The Bible Doctrine of Election

By Leland M. Haines

In our article titled "On God's Sovereignty," we have shown that God, being sovereign, could have imposed absolute rule over man, but He chose to create man in His own image. This gave man freedom and authority over the earth. For God to interfere with man's freedom and to select those who are to be saved would be contrary to God's purpose in creating man in His image and God's holiness and love. This being the case, we now need to understand what the Scriptures teach about election. To do so, let us first see how "chosen" and "elect" are used in the New Testament, and then look at election.

The terms chosen and elect come from the Greek verb that means "to choose." There are many references to elect and chosen in the Scriptures. The adjective eklektos is frequently used in reference to Christians. Jesus referred to "the sake of the elect" (Matt. 24:22, all quotations are from the RSV unless noted otherwise; cf. vv. 24; 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27); "They [the angels] will gather his elect" (Matt. 24:31); and "God [will] vindicate his elect" (Luke 18:7). Paul wrote, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?" (Rom. 8:33); "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" (Col 3:12); Paul would willingly "endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 2:10); "to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth" (Titus 1:1); "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (I Pet. 1:1); "ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (I Pet. 2:9 ASV). The noun ekloge was used in "chosen of grace" (Rom. 11:5); "The elect obtained it" (11:7); "brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you" (I Thess. 1:4).

The term election is used three times. Paul uses it twice in his Roman's discussion of the Jews: "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call" (Rom. 9:11) and "regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers" (11:28). Peter used it once: "make your call and election sure" (II Pet. 1:10), showing that man has responsibility too for his future. Peter may had in mind Christ words, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14), and thus knew "called" does not necessarily result in election.


There are many Scriptures that show men are responsible to accept or reject the redemption Jesus Christ made possible. The source of this responsibility comes from man being created in God's image. Man was given authority over the earth. He was not created as a puppet but was given an intellect whereby he could "have dominion . . . over all the earth" (Gen. 2:26). The natural image would cover such likenesses as reason, memory, will, freedom, immortality, spirituality, etc. Man's dominion shows that man can make choices. This endowment was not destroyed during the fall. The fall mainly affected man's moral nature; of course, it allowed him to darken his mind to the light given to all men.

The Scriptures teach that Christ came to save all men. The familiar following words know no limits: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16, 17; cf. 4:14; 11:26). There are many more Scriptures giving the same emphasis that relate to eternal life: Matt. 5:19, 21, 22; 10:33; 12:32, 50; 16:25; 18:4-6; Mark 3:29, 35; 8:35, 38; 9:42; 10:14; 11:23; Luke 9:24, 26; 14:27, 33; 17:33; 18:17; Acts 2:21; I Cor. 11:27; I Thess. 4:8; Heb. 11:6; James 2:10; 4:4; 5:20; I John 2:5; 3:10; 4:6, 15. There are passages unrelated to eternal life that show man has responsibly: Matt. 5:31, 33; 10:42; 20:26, 27; 23:12; Mark 9:47; 10:43; I Cor. 7:37; Gal. 5:10.

Jesus spoke, "When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to myself" (12:35). Paul wrote that "his grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Eph. 38, 9); that "God our Savior, . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (Titus 2:3, 4); and that "the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men" (Titus 2:11), etc. There is no limit to those who can be saved; all may come to Christ in repentance and faith. "The love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (I John 4:9); "We love, because he first loved us" (4:19); "God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Surely "whoever" responds to Christ is saved. God's love knows no limits. Few or all may benefit from the redemption available in Christ; the final responsibility lies with man. God has done everything possible to save mankind, and the final choice is up to each person.

Man's ability to choose is shown in the statement that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7; cf. 9:10; Lev. 19:14, 32; Deut. 4:10; 13:4; 31:12, 13; Luke 1:50; 12:4-5). Man can respond to fear before coming to the full knowledge of God and receiving salvation. If man wants to be wise, he needs to fear God and turn to Him in repentance to know Him as Saviour and Lord. That's true knowledge.

