Dr. Brian Abasciano Responds To Dr. Dan Wallace On The Issue Of Corporate Election


Dr. Dan Wallace’s comments against the corporate election model have been referenced many times on the internet by various Calvinists as an authoritative critique of the view. Because of this we have asked our very own Dr. Brian Abasciano to take some time in his very busy schedule to write a reply. Dr. Abasciano, being one of the leading proponents of the model and thus an expert on the issue, agreed. Due to the informality of the original comments, Dr. Abasciano has attempted to reply in a similar fashion, but, in this writer’s opinion, he remained absolutely thorough in his critique and correction of many of Dr. Wallace’s comments. Here is his reply:

I have known about Dan Wallace’s comments about corporate election (originally posted on the internet in 2004 at http://bible.org/article/corporate-election and now reprinted at http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/10/corperate-election-dan-wallace/) for some time. But I have regarded my 2006 article on the topic in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, to nullify their thrust, and so have not thought it necessary to respond to his comments.[1] My recent article in the Ashland Theological Journal strengthens and expands on the same basic perspective that renders much of Dan’s informal article misguided and unpersuasive in its opposition to the corporate election perspective. But I have not interacted with Dan specifically in either of those articles, and it has been suggested to me that I address his comments, occasioned by their recent reposting at the “Parchment and Pen” blog. So I will intersperse my responses into selected portions of Dan’s article, marking Dan’s comments and my comments accordingly. But I will try to limit my responses here to avoid going over the view of corporate election in detail since I have addressed that elsewhere. I would urge readers to read my two articles on the topic for a full explanation of the biblical view of corporate election.

Dan starts out on a bad note when he defines corporate election in an erroneous manner. At least he defines it differently than the strongest version of the view does, and thereby sets the course of his comments to consistently fall short of squarely addressing the best and most biblical corporate election view.

Dan comments: First, allow me to clarify the issue: By corporate election I suppose you mean that only those who will be in Christ are chosen and that God does not specifically choose individuals but only chooses the sphere (“in Christ”) in which the elective purposes of God can take place. Thus, if one embraces Christ he is chosen.

My Reply: Here is where Dan begins to go wrong. He is correct to speak of corporate election as holding “that only those who will be in Christ are chosen.” But he is wrong to state that the view holds “that God does not specifically choose individuals but only chooses the sphere (“in Christ”) in which the elective purposes of God can take place.” The biblical view of corporate election (held by scholars such as William W. Klein and myself) holds that God does specifically choose individuals, but only those who are “in Christ”. So Dan rightly says of the view, “Thus, if one embraces Christ he is chosen.” But it should be obvious that “if one embraces Christ he is chosen,” then the view entails the election of specific individuals, such as the one who is chosen! It is just that the election of specific individuals is subordinated to the election of Christ on the one hand, and of the Church as a group on the other hand. If one is united with Christ by faith, then he is part of his people and shares in the election of Christ and his people. This is a critical mistake that Dan makes, essentially taking corporate election to exclude individuals as being elect.

Dan comments: First, the authors you cited seemed to make a conceptual-lexical equation (i.e., if the word “elect” was used, only groups were in view; ergo, election is only corporate). That view has been regarded by linguists and biblical scholars as linguistically naïve. James Barr in his Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford, 1961) makes a lengthy and devastating critique of Kittel’s ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for its numerous linguistic fallacies. Among them is this conceptual-lexical equation. Allow me to unpack this a bit more: conceptual-lexical equation means that one does not find the concept unless he sees the words. That seems to be an underlying assumption in the authors you cited. However, where else do we argue this? Would we not say that the concept of fellowship occurs everywhere in the New Testament? Yet the word κοινωνια is found only twenty times. Or consider the deity of Christ: If we could only speak of Christ’s deity in passages where he is explicitly called “God,” then we are shut up to no more than about half a dozen texts. Yet the New Testament wreaks of the deity of Christ—via his actions, attributes that are ascribed to him, Old Testament quotations made of him, implicit and explicit statements made about him. Hence, our first question needs to be: Do we see the concept of election as a corporate notion or an individual one?

