Who Are the Elect?
Helen Setterfield, January 29, 2004
As a challenge to my conviction that Calvinism is not
accurate, I was asked to please give my opinion of the term ‘elect’ as used
in the New Testament. My response was that my opinion didn’t matter a whit,
but what the Bible says is what matters, and so I promised to do a study on
Mark 13 marks the next three uses of the word ‘elect’, and is parallel to the above account in Matthew.
The next use, going through the New Testament, is in Romans 9:11. Verses 10-12 are here quoted for context:
First of all, the clear reference election makes here is to the fact that the older would serve the younger. This would be to God’s purpose. It has nothing to do with their salvation, but with the history which would unfold, as Rebekah was told ‘there are two nations in your womb.’ Thus God is also talking about the nations, not the individuals per se. During the boys’ lifetime we have no record of Esau serving Jacob. However we have record of that happening to the peoples who descended from them. The phrase “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.” Is a quote from Malachi. There it is clear that the two nations are being talked about, not two individuals. This is clear in Malachi 1:
God’s judgment over Edom and some others is delineated rather graphically in Isaiah 34.
We read in Obadiah why – here is a bit from that one chapter book, all of which is to the Edomites:
This is the Esau God hated, and the reason He hated it. It was not the person, but the nation. And the predestination as prophesied by God to Rebekah was that the older would serve the younger, not that either of them would be saved and the other not. We do not know about Esau’s eternal destiny.
On to Romans 11:1-10 (also in bold is the word ‘chosen’ as it is an
alternate translation of the Greek words being discussed here)
Before we deal with any other Scripture here, there are a couple points that should be noted. The elect mentioned above are Jews. They are specifically Jews.
The seven thousand mentioned in reference to Elijah’s day did not bow to Baal. Now, they may have broken all the rest of the commandments individually or corporately, but they did not bow to Baal. Maybe they didn’t even actively worship God! But they did not bow to Baal. It is just as conceivable that a great number of those who did worship, or bow to, Baal, had done many fine things aside from that: taken care of the elderly among them, honoring their parents, staying faithful to their marriage partners, etc. But they bowed to Baal. They were given up despite any good works. The seven thousand were reserved by God despite any other sins committed. Paul is very clear about the reason those seven thousand were reserved. It was not arbitrary or even seemingly arbitrary on God’s part.
Paul then goes on to reference two other Scripture passages he incorporates into this letter to the Romans. Let’s look at those passages and what they are referring to.
The first is from Isaiah 29. This is written to “Ariel”, or Jerusalem, David’s City. The first two verses read:
In verse 10, we read
In referencing this verse, Paul was then not talking about individuals being blind and deaf, but that their prophets and seers were either gone or totally useless to them anymore. This is a corporate statement, not one of God hardening individuals. This is the first mistake Calvinists make in regard to this passage.
But why is the Lord doing this to Jerusalem?
There is the reason God gives. These people have become religious in the ways of man, not God. Their hearts are far from Him. FOR THIS REASON, He will come upon them in strong discipline. It, again, has absolutely nothing to do with predestination.
The second of the two quotes Paul uses is from the Psalms, what we know as Psalm 69 now. I will quote from verses 16 to 29 so that the quote Paul used can be put in context:
[Note, the Alexandrian LXX here says “Your salvation shall set me on high.”]
Why is David asking for God’s anger and punishment against his foes? Not simply because they are his foes, if you will notice. But because they have scorned him, withholding both sympathy and comfort, and instead ‘put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.’ According to verse 5 of that Psalm, David is being disciplined strongly by God for some sin.
Thus both of Paul’s references in Romans 11 have to do with wrongs committed and God’s responses, or requested response, to those wrongs. Neither passage would indicate that Paul is making any possible reference to the predestination or pre-election of believers from even before their births. To use Romans 11, then as a support for predestination by virtue of the word ‘elect’ is to stretch it far beyond anything Paul ever evidenced meaning. It is important to remember that ‘elect’ means either ‘to choose’ or ‘chosen’, depending on whether it is being used as a verb or a noun. God truly is choosing, but this choosing is not at all arbitrary by any human standard and the reasons are clearly given – His election of these people is His response to how they are living their lives.