Jesus told his listeners not to be anxious about things of life. There is more to life than food and clothing. God is aware of our needs (Matt. 6:25 ff.). He is keenly aware of man's need for eternal life, and God is a responsible provider. Man also has a responsibility, and Jesus' encouraged His listeners to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33; cf. Luke 11:9; 12:31; cf. Acts 17:27; Rom. 2:7; Col. 3:1; Heb. 11:6; 13:14). Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8; cf. v. 11; Isa. 55:6-7; Heb. 11:6). Jesus also called men to "strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). As this teaches, we must seek and strive to enter heaven by believing in Jesus Christ and meet the conditions He laid down. Jesus would never have told men to seek and strive for something impossible to obtain. This is surely true since a parent would never give a child a stone to eat (Matt. 7:9). So would God give a seeker life? The narrow door is open for all to enter.

John wrote, "In him [Jesus Christ] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4, 5). The Word brings light that shines the truth to men that are in darkness because of sin. The Light illuminates the truth about God's purpose, plans, and will for man and His creation. The Light illuminates our minds and hearts about spiritual truths; it enlightens our entire being about God. This light continuously "shines" into the spiritually dark world¾going into the darkness to enlighten men. Many of those living in the darkness, because of their evil deeds, did not see the light from the Word. These are condemned because the "light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil . . . [these] that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (3:19, 20; 15:18; 16:1-3). "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (1:9). The Word was the true Light, that is, He was the dependable, genuine, and real Light that enlightens every man. This means every single person is enlightened, but it does not mean every man will believe in Him. Before and after this statement it is mentioned that some men do reject the Light. But this true Light is the only One who can enlighten the way back to God.

Later Jesus spoke, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12; cf. 9:5). Jesus told His disciples, "Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you. . . . While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light" (12:35, 36). Jesus sums up His life by saying, "I am come as light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness" (v. 46; cf. 15:18; 16:1-4). Jesus was "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel" (Luke 2:32). This light involved Jesus doing many miracles and signs, fulfilling Scripture, teaching truth, etc. All these showed that He was sent by God to redeem man (Luke 24:26-27; Acts 2:22; 5:29-32). As mentioned above, darkness cannot overcome light, showing that light enables men to respond to Christ's witness.

Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44; cf. 65). Robertson wrote, "The approach of the soul to God is initiated by God, the other side of verse 37" (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Barker Book House, Vol. V, p. 109). He comments on verse 37: "For the idea that the disciples are given to the Son see also 6:39, 65; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 12, 24; 18:9" (p. 107). This is right, but Jesus later explained, "When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to myself" (12:32). "And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convince the world of its sin" (16:8). "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit" (15:16). This refers to the twelve being appointed apostles. This is clear seen in the wider context (13:36; 14:8; 16:29; 18:1).

The Holy Spirit and the Word

The work of the Holy Spirit is primarily involved in giving the written Word and its delivery to men. Before looking at these, let us look at the importance Jesus placed on the Word. John wrote, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him . . . He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:23, 24). A Christian will keep the word out of love for Jesus. The word Jesus spoke about was not His own, but was from the Father. This word becomes all the more important since it will be used at judgment: "He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day" (John 12:48).

The Holy Spirit was active in keeping the word alive. We see this in Jesus' promise that "the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). Jesus promised that "the Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (16:13-15). In Jesus' prayer, He noted that He manifested God's name to His apostles, and had "given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me" (John 17:6, 8). Jesus gave "them thy [God's] word. . . . Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth" (vv. 14, 17).

The Epistles also support, as expected, the truth coming through Christ and His apostles. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things" (Heb. 1:1, 2). In the next chapter we find that "it was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will" (2:3, 4). We know Jesus spoke God's word, and called men to attest and bear witness to it. Their writings are contained in the New Testament. Peter witnessed to the fact this involved inspiration when he wrote, "No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Pet. 1:21). This statement, as we will see, surely applies to both the Old and New written word.

Paul wrote, "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:16, 17). He did not identify the Scripture he was writing about, or explain the means of inspiration. It is generally thought he was referring to the Old Testament since the New was not written at the time. But from the context this doesn't seem correct. Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old, thus doing away with it. One does not find there teachings about the righteousness Christ taught about (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount, etc.). It therefore is not the source for "training in righteousness." Also, the apostles and the early Christians surely knew of the apostles' commission too, but the word of God was in written form. They surely knew the four Gospels were the written word. And we have evidence that Paul's writings were treated as Scripture, too. Peter wrote about "the ignorant and unstable [who] twist [Paul's letters] to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" (II Pet. 3:16).

