Jack M. Lane
There is a great deal of confusion about the subject of predestination. Some people are sure they know what it is. Some have an idea what they think it might mean. Some people don’t even pretend they know what it's all about. But the concept of predestination affects every human being, for it has to do with whether or not each one of us enters the Kingdom of God. Wouldn't you like to know something about your eternal destiny? Are we truly puppets on a string, acting out a grim dance at God's will? Or are we children of God, being raised by our Father to make wise choices and mature decisions in our lives? We need to find out!
Admittedly, it's a difficult topic. We should have a good grasp of what predestination is. After all, it affects our entire future.
Yet there is so much confusion about it! There are so many ideas, so many foundational denominational doctrines and dogmas about this very important topic, that the average person is left scratching his or her head, and leaving it to others to understand this deep, mysterious doctrine. The easy way out is to let others explain it in simple terms. "Just tell me -- am I going to fly, or am I going to fry?"
When we consider that different people and different denominations have different understandings about this doctrine, we might realize that relying on others for our understanding may not be enough. If we want the straight information, we need to go straight to the Bible.
Let's look at the subject of predestination. But let's look at what the Bible says, not what was taught by various religious personalities throughout history. This will be something of a technical presentation, but you'll be highly rewarded by what you learn about this important topic.
First of all, what is predestination? Some people are certain that every move we make, every twist and turn of life, and how our lives will end up, has somehow been ordained from ancient times. It's surprising how many people believe this, even though the concept is nowhere found in the Bible!
Others think predestination means God has been working out His plan, and who He's going to use to fulfill that plan might be undecided until it's time to do what God wants done.
Probably the most serious issue concerning predestination is the question about whether or not God knows, already, from eternity, whether we are going to choose life or death, salvation or destruction, the Kingdom of God or the fire of Gehenna.
Here's the major dilemma: If God already knows if we will accept Him or reject Him, and it's already written in what we might call "future history," then it doesn't matter what we do in this life. If we're destined for salvation, then we can be the worst sinners in history and still be saved -- if God knows we're going to have some kind of last minute "death bed repentance," or if He has decided to accept us into His kingdom regardless of our life style and behavior. If this were true, we wouldn't have to live according to the Way of life shown in the Bible. Our salvation would be automatic.
Now let's consider the other side of the concept. If we are predestined to fail -- if we're already doomed to destruction, no matter what -- then it doesn't matter how righteous or faithful we are in this life. It's all in vain, if God has already decided ahead of time whether we live or die.
Pretty scary, isn't it? Is this what predestination is all about? This is what we'll be exploring in this article, because if this is not the case, we'll need to know! What, in fact, does the Bible teach us about predestination?
Predestination in the Dictionary
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines predestination as "The biblical teaching that declares the sovereignty of God over man in such a way that the freedom of the human will is also preserved." So far, so good. God is definitely sovereign. But this dictionary article immediately starts to chase its tail and get itself into a problem.
Notice what the dictionary says: "Two major concepts are involved in the biblical meaning of predestination. First, God, who is all-powerful in the universe, has foreknown and predestined the course of human history and the lives of individuals. If He were not in complete control of human events, He would not be sovereign and, thus, would not be God."
Notice the human reasoning here. If God was not able to predict every little detail, every time -- if God could not actually decide who was going to live and what they were going to do, in every detail -- He would not be God. God would have, to use the old challenge, created a rock that was so big that even He couldn't lift it. But this is how humans think. The author admits that God is sovereign, but then narrowly defines what it means to be sovereign. Thus, the author has begun to paint himself into a corner.
Continuing: "Second, God’s predestination of human events does not eliminate human choice." Wait a minute. What's this? God knows what we'll do, so we don't have any choice, but -- we have free choice. Does this make sense? Even the author of this article seems to feel that these two facets of the definition don’t fit together comfortably, because he continues by saying:
"A thorough understanding of how God can maintain His sovereignty and still allow human freedom seems to be reserved for His infinite mind alone. Great minds have struggled with this problem for centuries." Well, we might suggest that, since great minds have struggled with this and not come up with a satisfactory answer, then perhaps there's something wrong with this definition!
