Paul was an Old Testament scholar. When we read his letters, we must remember that and always look for allusions to them. This is important when we read the passages that deal with God’s choice of His people Israel. The basis of God’s sovereign choice of Israel had nothing to do with the “quality” or “quantity” of the nation itself but was based solely on God’s love. God explains his choice in Deuteronomy 7:6-8. He says, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.” Having this in mind, Paul then writes to Ephesians and in Ephesians 1:4 says, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

I don’t understand the ideas of God’s foreknowledge and election of the people of Israel over the other nations of the world or his chosen individual believers over others in the world. The history of Christianity is full of discussions, arguments, and wars over the understanding of this issue. I don’t mind the discussions, and I’ve had my share of arguments, but I really don’t like the wars! Yet, we can’t overlook the phrase that explains God’s choice was made “before the foundation of the world.” The Handbook for Translators explains, “The temporal clause ‘before the foundation of the world’ indicates that God’s decision was made in eternity, before time and creation. The word ‘foundation’ depicts the creation of the world in terms of a building. The meaning of the temporal clause is expressed simply by before the world was made or ‘before God created the world.’” [1] There were several things that are said to have taken place before the foundation of the world.  In John 17:24, The father Loved the Son before the world was created. The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world, according to Revelation 13:8. 1 Peter 1:20 says that Christ the Lamb was foreknown before the foundation of the world. John 17:5 speaks of the Glory that Jesus had with the Father before the foundation of the world. God’s action of “choosing” took place before time began. Titus 1:2 tells us that our hope of eternal life as Christians rests upon a promise God made before the world began. Our names have been recorded in the book of life before the foundation of the world as well.

“The choosing was wholly of God, an act of the Divine mind. The ‘elect’ are such because of the grace of God. If one gives great amounts to feed the poor or to ransom hostages, he has the undoubted right of selecting his own beneficiaries as he determines best. Alfred Nobel (1833–96), a Swedish chemist and inventor, was the inventor of dynamite. Concerned about the potential uses of the explosives he had invented, he established a fund to provide awards, called Nobel prizes, in five fields. He specified the fields (peace, chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature) and the judges in each category. An athlete, for example, is not even in the competition for a prize. Nobel made his choices, and it is not our prerogative to criticize or object.  In like fashion, God, out of His infinitely greater resources, arranged in His own eternal purpose for the salvation of man. He chose the realm in which and the means by which this is to be accomplished. God’s choice of Israel provides a basis for understanding His election of those in Christ today. His election of Israel was not because they were great or righteous, but because of His love (Deuteronomy 7:7; 9:5; 14:2). One may object that God should have chosen the Egyptians, or the Moabites, or the Edomites, but such is not within our prerogative.”[2]

[1] Bratcher, Robert G., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1993. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Jenkins, Ferrell. 1987. “Election.” Edited by Brent Lewis. Christianity Magazine, 1987.