Bible Study in Ephesians #1 – Featuring BibleWorks 9

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Throughout the Fall so far, I’ve been leading our church care group in a study through the book of Ephesians, using BibleWorks 9 to prepare myself with some in-depth study of the book passage by passage. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to post a handful of articles demonstrating how I use BibleWorks to prepare for Bible studies.

In our care group discussion this week, we took a break from Ephesians and dealt with the question one of kids posed about predestination and free will. We talked about the implications of the Bible’s teaching that God is sovereign over everything (yes, I mean everything). As discussion went back and forth, lots of questions came up (are we just robots? is God responsible for sin? does it matter if we try to live morally? etc.), and one verse that proved helpful was Acts 2:23.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Some people argue that God foreknows things, like when someone commits murder, but does not plan such things. This verse says otherwise. Notice the words in verse 23, “definite plan and foreknowledge”. This means God had a plan and foreknew the outcome. I think it is fair to say that the highest peak of all human sin and evil in history was the event of the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God. So if that particular murder was the culmination of both God’s foreknowledge and His “definite plan”, then the same logic can be applied to every lesser act of sin and evil in history. Particularly since Jesus died “for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). If God planned and foreknew Jesus’ crucifixion, then surely it is illogical to conclude that He planned and foreknew Jesus’ death but not the sins for which Jesus died? Would God have planned Jesus’ death if it might have turned out to be unnecessary? What if no one had sinned? Would God have cancelled His plan for Jesus to die? Ahhh… but Jesus’ death was not only according to God’s plan, but also according to God’s foreknowledge. So God knew when He made His plan (speaking humanly) that people would sin and that Jesus’ death “for sin” would therefore be necessary.

But why then did God just simply plan for people NOT to sin at all? Or why, if God foreknew that people would sin, did He create them anyway? Well, He did foreknow, and He did still create people. So the only remaining question is, “did God plan for people to sin?” We have seen that pushing the question back in history does not actually avoid the implication: If God planned for Jesus to die for sin, He therefore also planned to create people who sinned. And if He planned to create people who sinned, He planned to send His Son to die for our sins. And therefore, He planned for Jesus’ to die “for sins” before people sinned; before He created people; before He created anything.

Out of curiousity, I did a BibleWorks search on the Greek word, prognosis, translated in Acts 2:23 as “foreknowledge”. My bet was that most uses of this word in reference to God’s foreknowledge would show in context that God’s foreknowledge was also according to His plan. This is important to establish as we begin to look into Ephesians, since that little book kicks off with a bang on the subject of Divine predestination and sovereignty. How we interpret “predestination”, “foreknowledge” and “election” in Ephesians 1 will influence much of what we understand in later chapters.

Prognosis occurs twice in the New Testament as a noun (Acts 2:23 and 1 Pe 1:2). I found this out by using the BBW “search on Lemma” tool. This gives me all occurences of the root of the noun, regardless of case, etc. So does the use of prognosis in 1 Peter 1:2 support the thesis that God’s foreknowledge is rarely mentioned aside from His plan and purpose?

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Reading carefully, you can see that the phrase in verse 2, “according to the foreknowledge of God” is modifying the nominal phrase, “elect exiles”. In other words, Peter is saying that the “exiles” are “elect… according to the foreknowledge of God”. The word “elect” in both Greek and English refers to God’s choice, His election. So God “chose” the exiles “according to His foreknowledge”. The presence of the idea here that God was choosing and electing people proves that God had a purpose and plan and that His foreknowing was not merely passive in 1 Peter 1:1-2.

But to carry the point further, there is a possible objection here that needs to be answered. Some might want to argue that God’s choice here is the cart being pulled along by the horse of God’s foreknowledge. In other words that God looked into the future, saw what these exiles would do, want, choose, believe, etc., and thefore chose them for their future obedience. Fair enough: the words “according to the foreknowledge of God” can definitely be taken that way. But–and this is a big but–if we read more carefully in verse 2 we see that this cannot be the case: notice the words, “…for obedience to Jesus Christ”. That is, these exiles to whom Peter wrote were “chosen”, “according to God’s foreknowledge” “for obedience to Jesus Christ”. The purpose, or at least one of the purposes, in the mind of God behind His choice and foreknowledge was that these exiles would one day be obedient to Jesus. So their obedience to Jesus cannot have been the ground of God’s choosing and electing of them, but rather God’s choice and election of them has to be the ground and cause of their future obedience.

This is really the crux of the debate between Arminius’ doctrine of salvation and Calvin’s. It is the question of whether God foreknows and predestines and elects those whom He knows will one day follow Christ, or foreknows, predestines and chooses people thus causing them to become obedient to follow Jesus. Both theologians believed in predestination, both believed in foreknowledge and election. Arminius argued that the obedience of Christians that God foresaw is the ground of God’s election. Calvin argued that God’s election is the ground of Christians’s eventual obedience. Because His foreknowledge was with purpose and plan. So far in Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:2, we see that Calvin’s is the more biblically faithful interpretation of these passages.

In my next post in this Ephesians / BibleWorks 9 series, I will examine the contexts of some other passages where prognosis occurs in its verb form in the New Testament, to see if my thesis can be supported in general and not just in one or two passages.

3 Comments

  1. P.S. – When I argue that God is sovereign in meticulous detail over every act of sin and evil in history, and that such things happen because of the foreknowledge and because of the definite plan (c.f., Acts 2:42) of God, I am IN NO WAY suggesting that God is morally responsible (in other words “guilty”) for sin or evil. I have dealt with this troubling question before here: http://historicism.com/blog/?p=352 

    If, after reading the above linked blog article, you still struggle with the idea that God plans and pre-decides all events but is not at all guilty of evil, please let me know by posting a comment below. I’ll try and do justice to your question or comment.

  2. Joe,

    I concur. God does not produce evil in the hearts of men. Men are evil without God’s help (no pun intended) 🙂

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on this series so far. Hopefully, after the New Year during tax season I will be able to invest in Bible Works 9. I have watched all the videos on their web site several times. I can’t wait (hopefully) to get my own copy and dig in. God bless.

    Sincerely,
    Steven Long

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