The means of inspiration, of course, was the Holy Spirit sent from God to move men to put the truth in word form. We see the Holy Spirit's work in the spoken word, when "the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2).

Paul later born witness to this when he wrote, "For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Rom. 15:18-19). Elsewhere Paul emphasized that "my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (I Cor. 2:4); and "for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake" (I Thess. 1:5). Paul admonished the insubordinate men, empty talkers, and deceivers (Tit. 1:10) to "follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (II Tim. 1:13, 14); "for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (I Thess. 1:5). Peter also witnessed to this: "It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look" (I Pet. 1:12).

Holy Spirit Speaks Through the Scripture

The writer of Hebrews infers that the Holy Spirit speaks though the Word of God He inspired. For instance, "the Holy Spirit says, 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years'" (Heb. 3:7-9; cf. 6:4; 9:8; 10:15). The Spirit guided the writers of the words: "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Pet. 1:21). Since He speaks today through the word, the Holy Spirit and the Word cannot be separated. The speaking of the Holy Spirit is also tied to the saying of Lord: "the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds'" (Heb 10:15).

The Holy Spirit is also very active in the believer's life in many areas. He is active in regeneration (Titus 3:5, 6; I Cor. 15:45; Heb 6:4; Rom. 8:13, 14; Gal. 4:6-7), dwells and fills the believer (Eph. 3:16, 17; Rom. 8:9, 10; Eph. 5:18; II Tim. 1:14), brings about sanctification (II Thess. 2:13; I Pet. 1:2), and special fruit (Gal. 5:22, 23; Rom. 5:5; 14:17); seals and guarantees (Eph, 1:13, 14; 4:30; II Cor. 1:22), etc.

The Holy Spirit Can Be Resisted

The Holy Spirit can be resisted. Stephen spoke of this, saying to the Jews, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51). This rejection can have serious consequences. "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness" (Mark 3:29). This implies resisting His work and speaking against God, slandering and insulting Him. Similarly, the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote about "the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace" (Heb. 10:29). Paul knew he could resist God and was careful "not [to] nullify the grace of God" (Gal. 2:21). It is clear man can resist the Holy Spirit and nullify God's grace. God is sovereign and has given man the freedom to resist Him.

Paul wrote, "No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 12:3). The Greek used here for "Lord" is commonly used in the Greek Old Testament for "God." Thus Paul is saying that no one can acknowledge Jesus is God except by the Holy Spirit. Of course we know anyone can repeat these words, but they cannot believe them. We are convicted when we read the Word and see Christ's teachings, signs, miracles, etc. For more on this, see Matthew 16:17; I John 4:2, 3, 15. No one would say Jesus is Lord/God except by being spiritual, "born according to the Spirit" (Gal. 4:28). Christ saved us "by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:4). Paul's words about "Jesus is Lord" do not deal with the preceding step of repentance and believing. They do not say the unbeliever could not come through reading the Word and through his own intellectual reasoning to see who Jesus is and believe in Him. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Scriptures and they can lead persons to Christ today.

Preach to All

In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus spoke of "those who believe in me through their [the apostles'] word" (John 17:20). We see the importance of preaching in His Great Commission. Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19); "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15, 16); and "Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:47).

The importance of preaching is taught in many other Scriptures throughout the New Testament. We see this clearly when Paul wrote: "But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'" (Rom. 10:14, 15; cf. 15:18-22; I Cor. 1:17, 22, 23). There are numerous other commands to preach to all. Surely this implies men can respond to the Word. God would never tell "all" about the Good News if they could never benefit from it. He would not make it impossible for them to respond. Thus no one can say that redemption and eternal life are withheld from anyone.

Chosen to Serve

Let us now look at what the Scriptures state about being chosen. Jesus is the One "spoken [of] by the prophet Isaiah: 'Behold, my servant whom I have chosen'" (Matt. 12:18); "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations" (Isa. 42:1, 2); "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. . . . the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you" (Isa. 49:6, 7); Christ "was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of times for your sakes. . . . that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious" (I Pet. 1:20; 2:4). These Scriptures show that God chose His own Son to bring salvation to man.

