How The Bible Defines: Election
Elect of God: LXX
The following is a rather long excerpt chapter from the book which shows the derivation of the meaning of ‘Elect’ based on the use of the term in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). In my opinion, this is a key contribution of the book.
And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved;
but for the elect’s sake,
whom He chose,
He shortened the days.
At the close of the chapter on the word study of G1586, the author callously left us hanging in suspense by raising an unanswered question regarding the identity of the elect in the above passage. We will now return to the question by surveying the Greek adjective, which you may recall was derived from the verb form which was translated “chose” in the above verse. The adjective is the second in our list of words related to the concept of election.
G1586 eklegomai: Verb; A deliberate selection for a distinct purpose.
G1588 eklektos: Adjective, derived from G1586; The chosen, select, elect.
G1589 eklogē: Noun, derived from G1586; The choice, selection.
Every occurrence of “elect” in the New Testament (KJV, NJKV, ESV, NASB) was translated from this adjective, so it is clearly an important word with regards to the doctrine of election. Therefore, it is critical that we accurately grasp the meaning of this word if we are to begin to correctly understand the ways of God towards His people with regards to the doctrine of election.
This chapter will focus on the use of the G1588 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX). There are a dauntingly large number of passages available to discuss, for the word appeared about 82 times in the LXX. Exploring the detail of each and every context is beyond the scope of this book and probably beyond our level of endurance. We will look at a summary of how the word was used, knowing that an appendix is provided which lists every occurrence for those who want to dig a little deeper.
G1588: Elect, choice
As with the verb form, G1586, so this word, G1588, was used across a broad spectrum of contexts in the LXX. In the same way that G1586 (verb) was used to speak of the choosing of a wide variety of things, so G1588 (adjective) was used as a descriptor of a wide variety of things. Examples of items described by G1588 include tombs, offerings, livestock, trees, soldiers, along with many other items.
We can divide the occurrences of G1588 within the LXX into three groups, for the adjective has three nuances which have distinct, yet related meanings. As we look at each nuance, we will use an illustration to breathe life into the meaning, then review a sample of Scripture texts containing examples. The appendix mentioned above is also broken down into the same three categories of nuance.
Category A: Inherent Qualities
To illustrate this nuance of the word, let us imagine a young man infatuated with a lovely maiden. If we were to ask him what it is about this young lady which he finds attractive, he would blissfully speak to us at length about the beauty of her countenance, her sparkling eyes, the smile on her lips, her grace and feminine form, her delightful conversation and lovely personality, along with all of her characteristics and qualities that have won his heart. As we listen to his glowing description of her attributes and beauties, we very well might be convinced that she is a choice young lady, one in a thousand.
In the last sentence of the illustration, the word “choice” was used as a summary descriptive of the young maiden to indicate that she is a person with excellent qualities. This use serves to illustrate the first nuance of the adjective, G1588. The LXX frequently used the word as a descriptor of people and objects with inherently excellent qualities. An obvious example of this nuance is the first use of the word, found in the context of Abraham obtaining a plot of land in which to bury his wife, Sarah. When he approached the local inhabitants with his request to purchase a burial place, their response contained the use of G1588.
“Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.” (Genesis 23:6)
In this NKJV translation of this verse, we see the local inhabitants expressed their desire that this mighty prince would have for his use the best of their sepulchers as a burying place.
Keep in mind, the quotation of the verse above is an English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The significance is that the English text above conveys the meaning of the original Hebrew text. From our English translation, it is evident the Hebrew text referred to a burial place having inherent qualities which made it superior to other sepulchers. The Hebrew phrasing is significant to us because when the translators converted the passage from Hebrew to Greek, we find they selected G1588 as an appropriate adjective to convey the meaning of the Hebrew text. Since the English translation used “choicest” to convey the essence of the Hebrew, we can assume the Greek word carried a similar meaning (assuming the Greek translators provided an accurate translation). Thus, even we who are illiterate in Greek can easily see that this nuance of G1588 evidently had a meaning similar to “choicest.”
If this was the only passage that used G1588 in this sense, one might persuade us that it was an exception to the norm. However, there are many additional passages where G1588 clearly had the meaning of inherent excellent qualities. In fact, this nuance was the predominate use of G1588 throughout the LXX: of the 79 verses where the word occurs, 64 verses used the word to describe the inherent quality of an object. Thus, with regards to quantity, this sense of the word would normally be considered the primary meaning within the LXX.
To give the reader an idea of the variety of contexts in which this nuance of G1588 occurs, a few additional passages are provided below.
Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat [choice]; and they fed in the meadow… And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat [choice] cows. So Pharaoh awoke. He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump [choice] and good… And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump [choice] and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream. (Genesis 41:2-7)
“Also take for yourself quality spices – five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane,” (Exodus 30:23)
All these were the children of Asher, heads of their fathers’ houses, choice men, mighty men of valor, chief leaders. And they were recorded by genealogies among the army fit for battle; their number was twenty-six thousand. (1 Chronicles 7:40)
The reader is encouraged to reference the appendix for additional passages of this category, for even a quick perusal through the verses will show how often the LXX used G1588 to describing things and people that were superior in some fashion to other similar objects. It is strong evidence that this was the primary sense of the word.
Interestingly, the objects described in this category were not necessarily objects which had undergone a G1586 type of careful selection process, as might have been expected due to G1588 having been derived from G1586. However, one could say the two words are related in the sense that the adjective described objects that surely would be chosen in a G1586 type of selection.
It appears a good definition of this nuance of the word would be one similar to the definitions of the adjective forms of the English words “choice” and “elect,” which are as follows:
Choice: (adj.) of excellent quality: “a choice cut of meat.”
Elect: (adj.) select or choice: “an elect circle of artists.”
This nuance described objects which had inherently excellent qualities. It may be tempting to apply this meaning to the opening verse, and to read it as, “And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the [inherently excellent ones’] sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.” However, to do so before exploring the other nuances would be premature.
Category B: Position of Honor
Let us return to the illustration of the infatuated young man. Suppose some time has passed – there has been a proposal, a ring, a lovely ceremony, and a romantic honeymoon. Now the happy couple is returning to their home, which is nothing less than the royal palace. You see, the young man is none other than the crown prince. And who is the young lady? She is now, of course, the princess. However, before her wedding, she was, well, a mere citizen of the kingdom. Her parents were not royalty, and she had no titles to her name. There was nothing in her lineage or accomplishments that would particularly qualify her to be the royal princess – only the fact that the crown prince chose her to be his wife. Because of his choice, she is now elevated in status above all other women in the kingdom, regardless of whatever titles they might possess. The young lady is now choice in a different sense than before. It is not her inherent qualities of lineage or accomplishments that make her a choice young lady, but her position obtained through the selection of the prince.
The use of G1588 in this sense first occurs in the passage when King David asked the Gibeonites what was required for atonement to bring a severe famine to an end. The Gibeonites, as non-Israelites, had greatly suffered under Saul’s policies of ethnic cleansing, which contradicted the treaty of protection established in the days of Joshua (Joshua 9). The Gibeonites replied to David:
“Let seven men of [Saul’s] descendants be delivered to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD chose.” And the king said, “I will give them.” (2 Samuel 21:6)
Evidently, they did not use G1588 in this passage with the same nuance as in Category A, which would be to describe Saul as a man with inherently good characteristics. It is true that when he was first chosen as king, he was perceived to have the desirable features of a superior physique. However, the policies he adopted when he was king demonstrated that he was an ungodly character, unfit to be king over the people of God. We see that, instead of describing a man who was choice due to inherent qualities, the Gibeonites were describing a man whom God chose to be king over Israel. They recognized Saul had not become king because of his inherent qualities, but because God had placed him on the throne.
Unlike the broad use of Category A, this sense of the word was only used in the LXX to describe people and not inanimate objects. Furthermore, it was only used to describe people chosen by God for a position of authority, as demonstrated in the following three verses.
Then You spoke in a vision to Your holy one, and said: “I have given help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found My servant David; with My holy oil I have anointed him.” (Psalms 89:19-20)
Therefore He said that He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them. (Psalms 106:23)
And I shall shake all the nations. And the chosen of all the nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD almighty. (Haggai 2:7, LXX)
God chose each of these men for a position of authority. None attained their position by first convincing the general public of their inherent personal qualities of excellence, and then being voted into office. Nor did they achieve their position by their greatness of power. God chose them for their position and established them in it. As far as the author can tell, these four verses are the extent of the use of G1588 with this nuance in both the LXX and the NT.
In Category A, we noted the described objects had not necessarily gone through a G1586 type of selection process. We can see that Category B is distinct from A in that the objects did go through a G1586 kind of selection process in which God deliberately selected each man. Thus, in this category, we see G1588 described people as having been deliberately chosen by God.
As previously noted, God chose each man for a position of authority. A person in authority is typically treated differently from the average person, in that they are given honor and shown respect. Now, it is worth noting that honor and respect are shown not only to people in authority but also to individuals who have inherent excellent qualities of one form or another. For example, sports stars receive honor and respect for their athletic abilities, movie stars for their acting skills, musicians for their talent, soldiers for their courage, engineers for their superior practical intelligence, and so forth. As the public shows honor and respect to talented people, so also do people to individuals in authority.
Of course, we prefer that those in authority over us also possess highly excellent characteristics, but such is not always the case. However, regardless of the quality of their inherent characteristics, we are expected to treat people in authority with honor and respect as if they did inherently have superior excellent features.
