Calvinist Election Refuted in Romans 11: A Concise And Devastating Article By A Professor of New Testament And Greek

Article by Günther H. Juncker, re-posted from SEA

According to Calvinism, Rom 11:5-7 teaches double predestination. On the one hand there is a “remnant” that is elect and has been “chosen” for salvation from before the foundation of the world. And on the other hand there is “the rest” who are the non-elect, or reprobate, who have been created and irreversibly predestined to hell. The reprobate by definition cannot be saved because God does not want them saved. He does not love them (rather he “hates” them) and Jesus did not die for them. These God justly “hardens,” like Pharaoh, to keep from salvation since God does not want them saved but in hell.

According to Paul, however, “the rest” who are not elect and not “chosen” can be saved. In fact, many of them will be saved. Saving them is, from one angle, the very point of the Gentile mission! If Paul is correct then Calvinism is, in a word, refuted. Clearly if “the rest” can be saved, then they are not the reprobate of Calvinistic double predestination theology. The fact that some are “chosen” does not entail that others are irreversibly reprobated or “rejected.” Since the chosen “remnant” actually comes from the ranks of “the rest” it is thus not enough to say, as any Calvinist could say, that the existence of a remnant proves that God has not rejected Israel. It is specifically “the rest,” described in detail in the immediately preceding paragraph (Rom 10:16-21), that God has not rejected. But how to be sure? Simple. Follow the pronouns in Romans 11 to see what Paul himself actually says about “the rest.” God loves them. He shows mercy to them. He desires that they be saved. Some of them can and will be saved.

1I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3“Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. 7What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.” 9And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.10Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.” 11I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? … 28From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

Truly, this passage should be an eye opener for those who have not taken God’s salvific, propitiatory agape love for the entire world (John 3:16; cf. 1 John 2:2) seriously enough. In short, if Rom 11:5-7 is not describing the reprobate of Calvinistic double predestination then it is safe to say that there are no such people. What Calvin meant by terms like “elect” and “chosen” and “hardened” has nothing to do with what Paul meant by these terms. The Calvinist system is foreign to Paul and twists Paul’s terms to mean things that they never meant. Same goes for expressions like “vessels of wrath” that for Calvin meant reprobate and irreversibly predestined to hell; whereas for Paul it simply meant presently under God’s wrath but able to come out from under that wrath through faith in the Gospel (cf. Rom 2:4-5). In fact, for Paul all believers were once “vessels of wrath” (Rom 1:18-3:20; cf. Eph 2:3)! In other words, if the so-called “reprobate” can be and are being saved and grafted into the Olive Tree, then there is no such thing as the “reprobate” as Calvinism understands the term. May God spare us from dogmatic interpretations that distort the Gospel and diminish God’s goodness, love, and mercy toward the whole cosmos and every single person in it!

“I can prove that Calvinistic double predestination is biblical. Let me begin by redefining some of Paul’s terms in Romans . . . .”
Dr. Günther H. Juncker
Professor of New Testament & Greek
Toccoa Falls College
Toccoa Falls, GA 30598
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Brian Abasciano Responds to Thomas Schreiner’s Recent Review of His Book on Romans 9:10-18

Excerpt:

Concerning the hardening of Pharaoh, after a note of agreement, you just assert positions opposite to mine without substantiation. So I’ll take the opportunity to share something merely anecdotal. Before publishing the book, I submitted my chapter on the hardening of Pharaoh to a distinguished Reformed scholar who is writing a major commentary on Exodus, asking for feedback. I was expecting some serious pushback or criticism of my reading. But to my surprise, the scholar largely agreed with my reading and, if anything, seems to think the divine hardening even less deterministic than I do and plans to cite my work. It is not as if it should be obvious that the divine hardening of Pharaoh was deterministic or irreversible.

Brian Abasciano, “A Response to Thomas Schreiner’s Review of my Book on Romans 9:10-18”

Related articles:

Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”

Brian Abasciano, “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election”

Dr. Brian Abasciano Responds to Dr. Dan Wallace on the Issue of Corporate Election

Brian Abasciano on the Corporate Perspective of Paul and His Culture, The Translation of Romans 9:6b, and Corporate Election in Romans 9

Brian Abasciano on the Meaning of “Calling” 

Klein, William W. “Paul’s Use of Kalein: A Proposal”

Brian Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (This is Dr. Abasciano’s doctoral dissertation and the basis for his first book on Romans 9.  It is essentially the same as his first book on Romans 9, but longer)

Corporate Election Quotes

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

See Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

 Patton:  However, I think we need take a step back and see that while the shoe fits when it comes to some particular issues in Calvinism these accusations are far from forming the bedrock of the primary issues in Calvinism. You see, one of the many reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other systems.

