Is there a standard term within theological literature for the set of people who will receive eternal life?

I've noticed that many Christians use the word "Christians" to refer to this set of people, but that's either deliberate shorthand or confused thinking. For example, Christians believe that pre-Messianic Jews will also receive eternal life. Christians who believe in an age of accountability believe that infants receive eternal life, and Universalists believe that all people will receive eternal life.

I hope it's clear that what I'm asking about here is the name of the set, not its contents. Discussions about Universalism, the age of accountability, and other soteriological or eschatological topics would be much easier if this concept had a standard name, so I'm surprised I haven't encountered one.

The closest thing I've seen comes from Paul's writings. He refers to this group of people many times throughout the Epistles, and when he does, it's typically translated as "the elect". However, as far as I'm aware, modern theologians rarely use this term outside of debates about Calvinism.

  • 'Standard term within theological literature' is a matter of opinion. There would be different views on what 'theological' means, on what exactly 'literature' covers and, above all, what 'standard' might mean. The overall description is not quantifiable. This remains a matter of opinion.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 27, 2022 at 20:15
  • 2
    Nothing wrong with "the saved" as a category label!
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 27, 2022 at 22:00
  • 'The saved', 'the elect', 'the justified', 'the redeemed', 'the righteous', 'the sanctified', 'the saints' ; all these terms (and many others) are used in different contexts in scripture, to refer to the same group of persons, but highlighting different aspects of their experience of the work of God upon their souls, whether before or after the coming of Christ. No term can be called 'standard' (by whose 'standards' ?).
    – Nigel J
    Aug 28, 2022 at 1:13
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    @NigelJ I was using the word "standard" loosely. My point was that having a dominant convention for nomenclature is helpful. It ensures that both interlocutors are talking about the same things, and it makes researching the subject much easier. The same goes for non-theological philosophical scholarship (which is what originally inspired the question) in which quasi-standard terms like "philosophical zombie" help tremendously in simplifying discussions of complex subjects. Aug 28, 2022 at 3:05

1 Answer 1


I see the term "People of God" a lot in Christian and Jewish theological literature. It's a term heavy laden with continuity between OT and NT, primarily that it's firstly Israel (descendants of Abraham) but extended later to the Gentiles (post Jesus).

The criteria to belong to the People of God is clear:

  • The original set of the People of God is not all physical descendants of Abraham, but only the righteous people who faithfully remained in the OT covenant either before the exile (like Moses, David, etc.) or after the exile (the remnant like Esther, Daniel, etc.). This excludes the wicked and the ones causing God to discipline Israel into exiles (Hos 1:9, Rom 9:25).

  • A second set of the People of God would be those who accept Jesus and thus are inducted into the NT covenant (memorialized in the Lord's Supper, cf Luke 22:20) and united with Jesus in baptism (Rom 6:3-5). They become part of the People of God by being grafted to the Olive tree (cf Romans 11):

    God uses the imagery of an olive tree in Jeremiah 11:16–17 to remind His people of the covenant relationship He has with them. God’s people (the nation of Israel) are depicted as an olive tree and God as the farmer. ...

    The Gentiles, represented by the wild olive tree in Romans 11, have been grafted into the cultivated olive root. ... Paul wants Gentile believers to understand that they have not replaced Israel. God has done a beautiful thing for the Gentiles, but Israel is still God’s chosen nation and the source of the riches of salvation that the Gentiles now enjoy.

    Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, is the root of Jesse, or the root of the cultivated olive tree. From Him, Israel and the Church draw their life.

I believe using the term "People of God" is better than:

  • the "elect" because of less connotation with Calvinism as you observed
  • the "chosen" because it connotates primarily Israel
  • the "church" because it is an NT-only term that could exclude today's righteous Jews who through no fault of their own haven't accepted the gospel.
  • Upvoted for the term "people of God". The entire second paragraph is irrelevant, though--and as an aside, a set criteria that involves people being metaphorically grafted into an olive tree is hardly "clear". Aug 27, 2022 at 17:57
  • @MatthewMilone OK. I added some clarifications connecting People of God, the two covenants, Jesus, and the olive tree. Aug 27, 2022 at 19:17
  • "Elect" should not be avoided because of connotations which are rooted in misunderstanding, IMHO. Aug 29, 2022 at 12:19
  • I think "The Church" means Body of Christ, which by definition only includes members that God has defined as part of Him. Local (now) or City (Paul's time) churches include Body members and all the other types described in the Parable of the Sower. The word "brethren" means members of local/city churches, which is why there are many Bible warnings to them about falling away and losing ? (maybe crowns, maybe eternity with Him). Enough perseverance and endurance will happen for Body members to receive the Promise, but weak practice may affect the crowns they receive when they meet Him.
    – jKevinBarr
    Sep 30, 2022 at 22:45

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