God’s Choosing In Election
Much is made over any number of verses in the Bible that people will point to as a proof text for election, or Calvin’s notion of “unconditional election”, the idea that God chooses who will be saved and who will be damned. One such verse is Matthew 22:14.
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” ~ Matthew 22:14
To the casual reader (which unfortunately describes many “Christians” these days who are not good students of scripture but rather leave the heavy lifting of study and critical thought to some “authority”) it would appear that Jesus is indeed stating that people are chosen. For those of you who are like me and are not casual readers but actually do think critically, a simple observation of the context and grammar of the passage shows otherwise.
This verse comes at the end of the passage where Jesus gives the parable of the marriage feast. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a king who prepares a grand feast for his son’s wedding. In the passage, the king sends out invitations, but only a few accept the invitation. The king then offers the invitation to more and more so that the wedding feast will be full of guests. The ones who reject the invitation are cast into outer darkness.
Among other things this parable teaches, one is that the “church” is not the Bride of Christ, but rather the “church” are the guests at the wedding. But this passage also gives us a clear understanding about the real doctrine of “election.” There is a distinction made between those who are given the invitation to come to the wedding and those who accept the invitation. It should be noted that those who reject the invitation do so by their own choice, not because God pre-ordained them to damnation.
I think the reason the concluding verse of this passage is so confusing, aside from man’s attempt to use orthodoxy as a means to control, is because of the lack of clarity in the grammar in all English translations. The key to understanding Matthew 22:14 is that we must recognize something that is clear in the Greek but not so clear in English. The words “called” and “chosen” are adjectives and not verbs. This means that the words identify or describe a particular group and do not indicate an action.
If we assume, as the common assumption is, that “called” and “chosen” are verbs, that is not necessarily a problem with the first clause. It speaks to the sending out of an invitation. To say that many “are called” is to acknowledge that an invitation is indeed given out to men- men are called to the wedding feast; men are called to accept salvation. But if we project that same grammatical usage onto the second clause, then we would necessarily be forced to accept the idea that the ones who respond to the invitation do so not by personal choice but by God’s determination alone. But this conclusion presents us with two rationally inconsistent ideas. Why would God bother to invite all mankind if He was only going to choose a few?
Let’s take a look at the grammar of verse 14. Here I have taken an excerpt from my electronic interlinear Bible that shows the verse parallel with the Greek text. The notations below the Greek indicate the part of speech and usage.
The first thing I want you to notice in this verse is that there is only one verb. The word “are” in the second clause “few are chosen” does not appear in the Greek text. Your Bible probably indicates this by having “are” italicized. As you can see by the notes above, the verb used is equivalent to the English word “is” or “are”, and it is used here in this verse as a linking verb. When a verb is a linking verb, that means the subject and predicate can be switched, and the meaning of the clause remains the same.
This is especially important when you realize that with the exception of the two conjunctions “for” and “but”, all the other words are adjectives. Not only are they adjectives, but the notation “_Nom” that you see beneath them indicates that they are used in the nominative case. That means they can be used in either in the subject or as a predicate nominative. And since they are all nominative case, that means that the phrases:
“many are called, few are chosen”
means the same thing as
“called are many, chosen are few.”
So you can see by grammatical analysis, that the idea of “chosen” doesn’t specify an action upon a group but instead it identifies or labels a group. What you have in this verse is the identification of two sets, one named “The Called”, and another named “The Chosen”. In addition, we are given some indication as to the relative size of each group, many and few. Please keep this in mind as we move on, this is important: these are not actions, they are people groups!
Moreover, the second group is a subset of the first group. Let me give a more mundane example to help illustrate my point.
Farmer Jones has 50 white goats. 30 of them are all white, but there are 20 of them that have spots and speckles. So while the larger set of all 50 goats are indeed white, a subset of them (20) have spots and speckles. So it would be accurate to say that:
“Of farmer Jones’ goats, many are white but few are spotted and speckled”
Notice that “white” and “spotted” are not verbs or actions that describe something happening to the goats, but rather they are labels given to identify the larger set (white) and the subset within that larger set (spotted/speckled). To say that a number of goats are white isn’t saying something “whited” them. Likewise to say that a number of goats are spotted isn’t saying something “spotted” them. They are not goats on which somebody performed the act of speckling and spotting. It is a label only.
In this same sense, in Matthew “called” and “chosen” are not verbs or actions that describe something happening to the subject, but rather they are labels given to identify the larger set (“The Called”) and the subset within that larger set (“The Chosen”). Said another way, they are not the subject on which someone performed the act of “choosing”. It is a label only.
Let me use another mundane example. This one is a little more personal to me, but if you have kids you can probably relate. My five children (even the almost16-year-old!) love to build with Legos. In fact, you could probably say that we do our fair share in keeping the Lego company solvent. We have TONS of Legos.
Now, consider this pile of Legos you see pictured at right. Notice that there is a pile of green Legos surrounded by another pile of assorted colors. The assorted pile are Legos, but they are not green, and the pile of green ones are still Legos. By looking at this picture, one could say, “There are many Legos, but few are green.”
Let me use one more example. My son’s birthday is coming up soon. I have decided that I am going to host a birthday party, so I am going to send out invitations to all his friends and our family. I decided two months ago that I was going to host this party. And when I decided to host this party, I also decided that everyone who comes to the party will receive a door prize, a small bag of candy and other treats.
Now let us assume that I send out 100 invitations, but only 20 guests show up. Those 20 guests will receive the door prize. Remember, I decided that two months ago. So it could be said, that many were invited to the party, but only a few showed up to receive the prize.
Now consider this. Did I choose who would show up? No, of course not. I chose what they would receive when they got here. While I did not actually choose who would show up, the ones who did received the prize. Whoever showed up was a result of the individuals who decided whether to come or not. Those to whom I sent the invitations could be referred to as “The Invited.” Those who showed up to receive the prize could be referred to as “The Prized”. So, many are Invited, but few are Prized.
Now consider this passage at the beginning of Ephesians.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” ~ Ephesians 1:3-7
This is another favorite passage that many use as a proof text for the doctrine of election and determinism. But look carefully at what the apostle Paul is saying. The scenario is the same as that of the birthday party example.
Careful examination of the grammatical structure of this passage makes it clear that God did not choose who would be saved. God chose what those in Christ would receive.
“The Called” are those to whom God sent out the invitation to receive eternal life. “The Chosen” are the ones who accepted the invitation and received the gift that God chose to give to all those who accepted the invitation.
What is remarkable about these conclusions is they are rationally consistent with the rest of what scripture teaches about soteriology. There is no need to perform theological gymnastics in order to force together contradicting conclusions or simply dismiss one or the other altogether.