Salvation is not something that has already happened. It’s something happening now. But because so many people see “getting saved” as something that happens instantly, they think of it in the past tense. Everything has already been done. So when they read Ephesians 2 it seems natural that all that Paul is describing has already happened to us.
However, in the first ten verses of Ephesians chapter two Paul is saying something very important to us. But it has been obscured for three reasons.
Table of Contents
- Ephesians obscured – reason 1
- Ephesians obscured – reason 2
- Ephesians obscured – reason 3
- Not just a nice thought
- Comment on verbs and the aorist tense
- Further comment on translation of Ephesians 1:3-6
Ephesians obscured – reason 1
One reason is that translators think the aorist tense is only and always a past tense. It’s really a tense that is not limited to a particular time – past, present, future – and it is often used to refer to something that will happen in the future, because it means something that continually or continuously happens. I’ll say more about that later, with examples.
Ephesians obscured – reason 2
Another reason is in the third phrase of Eph 2:5, the one set off by dashes or in parentheses.
In some translations, including the ESV, it says “by grace you have been saved“ and in some translations, including the KJV, it says “by grace you are saved.” The same phrase is repeated at the start of verse 8.
An exact translation of that phrase as Paul has written it is not obvious. It’s an unusual construction, and the phrase appears nowhere else. Some translators have worded it very differently.
Jay P. Green, in his LITV version, translates it as “by grace you are being saved.” The word “being” is a participle, and in fact the Greek is in a participle form. The ABP+ translators recognize that too. They have “by favor you are being delivered.” Young also uses a participle. His literal translation says, “by grace ye are having been saved.” The effort he put into getting a literal translation only to come up with a construction like “by grace ye are having been saved” shows how difficult this phrase is to translate.
But Paul does make reference to being saved in other places. And his wording there is much clearer. In 1Cor 1:18 he says “to us who are being saved.”
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Both the Greek words for perishing and saved, in 1Cor 1:18, are present participles, and the translation should be as clear as the ESV has it. A few other translations try to avoid saying that we are now being saved. They are thinking in terms of once saved always saved. They don’t see that salvation is a process that takes a lifetime, and is completed only when we are resurrected to eternal life. But the clear phrasing in this verse is hard to avoid, and most translations do say “to us who are being saved” or similar wording.
Even the GNB says it that way.
In 2 Cor 2:15 he mentions “those who are being saved” and “those who are perishing.”
Then there is 1 Cor 15:2
1 Cor 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 1Co 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
So salvation is not something that has already happened. It’s something happening now. But because so many people see “getting saved” as something that happens instantly, they think of it in the past tense. Everything has already been done. So when they read Ephesians 2 it seems natural that all that Paul is describing has already happened to us.
Ephesians obscured – reason 3
But there is another reason why the meaning of this passage has been lost. And it happened centuries ago, when the verses were divided. Verse 4 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,”
That is not a complete thought. Some translations have made that verse one complete sentence, and they begin the next verse as if it were a new sentence. As an isolated verse it appears to be saying that God is rich in mercy because of his love for us.
In fact, not only should there be no verse break there, but there should not be any punctuation at all before the next phrase. It should say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses,”
That is where verse 4 should end. Still not the end of the sentence, though. The subject of this long sentence is what God plans to do for us in the future, what he has started to do now as we “are being” saved. Because he loves us he intends to raise us to eternal life in the same way that Christ was raised to eternal life. And what that means is the intended subject of these first two chapters.
But when all the statements about what is yet to happen are put in the past tense instead of being left in the aorist tense (which we do have in English, though grammarians don’t recognize it) the whole passage just gets “spiritualized away” and ends up as a “nice thought” instead of a profound and detailed description of what God really plans for those of us that he intends to be in the first resurrection.
By dividing the long statement in the wrong place, and thinking that it is all about what already has been done, it ends up saying this, in the “God’s Word” version:
Eph 2:4 But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. Eph 2:5 We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness that saved you.) Eph 2:6 God has brought us back to life together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him. Eph 2:7 He did this through Christ Jesus out of his generosity to us in order to show his extremely rich kindness in the world to come. – GW
Not just a nice thought
What Paul is really saying is not just a nice thought about how nice our life is now, now that we’ve been saved. It isn’t saying we now have a place in heaven reserved for us, or that our lives now are “just heavenly.”
I will read those verses as they should be read, as Paul intended them.
