June 13, 2006

On the Ambiguity of the "Elect" Term

James White says in his article that, "It is silly to think that 'elect' is an imprecise term." He could have just said that he doesn't think the term is imprecise. However, with a great deal of dogmatism, he says that it's "silly" to think that it's imprecise.

Ok, then let me ask the following question: are the "elect" under the wrath or condemnation of God?

If the term is precise—not imprecise or fuzzy, as I have claimed—then just answer the question without making distinctions. If you answer by simply saying "yes" to the above question, then I can go to Romans 8:33 and show how the "elect" (i.e. the believing elect) are no longer under the wrath of God. They are justified in his sight.

NKJ Romans 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.

If you answer by simply saying "no," then I can go to Ephesians 2:3 and prove that the unbelieving elect were once children of wrath by nature, even as the rest of lost humanity.

NKJ Ephesians 2:3 among whom also we [i.e. the "chosen" or elect ones according to chapter 1 verse 4] all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

If you reply to the question by saying, "Well, it depends on what you mean by the 'elect' term," then you have proved my point and refuted White's statement above. It's not "silly" to think that the "elect" term is imprecise. A cautious exegete would want to be careful when using the word. The term "elect" itself is perfectly biblical, but one should watch how it's used in various contexts. Finding one sense of the term "elect" in one location (such as 2 Tim. 2:10, where White quickly goes in his article, without pausing to consider that Paul may have Israel in mind) doesn't necessarily warrant using the same sense of that term in other contexts (such as in 1 Peter 1:2). The same goes with the term "saved" or "salvation."

I am not making the distinctions needlessly. If you are aware of how significant mistakes can be made by using the ambiguous word "saved," then you can realize how the same thing can happen with the term "elect."

Some people use the term "saved" or "salvation" to mean:

1) Mere regeneration before conversion (some antinomians and hyper-Calvinists tend to use the term "saved" in this sense).

2) For conversion or justification through faith.

3) For sanctification.

4) For glorification.

If you heard someone say that you needed to be sanctified in order to be "saved," you might be alarmed. You might say "legalism!" If you heard someone that you don't have to do anything in order to be "saved" (sense #1), you might say, "antinomian!" If you heard someone say that you must believe to be "saved," you would think that's normal because we usually use "saved" in sense #2, but we would also remark that there are other biblical contexts in which senses 3 and 4 are the meaning.

Making these distinctions for the "saved" term can help certain confused people. I'm just trying to point out that certain confusions can also take place when people start employing the term "elect." The term isn't bad (it is just as biblical as the term "saved"). It's just the case that few people think critically about their use of the "elect" in argumentation, and so equivocation fallacies may take place.

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