Paul’s Use Of “Kalein:” A Proposal -- By: William W. Klein
JETS 27:1 (March 1984) p. 53
Paul’s Use Of “Kalein:” A Proposal
The theological concept of God’s “call” or “calling” is deeply embedded in our creeds and doctrinal affirmations, particularly in reference to the subjects of salvation and election. But what really is meant by God’s “call” to salvation? In particular, what is Paul’s concept of the calling of God? It is the thesis of this paper that some traditional understandings of “calling” may not be adequate in light of the linguistic evidence. Thus the paper will employ a linguistic/semantic approach to analyze Paul’s use of kalein to provide more precision to his understanding of” calling to salvation.”
For a long time scholars have recognized the technical status of the “calling” paronyms (kalein, klēsis, klētos) in the Pauline1 corpus.2 Though Paul’s use of kalein is not particularly great compared with the other NT writers,3 what makes the term significant for Paul is that in fully thirty of this thirty-three uses there is a divine agent of the action of the verb. Paul uses kalein to describe a divine activity. Even a cursory reading of its occurrences in the NT reveals two basic senses in the uses of kalein. The first is “name, designate, give a title to.” A simple illustration in English would be: “We called her Alison.” She was given the name (or designation) Alison. The second sense is “summon, invite.” It could be exemplified in “We called her, but she did not come.” Both these senses can be amply illustrated in the writings of the NT. Yet Paul’s uses immediately raise some vexing questions: What is the significance of his predominant use of the divine subject? Does the fact that God is the agent affect the basic senses of the word shown above? Do Paul’s uses correspond to the pattern of other writers when they employ the divine agent? Taking the last question, it is interesting to note how infrequently the other NT writers do employ God as agent. God does give names or, more accurately, commands that names be given (cf. Matt 1:21; Luke 1:13, 31). As well, Jesus as a divine agent calls disciples (only at Matt 4:21; Mark 1:20) and says that he has come to call sinners (Matt 9:13; You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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