Monday, September 13, 2010

Analysis, Synthesis, and New Testament Theology: Interpreting Ephesians 1 In Light of the New Testament Canon

Southeastern Seminary is offering a class this semester titled “Foreknowledge and Free Will,” being taught by a new apologetics professor (who comes from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas), the distinguished Dr. Greg Welty. Let me just say that Dr. Welty is a welcomed addition to the faculty of Southeastern Seminary. I met him this past summer while taking Dr. Ken Keathley’s Molinism class. His philosophical lecture there is one I still have notes for...and his critique of Molinism is one that I’ll never forget.

Now in my ninth semester of my Master of Divinity Degree in Christian Apologetics, I figured it was time to start finishing up my degree (just kidding!). I am in my ninth semester; but I’ve been working step-by-step towards meeting graduation requirements. My long stay here has been all about pleasing the Lord, and presenting my best unto God. I want my degree here to be something I pursued that is of eternal worth.

Since I couldn’t take the class, I decided to buy the books that the class offered. One of the books I am reading now from the course itself is “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study” by Steven C. Roy.

I’ve been enjoying the book so far. Page after page, Roy has been refuting Open Theism and its idea that God does not know future choices beforehand. Having completed about 1/3 of the book, I recently stumbled upon a quote that motivated me to write a post:

“With regard to the related passage Ephesians 1:4-5, openness theologian Richard Rice writes, ‘God elects Christians by virtue of their connection to Jesus, the principle object of election.’ In this he is following Barth’s view of election as primarily Christocentric, that God elects His Son, the Lord Jesus, first and foremost and then the corporate body of those who are in Him. But IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THE TEXT DOES NOT SAY THAT GOD CHOSE CHRIST. Rather it says that God chose ‘us’ (hemas) in him before the creation of the world. THE VERSE THUS STRESSES THE ELECTION OF PEOPLE IN CHRIST RATHER THAN THE ELECTION OF CHRIST HIMSELF” (Steven C. Roy, “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 85).

Steven Roy is right in one sense: the text does not explicitly refer to the election of Christ. Rather, it does read, “He chose us in Him,” so the text is concerned (in the immediate context) with the election of the church, the corporate people of God. To see this in the text of Ephesians 1 is to perform what is properly termed in biblical theology as “analysis.” In his article in “New Dictionary of Biblical Theology,” Brian Rosner writes:

“Biblical theology is characterized by two distinct but related activities which may be broadly described as ‘analysis’ and ‘synthesis.’ The first [analysis] seeks to reconstruct the individual theologies of the writings or collections of writings of the Bible” (“Biblical Theology,” from “New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, page 6).

Analysis in biblical theology seeks to assess a book’s message about God and man on its own terms. With analysis, a person is trying to find out Paul’s message in Ephesians. At this point, a person is not trying to consider the other books in the canon---just Ephesians. Paul has a distinct emphasis (or emphases) in the Book of Ephesians that he does not have in the other letters to the churches. Steven Roy’s words above (that Ephesians 1 is about corporate election and not Christ) is to be applauded.

However, Roy’s work falls short in that he stops at analysis! He does not continue on to “synthesis,” which is also a step in doing biblical theology. Brian Rosner again:

“This approach, called ‘pan-biblical theology’ by James Barr, is concerned ultimately to construct one single theology for the Bible in its entirety. It confronts the question: in what sense can the Old and New Testaments be read as a coherent whole?” (Brian Rosner, “Biblical Theology” from “New Dictionary of Theology,” page 6).

Synthesis involves more than what Roy did above. Roy’s work above in regards to Ephesians 1:4-5 was to exegete (pull out) what Ephesians 1 tells us about election. But Ephesians 1 is not the only and final “say-so” in regards to the Doctrine of Election. What about, for example, the New Testament’s words that Jesus is the elect one (Luke 9:35; Luke 23:35; Matthew 12:18, cf. Isaiah 42:1-4; 1 Peter 2:6)? If Jesus is “eklektos,” Greek for “the elect one,” then how can I become elect (how is the church “elect”)? This is where Romans 5:12-19 comes in: the passage itself shows all of humanity was biologically united with Adam (as Adam’s progeny) which resulted in the imputation of Adam’s sin. All of mankind is condemned in Adam; but all can be made alive in Christ. For “those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17, NKJV), there is eternal life. We must receive Christ by faith in order to be united with Him (and thus, experience election). Ephesians 5 goes on to call Christ “the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23), as well as Colossians 1:18. The phrase “in Christ,” so prominent in the first eleven verses of Ephesians 1, does not mean “chosen to be in Christ.” It simply means “union with Christ.” How does that union come about? “by faith” (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9; Gal. 2:20).

Although Ephesians 1 does not directly address the issue of Christ as the elect one and what it means to be in Christ, the rest of the New Testament does. Therefore, to just address Ephesians 1 as the only passage addressing election might produce an effective analysis of Ephesians, but it won’t result in a biblical theology which embraces all the other passages on Christ and election.

I will address the issue of election and faith (i.e., the remainder of Steven Roy’s quote above) in my next post.

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