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Elect of God: NT

Elect of God: NT

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New Testament

We now take up what is perhaps the most challenging task in our study on the concept of election.  Namely, to objectively examine, without bias, the occurrences of G1588 in the New Testament.  The primary difficulty seems to originate from our tendency to assume that God's choice of people is inseparably connected with their salvation.  We know that all saved people in the New Testament were G1588 (that is, elect).  It seems we then infer that all elect people were saved, as if God’s choosing did not occur without salvation.  For some reason, this connection is hard for many of us to set aside, and that can make it difficult to study the topic objectively.

However, the LXX used G1588 to describe Israel, a nation which we know included a mixture of righteous and ungodly.  Obviously, with regards to the nation, being G1588 did not automatically result in salvation.  This shows us that, within the LXX, being G1588’d and being saved were two distinct states of individuals.  While it is true these states could overlap, they often did not.  Thus, we should be willing to allow the possibility that election is a position which is not synonymous with the state of justification.

Given the controversy of this topic, we will need to exercise all due diligence to set aside our personal ideas, at least temporarily, and endeavor to objectively examine the occurrences of G1588 in the New Testament.  We should be aware that harboring a determination to retain our beliefs without examining all of Scripture may cost us the ability to clearly see the truth.

When Context Doesn’t Help

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]I[/dropcap]n our survey of G1588 in the LXX, we identified two primary definitions of the word: (1) people or objects which had superior qualities; (2) the chosen (and choice) people of God.  We were able to derive these definitions from the narrative type passages in the Old Testament, for they provided context which gave a clear indication of what the word meant.  However, in this New Testament survey, we will find the context does not provide the same level of clarity.  To illustrate, let us look again at the Lord’s use of G1588 in Mark 13:20 and the surrounding context.

For the purpose of the illustration, we will attempt to create a sense of ambiguity regarding the word 'elect' by replacing it with 'G1588' in the passage.

And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the G1588's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.  (Mark 13:20)

Suppose we had no idea what G1588 meant and turned to our concise dictionary for some help.  Under the heading for G1588, we found multiple possibilities of meaning: (a) elite people, (b) people of God, (c) selected for salvation people, (d) fat cows, or (e) golden chariots.  To determine which definition is applicable for this passage, we would need to insert each definition into the verse to see which definitions fit the flow of thought and which disrupt it.  So, we copy the verse once for each definition and review each version carefully.

(a) And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the [elite people's] sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

(b) And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the [people of God’s] sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

(c) And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the [selected for salvation people's] sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

(d) And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the [fat cows'] sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

(e) And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the [golden chariot's] sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

We would probably quickly conclude that (e) appears to disrupt the flow of thought, for golden chariots do not consist of flesh.  However, regarding (a) through (d), we might conclude that we need additional context, for none of the remaining nuances disrupt the thought flow sufficiently to rule them out.

Suppose we added context, and mentally inserted each nuance as before.

"For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.  And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the G1588's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the G1588.  But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.

With this level of context, we could readily rule out 'fat cows,' since false prophets usually don't spend significant effort trying to deceive the bovine species.

Making a closer examination of the context, we see it stated that God chose the elect, but we do not see the purpose for which He chose them – was it for salvation, or favor, or glory, or something else?  Nor do we see the reason why He chose them – was it their inherent qualities, or God’s grace, or their faith, or something else?  Thus, we are not able to conclusively determine from the immediate context whether (a), (b), or (c) was the intended meaning.

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]O[/dropcap]ur exercise showed that the context does not always enable us to derive a definition of G1588.  In the above case, we could not conclusively demonstrate a meaning even though we started with a list of possible definitions.

Normal Word Use

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]I[/dropcap]n everyday conversation, when someone uses a word that has multiple meanings, typically we understand the word in its ordinary sense.  We would not assume a special sense of the word unless there was a clear indication in the context.  For example, if you heard your neighbor say he spent the weekend building his cabinet, you could potentially understand his statement two ways.  You could assume that he was making a small cupboard with shelves and drawers, or you could think he was assembling a body of advisers.  However, you would probably recognize the second definition is a specialized sense that applies to a president selecting advisors.  Unless you knew your neighbor was the president-elect, you would likely assume he meant a cupboard, which is the ordinary sense of the word.  In the same way, our interpretation of the New Testament should assume terms were used in their normal sense unless the context dictates otherwise.

How are we to know what the normal sense of G1588 was?  This question would normally be difficult for us to answer since we live some 2000 years after the writing of the New Testament.  However, when we remember that the early Christians considered the LXX as their scriptures, we can conclude that they would be familiar with how the LXX used the terms therein.  Therefore, it is highly likely in the New Testament writings that the normal sense of G1588 would have come from the LXX scriptures.  Thus, in a New Testament context that is ambiguous regarding the meaning of the word, it is reasonable for us to assume one of the definitions from the LXX.  Surely if the apostles intended a different meaning, they would have provided clarification in the context.

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]I[/dropcap]t is not unreasonable to assume the apostles would clarify their intent when they used a word in a special sense, for we see Paul did this very thing in Romans 3 and 4 with regards to the word 'justified.'  In normal use, 'justified' meant: to show or prove a party to be right or reasonable.  Psalms 51:4 in the LXX contains an example of the normal use (using the same Greek word as is in Romans).

Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just [justified] when You speak, and blameless when You judge.

The psalmist was happy to confess his sin so that God would be shown right and reasonable in His judgments.  This use agrees with the normal meaning of 'justified' throughout the LXX and in multiple places in the New Testament.  However, when Paul spoke of "Him who justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5), he did not mean that the ungodly were shown to be right and reasonable in their sin.  Surely not!  Of course, we are not confused about Paul's intended meaning because, in the context of the passage, he went to great lengths to clarify his intent.  Indeed, he was so successful in his clarification that some people today seem to have forgotten the original meaning of the word and, as a result, struggle in interpreting passages where the normal meaning applies.

Method of Approach

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]A[/dropcap]s we survey the occurrences of G1588 in the New Testament, we will be looking for the same kind of contextual indication that a new meaning, different from what we saw in the LXX, was applied to the word.  In particular, we will be interested to see if any context explicitly gives us the definition of 'chosen for salvation' (definition 3).  If there is no such indication, then we will evaluate the fit within the context of the two primary definitions of G1588 from the LXX: people and objects which had superior qualities (definition 1); the chosen (and choice) people of God (definition 2).  The flow of thought within the context will determine which definition best fits.

Again, our guiding assumption is: if the context is ambiguous regarding the definition of G1588 and there is no indication of a new meaning, then it is likely that the intended meaning was one of the normal nuances found in the LXX.

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]A[/dropcap] quick search in a concordance will reveal that the New Testament used G1588 twenty-three times and, unlike the LXX, it never used the word as a descriptor of inanimate objects.  Four times it used G1588 to describe personages other than people, such as the Lord Jesus and the angels, but the remaining 19 times it was used as a descriptor of people.  Since it is not possible for the Lord or the angels to be chosen for salvation, then it is these remaining 19 occurrences which will be the focus of our survey.