“Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). 

Let’s first note verses 1 through 9 and all the verbs expressing God’s blessing, electing/choosing, predestining, freely giving, lavishing the “riches of His grace,” “making know the mystery of His will,” obtaining an inheritance, etc. have God as the subject of the verbs (doing the actions) and man as the direct object (e.g., hēmas, “us”- receiving the actions).

 

Second, in 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “God has chosen you [humas] from the beginning for salvation….”). We have been claimed as God’s own possession within the context of our being chosen “in Him,” as seen in Ephesians 1:4-5. The phrase, “obtained an inheritance” is from the Greek term, klēroō. Used here, the term literally denotes receiving or giving a heritage or inheritance, or “the idea to allot, to assign in the sense of a privilege.” The TDNT[1] defines the term as, “an ‘appointment’ or ‘determination,’ which affects men in their being. It is also the goal, which is assigned to them in their calling. The term is exemplified in the OT signifying Israel as God’s klēros—namely, His heritage.

 

“Having been predestined according to His purpose.” The verb “predestined” also appears in verse 5. The term “purpose” is from the noun, prothesis—from pro (“before”) and tithēmi (“to place or set”). Thus, lexically, “to set or place before, for a particular purpose, predestined purpose” (see also in Rom. 8:28; 9:11; 2 Tim. 1:9). Additionally, the term is used to denote the setting forth of the consecrated bread in the temple before the Lord (Mark 2:26; Heb. 9:2).

“Who works all things after the counsel of His will.” The verb translated, “accomplishes” is energountosfrom the verb energeō, which is a compound word from ergon (“work”) and the preposition en (“in, by”), which intensifies the verb. The literal translation of the participle would be, “working, energizing, operating” (see the usage of the same verb at 1 Cor. 12:6; Eph. 2:2; and Phil. 2:13 [twice]). Hence, God is energizing all things after the council of His own will.

“All things.” The Greek reads, ta panta, “the all things.” Note that the article (ta, “the”) and adjective (panta, “all”) are in the neuter gender, thus denoting “the all things” inclusively. The same neuter phrase is used in Colossians 1:16-17: 16 “For by Him all things [ta panta] were created – all things [ta panta] have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things [ta panta] hold together.” Along with these passages, John 1:3, 10; Hebrews 1:10-12; and 2:10, robustly present, as Paul did, the Son as the agent of creation—namely, the Creator of all things. God is the ultimate cause of all things. There is nothing that exists outside of the category of ta panta, “the all things,” which God causes, ordains, decrees, and energizes after the council of His own will.

 

“After the counsel of His will.” The term “counsel” is translated from boulē. Here the term expresses the divine plan, purpose, and intention of God—namely, “according” to His sovereign counsel and predetermined purpose. Note Acts 2:23, which contains the same term (boulē), “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined PLAN [boulē] and foreknowledge of God.”

The one article (“the”) before the first noun (“plan”) and not the second (“foreknowledge”) grammatically shows that God’s “foreknowledge” is established in His hōrismenē boulē (“predetermined plan/decree”). In other words, “God’s decrees are not based on Him simply foreknowing what human beings will do; rather, humanity’s actions are based on God’s foreknowledge and predetermined plan” [2] (esp. Rom. 8:29-30). In fact, the same noun (boulē), with the same force, is used in Acts 4:27-28:

 

27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your PURPOSE [boulē] predestined to occur.

 

 Totally Sovereign Over All Things

What does sovereignty mean? Sovereignty simply means absolute control. Scripture presents that everything that happens, or that has happened, or that is going to happen is independently ordained and determined by God in that He has absolute control of all things. He doesn’t need to consult or ask permission from anyone, nor is He limited to anything outside of Himself. He acts to bring about His plan and nothing will, nor is able to, thwart it (Isa. 46:10-11).

 

So, because God “works [energizes] all things after the counsel of His will,” both good and evil then is likewise controlled by God, since evil is under the category of “all things” (Gen. 50:20; Isa. 53:4; Lam. 3:38; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28). As we saw with the crucifixion, many things God ordains does involve sin, but always for a higher good (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:28).

