By D. Richard Ferguson

NOTE: My apologies for all the technical jargon in this post. It was written for a seminary class.
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Three Traditional Views

The three predominant views on election are the Calvinist/Reformed view (unconditional particular election), the Arminian view (conditional particular election) and the corporate election view (unconditional election for the Church, conditional election for the individual). 

While the major proponents of each view can adduce seemingly strong scriptural support for their view; none of the three views can easily explain all the relevant passages in accordance with the most natural reading. 

While the Calvinists, for example, point to their interpretation of the passages that emphasize divine freedom as being the most simple and natural reading of those texts, their interpretations of the texts favored by the Arminians tend to be rather forced and driven more by theology than by the text itself.  The same is true of the Arminians and those who hold to corporate election.

I will argue the solution is to be found in understanding that election is presented to us in Scripture from two different viewpoints.  In some contexts God wants us to think about election from an eternal perspective and in other contexts he wants us to think about election from a temporal perspective.  

While the two perspectives are not contradictory, the effort to harmonize them perfectly in the limited mind of man runs up against the same inscrutable mystery as all other efforts to understand divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  Thankfully, however, the mandate of Scripture is not that we harmonize everything, but that we simply believe all that Scripture says.  Perhaps the closest we can come to harmonizing both sides, I will argue, is in evangelistic prayer.

Election in the Old Testament

The most significant Hebrew term for the doctrine of election in the Old Testament is bahar, the term that corresponds most closely to the New Testament verb for election, eklego (used 108 times to translate bahar in the LXX[1]).  The most basic meaning of the word is to choose rather than reject, although when called for by the context it can also mean to value highly rather than to value lightly or detest.  It also carries the idea of a choice that is made for a specific use; that the elected item or person may fulfill a desired purpose.[2]

God’s Election of Israel

Most often election is a concept applied to Israel as a whole.[3]  The purpose of God’s election of Israel was that he might have a treasured possession among the nations for the glory of his name.

You are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession.[4] 

For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.[5]

It should be noted that the corporate concept should be meaningful to each individual.  As a member of the elect community individual Israelites were to take comfort, joy and hope in the fact that they were chosen by God.[6]

As God’s elect Israel became the seat of God’s work and purposes on the earth.  The Servant of the LORD in Isaiah 42 embodies and fulfills all of God’s elective purposes for his nation. 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.[7]

It would be through the Messiah that God’s global purposes in choosing Israel would be fully realized.

The election of Israel was never a guarantee of blessing or salvation apart from fidelity of the people to God.  When the people relied on their election to save them from divine judgment they were corrected.  Through the prophet God told them that in such a context they were no different from the non-elect nations.  In the case of unfaithfulness God would elect Israel for destruction, not blessing.

“I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good. … Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth — yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the LORD.[8]

Election is no security in the case of apostasy.  In fact, in one of the most well-known Old Testament passages on election Amos set forth Israel’s election as the very basis for their judgment.

Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel — against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: “You only have I chosen (yada) of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?[9]

The unique relationship between Israel and God is the very ground for their punishment.

Those who opposed the prophets and argued against the prophecies of coming judgment based their arguments on the doctrine of election.  It was assumed that God would never judge his elect. The following is from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament article on election:

In all these cases it is only too easy to condemn the antagonists of the prophets, as though it were a simple matter to subjugate national pride to obedience to God, as was demanded even in the most critical situation. With their politically oriented belief in election these men could not understand that Yahweh would deliver back to shameful slavery the people which He had brought out of the house of bondage and established as a nation. How could He allow His safe stronghold to fall? They thus defended Zion and freedom to the last ditch against the superior power which threatened them.[10]

It seemed to the people that if God had elected them that election guaranteed they would never be rejected and they were secure in that election no matter what they did.[11]  Such reasoning is not consistent with the biblical doctrine of election.  Just as God’s election of Saul was no guarantee that Saul would not later be rejected by God,[12] so it was with Israel.

This point is not only made in the TDNT article on election (see above), but also in the NIDNTT article.  Lothar Coenen notes:

[God’s election] is not a goal already reached, but a beginning which has to be confirmed. Therefore, we find at the same time a warning that God may reject again those whom he has drawn to him in this way.[13]

Jesus on Election

The references to election in the Gospels are mostly remarks Jesus made about Jesus’ selection of the Apostles.  Theologians have debated the relevance of these passages for the doctrine of the election of the Church.  In his commentary on John 15:16 Calvin argues that what is said of the election of the Apostles applies also to the election of individuals to salvation.

True, the subject now in hand is not the ordinary election of believers, by which they are adopted to be the children of God, but that special election, by which he set apart his disciples to the office of preaching the Gospel. But if it was by free gift, and not by their own merit, that they were chosen to the apostolic office, much more is it certain that the election, by which, from being the children of wrath and an accursed seed, we become the children of God, is of free grace. Besides, in this passage Christ magnifies his grace, by which they had been chosen to be Apostles, so as to join with it that former election by which they had been engrafted into the body of the Church; or rather, he includes in these words all the dignity and honor which he had conferred on them.[14]

For Jesus the elect are those of whom God will take special care.  In a parable designed to teach his disciples that they should not give up in prayer Jesus concludes by assuring them that God will certainly give justice to his elect.[15]  He will even cut short the Great Tribulation that the elect might survive.[16]  When Jesus comes they will be gathered from the four winds by his angels.[17] 

Once again, however, this special care does not exempt the elect from the possibility of being deceived in the end.  In the same context of the promise that the Tribulation will be cut short for the elect, the elect are warned about the possibility of being deceived in the end by false Christs. 

If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible.  See, I have told you ahead of time.[18]

The phrase “if that were possible” is apparently taken by the NIV translators to imply that it is not possible.  Such an interpretation, however, would render the warning meaningless.  It would be like a father telling his kids, “Watch out for the wicked witch because she will turn you into a frog if that were possible.  It is not possible, but watch out anyway.”  In this context the phrase is best taken to mean “as much as is possible” as in Romans 12:18.  The elect are warned that as difficult as it may be, it is indeed possible for them to be deceived and for that reason they must be prepared. 

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22 describes three categories of people: those who do not respond to the Gospel invitation, those who respond but who are rejected for lack of wedding clothes, and the elect.  This parable paints a picture that is different from what would be expected from the normal Calvinistic formulation of the doctrine of election.  By the traditional Reformed understanding of election the man would be found to be without wedding clothes because he was non-elect.  But in Jesus’ parable it is just the reverse.  He is not chosen because of his failure to be dressed properly, a condition for which the man was responsible. 