His grace is unmerited. This is not a point of argument. But His choices have reasons, and He gives those reasons in Scripture.
The next time ‘elect’ is used is also in Romans11: 25-32:
Although it is common for some to extract the phrase that God’s gifts and call are irrevocable, and use this as a proof text for various doctrines, the fact is that Paul is referring to Israel here, and the fact that God formed and made Israel for a purpose – not only to show God’s character to the world, but to bring forth the Redeemer, the Christ. A great deal of care must be taken if one wants to apply this verse to something else.
Paul is again applying, in the above, the concept of election to Israel itself, and that they are loved “on account of the patriarchs,” and, again, not because of any works they may have done. The fact that they are ‘partially hardened’ means, also, that they are partially NOT hardened. This is important to remember.
The closing lines of this passage are quite important in confronting Calvinism, for if the all men who are bound over to disobedience are indeed all in the human race, then this is also exactly whom God will have mercy upon. This does not mean that all will be saved, but it does emphasize again that God’s love and mercy are extended towards every member of mankind and not just a select few.
The next use of the word ‘elect’ is in 1 Timothy 5:21:
Here it is a population of angels who are referred to as chosen, or elect. This has nothing to do with men.
2 Timothy 2:8-10:
Paul, in this letter to Timothy has just made a strong point that Jesus
Christ was not only raised from the dead, but was descended from David. If
we go back into Romans, we can see Paul’s love for his own people, the Jews,
poured out over and over again. (”For I could wish that I myself were
cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own
race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the
divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship
and the promises.” Romans 9:3-4). From the above we can see that, with
the exception of one mention of angels, he has not referred to the elect as
anyone other than Jewish people. There is no reason, especially in light of
his mention of ‘descended from David’, that he is referring to anyone else
in the above passage. It certainly makes no reference to anything remotely
Who are ‘God’s elect’ here? Paul has made, in all of his letters, NO reference to any humans but the Jews in this regard. This phrase may have been especially meaningful to Titus, as Titus was not a Jew, but rather a Gentile, albeit Paul’s “true son in our common faith.”
It should be noted as well that both faith and knowledge are said here to be resting on the hope of eternal life! This is a hope which resonates through all mankind of every time and culture, as we can see in the other religions. It is interesting that Paul has linked this knowledge to a hope of eternal life, for when we look again at Romans 1, we see the following:
Paul says all men have seen and understood this much about God through creation. He then, in his opening to Titus, above, speaks of the hope of eternal life being a foundation for the knowledge he is referring to – a knowledge leading to godliness.
At no time is there even a hint of any predestination of any special individuals here.
On to 1 Peter 1:1-2
The above quote is from the NIV. But look at both the King James and the New King James for a much clearer statement of who this is to:
Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. Peter to the Jews. So Peter is also using the phrase “God’s elect” in connection with his own people, the Jews, and, in particular the believers among them (via use of his phrase ‘strangers in the world’ which refers to Christ’s words to His disciples in John 15:18, 17:6, etc. which Peter was there to hear himself), who at that time were indeed scattered. These elect were chosen for something, not just ‘chosen’ – they were chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ. If the rest of the Bible holds true, they were chosen by God because they had accepted the truth presented to them about Christ – the Promised Redeemer. There is no indication anywhere in the Bible that God’s choices cannot be understood by men in terms of who is saved. The Bible, on the contrary, spends quite a bit of time explaining all this!
2 Peter 1:10
(Ah, maybe THIS one uses ‘elect’ in the Calvinist sense! In fact, let’s take it from verse 3, because some very interesting things are being said:)
Who is he writing to here? In 2 Peter 1:1 we read that the letter is “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
This could certainly be to any Christian.
