The Election of Israel and Its Meaning, Part 1

Posted By on December 19, 2010

I want to take this topic in shorter, manageable posts. My goal is to take you through my thought process in shorter increments than usual. This topic seems to require it.

We’ll start in the Old Testament. Anyone can tell from a lexicon or the list of verses I posted that election terminology refers to a choice. For our purposes in this post, God’s choice of Israel over all other nations to be his own “portion” as Deut 32:9 says so well.  Israel is clearly chosen or “elected” by God. Here are some representative passages:

Deut 4:37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power

Deut 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Deut 7:7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples

Deut 10:15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.

Deut 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.

The idea seems simple enough, but here are some questions we must ask.

1. If you were an Israelite, and your nation was elected by God, chosen out from all other nations, were you elect?

2. Is it true that other nations were not elect, does it stand to reason that to be elect one had to be an Israelite? Does it further stand to reason that Gentiles were not elect?

3. Were all Israelites “saved” (i.e., believers in Yahweh who would share the afterlife with Yahweh)?

4. If all Israelites were not saved, were they elect?  If they were elect, how could they not be saved?

5. Should the concept of election in the Old Testament be viewed as salvation? In other words, are “elect” and “saved” synonyms? (cf. my definition of “saved” above: believers in Yahweh who would share the afterlife with Yahweh)

6. If “elect” and “saved” are not synonyms, what is the point of election?

My answers to the above are:

1. Yes
2. Yes and Yes
3. No
4. Yes and “Because election and salvation are not the same thing — though nearly all evangelical theologies will assume they are.”
5. No and No
6. Stay tuned.

What say ye?

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32 Responses to “The Election of Israel and Its Meaning, Part 1”

  1. haibane13 says:

    I’m going to take a guess at #6 and say making a way for salvation ie a covenant ?

  2. Paul D. says:

    What do we make of question (3) if the Israelites didn’t believe in an afterlife?

    Do questions 3–5 change if we redefine salvation to be what (it seems to me) the early church meant it to be, i.e. being a part of God’s kingdom on earth? (Perhaps not, if this depends on one’s heart and one’s actions being Godly.)

    Regarding question 6: I like the idea that God originally chose Israel to be a blessing to the nations — and that having failed, the church as inaugurated by Christ and the apostles is now responsible for this mission. In that sense, the elect would be anyone who spreads the good news. I don’t personally hold with the Calvinist notion of the term.

    • MSH says:

      Not sure since the Israelites did believe in an afterlife. They didn’t have the detail the NT gives, but the OT has an afterlife. Can’t recall if you were reading when I went through that on the blog.

  3. Nobunaga says:

    Please explain to me why it must follow in question 1 that because you were part of an elect nation you are automatically an elect individual ?

    Romans 11

    What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened.

    seems to me this premise could lead to a faulty conclusion.

    • MSH says:

      To be outside the nation meant you were not an Israelite, which meant you were not in the elect body (Israel). Don’t think of it in terms of salvation; you see to already be steering there (with your note of Romans 11). THAT is the element that must be erased.

      • Nobunaga says:

        I was just dealing with question 1 not salvation yet.

        Israel was elected from the other nations, Israelites make up Israel, therefore every Israelite is elect.

        Is this not a fallacy of division ?

        I need you to clear up why you answered yes to question 1, if you dont mind.

        • Nobunaga says:


          I quoted Rom 11 previously to show what is true of the whole may not be true of the parts (not for salvation). Thats all i’m getting at. I just need some more info on why you think all Israelites were elect to help me get past this.

        • MSH says:

          Israel was elect. It was composed exclusively of Israelites (or Gentiles who became Israelites via circumcision or a woman who became a Yahweh worshipper [e.g., Rahab]). It makes no sense to say the nation was elect without its people who make up the nation. People were the object, not land (God promised to give the land to a group of people known as Israel). You cannot separate Israelites from Israel.

          • Nobunaga says:

            yeah of course the people matter and they make up the nation but i thought there was an elect group within the elect Nation, the remnant Yahweh always has, but i’ll wait for the next post and see how this all fits together.

