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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Ephesians 1

 

 

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Verse 1

PAUL'S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS

EPH. 1

Paul began here in the manner of all writers of his time with a salutation (Ephesians 1:1-2); and pausing a moment to consider the sublime and heavenly theme upon which he was about to write, penned the noble words of a grand doxology (Ephesians 1:3-14), and then a fervent and beautiful prayer for those who would receive his letter (Ephesians 1:15-23).

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, to the saints that are in Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle ... Although the word "apostle" was sometimes used in a secondary sense to include such faithful missionaries as Timothy, Silvanus, (1 Thessalonians 2:6) and Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Paul's use of the title for himself was always in the highest sense of a plenary representative of Christ who in harmony with the will of God had personally commissioned him; and as in the instance of the Twelve (Luke 6:13) the "Lord named him" an apostle. The title was not one which "developed" in the early church but goes back to Christ himself.

To the saints ... This frequent designation of all Christians in apostolic times regarded what they were called to become more that it did any perfection of their achievement. As Foulkes put it, "The word expresses at once the privilege and the responsibility of the calling of every Christian, not the attainment of a select few."[1]

That are at Ephesus ... Some very ancient authorities omit this phrase (English Revised Version (1885) margin), including the Chester Beatty Papyrus 46, dated about 200 A.D. Also the phrase as it stands in the Vatican and Sinaitic codices was apparently added by a later copyist.[2] The most widely accepted explanation of this is that some early copies left the words "at Ephesus" out on purpose so that other churches might insert their own names, since the purpose of the writer to include all Christians everywhere is clear enough in the very next clause. "Certainly nothing has been advanced to show that the claim of Ephesus as recipient ought to be surrendered in favor of any other."

And the faithful in Christ Jesus ... This clause makes it mandatory to supply the name of a specific group to stand as the coordinate in this sentence; and the very fact of its being addressed, not only to the specific group, but to the "faithful in Christ," shows Paul's purpose of addressing the entire Christian world in this epistle.

In Christ Jesus ... This phrase, or its equivalent, "occurs one hundred seventy-six times in the Pauline writings, thirty-six times in Ephesians alone."[4] Although scholars count these occurrences somewhat differently, depending on the version or translation used, it must be agreed by all that "in Christ" is the cornerstone and foundation of Paul's theology. The New English Bible (1961) approached the meaning of this incredibly important phrase with the rendition "believers incorporate," missing it only in the identity of the corporation. It is not believers incorporate, but Christ incorporate. For additional comment on Jesus Christ, Inc., see my Commentary on Romans 3. Also, there is a summary of the salient features of this incorporation at the end of this chapter.

[1] Francis Foulkes, Tyndale Commentary, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 43.

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961), p. 26.

[4] D. A. Hayes, Paul and His Epistles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 393.


Verse 2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The linking of the Saviour's name with that of the Father as the source of grace and peace indicates the apostolic certainty of our Lord's oneness with deity itself.

Grace and peace ... "Grace" with variations was a typical Greek greeting, and "Peace" was a Hebrew greeting. Paul combined the two, with his own genius for improving both of them and expanding their meanings. In the Christian concept, grace is not merely "cheerio," but the joy unspeakable flowing outward to people from the fountain of God's gracious and overflowing love, forgiveness and mercy, and that without any merit whatever on the part of people. Peace is not merely the tranquillity and equilibrium of a soul in harmony with the Creator, but the word also anchors and symbolizes one of the great value judgments of Christianity, namely, that peace is better than war. As Martin noted, "This same greeting is found in all of Paul's epistles, though the word mercy is added in the Pastorals."[5]

PEACE IS BETTER THAN WAR

So deeply ingrained in the fabric of Western civilization is the basic Christian concept of peace being better than war, that there are many who are seemingly unaware of its origin and of the Christian roots that sustain it.

Whence came the idea that peace is better than war? The native civilization of North America certainly subscribed to no such principle. Modern tyrants like Hitler and Mussolini both expressed a preference for war, consciously choosing for themselves and their nations what they thought to be the advantages of war. That they were able to do such a thing came about through their rejection of the teachings of the Bible. It is the word of God alone that creates and binds upon people the judgment that peace is better than war. Such a view is absolutely incompatible with unregenerated humanity. The first poem ever written glorified the crime of murder (Genesis 4:23); and humanity, apart from the holy Scriptures, has invariably adored and elevated the ruthless mass-murders and spoilers of the human race. Take the Bible away, and people will automatically revert to pillage, plunder, rape and bloodshed in the same manner as the sow returns to her wallowing in the mire. The preference for peace is not a desire that flows out of unregenerated hearts; but it comes from the benign influence of the Prince of Peace, who constantly challenges people and makes them ashamed as they move over grotesque moonlit battlefields at night, covering the faces of the dead as they advance. It is the light that shines in the Bible that allows people to see the atrocious ugliness of war. Such a value judgment is implicit in the glorious words of this Pauline salutation.