Except….at the beginning of chapter 3, he writes: Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. This letter is being written to the Jews, as was made plain at the beginning of his first letter..
Now let’s look at that same quoted section in that light:
“Us” is the Jewish people, and they were called via Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Moses. It is through this knowledge of God given to the patriarchs that Peter is saying they have everything they need for life and godliness.
The promises are those given to the Israelites (ref. Romans 9:4, as quoted above), the main one of which was the promise of the coming Messiah through their nation. By holding to these promises and the knowledge God had revealed to them in particular, they had all they needed to escape the world’s corruption. This is exactly in line with God’s directions to the ancient Israelis to keep from intermarrying or commingling with the pagan nations around them when they went in to take the Promised Land.
This probably does not need any explanation in terms of the subject of election.
Their election was as the Israeli people. Making this election sure, then, is what is involved in being a follower of Jesus Christ.
The word which translates, in its different forms, as ‘elect’ or ‘election’ also is translated as ‘choose’ and ‘chosen’. So let’s check those verses. Not considered will be those verses where the reference is to people choosing other people for different matters or those verses in which it says God chose Christ. It is only those matters where God is said to be choosing in terms of humans that will be considered below.
Kletos is the word for ‘invited’ here and it is the only time the NIV translates it that way instead of ‘called.’ [this is further dealt with below]This parable, however, makes election, or choosing, contingent upon something more than God’s invitation to “Come”. This denies the idea of the election necessarily resulting in salvation.
There is nothing in this passage either alone or in context which gives a
specific identity to the chosen ones being referred to. However, if one uses
the alternate form of ‘elect’ here, we have “And will not God bring about
justice for his elect ones, who cry out to him day and night?” And the
meaning becomes clearer in light of two things:
Here the choosing, or election, is specifically of the Twelve disciples. Also interesting here is that Christ’s electing included one who He called ‘a devil.’ This would negate this particular choosing, at least, as being in connection with salvation.
This is again a direct reference to the Twelve disciples and to them only.
This address is being made specifically to the 11 disciples (Judas had already left). This is not to deny that the world indeed hates Christians, but this was being said specifically to the Eleven, all but one of whom are reputed to have been martyred for Christ in later years.
This is, again, a reference to the only choosing of humans Jesus did: His apostles.
Here they are asking for God’s specific election between the two men they have chosen to replace Judas. Although this is the same word in the Greek we are looking at here, I don’t think this choosing by God is part of the argument we are dealing with.
Here the choosing, or election, is not referring to salvation, but to God’s use of Paul. He was chosen as an instrument to do something. The choosing referred to a purpose apart from Paul’s salvation.
Here the chosen, or elected, are clearly all Christians, and Paul is giving us reassurance regarding our standing with God.
Romans 11:5 – see above in the ‘elect’ section.
This is the only one of those Paul lists in his greetings whom he calls ‘chosen’, or ‘elected.’ This presumably does not mean the others weren’t believers, for he asks for all to be greeted as fellow believers, with the possible exception of Herodian, in verse 11, of whom he simply says “my relative.” As far as Rufus is concerned, though, if he is the same Rufus who was Simon of Cyrene’s son (see Mark 15:21) there may be a special reference here from Paul to the others which we are simply not aware of.
Colossians 3:12 [v. 1 is included to identify who is being spoken to]
Again, as in Romans 8:33, it appears this address is to all believers.
1 Thessalonians 12:5
This letter, as the second one to the same church at Thessalonica, was a letter of encouragement. It is part of a reassurance that they are indeed chosen and loved by God as believers.
In his warnings against showing favoritism, James is here showing how God chooses to use certain believers, not that He chose them to believe. This is roughly parallel to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. The note is here made, though, that those who inherit the kingdom will be those who love Him. It does not say, ‘those whom He chooses to have love Him.’ And there is a big difference.
