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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Call, Calling

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1. Terms.

(a) OT.

(b) Gospels.

(c) Epistles.

2. Secular calling.

3. Spiritual calling.

(a) Our Lord’s Messianic vocation.

(b) The Apostolic calling.

(c) Other calls to service.

(d) The Gospel call in Christ’s own teaching.



1. The Terms.

(a) The OT.—The substantive ‘call’ is not found in the English Bible. If used of an animal’s call, it tends to imply a significant note—e.g. a mother’s call to her brood (Bunyan, PP ii. 62)—not a mere emotional cry. The English verb ‘call’ has for its primary meaning ‘to speak loudly.’ In Hebrew we note the same implication in קָרִא, .g. Proverbs 8:1; but in Hebrew the word still more strongly suggests articulate speech, even perhaps in Psalms 147:9 (although the partridge probably derives its name קרא from its ). It is indeed the technical word for reading (.g. Isaiah 29:12): the Hebrews read and prayed aloud. Eli suspected Hannah (1 Samuel 1:13) not because her lips moved in private prayer—rather because in the intensity and modesty of her desire she prayed without sound. Loudness may express authority; or it may be a simple effort to attract notice. Anyway, a ‘call,’ Hebrew or English, is a loud and definite communication from one person to another. Either language may use the verb intransitively, but always with a sort of latent transitiveness. In Greek, on the other hand, καλέω is transitive. What is implied in the other languages is explicit in this one. Definiteness (and perhaps authority) receives reinforcement when the calling is name. We are probably not to confuse this with the mere of a name; though, according to the ideas of the ancient world, so much power is wrapped up in names that there may be a certain infiltration of that thought in the Biblical usage of calling name. But, more simply, one’s name arrests one’s attention, and assures one that the call is addressed to him. In Deutero-Isaiah it is said that Jehovah has a name for every star (Isaiah 40:26 [we need not discuss whether the stars are here conceived as alive], imitated in Psalms 147:4). That signifies His power; it is rather His condescension that is shown when He calls the prophetic servant, Israel, by name (Isaiah 43:1). Again, He calls Cyrus ‘by name’ to his historic functions (Isaiah 45:3-4, cf. also Exodus 31:2 [P]). If our text is to be trusted, Jehovah even ‘surnames’ Cyrus (Isaiah 45:4). It is a mark of kindliness when a servant is not simply ‘waiter’ or ‘guard’ to his rich employer, but has a name and a recognized personality of his own. (Here cf. Exodus 33:12; Exodus 33:17). To ‘surname,’ at least in the strict sense, is a still stronger proof of friendly interest; surnames are a token of some new destiny, or else imply knowledge of idiosyncrasies. (Acc. to P, Jehovah renames ‘Abram’ and ‘Sarai,’ Genesis 17:5; Genesis 17:15, while Moses renames ‘Hoshea,’ Numbers 13:16; cf. also the surnames given by our Lord to the three leading Apostles, Mark 3:16-17). It is also in Deutero-Isaiah that we find the emergence of ‘call’ in a sort of theological sense; the ‘call’ of Abraham (Isaiah 51:2 ‘I called him’).

Another important section of the OT for our terminology is the ‘Praise of Wisdom,’ Proverbs 1-9. Several things are noticeable here; the loud call—Divine Wisdom as a street preacher (Proverbs 8:1; cf. Proverbs 1:20); the solemn religious conception of the call rejected (Proverbs 1:24); the call as an invitation to a feast (ch. 9). This last usage (‘call’ = ‘invite’), while obsolete in modern English, is found in its literal sense both in OT and NT of our version; e.g. 1 Kings 1:9, John 2:2 Authorized Version.

