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It is my purpose in this study to set forth an exegetically sound interpretation of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus on Ephesians 2:1. In addition to this, I will also set forth common interpretations that are contrary to my own. I will give attention in this presentation to the theology of those who are of a Calvinistic persuasion.

NKJV: And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.

ASV: And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins

NASV: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.

KJV: And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins

Williams: You too were dead because of the shortcomings and sins

A brief setting of Paul in Ephesians 1 and 2. CHAPTER 1. Spiritual blessings are in Christ; none outside (1:3). Before the foundation of the world, those chosen to be in Him are to be blameless and holy (1:4). Those chosen in Christ have been predestined to adoption (1:5-6). In Him is redemption, that is, the forgiveness of sins (1:7-8). In the wisdom of God this is made known to us in the life and message of Jesus (1:8-10). It is in Him that one inherits from God (1:11-12). One is in Christ after having heard and believed the message preached, sealed by the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). Paul’s prays for the saints in Ephesus, for their enlightenment in wisdom, knowledge and the power of God, which is Christ seated at the right hand of the Father (1:15-21). Seated at the right hand of the Father, He is over all things to the church, which is His body (1:22-23). CHAPTER 2. The saints in Ephesus were once dead in sin because of the life they chose to walk (2:1-3). Paul identified himself with those of Ephesus who once walked the same path (2:3). Even when dead in sin, it was because of God’s mercy the saints in Ephesus were made alive in Christ (2:4-7). It was by God’s mercy each one is saved by grace; saved by grace (i.e., taught; 1:13-14; cf. Titus 2:11-12) means each one is God’s workmanship (2:8-10).

An interpretation frequently presented to me. The saints in Ephesus were once dead in trespasses and sins because they walked in accordance with what they wanted to do, having no regard for what God wanted. They willfully chose to indulge their desires in the flesh (2:3). They were dead in sin without regard to their own will, but because of Adam; they are only able to make things worse (volitionally) in their state of “dead in sins and trespasses.” QUESTION: If they could willfully choose to do this (make things worse), on what basis could they not also willfully choose to turn away from doing this? There is none – except that of a theological persuasion.

Connecting this with Paul’s words in Romans 5:12 and 6:3, one enters the realm of death by birth, the one born does not inherent Adam’s sin, that is, one is not judged by God as sinful based on what Adam did! One enters the physical realm of death by birth, one enters the spiritual realm of death by choice.

Interpretations from varied expositors[1]

“Physical death is a condition in which the functions of physical life have ceased; spiritual death is that where the functions of spiritual life are no longer active, and indeed, apart from the intervention of divine grace are no longer possible…” Again, a few lines later we read, “The incapacity of the unregenerated mind for the exercise of spiritual affections, is what is meant by spiritual death.”[2]

Spiritual death is nothing but alienation from God, and this is because “we are all born dead and live that way until we become partakers of the life of Christ.”[3] Chrysostom (who predates Calvin) does not concur with this sentiment. Speaking of spiritual death, he says, “But the death of the soul is the result of a free choice.”[4]

Barnes seems to take a moderate view. He states there is an affirmation of depravity, affirming the fact of it, but “…it does not settle any question as to their ability or power while in that state” to exercise their mental powers of their intellect toward the direction of God. Even though he attempted to exegete, he later writes contrary to this attempt: in regard to religion, the sinner sees no beauty in it “and no human power can rouse the sleeping dead, or open the sightless eyeballs on the light of day. The same power is needed in the conversion of a sinner which is needed in raising the dead” which means God.[5] I interpret this as a contrary remark to his exegetical attempt.

William Hendriksen recognizes that a person dead in trespasses and sins can do good in a natural world. This good, however, is not done with the attempt to please God and/or obey His law. It is “[o]nly when God turns him is he able to turn from his wicked ways” because he is depraved from the time Adam brought sin into the world; man today is guilty of original sin and he merely adds to it his own.[6]

John Stott said of those who are spiritually dead: they are as “unresponsive to him as a corpse.”[7] He does not speak in an explicit Calvinistic way, but with his words he might as well have.

Man has no ability within himself to change. “Men left in their dead state are unable of themselves to repent, to believe the gospel, or come to Christ. They have no power within themselves to change their nature or to prepare themselves for salvation.”[8] Passage used (abused) to support the declaration: Job 14:4; Jeremiah 13:23; John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:5.

Analysis of the Issue:

In physical death there are no life functions, including the will (that is, the emotional and mental will). Physical life and everything associated with it is completely over – Hebrews 9:27.

In spiritual death, in contrast to physical death, extant are all the capabilities associated with physical life. That means one can live and go to this place or that; one can think and analyze this issue or that. One can willfully choose what he or she wants to do. Calvinism accepts this, but with limitations. They assert there is no ability within the spiritually dead to willfully move in God’s direction. They grant willfulness in life, but not willfulness toward God. Jesus makes clear with His words in John 5, Calvinism is a lie.[9]

Spiritual death is the result of trespasses and sin, in effect, the sin of disobedience (1 John 3:4). Calvinism maintains one is spiritually depraved from the time of birth, going back to the time of Adam and his transgression. The sinful corruption within man extends to every part of man; thus, the natural man is totally unable to do anything spiritually good, he does not have the ability to choose spiritual good over evil.[10] Passages used to justify this declaration: Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3 (among others).