It is not a denial of this truth which is indicated by the extensive and widespread acceptance of the superior blessings of peace on the part of men, generally, throughout the world; but that acceptance is evidence that the whole civilized world still remains, partially, within the perimeter of Christian influence. Should that influence continue to be abated and eroded, reversion to the old value judgments will follow.

ENDNOTE:

[5] Alfred Martin, Wycliffe Bible Commentary on the New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), p. 725.


Verse 3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Every spiritual blessing ... There are no spiritual blessings of any kind whatever, other than "in Christ." As Bruce said, "Paul here struck the keynote of Ephesians at once. The writer and his readers are `in Christ,' members of Christ, sharers of his resurrection life."[6]

In heavenly places ... MacKnight gave the meaning here as "in the Christian church";[7] and, although the blessings "in Christ" are certainly those in his spiritual body, which is the church, it seems evident that more is intended here. As Bruce expressed it, "Christ is exalted to the heavenly realm, and thus those who are `in him' belong to that heavenly realm also."[8] This remarkable expression occurs five times in this epistle (Ephesians 1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12) and nowhere else. The expression was evidently used by Paul to convey the idea that the totality of all blessings of a spiritual nature and having eternal value are to be found exclusively "in Christ."

With this profound verse, Paul began a doxology which runs through Ephesians 1:14, composed of one long complicated sentence "impossible to analyze, in which each successive thought crowds in on the one before."[9] Some of the grandest and most perplexing words in the vocabulary of Christianity are used in it, such as adoption, redemption, foreordained, heritage and sealed.

[6] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 27.

[7] James MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles and Commentary, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 258.

[8] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 27.

[9] Francis Foulkes, op. cit., p. 44.


Verse 4

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love.

Inherent in this is the fact of God's calling and electing people before the foundation of the world; and very few theological questions have demanded more attention and interest than this. Clearly revealed in this is the fact that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world for the purpose of taking out of it a people for himself and redeeming them unto eternal life was no afterthought on God's part. Before the world was ever created, the divine plan of the Son of God's visitation of the human family existed in the eternal purpose of God. That body that Christ would gather from the populations of earth is destined to receive eternal life; because what God purposes is certain of fulfillment. Such a calling and election of those "in Christ" to receive eternal glory, however, is not capricious. Every man may decide if he will or will not become a part of it and receive the intended blessing.

Before the foundation of the world ... All attempts to get rid of the plain meaning of this phrase have been futile; for, as Bruce said:

Whatever be the interpretation of Genesis 1:2, it is certain that [@katabole] can mean nothing but "laying down" in the sense of "establishing" or "founding"; the phrase used here and in ten other New Testament passages is unambiguous and denotes the creation of the universe.[10]

In love ... standing squarely between Ephesians 1:4 and Ephesians 1:5 may in fact belong to either, scholars being sharply divided as to where, exactly, it belongs. If it goes with Ephesians 1:4, it would refer to the love of God for those whom he will redeem from sin unto eternal life. Both thoughts are fully in keeping with the scriptures; and, from the involved nature of Paul's sentence here, it might even be inferred that he intended a double meaning, true either way it may be read.

Holy and without blemish ... The thing in view in this is perfection, and it is incorrect to read it otherwise than as descriptive of the state of being "in Christ." These words apply to those whom "God chose ... in him," as stated in the first of the verse. Of course, there is the ethical intention of God to change the moral character of people in order for their lives to conform more and more to the perfect and holy standards of the will of God; but this verse is not an affirmation that Christians achieve such holiness and perfection, but a declaration that they are credited with it! How? That is the fundamental question of the ages. See below:

THE PERFECTION OF CHRISTIANS

The requirement of Almighty God was bluntly stated by the Lord himself in the Sermon on the Mount: "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). This is the master imperative demanding perfect faith, perfect love, perfect obedience and perfect holiness. This eternal demand of the Father upon the part of those who would be his children has never been repealed. Jesus referred to this when he said to the rich young ruler, "If thou wouldest be perfect, go sell ... etc." (Matthew 19:21). Significantly, the rich young ruler was unable to "keep" all of the holy commandments; and that failure is the highlight of that episode. Christ found no man upon earth who could keep them all. All of the apostles were weak and sinful men; Christ found no perfection in humanity.

The personal ministry of Christ, the writings of the apostle Paul and the universal experience of man reveal the inability of any mortal ever born to achieve perfection and to stand clothed with his own merit and without blemish before God himself! This being true, how can the perfection God demands be accredited to people?

