A good friend who is also a pastor wrote to me recently about the nature of election. He wondered if it were possible for Christians to be chosen in Christ—that is, for Christians not to be elected individually, but only as a corporate entity. The idea was that Christ is the chosen one and if a person is “in Christ,” then he’s chosen too. This is known as corporate election.

Here are some thoughts on the issue of corporate election.

Dear Pastor _______,

Preliminarily, I should address an antecedent issue. Although I will express my opinion, you of course have to come to your own conclusions. Having a good conscience about the text doesn’t require agreement with others; it requires being faithful to pursue truth at all costs to the best of your abilities. To be sure, you want to seek the counsel and input of various experts. But when the day is done, you have to stand before God and tell him how you see your views as in harmony with Holy Writ. In other words, I never want you to feel any kind of intimidation or pressure from me or anyone else about your handling of the text. I do of course want you to feel a great duty (as you always have) to the Lord in the handling of his word. At bottom, all of us have to give an account of ourselves to the Lord, and any human loyalties will have no standing before him.

Now, on to the issue!

First, allow me to clarify the issue: By corporate election I suppose you mean that only those who will be in Christ are chosen and that God does not specifically choose individuals but only chooses the sphere (“in Christ”) in which the elective purposes of God can take place. Thus, if one embraces Christ he is chosen.

If that is what you mean by corporate election, then I would reject it. Here are the reasons why:

First, the authors you cited seemed to make a conceptual-lexical equation (i.e., if the word “elect” was used, only groups were in view; ergo, election is only corporate). That view has been regarded by linguists and biblical scholars as linguistically naïve. James Barr in his Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford, 1961) makes a lengthy and devastating critique of Kittel’s ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for its numerous linguistic fallacies. Among them is this conceptual-lexical equation. Allow me to unpack this a bit more: conceptual-lexical equation means that one does not find the concept unless he sees the words. That seems to be an underlying assumption in the authors you cited. However, where else do we argue this? Would we not say that the concept of fellowship occurs everywhere in the New Testament? Yet the word κοινωνια is found only twenty times. Or consider the deity of Christ: If we could only speak of Christ’s deity in passages where he is explicitly called “God,” then we are shut up to no more than about half a dozen texts. Yet the New Testament wreaks of the deity of Christ—via his actions, attributes that are ascribed to him, Old Testament quotations made of him, implicit and explicit statements made about him. Hence, our first question needs to be: Do we see the concept of election as a corporate notion or an individual one?

Second, I think that there may be a false antithesis between corporate and individual election. Proof that God elects corporately is not proof that he does not elect individually (any more than proof that all are called sinners in Rom 3:23 is a denial that individuals are sinners). I embrace corporate election as well as individual election.  As Douglas Moo argues in his commentary on Romans (pp. 551-52),

… to call Rom. 9-11 the climax or center of the letter is going too far. Such an evaluation often arises from a desire to minimize the importance of the individual’s relationship to God in chaps. 1-8. But the individual’s standing before God is the center of Paul’s gospel.… Individual and corporate perspectives are intertwined in Paul.

Evidence for this can be seen in Romans 9 itself: the examples that Paul uses to show the meaning of election are individuals: Pharaoh, Jacob and Esau, etc. Yet, these very examples—these very individuals—also represent corporate groups. If only corporate election were true, Paul could not have written Romans 9 the way he did.

Third, going back to the conceptual-lexical equation for a moment: let’s look at the evidence.

Mark 13:20—“but for the sake of the elect whom he chose he has cut short those days.” If we take only a corporate view of election, this would mean “but for the sake of all humanity he has cut short those days.” That hardly makes any sense in the passage; further, election is doubly emphasized: the elect whom he chose. It would be hard to make any clearer the idea that election is of individuals.

Luke 6:13; John 6:70—Jesus chose twelve of his disciples out of a larger pool. True, he chose more than one; but this also was of particular individuals. Jesus named them individually, indicating that his choice of them was individual. This election was not toward salvation, as we see in John 6:70.[1] But this election was entirely initiated by Jesus (“you did not choose me, but I chose you”). Initiation and selection are the prerogatives of the Lord. Corporate election makes absolutely no sense in this context; and further, the elective purposes and methods of God incarnate are the same, whether it is of his apostles for service or of sinners for salvation.

Luke 9:35—“This is my Son, my Chosen One.” Certainly election of Christ is both individual and corporate: Christ as the elect of God (see also at John 1:34 the textual variant that is most likely original, and is the text reading of the NET Bible) is the vehicle through whom God effects his elective purposes today. That is, God chooses those who would be saved, but he also chooses the means of that salvation: it is in Christ (see also Eph 1:4).

