Ephesians 1:3-6

" Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." (Ephesians 1:3-6, TNIV)

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What he means is this: The one through whom he has blessed us is the one through whom he has elected us…. Christ chose us to have faith in him before we came into being, indeed even before the world was founded. The word foundation was well chosen, to indicate that it was laid down from some great height. For great and ineffable is the height of God, not in a particular place but rather in his remoteness from nature. So great is the distance between creature and Creator… You have been elected,” he says, “in order to be holy and unblemished before his face.” … He himself has made us saints, but we are called to remain saints. A saint is one who lives in faith, is unblemished and leads a blameless life. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians 1.1.4.(1)

John Chrysostom (344/354–407; fl. 386–407). Bishop of Constantinople who was noted for his orthodoxy, his eloquence and his attacks on Christian laxity in high places.(2)

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This may soon become a series entitled “Reading Ephesians with Chrysostom” after this opening. In all seriousness, there are a few gems in the ACCS from just these few verses, but there two really stood out to me, both from John Chrysostom.

The first thing that stood out to me was Chrysostom’s understanding of election. What I think he holds together really well is that our election is not apart from Jesus Christ, as so often happens in Westminster Calvinism (where election is a decision of the Father before the foundation of the world that can happen entirely divorced from Jesus the Christ). His line that we are blessed through the same person in which we are elected is right one. What Chrysostom seems to avoid, at least on this read, is the question of how many are elected. One might see Chrysostom taking Calvin’s view on election here, in that he’s using election as a doctrine of comfort, not as on that precedes faith (as Westminster Calvinism does). If one wanted to stretch it, more than I think Chrysostom does, you might see the beginnings of Barth’s doctrine of election (God’s choice to elect humanity through the incarnation of the Son) but I don’t think Chrysostom is quite there.

The second comment is Chysostom’s understanding of what it means to be holy. Chrysostom doesn’t say “if you do this, then you’ll be holy”, rather he understands being holy as something that we, by virtue of adoption, are given as a status, and then commanded to live into this status that we have freely been given. So no amount of human effort will bump someone up on the “holiness meter”, but that is not an excuse for “sinning that grace might abound.” Rather, those who understand what God has done for them in, through, and as Jesus Christ and are thus the “holy ones”, respond by seeking to live Spirit-empowered lives in obedience to God’s intentions for humanity.

Looking at the TNIV, I really appreciate how they translated “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” The TNIV strives for gender neutrality and could have opted to do any number of things in translating this verse. Other translations have done things such as “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ” (ESV) or “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (NRSV). Now neither of these translations are wrong per say, because the word in the Greek is uiothesian which is understood to mean “adoption” but the root is uios which means “son”. The TNIV, despite their commitment to gender neutrality accurately renders this one “to sonship through Jesus Christ.”

Now why is all this important? Jesus Christ, is by his very nature is the Son of God. Humans are not God’s children by nature but only through adoption into God’s family. But, our adoption comes through the historical action of the incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth. He, fully God, took on our flesh and became our brother and thus our representative. So, he was both the Word of God to humanity and the perfectly obedient true human who lived in full relationship with God the Father. Since Jesus the Christ was Son of God by nature and our brother, in him (and only in him) we come to share in his Sonship with the Father and thus can rightly be called “sons of God.”

Those who make an issue out of gender language might balk at the use of the word sonship, but its important to not let our human understandings of terms like “Son” and “Father” overrule that which God has revealed about himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The terms “Father” and “Son” are names which denote relationships, not gender. God the Father is not male, and God the Son is not a male God; he is only male in his humanity. So there is no difficulty in saying that women share in Jesus’ sonship with the Father because this denotes a relational term. Both men and women are fully sons of God the Father through Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.

On a side note, if you’re interested in more, all of the Early Church Fathers are available online at http://www.ccel.org in any number of formats and much of it is well worth reading.

(1) M. J. Edwards, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 8. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 111.
(2) ACCS Introduction and Bibliographic Information, Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005).

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