Neil Silverberg

Ephesians 1 | Why We Are Trinitarian

Opponents of the New Testament doctrine of the Trinity point out the word (trinity) is not found anywhere in the Bible. While that is true, the concept is found in almost every book. The term was created to describe a biblical idea: the God of both the Old and New Testament is comprised of three glorious persons, each of who make up the blessed triune Godhead.

Christian scholars and teachers argued long and hard over the first three centuries to try to define what they meant by the term Trinity. Years ago, while preparing to teach a course on Church History at a seminary, I became irritated at all the wrangling over words and concepts regarding the exact nature of the Godhead. It seemed like the early Church Fathers were splitting hairs over the right technical terms to use, especially when it came to defining the Trinity. But then I realized this is exactly as it should be if the biblical God is God since he is shrouded in mystery! As David said in Psalm 145, “his greatness is unsearchable.”

Nowhere does Scripture teach more clearly the triunity of God than in this opening chapter of Ephesians. In Greek, verses 3 through 14 are one running sentence. It seems Paul is tripping over words as he pours out phrase upon phrase in describing how each Person of the triune God actively participated in our salvation. Let us do a quick flyover of this glorious sentence to understand how each Person of the blessed Trinity contributed to our salvation.

First, God the Father is the subject of the entire sentence. Paul blesses the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in verse 3 as the One who planned for our salvation in eternity past. ‘Blessed’ is the Greek word eulogia from which our English word eulogy is derived. God, the Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (1:3-4). We should also notice the tenses of the verbs in this sentence; God the Father has already blessed us in Christ with the past blessing of having chosen us “before the foundation of the world.” This reveals the Church is not an afterthought but what God planned since the beginning of time.

If God the Father has blessed us with the past blessing of election, it is because he has affected our salvation through the glorious work of the Son. The phrase “in Christ” appears several times throughout this sentence, indicating that while the Father proposed our salvation in eternity past, the Son effected it through his willingness to take on human form, come to earth and die for his own and rise from the dead. ‘In Christ’ is not mere theological jargon but a statement that God now views his children through the lens of Jesus Christ and his finished work. For example, the apostle says in Ephesians 1:6 that Christ’s work is: to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Bible readers will remember that the Father of the Son used the word beloved after He (Jesus) came out of the waters of baptism (Matthew 3:17). The implications are mind-boggling: just as the Father sees his Son as his beloved, so also, he now views us.

In the last phrase (1:13-14) Paul introduces the work of the Spirit in our triune salvation. If the Father proposes and the Son effects, the Spirit applies. That is, he makes real in us the electing grace of the Father and the effecting work of the Son. The Spirit seals this work in us, guaranteeing that we belong to him. The term sealed Paul uses an interesting history:

“The imagery behind this phrase comes from the ancient custom of sealing (sphragizoœ), in which personal possessions (e.g., animals, household goods,
slaves) received a mark or stamp of ownership in much the same way that
things are branded or identified today. This act also confirmed or authenticated something as genuine. A seal on a letter or document, for example, declared that
it was legally valid. People belonging to religious cults often were sealed with
marks that bore the image of their god(s). The Book of Revelation talks about
those who have or do not have “the seal of God on their foreheads.”

Rev. 9:4; cf. also 7:2–8; 22:4; 2 Tim. 2:19, New International Bible Commentary

The fact we are sealed indicates we belong to Him forever. Paul indicates this further when he speaks of the possession of the Spirit as the “guarantee of our inheritance.” The term guarantee is the Greek word arrabon also translated by the English words ‘deposit’ and pledge. Interestingly, it is the Greek word for engagement ring used in modern Greece today. When the Father chooses us and calls us to belong to his Son, he places an engagement ring on our finger, guaranteeing that he will one day return to make us his bride forever.

Let us bless God and Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, each of whom participates in our glorious salvation.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for this blog Neil. I praise God often for opening my eyes to understanding the glorious union which is the Trinity after being raised in a church that taught against it. Excellent blog, one I will be sure to read more than once.

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