John 15:16—“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Again, we see that election is done by the initiative of God. Further, those who are chosen become what they are chosen for (in this case, apostles). A view of corporate election that allows a large pool of applicants to be “chosen” then permits a self-selection to narrow the candidates seems to ignore both God’s initiative and the efficacy of God’s choice: all those who are chosen become what they are chosen for.

John 15:19—“I chose you out of the world.” The same theme is repeated: election may have many individuals in view, but the initiative and efficacy belong to the Lord.

Acts 1:2—same idea as above.

Acts 1:24—This text reveals a choice of one individual as opposed to another. The apostles vote on which of two candidates they had put in the pool would fill Judas’ spot. But even their choice is dictated by the mandate of heaven: “Show us which one you have chosen.”

Acts 15:7—Peter notes that God had selected him to bring the good news to the Gentiles. Again, though this is not election to salvation, it is election that is initiated by God and effected by God (for, as you recall, Peter was quite resistant to the idea).

Thus, election is seen to be initiated by God and effected by God. Those who are chosen—whether individuals or groups—become what they are chosen for. Corporate election simply ignores this consistent biblical emphasis.

Fourth, when we look at the broader issue and involve words other than from the ἐκλέγ- — word-group, we see that the concept of God’s initiation and efficacy is very clear. For example, in Acts 13:48 we read that “as many as had been appointed for eternal life believed.” This is a group within the group that heard the message. The passive pluperfect periphrastic ἦσαν τεταγμένοι indicates both that the initiative belonged to someone else and that it had already been accomplished before they believed.

Fifth, this leads to the issue of election in relation to depravity. I would encourage you to again look at the essay I have posted on the bsf website called “My Understanding of the Biblical Doctrine of Election.” The basic point is that if we cannot take one step toward God (Rom 3:10-13), if we are unable to respond to anything outside the realm of sin (Eph 2:1), then if anyone is ever to get saved, God must take the initiative. This initiative cannot be simply corporate; he must initiate in the case of each individual. Eph 2:1-10 is explicitly about God’s initiation in the case of individual believers; this sets the stage for 2:11-22 in which corporate election is seen. But there can be no corporate election unless there is first individual election. Corporate election, at bottom, is a denial of total depravity. Or, to put it another way, if corporate election is true and if total depravity is true, then no one will ever get saved because no one will ever freely choose to be in Christ. Only by the gracious initiative of God does anyone ever choose Christ.

Sixth, corporate election offers no assurance of anything to the individual. If election is corporate only, then the promises given to the elect are only given to them corporately. This would mean that we cannot claim individual promises about our salvation. This would include the promise of eternal security. Paul writes, “who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33)—an allusion to the election of the Son (Isa 50:8). This allusion suggests that God looks on us as he looks on his own Son. But if we read this as saying that only groups are chosen, then the charge that is brought against the elect must be a corporate charge. How does that offer any comfort to the individual? To be consistent with a corporate-only view, when Paul says, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”(Rom 8:35), we would have to read that corporately. It would not be a promise to individuals (and it is interesting that Paul says “us” not “me” in vv. 35-39; his lone reference to himself is in the line “I am convinced” [v 38]). If election is only corporate, then eternal security is only offered on a corporate plane. No personal assurance can take place. The irony is that those who hold to corporate election often also hold to eternal security. They don’t realize the extreme inconsistency in their views. You can’t have it both ways: either we are individually chosen by a free act of God’s will and are eternally secure, or we are neither.

Seventh, Rom 8:29-30 seems to be decisive on this issue: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The relative pronoun throughout refers to the same group each time: no one is lost—from foreknowing,[2] through predestination, through calling, through justification, and to glorification. At any point if we wish to broaden the group beyond those who are actually saved, we violate the grammar of the text and the point of the apostle. Thus, unless we want to hold to universal salvation, we must surely view this text as being restrictive. God’s initiative and efficacy in our salvation are clearly indicated here.

Well, that’s a quick treatment on corporate election. For a more detailed look at it, I would recommend James White’s book, The Potter’s Freedom, a book which takes on one of evangelicalism’s greatest Arminian apologists, Norm Geisler.

God bless you in your pursuit of truth for his glory. It’s quite an adventure isn’t it?

