Providing a forum for the advancement of Revival and Moral Government Theology.
Skip to Main ContentEn EspaƱol
| Calvinism And Arminianism | Return To Main Menu |

Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*

by Bob Moore

Copyright 1998


Calvinism's View Of Some Biblical Terms

In the last chapter I began to show how Augustine tried to be more precise than the early Church Fathers in their discussions about "the basis" of God's choice of those He saves. Part of the reason why he wound up with his wrong conclusions had to do with a misunderstanding of how Bible authors had used certain words like" elect", "call", "foreknow", and "predestine". Even some of the Fathers who were closer in time to the Bible writers seem to have misinterpreted them in some ways. Our biases tend to put a certain spin on the words we choose to use. To correct the early Fathers without being charged with "linguistic revisionism" by the traditionalists will require more expertise than I can provide. Therefore, to explain the use employed by these words and their authors, I will draw heavily on Forster and Marston.


"Eklektos" which is translated either as "chosen" or "elect" refers primarily to an office that God has conferred on a person (or body). That "someone" may have been a Judas who failed to live up to his calling ( Acts 1:17,25; Mk 3:14), or it may have been a nation such as Israel among whom were those who fell away from God's purpose for them ( Rom 11:22). Or, in some passages, that Someone, who is a chosen one, may be Christ ( Is 42:1). The fact that God's elect was Christ reveals not that our Lord was a selection, as though there were other candidates, but that He was God's "choice one" in the sense of His being God's precious one, valued one, or treasured one. We shall see later that this is how New Testament authors took the meaning of "elect" from Isaiah.

With both the early Fathers and with Augustine the selection aspect of "elect" dominates the meaning they give the word, though, certainly a selection is implied. The word, "elect", however, is used more as we would use a noun than as we would use a verb. But, because of the "selection" aspect of the word "election" (c.f. Rom. 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thes. 1:4; and 2 Pet. 1:10), the word, "elect", too, is understood as a verb. Having given the implied meaning of "selection" to the word "elect", attention is often mistakenly focused on the singular individual and the basis of God's selection of him from eternity past. "Election" (God's choice) does have the "selection" aspect to its meaning, but more so the "thing" aspect than the "action" aspect of the meaning of the word.

In the last chapter I showed from Ephesians 1 how the Church is elect because it is in Christ who is the elect One. Because of this we have been made "coheirs" of the same office as the chosen One of God. As part of His body we share in His choseness. As Isaiah 49 sees Christ, "a light to the Gentiles", so are we the light of the world ( Matt 5:14). As Isaiah 49: 3 sees Christ, the One "in whom I will be glorified", so Ephesians 3:21 includes the Church: "unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus..." As He reigns, we reign with Him ( Rev 2: 26, 27). We are individually elect only because we have been identified with Christ through faith; a fact that only comes into being in our life-time.

Individuals, then, are not in the church because they are elect, but rather they are elect because they are in the church, which is the body of the elect One.

THE GREEK WORDS FOR "CALLED" OR "CALLING" (a word they use correctly)

Another Greek word, "Kletos", means "called" or "calling" (depending on which of the "kletos", "kaleo", "kaleomai", or "lklesis" forms is used).

I first discussed "Eklektos" which is an office of a person, persons, or thing (i.e. the Church). We are now discussing "kletos" which has verb characteristics. "Kletos" has a two meanings. It can mean "invited" or "named". "Called" in English can also mean "invited" or "named". Very often when the New Testament uses the word "called" (kletos) it means "named". For example, "...he should be called a Nazarene" ( Mat 2:23). Or, in the setting of Peter's vocation: "you shall be called Cephas." Likewise we read that Paul was "named an apostle", that we are "named saints" and "named children of God.

Many are sincerely invited (to be named with "the elect"), but few were actually becoming elect ones as Jesus plainly states in Matthew 22:14; "Many are called but few are chosen."

The terms "chosen/elect" (eklektos) and "called" (kietos) are not normally opposed to each other, but are rather to be identified. Sanday and Hedlam say that

by reading into "kletos" the implication that the call is accepted, Saint Paul shows that the persons of whom this is true are also objects of God's choice. By both terms Saint Paul designates not those who are destined for final salvation [though it is true that believers are headed for that destiny], but those who are "summoned" or "selected" for the privilege of serving God and carrying out His will. If their career runs its normal course it must issue in salvation, the "glory" reserved for them; this lies as it were at the end of the avenue; but "eklektos" only shows that they are in the right way to reach it. At least no external power can bar them from it; if they lose it, they will do so by their own fault. (note p. 149 Forster and Marston)

Therefore, we Christians are the ones who have been both "invited" and "named" as well as having been commissioned to an office having a task to perform. If New Testament authors used the words "elect" and "called" as Forster and Marston have urged, then interpretations that would suggest selection from eternity past should be treated guardedly. We should ask ourselves if our "hermeneutical circle" of presuppositions and resulting conclusions is reinforcing an interpretation of Scripture that is not explicit and likely not even implicit. Augustine and Calvin (following some of the early Fathers) interpreted these words with the idea of selection-from-eternity-past as foremost in their minds, even when applied to specific individuals. I think it is plain to see that this has led to undue support of the Calvinist's doctrine of salvation.


