George Booker
What Are The First Principles?

5. A Biblical “Summary of Faith”

In writing to the ecclesia in Ephesus, Paul appeals for unity of mind and fellowship among believers there based on their mutual acceptance of seven “ones”:

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6).

The enumeration of these seven “unities” has the distinctive appearance of a “summary of faith”, a statement of faith which is wholly Biblical. Some writers (Marcus Barth, “Ephesians 4-6”, Anchor Bible, pp. 462, 463; Alfred Barry, “Ephesians”, Ellicott’s Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 36; Francis Foulkes, “The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 112) suppose that Paul is in fact citing a concise yet precise doctrinal summary known to the worldwide church or ecclesia of his day:

  1. One body
  2. One Spirit
  3. One hope
  4. One Lord
  5. One faith
  6. One baptism
  7. One God
The seven “ones” may be defined by comparing especially Paul’s use of the same words elsewhere. This produces a credible statement of essential doctrines — which defines the distinctive truths we believe, and sets that system of truth apart from various false “gospels”:

1. One body: The unity of all believers, and specifically both Jews and Gentiles, reconciled to God on the same basis (Eph. 2:16). One body, bound together in love with Christ as the head (Eph. 4:12-16; Rom. 12:1,4,5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Also, one body as “husband” and “wife”: the “great mystery” of Christ and the church, or ecclesia (Eph. 5:23,28,30). Finally, the “one body” of the church is equivalent to the “one bread” of communion or fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 10:16,17; 11:24,27,29). Thus “one body” defines the ecclesia in terms of fellowship, both inclusively (all true believers being members) and exclusively (no others being members).

2. One Spirit: The Holy Spirit of God, by which prophets and apostles were inspired to record the one truth, and by which the Bible itself was written, validated, and preserved. This was the Spirit of truth, or the Comforter, which came to the apostles, to teach them the words of Jesus (John 14:17,26; 15:26; 16:13). As there is one true Spirit, or Teacher, the others must be false “spirits” or teachers (1 Tim. 4:11; cp. 1 John 4:1-3) when they teach other doctrines contrary to that which the apostles received and taught (Gal. 1:8-11).

3. One hope: In Paul’s own words elsewhere, the one “hope” is the hope of a resurrection (Acts 23:6; 24:14,15), the hope of the promises made to the fathers (Acts 26:6-8; Rom. 4:13-18), and the hope of Israel (Acts 28:20) — that is, the kingdom of Israel restored (Acts 1:6; 3:19-21; 2 Sam. 7:12-14; Luke 1:30-33). Thus the “one hope” must also be the hope of Christ’s appearing and kingdom (Acts 1:11; Col. 1:5; Tit. 2:13) and the hope of eternal life (Tit. 1:2; 3:7). Those who are “without Christ” have “no hope” (Eph. 2:12).

4. One Lord: References to “the Lord” in Paul’s writings are too numerous to catalog here. The essence of Bible teaching about the “one Lord” might be summarized, however: Jesus is the one Lord because he is the only-begotten Son of God, and the one man in whom all mankind (that is, all believers) are included (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Cor. 5:14-17). He was the one man to lead a perfect life, and therefore the one man capable of dying as the perfect representative sacrifice for all men. Thus he was raised from the dead (Phil. 2:8-12) to become the head, or Lord, of all who would have eternal life in him (Rom. 5:12,18,19). A final point: as the “one Lord”, Jesus is always personally distinct from the “one God” (Eph. 4:5,6; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

5. One faith: Faith in the crucified and risen Christ is the one and only means to salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom. 3:22-31; Gal. 3). By such faith — in prospect — even Abraham was justified, or declared righteous (Rom. 4:1-5; cp. Rom. 3: 25 and Heb. 9:15). By faith sinners may be forgiven (Rom. 4:6-8), apart from their own works or acts of righteousness (Eph. 2:8,9).

6. One baptism: The one baptism (i.e., the only true baptism) is that which is preceded by belief in the one gospel, as defined in the list. Paul knows only one form of baptism: a burial (Rom. 6:3,4; Col. 2:12) in water. Baptism is the means by which believers become heirs of the promises made to Abraham and his “seed” (Gal. 3:27-29).

7. One God: The last of the seven “unities” in Paul’s list is actually the first and greatest “unity”, from which all other “unities” are derived. “One God”, as distinct from even His own Son (1 Cor. 8:6; Gal. 3:19,20; 1 Tim. 2:5). The “one God” is the “Father” of one Divine family, all made one in Him because of His love for them, as shown through His Son (Eph. 3:14-21).

Positive teachings

The essential doctrines derived directly from Paul’s “summary of faith” in Ephesians 4 are listed below. The references 1 through 7 are to the preceding seven numbered “unities”. For ease of future reference, the essential doctrines are listed in the general order familiar to readers of our common statement of faith.

“Doctrines to be rejected”

Certain false doctrines are very directly and distinctly ruled out by belief in the positive teachings summarized above:

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