[1] What is significant here is that the choice of Judas actually illustrates that election is entirely unconditional. Judas certainly did not possess the kind of character that made him suitable to be an apostle. Yet Jesus chose him anyway—knowing his character and what he would do.

[2] As I’m sure you’re aware, God’s foreknowledge in the NT does not refer simply to knowing beforehand, but to God’s loving selection beforehand. Otherwise, the significance of the death of Christ has to be reinterpreted (Acts 2:23)!

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    220 replies to "Corporate Election (Dan Wallace)"

    • wm tanksley

      Note to William: if you don’t want to be referred to as Master William, it would help if you didn’t “boss” others around here as you did John regarding this issue.

      I’ve always hoped for “Dread Lord”. Sadly, no college grants a degree which confers that form of address.

      Seriously, with all due respect, your judgement is biased, since he’s a partisan on your side. Good thing you’re gracious and light-hearted in your choice of “punishment”. 🙂 But if John wants the right to admonish me, I have the same right to admonish him (so long as I admit where I am at fault, as I did and do). Changing the topic without announcement is bad enough; DELIBERATELY using the topic change to bait people into misunderstanding is something worse entirely.

      John, if you’re the same John I’ve discussed with before, I respect you and anticipate our conversation. (If you’re not, well, hello!) You and Arminian together will be a formidable force indeed! 🙂


    • wm tanksley

      I guess I am going to keep right on annoying the dickens out of you here then!


      So, is our moral will something that we are born with, something that came with the fall? Or is it something that we can change?

      I think you mean “our corruption”, not “our moral will”. Our moral will didn’t “come with the fall”; it’s what we were created to have. The corruption that ruins it is also present in all our other parts. Can we change our corruption? That’s like asking “can I lift myself by my bootstraps”.

      If it is something that we can change, then yes the only reason we don’t obey God is that we DON’T want to.

      No, it’s ONE of the reasons.

      The rest of your post is something you’ve objected against when I brought it up. You’ve always told me that man has to be “able to do otherwise”, or else God isn’t just when He judges.

      Yes, we’re stuck with our corruption. Yes, we can change it. No, it doesn’t make us any less corrupt.


    • wm tanksley

      But are unbeliever’s spirits still capable of fulfilling the law William?

      Our spirit is depraved, as is our body and our soul. There is no part of us that is more evil than another, or more good. There is no part of us that we can blame for our lack of lawfulness.


    • cherylu


      No, I do not mean “our corruption” I mean “our moral will”. It is your own term used in comment # 43 on the last page. Remember? The closest we come to CAN NOT is our moral will.

      So, I ask again, is our moral will something that we are born with, something that came with the fall? Or is it something that we can change?

      And would you mind explaining this statement? Yes, we’re stuck with our corruption. Yes, we can change it. No, it doesn’t make us any less corrupt. If we are stuck with our corruption, how can we change it? You seem to be “Master” of a lot of things lately–including making statements that seem to be totally contradictory or very hard to understand!

    • cherylu


      Okay, cancel the first half of my last comment! As I reread your comment, I see that you did answer my question–at least mostly. So I think that my comment is going to leave anyone reading shaking their head. Duh. Think I need to go to bed for the night.

      But you DID state at one point that we can change our corruption and then at another point that we can’t. So which is it? (There is that contradiction again!!)

    • wm tanksley

      Cheryl, I have a hard time answering the question, since it’s based on an error — you’re asking a series of questions where the very first one is simply incorrect. You’re assuming, I think, that our “moral will” is corrupt and needs to be changed, and asking whether we can change it, and how to do that… Meanwhile, I keep trying to point out that ALL OF US is corrupted, not just our moral will.

      When I say that we can change our corruption, that was me trying to guess a better starting question for you, since asking whether we were born with a “moral will” made no sense at all (we were, and we’ll have it in Heaven too).

      It does make sense to ask whether we were born corrupt; my answer is “yes”. And yes, we can change it; but it’s like trying to wash a greasy rag by wiping it with itself. All you’re going to do is change the arrangement of the filth.


    • cherylu


      So we have all of the faculites we need to fulfill the law, but if they are all so corrupted that they can no longer do so and if there is nothing we can do to change that corruption, what is the point of insisting at all that man in his current state can fultfill the law? The point seems to be utterly moot to me. Everything that we have that made us able to do so has been so corrupted that in fact we can not do so at all anymore. And no one since Adam and Eve have been able to.