My Reply: I do not know who the authors are that Dan refers to, since he does not name them. But he is quite right that the conceptual-lexical equation is a fallacy. However, when the language of election is used, that is obviously important for determining the nature of election. Using the language of election explicitly gives it some priority in formulating the doctrine of election. The fact that the language of election unto salvation is invariably corporate is strong evidence for the corporate view of election. That seems almost self-evident. Nonetheless, it is certainly true that passages where the explicit language of election is absent but the concept is present are important for formulating the biblical doctrine. So it is valid for Dan to consider such passages. But his treatment of such passages is faulty in my opinion and fails to establish his case. See below.

Dan comments: Second, I think that there may be a false antithesis between corporate and individual election. Proof that God elects corporately is not proof that he does not elect individually (any more than proof that all are called sinners in Rom 3:23 is a denial that individuals are sinners). I embrace corporate election as well as individual election. As Douglas Moo argues in his commentary on Romans (pp. 551-52),

… to call Rom. 9-11 the climax or center of the letter is going too far. Such an evaluation often arises from a desire to minimize the importance of the individual’s relationship to God in chaps. 1-8. But the individual’s standing before God is the center of Paul’s gospel.… Individual and corporate perspectives are intertwined in Paul.

My Reply: Ironically, Dan’s article betrays the very type of false antithesis between corporate and individual election that he decries. As already stated, the corporate election view does not exclude individuals from its purview; it simply subordinates them to the group and understands election as coming to them as a consequence of their membership in the group (and ultimately, their union with Christ). The group (the Church) is elected primarily and the individual secondarily. This is the type of covenantal election that is found in the Old Testament. So the corporate election view poses no false antithesis between the group and individual. It merely relates them in the way the Bible does, with the emphasis on the group. However, some of Dan’s argumentation aims to disprove the corporate election view merely by showing individuals are elect. But this arises from his false conception of corporate election as excluding individuals altogether. I completely agree that, “Individual and corporate perspectives are intertwined in Paul.” The important question is, how are they intertwined? The individual perspective claims (typically assumes) that the individual is primary and the corporate election results from the individual election. The corporate election view claims that the individual election results from the corporate election (and ultimately from the election of the corporate head) just as it did in the Old Testament. There is no indication that this character of covenantal election changes in the New Testament, but every indication that it continues. Indeed, we are dealing with the New Covenant, an inherently corporate reality.

Dan comments: Evidence for this can be seen in Romans 9 itself: the examples that Paul uses to show the meaning of election are individuals: Pharaoh, Jacob and Esau, etc. Yet, these very examples—these very individuals—also represent corporate groups. If only corporate election were true, Paul could not have written Romans 9 the way he did.

My Reply: Here we find Dan’s false premise of corporate election excluding individuals at work. Since it is the basis of his argument and false, it invalidates his argument. Ironically, the examples he cites here strongly corroborate the corporate perspective. As Dan notes, these individuals “represent corporate groups.” That is something distinctive about them, and something distinctive about the corporate view. It observes that the corporate election of the Old Testament was rooted in the individual election of the corporate head of the people of God. The people, and the individual members of that people, were elect as a consequence of the election of the individual corporate head, which they shared in because of their association with him. In the Old Testament, that was Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob. Finally, the New Testament tells us that Christ was the seed of Abraham to whom the covenantal promises were made, the mediator of the New Covenant, and that all who are united to him by faith become members of God’s people and heirs to his covenantal promises. They are elect by faith in Christ. The individual corporate heads Paul mentions in Romans 9 exemplify the corporate election perspective perfectly and militate against Dan’s individualistic perspective.

Dan comments: Third, going back to the conceptual-lexical equation for a moment: let’s look at the evidence.

Mark 13:20—“but for the sake of the elect whom he chose he has cut short those days.” If we take only a corporate view of election, this would mean “but for the sake of all humanity he has cut short those days.” That hardly makes any sense in the passage; further, election is doubly emphasized: the elect whom he chose. It would be hard to make any clearer the idea that election is of individuals.

