.)

Second, assuming that “in Him” qualifies “chose,” we must decide in what sense it does. “In” is translated from the Greek preposition en which, in most cases, denotes a spacial or spherical relationship (Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 60). Christ is a sphere in which God’s choosing took place – Christ is the context. (I mean this in a broad sense that could potentially include all uses of en. My use of “sphere” at the end of this article is more specific.)

Note that “in Him” is dative and the direct object is “us.” The object of the preposition (“Him” i.e. Christ) is not acted upon by the verb. God’s electing does not affect the person or work of Christ. Christ is the space in which God’s act of choosing took place, but Christ Himself is not changed or manipulated by the act of choosing. Christ qualifies the choosing, not vice versa.

What does Christ have to do with God’s election of the saints? Or rather, what did Christ have to do with it?

What Leighton Seems to Suggest

Watching Leighton’s rebuttal, I perceive he thinks “in Him” functions adjectivally. So I will do my best to reconstruct the Corporate Election model with this in mind. Leighton’s interpretation would seem to render the phrase as, “who are believing upon Christ.” A paraphrase: “Just as He chose us who are believing upon Christ before the world began.”

This reading identifies who Paul is speaking of but does nothing to change the initial meaning of “He chose us… before the foundation of the world.” God’s election still takes place before creation, still of particular persons, and still independent of faith. If anything is implied in this interpretation, it would be that the only people we may consider elect in the world today are those who are presently believing upon Christ.

One could argue that the persons in view are post-conversion (i.e. Are believing upon Christ) and therefore God’s election is contingent upon faith. God did not choose non-believers, but believers. I perceive two main problems with this.

First, this would require that the particular persons in view are not elected until they place faith in Christ. This does not seem possible because verse 4 explicitly says that God’s electing activity was completed before the world began. While one might argue that God’s election of these saints began, in some manner, before creation, Leighton’s position requires election to be in some way incomplete until a man places faith in Christ. This, again, is not a possibility due to the aorist tense of “chose” (aorist communicates that the action is complete) and the temporal qualification “before the foundation of the world.”

Second, if one is inclined to avoid the previous point, then this would require that the saints did not come into existence until their conversion – that prior to faith in Christ, they were non-existent. The New Testament undoubtedly teaches Christians are new creations after conversion (ex. 2 Co 5:17), but this kind of creative act is one of re-creation. It is a change in the initial person, in which his qualities are tampered with. That type of regenerative work is distinct from saying that the Christian altogether did not exist before conversion – saying that the body/soul/spirit of the pre-conversion man literally ceased to exist and, in his place, a new body/soul/spirit was materialized. I am not suggesting that Leighton believes this, but rather that his interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 grammatically requires it. In short: this particular adjectival reading of “in Him” commits the exegete to a systematic of person-hood and ontology that is, frankly, nonsense.

The only way to read this verse with election contingent upon faith is to let the prepositional phrase function adverbially, describing the way in which God chose the saints. I want to engage the best possible argument for Corporate Election, so I will evaluate the adverbial construction.

Excursus: Interpreting Equivalent Uses of “in Him” in vv.3-14

The structure of verses 3-14 places verses 4-14 under verse 3. Verse 3 is the main point Paul makes, and the following 11 verses explain in detail the contents of verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (v.3). What are these spiritual blessings in the heavenly places? What does it mean to be blessed in Christ with these things? Verses 4-14 explain.

This means, as a general rule, every contextually equivalent use of “in Him” found in verses 4-14 must be consistent with Paul’s use of “in Christ” in verse 3. So if we take into consideration the common possible meanings of all contextually equivalent uses of “in Him” in verses 4-14, we then have a semantic range for any of these such uses in the passage. I’m arguing that this provides us with strong evidence that “in Him” is functioning adverbially.

Corporate Election

Corporate Election is a possible conclusion from Ephesians 1:4 if “in Him” functions as a Dative of Means (perhaps a Dative of Cause). This instrumental dative would render the phrase to mean “by” or “by means of.” Christ, then, would be the means by which a saint is chosen. Christ is the elect One before the foundation of the world, through Whom certain persons – over time – become elect. The election is actualized when faith is placed in Christ, because at that point the man is included into Christ and becomes a member of the elect body.

