The Bible Doctrine of Grace
C. RYDER SMITH, B.A., D.D.
Pages 158-167
THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION

In LXX it was found that a certain group of terms go together with the word 'elect' (eklektos). This is so too in the New Testament. Among the Greek terms some are verbal adjectives ending in, -tos. J. H. Moulton(Grammar of New Testament Greek, I.221f.) points out that in Greek, as in the corresponding English words, these terms are sometimes equivalent to past participles and sometimes bear one or other of the senses of the Greek 'gerundive'—and that the context must decide which is meant. He does not say, though he might be held to imply, that a word may have both senses at once. Is not this the reason why there seems to be ambiguity in the meaning of these terms in both the Greek and English languages (and others)? Sometimes, indeed, the context requires that one meaning must be taken and the other left, but at other times both ideas are implied in one way or another. There is an example in paraklEtos, which means both 'one called in to help' and 'one able to help'. Similarly eulogEtos ('blessed'), used so often of God, means both that He is 'worthy to be blessed' and is 'blessed'. The word is almost confined to Him because, in the absolute sense, He alone is worthy to be blessed. In the one passage where the opposite term epikataratos occurs, Paul means first that all who fail to keep the law are 'accursed' because they ought to be and second that Christ 'became a curse for us' because a true Saviour must do so (Gal 310, 13). AgapEtos (61), 'beloved', is another example. In by far the most frequent use of the word the phrase 'beloved brethren' is typical. Christians love one another because fellow-believers are ipso facto 'love-able' (e.g. Ac 1525; Ro 16 5-12; 2 Co 71; Heb 69; Ja 116; 1 P 211; 1Jn 27). On the other hand, Christians are only twice called God's agapEtoi (Ro 17; Eph 51), perhaps because the term might seem to suggest that they were worthy of His love (cf. Ro 1128). In the Synoptics Jesus only is called God's 'beloved', for it is He who is worthy of God's love. Except once (Mk 126) the phrase is peculiar to the stories of His baptism and transfiguration (e.g. Mk 111, 97; cf. 2 P 117). At the baptism the full text is, 'Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well-pleased'. In the latter phrase the verb is eudokein, which is discussed below. It has no verbal adjective, and it is hard to resist the impression that Paul (8) and the writer to the Hebrews (1) use euarestos, the verbal adjective of euareskein, in place of this, for this verb too means 'to be well-pleasing', or, better, 'to well-please'. In the Greek Old Testament (14) it is used ten times for hithhallEk ('to walk with' or 'walk before'). Of these texts nine speak of a man's 'walk with (or before) God'. They all occur either in Genesis or Psalms (263, 5613, 1169), and in the former describe the life of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac (Gn 522, 24, 69, 2440, 485). According to LXX, to 'walk before God' is to be 'well-pleasing' to Him. The adjective euarestos does not occur till the Book of Wisdom (419, 910), but then it means that God is pleased with a man who deserves His pleasure. Euarestos and its verb seem to have been in common use to describe Enoch (Sir 4416; Wis 410; He 115f). The writer of Wisdom says that because he was 'well-pleasing to God', he was 'loved' and 'translated'. God, if the phrase is permissible, was 'delighted' with him because he was 'delightsome'—i.e., the verbal adjective combines two senses. In the New Testament, euarestein (3) is peculiar to Hebrews (115f, 1216), but it always refers to God's 'good pleasure', as does euarestos in at least six of its ten instances. Paul (9) declares in one sentence that the 'holy sacrifice' of a true Christian life is 'delightsome' to God, and that the 'will of God', when 'put to the proof', is 'delightsome' to Christians—but he also implies that, in fact, God 'delights' in the one and Christians 'delight' in the other (Rom 121f; cf. 1418; Eph 510; Phil 418). Again, when he says 'we are ambitious to be well-pleasing to (God)', he implies that God is sometimes 'well-pleased' with Christians. Here the one text in Hebrews is complementary (He 1321)—God Himself, 'through Jesus Christ', seeks to 'perfect' Christians 'in every good thing to do his will', that is, 'works in (them) that which is well-pleasing in his sight'. It will be noticed that all the verbal adjectives here examined imply that God chooses or selects or 'elects' a certain kind of man. The conclusion seems to be clear—that usually the adjectives combine one of the senses of the 'gerundive' with the sense of the past participle—that is, that God chooses men because they are for some reason 'choose-able'—that is, His choice is not arbitrary. Is this the same with eklektos ('elect')? And, if so, for what reason are the elect 'choose-able'? These are the next questions. It will be convenient to leave five passages in Paul (Ro 118-32, 826-30, 9-11; 1 Co 110-17; Ephs 13-14) till the end of the discussion, and to take first the other passages where either 'elect' or 'predestinate' and their allied terms occur.

