Election and Predestination: A Discussion of the Key Texts

Predestination and Election: Some Musings | Dr. Jeremiah Mutie Ph.D

This is the second installment of this series. You can read the previous blog here!

Key Texts

Although there are many texts that are usually brought into the discussion on the doctrines of election, freewill and predestination, two feature Pauline passages feature frequently. These are Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. They will be discussed here in the same order.

  1. Romans 9

This is one of the pivotal texts for the doctrine of election. As Schreiner observes, “Calvinists typically appeal to Romans 9 to support their doctrine of divine election.”[1] He adds that, “In particular, they assert that Romans 9 teaches that God unconditionally elects individuals to be saved.”[2] However, as noted above, this “traditional” exegesis of Romans has been put into question. Particularly, this questioning has focused on whether the election in view here, according to Paul, is individual or corporate. Among the key proponents of this view listed by Schreiner, are included such names as William Klein and Leon Morris.[3] Connecting Romans 9 with Mal 1:2–5, where God declares that He loved Jacob and hated Esau, Cranfield argues that these it was not just the individuals Jacob and Esau who are in view here. Their descendants are also in view. He writes: “There is no doubt that the concern of Mal 1:2–5 is with the nations of Israel and Edom, and it is natural to suppose that by ‘Jacob’ and ‘Esau’ Paul also understands not only the twin sons of Isaac but also the peoples descended from them.”[4] Thus, as Schreiner concludes, “Those who emphasize that election is corporate rather than individual contend that this distinction helps one to see that God does not elect some individuals to salvation and reject others.”[5]
In response, Schreiner adduces four key arguments in support of the view that Romans 9 really argues for both corporate and individual election. First, he notes that Paul also, in the same chapter, cites another OT passage whereby he has individual election in mind. He writes; “Evidence that individual election is also in Paul’s mind is found in Rom 9:15 where he cites Exod 33:19: ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’”[6] It is very important to note that “The word ‘whom’ (hon) is singular, indicating specific that individuals upon whom God has mercy are in view. The singular is also present in the inference Paul draws from Rom 9:15 in 9:16. God’s mercy does not depend on ‘the one who wills, nor the one who runs.’”[7] Therefore, contextually, it seems like one cannot simply argue from Paul’s citation of Mal 1:2–5 and make a compelling case for the exclusion of individual election in this pericope.
Second, Schreiner argues that “The selection of a remnant out of Israel (Rom 9:6–9; 11:1–6) also involves the selecting out of certain individuals from a larger group.” This is almost like the adage that you cannot have a forest without trees! As Schreiner quips, “One should not conclude, however, that since the remnant is comprised of a group of people that individuals are not in view.” Rather, “The election of the remnant to salvation and the election of individuals who comprise that remnant are not mutually exclusive.”[8] In fact, Paul gives himself as an example of an individual who is part of that elect remnant (see 11:1).

But no interpreter that I know of has ever said that Israel’s attempt to be righteous by works was only a corporate problem.

Third, while the main argument of those who do not see election here as individual because the context is that of the “purpose of election,” Schreiner notes that “Romans 9:30–10:21 calls sharply into question the thesis that Paul is speaking only of corporate groups in Romans 9–11 and is not referring to individuals.” What Schreiner is calling attention to here is the issue of consistency on the part of non-Calvinists who reject individual election in chapter 9, and yet, fail to do the same for other sections of Romans. As he observes, “But if the reference to Israel in Romans 9–11 is only corporate, then Israel’s failure to pursue the law from faith, and her attempt to be righteous by works (9:30–10:8), must be exclusively a corporate problem and not an individual one.”[9] What Schreiner is calling attention to here is a significant aspect of one’s hermeneutics—consistency. As he Schreiner further observes (speaking from a personal experience);
But no interpreter that I know of has ever said that Israel’s attempt to be righteous by works was only a corporate problem. Specific individuals within Israel are condemned because they have sought to establish their righteousness on the basis of works instead of submitting to the righteousness that comes from God, while other individuals—that is, those comprising the remnant—are saved by faith.[10]

In conclusion, Schreiner calls attention to this inconsistency by cautioning that “If it is inappropriate to draw a distinction between individuals and groups in Rom 9:30–10:21, then there seems to be no exegetical basis for drawing such a distinction in 9:1–29 or 11:1–36.”[11] At the minimum, therefore, the election of Romans 9 and 11 must include individual election if one applies consistent hermeneutics.
Four and finally, according to Schreiner at another level, to say that election here is corporate and not individual, raises complex theological issues. These relate to the doctrine of soteriology as it is understood in the entirety of the NT. As Schreiner puts it, “To say that election involves the selection of one group rather than another raises another problem that warrants an extended explanation.”[12] Schreiner sums the conundrum for the Arminian position this way:
Most scholars who claim election is corporate argue that personal faith is the ultimate and decisive reason why some people are saved rather than others. Calvinists, on the other hand, assert that faith is the result of God’s predestining work. But those who opt for corporate election think that they have a better conception of election than Calvinists, and at the same time they can maintain that faith is what ultimately determines one’s salvation. Now it seems to me that there is a flaw in this reasoning that is fatal to those who espouse corporate election. If God corporately elects some people to salvation, and the election of one group rather than another was decided before any group came into existence (9:11), and it was not based on any works that this group did or any act of their will (9:11–12, 16), then it would seem to follow that the faith of the saved group would be God’s gift given before time began. But if the faith of any corporate entity depends upon God’s predestining work, then individual faith is not decisive for salvation. What is decisive would be God’s election of that group. In other words, the group elected would necessarily exercise faith since God elected this corporate entity.[13]
Correctly understood, this is a major flaw to those who argue for corporate election in Romans 9. That is, while, on the one hand, they would like to continue to emphasize personal will and decision that God foresaw in those that He ended up electing, the theory of having some “non-elect” within the corporately elect group, whom Paul clearly identifies, is mystifying, to say the least!
In conclusion, therefore, it is exegetically justifiable to see individual election in Paul’s words in Romans 9. It is primarily what he is arguing for, and, enthusiastically so! Ware’s opening comments to his essay on unconditional election, form a good concluding note here. He writes:
Just a moment’s reflection reveals how differently we commonly think within our evangelical churches from how Paul (and other biblical writers) thought about the doctrine of election. What is often to us a “controversial” and “potentially divisive” doctrine to be ignored, at best, and repulsed, at worst, was, for Paul, most notably, one of the sources of his greatest joy and strength.[14]
This becomes even more evidence as one looks at the other key text that teaches election: Ephesians 1. To this, the focus now turns.
[1] Schreiner, “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election,” 25.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 33. See, for example William W. Klein, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) and Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988).
[4] C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1979), 480.
[5] Schreiner, “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election,” 34.
[6] Schreiner, 34.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 34–35.
[10] Ibid., 35.
[11] Schreiner, 35.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 36–36.
[14] Ware, “Divine Election to Salvation,” 1.

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