There are a number of ways in which it may not be accredited: (1) It is not accredited by God's merely scaling down the requirements of holiness and perfection. The ethical and moral requirements of Christianity are higher and stricter than the Law of Moses, because the intention and motivation of men are considered. (2) It may not be accredited through any man's achieving it. (3) It may not be accredited upon the basis of what any mortal man ever believed or did. Man in his own identity, man as himself, is wicked and sinful; and absolutely nothing that sinful man can ever believe or do can change that. In his own identity, he can never be anything else except sinful and wicked. The most preposterous heresy of all ages is that a wretched sinner can "believe in Christ"; and BINGO God accredits that stinking sinner with RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PERFECTION! The New Testament does not have even a suggestion of such a doctrine in it.

Before any man can be saved, he must renounce himself, get rid of his own identity in the sense of its ever being perfect. As Jesus put it:

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 16:24,25).

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it (Mark 8:34,35).

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23,24).

Deny ... This is one of the strongest words in the Greek New Testament. There is a weaker form, also translated "deny," but it is [@arneomai]; this word, translated "deny" in the above passages, is [@antilego], a much stronger word; and Vine's first definition of it is: "To deny utterly, to adjure, to affirm that one has no connection with a person, as in Peter's denial of Christ."[11] The meaning of our Lord is thus clear enough, a man must not predicate his hope of eternal life upon anything connected with himself. The faith that saves is not of sinners but of Christ.

How is the sinner's identity renounced? (1) He confesses, not himself, or how saved he is, or how blessed he is, or what God has done for him; he confesses not himself but Christ! A lot of so-called "witnessing for Jesus" in these times is no such thing. It is, on the contrary, a witnessing of the prideful egotism of persons who are obviously glorying in how wicked they were and how gloriously they are now saved! Is the old identity of the sinner renounced or forsaken in such a "confession"? Indeed no; the last ugly details of the old life are dragged in and made a part of the confession; and the confession itself is not a confession of Christ but a confession that one is already saved!

(2) Identity inevitably involves a name; and a change of identity means a change of name; nor did any man ever deny himself until he had accepted the name of Christ. The Great Commission as recorded by Matthew required that people of all nations be "baptized into the Name," there being revealed no other way by which one may lawfully wear it. In his baptism, the person who would be saved renounces himself to be buried out of sight completely in the water. It is precisely this that makes the God-given ordinance of Christian baptism repulsive to many people and many churches who have no intention whatever of ever denying themselves!

(3) Through faith, repentance and baptism "into Christ" the penitent rises to walk in newness of life (a new identity), being no longer himself, but Christ. As Paul stated it: "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). Here then is the secret of that perfection required of all whom God will receive. It is the perfection of Christ, not of Joe Doakes, nor of any other mortal in his own identity.

What kind of righteous perfection, then, is in Christ? It is total and complete. Christ's life was sinless, perfect, beautiful, holy, undefiled and glorious. The righteousness of Christ is not relative but absolute like that of God; and that is the only righteousness that could ever save any person. How may sinners acquire it? How may such righteousness be accredited to mortals? Since true righteousness has never been identified with but one single, unique Person in the history of the whole world, salvation is achieved in the only way possible by identifying the sinful mortal with Christ who is righteous, and upon the prior condition of the sinner's renunciation of himself. This is accomplished by transferring the sinner "into Christ," not by transferring Christ's righteousness into sinners. The post-Reformation theory that proposes to make sinners righteous through God's transference of the righteousness of Christ into sinners is impossible of any intellectual, moral or practical acceptance. To identify the righteousness of God with any person who had not achieved it would be immoral. Calling wicked sinners righteous does not make them so (no matter what they believed or did); but the acceptance of Christ (with all members of his spiritual body) as righteous is based upon the sinless perfection of the Son of God. Paul summed it all up in one glorious word:

"That we may present every man perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28). It is precisely that perfection that Paul had in view in the above verse where he spoke of being "holy and without blemish"!

[10] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 28.

[11] Vine's Bible Dictionary.


Verse 5

Having foreordained us into adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

Under Ephesians 1:4, it was noted that the phrase "in love" may logically be referred to this verse also, as in the RSV. The KJV, English Revised Version (1885), and RSV use three different words for the action described in this verse, as follows:

"He predestinated us ..." (KJV).

"Having foreordained us ..." (English Revised Version)

"He destined us in love to be his sons through Christ" (RSV)SIZE>

Theologians have tried for ages to make something hard out of predestination; but the meaning is not difficult. God designed the whole creation to accomplish the fulfillment of the plan which existed before creation. That is a simple definition of it. It applies to human beings, planets, galaxies, everything God ever made. Regarding people, God's purpose in creating man was that he might become a Son of God through Jesus Christ. That is the destiny God intended for every man ever born on earth. Stars and galaxies may not oppose or thwart their intended destiny; but with people, there is another factor, the freedom of the human will, enabling people to hinder or even prevent the fulfillment of God's purposes in their lives. For further study of this, see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 8:29.