Jesus told his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. . . . If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:16, 19). In this case, Jesus chose them for special tasks. This did not mean they had unconditional eternal life. Jesus told them, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:3-6). Even the disciples were admonished to abide in Christ. If they did not abide in Him, they would be cast away.

Paul told about his miraculous call on the Damascus Road, saying, "I heard a voice saying to me . . . 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 26:14). Jesus told him, "I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness" to me (v. 16). Paul was a chosen instrument to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles and Israel (cf. 9:16). In doing this, Paul wrote he too had to run the race: "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (I Cor. 9:27).

Paul wrote the Galatians, "[God] who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles" (Gal. 1:15, 16). Paul was "called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1), a chosen messenger and servant of Christ. Christ was revealed to Paul, and he accepted this call when he repented and believed. There are no indications others received such a special call to be a servant of Christ.

In the Old Testament period, God "chose" Israel to service so all would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 15:6; Deut. 7:6; Hos. 1:1; Amos 3:2). In the New Testament many were chosen to preach and teach the Good News to all (John 17:14-16; 21; Acts 1:2; 9:15; 10:41; Rom. 1:5). The Christians (i.e., the Church) were to be a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (I Pet. 2:9). Their service to the Lord was to "bless the nations" (Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8). Being chosen was for the purpose of service, and in this many of them failed.

There is another aspect to being chosen before the foundation of the world. We see this in Paul's writing to the Thessalonians, that he always gave thanks to God because they were "beloved by the Lord, because God chose [them] from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (II Thess. 2:13). Paul is writing to these Gentiles who from the beginning were chosen to be a part of God's people. The term "to be saved" comes about through "belief in the truth." Some believe the term "to be saved" may refer to future "salvation," which relates to either glorification (v. 14) or "sanctify you wholly" (I Thess. 5:23). This would involve maturity; that is why he writes "through sanctification by the Spirit."

The above Scriptures show that men can understand what Christ did for them and can response to the Good News He brought. There is one more Scripture that hints that God is directly involved in men's decisions. Let us look at it.

"Ordained to eternal life believed"

There is one Scripture involving tetagmeno from tasso that was used once with a meaning close to "election." Luke wrote, according to some English versions, "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). To understand this, let us first review the immediate context. The rulers of the synagogue in Antioch asked Paul to give a "word of exhortation for the people" (Acts 13:15). Paul responded with a brief review of Israel's history, stating "God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised" (v. 23). Paul spoke of Jesus' condemnation, death, and resurrection (vv. 27-30). The people begged Paul to speak more about this on the next Sabbath, and he did. "The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God" (v. 44).

At this meeting, when "the Jews saw the multitudes [the Gentiles accepting the Gospel], they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him" ["contradicting and blaspheming," KJV] (v. 45). Paul told the Jews, "Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles" (v. 46). Paul then cited Israel 49:6 to the Jews: "I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth" (v. 47). "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God" (v. 48). The rest of this verse is ambiguous. "Were ordained to" is not the best translation of tetagmenoi, which is both the middle voice and the passive voice participle of tasso. This term means "to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e., assign or dispose (to a certain person or lot):--addict, appoint, determine, ordain, set" (Strong). An interlinear shows the Greek word order: "As many as believed had been appointed to eternal life" (The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, Tyndale House). The verb's voice results in two translations. In the passive voice: "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (RSV). In middle voice: "As many as had set themselves for eternal life became believers" or "as many as were disposed to eternal life believed."

The passive voice is used in many English translations. This usage was influenced by Jerome changing the Greek term tasso translated in the old Latin as destinati or ordinati to praordinati, that is, predestination-ordained in English "to make the coming to faith and salvation the product of a predestinatory eternal degree" (Lenski). Augustine and the Western Church were influenced by this change. The Greek Orthodox Church, whose mother tongue was Greek, had no problem understanding the middle voice, and did not change their understanding of this verse (ref. Shank, Elect in the Son, p. 184).

Since the grammar is ambiguous, we need to interpret this verse in context. The Jews made their own decision to--as Paul said, "contradicting and blaspheming" (KJV, v. 45) and "thrust it [the Word of God; the Gospel message] from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life" (v. 46)--seal their own fate unless they repented. "If they abide not still in unbelief," then God could graft them in again" (Rom. 11:23). The Gentiles, hearing the word, also made their own decision, to believe the Good News.

