2 Thessalonians: 2:13-14 (Encouragement by Election)

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2 Thess 2:13-14

Having contradicted the false teaching regarding the Second Coming and likely concerned that he may have offended the church, Paul immediately shifts the subject to give a word of encouragement.

(2 Thess. 2:13-14 ESV) 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

“Firstfruits” in v. 13 is a little surprising. It is, of course, OT language referring to the spring harvest. The firstfruits are the first barley, wheat, or other grain or fruit to ripen in the field, and some of these were given to God as part of the Pentecost celebration. The 3,000 baptized at Pentecost were the firstfruits, converted on the day of celebration of the firstfruits (no coincidence at all, of course).

So in what sense were the Thessalonians firstfruits? Well, they were the first Christians in Thessalonica — and so carried the special burden of preserving a Christian community in that city. After all, if they abandon the faith, who will come after them? And they are the ones through whom God wishes to bring countless others to salvation over the centuries. They have a hugely important role to play in God’s cosmic plan. They are important and valued — and loved by God. This should give them confidence regarding Judgment Day. God wants them to persevere and be saved.

The scriptures, both testaments, are routinely ambiguous as to whether God or the individual does the choosing or decides on the calling. We err when we lean too far either way, as the inspired text wants to have it both ways — and it’s up to us to try to comprehend how that can be. (Contemplating that question while avoiding either extreme is a great venture into serious Bible study and understanding the Jewish understanding of God. Anyone can repeat the arguments from either extreme, dating back to the Reformation. Serious theology is understanding how both kinds of verses can be true.)

Thus, God chose the Thessalonians. How? Even equipped with the gifts of an apostle, there was just one Paul and only so many people he could speak to. Just as Jesus chose to limit his earthly ministry to the Jews (with a very few exceptions), Paul — as directed by God — chose to preach only in certain places. How could he not?

Does that mean there was no election before the foundations of the earth? Well, does God know the future? But for now, this is not Paul’s point. His point is that these people are beloved by God so much that God sent his missionary to them to preach the gospel. Not everyone was so privileged.

(This kind of “election” requires no Calvinist assumptions, but then neither is it entirely Arminian free will. Only those who’ve heard the gospel have the ability to obey the gospel by believing in Jesus. It’s free will, but free will constrained by God’s choices. Not an easy doctrine, but I don’t know another way to see things.)

He uses Torah language to speak of Abraham and Israel — who were similarly chosen and called. God only called Abraham (so far as we know), but God didn’t make him agree to leave Ur. After all, if Abraham had no choice, then there is nothing about his decisions to follow God that make him a great example to us. To do what you have to do is meaningless. So does my iPhone. It trivializes the entire narrative to suggest that Abraham had no choice but to honor God’s call.

Of course, the Calvinist interpretation tends to focus solely on the NT and ignore the OT sense of “elect” and “call.” But when Paul uses OT language he is intending to speak in terms of OT ideas. We can’t remove Paul from history in order to preserve a doctrinal viewpoint. On the other hand, the Arminian position does much the same thing — and seeks to ignore the many passages that treat election as something vitally important. I mean, denominations with Arminian traditions simply have no doctrine of calling, election, or predestiny.

To Paul, his missionary work is much like the work of Moses in calling God’s people out of slavery and into freedom and a new inheritance. God called Moses, and Moses called the Israelites — all as instructed by God. God chose Israel — and no other nation. But he chose them to be a light to the nations and to display the glory of God to the world. Again, it’s the firstfruits concept. Israel was to be the firstfruits of a worldwide harvest.

Just so, God chose Adam and Eve to have dominion over the Garden and to bear his image, making God visible to the world. They learned good and evil and found themselves separated from the presence of God.

The Jews were chosen, and the Torah taught them good and evil, and they disobeyed and were separated from the presence of God by the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.

The Jews of Jesus’ day received the presence of God in the form of Jesus. They were taught to believe/trust/be faithful to Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. And they (on the whole) rejected Jesus and so lost the presence of God — which instead was given to the faithful Jews and the Gentiles who joined the household of faith — the newly elect children of God, who have the Spirit as a seal of God’s very presence within them as God’s temple on earth, the body of Christ.

Election is an inevitable result of God being active in world history to deal with individuals and nations and their salvation. God chooses to do much of his work indirectly, through humans called and elected to be his people and to help him bring redemption to the entire world. The point of election is that the entire world should be saved — which sounds contradictory, but it’s not.