            • MSH says:

              ah – very good – remnant theology — and which does not completely overlap with the concept of election. Sounds suspiciously biblical.

          • KevL says:

            Just a quick input – this concept is seen in Paul’s preaching to the Jews. IE Acts 13:16 Paul addresses them as Men Israel, not “men of Israel.” Israel the nation is the people.


            • MSH says:

              not sure what the point is here – are you pointing to something in the Greek grammar that denotes apposition vs. a genitive relationship? … Guess I shouldn’t be lazy here … looking it up … yep … we have two plural vocatives there” “O, men–Israel!” Nice catch.

            • Nobunaga says:

              I dont know if Greek is the same as Hebrew in this sense that there is no word for “of”.

              But all i’m saying is it’s not clear to me at this stage weather the term “Elect” is used collectively or distributively in logical terms. So there “could” be scope for a logical fallacy of division.

              For e.g

              The United States is the richest country in the world; therefore, everyone in the United States must be rich and live well.

              But i’ve read a lot on logic recently and perhaps i’ve OD. It should become clearer to me in the next post.

          • Ed Roberts says:

            I am not sure I understand how that must be true… that each individual is elected if the group that the individual is in… is elected… why could it not be in this fashion… that the elected could not be outside of this group… this is the upper bounds of the group of elected…

  4. Lisa says:

    I currently understand that there are three major pitfalls/errors in determining who is Israel:

    1. All Natural Descendants + The Gentile = Israel
    example – Israel & The Church
    2. All Gentiles that are saved were at one time Israel\Northern Kingdom
    3. Christianity is the “new Israel”

    All are incorrect.

    Here are my thoughts:

    There are only two seeds.
    Good sons/daughters (good seed – of Yah) and bad sons/daughters (bad seed – of hasatan).

    The simple way I understand who Israel is – is this:

    Believers from Judah (southern kingdom)
    Believers from Israel (northern kingdom)
    Believers taken OUT of the nations (gentiles) and grafted into family of YHWH.

    All three of the above groups were grafted in because they came into covenant with Yah via Y’shua Messiah and therefore, are Israel…hence…ALL Israel will be saved :).

    ANYone who comes into covenant with Yah through Y’shua Messiah is received and grafted into His family – and becomes Israel.

    ANYone who refuses to come into covenant with Yah through Y’shua Messiah is rejected and is NOT Israel.

    It has NOTHING to do with DNA.

    Unbelieving Judah (south) are not grafted in.
    Unbelieving Israel (north) are not grafted in.
    Gentiles (unbelieving) are not grafted in.

    • MSH says:

      salvation has nothing to do with DNA. Biblical election (OT) did. You are reacting (rightly) to the former.

      • Lisa says:

        Hmm…thanks for the food for thought.

        So,I’m thinking election has nothing to do with DNA now, either (but stand open to correction).

        Some thoughts that come to mind:
        Many are called but few are chosen…

        Are the elect those who seek, follow and obey Y’shua – keeping His commandments..? Meaning the ‘many are called by few are chosen’ will be those [chosen few] elected to rule and reign with Messiah? Of course, there will be others who live, but do not rule and reign….(those who didn’t keep the commandments and seek Him on all matters, but were saved because they believed).

        Hope I’m making sense!! Be gentle with me please – I’m really learning – little by little and your work has blessed me much, but I’m not a scholar like you brother. Thanks for your encouraging response above:).

        • MSH says:

          See the reply to nabunoga below. In the OT, election was of an ethnic people (DNA is perhaps the wrong word since they wouldn’t have known of DNA).

  5. Jeremy says:

    I agree with your answers 100%. Re: #6, My first thought is that the Israelites were elected for a purpose or for a task or calling. (God told Abraham, you are blessed to be a blessing. Jesus: “you are the light of the world”).

  6. KevL says:

    I could suggest Rom 9 – they are not all Israel… but I don’t think this relates to the discussion the way I expect some might believe it does.

