January 21, 2021

Difficult Scriptures: Matthew 22:14

14 “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14, NLT)

In last week’s Difficult Scriptures, many of you thought the passage too easy. Or, perhaps, you didn’t care to dig deeply enough. There was a lot of meat left on that bone, monks.

This week’s verse is a head-scratcher. Who are those who are called? And why are only a few of those who are called chosen? And what are they chosen for? Does this verse support predestination?

Ok. Take it from here. Wrestle this one out. Don’t leave any meat this week. I’m counting on you.


  1. Pastor Troy says

    We confuse the two concepts of “predestined” and “predestinated.” To be predestinated is to have the ends and finality predetermined for us. Not a Biblical concept as far as I can see. Predestined is to have plan and purpose predetermined for us. A Biblical concept as far as I can see. The “called” are many, because God does the calling. It is part of His plan and purpose for us. The “chosen” are few because we are responsible for answering the call. To be members of the “elect” or “chosen” is our part in fulfilling the plan and purpose predestined for us by God. In short, we have to choose to be chosen, and apparently only a “few” will. Or at least a fewer number than those who are “called.”

  2. Well, there’s a whole loaded parable preceding that statement that I really have no idea about.

    I suppose I’ll venture a guess though. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees (21:45) and it appears to me that Matthew indicates He was continuing in the vein (22:1). So, is it possible that the king inviting the unworthy guests is God’s choosing of Israel as His people over and above the other nations? The other nations were violently done away with to make room for Israel, as in the parable. Then, once the feast began (ie. God’s relationship with Israel commences), He finds them unworthy (no garment approriate). To me, that’s the Pharisees…they were called to be God’s people, but in showing up in their own righteousness were found unworthy.

    Which leads us to Jesus’ statement above, “For many are called, but few are chosen”, which I feel is tied to the unworthy guest. I’m feeling much more shaky drawing a conclusion about it, and I’m not sure where to go from here. I think it’s notable the king calls the guest “Friend” when addressing him. It seems it could be either sarcasm or genuine, I’m know only English so I’m not qualified to say which. But if it’s genuine, then maybe the guest’s response, or lack thereof, triggered the king’s anger?

    OK, that’s as far as I can go with it…

    • After further thought, I’d like to strike that part about Israel versus the Gentiles. Good old fundamentalist, dispensationalist background that I can’t quite get out of my head, I guess.

      Anyway, I came to some conclusions falling asleep last night. The king calls the guest “friend”, which I really do think now is genuine. That would mean the response of the guest was unacceptable. So what about it was unacceptable? In the parable, only the unworthy were chosen – which was a constant theme of Jesus’ kingdom declaration. I think now that the guest’s silence was a form of self-righteousness. The king knew who he was inviting, and it would be weird to think that he would expect them to have more than one garment. But the guest couldn’t admit his low estate, so the king rejected him.

      I’ve come to think that maybe “chosen” might mean “acceptable”. Only those who come to God in their fallen state, fully recognizing that they are poor in spirit, with totally messed up lives, will be “chosen” or “accepted”.

  3. I agree with Matt – the immediate context of the parable determines the meaning here. The “many” who were called include both groups that were called to the wedding feast previously. It is addressed first of all at the chief priest and elders as the representatives of the Jewish religious leadership and then in a consecutive move to all those who’d be unexpected guests from the perspective of the first group.

    The “few” who are chosen are the actual participants in the feast who gladly accepted the invitation. It does not include the unworthy guest who most likely describes someone coming on his own terms – which would be another reference to pharisaic presumptous attitudes.

    I’ve discussed the parable some more in this recent post:

  4. Many people hear the call of God which comes through His revelation of Himself through two things-
    the creation and the conscience within us. But only the “few” will respond because they are the ones who are truly hearing. Jesus said many times “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

    The point is that everyone has ears but only a few are listening and responding. Not everyone who hears the gospel receives it but only the “few” who have ears to hear. The “many” hear, but there is no interest or there is outright antagonism toward God.

    Many are called or invited into the kingdom, but none are able to come on their own. God must draw the hearts of those whom come; otherwise they will not [John 6:44].