(Modified ESV) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses, makes us alive together with Christ—by grace you are being saved—and raises us up with him and seats us with him in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Notice that there are two similar statements here about being both made alive and raised up. They are separated by the addition of the phrase, “by grace you are being saved.” Paul is not just saying the same thing twice in different words. The first statement is that God now makes us alive. We were dead in our sins. Now he makes us alive. Then Paul adds a brief explanation of how that happens, saying “by grace you are being saved.”
This is the same thing he explains in Galatians 2:20 and other places.
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Then he says in the next verse, “I do not nullify the grace of God.”
Here in Ephesians 2:5 he just says that God “makes us alive together with Christ.” The same thing he says in Galatians 2:20, but in fewer words.
Continuing with Eph 2:5 to 7, Paul says, “and raises us up with him and seats us with him in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” This is not something he has already done. We will be raised up at the resurrection, when we will be with Christ at his return.
Continuing in verse 8:
Eph 2:8 For by grace you are being saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepares beforehand, that we should walk in them.
He is doing the work. We are his workmanship. But we are created for good works which he is now preparing for us to do in the ages to come.
And what is grace? It’s by grace that we are being saved. As Paul shows in 2 Cor 12:9-10, the word not only implies favor or benefit, but also refers to the power of Christ to accomplish his will. That is how we “are being” saved.
Now, what happened when Jesus was raised from the dead? That was explained in the first chapter of Ephesians. Here is a brief quote from that statement: “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” Eph 1:19-20
Compare that to Eph 2:6, where Paul says of us that God “raises us up with him and seats us with him in the heavenly places” Eph 2:6
What happened to Christ when he was raised from the dead is what will happen to us when we are raised from the dead. In all of chapter one, through these first ten verses of chapter two, Paul is telling us what our future will be in the ages to come, and why we were called now instead of later. When he says “in the ages to come” or “the coming ages” he means the two remaining ages, the Millennium and the following 100 year judgment period. If we are in the first resurrection, then we will take part in what God will be doing in those ages.
So here are the relevant verses in chapter one, with slight amendments.
Ephesians 1:3-23 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessing us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
[The word “places” is not in the Greek. It could imply “things” instead. Remember that Matthew usually says “the Kingdom of heaven” instead of “the Kingdom of God.” So the phrase heavenly things could mean Godly things. The Greek actually says “the heavenlies.” So “the heavenly” essentially means “that which is heavenly.”]
4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5) he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8) which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. [The repeated word “things” in verse 10 is added, and certainly not needed. It refers to a plan to unite all “persons,” not all things.]
11) In him we have obtained [or “we are allotted”] an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12) so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
[In saying “we who were the first to hope” in verse 12 Paul seems to be speaking of himself and others who first brought the gospel to Ephesus. They understood what God’s intentions are for all of “us.” The “us” he has already used in earlier verses referring to all who believe and are sealed with the Holy Spirit, as he says in verse 13. But it is the reason for “hope” that made those who first had that hope able to express “the praise of his glory” to others.]
13) In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14) which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
[Notice two things here. When Paul says “you also” he is speaking to the people in Ephesus who heard the word from those who were the first to hope. Verse 14 states plainly that we have not yet acquired possession of our inheritance. So when the ESV, in verse 11, says “we have obtained an inheritance” that obviously is a mistranslation. That phrase in verse 11 is aorist. It should say “we are allotted an inheritance.”]
15) For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16) I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18) having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
[As he said in verse 12, those who brought the gospel knew what that hope is. Now he is praying that the believers in Ephesus would be given that same knowledge by revelation, being enlightened, knowing what that hope is, what the inheritance is, why they were called. That is the subject of the letter.]
19) and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20) that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. [The word “one” is not in the Greek. The KJV just says “in that which is to come.” ]
22) And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [Both verbs are aorist.]
23) which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. [both verbs are present tense]
Starting in verse 18, he says “the hope to which he has called you” and “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” He then compares the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,” which results in that inheritance, with “the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead,” resulting in his inheritance. It is the very same great power that raised Christ which will be raising us. In describing his inheritance the ESV uses these words: “he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” In describing our inheritance the ESV uses these words: “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Referring to Christ, Paul uses both the past tense and the aorist tense in this way in Eph 1:19-20: “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked (past tense) in Christ, raising him from the dead (aorist participle) and setting him at his right hand (aorist participle) in the heavenlies.”
In Eph 2:6, in referring to us, he uses different words that emphasize a relationship with Christ. The phrase “together with Christ” is carried over from verse 5. So verse 6 actually says, “and raises us up together (aorist) and seats us together (aorist) in the heavenlies. That is, together with Christ. The verse then ends with the words “in Christ” or “through Christ,” meaning that God works through Christ to raise us together with him.
