August 1, 2009

Ephesians 1:11-12; A Devotional

Furthermore, in Him we have been chosen by lot1 (being predetermined according to the plan2 by which all things are worked out3 and according to the purpose2 of His will)4 to be who we are,5 for the praising of His glory; we who first hoped in Christ.
The more I read Paul, the more amazed I am of how much he can fit into one sentence. It is really remarkable.


The common thread in this sentence is the concept of God's plan. The subject that Paul is talking about here that was preplanned by God, and it is important to note the kind of power there is in that. What God preplanned comes to pass, always. This is known as predestination, and it is not an exclusively Calvinist concept. No Arminian denies that God predestines, though we do disagree with Calvinists in what He predestines, but that is for another time. For now, it is important to understand the power of God's predestination in what Paul is saying. But it is also important to be aware what the subject actually is.

The subject is "our" inclusion within all things that are being unified in Christ from verse 10. Being chosen by lot implies the process of the distribution of an inheritance, and as such, "we", being chosen by lot, are being given a particular portion of what Christ has been given. You may wonder why I am saying "our" and "we". Well, this is not a reference to a Calvinist view of election here, for that isn't how casting lots work, nor is the context here broad enough to consider the election of each individual believer. Therefore, I, personally, am not really included in this context, nor do are you, the ones reading this post. Instead it is referring to the particular inheritance that has been given to the Jews.

"The Jews? Where are the Jews mentioned here?" Well, it is important to note that contextually, the first person plural ("we") that is being used can't refer to all believers. This is evident in that it is contrasted with the second person plural ("you") in verse 13, and thus the Ephesians themselves are not even being considered.

The reason why I conclude that the 'us' is referring to Jews is two-fold. First, the unity of the Jews with the Gentiles in Christ is going to be the greater context of the next two chapters, so considering that subject to start here is very natural. Second, and I think more importantly, is the phrase "the first to hope in Christ." This can either mean the first converts to the faith, who would be the Jews, or those who were waiting for the Christ before the birth of Jesus, who... would also be the Jews. I prefer the second understanding, since I believe it is more in-line with the rest of the context of the two chapters, but in either case, we are dealing with the Jews.

Yes, this is a bit more exegesis than I usually include in these, but in this case it is fairly necessary. In order to properly interpret this verse, and thus apply it, one needs to know that Paul is talking about the Jews and I believe the "lot" that Paul was talking about was actually ancient Israel, referring to the casting of lots at the end of Joshua. (Joshua 18-19) Now I don't think he's talking about the actual distribution of land, but was referring to it metaphorically as the covenantal inheritance of the Jews. Therefore when the text is talking about God's plans and purposes and predestination, it is referring the nation of Israel and the Jewish people.


In terms of reflection (which is what devotionals are all about), it is important to consider the wonder of God's eternal plan. The establishment of the people of Israel and the eventual coming of the Messiah is part of God's plan, all of which is a demonstration of His ultimate glory and thus deserving of praise. God is not content to leave humanity as it is but has a plan, and is working out that plan, for the redemption of the human race. Our God is active!

Many times we look at the world and wonder why things are so bad, or have trouble maintaining our hope. But when we think about God's eternal plan which is perfect and already accomplished by the work of Christ, then we can hope, not in an abstract sense, but in full understanding of the divine purposes of our God.

Therefore, remain assured and confident in all that you do. You have a God that has everything under control and is more than competent in His sovereignty. Therefore, join arms with the rest of the saints and continue to work out His holy plan. It will be accomplished.

Translation notes

1 'eklerothemen' literally means "selection by lot". The reason why many translations render it "obtained an inheritance" is because lots was the principle way of distributing inheritance, as well as distributing inheritance being the primary use of lots. However, I don't like the inheritance rendering because it is interpreting the text rather than translating. Additionally, there is another way to understand the text: that we were choosen to be part of Christ's inheritance. The "obtained an inheritance" rendering solves this tension, and I don't like that, though I agree with the interpretation.

2 'Prothesis' and 'boule' are synonyms, in that they can both refer to a purpose or plan. However, they are slightly different in nuance. 'Prothesis' refers to "setting something out". It can mean purpose as in "what I set out to do", and can mean plan in that a plan is displayed before hand. However, the principle meaning is to set something out, or to display it.
'Boule' refers directly to decision, and refers to what someone wants to do. It can also mean purpose or plan, but in the sense of desire rather than in the sense of it being preestablished. This is why the word is connected directly to the word 'will'.

3 The phrase 'tou ta panta energountos' was extremely difficult to decipher. It would transliterate as "the the all working" (where the first 'the' and 'working' is in the genitive and the second 'the' and 'all' are in the accusiative, thus the concept of 'working' grammatically envelopes the concept of 'all'). I don't really recognize the significance of this grammatical contruct, and couldn't find it in the grammars. Therefore, I kind of submitted to what every single translation interprets it as: "the working out of all things". Other possible renderings include:
  • "according to the plan/purpose of all actions",

  • "according to the plan of working out all things"

  • "according to the plan of all thing which are being worked out"
4 The word 'eis' (which usually means 'into' but can also simply mean 'in' or 'to') is used twice here. One is connected to the word being, literally "into being us"; the second is connected to the word praise, literally "into the praising of His glory". This makes both words 'being' and 'praising' indirect objects to a verb, but which verb? The options include choosing by lot, or predestined. I think it makes the best grammatical sense to connect these to the verb "choosing by lot", so I added the paratheses since this would make that section an aside. However, in doing so, I am deviated from what most translations are doing, so i am willing to be corrected.

5 The phrase'eis to einai umas' literally translates into "into the being us". Again, I diviated from the standard here in that I don't see how rendering it "that we should be" makes any sense with the word 'into' there. It seems instead that either the predestion of God or the selection process of the lots is forming who we are, which is why I have rendered it as such.

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