Book Plunge: The Chosen People

What do I think of Chadwick Thornhill’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As an IVP reviewer who has a passion for the NT and thinks that our modern individualism so often misreads the text, I took notice when I saw a book come out about election in Second Temple Judaism. I try to avoid the Calvinism/Arminianism debate with everything I have and have surprised a lot of friends by not jumping onto the middle ground of molinism. Thornhill’s book then sounded like something right up my alley.

Thornhill writes to help us see what election would mean for Paul and what would it mean to be a Jew and how would you be included within the spectrum of Judaism. It’s often been said that it was not Judaism that existed at the time of Paul but rather Judaisms. We could compare it to many Christian denominations today. There are some who will have an incredibly wide umbrella and accept most anyone in. There are some who will make incredibly small. I’ve heard the joke many times about Saint Peter welcoming someone to heaven and having them go by a room where they’re told to be quiet and when asked why is told “Those are the (Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.) and they’re somber because they think they’re the only ones here.

This is why Thornhill goes to the Jewish writings of the time to look and see how the Jews identified themselves. What were negotiables? What were non-negotiables? What did it mean to be elect and how did one maintain one’s role in the covenant with YHWH? Many times we have in the past thought that the law was this system put on Jews that they slaved under and struggled to follow and were just hoping that they were in the grace of God, but this really isn’t the case. Jews had quite different views and while no one would really say being born a Jew was a free pass, most were not trying to find a new way of salvation. Paul himself definitely wasn’t. After all, in Philippians, he writes that with regards to the Law, he was blameless.

Thornhill’s main thesis in all of this is that election is not about individuals but about rather a group and whether one is in the group or not. Today, we could say that there is only one who is truly elect in Christianity and that is Jesus and those who are elect are those who are in Jesus. For the Jews, it would have been recognizing who is truly in Israel and who isn’t. Our debates on free will and soteriology might in fact be a surprise to Jews if they were here today. Could it be that many of them would say “God is sovereign and man has free will and we just don’t know how that works out but that’s for God to do.”?

Thornhill does not speak on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue directly, but he does give food for thought. Could it be that perhaps we will move past this debate by realizing that our focus on individualism is something that we are reading into the text itself and try to approach it more the way the ancient reader would have read it, or dare I say it, more the way the apostle Paul would have been thinking when he wrote it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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