It’s all God’s initiative. God could have called thousands of others, but he chose only to call Abraham — and in Paul’s day and today, not everyone is called because not everyone hears the gospel. Paul declares that the fact that God chose these people at this place to hear the gospel should give them confidence that God really does want them to make it to the end.

But our calling is not because we’ve been chosen in contrast to the damned who surround us. Rather, we are chosen to represent God to the damned who surround us so that they will be chosen, too. We, like Adam and Eve, Israel, and the early church were called and elected to display God in his temple, to draw all others to God — so that we may be called and elect among all nations and all peoples.

There is another subtlety here, pointed out to me by a reader many years ago. Almost every NT passage dealing with God’s love speaks in terms of God’s love for the saved — the elect, as it were. And we read about God’s wrath for all others. That would seem to cut the world in two — those loved and those subject to wrath. But it’s not that simple.

John 3:16 begins with “God so loved the world.” He gave Jesus for people who’d not yet believed in him, out of love for the entire world. After all, God’s desire is that the entire world be saved, and plan A is for the church to do the preaching. (I can’t find a plan B.)

God loves the entire world, but for those without faith, where the church has failed in its mission, they will be justly punished for their sins — taking into account their knowledge of God’s will. Rom 5 is quite clear on all of this, including the fact that our accountability depends on our knowledge — our available light, as it were. The result is that those without special revelation from God — the Bible, gospel preaching — will be punished far less than the rest. See Luke 12:47-48, as we previously covered.

That is, for those who are not saved, God loves them and so will only punish them to the extent justice requires. He doesn’t hate the damned, but neither does he extend grace to those outside of Jesus. But grace is not an entitlement — it’s an undeserved gift. God’s love for the damned is manifest in the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifices of countless missionaries and others who’ve labored to share the gospel on behalf of God — often at the expense of their lives.

One last point.

In the opening thanksgiving of the first letter (1:4; q.v.), [Paul] echoed language from Deuteronomy 7:7–8 regarding Israel’s constitution as Yahweh’s people (“loved by God / chosen”). Here the same reality is expressed in terms of “loved by the Lord,” which is the precise language of the Septuagint found in the blessing of Benjamin in Deuteronomy 33:12. This can hardly have been accidental, since we know from other places in Paul’s letters that he himself was a Benjaminite (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5), something concerning which he takes a measure of pride. What he has done, therefore, whether they would have caught it or not, is to bestow on these “beloved” friends his own ancestral blessing: they “are loved by the Lord.”

Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 299.

Cool. Benjamin was the smallest tribe, and one of two landed tribes, along with Judah, that continued as a part of Judea in their ancestral lands. And Paul saw something of his own tribe of Benjamin in the Thessalonians — a small church that would remain faithful despite incredible difficulties. And so he recognized them as something akin to fellow Benjaminites — a great compliment in Paul’s mind to see in the largely Gentile Thessalonians his own clan. He is, in effect, saying, “You are my family, my people, my tribe.”

They may not have picked up on the subtlety, but to a devoted scholar of the Old Testament and Benjaminite, Paul surely intended the compliment.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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15 Responses to 2 Thessalonians: 2:13-14 (Encouragement by Election)

  1. laymond says:

    (” It’s free will, but free will constrained by God’s

    choices. Not an easy doctrine, but I don’t know

    another way to see things.”) – Jay

    The only constraint we are under, is the number of

    choices we are afforded. (you are either for me, or

    against me) No God did not send his son with the

    good news , only to snatch it away.

    Yes God has pre-chosen those who will enter the

    kingdom, but not by named individuals , but by those

    who live up to the commands of Jesus Christ.

    Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. That is why

    there is a day called the day of judgment. It would be

    a farce to have a day of judgment if we were all

    already prejudged. The sermon on the mount was

    real, not just a show.
    Yes we are chosen , but by the deeds we do. not by


  2. Dwight says:

    Sometimes we miss the context as we squabble over a word or words like “chose/chosen” and “called”.
    We need to understand these words in their context; “because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel,”
    chose- through sanctification and belief in the truth
    called you- through our gospel
    The choosing and the calling were done through the Spirit and faith in the truth and the gospel.
    In the same way elders and deacons are chosen, because they are chosen in accordance with the qualifications they meet.