My Reply: Here we see again Dan’s false assumption that the corporate view of election excludes individuals. This completely undermines his appeal to Mark 13:20. But beyond that, his assertion that the corporate view would view the elect as all humanity is frankly bizarre. The corporate view would understand the elect here to be those who believe in Jesus, the Church. Finally, Dan blatantly begs the question here in pointing out that election is doubly emphasized. The corporate view of election fully affirms election. That should go without saying. It is a view of election! Simply pointing out that election is doubly emphasized says nothing about whether election here is viewed as primarily corporate vs. primarily individual. Therefore, his conclusion is frankly astonishing: “It would be hard to make any clearer the idea that election is of individuals.” This is astonishing for more than one reason. The first reason we have already mentioned: rank question-begging. But second, Dan has taken a reference to a group as elect, a group identified as “the elect”, and somehow concluded that this is as clear a reference to individual election as there could be. But ironically, if anything, this passage attests to corporate election! It views the elect as a group just as speaking of “the Pharisees” or “the Sadducees” or “the Jewish leaders” or “the Apostles” or “the believers” refers to these referents as groups. Now what seems to lie behind Dan’s incredible conclusion is, again, the mistaken notion that the corporate view excludes individuals altogether. Hence, since a group consists of individuals, he seems to think that mentioning the group as elect disproves the corporate view. But this is founded on the same fundamental misunderstanding we have had to point out repeatedly. It is strange, though, that Dan follows this line of argumentation when he began by trying to escape the force of reference to “the elect” as indicating a group by invoking the conceptual-lexical equation fallacy and urging us to look at instances where the concept of election might occur where the word might not occur to see if this might yield an individualistic picture of election. In other words, Dan seems to have already implied that such references to “the elect” do betray the corporate nature of election. But he beckons us to attend to other material for evidence of individualistic election. We are finding that other evidence unsupportive of Dan’s view and his objection to a corporate view of election.

Dan comments: Luke 6:13; John 6:70—Jesus chose twelve of his disciples out of a larger pool. True, he chose more than one; but this also was of particular individuals. Jesus named them individually, indicating that his choice of them was individual. This election was not toward salvation, as we see in John 6:70. [On dan’s footnote # 1, see below in this section on Luke 6:13, 70.] But this election was entirely initiated by Jesus (“you did not choose me, but I chose you”). Initiation and selection are the prerogatives of the Lord. Corporate election makes absolutely no sense in this context; and further, the elective purposes and methods of God incarnate are the same, whether it is of his apostles for service or of sinners for salvation.

My Reply: Dan has found an instance of primarily individual election. (It would be helpful to note here that, just as corporate election entails the election of individuals as a consequence of their membership in the group, so individual election of a plurality of people entails the election of the group as a consequence of the separate, individual election of each person. Sharing the common trait of having been chosen, these individuals may then be gathered into a group or considered a group.) But this is irrelevant for the question of the corporate vs. individual orientation of election. The corporate election view does not deny that there are instances of individual election in Scripture, just that the election of God’s people as his own covenant people/heirs is such an instance. Or to put it more simply, the claim is that Scripture presents election unto salvation as corporately oriented rather than individualistically oriented. This is clearly the type of covenantal election in the Old Testament. So Dan’s observation that Luke 6:13 and John 6:70 do not deal with election unto salvation makes his appeal to these texts illegitimate. But surprisingly, he essentially argues that if God ever elects individualistically, then he always does, because “the elective purposes and methods of God incarnate are the same.” This is an incredible claim that is nothing more than mere assertion. Take Dan’s own principle. If God’s purposes and methods of election are always the same, would that not mean that all election must be to salvation? But Dan admits that God’s purpose in election is not always salvation. How can this be when, according to Dan, his elective purposes are always the same? Moreover, multiple instances of primarily corporate election can be shown in Scripture, such as the election of Israel. Shall we then argue that since God always elects in the same way, all instances of election are actually primarily corporate? Of course not. The problem is that the basis of Dan’s argument here is false. There are instances of individualistic election and corporate election in Scripture. The question is, what type is the New Covenant election unto salvation? As I have argued elsewhere, the biblical evidence supports corporate rather than individualistic election unto salvation.

One further problem needs to be addressed in Dan’s comments on Luke 6:13 and John 6:70. He points out that “this election was entirely initiated by Jesus (“you did not choose me, but I chose you”). Initiation and selection are the prerogatives of the Lord”, and concludes with a terrible non-sequitur, that, “Corporate election makes absolutely no sense in this context.” But corporate election in no way denies God’s initiation or selection. It affirms both. It simply observes that God initiates and carries forth his election with the people united to his son, the people that is “in Christ”, the Church. That is his prerogative, is it not? Or shall we tell him who he is allowed to choose and who not? Shall we dictate to him the criteria of his initiative and election? May it never be! He is the sovereign God who has mercy on whomever he will have mercy.