In the New Testament the verb 'choose' or 'elect' (eklegesthai, 22) has two uses. Under the first it means 'to choose for some particular purpose'. For instance, Jesus 'chose twelve whom also he named apostles' (Lk 613; cf. Ac 12; Jn 1516)—that is, He chose them in order to 'send' them on His errand. It was not an arbitrary choice, but a choice of those who best suited His purpose. Perhaps their chief qualification was their willingness to do all His will, for they never refused outright to obey Him. They were 'not of the world' (In 1519). Judas, however, proved faithless. This shows that our Lord's choice did not override a disciple's own will. In the Fourth Gospel it is implied both that Judas ceased to be 'chosen', and that God foresaw and used his treachery (In 670, 1318). Similarly, when Matthias and Stephen and Barsabbas and Silas were 'chosen' for particular pieces of service, it is assumed that they were willing to undertake them (Ac 124, 65, 1522, 25). In one passage Paul repeats the Old Testament doctrine that God 'chose' Israel, but goes on to argue that 'they that dwell in Jerusalem' have refused to fulfil His purpose in that choice (Ac 1317,27). Peter, on the other hand, obeyed when God surprised him by 'choosing' him to evangelize Gentiles (Ac 157). Most of all, when God said at the Transfiguration, 'This is my son, my chosen' (Lk 935), surely Jesus was willing to do God's will even unto death (cf. vv. 21ff). Under the first use of the verb the New Testament teaches, as the Jews had long believed, that, while it is for God to choose, it is for man to consent to be chosen. So far the Divine choice is neither arbitrary nor coercive, and it does not mean 'select to be saved hereafter' but 'select for a particular service now'.

Under the second use of eklegesthai, God 'chooses' men, not for a particular task, but to be saved. The few instances of this use of the verb may be taken with the verbal adjective eklektos ('select' or 'elect', 24) and the noun eklogE ('choice' or 'election', 7). The New Testament use of these terms cannot be understood unless it is remembered that the phrase 'the elect' was already current among the Jews. The controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees grew into a controversy between Christians and Jews. This lasted throughout the New Testament period. In its course, in spite of an initial success at and after Pentecost, it became ever clearer that the Jews, taken as a whole, were rejecting their own Messiah—so much so that the writer of the Fourth Gospel often calls Jesus' opponents, not 'the Pharisees' or 'the rulers', but 'the Jews'. The continuous controversy between Jews and Christians arising from the question 'Who is Messiah ?', drew with it the question 'Who are God's elect?' The Jews replied: 'We, or at least, those among us who keep God's law, are His elect.' The Christians declared: 'Jesus is God's elect par excellence, and therefore those who believe in Him are His elect too.' It has been shown from the Apocrypha (and the later Old Testament) that, when the Jews used the word 'elect', they did not mean that God's choice was either arbitrary or coercive. The presumption is that when the Christians used the phrase they used it in the same sense. No doubt some of them knew of the Stoic doctrine that God is a kind of inscrutable Fate, but this would not attract believers in a personal God and a living Christ.