  5. Regarding your question about predestination:
    I personally can’t see anything here that would indicate a predetermined rejection or random selection by the host (God) rather the contrary. The Greek for “many” is used in an inclusive way (not opposite to “all” like we would in English). The actual invitation eventually goes out to all. This is consistent with Israel’s calling to become a blessing to all nations and Paul’s blanket statement that God wants all to be saved. The few who ultimately end up enjoying the feast are not preselected in the parable but they simply understood and embraced what was offered to them.

    We also need to ask the question WHY Jesus is confronting the sceptics and enemies in this way. Was it just to describe the facts and pronounce their future judgment or was he actually trying to deliberately shock them by revealing their actual rejection of God and of His Son?

    If it is the latter (and I believe the sequence of the invitations and the usage “friend” for the unworthy guest would support this), then it is not an unchangeable selection of God Himself for salvation or and damnation apart from human decision (double predestination) but it is an attempt to change people’s minds who have rejected Him until this point in time.

  6. Steve Chamberlain says

    All are called but sadly only a few answer and enter in and become “the chosen” – Certainly I am open to correction…

  7. Brother Bartimaeus says

    I think this passage only becomes really difficult if you insert predestination theology into it.  If God’s plan were predestination, why would He bother to call so many?  “Thanks for responding to the call, but you aren’t one of the ones I really wanted.”  Is God just being mean to the rest of us who hear him, but get left behind?
    Immediately preceding the passage is the story of the man who gets into the banquet, but isn’t properly dressed, so he gets tossed out.  The clothes are a metaphor for the soul, so the take away for interpreting the passage is: if your soul isn’t in order, then you aren’t allowed into the Kingdom.  The impetus isn’t on the king, its on the man.  In the story the man was responsible for showing up neat, tidy, and in order.  In fact, if the man were beef, might one say he was… choice?
    So on to the passage, “For many are called, but few are chosen”.  I’m not an expert, but I can fumble my way around some biblical reference tools, and I see that the Greek word “eklektos” translated as “chosen” does have an alternate definition of meaning “choice, select, i.e. the best of its kind or class” (http://net.bible.org/strong.php?id=1588).  See what I’m getting at?
    Originally God’s call was to the Jews, but then he opened it up to all of us.  The question is, when we answer that call are we going to show up disheveled or dapper?  Are we going to take that call seriously, put our lives and souls in order, and show the proper reverence and respect to God?  Are we going to choose to be choice?

    • That’s really frightening. My soul is a total mess…

      • Seconded.

      • Brother Bartimaeus says

        Well… fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  But seriously, you do know that confession and repentance clean the slate… right?
        It’s not that we will be perfect, but that we make a commitment to showing up in the Kingdom properly clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ.

        • What if I am hit by a PAT bus on the way to confession? What if I sin just before I fall asleep and then die in my sleep?

          I don’t think I would be able to sleep at all, if I believed as you do. I think I would live in the confessional.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            What if I am hit by a PAT bus on the way to confession?

            Invoking the infamous Hypothetical Bus?

            What if I sin just before I fall asleep and then die in my sleep?

            Getting bent out of shape over such matters is called “Excessive Scrupulosity”, and is more of a neurosis than a sin. It’s especially provoked by “worm theology” and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” preaching or theological parsing like something out of George Carlin’s “Class Clown”.

          • Spend anytime in Pittsburgh, and you will come to fear the PAT bus! 🙂

            I remember hearing on the news, an accident involving 4 PAT buses (busi?). I figured all four had run the red light and collided in the middle of the intersection.

            I think it’s right to question the “toggling clean/dirty” model of sin and justification. It inevitably leads to downgrading sin, or a system like Purgatory.

  8. This series of parables is told to the scribes, priests, and pharisees. The parable of the wedding feast and the preceding one of the vineyard have allusions back to Isaiah regarding the unfaithfulness of the people and the injustice of the leaders. The conclusion of the wedding feast probably has nothing to do with predestination; rather, it is a reminder that the prophets warned that only a remnant of Israel would be saved. The religious rulers were convinced that they were truly among the chosen seed of Abraham; Jesus is saying, “not so fast”. John the Baptist confronted them, too, warning them not to count on being of the seed of Abraham, because God could raise up from the rocks the seed of Abraham. Those who believe in the One whom the Father sent are the true seed of Abraham, the true sons and daughters of God. As Jesus stated elseware, the tax collectors and prostitutes enter in, but the religious elite refuse. Some things never change.

