(1 Pet. 1:2) Are some “chosen” for heaven and others “chosen” for hell?

CLAIM: Peter writes that all Christians are “are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Does this mean that Christians are “chosen” for heaven and non-Christians are “chosen” for hell?

RESPONSE: According to this passage, Christians are “chosen” (eklektos) based on God’s foreknowledge. That is, God chose these Christians, because he foreknew that they would freely choose him.

Peter uses the Greek word “foreknowledge” (proginōskō). In all 220 NT uses (and even in secular Greek at the time), the term never once refers to “choice.”[1] It always refers to knowledge. Literally, this word means “to know in advance.” In his second letter, Peter uses it to refer to knowledge of specific facts: “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand (proginōskō), be on your guard” (2 Pet. 3:17). Therefore, God foreknew who would freely accept him and reject him. This is our basis for being “chosen.”

The term “foreknowledge” only occurs once elsewhere as a noun, where it refers to God’s “predetermined plan and foreknowledge” to bring about the Cross of Christ (Acts 2:23). Moreover, Paul refers to how God “predestined” Christians on the basis of his foreknowledge as well (Rom. 8:29). Thus, both God’s election (eklektos) and predestination (proorizō) are based on his foreknowledge.

Later, in chapter 2, Peter returns to the subject of election (or being “chosen” c.f. 1 Peter 1:1). He uses the same word “chosen” (eklektos) to refer to Christ being “chosen” (1 Pet. 2:4 ESV). Of course, it would be heretical to think that Christ was chosen from among many Messiahs. That is, it wasn’t as though God had many sons to choose from to send to Earth! Instead, God “chose” Christ for the purpose of saving humanity. In the same way, Christians are chosen for the purpose of spreading the gospel (“to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” 1 Pet. 2:5). Therefore, Peter incorporates their election with Christ’s election. Both Christ and the church were chosen for a purpose. For more on the subject of predestination and election, see comments on Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:4.

Calvinist responses considered

RESPONSE #1. Calvinists understand this to refer to knowing personally—not merely propositionally. Schreiner admits that God’s foreknowledge refers to knowing the future, but he argues that it means “more than this.”[2] Under Reformed theology, God knew the elect in a personal way (e.g. Jn. 10:14; 1 Cor. 8:3; 2 Tim. 2:19).[3] He knew the people—not just their decisions.

This is misguided. The term foreknowledge simply refers to knowing the future beforehand. And even if a personal connotation is being communicated, this still wouldn’t imply unconditional election. After all, knowing a person also includes knowing about the person. We’ve often heard people say, “I just want to know Jesus—not study theology.” This is clearly wrong. An essential part of knowing Jesus is knowing about Jesus. In the same way, God knew all future contingencies and this was the basis upon which we are chosen: namely, his foreknowledge of everything.

Consider Peter’s usage of the term “foreknow” (proginōskō) in verse 20. There he writes that Jesus was “foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times” (1 Pet. 1:20). God knew Jesus relationally and he knew the plan that he would carry out through Jesus. Later, this plan came to fruition when Jesus “appeared” to humans. This fits with the earlier context of the prophets wanting to know the fulfillment of their own prophecies (1 Pet. 1:10-12). God is omniscient with regard to all future events. This includes both people and their free decisions.

RESPONSE #2. Calvinists also argue that the word “chosen” is an adjective—not a verb. Grudem understands this to modify everything about believers, including their being aliens, their privileges as believers, their circumstances, etc.[4] Yet this doesn’t fit with the context: Salvation is the context—not mere states of being. We agree with Karen Jobes who argues that the prepositional phrase (“according to the foreknowledge of God”) modifies “the term that most fundamentally defines who these Christians are: the eklektoi, the chosen.”[5] Indeed, the nearest antecedent is how believers are “chosen.” Thus, God’s foreknowledge is the operating factor for believers being “chosen.”

[1] Forster and Marston write, “Now we have seen that to interpret it as “choice” would depart (as all commentators agree) from all secular usage… [In] 220 NT uses of ginosko in the Bible there is no instance of it simply meaning “choose” unless implicit in an existing relationship.” Forster, Roger T., and V. Paul Marston. God’s Strategy in Human History. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1974. 241.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 53.

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 54.

[4] Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 54.

[5] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 67-68.