I will be blogging through Chadwick Thornhill’s new book, The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism (InterVarsity, 2015). As the title indicates, Thornhill discusses “election” in Second Temple Judaism in order to understand Paul’s views on the matter more accurately. The ultimate goal of the book is to provide a clear explanation of election in Rom 9-11, which is the task of chapter 7.
The book is apparently a revised version of Thornhill’s dissertation and it’s comprised of eight chapters. In this post I will summarize and briefly interact with the first two chapters. Throughout the book, a variety of Second Temple Jewish texts are employed, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal, and pseudepigraphical writings.
There appear to be three main questions being addressed regarding election in Second Temple Judaism and, subsequently, in Paul. First, what is the extent of divine election? Is it the entire nation of Israel or only a remnant? Second, and closely related, is the focus of election on the corporate or the individual? Third, is election typically understood as being conditional or unconditional? A fourth question, though not stated explicitly, might be added: is election typically discussed in the context of soteriology (salvation) or in other contexts?
Concerning “Jewish views of election” among scholars, Thornhill outlines three basic views: 1) national and unconditional; 2) national and cooperative; and 3) remnant-oriented and conditional (17-20). He summarizes his own view most clearly in a footnote: “It seems best to view the covenant as unconditional in terms of God’s commitment to it, but conditional in terms of how Israel relates to God through it” (20, n. 21).
Chapter 2 examines election as it relates to specific individuals in Second Temple Jewish texts. When an individual is mentioned as being “elect,” what is being emphasized? Thornhill argues that typically such passages recognize the individual’s excellence, piety, vocation, or role, but never in such instances is the soteriological status of the individual emphasized. Examples from Sirach, the Qumran Psalms Scroll, 1 Enoch, and the Psalms of Solomon are discussed. Another way in which “elect” individuals function is in the concept of corporate representation: “the individual represents the larger collective in that the collective in some sense must reflect the character and actions of the individual” (39). For example, in Jubilees 15-22 Jacob is the heir of promises and stands for faithful Israel, while Ishmael and Esau represent those outside the covenant.
Thornhill then contends that these categories can also be found in Paul’s references to election. Galatians 1:15-16 reflects election unto office and service, while corporate representation can be found in 1 Cor 15:20-24 and 2 Cor 5:14-21.
While I am generally in agreement with Thornhill’s exegetical work, I have some qualms about the organization of the first two chapters. There needs to be more clarity in areas, including the organization and goals of each chapter. It’s as if the target is unclear in chapter 2. I felt like it started with a stated goal of answering one or two questions, but ended up trying to answer six questions. I wonder if this lack of clarity has developed due to the book being a revision of a dissertation. Fortunately, subsequent chapters appear to stay on task much more sharply, so don’t take this criticism of the opening chapters as applicable to the remainder of the book. In my next post, we’ll move to more substantive issues. I will examine Thornhill’s claim that Second Temple Jews would have typically understood election in corporate (rather than individual) terms and the question of whether they would have viewed such election as conditional or unconditional.