I acknowledge this makes philosophical sense. I am not accusing the Corporate Election model of inconsistency at this level. The question, however, is one of exegetical integrity – the theory might be coherent but does it actually follow from the text?

It most probably does not follow, upon the basis that “in Him” should not be considered a Dative of Means. First, the preposition en is more commonly (but not exclusively) associated with a Dative of Sphere or Reference rather than Means. Second, Paul’s use of en is differentiated from His reference to “means” in verses 4-6.

  • Verse 4: He chose us in Him
  • Verse 5: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ
  • Verse 6: Which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved

In verse 5, Christ is the means (“through”)  by which one is adopted as a son (Bratcher and Nida, Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 14). Thus, Christ as a Means is distinguished by Paul from whatever Christ is in verse 4 and 6 (whether dia modifies “predestined” or “adoption” does not affect my point). Saints are adopted dia (through) Christ (v.5) and chosen en (in) Christ (v.4).

Unconditional Election

The two main options seem to be the Dative of Sphere or Dative of Reference. It can be tricky to differentiate between the two – immediate and broad context must be utilized (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond Basics, 145).

If “in Him” only functions in the broader spherical sense, we can paraphrase Ephesians 1:4, “just as God chose, in the context of Christ, the saints before He created the world.” The realm in which God chose is Christ. This sphere is abstract.

If “in Him” functions more specifically in a referential sense, we can paraphrase Ephesians 1:4, “just as God chose, in reference to Christ, the saints before He created the world.” God’s electing was done with Christ in mind. God did not make an arbitrary choice.

Both ways of understanding “in Him” make theological sense. Grammatically, a syntactical decision will have to be made in light of Paul’s immediate word-choices and broader intention in Ephesians.

I am inclined towards the more general Dative of Sphere, in light of the multiple usage of “in Him” in the passage. In equivalent usage later on (ex. v.7), Paul seems to utilize “in Him” in a non-referential way, though in the same manner as verse 4. This compels me to say that “in Him” in verse 4 is not a Dative of Reference.

Probably a Dative of Sphere, “in Him” communicates that God’s pre-creation choice of Christians was made in the context of Jesus Christ. (note: if “in Him” is a Dative of Reference, it still communicates the doctrine of Unconditional Election; see Salmond, “The Epistle to the Ephesians” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 3, 248.) God took into consideration the Messiah when He selected the saints. This begins the Christo-centric theme of verses 4-14. In light of these exegetical comments, I would like to ask some simple questions about Ephesians 1:4.

Q. Who is acting? A. God.
Q. What is God doing? A. Choosing.
Q. When did God choose, and is the choosing finished? A. Before creation, and yes.
Q. What did God choose? A. He chose the saints – so, “whom” is more correct.
Q. Was God’s choice arbitrary? A. No.
Q. Then for what reason did He choose? A. There are two types of reasons: a contextual and a teleological.
Q. What was the contextual reason? A. The person and work of Christ.
Q. What was the teleological reason? A. To make those selected persons into Christ’s image.

Conclusion

In light of the person and work of Christ, God selected – before He created anything – certain sinners out for the purpose of redeeming them from their wickedness.

That is my exegetical conclusion from Ephesians 1:4. This Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election, I submit, is the meaning of Ephesians 1:4. For a detailed, to-the-point explanation of this doctrine, see this article.

It is apparent, from his response to my article, that Leighton’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 cannot withstand serious investigation. Moreover, I submit that the Traditionalist (Provisionalist) interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 is grammatically improbable and philosophically indefensible. It makes a mess of Paul’s word choices and commits the reader to theological nonsense.

Within the next week, I will publish a response to Leighton’s rebuttal on Romans 9:6b. I hope this follow-up has been helpful and I pray to God that, despite the depravity that yet resides in my flesh, my exegesis has been honest and correct.

Grace and Peace

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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.