It is in “the coming ages” that we will be doing the “good works” which God is now preparing beforehand for us, showing the “riches of his grace in kindness toward us.”And who are we, that we have been chosen for that purpose? Now we can go back to the first 3 verses of chapter 2 to answer that question.
Eph 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins Eph 2:2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience Eph 2:3 among whom we all [We all. Including himself and others who brought the gospel to Ephesus.] once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
“Like the rest of mankind.” That is why we were chosen for this purpose. Essentially we are representative samples, who are just like everyone else. In First Corinthians Paul says, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1Cor 1:26-29)
He does not say “none” are wise, powerful, or of noble birth. He says, “not many.” The great majority called are none of those things. In the ages to come “he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” As examples to the rest of mankind, to prove to them that the same thing is possible for them also.
During the Millennium, we will be “called the children of God,” as we do the “good works” that God is now preparing for us to do, bringing peace to the world.
Matt 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God – ESV
Matt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. -KJV
John says, ” Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)
Those who are now called and chosen to be among the 144,000 are already the children of God, but the world doesn’t know it yet. The world does not call them the children of God yet. That’s why is is stated in the future tense in Matt 5:9.
John says that when we are resurrected we will be like him, we will see him as he is. Jesus is now God, just as the Father is God. God the Father is infinite. Jesus is infinite. To see him as he is, we would have to become infinite too. The same power that raised Christ will be the power that raises us. John says it in one verse. Paul explains it in two chapters.
Comment on verbs and the aorist tense
I’m not saying that it is always possible to know the precise meaning that Paul intends for every verb he uses. Or always possible to express that plainly in English. In fact there is an example of this in verses 3 and 4 of chapter one of Ephesians.
Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (ESV)
In verse 3, the verb G2127 is translated either “has blessed” or “blessed.” In verse 4 the verb G1586 is translated either “has chosen” or “chose.” So they are translated the same way in English. Yet they are in two very different forms in the Greek. While both are aorist, the first is an active participle, and the second is middle indicative. So, did God choose each of us individually before the world was, or did he make a decision at that time to call a certain number of individuals in this age, without knowing in advance who they would be?
I think it may be that the difference in form in the Greek, entirely unexpressed in English translations, is that before the world was, he made a decision for himself, as part of a long-term plan, to call a certain number now. A reflexive implication of the middle voice might suggest that he was making a choice then for himself, for his own purposes. (The middle voice does not have to be reflexive, though. I’m just saying it could be.) But Paul may have used the active participle form of “bless” in verse 3 to express the idea that God is blessing of us now for our benefit. That is, that there is nothing unique or special in any one of us. He is blessing us by calling us for that purpose now, but he could have called someone else instead. And I think that implication is expressed in the next few verses.
By the way, even though the aorist verb in verse 4 is clearly referring to something in the past, it is still in aorist form. It really is very seldom that the aorist form is used that way, compared to present or future timeframes. But if you change the word order in English, you can see how it is aorist when thought of that way. Think of it as relating an explanation of what happened long ago by putting yourself in that time. That is what Paul is doing. In English the wording would be, “seeing that before the foundation of the world he chooses us that we should be holy and blameless before him.” That’s English aorist. (I found the phrase “seeing that” in Thayer. Could also be “just as” or “since,” as well as the “even as” used in the ESV. KJV has “according as.” ) By using aorist in both verses he is bringing together the decision made before the foundation of the world and what is happening now to us as one complete thought. Predestination does not mean that we as individuals were chosen before the foundation of the world. It means that at that time the plan was made that would have individuals called now for that purpose, so it was predestined that we would be called and chosen now.
Further comment on translation of Ephesians 1:3-6
Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us [Or is blessing us. It is aorist participle, after all.] in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [The word “places” is not in the Greek. Could imply “things” instead. Or just “that which is heavenly.”]
4) even as he chose us in him [The addition of “in him” could explain why Paul uses the middle (often reflexive) voice.] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5) he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
( Notice that the ESV translators have realized that the last 2 words of verse 4 belong in verse 5. The ISV, GNB, and GW have also. Murdock actually shifts part of verse 5 into verse 4. Young sets off the two words with commas so where they belong becomes ambiguous. It shows that sometimes translators do notice when verses are divided in the wrong place. But they didn’t seem to notice it between Eph 2:4 and 2:5.)