  9. Chosen is the difficult part of this: Someone needs to explain chosen. Fine, many (or all) are called. We understand that. The problem is, does God choose? If so, how? ..and what part does the called one play in being chosen?

    • The Greek word is “eklektos”. It means select, favorite, elect.

      • I like this definitiion. It was the priests, scribes, and pharisees who believed they were the “chosen”, the “elite”, and the sinners and unwashed of society were the condemned. Jesus turns this upside-down. Their rejection of Jesus and refusal to repent make them the condemned – not the “chosen”, as they considered themselves. The tax collectors and prostitutes became the “elite” by receiving the King’s Son. Jesus plays the roll of scandalon, the stone rejected by the builders.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          You know, it seems to be Jesus’ style to take “Everybody Knows That” and turn it one-eighty on its head.

          I remember some comment lost in the mists of time on this blog that claimed that “The Prodigal Son” was a common type of Rabbinical tale of the period. The normal ending was praise for the Obedient Older Brother and rejection of the Prodigal Younger. Jesus’ version played it completely straight right up to the punch line, then flipped everything one-eighty. Wonderful “mess-with-your-mind” storytelling.

    • Femi, I disagree. The hard word here is surely ‘called’.
      Most of the bloggers go straight for the ‘call-of-God-on-my-life’ meaning.
      What if ‘called’ meant ‘named’, as in Gen 2:20?

  10. Choosing myself (i.e. resonding to the call) is different from me being “chosen” by the one “calling”; unless we say God calls and we choose; which is not implied in the sentence (or the passage)

  11. I believe this passage fits well into Reformed theology, but I wouldn’t use it as a proof.

    The real proof of Reformed theology comes from other pieces fitting together:
    1) Before salvation, we are dead (in sin) – dead, having no power; lifeless; stone cold; unable to take action (actually, not just dead but an enemy of God; opposed to God; desiring the opposite outcome/results of God)

    2) We talk a lot about free will, but where is God’s freedom? Is He not free to save whom He wills? Is He obligated to save us because of action on our part? If so, is salvation a gift, or is it just/fair wages? Can we not boast that we have responded rightly?

    3) If salvation is dependent on our right response, how can we be certain/sure that we have responded rightly? Can our later responses undo this status? Why not? (This is perhaps the least good proposition)

    • God is free to save who he wants and it seems clear in scripture that he wants to save all but only actually does save those who respond to his grace.

      – “How can we be sure we made the right response” well how do you know you were actually chosen? how do you know God actually hasn’t predetermined your damnation? All the answers to these questions are just as subjective.

      – why would anyone say that simply accepting a free gift is a work that we could some how boast about? It seems a little silly and rather nitpickyish 🙂

  12. I think it boils down simply to responding with your heart to God’s call. As Jesus was addressing the Pharisees, it seems in line that many who thought they were “chosen” actually had hearts against God and full of self-righteousness. Along the same lines as the cleaning of the inside of the cup,etc. Those who are chosen is not about having the “perfect” response to God’s call, but simply having a heart that responds with thanksgiving and the longing for more of God, willing to set aside selfishness to respond and grow in obedience. I think it is the willingness to move closer to Christ’s example, not the attainment of his holiness, that is precious in God’s sight.

  13. I have to believe that there is more to the indivual who shows up without wedding clothes. I don’t think this could have been an oversight or a lack of preparedness. It would seem that in Jewish culture showing up at a wedding without proper garments was a sign of disrespect and contempt for the groom and therefore his father. This again would point the parable back in the faces of the religious elite. It could be an allegory of the pharisee’s piety for the Father but contempt for the Son. What the father in the parable is saying is, “if you do not show honor and respect for my son, you are cast out – regardless of your alleged respect for me.”

