How do you respond to 1 Timothy 1:9?

“[God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…”

Compatibilists sometimes appeal to this verse to support the view that God determined who would (and thus who would not) be saved “before the ages began.” This interpretation is possible but conflicts with Scripture’s affirmation that God loves all and wants all to be saved. If an interpretation is possible that doesn’t pose this contradiction, it is to be preferred. Fortunately, an alternative interpretation is available.

When Jews thought about God electing people, they thought primarily in corporate terms. God chose the nation of Israel to be his people and wanted them to be his vehicle for reaching the world. Thus, when Paul speaks of God saving and calling people “before the ages began,” it is likely that he is thinking about the Church–the “new Israel”–as a corporate whole.

Before the ages God determined to shower grace upon all who would believe in Jesus Christ. Paul can therefore say to all who believe that “God saved us and called us…before the ages began” (emphasis added). What was decreed for the corporate whole becomes applied to each individual once they by faith align themselves with the corporate whole.

Further Reading

An excellent book on the corporate view of election is W. W. Klein, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990).

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