Bible · Christianity · King James Version · Religion

Word Study: The “Elect”

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” -1 Peter 1:2 

This is one of the key verses for the Calvinist/Reformed doctrine regarding the “elect” – those who were “predestinated” (Romans 8:29-30) by God for “unconditional election” (the “U” in TULIP).  

Our Calvinist friends would have us believe that God unconditionally elects some people for salvation based on His sovereignty – not because of the choices that we make to be saved. 

Because Calvinism is growing in popularity, I thought it was important to compare Scripture with Scripture to deal with the concept of the elect.  

THE FIRST MENTION 

When trying to study a word in the Bible, it is best practice to look at its first mention. Because of the law or principle of “first mention,” we know that a word used throughout the Bible retains the meaning of its first mention unless the context is different. 

In the case of the “elect,” the first mention is in Isaiah 42:1 “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” 

As we continue in the passage, verses 2-6 read:  

He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. 4 He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. 5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: 6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; 

Now this sounds a lot like Jesus Christ to me. The remaining verses that refer to the elect in the Old Testament are all found in the book of Isaiah, and they are extremely clear about who are elect.  

Isaah 45:4 “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.” 

Isaiah 65:9 “And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.” 

Isaiah 65:22 “They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” 

When applying the law of first mention – the elect are Jews. If the original passage is speaking of Christ – He is a Jew. The next verse clearly lays out “Israel mine elect.” There is absolutely, no question, without a shadow of a doubt, that the “elect” are Jews. 

But what about 1 Peter? Perhaps the context changed because it is a New Testament verse? Let’s take a look. 

The first mention in the New Testament is found in Matthew 24:22, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect‘s sake those days shall be shortened.” 

Shortly after, Matthew 24:24 says, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” 

If you “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), you will know that Matthew 24 is written for the Jews who must endure to the end of the Tribulation. Notice in Matt. 24:22, “there should no flesh be saved.” This condition is not happening at this point in time.  

Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:10 says, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect‘s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 

According to Calvin, the elect are already saved. However, if the elect are Jews, then this verse makes more sense – and referring back to Matthew 24:22, we can deduce that the elect are, in fact, the Jews, who will be deceived by “false Christs” (Antichrist) and false prophets during the tribulation (Matthew 24:24). 

ELECT AND ELECTION ACCORDING TO PAUL 

Here is where the Calvinists would push back. Romans is definitely the bulk of this doctrine of unconditional election. The investigation continues: 

Elect 

Romans 8:33 says, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” 

Who is the elect here? We can start in verse 28: 

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” 

This passage includes “calling,” “predestination,” and the “elect.” These three go hand in hand in “unconditional election,” because God predestinated (the “elect” were chosen before they were even born – which we will touch on later) and called (that’s a topic for another day) the elect. 

Also, it does appear that the context has changed from the elect being Jews to now being Christians. Maybe the Calvinists are correct after all? At the very least, they seem to have some Biblical backing. 

Colossians 3:12, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;” 

1 Timothy 5:12, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.” 

Now here the elect are angels. So, we have Jews, Christians, and angels. Curious, but I do believe this verse is a bit of an anomaly. There is another pair of anomalies in 2 John 1 with the “elect woman” and “thy elect sister.” Notice that ONLY in these three verses have we seen someone/angels where “elect” is a specific identifier.  

Not all angels, but ELECT angels. Not all women, but the ELECT woman. Not all sisters, but the ELECT sister. When it comes to the other verses discussed so far, the “elect” is an entire group of people, whether it be all Jews or all Christians. We do not see “elect Jews” or “elect Christians.”  

Back to Paul. 

Titus 2:2, “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;” 

Paul is a Christian of Jewish decent – but is likely appealing to his Christianity in this verse. This is the final time Paul writes using this rendering of “elect,” but he also speaks often of “election.” 

Election 

Romans 9:11 is the verse that I reference earlier about predestination occurring before birth. It reads, “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth)” 

This passage, however, once again refers to the Jews. It is speaking of the children of Rebecca and Isaac (verse 10).  

Romans 11:5, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” 

Paul appeals to his Jewish heritage in verse 1 and again pairs Israel with election when he writes, “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” in verse 7. 