Still another group of OT passages may seem to require notice—those describing the ‘call’ of various prophets. The term is not so used in OT (unless Isaiah 51:2?—see above—Abraham is a ‘prophet’ in Genesis 20:7 [E]). But there is a passage which would lend itself excellently to this interpretation—the tale of the call of the young Samuel, where we have three interesting parallel usages: Jehovah ‘called to Samuel’ (1 Samuel 3:4 literally), ‘called Samuel’ (1 Samuel 3:8), ‘called … Samuel, Samuel’ (1 Samuel 3:10).

There are therefore several usages of the word ‘to call’ in OT which we ought to keep in mind as we approach the Gospels. It means command, or it means invitation. It means a summons to special function, or it means (along with that) a peculiar mark of gracious condescension.

(b) In the Gospels, the verb may occur in the literal sense (Matthew 20:8). But in general a compound form is preferred for such sense; e.g. when Jesus calls (προσκαλεσάμενος) His disciples near Him for a short talk (Mark 10:42). We have the simple form in one important passage when James and John are ‘called’ (Mark 1:20 || Matthew 4:21 ἐκάλεσεν), though the compound (προσκαλεῖται) is found in Mark’s record of the selection of the Twelve (Mark 3:13), while in the parallel in Luke (Luke 6:13) προσεφώνησεν is employed. It might be argued that, even here, the mere word ‘called’ means no more than ‘called to Himself.’ Still, in view of OT antecedents, that is questionable. Anyway, as a matter of fact, those ‘calls’ were commands and invitations, to ‘leave all’ (Mark 10:28) and follow Jesus—to take up solemn functions in His service. When compounds of καλέω are used, or when φωνέω is used, we need not suspect deep religious or theological significance in the word. Yet here again the fact has to be dealt with. Jesus may simply ‘call to’ (φωνεῖν) Bartimaeus (Mark 10:49); but the result of the conversation (and miracle) is that be who had been blind ‘follows Jesus in the way’ (Mark 10:52). In two other passages the group of meanings associated with Proverbs 1-9—privilege rather than authority; invitation, rather than command—come to the front: ‘I came not to call (καλέσαι) the righteous, but sinners’ (Mark 2:17, Matthew 9:13; Luke 5:32 adds ‘to repentance’), and ‘many are called (κλητοί), but few chosen’ (Matthew 22:14; in Matthew 20:16 these words are rightly dropped by Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 as not belonging to the original text).

(c) Though our concern is with the Gospels, we cannot refuse to consult the Epistles for the light they may throw on Gospel usage. They give us a cognate substantive; not ‘call’ but ‘calling.’ ‘Call’ as a substantive occurs in English much earlier than our Authorized Version, but presumably the purely physical idea—the audible call—was too strongly marked in it to allow of its standing for God’s address to the conscience. ‘Calling,’ which was preferred, reproduces the form of the Greek substantive κλῆσις. This term is mainly Pauline (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:26), though it extends into Hebrews (Hebrews 3:1) and (at least so far as the verb is concerned) into 1 Peter (1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 2:21). As moulded by St. Paul, there is no doubt that the ‘call’ is primarily one to salvation (Romans 8:28-30), though it may also signify special (Apostolic) function (Romans 1:1). The Epistle to the Hebrews preserves the same twofold reference. All believers ‘partake of a heavenly calling’ (Hebrews 3:1), but none may take high honour or office upon himself except when ‘called’ by God thereto (Hebrews 5:4). Later in the history of English speech, the physical implications of the noun ‘call’ having been in some measure rubbed off, it came into religious use, so as generally to displace ‘calling.’ We say the ‘call’ not ‘calling’ of Abraham; but if Scripture had used a substantive, ‘calling’ would have been installed by our translators in this phrase. The NT ‘calling’ is a single definite act in the past, whether personal conversion [sometimes acceptance of Divinely imposed duty] or the historic mission of Christ. He who ‘called’ us is holy (1 Peter 1:15). In our modern use of ‘calling,’ something seems borrowed from the idea of a worldly calling, viz. habitualness. Acc. to Murray’s Dictionary, 1 Corinthians 7:20 introduced—almost by an accident—the use of ‘calling’ for worldly rank, station, external surroundings. ‘Hence,’ it adds, ‘ “calling” came to be applied to the various means of bread-winning.’ [The exegesis of the verse is disputed, but the view the Dictionary proceeds on seems to be right. It is not, of course, pretended that ‘calling’ in 1 Corinthians 7:20 means exactly trade or profession. St. Paul would never make it matter of conscience that a Christian should refrain from changing his trade]. Both these senses—viz. (1) station, and (2) trade—are often (unwarrantably, the Dictionary seems to think, as far as etymology goes) regarded as Divine vocations. This is surely obscure. If 1 Corinthians 7:20 taught so little, can we hold it responsible for a twofold set of meanings? May not professional ‘calling’ rather mean, in the first instance, ‘what I am called’—William [the] Smith, John [the] Tailor? a still humbler etymology. However that may be, the idea of Divine vocation in daily concerns could not be ruled out from Christian thought. Thus inevitably Christians have been led to formulate the idea of a lifelong Divine vocation, covering all externals, but centring in the heart. It may be repeated that ‘calling’ (the substantive) is not found in the Gospels; of course the word is not found anywhere in the Authorized and Revised Versions in the sense of ‘trade.’