Although this nuance is distinct from Category A, we see it is related in the sense that a man described by the Category B nuance of G1588 would receive the same honor and respect as one described by the Category A nuance. In other words, a man placed in a position of authority (Category B) typically expects to receive the same honor and respect as a person who has superior qualities and characteristics (Category A). G1588 acted as a descriptor in both cases.
With regards to Category B, it appears the definition of the English adjective “chosen” is closest to the definition of this nuance of G1588.
Chosen: (adj.) having been selected as the best or most appropriate: “music is his chosen vocation.”
This nuance was used to describe men whom God selected for positions of authority and honor.
Category C: Chosen to be Choice
Some years have passed since the happy honeymoon mentioned above. The young lady is not as young anymore. A few kids have entered the scene, and she expends a tremendous amount of energy trying to keep up with them. Often, when her husband returns home at the end of the day, she is worn out and sometimes even a little bit grouchy. She tries to give him a smile when he comes through the door, but sometimes she just wants to dump the kids on him and wander through the peaceful palace gardens.
Her husband is a good man and is not discouraged by her change from the vibrant young lady of his youth. Some of his wife’s youthful attributes which first attracted him have faded with the passing of time and under the responsibilities of life, but his heart is not drawn away from her by the lovely young ladies in the courts of the palace. She probably would no longer qualify as a contestant in a beauty pageant, but he lovingly treasures her above all other women in the kingdom; as far as he is concerned, she is the choicest of women for she is the woman whom he chose to be his own.
This simple illustration demonstrates a nuance clearly distinct from Category A, in that the wife does not, in a general sense, possess the characteristics that typically attract young men to the young ladies. It is also distinct from Category B, in that her position as wife is not a position of broad authority. However, she is honored and treasured by her husband as though she had richer qualities of excellence than all other women, due to his deliberate choice of her as his wife. One could say she was choice to him because he chose her to be his.
This nuance of G1588 occurs only ten times in the LXX. One time it was applied to David, but the other nine times it was applied to the nation of Israel. Sometimes it referred to the nation as a whole, sometimes to a remnant.
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,
O seed of Israel His servant,
You children of Jacob, His chosen ones!
He is the Lord our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
Remember His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations,
The covenant which He made with Abraham,
And His oath to Isaac,
And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel for an everlasting covenant,
Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan
As the allotment of your inheritance,”
When you were few in number,
Indeed very few, and strangers in it.
When they went from one nation to another,
And from one kingdom to another people,
He permitted no man to do them wrong;
Yes, He rebuked kings for their sakes,
Saying, “Do not touch My anointed ones,
And do My prophets no harm.”
(1 Chronicles 16:11-22, Psalm 105:4-15)
These extensive quotes from these mirror passages of 1 Chronicles and the Psalms illustrate the richness of God’s favor expressed towards the nation of Israel. Notice how G1588 was not used to describe a nation of excellent qualities, for they were a nation that had often been rebellious. Nor did it describe a nation chosen for a position of authority over other nations, for they were often weak. Instead, it corresponds to the deliberate G1586 choice of the nation of Israel as the people of God. It described a people who were chosen by God to be His own, and were treated by God as though they possessed the highest qualities of excellence even though they were frequently lacking in excellent qualities.
The other passages where G1588 acted as a descriptor of Israel also carried the same flavor of choice-ness surrounding the chosen people of God.
That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, that I may glory with Your inheritance. (Psalms 106:5)
The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. (Isaiah 43:20)
For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. (Isaiah 45:4)
The Old Testament writers clearly indicated that it was counted a blessing and privilege to be among the group of people whom God chose as His own. They saw that the kindness of God towards Israel came as a direct result of God’s selection of the nation as His people.
Of the nine times that G1588 described Israel in the context of God’s favor, six times it was speaking of the nation as a whole. The covenant God made with Abraham was that He would be God to both him and his descendants, on the condition that they maintained the rite of circumcision. For an Israelite to be included among God’s chosen ones, he needed to be circumcised. If he were not, he would be cut off from his people. Because the Israelites were religiously faithful in performing the rite of circumcision, the entire nation was counted as God’s chosen people, God’s elect.
Notice how the whole nation was counted as God’s elect, regardless of their personal standing before God. While it is true that there were many righteous people in the nation, it is also true that there were many ungodly people also. The nation contained both godly and ungodly Israelites, but as a whole, they were the chosen people of God. Thus, in the case of Israel, we see that being one of God’s elect was not synonymous with being made righteous. God did not choose them for salvation, but chose them to be His people. As God’s chosen people they were often treated as if they had an abundance of excellent qualities.