He continues writing of Israel when he again mentions election in verse 28, “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” 

However, he again switches this up for Christians in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” What stands out of me is verse 5, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” 

Thessalonica was a Greek city, so it is clear that Paul is not referencing Jewish election. However, the gospel came to that church through words, power, and the Holy Ghost, with ASSURANCE – which is something that Calvinists cannot claim. There is no way of knowing whether someone is elect or not until they reach the afterlife and meet God face to face. 

So Paul presents an interesting dilemma. He seems to be speaking of and about Jews when using “election,” save for one verse. He does refer to Christians as “elect,” but also uses the term for Jews, Angels, and a pair of specific women.  

The only other references to “elect” and “election” in the entire Book are found in Peter’s writings. So, we circle back to where we began. 

ELECT AND ELECTION ACCORDING TO PETER 

1 Peter 1:2 “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” 

Notice a key linkage here: “ELECT . . . THROUGH SANCTIFICATION of the Spirit.” 

2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:” 

Now, “God hath FROM THE BEGINNING CHOSEN YOU to salvation THROUGH SANCTIFICATION of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” 

This sure sounds like the Calvinists have a strong argument. God, from the beginning, chose YOU to salvation. That is obviously predestination for the elect, right? 

The next verse from Peter is in 1 Peter 2:6, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” 

Sion (or Zion) is Israel. The “chief corner stone” is Jesus Christ – ELECT. Here we are back to Isaiah.  

The final mention of “election” in the Bible is 2 Peter 1:10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” 

To better understand this verse, we need the preceding verses: 

“1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” 

“These things” in verse 10 refer to the list of things in the previous verses, especially from 5-7: diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. 

If you want to be sure in your calling and election, the rest of these things will be added to you. If you claim to be a Christian, and are diligent in your walk, but are not experiencing growth in these areas, you might not be saved. 

However, does this mean that you are not predestinated to be elect as the Calvinists would argue? 

THE ELECT: CHRISTIANS OR JEWS 

I want to revisit this distinction. The Old Testament clearly refers to Jews. The Gospels clear refer to the Jews. Paul clearly refers to the Jews sometimes, and Christians other times. Peter uses it to refer to Christians.  

Why is this difficult to understand, and how can we apply the law of first mention? 

Romans 11 (remember, this is a passage dealing with Jews) helps answer this. In verse 17, Paul writes, “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;” 

The “wild olive tree” represents the Gentile Christians who are grafted into the Jewish vine because many of the Jews were, at that time, rejecting Christ and were “broken off” of the vine. 

Abraham is the spiritual father of Christians (Romans 4:11) because we are adopted (Ephesians 1:5) and are now the sons of God (1 John 3:2).  

So, the context really has not changed. When we become Christians, we are adopted into the same family as the Jews. A great Old Testament type of this process is the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9.  

Thus, “elect” refers to the physical (BORN) Jews and spiritual (New Testament) Christians who BECOME elect at salvation. 

CALVINISM AND REVERSE CAUSATION 

The reason why Calvinism falls apart with regard to election, is because they suffer from reverse causation – they believe that the ELECT become SAVED, when it is those who are SAVED that become ELECT. 

Salvation comes first.  

If election comes first, then Calvinists have no solid answer to Romans 10:9-13 (For WHOSOEVER shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.), 2 Peter 3:9 (God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance”) and John 3:16 (For God so loved THE WORLD. . .). If only the predestined elect can be saved, then that is a blatant contradiction to all the other verses in the Bible that say otherwise. 

Back to 1 Peter 1:2 again: “ELECT . . . THROUGH SANCTIFICATION of the Spirit.” 

We become sanctified, THEN elect.  

Jesus’ words on sanctification are recorded in Acts 26:18, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” 

If election comes first, then there is no need for sanctification by faith. In fact, I would argue that faith becomes irrelevant if God has already chosen the elect. Literally nothing you can do can change that, because your free will cannot possibly override the sovereignty of God, according to TULIP. 

Your election is unconditional. You have no say.  

However, I followed Romans 10. I have faith that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, and the sins of the entire WORLD. I have called upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and I am saved. I am sure, because I am consumed by the Holy Spirit. I can say that He is adding to me the things listed in 2 Peter 1. I can look back on my life and see how the Lord has produced the fruits of the Spirit through me. 

I made the choice to accept the free gift of salvation, and I am glad that I never have to wait until death for assurance of my salvation. I know that I am sanctified.  

I know that I am elect. 

I hope you enjoyed this word study. For more on why I reject TULIP and Calvinism, read my previous post here. 

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