 

For example, God is Sovereign over,

 

  • All creation (Isa. 54:5; Dan. 4:17, 25; John 1:13, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:10-12; 2:10).

 

  • All calamities (Isa. 45:5-7; Amos 3:6).

 

  • All earthly authorities (Deut. 4:35, 39; Isa. 37:16; Dan. 5:18, 21; Hag. 2:22).

 

  • Man’s life, death, sickness, and disease (Deut. 32:39; Exod. 4:11 [cf. also John 9:1, 12:39-41]; 1 Sam. 2:6-7; Job 13:15; 14:5; 42:11; Ps. 139:16).

 

  • Evil (Prov. 16:4; Lam. 3:38-39).

 

  • The slavery of Joseph (Gen. 45:7; 50:20).

 

  • Samson’s marriage to the Philistine woman from Timnah (Judges 14:1-4).

 

  • Eli’s wicked sons (1 Sam. 2:22-25).

 

  • Judas’ betrayal of Christ (Matt. 26:23–25; 27:9-10; Luke 22:21–22; Acts 1:16, 20).

 

  • Our eternal destiny (John 6:37-39; 10:15; Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 9:6-23; 2 Thess. 2:13).

 

It is God who puts men to death, gives them life—on His own prerogative (Deut. 32:39; Luke 10:20-22; John 5:21—[note in this passage that raising the dead and giving life to them are accomplished by both the Father and the Son]; 12:39-41; Rom. 9:16-24; etc.).

 

Arthur Pink rightly observes:

“It is strange, yet it is true, that many who acknowledge the sovereign rule of God over material things will cavil and quibble when we insist that God is also sovereign in the spiritual realm. But their quarrel is with God and not with us. We have given Scripture in support of everything advanced in these pages, and if that will not satisfy our readers, it is idle for us to seek to convince them.”[3]

 

How do Christians who do not embrace the full sovereignty of God pray for their lost loved ones? A prayer for the lost that is not based on God’s immutable, irresistible grace and power in salvation would be an impotent and ineffectual prayer, which would set man as the ultimate cause of one’s eternal destiny and not God.

 

The notion that God leaves the final decision of salvation in the hands of sinners is solidly against the biblical teachings both on the nature of man and on the doctrines of grace (Jonah 2:9; Luke 10:21-22; John 5:21; 6:37-40; 10:15, 25-28; Acts 13:48; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:7-8, 29-30; 9:16-23; 1 Cor. 1:30-31; Eph. 1:4-5; 2:8-10; 2 Thess. 2:13 et al).

 

God “works all things after the counsel of His will.” YHWH speaks of His absolute sovereignty in Isaiah 46:8-11:

 

“Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9 “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; 11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”

 

Again, Godworks all things after the counsel of His will.” What an assuring passage! “All things”- means just that. All things are in the control and hand of God, the unchangeable Creator, and not in the hand of His creatures. Therefore, we are comforted in knowing that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Only because God is undeniably sovereign can the commands in Philippians 4:6-7 be so encouraging:

 

6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

  • Psalm 34:8-10: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

 

  • Romans 8:37, 39: “But in all these things [viz. referring back to vv. 29-30] we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us!

 

  • Hebrews 13:5-6: 5 “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” 6 so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’”

 

Whether pandemics, personal calamity, victories, losses, or any other thing, – let us never lose sight of the sovereignty of God over “all things”— so Paul glorifies God in saying, nothing in all creation “will separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord!” (Rom. 8:39).

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Notes

[1] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Gerhard Kittel et al.).

[2] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.

[3] Arthur Pink, Sovereignty of God, “Difficulties and Objections.”

John 3:16

Universal Invitation or Promise to the Elect?

 

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Problem: Although John 3:16 is arguably one of the most frequently quoted passages in the Bible, it is one of the most misapplied and misinterpreted passages in the NT. Basically, the problem is two-fold: 1- Coming to the text with the presupposition of universal atonement (i.e., Jesus’ atoning cross work was for every single person, but for no one in particular). Thus, many “traditionally” quote the KJV mistranslation of the Greek adjective pas (“all/every,” which the KJV renders as “whosoever”). 2- Along with pas, a universal meaning is also imposed on the term kosmos (“world”).