  3. Gary says:

    Jay, according to your understanding what is the fate of young children from non-Christian families who die before reaching an age at which they would be able to trust in Christ for salvation? Traditionally we have always understood them to be safe or saved. It would seem that your rejection of the available light doctrine allowing for the salvation of any who do not come to know Christ in this life could easily extend to the young children of the unsaved as well. But I’m not sure if you take it that far or not.

  4. Dwight says:

    Jay and anyone, I know this is way off topic, but I am looking for definitions of “denomination/denominationalism” and the definition from The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, 1971, pp. 262-263 if anyone has access to it for an article on you guessed it….denominationalism . You can send it to me at criticalchristianthinker@gmail.com. There is an article someone wrote using the Westminister Dictionary definition, which then was used as “the definition” of denominational to create a point or sin, even though it points to sectarianism and not of being a denomination, which means from the earliest dictionaries that I have found simply “to take a name”. BTW this would make a great separate thread. Thanks.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    denomination, denominationalism. An organizational structure of several congregations who unite together on the basis of common doctrinal, organizational, ethnic, geographical or practical considerations even while meeting in separate localized situations. Denominationalism as a theory understands the church as consisting of a diversity of practices and beliefs under the umbrella of the larger term Christian while at the same time denying that any one Christian group can claim to be the exclusive manifestation of the church on earth. This is in contrast to sectarianism (see sect, sectarianism) which refers to the attitude in which a narrowly defined group sees itself as the only true manifestation of the church to the exclusion of all other groups.

    Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1999, 37.