The use of eklektos is not common in the Synoptic Gospels (10). In Luke 'the rulers' used it when they scoffed at the Cross (2335). Here 'save' and 'the Christ of God' and 'his elect' appear, probably correctly, as if they were in current use about Jesus before He died. Later on Matthew applied to Him the prophecy, 'Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; My beloved, in whom my soul is well-pleased' (Mt 1218; Is 421). Again, Peter, quoting a Psalm under which Jesus had compared Himself to a 'stone rejected' of men (Mt 2142), interprets the phrase 'which was made the head of the corner' to mean 'elect' (1 P 24-7). Clearly for the early Church it was primarily Christ who was 'elect'. The complementary truth is that He always willed what God willed (Mk 1436; Jn 1017f). In the Synoptics, when 'the elect' is used of others, the phrase seems to denote His followers (cf. 1 P 25). The phrase occurs three times in Mark's 'Little Apocalypse' (1320, 22, 27), as though it were already a well-known Christian term. It Is the same in Luke's phrase, 'Shall not God vindicate his own elect, which cry to him day and night?' (187). These texts presuppose the later persecutions, which were more severe than the reproach and slander that befell the disciples while Jesus was on earth (Mt 510f; cf. Jn 162; Rev 69f). They imply that it is the loyal disciples who are 'elect'. Finally, there is Matthew's phrase 'For many are called but few elect' (2214). At first sight it does not seem to suit the parable in the context at all. While those who had first been 'called' or 'invited' to the wedding were probably 'many', they had all refused the invitation. They chose to refuse, and the implied deduction would be 'Many are called, but (because of their refusal) none of them is any longer chosen', for they had shown themselves unworthy (v. 8). Next, when the bondservants have 'called' all and sundry and 'constrained' or urged them to come, the wedding is 'filled with guests' (vv. 9f). Surely it took more than 'few' to fill the chamber. The implied conclusion, under the second part of the parable, would be 'Many are called, and all (except the one man without a wedding-garment) are chosen!' The phrase 'many are called but few chosen' seems quite inept to either part of the parable. But, since it is agreed that the first Gospel was written or compiled for a church where there were a number of Jewish converts, may not the whole passage be their teacher's answer to a question that their Jewish neighbours would be continually pressing upon them—'Since the Jews are the elect people, why do so few Jews believe?' The Matthaean teacher begins his answer by using a parable found also in Luke (1416-24—where 'constrain' in verse 23 is to be interpreted as 'urge'—cf. Mk 645; Ac 2819, etc. )—that is, he appeals to our Lord's own account of the Jews' refusal of Him. Then he adds a warning of its dire consequences (Mt 227). Next, he points to the many Gentiles who are flocking into the Church, adding a warning to them that they need a wedding-garment. Finally, he sums up his answer to the question from which he started—'Many (of the Jews) are called but few ( of them) are elect' . On this interpretation this is not Jesus' phrase but the teacher's. Yet, while it is a deduction that he makes, it is a justifiable deduction. The First Gospel has another word about 'the few'—'Few there be that find (the narrow gate)' (Mt 714). Here the Third Gospel, which supplies the context (Lk 1323-30), shows that Jesus is answering the question, 'Lord, are they few that are being saved?', and He answers, in effect, 'Few Jews but many Gentiles', for, while the children of Abraham are 'cast forth without' the Kingdom, crowds from all the ends of the earth 'sit down' in it. On this showing the phrase 'Many are called but few elect' is not a universal principle, but the application of the universal Law of Opportunity to the particular case of the Jews. Most of them refused the invitation of Jesus and the Law of Atrophy began to work; a few of them accept it, and therefore God in His sovereignty chose them 'to sit down in His Kingdom' (cf. Lk 1329). All the passages where the word 'elect' occurs in the Synoptic Gospels probably imply the early Christians' answer to the controversial question, 'Who are God's elect?' The answer is 'Not you Jews, for you reject your own Messiah—but first Jesus, and then those who obey God's call through Him'. Here, though in a way that suited new circumstances, they said what their Master had said. Today some Christians seem to think that He received all who came, but this is not so. He made conditions (e.g. Mk 834; Lk 957-62)—that is, He selected. The doctrine of Election in the Synoptic Gospels always presupposes the consent of the selected.

