The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Ephesians 4:6

This is part of my Exegetical Compilation series which can be found here.

Ephesians 4:6: St. Paul says here that there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”, a standard Jewish description of God Most High’s ontologically superiority to creation (which Paul gladly recognized among pagan philosophers, too). For some non-universalists, especially among the Calvinists, the issue here is whether Paul is saying God is only the Father of those He elects to save from sin, or whether Paul is talking about a merely creational fatherhood that has nothing in the least to do with salvation from sin which would be an entirely different fatherhood (though admittedly dependent on the ontological fatherhood). Universalists, and most Arminians, would regard this as a false distinction: God’s ontological fatherhood of all is exactly the ground for God’s saving love and actions toward all sinners. Calvinists, and universalists, would then however complain that Arminians turn around and (accidentally) deny or throw away this important ontological point when trying to explain why God changes His mind about (or otherwise intentionally stops acting toward) saving some sinners from sin, or is outright defeated in His salvation by some sinners. (Calvs and Kaths would also complain that most Arms are tacitly denying this salvific importance of universal ontological fatherhood in regard to rebel angels, holding instead to a Calvinistic limited election after all while supposedly denying it.)

Is there any evidence immediately or locally around Ephesians 4:6 to point in one or the other direction? The fact that St. Paul insists on this Fatherhood immanently as well as transcendentally is, I think, important: God is not merely transcendentally the personal creator over all, but acts as Father through all and in all: {dia pantôn kai en pasin}. Do the two different ways in Greek of saying “all” mean anything? Not intrinsically, they’re both just different forms of {pas}, with {pasin} being the dative form proper to the preposition “in”, and {pantôn} being both the genitive form which silently implies “of” by itself and the accusative form proper to the other two prepositions “over” and “through”.

The term either way could mean a totality of all, or some of all types. But a denial that the term means the totality of “over all” would be a denial of supernaturalistic theism; and the grammatic construction indicates that each prepositional phrase, not only “of all”, is supposed to apply in reference to both “God” and Father". So it would be very strange for Paul to have meant that there is one God and Father of some of all types, over everything and everyone, through some of all types and in some of all types! The reference should be parallel in all cases, and coherently affirm supernaturalistic theism (if that is a Biblical doctrine which any scriptural trinitarian theist should agree with me about.)

Immediate or local context would have to be very strong to indicate otherwise. But the immediate and local context is about the assurance that Christians ought to be kind and humble and patient with one another in the bond of peace because there is one body and one spirit (or Spirit) and we were called in one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father etc. (Note that this may be personally distinguishing the Father from the Lord and the Spirit, although a confession of one Lord should be equivalent in monotheism, especially Jewish religious monotheism, to a confession of one God and Father. This is one of the evidential texts for trinitarian theism or at least for binitarianism.)

Does that local context mean Paul is only talking about God being God and Father over some, namely over Christians, thus also only “of” some and “through” some and “in” all of some (or some of all types)?

Possibly, but that would be very strange in a confession of religious doctrine based on the form of the Jewish supreme declaration of YHWH as uniquely superior to all lesser lords and gods by being self-existent and their creator and master. Still, a wide selection of Christians must have admittedly understood at least {en pasin} that way because the qualifier {hêmin} “of you-plural” was added to the text early across a wide family of text types.

(A slightly earlier and just as extensive family of texts don’t have “in all of you” only “in all”, including the only papyrus copy of Ephesians. Many early and later universalists cite the passage without “of you”, including Origen, Gregory Nyssus, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Eusebius the historian, and Didymus the Blind, plus Athanasius who at least strongly admired Christian universalists, but so does Augustine and Jerome. On the other hand, they were originally universalists as Christians and admirers of Origen along with several other universalists like GregThaum and Didymus, whom they continued to admire after rejecting Origen, so that preference may come from a phase of theirs. At any rate Metzger and the UBS editors argue that there is more reason to add {hêmin} as clarification than to delete its original occurrence. It might be reasonably replied that early universalists managed to use their prevalent influence to remove the term from the text, but that would require acknowledging Christian universalists were both early and doctrinally influential in the Church. Which they admittedly were, but non-universalists tend not to know it or prefer to admit it. Insert irony as appropriate!)

