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Ancient Views on Election

You’ve heard the argument that goes something like:

…And God looked down the corridors of time and saw who would believe (obey, etc.) and elected those would believe on that basis.

Though I don’t find this to be the best explanation of election as described in the Old or New Testaments, it was interesting to come across a similar discussion by E. P. Sanders in the classic Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Translating from Sifre Deut. 311, Sanders shows that some Rabbis were making a similar argument:

‘When the Most High gave to the nations their inheriance’.–When the Holy One, blessed be he, gave [the] Torah to Israel, he stopped, looked (into the future, tsafah)* and perceived . . ., and, there being no nation among the nations which was worthy to receive the Torah except Israel, ‘he fixed the bounds of the peoples’ (92).

Note that Sanders will argue that this did not imply that Israel ‘earned’ election, but only that they were ‘expected’ to obey in the future (94).

* Sanders’ note: “On the word tsafah, ‘foresee’, see Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, p. 160.”

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