One message of the parable is that those who have been called as this man had been (rather effectually in comparison with the first group, who rejected the general call) must take care to be found worthy lest they later be rejected.  Commenting on this parable Brunner underscores this point.

For Matthew, the bond [between election and calling] is open, urging sobriety …. Matthew enjoins [Christians] to live in a way that would ensure at the end that they are among the eklektoi.[19]

With the exception of Mark 13:20, the verb eklego, when used of God in the Gospels and Acts, appears exclusively in John and Acts in reference to Jesus’ selection of the Apostles.[20]  In the first of these Jesus, in a discussion of whether or not the Twelve would abandon him, makes the point that even though one of them was a devil, nevertheless he elected all twelve.

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil! (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)[21]

At this point Judas, though his future fall was certain, was included among the elected Apostles.  After his apostasy was actually carried out in time, however, Jesus seems to exclude him from the number of the elect.  After having washed the disciples’ feet Jesus said,

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’[22]   

The final two uses of the term occur in chapter 15, where Jesus urges the Eleven to remain in him and in his command to love. 

Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you. Remain in My love …. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit, and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. This is what I command you: that you love one another.[23]

In this text the purpose of election is not to assure the disciples that as elected ones they will certainly remain in him.  Rather it is to remind them that they have been elected for the purpose of producing fruit that would remain, and for that reason they must see to it that they remain and are warned against the real possibility that they may not.  The basis of the admonition is the fact of divine election. 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.[24]

Jesus’ point is not that the disciples did not make a decision to follow Jesus by a genuine act of their own will.  Jesus later promises them reward because of their decision to give up the world and follow him.[25]  The point is simply that Jesus’ election of them was prior to and the basis of their choice to follow him.

Given the purpose of their election (to bear much fruit), Jesus admonishes them to remain.  Election, then, is election unto a specific purpose and should serve as a motive for us to pursue that purpose.

Pauline References to Election

Paul used the adjective eklektos as a way of referring to the entire believing community.  

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.[26]

The primary point of significance in this passage is that the awareness of having been chosen and dearly loved by God should serve to motivate us to love one another.

Paul also uses the term haireomai to refer to election to salvation.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning[27] God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.[28]

Peter also used the term “elect” to describe the recipients of his letter: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect.”[29]  By addressing the readers in this way the Apostles assume that the elect know who they are, indicating that it is possible to have assurance of election.  Since Paul makes no distinction between the converted and the elect, the implication is that all who are brothers should regard themselves as being among the elect. 

Also implied in this form of address is that we are to think of the elect as those who are currently believing.  If we think of election only from the eternal point of view the elect would include not only those who have already been converted, but also all unbelievers who will eventually be converted.  From the temporal standpoint, however (which is the point of view predominant in these texts), we should not think of a person being elect prior to his conversion even if that person is one who will eventually be saved.  Those whom God has ordained before time began to be saved are not generally spoken of as being among the elect prior to their conversion.  Rather, the description of saints prior to their becoming saints is exactly like the descriptions of the reprobate.  Speaking to the elect Paul says we were by nature objects of wrath.  We were, in a very real way, en route to hell.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. …. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.[30]

Just as with Jesus’ teaching about the elect, in Paul we find that with election comes special privileges and benefits.  Chief among these is the safety and security from hostile enemies that believers enjoy as the elect.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.[31]

The decision of God to choose someone as his own cannot be overridden by any hostile force.  And the fact that this is offered to us as an encouragement is further proof that it is possible for believers to have assurance of election.  If we could not know for sure until the end if we were elect (which is where the Calvinist system inevitably leads)[32], promises that apply only to the elect would be no comfort to us at all. 

Not only is it possible for a person to have certainty that he is elect, it is even possible to have a high level of certainty about the election of others.  Based on how a person responds to the gospel an observer can discern whether a person is elect.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen (ekloge) you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.[33]

The promises of security for the elect should not be taken as guarantees of perseverance for all believers.  Paul did not shrink from the tension between the doctrine of divine preservation and the real possibility of apostasy.  Indeed, he regarded his own apostleship as existing for the very purpose of helping the elect obtain final salvation.  In introducing a strong section warning against apostasy Paul says,

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.[34]

Paul was concerned enough about the possibility of current believers failing to obtain final, eschatological salvation that he was willing to undergo the most severe suffering to bring that perseverance about.[35]  A similar idea appears in Titus 1:1.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness[36]

Paul’s use of the verb eklego is much less frequent.  It occurs in only two places in his writings: 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 and Ephesians 1:4.  The latter is one of the most important texts for the Reformed understanding of election.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.[37]

This text is one of the chief passages used to support the traditional Calvinistic understanding of the unconditional aspect of election.  The fact that election took place prior to our doing anything (or even existing) speaks of an election that is not conditioned on our actions or faith. 

The Arminian formulation (that election was based on the human response of faith foreseen by God) renders God’s act of predestination virtually meaningless.  If God has to see what is going to happen before He can ordain it to happen, in what sense is he ordaining anything?  The certainty of the event in such a formulation would exist prior to God’s ordination of it.  Such a view would render insignificant the fact that election took place prior to man’s existence.  The fact that it took place before the creation means that nothing since the creation has happened that has led God to elect His people.  If God did look into the future all He would see would be the things that He Himself ordained, including the actions freely chosen by human beings.[38]  The choice to predestine something can not be based on foreknowledge of events that are also predestined.

The other text where the verb eklego appears in the Pauline corpus is 1 Corinthians 1:27,28 where God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong and the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are. 

While the reality of particular election is established in Scripture (see above), Reformed writers go too far when they deny all class election ideas.  The emphasis in this text (as in James 2:5) is clearly not on particular election, but rather on the kind of people God elected.  God has chosen the lowly as a category in his electing purposes.  Paul even points to his own sinfulness as the basis of his election.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.[39]

This text creates difficulty for both the Calvinistic and Arminian formulations.  Paul’s election seems to be based on something that took place after Paul’s birth, which does not comport with strict unconditional election, but the contingency upon which the selection was based was not Paul’s faith, but his sinfulness.