For the use of the word 'elect' outside the Synoptics a beginning may be made from a kind of 'study in election' which Peter puts in the Iniddle of an exhortation to Christian godliness (1 P 24-10). It is a study of 'a stone', and centres in the fact that the same stone might either serve in the building of a house or be a 'stumblingblock' on a road. The Greek word for 'stumbling-block' is skandalon (15). The fundamental idea of this word is the misuse of a good thing. In the First Gospel Jesus, in one story, calls Peter himself first a 'stone' and then a 'stumbling-block' (Mt 1618, 23). In a few moments the good had turned itself to misuse. But Jesus, quoting Psalm 11822, had also called Himself a 'rejected stone' that was to become 'head of the corner' (which perhaps should rather be rendered 'chief corner stone', meaning the stone set to mark the first corner in laying out the foundations of a house). Peter, quoting the same passage, adds two quotations from Isaiah (2816, 813-15). In one the Lord lays a stone in Zion; in the other He Himself is the stone. Peter applies both to Christ. In Isaiah 2816, he adds 'elect' to the Hebrew, as does LXX(There is a passage in John where on very early authority Jesus is called 'the elect of God' (134, Syr. ver.)). Here the phrase 'He that believeth shall not be ashamed' (LXX) was very apt for Christian use. In Isaiah 813-15 there is a contrast between the use and misuse of 'the stone'. To some 'the LORD' is a (stone of) 'sanctuary'(This seems to be the sense of the Hebrew (cf. 1 K 228).); to others He is 'a stone of stumbling' and 'a rock of offence'. For the last word Peter (but not LXX) rightly uses skandalon. Isaiah means that God is either a help or hindrance to a man as the man chooses. Similarly, Peter sets 'the believer' over against 'the disbeliever' (apistos). To the latter God had said 'If you reject my Chosen, He will be a skandalon to you'—or, as Peter, being a true Hebrew, puts it, 'To this doom the disobedient are also appointed by God, because they are disobedient'. 'Appointed' is a king's word, not a creator's(cf. Lk 1246). Probably Peter is referring to the skandalon of the Cross (cf. 1 Co 123; Mt 1621-3). A man became either better or worse 'as he answered God's appeal in the crucified Christ with a 'Yes' or 'No', and it was God's will that this should be so. The oftener he said 'No', the harder it would be to say 'Yes'. His spiritual capacity would atrophy. What we call 'inevitable atrophy' a Jew called 'appointed doom', for the Law of Atrophy is a law of God. At the end of Peter's 'study' he returns to his starting-point. Christians are themselves 'stones' in 'a spiritual house' built on Christ, and it is now no longer the old Israel but the Church that is 'an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for (the King's) personal possession' (cf. I Ch 293; Mal 317). These synonymous phrases, borrowed from the Old Covenant (Ex 196; Dt 1015), are now claimed under the New, an apposite quotation being added from Hosea (19f, 223). For Peter, who had already addressed the new 'Dispersion' as 'elect' (I P 11), it is believers and the Church that are ipso facto 'elect'—yet they must still see to their 'way of life' (v. 12). If they had been 'elect' nolentes volentes, the whole passage (21-12), would be pointless. Peter was a 'practical man' and, like all 'practical men', he took human freedom for granted. The burden of the passage is 'If a man elects to believe in Christ, God will elect him; if he rejects Christ, God will reject him'. As James, another 'practical man', says, 'God chose the poor. . . to be rich in faith' because they 'love him' (Ja 25). Similarly, John the Seer speaks of the Lamb's companions as 'called and elect and faithful' (Rev. 1714). Here the last word, at least, has both an adjectival and gerundive sense, for pistos means both 'believing' and 'trust-worthy'. God chooses to trust those who choose to trust Him. It is on the ground of their choice that they are His 'elect'.