    • I think it comes back to the righteousness with which we clothe ourselves:
      1) our own righteousness (self- or works-) which is really filthy rags
      2) the pure, white robes given to us by Jesus

      • Many interpetations that I have seen would agree with you, nedbrek. This still can be directed to the Pharisees, who were like the proverbial emperors with no clothes in their own self-righteousness. I just don’t think predestination of any flavor should be interpreted into this parable.

        • I would say “consistent, but not proven”. The proof comes from where our robes come from; does Jesus give them to us because we have earned them, or through His own free will?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Predestination is one of those doctrines that can open up a real can of worms, and has this tendency to get firewalled to the max. This has been a continuing problem with Islam since its beginning, since a LOT of Islamic theology has been “God’s Will” trumping everything else. Including observable reality.

          When he moved from Seattle to Louisville years ago, one of my informants got involved with a church that was heavily into Predestination Uber Alles. He reported the same characteristics and problems that you find intrinsic to Islam — passivity, fatalism, and the “not my fault” excuse machine and resulting inability to learn from mistakes.

          • It can lead to that…but there is also the compatibalist way as well, which recognizes both free will and God’s control over total sovereignty over all occurences. To my mind, the compatibilist view is truest to the Scriptures…there seems to have to be tortured exegesis at one point or another in Scripture if one holds to strong Calvinism or strong Arminianism. But if we can allow there to be a both/and mentality, then there’s no contradiction, only paradox.

            The Christian faith is full of paradoxes that we proclaim as true but can’t wrap our minds fully around (the Trinity comes to mind). Why can’t this be one of them?

    • I agree that whatever it means to have or not to have wedding clothes is the key to the parable and to the verse in question. But I’m not too sure the guy without wedding clothes represents the religious elite who rely on their own righteousness. It seems more likely that the elite were included on the initial list of invitees who made excuses not to come. This improperly dressed fellow seems to have come in off the streets with the second, more universal invitation. Maybe he just slipped in for the free food — and, in that way, is comparable to the multitudes who started following Jesus after the fish-and-loaves miracles and who were more interested in a free lunch than understanding and living by the bread of Jesus’s teachings. The modern equivalent would be those who join the church for superficial, self-centered reasons and who really have no intention of actually dying to self and being reborn in Christ.

      • This is the most compelling answer I have seen yet. Makes sense in light of the parable preceding it and doesn’t get bogged down by what at first glance appears to bring predestination into the conversation.

  14. I had to preach on this a couple of years ago and still remember the struggle.

    One thing really struck me as I read the passage: the only person who was “chosen” in this passage was the one who was kicked out. Turned the passage on its head for me when I looked at it that way: that MANY are welcomed and FEW are kicked (or left) out.

    The other thing that illuminated the passage was Ken Collins’ unpacking of the Greek use of “many” and “few.” ( http://www.kencollins.com/question-44.htm)

    He writes, “In this case, we are dealing with a Greek usage that divides the whole into two unequal parts, which are called the many and the few. In Greek you might say, “The many are on time, but the few are late.” The English equivalent is, “Most are on time, but some are late.” In Greek, “the many” and “the few” add up to everyone; just as in English, “most” and “some” add up to everyone. ”

    In which case the “few” are not chosen from among the “many,” but are a separate group from the “many.”

    Now, am I submitting this as a definitive answer? No indeed. But it certainly painted a different picture.

    I still don’t know what “called” and (especially) “chosen” means here. It’s so hard to hear it as anything other than “it’s a good thing to be called, to be among the few.” But the more I look at this story, the more it appears to me it is the “few” who refuse to come. Does this have something to do with being “the chosen people”? The invited ones? As opposed to “everyone you find”, “all whom they found, both good and bad” who then come to the banquet. New thought for me. Just thinking out loud here.

    • Laura, the many/few could be a relative thing, or an idiomatic thing, as you’ve suggested–something like Luke14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” (Interestingly, this follows the Parable of the Great Banquet, a parallel to the Matthew wedding story.)

      Also, the “many” could include everyone, if we look at 1Timothy2:3-4, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

      We don’t know how big a crowd the few will be, but it’s clear that God wants all, and that not all will come. Is the ratio of chosen to unchosen 50/50? 90/10? In Matthew24:40-41, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” Does this guarantee at least 50-50? (Some take this as proof of a rapture; I don’t, but in either case it’s talking about salvation.)