 

The following are some main features of John 3:16 and the surrounding context, which are key in attaining a correct understanding of the passage.     

 

  • Greek rendering. Houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon hōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken, hina pas ho pisteuōn eis auton mē apolētai all’ echē zōēn aiōnion – literal rendering: “To this extent, indeed, loved the God the world, that the Son, the one and only, He gave, in order that every one believing in Him not should perish, but shall have life eternal.”

 

  • The context actually starts in vv. 14-15 dealing with the snake in the wilderness (cf. Num. 21:6-9) with which Nicodemus would have been familiar. The particularities of the event are contextually interrelated with John 3:15-16. Note a few contextual facts: I, the bronze serpent was the only means of healing/deliverance for “only” God’s people (the Israelites), which relates to trusting in the Son as the only means of salvation, II, verses 14-15 read, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Verse 15 contains the Greek conjunction hina (“that”) signifying a purpose and result clause. Thus, the purpose of the Son’s cross work (being “lifted up”) was for the result of every one believing in Him will have eternal life.

 

  • The affirmation of God’s redemptive love to everyone believing. The extent of God’s love is shown by His sending His Son into the world, to the ones believing, and give them eternal life.

 

  • Houtōs. Although most translations translate the Greek adverb as “so,” a literal and more accurate translation would be, “in this way, in this manner, in such a condition, to this extent”—to express the actual result. Hence, the love of God is demonstrated in the giving of His Son in order to bring about the eternal life of believers.

 

  • Kosmos (“world”). Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by Arminians, kosmos is presumed to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of a universal atonement.However, many who misinterpret kosmos are unaware that in the NT, kosmos has over a half of dozen clearly defined meanings. It can denote every single person (cf. Rom. 3:19); non-believers (cf. John 1:10; 15:18); believers (cf. John 1:29; 6:33; 12:47; 1 Cor. 4:9); Gentiles, in contrast from Jews (cf. Rom. 11:12); the world system (cf. John 12:31); the earth (cf. John 13:1; Eph. 1:4); the universe as a whole (cf. Acts 17:24); the known world (i.e., not everyone inclusively [cf. John 12:9; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:5-6])—the point is this: only context determines the meaning of kosmos. 

    Although kosmos can have various meanings, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning. For example, we know that the “world” in verse 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love. In first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles—as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19). Contextually, then, in verses 16 and 17, kosmos (and the adjective pas, “all/every” as discussed below) is clearly comprised of all or every one believing, both Jews and Gentiles (same as John 1:29; 12:47; etc.).

 

Again, the Arminian universal understanding of “world” and “all” in verse 16 would make verse 17 endorse universalism (i.e., all of humanity [world] will be saved). It is true that God intends to save the “world” through His Son, but it is the “world” of the believing ones that He saves—namely, “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Eph. 1:4-5); men “from every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); “all that the Father gives” to the Son (John 6:37-40, 44); it is the world for whom the Son dies and “gives life” (John 6:33) and “takes away” their sin (John 1:29)—as the surrounding context (vv. 14-15 and vv. 17-19) indicates. It would be biblically untrue to read into kosmos a universal (all of humanity) meaning.

 

  • Pas ho pisteuōn (lit., “every one believing”). As mentioned, many use the mistranslation of the KJV (“whosoever”) to assert the view of a universal non-definite atonement. However, the phrase in Greek teaches no such thing. Rather, it is a promise of eternal life to all the ones doing the action of the verb, that is, the present active participle, pisteuōn, “believing”—“Everyone now believing” has eternal life.

