Menu Close

Gospel Parables

Elect of God: NT

[line align="center" class="title-line"]

New Testament

Gospel Parables

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]T[/dropcap]he first two occurrences of the word in the New Testament are in the latter half of the Gospel of Matthew and were each placed in the closing statement of a parable.

“So the last will be first, and the first last.  For many are called, but few chosen.”  (Matthew 20:16)

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”  (Matthew 22:14)

Matthew 20:16 is in the context of the parable of men hired to work in a vineyard.  Some men worked all day, some worked part of a day, but the owner paid all the same wage.  Please note that some manuscripts did not include the last sentence of verse 16.  However, regardless of the originality of the phrase, the message of the parable remains the same: it spoke of workers receiving the same pay for different levels of work.  We find G1588 at the end of the parable, placed in the context of a call for service, not salvation.  Due (in part) to the uncertainty of the authenticity of the phrase, we will refrain from making any conclusions regarding G1588 and move on to the next occurrence.

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]T[/dropcap]he second verse, Matthew 22:14, is at the end of the parable of a king who sent invitations to a wedding feast three times.  The response to the first invitation was an unwillingness to come by those invited.  A second call went out, indicating the oxen had been killed and all things were ready.  The responses ranged from disinterest to antagonism: some continued about their business and others killed the messengers.  The king was enraged and sent his armies to destroy their city.  Finally, a third invitation went out, this time to the highways and byways.  The king's servants went out and gathered together all whom they found.  Of the many who came to the feast, one individual came without proper wedding attire, and they cast him into outer darkness.  "Many are called but few are chosen" is the final sentence of the parable.

The parable was spoken to the Jews in a Jewish context and must be interpreted from the same perspective.  Historically, the first invitation to the Jews came while they were in the land of Egypt.  They were invited to come feast in the land flowing with milk and honey, but when they reached the border, they turned away in unbelief back to the wilderness.  God did not entirely give up on them but worked on preparing the feast for the next several generations.  Through Joshua, He removed their enemies and established them in the land.  Through David and Solomon, He established His name in Jerusalem and built His temple.

At last, the feast was ready, but ten tribes of Israel had separated themselves from the temple.  So, for many generations, God sent out His servants, the prophets, with an invitation to come, but those invited treated them poorly and killed some.  In judgment, God brought the Babylonian armies, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and scattered the people throughout the world.  Still God did not entirely turn His back on the Jews, but once again began sending out His servants with an invitation to His feast.  Over many generations, the servants faithfully labored to gather all those whom they found back to the land of Israel and the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

Now God's Son, the King, had come to see the guests who were present for the feast.  But not all were ready, for some wore their work clothing instead of wedding garments of joy.  Woe to those who were not properly attired, for they would be cast out into darkness.  It is at this point the Lord states that many were called, but few G1588.

The message of the parable was clear, if not startling, to the Jews.  Time and time again the invitation had gone out to the nation of Israel.  Many, many were called.  However, contrary to the popular belief of that day, the nation as a whole would not be received into the kingdom of God.  Only a remnant would be received, made up of those who had repented and responded to the call of Jesus.  The repentant people, who wore the garments of the joy of forgiveness, were embraced by God as His people; the rest, who wore the garments of works, were cast out.

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]T[/dropcap]he only other parable with an occurrence of G1588 is the parable of the widow and the unjust judge.  In this parable, the Lord was teaching that His followers should not give up on praying, even though the answer from heaven seemed slow in coming.  He spoke of how the widow obtained justice from the unjust judge through her persistence.  The Lord closed the parable with the following statement.

“And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?  I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"  (Luke 18:7-8)

Thus, in this parable, G1588 occurs in a context of the patience of the people of God, for whom God will bring justice.  The closing question implies that the elect are those who, in the face of continued silence, still believe in God.

[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]I[/dropcap]n these three parables, we see that although G1588 was a significant word, it was used almost in passing, without elaboration, and without clear indication (or any indication) of a new meaning.  Our next step, then, is to insert the normal definitions from the LXX into the passages and see if either is a likely fit.  As noted before, the two definitions are as follows: (1) people and objects which had superior qualities; (2) the chosen (and choice) people of God.

The occurrence of G1588 at the end of the parable of the dissatisfied laborers is difficult to interpret regardless of which definition is used.  However, the occurrence at the end of the second parable is more clear.  We readily see that the Lord was not saying ‘many are called but only a few have superior qualities,’ for those who responded to the invitation came from the highways and byways and obviously were not the elite of society.  It makes more sense to understand that out of all the Israelites invited to the feast, only a few were the true people of God, whose hearts were humble and contrite before God.

Equally clear is the statement in the third parable that one day God would avenge not the elite people, but His own special people.

Thus, in these two parables, we see no clear indication of a new definition for G1588.  In attempting to apply the two definitions from the LXX, we can probably agree that (2) was more likely the intended meaning than (1) for both parables.  Furthermore, we can presumably agree that the definition is a good fit within the context.

If we were to further ponder the Lord’s use of G1588 in these parables, we might notice that the Lord used G1588 to distinguish between the true people of God and those who only appeared to be the people of God.  Many Jewish people had the outward appearance of being godly, but their hearts were far from God.  The Lord distinguished between these outwardly righteous people and those who were pure in heart before God by referring to the latter people as 'the elect.'