    • wm tanksley

      Cheryl, I think there are several reasons to insist on that. First, it’s an honest treatment of the Bible, which does say that God’s commands are not beyond us. Second, it helps train our moral intuition that we can’t hold people responsible for what they can’t help (without either violating the intuition or giving people excuses for bad actions). Third, it is consistent with the careful guidelines on avoiding known historical heresy, as Hodge mentioned above. Fourth, it Biblically responds to the claims of unbelievers (and believers, although differently) when they charge that they “have been good” or “try to be good”. Fifth, it teaches us the righteousness of God’s law in application to us (believer or unbeliever). Finally, since I’m running out of space, it gives us an idea of the power of God in working salvation in and for beings with our corruption.


    • cherylu


      I think I finally see the point that you have been trying to make. But it would seem to me that if you are making this point, it would be very helpful right from the start to clarify that though man was created with everything he needed to be able to fulfill God’s laws, he has since the fall been so corrupted that it is not possible for him to do so. That would eliminate the confusion that came from the statements, “he can, he can’t”. And it would of saved us somewhere around 200 comments worth of discussion too! 🙂

      And oh, I hope you are not going to come back and tell me I am still missing your point!

    • wm tanksley

      I’m honestly not sure whether or not I managed to communicate to you yet… I join you in hoping so.

      I agree with your explanation entirely, but I still need to add another detail: we still have everything we need to be able to fulfill the Law (as you mentioned that we were created), and although every part is corrupt so that none of us can fulfill the Law (as you mentioned), nonetheless we cannot claim that we were given any defective part that couldn’t do the works of the Law.

      But note the difference between doing the works of the Law (can) and fulfilling the Law (can’t); also note the difference between fulfilling the Law (Adam could) and saving oneself (Adam couldn’t). Finally, note the difference between having every part be capable although corrupt (we do) and ourselves being capable overall (we aren’t).

      If you deny that we can do the works of the Law, note that Paul says that Gentiles do them without knowing them.

      -Wm (out of space)

    • cherylu


      I am not denying at all that Gentiles do the works of the law or that any one can do them–part of the time. That was not the argument. I say that neither they nor any one else CAN FULFILL them.

      My whole contention has always been that since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, each of has been born with a fallen nature/old man that doesn’t allow us in any way, shape, or form to fulfill the law. We did nothing ourselves to acquire this nature, but be born. And we can of ourselves do nothing to overcome it. We simply can not fulfill the law at any point in history past the fall because we are all fallen. So to tell someone that they CAN at this point in time–way past the fall–seems totally contradictory to me. Yes we were created to be able to do so, but when you or I or anyone else was born and for the rest of our lives we can not do so without Jesus.

      And that is what definitions of TD that I have read all basically say. None say that we can.

    • cherylu

      By the way, I just noticed that even spaces and html tags are counted in the character count here. One thousand characters are bad enough by themselves. But even spaces and html tags? Good grief.

      Think I will go back to the old fashioned use of quotation marks and caps for emphasis and save a few precious characters.

    • wm tanksley

      Cheryl, you said “I say that neither they nor any one else CAN FULFILL them.

      With one caveat, I’m happy with what you’re saying here; we’re connecting. My point should perhaps be stated “there is no GOOD REASON why man does not perform the works of the Law.” My goal is to emphasize that man cannot point to Total Depravity as an excuse. Total depravity explains why man doesn’t fulfill the Law; but in no case does it completely explain it, without referring to the whole person who fails. (I’m suddenly reminded of my sons’ favorite movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”, in which the hero is often told, “You need to change THIS,” while the speaker is waving to indicate EVERYTHING about the hero.)

      So then: how can a man be “helped” to do something that nothing in him wants to do (and all of him hates)? Man lacks no power or capability; furthermore, the thing he’s commanded to do is precisely the thing he won’t do.


    • cherylu


      Maybe we are connecting and maybe we are not. I am still not sure here. 🙂 It seems we are saying the same thing and the next breath that we are not.

      You say, ” My point should perhaps be stated “there is no GOOD REASON why man does not perform the works of the Law.”

      But it seems to me that the standard definition of TD is that man because of his totally depraved nature that he is born with is completely incapable of fulfilling the law. Isn’t that Paul’s point when he says that what he wants to do he can’t and vice versa? That he is indeed a slave to sin that lives in him?

      So I would have to say there is every GOOD REASON that man cannot fulfill the law–TD renders him completely unable to do so. The whole person fails–because he can’t help but fail as the whole person is affected by TD.

      It seems to me that you are still denying any standard definition of TD or totally redefining it to say something else. Which is what we have said since the beginning. I have still never heard TD defined as you do by anyone else any where.