The subjects related to this verse are commented upon much more extensively in Romans than will be necessary here; but one primary truth should be reiterated, namely that God in designing the creation of man with the express purpose of making people his sons through Christ would most certainly not have created people in such a manner that the highest happiness of them could be achieved in the service of Satan rather than in the service of himself!

Adoption ... is used here to describe the acceptance of sinners into the family of God. This is thought to refer to a Roman rather than a Jewish legal custom. It is only one of many words that describe the relationship Christians receive when they are converted. Thus, they are "the temple of God, the family of God, the bride of Christ, the vineyard of the Lord, the church of the firstborn, and (as here) the adoption." Each of these different terms describes some special and significant feature of the "new creation." The word adoption seems to stress the fact of the Christian's privileges in God's family being totally undeserved and unmerited, just as an abandoned and forsaken child may be taken into a family by adoption, such a legal action bestowing upon the child all of the rights and privileges of that family without regard whatever to any merit of the child. Also, there is another suggestion in the fact of an adopted child's being of a different kind (that is, a different family) from that into which it is adopted. A glimpse of primal truth is here. Adam was created in God's image; but he begat a son "in his own image" at a time after he had become an outright servant of the devil. The contamination that has come down from that disaster is extensive and fundamental. Although any such thing as total hereditary depravity is nothing but a theologian's nightmare, those unregenerated "Adamites" who descended from the great progenitor are essentially bastards with regard to God's family, until they shall be "born again." The term, meaning the same thing, is here "adoption."


Verse 6

To the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the beloved.

The initial triple phrase recurs as in a refrain in Ephesians 1:12 and Ephesians 1:14. The Father is the source of blessing here, the Son in Ephesians 1:12, and the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:14. It would appear that Paul built up this type of phrase to extol and praise God as the giver of all blessings.

Freely bestowed on us in the Beloved ... In the KJV this is "He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." "The verb here is the same verb used in Luke 1:28, and nowhere else in the New Testament."[12] Of the greatest significance is the past tense, not perfect, indicating that God's action in making people accepted is not a continuing operation. Sinners are not acted upon continually and individually as they may believe in Christ; the great enabling charter of all human redemption has already been granted, sealed and delivered. This tremendous reservoir of divine grace has already been given "in the Beloved," that is, "in Christ." Through the gospel, people are called to believe the truth and to be baptized into Christ; and the human response to that invitation determines destiny.

The significance of this same verb being used in the Annunciation to Mary, and nowhere else in the New Testament, lies in the fact that, as in the case of the blessed Mary, who was "full of grace" in the sense of grace received, not grace to bestow; so it is with God's church, it is the recipient, not the dispenser of God's grace.

In the Beloved ... This was probably an ancient messianic title, corresponding to "Son of his love" (Colossians 1:13), and "my Beloved" (Mark 1:11). The great truth here is, as Bruce said, "That all the blessings which are ours by God's grace are ours in Christ; there is no way apart from him in which God either decrees or effects the bestowal of his grace on men."[13]

[12] Alfred Barry, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 17.

[13] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 30.


Verse 7

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

In whom ... that is, "in Christ," carrying the great truth that the blessings enumerated in this epistle belong exclusively to those who have been "baptized into Christ," there being absolutely no other way mentioned in the New Testament through which any man may dare to fancy that he is "in Christ." If there is any other way to be in Christ, someone should cite the New Testament passage which tells sinful people what it is, because it is clear enough that many are spurning the manner of being united with God "in Christ" through faith, repentance and submission to God's ordinance of baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27).

Redemption through his blood ... The New Testament presents the blood of Jesus Christ as the purchase price of the church, the grounds of redemption and the great atonement (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Colossians 1:14). As Foulkes said, "Such redemption is found in Christ, not merely through him, but by men coming to live in him."[14] As pointed out earlier, this also means denying oneself and receiving identity with Christ as Christ. See under Ephesians 1:4.

There are two fundamental teachings in regard to the great sacrifice for human transgression paid by Jesus our Lord upon the cross, which appear in this passage: (1) the concept of a ransom paid in order to deliver, and (2) the idea of sins forgiven, remitted, taken completely away. Jesus Christ himself described his earthly mission in respect of both of these, "giving his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28), and "shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). "The word Paul used here for "forgiveness" is [@afesis], used by him in only two other passages (Romans 4:7; Colossians 1:14). It means `letting go,' not 'exacting payment for'."[15]

According to the riches of his grace ... The supply of grace is one of surpassing richness, fullness and over sufficiency. "Abundant entrance" will be granted to the redeemed (2 Peter 1:11).

[14] Francis Foulkes, op. cit., p. 52.