Robert Shank, arguing for class election, offers the following formulation:

God’s eternal purpose in grace:
Eph.1:4, He chose us in Christ that we should be hagious kai amomous before Him.
Col.1:22, He reconciled us to Himself in Christ, through His death, to present us hagious kai amomous before Him.
Fulfillment corporately (certain):
Eph.5:27, Christ will present the ekklesia to Himself hagia kai amomous.
Fulfillment individually (contingent):
Col.1:23,He will present us hagious kai amomous before Him – if we continue in the faith, grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.[40]

Shank supports his thesis further by illustrating the point from the discussion of Israel in Romans 11.  The election of the tree itself is never at risk, but the inclusion of individual branches is contingent and “Gentile believers, grafted into the corporate body, are warned that they face the same contingency (vs.19-22).”[41]

Shank makes some valid points but errs when he implies that because of the corporate aspect of election, the question of which individuals will be included in Christ is determined by man alone and not God.  Man, then, becomes an ultimately self-determining being while God is only a responder.  Such a conclusion has several problems.

Problems with this View

1. Those who believed in Antioch were those appointed for eternal life.

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.[42]

While some election passages do speak from the perspective of man being the determiner of whether or not he is elect, this text places God’s determination prior to man’s.

2. If the election that took place in eternity past was only a selection of a category (that is, it will be the ones who are in Christ who will be saved), then election is only a selection of a method of salvation, not a selection of any specific people.  It would be like the NFL choosing the method by which teams would make it into the playoffs while leaving it completely up to the teams themselves whether they fulfill or fall short of those requirements.  If that were the extent of the election discussed in Ephesians 1:4, the whole force of Paul’s point in Ephesians one (bless God for choosing us) would break down.  If God did nothing but ordain a method, and a person is saved because she was smart enough to choose that method as an ultimately self-determining being, that would not result in her blessing God for blessing her with election.  It would make no sense for the playoff teams to thank the NFL for selecting them for the playoffs.   

3. In Paul’s discussion of election in 1 Corinthians 1 he concludes by saying, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”[43]  If God only ordained the means of salvation, but it is ultimately and only up to the individual whether or not he ends up being in Christ, then Paul should have said, “It is because of you that you are in Christ.”  Not only did God select those in Christ as the group that would be saved, but he also selected which individuals would be in that group.

4. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul states that God chose the readers for salvation.  Paul did not thank God because people who did what the Thessalonians did would be saved; he thanked him because he chose that group of people.  The fact that those individuals were chosen implies a particular rather than a mere general election. 

The simple fact that in this passage Paul says nothing about human will or responsibility does not imply that man’s will has no part in salvation.  Man’s response is implied in the phrase “through belief.”  It does, however, highlight the supremacy of God in salvation.  It is correct to say that it is God who decides who will be saved.  It is a central theme in Scripture regarding the nature of God that it is God who ultimately determines all things.[44] 

From the typical Arminan formulation of the doctrine of election it is generally suggested that while God may have the ultimate say in many other things, it is not ultimately up to him which people will populate heaven.  According to Alan Richardson,

If we read [Ro.8:28-30]] as if it related to atomic individuals, we shall create difficulties which are wholly of our imagining; we will then have to ask why it was that God picked out some individuals, and not others, and ‘predestined’ them to salvation since the foundation of the world. Paul, of course, does not think of the Church as made up of a collection of individuals, but as a body.[45]

The avoidance of the question of why some are not saved by a God who has the freedom to save whom he wishes is not so easily avoided, however.  We were chosen, says Paul, “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”[46]  Even if it is imagined that Paul somehow meant “all things except for who will be saved,” still the question remains regarding why more people are not saved.  Even if God did not work within people both to will and to act, still he is the one who is responsible for all other contingencies upon which people make their free decisions.  God knew that if he created an individual with certain genes, caused him to be born into a certain family and orchestrated his life in a certain way, that man would be lost.  And knowing all that, God put each of those factors in place.  Jesus even spoke of one group of people who would have repented had God simply displayed miraculous power, something God could have easily done.

Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.[47]

If God were as some Arminians make him out to be (a being who will do everything in his power to save as many as he possibly can), knowing that Tyre and Sidon would repent at miracles, why would he not perform them?[48] 

Regardless of whether election is particular or corporate, then, it is ultimately God who determines who will be saved and who will not.  


Another important New Testament term in the discussion of election is ekloge, the term Paul uses four times in his discussion of election in Romans 9-11.[49]  A discussion of the problems, controversies and various interpretations of this section of Scripture is well beyond the scope of this paper[50], but a few simple observations can be made. 

First, the exegete must be careful not to impose a rigid, monolithic definition of election throughout this section.  In 11:5-7, for example, the elect are a remnant of believers, foreknown and chosen by grace, not works; and they are set in opposition to the rest of Israel who have been hardened.  In 11:28, however, the elect are the unbelieving gospel-enemies in Israel who are loved by God on behalf of the patriarchs.

This portion of God’s Word presents difficulties for both the class election and the traditional particular election views.  Those who see only class election in Romans 9 have failed to deal adequately with verses 14 through 23, which discuss the hardening of individuals as God’s doing.  If Paul were only making a point about God choosing one class of people over another there would be no need to discuss the concept of God hardening certain individuals.  It is true that Pharaoh was hardened in order for God’s purposes for His people to be fulfilled, but that purpose involved the hardening of an individual nonetheless and had implications for the man Pharaoh.[51]  Furthermore, immediately following the statement about God hardening whomever he wishes[52] comes the question “Why does God still blame us?”[53]  The hardening, then, is an action of God that results in an individual not believing and being blamed by God.

Calvinists, on the other hand, have often tended to miss the significance of the fact that Paul here describes the condition of being among the elect or non-elect as a result, rather than a cause of faith or unbelief.  After an illustration that by itself might lead us to think there is no human role at all in the process, Paul concludes chapter 9 with a somewhat surprising explanation of why the non-elect failed to obtain salvation.  Given the preceding illustration we might have expected Paul to say, “Unbelieving Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, failed to attain salvation because they were not elected.  Salvation is not obtained by any kind of pursuit.”  But that is not the reason Paul gives for why Israel’s pursuit failed.  The reason it failed is because they pursued it in the wrong way.  And the reason the elect obtained salvation is because they pursued it the right way; by faith.

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.[54]

Paul goes on, then, to hold out hope for this group that he has described as non-elect, hardened, rejected and prepared for wrath; since the promise of salvation is open to everyone who believes.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.[55]

This is followed by a discussion of how accessible salvation is.  The method Israel had tried (righteousness through lawkeeping) is impossible (v.5), but righteousness by faith is very much accessible.  No one should suggest that it is impossible or even overly difficult to be saved (vv.6-7).  Indeed, salvation is as near to you as your own mouth and heart, if you would simply believe and confess (vv.8-13).  Scripture does not portray salvation as being unavailable to the non-elect.