2. Secular calling.—It is unnecessary to pass under review the occupations followed by our Lord in youth and by His Apostles. See artt. Trades, Carpenter, Fishing, etc.

3. Spiritual calling

(a) Our Lord Himself, who calls all others, was ‘called of God’ (Hebrews 5:4) to the Messiahship. It is an irrelevant sentimentality that dwells too much on the ‘carpenter of Nazareth.’ Jesus was full of the consciousness of His calling, its requirements, its limitations. Not to cite the Fourth Gospel—abundant signs of this, but in the usual golden haze blurring all sharp outlines—we have Mark 1:38 (?) Mark 2:17; Mark 10:45, Matthew 5:17; Matthew 15:24 etc. etc. It is one of the services of Ritschl to recent theology—with anticipations in von Hofmann—that he has made prominent the thought of Christ’s vocation, displacing the less worthy and less ethical category of Christ’s merit. In the Gospels this vocation is expressed by the word ‘sent’ or I ‘came’ (as above; or’. ‘him that sent me,’ John 4:34 etc.), not by ‘call.’ If there is any one point in our Lord’s life where it may be held that the ‘call’ definitely reached Him,—where He became conscious of Messiahship,—we must seek it at His baptism (Mark 1:9-11; three parallels).

(b) In dealing with the call addressed by Christ to His disciples, we begin with the Apostles. Taking the different Gospels together, we seem to recognize three stages. (1) According to St. John, Christ’s first disciples were Galilaeans who, like Himself, had visited the Jordan in order to be baptized by John: Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael (presumably = Bartholomew; see art. Bartholomew, above), and presumably James the brother of John (John 1:35-51). The only one mentioned as called with a ‘follow me’ is Philip (John 1:43); and it is possible that this is rather an invitation to follow on the journey to Galilee than through life (and death). For the rest, we have acquaintanceships and attachments apparently forming themselves—elective affinities displayed, rather than the Master’s will exercised ad hoc; but the result, according to St. John, is the formation of a small yet definite circle, who are disciples (John 2:2; John 2:12; John 2:17 etc. etc.) of Jesus now, as others are (and as they themselves previously were) of John the Baptist. (2) The Synoptists tell us of the call in Galilee (‘Come ye after me,’ Mark 1:17 || Matthew 4:19; ‘He called them,’ Mark 1:20 || Matthew 4:21) of Peter, Andrew, James, John. The first two are called with a sort of pleasantry; they are to be ‘fishers of men,’ in allusion to their former occupation. St. Luke has the same narrative (Luke 5:1-11) in a more picturesque form; the borrowing of Peter’s boat, in order to teach from it as a pulpit; payment after sermon in the form of a miraculous draught of fishes; Peter’s fear as a sinner at the near presence of the supernatural; the same kindly bon mot; all four fishermen [? Luke 5:7] on the spot; all four becoming disciples. Here the call (see art. Disciple below) involves leaving everything to follow Christ (Luke 5:11, Mark 10:28; cf. Mark 1:18; cf. Mark 1:20, Matthew 19:27; cf. Matthew 4:20; cf. Matthew 4:22). Previous acquaintance with these men may have induced Jesus to begin His teaching by the Sea of Galilee [an ‘undesigned coincidence’?]