The concept of the "elect" in the Shepherd of Hermas


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It seems to me that so many of the words we find in Scripture that Calvinists love to use come preloaded with their whole theological system when they use them...elect/election, predestine, foreknow, regeneration, and so forth. Thus when we read a verse like Romans 8:29-30, it can be difficult to dislodge the TULIP from our minds so that we can read it objectively and be open to all possible interpretations. In this regard, I think the success of Calvinism in persuading people can be found in how successful they are in coloring all of Scripture with their theological grid first.

Here's an example. Most of us when we read the words "save" or "salvation" in the Bible immediately think of eternal life. This is due to a preunderstanding we have that we bring with us to the text. That's how we use the words in a religious context, so that's what we assume the Bible means too. Thus if you point out that according to 1 Tim. 2:15 women will be saved in childbearing, it can cause consternation and confusion. (Why would having children be the reason that a woman receives eternal life?) Or take the term" born again." Most people that I know immediately assume that you're talking about the conversion experience, specifically what happens when you have faith in Christ, when they hear someone say "I've been born again." But the term as used in Scripture almost certainly doesn't mean this (it refers to being raised at the first resurrection in Rev. 20:4); but due to our preunderstanding of the term, it can be almost impossible to dislodge this interpretation so that we can actually understand what the text is saying.

Here's something worth considering. The Shepherd of Hermas, although obviously not canonical, was highly revered in the early church and is highly attested to have been written within one generation of the apostles. It contains a concept of the "elect" that would be quite foreign to us even if we aren't Calvinists. Here's a quote from the 2nd Vision:

After that thou hast made known unto them all these words, which the Master commanded me that they should be revealed unto thee, then all their sins which they sinned aforetime are forgiven to them; yea, and to all the saints that have sinned unto this day, if they repent with their whole heart, and remove double-mindedness from their heart.
For the Master sware by His own glory, as concerning His elect; that if, now that this day has been set as a limit, sin shall hereafter be committed, they shall not find salvation; for repentance for the righteous hath an end; the days of repentance are accomplished for all the saints; whereas for the Gentiles there is repentance until the last day.
Thou shalt therefore say unto the elders of the Church, that they direct their paths in righteousness, that they may receive in full the promises with abundant glory.
All that we can say from this is that, very early in the church, there was no Calvinistic preunderstanding of what the word "elect" implied and that it was in fact a conditional state, not a predetermined one. It doesn't necessarily mean that the Calvinistic understanding is wrong, but it means there is an alternative understanding available and that it happens to be the one assumed by some of the earliest Christians.
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