The first chapter of Ephesians gives a number of blessings that Christians have "in him," that is, in Jesus Christ. In him, we have been chosen by God (4-6), redeemed by his blood (7-8), and have an understanding of God's mysterious will (9-10). But what about the fourth blessing "in him?"
In verse 11, the fourth "in him" seems to be an inheritance. But when I began reading F. F. Bruce's commentary, there was no mention of an inheritance in his translation: "It was in Christ, too, that we were claimed by God as his portion." 1. The same was true of Leon Morris: "in him in whom also we were claimed as God's own."2 Those translations differ with the ESV, NASB, and KJV, which all indicate that we have obtained an inheritance. What's the deal?
The original language looks like this: "εν αυτω εν ω και εκληρωθημεν προορισθεντες." My rough translation is, "in him in whom also we were appointed to be predestined." Notice that there is no word for inheritance. Of the major translations, the NIV is probably the closest with "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined." So, where did the major translations get the idea of inheritance?
[Paul] uses a verb (found here only in the New Testament that basically means "to cast lots" and thus "to choose by lot" or "to receive by lot." It may mean "we were allotted a portion," in which case it points to the wonderful gifts God has given his own. This is the way the word is taken, for example, in the Revised English Bible: "we have been given our share in the heritage." Or it may signify "we were allotted to God," claimed by God as his own, as the Good News Bible understands this passage: "God chose us to be his own people." In this context it seems that it is this second meaning that we should accept, in accordance with Old Testament passages that see God's people as his "allotted inheritance" (Deut 32:9 NIV). In Old Testament times only Israel was God's heritage; now in Christ, Gentiles as well as Jews make up this divine possession.3
This makes sense. The passive voice of the verb indicates that we believers were appointed by God as opposed to us receiving an inheritance. While everything we have in Christ was given to us, it seems better to leave out the idea of an inheritance since the word is not used in the text. Instead, we were acted upon by God who by his predestined purpose chose to appoint certain people to find hope in Christ. And these first believers in Ephesus had the distinct privilege to bring praise to the God who chose them at the very beginning. Once again, it is all about how good God has been to us who do not deserve it but gratefully accept his many blessings in Christ.
1 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 262.
2 Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 19.