Skip to main content

A. Thornhill’s The Chosen People: Chapter 2: “God Chose Whom?”

Summary by C. P. Davis

In this chapter, Thornhill, after drawing out the distinction between what he terms “individual” and “corporate” election, discusses individual election in Second Temple thought. He begins by first noting that there is a touch of artificiality to these two terms, inasmuch as neither of them is used within Second Temple literature. This, however, should not overshadow the fact that there is a distinction between these two concepts, whatever one might call them. The chapter is divided into four major sections and a summary. We will briefly overview each of the major sections.

The first section, “The Character of the Elect,” is devoted to showing that Jews from the Second Temple period did not necessarily think of election in terms of salvation. The evidence seems to indicate that salvation, though an important corollary, was still just a corollary to the main thrust of election. But if salvation is not the main point, what is? Thornhill argues that the character of the elect fills this spot. In regards to salvation as election, our author writes, “Jews did not necessarily think in those categories” (28). The first bit of evidence comes from Wisdom of Ben Sira, which is clearly not focused on “otherworldly” notions, but rather has an eye to the practical life here and now. Ben Sira is largely concerned with displaying the magnificent qualities of the elect before God. In a telling section of his work (Sir 44:1–50:29), Ben Sira highlights God’s choice of famous Israelites, all of whom have been selected because of some inherent quality each possessed. Moses, in particular, is said to be chosen because he was faithful and meek. Character clearly plays a role for Ben Sira, but what about others?

The idea that character is relevant to election is also found in a number of additional psalms of David, some of which were discovered at Qumran. Psalm 152 and 153 portray David as one that is holy and elect, the two terms being linked. This seems to indicate that election has to do with David’s character before God. This is supported further by Psalm 155 where David is seen pleading with God to save Israel, on the basis of the faithful whom God has chosen. All of these psalms share the common theme of linking personal piety with God’s choice. But there is even more evidence for this concept in 1 Enoch. In fact, it is frequent that one finds election attached to personal disposition in this work. Like the psalms, 1 Enoch links the terms “elect,” “holy,” and “righteous,” in such a way that it is hard to separate the notion of election from an individual’s piety.

51djmwg4wpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_  “Chosen for a Purpose” is Thornhill’s second section, and here the focus shifts from character to function. That is, election deals not only with the piety of an individual, but with the role that person is to fulfill here and now. For Ben Sira, Moses was clearly chosen. Now, if one stops there the picture is not complete; one must ask what Ben Sira had in mind with this choosing. Moses was not simply chosen for salvation, but was chosen “so that he might teach Jacob the covenant, and Israel his decrees” (Sir 45:5). Again, the additional psalms of David tell the same story, only here David, not Moses, is the chosen. David is actually said to be chosen against the natural choice of man. God had a preferred choice, and this choice was for the purpose of leading the flock of Israel. As Thornhill points out, this passage is eminently “office-oriented” (37). The situation is no different in the Psalms of Solomon. Here the focus is once more on David and God’s choice of him to rule Israel. Interestingly, Israel is rebuked in this psalm because its sin had effectively cast off blessings that come through submitting to the Lord’s chosen. The only way to fix the problem is to look for one in the line of David to rule Israel.

In the third section, “Corporate Representation,” Thornhill unpacks one final aspect of individual election. Though coming close to corporate election, the concept of representation focuses on the individual as a reflection of the masses. Under this aspect of election God might treat a group in accordance with the stance of an individual. Jubilees offers a number of examples. This retelling of the book of Genesis casts God’s choice of Jacob in terms of obedience and righteousness. It might be noted that character is once again brought to the fore. However, a new development can be seen here: Jacob becomes the paradigm for the covenant community. A similar insight may also be gleaned from Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Specifically, the Testament of Simeon 5:1-6 indicates that Levi and Judah represent the remnant of God’s faithful, and both the Testament of Dan and the Testament of Naphtali, though not clearly making the same identification, elevate Levi and Judah in such a way that the same type of picture seems to be present. But perhaps the clearest instances of this corporate representation can be seen in 1 Enoch. Thornhill notes a number of locations that house this idea, among which 1 Enoch 39:6 makes clear that the “Righteous/Elect One ensures the salvation and blessing of the righteous/elect ones” (49).