The article continues: "Two views of predestination are prominent among church groups today. One view, known as Calvinism, holds that God offers irresistible grace to those whom he elects to save. The other view, known as Arminianism, insists that God’s grace is the source of redemption but that it can be resisted by man through his free choice. In Calvinism, God chooses the believer; in Arminianism, the believer chooses God."
What's wrong with this definition? This is a good example of polarity in religious thinking. It's one or the other, either/or, black or white. Either God chooses you, or you choose God. This definition tends to negate the concept that we are forming a covenant with God.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. The Bible shows that God and we set about to form a relationship, and mutually choose each other! God can predestine to call us, as individuals or as an ekklesia, and we have the freedom to accept His generous offer or reject it. It's not that we "choose God," or that He irresistibly chooses us, but rather that we agree to the covenant He is proposing.
So, in addition to the questionable idea suggested earlier, that God knows all things and everything is already determined, these two other concepts of predestination have also existed throughout the last several centuries.
Now we have three different ideas to sort through.
The earliest records we have of predestination in Christian thought come from Augustine of Hippo in the third or fourth century A.D.. It's an idea that's been around for some time.
Here is an excerpt from the book, Aid to Bible Understanding (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), from the article "Foreknowledge, foreordination": "Foreknowledge [Greek: prognosis, or proginosko, Strong's #4267] means knowledge of a thing before it happens or exists. ... Foreordination [proorizo, Strong's #4309, which the KJV translates as "predestinate"] means the ordaining, decreeing or determining of something beforehand. ..."
These two concepts are similar to each other, but they are actually quite different in their application.
Quoting the article: "To understand the matter of foreknowledge and foreordination as relating to God, certain factors necessarily must be recognized.
"First, God’s ability to foreknow and foreordain is clearly stated in the Bible. Jehovah himself sets forth as proof of his Godship this ability to foreknow and foreordain events ... and then to bring such events to fulfillment. ...
"A second factor to be considered is the free moral agency of God’s intelligent creatures. The Scriptures show that God extends to such creatures the privilege and responsibility of free choice, of exercising free moral agency..., thereby making them accountable for their acts. ... Man could not truly have been created in ‘God’s image’ if he were not a free moral agent. ...
"Another factor that must be considered, one sometimes overlooked, is that of God’s moral standards and qualities, including his justice, honesty and impartiality, his love, mercy and kindness, as revealed in the Bible. Any understanding of God’s use of the powers of foreknowledge and foreordination must therefore harmonize with not only some, but all these factors. ...
"The question then arises: Is his exercise of foreknowledge infinite, without limit? Does he foresee and foreknow all future actions of all his creatures, spirit and human? And does he foreordain such actions or even predestinate what shall be the final destiny of all his creatures, even doing so before they have come into existence?
"Or, is God’s exercise of foreknowledge selective and discretionary, so that whatever he chooses to foresee and foreknow, he does, but what he does not choose to foresee and foreknow, he does not? ...
"The view that God’s exercise of his foreknowledge is infinite and that he does foreordain the course and destiny of all individuals is known as predestinarianism."
So now we know what to call the concept we're examining -- predestinarianism.
The article continues: "This concept would mean that, prior to creating angels or ... man, God exercised his powers of foreknowledge and foresaw and foreknew all that would result from such creation, including the rebellion of [the angels] ..., the subsequent rebellion of [Adam and Eve] ..., and all the bad consequences of such rebellion down to and beyond this present day."
The article then looks at the idea of predestination, and predestinarianism, as they relates to the ekklesia:
"There remain those texts that deal with the Christian ‘called ones’ or ‘chosen ones’ (Jude 1; Matt. 24:24). They are described as ‘chosen according to the foreknowledge of God’ (1 Peter 1:1-2), ‘chosen before the founding of the world,’ ‘foreordained to the adoption as sons of God’ (Eph. 1:3-5, 11), ‘selected from the beginning for salvation and called to this very destiny’ (2 Thess. 2:13-14). The understanding of these texts depends upon whether they refer to the foreordination of certain individual persons, or whether they describe the foreordination of a class of persons, namely, the Christian congregation. ...