We can at least see from the addition of {hêmin} as clarification (or from its omission by conspiracy, if my reader prefers), that without such a clarification being explicitly or tacitly made, the verse would imply from the strength of its grammatic construction that God operates as Father not only as God in and through all persons, in parallel to God being authoritatively over all persons. And that, theologically, would add up to universal salvation (as the one hope of our calling into which we were called, per verse 4).

As Calvinists acknowledge, whoever God operates in and through as Father is someone God intends to save from sin; and this operation is presented as being parallel to God’s authority and ontological power as Father emphasizing the assurance of God’s eventual salvific success (sooner or later as God sees best fit to bring it about in concert with His overall planning).

But then, if God’s authority and ontological power over the total whole is being appealed to in verse 6, by grammatic construction we would normally regard this same totality being referred to in the extended claim about God being Father in all and through all: total scope of intention and action to save (as Arminians typically recognize, if not always here) as well as total authoritative and potent assurance of salvation (as Calvinists typically recognize, if not always here).

The only way out for Calvinists, ironically (since this is what they normally strive to affirm and protect over-against challenges from Arminains), is to deny that Paul is really appealing to God’s authoritative ontological potency over all creatures totally in verse 6: since that would mean Paul was referring to total intention to save from sin in other details of verse 6!

Arminians must on the other hand deny that Paul was really talking here about the scope of God’s intention and action to save sinners from sin, but was only limiting his discussion to Christians (which would not work well in Arminianism with Paul’s connection of this statement to the “one hope in which we called” back in verse 4, because Arminians especially stress and protect the hope that God intends and acts to save all sinners from sin – you can be sure that God means to save you not maybe you); or else claim Paul was switching back and forth between God being authoritatively over only some as Father but acting in and through all as Father (which would mean appealing to the greatness of God in salvation under-against a lack of God’s greatness as Father. Which, at best, would not be much of an assurance of God’s intention to save all sinners!)

These procedures are not grammatically impossible, although a division of God and Father in application to the various prepositional phrases would be grammatically impossible in this case; and a Calv or even an Arm might argue that the local context of Paul talking to and about Christians is plausibly strong enough evidence to take one or another route. My observation is that they would each be doing so against the importance of salvific assurance (original persistence or scope) that each is trying to affirm and protect.

(Despite my criticism here, I hope my reader will at least appreciate that I’m trying to be fair in favor of at least a possible non-universalistic interpretation based on at least some proper interpretative principles. I am not merely prooftexting “God and Father of all” as though that simply solves everything in favor of universalism.)

An observant reader may have noticed I haven’t yet looked at immediate and local context in the other direction, after verse 6. (Somewhat further prior, at Eph 3:14-15, Paul bows his knees before the Father from whom every or the whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name!) I do believe that this other context weighs in favor of the hope we are called into as Christians which we ought to be using our different spiritual gifts to promote not only among ourselves but evangelically among those not yet Christian – which no Arm or Calv would disagree about in principle, I suppose. But I also believe it weighs in favor of that hope being for eventual universal salvation.

The grammatic and other contextual issues are far more detailed than for this verse, though, so please refer to my commentary on Ephesians 4:8-10 for further analysis.

Members are welcome to post further analysis and discussion of this verse (4:6) below, and/or post links to discussions of it on or off site.

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Thank you for this - excellent work!

Thanks, I thought you’d particularly appreciate this entry, FLTL! :smiley:

I just finished posting up my collected notes on the subsequent several verses, too. (Link has been added to the tail of this entry.) Lots of details to chew over, but the conclusions points very strongly on its own accord toward full scope and full assurance of God’s salvation of even (in context) rebel angels! – so by its own weight pulls verse 6 here toward the same meaning of full authoritative potency (“over all”) and full salvific scope (“through all and in all”).