    Denominationalism. The word denomination is derived from a Latin word (denominare) meaning “to name.” A denomination is an association or fellowship of congregations within a religion that have the same beliefs or creed, engage in similar practices and cooperate with each other to develop and maintain shared enterprises. Similar religious groups like the many Baptist bodies in the U.S. constitute a “denominational family.”
    There are such a wide variety of denominations that sociologists identify several subcategories, building upon the typology of Christian orientations—church, sect and mysticism—developed in Ernst Troeltsch’s historical study, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (1912; ET 1931). Troeltsch viewed the church as a universal body into which people are born. It tries to cover the whole life of humanity in society, and its clergy convey Christ’s saving work through proclaiming the Word and dispensing sacraments. Sects renounce the world, have a voluntary membership and insist that members experience anew birth and practice personal holiness. They are dominated by lay leadership and power. Mysticism is a form of individualism that emphasizes inward spiritual experience, freely combines various Christian and other ideas, gives little attention to fellowship and is inclined toward relativism. These types reflected the numerous movements, controversies and splinter groups that have been apparent ever since Christianity’s beginning, especially in Europe. In effect, the politically established religious bodies were churches; splinter groups and independent bodies were sects. Because they were dissenters from the church, sect members were maligned and many were persecuted.
    Several American colonies followed the European example of having an established church, but when the new nation gained independence, none had sufficient power to become the dominant national religion. This contributed to the provisions for religious liberty and the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Both as cause and effect, it provided for the denominational pattern of tolerance and freedom for every religious group as long as it does not subvert the state or violate the rights of others. Immigrants from nations with established Anglican, Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran or Orthodox churches were no longer part of a dominant national religion but of only a minority religious body coexisting with hundreds of others. Since there was no established “church,” “sects” could not be defined as splinters from it.
    Religious bodies that accommodate themselves to the power structures and values of society came to be labeled by the term denomination. In contrast, sects are in tension with society, uphold differences from it, oppose it or separate themselves from it. The types overlap and merge into each other, for most denominations began as sects. Cults also overlap; they are either newly created religious innovations, imports from other cultural settings or groups formed by syncretistic merger and adaptation of elements from more than one religious tradition. The words sect and cult have negative connotations, so the more neutral label of new religious movement is now often used. All are included in American denominationalism.
    Religious denominations are so significant in America that Andrew Greeley called it The Denominational Society (1972). He believes that people gain their sense of identity and meaning for life by belonging to one of the hundreds of available religious options. As self-definition and social location by nationality decrease, denominational identity increases, stimulating the vitality of American religion.
    Denominational Statistics. The annual Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches provides statistics and directories on more than two hundred denominations, including three-fifths of the U.S. population and two-thirds of the people of Canada. The Yearbook is not a complete record of all religious bodies because independent congregations are not counted, many groups lack adequate records, and some refuse to provide data because the Yearbook is produced by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Most omitted groups are small, but some large ones, like the Church of Christ, Scientist, refuse on doctrinal grounds to report statistics.
    Arthur C. Piepkorn’s Profiles in Belief reports the theological and confessional commitments of more than 700 U.S. and Canadian denominations, and J. Gordon Melton’s Directory of Religious Bodies in the United States (Garland, 1977) identifies 1,275. (His current count exceeds 1,500.) He defines a religious body as a church, denomination, sect or cult that meets three criteria: (1) seeking the chief religious loyalty of members; (2) having at least two congregations, or over 2,000 members who make a measurable impact on society through the mass media, or members from more than one state and beyond a single metropolitan area, or being at odds with most people in the nation (as in the case of some Satanic groups); and (3) promoting its particular views of faith.
    As of 1980 David B. Barrett identified 20,800 Christian denominations worldwide and classified them into seven major blocs and 156 ecclesiastical traditions. He reported 2,050 “organized churches and denominations” in the U.S., with 385,000 congregations, 111,662,300 members and 160,918,000 affiliated people. Corresponding figures for Canada are 330 with 29,300 congregations, 10,610,000 members and 17,872,500 affiliates. However, the 2,050 include 32 archdioceses and 134 dioceses of the Catholic Church in the U.S., and Canada’s 330 counts 18 Catholic archdioceses and 49 dioceses, 32 provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Church and 11 conferences of the United Church of Canada.
    The decennial Census of Canada asks questions on religion, and the U.S Census Bureau collected such data from the 1880s to 1946, publishing Censuses of Religious Bodies in 1906, 1916, 1926 and 1936. However, the data lack internal consistency and comparability, and it is almost impossible to correlate them with other census statistics. Because of mounting opposition both within and outside the religious community, the practice was discontinued. An experimental survey of U.S. religious preferences in 1957 was successful, but attacks upon the alleged invasion of privacy and religious liberty were so severe that most of the data were never reported, and the tentative plan to ask questions on religion in the Census of Population was dropped. In that survey 66.2 percent of the population had Protestant preferences, 25.7 Roman Catholic, 3.2 percent Jewish, 1.3 percent some other religion, 2.7 percent none, and only 0.9 percent failed to report. Recent public opinion polls indicate that about 57 percent of the U.S. adult population have Protestant preferences, 28 percent Catholic, 2 percent Jewish, 4 percent other, and 9 percent none; but only about 68 percent claim to be church or synagogue members, and 40 percent attend religious services in atypical week.
    All religious statistics must be interpreted with caution. Criteria for and definitions of membership vary greatly from one religious body to another. Some count as members everyone who is in an ethnic group associated with the church. Others count all baptized persons, including infants, and still others only baptized believers, communicant members or members in good standing. Denominational records depend upon local reporting units with varying levels of care for keeping records up to date, so defectors, departed and deceased members may be included. A person may be on the records of two congregations, thus even of different denominations, and statistics for congregations affiliated with two denominations are reported by both. Instances of deliberate deceitfulness are rare, but errors from incompleteness, duplications, estimates and nonstandardized reporting are widespread.
    Denominational Organization and Trends. The polity of Christian denominations usually takes one of three forms. Episcopal government consists of a hierarchy of top officials, with bishops over dioceses, and clergy over parishes and members; power flows from the top down, as in a monarchy. In congregational church government, authority resides in the members of local churches and flows democratically from congregration to clergy and then to denominational agencies. Between these two forms is the presbyterian form of church government modeled after aristocracies in which both congregations and the denomination are under the control of middle-level agencies. Mixed forms increasingly prevail, for American denominations are, as Ross P. Scherer put it, “open transformation systems.” They must continually relate to an ever-changing environment, personnel changes, and accompanying negotiations and modifications of roles, rules and understandings.
    The denominational structure of the nation is continually changing. New religious bodies frequently emerge and others disappear. Sociologists have found that the life cycle of a denomination typically includes development through stages of incipient sectarian organization, formal organization, maximum efficiency, institutional bureaucracy and finally, if no corrective action is taken, disintegration. From 1890 to 1906, 13.8 percent of the bodies listed in the U.S. Census of Religious Bodies became defunct, compared to 8.8 percent from 1906 to 1916 and 15.3 percent from 1916 to 1926. Some disappeared, others were transformed into “new” bodies, and many merged with one another.
    The growth rates of religious bodies are influenced by their values, goals and programs and by conditions and characteristics of society, including its composition by race, nationality, social class, sex and religious traditions. For several decades the theologically conservative Protestant denominations and those with strict membership standards have been growing, while most mainline denominations have been declining. There is fluidity among church memberships as many move between congregations, often crossing denominational lines. Many clergy change denominations as well.
    Scholars like H. Richard Niebuhr, who value the organizational unity of Christians, interpret the proliferation of Christian denominations as an indication of moral failure, hypocrisy and scandal. The ecumenical movement has tried to vanquish the struggles for power that divide and weaken Christianity, to achieve cooperation among denominations so that they will be more influential in society and even to build structural unity, as in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU, since 1962). Others have tried to regain the unity that presumably existed in the New Testament church by drawing people out of denominations into the “true church.” Their efforts to unite all Christians and defeat denominationalism by applying such labels as Brethren, Church of God, Disciples of Christ, Restoration Movement or Bible Church have instead been equivalent to founding additional new denominations.
    The goal of organizational unity is opposed by many just as strongly as is the “melting pot” ideology that once dominated American ethnic policy. Those who are suspicious of large bureaucracies view denominations as positive results of practical social and institutional necessity working in a pluralistic society. A highly mobile population, a great diversity of races, social classes and other traits have even shaped Roman Catholicism into the social equivalent of numerous denominations.
    Alongside the ecumenical movement are other tendencies toward Christian unity. Cooperative evangelistic, educational, social-action and service ministries are bringing evangelicals together with fundamentalists, charismatics and other Christians. This “spiritual ecumenism” often is mediated through parachurch organizations supported by individual Christians outside of denominational channels.
    American Christianity shows greater vitality than that of most other nations. Religious diversity and competition have contributed to broader opportunities to satisfy people’s spiritual needs and stronger efforts to recruit them for church membership and Christian ministries. Denominational ism does not necessarily violate the spiritual unity of the body of Christ. It is consistent with the competitive free enterprise system, the voluntary principle of individual freedom and other liberties deeply engrained in American society.
    BIBLIOGRAPHY. D. B. Barrett, ed., World Christian Encyclopedia (1982); S. E. Mead, The Lively Experiment (1963); J. G. Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions, 2nd ed. (1986); D. O. Moberg, The Church as a Social Institution, 2nd ed. (1984); H. R. Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929); A. C. Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief, 4 vols. (1977, 1978, 1979); R. E. Richey, ed., Denominationalism (1977); R. P. Scherer, ed., American Denominational Organization (1980); R. Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion (1988).
    D. O. Moberg

