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Elect, Election
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1. Definition.-Election, in the teaching of the apostles, is the method by which God gives effect to His eternal purpose to redeem and save mankind; so that the elect are those who are marked out in God’s purpose of grace from eternity as heirs of salvation.

2. Election in the OT.-The doctrine of a Divine election lies at the very heart of revelation and redemption. Abraham was chosen that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed (Genesis 12:3). It was through the chosen people, the seed of Abraham, that God was pleased to make the clearest and fullest revelation of Himself to man and to prepare the way in the fullness of the time for the world’s redemption. Through their patriarchs and their Divinely guided history, through the laws and institutions of the Mosaic economy, through tabernacle and temple, through prophets and psalmists, through their sacred Scriptures, and at length through the Incarnate Word, born of the chosen people, the world has received the knowledge of the being and spirituality of God, of the love and mercy and grace of our Father in heaven. To Israel their great legislator said: ‘Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all peoples: but because the Lord loveth you’ (Deuteronomy 7:6 f.). Israel was chosen to spread abroad the Divine glory, and God designates them by His prophet ‘My chosen, the people which I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise’ (Isaiah 43:20-21). They were taught, also, to realize how great were their privileges: ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance’ (Psalms 33:12; cf. Psalms 135:4). Their very position on the face of the earth, placed in the midst; of the nations, was chosen with a view to their discipline and sanctification, for thus the Maccabaean annalist puts it: ‘Howbeit the Lord did not choose the nation for the place’s sake, but the place for the nation’s sake’ (2 Maccabees 5:19). And the destiny of the elect people was to culminate in the Elect Servant of the Lord: ‘Behold my servant whom I uphold; my chosen (בְּחָירִי, ὁ ἐκλεκτός μον) in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:1 Revised Version ; ‘the Elect one’ appears as a Messianic designation in the Book of Enoch; xl. 5, xlv. 3, 4, 5, xlix. 2, 4, and is found applied to Christ in Luke 9:35; Luke 23:35). This conception of Israel as the people of God’s election colours the whole of the teaching of the apostles and forms the subject of St. Paul’s great discussion in the chapters where he deals with the problem of their rejection (Romans 9-11). That the Jewish people had come to attribute to it an exaggerated and erroneous value is clear not only from St. Paul’s argument but also from the Rabbinical literature of the time (see Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5, p. 248ff.).

3. Biblical use of the word.-In biblical Greek the word ἐκλεκτοί (ἐκλέγεσθαι, ἐκλογή) is of frequent occurrence. In the OT we find ἐκλεκτός used in the sense of picked men [Judges 20:18, 1 Samuel 24:2); of individuals chosen by God for special service (Moses, Psalms 106:23 [Septuagint 105]; David, Psalms 89:20-21 [Septuagint 88]); of the nation Israel (Psalms 106:5 [Septuagint 105], Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 65:9; Isaiah 65:15); of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1; cf. Isaiah 52:13). In the NT we find the verb used, always in the middle voice, of our Lord’s choice of the Twelve from the company of the disciples (Luke 6:13, John 6:70; John 13:18; John 15:19, Acts 1:2); of the choice of an apostle in the place of Judas (Acts 1:24); of Stephen and his colleagues (Acts 6:5); of God’s choice of the patriarchs (Acts 13:17); and of the choice of delegates to carry the decisions of the Apostolic Council to the Gentile churches (Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25). It is used of God’s choice of the foolish things of the world to put to shame them that are wise, and the weak things to put to shame the things which are strong (1 Corinthians 1:27); and of His choice of the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom promised to them that love Him (James 2:5).

