Which OT texts drive Paul’s statement that God saved us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1)?
Leave your answers/ideas in the “comments” section.
Filed under Old Testament
Tagged as Ephesians, Old Testament, Paul
OT texts were harder to find. I suppose God could have given him special revelation! Here are a couple of verses I came across…
Ps. 49:7-10, 15 No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him– For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever– That he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay. For he sees that even wise men die; The stupid and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others…But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah.
Is. 4:3 It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy–everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem.
Ez. 18:4 Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
Dan. 12:1 Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise and there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.
Micah 5:2, 4 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. And He will arise and shepherd His flock…In the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.
Mal. 3:16-17 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”
The NT has plenty of texts that agreed with him, like…
Mt. 25:34 Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
2 Thes. 2:13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
2 Tim. 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
1 Pet 1:20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.
Rev. 13:8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
Rev. 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction and those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.
What a great question, Josh! I love thinking about this!
Okay, two more that were inspired by 1) Randall’s prayer at church tonight and 2) a John Piper sermon.
Psalm 139:13-16 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
Malachi 1:2-3 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”
It’s an interesting question. I think it’s possible that Paul would have Deut. 7:6 and 26:18 in mind, given subject matter he is dealing with in Ephesians. Both of these OT passages describe God’s choosing as a people being brought into special union with God, and it’s the same thing in Ephesians, except that the Gentile inclusion is now in view (Eph. 2:13). The blessings in Deuteronomy give us the framework for understanding the ones in Ephesians 1.
But that still doesn’t answer the question, does it? If Paul had not said that this choosing was “before the foundation of the world,” would we still gather it from the OT? At very least, I would say that there’s nothing inconsistent involved in what Paul says, in relation to the OT idea of choosing. I’d be glad to have some help if anyone thinks of some other texts speaking to this idea.
When I read Josh’s question, the first Old Testament scripture that came to mind was Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. … Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” This text speaks of a time in eternity past when God ‘made’ David. The passage is the groundwork for the above affirmations such as “you discern my thoughts from afar.” Does Paul have this in mind in Ephesians 1. I think the general concept is in mind for sure, but I don’t think this is the specific passage. Why? As much as I want it to be, it doesn’t carry salvific undertones. Yes, an Old Testament believer, David, wrote this, but he’s not talking about salvation. So where does it come from?
Its interesting that “chosen” is qualified by “before the foundation of the world.” Andy, I thought of the Deuteronomy passages as well, but when you look at them closely, the basis of the election is grounded in the covenants. Of course, these could be in Paul’s mind, and its likely the ‘election of Israel’ was at the forefront of his mind when he was writing Ephesian 1, just read Eph. 2:11ff.
The greek term here is ‘eklegomai’ which means to ‘gather to oneself’ and only secondarily, to choose. Its Hebrew equivalent is ‘bahar’ which, is very very common. It is used in the Deuteronomy passages, which can give more support to Andy’s contention above.
The language of “choosing” is especially associated with Israel corporately and David specifically. For Davidic ‘choosing’ passages, see Ps. 78:70; 2 Sam. 6:21; I Kgs 8:16. Are these what Paul had in mind? Possibly, but I think not. Why? Well, the context of Ephesians. Paul does not argue for inclusion of Gentiles in Ephesians 2 on the basis of Davidic promises (although these are brought up in the latter half of Romans 4). He argues on the basis of the promises given to the “commonwealth of Israel.” Thus, I think its wise to think of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy is linked with most directly with Israel’s history. The repeated death of Moses and appointing of Joshua in the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Joshua gives strong historical continuity between the two.
Further, Deuteronomy is the book where Israel receives the promises. Deuteronomy is Moses retelling the law and the covenants to the second generation of Israelites right before they cross the Jordan and enter the promise land. In their mind, and in Paul’s, obtaining the promises of God were associated with “entrance into the land.” So, in my best estimation, although I have a gut feeling that Josh is thinking in Isaiah (he has translated it from the Hebrew), I think Paul is thinking of Deuteronomy.
However, I don’t think it’s Dt. 7. I think Deuteronomy 10:12-22 is a better fit. Why? Well, I am no scholar on Deuteronomy, but I see this as one of the central passages in the whole book. Listen to the reason that Moses gives for Israel to obey God, v. 14-16a, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD has set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumsize therefore the foreskin of your heart…” Moses grounds Israel’s election (their ‘choosing’) in the earth’s ownership of creation. One automatically recalls Genesis 1-2. Then there is this lovely conjunction ‘yet.’ God owns the whole whole world, yet, he has chosen you. This contrast heightens the undeserved character of the choosing. Its exalting God to show the greatness of His election.
This is exactly what Paul is doing in Ephesians 1, “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” The ‘choosing’ clause is surrounded by these phrases “heavenly places” and “before the foundation of the world.” This looks similar to Deuteronomy 10. God is high and lifted up, he reigns in the heavens, YET he chose us. A similar conjunction is used here in Ephesians 1, “EVEN as he chose…” This even serves the same function as the YET in Deuteronomy 10. God sits in the heavens and in light of that greatness, he still “EVEN” chose us! and for what? This is what really links them together for me. Why did he choose us? To be holy and blameless and to be his adopted sons. He chose us so that we would be like him and that we would receive the inheritance. In Deuteronomy 11:1 and 10:12 Israel is commanded to obey and fear God and to even “walk in his ways.”
Last, its important to note the strong adoption language in Deuteronomy and in Ephesians. Their is a focus on sonship throughout all of Paul’s theology that is clearly based on the Old Testament. In Exodus, Moses tells Pharoah, “Let my SON go…” This imagery is picked up in Deuteronomy and thus, I think Paul is broadly thinking of the Exodus and requirements of the law. I welcome any refutations, sorry I wrote so much, I had to prove my point.
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