If we understand exactly what is being referred to, or what the desire of the writer is, we will gain a greater understanding of the work that God has accomplished, and is accomplishing, for us. As we will see, there can be differing thoughts on some passages of scripture. At times, it is the best we, as English-speaking people, can hope for. I believe this is o.k.! I also believe that as we are told, God will eventually give us understanding in all things, key word, 'eventually'. Differing thoughts can result in different translations of words and phrases which can help us gain a better understanding of what God is trying to tell us. We should not be afraid of this; we should embrace it. The lay person, like me, has access to an incredible amount of information to be used. This does not make us scholars, experts, or theologians, but it does help us to try and understand and to communicate, with God. What if someone comes up with a different thought than what we believe? Pray about it, search it out, and remain open, and do not rush to judgement. As believers, we have a uniting factor that outweighs everything else, that is the cross of Christ, the great unifier.
Having said all that, I believe it is important to understand inheritance as Paul uses it as it involves thoughts of future or present glory regarding believers in Christ. Paul, as he said in Galatians, is a Hebrew. Paul was an apostle to the nations, but he always was addressing other Hebrews as well, some believers, others not. Often, examples Paul uses were found in the scriptures which were of course, the Old Testament and related to Hebrew folks. So, we will lean on the biblical understanding of inheritance as we progress.
It is important that we ask, “what exactly are we inheriting?”. In Christianity we find many different responses to this question. I wonder if I took a poll, what would the answers be and what would be the diversity of opinions? If we are going to use this word inheritance, and make claims for ourselves, we should know. Are we inheriting crowns, gold, silver, precious stones and streets of gold? Is it a mansion just over the hilltop? Human minds in the physical realm will have predictable answers, seeking something we can touch and hold, things like riches. Will the better Christian inherit more than the one who lives less ‘perfectly’? These are valid responses and questions.
Let us turn to the text in mind from Ephesians.
Ephesians 1:11-14 (NRSV)
(11) In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, (12) so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. (13) In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; (14) this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
This is from the NRSV. If you have access to multiple translations (which you should!), you will find the most popular English translations agree, in various ways, with the NRSV. But, some do not. So, we must ask the question, why? Why, is important to ask!
Let us start off with the word itself, "inheritance". G2820.
From G2819; to allot, that is, (figuratively) to assign (a privilege): - obtain an inheritance.
1) to cast lots, determine by lot
2) to choose by lot
3) to allot, assign by lot
3a) on to another as a possession
4) in NT: to make a lot, i.e. a heritage, private possession
Part of Speech: verb
Thayer’s refers use to the TDNT. You can find this set for very reasonable prices these days though it used to be awfully expensive. This dictionary set seeks to expose biblical words in the most extreme way by finding as many uses of the word in written history as possible, in addition to the biblical text. So, Aristotle uses it as "to appoint someone by lot". To Philo the word relates to orderly apportionment in the natural and moral world. In the scriptures, in the New Testament, it is only found once, in our text. We can also use the LXX to find related uses in the Old Testament, for a better understanding. The Greek word “inheritance” found in Eph. 1:11 is the only mention found in the New Testament, but it is also found 6 times in the Greek LXX which is extremely helpful. I will reference just three of these since the other three are redundant in meaning and use.
Joshua 21:4 (NET)
(4) The first lot belonged to the Kohathite clans. The Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priest were allotted thirteen cities from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin.
The first use of the word "lot" refers to the actual item used in "casting lots". Usually a piece of wood, with a name written on it. Several pieces would be used to represent all involved in the casting. Names would be written on or inside the lot which would be drawn in order to obtain the current assigned lot or portion. Sometimes stones were used and shaken in a container, the first to roll out was the winner of the assigned lot- for good or bad! Casting lots could also be used to assign a lot, or lots- not by chance, but given to a person or party, in this case, a tribe. The NET correctly states that the cities were "allotted", not by chance, but by assignment. Different uses today include: "it is my lot in life", meaning it was not chosen, it just is or that it was given for one to suffer or to work. Or property obtained, a lot of land. A parking lot is a property set aside for cars to park in. In England, or the U.K., as I learned from a gardening show, people can obtain an allotment to use for planting flowers or vegetables.
So, the first lot was assigned to the Kohathite clans. The lot itself was given to the representative on hand as a means of the claim to the land which was tied to that lot. In this case, as the Levites did not directly inherit any land, their lot were thirteen cities found in the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. You can continue reading this passage for other occurrences of our word inheritance and find they are of the same usage.
I will end here for now. The next article will move to Isaiah 17 for a further look into inheritance. This occurrence will expand the idea of inheritance and we will see how it is vital to our understanding of the idea being brought forth in Ephesians.