The quotation from the Apocalypse includes another relevant term klEtos, 'called'. This is not very common in LXX (17), but there it has two clearly defined senses. In one it means 'guests'—that is, people who have been invited to a feast and have accepted the invitation (Jg 1411; 2 S 1511; I K 129, 41). In these the Hebrew word (qara') is rendered both by the perfect participle keklEmenos and klEtos. In another passage xenos, the ordinary Greek term for 'guest', is used (I S 913). In one text klEtoi is used for God's 'guests' at a grim festival (Zeph 17). When they arrive He 'hallows' them (hagiazein)! This brings together the ideas of 'call' (invitation) and 'holiness', and leads to the second use of kletos in LXX. Under this it occurs twelve times in combination with hagios to describe 'a day of holy festival' (ten times in Lev 23), kletE hagia rendering a Hebrew phrase that means 'a convocation of holiness' (miqra qOdesh). The idea of a 'guest' also occurs in the two texts where klEsis, literally 'calling', is found. In one manuscript it describes Holofernes' 'banquet' (Jth 1210 A); in a text in Jeremiah it is used of 'a day of (God's) invitation' to Ephraim (316). It will be seen that in both uses of klEtos in LXX the underlying idea is that an invitation has been given and accepted. No doubt every host 'sanctified his guests', as we 'ask a blessing', but when God sanctified His, they were indeed klEtoi hagioi, though this phrase does not occur. Among Hellenistic Jews the 'compound noun' 'kletE hagia', 'a holy convocation', would be almost in as common use as 'Sunday' is today. Under it God calls men to worship and they choose to come.

In the New Testament klEtos (11) is used of Paul's call to apostleship (Ro 11; I Co 11)—i.e.like eklektos, for a Christian who is chosen for a particular enterprise—but it occurs more often in the plural to denote 'Christians'. They are 'Jesus Christ's beloved and holy guests' (Rom 16f; I Co 12, 24; cf. Jude 1), for they have accepted His invitation. When Paul greets them as klEtoi hagioi, he is thinking of a church as a holy convocation of 'God's beloved', who in turn 'call upon' the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ro 17; I Co 12). Similarly, the idea of 'invitation' is probably not absent in most of the texts where klEsis (11) occurs in the New Testament. It too may be used of a particular 'vocation', the vocation of marriage (I Co 720), but it is elsewhere used either of 'the calling of God' to Christians or of 'the calling' of Christians by God. In a majority of passages the meaning of this 'vocation' for the future is in the writer's mind. There is, for instance, 'a prize of God's high calling' and 'a hope' (Ph 314; Eph 1l8, 41, 4), for it is 'heavenly' (He 31). Christians are therefore urged to 'walk worthily' of it (Eph 41; cf. 2 Th 111) and to 'make their calling and election sure' (2 P110). It seems clear, both under klEtos and klEsis, that the concepts of God's call and of man's willing response are both present. (The solitary use of klEtos in Mt 2214 to mean 'the called' who do not respond, already discussed, is perhaps intentionally unusual.)

Next there is the noun eklogE ('election',7), a term not found in LXX. Here three passages exhibit the same phenomena as klEtos. In one 'the Lord' tells Ananias that Paul is 'a vessel of election unto me' for a particular purpose (Ac 915). Under the 'goad' of Christ Saul had at last consented to do Christ's will. In the other two texts there are significant parallel terms. The Thessalonians, being 'beloved' (EgapEmenos) of God, are to 'know' their 'election' (I Th 14), and the readers of Second Peter are to 'make their calling and election sure' (110). In the first passage Paul refers to the Thessalonians' 'work of faith' and the second is a direct appeal to Christians' own 'diligence', a word characteristic of 2 Peter. In both cases believers had 'accepted the word' that they had 'received' (cf. I Th 213). The whole discussion more than suggests that the renderings 'chosen' and 'called' do not exhaust the meaning of eklektos and klEtos, but that these two verbal adjectives, like pistos, have both an adjectival and a gerundial sense. They denote 'choose-able' and 'call-able', as well as 'chosen' and 'called'. It is God who takes the initiative—but it is the men who through faith show themselves 'choose-able' and 'call-able' that are 'the elect' and 'the called'.

