Abram in Chesterton, Indiana, writes in: “Dear Pastor John, in the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22, Jesus says ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matthew 22:14). However, in Romans 8:28–30, it seems that the people who are ‘called’ are part of an unbreakable chain that ultimately leads to glorification. Are the ‘called’ in Matthew the same ‘called’ in Romans? What is the difference between being ‘called’ and being ‘chosen’?”
It is remarkable to me that Abram would ask this question now because the book that I just finished writing a few weeks ago — on reading the Bible supernaturally, and reading it naturally, and how those fit together — has a section in it on precisely these two texts and their differences. So, this was easy for me to think about because it was so front burner.
The reason I had taken it up is exactly the reason that Abraham took it up; namely, that Matthew 22:14 and Romans 8:30 apparently do not use the word “called” in the same way. If they do, they contradict each other. That is why he is concerned about this.
“If you are called, you are going to be saved forever. You will not lose your salvation. God won’t let it happen.”
So, I took it up as an illustration of how, when you want to know the meaning of a word in the Bible, you must not assume that the use of that word by other authors besides the one you are studying will be the same as the place where you are reading. In fact, I would stress how even the same author can use the same word in two very different ways.
We all know this in English, and I quoted this in the book. That is why it is on my mind right now. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “set” lists examples of 464 definitions. That just makes me wild with happiness about the English language. And the word “run” has 396 listed definitions. Now, if you need any evidence that words are flexible, that is it.
It is true in the Bible as well, which means that good old Mortimer Adler in his book How to Read a Book is absolutely right to have a whole section called “Coming to Terms.”
What he means is that, when you use a word, you don’t know yet what that word means just because you are familiar with the word. You don’t know what “set” means or “run” means until you see it, or the word “rock” — like rock a chair or rock music. The words have to have a context. And as soon as you have discerned from the immediate context how it is being used, then you have come to terms, and a word becomes a term with a definitive meaning in the context.
Called and Glorified
So, let’s address Matthew and Romans. Romans 8:30 says, “Those whom he predestined he also called” — and “called” is the word that Abram is concerned about. He “called” — “and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Clearly, Abram is right. Paul means that all the called are justified and all the justified — and, therefore, all the called — are glorified. Which means, if you are called, you are going to be saved forever. You will not lose your salvation. God won’t let it happen. You are his called.
Called and Rejected
But when you go to Matthew 22:1–14, there is the parable of the wedding feast. A king is giving this feast, and he wants lots and lots of people to come. So he sends out invitations and those who are invited won’t come. Unbelievable. It is just a parable of how horrible we are in turning down the wooings of God in this world.
“We need to base our interpretation on the immediate context, not just the fact that authors use the same word.”
So he says to his servants, Go out and call — it is translated “invite,” but it is the word “call” that he is going to refer to in the end — go call everybody you can find. Beat the bushes and bring them in.
Then his house is full of people, except there are a few in there — at least one — who has the wrong clothing on with no wedding garment, which probably signifies a lack of respect for the king and a lack of being changed by the grace that was extended to him in this invitation.
The parable ends like this: “‘In that place’” — where this person is thrown — “‘there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:13–14). Clearly, the “called” there are not always saved. The “chosen” are saved, but many are “called” who may not be “chosen.” “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
So what is clear is that in Matthew’s terminology the “called” is simply the general appeal to the world to come to the banquet. But those who come in response to this general call may not have been.
Now I am going to use Paul’s term called in what theologians call the “effectual” way. We know Paul thinks this way, too. Paul knows about this. They are not theologically different here.
In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” So, in other words, Christ crucified has been heralded to all the Jews and all the Gentiles. They have been invited to come. They have been “called” in a general way.
“It is a parable of how horrible we are in turning down the wooings of God in this world.”
Then he says, “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
There is a general call that goes out to everyone: “Come. If you believe, you will be saved.” And there is a call like the call that Jesus issued to Lazarus as he was standing before his grave when he said, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). And the dead man was given life by the call.
That is the way Paul uses “called” in Romans 8:30. That second usage is: the call creates the obedience, the call creates the life, and, therefore, all the called will be glorified.
So, the lesson of how to read the Bible is different authors sometimes use the same words in different ways, and we need to base our interpretation on the immediate context, not just the fact that they use the same word.