    Daniel G. Reid, Robert Dean Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout, Dictionary of Christianity in America, 1990.

    Hope these help.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    The scriptures do not directly address the question of the salvation of children or the unborn. But the question is more challenging than the usual presentation assumes. Here are some difficult questions:

    1. Do the children of the saved, the covenant community, enjoy any privilege over the children of the lost? Or do they suffer the same fate, good or ill? Under Torah, children of Israelites were part of the covenant community whereas children of other nations were not — so far as we know. It seems that the Israelite children enjoyed a salvation not promised to others. Has this differentiation ended and, if so, what is the evidence for it? Or were Gentile children saved pre-Pentecost and then instantly damned when that hit the Age of Accountability and committed their first sin?

    2. We have assumed, utterly without scriptural authority, that there is an age of accountability of around age 12. Is 12 right? Does a child have be accountable to be saved? What if the child is baptized before he’s accountable? Does it even make sense to assume that the age of faith = the age of accountability?

    3. What about the countless millions of fertilized eggs that failed to implant and so spontaneously aborted — either entirely naturally or due to an IUD or birth control pill? Do these eggs constitute children who are in heaven? Do they simply cease to exist? I know the answer most evangelicals would give, but what’s the theological basis for that conclusion?

    4. Given that the Bible does not teach that we receive a soul (we are each a “soul” — a word that applies even to corpses and animals in the scriptures), there can’t be a moment of “ensoulment” in a pregnancy. When does an unborn child become subject to damnation and salvation? Some argue upon being born and taking its first breath. But those of us who are parents see little distinction between a child in the womb and a child who’s taken its first breath.

    (Rom. 2:6-11 ESV) 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

    It seems very difficult to apply either the salvation or the damnation passages to a very young child, esp. an unborn child.

    5. Is salvation the default rule? Do we all start saved because we’re sinless and unaccountable — or does salvation require more than innocence? Does damnation require more than not being saved? Is there an in-between condition of simply ceasing to exist? I can’t count the sermons I’ve heard that condemned people for being “saved” while doing nothing more than a mannequin. In fact, I’ve seen a mannequin put on the front row, and it was explained that committing no sin is just not good enough. So does innocence/unaccountability save? Where is that taught?