In the Gospels ἐκλεκτοί and κλητοί are distinguished: κλητοί, as Lightfoot puts it (Colossians3, 1879, p. 220), ‘being those summoned to the privileges of the Gospel, and ἐκλεκτοί those appointed to final salvation (Matthew 24:22; Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:20; Mark 13:22; Mark 13:27, Luke 18:7). But in St. Paul no such distinction can be traced. With him the two terms seem to be co-extensive, as two aspects of the same process, κλητοί having special reference to the goal, and ἐκλεκτοί to the starting-point. The same persons are “called” to Christ and “chosen out” from the world.’ It is to be noticed in the Epistles that while ὁ καλῶν is used of God or Christ in the present tense (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:24, Galatians 5:8), ὁ ἐκλεγόμενος is never used, nor the present tense of any part, the aorist being employed to describe what depended upon God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 1:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:13). In St. Peter’s Epistles κλητός is not found, nor ἐκλέγεσθαι, but the verbal adjective ἐκλεκτός is found four times, once of ‘elect’ people (1 Peter 1:1), once of Christians as an ‘elect race’ (1 Peter 2:9), and twice, following the OT, of Christ as the Living Stone, choice and ‘chosen’ to be the corner-stone (1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:6). ἐκλολή is found of the Divine act (Acts 9:15, Romans 9:11; Romans 11:5; Romans 11:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 2 Peter 1:10), and once as the abstract for the concrete ἐκλεκτοί (Romans 11:7).

4. St. Paul’s doctrine.-It is St. Paul who most fully develops the doctrine in its strictly theological aspects. His teaching, however, only expands that of our Lord on the same subject, as when He speaks of those whom the Father had given Him (John 6:37; John 6:39; John 17:2; John 17:24), to whom He should give life eternal, and whom He should keep so that they would never perish (John 10:28). St. Paul from an early period of his missionary labours saw results which were recognized in his circle to be due to an influence higher than man’s-to the predestinating counsel of God. For the historian tells how, on St. Paul’s preaching for the first time to Gentiles at Antioch of Pisidia, ‘as many as were ordained to eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:48). This was on his first missionary journey. On his second he preached to the Thessalonians among others, and in the two Epistles written to them on that extended journey there is the clear recognition of the same influence. Giving thanks to God for them, St. Paul in the opening words of the First Epistle discerns in their experience, and sets forth for their comfort, the proofs of their ‘election’ (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10). From their response to the gospel call, their acceptance of the gospel message, their patient endurance of affliction, and the joy they had in their new spiritual life, a joy begotten in them of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul inferred and knew their election. And not long after, when he wrote the Second Epistle to correct misapprehensions produced by the First, he set before the Thessalonian Christians, in language still loftier and more explicit, this profound and encouraging truth of a Divine election (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15). God is here represented as taking them for His own (the verb is εἵλατο, not ἐξελέξατο), and it is ‘from the beginning,’ from eternity (there is a reading ἀπαρχήν, ‘firstfruits,’ instead of ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς), that the transaction dates. It is not to religious privileges merely, nor even to a possible or contingent salvation, that they have been chosen, but to an actual and present experience of its blessings, felt in holiness of life and assurance of the truth. This was, indeed, what they were called to enjoy through the gospel preached by St. Paul and his colleagues, so as at length to obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. In his Epistle to the Romans, written not long after, St. Paul, in ch. 8, rising to the loftiest heights of Divine inspiration, and penetrating, as it might seem, to the secret place of the counsels of the Most High, apprehends or himself, and makes known for the encouragement of faith, the links of the great chain of the Divine election by which the Church of believers is bound about the feet of God-‘foreknown,’ ‘foreordained,’ ‘called,’ ‘justified,’ ‘glorified’ (Romans 8:28-30). Here ‘they that love God’ are co-extensive and identical with ‘them that are called according to his purpose.’ They are ‘foreordained,’ so that they may attain the likeness of God’s Son, and, further, that He may be glorified in them and see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. God’s elect (Romans 8:33) may have the assaults of temptation and trial to face, and tribulation, anguish, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword to endure; but nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

These disclosures regarding God’s eternal purpose of grace are continued and extended by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where the spiritual blessings enjoyed in such abundance by them are traced up to their election by God-‘even as he chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:4-6). It is a further development of this when St. Paul says again in the same Epistle: ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). The unconditional character of the Divine choice, emphasized in these statements of the Apostle, is affirmed again when, writing to Timothy, he bids him suffer for the gospel ‘according to the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose of grace which was given in Christ Jesus before times eternal’ (2 Timothy 1:9).

