Ephesians 1:11 Commentary

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 is often quoted as a prooftext for divine determinism. God controls all things:

Reformed theology stresses the sovereignty of God in virtue of which He has sovereignly determined from all eternity whatsoever will come to pass, and works His sovereign will in His entire creation, both natural and spiritual, according to His pre-determined plan. It is in full agreement with Paul when he says that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His will,” Eph. 1: 11.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (p. 87). . Kindle Edition.

The phrase “who works all things according to the counsel of His will” is taken to mean “who decrees all events.” But this might be a stretch. Taking the phrase:

God works “all things” after the counsel of His will. To what does “all things” refer? Is this a reference to “everything that ever happens”? If so, why does Paul exhort his readers to “imitate God” (v5:1) or to walk worthy of their calling (v4:1). If God is controlling everything, why does Paul talk as if people have their own volition?

Perhaps “all things” refers to the things God does. When Paul becomes “all things to all men” (1Co 9:22), Paul is not saying he becomes a beach ball or a kitten. Instead he is saying that in all his interactions, he becomes flexible. In the same way, Ephesians 1:11 could be saying “in all things that God does, God gives thought.”

Another option is that the statement is limited to context, God gives thought to all things pertaining to the status of those who are in Christ. The context is assurance of salvation for believers. The themes are “adoption”, “redemption”, and “guarantee of inheritance”. The context seems specifically concerned with the eternal state of believers, and the phrase could meanly be a context limited affirmation of this theme.

God works all things “after the counsel of His will”. This phrase is also interesting. Why does God “work” “things” “after” the “counsel” of His will? In classical theism, God is timeless, and works all things timelessly, and why would a God who knows the future need to “counsel His will” before knowing how to act?

A better reading of this phrase is that when God decides to act, He does so not without thought. God thinks about what He will do before He does them. His actions have purpose and weight. This would fit the context of both God’s commitment to those in Christ, and Paul’s exhortation to walk in righteousness.

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