    • wm tanksley

      Cheryl, that’s not where we disagree. I intended the term “good reason” to have moral connotations. When we stand before God and He points to any specific act of sin and our refusal to repent, can anyone say, “Total Depravity made me do it,” and have God admit that this is the case?

      In that sense TD is not a morally adequate reason (AKA a “good reason”).

      Another bit of evidence that TD isn’t a sufficient explanation for evil is that every superficially good act is possible from an unbeliever; and many good religious intentions also seem to be possible (although directed towards idols). Every individual PART of goodness is there; but they never come together correctly at the same time.

      My point: sin isn’t caused or explained by total depravity; it’s caused and explained by us as a whole, and we are depraved totally.

      I need to explore how I think Arminian’s explained his concept of TD, and how I think it’s almost enough (I have questions, but he may have answers)…

    • wm tanksley

      I mentioned earlier that I found that Arminian’s explanations had clarified enough that I was able to accept, but not agree with, the classical Arminian claim of accepting Total Depravity. The reason I find it acceptable is that he’s pointed out that he claims that prevenient grace doesn’t apply at all times; rather, it applies only when God wants it to, and its effect is not to allow man to do good in general, but rather to allow him to turn towards God.

      In fact, this nuance strongly reminds of Lutheranism, in which man is incapable of turning to God, but is actively turned towards God by the power of the Word of God declared. (But Lutherans don’t claim to believe in Total Depravity as such.) I don’t know whether Arminians specify when God works through prevenient grace.

      I can accept Arminians believing in Total Depravity by accepting that God partially removes depravity without actually saving us. I don’t like that, but I don’t see a need to oppose it.


    • wm tanksley

      So I would have to say there is every GOOD REASON that man cannot fulfill the law–TD renders him completely unable to do so. The whole person fails–because he can’t help but fail as the whole person is affected by TD.

      I admit that “good reason” is could be two things: a morally adequate excuse, or a sufficient cause. So I was accidentally ambivalent.

      A “good reason” could (for the first meaning) be something I could bring up as a defense or mitigation in a court… “Yes, I broke the glass, but I have a good reason for it — I’m totally depraved.” Anyone has to reject this; total depravity is NOT a morally adequate excuse for sin.

      (Out of room; the next post will discuss whether human depravity is sufficient to explain human sin.)


    • wm tanksley

      The second meaning of “good reason” is logically sufficient cause: does our depravity logically require our sin?

      First, yes. Our total depravity ensures that every act will be unclean; we will not desire God with our whole being; our intentions will be unbelieving; and our actions will frequently be deliberately disobedient and destructive. Thus, we inevitably sin because we are depraved.

      Second, no. Total depravity does not explain any one of our sins; the alternative of not sinning was in every way available to every part of us (and the whole). We lacked no power to DO that good thing. As witness against us, we actually DO perform the works of the Law and even glory in having done them; and not EVERY action is explicitly disobedient or destructive. As Osteen and Warren have made an empire discovering, ANYONE can improve their life, even without God’s help.


    • Clark Coleman

      Did Dr. Wallace ever respond to Dr. Abasciano’s reply? It has been more than two years now.

      Reading Dr. Wallace’s piece, and then Dr. Abasciano’s reply, is a little depressing in one sense. I would think that, after several centuries of dialogue and debate among Calvinists and Arminians, that neither would make weak and naive arguments that have already been refuted, and make them in a tone that implies that the weak argument is powerful. If there is any hope of productive dialogue producing greater unity among Christians, we need to get beyond such mutual ignorance.

      I will give one particularly egregious example. Many Calvinists support the doctrine of eternal security by quoting such passages as Romans 8:35, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” An old and obvious refutation of such an interpretation is that the passage (grammatically and conceptually) speaks of an outside agent performing an action (separating) upon a direct object (us). This has nothing to do (grammatically or conceptually) with us performing an action (leaving the faith). Therefore, it is valid to say on the basis of such a verse that a faithful Christian cannot be removed from the faith against his will (e.g. by Satan); picture a kidnapper snatching a baby from its mother’s arms. It does not say that the baby cannot grow up into a teenager who runs away from home.

      Now, if you want to believe that this verse says something about the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security, you can continue to do so. But, to cite it to an Arminian as if it were a decisive proof of the doctrine implies a shocking ignorance of centuries of dialogue. If we are to have dialogue as opposed to factions who engage in mutually ignorant monologues, each convinced that their weakest arguments are powerful, we will have to do better than this.

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