Dan’s footnote # 1: What is significant here is that the choice of Judas actually illustrates that election is entirely unconditional. Judas certainly did not possess the kind of character that made him suitable to be an apostle. Yet Jesus chose him anyway—knowing his character and what he would do.

My Reply: This is another surprising comment. It is debatable whether Judas never had good character. But I will readily grant that point for the sake of argument. The really surprising thing is that Dan concludes from Judas’ poor character that he was chosen unconditionally, without reference to anything about him. Dan points out that Jesus chose Judas despite knowing about his poor character and what he would do. But it is far more likely that Jesus chose Judas because he knew that someone of his character would act as he did and help bring about the cross and our redemption. Far from being unconditional, Jesus’ choice of Judas appears to have been quite conditional. I think the case of Judas is far more complicated than these simple comments. But at the very least, Dan seems to be reaching here into unhelpful speculation to try and bolster his point. But in my opinion, it backfires on him.

Dan comments: Luke 9:35—“This is my Son, my Chosen One.” Certainly election of Christ is both individual and corporate: Christ as the elect of God (see also at John 1:34 the textual variant that is most likely original, and is the text reading of the NET Bible) is the vehicle through whom God effects his elective purposes today. That is, God chooses those who would be saved, but he also chooses the means of that salvation: it is in Christ (see also Eph 1:4).

My Reply: This is yet another surprising text for Dan to appeal to. I have described some of Dan’s arguments as ironic a few times already. And this reference invites that description with a vengeance. Ironically, in principle this passage is foundational to the corporate election perspective, since the election of Christ stands at the center of the view. Christ is “the Chosen One”, and those who come to be united with him share in his election. See my reply to Dan’s invocation of the corporate heads mentioned in Romans 9 above. It is doubly ironic and then some that Dan also refers to Ephesians 1:4, for that is perhaps the most prominent text supporting the corporate election view. For it indicates that the Church has been chosen as a consequence of its union with Christ. The reference here is both to the corporate people of God and to covenantal union with him (which is entered into by faith) as the condition for election. Christ is the means of the election of the Church because, as the text of Eph 1:4 says, God chose the Church (“us”) in Christ. As has often been pointed out, the text does not say that God chose the Church to be in Christ, but that God chose the Church in Christ, that is, as a consequence of its union with Christ. I have already urged readers to read my articles on election for a full explication of these matters. But let me say that again in regard to Eph 1:4, especially my article, “Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election,” in which I discuss Eph 1:4 in detail and interact with erudite Calvinist exegesis of the verse and its context, which often unwittingly provides support for the corporate view.

Dan comments: John 15:16—“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Again, we see that election is done by the initiative of God. Further, those who are chosen become what they are chosen for (in this case, apostles). A view of corporate election that allows a large pool of applicants to be “chosen” then permits a self-selection to narrow the candidates seems to ignore both God’s initiative and the efficacy of God’s choice: all those who are chosen become what they are chosen for.

My Reply: Pointing out that election is done by the initiative of God does nothing to gainsay corporate election, which takes place every bit as much by the initiative of God. See my reply to Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above. Similarly, pointing out that those who are chosen become what they were chosen for also does nothing to gainsay corporate election. In corporate election, the Church is elected and so becomes God’s people and heir to his blessings, including salvation.

Moreover, Dan again mischaracterizes corporate election, this time in a rather egregious way. The corporate view does not hold that there is a large pool of applicants chosen and then a self-selection narrows the candidates. As I mentioned in my response to Dan’s first point, it holds that the election of specific individuals is subordinated to the election of Christ on the one hand, and of the Church as a group on the other hand. If one is united with Christ by faith, then he is part of his people and shares in the election of Christ and his people.

Dan comments: John 15:19—“I chose you out of the world.” The same theme is repeated: election may have many individuals in view, but the initiative and efficacy belong to the Lord.

My Reply: This is the same faulty argument about divine initiative. See immediately above.

Dan comments: Acts 1:2—same idea as above.

My Reply: Same as above.