I conclude that the sense of the Holy Spirit's design in letting Peter and Paul use the words "elect" and "called" was to get across the meaning of "specialness" to those who are in Christ. We have been made special. We are the special ones. This is in line with the constant association of "belovedness" with references to Christ being elect.

This is seen most clearly in the way Gospel writers translate into Greek the words which God spoke during the transfiguration of Christ. Matthew renders it: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him." Mark is similar: "This is my beloved Son; hear you him." Luke, however, renders the same words using the Greek word for chosen: "This is my Son, my chosen, hear you him." We thus see that when the word "elect" or "chosen" is applied to Christ, its primary meaning is not one of selection, but one of belovedness.

The point may also be illustrated from Matthew's rendering of Isaiah 42:1. The Hebrew of Isaiah reads: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights." The LXX [Septuagint version] quite naturally renders the word "chosen" by the Greek "eklektos", but Matthew does not follow the LXX in this instance. Instead he renders the Hebrew using the Greek word "agapetos" (beloved), thus: "Behold my servant whom I have chosen; My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased." Matthew, therefore, uses the word "beloved" as a substitute for the word "chosen" in this context.

In two other verses the connection with belovedness is marked. Thus in 1 Peter 2:4 we find that he is: "a living stone...with God elect, precious" and in 1 Peter 2:6 that he is "a chief cornerstone, elect, precious." The double linking of the election [state of being sense] of Christ to his preciousness to God shows us the connotation of the term. (Forster and Marston, pp. 129, 130)

Since the Church is elect in Christ we too share in the preciousness or specialness that being "elect" implies. Colossians 3:12, for example, says that we are "...God's chosen ones, holy and beloved ... " (c.f. 1 Thes. 1:4).


Next time you read 1 Peter 1:1,2 try substituting "special" for "chosen" ("elect" in some versions): "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to [those] ... who are special according to the foreknowledge of God the Father..."

How is it that in a manner consistent with (or, in a manner depending on) God's foreknowledge, we are special? I submit that it is because we are His, and there is a mutual love in existence. We are not His from eternity, but we are His because He has decided that those responding to Him in faith should be His. In this sense, God planned from ages past that such as responded this way would be special. As stated thus, there is not a necessity for God to have predetermined which individuals should so respond. The early Church Fathers had decided this much (as I have shown).

Many of these Fathers, however, had decided that "foreknow" implied that God knew from eternity, certain facts about each individual without determining these facts. I have tried to show this as an impossibility because it is a free agent who ultimately determines what facts shall be. If facts exist they ultimately have to be caused by someone.

The Calvinist presupposes that God determines the response that we make to Him if we are among those who become believers. It would therefore be consistent for the Calvinist to understand that certain people are special because from eternity, and in God's foreknowledge, they are designated to become believers. That is, He knows the fact ahead of time because He determines that it will be. I have tried to show, however, that both the early Fathers were wrong in saying that God knows in advance, independent facts, and that Calvinists (though being consistent) are, nevertheless, wrong in saying that God merely knows in advance that He will cause a certain response in certain selected people.


Since Scripture speaks of those whom God foreknew (c.f. Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet 1:1,2), people, themselves, seem to be in view rather than facts about people. From the Calvinist point of view this reinforces the notion that God (for His glory) selects certain people before their actual existence, to favor with salvation. This possibility may grammatically be conceded, but the fact that it is people who are in view also reinforces my argument that it is those who begin having faith in Him that God foreknows -- and He does so at the time of their having faith. [1] In both cases it is people whom God foreknows. In my case it is actual people; in the Calvinist's case it is potential people.

At first it may seem unnecessary for St. Peter and Paul to use the word "foreknow" concerning God's knowledge of those who merely begin having faith in Him. Why couldn't he just say, "know"? That is, " those who are elect according to the knowledge of God the Father...". Why say, "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father"? It is interesting that St. Luke (quoting Paul) gives us a usage of the word "foreknow" that shows this understanding and use of "foreknow" to be on good standing in a place such as this where the word "know", alone, seems like it would be suitable.