    6. The Bible is quite clear that faith is required to be saved. Can an infant have faith?

    7. In NT Wright’s latest book, he addresses the notion of community or national guilt and repentance, which is certainly a part of the OT and Deuteronomy. He argues that much of Acts (and even Romans) is addressing the issues of national guilt that kept Israel in exile and the need for national forgiveness of Sin (which was not achieved). How do children fit into Eastern, Second Temple Jewish thought? Or do we reject these concepts because we Westerners just insist on thinking in individual categories? Did God deal with Israel exclusively as individuals or did he deal with them, at times, as a nation with community guilt and/or repentance? If so, are children included? They sure seem to have been in OT times. What about the NT changes that result?

    8. I would question your use of “safe.” Safe from what? Let’s try to use Bible words for Bible things. I mean, the implication of not being “safe” is that children are destined for hellfire, which I don’t see under any possible interpretation. The question that is interesting — and very difficult — is whether the children of those outside the covenant community go to heaven the same as someone with faith in Jesus who lives a faithful life — or else they die and aren’t resurrected.

    (Jn. 5:28-29 ESV) 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

    If we take Jesus literally, then an unaccountable child fits neither category. Just like in Rom 2. Does that mean that children aren’t addressed and so we just don’t know? Or that we pick up the rules from Israel of the OT, re-read in light of Jesus? Or that we fill in the gap based on Jesus’ words about letting the children come to him?

    9. It’s hard to imagine that the question of children didn’t come up pretty early in the life of the early church. One passage we routinely ignore is —

    (1 Cor. 7:13-14 ESV) 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

    I think Paul’s primary thinking is that (a) Christians should not marry non-Christians for both practical reasons and the fact that Jews could not marry Gentiles. The church is Israel reconstituted based on faith in Jesus, and it seems that the marriage ban effectively continues. (b) Under Torah, a marriage to a non-Christian would make the children mamzers (not illegitimate but born of a prohibited marriage, but this is a marriage that predates conversion. A mamzer was barred from the temple/synagogue.). Hence, no mamzer status; the children are “holy” and so part of the covenant community.

    While he recognizes a boundary separating the community of believers from unbelievers, analogous to the boundary between Jews and Gentiles, he does not agree with MMT and Jubilees that insider-outsider marriage results in the ritual defilement of offspring. Instead, like the rabbis, Paul allows that (at least preexisting) marriage between an insider and an outsider may be sanctified-that is, licit-although it is not the superior form of licit marriage.” …

    Gillihan shows that at this point Paul differs from rabbinic teaching since unlike them “he does not rule that offspring born within an exogamous marriage take on the status of the inferior spouse (see m. Qidd. 3:12); instead he affirms that the children are ‘holy,’ that is, have full access to the temple constituted by the sanctified community.”148 In calling these children ‘holy’ Paul does not mean that they are automatically saved (any more than the unbelieving spouses), but that rather than being held at arm’s length by members of the church they are to be fully embraced in the exact same way as children born into families where both parents are believers.149 As a result of this, those children “will be marked by an element of shaping and ‘difference’ from a wholly pagan environment.”150 This result should bring great blessings that would otherwise be lost to the children of such families, but they are not what make them ‘holy’ rather than ‘unclean.’ It is the Lord’s sanctioning of their parents’ marriage which accomplishes that and allows them to experience the blessing of living within a community inhabited by the Spirit of God. Both parts of v. 14 serve to support Paul’s injunction to believers in mixed marriages not to divorce their partners (vv. 12b and 13b).

    Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 298, 301-302.

    Fascinating and takes seriously what Paul says, contrary to many commentaries that skip the hard part, but I’ve not sorted through it entirely. Nonetheless, Paul sees a question of whether a child is “holy” based on parentage, which we would normally consider a non-issue. Paul obviously disagrees. I mean, who is NOT holy? Evidently, someone not part of the family of a saved person. And just what does this non-holiness mean? Something …

    Similar,but not quite the same is —

    Thus the sanctification of the believing partner reaches out to the unbeliever. Paul sees this in what was clearly accepted with regard to the children of such a marriage. If the believer’s sanctification stopped with himself, his children would be unclean. The word is used of ceremonial uncleanness, ‘that which may not be brought into contact w. the divinity’ (BAGD). This is an unthinkable position. Until he is old enough to take the responsibility upon himself, the child of a believing parent is to be regarded as Christian. The parent’s ‘holiness’ extends to the child. The child is ‘part of a family unit upon which God has his claim’ (Mare).

    Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 110. So what of the child who is not part of the covenant community? Morris implies that he’s not saved. Well, he can’t be lost — being unaccountable. So what’s left?

    10. I’m not sure Jesus is intending to teach atonement theology for children in the Matt 18 account, but if he is, he is speaking of Jewish children. Does that matter? Of course, the point he makes is one of humility. And notice closely v 6: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Jesus seems to limit his special concern for these children to those who have faith in Jesus — a point widely ignored. What on earth do we do with that, other than consider children raised in faith to be in a preferred state compared to others? Most commentaries take “little ones” to refer to Jesus’ disciples, but the grammar is problematic if we want to exclude children given the use of “these” (a demonstrative pronoun in the Greek referring to a near antecedent) which would seem to be a pronoun referring to the literal children. So it’s very unclear (and I’ve not spent much time sorting through it).

    (Matt. 18:1-6 ESV) At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

    Now, if you think this has led me to some definite unspoken conclusion, you’d be mistaken. I just have questions and pieces of a puzzle with none of the straight edged pieces I need to build a frame. So it’s a jumble. I’m not persuaded that the traditional Arminian view is solidly built on a good theology — but neither would I accept the supposed Calvinist alternative. The truth lies somewhere else based on a paradigm shift that I’ve not yet shifted through.

    I imagine it would be helpful to spend more time in the OT passages re children and their covenant status, but that’s just a guess. So I’m open to suggestions – but spare me any argument based on sheer condescension: You know, the ones that start with “I just can’t believe that …” Contribute something toward a solution and I’d appreciate it.

    And I’ve said too much and wandered too far given the uncertainties here. I really am not keen on raising questions without having finished my homework and having an opinion as to the answer — particularly a question as broadly applicable as this one. I don’t have to have what I consider a definitive answer, but I’d like to offer the readers more than confused questions and puzzle pieces.

    PS — You have to add to the mix John Mark Hicks’ series on whether children of saved parents can take the Lord’s Supper. He says yes. Well, if so, then what about the children of the unsaved? What is their status before God? They aren’t damned becAuse they aren’t accountable. So therefore, what?

  7. Alabama John says:


    ! Peter 3:19-20 By which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison;
    20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few,that is, eight souls were saved by water.

    1 Peter 4: 6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

    Jesus went back and preached to those that died in the flood and those that believed were saved.

    Note: many say this means only saints but notice saints are not mentioned, only the dead.

    Innocents, sinless, are always saved. God is love!

  8. Dwight says:

    Jay, Thanks. The definition from Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1999, 37 was good, the commentary not so much.
    My attempt is to do some foot work on the evolution of the term in Christendom. If one goes back and looks at the definitions of old dictionaries, we see that the def. is consistently “to name or give a name”, but at some time those in the world of religion, probably by way of coC, decided that this didn’t apply to religious groups so they changed it to reflect a hierarchy as well as part of the definition, which was done presumably to exclude themselves from being a denomination and include all others.
    I have heard growing up that any name other than Christ and naming oneself after a man is wrong, which would make the Israelites sinning as they named themselves after Israel, Benjamites, etc, The hierarchy, such as seen in Catholic and other churches, aspect is definitely sinful so if you can keep this term in the definition you can not indict yourself of being a denomination if you don’t have a hierarchy like them.

    So I am looking for a pattern in the changes of the definitions and usage over time or among certain groups. Overall 95% of all definitions I have come across still are “to name” while in the religious world it changes depending on who is using it and for what purpose. It is not surprising that the coC has a history of using the term, after changing it, to divide from others on while supporting their righteousness.

  9. Dwight says:

    Jay, in regards to the thought that Gary brought up. you pose some very relevant questions…questions that may be beyond any humans pay grade of knowing. And the big question is are we required to know all of the intricacies of what happens to everyone in every situation. This reminds me of the Pharisee and scribes who poured over the scriptures and used a fine tooth comb to figure out all possible situations that a person would do before they did them. They basically took the grace and mercy from God and tried to codify what could happen and God’s response to it. God will take care of those who were faithful to Him before Jesus appeared.
    After that point we can go back to an easy answer; “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”…Jesus was the Word, the Word and God, who came in the flesh to deliver the Good News that He was the savior and a bringer of grace and mercy.