Dan comments: Acts 1:24—This text reveals a choice of one individual as opposed to another. The apostles vote on which of two candidates they had put in the pool would fill Judas’ spot. But even their choice is dictated by the mandate of heaven: “Show us which one you have chosen.”

My Reply: Here is that same fundamental misunderstanding I have repeatedly had to point out. Dan thinks that showing an instance of individual election unto service contradicts the corporate view of election unto salvation. See my response to his first 2 major points above and my comments on Mark 13:20 and Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above.

Dan comments: Acts 15:7—Peter notes that God had selected him to bring the good news to the Gentiles. Again, though this is not election to salvation, it is election that is initiated by God and effected by God (for, as you recall, Peter was quite resistant to the idea).

Thus, election is seen to be initiated by God and effected by God. Those who are chosen—whether individuals or groups—become what they are chosen for. Corporate election simply ignores this consistent biblical emphasis.

My Reply: This repeats the mistake of thinking divine initiative and efficacy is somehow inconsistent with corporate election. See my reply to Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above.

Dan comments: Fourth, when we look at the broader issue and involve words other than from the ἐκλέγ- — word-group, we see that the concept of God’s initiation and efficacy is very clear. For example, in Acts 13:48 we read that “as many as had been appointed for eternal life believed.” This is a group within the group that heard the message. The passive pluperfect periphrastic ἦσαν τεταγμένοι indicates both that the initiative belonged to someone else and that it had already been accomplished before they believed.

My Reply: Again, corporate election fully embraces the initiation and efficacy of God’s election of his corporate people. See my reply to Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above. However, I would interpret Acts 13:48 much differently than Dan. I do not think it refers to election. A better translation of the passage is, “as many as were set in position for eternal life believed” or “as many as were disposed to eternal life believed.” The word typically translated “appointed” can also be translated “to set in position” and can be used of human disposition/attitude, which fits the context of Acts 13:48 better, as it stands in contrasting parallel to the attitude of the Jews of the same episode who judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, opposing Paul and rejecting the gospel (Acts 13:46). No agent of the action is identified for the passive verb, meaning it could be another agent like God that prepared the subjects for eternal life, or Paul as the preacher of the gospel, or the preaching of the gospel itself, or even the subjects of the passive verb themselves (akin to saying, “as many as were set for the test passed it”),[2] or most likely, a combination of these and other factors. It would be too involved to present an exegesis of this text in this setting; the matter deserves a whole article of its own. But suffice it to say here that Acts 13:48 fails to establish Dan’s point. Moreover, it is worth noting that Friberg’s lexicon lists “as many as had become disposed toward eternal life” as a possible translation.[3] Similarly, distinguished grammarian Max Zerwick indicates “who had been set (in the way)” as a possible translation in Zerwick and Grosvenor’s well known A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. And the most authoritative lexicon for New Testament studies (abbreviated BDAG) does not take the verb in question to mean “appoint,” but construes it under the meaning of “to put in place.”[4] It is not surprising, then, that the distinguished biblical scholar Henry Alford argued for the rendering, “as many as were disposed,” in his well respected 4 volume work, The Greek Testament. (John Piper of all people sings Alford’s praises thus: “When I’m stumped with a . . . grammatical or syntactical or logical flow in Paul, I go to Henry Alford. Henry Alford mostly answers-he . . . comes closer more consistently than any other human commentator to asking my kinds of questions.”) Alford’s treatment of Acts 13:48 can be found in this volume available online.

Dan comments: Fifth, this leads to the issue of election in relation to depravity. I would encourage you to again look at the essay I have posted on the bsf website called “My Understanding of the Biblical Doctrine of Election.” The basic point is that if we cannot take one step toward God (Rom 3:10-13), if we are unable to respond to anything outside the realm of sin (Eph 2:1), then if anyone is ever to get saved, God must take the initiative. This initiative cannot be simply corporate; he must initiate in the case of each individual. Eph 2:1-10 is explicitly about God’s initiation in the case of individual believers; this sets the stage for 2:11-22 in which corporate election is seen. But there can be no corporate election unless there is first individual election. Corporate election, at bottom, is a denial of total depravity. Or, to put it another way, if corporate election is true and if total depravity is true, then no one will ever get saved because no one will ever freely choose to be in Christ. Only by the gracious initiative of God does anyone ever choose Christ.