[15] Willard H. Taylor, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), p. 154.


Verse 8

Which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence making known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him.

Which he made to abound ... This reference is to the "riches" just mentioned, "wisdom and prudence" being among the great blessings "in Christ." The difference in wisdom and prudence is this:

Wisdom: This is knowledge that sees into the heart of things, which knows them as they really are.[16] It is the ability to see the great ultimate truths of eternity.[17] It more nearly approximates our word "insight.[18]

Prudence: The three scholars just cited also defined this word as "the understanding which leads to right action," "the ability to solve the problems of each moment of time," and "wise conduct."

Neither wisdom nor prudence is merely a matter of an IQ. The only true wisdom and prudence are revealed from God through the sacred Scriptures. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."

The mystery of his will ... The New Testament use of the term "mystery" is not very closely related to the modern use of the word, conveying instead the meaning of "a secret once unknown, now revealed." Mackay called it "God's unveiled secret."[19] There are many mysteries referred to in the New Testament, but that in view here is the "great mystery" (1 Timothy 3:16), embracing in its fullness the total sphere of God's dealings with his human creation. Various phases of this great mystery appear to be in Paul's thought in the dozen New Testament passages where he mentioned it. Here the mystery is God's infinite purpose of summing up all things "in Christ," mentioned in the next verse. This writer has published a dissertation on the subject of "The Mystery of Redemption"; and reference is made to that for those who might be interested in a further pursuit of the subject.[20]

[16] J. Armitage Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (London: Macmillan Company, 1903), p. 30.

[17] William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 96.

[18] Willard H. Taylor, op. cit., p. 154.

[19] John Mackay, God's Order (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1953), p. 59.

[20] See under Abbreviations.


Verse 10

Unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; IN HIM, I say.

We have taken the liberty of capitalizing the phrase which dominates this entire epistle. One may easily imagine that Paul here made some emphatic gesture, as he dictated these words, or raised his voice in repeating these dynamic key words of the New Testament. Any failure to get the full meaning of being "in Christ" is to forfeit all hope of understanding that part of the New Testament written by the apostle Paul.

Dispensation of the fullness of times ... Although "dispensation" is a word normally connected with a servant's administration of the affairs of another, "Here it is applied to the disposal of all things by God himself, according to the law which he has set himself to do all things by."[21]

Fullness of times ... This is a reference to the fact that God scheduled all of the events of time and history, whether sacred or profane, in advance. The first Advent of Christ (Galatians 4:4), the events of our Lord's ministry (John 2:4; 17:1), the resurrection of the dead (John 5:28), the eternal judgment (Acts 17:31), the rise, growth and subsidence of nations (Acts 17:26), and the Second Advent of Christ with the summing up of God's total purpose in him, as glimpsed in this verse - all things move according to the cosmic schedule of God himself. Colossians 1:16-20 and Philippians 2:9,10, are similar to this passage.

Sum up all things in Christ ... The view in this letter is nothing less than universal; as Hayes said, "The word all occurs in this epistle fifty-one times!"[22] Paul is thinking of the ultimate total and complete victory of God in Christ over all evil. Amazingly, Paul's writings leave no doubt that there are implications and results of that victory which far transcend the affairs of mortals. "Things in heaven and things upon the earth," as well as things "under the earth" (Philippians 2:10) shall finally recognize the authority and dominion of Christ and confess his name to the glory of God.

Foulkes noted that "This verse has been used as the keystone of the doctrine of `Universalism,' to the effect that all people shall be saved in the end."[23] Nothing in the passage, however, supports such a view. Indeed "all things" shall be compelled to acknowledge the authority and glory of the Son of God; but Jesus himself spoke of certain ones in the final judgment scene who indeed acknowledge him as "Lord," but who shall not enter into life (Matthew 7:21-23).

A practical deduction from this was made by Martin thus:

Since Christ is preeminent in God's purpose in the whole universe as well as in the church, the individual who does not have Christ preeminent in his life is entirely out of harmony with the purpose of the Father.[24]

[21] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 18.

[22] D. A. Hayes, op. cit., p. 388.

[23] Francis Foulkes, op. cit., p. 53.

[24] Alfred Martin, op. cit., p. 727.


Verse 11

In whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.

In this Paul seemed to have the calling of the Jews as a chosen people in mind, because the "we" in this place contrasted with "ye also" of Ephesians 1:13 is usually understood as a distinction between Christians of Jewish origin and those of Gentile origin.

In whom ... Even the purpose of God in the calling of Israel in the Old Testament had respect to the fulfillment of God's purpose in Christ. Evidently Paul intended to bring into view here the fact that even the choice of Israel was not the totality of God's plan, but only a part of it, which from the beginning included also the bringing of the Gentiles to receive his mercy and grace and become a part of the same inheritance, or heritage, along with the Jews.