The central core of Calvinism primarily centers on one doctrine: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands.

This is highly debatable among Calvinists.  This may be Mr. Patton’s opinion, but I think that he is probably in the minority.  Sovereignty (defined as God’s exhaustive control over everything) is what leads to the Calvinist understanding of predestination in many Calvinist’s minds.  However, it is true that the Calvinist view of predestination can lead back to such a view of sovereignty, but it does not demand it.  Unconditional election and predestination can just as easily fit within a system that does not hold that God exhaustively determines all things.  Also, for many Calvinists, “predestination” is essentially synonymous with the doctrine of God’s exhaustive determinism and is not limited only to matters of salvation (like unconditional election and reprobation).  In other words “predestination” simply means that God “predetermines” everything in reality (i.e. exhaustive determinism, the Calvinist version of “Sovereignty).

Patton: An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

This is a confused statement.  The Arminian view of sovereignty is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty just as the Arminian view of predestination is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty.  Mr. Patton’s distinction here is not really accurate.

Patton: Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination.

Just as both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s sovereignty (which Mr. Patton happily admits here ), which is why Mr. Patton’s previous comment is awkward and strange.

Patton: In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination is unconditional. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen.

We need to stop right here, as Mr. Patton’s comments wrongly imply that Arminians base “predestination” on “merit”, simply because Arminians hold that predestination (more appropriately, election) is conditional.  Mr. Patton should know this is not the case.  Arminians hold that election is conditioned on faith, and faith holds no merit (Romans 4).  It is also simply an obvious non sequitur to assume that if something is “conditional” it means it is “earned” or “merited”.  This is a common Calvinist mistake and a misrepresentation of Arminian theology that is still perpetuated, despite Calvinists (like Mr. Patton) being continually corrected on the matter.

Also, it must be pointed out that Mr. Patton is conflating election and predestination, as Calvinists often do.  Unfortunately, even Arminius seemed to conflate the two based on his ties with Reformed thinking.  But many (if not most) Arminians today do not see election and predestination as the same thing, because the Bible doesn’t view them as the same thing.  Election has to do with God’s choice of His covenant people to belong to Him and bear His name.  Predestination has to do with God’s predetermined purpose for His covenant people.  Predestination is not about God predestinating some sinners to become believers.  Rather, predestination has to do with God’s eternal purposes for believers (to adoption as sons, to an inheritance, to be conformed to the image of Christ, etc.).  Calvinists, like Mr. Patton, will likely disagree with that important distinction, but it is a distinction that should not be overlooked, especially when trying to compare the Arminian view with the Calvinist view.

Patton: This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us. It is his “secret” and “mysterious” will that elects some and passes over others.

The Arminian says that God’s predestination is conditional. It has a founding in the faith of the predestined. In other words, God looks ahead in time and discovers who will believe and who will not and chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of him.

This is not a very good description of Arminian election.  The Classical view would better be expressed as God’s election of “believers” in Christ.  Jesus is the “elect” and only “in Him” is anyone “elect” (note again Mr. Patton’s conflating of terms).  Arminian election has its “founding” in Christ, not “the faith of the predestined.”  So God foreknows those who are joined to Christ in faith and therefore it can be said that election is “according to foreknowledge.”  It is not so much a foreknowledge of an act of faith, but a foreknowledge of people (“believers”), joined to Christ.  Faith is how one comes to be joined to Christ (Eph. 1:13), but it is the person “as a believer” who is in union with Christ that is the proper Biblical object of foreknowledge, not just the act of faith that joins one to Christ.  God foreknows and elects “believers” because they are joined to Christ (Eph. 1:4).  To be fair, some Arminians have expressed it as Mr. Patton does, but that is not the best way to express it.  It ignores the main focus and purpose of election in Arminianism, an election based on Christ and those who come to be in faith union with Him.