 

  • The Greek adjective pas (as in pas ho pisteuōn) means “all/every.” First, there is no idea here that indicates a universal undefined invitation to salvation, as many assume. Second, it is incorrect to translate pas as equaling “whosoever”— as in “whosoever will believe,” rather than what is stated in the original: “all, everyone who/whoever is now believing.” In fact, most modern translations accurately render the phrase pas ho pisteuōn as “whoever believes” (NKJV, NASB, NIV); “everyone who believes” (NLT, Holman, NET); or, and most literal, “every one who is believing” (Young’s lit.).

 

  • Pisteuōn (lit., “believing”). The verb here is a present active participle—denoting a present ongoing action—“believing.” In John’s literature, present active participles (on-going actions) are normally used in soteriological (salvation) contexts to denote the life of a true Christian (e.g., John 5:24; 6:35, 47, 54; 1 John 5:1, 5). Grammatically, the adjective pas (“all/every”) modifies the participial phrase ho pisteuōn (“the one believing”). As noted, both verses 15 and 16 contain the same participial phrase: pas ho pisteuōn (lit., “every one believing” or “all the believing ones”).

 

Verse 17- Hina- (“that”). “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” If one were to stay consistent in maintaining the notion that “world” in verse 16 refers to a universal “all” without exception, then he would have to accept a notion of universal salvation in verse 17.

Syntactically, the beginning of the sentence contains the postpositive conjunction (gar, “for”- “For God so loved the world”), which carries an explicative force to the continuation in the previous verse (hina, “so that”). The postpositive carries the meaning of “truly therefore, the fact is, indeed.” It is a “particle of affirmation and conclusion” (Thayer). Next, notice the adversative conjunction (alla, “but”) and a purpose and result conjunction (hina, “so that”). The adversative conjunction demonstrates a contrast (“but, rather”) or an opposing idea. The postpositive clearly conjoins the contextual meaning of “world” in verses 16 and 17—it cannot be semantically divided.

In fact, the postpositive (“for”), the adversative conjunction (“but”), and the purpose and result conjunction (hina, “that”- lit., “in order that”) appear in verse 16.[1] Hence, the literal rendering would be, “Therefore, the fact is, God did not send the Son into the world for the purpose of judgment (condemnation), rather, for the result of saving the world.”  

 

In 1 John 4:7-10, John himself provides an excellent commentary of John 3:16:

 Both (John 3:16 and 1 John 4:7-10) speak of God’s love, the sending of His Son, and how the sending of His Son is a manifestation of God’s love, specifically in verse 9:

  • John 3:16: “For God so loved the world.”
  • 1 John 4:9: “By this the love of God was manifested in us.”

 

  • John 3:16: “He gave His only begotten Son.”
  • 1 John 4:9: “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.”

 

  • John 3:16: “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • 1 John 4:9-10: “so that we might live through Him. . . . but that He loved us and sent His Son to bethe propitiation for our sins.”

As mentioned, the term “world” in 3:16 (meaning the world of Jews and Gentiles) is not a universal statement. 1 John 4:9 clearly affirms this meaning: “The love of God was manifested in us.” The “us” to John is identified in verse 7: “Beloved, let us love one another” – (Christians, both Jews and Gentiles).

 Summary:  

  1. The meaning of kosmos (“world”) in verses 16 and 17 is defined by the context: “all the ones” doing the action of the verb (“believing”)—i.e., both Jews and Gentiles. To suggest that “world” in verse 16 carries the meaning of “every single person,” would necessarily imply universalism or inclusivism in verse 17.  

 

  1. The KJV rendering, “whosoever” is an inaccurate translation of the Greek phrase, pas ho pisteuōn (lit., every one believing”).

 

  1. The adjective pas (“all/every”) grammatically modifies the verb (“believing”), all, without limit, the ones believing. Thus, in biblical contrast to the Arminian traditional understanding of verse 16 (viz. a universal atonement), verses 15-17 is God’s infallible promise, through the cross work of His Son—to provide eternal life to all the ones believing in Him. To them alone, He manifests His love by saving them.

 

  1. The Arminian interpretation of John 3:16 is generally based on a traditional understanding and not an exegetical one._______________________________________________________________________________________________
    Notes 

[1] “For [gar] God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that [hina] whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but [alla] have eternal life.”