Acts 26:4,5 says, "The manner of life I [Paul] have lived from my youth upward among my own nation and at Jerusalem, all that early life of mine, is well known to all the Jews; foreknowing me from the first if they are willing to testify, how that according to the strict sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee." Paul, it seems, could have used just the word "knowing" here. Why didn't he? Forster's comment on this is instructive:

Paul's manner of life was well known to all the Jews. He adds, therefore, "pre-knowing me from the first ... how that...I lived a Pharisee." He does not here, of course, imply that all the Jews knew him in the sense Of being on personal terms. Indeed, since he was brought up in Tarsus it is not likely that all the Jews at Jerusalem would have known him personally! The point was that they knew all about him. Here foreknowledge implies knowledge about the manner of life he lived from his earliest days. (Ibid. p.195) [2]

Paul's use here brings out a meaning of "foreknow" that might be expressed as a thorough understanding of a person and knowledge about him in advance of the present situation. When used in this sense the object of the word is a personal one but there may be no relationship necessarily involved [3] (c.f. this sense of the word "know" in Matt. 25:24, Jn. 2:24,25; Jn. 1:47,48; Jn. 5:42).

This blending of people being the subject of foreknowledge with facts-about-the-people being the subject of foreknowledge is strikingly brought out in 1 Peter 1: 18-20.

Literally the Greek reads: "were ye redeemed with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and unspotted -- Christ's -- foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world, and manifested in the last times because of you ." Peter's grammar here is not entirely consistent, and his exact meaning is unclear. From the sentence structure it would seem that the "foreknowledge", would naturally refer back to the noun "blood"; but in fact Peter makes its Greek form agree with the word Christ's! Does he mean, then, that God foreknew Christ before the world began? The Father did, of course, have a relationship with the Son before the creation -- and to interpret Peter to mean this would be quite consistent with the present word study. It does seem, however, that there would be little point in Peter stating this truth here.

The context of his words may help us. He has been saying that the suffering and death of Christ (which achieved our salvation of faith) was something that prophets of old dimly saw and sought to understand (v. 10, 11). Even angels desire to look into such matters. It is with this in mind (he says) that we should set our own aim and hope -- knowing that we were redeemed by Christ's blood, for which the Old Testament sacrificial lamb was merely a picture. He follows this with the words: "foreknown, indeed, before the world, but manifested in these last times for you." God foreknew the redemptive function of the Messiah before history began, but its actual manifestation did not come until the New Covenant. This we take to be Peter's meaning. [4]

The scriptures cited tend to support the definition of "foreknow" that I have given above; that is, "a thorough understanding of a person and knowledge about him in advance of the present situation (i.e. the situation and context in which the word, "foreknow" is used).


With the word "predestine", the Calvinists are prone to have three faults concerning its usage. First, they tend to view the Bible as describing a person's regeneration as predestined whereas the Bible speaks of the end result in a person who is already converted as being predestined.

Second, they are often confused about the words, "elect" (or "election") and "predestine" as having the same meanings. And, they tend to use them interchangeably.

A third fault is that they ignore that certain conditions could affect the seeming inevitability in the idea of "predestine".

Regarding the third fault: conditionality in the concept of "predestination"; there is the whole subject of apostasy which is falling away from the faith. How Calvinists are not completely right about "apostasy" is well presented in other works so I will refer you to a few of them: Robert Shank's _Life in the Son_, Guy Duty's _If Ye Continue_, and Jeffery J. Meyers' (Scroll about 85% of the way down the page to a seminar on "Coming to Grips Honestly With The "Arminian" Language In The Bible", available in taped form from Biblical Horizons, P.O. Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588). Meyers is a Reformed pastor whose argument concerning the biblical view of apostasy is very telling. He admits that people who have been made alive in Christ may fall away eternally, but that God has determined that this is how it should be with some believers because they are not among the elect. Such believers have apparently been given the grace to be made alive in Christ but have not been given the grace to persevere. Such a view brings into question the Calvinian doctrine of Limited Atonement. If the atonement is only for the elect, how is it that this un-elect-one's sins were originally atoned for? I think Meyers' work also forces other questions for which _Ten Little Reasons_ has some worthwhile answers.

Regarding the second fault: confusing "elect" and "predestine"; I think the rest of this chapter will help to clarify the confusion caused by Calvinian interchangeable usage.

Now, regarding the first fault: viewing a person's conversion as predestined; it is wrong to think of a person's conversion as predestined when the Bible focuses on the final glorification of those already regenerated, as the thing that is predestined. I can see how, from the long, "run-on" sentence in Ephesians 1:3-14, one might easily assume that the "predestinating" of verse 5 had taken place with the "choice" of verse 4. Since the "choice" took place "before the foundation of the world", and since it is the main verb of the sentence, then it might be natural to think that the predestination of individuals to glory and to conversion might have taken place before creation. [5] Two things weigh against this understanding. First, the Bible nowhere makes it explicit that our conversion is predetermined, and, second, it is evident that Paul is not concerned with making everything in this sentence agree with the time of the "choice" in verse 4. Verse 9, for example, would then read: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world...making known to us the mystery of His will ... The "making-known" is a contemporary action as "predestinating-us-to-adoption" would be. From the text we could conclude that "predestination" is not necessarily an action limited to the time before creation, just as "making- known-the-mystery" is not. What God did do from the foundation of the world was set His intention for every individual, even though this intention is only actualized for a particular individual upon his conversion (and , of course, completed in their glorification).

