Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones (Conexiones Church) in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership. Author.
Calvinism and Election
According to Calvinism, before God created the humanity and the world, he elected and predestined specific individuals to receive eternal life so they could believe in Jesus Christ and be saved (click here to read an article by CARM on the ordo salutis).
Because the 1 Peter 1:1-5 includes the terms election and foreknowledge, some readers may understand this passage in Calvinistic terms. In this article, we will examine the passage to discern whether it is using Calvinistic concepts.
1 Peter 1:1-5, ESV
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:5, ESV)
(v.1) The author identifies himself as Peter*, an apostle of (one who is sent by) Jesus Christ. He addresses his letter to those who are elect and who, because of the dispersion (a situation that compelled them to be dispersed, most likely a persecution), are also exiles in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (Roman provinces in what is modern day Turkey).
*Most likely, the author is Sylvanus, who is writing the letter at Peter's request and direction (see 1 Peter 5:12).
(v.2) These exiles were elected according to the foreknowledge (knowledge ahead of time) of God the Father, they were elected in sanctification (seeting apart) of the Holy Spirit, and they were elected to obey Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood.
(v.3) The author blesses the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ becasue he has caused us (the author and his audience) to be born again (see John 3:3-8). God caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this second brith is unto a living hope.
(v.4) This living hope consists on an inheritance that is imperishable (it won't die), undefiled (it is free from sin), unfading (it won't vanish away), and kept in heaven (it is stored in heaven, so it cannot die, be contaminated with sin, or vanish away).
(v5) God's power guard the author's audience (and the author) for a salvation (from judgment and eternal punishment) that will be revealed (made manifest) in the last time (the time of the end, which from the author's perspective was further in the future).
Election and Foreknowledge in 1 Peter 1:1-5
It is important that we understand that the election and foreknowledge discussed in 1 Peter 1:1-5 are not necessarily the same kind proposed by Calvinism. The context does not indicate that God elected the elect before he created them, or before he created the world; neither does the context indicate that God foreknew the elect before he creted them or the world. The reader first needs to impose a Calvinistic interpretation on the election and foreknowledge to understand this passage as supporting Calvinism.
In fact, one of the only clear time-indicators in this passage is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since God caused the elect to be born again to a living hope through the ressurection of Jesus Christ, the elect were not born again before the resuurection ever occurred. Now, we belive Jesus's resurrection took place in c. 34 AD.
The other clear time-indicator is the last time. Although the last time may be interpreted by hyper-preterists as something that already took place, most of us believe that the last time is a future event even for us today—for the salvation will be revealed at the last time. This means that, from the time the author's audience was born again unto that last time, they would be kept by the power of God.
We see, then, that there are two clear time indicators: the resurrection (c. 34 AD) and the last time (sometime in the future). The question we must ask ourselves is why we should assume that the election and foreknowledge mentioned in this passage took place prior to eternity past (before God created humanity and the world, as Calvinists believe), if this timeframe is not mentioned in this passage. Instead, it is more likely tht the election and the foreknowledge took place sometime before the last time, the resurrection, or even the second birth of the audience—which timeframes are explicitly mentioned in the passage.
Relationship of Key Terms within The Passage
Many of the concepts in this brief passage are related to each other. Take for example the salvation (v.5) that will be revealed in the last time: most of us believe that this salvation is related to the living hope (v.3) and the inheritance that does not die, that does not fade, that is free from sin, and that is kept in heaven (v4). There is no reason for us to separate these concepts, even though we are not explicitly told that they are the same thing.
Similarly, the election and the foreknowledge can be understood to be references to the second birth of the audience (and the author), which second birth occurs after the resurrection and much before the last time. If the election and the foreknoweldge of the audience occurred at the time of their second birth, then these are not Calvinistic terms—and I am suggesting that these events be interpreted as synonymous with each other.
Under such interpretation, the elect were elected because they were born again, and they were foreknown prior to the revelation of their salvation in the last day. While this interpretation is not the only interpreation to which the passage lends itself, it is a logical and more likely interpreation since it does not make reference to a timeframe (eternity past) that isn't found on the passage—while Calvinism would require us to understand these concepts (election and foreknowledge) in light of eternity past.
For Obedience and For Sprinkling
The passage in question also teaches that the elect were elected by God for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. Therefore, it should be clear to the reader that the election is not unto the salvation that will be revealed in the last time, but unto obedience and sprinkling.
While the audience (and the author) are kept by the power of God unto that salvation that will be rvealed in the last time, they were not elected unto that salvation, but they were elected unto obedience and sprinkling. What does that mean?
Throughout the epistle, the author makes several references to concepts in the Tanach (Old Testament). Election for obedience and sprinkling are actually that, concepts from the Old Testament—and these concepts are not a reference to regeneration, salvation, or justification.
In 1 Peter 1:16, for example, the author reminds his audience of Leviticus 11:44.
"For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Leviticus 11:44, KJV)
In context, God was commanding the people of Israel to be holy because he is holy. Since He was their God, He expected them to be holy. The passage has nothing to do with forgiveness of sins, justification, and salvation, but with God's requirement for holiness in the life of everyone who follows Him.
In 1 Peter 2:9, the author also makes reference to Israel's calling according to the Torah (compare with Deuteronomy 10:15, Exodus 19:6, Deuteronomy 7:6), and he applies this calling to his audience.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)
Since the author makes reference to several concepts in the Tanach, it is important that we make sure we understand this concepts.
The obedience and the sprinkling of which the author speaks are most likely a reference to the concepts in Exodus 24, in which passage the people enter into a covenant (the Mosaic covenant) with God.
And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and he said, “Look, the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:8, LEB)
In this passage, Moses sprinkled the people of Israel with the blood of the covenant ater they had committed themselves to obey God's Law:
And Moses came, and he told the people all the words of Yahweh and all the regulations. And all the people answered with one voice, and they said, “All the words that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 24:3, LEB)
The people of Israel were not being saved by means of this blood, instead they were entering into a covenant with God: they would obey God's laws in exchange for God's blessings (and they would be cursed if they were to disobey God's laws).
Consequently, it is very likely—since the author makes reference to the requirement of holiness (1 Peter 1:16) and to several old testament concepts—that, when he says that God elected the elect for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood, the author means that God elected his audience to obey Jesus under the new covenant, which is made with Jesus's own blood (Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 9:15). That is, at the time when these people believed in Jesus Christ and were born again, at that time God elected them to obey Jesus Christ and lead holy lives under the new covenant (the covenant made through Jesus Christ).
Why 1 Peter 1:1-5 Does Not Support Calvinism
In conclusion, althoug 1 Peter 1:1-5 speaks of election and foreknowledge, the passage does not necessarily support Calvinism because the passage can also be interpreted through its own context as making reference to the time in which the author's audience was born again (through faith in Jesus Christ, of course).
At that time, the people entered into a New Covenant with God, who expects them to obey Jesus Christ as Israel obeyed Moses. Also, at that time (the time when they were born again), God foreknew them in relationship to the last time (a time yet in the future) and elected them to receive salvation as their inheritance.
This interpretation, because it does not rely on making reference to eternity past (a concept not found in this passage) is better than the Calvinist interpretation, which would require the reader to impose Calvinist doctrine on the passage in order to understand the election and foreknowledge in Calvinistic terms.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Marcelo Carcach