. Other members of the disciple circle in Galilee must have been added one by one; some by elective atlinity! Not all volunteers might be repelled like the scribe of Matthew 8:19 || Luke 9:59. Matthew the publican, however (Matthew 9:9, Luke 5:27 Levi, Mark 2:14 Levi the son of Alphaeus), is called straight from his place of toll to ‘follow,’ and instantly obeys; a memorable incident. (3) The final ‘call’ in this series appears when Jesus ‘calls to him whom he himself will,’ and ‘appoints twelve, that they may be with him, and that he may send them forth to preach and … cast out devils’ (Mark 3:13 etc.; so too, though less clearly, Luke 6:13; not in Matthew 10:1 ‘his twelve disciples,’ Matthew 10:2 ‘the twelve apostles’). (4) Or, if there is another stage still, it is marked when they are ‘sent out’ for the first time (Matthew 10:5, Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1), or when in consequence of this the name ‘apostles’ (see art. Apostle) is attached to them. Thus, in the case of at least twelve men, the call has issued in a very definite calling; permanent, and in a sense official.

(c) Another group possesses a varied interest. It includes volunteers; it relates ‘calls’ to service addressed to those who were not destined to be Apostles; it offers examples of the call rejected. There are four cases; the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17 etc. and parallels), and a group of three found together (Luke 9:57-62; partial parallel Matthew 8:19-22). The scribe (see Mt.) who volunteers means, or professes to mean, discipleship in the intenser sense. He will follow ‘wherever the Master goes’; he will ‘leave all,’ like the Twelve; the stumbling-block of property, which was too much for the young ruler, is no stumbling-block to him. This volunteer meets not with welcome but rebuff; and, so far as we know, there is an end of his gospel service. Again, the man whose father is just dead—that seems the inexorable sense of the words—is needed immediately as a herald of the ‘kingdom of God’ (so Luke). And the other volunteer, who, with less urgency (so far as we are told) is anxious ‘first’ to bid farewell to his home circle, is ‘looking back’ from the plough. St. Luke seems well justified in making these narratives introduce a wider mission (that of the ‘Seventy’). And here we get important light on the demand that the rich young ruler should give away his property. This may have seemed to our Lord’s discernment necessary for the man’s own safety—does not the sequel point in that direction? But, even independently of that, though a Christian might be a man of means (see below), a wandering preacher could hardly be. These were calls to service, which met, temporarily or finally, with tragic refusal. Whatever else the refusal may have implied is God’s secret.

(d) So far we have dealt chiefly with authority; when we consider the few cases in the Gospels where the call is generalized—‘not the righteous but sinners’ (Mark 2:17 || Matthew 9:13 || Luke 5:32); ‘many called, few chosen’ (Matthew 22:14)—invitation comes to the front. The parable depicting the Kingdom of God as a feast (Matthew 22:2 ff., Luke 14:16 ff.), while, of course, a parable and not to be pressed too far, emphasizes this. Its language recalls Proverbs 9. And it has been remarked that the well-known lovely ‘gospel invitation’ (Matthew 11:28-30) strongly suggests Divine Wisdom speaking. More questionable is the idea started by Bruce in the Expos. Gk. Test. that Jesus literally invited outcasts to a free meal at a public hall in the name of Levi (Matthew)—a sort of Free Breakfast or Midnight Supper. On the other hand, the very earliest form of the general call is pure authority; ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15).

