on the called

In my recent studies I noticed a little word in Mt 22.14.

NAU Matthew 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The word is ‘called‘. Why the distinction of the ‘many’ who are ‘called’ and the ‘few’ who are ‘chosen’?

Tom Constable says “Not all whom God has invited to the kingdom will participate in it. Only those who respond to God’s call and prepare themselves by trusting in Jesus will.” [See Note 1 below.]

The adjective ‘called’ is used ten times in the New Testament. Most of the time it delineates the saints of God or someone called to a special task. Paul is called to be an apostle in Rm 1.1 and 1 Cor 1.1. Paul calls the Romans ‘the called of Jesus Christ’ in Rm 1.6. In Rm 1.7 they are ‘called as saints’. In Rm 8.28, the well known ‘all things’ work together for good to all who ‘are called according to His purpose’. In 1 Cor 1.2, the Corinthians are ‘saints by calling’ and in 1 Cor 1.24 Paul distinguishes between the Jews and the Greeks and ‘those who are the called’. Jude writes to ‘To those who are called’ in Jude 1.

The only other use of called is Rev 17.14:

NAU Revelation 17:14 “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”

In this verse likely the three terms are likely in apposition to one another. While one could imagine some who were called not being chosen, it is hard to imagine those being ‘with Him’ on this occasion as being a further subset of the chosen called ‘the faithful’.

Thus, in every case but the first instance the term either refers to one called to be an apostle or to saints who equal the called. Why then does the Lord say, “Many are called but few are chosen”?

The answer appears not to lie in an examination of usage but in the context. In the parable for which this statement is the conclusion the a king invited guests to the marriage supper of his son, but they would not come. Then he sent his servants after them and they went off on their own pursuits and misused them. Some of them they killed. The king was angry and sent his soldiers to destroy the murderers and burn their city. All of this is a picture of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Then the Lord sent his servants to invite bad and good from the highways to fill his banquet table. This they did until the banquet hall was filled. This parallels the preachign of the gospel to the entire world, filling the kingdom with citizens of every race and tongue.

One among these came to the supper without a wedding garment. The king rebuked him, and sent him out to outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the Lord says: ‘For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Clearly the many included Israel and they include the man without the wedding garment. What is the difference between the guests who remain and all these? They responded to the invitation and they clothed themselves appropriately.

While I suppose we cannot build a doctrine solely on one parable, it appears that the meaning of this passage is that the gospel invitation goes to many (and in scriptural context we would say this means ‘all’) but only those who respond appropriately are the ‘chosen’. Thus in this parable and passage we see the doctrine of the unlimited atonement and conditional election.

I have many friends who are not comfortable with my views here, but how else to explain the Lord’s words?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Note 1: Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Mt 22:14). Galaxie Software.


  1. Kent Brandenburg says:

    Right on, Bro. Don. It seems like a no-brainer, but the Calvinist has some sort of convoluted explanation that doesn’t fit what is clear there in inspired text.

  2. Greg Linscott says:

    FWIW, Don, Calvin himself connects the parable with Luke 14:15-24 and the rejecting of the Jews (who were the “called”) and the subsequent compelling of the Gentiles to repent and believe the Gospel.

    Pertinent commentary here.

  3. Hi Greg, very interesting. Calvin is limiting the application of v. 14 to the last part of the parable and indicating that the Lord is contrasting the visible and invisible church (Kent won’t like that one!!).

    His argument isn’t compelling for even he admits “The object of the parable is pointed out by the conclusion, that few are chosen, though many are called”. If it is the conclusion of the parable, it is the conclusion of the whole, not of the part.

    And even limiting it to the last character who is cast out of the banquet hall, the problem still remains: he, an obviously lost man, is among the ‘called’. But he is not among the elect.

    So… I think it is still a difficult passage for Calvinism.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Greg Linscott says:

    he, an obviously lost man, is among the ‘called’. But he is not among the elect.

    This is true- but again, Calvin seems to answer that by observing that the man is part of the “called” because he is a Jew, but is not part of the “chosen.” Romans 9:6 seems to be pertinent here.