    I fully agree with the answers given in the article. I’ll be interested in how you develop an explanation of the connection between Election and Salvation. Based on my limited reading here, and your answers I think I know where you’re going. I have a loose understanding, which will not stand up well to testing because I’m largely uninformed. Nonetheless I will share it because I think it is the actual connection.

    The nation of Israel was chosen by God to demonstrate His power. More than just His power though, His whole nature. Exodus 6 is a beautiful example of the Lord God Almighty explaining part of this process to Moses (and us).

    One could say that Israel was elected to demonstrate God to the world as a nation.

    The Church is elected to do similar things, but we are not Israel. Neither do we have Israel’s mission.

    The Church is elected to be a demonstration of God’s power for sure, but we not here to be a blessing to the World like Israel was and will be. We are elected to suffering and being sustained. To preach a foolish sounding message that is the very power of God to salvation for all who believe it.

    How is Election related to Salvation? All of Israel was Elect, but not all were saved, only those who were Saved truly carried out the purpose they were Elected to. Only the saved could be blessed in the carrying out of this purpose. Even though God uses unsaved people for His purpose, and they can even be elected to it there are no blessings for them in it.

    This does not readily match the Church. The Church is not a nation; it is only made up of those who are actually saved. While every DNA member of Israel was Elect but not all were saved, the Church is entered by Salvation. So all members of the Church are both saved and elect – it is what we are elected to that is the question.

    Paul was elected to suffer much for the Name of Christ and for the spreading of the Gospel. God showed him this directly when he was saved. Likewise Romans 8 tells us that all believers are elected to some measure of this, and not only this but to eventually to be in the likeness of Christ Himself. Eph 4, 1Jn 3….


  7. Lisa says:

    by = but..sorry for the typo

  8. S. Daniel Owens says:

    I am not sure that election is ever correlated with salvation in the OT, is it? I thought election was the reason holiness was demanded, that is, God only entered into covenant with the Israelites therefore holiness — not just justice — was a concern for them. As for the other nations there were certain nations that were under God’s judgment, for their injustice, but I do not think they were originally condemned to judgment simply for being the Gentiles.

    This sound right?

    • MSH says:

      no – the non-elect were not elect. It isn’t that they could not become Israel; it’s that God made no covenant with them. There’s actually a recent scholarly book out on this very topic that may interest you and others: “Chosen and Unchosen Conceptions of Election in the Pentateuch and Jewish-christian Interpretation,” by Joel N. Lohr.

      • Not sure about your response. What did “no” refer to?

        I was trying to say what you said, I think. I read the book that you referred to and I am still not sure if I agree with his take or Levinson’s take (even though they are not that different). My main point is, take Jacob and Esau for instance, election is not the way of talking about who gets the “good” afterlife or who is morally upright but who received the covenant and thus the promises with/from Abraham’s God. By God choosing Jacob that does not mean Esau (and the rest of the human race) are going to the bad place.

        Matter of fact, I’m not sure that the OT assumes the rest of the world must be condemned; they may or may not be it all depends on their pursuit of justice/righteousness.

        This is why the NT conception of Election is so messed up. Some (many) assume that when Paul talks of Esau and Jacob’s situation that he is relating it to salvation. I don’t think he does this.

  9. blop2008 says:

    A question you may have asked above in your post (or will do later in subsequent posts) would be somewhat similar to what KevL asked above:

    “So all members of the Church are both saved and elect – it is what we are elected to that is the question.”

    Thus, are all members of the Church (not referring to denominations or organizations here) both elect and saved?

    This question may also tie in with the “once saved always saved”, or “a son always a son” view of salvation versus “loss of salvation / fall away” view.

    What is the connection between election and salvation? I think it has to do with God choosing a people to be his representative(s) to open the way to salvation for all peoples. The Church started and stems from Israelites (Jews; disciples/apostles of the Jewish Jesus Christ) and so I think it follows that the Church, which was initiated by Israelites and which is now an expension of the elect Israel including Gentiles, are now to be representative(s) of God on earth with the salvation that they have. I expect to have missed much, so Im open to learn from the discussion.

  10. Ted Copella says:

    Mike, you said this wouldn’t make my head hurt-so far no pain, but my brain is spinning around inside it’s housing.

