by Yoki Maurx
“The doctrine of election is biblical and true” can be said by any Bible believing Christian. There have been numerous debates about the doctrine of election and reprobation for hundreds of years. Without defining terms, two people may have completely different understandings of the doctrine of election. Election, simply defined, means “to choose”. When such a common word is used, we must look at the surrounding context to determine the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the choice. According to The Lexham Bible Dictionary, the Greek terms associated with election (ἐκλέγομαι, eklegomai; ἐκλεκτός, eklektos; ἐκλογή, eklogē) also describe a choice or something that is chosen.”1
The reformed Calvinist would say that election means that God chose some people for salvation prior to the foundation of the world.2 As a non-Calvinist who holds to the Traditional Southern Baptist or Provisionist view of Soteriology3 I will be defending the non-Calvinist view of election. I will show that divine election of individuals is conditional, corporate, and to service, not salvation. In the same way that the logical end of unconditional election to salvation includes unconditional reprobation, the logical end of conditional election is a rejection that God reprobates anyone from before the foundation of the world. Elect, or some variation of the word, is used just over 225 times in the Bible, but only a few dozen of them can be construed to include salvation. In this paper, I will focus on Ephesians 1:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 as I defend my position.
“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”4
Consistent hermeneutics demand that verses be read in context. The letter to the Ephesians was written to Christians, Ephesians 1:1 “To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”5 Paul then begins an exposition of the blessings that are theirs in Christ and, by extension, to all Christians, the Body of Christ, at all times and in every place wherever they may be. Verse 3 shows this, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”6 Once the Christian is born again (John 3:3-7) by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-7) they receive every spiritual blessing immediately, in Christ, who is seated in the heavenly realm at the right hand of God. Furthermore, the Christian receives the promise of eternal life and all the promises of inheritance that are associated with it, the moment that they believe and trust in Christ for salvation.
Snodgrass, in his commentary on Ephesians 1:4, said that “Individuals are not elected and then put in Christ. They are in Christ and therefore elect.”7 Klein agrees with Snodgrass and points out that “Christ is the principal elected one, and the corporate body included in him consists of the ones God has chosen.”8 Notice that it is God choosing what those of us who are in him will receive (Eph 1:5-14). We are not chosen “to be” in him but instead that those who have repented and believed and are now “in him” are promised and predestined to an inheritance, adoption, and to be holy and without blame. In Ephesians 1, the only being in the passage that existed before the foundations of the world is Christ, the elect one.
Ephesians 1 teaches that election has positional implications which can be seen by the fact that Paul uses the words “in him” no less then eleven times in Ephesians 1 alone. Paul is showing a positional truth. Richard Beals and Earl Radmacher wrote, “When we follow Paul’s use of the expression, we discover that to be in Christ means that in a real sense the Christian has been placed, located within Christ. In Christ signifies that whatever Jesus Christ is before God the Father, the believer shares his identity, because he or she is within the Savior.”9 Shawn Lazar, in his book Chosen to Serve, wrote, “Believers are predestined insofar as they are ‘in Christ’ and so share His identity… you are not individually elected from all eternity. The group is. The Body of Christ is. And you are put ‘in Christ’ when you believe in Him.”10 We do not need to read Ephesians 1:4 to mean that God is selecting specific individuals for salvation and thereby rejecting others. It is more likely that God was determining the means by which his people will be identified as his Children.
2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”11
The idea that God chooses some for salvation and then the remainder of humanity is reprobated to hell is a doctrine that neither scripture nor logic can support. If God is a maximumly great being, as Anselm argued for,12 then the maximumly great being must be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. Unless one wants to state that God is not omnibenevolent, then God, who is all-loving, must want the best for all people. This philosophical idea is supported by scripture here in 2 Peter 3:9.
Looking at the text, we see that the identity of the “any should perish” is linked to the “all” in 9b which would include any unsaved people who have not yet come to repentance. But some believe that the “any” points back to the personal pronoun “ὑμᾶς” (you) then the personal pronoun choice ὑμᾶς would point to the readers of this epistle as the “you”. Peter is writing to them as believers whom he believes already profess salvation, but that interpretive choice would go against the “come to repentance” phrase. Michael Green, in his commentary on 2 Peter wrote that “Peter’s third refutation of the scoffers is drawn from the nature of God and has many antecedents in Jewish apocalyptic thought. It is not slowness but patience that delays the consummation of all history and holds open the door to repentant sinners, even repentant scoffers.”13 God has always been slow to anger (Exod. 34:6), and God does not wish that any should perish but wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). God is ready to show his mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32) and has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but would rather have the wicked turn from his ways and live (Ezek. 18:23). God does not plan damnation for select individuals making them reprobates but instead gives all a real opportunity to come to repentance.