The corporate view is even more robust and even more Biblically accurate in my opinion, but it is not the Classical approach.  The corporate view does not rely on foreknowledge as the Classical view does, either.  Mr. Patton doesn’t even mention the corporate view, so I will not spend time delving into it at this time. [4]

Go to Part 3

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[4] For more on the corporate view of election, which I believe to be the Biblical view, see “Corporate Election Quotes” and “Corporate Election (Resources)

Corporate Election Quotes

The following is a series of important excerpts from some of the best scholarly works espousing the corporate view of election.  Taken together, these quoted sections give a very detailed description of the fundamental elements of the corporate election view, answering many common questions related to the view as well as addressing and correcting common misconceptions.  The authors’ names precede each section of excerpts and the books or articles the quotes are culled from are listed after the quoted sections, along with page numbers.  The articles are hyperlinked to their original sources, and books to where they can be purchased.  Related links can also be found at the end of the post.

Dr. Brian Abasciano

(Since several sources from the above author are being quoted in this first section, the asterisks serve as markers that a new source is being quoted)

Most simply, corporate election refers to the choice of a group, which entails the choice of its individual members by virtue of their membership in the group. Thus, individuals are not elected as individuals directly, but secondarily as members of the elect group. Nevertheless, corporate election necessarily entails a type of individual election because of the inextricable connection between any group and the individuals who belong to it.  Individuals are elect as a consequence of their membership in the group.  (Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election, pg. 6)

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God chose the people of Israel in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel (Deut 4:37; 7:6-8).  That is, by choosing Jacob/Israel, the corporate/covenant representative, God also chose his descendants as his covenant people. It is a matter of Old Testament covenant theology. The covenant representative on the one hand and the people/nation of Israel on the other hand are the focus of the divine covenantal election, and individuals are elect only as members of the elect people. Moreover, in principle, foreign individuals who were not originally members of the elect people could join the chosen people and become part of the elect, demonstrating again that the locus of election was the covenant community and that individuals found their election through membership in the elect people. (Abasciano, Corporate Election in Romans 9, 353)

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We have already noted that God’s Old Covenant people were chosen in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. More specifically, God chose Abraham and his descendants, but limited his election of Abraham’s descendants to only some of them by his choice of Isaac as the head of the covenant through whom Abraham’s covenant descendants were to be reckoned. He then limited his election of the covenant descendants even further by his choice of Jacob as the head of the covenant. At the same time, and as already pointed out above, people not naturally related to Jacob and so not part of the elect people could join the chosen people, becoming part of the elect. On the other hand, individual members of the elect people could be cut off from the covenant people due to violation of the covenant, rendering them non-elect.

Finally, the Apostle Paul would argue, God limited his election even further to Christ as the head of the New Covenant (Gal. 3–4; see especially 3:16; cf. Rom. 3–4; 8), which is the fulfillment of the Old. Paradoxically, this also widened the election of God’s people because all who are in Christ by faith are chosen by virtue of their identification with Christ the corporate covenantal head, opening covenant membership to Gentiles as Gentiles. Just as God’s Old Covenant people were chosen in Jacob/Israel, the Church was chosen in Christ (as Eph. 1:4 puts it). And as Ephesians 2 makes clear, Gentiles who believe in Christ are in him made to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, fellow citizens with the saints, members of God’s household, and possessors of the covenants of promise (2:11-22; note especially vv. 12, 19). Indeed, any Jews who did not believe in Jesus were cut off from the elect people, and any believing Gentiles who stop believing will likewise be cut off, while anyone who comes to faith, whether Jew or Gentile, will be incorporated into God’s people (Rom. 11:17-24).

In the New Covenant, God’s people are chosen corporately as a consequence of their union with Christ, which is effected by faith. While this is not quite the traditional Arminian position, it fully supports Arminian theology because it is a conditional election. Most directly, such election is conditioned on being in Christ. But then being in Christ is itself conditioned on faith, meaning that the divine election of God’s people and the election of individuals for salvation is ultimately conditional on faith in Christ. (Misconceptions, pp. 7, 8, emphasis his)

It is true that corporate election does not refer to the election of each individual separately from Christ or the group, but this does not in any way nullify the election of each individual member of the group as a result of the group’s election. It is also true that corporate election does not refer to the choice of anyone to join the elect people. The concept of covenantal election or election unto eternal salvation simply does not apply to entrance into the elect people.  It actually refers to a people being chosen to belong to God, to receive the benefits of his covenant promises (ideally), and to live according to his covenant commands (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 4:20; 7:6-9; 14:2; Ps. 135:4; Eph. 1:4ff.; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). All of this applies to each individual in the New Covenant as a consequence of membership in the elect people, and more profoundly, of being in Christ by faith, which is what makes someone a part of God’s people. (ibid., pp. 10, 11)

