Election

premium-qualityThis is the second installment in a collection that I am tentatively calling “Christian Dictionary.”  I am hoping to give my thoughts on some theological words that, in my opinion, are often misunderstood because of various traditions that surround them.

This article is about the Greek word “eklektos” that is often translated as “chosen” or “elect.”  It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the definition of this word.  There are huge theological issues that rest on how this word is defined.  It affects how we see ourselves, and it affects our view of the character and nature of God.

Background

For many years, because of my religious background, I was of the opinion that “eklektos” or “election” meant “chosen by God for salvation.”  I believed that this Greek word told us that God chose in advance each individual that would be saved, before those individuals were born.  Then, later on, sometime after they were born, He would eventually cause them to believe.

Following this line of thinking, I also believed that God made this choice without taking anything about the individuals that were being chosen into account.  Since the choice was made before they were born, then their actions and decisions could have no effect on whether or not they were chosen.  If God chose someone for salvation, then they were predestined to believe and be saved…they were part of the elect (eklektos).  If not, then they weren’t.  To put it bluntly…I believed that election meant that God forces some people to believe and be saved.

Here are a few examples of the verses that seemed to fit this definition.  The word in question is in bold red type:

Mat 22:14 – “For many are called, but few are chosen [eklektos].”

Mat 24:31 – “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect [eklektos] from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

1 Peter 1:1-2 – Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect [eklektos] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:  Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

There are other similar verses, but this is enough to make the point.  If “eklektos” means “chosen in advance for salvation” then that seems to fit these verses very well.

Issues with my old definition

If that definition is correct, then there is a pretty big problem we would need to address.  Consider the following passages that talk about Jesus:

1 Peter 2:4 – Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen [eklektos] by God and precious,

1 Peter 2:6 – Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect [eklektos], precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

According to these passages, Jesus was “eklektos.”  Does that mean that Jesus was chosen in advance to be saved?  Was Jesus selected from among a group of other Jews that were not chosen?  No, of course not.  Jesus was not chosen to be saved.  He is the author of life.  And He was not chosen from a group of other possible candidates.  So, there is something wrong with this definition of “eklektos.”  It absolutely does not mean “chosen in advance for salvation.”

My definition of this word was prejudiced by a theological presupposition that I assumed to be true.  I hope to address that presupposition in future articles, but for now let me say that I have since learned that my presupposition had some serious problems.

Search for an ancient dictionary?

In order to get a better idea of what this Greek word actually means, there is an important question we should ask.  What did “eklektos” mean back in the day when the Bible was written?  What did it mean to folks that lived back then?  What did it mean to people that were not influenced by our modern Bible commentaries?

Fortunately, there is a great way to find out.   There is a wonderful resource available to us that will prove to be very helpful in answering this question.  The name of that resource is the Septuagint.

Sometime between 300-200 B.C., a group of Hebrew scholars translated the Old Testament scriptures from the original Hebrew into Greek.  This translation is called “the Septuagint.”  It was widely used and very popular.  For example, the men that wrote the New Testament (Luke, Paul, etc) quoted the Septuagint more than they quoted the Hebrew version of Old Testament.

Since the Septuagint was created before the events of the New Testament occured, we can look for the word “eklektos” in the Septuagint and get a clear picture of how the word was used outside of a New Testament context.  This will effectively eliminate any prejudice from Christian theologians and commentators as to the proper definition of the word.

When we find examples of “eklektos” in the Septuagint, we find some very helpful insight into what is really means.  Here is a list of some of the passages from the Septuagint where the word “eklektos” was used by the translators to provide meaning:

Gen 41:2 – Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat [eklektos]; and they fed in the meadow.

Gen 41:5 – He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump [eklektos] and good.

Exo 14:7 – Also, he took six hundred choice [eklektos] chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them.

Exo 30:23 – “Also take for yourself quality spices––five hundred shekels of liquid [pure] [eklektos] myrrh, half as much sweet–smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels ), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet–smelling cane,

2 Sam 22:27 – With the pure [eklektos] You will show Yourself pure [eklektos]; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd.

1 Kings 4:23 – ten fatted oxen, twenty oxen from the pastures, and one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted [eklektos] fowl.

2 Kings 8:12 – And Hazael said, “Why is my lord weeping?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel: Their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young [eklektos] men you will kill with the sword; and you will dash their children, and rip open their women with child.”

SoS 6:10 – Who is she who looks forth as the morning, Fair as the moon, Clear [eklektos] as the sun, Awesome as an army with banners?

Isa 28:16 – Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried [eklektos] stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.

Isa 54:12 – I will make your pinnacles of rubies, Your gates of crystal, And all your walls of precious [eklektos] stones.

Zec 7:14 – “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land became desolate after them, so that no one passed through or returned; for they made the pleasant [eklektos] land desolate.”

When you look at all of these examples, the common theme is that the word “eklektos” indicates that there is some kind of positive quality in the item in question.  It means that there is some desirable trait or attribute there.  Fatted cows, plump grain, choice chariots, young men, pure perfume, precious stones, etc.

Eklektos means that there is something that is attractive or desirable to the beholder that gives him reason to choose that item.  We could substitute the word “choice” or “precious” for “eklektos” and get a clearer picture of the meaning.

Choice and Precious

Now if we take that definition, and bring it forward into the New Testament passages, we get to see something very interesting.  Let us begin with the passages that refer to Jesus as “elect” or “eklektos.”

1 Peter 2:4 – Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen [eklektos] by God and precious,

1 Peter 2:6 – Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect [eklektos], precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

Was there anything positive or desirable about Jesus?  Was He “choice” and “precious” to God?  Absolutely.  We could make a very long list of positive and attractive attributes that Jesus has.  So far our definition is holding up nicely.

Now for the other passages.  I will take them one at a time.

Mat 22:14 – “For many are called, but few are chosen [eklektos].”

Based on our definition, we could translate this verse “…many are called, but few are choice.”  Or “…many are called, but few have the positive attribute that God desires when making His choice.”

Is there a quality that God is looking for in humans?  Yes there is.  That quality is faith, and in this context, it is faith in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus is the number one thing that God the Father is looking for in humans (John 6:29), and when He finds someone that demonstrates this quality that is so desirable to Him, He chooses that person and gives that person a new eternal destiny (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:1-10).  When a person puts his/her faith in Christ, then they become one of the “choice ones.”

Let’s move on to the next passage:

Mat 24:31 – “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect [eklektos] from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Here again, we could say “…they will gather His choice ones from the four winds….”  God the Father will gather those that have a certain quality that He desires (e.g. faith in Christ).  Yes, that is true, and that matches the definition perfectly.

1 Peter 1:1-2 – Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect [eklektos] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:  Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

Peter states that his audience, the recipients of this letter, are “elect.”  They possess that quality that God desires…faith in Jesus.

Summary

When the word “eklektos” is present in the Bible, it is there to tell us about quality.  It tells us that there is a desirable quality present that provides a reason for the person or thing to be chosen.  When it is used to describe Christians in relation to God, it tells us that there is a quality  that is present in in them that is desirable to God the Father, and that He chose them (us) because of this quality.  That quality is faith in Jesus, and it is the quality that pleases our Father in Heaven (Hebrews 11:6).

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