Let us look at what several commentators wrote on this passage. Adam Clarke emphasized that the verb tasso "includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind. . . . [it] signifies to place, set, order, appoint, dispose; hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation, such as the religious proselytes mentioned in ver. 43, who possessed the reverse of the disposition of those Jews who spake against those things, contradicting and blaspheming, ver. 45. . . . the [Gentiles], destitute of prejudice and prepossession, were glad to hear that, in the order of God, the Gentiles were included in the covenant of salvation through Christ Jesus; they, therefore, in this good state and order of mind, believed" (Adam Clarke, Clark's Commentary, Vol. 5: Matthew-Acts).

Robertson wrote: "There is no evidence that Luke had in mind absolutum decretum of personal salvation. Paul had showed that God's plan extended to and included Gentiles. Certainly the Spirit of God does move upon the human heart to which some respond, as here, while others push him away" (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, Acts, Vol. III, p. 200).

As Alford wrote: "The meaning of this word disposed must be determined by the context. The Jews had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life: the Gentiles, as many as were disposed to eternal life, believed. By whom so disposed, is not here declared: nor need the word be in this place further particularized. We know, that it is God who worketh in us the will to believe, and that the preparation of the heart is of him: but to find in this text pre-ordination to life asserted, is to force both word and the context to a meaning which they do not contain" (Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, p. 153f.).

Shank wrote: "Rotherham's rendering 'had become disposed' is fully warranted. Citing examples, Bloomfield asserts (as do others) that the passive voice of tasso often conveys the middle sense and that the passive does not necessarily suppose an over-ruling impulse from without. The expression tassesthai may here have the sense it sometimes bears, 'to be thoroughly disposed for, or purposed for, bent on,' like the similar one euyhetos einat eis, to be fitly disposed for" (Robert Shank, Elect in the Son, p. 186).

Bartlet writes: "ordained to eternal life. A bad rendering, as suggesting that human choice had no real part in such belief. The idea is simply that of preparedness of heart, without any thought as to how this came about. This is clear from the account of the Jews' unreadiness: they 'judged themselves unworthy' (in the same sense of Matt. xxii:8, 'The wedding is ready, but they that were bidden were not worthy'--i.e. as making light of it, verse 5). Thus all is conceived to turn ultimately on man's choice. Like the Pharisee in Luke vii:30, the Jews 'rejected for themselves the counsel of God.' No divine 'decree' ordained the results either way. The best rendering then would be, 'were (found) disposed to eternal life, which preserves the exact shade of the verb ('to set in order, arrange, dispose' [Thayer]) and just that degree of ambiguity which belongs to the original" (J. Vernon Bartlet, The New Century Bible: The Acts).

In summary, to ordain only a few to eternal life is contrary to the context of the Jews' deciding to reject the Good News, and contrary to God's character, that is, His holiness and love. Would a holy and loving God ordain some to eternal life and leave others go to hell? NO! The statement should translate: "As many as had set themselves for eternal life became believers" or "As many as believed had been appointed to eternal life."

"He chose us"

The Apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the Ephesians that God "blessed us in Christ . . . He chose us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4), He chose us "that we should be holy and blameless before him" (v. 4). "He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ" (v. 5). And "He has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will" (v. 9). To understand these many references to "chose," we need to look at the "us," "you," and "we" Paul was writing about.

The general plan Paul writes about is how "He [God] set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 2:9, 10). To these Gentile Christians in Ephesians, Paul writes, "You he made alive, when you were dead" (2:1). "Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh" (v. 4). These Gentiles are united to the Jews because God "loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses" (vv. 4, 5). His readers need to remember God's love for all, and "remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh. . . .were [once] far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. . . . Now through Jesus Christ, God "has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall . . . by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of two . . . that he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. . . . You [the Gentiles] who were once far off, " but now "we both have access in One Spirit to the Father. So you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints." Through Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, "you [Gentiles] also are built into it [i.e., 'a holy temple in the Lord,' v.21] for a dwelling place of God" (vv. 11-22). This oneness in Christ was an important message for Paul to tell, and he was willing, at the time of writing this epistle, to be "a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles" (3:1), so they would understand these truths.