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What is imperative to see in relation to the nature of the election Paul envisions in Rom. 9.10-13 is that the significance of the individual Jacob’s election for Israel was that they were elect by virtue of their identification with him. Their election was ‘in him’, and thus intrinsically consequent upon his. This dispels another of the main objections to taking election as corporate in these verses – that the individuals Jacob and Esau are obviously in view to one degree or another, and therefore so is individual election (of individuals as autonomous entities).  This objection fails to apprehend the relationship between the election of the corporate representative and his people. The corporate representative’s election is unique, entailing the election of all who are identified with him. Its significance was never that each individual member of the elect people was chosen as an individual to become part of the elect people in the same manner as the corporate head was chosen. Rather, the individual possesses elect status as a consequence of membership in the elect people/identification with the corporate representative. In the case of the divine covenantal election, God chooses his people by his choice of the covenant head.

A great obstacle to the view that Paul is teaching direct election of individuals as individuals to become part of his people and receive salvation is the fact that the corporate view is the view of the Old Testament generally and the texts Paul interprets in Romans 9 specifically as well as the standard view of Judaism in Paul’s day. Moo, an outspoken advocate of individual election, admits as much and concedes, ‘We would expect Paul to be thinking of “election” here in the same terms, an expectation that seems to be confirmed by the OT texts that Paul quotes’. This is exactly right. As I have argued elsewhere, the burden of proof lies squarely upon those who would argue that Paul departs from the standard biblical and Jewish concept of election.  Therefore, it is an insuperable problem for the individual election view that everything Paul says here in Romans 9 fits comfortably into the view of corporate election, which could speak of the inclusion or exclusion of individuals vis-à-vis the covenant without shifting the locus of election itself to the individual.  Indeed, Paul’s olive tree metaphor in Rom. 11.17-24 evidences the view of corporate election perfectly. Individuals get grafted into the elect people (the olive tree) and participate in election and its blessings by faith or get cut off from God’s chosen people and their blessings because of unbelief, while the focus of election clearly remains the corporate people of God, which spans salvation history. The natural understanding of Jacob’s election in a first-century context would have led readers to apply Paul’s example to the character of the corporate election of God’s people rather than to the individual. Advocates of individual election in Romans 9 appear to have jumped to applying election directly to individuals because of individualistic assumptions foreign to Paul and his socio-historical milieu.

Thus, Paul’s argument based on Jacob and Esau is salvation-historical. Based on the circumstances of their conception and the timing of the divine call/proclamation of Jacob’s election as the covenant heir, Paul concludes that the election of God’s people was not dictated by any distinctive of either twin, but by the sovereign will and call of God. Generally speaking, by basing the foundational election of his people on his sovereign call rather than some meritorious distinctive of Jacob or de-meritorious distinctive of Esau, God ensured that he remained free to choose who his people are according to his own good pleasure. More specifically, he ensured that he remained free to choose the head/mediator of his covenant for any (or no) reason whatsoever, and thereby to choose similarly who his people are. Most specifically in the context of Paul’s argument, God’s sovereign call of Jacob and his descendants ensured that he could call only those who believe in Jesus Christ seed of Abraham if he so chose, that is, regard them as his covenant people, and thereby fulfill his purpose of blessing the whole world in Abraham, for Israel’s election depended wholly on his sovereign will from the beginning and therefore remained subject to the dictates of his own will. (Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:10-18, An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis, pp. 59-61)

Paul’s doctrine of election is Christocentric. He believed Christ to be the seed of Abraham, the true Israel and embodiment of the covenant people of God, who was the heir to the Abrahamic covenant promises (Gal. 3.16) and the mediator and head of the new Covenant (1 Cor. 11.25; 2 Cor. 3.6), which is essentially the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. By believing in Christ, Christians come to be ‘in Christ’ and therefore share in his identity as the covenant representative. Consequently, they are also the seed of Abraham and sons of God – that is, the elect people of God – through faith in Christ.