In a separate passage of the Epistle to the Romans (chs. 9-11) St. Paul deals with the mystery of the call of the Gentiles to take the place of gainsaying and disobedient Israel. In so doing he first vindicates God from the reproach of having departed from His ancient covenant-a reproach which would be well-founded if the covenant people were rejected and the Gentiles put in their place. Such a rejection, he contends, would not be altogether out of keeping with God’s treatment of His people in the course of their history.

‘There was from the first an element of inscrutable selectiveness in God’s dealings within the race of Abraham. Ishmael was rejected, Isaac chosen: Esau was rejected and Jacob chosen, antecedently to all moral conduct, though both were of the same father and mother. Such selectiveness ought at least to have prevented the Jews from renting their claims simply on having “Abraham to their father” ’ (Gore, ‘Argument of Romans ix.-xi.’ in Studia Biblica. iii. 40; cf. A. B. Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, p. 312ff.).

‘The election within the election’ here, St. Paul argues, is the Christian Church-the Israel after the Spirit; and the reproach of the objector falls to the ground (Romans 9:6-9). Besides, the Apostle further maintains, God, in His electing purpose, is sovereign, as is seen in the difference between the two sons of Rebecca; in the Divine word to Moses: ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’; and in the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh (Romans 9:10-24). And after all, if the election were cancelled, the blame would be Israel’s own, because of unbelief and disobedience, such as Moses denounced, and Isaiah bewailed when he said: ‘All the day long did I spread out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people’ (Romans 10:21).

But, despite appearances, Israel was not cast off. Their rejection was not final. There were believing Israelites, like St. Paul himself, in all the churches; and he could say: ‘At this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace’ (Romans 11:5). Meanwhile the problem of Israel’s unbelief and of the passing over of spiritual privilege to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11) is to be solved by the Gentiles provoking Israel to jealousy-appreciating and embracing and profiting by the blessings of the Christian salvation to such an extent that Israel will be moved to desire find to possess those blessings for their own. When Jews in numbers come to seek as their own the righteousness and goodness which they see thus manifested in the lives of Christians, and are stirred up to envy and emulation by the contemplation of them, the time will be at hand when all Israel-Israel as a nation-shall be saved. Of that issue St. Paul has no doubt, for ‘the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’ (Romans 11:29).

To sum up St. Paul’s teaching, election (1) is the outcome of a gracious purpose of the heart of God as it contemplates fallen humanity from all eternity (Romans 8:28-29; cf. Romans 5:8-10); (2) is a display of Divine grace calculated to redound to the glory of God by setting forth His love and mercy towards sinful men (Ephesians 1:3-14); (3) is not conditioned upon any good foreseen in the elect, nor in any faith or merit which they may exhibit in time (Romans 9:11-13), but is ‘according to the good pleasure of his will’ (Ephesians 1:5), ‘according to his own purpose of grace’ (2 Timothy 1:9), of God’s sovereign purpose and grace (Romans 9:15; Romans 11:5-7); (4) is carried out ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10) through the elect being brought into union with Him by faith, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:5); (5) issues in sanctification by the Spirit and assurance of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13 f.) and heavenly glory (Romans 8:30); and (6) is proved by acceptance of the gospel call and by the trust and peace and joy of believing and obedient hearts (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6).

5. St. Peter’s doctrine.-If St. Peter’s allusions to the subject of election are few they fully support the teaching of St. Paul. In his addresses at Jerusalem after Pentecost, he speaks of ‘the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23) with reference to Jesus. It is fitting that the Apostle of the Circumcision should speak of Him as ‘a living stone, rejected indeed of man, but with God elect, precious’ (1 Peter 2:4; cf. ἀποδεδειγμένον, ‘approved,’ 1 Peter 2:22), and even quote concerning Him the prophetic Scripture: ‘Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious’ (1Pe:6; cf. Isaiah 28:16). Of Christ he speaks, too, as ‘foreknown’ (1 Peter 1:20; Hort, ad loc., ‘designated afore’) before the foundation of the world.