      As with the “hating” of one’s family, the “many/few” could be another case of oriental hyperbole to make a point.

      Best to pray to be among the few, whatever the percentage.

  15. Laura, you are asking good questions. In the Book of Revelation, somewhere near the end, it talks about so many people worshiping God in the vision that John saw that counting them would be like counting the sand on the beach or something to that effect. So, a LOT of people were in God’s good graces in heaven, so to speak. That would be the opposite of a “few being chosen” if by that we mean that only a few people are found acceptable by God. I will go look at the webpage you gave to study the “many” and “few” matter.

  16. Laura, I went to the page you recommended and like how the author ended it with: “This parable does not mean that God calls a lot of people, picks over them, and keeps only a few. If that were true, the middle of the parable would have no meaning. It means that God calls everyone and gives them the power to respond—but to be chosen, we must respond to the call, using the power God gave us for that purpose.”

    And I also like what it says about the wedding garment which I did not know: “One of them was not wearing a wedding garment, so he was thrown out. In those days, the host furnished the wedding garments, so anyone who wasn’t properly dressed was very disrespectful.” It kind of seems “odd” that the host would furnish the wedding garments, but I really don’t know much about how things were done in that time. Perhaps if travelers came a long way to attend a wedding, their clothes would be less than festive to wear to a wedding. But if it was a BIG wedding, it seems like the host would have to be very rich to provide garments for all the attendees. In Jesus’ case…no problem. He has enough LOVE to clothe all of us. But imagine planning a wedding at that time and having to have clothes for everyone. .I guess poor people would just be able to have a little celebration.

    • The thing I thought was odd about that part you quoted is that it doesn’t match the definition he gave earlier about “many” and “few.” Because the “few” are not the subset of the “many,” if what he said is correct. But it’s really hard for me to wrap my brain around that “many/few” thing. I feel like I need a Venn diagram.

      I love what you have to say about the wedding garments and about the abundance Jesus has to provide for us.

  17. I am going to go out on a limb here and throw in my 2 cents. (Safe to do now, as most people have moved on and probably won’t read this anyway..heh heh heh)

    I think Jesus deliberately used the word “Chosen” as opposed to “respond” (thanks nedbrek). And I think this choice was to play on the Jewish Concept–especially the Pharisees, Scribes, and Priests–that they were the “Chosen People.” For Jesus, being the “Chosen” was not a calling (to use our terms) but actually a response to a “calling.” The response was to follow Jesus (the true Chosen One) and his behavior and teachings (the white robe) and to remain “in” them (wear the white robe).

    So the parables make the distinction for us. Many of the first century Isrealites/Jews were called to act and to therefore “be” God’s People. Since Jesus used the term “many” his dig is primarily at the elites he was addressing, but could be applied to the first century Isrealites as well. This calling was indeed national (at that time) and tribal (at that time), but neither was a guarantee that these people would respond and therefore ACT like God’s Chosen. That took a careful response to the calling. A response that Jesus exemplified and exemplifies to us. So to be born an Israelite–and perhaps even to become an elite member of the Isrealites was no guarantee that God considered you part of the Chosen People. You, as such were called to be “Chosen” but unless you responded as Jesus specified, you were only called/invited to this task. If you did not respond, you were not truly part of the Chosen People. You were those who remained outside the party.

    Or if you came in and did not attend the party on the host’s terms (wear the teachings of righteousness of Jesus), then you were also cast out and not part of the “Chosen People.”

    It is part of what Paul would later grab and term “remnant theology.” Isreal was called, but only a remnant was “chosen.” This remnant became the stump that allowed the Gentiles to be grafted into the New Community. But now I get ahead of the passage..

  18. The many who are called is the world. The few who are chosen are America. This passage ultimately declares the U.S. as God’s favored nation among them all. If one had the misfortune to be born in an Islamic country, for example, you are likely to be Islamic by default and thus never enter the Kingdom of God. However, such a person cannot say they have not been called in this day of modern media where the gospel is spread far and wide. I see in the passage the explanation for why being born in the US facilitates being saved via Christ while being born in other nations does not.

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