Thus, Christ fulfils the election of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Israel and every promise of God is fulfilled in him (2 Cor. 1.19). God’s sovereign freedom over the election of the covenant head guarantees his sovereign freedom over the election of the covenant people. Just as individual Israelites were elected as a consequence of their identification with Jacob, individual Christians are elected as a consequence of their identification with Christ through faith.  As Eph. 1.4 puts it, God chose the Church in Christ. The ‘in Christ’ phrase indicates covenant identification and solidarity with Christ as the corporate head/representative, and therefore implies covenant membership as well. As a result of faith-union with Christ, Christians share in Christ’s election. (ibid. 61, 62)

William W. Klein

The Old Testament data concerning God’s election naturally leads to a major conclusion- election is primarily a corporate election.  The election of the priesthood puts this in bold relief.  God chose the priests as a category, but individual Levites could be disqualified.  The Davidic dynasty certainly follows this pattern.  Though “election” can apply to individuals, more frequently it applies to the election of corporate groups.  In fact, the scattered references to elect individuals find their significance in the context of the election of the community…. At its core, election in the Old Testament is corporate- the election of a people to bear the name of God. (The New Chosen People, pg. 35, 42, emphasis his)

In our study of the Old Testament we discerned the pattern that God chose Abraham and his seed to be his chosen nation.  Correspondingly, God chose Christ and those “in Him” to be his chosen people.  God’s free and sovereign electing grace has chosen the community of those “in Christ.”  Christ is God’s chosen One, and the church is chosen in him. (ibid. 260)

An understanding of salvific election as corporate also shifts the focus of many debates about election.  Some of these debates may be beside the point.  The debates often center on the issue by asking: Has God chosen specific individuals to save, and, if so, was it on the basis of foreseen faith or simply a matter of God’s sovereign will?  We have concluded that this question does not trouble the biblical writers.  God has chosen to save a people, and in New Testament language that people is the church.  In the old covenant a person entered the chosen nation of Israel through natural birth.  In the new covenant a person enters the chosen body, the church, through the new birth.  To exercise faith in Christ is to enter into his body and become one of the “chosen ones.” (ibid. 265)

These data present an impressive case that election is not God’s choice of a restricted number of individuals whom he wills to save, but the description of that corporate body, which, in Christ, he is saving.  God has covenanted to save his people through their identification with Jesus, his beloved and elect Son.  To become a member of that chosen people requires faith in the gospel.  Anyone who believes may enter into this elect nation. (ibid. 266)

Robert Shank

Here [in Isaiah 42:1, 6f.] is one of the most beautiful concepts in the Holy Scriptures concerning the instrumentality of Christ in Election.  Jehovah says of the Servant- Messiah, “[I will] give thee for a covenant of the people.”  The Messiah is Himself the Living Covenant of reconciliation and election, through whom the grace of God flows to the people, Israel and the Gentiles together are accepted.

Christ is the Elect, the one Mediator between God and men, the Living Covenant of reconciliation and the election, the electing God, the locus standi in whom alone men are elect and outside whom no man is elect.  In the face of many affirmations of Holy Scripture, it may in truth be said that Christ, who is our Life (Col. 3:4), is Himself the Election.  Instrumentally and comprehensively, the election is Christocentric. (Shank, Elect in the Son, 44, 45, emphasis his).

In Paul’s Ephesian doxology, as in certain other Scriptures, an essential aspect of election is explicit: the election is Christocentric.  The first step toward a correct understanding of the Biblical doctrine of election is the recognition that the election of men is comprehended only in Christ; outside of Christ there is no election of any man. (ibid. 29)

In the realization of the kingdom purpose of God, the election is first of Christ and then of men in Him.  Clement, first century bishop at Rome who could speak of Peter and Paul as being of his own generation, wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, “God…chose out the Lord Jesus Christ, and us through him for a ‘peculiar people’” (64:1).  [Frederick] Godet affirms that, in election, “Christ Himself is its first object; and hence He is called the Elect, absolutely speaking, Isa. Xlii. 1: Luke ix. 35 (most approved reading).  His brethren are elect in Him, Eph. i. 4-6. (ibid. 31; Shank quotes Godet from his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 326, italics his).

A second aspect of election is implicit in Paul’s Ephesian doxology: the election to salvation is corporate as well as Christocentric…Obviously, the corporate body of the elect is comprised of individuals.  But the election is primarily corporate and only secondarily particular.  The thesis that election is corporate as Paul understood it and viewed it in the Ephesian doxology, is supported by the whole context of his epistle:

…gather together in one all things in Christ…the redemption of the purchased possession…his inheritance in the saints…the church, which is his body…who has made both one…to make in himself one new man…that he might reconcile both unto God in one body…the household of God…all the building fitly framed together…an holy temple…builded together for an habitation of God…of the same body…the mystery from the beginning of the world [now disclosed in] the church [as fulfillment of] the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord…of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages…one body…the body of Christ…the whole body fitly joined together…increase of the body…we are members of one another…Christ is the head of the church…the saviour of the body…Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church…they two shall be one flesh [but] I speak concerning Christ and the church.

The concept of the corporate body of the elect is intrinsic in all the above excerpts.  Consider 2:12, “you were without Christ, being aliens in the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise….”  The concept of the corporate election of Israel, a concept derived from many Scriptures, is clearly apparent.  The concept of corporate election is equally apparent in Paul’s assertion that Jews and Gentiles together are “reconciled to God in one body on the cross” (v. 16).  The New Testament comprehends believers, not in isolation, but as members of the body of the elect.  The election of individual men cannot be isolated from “the church, which is his body” any more than it can be isolated from Christ Himself. (ibid. 45, 46)

[Shank compares Calvinist election with the corporate view]:

A central thesis of Calvin’s doctrine of election may be stated thus:

The election to salvation is of particular men unconditionally, who comprise the corporate body incidentally.

A central thesis of the Biblical doctrine of election may be stated thus:

The election to salvation is corporate and comprehends individual men only in identification and association with the elect body.

With this thesis before us, let us cite Lange’s comment on Romans 8:28-30:  “…Christ is the elect in God’s real kingdom in the absolute sense, so that all His followers are chosen with Him as organic members, according to their organic relations (Eph. I).”  Lang cites Hoffmann (Schriftbeweis, vol. I, p. 227) to the effect that “election relates not merely to individuals, but to the entire body, and, accordingly, to individuals as members of the body.” (ibid. 48, all emphasis his)

Paul Marston and Roger Forster

The central idea in the election of the church may be seen from Ephesians 1:4- it is that we are chosen in Christ.  The church is elect because it is in Christ and he is elect…The Bible does not say that we were chosen to be put into Christ, but that we were chosen in Christ.  Our election is not separate from his election (Marston and Forster, God’s Strategy in Human History, pp. 149, 150, emphasis theirs).

Paul also mentions election in Romans 8:32-34:

He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?  Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God that justifies.  Who is he that shall condemn”  It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God.

It is important to remember that the issue of “no condemnation” was first raised in Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no condemnation “to the ones in Christ,” and when Paul returns to this theme in Romans 8:33, 34 he naturally refers to “the chosen ones of God.”  They are chosen in Christ, and so are free from condemnation.  The link may become even clearer to us if we consider Isaiah 50:6-9:

I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.  I hid not my face from shame and spitting.  For the Lord God will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.  He is near that justifies me; who shall contend with me?  Let us stand up together; who is my adversary?  Let him come near to me.  Behold the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?

In this passage Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, the elect One of Isaiah 49:7.  Paul, however, in Romans 8:31, 33-34, applies these words to the church, the “elect ones of God.”  Surely the thinking behind this is that the “elect ones” are able to say “Who shall condemn?” because they are in Christ, the elect servant of God, who alone could say such a thing in his own right.  We are elect and free from condemnation only because we are in the elect One of God…The implications of being chosen in Christ may be made clearer by analogy, and it might be best to begin with an analogy implied in scripture itself.  This is the analogy of God’s choice of Jacob.  The descendents of Jacob were not chosen to be put into Jacob; rather they were chosen in Jacob.  Their chosenness was not distinct from his chosenness.  Individuals were chosen only because they were part of the chosen nation; the election was a corporate one.  This is even clearer if we consider Gentiles who became proselytized into the Jewish nation and faith.

We have already looked at a good example of this in Ruth the Moabitess.  In becoming an Israelite she became part of the chosen nation.  She was now chosen in the nation of Israel.  This does not mean that she was chosen to be put into Israel, for though the opportunity was God-given, that was her own decision.  Rather, she became chosen in Israel, and Israel’s election had now become her election.  Likewise, all other proselytes entered into Israel and so shared Israel’s election.

An obvious parallel exists between this and the Christian’s election in Christ.  When people enter into Christ then not only does his death become theirs, but his election becomes their election.  They are chosen in him, and his chosennes was established before the foundation of the world.  But to be chosen in him is not the same as being chosen to be put into him…The prime point is that election of the church is a corporate rather than an individual thing.  It is not that individuals are in the church because they are elect, it is rather that they are elect because they are in the church, which is the body of the elect One.  Ruth was not chosen to become an Israelite but in becoming an Israelite she partook of Israel’s election.  A Christian is not chosen to become part of Christ’s body, but in becoming part of that body (s)he partakes of Christ’s election. (ibid. 152-155, bold emphasis and italics theirs).

Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

The reality of our incorporation into Christ saturates Paul’s thinking and helps us grasp the idea of divine choice and predestination as taught in this passage [Eph. 1:4-5].  It is in him that we have been chosen and predestined (Eph. 1:4-5), just as it is in him that we have been seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6-7).  This means that Jesus Christ himself is the chosen one, the predestined one.  Whenever one is incorporated into him by grace through faith, one comes to share in Jesus’ special status as chosen of God.  As Markus Barth expresses it, “Election in Christ must be understood as the election of God’s people.  Only as members of that community do individuals share in the benefits of God’s gracious choice.”  This view of election most fully accounts for the corporate nature of salvation, the decisive role of faith and the overarching reliability of God’s bringing his people to their destined end. (Walls and Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 76)

[In regards to Romans 8:29-30, compared with Rom. 5:12-17; 6:3-4)] Those now residing “in Christ” live in a new reality and benefit from the mighty events of death and resurrection that Jesus himself experienced.  The apostle can therefore address believers themselves (all whom are “in Christ”) as those who have been buried with Jesus, or as those who have died with him, or as those who have walked in newness of life, or as those who will experience the resurrection “with him” (Rom. 6:4, 8).  Since Jesus is the primary character in the events of God’s redemptive drama, we experience these only indirectly, by being “in” the lead player.  It is difficult to overstate just how significant for the whole of Pauline theology is the corporate vision of the church finding its identity, its salvation, its wealth and security “in him.”

Here we are back to the same ground already covered regarding Ephesians 1:4-5, where believers are described as having been chosen and predestined “in him.”  This only encourages us all the more to read Romans 8:29-30 as referring not to a specific, set number of persons who individually progress through the five steps without mathematical gain or loss, but to the whole body of Christ, without particular focus on the individuality of its members.  The people of God as a whole, having been incorporated into Christ, are most certainly destined to arrive at the goal God has established from the beginning.  Each of us is assured of participation in that most certain end, provided we remain among this people and remain in his kindness (Romans 11:22). (ibid. 82)

Paul distinguishes the irrevocable call of the nation of Israel as a whole from the fate of individual Israelites.  While the final destination of the people of God is absolutely certain, the future of any given individual is determined by his or her continued faith and trust in God.  Gentiles who believe are grafted into the ancient olive tree, whereas Jews who fall into unbelief are broken off.  Since faith is the sole condition for remaining engrafted, Paul issues both warning and hope.  On the one hand, those Gentiles who have recently been engrafted into the ancient tree through faith must humbly guard against falling into unbelief, since they too would be severed from the tree.  On the other hand, the natural branches lying on the ground can be “grafted into their own olive tree” if “they do not persist in unbelief” (Rom 11:23-24).  In other words, the destiny of God’s people as a whole is unchanged throughout the ages, though each individual branch participates in this salvation only if he or she remains engrafted by faith (cf. Jn 15:5-6).  As Paul Achtemeier explains, Paul teaches destiny without teaching individual determinism. (ibid. 87)

Related articles:

Corporate Election (Resources)

What Does “Calling/Called” Refer to in the Bible?

Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Who do Jacob and Esau Represent?

After posting my exegesis of Romans 9, I deemed a follow-up series of posts necessary to show why the observations made therein are relevant to the debate on the conditionality of election. Interestingly, I’ve had a few comments that my exegesis sounds “Calvinistic;” this is quite far from the truth. Said post was actually foundational for showing where Calvinists often misinterpret the chapter.

The first major exegetical error that most Calvinists make with regards to Romans 9 is confusing who and what Paul is using his analogies (Isaac & Ishmael, Jacob & Esau) to describe. Looking at the text in question,

9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” [quoting Genesis 25:23]
13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Rev. John Samson delivers commentary typical of the of the Calvinist position,

Regarding this issue of election, of God choosing one and not another, the Apostle denies in very clear and emphatic language that there is unrighteousness or unfairness in God. There is no injustice in God, and lets remember, there was no righteousness in us, which would require God to be gracious to us. … God reserves the right to dispense His mercy as He sees fit, to the person or persons He chooses.

I would agree with Rev. Samson and other Calvinists to the ideas that God is just in choosing as He wishes to, and that He’s under no obligation to save anyone. Where they drop the ball comes out in the latter sentence: equating God’s choosing as illustrated in Romans 9 with individual persons. In the Calvinist mindset, Isaac and Jacob represent individuals who are elected by God, and Ishmael and Esau represent those who are rejected (reprobate). Employing that assumption, they attempt to build something along the lines of, “God chose Jacob over Esau prior to their even being born! This demonstrates that God unconditionally chooses which people He wants to save.” In short, they see the difference between Jacob and Esau as being directly analogous to the difference between one who is elected by God and one who is rejected.

