Yesterday’s encounter with Dr. Michael Brown was very interesting. My goal had been to provide an opportunity for the listeners to compare and contrast the exegesis of the text offered by both sides of this important issue. While that was accomplished to some extent, what ended up happening was more of a contrast of differing methods of exegesis itself, which surprised me. If we had been discussing, say, the resurrection, or the deity of Christ, I doubt there would be any difference at all in the approach. There is value, of course, in this observation, as I have always said that consistency is vital, and if your methodology differs from topic to topic, this is a sign of the intrusion of an extra-biblical tradition. I leave that to the listener to decide.
In any case, the contrast was strongest in our discussion of John 6, followed by Romans 8-9, and was the least divergent in our discussion of Ephesians 1. But in each situation, an over-riding concept became the norm of interpretation, a concept I believe derived not from the contextual exegesis of the text itself. This was especially the case in reference to John 6, where I do not believe a contextual exegesis was offered by Dr. Brown. Likewise, the “corporate election” concept over-rode the direct words of Ephesians 1 as well, in my opinion.
Next week will be even more problematic, for Dr. Brown has chosen texts that are not overly disputed on the exegetical level. What they mean is not really difficult to determine. The issue is the application of the text in a systematic way. And while such discussions are useful, it will not fulfill my specific goal for an explicitly exegetical discussion. Instead, we will have to move away from the specific texts to larger areas of interaction, which is pretty much what we did on Dr. Brown’s show as well. So, when we talk about the “all” passages the question will not be “what does the text say” but “does ‘all’ always have a universal application,” which it clearly does not, of course. Or if we talk about 1 John 2:2, the issue will not be “does this teach that Jesus’ death is propitiatory” but “what does propitiation mean” and “does emphasis upon the extent of the atonement indicate it is intended to propitiate the wrath of God against every single human individual, past, present, and future?” Likewise, in dealing with Ezekiel 18 the question will not be “what does the text say” as much as “do we have warrant to take this text and extend it to a canon-wide concept that overthrows the plain teaching that God’s decree will be accomplished and He will be glorified therein?”
A few things caught my attention yesterday, though I did not comment on them at the time (we really had to focus given the time limits). One was Dr. Brown’s comments on Ephesians 1:11. What struck me, and others, was his use of the Message and the New Living Translation as supports for his denial that this text encompasses the entirety of God’s sovereign decree. Their “rendering” (I use the term loosely) of the text are as follows:
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. (The Message)
Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. (The New Living Translation)
The Message, of course, is not a translation at all, and the NLT is really stretching it to use the term “translation” in its name. Despite this, the NLT is still accurate in having “he makes everything work out according to his plan.” But scholarly translations are consistent in their rendering of the text:
having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (NASB)
since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (NET)
having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; (ASV)
having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (ESV)
being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, (NKJV)
predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, (HCSB)
having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, (NRSV)
The underlying text is not overly difficult to translate. The apostle tells us that this predestination, which had been mentioned in verse 5 (a predestination that is clearly personal in nature, as is shown by the personal direct object), is not the result of fatalism. It is not an arbitrary thing. It has a sound basis, that being the purpose or plan of God. God’s eternal decree, by which He governs the universe, stands behind this act of predestination. But to emphasize the point, Paul speaks as the prophets of old in describing the King, the God he serves. His purpose will be accomplished because of who He is: the one working “all things” according to the council of His own will. It is easy to say, “Oh, that does not mean all things, it means some things—those things outside the control of autonomous men,” but how would such an interpretation ground the apostle’s argument? In reality, such a reading would undo the apostle’s point, which has been, from the start of the argument in Ephesians 1:3, to ground the entirety of one’s salvation and status in the work of the divine will and purpose. One hardly needs to mention the depravity and slavery of man’s will (contra the concept of autonomy) in this context, for the apostle has nowhere left room for the insertion of man’s will to begin with. The consistent, contextual reading of these words provides no inherent limitation to the “all things” that lie under His power and sovereign decree. He truly does work all things after the council of His will, which is why the entirety of His work is to the “praise of His glorious grace” (v. 6).
This is the kind of exegetical discussion that I seek when pursuing this subject, for it is the consistent consideration of the argument of the Word that drives men and women to bow the knee for the King of Heaven, to whom belongs all glory and power and honor.