    Here are my comment/questions, probably off topic technically, but at any rate…

    While researching some verses about the “new covenant” in Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc. I read in Isaiah 56:6,7 “Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
    Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer:…”. Without reading too much into the passage or taking it out of context, does this indicate that the “sons of the stranger (Gentiles?)” are or become elect? Or that they become saved?

    Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:…” If the “new covenant” is only with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, do we Gentiles need to become part of those houses to be redeemed or covered by the new covenant; or are we “grafted in” to the vine but at the same time seperate from the elect of the Old Covenant? Or are we saved by faith, and then become part of the elect and then covered by the new covenant? Or does the new covenant not really even apply to goyim? Wow, after re-reading this, I’m not even sure what my own question is!

  11. Doug says:

    The corporate nature of election is definitely overlooked or ignored by a lot of my Reformed community, much to my chagrin. For many of them, the only sense of election is salvific. So I agree with your statement on that.

    I’m not sue what you would think of this though. It seems to me that “election” is used in two different senses, just like “Israel” is. Sometimes Israel refers to DNA (Rom 9:1-5). Sometimes it refers to lo-ammi (Not My People; i.e. Gentiles–Rom 9:6, 25 etc). Paul seems to take the remnant theology of the OT and use it as a synonym for elect individuals which includes Gentiles (i.e. “the elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened;” Rom 11:7). Sort of election within election. One could argue that this stays within the context of groups, and that there is no such thing as election unto salvation for any individual. I disagree.

    I view it this way then: corporate election allows for atonement to be made for the whole “nation” or in the NT sense, the entire world (through, for example, Ps 2 and 82 where Christ inherits the nations from the dispossessed sons of god). This follows in line with the teaching of all of the first generation Reformed Christians who did not limit the scope of the atonement to a certain number of individuals, only its application. Corporate election is the grounds upon which Christ can die for all sin whatsoever, just like the Day of Atonement was for the entire community, though some out of it were not eventually saved. God loves the entire world. Individual election then allows for the Spirit to apply the benefits of Christ’s death to anyone God chooses, thus overcoming their personal hatred and animosity towards him because of their shame and guilt of their sin. Thus, while neither sense of election is equal with salvation, both allow in different respects for salvation to come to anyone God chooses (Acts 13:48; Eph 1:5; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 2:10 etc).

  12. David Medici says:

    To begin, let me clarify how I understand the terms with respect to this discussion.

    “Elect” simply means selected from an array of options. Other factors that may or may not be related to the election are the number of options (few or many), the nature of the election (categorical or contingent), the domain of the election (supramundane/mundane, general/local), the purpose of the election (spiritual or secular), the duration of the election (permanent or temporary), and the object of election (group or individual). The concepts of salvation and predestination/foreknowledge may or may not be present.

    “Salvation” or “deliverance” must be qualified as to its purpose, spiritual or secular. Most if not all of the comments I have read assume a spiritual salvation, but several individuals (notably judges and kings) were elected to produce a deliverance from an immediate threat (usually domination by a foreign power).

    With that in mind, to your questions.

    To question #1: It was the nation Israel that was elected, not each individual Israelite.

    God’s election of Israel was a direct consequence of his covenant with Abram, which said, “I will make of you a great nation” (Gen 12:2). The promise was later repeated and expanded in Gen 17:4-8, which verses stress nations, not individual men. Verse 8 is quite definite as to an elect group, for the promise there is that the seed after Abram would inherit all the land of Canaan. This can only be true of the nation as a whole possessing the land of Canaan as a whole, for each tribe inherited only a portion of the whole and each individual inherited an even smaller portion thereof. See also Gen 24:7 where Abraham recounts the promise and speaks of the singular “seed” inheriting the land. This same elect group focus can be seen in the promise to Sarai in Gen 17:15-16, where the language speaks only of nations, not individuals. Notice that in Gen 17 it is only after the reiteration and expansion of the promise that the subsequent verses begin to address “every male” (the individual) with respect to the circumcision requirement. Notice that the uncircumcised Israelite was “cut off from his people” (Gen 17:14), that is, at the least not considered part of the elect group.