"If these words apply to specific individuals as foreordained to eternal salvation, then it follows that those individuals could never prove unfaithful or fail in their calling, for God’s foreknowledge of them could not prove inaccurate and his foreordination of them to a certain destiny could never ... be thwarted. Yet the ... apostles ... showed that some who were ‘bought’ and ‘sanctified’ by the blood of Christ's ransom sacrifice and who had ‘tasted the heavenly free gift’ and ‘become partakers of holy spirit ... and powers of the coming system of things’ would fall away beyond repentance and bring destruction upon themselves (2 Peter 2:1-2, 20-22; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-29). The apostles unitedly urged those to whom they wrote to ‘do your utmost to make the calling and choosing of you sure for yourselves; for if you keep on doing these things you will by no means ever fail’; also to ‘keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (2 Peter 1:10-11; Phil 2:12-16). ...
"Similarly, the ‘crown’ of life offered such ones is granted subject to their faithfulness under trial until death (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10, 23). ..."
The book continues: "On the other hand, [if predestination is] viewed as applying to a class, to the Christian congregation or ‘holy nation’ of called ones as a whole, (1 Peter 2:9), the texts previously cited would mean that God foreknew and foreordained that such a class (but not the specific individuals forming it) would be produced. Also, these scriptures would mean that he prescribed or foreordained the ‘pattern’ to which all those ... called ... would have to conform ... (Rom 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-12; 2 Tim. 1:9-10). He also foreordained the works such ones would be expected to carry out and their being tested due to the sufferings the world would bring upon them (Eph. 2:10; 1 Thess. 3:3-4). ..."
Ordinarily we wouldn't cite such long quotations, but this summarizes the whole story so well.
One final note of interest from this article: "The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Vol. IX, p. 192) says: ‘Previous to Augustine there was no serious development in Christianity of a theory of predestination.’ Before Augustine, earlier so-called ‘Church Fathers’ such as Justin, Origen and Irenaeus ‘know nothing of unconditional predestination; they teach free will.’ In their refutation of Gnosticism, they are described as regularly expressing their belief in the free moral agency of man as ‘the distinguishing characteristic of human personality, the basis of moral responsibility, a divine gift whereby men might choose that which was well-pleasing to God.’"
So we see that before Augustine, in the fourth century A.D., it was acknowledged that we must choose whether to obey God or not. If we see that the idea of predestinarianism was developed within the fledgling Roman Catholic Church, perhaps we should then consider that it is not a biblical concept.
Now, let's look at every verse in the New Testament which contains the word "predestine," or "predestinate." Actually, "predestinate" appears only four times in the English translation Bible. However, the Greek word which was translated "predestinate" is found in six places, so two times it was translated as something else. Here are the six places:
Acts 4:27-28 (NKJV): "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done."
Romans 8:29-30: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
1 Corinthians 2:7-8: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
Ephesians 1:3-12: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth -- in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory."
These examples are translated from the Greek word proorizo (Strong's #4309). We might recognize the root "orizo" in our English word "horizon," which is the limit of how far we can see. "Pro" in this context means ahead of time. So proorizo, translated "predestination," means to limit in advance, or to predetermine something.
Let's take another look at those verses just quoted.
We see in Acts 4:27-28 that the disciples were praying to the Father, saying that what happened to Yeshua was according to what the Father's hand and His purpose had determined before to be done. We know that the Word of God was foreordained to come to earth as a human and die for our sins (John 1:1-14). It's one of the main reasons He came! So it was Messiah's destiny which was already sealed, "from the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:18-21; Revelation 13:8; 17:8)!
In the passage in Romans 8:29-30, we find a succession of events taking place. This is theology here. Paul is teaching pure theological concepts. He outlines several steps God goes through with each one of us to bring us finally into His Family. Let's look at these points one at a time.
Point #1: "For whom He foreknew..." God knew us ahead of the time He called us. He didn't just grab people off the streets. He knew us ahead of time. The question posed by predestinarians is, "When did God foreknow us? During this lifetime, or from clear back into eternity?"
The predestinarian approach is that, since God knows all things, He knew each individual who has ever lived, even from before creation week. Therefore, God already knows who will succeed and who will fail, and our lives may just be a matter of acting out a pre-ordained script, and the outcome is already decided. God knows what our ultimate outcome will be, but we don’t.
Other people think, yes, God knows all there is to know, but He doesn't know who all is going to answer the call, who will remain faithful until the end, and who will turn away and become an enemy. He doesn't know what our final decision will be. These are things God may not be able to know -- or at least He chooses not to know -- ahead of time. Therefore, we have free moral agency, and we can choose whether to obey or not.
