Great Comments on Corporate Election, Apostasy, and Rom 8:28-39


Here are some great comments from B.J. Oropeza, who holds to corporate election, tying in corporate election with the doctrine of perseverance and Rom 8:28-39:

Our perspective of 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 9-11 calls into question the assumption that unconditional election to final perseverance is a guarantee for the individual Christian (as supposed by some in Romans 8:28-39). Since Paul in Romans 9-11 seems to consider both Israel and the Christians as corporately elect, this may help one interpret Paul’s perspective of election when final perseverance is in view in the letter. As in 1 Corinthians 10, the language of election in Romans 11 is applied to both Jews (11:28f cf. 9:11; 11:5) and Christians (11:7 cf. 9:24ff; 10:20). This is not to say, however, that all the language of election in Romans 9-11 is completely void of individuality (cf. Rom. 9:13, 19), but that individuality seems bound up in illustrations (e.g., Esau, Jacob, Pharoah), which are used as a means to argue conclusions about attaining righteousness by faith instead of works (9:30ff) and the rejection and/or salvation of corporate groups or sub-groups such as ethnic Israel (e.g., 9:1-6; 10:18-21; 11:26ff), the Israel of promise (e.g., 9:6-8), the remnant (11:1-7), and Gentile Christians (e.g., 9:30 cf. v. 24; 11:13-22). The individual language in the text points rhetorically to a climax ultimately concerned with corporate Israel in chapter 11.

Our perspective supports that when election with the goal of final perseverance is in view, Paul seems to be speaking of communities rather than individuals. Namely, the predestination and election of Christians in Romans 8:29-30 may rest on Paul’s assumption that election to final perseverance refers to the election of a community rather than individuals as such. Paul stresses the use of the plural and collective terms such as “those,” “many,” and so forth to refer to the Christians in 8:28-39 . . . . Like the Christian community, Israel itself is called, elect, and beloved of God (Rom. 11:28-29; cf. 11:2), yet many in Israel fell away so that in the present age, they do not participate in the salvific experience. Israel’s corporate election is clearly in view when Paul claims that all Israel will be saved in the “not yet” future (Rom. 11:26). Nevertheless, in the “now” eschaton, Romans 11 (and 1 Corinthians 10) suggests that individuals and subgroups who are part of the elect community (whether Jews or Gentiles) may apostatize and be cut off from salvation (cf. Rom. 11:22).

If Paul is speaking about the assurance of election to final perseverance in Romans 8:28-39, then this promise – like Romans 11 and 1 Corinthians 10 – would seem to be affixed to a community rather than individuals per se. First, as in 1 Corinthians 10, the Deuteronomic tradition is clearly evident in the background for Paul’s argument in Romans, especially in chapters 9–11. In this tradition, Paul seems to adopt a corporate view of election (cf. Deut. 7:6ff) while at the same time affirming that apostasy can happen to individuals and sub-groups (cf. Deut. 13:1ff; 29:18-20).

Second, the Christians in Rome who are called in accordance with God’s purpose are identified as “the ones who love God” (Rom. 8:28). Paul seems to adapt this phrase from the Deuteronomic tradition where Israel is identified as a community of those who love God and keep his commandments (Deut. 5:10; 7:9; . . . ). Paul probably does not intend to suggest that “the ones who love God” be understood as a mere designation . . . for Christians – the phrase takes on the additional implication that a responsibility rests among the people of God to demonstrate their love for God through obedience. God works for good with those who are obedient to God.

Third, in Romans it is evident that if a believer lives after the flesh or does not continue in Christ, he or she may become eternally separated from God (Rom. 8:12-13 cf. 11:22; 14:13, 15, 23). But in 8:28-39 Paul does not contemplate whether personal sin or unbelief could finally disrupt a Christian’s salvific relationship with God. [see his footnote below] Hence, the promise of any final perseverance in this passage does not necessarily apply to Christians who follow their sinful nature. In other words, Paul in 8:28-39 may indeed affirm that the collective community of God is foreknown, predestined and elect in the eternal plan of God and will persevere to final glorification. [see footnote below] This would be a great comfort to Paul’s readers when he mentions the various trials that the Christians in Rome may face. The readers, as individuals, could take comfort in the promises of this passage, but only as they are identified as members of the Christian community. The passage centers on the Christian community as elect, not the Christian individual. A person who is not part of this community has no claim to its promises.

Thus, Paul’s use of terms related to predestination and election in Romans 8:28-39 give no necessary indication that genuinely elect individuals cannot finally apostatize. It seems that Paul believes that God can choose, foreknow, and predestine an elect people to final perseverance even though individual members can fall away (cf. Rom. 11). Some elect may fall away, perhaps even most, but never all.

Paul’s thought here is consistent with many ancient Israelite traditions which portray the reality of individual and sub-group apostasies within the elect community while at the same time maintaining the continuity of that community as a whole. In every episode of Israel’s tradition history, a faithful remnant survives after apostasy and judgment/expulsion occur (e.g., Deut. 4:23-31). Paul habitually cites or echoes the Jewish traditions for authoritative support of his arguments, and for him, there is an analogy between Israel and Christians in relation to election (Rom. 11; 1 Cor. 10). It seems implausible that he would have divorced himself so completely from the presuppositions of his Jewish heritage that he now teaches that individuals which make up the elect body are each unconditionally preserved so as to never be able to completely fall away. (“Excursus: Election in Romans 8:28-39 in Light of Israel’s Election and Apostasy,” in Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation, 206-10)

Footnote 73: Doubtless, Paul did not intend to include the Christians themselves as hostile enemies of their own communion with God by the phrase “another creature” or “any other creature” (Rom. 8:39 . . .). Paul is stressing external or objective hostile forces, be they natural or supernatural. He is neither focusing on the internal or subjective volition/nature of the Christians themselves, nor on temptation through vices. As elsewhere in Romans, he is not using “another/any other” in some unqualified sense that transcends even the categories and parameters at hand (Rom. 13:9; cf. 1 Tim 1:10). If we could paraphrase Paul, he probably implies this: “and if there is a different (external) opposing force out there which I have failed to mention, neither can it separate us (the ones who love God) from the love of God in Christ.” (Paul and Perseverance, 209 fn. 73)

Footnote 74: Note also the parallel in 1 Peter 1:2 where it is said that God elected the Christian communities based on his foreknowledge. In Romans 8, God foreknows “those who love him” (8:28) – the collective elect (Rom. 8:31 ff) – and they are predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image (cf. Eph. 1:5). (Paul and Perseverance, 209 fn. 74)


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