The only way for one to be saved, according to Calvinist theology, is for God to take the initiative. By itself, this remark is not troublesome; it’s what is meant that is false. Calvinism says God’s initiative activity is more than just preaching the Gospel to ears that want to hear; without God’s initiative to the elect only, that is, in addition to Gospel preaching,[11] salvation does not result. Consider the following points.

  • If one has free will while spiritually dead (to make things worse for themselves), but one can’t choose spiritual life on his own volition, then free-will is not total, instead free-will is limited.
  • If free-will is limited (i.e., spiritual life cannot be secured by one’s choice), then if one is prevented from securing salvation because of that limitation imposed from an outside source; thus, the one who prevents salvation is culpable.
  • This is inescapable![12]

Those who are spiritually dead have free-will to do what is desired; a spiritually dead person perpetuates their spiritual death (i.e., they choose to continue in their disobedience). While in this spiritual realm of death, a person can’t be pleasing to God because his spiritual darkness is a matter of choice (Romans 8:3-7). This means no man can determine his own path to God (Proverbs 14:12; Jeremiah 17:9; 10:23).

The realm of spiritual death is presents a gap, a separation between the created and the Creator (Isa. 59:1-2). This gap can’t be bridged by the created because he does not have the wisdom to know how to do it; neither does he have the capability to accomplish it even if he had to wisdom to do it (which he does not). In fact, that which originates within man is only corruption (Jeremiah 17:9) and can never be anything else. Anything he does that does not have its origin in God’s will falls short (Romans 3:23). Sin and sinful thinking/ways prevents man’s arrival on “God’s landing pad” (so to speak). This gap that exists between the Creator and the created does not prevent the created from choosing to hear and obey.

God, therefore, initiates a bridge (John 3:16), and based on the person’s response to God’s bridge or invitation (Matt. 11:28-30), salvation or damnation is the result. According to Acts 2:21, all who call on the Lord can be saved. Couple this with Hebrews 4:2, we learn the reason salvation did not result with some because the Word preached and heard was not “united by faith” (NASV).

Syllogistic Arguments:

If the Gospel is God’s power to save everyone who believes, it is possible for everyone to believe (Rom. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:9). The Gospel is God’s power to save everyone who believes. Therefore, it is possible for everyone to believe.

If the spiritual realm is associated with the will/volition of man, and if man is still alive to exercise the will/volition that is required in physical life’s use, then the spiritual functions of life are still active (Johnny Polk).

If God’s message is to be preached to the whole world (creation) which is dead in sin, then the whole world (creation) which is dead in sin can hear and obey (Mark 16:15). God’s message is to be preached to the whole world (creation) dead in sin. Therefore, the whole world (creation) dead in sin can hear and obey.

To show partiality in rendering judgment[13] is sin (Gal. 2:11-14). Calvinism teaches God shows partiality in rendering judgment.[14] Therefore, Calvinism teaches God sins when He shows partiality in judgment (I think this fails meeting categorical syllogistic argument standard; use Venn. Needs work).

[1]  Without the resurrection there are none who are dead in sin because Jesus brought life and immortality to light through His message and His resurrection, having overcome the fear of man, which is death (2 Timothy 1:10). Lazarus was dead (physically), yet when the Lord called out, Lazarus heard. Those spiritually dead, when the Lord calls out through the Gospel, the spiritually dead hear.

[2] Justin A. Smith. Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, An American Commentary (vol. 5: Corinthians to Thessalonians), The American Baptist Publication Society, 1890; p. 33.

[3] John Calvin. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Galatians, Ephesians (New Testament: Vol. X). IVP Academic; 2011; p. 276.

[4] Chrysostom. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (New Testament: Vol. VIII). IVP; 1999; p. 120.

[5] Albert Barnes. Ephesians. Notes on the New Testament: Explanatory and Practical: Ephesians – Colossians. Baker Book House; 1974; pp. 36-37.

[6] William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Galatians-Ephesians). Baker Book House; 1979; pp. 110-112.

[7] John Stott. The Message of Ephesians. IVP. 1979; p. 72.

[8] Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented. P & R Publishing. 2004; p. 25

[9] “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live” (John 5:24-25, ASV).

[10] Five Points of Calvinism. p. 19.

[11] “The gospel invitation extends a general outward call to salvation to all who hear the message. In addition to this external call, the Holy Spirit extends a special inward call to the elect only. The general call of the gospel can be, and often is, rejected, but the special call of the Spirit cannot be rejected; it always results in the conversion of those to whom it is made” (Five Points, p. 61). RT – if the elect can’t reject, can the non-elect accept? According to Calvinism, to ask is to answer!  

[12] Some are easily able to see this but due to a perceived understanding of (or lack of properly understanding) God’s sovereignty, Calvinism theology is accepted with “I just don’t understand, I only accept it.”

[13] Judgment in this context is not exclusively God’s eternal wrath, but includes both wrath and reward.

[14] “Before the foundation of the world, God chose particular individuals for salvation. His selection was not based upon any foreseen response or act performed by those chosen. Faith and good works are the result, not the cause of God’s choice” (Five Points of Calvinism, p. 31; italics in quote-RT).