St. Peter gives manifest prominence to the doctrine of election when, in the opening words of his First Epistle, he addresses the Jewish Christians of Pontus and other Asiatic provinces as ‘the elect who are sojourners’ there (ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, κτλ.). ‘Elect’ they are because their lot is cast in favoured lands where the messengers of the gospel have proclaimed the good tidings-still more because they have obeyed and believed the message, and have had experience of the blood of sprinkling and of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit-yea, because they have been ‘designated afore,’ not to service as Christ was from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), but to blessing, even all the blessings of the Christian salvation by God the Father Himself (1 Peter 1:1-2). Conceived of as the Christian Israel, the Israel after the Spirit, these Jewish believers are, as St. Peter elsewhere calls them, ‘an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession’ (1 Peter 2:9, where election is seen to be not simply to privilege, but to character and service, to holy living and the setting forth of the Divine glory). Although they are an ‘elect race’ they are also in the same context described as ‘living stones’ (1Pe2:5), and Hort is right when he says ‘the whole spirit of the Epistle excludes any swallowing up of the individual relation to God in the corporate relation to Him; and the individual relation to God implies the individual election’ (First Epistle of St. Peter, I. 1-II. 17, 1898, p. 14).

Few as are St. Peter’s utterances regarding the doctrine, they entirely support St. Paul, even when, emphasizing the urgency of the matter as a part of practical religion, he bids his readers give diligence to make their ‘calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10).

6. St. John’s doctrine.-It is from St. John that we have the record of our Lord’s most impressive teaching on the subject of those whom the Father had given Him (John 6:37; John 6:39; John 17:2; John 17:24). In his Gospel he uses ἐκλέγεσθαι, always, however, as employed in His discourses by the Lord Himself and with a definite reference to the Twelve, or to the company of the disciples. In his Second Epistle (2 John 1:1; 2 John 1:13) he has ἐκλεκτή. Whether the word describes an individual or a society it is not easy to say, but at least it has the same theological signification as in St. Paul and St. Peter. In the Apocalypse (Revelation 17:14) ἐκλεκτοί is used in a very significant connexion, where they that are with the Lamb in His warfare against the powers of evil, and in His victory over them, are ‘called and chosen and faithful,’ They are ‘called’ (κλητοί) in having heard and accepted the gospel message; ‘chosen’ (ἐκλεκτοί) as thus having given evidence of their Divine election; ‘faithful’ (πιστοί) as having yielded the loyal devotion of their lives to their Divine Leader, and persevered therein to the end. That ‘the elect’ are the same as ‘the sealed’ (Revelation 7:4) may be inferred from the manner in which the 144,000 pass unscathed through the conflicts and terrors let loose upon them (Revelation 14:1).

From this passage apparently comes the thought of the ‘number’ of the elect an in the Book of Common Prayer (‘Order for the Burial of the Dead’): ‘that it may please Thee to accomplish the number of Thine elect.’ The thought appears early in the sub-Apostolic Church, For in Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians he urges them to ‘pray with earnest supplication and intercession that the Creator of all would preserve unharmed the constituted number of His elect in all the world through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom He called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge of the glory of His name’ (lix. 2; cf. ii. 4, lviii. 2; Apostol. Const. v. 15, viii. 22). No countenance is given in the Early Church to the idea that ‘the elect’ may live as they list and at last be saved, ‘Let us cleave to the innocent and the righteous,’ says Clement of Rome, ‘for such are the elect of God’ (op. cit. xlvi. 4). ‘It is through faith,’ says Hermas (Vis. III. viii. 3), ‘that the elect of God are saved.’ ‘In love all the elect of God were made perfect,’ says Clement again (xlix. 5), ‘for without love nothing is wellpleasing unto God.’

Literature.-C. Hodge, Systematic Theology 1874, ii. 333ff.; H. C. G. Moule, Outlines of Christian Doctrine, 1889, p. 37ff.; C. Gore, in Studia Biblica, iii. [1891] 37ff.; Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902), 248ff.; A. B. Brace, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, 1894, p. 310ff.; Commentaries on passages noticed above, especially Lightfoot and Hort, ad locc.

Thomas Nicol.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Election'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​e/election.html. 1906-1918.