  10. Monty says:


    No fair raising so many questions without “finishing” your homework. I think my head is going to explode! 🙂

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    You need to take into account the distinction between “denomination” as used by ordinary people and found in most English dictionaries and the more technical use of the term in academic circles, such as history of or comparative religions. In some academic realms, “denomination” is given a special meaning to distinguish from “sect” and “cult” and other terms just to create a vocabulary to help talk about different kinds of denominations. As a rule, these academic definitions haven’t caught on among ordinary people.

    It’s similar to “velocity.” In physics and math “velocity” means a speed with a specified direction (it’s defines a vector). “Speed” is just speed: distance over time. But in ordinary speech, there is no difference. A lot of students fail to recognize that words can change meaning depending on the context. Even some dictionaries fail to make clear that certain definitions only apply in certain contexts.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    PS — I believe Noah Webster’s dictionary is online, which will give you a definition 200 years old. Oxford English Dictionary generally has a good discussion of the etymology and history of a word.

  13. Gary says:

    Jay, thank you for your thoughtful and very helpful response to my question about children. You’ve given me a lot to think about. By the way, if any of my comments have come across as “sheer condescension” I sincerely apologize. That is never my intent. But on occasion you too have resorted to “I just can’t believe that” reasoning although probably not nearly as often as I have!

  14. Dwight says:

    Jay, “You need to take into account the distinction between “denomination” as used by ordinary people and found in most English dictionaries and the more technical use of the term in academic circles, such as history of or comparative religions. In some academic realms, “denomination” is given a special meaning to distinguish from “sect” and “cult” and other terms just to create a vocabulary to help talk about different kinds of denominations. As a rule, these academic definitions haven’t caught on among ordinary people.”
    To my way of thinking this is perhaps part of the problem in that those that think they are academic and know better have sought to tweak and redefine a basic concept in such a way as to make different definitions.
    Every dictionary I have found online from the 1800s denominate means “to name” or when applied to a religious slant “to associate by a name” and pretty much all of them today reflect this as well.

    What I haven’t found is the addendum of “being ruled over by a hierarchal system” as often promoted in the coC definitions. This particular definition takes the term of denomination from we are all implicated because we have names, to they are implicated because they are ruled by other churches, thus we can call those that are denominations sinful and denomination sinning.
    For some reason the coC is undenominational despite fulfilling the basic meaning of denomination…to have a name.
    The problem is that being ultimately ruled by anyone other than God is sinful whether you call yourself a name or not. It really has nothing to do with being a denominational. Israel was a nation that went by the name of Israel, a man’s name, but they worshipped God (mostly) and were the children of God and this goes for the individual tribes that went after their fore-Fathers name. The names divided them from other people of different names, but not from God and the focus on God.
    In 1 Cor. Paul warns them not against taking on names, but dividing along those names, of which one of them was Christ. Paul didn’t have a problem with denominations, but with sectarianism. Paul would have had to condemn all of those who went under the name of the tribes that were named after men. God expected all the named tribes to bow down to God through the Law and the Prophets. And then all nations regardless of their names and name associations were called to bow down before God through Jesus.

  15. Gary says:

    AJ, I too have seen the 1 Peter 3 passage as indicating the opportunity to trust in Christ for salvation after this life. It’s hard to understand what the point would be of Christ having proclaimed to them that they were lost as many have contended. Others believe that the antediluvians are the only ones who receive such an opportunity while those outside of God’s people who have died since are either lost or annihilated.

    I have difficulty reconciling the latter with the fundamental salvation principle that God is not a respecter of persons. If that is indeed true then those who are not blessed to grow up in Christian families will ultimately also have the opportunity to trust in Christ. Limiting the possibility of salvation only to those who have the privilege of hearing the Gospel of Christ in this lifetime has practically the same outcome as the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. It makes geography the deciding factor in who is saved and who is not.

    Hans urs Von Balthasar wrestled more with these type questions than anyone I know. He wrote Dare We Hope That All Men May Be Saved. He was not at all a hard and fast universalist but he believed that it is one possible outcome to which God has left the door open. The other outcome is that some will be saved while others will ultimately be lost. He understood some biblical texts to affirm one outcome and some to affirm the other outcome. He concluded that God has left the outcome open to human free will.

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