The error of thinking of divine electing activity as the cause of unbelief is warned against by Calvinist spokesman G.C. Berkouwer.

The struggle between determinism and indeterminism in the doctrine of election is a futile one, and he who has discerned the dangers of indeterminism may not go over to determinism as though the explanation of God’s freedom were to be found in the concept of causality. When man faces God – as he always does – in sin and under the preaching of the gospel, he must be careful with the concept of causality. He need not hesitate to speak of the cause, the fountain of salvation, in all its richness of meaning. … But this category of cause and fountain cannot be handled abstractly and used by man to explain personal sin and unbelief. … He who would turn God’s rejection into an explanatory device reaches beyond the immediate, religious simplicity of faith and falls into the abyss … where the God of salvation is the author of sin.[56]

Much is made by Reformed writers that election is conditioned neither on works nor faith.

We must be careful not to place an unintended limitation on Rom 9:16 as if Paul wanted to say merely that only some willing and running (i.e., “works”) do not initiate God’s decision to show mercy while another kind of willing and running (e.g., the “work of faith” cf Gal 5:7; 1 Thes 1:3) do initiate God’s decision to show mercy.[57]

One can get the sense from such remarks that for grace to really be grace there must be no human element involved, even if that human element is faith.[58]  The emphasis of Scripture, however, is that grace is spoiled not by human involvement but only by works.  In the closing paragraph of Romans 9 Paul shows that Israel failed to attain righteousness not because they sought it by some human involvement (such as faith), but specifically because they sought it by works instead of by faith.[59]

And again, in chapter 11 Paul contrasts the remnant chosen by grace with the non-elect who were hardened, and the contrast is not between grace as opposed to any human involvement at all, but between grace and works.

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened.[60]

It is not correct to say that for the promise to be by grace it must come apart from human involvement.  The correct statement is the one found in Scripture itself: “The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace.”[61]  It is always the instrumentality, not the absence of faith that makes grace grace.  The concern that faith prior to regeneration would negate grace is a Calvinistic and not a biblical concern.  It is through human reasoning rather than specific statements in Scripture that Berkouwer concludes that man is “completely passive in the process of conversion,” and that there can be no “cause within men for their different reactions to hearing the gospel.”[62]  Such a statement cannot be reconciled with the many scriptural statements to the contrary.  The following are a small sample:

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.[63]

Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live![64]

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion?[65]

Now your impurity is lewdness. Because I tried to cleanse you but you would not be cleansed from your impurity, you will not be clean again until my wrath against you has subsided.[66]

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.[67]

It is precisely a “cause within men” that Scripture presents as the reason for different reactions to the gospel.

The conclusion that regeneration must precede faith is based on the concern that any system of synergism “results in a certain amount of human self-conceit.”[68]  While from a human standpoint that may sound logical, it is not the reasoning of Scripture.  According to God’s Word it is the fact that salvation is conditioned on faith, not a supposition of monergism, that excludes boasting.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.[69]

Another difficulty for the typical Calvinist formulation of the doctrine of election is the problem of reconciling the idea of God preparing objects of wrath for destruction with God’s invitations to all men to be saved.  The former idea is frequently elevated above the latter by Reformed writers, even though the emphasis in Scripture (judging by the number of times each aspect is taught) is just the reverse.  

A prime example of this tendency to reverse emphases is Calvin.  Commenting on Romans 9:17, which says nothing about damnation or destruction of anyone, Calvin says,

Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will; and Solomon teaches us the same thing, — that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end — that they may perish. (Proverbs 16:4.)[70]

But in commenting on Ro.10:21, which speaks of God’s offer of salvation to those who had been hardened, Calvin seems to imply that God holds out His hand to the hardened not out of a genuine desire for their salvation, but merely for the purpose of demonstrating the degree of their culpability.

However, he chiefly complains of the contempt shown to his truth; which is the more abominable, as the more remarkable is the manner by which God manifests his paternal solicitude in inviting men by his word to himself.[71]

Another serious weakness in the Calvinist explanation of election is with the insistence on the permanence of one’s status with regard to election.  From the eternal perspective no divine decree can ever be altered.  But from the temporal perspective many future outcomes are to be thought of as undetermined.  The emphasis in Romans 9-11 is not on the impossibility of moving from one category to the other regarding election.  In fact, the emphasis is quite the opposite.  Much of the discussion in chapter 11 focuses on the possibility of the hardened being saved and the elect being cut off.  In verses 5 through 10 Paul establishes the two groups.  In verse 5 we see the “remnant chosen (elected) by grace.”  The other group is comprised of “the rest” who have been hardened (v.7).  This group has been given “a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear” (v.8) and eyes that are darkened so they cannot see and backs bent forever (v.9).  Regarding this group Calvin says,

As the elect alone are delivered by God’s grace from destruction, so all who are not elected must necessarily remain blinded. For what Paul means with regard to the reprobate is, — that the beginning of their ruin and condemnation is from this — that they are forsaken by God …. rejectedby God before the foundation of the world.[72]

Calvin goes on to insist that Israel’s sin was not the cause of their rejection but rather the fruit of their eternal reprobation and their “unhealable obstinacy.”[73]

Paul’s point, however, is exactly the opposite.  Of the hardened Paul says, “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!”[74]  Far from being “unhealable,” Paul fully expects their fullness (v.12), acceptance (v.15), and salvation (v.26) when God turns godlessness away from Jacob (v.26).  The hardening, as severe as it is, will prove to be temporary (vv.25-27).

Conversely, Paul also lays considerable emphasis on the possibility of the elect being cut off. 

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.[75]

From the human perspective, then, the condition of being elect and the condition of being hardened (non-elect) are reversible in this life.  And it is future faith or unbelief that will determine the difference. 

Election in the General Epistles and Revelation

As with Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 James’ emphasis regarding election is not on the selection of individuals, but rather the selection of those who possess a particular quality (lowliness).

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen (eklego) those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?[76]

Peter’s discussion of election in 1 Peter 2 applies the Old Testament concept of the election of Israel and the Messiah to Christ and the Church. 

As you come to him, the living Stone– rejected by men but chosen (elected) by God and precious to him[77]

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen (elected) and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”[78]

But you are a chosen (elected) people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.[79]

The emphasis in the latter passage is not on the fact of election, but rather on the purpose for which the Church was elected.  We were chosen so that (hopos) we may declare his praises.

Most intriguing (and often neglected in discussions of election) is Peter’s admonition in 2 Peter 1:10.  While debates on election have largely revolved around passages that merely refer to the concept of election, this passage that gives a clear command regarding election is often not even mentioned.  In Sam Storms’ lengthy list of “Election Texts,” for example, 2 Peter 1:10 is not included.[80]  Since this passage not only mentions election but give us a specific imperative regarding election, our consideration of it should be at least as great if not greater than that of other passages that only refer to election in the discussion of another issue.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[81]

Calvin interpreted verse ten to mean that the pursuit of the aforementioned virtues will not actually make one’s calling and election sure, but rather it will merely give the individual a subjective feeling of having been elected.  Actual objective election, then, is not determined at all by the pursuit of these virtues.

He draws this conclusion, that it is one proof that we have been really elected, and not in vain called by the Lord, if a good conscience and integrity of life correspond with our profession of faith …. the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence, in such a manner, however that they fix their solid foundation on something else.[82]

Given Calvin’s commitment to the importance of excluding any human involvement in election he is compelled to interpret this text in a way that disallows human involvement.  Calvin continues: 

For if ye do these things. Peter seems again to ascribe to the merits of works, that God furthers our salvation, and also that we continually persevere in his grace. But the explanation is obvious; for his purpose was only to shew that hypocrites have in them nothing real or solid, and that, on the contrary, they who prove their calling sure by good works, are free from the danger of falling, because sure and sufficient is the grace of God by which they are supported.[83]

The Calvinist interpretation, then, is that we are to display the virtues in order to provide assurance to ourselves and others that we are indeed elect.  And the effort to carry out the virtues will also prove helpful in exposing the non-elect hypocrites as false when they fail.  Continuation and progress in the virtues is guaranteed for those who have been genuinely converted.

But it is only through previous commitment to a theological system and not by the text itself that anyone could arrive at such a conclusion about this text.  The words of Peter, as Bauckham has noted, lay the responsibility squarely on our shoulders and neither states nor implies any unconditional guarantee. 

Christ has called the Christian into his kingdom (v 3), promising him immortality (v 4), but an appropriate moral response is required if his final salvation is to be guaranteed. This passage does not mean that moral progress provides the Christian with a subjective assurance of his election (the sense it was given by Luther and Calvin, and especially in seventeenth-century Calvinism), but that the ethical fruits of Christian faith are objectively necessary for the attainment of final salvation

πταίσητε … The metaphor…. refers to the disaster of not reaching final salvation (so Bigg, James, Kelly, Grundmann, Senior).[84]

The Calvinist assumption that anyone who fails in the virtues and consequently fails to persevere to the end (final apostasy) is a non-elect hypocrite who has never been genuinely converted is disproved by two clear facts from the text:

1) Preservation from falling and entrance into the eternal kingdom are conditioned upon progressing in the virtues.

If you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[85]

2) Some people who have been cleansed from their past sins will not have these virtues.

If anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.[86]

If final salvation is conditioned upon growth in the virtues and there are some genuinely saved Christians who do not have the virtues, final salvation is not guaranteed for all Christians.  And in a context where Peter is making that very point, and then commands us to make every effort to make our calling and election sure so that we do not fall, the point is to pursue the virtues not to simply prove that which was already certain, but to actually render certain that which is not otherwise certain. 


Stated Purposes of Election

  • that God might have a treasured possession among the nations for the glory of his name
  • that we might produce fruit that would remain
  • that we may declare his praises.

Eternal Perspective

  • While man is a real determiner of whether he is saved, God is the ultimate determiner of who will be saved.[87] 
  • God’s selection of us was prior to and the basis of our choice to follow him.[88]
  • God can save anyone he wants to save.[89]
  • God hardens the non-elect with an action that results in them not believing.[90]

Temporal Perspective

  • God has chosen the lowly as a category in his electing purposes.[91]
  • While apostate Israel is considered chosen even in their apostate condition,[92] individuals are not regarded as elect prior to the time of their conversion.[93]
  • Election is not a guarantee of blessing or salvation apart from fidelity to God.[94]
  • Election is no security in the case of apostasy, which is possible for the elect.[95] 
  • It is possible to go from being elect to being non-elect.[96]
  • The condition of being among the elect or non-elect is a result rather than a cause of faith or unbelief.[97] 
  • Salvation is readily accessible by all.[98]
  • The condition of being elect and the condition of being hardened (non-elect) are reversible in this life.  And it is future faith or unbelief that will determine the difference.[99] 
  • Making one’s election sure, preservation from falling and entrance into the eternal kingdom are conditioned upon progressing in the virtues, which some who have been forgiven will fail to do.[100]

Summary of Implications of Election

  • All who are brothers should regard themselves and others who have been converted as being among the elect. 
  • Believing individuals should take comfort, joy and hope in the fact that they were chosen by God and have become the objects of his special care, both in this age and in the eschaton.  Chief among these is safety from hostile enemies.
  • We should bless God over the fact that we were included.
  • Election should motivate us to fulfill the purposes for which we were chosen (see above under ”Stated Purposes of Election”)
  • Election should serve to motivate us to love one another.
  • We must be prepared lest we become deceived in the end. 
  • We must pursue the virtues lest we fall and become non-elect.
  • Like Paul, we must work hard to bring the elect to final salvation. 

How can the eternal and temporal perspectives be harmonized?  The best answers to that question are, in my estimation, variations of the simple admission, “We don’t know.”  Perhaps Bekouwer put it as well as anyone:

Every hesitation about or hidden resistance against the sovereign freedom of God, every form of indeterminism which defends man’s cooperation against the divine act, will suffer shipwreck on Romans 9. But also every attempt to press the divine act into a deterministic framework and thus to make it the powerful competitor of man’s acts will ever be doomed. For every form of competition is made impossible There are relations here which have no human analogy.[101]

In all the ink that has been spilled in the effort to do what God has not commanded (reconcile God’s eternal workings with human responsibility it a way that is fully understandable to the human mind), most writers on election have neglected the much more important task of learning from Scripture what our responsibilities are regarding election.  If our understanding drives us to fulfill the purposes and implications of election, that is sufficient.  Most attempts at harmonization will tend to downplay either the temporal or the eternal perspectives on election, thus blinding us to some of the important implications of this wonderful and complex doctrine. 

If we must make an attempt at harmonization, perhaps the best method would be to contemplate the concept of prayer.  Never is the mystery of the eternal vs. the temporal married more beautifully than in prayer – particularly evangelistic prayer.  The commands in Scripture to pray for the lost teach us that God is sovereign over who is saved.  If he had abdicated that power to human free will, praying for the lost would be an exercise in futility.  It would be asking God to do that over which he had no control.  When we pray for the lost we affirm our belief in God’s sovereign control over salvation.

But at the same time it is an affirmation of the temporal perspective as well.  When we pray earnestly for the lost we are behaving as though the present situation is not fixed, and real changes can be realized through prayer.  If we believe evangelistic prayer to be effective, then we must believe that there will actually be more people in heaven if we pray for the lost than if we fail to pray. 

Let us take great comfort in our election and bless God in unbounded joy and gratitude for selecting us prior to our choosing him!  But let us also pursue virtue and fidelity to him, remembering that in the end those who appear with him will only be the ones who overcome, his called, chosen and faithful followers.[102]

Appendix 1

Calvinist writers generally affirm that assurance of salvation is possible, but that affirmation is often on shaky ground in contexts that address perseverance and the warning passages.  This problem has been the focus of a great amount discussion among Calvinist scholars (Berkouwer devoted almost ten percent of his book, Divine Election to the topic[103]).  The classic Reformed position is that assurance is an essential aspect of saving faith, so when a person truly believes, part of that saving faith is an assurance that he has been saved. 

How may I know that I am among the elect? One may as well ask, How do I know that I am a loyal American citizen, or how shall I distinguish between white and black, or between sweet and bitter? Every one know instinctively what his attitude is … the Scriptures and conscience give as clear evidence of whether or not we are among God’s people as white and black to of their color or sweet and bitter do of their taste. Every person who is already a child of God should be fully conscious of the fact.[104]

Other Calvinist doctrines, such as the concept of temporary faith, created complications for this view and led the Puritans to develop the idea that assurance is logically deduced from one’s observation of his own sanctification (syllogismus practicus – I manifest good works, therefore I am elect, and syllogismus mysticus – I experience the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, therefore I am elect).  Critics of using the practical and mystical syllogisms as bases for assurance have argued that this method threatens the doctrine of sola fide.

Any doctrine of assurance that includes introspection as a component will produce anxiety in the hearts of the very people it is intended to encourage …. A close corollary to the premise that Christ is the only basis for assurance is the necessity to reaffirm the doctrine of sola fide.  Perseverance cannot be understood in terms of good works and great effort without having the result of dismantling the Reformation.[105]

Regardless of the position one takes in this debate, the problem of apostasy remains.  As Calvin affirmed, it is possible for the non-elect to have a sense of assurance that is indistinguishable from that experienced by the elect. 

Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. … the Lord …. instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. ….  there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. …. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment.[106]

Calvin did affirm that the assurance experienced by the genuine believer is greater than that of the false believer, but the difference is not discernable by the false believer.  When a person who has seemed to walk with the Lord for years, who has thought himself completely committed to Christ and who, in his actions and character, has born what appears to be genuine fruit, falls away and denies the faith, it is assumed by the Calvinist that such a person was never genuinely saved.  Ultimately, then, one cannot have certainty that he is genuine until he has persevered to the end.  Hodge and Murray arrive at a similar conclusion.

The only evidence of election is effectual calling, that is, the production of holiness. And the only evidence of the genuineness of this call and the certainty of our perseverance is a patient continuance in well doing.[107]
Let us appreciate the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and recognize that we may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end. …. The perseverance of the saints reminds us very forcefully that only those who persevere to the end are truly saints.[108]

The Calvinist doctrine of security, in the end, amounts to little more than the promise that if you fall away, you can be assured that you were never truly saved.  But since the false believer can have an assurance that he cannot distinguish from genuine assurance, he cannot know for certain that he will never fall away.  He only knows that if he is in the category of a false believer he is certain to eventually fall away.  The Arminian doctrine of security, on the other hand (that as long as a believer remains willing, God will preserve his faith), offers the believer real comfort.  It is better to know for sure that one is saved and that it is possible for him to remain saved than to know that one is assured to persevere if he is elect, but that there is a possibility that he is non-elect.

Appendix 2

Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11:

  • Paul has a passion for ethnic Israel because of the favor and promise God gave them. (9:1-5)
  • Ethnic Israel’s current rejection is not a failure of God’s Word because the promises are being fulfilled in the remnant (The promise was never merely a function of blood relation). (9:6-9)
  • The line went through Jacob rather than Esau because of God’s purpose in election alone. (9:10-13)
  • It is not unjust for God to have mercy and compassion on some and harden others, nor are we in a position to question God, who would be justified if he made some for destruction and choose to have patience with them. (9:14-23)
  • Gentiles are included and Israel excluded because the former came by faith and the latter by works. (9:24-33)
  • The Israelites’ have zeal for God but are lost because they take the wrong approach to gaining righteousness (seeking to establish their own through lawkeeping rather than submitting to God’s through Christ). (10:1-4)
  • Becoming righteous through lawkeeping requires perfection but the righteousness by faith is attainable by both Jews and Gentiles. (vv.5-13)
  • But first they must hear the message. Yet Israel heard it, but did not believe! It is not that they did not understand, but that they actively turned away from God. (vv.14-21)
  • God did not reject His people because there is a remnant. (11:1-6)
  • Those outside the remnant were hardened (just as before) (11:7-10)
  • But the nation as a whole will be restored (God has a great purpose for her restoration). (vv.11-15)
  • The Jews are holy by virtue of the patriarchs.  (11:16)
  • The readers are privileged to be added to Abraham’s family, but that privilege is conditioned upon faith. (11:17-21)
  • So persevere! (11:22-24)
  • Israel will be saved once God’s purpose with the Gentiles is fulfilled. (11:25-27)
  • Just as you went from unbelief to faith, so will they (because of the promise to Abraham). (11:28-32)
  • Praise God! (11:33-36)

Appendix 3

For God to choose the believing remnant and reject the rest is no different than God deciding which of Abraham’s decedents would be in the line of blessing and which would not.  The significance of the choice of Jacob over Esau is not simply an example of the application of election and reprobation to two random individuals; rather the significance is that God is sovereign in His choice of the category of those who will be His people (descendents of Jacob, not those of Esau).  The point of verses 10-13, then, is to demonstrate that for God to choose one category of people over another is not failure of His promises, even if it means most of Israel is lost.

While this argument does have some weight, it fails to deal adequately with the reality of hardening.  If Paul were only making a point about God choosing one category over another there would be no need to discuss the concept of God hardening certain individuals.  It is true that Pharaoh was hardened in order for God’s purposes for His people to be fulfilled, but that purpose involved the hardening of an individual nonetheless.  Furthermore, immediately following the statement about God hardening whomever he wishes[109] comes the question “Why does God still blame us?”[110]  The hardening, then, is an action of God on the heart of an individual that results in that person not believing.

This concept has resulted in a debate between the Calvinists and the Arminians over the “ordio hardening” of Pharaoh.  Those from the Arminian perspective insist that God did nothing but confirm Pharaoh’s prior self-hardening.  Adam Clark, commenting on Exodus 8:32 says, “This hardening was the mere effect of his self-determining obstinacy.”[111]  Wesley also makes a point that God’s hardening followed Pharaoh’s.

Moreover – God has an indisputable right to reject those who will not accept the blessings on his own terms. And this he exercised in the case of Pharaoh; to whom, after many instances of stubbornness and rebellion, he said, as it is recorded in scripture, For this very thing have I raised thee up …. God was pleased to raise to the throne of an absolute monarchy, a man, not whom he had made wicked on purpose, but whom he found so, the proudest, the most daring and obstinate of all the Egyptian princes; and who, being incorrigible, well deserved to be set up in that situation, where the divine judgments fell the heaviest.[112]

Calvin, on the other hand, places God’s act of hardening prior to Pharaoh’s.  In his commentary on Romans 9:17 he says,

The predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God, — and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God; and on this does Paul primarily dwell.[113]

The result of this debate is that each side, having established either Pharaoh or God as the primary agent of the hardening, develops a view that reduces the other agent’s role as almost completely insignificant.  In the Arminian view God’s hardening is a mere response that does not ultimately determine anything.  And in the Calvinist view Pharaoh is often seen as little more than a puppet that has no real choice in the matter and who does only what he was designed to do – the only thing he could do.

Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will; and Solomon teaches as the same thing, — that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end — that they may perish. (Proverbs 16:4.)[114]

Both tendencies come not from the text of Scripture, but from an effort to reduce the tensions in one theological system or the other.  The passages in Exodus that refer to the hardening of Pharaoh present both God’s hardening and Pharaoh’s as actual causes of what took place, and neither is presented as the result of the other.  Both Scripture and logic require that we understand God as the ultimate Cause of everything that happens.[115]  Even in the Arminian system, in which God ordains only that which he foresees, in his foreknowledge he knew that if he created things as he did it would result in the outcome that resulted.  By choosing not to create things another way God rendered certain all that would take place.

The error on the other side comes, however, when those who emphasize God’s sovereign control deemphasize human decision making as not being free or an actual determiner of outcomes.  While we are not ultimately self-determining beings, there is a very real sense in which we are self-determining.  Scripture is saying something just as true when it says “Pharaoh hardened his heart” as when it says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” 

For a full list of Dr. Ferguson’s articles visit the articles page on his ministry website,

Reference List

Bauckham, R. J. Word Biblical Commentary:50.  Jude. 2 Peter (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary . Word. Incorporated: Dallas 1988.

Berkouwer, G. C. Divine Election. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1960.

Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. 1932.

Brunner, Frederick Dale. Matthew Volume 2: The Churchbook. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1990.

Coenon, Lothar. Colin Brown. ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1967.

Calvin, John. Commentary on the General Epistles.

Calvin, John. Commentary on John.

Calvin, John. Commentary on Romans.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.2.11. online version.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible. electronic version. e-Sword 7.5.2.

Elwell, Walter. Walter Elwell, ed. Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible: Election. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.

Elwell, Walter, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Election. Grand Rapids: Baker. 2001.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1998.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand rapids: Zondervan. 1994.

Hodge, Charles. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Philadelphia: Henry Perkins. 1836.

Keathley, Ken. Does Anyone Really Know if they are Saved? A Survey of the Current Views on Assurance with a Modest Proposal. Evangelical Theological Society Southwest Regional Meeting, March 2, 2002. Evangelical Society website,

Piper, John. The Justification of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1993.

Quell, G. Gerhard Kittel ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1964.

Richardson, Alan. An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament. New York: Harper & Row. 1958.

Shank, Robert. Elect in the Son. Springfield: Westcott Publishers. 1970.

Storms Sam. Enjoying God Ministries website,

Wesley, John. Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible. electronic version. e-Sword 7.5.2.

[1] G. Quell, Gerhard Kittel ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964, 4, 145.

[2] Ibid, 149.

[3] Only rarely does Scripture speak of individuals being elected in the Old Testament.  While generally God’s selection of the prophets is described in terms of calling rather than election, Isaiah was said to be chosen (bahar) by God (Isa.49:7).  The term is also applied to other national heroes such as Abraham (Neh.9:7), Moses (Ps.106:23), David (Ps.78:70), and Zerubbabel (Hag.2:23).  Quell, however, notes that the attestation of such men as being elected is not found in the original historical narratives, but is applied much later and is “sparse and strikingly late.” (Quell, 154)  Even sparser are the few references to the election of priests (1 Chrn.15:2, 2 Chrn.29:11, Dt.18:5, 21:5).  Much more common are references to the election of the kings.  The Law itself stated that in selecting a king the people must take care to select the man chosen by God. (Dt.17:14-20)

[4] Dt.14:2, All Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version unless otherwise indicated.

[5] 1 Sam.12:21-22.

[6] Isa.65:9,15,22, Ps.105:6,43, 106:5, 1 Chrn.16:13, Ps.65:4, Nm.16:7.

[7] Isa.42:1.

[8] Amos 9:4,7-8.

[9] Amos 3:1-3.

[10] Quell, 167.

[11] See also Ez.33:23-6. Evidently the Jews whom John confronted in Matthew 3:9 had this same attitude.

[12] Compare 1 Sam.9:15-17, 10:24 with 1 Sam.16:1.

[13] Lothar Coenon, Colin Brown, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967, 1, 538.

[14] John Calvin, Commentary on John, 2,

[15] Lk.18:1-7.

[16] Mt.24:22.

[17] Mt.24:31.

[18] Mt.24:22-25.

[19] Frederick Dale Brunner, Matthew Volume 2: The Churchbook, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990, 778-9.

[20] Jn.6:70, 13:18, 15:16,19, Acts 1:2,24.

[21] Jn.6:70

[22] Jn.13:17.

[23] Jn.15:9-17 (HCSB).

[24] Jn.15:6.

[25] Matt.19:28-30.

[26] Col.3:12.

[27] The NIV reading “from the beginning” is the product of a textual variant.  D. Michael Martin comments on that reading as follows: “The presence of a textual variant complicates the interpretation of the next phrase. Did God choose the Thessalonian believers (ap archēs) “from the beginning” (NIV, RSV) or (aparchēn) as “firstfruits” (NAB, GNB)? Both readings have strong manuscript support, and internal arguments can also be made for both readings. Against reading archēs is the fact that Paul never used ap archēs in a temporal sense. Even if one assumes that Paul did intend to say that the believers were chosen “from the beginning,” we still must ask which “beginning” he had in mind. He may have meant that God chose the Thessalonian believers “from the beginning of time” (cf. Rom 8:28–30, note the differences in vocabulary), but Paul never used archē of eternity past. His only temporal use of archē (Phil 4:15) refers to the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel in Macedonia (translated “in the early days” in the NIV). Used in a similar sense in v. 13, the phrase might affirm the believers as some of the earliest (and by implication most spiritually responsive?) converts in Macedonia. This appears at first glance to make sense of the clause but does not mesh well with the larger context of vv. 13–14, which celebrates the chosenness of the Thessalonians, not the Thessalonians’ responsiveness. The reading ap archēs is also unlikely considering copyists’ apparent tendency to misread aparchē and insert ap archēs in its place (cf. Rom 16:5; Rev 14:4).” (D. Michael Martin, New American Commentary, II Thessalonians, electronic version, Epiphany Software Bible Explorer.)

[28] 2 Thes.2:13.   

[29] 1 Pe.1:1.

[30] Eph.2:1-3,12.

[31] Ro.8:33.

[32] See Appendix 1.

[33] I Thes.1:4-5.

[34] 2 Tim.2:10.

[35] It is unlikely that Paul refers here to elect unbelievers because 1) Paul never elsewhere uses the term “elect” to refer to people who are not yet converted, 2) it would be odd for Paul to use the term “elect” in a way that excluded all those who are currently believers, 3) the section that follows addresses  the question of believers who persevere or fail to persevere, and 4) if the “elect” are unbelievers then the “also” would refer to the rest of the elect, making the construction even more unusual.

[36] Tit.1:1.

[37] Eph.1:4.

[38] See, for example, Eph.2:10, where our good deeds are foreordained.

[39] 1 Tim.1:15-16.

[40] Robert Shank, Elect in the Son, Springfield: Westcott Publishers, 1970, 49.

[41] Ibid, 50.

[42] Acts 13:48.

[43] 1 Cor.1:30.

[44] Eph.1:11.

[45] Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, New York: Harper & Row, 1958, 279.

[46] Eph.1:11.

[47] Matt.11:21.

[48] It should be noted that this text also presents a difficulty for the Calvinist view, which holds that the people in Tyre and Sidon failed to repent not because of lack of miracles, but because they were non-elect, and no display of miracles can bring about repentance in the non-elect.

[49] Ro.9:11, 11:5,7,28.

[50] See Appendix 2 for a summary of Paul’s argument in Ro.9-11.

[51] See Appendix 3 for a discussion of Pharaoh’s hardening.

[52] v.18.

[53] v.19.

[54] Ro.9:30-32.

[55] Ro.10:1-4.

[56] G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960, 216.

[57] John Piper, The Justification of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993, 153.

[58] This is not to imply that Calvinists do not believe faith is required for salvation.  There is such an emphasis, however, on faith as a divine gift only that the human response aspect is diminished.  While there are some passages of Scripture that speak of faith as a gift, by far the greatest emphasis of Scripture is of faith as something that is of man – not in an ultimate sense, but in a very real sense nonetheless. 

[59] Ro.9:30-32.

[60] Ro.11:5-7.

[61] Ro.4:16.

[62] Berkouwer, 34.  Berkouwer criticizes Pfeffinger for suggesting that man is not completely passive in conversion and that there is a cause within men for their different reactions to the gospel.

[63] Isa.1:19-20.

[64] Ez.18:31-32. See also Ez.33:10-11.

[65] Isa.1:5.

[66] Ez.24:13.

[67] Matt.23:37.

[68] Berkouwer, 42ff.

[69] Ro.3:27.

[70] John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 10:21,

[71] Ibid.

[72] John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 11:7,

[73] Ibid, 11:8.

[74] Ro.11:11.

[75] Ro.11:17-22.

[76] Jas.2:5.

[77] 1 Pe.2:4.

[78] 1 Pe.2:6.

[79] 1 Pe.2:9.

[80] Sam Storms, Enjoying God Ministries website,

[81] 2 Pe.1:5-11.

[82] John Calvin, Commentary on the General Epistles, 2 Peter 1:10,

[83] Ibid.

[84] R. J. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary :50,  Jude, 2 Peter (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary . Word, Incorporated: Dallas 1988.

[85] 2 Pe.1:10-11.

[86] 2 Pe.1:9.

[87] 1 Cor.1:30.

[88] Jn.15:6, Eph.1:4.

[89] Ro.9:16.

[90] Ro.9:18.

[91] Jas.2:5, 1 Cor.1:27,28, 1 Tim.1:16.

[92] Ro.11:28.

[93] Eph.2:3.

[94] Amos 9:4,7-8.

[95] 2 Pe.1:10-11.

[96] Jn.6:70, 13:17, Ro.11:11-24.

[97] Ro.9:30-32.

[98] Ro.10:6-13.

[99] Ro.11:11-24.

[100] 2 Pe.1:10-11.

[101] G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960, 216.

[102] Rev.17:14.

[103] Berkouwer, ch.9.

[104] Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1932, 310.

[105] Ken Keathley, Does Anyone Really Know if they are Saved? A Survey of the Current Views on Assurance with a Modest Proposal, Evangelical Theological Society Southwest Regional Meeting, March 2, 2002, Evangelical Society website,

[106] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3,2,11, online version,

[107] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Philadelphia: Henry Perkins, 1836, 212.

[108] John Murray, cited by Robert Shank, 215

[109] Ro.9:18.

[110] Ro.9:19

[111] Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, electronic version, e-Sword 7.5.2.

[112] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, electronic version, e-Sword 7.5.2.

[113] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries ,Ro.9:17,

[114] Ibid.

[115] Eph.1:11.