Ephesians 1:11 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Eph 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

Ephesians 1:11 might be the most popular divine determinism prooftext. God works “all things” according to the counsel of His will. A serious theologian, Wayne Grudem, writes:

Scripture frequently indicates God’s will as the final or most ultimate reason for everything that happens. Paul refers to God as the one “who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). The phrase here translated “all things” (τὰ πάντα) is used frequently by Paul to refer to everything that exists or everything in creation (see, for example, Eph. 1:10, 23; 3:9; 4:10; Col. 1:16 [twice], 17; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6 [twice]; 15:27–28 [twice]). The word translated “accomplishes” (ἐνεργέω, G1919, “works, works out, brings about, produces”) is a present participle and suggests continual activity. The phrase might more explicitly be translated, “who continually brings about everything in the universe according to the counsel of his will.”

Grudem might be making too much out of two little. He believes that adding a definite article takes a normal word (used over a thousand times in the Bible) and makes the word mean “all things in existence”. Take this passage by Paul:

1Co 9:22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things (τὰ πάντα) to all men, that I might by all means save some.

1Co 9:25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things (πάντα). Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

In this passage Paul uses “τὰ πάντα” in verse 22, but only “πάντα” in verse 25. The meaning doesn’t seem to change. Paul is not claiming to be “everything that exists” in creation in verse 22. He is not making some sort of materially different statement in verse 25 when he says “all things” without the definite article. These words are common words and used with normal flexibility.

If Grudem were correct, one would likely see the definite article used in verses such as 1 Corinthians 15:27, but it is not (“HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET”). This is a concept which finds parallel in Ephesians 1:10, the direct context of Ephesians 1:11 in which Grudem wants to make a material point on the use of a definite article. Grudem is taking an unwarranted step in logic, likely due to his need for a prooftext for his position of divine determinism.

The standard Calvinist take-away from Ephesians 1:11 meaning “God controls all things” is that prayer does not affect God. Matt Slick writes:

How is it possible for us to influence God who has always known all things from eternity? Does God interact with us in some sense of knowing what we will do and decides to do things in response? Or, does God decree whatsoever shall come to pass including our prayers, so that all our prayers are ultimately within his will? The debate within Christianity is deep. However, Scripture is clear. We know that God works “all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). This means that he includes our prayers in the counsel of his will – from all eternity. But, does God look into the future to see what we are going to pray and then decide what to do based on that? This can’t be because it would violate the sovereignty of God who does not react to man’s desires and offer “a backup plan” when he “changes his mind.” Furthermore, looking into the future to see what would happen would imply that God was learning — which contradicts 1 John 3:20 that says God knows all things. Furthermore, our prayers come from our hearts, and the Bible tells us that God “moves the heart of the king where He wishes to go,” (Proverbs 21:1)… So how do our prayers influence God when he has ordained those very prayers to occur? Again, we don’t know.

But does Ephesians 1:11 suggest divine determinism (“God decree[s] whatsoever shall come to pass including our prayers, so that all our prayers are ultimately within his will”)? Or is the scope of all things relevant to the context?

In context, Paul describes God’s plans to create a special people for Himself, cumulating in a restored Earth headed by the Messiah. The point of Ephesians 1:11 might be that God’s plans have been thought out. God is not acting capriciously or without thought. There is an ultimate purpose for what God is doing. This doesn’t mean that God does all things to ever happen. But it suggests the contrary, that things on Earth exist in opposition to God and “all” God’s acts are designed to rectify this situation.

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