In many places in the Bible we are described as God’s elect, or God’s chosen. What does this mean? How does God choose us? There are a couple of different answers to this, but the one which I have become convinced of is called “corporate election”.
The first principle of understanding election that I use is that it needs to be grounded in the OT. The NT doesn’t develop the idea of election very much. Romans deals with the topic with the most depth, and even then it is couched in OT references and theology. Besides, my basic hermeneutic is to understand the NT from a worldview contructed from the OT. So we must start where the Bible starts: the OT.
This isn’t very difficult for the OT deals with the topic of election extensively, however, most translations don’t use the word ‘elect’ or its derivitives. Instead they ususally use the word family of ‘chosen’, but the two words mean the same thing. Indeed, the Hebrew word group of ‘bachar‘, which is usually translated as ‘chosen’, was always translated by ‘eklektos’ in the ancient Greek Jewish Bible, the Septuagint*, and ‘eklektos‘ is the word translated as ‘elect’ in the NT.
A good place to start is with Deuteronomy 14:2:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
It is quite clear that the Old Testament view of election is corporate: God chose a group of people, a particular nation comprised of the descendants of Abraham, to be His representatives to the world. It is important to understand that belonging to God for the ancient Israelites was a soteriological reality. However, being elect is not the same as being saved. Being one of God’s elect also meant that you had a responsibility to the covenant of God, and that you represented Him to the world. The motto which best defined the reality of an Israelite was “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
When we come to the New Testament, we find very little material on what election means. The term “eklektos” is used 23 times, but very rarely is the concept really described. Instead, it is assumed to be understood by the readers, which also suggests that the NT writers were operating within the known paradigm of the OT (shocker, I know). So if the language is similar then we understand that being elect doesn’t mean that one was chosen to be saved, but that one is part of God’s chosen people: a holy nation to represent God to the world.
We see this, for instance in the book of Ephesians which emphasizes the unification of the Jews with the Gentiles forming a new people. This is also prevelant in the book of John, where Jesus is often talking about the handing over of God’s people to Him (for example, this is what John 6 is all about).
This isn’t to say that election isn’t soteriological in nature. We were created to be God’s representatives on earth, and the goal of salvation is to return us to our original intended purpose. Thus we are saved for that purpose as well.
Additionally we are saved by our election as well, for we are elected by the same thing by which we are saved: Christ. How the process of salvation is connected to election is what we’ll be going over next week.
*The Septuagint, or LXX, is important to note here, since it was the version of the OT that the NT writers used. So if the NT writers are using the term ‘eklektos‘, you can be sure that they have the LXX usuage at least in mind.