My Reply: These comments are curious. There is nothing about corporate election that is inconsistent with the doctrine of total depravity. Arminians affirm that God must take the initiative if anyone is ever to get saved. But there is no conflict between the idea of God initiating with each individual to draw them toward salvation and the corporate nature of election. In the corporate view, the individual does not become elect unto salvation until he trusts in Christ. God’s initiative in drawing people toward salvation is distinct from election. So there is no conflict with God’s gracious drawing of each individual toward salvation and his corporate election. Indeed, God’s drawing activity aims to bring each person to become united with Christ by faith and to thus share in the corporate election unto salvation. It must be remembered that corporate election has no problem with God relating to individuals. It simply holds that his election unto salvation is primarily corporate and secondarily individual.

Dan’s comments appear to beg the question of the irresistibility of God’s grace. He assumes that grace is irresistible, and therefore assumes that “if corporate election is true and if total depravity is true, then no one will ever get saved because no one will ever freely choose to be in Christ”, and this because, “Only by the gracious initiative of God does anyone ever choose Christ.” However, this clearly assumes that if God initiates with someone towards coming to faith in Christ, then that person will necessarily come to faith in Christ. However, we see God frequently initiating with people to come to faith in Christ in the New Testament who nevertheless do not do so. Indeed, orthodox theologians agree that God issues a general call to salvation. But not all submit to that call and become saved. God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30). It is difficult to see how one could reasonably deny that this is God’s initiative towards people for salvation. It is similar with the fact that Acts 17:27 indicates that God has positioned people so that they would seek him, John 1:6-7 says that God sent John the Baptist so that all people would believe through him, John 12:32 tells us that Jesus draws all people toward himself, John 16:8 states that the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world of its sin, and of course, the New Testament declares that Jesus died for all people (1 John 2:2; John 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4-6). Is this not God’s initiative towards the salvation of all? Surely it is. Dan might want to argue that distinctions need to be made of whether God is taking resistible vs. irresistible initiative in any particular instance. But that seems rather contrived.[5]

Regarding Eph 2:1-10, it is surprising that Dan regards the passage to be explicitly about God’s initiation in the case of individual believers. For the passage uses corporate language. (Cf. my comments on Mark 13:20 above.) The raising up/new creation of the Church in Christ in 2:6–10 is obvious in its corporate emphasis. Indeed, the “in Christ” concept, present in this passage, is rooted in corporate, covenantal thought. It speaks of Christ as a corporate figure whose history, identity, and destiny those who come to be united with him share in. But it should be remembered that corporate thought does not exclude individuals. It simply subordinates them to the group and attends to them as members of the group. So while the passage does refer to things that the individual members of the group experienced or did, Paul’s comments about these things applies to individuals as members of the Church.

Dan comments: Sixth, corporate election offers no assurance of anything to the individual. If election is corporate only, then the promises given to the elect are only given to them corporately. This would mean that we cannot claim individual promises about our salvation. This would include the promise of eternal security. Paul writes, “who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33)—an allusion to the election of the Son (Isa 50:8). This allusion suggests that God looks on us as he looks on his own Son. But if we read this as saying that only groups are chosen, then the charge that is brought against the elect must be a corporate charge. How does that offer any comfort to the individual? To be consistent with a corporate-only view, when Paul says, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”(Rom 8:35), we would have to read that corporately. It would not be a promise to individuals (and it is interesting that Paul says “us” not “me” in vv. 35-39; his lone reference to himself is in the line “I am convinced” [v 38]). If election is only corporate, then eternal security is only offered on a corporate plane. No personal assurance can take place. The irony is that those who hold to corporate election often also hold to eternal security. They don’t realize the extreme inconsistency in their views. You can’t have it both ways: either we are individually chosen by a free act of God’s will and are eternally secure, or we are neither.

My Reply: Let me begin by saying that Dan’s comments here are problematic on just about every level. First, it is not true that corporate election is necessarily inconsistent with unconditional eternal security. While it is true that the corporate model provides for a natural, biblical model of “conditional salvation security by faith”, and that this is the most natural position suggested by the model, there is nothing about the view that necessarily prohibits its adherents from believing that once united to Christ, one of the benefits that flows to all members of the chosen people is that God will prevent them from forsaking faith in Christ.

