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The Biblical Terminology for Calling

I am providing this additional material for the benefit of those who may wish to examine in more detail the many references to “calling” in the NT.

            (1)            The verb “to call” (kaleo) is used some 147x in the NT. It has a variety of meanings.

·      It is used 72x with the meaning “to name, to designate as, to appoint to be.” For example, in Matthew 1:21 we read: “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”

·      This word is also used 25x in a way that does not pertain to salvation. It means “to summon, invite, appeal,” and on occasion can have the more forceful meaning, “to command.” For example, “Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared” (Matt. 2:7).

·      It is used 7x in the Gospels in a context dealing with salvation. In each case it means “to summon, to invite.” Of these seven, in four cases the summons or call is clearly resistible or ineffective (Matt. 22:3,4,8,9) and in three it is ambiguous (Matt. 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). In two other texts (Heb. 11:8; Rev. 19:9) the word again means “to invite, to summon,” with salvific import.

·      In three texts the word is used with the sense “to appoint” or “to call to some task or vocation” (1 Cor. 7:17,20; Heb. 5:4).

·      In several passages the word means “to name, to designate, to appoint,” not simply as an address or verbal utterance, but in the sense “to cause to become” that which one is called. The action of calling is causative, itself bring to realization the state of affairs or status in view (Rom. 4:17; 9:25,26; Heb. 2:11; James 2:23; 1 John 3:1).

·      The usage with which we are primarily concerned is that in which the verb “to call” is employed as a metaphor for God’s sovereign and effective action of bringing an individual to saving faith in Christ and all its attendant blessings. Of these thirty-one occurrences, twenty-four are in the letters of Paul: Romans 8:30 (twice); 9:11,24; 1 Cor. 1:9 (called into fellowship with Christ); 7:18 (twice),21,22 (twice),24; Gal. 1:6 (called by the grace of Christ),15; 5:8,13 (called to freedom); Eph. 4:1,4; Col. 3:15; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:7 (called in or for sanctification); 5:24; 2 Thess. 2:14 (called through the gospel); 1 Tim. 6:12 (called to eternal life); 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:15; 2:9 (called out of darkness into light),21; 3:9; 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:13.

            (2)            The related noun “calling” (klesis) is used 11x, nine of which are in Paul’s letters.

·      In one text it refers to a vocation, a task or life’s work, or possibly a status or condition in society (1 Cor. 7:20).

·      In the other ten cases it refers to the salvific calling of the elect. We are to walk worthy of our calling (Eph. 1:18; 4:1,4; 2 Thess. 1:11). Our calling is high (or upward, Phil. 3:14), holy (2 Tim. 1:9), and heavenly (Heb. 3:1). See also Romans 11:29; 1 Cor. 1:26; 2 Peter 1:10 (in which calling is almost synonymous with election).

            (3)            There is another noun (kletos) often translated “the called,” that is used 10x, again largely in Paul. In Matt. 22:14 it is used of a resistible, ineffective summons to salvation. Twice Paul refers to himself as one “called” to be an apostle (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1). Believers are “the called of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6), “called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2), and “the called according to God’s purpose” (Rom. 8:28). See also 1 Cor. 1:24; Jude 1; Rev. 17:14.

The Biblical Terminology for “Regeneration”

            There are several words for “regeneration” or the “new birth” in the NT (for example, “to create” [ktizo], “to make alive together with” [suzoopoieo], “to renew” [anakainoo], and “renewal” [anakainosis]. The four with which we are concerned are as follows.

            (1)            The word “regeneration” (palingenesis) is used twice, in Mt. 19:28 where it refers to the consummate renewal or regeneration of the cosmos, and in Titus 3:5 where it refers to the regeneration of the individual. In this latter text, “regeneration” is most likely synonymous with “renewal” (anakainosis). In other words, “to be reborn is to be made anew. At most we can say that the two phrases describe the same transformation from slightly different angles” (James D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970], p. 166).

            (2)            The principal word for the biblical doctrine of regeneration is “to beget” or “to give birth to” (gennao). It is used 96x in the NT, seventy-five of which refer to the physical act of conception or the event of giving birth to a child. Twice Paul uses it metaphorically of his “giving birth” to an individual in the sense of being the human instrument through which God brought that person to faith (1 Cor. 4:15; Philemon 10). It is used three times in a quotation of Psalm 2 of the Father “begetting” the Son (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). It is used once in the general sense of “to produce” (2 Tim. 2:23). Our concern is with the fifteen places in which it is used to describe spiritual birth, regeneration, a divine begetting of the individual in consequence of which one lives spiritually. Interestingly, all fifteen occurrences are in the writings of John (John 1:13; 3:3,5,6,7,8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9 [twice]; 4:7; 5:1 [twice], 4,18 [twice]).

            (3)            The related word “to beget again” (anagennao) is used twice, in 1 Peter 1:3,23.

            (4)            The only other word of interest is “to bring forth” or “to beget” (apokueo), found in James 1:18 (“In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth . . .”). That James here used this word instead of gennao has struck some as odd in that apokueo more properly denotes the role of the female in giving birth and therefore seems inappropriate for God the Father. However, aside from the fact that the word is obviously used metaphorically, the very notion of God “begetting” at all is surprising! Also, James clearly used this particular word in order to maintain a parallel with 1:15 (“then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth [apokuei] death”). In other words, “from sin comes death; but God is the giver of all, and only, good gifts, and from him comes life” (Sophie Laws, The Epistle of James [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981], p. 75).