Foreordained ... See discussion of this under Ephesians 1:5.


Verse 12

To the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ.

Unto the praise of his glory ... The great purpose for which God created men is that of glorifying God. The catechisms used for ages often begin with this very fact. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has this: Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.[25] See more on this under Galatians 1:5.

Who had before hoped in Christ ... This is generally interpreted to mean that the Jewish dispensation looked to the coming of Christ, hoping for the deliverance that he would bring. Anna and Simeon are representative of those who did this; but, despite the popularity of this explanation, there is also the glaring possibility that the clause might very well be a qualifier of them who shall be "unto the praise of God's glory," the same being limited to those, and only those, who had before that future event, laid hold upon the hope in Christ. Even if we agree with the vast majority of the scholars who interpret it differently, it must be admitted that the alternate understanding suggested here does no violence to the truth.

ENDNOTE:

[25] Ibid., p. 726.


Verse 13

In whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation - in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.

In whom, having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit ... (English Revised Version).

In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit ... (KJV).SIZE>

This very interesting discrepancy between the English Revised Version (1885) and the KJV reveals the error in the English Revised Version (1885). It is not a mere case of choice of words. The two versions teach different things, and there is no way both of them can be correct. The KJV rendition shows that the sealing of the Holy Spirit of promise took place in those "in Christ" at some point in time "after" they had become believers in Christ; but the English Revised Version muddles the meaning, leaving the possible interpretation that the "sealing" took place coincidentally and at the same time of their believing. In the general sense, of course, if "believing" is understood as the whole complex of actions involved in conversion (faith, repentance, confession, and baptism), no error is implied; however, "believing" or "faith" as used in the limited, technical sense of the theological jargon current today, is alleged to be something apart from being baptized into Christ. That this is a false view is evident since both versions reveal the sealed persons to be those "in Christ"; and since no one was ever "in Christ" except by being baptized into him, the true meaning shines through despite all efforts to hide it.

Bruce made a big point out of the fact that the participle "having believed" here is identical with the same words in Acts 19:2, where the English Revised Version rendition is "when ye believed."[26] But, of course, the ERV missed it in both places; and the device of proving one false rendition by a second false rendition cannot prove Bruce's notion that the sealing and believing were "coincident in time." Those believing in Acts 19:2 had not only failed to be sealed with the Holy Spirit at the time they became believers, they never were sealed until they were Scripturally baptized! (Acts 19:5).

Moreover, it is exceedingly significant that in the case of the Holy Saviour himself, the Spirit did not descend and remain upon him until after he was baptized. Why, then, should it be thought strange that the blessed Holy Spirit of promise in view here is exactly that mentioned by Peter on Pentecost, the promise that belongs to all of those in all times whom God shall call unto himself? - why should it be thought strange that that girl of the Holy Spirit was promised only to believers who would repent and be baptized?

It is amazing how commentators cite a dozen other New Testament passages searching for the "Holy Spirit of promise," all of them apparently never having heard of Acts 2:38,39! It is a positive certainty that if the "promise of the Holy Spirit" in that passage does not connect with Paul's reference to the "Spirit of promise" here, then nothing in the New Testament does!

ENDNOTE:

[26] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 36.


Verse 14

Which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.

THOUGHTS REGARDING THE EARNEST (GUARANTEE)

The meaning of "earnest" as used here is exactly the same as that intended by the use of the word today to refer to a partial payment tendered as a guarantee that the full amount promised will be paid in the future. The earnest of the Holy Spirit is given to Christians by the Father in heaven, or by Christ (it is true both ways), as a pledge of the ultimate reception of the redeemed souls into eternal fellowship with the Father in heaven.

The earnest is always merely a token, not any large share of the amount guaranteed. Those receiving the earnest of God's Spirit are not thereby commissioned to throw away their Bibles and start "walking by the Spirit"! Regarding the New Testament teaching of what this gift is, what it does for Christians, and what it is not, and some of the synonyms by which it is called in the New Testament, see under Galatians 5:22ff.

The "love, joy and peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, etc.," which mark the true Spirit of promise in Christian hearts are here considered to be one in kind with the joys of the redeemed in heaven. The Christian life, faithfully lived, is itself the beginning of the heavenly adventure.


Verse 15

For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show to all the saints.

Heard of the faith ... among you ... Beare said this is "fiction, and not specific," and tried to prove it by a distorted quotation, or paraphrase, "The saints who are faithful (Ephesians 1:1) have faith!"[27] His words are cited here not as any worthy testimony whatever against this letter, but as a clear demonstration of the partial, warped, biased and prejudiced exegesis by which some critical scholars seek to maintain their ridiculous theories. What about the words, "AND THE LOVE YE SHOW TO ALL THE SAINTS"? IS that not a specific? Beare ignored this, but in doing so he discredited his exegesis.