In summary, "us" and "we" are the believing Jews and Gentiles, who were made one with "you," i.e., the believing Gentiles. These Gentiles are now one with the believing Jews under the New Covenant. This union of the believing Jews and Gentiles was once a mystery now understood. Paul continues, "The mystery was made known to me [Paul] by revelation" (Eph. 3:3). Paul's "insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (3:4-6). "This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church" (5:32), "to preach to the Gentiles . . . to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God" (v. 9).

Paul emphasized this to others. To the Romans he wrote: "Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations" (Rom. 16:25, 26). To the Colossians, he wrote he was a minister "to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now manifest to his saints" (Col. 1:25), this mystery of how Christ would be in the Gentles (vv. 27, 28). Paul wrote to his "beloved child," Timothy, not be ashamed of testifying to our Lord and "the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 1:9, 10). Paul wrote to the Corinthians how in simple words "we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification" (I Cor. 2:7). Under the Old Covenant mankind did not understand how God prepared to offer him salvation through Christ; it was hidden from them. Today this is fully known through the word, and we can all understand how we can have life through One--Jesus Christ.

In light of Paul's teachings to many groups, Ephesians 1 is not about an individual's eternal destiny being arbitrarily determined by God, but about the mystery of Gentiles becoming a part of God's people. In Christ "we [Jews and Gentiles] have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ" (Eph. 1:11, 12). We, regardless of who we are, if we trust in Christ are predestinated for God's glorification.

Romans 9

In Romans 9 Paul was sorrowed and anguished because the Israelites were rejecting their Messiah. This rejection does not mean "the word of God had failed" (Rom. 9:6). Why is this the case? Because "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants" (9:7). This is demonstrated in Abraham's progeny. Ishmael was not a true descendant of Abraham because he was born of Hagar, Sarai's Egyptian maid (Gen. 16), but Isaac, born of Sarai, was a true son of Abraham (chs. 17, 21). Similarly, of Isaac's two sons only Jacob was a "true" son of Abraham (25:19ff.). God worked it out so Isaac's second born, Jacob, obtained the birthright and his father's blessing (25:29-34; ch. 27). Through Isaac and Jacob came the promised Messiah. This truth does not limit anyone who wants to benefit from the covenant to come to Christ. God said to Abraham, "You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. . . . I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant" (17:4, 7). Only by unbelief would any be cut off. "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh . . . shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (17:14). All nations are now blessed through Abraham (18:18), and his descendent Jesus Christ (Luke 24:47; Rom. 1:5).

God's election is shown in "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:13). Before Jacob and Esau were born, God through His election determined to give the nation of Israel a higher place in fulfilling the promise than the nation of Edom. Paul is speaking of God's election of Jacob's families and not of him choosing individuals to salvation. Paul is not writing about eternal salvation of Jacob and Esau but of the greater prominence of Jacob (i.e., Israel). "Paul does not say: 'The elder will be saved, while the younger will be damned'; he says, 'The elder will serve the younger' (v. 12)" (Wenger, Introduction to Theology, pp. 269, 270). Just as the eleven other brothers of Judah were not excluded, neither Ishmael nor Esau was excluded from the covenant of promise. "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exod. 3:6, 15; Matt. 22:32) means these three were representative bearers of the covenant of promise, and them alone. It does not mean they were the only ones to obtain eternal life. "The children of the promise are reckoned as descendants" (Rom. 9:8), and they are as the number of stars (Gen 15:5), and will share in the covenant. This means none are excluded, except as we saw earlier, through their own unbelief (17:14). This does not mean all "the children of the flesh" are included. Hate should be contrasted with love. (See Gen. 29:30, 31; Deut. 21:15-17; Prov. 13:24.) In Greek "hated" carries the meaning of secondary place. Compare Paul's statement with Christ's found in Luke 14:26, that of single mined loyalty, prefer less, love less. The promise of grace is available to all who enter as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, that is, by faith. "We [Christians], brethren, like Isaac, are the children of promise" (Gal. 4:28) because of our faith.

"Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!" (Rom. 9:14). God was not unjust in choosing Jacob as a patriarch. "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy" (v. 15). Why by mercy? "So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but on God's mercy" (v. 16). The choice of Jacob removed all influence of works. It was not done to single out one family. It was done to single out a family to bring a blessing to ALL.