The Chapter’s Context

A close examination of the passage reveals the standard Calvinist interpretation to be oversimplified and decontextualized. Looking again at the very beginning of the chapter, does Paul’s main point pertain to why unbelievers in general are rejected? Looking at the verses that lead up to the analogies, it reads,

1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen [or kinsmen] according to the flesh,
4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel…

As can be easily seen, the context of the chapter up to where the analogies are used is addressing why many of the Jews fail to obtain God’s promises (while many Gentiles in the church do). It must also be noted that Paul isn’t switching subjects when he employs the analogies, the wording in verses 6-9 is particularly clear:

7 nor are they [the Jews] all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”
8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

Many of the Jews are not the seed of Abraham because the children of the flesh aren’t accounted as his seed, the children of promise are. The analogies of Abraham’s descendants are then used to illustrate the contrast between the Israel of flesh and the Israel of promise. That Paul is still addressing the issue of national versus spiritual Israel is made even more apparent by the conclusion of his message in the chapter,

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
33 As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Israel is in fact the major theme of Paul’s exposition that begins in Romans 9 and continues to the end of Romans 11. Given the context of the chapter, the analogies of Isaac and Jacob being rejected in favor of their younger siblings then can only pertain to national Israel (Paul’s kindred according to the flesh that he loves) and its rejection in favor of spiritual Israel (his spiritual kin in Christ). In other words, Jacob and Esau aren’t being used to contrast some given saint and Joe-the-Generic-Unbeliever, but they’re figures of two distinct groups: the children of the fleshly covenant of Sinai, and the children of promise through faith (which is largely, though not exclusively composed of Gentiles – Romans 11:1-5).

The Calvinist methodology of interpreting Jacob and Esau as a representation of how individuals are chosen then is a decontextualized over-stretching of the analogy, and thus fundamentally flawed. The context of the chapter plainly dictates that the analogies demonstrate the choosing of one group over the other according to God’s eternal purpose in Christ.

Possible objections by Calvinists

Some Calvinists may object that Jacob and Esau were individuals, and thus would most naturally be expected to represent individuals. This objection falls short for a few reasons:

1.) As I pointed out in the original post, the figures of Isaac and Ishmael were used explicitly in Galatians 4:21-31 to convey the two covenants (and the members thereof).

2.) The original word of promise cited in Romans 9 even refers to the children as nations (i.e. representative heads of two people groups),

And the Lord said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

They were the corporate heads of the nations of Israel and the Ishmaelites, and analogously represent the children of the flesh under the old covenant, and the children of promise under the new.

A second objection is that what applies to a group must apply to to all of its members as well, so if a group is specifically group is chosen, then every individual in that group must be specifically chosen. This is what is known as “fallacy of composition,” assuming that what applies to a group must necessarily apply to all of its members. Counter-example: “The U.S. military was of substantial power to topple the government of Iraq, therefore every member of the U.S. military was of substantial power to topple the government of Iraq.” The counter-example shows such reasoning to be unsound, since it took a substantial number of members to be an adequate fighting force to overthrow a government, because what applies to a group doesn’t necessarily apply to every member. Therefore, a group being chosen doesn’t imply that all of its members are chosen in the same way or sense.

A third possible objection is that much of the language in Romans 9 is singular, which a major objection by Thomas Schreiner to the concept of corporate election in Romans 9 (“Does Romans 9 teach individual election unto salvation? Some exegetical and theological reflection”, JETS 36/1 (March 1993) 25-40). Dr. Brian Abasciano pointed out in his reply to Schreiner that Paul’s usage of the singular is consistent with the collective singular (i.e. a collective group represented by a singular head) language employed throughout the Old Testament, as demonstrated by the language in Genesis 25 above. And finally, even if phenomena that pertain to individuals are spoken of in Romans 9, this doesn’t change the fact that the context of the chapter, including the preceding verses, leaves no room for interpreting the Isaac/Ishmael and Jacob/Esau analogies as anything but the natural and spiritual nations of Israel, not individuals.

Brian Abasciano Responds to Dan Wallace on Corporate Election

Click the link below to read Brian Abasciano’s masterful response to Dan Wallace’s misguided critique of the corporate election view.

Dr. Brian Abasciano Responds To Dr. Dan Wallace On The Issue Of Corporate Election