God choosing specific individuals for salvation may sound like such a loving thing to do; after all, God is not required to save anyone. But the doctrine of individual election to salvation from before the foundations of the world leaves those who hold to it with problems that do not have answers. If God is a maximumly great being, then he would not pass over those that he has the power to save and thereby reprobate them to hell. This belief removes the omnibenevolent attribute from God and omnibenevolence is a core aspect of what makes him God.
The doctrine of election being corporate or to service provides solid biblical and philosophical answers that will positively impact the church and should be applied in the local church for three main reasons. First, it is consistent with Scripture and God being a maximumly great being. Since all theological doctrine should be derived from Scripture, we must examine every passage used to support a doctrine to see if it holds up. When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, we find that some of the more challenging verses get clearer. When Scripture teaches that God desires that all will be saved (1Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9) we do not have to cite “mystery” as the reason that God wants all to be saved but chooses to only save some.14
The second reason is that it will aid in evangelism and prayer. When the doctrine that only a predetermined list of people can be saved is understood and accepted by a Christian, the motivation for evangelizing can become a drudgery. Praying for the salvation of the lost can start to feel like asking God to check the reservation list and see if the person we want to come to saving faith is also the person that God wanted to save. The words of Scripture that teach us that we are to pray for the salvation of all people and take the gospel to all the world suddenly can feel like a false offer. But knowing that anyone who repents and believes in Christ will be given the gracious gift of salvation adds urgency and importance to what we as Christ-followers are called to do (Matthew 28:19-20). The corporate view of election is a conditional view where people must not reject the truth in unrighteousness but instead by placing their faith in the finished work of Jesus, they are placed in him (Ephesians 1:4) and are united with the Elect One. It removes any doubt that there are some out there who are not able to be saved.
Third, an improper view of election will influence the hermeneutics of other passages. When we presuppose the meaning of a word, like election, we unconsciously import that doctrine into other areas of Scripture. Holding to the doctrine presented here will allow verses like 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:6, 4:10, Titus 2:11, and John 3:16-17 to be read in context, and we do not have to say that “all” means “some of all nations” or “all those chosen from before the foundation of the world.” But instead, we see that God loved the whole world so much that he sent his son to die so that any who believe will not perish but have eternal life.
14The reason that not all people are saved is not a problem that those who hold to this view have not provided well researched and scripturally sound answers to. There is not space in this paper to cover the objections and challenges to this position but a considerable amount of work has been done on the subject of libertarian free will and the problem of evil. See Norman L. Geisler’s Chosen but Free (2010), Timothy A. Stratton’s Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism: A Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Philosophical Analysis, and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and many other books and articles that address the subject.
1Thornhill, A. C. (2016). Election. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.
2For a detailed explanation of the Calvinistic doctrine of election see Loraine Boettner’s, Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, (1991) “Unconditional election”, pp 84-140
3For more information on Traditional Southern Baptist Soteriology see Anyone Can be Saved by Eric Hankins, David Allen, and Adam Harwood, Wipf and Stock, (2016)
4The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Eph 1:4). (2016). Crossway Bibles.
5The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Eph 1:1). (2016). Crossway Bibles.
6The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Eph 1:3). (2016). Crossway Bibles.
7Snodgrass, Klyne. (1996). The NIV Application Commentary (p. 84). Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 8Klein, W. W. (2015). The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election (Revised and Expanded Edition, p. 154). Wipf & Stock.
9R.S. Beals, Jr. and Earl Radmacher, Ephesians: Life and Love in Christ. Chino Valley, One Word Press, 2012, pg 6
10Shawn Lazar, Chosen to Serve, Denton, Grace Evangelical Society, 2017, Pg 204
11The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2 Pe 3:9). (2016). Crossway Bibles.
12Garrett, J. L., Jr. (2014). Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical (Fourth Edition, Vol. 1, p. 100). Wipf & Stock. Garrett wrote that, “This is a syllogistic argument rather than an argument from effect to cause. Its first exponent, Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109), expounded it in deductive fashion in his Proslogium. First, contended Anselm, a human being has in his mind the idea of an infinite and perfect being. Second, “[e]xistence is an attribute of perfection.” Third, an infinite and perfect Being, therefore, must exist.”
13Green, M. (1987). 2 Peter and Jude: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 18, p. 159). InterVarsity Press.