The "Chosen" People of God: An Orthodox Perspective

Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain

Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only God and Our Only True Savior,


I was recently asked what is the Orthodox Christian perspective regarding the Jewish people as God's "chosen people"?

The theological concept of the "people of God" in Orthodox Christian perspective is highly dependent on the biblical understanding of God's covenant with the people of Israel and the Christian self-understanding as the new Israel.

In the Holy Scripture we read:

"And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all his Commands. He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He promised" (Deut. 26:18-19).

And in another place it is stated that:

"Yet the Lord set His affection on your ancestors and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above all the nations--as it is today" (Deut. 10:15).

This is the basis of the Scriptural understanding of God's people where they are set apart to worship God, to obey God's Commandments, and to proclaim God's Truth to the whole world. The Holy Scripture do not intend to promote a racist view of the people of God, but, rather, to draw attention to the universal mission of Israel as the people called by God to bring into the world the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God chose Israel as God's people not for special favor and glorification but to bring God's Light to the "nations," to be the divine messenger and witness to all the peoples of the world. The Christians looked on the people of God as Jesus' disciples, a universal community that was not distinguished according to race or nationality or class or sex, as explicitly stated in the letters of Saint Paul:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (St. John1:12).

The term "holy people of God" designates the Church, open to all and transcending all barriers between Jews and gentiles. (Romans 15:25-31; I Cor. 16:1)

The Church is the Israel of God, "not a new Israel, but the one and only people of God, Israel in a new face of history, namely, that of Jesus." The Church is all encompassing and provides Divine revelation and salvation to all people and races. One interpreter of Saint Paul makes the point that; "In Jesus there is a new universalism, not a bare transposition from Israel to the Church." Children of God are "all who received Him (Christ), Who believed in His name." (St. John 1:12). "It is faith, this total adherence to the person of Christ, as revealed and expressed through His Name, that makes of us 'children of God'.

The term "people of God" in the Orthodox Church is understood as the members of the body of Christ (the Church), the "Israel of God," the "saints," the "elect," the "chosen race," and the "royal priesthood". In the New Testament, as understood by Orthodox Christians, the "people of God" is the Church as the body of Christ. In the First Epistle (Letter) of Saint Peter it is clearly stated that: "At one time you were not God's people, but now you are His people." The Church is "God's holy people," the baptized participating in God's realm, as manifested in the divine Eucharistic Liturgy.

The Church Holy Fathers generally accepted the Old Testament as a precursor to the coming of Christ. The Epistle of Barnabas refers to the circumcision not as a physical mark of the chosen people but as that of the "circumcision of the ears," that is, to hear God's word and keep it. And these are a "type" of Jesus and the Church. The sacrifices of the Old Testament serve as a prefiguration of the Good News and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The acts performed in the Old Testament all point to Christ.

The covenant, the bond of God made with Israel on Mount Sinai is fulfilled on Golgotha (Calvary), sealed with the blood of Christ as Savior of the world. This Orthodox view of the people of God is based on reiterations of Holy Scripture referring to these believers as "people of God," "chosen race," "a peculiar people" (St. Titus 2:14), and as "Christian people" (St. John Damascene). These terms refer to the mystical body that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and governed by the Divine Head, which is Christ.

The following statement provides an understanding of the call and uniqueness of the people of God that, as an Orthodox Catholic Christian, one can assert:

"In a broken world God calls the whole of humanity to become God's people. For this purpose God chose Israel and then spoke in a unique and decisive way in Jesus Christ, God's Son. Jesus made His own the nature, condition and cause of the whole human race, giving Himself as a sacrifice for all. Jesus' life of service, His death and Resurrection, are the foundation of a new community, which is built up continually by the Good News of the Gospel and the gifts of the sacraments. The Holy Spirit unites in a single body those who follow Jesus Christ and sends them as witnesses into the world. Belonging to the Church means living in communion with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit."

The Orthodox Church makes a clear claim that the baptized are the people of God. All baptized believers in Christ who receive the Holy Spirit are "sons and daughters of God" and "Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29) in the covenant members' relationship to the Lord, for in the "New creation" all believers are "one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

The contemporary theological interpretation of the Sinai Covenant is clearly stated as a fulfillment in Christ but not necessarily as a rejection of the Jewish people. However, in the present times, the relationship of God with God's people is to be understood in terms of the Church. In the new Israel (the Church), all human beings are incorporated without regard to their race and gender---united into one Body of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, brought together in Christ. The formerly "separated" and "distanced" Jews and Gentiles now exist in harmony in the Church as the Body of Christ. The salvific mission of Christ is universal. By creating the Church, Christ introduces a "new creation" and "a new human person." The "new human person" (Ephesians 4:24) is the renewal of the "old human person" that now has a new existence in Christ. The "new creation" constitutes the people of God who exist in Christ and are manifested in His Body, the Church. All humanity is called to participate in this "renewed" existence as one body of God in the Incarnate Logos/Word.

The question might again be raised: "Who are the chosen people of God? The people of God are the baptized faithful!, the Church. This view of the people of God includes all people. The people of Israel in the desert were the Church of God. The entire history of humanity participates in the continuing call of God to be God's. When the fulfillment of time came, the Son of God, the Divine Logos/Word, became anthropos (human person) to call humanity to come close to God. Jesus' entire life and mission were to call all human beings to enter the reign of God. The eternal plan of God is fulfilled in Christ. All humanity, including Jews and Gentiles, are united in Christ and His Church as the people of God. The Church, made up of the "people of God" is a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and his own special people (I Peter 2:9).

In summary, an Orthodox understanding of the people of God must be expressed as follows:

  1. God's creation of the human person as being in God's image is the  place to begin for one's understanding of the idea of the term "people of God."
  2. The history of Israel is the history of the people of God, seen particularly in God's promise to Abraham and the covenant made with Israel on Mount Sinai.
  3. The creation of the Church by the Incarnate Logos/Word of God (Jesus) established a new relationship with God's people that draw into the  covenant all races and all human persons.

(Source: Orthodox Catholic Monastery Our Lady Joy of All Who Sorrow)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George