But second, let me state that I think the Bible is clear that genuine believers can stop believing, turn away from Christ, and so perish. That is why Scripture warns us against doing this very thing. There is no point in warning someone against doing something he knows he cannot do and suffering consequences he knows he cannot possibly experience. So the thrust of this point from unconditional eternal security lacks any force for those who think it is a false doctrine. Third, Dan’s mistaken notion that corporate election excludes individuals altogether pops up again here. He asserts that, “corporate election offers no assurance of anything to the individual.” But as we have repeatedly seen, the benefits of the corporate election flow personally to each member of the elect people because of the individual’s membership in the people (and ultimately, because of the individual’s union with Christ, the corporate head of the covenant people). So there is great assurance for the individual believer provided for him on the condition of remaining united to Christ by faith, which God will enable the believer for, though he will not irresistibly cause him to continue believing. So the believer has tremendous grounds for assurance although he is not given unconditional grounds for assurance. And this matches the Bible’s conditional promises of salvation (conditioned on faith) and its warnings to persevere in the faith lest we perish.

It is actually the position of unconditional election that undercuts assurance. For to remain consistent with the doctrine, one cannot really know if he is saved. For those who fall away, Calvinists typically respond by saying that the person was never really saved to begin with. But then there is no way to know if one will eventually give up the faith and show oneself to have not been unconditionally elected and to have never been truly saved. One could reply that God has promised to make believers persevere (though I contest that), giving us assurance. But according to unconditional election, he will only do so for those whom he has unconditionally elected. The rest will fall away as have so many seemingly strong and fruitful believers, who fully thought themselves (and were so regarded by many faithful believers) to sincerely believe in Christ and to be saved by his blood. Moreover, if one has not been unconditionally elected, then there is no way one can persevere in the faith. The matter of whether one will do so is totally up to God. While that might be thought to enhance God’s sovereignty, it completely undercuts assurance since one cannot really know for sure whether he has been unconditionally elected, which will only be proven if one perseveres.

Now one could argue that perseverance is actually not necessary for final salvation so that if one believes but then gives up the faith, he is still saved. But this is violently unbiblical. As Paul says of sinful living, “I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!” (Gal 5:21 NET). And again, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7-8; NASB). And as he says in Eph 5:5-7, “For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (NET).

Dan comments: Seventh, Rom 8:29-30 seems to be decisive on this issue: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The relative pronoun throughout refers to the same group each time: no one is lost—from foreknowing,[2] through predestination, through calling, through justification, and to glorification. At any point if we wish to broaden the group beyond those who are actually saved, we violate the grammar of the text and the point of the apostle. Thus, unless we want to hold to universal salvation, we must surely view this text as being restrictive. God’s initiative and efficacy in our salvation are clearly indicated here.

My Reply: This is yet another surprising appeal by Dan to a text for countering corporate election when the text itself is corporate in its orientation! It is critical to recognize that the passage speaks in the plural of the corporate people of God. Dan himself admits that the relative pronoun used throughout the passage refers to a group. But in such corporately oriented passages, the focus is on the group and what is said applies to the group primarily, and to individuals secondarily insofar as they are members of the group. As B.J. Oropeza observes,

    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 . . . . 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. 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.[6]

Now one could carry this perspective on to argue that individual Christians could apostatize and perish as individuals who are no longer part of the elect people and therefore have no claim to its promises, as Oropreza rightly does (see the original context of these quotations). But as pointed out above in my reply to Dan’s sixth major point, that is not the only option open to the corporate election perspective even though it is the most natural one. The point here is that Dan’s invocation of this text does not support his point or stand against the corporate election perspective. The corporate view understands this text as restrictive (it is only the Christian community that obtains these promises), and as pointed out repeatedly above, it fully embraces God’s initiative and efficacy in our salvation (See e.g., my reply concerning Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above).