What about Pharaoh? "For the scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you'" (Rom. 9:17). First notice that Paul deals with Pharaoh's actions as a governmental leader and reveals how he was used to show God's power. These verses do not say anything about his election to eternal damnation. Second, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. The Exodus account does state at the beginning that the Lord "will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go" (Exod. 4:21). At first glance this appears to be a prophecy that God would force Pharaoh as a puppet to sin against the people. But this is not the case. "The Hebrew word translated "hardened" could be translated "heavy." See Exodus 17:12 ("Moses' hands were heavy," KJV); I King 12:10 ("Your father made your yoke heavy"); Isaiah 1:4 ("Ah, a sinful nation, a people laden [i.e., heavy] with iniquity"). "On the whole, therefore, we are compelled to see that Pharaoh's heart was left by God simply in its natural case--heavy with iniquity" (William R. Newell, Romans Verse-by-Verse).

The reason Pharaoh's heart was hardened is evident from his first encounter with Moses. Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" (Exod. 5:2). Pharaoh would not listen and did things that hardened his own heart: "He hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them" (8:15; cf. v. 32). When a person is told to do something and refuses to do it after repeated requests, his heart becomes hardened even when he is forced to change his mind.

The Scriptures do state that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Exod. 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). The way God hardened Pharaoh's heart was to allow him to choose evil and reap the fruits of his actions. God gave Pharaoh signs, and when he chose not to believe and replied with cruel and oppressive acts, he started down a path that hardened his heart. The conclusion Paul draws from Pharaoh is that God has "mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:18). Pharaoh could not claim God's mercy because of the things he had done. Pharaoh and Moses were both used by God to bring about His plan of redemption, according to His own ways.

No one should find fault with God's working in history because He is the potter (Rom. 9:19-23). Man cannot dictate to or question God. "Will what is molded say to the potter, 'Why have you made me?'" (v. 20). We should not push this analogy; man is more than clay. Man is an intellectual being with his own will. The point is man should not question God and say, "Who can resist his will?" (v. 19).

"What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:22-24).

God was patient with both Pharaoh and Judah. Pharaoh would not heed Moses' call, and Judah rejected Christ and the call to repent, etc. "The only way to interpret Romans 9 in harmony with the rest of Scripture is to regard the 'vessels of wrath' as those who cling to sin and reject the Gospel, while the 'vessels of mercy' are those whom God has loved . . . true believers on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Wenger, p. 270). God used the vessels of mercy He had "prepared beforehand for glory, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (vv. 23, 24). Both groups now are "corporate," elected in Christ. The vessels of mercy and corporate election in Romans 9 are "even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (9:13). "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved'" (vv. 24, 25). The "Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law" (vv. 30, 31).

"The Lord opened her heart"

Luke wrote about Paul's missionary efforts at Philippi. On one Sabbath they went out to the riverbank to pray, and there found a gathering of women. These brethren sat down and spoke to the women. One of them was Lydia, a woman of some status since she was "a seller of purple goods," and, more importantly, she "was a worshiper of God" (Acts 16:13). "The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. . . . she was baptized" (vv. 14, 15).

This is often used as a proof text that God directly chooses certain ones to be saved. But this conclusion is not supported by the text. It only says, "The Lord opened her heart to give heed" to Paul words. We are not told what was involved in her acceptance of the message she heard. We do know she "was a worshiper of God," and this illustrates Jesus' teachings that "if any man's will is to do [God's] will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God" (John 7:17). As a worshiper of God, she sought to do God's will, and hearing about Jesus enabled her to chose to follow Him. To leap from her example to the position that God alone selects those who are to believe is unwarranted.

