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In the parables of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) and the Wedding Guest (Matt 22:1-14), the last line of each parable seem to convey the same idea.

Matt 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen

Matt 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.

Given each parable context, does the phrase "For many are called, but few are chosen" convey the same meaning?

3 Answers 3

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The text of Matt 20:16 is disputed. Essentially, we have:

  • NA28, UBS5, W&H, SBL, NIV, THGNT, etc, do NOT have the text πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοί, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί. [= for many are called by few are chosen]
  • Byzantine text, Majority text, TR, etc, DO have the text πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοί, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί.

See UBS5 for details of which MSS have which reading. See also Bruce Metzger's "Textual commentary on the GNT". UBS5 regards the absence of this sentence as {A} - almost certain.

The motivation for this question appears to suggest that such different parables, with quite different teachings and (in some texts) have the same conclusion, is enough to suggest that this insertion is spurious. That is the external and internal evidence appears to suggest that πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοί, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί was added later and so should not be part of the original text.

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  • +1 I understand your point. However, it's interesting to note that people like Phillip W Comfort and Bruce Metzger state that it could be argued this sentence was accidentally dropped from the text due to homoeoteleuton. They also state as part of their evidence for rejection, that it doesn’t make sense to the parable of Labors in the Vineyard in Matt. 20. This is my point. The phrase needs to be looked at given Jewish idiom; example, the usage of “many” and “all” in Romans 5:12-21. “Many” is used for “all”. Hence in the disputed phrase what is the intention to the usage of “many” and “few”?
    – alb
    Jan 9, 2023 at 16:40
  • Note of clarification: when I say "this is my point" I mean this is the point that I'm addressing.
    – alb
    Jan 9, 2023 at 16:51
  • @alb - I agree that "many" in this context means "all" as per (for example) Paul's use of the same idiom in Rom 5:15, 16, 19, etc. However, that is also the point of Metzger's comment - such a conclusion cannot be adduced from the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard which is discussing rewards and God's grace, not election.
    – Dottard
    Jan 9, 2023 at 19:22
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    The parable of the workers in the vineyard is about entrance to heaven being only by God’s grace for God treats everyone the same as God is no respecter of persons. Human labor does not account for anything in God’s economy. So, the “first shall be last” and vice versa is a perfect sentiment to reflect this truth. In addition, “many called, few chosen” also makes perfect sense in this context if we understand the idiom as “all called” (by grace) and “none chosen” (by work).
    – alb
    Jan 9, 2023 at 20:54
  • Incidentally, the same idiom applies to Matthew 22:14. The man without the wedding garment is the person who reject God’s free gift of the righteousness of Christ which is symbolized by the host providing wedding garments to all his guests as was oriental custom. The man shows up in his own garment (his own righteousness) and not the righteousness of Christ.
    – alb
    Jan 9, 2023 at 20:55
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I apologize for the length of this answer but length is needed to understand the exegesis.

I recognize the manuscript evidence dispute over the presence of the statement “for many be called but few chosen” (KJV) in Matthew 20:16 as mentioned by Dottard in his answer to this question. However, I believe it is still worthwhile to answer the question as to whether the usage of the phrase in both places (Matthew 20:16 and Matthew 22:14) convey the same meaning since a number of manuscripts contain the disputed phrase in Matthew 20.

If we fully understand the entire context of Matthew 22:14 we then see that the meaning lines up exactly with the intention expressed in Matthew 20:16.

The traditional view of the phrase in Matthew 22:14 is derived mainly on the parable of the Wedding Feast for the King’s son (verses 1-13). The traditional view states that even though many people are called by God to receive the gospel of grace, there are only a few who actually are chosen to receive the free gift of salvation. However, is this really the proper view of the usage of the phrase?

In order to properly understand Matthew 22:14 we must look at the entire context which starts in Matthew 21. In Matthew chapter 21 starting at verse 23 the Pharisees confront Jesus for overturning the tables in the temple. Jesus says that He will only answer their question of His authority if they answer His question about John the Baptist. Jesus asks the Pharisees about John’s baptism; was it from God or from men?

When the Pharisees say that they cannot tell whether John’s baptism was from God or men, Jesus refuses to answer their question of His authority. However, Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach on what the baptism of John the Baptist was all about. John’s baptism was about repentance for John preached the baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3). Jesus then launches into 3 parables about the baptism of repentance. We must understand the message of all three parables in order to understand and the phrase “many are called by few chosen” in Matthew 22:14.

The first parable (v28-32) is the story about two brothers. This parable contrasts repentance by the first son and non repentance by the second son.

The second parable (v33-43) is about the vineyard owner who lets out his vineyard to workers who are expected to give back the owners share of fruits at harvest time. The story highlights the lack of repentance of the vineyard workers who seek to gain entrance to the kingdom of God by their own efforts as they say that they will kill the King’s son in order to seize on His inheritance (v38). We also understand that the vineyard workers represent the nation of Israel based on the upcoming words of Jesus.

In verse 40, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “so what will the vineyard owner do to these people who have rejected and murdered his son”? The Pharisees properly reply “the owner will miserably destroy those workers and then give the vineyard to others who will render its fruit in due season”. Jesus then makes this remarkable statement:

Matthew 21:43 (KJV)

Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

Here Jesus clearly demonstrates the change over from Old Covenant to New Covenant. Again, the parable highlights the lack of repentance by the Jews since they are clinging to the Old Covenant of the works of the law. The Gentiles are the ones who accept God's grace who demonstrate faith and repentance and are the ones who give back the gifts of God (faith and repentance) when the Lord calls for them.

