A Theology of Election and Non-Election in the Pentateuch and Its Practical Implications

A Theology of Election and Non-Election in the Pentateuch and Its Practical Implications

WONG Fook Kong

Monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been charged with intolerance. A common point of attack is their concepts of election. This article focuses on the theology of election in the Pentateuch and sets out to argue that the theology of election evinced in this corpus is neither intolerant nor hostile toward the non-elect. Election is characterized by blessings for self and others, a special relationship with YHWH, being a kingdom of priests, and a life set apart for YHWH. None of these characteristics necessitates hostility toward the non-elect. Furthermore, the relationships between the elect and non-elect are mainly peaceful and accommodating in the patriarchal narratives. It is the emergence of Israel as a nation and their exodus from Egypt that are marked by strives. The most troubling aspect of election is the divine command for Israel to annihilate the seven Canaanite nations upon their entry into Canaan (Deut 7:2). It has been argued that the list in Deuteronomy 7 (and elsewhere) should be understood symbolically as representing Israel's enemies in general rather than as pointing to any specific people group. Furthermore, the concept of “holy war” should be understood figuratively as the absolute destruction of evil as a way of expressing the meaning of holiness in one's relation to God. Lastly, the laws regarding outsiders living in the midst of Israel are generally accommodating and positive.
According to Kaminsky, Judaism practices what he calls “tolerant exclusivism.” This article agrees with his description and suggests that Christians should also practice a form of tolerant exclusivism. The doctrine of election is exclusive by nature; there is a clear demarcation between those who are chosen and those not chosen. There is no point in watering down this aspect of our faith. We should respect our own faith and practices, and expect that from others. At the same time, we must be tolerant towards those who have different faiths and world-views.

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