For many generations, circumcision was the primary requirement to be counted among the chosen. However, in the prophecy of Isaiah 65, a change was foretold from the elect consisting of the whole nation to the elect consisting of only a particular group of people.
“I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah an heir of My mountains; My elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there. Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, for My people who have sought Me.
“But you are those who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who prepare a table for Gad, and who furnish a drink offering for Meni. Therefore I will number you for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.” (Isaiah 65:9-12)
The prophecy revealed that much of the nation had long forsaken the Lord and continually chose the very things He hated. For this reason, they, as a nation, would fall from being God’s elect. There would be a new elect comprised of people who sought God. In other words, God would take as His people only those who sought after Him. He would no longer be God to those who forsook Him, even though they were descendants of Abraham and circumcised.
Isaiah’s prophecy indicated a significant and profound change. For many generations, God had been the God of a stiff-necked people who were continually rebellious against Him. Isaiah foretold that this time would come to a close and God would be the God of a humble people who were of a contrite (repentant) spirit.
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord.
“But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2)
For a person to be one of the elect in the day which Isaiah foretold, he would need to be a spiritual descendant of Abraham. Not merely a physical descendant, but one who had the same faith as Abraham and of a humble and contrite spirit. Simply put, Isaiah spoke of a day when only those who had true hearts before God would be God’s elect – these alone would be the people of God.
Notice how Isaiah did not say that God would choose certain people, and as a result, they would become humble and contrite. If that had been the case, then the nation of Israel would not have been a stiff-necked and rebellious people, for God chose them. Instead, Isaiah plainly declared that God would look upon the people, and He would show abundant kindnesses to those who had a humble and contrite heart; they would be His chosen people, His elect.
Although this nuance of G1588 is distinct from Category A nuance, yet we can see a connection between the two. Category A described objects as having excellent qualities, and in Category C we see people selected to be treated as though they had excellent qualities, regardless of whether they had those qualities. In other words, God chose them and in His sight they were choice. Thus, it appears a good definition of this nuance of the word might be as follows:
Elect: The chosen (and choice) people of God.
Category D: Chosen for Salvation
Contrary to how G1588 is often defined, this sense of the word does not exist in the LXX. G1588 never described individuals who were chosen by God to receive righteousness. The reader is invited to verify this in the appendix.
What about the following verse?
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
This is a significant verse that needs to be addressed. However, the word translated “chose” in this verse is G0138, a word that is unrelated to G1588. The point of this discussion is to examine the meaning of G1588 and the related words. Thus, the above verse is beyond the scope of our study. It will need to be addressed in a different study.
In these days G1588 is commonly defined as indicating individuals selected to obtain salvation, but it was not used that way in the LXX. Instead, it was typically used to describe objects as having inherent excellent qualities. A few times the word appeared in the context of God’s selection of individuals to positions of high authority. On a number of occasions, it described a people whom God chose as His people, who enjoyed abundant favor from God. To summarize, G1588 was primarily used either (a) to describe people and objects which had superior qualities, or (b) to refer to the people whom God chose for Himself.
Suppose we take our conclusion and see how it fits within our opening verse, Mark 13:20. If we apply the (b) definition to the verse, it reads, “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.” This reading certainly fits the flow of the verse, and we may be tempted to embrace it and end the discussion at this point. However, to do so would be premature, for although the writers of the New Testament were likely to use G1588 with the same meaning as it had in the LXX, especially when speaking of the people whom God chose, there is the possibility that they used the word in a new sense. However, if they intended a new sense, it would have been necessary to clarify their intent, or they would risk confusing their readers.
For example, suppose an early believer was studying Mark’s gospel, and the occurrence of G1588 in Mark 13:20 caught his eye. Wanting to make sure he understands what the Lord was saying, he pulls a current copy of the Modern Dictionary of Greek Words from his bookshelf and flips to the entry for G1588. As he reads the definitions for the nuances of the word, it is certain that he will not find in that secular dictionary a definition that reads: “Individuals chosen by God for salvation.”
Suppose that, as our aspiring scholar considers the definitions he found, it occurs to him that a secular dictionary might not be the best resource to discover the theological significance of the Lord’s words. Returning the dictionary to the shelf, he takes out his Exhaustive Concordance to the Greek Old Testament and carefully examines every occurrence of G1588. As we have seen above, he would likely conclude that the word could be describing either people with excellent characteristics, or people given a position of honor, or people whom God chose as His own.
However, suppose in using G1588, the Lord meant to describe people chosen by God for salvation. This early believer would have no way of knowing that this was the intended meaning unless Mark made this definition clear in the context.
The next step in this study, therefore, is to examine the uses of the word in the New Testament to see if G1588 clearly received a definition that is different than what we find in the LXX. Then we shall be in a good position to give an educated guess on the identity of the elect in the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter.