Foreknowledge is a companion of election – but just like election, foreknowledge is a general reference tohaving known the Israelites beforehand. Consider Paul’s definitive statement: “So I ask, God has not rejected his people, has he? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew [proginosko προγινώσκω].” (Rom 11:1-2) The word foreknow, like election, has nothing to do with having predestined someone to eternal life or eternal damnation, as suggested. “Foreknow” and “foreknowledge” are simply a verb and noun of the same basic stem. Look at the following verses that demonstrate that knowing something ahead of time is not only possible for God but for man as well and it does not entail the Calvinistic concept whatsoever: “They knew me from the first[proginosko προγινώσκω], if they were willing to testify…” (Acts 26:5) “You therefore, beloved, since you know [this] beforehand[proginosko προγινώσκω], beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness…” (2 Pet 3:17) In both of the verses, the word is the same – foreknowing and neither is God’s foreknowledge; it is simply man’s. Certainly neither of those two examples carries any sense of Calvinistic predestination. Peter speaks of Jesus being foreknown before the beginning of the world and is just now made known “He was foreknown [proginosko προγινώσκω] before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake“(1 Pet 1:20 NET) We witnessed before how Peter was addressing the Jews in his epistle whom he states to be elect according to God’s knowing beforehand: “…to the pilgrims of the Dispersion…elect according to the foreknowledge [prognosis πρόγνωσις] of God the Father…” Therefore, when we come to Romans 8 we ought not to jump to the Calvinistic definition, but to the God-foreknew-the-Jews definition. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.For whom He foreknew [proginosko προγινώσκω], He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined these He also called; whom He called…” (Rom 8:28-30) Even the act of calling we find spoken of concerning Israel in the book of Isaiah “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” (Isa: 43:1; see also: 54:6; 1 Pet 1:15, 2:9, 5:10) Insofar as we Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree, then we share in the common purpose that God has for His elect, the Jews. “You, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,” (Romans 11:17)
The Remaining Verses of Election
There remain a number of verses that speak of the elect in the New Testament. In light of all that we have studied we can confidently know that they have nothing to do with the Calvinistic idea of predestined to salvation or damnation. Furthermore, in almost all of the cases, understanding them to be a reference to the Jews, God’s chosen people, is warranted. Let’s briefly consider those remaining. When Jesus spoke of God avenging “His own elect who cry out day and night to Him,” (Luke 18:7) He was talking about the Jews. “Rufus, chosen in the Lord,” (Rom 16:13) may be speaking of him being Jewish. This would make the most sense given that of the many other (obviously) believing brothers and sisters in the chapter, only Rufus is called elect. Why would Paul refer to only him as being elect, if the Calvinistic definition of election were true? Were the others not also heirs of eternal life? Understanding that elect/election is not salvation and is generally a reference to the Jews the passage makes complete sense. It must be noted that Priscilla and Aquila, from Rome, were also Jewish and yet were not called elect. Could it be that because Paul had nothing else to say about Rufus that he simply stated that he was chosen/elect in the Lord? Ephesians 1:4 ought to be viewed in light of the chosen people, Israel: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, (Eph 1:4). We know that Paul traveled to Ephesus and there spent three months reasoning with the Jews in the synagogues (Acts 19:1-8). Thus, Ephesians seems to be once again, for “the Jew first and then the Gentile” paradigm. The mention of elect in Colossians is probably also a reference to Jews: “…as the elect of God, holy and beloved…” (Col 3:12) Colossae was in Asia (minor) and we have seen how Peter wrote to those in the dispersion who were in Asia. We also know that Paul first entered the local synagogue wherever he went in order to persuade the Jews first. Thus, his letter to the Colossians, located in Asia is most likely a letter written in the principle of “Jews first and after that the Gentiles.” This is confirmed by looking at the Jews present on the day of Pentecost: “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another… how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs…”(Acts 2:5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
The letter to the Thessalonians is also a letter to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. In Acts 17 we read “they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures… and some of them were persuaded and … joined Paul and Silas.” (Acts 17:1, 2, 4) With that in mind, we can see why Paul would say “we give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers… knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. (1 Thes 1:2, 4) Once again, election is not Calvinistic in its definition, but Jewish. Likewise in Titus 1:1 Paul speaks of the faith of God’s elect which very possibly was a reference to the faith of the Jewish people. The Apostle John wrote to “the elect lady and her children…” (2 John 1:1) Though there is debate whether this is addressed to an individual woman and her immediate family or to the larger community is not material for this study. However, the term elect would again point to a reference to someone ethnically Jewish. The salutation also points to someone who is ethnically Jewish. “The children of your elect sister greet you.” (2 John 1:13) We cannot help but think back to Peter’s address to the elect Diaspora and how the elect-together-with-you in Babylon (that is, fellow Jews) greeted them. The final mention of the elect is found in Revelation 17 “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”(Rev 17:14) We have seen that the elect and chosen do not refer to the Calvinistic concept of election. We have also seen that elect in the New Testament almost always refers to Israelites. When the Lord Jesus comes back his entourage will absolutely include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their seed. The question, however, is will Gentiles also be among that group? Given the fact that we Gentiles are grafted into Israel (Rom 11:24) and enjoy blessings that come with that, we can be confident that we will be in that number returning with the Lord.
We thus come to the end of our study having seen that elect and election have nothing to do with salvation, predestined to eternal life or death, nor any Calvinistic definition whatsoever. God elected priests, kings, disciples, Messiah, angels, and Jerusalem – all of which had nothing to do with being predestined to salvation. We also saw that elected/chosen was used of foolish things and of false gods (on man’s part) – again, the term had nothing to do with being predestined to salvation. We then came to the election of Israel and saw that in no less than eight verses in the Old Testament God declared Israel to be His elect! Thus, when we turned to the New Testament we could see that elect/election/chosen never was there as a reference to being predestined to salvation; in fact, nearly every reference of the elect was to Israel. We looked at the elect in the tribulation and saw that it was speaking of the Jews. We looked at the epistles of Peter and found the mention there of elect was to the Jews. We looked at the book of Romans and again, the Jews were the elect. We examined the remaining verses that spoke of election or God’s choosing and found that they more than likely refer to Israel as the elect. Finally, we considered the term foreknowledge/foreknow and found that it is not a salvific term but simply God or even man, knowing something in advance. With all that we have seen we must therefore conclude that elect is not salvation. The definition that Calvin gave “Of the eternal election, by which God has predestinated some to salvation and others to destruction,” is completely lacking in Scripture. Election has nothing to do with salvation or damnation. It is simply God or man making a choice. However, the term “the elect” is more often than not, a reference to Israel/Jews who are of course God’s chosen people. The New Testament references of the elect are never speaking one’s eternal destiny but of God having chosen someone for a particular purpose. In almost all of the New Testament references, the elect are in fact the Jews! It turns out that the New Testament is more Jewish-centered than most of us ever imagined! The epistles of Paul, James, Peter, Hebrews and John are written to the Jew first and then the Gentiles. Personally, I am quite satisfied that God’s plans center around Israel; we Gentile believers have been grafted in which is good enough for me.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Hebrew Scripture quotations are from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Copyright © 1967/77, 1983 Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart. Used by permission. The Greek Old Testament Scriptures are from the Septuagint. New Testament Greek quotations are from the Greek New Testament according to the Byzantine Text form, edited by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, 2000 edition. Scripture quotations marked “KJV” are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version, Cambridge, 1769. Scripture quotations marked “NET” are taken from New English Translation [computer file]: NET Bible. electronic edition. Dallas, TX : Biblical Studies Press, 1998. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations have been retrieved using theWord Bible Software www.theword.net. All emphasis of Scripture verses is mine. All rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced so long as proper credit is given to Douglas Hamp with www.douglashamp.com clearly posted on the copy.