The misunderstanding brought about by this text is probably the origin of making "election" and "predestination" the same thing, as far as meaning is concerned, with Calvinists.

An appeal to the "before the ages" aspect of the predestination found in 1 Cor. 2:7 also fails to make a person's conversion predestined. There it is God's wisdom that is predestined before the ages for our glory. The fact that something is predestined before creation, though, may tend to slant peoples' thinking toward believing that their individual conversion was also predetermined in the sense of being inevitable. Even though the Bible does not explicitly teach this, I believe that in a sense, everyone's salvation was a predestined thing. The sense I am speaking of has to do with God's intentions. God intended a great destiny for all those He created in His image. Since these were intentions before creation, they may be spoken of as "pre" intentions or "pre-set" horizons, or, predestination.

Forster and Marston do a good job of showing that words like "foreknow" and "predestine" pertain in a special way to believers but technically would include unbelievers:

The Greek word "proorizo" (predestine) does not mean an inevitable fiat. It may be a predetermination in the sense of a "marking out beforehand." Beet has remarked, "The boy marked out for one trade may enter another," and such a meaning is not precluded by the word "predestine" in this context. Second, when Paul makes a statement in a context of speaking of the church, he does not necessarily mean that it may not apply to unbelievers also. Thus in Romans 3:23 he says: "All have sinned..." meaning all those who are justified. But we know that all those outside the church have sinned as well. Likewise when Paul says that God foreknew those who love him, he does not mean that God did not foreknow others also in a similar fashion. Moreover, when Paul says that God had marked out a destiny for those who love him, he need not necessarily be saying that such a destiny was not intended for all men. Indeed we have seen how Luke tells us that God did have plans for a group of unbelievers, which they rejected for themselves ( Luke 7:31). Perhaps these plans included the marking out of a destiny in Christ, which they failed to obtain because they rejected Christ. Paul does not specifically say this, for he rarely uses the word "proorizo", and only in a context of believers. But his words by no means rule it out (pp. 203,4). Having qualified the meaning of "predestine" to something not necessarily inevitable, we could, with that understanding, go back and state, concerning the scriptures that teach predestination, that our individual conversions were predestined. [6]

All men's conversions were intended! And, certainly, all people who continue in faith are destined for glorification!


I have overstated this chapter's title in claiming errors in word meanings. Calvinists know that "predestine" means to predetermine the ends; that "foreknow" means to know in advance; that "election" can mean to choose; and that "elect" is the choice.

The trouble for me comes with the way they apply these meanings to our salvation. Theological words can be used like slogans that promote a popular meaning that glosses over the original intentions of the authors. "Predestine", for example, is made to seem an inflexible necessity to which "irresistible" notions are attached (TULIP).

When applying the meaning of these words to our salvation, I have shown that we should:

1. Realize that the passages we are dealing with have primarily in mind a corporate body --the church-- in union with Christ. They (plural) are the elect; they (plural) are predestined.

2. Realize that those who cling to God's "Beloved" are also "beloved". They who cling to the "Elect One" are "the elect" also. They are not lucky humans who have been picked out by God before the ages to be favored with the ability to have faith.

3. Realize that God "foreknows" us in the sense of knowing how it will be for us who cling to Him in faith. He pre-set our destiny in spite of His foreknowledge of us. He made His plans for us in full knowledge of all our weaknesses. He foreknows us. He knows what He will make of us faith- havers.

4. Realize, finally, that God predestines believers to glory with Him and also realize that He predestines that none should perish if they respond to Him in faith. Biblically it may be said that He is not willing that anyone should not respond to Him in faith ( 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). Because this is an intention for everyone, it is a destiny that God would have for everyone.


Broadly speaking He foreknows from eternity what believers will be like as believers.

I can imagine a parallel here between the Jews foreknowing Paul from the first and God foreknowing us from the first of our becoming believers. Or, even a usage of "foreknow" that was similar to the contemporary medical usage of "prognosis" to which I made reference in Chapter Five.

But, of course, there is a relationship involved with us as believers!

ibid., p. 193

In a certain sense all individuals are predestined to be converted, as I will show in Chapter Nine.

Our conversions were predestined on the condition that man would fall into sin and need conversion.


* Caveat:  a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.