    Note Calvin’s interpretation:

    But when he says, that the servants were sent to call those who were invited, these words are intended to point out a double favor which the Jews had received from God; first, in being preferred to other nations; and, secondly, in having their adoption made known to them by the prophets. The allusion is to a practice customary among men, that those who intended to make a marriage drew up a list of the persons whom they intended to have as guests, and afterwards sent invitations to them by their servants. In like manner, God elected the Jews in preference to others, as if they had been his familiar friends, and afterwards called them by the prophets to partake of the promised redemption, which was, as it were, to feast at a marriage It is true that those who were first invited did not live till the coming of Christ; but we know that all received an offer of the same salvation, of which they were deprived by their ingratitude and malice; for from the commencement, God’s invitation was impiously despised by that people.

    There are definite problems in the overall breadth of his commentary on the passage (at least for this dispensationalist), but his application of the parable to the Jews particularly makes sense to me.

  5. Kent Brandenburg says:

    If you don’t take Calvin’s interpretation of the Bible here, does that move you into the Arminian column? It seems to go only either/or with Calvinists.

  6. Hi Greg

    Well, I still see Calvin as trying to weasel out of it. The parable is a kingdom parable, the Lord introduces it as such, so if you are up on the kingdom teaching, you know that the Lord isn’t just talking about Israel. They are, of course, involved, but the kingdom is much more than that.

    Then the parable goes through the actual destruction of “their city”, the city of those first invited. I take that to be a reference to AD 70, but I suppose that could be open to question. After that, the Lord sents his servants to the highways to invite guests, which implies to me somewhere outside of Israel, i.e., the Gentiles.

    So to me, it is an open question if the last guest is a Jew or not.

    And regardless of his national status, he is clearly lost. He is cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. If that isn’t hell, I don’t know what is.

    So what we have is at least one lost person who is called, but not chosen. That means that there is at least one person who was called, but apparently ineffectually. The Lord, of course, says ‘many’ but we can stick with Calvin here and say it is just this one. This is still a big problem for Calvinistic thought, it seems to me.

    Anyway… I did think of a bit of an out for the Calvinist in that they could say that ‘all are called’, but only those chosen actually make it in. But then you have the problem of whether grace is irresistable or not.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Hi Kent,

    Well, I suppose taking a different tack might make me an Arminian in the minds of some. I look at what both views teach and don’t like either position entirely.

    I do think that there is a little too much name-calling that goes on in these debates. The C’s want to label the non-C’s as Arminians, Semi-Pelagians, or Pelagians. I can take the A label I suppose, but the other too are extremely offensive to me. On the other hand, the non-Cs will use the Hyper prefix in a way that the Cs find extremely offensive also. Basically, a non-C means that anyone who holds all five petals is Hyper, whereas a C calls those extremists who refuse to preach the gospel to the lost as Hypers.

    The result of all that tends to poison the well and not much profit can be had from those kinds of debates. I have heard some Cs say that ‘anyone who doesn’t accept the doctrines of grace isn’t a believer.’ Well, where do you go from there? After running up that flag, anyone who deviates from your perfect kingdom is a spawn of Satan.

    I would rather that when Cs and As (or whatever) debate, they could leave the labels alone and just talk about the Bible and what it says or doesn’t say.

    As for labels, I do like the label biblicist, but it does drive some Cs wild. What I mean by it though is that I prefer biblical theology to systematic theology. In my opinion, the Bible trumps the system every time. Thus, I place more importance on what the Bible actually says than on what some theologian says. To me that is a better approach, but many differ.

    I am used to being in the minority!

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. Greg Linscott says:


    I’m curious how your “biblical theology” preference meshes with your eschatology. I can’t see a pre-trib/pre-mil position really being developed without some sort of systematic approach.

  9. Hi Greg, I don’t argue against systematic theology, but for the priority of biblical theology.

    As for eschatology, I grew up in a divided home. My mother was (and still is) amillennial in her view, having been educated in Church of God (Anderson,IN) schools. My dad was more baptistic and generally a dispensationalist. As a teenager, I just sat on the fence.

    After changing my major to Bible and beginning to prepare for the ministry, I realized I would have to get off the fence. So I began reading all the major eschatological passages. Daniel, Olivet Discourse, Thessalonians, Peter, Jude, Revelation. From this reading I developed a pre-millennial position. From further study on a systematic basis, I have come to a pre-trib rapture position.

    I think you can dogmatically argue the pre-mill position from the Bible, but the pre-trib rapture position, though I am completely convinced of it, cannot be argued as dogmatically. It is a reasoned position, and human reasoning is not infallible.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3