Another critical blow aimed at this verse is this: Almost the exact parallel of this verse is in Colossians 1:4, addressed to a church Paul has never seen. The same words here addressed to the recipients of this letter must therefore mean that Paul had never seen them! Which means, of course, that it is not Paul's letter to the Ephesians, where he had spent three whole years! Such a deduction, however, cannot be intelligently supported, because Paul used almost exactly these same words, and certainly the full thought of them, in Philemon 1:1:5, to one of his own converts.

Thus, it is clear enough that Paul did not mean in this verse that he had heard "for the first time" of the faith and love of the Ephesians, but that he had heard such things of their members following the time when he had worked among them.

This verse is the beginning of a prayer Paul penned on behalf of his addressees, running through Ephesians 1:22.

ENDNOTE:

[27] Frances W. Beare, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. X (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953).


Verse 16

Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.

Several things about prayer are evident in this specimen. First of all, Paul did not cease to give thanks for his converts. The constant, never-failing supplications of Paul for the beloved in Christ cannot fail to impress any thoughtful person. Paul never forgot to pray for others. In the second place, thanksgiving was a prominent, invariable element in all of Paul's prayers that have come down to us. Whatever the circumstances, he always found something to be thankful for.


Verse 17

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

David Lipscomb pointed out that just as the God of the ancient Hebrews was "the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob; to Christians, God, is the God of our Lord Jesus."[28]

MacKnight accurately discerned the meaning of this verse thus:

The apostle did not pray that God would give to all the Ephesians the knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel, by an immediate revelation made to themselves; but that he would enable them to understand the revelation of these doctrines which was made to the apostles, and which they preached to the world.[29]

There is still a need for Christians to pray that God will help them to understand the revelation of the sacred Scripture, because most of its marvelous teachings require more than a little application and serious study to be clearly understood.

[28] David Lipscomb, New Testament Commentaries, Ephesians (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1939), p. 31.

[29] James MacKnight, op. cit., p. 269.


Verse 18

Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

The eyes of your heart enlightened ... This was a prayer by Paul that God would give true spiritual discernment to the Ephesians. "Both Plato and Aristotle spoke of the `eye of the soul'."[30]; and it is this human faculty that Paul had in mind.

Nothing can bless people any more than sensitivity to spiritual truth. It is a sad fact that people may hear the glorious news of the salvation in Christ until it no longer arouses any emotion at all in their hearts. The joyful personal news that "my immortal soul has been redeemed from sin and death and that I myself, even I, shall be received into heaven itself by Christ the Redeemer to enjoy through endless eternity the bliss and rapture of everlasting glory" - God grant that our hearts may never be insensitive to such a message. How can this earth which is so much with all of us, but which like ourselves is designed to perish, and which is unable to supply the deep needs of our souls - how can this earth come to be everything to men, and the hereafter nothing? God help people to tune their hearts to hear the Christ speaking across centuries of time to every soul, "Come unto me ... I will give you rest."

ENDNOTE:

[30] Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 629.


Verse 19

And what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places.

These two verses set forth the power of God, with Paul using a succession of very strong words to describe it. Beare describes these thus:

[@Dunamis] means the ability to accomplish, the cognate verb means "I am able."

[@Energeia] means power to work, not mere potential power but active power.

[@Kratos] means the power that rules, has dominion, especially over rational beings.

[@Ischus] means inherent strength, or might. It has more to do with potential, intrinsic might, whether active or not.[31]SIZE>

Significantly, the climax, the very ultimate demonstration of God's power, was cited by Paul here as the resurrection of Christ. That is the act above all others and beyond all others that shows the unlimited power and ability of God to do all that he has promised to do for his children. Without the resurrection of Christ, the Christian gospel is stripped of all credibility and relevance for man; and that is why Paul never forgot to include it in the very heart of every message and every letter. As Markus Barth said, "If we kept silent about the resurrection, we would not be speaking of God."[32]

This reference to the ascension of Christ "is a declaration by inspiration of the fact recorded in Mark 16:19."[33] While it may be true as Wedel said, that "The modern church makes very little out of the ascension of Christ,"[34] there can be no doubt whatever that the early Christians made everything of it, as indicated by Paul's dramatic emphasis of it in the closing lines of this chapter.

[31] Ibid., p. 632.

[32] Markus Barth, The Broken Wall (London: Collins, 1960), p. 48.

[33] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 270.

[34] Theodore O. Wedel, The Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), Vol. X, p. 633.


Verse 21

Far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus Christ spoke of "all authority" in heaven and upon earth having been given unto him; and exactly the same teaching is here. Besides ten passages of the Greek New Testament which flatly refer to Jesus Christ as God, there are at least a hundred others such as this one which convey exactly the same teaching. Of what mere mortal could it be said the he sits above "all rule and authority and power and dominion ... not only in this world, but in that which is to come"?