1 Peter 2:9
First, Peter is writing specifically to the Jews dispersed, as mentioned above. Secondly, they, as a people, were those titled “God’s Elect”, or the ‘chosen people.’ Thirdly, the church as we know it is Christ’s Bride (2 Cor. 11:2, etc.). Thus, there seems to be a distinction here between Israel, whose believers are part of a royal priesthood, and the church of today, which is listed as Christ’s bride. This is not how this passage is usually seen today, but if it is taken in context, that may very well be the meaning. Whatever the final conclusion on this matter, the context and recipients of the letter clearly indicate that it is Jews who are being spoken to and about as being ‘a chosen people.’
2 John 1:1
The identity of the ‘chosen lady’ is not known here. It may have been an individual and her biological children or it could have even been a church and the believers involved. The letter was written during a time of persecution and the designation may have been left obscure to protect the recipients. But without knowing exactly who it was to, it is very hard to identify the use of the word ‘chosen’ here.
2 John 1:13
It is this reference which does make the two ‘women’ involved seem more like John may have been addressing two different churches. The designation ‘chosen’ in both cases could have then been a key word to indicate two Christian churches or two churches made up of believing Jews in particular.
Are ‘called,’ ‘chosen,’ and ‘faithful’ all the same category?
Perhaps not. A quick study of the word ‘called’ will reveal that. The word translated ‘called’ here in Revelation is kletos. It is used ten times in the New Testament, and only once by Jesus. Here are those ten times:
Matthew 22:14: This is the one time Jesus uses the word in the Bible. It is the famous “For many are called, but few are chosen”
Romans 1:1 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…
Romans 1:6-7 – And you also are among those
who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:1-2 – Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother
1 Corinthians 1:22-24 – Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Jude 1:1-2 – Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ
and a brother of James,
The word ‘kletos’ in the Greek means ‘invited’ and is from the root word meaning ‘an invitation.’
Why has this been ignored? Those who are called are those who, as in the parable of the wedding feast, have been INVITED to come. Obviously, many refuse.
It is clear that not all are invited. That is another study. However it is quite clear here that not all the invited respond positively. This was Jesus’ point in his parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22.
So if we go back to the verse in Revelation where we have the ‘kletos’ (invited), chosen, and faithful followers, we find there is a distinction between invited and chosen as delineated by Christ Himself in Matthew. This also means there may be a warning for all of us, for evidently those who are chosen have a sub-class that Christ considers the faithful. A clue to this may be found in Matthew 5:19, in which Christ says, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” There is a distinction between the greatest and the least in Heaven. Thus, the believer who either came to Christ too late in life to have lived a faithful life, or the believer who, like a stubborn sheep who nevertheless belongs to the Good Shepherd, required much more discipline than usual by the Holy Spirit to bring him into line, may not be considered to be among the ‘faithful.’
But that is another study, too.
To conclude this one, the term ‘elect’, especially as in “God’s elect,” is consistently and clearly used for the Jewish people and them only, in terms of humans. Only once is it used another way, and that refers to a class of angels.
However, to be fair, it was necessary to go back to the original Greek words meaning some form of ‘elect’, and see how else they have been translated. The term ‘chosen’ or one of its variants is the other choice for that word and there is clear indication that ‘chosen’ can also refer to Christians in general, although there are a few times when it, also, is specifically referring to the Jews.
Finally, and importantly when discussing Calvinist doctrine, it is necessary to note that the word most often translated as ‘called’ in the New Testament literally means ‘invited,’ and that Christ’s parable shows that this calling, or invitation, is certainly refusable by the people invited.
The argument being made here from Scripture is not that God does not choose. It is, rather, that He does not choose before the person is born for reasons that are unknown to us. That He chooses those who have responded to Him is made quite clear. Thus, contrary to both Arminianism and Calvinism, the Bible presents a mutuality of choice – God’s choice being based on His foreknowledge of the person involved, and the person’s choice being based on his or her response to the truth presented in his or her life.