The final section, “Paul and Chosen Individuals,” seeks to evaluate the writings of Paul in light of the preceding material. Again, the focus is upon Paul’s doctrine of individual election. In Galatians 1:15­–16, one finds Paul speaking of himself as one that was chosen for a specific task. Romans 16:13 portrays Rufus as one who had been chosen as a prominent member of the local church. Adam and Jesus are then presented as the paradigmatic individual representatives (in this case of the entire human race!) in 1 Corinthians 15:20–24. And in the case of Jesus, this issue becomes even more acute when thinking of the atonement (2 Cor 5:18–21). Needless to say, each aspect of individual election, as articulated above, can be found in numerous segments of Paul’s material.


Image: King David in Prayer By Pieter de Grebber (circa 1600–1652/1653) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain,


30.1971##S (1)

A. Thornhill’s The Chosen People: Chapter 1: “The Missing Link in Election”


Summary by C. P. Davis

No, this chapter is not discussing the problems with the political election cycle in the United States. Instead, A. Chadwick Thornhill focuses upon the doctrine of election, and how the Jewish mindset most certainly affected its formulation in the New Testament. Specifically, Thornhill narrows his topic to the way in which the apostle Paul’s concept of election was formed. Thornhill begins by discussing the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), and how certain elements of this theory should be retained. His main contention is that most scholars who deal with the NPP never deal directly with the concept of election. It is his goal to remedy this situation.

Thornhill begins by defining three theories of election: “national and unconditional,” “national and cooperative,” and “remnant-oriented and conditional.” The first theory develops election along the lines of a once-saved-always saved mentality. Specifically, it views the election of Israel as a holistic enterprise, whereby God chose this people for salvation. Anyone who is an Israelite is therefore saved by the nature of his covenantal relationship with Yahweh. Supporters of this theory (e.g., Sanders) often seek to adjust the common view that salvation in Israel was based upon works-righteousness. The second theory views Israel’s soteriological position as a tension between two poles: obedience and election. This is the least clearly defined category of the three. The third position argues that unconditional election of the nation Israel was never the point of the covenant. Instead, by studying Qumranic material and Pseudepigraphical works, it becomes clear that a conditional view of the covenant was the predominant Jewish view. Developing this third theory, then, is the major focus of the present book.

51djmwg4wpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_    The first major question addressed deals with how Second Temple Jews viewed their election. This is an important area of study because it leads to a second question: how might this understanding have affected the apostle Paul’s writings? He was, after all, a Jew of this time period. Thornhill believes that it is inappropriate to assume that Paul necessarily stood against the tide of all Jewish thought, just because he argued against some ideas. It is illogical to assume that due to a few instances of disagreement, Paul would have denied all of his Jewish background. Indeed, if this concept were taken to its logical conclusion then one would have to argue that Paul stood even against the Old Testament! At the same time, Thornhill is cautious not to overstate this point. He is clearly aware that Jewish thought at this time was rather amorphous. Nevertheless, there are certain widespread characteristics that he will seek to illustrate in subsequent chapters.

With this in mind, our author establishes a criterion by which he will proceed: each work from Second Temple Judaism that he will analyze will be addressed on its own merits and only then will it be compared with Paul’s material. The hope is that this methodology will offer a necessary safeguard against reading a preconceived notion of Paul’s theology into surveyed material and vice versa. The goal is to develop a picture of the zeitgeist of the Second Temple Jewish world, in relation to the doctrine of election. This goal is to be reached by analyzing three sources: the Dead Sea scrolls, the Apocrypha, and the Pseudepigrapha. In each case, an attempt will be made to expose those ideas that seem to be held by a broad sector of the Jewish world.