Dan Wallace’s argument against the corporate election view is riddled with misunderstanding of the view he opposes (at least its strongest, most biblical version) and makes use of surprisingly poor arguments, often drawing attention to evidence that actually militates against his own view and supports the corporate election perspective. I would urge readers to read some good material on corporate election. A convenient place to start would be with this link: http://evangelicalarminians.org/A-Concise-Summary-of-the-Corporate-View-of-Election-and-Predestination, which contains links to further online reading. These sources contain further references to material on the subject


[1] Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”, JETS 49/2 (June 2006) 351-71, available online at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Corporate-Election-in-Romans-9:A-Reply-to-Thomas-Schreiner. Tom Schreiner responded in the same issue of JETS (Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano”, JETS 49/2 [June 2006] 373-86), but I believe his response to be seriously flawed, continuing the same basic misunderstanding I originally pointed out. I was not allowed to respond to Tom in that issue of JETS per jounral rules for limiting debate. But I have responded to most of his points in a subsequent stand-alone article in another journal in a way that I believe makes clear the untenability of his position: “Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election”, Ashland Theological Journal 41 (2009) 59-90, available online at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Clearing-Up-Misconceptions-about-Corporate-Election. On corporate election, see also my book on Romans 9:1-9, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (JSNTSup/LNTS, 301; London: T & T Clark, 2005), and my forthcoming book on Romans 9:10-18, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (LNTS, 317; London: T & T Clark, 2011).

[2] Many assume that a passive requires that the subject is acted upon by another. But this is a misconception, and can be demonstrated as false (for examples of the passive of tasso with the subject as the obvious agent, see e.g., Philo Quod. Det., 166 [“set in alliance with you”]; Virt., 211 [set in a better class]; or for a reference in which the subjects are the implied agent, but in which there is probably no specific agent really in view, see Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 3.78.1 [“the ones who were set against them”]). Surprisingly, Dan makes this grammatical mistake when he comments that the construction in Acts 13:48 indicates “that the initiative belonged to someone else.” Dan’s own distinguished grammar affirms the existence of the causative passive in which the subject of the passive verb causes the action of the verb (cf. Smyth’s grammar, § 1736; Blass, Debrunner, and Funk’s grammar § 314; and Robertson’s grammar, 816d). The passive surely represents the subject as acted upon. But technically, the passive alone does not indicate who the agent of the action is, and does allow for the subject himself to be the agent. However, I am not claiming that the passive in Acts 13:48 is causative or permissive. I actually believe that there are several factors that disposed the Gentiles who believed for eternal life, and that this is one reason why Luke does not specify an agent. In any case, there is no indication that any of these disposing influences were necessitating or irresistible. That would be something one would have to read into the text in order to uphold a particular theological position.

[3] Friberg does think “disposed” less likely, but that is essentially an interpretive decision. That then means context etc., not grammar or pure lexicography, must decide. And as already mentioned, the context favors taking the Gentiles as being set on eternal life in contrast to the Jews of the same episode who judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.

[4] BDAG happens to assign a specific sense within that meaning that would practically arrive at a similar theological place as “appoint”, but with a decidely different lexical meaning for the word: “belong to, to be classed among”. Nevertheless, it is significant that they conclude that the meaning of tetagmenoi in Acts 13:48 lies in the domain of placement/position, and specifically under the meaning of people being put into a specific position. It is also worth noting that BDAG places the use of tasso in 1 Cor 16:15 under this specific heading (people being put into a specific position), an instance that specifically means “to devote to” (speaking of the household of Stephanus: “they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints”, which obviously refers to an inward positioning of will or intent, a disposition/commitment or something along these lines). The use of tasso for disposition can be seen in non-biblical texts as well such as Philo Quod. Det., 166. One might want to see Daniel Whitby on this (you can find his treatment here: http://www.google.com/books?id=D809AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false).

[5] I am aware of the typical Calvinist argument in favor of this possibility having to do with a general call vs. a particular, effectual call. But this line of argument is unpersuasive. See my Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9, pp. 198-208 (this material may also be found online in my doctoral dissertation on which the book is based, at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Pauls-Use-of-the-Old-Testament-in-Romans-9.1-9-An-Intertextual-and-Theological-Exegesis, pp. 339-51 of the pdf viewer count [327-339 of the actual page count printed in the text]).

[6] B.J. Oropeza, Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation (WUNT 2.115; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2000), from the excursus, “Election in Romans 8:28-39 in Light of Israel’s Election and Apostasy,” found on pp. 206-10. These quotes and more excerpts from this excellent excursus can be found online at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Perseverance-Oropeza-on-Romans-8.28-39.


3 Responses

Leave a Reply