    Notice also how Paul speaks in Rom 11:1-3. Paul writes of “his people” whom God foreknew, not individuals. Verse 3 says “they” have killed the prophets and destroyed the altars, but this plural must be seen in reference to the elect group of which the individuals were a part, for not every Israelite killed a prophet or destroyed an altar.

    The key things in regard to this question is to recognize that a group was elected, purposed by God. The individual members of the group are not in view.

    To question #2: The question contains three parts: (1) were other nations not elect, (2) must one be an Israelite to be elect, and (3) were the gentiles not elect?

    The question can be answered by discerning the answer to another question: elect as to what? It is true that other nations were not elect as to the same purpose that Israel was elect, but that does not mean other nations could not at some time be elect for some other purpose. Deu 26:19 makes it clear that Israel was elected to be holy, and the fundamental thought of holiness is simultaneous separation from something and to something. Also, a thought very closely related to holiness is uniqueness. These two together would suggest that Israel’s election precludes the election of other nations with respect to the purpose for Israel’s election. See also Isa 43:21 where God declares he had formed Israel to be a demonstration of God’s praises (virtues). This could be most effectively done only if Israel was the singular object of that election. But, that other nations could be elect for other purposes is suggested by Isa 19:24-25, wherein God discloses that Assyria and Egypt will also have a high purpose, next to Israel, in a future arrangement. Thus, in some sense Assyria and Egypt will be elect for some purpose.

    To questions #3 and #4: “Salvation,” as I noted above, has at least two senses. Certainly, if Israel is elect to some purpose then Israel must be saved (i.e., delivered) from its enemies, securing its continued existence as long as the purpose of the election remains. But to suggest that the election of Israel necessarily requires spiritual salvation is not easy to prove from the Old Testament. One possible avenue would be to consider Gen 13:14-17, wherein God declares that he would multiply Abraham’s seed and give all the land of Canaan to both Abraham and to his multiplied seed forever. If forever (ad olam) can be taken as what our English “forever” means then the promise appears to require eternal life, i.e., salvation.

    To question #5: I think, Professor Heiser, that your definition of “saved” is the problem. It is a definition that is New Testament motivated and may not apply to the kind of election pertinent to Israel in its Old Testament context. In fact, one could look at Jer 31:31 and parallel passages as Israel’s induction into the New Covenant, their recovenanting, at which time the “salvation” of the New Testament will be opened to him and, as Paul says, all Israel shall be saved.

    To question #6: Israel’s election is partially explained in passages such as Deu 4:1-8, Deu 26:19 and Isa 43:21. Israel was elected to be a model nation, showing in their manner of life the virtues of God and the receipt of his blessings for obedience and faith. But Israel, without benefit of the Spirit, failed miserably and as expected (Deu 5:29). As the writer of Heb 8:8 declares, “For finding fault with them…” Israel was defective from the beginning, not having the Spirit. But that will be rectified when they are recovenanted, as in Jer 31:31 and parallel passages.

  13. Elliott says:

    Actually, the concept of salvation is completely separate from what you’re discussing. Salvation from what? Salvation is a Christian concept. Jews do dot have the same thinking on salvation, because for the most part, we do not believe in hell. Hell is an Egyptian concept that passed through to Greece and into Western thinking. To this day it is does not have much sway on Jewish thought.

    As to your points on the “election” of the Israel. I also disagree.

    God did not choose Israel. Israel chose God. There is a big difference. There was no election. There is a covenant. What is this covenant? The covenant is the law. The law is the Torah, which is the ethical basis for our modern world. Religious Jews to this day are bound by this law, which they consider their burden as a Jew.

    As far as salvation, religious Jews believe that any righteous person, regardless of faith will be saved. There is only one God. That is why there is no reason to convert anyone, since there is nothing to convert to.

    • MSH says:

      hell isn’t an exclusively Egyptian context (and for the Egyptian, the afterlife was a wonderful place; the Duat). I don’t know what OT you’re reading, but we could start with Deut 7:7-8 on the who chose who front.

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