Verse 43 is hugely significant because it tells us how to interpret the 3rd parable (Matthew 22:1-14) about the wedding feast for the king’s son. This third parable is about how different groups of people respond to the call of God, God’s invitation to come and to receive salvation.

The first group in the parable represents the nation of Israel and how they continually rejected the plan of God; they murdered the prophets and actually will reject the Messiah. This group of people did not repent but only maintained their insistence on keeping their own righteousness, attempting to enter heaven by their own efforts resisting the call of the king to come and receive his grace.

Jesus stated in Matthew 21:43 that God will now take the kingdom of God from this group (Israel - God’s chosen people) and now give it to the Gentiles.

The second group of people (the Gentiles) are the ones who accept God’s invitation to receive His free gift of salvation as they are seen coming to the wedding feast and accepting God’s wedding garment. These people are the one’s who have repented as defined by Hebrews 6:1. They have rejected their own plan to enter heaven by self effort, turned from that and turned toward faith in Jesus Christ. They attend the wedding clothed not in their own garment but the pure white wedding garment of the righteousness of Christ. This group is the one who will give back to God the fruits in due season (re: v41 and 43).

So, we see that in all three parables everyone was called by the God figure in the story. The sons were called to go work in the father’s vineyard. The vineyard workers were called to give the owner his harvest fruit and everyone was invited to the wedding feast of the King’s son. Everyone was called to repent and do the will of the Father!

However, how do we reconcile the usage of the word “many” in Matthew 22:14 when all three parables demonstrate that “all” were called. If we understand the use of Jewish idiom, we see that there is biblical support for the use of the idiom “many” to mean “all”.

Romans 5:18-19 (KJV)

18 Therefore as by the offence of one (Adam) judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one (Jesus) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Here we see that the word “many” is synonymous with the word “all”.

So based on understanding the entire context of repentance, including Jesus' words to take the Kingdom of God from the chosen ones and give it to everyone and understanding the use of Jewish idiom, we can understand the phrase “many are called but few chosen’ to mean all are called and none are chosen!

Now with that understanding of Matthew 22:16, we turn to Matthew 20:14. Here we see the same intention.

In Matthew 20:1-16 we see the parable of the hired workers who all get the same day’s wage even though they work different hours. This story clearly shows that God is no respecter of persons and He treats everyone the same. Since salvation is based on God’s grace and not any human work or effort, we see that no amount of human effort gets any special treatment from the vineyard owner. All people are treated the same. So, the statement in verse 15 that the first will be last and vice versa, perfectly represent that sentiment as all people are treated equally. Verse 16 then, “for many be called but few chosen” then means the exact same thing as we see in Matthew 22:16: all are called but none chosen. All are called to receive the same reward of God’s grace and no one is chosen due to any amount of human effort.

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  • Thought I like your article but found your last elaboration of "for many be called but few chosen" to "all are called but none chosen" to "All are called to receive the same reward of God’s grace and no one is chosen due to any amount of human effort" is overstated. I suggest "remnant" should be appropriate to explain it. In fact, "no one is chosen due to any amount of human effort", is not perfectly true, unless the epistle of James is totally scrapped. Righteousness need human effort, endurance in faith until the last breath. It is not a free ticket when one says yes, it has responsibility. Jan 23, 2023 at 14:59
  • Thanks. I understand your point but disagree. Righteousness means being perfect. There is no amount of human effort that can contribute to a person's perfection. We must be clothed with the righteousness of Christ alone and the true definition of biblical repentance (eg Hebrews 6:1) means we turn away from our own dead works of righteousness and turn toward faith in Jesus Christ. Paul makes this point emphatically in Romans 11:6 'And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."
    – alb
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:30
  • Agree with what you said. The long statement of "Righteousness", is "God credited it as righteousness" according to Gen 15:6 " Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.". So Abraham believed the Lord, and lived his whole life in faith, this is human work. The distinction of human work is, do you work for the benefit of yourselves, or you work for the glory of God. Jan 23, 2023 at 15:46
  • The bible clearly draws a distinction between work and faith.
    – alb
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:55
  • It depends on how a Christian interpret this word of James; James 2:18 "But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. Jan 23, 2023 at 19:40
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The NIV version I read, doesn't have the statement "for many be called, but few chosen". But if it does in there, it should mean the same as in Matthew 22:14.

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), what does the one denarius represent?.

Two options: 1) The salvation; 2) The invitation of salvation

The verses 13-15 is crucial to look at

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?

14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.

15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

In verse 13, the vineyard owner had an agreement with the earliest workers. Does it sound like the Mosaic Covenant? Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved (Romans 9:27 NIV)

In verse 14, the one who was hired last did not have an agreement. They were just being called, and received the same as the first workers. It means the Gentile receive the same as the Jews.

In verse 15, it means the Lord has His Sovereignty to do what He likes and He gives the same to the Gentiles, doesn't break His covenant with the Jews. Rather, "Envy" will become a snare to the Jews.

To complete our understanding, we have to read the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) in parallel, where vv12-14 read

12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (NIV)

So the invitation is unconditional, all are invited and be given the same opportunity. However, entitled to stay in the Banquet is conditional.

The "one denarius" is the invitation. The Israelites got the invitation first via the Mosaic Covenant, and Gentiles got it from time to time when the Gospel spreads from nation to nation. Though eventually "All" hear, but only "a few" will be saved.

Should "for many be called, but few chosen" exist in the Parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). From the narrative, it shouldn't because the workers were called and invited but not being chosen yet. But if it did in the parable, perhaps it makes the reader aware that these two parables are associated.

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