Verse 22

And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

It is not merely the fact of Christ's universal, eternal power which Paul affirmed here; the significant thing is that he is the head of that community of men and women on earth called "the church" who are his body, his spiritual body, having an intimate and eternal connection with the all-powerful One who is actually the "head" of that spiritual body. Thus the apostle Paul glorified and elevated the church of Jesus Christ in a manner that staggers the imagination, even yet. People who make little of the church on earth know nothing of what Paul taught. The amazing prepositional phrase "in Christ" that so permeates and dominates his New Testament writings can be nothing at all unless it is the church; and, although the ultimate meaning goes beyond that, for all practical purposes in the present times, it is synonymous with it.

Theologians find it very difficult to accept the implications of Paul's teaching on this subject, Bruce, for example, pointing out that "In those earlier epistles, Christ is not viewed as the head of the body ... Paul compared an individual believer to the head (1 Corinthians 12:21)."[35] However, it was a physical body that Paul used as the basis of comparison in 1 Corinthians 12; and it is a spiritual body of which Paul is speaking here. It is an extra-literal, that is, not literal, body, like that of a legal corporation which is recognized by law in every country on earth as a legal person. That is what is meant by "the body of Christ."

JESUS CHRIST; INCORPORATED

The New English Bible (1961) translated "believers incorporate" (Ephesians 1:1) and "incorporate in Christ" (Ephesians 1:13), thus recognizing that an extra-literal body, called an incorporation, is indeed certainly apparent in the whole chapter; but the New English Bible is profoundly wrong in making it belong to the believers! No! The believers belong to it! Christ, not the believer, is the corporation.

The Pauline conception of the spiritual body of Christ existing as the heavenly device by which mortals may be "in Christ" was not "evolved" or "developed" by Paul as many allege. It appeared in its totality in one dazzling burst of glory on the Damascus road where Paul suddenly learned that all he was doing to the church he was in fact doing to Christ. The Pauline expression "in Christ" makes no sense at all except as a reference to the spiritual body which is the church; and, although Paul used that expression thirty times in Ephesians, he also used it about one hundred forty times elsewhere. It is extensively used in Galatians, the first of his letters, and extensively used in the letters of his last imprisonment. Take this concept out of Paul's writings and absolutely nothing is left:

Christ is the head of this corporation.

The identity of it is Christ, no sinful mortal being able on his own identity to enter it. He must deny himself.

All of the riches of Christ are in this "body."

All of God's righteousness is in it.

Every spiritual blessing is in it. (This is to be understood superlatively to include salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, etc., absolutely all spiritual blessings.)

Those who are in Christ are perfect, not in their merit, but in the merit and righteousness of Christ.

Christ keeps the books on this corporation, laying down rules of entry, terms of membership, and doing the "adding" to it of any who may qualify. All such regulations and information are in the "little book" of Revelation 10, the New Testament.

Like all good corporations, Christ's has a seal, that of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), promised to all believers upon condition of their repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38,39).

In the New Testament, no other means of coming into this corporation, that is, being "in Christ," is revealed except that which is taught by Paul and Jesus alike, namely, by being "baptized into Christ" (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13). For all who insist that they can be "in Christ" by some other action, a reminder is in order, that the corporation is not theirs, but Christ's.

As being in Christ, of Christ, and in the Scriptural sense actually Christ, Christians have already died to sin (that is, paid the penalty of sin) in the body of Christ; they are resurrected with him in the new life "in Christ," "risen with him," even exalted to eternal glory "in him," this latter thing, of course, being potential and not actual now, but sure to be actual later.SIZE>

This is only a little summary of the immense theological implications of the "spiritual body of Christ"; a little fuller discussion has been included in this series in my Commentary on Romans, chapter 3. One additional thought, as regards justification, the ultimate and final ground upon which God declared people to be righteous and deserving of no punishment: the Pauline doctrine of "salvation in Christ" places the ground of justification totally in Jesus Christ.

Except in the secondary, limited and lower-level use of "justification" to enumerate steps of primary obedience, as when Peter said, "Save yourselves, etc.," nothing that a sinner can either believe or do "saves" him. He is saved, not by himself, but by Christ. When Paul says he is justified "by faith," it is not the sinner's faith, but Christ's which is meant. Paul reiterated the thought four times in the first letter that he ever wrote that people are saved by "the faith of Christ" (see notes on Galatians). In that other, and secondary sense of what saves people, there are surely things that every man must both believe and do if he would enter into life (see discussion of The Law of Christ, under Galatians 6:18).

ENDNOTE:

[35] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 44.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ephesians 1:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/ephesians-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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