In all these cases, language itself helps us to vindicate the great truth, that the call of Christ is not merely a call to some external form of service under rapidly vanishing conditions, but a call addressed to heart and conscience; in other words, that Christianity is essentially a religion. Of course, this truth becomes clearer in the Epistles, or in the Fourth Gospel, than in the earlier and less reflective Gospels; but, in regard to our ‘calling,’ as in all respects, the teaching of Christ Himself traces the plain outlines within which His Apostles afterwards work. Perhaps we ought to note here a difference at least in language between Christ and St. Paul. To the latter, the ‘called’ are eo ipso the ‘elect’ or ‘predestinated’ (Romans 8:29-30; Romans 8:33); to Christ, ‘calling’ (inviting) comes first (Matthew 22:14), and selection follows; ‘after trial,’ as it has been expressed. Our Lord’s words, therefore, mark our Christian calling as a calling to service and as a probation. Though we are admitted to His friendship and love, all is not assured. According to His language in the Fourth Gospel, one ‘given’ to Christ may ‘perish’ (John 17:12). The ‘unfruitful’ branch is ‘taken away,’ ‘cast forth,’ ‘burned’ (John 15:2; John 15:6). All must stand before His judgment-seat; a thought which the parables spoken in view of separation, parables addressed to His own, particularly emphasize (Matthew 25; some parallels). All must ‘take up the cross’ and ‘follow Christ’ to the uttermost (Mark 8:34 etc. etc.). The last command addressed to a friend by Christ, like the first, is ‘follow me’ (John 21:19; John 21:22).

The question has been raised whether Jesus’ call did not imply a sort of fanaticism based on a mistaken expectation of the near end of the world. This is at least suggested by the purely eschatological view of the Kingdom of God (see art. Kingdom of God, below) in the Gospels, as taught by Bousset, J. Weiss, and others. If the imputation of fanaticism were historically warranted, all Christians must have been required to live in a fashion possible only to the first few; the call to repent must have been swallowed up in the call to share the Master’s wandering life; our ‘high calling’ (Philippians 3:14), as declared by Christ, must have been deeply tinged with delusion. It is enough to point in reply to women friends of Jesus; to homes whose hospitality He consented to share; to a convert under exceptional circumstances not called nor even permitted to be with Christ, but sent home to be a witness there (Mark 5:19 || Luke 8:39). The grain of truth in this heap of error has been indicated above. Our Christian calling is not merely to salvation, it is to service. One may add, that the principles of the Master’s own teaching are likely to reveal lessons of severity for the Christian conscience which have been neglected in the past—to the great loss of both Church and world.

Literature.—See further, for (a), the present writer’s Christ and the Jewish Law; A. Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation, vol. iii. (translation) p. 445; Baldensperger, Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, 1888 [2nd ed. 1892, 3rd ed. with altered title in progress]; artt. by present writer on ‘Dawn of Messianic Self-consciousness’ in Expos. Times, 1905; a different view, Forrest’s Christ of History and of Experience, 1897, p. 93 ff. For (b) see Bruce, Training of the Twelve; Latham, Pastor Pastormn; for (c) and (d) compare Ecce Homo, ch. 6, ‘Christ’s Winnowing Fan’ [characteristically dwelling rather on the moral aspects of the Divine message]; also Bruce’s treatment of Matthew 9:9-13 and parallels [notes on all three should be read in Expos. Gr. Testament]. The last paragraph of the above article refers to discussions begun by J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes, 1892; Bousset, Jesu Predigt in ihrem Gegensatz zum Judentum, 1892; cf. also especially J. Weiss, Die Nachfolge Christi und die Predigt der Gegenwart, 1895; good reply in Harnack’s Wesen des Christeuthums, 1900 (translation, ‘What is Christianity?’); interesting reference to such views and to later developments in Lewis Muirhead’s Bruce Lecture on ‘The Eschatology of Jesus,’ 1903.

Robert Mackintosh.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Call, Calling'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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