Where Does “In Love” Belong in Ephesians 1:4?

The standard Greek New Testament, used by pastors and scholars alike, places the little phrase “in love” at the end of verse 4 so that it characterizes the holiness and blamelessness with which we stand before Christ, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love.” Those who accept this reading usually point to First Thessalonians 3:12,13 as confirmation:

12 and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; 13 so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.

Our abounding in true Christian love toward our fellow believers and all people establishes our hearts in holiness and blamelessness before God. Love causes us to stand boldly confident in all transparency in the presence of God rather than hiding from Him in shame, the reversal of our first parents’ immediate response to God’s presence after the Fall.

So, there are strong arguments for following the punctuation in the Greek New Testament. (It’s important that my readers know that the original manuscripts had no punctuation, or even spacing, so that the punctuation and paragraphing in the Greek New Testament represents the consensus among Greek scholars. The critical reader may dare, with strong rational support, to challenge the received convention.) But many modern translations have chosen to diverge from that punctuation, for example, my preferred translation the NASB:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the [good pleasure] of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

(Ephesians 1:3-6 NASB; 1995 update)

Those who read the NASB will note that I substituted “good pleasure” for “kind intention.”  “Kind intention!” What an insipid and impotent phrase! Is God just a kindly old gentleman in the sky? The etymology of the Greek word is clear: it is a compound word made up of a prefix, eu, that means “good” or “well,” and the nominal form of a verb, dokeo, that means “be pleased, take pleasure in, be delighted in, be content.” The verb could also mean “choose, will, or resolve,” thus the “purpose” of the ESV. Although linguists often warn against analyzing a word into its component parts, using “butterfly” as the classic example, Greek is unusually amenable to such analysis. It often violates the linguists’ maxims. This purpose of this tanhgent has been to defend the more robust, virile proposition that God predestined us “according to His good pleasure.” It pleased Him to do it and nothing could ever hinder Him from fulfilling His own delighted will!

Back to the main topic of this post. The NASB puts “in love” with the following verse, thus stating that God’s act of predestination was a loving one. I think that’s correct, for several reasons but I will just focus on two. My first reason is the general “us-wardness” of this passage. I love that word. I get it from the King James Version’s translation of Ephesians 1:19 when Paul prays that God would open the eyes of our hearts that we may know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” (Eph 1:19 KJV) “To us-ward,” what a wonderful phrase! It fits perfectly with the theme of Ephesians 1: God blessed us (v. 3), He chose us (v. 4), He predestined us (v. 5), He lavished His grace upon us (vv. 7,8), He made the mystery of His will known to us (v. 9), He gave us an inheritance (v. 11). Too often my good Calvinist friends get so absorbed in the beauty of God’s sovereignty in salvation that is presented in this chapter that they miss the us-wardness that is in it, too. God’s love to us-ward exudes from this passage. That His predestination of us is moved by the loving delight that He took in contemplating His action is best expressed if “in love” goes with the first clause of verse 5.

My second reason for believing that “in love” belongs with verse 5 is the end of the sentence as it is translated in the NASB: “in the Beloved.” The stream of blessings described beginning with verse 4 is not meant to exhaustively list the blessings we have received. Instead it draws an analogy between our being blessed “in Christ” and the means God took to ensure that we would enjoy such blessings. Just as we are blessed “in Christ,” we were chosen “in Him” and we were predestined to adoption “through Jesus Christ,” and so on. The blessings we have received and will receive are not exhausted by the list in Ephesians 1. Ephesians 2:7 states the opposite, “in the ages to come He [will] show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “ in the Beloved” is consistent with this analogy, this ”in Christ” theme in Ephesians with the added dimension of highlight God’s love toward His Son. Paul ah God’s overwhelming love in his mind as he wrote this sentence. It is inconceivable that he did not think of the love God had for those whom He had chosen as He predestined them to be sons with His Beloved Son.

I could argue of the great pleasure that God took in adopting His children, but I believe the two arguments I have presented are decisive.

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One Response to Where Does “In Love” Belong in Ephesians 1:4?

  1. I agree with you here. And it seems that often in the NT when εν is followed by a dative noun plus a nominative participle, the prepositional phrase is taken with the participle.