A like result follows if the uses of dektos (5) are examined. In Nazareth Jesus was not 'accepted' by his fellow-villagers because He was not 'acceptable' to them (Lk 424). In one passage men, and in another sacrifices, are both 'acceptable' to God and 'accepted' by Him (Ac 1035; Ph 418). The other two passages, following Deutero-Isaiah (Is 498,612), speak of a 'year' or 'season' that is 'acceptable', because 'now is . . . the day of salvation'—i.e. now is the time when men are 'accepted' (Lk 419; 2 Co 62). The verb prosdechesthai (14), sometimes relevant in LXX, is only once so in the New Testament. Here Jesus' critics 'murmur' because He 'accepts sinners' (Lk 152), but of course He did not 'accept' all sinners but only such as were ready to repent and 'follow' Him. The notions 'acceptable' and 'accepted' are both present.

The other term relevant to 'election' is eudokia (9), with its verb eudokein (21). As in LXX the ideas of 'good pleasure', 'approval', and 'good will' are all present, but they are inadequate in the New Testament, for there eudokia has a warmer and more active meaning. Paul, for instance, uses it of his 'yearning' for the salvation of the Jews (Ro 101). It has already been argued that euarestos is used as verbal adjective for these terms since there was, no word eudoktos. Its use is consonant with theirs. In the Synoptic Gospels, in a passage from Is 421, describing 'the Servant of the Lord', eudokein is applied to Jesus at His baptism (Mk 111). Matthew quotes the passage itself and uses it also at the Transfiguration (1218, 175). The man whom God 'approves' is His 'beloved' whom He has 'chosen'. Here, as in LXX, God approves the Righteous because He is righteous. But in Luke the two terms are also used of the disciples. They are the 'babes' who are Jesus' 'little flock' (1021, 1232)—just because they are His. They have heard and answered His call. As with 'election', so with eudokia—other men's blessing is mediated through Jesus. No doubt Luke would apply the angels' phrase, 'peace to men of (God's) good pleasure' (214), to Jesus' disciples for he is telling of the birth of 'a Saviour' (v. 11). God's ardent 'good pleasure' goes out to those who welcome His Beloved Son. Response is implied.

In the Epistles, eudokia and eudokein are used of Christians' active, though derivative, good-will (Ro 101, 1526f; 2 Co 58; Ph 115), but more often of God's good-will. In two quotations the writer to the Hebrews draws contrasts. In one he sets Christ who has 'come to do (God's) will' over against the old sacrifices; in the other he warns Christians who 'shrink back' because of persecution that they will lose God's eudokia (He 105-7, 38). It is Christ and Christians who are the 'men of good-pleasure', and in both passages willing obedience is its condition. The other passages are Pauline. The Apostle, finding anticipations of both Sacraments in the Exodus, points out that 'our fathers' did not secure God's permanent 'good pleasure' (I Co 101-6) because of disobedience. In another text the Apostle declares that it is God's 'good pleasure' to 'save them that believe' (I Co 121). In a third (Ph 213), where Paul is urging Christians to persist in obedience to 'the word of life', there falls a famous antinomy 'Work out your own salvation', 'It is God that worketh in you'. In a fourth, Paul prays that God will 'fulfil every good-pleasure of goodness and work of faith' (2 Th 111). Finally, in a passage that articulates the whole New Testament concept of eudokia, Paul declares that 'it was the good-pleasure (of God) that in (Christ) should all the fulness dwell' so that God 'might reconcile all things unto Himself', beginning with Christians who 'continue in the faith' (Col 119f, 23). In all these passages Paul makes the Christian application of the Pharisaic belief both in the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. It is those who have consented to believe in whom God is well-pleased.

Last updated 10.3.2007