To better understand the above, let us look at some Scriptures showing God as a drawer of all men. Jesus said that the Father draws one: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). Jesus later says He would draw all men: "when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (12:32). Later He promised "the Counselor . . . will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me" (16:7-9). The Holy Spirit will "convince the world." In light of these Scriptures, we should not think the Lord decrees individuals one by one to believe. We know "Whosoever will" be saved (see Matt. 7:24; 10:32; 12:50; 16:25; Mark 3:35; 8:34; Luke 6:47; 9:24; James 4:4; Rev. 22:17). God's grace is available for all. God didn't just choose a few, or leave any out. Jesus' invitation to "come unto me" (Matt. 11:28; John 7:37, 38) was legitimate. He did not hold out a carrot that could not be reached. The response to come is up to us. A person and he alone is given the final "vote" to accept or reject the invitation. This does not mean the person it not totally depraved and can turn to God on his own. But to men "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:16), making redemption available to all (cf. I Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11). We individually have the responsibility to accept or reject the invitation and God's redemption.

God's Initiative and Man's Response

As we all know, some people make an effort to know God's revealed ways and others do not. As Jesus spoke to some, "You search the scriptures; because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (John 5:39, 40). As Luke wrote, some Thessalonica Jews "received the word with all eagerness, examining the scripture daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:10). As has been pointed out, "Salvation is the divinely willed destiny for all men, but a destiny which can be thwarted by unbelief chosen in freedom in spite of the divine overtures and provisions" (W. T. Purkiser, Richard S. Taylor, Willard H. Taylor, God, Man, and Salvation, p. 428).

Men are commanded to believe the Gospel because "to all who received him [Christ], he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12). Jesus promised this: "I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe" (8:24), and "while you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light" (12:36). After Jesus clearly explained His mission to the disciples, He asked, "Do you believe?" (16:31). Paul wrote that "the righteousness of God has been manifested. . . . The righteousness of God [is available] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Rom. 3:21, 22). As Jesus explained, some will not believe: "who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God" (John 5:44). Are men commanded by God to do something He knows they cannot do? By no means! God would never offer us something we could not take.

In the Israelite culture little children were not supposed to enter into adult matters. Once they wanted to come to Jesus, but were told not to. Jesus told those with Him to allow the little children to come to him. This caused an older person to ask, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16). This unbelieving Jew came to Jesus through his reasoning power only after seeing Jesus' signs and hearing Him teach, and asked about eternal life. This is an example how an unbeliever understood enough about Jesus' teachings to inquire about how to obtain eternal life. He asked Jesus questions, but in the end he went away sorrowful. He chose not to follow Jesus.

Scripture speaks of others that will refuse God's salvation. Paul wrote that in the last days the "lawless one by the activity of Satan" would deceive "those who are to perish, because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (II Thess. 2:9, 10). These perish because they refuse to be saved. It was their willful choice. Because of their choice, "God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (vv. 11, 12). They bought the delusion on themselves by refusing the truth. "Be saved," that is, receive salvation, refers to glorification (see v. 14) or maturity (I Thess. 5:23) since it is "through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (II Thess. 2:13).

Peter wrote about "'A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall'; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do" (I Pet. 2:8). Their stumbling was not caused by God but came about when they "disobeyed the word." This is the same way as those who were hard of heart in the time of Isaiah (Isa. 6:9,10). God veils his truth to those who stubbornly disobey his word. "To him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Matt. 13:12; Amos 8:11, 12). Because they disobeyed, "they were destined" to fall. Those who believed not the word were appointed to stumble and fall by it, not to disbelieve it.

Jude wrote, "Admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). The participle progegrammenoi, translated "were designated," may refer to those "having been previously written about" (see The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament). As Williams's translation says, "Their doom was written down long ago." This seems preferable since following the above, Jude writes about the ungodly who met destruction in the past (vv. 5-18).


In summary, all men can come to Christ and be saved. Failure to be saved stands with the individual's rejection of God's mercy and grace. Election is a way to ascribe, as Wenger wrote, "to God the glory of salvation of each Christian in that the believer's choice of Christ is grounded eternally in the love and goodness of God" (J. C. Wenger, Introduction to Theology, p. 268). Those who reject the Gospel "thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life" (Acts 13:46). "Whosoever" will can be saved. There is no arbitrary election of certain individuals to salvation. "The Bible is . . . entirely clear that if men are lost they alone are responsible" (ibid., p. 268).

By Leland M. Haines, Northville, Michigan, April 2000. Edited by Richard Polcyn, Millersburg, Ohio.

Copyright 2000 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, Michigan. All rights reserved. Please contact the author for permission to make more than one copy of this manuscript.


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June 22, 2000