Friday, March 21, 2014

How corporate election backfires

Brian Abasciano is a NT scholar and prominent Arminian apologist (indeed, the president of SEA). In that respect, he's a younger-generation version of I. H. Marshall. 

Here he's defending corporate election. What's striking is that he defines proginosko in a way that's very close to (or identical to) the Calvinist definition. He doesn't think it means foreknowledge in these passages. Rather, it means prior choice. 

On that view, we should render Rom 8:29 as:

For those whom he chose beforehand he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
Rom 11:2 as:

God has not rejected his people whom he chose beforehand.

And 1 Pet 1:1-2 as:

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the prior choice of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.

Of course, he'd try to blunt the force of this concession, but it's a damaging concession. 

While agreeing that God knows the future, including who will believe, the corporate election perspective would tend to understand the references to foreknowledge in Rom 8:29 and 1 Pet 1:1-2 as referring to a relational prior knowing that amounts to previously acknowledging or recognizing or embracing or choosing people as belonging to God (i.e., in covenant relationship/partnership). The Bible sometimes mentions this type of knowledge, such as when Jesus speaks of those who never truly submit to his lordship: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:23; cf. Gen 18:19; Jer 1:5; Hos 13:4-5; Amos 3:2; 1 Cor 8:3). On this view, to be chosen according to foreknowledge would mean to be chosen because of the prior election of Christ and the corporate people of God in him. “Those [plural] whom he foreknew” in Rom 8:29 would refer to the Church as a corporate body and their election in Christ as well as their identity as the legitimate continuation of the historic chosen covenant people of God, which individual believers share in by faith-union with Christ and membership in his people. Such a reference is akin to statements in Scripture spoken to Israel about God choosing them in the past (i.e., foreknowing them), an election that the contemporary generation being addressed shared in (e.g., Deut 4:37; 7:6-7; 10:15; 14:2; Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:1-2; Amos 3:2). In every generation, Israel could be said to have been chosen. The Church now shares in that election through Christ, the covenant head and mediator (Rom 11:17-24; Eph 2:11-22).


  1. Arminian theology has as much use for election as forensic language does to Orthodox theology. If such things mentioned in the Bible are corporate and one enters by their own free will then election is a moot point and then Paul and Christians have a right boast in themselves.

    1. Not true. Election is closely related to Union with Christ in Arminian theology, and it is by faith. If Justification is by faith, we think there is no to boast; if election is the same (i.e. by faith), why boasting? Whether or not faith was irresistibly forced on sinners or enabled for them by grace was not the Reformation issue.

    2. Your comment is utterly confused. It has no bearing on what I wrote. My post was about lexical semantics.

      Abasciano has created a dilemma for himself. On the one hand, he wants to disprove individual election by substituting corporate election. On the other hand, he can only do that by forfeiting another traditional Arminian maneuver. Arminians typically evade the predestinarian force of passages like Rom 8:29 by contending that proginosko means prescience, whereas Calvinists say it means prior choice. Abasciano is now conceding the Calvinist interpretation of proginosko. Even if (ex hypothesi) he's right about corporate election, he wins one point by losing another point. One step forward, one step back.

    3. Is an arminian defending this interpretation? Very good! Maybe he become a calvinist!