It's even been said that God has a job in mind for each one of us, and He's called us to do that job, but if we fall away, He has to call someone else to take our place. That position may not be supported biblically, but it is something to think about!
Point #2: "Whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."
The first thing we can notice here is that predestination and foreknowledge are not the same thing! Paul says God knew us first, then he predestined us for something. This tends to conflict with the idea that predestination means that God already knows what our ultimate decision will be.
If we are predestined, what are we predestined to do, or become? The Bible says we were predestined. But what were we predestined for? This verse says that we, the ones God foreknew, were predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Does this mean we are to be conformed to the image of Messiah? Perhaps. That's how most people take it. That's probably what it means.
But as an interesting thought, we might consider that it could also mean that we are to be conformed into an image -- or a pattern, or a lifestyle, or a destiny -- which is described as "the image of a son of God."
Remember, in the Greek, "son" isn't capitalized, and the pronoun translated "his" is not precise, so it may not be referring just to the Messiah. Paul may be telling us that we were predestined to be conformed to the image of a son of God!
We may recall that John wrote, in 1 John 3:2: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Even though we have Messiah living in us, we won't all end up becoming just like Him in every detail. We are different individuals, with different personalities and potentials. Yet each of us, every individual, is being conformed into what God wants us to be, which will ultimately be a resurrected son of God.
So it appears that, as we go through life, facing challenges, overcoming obstacles, learning to make wise choices, we are being shaped into the image of a son of God, so that Yeshua would be the firstborn among many siblings, each of whom is an individual.
Point #3: "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called." Here we see that predestination and being called are not the same thing, either! Once God knew us, and assigned us this destiny, He then began to work with us, opening our minds a little at a time, showing us things in the Bible we hadn't seen before, and causing us to ask questions we had never asked before.
The calling begins to separate us from others around us, as many people have experienced. We know that everyone will ultimately be called and invited into the Family. We anxiously look forward to that day. Some people have been called ahead of the rest of humanity. Ultimately, all humans have the same destiny. But during this lifetime, God is calling His first fruits. Once He knew who they would be, He gave them this particular destiny that the first fruits have, then He set about to send them on the path toward that destiny.
We know the verse that says, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). This strongly implies that we have the freedom of choice. If we don’t choose that Way of life, God won't choose us to be in the resurrection. The letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 mention rewards that would come to those who overcome to the end.
This implies that not everyone in those churches would be eligible for those rewards, and that Christians do have to qualify for their rewards. We don’t earn our salvation, but we will be rewarded according to our works.
Point #4: "Whom He called, these He also justified." Justification is a large part of our Christian life, but we won't spend time looking at it now. Suffice it to say that, when we respond to the call, and repent and are baptized for the remission of sin, we then stand justified before God. We are then to go on to perfection, or spiritual maturity, during the course of our lifetimes.
Point #5: "And whom He justified, these He also glorified." Of course, this is yet future, when we will be glorified in our immortal spirit bodies at the resurrection. This is the final stage in a series of steps God takes to bring us to the resurrection.
Predestination is only one step in this progression of events leading to our ultimate salvation.
1 Corinthians 2:7-8
Here's a verse that can be misunderstood if read carelessly. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 says, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
"Ordained" is translated from the same Greek word, proorizo, that is elsewhere translated "predestined." So, Paul is saying "we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages for our glory."
A superficial reading might suggest that we are predestined for glory, and that God ordained before the ages who would be glorified. That's not what the verse says. It says that what was predestined, or ordained -- what was pre-determined before the ages -- was the wisdom of God!
Ephesians Chapter 1
This passage in Ephesians chapter one brings much of this information together in an explanation of what God is doing, and how predestination fits into that picture. Let's examine the passage.
Ephesians 1:3-4: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world."
We were chosen before the foundation of the world. What was the choice? What did God choose? Were you, personally, chosen millions of years ago, to say "yes" to God, and to be in the resurrection, while the guy next door, who also went to Sabbath services right alongside us, was chosen to say "no," and be destroyed?
Does the Bible say that God had a choice, but that we don’t? Does the Bible say that God chose you to make it, but He may not have chosen your spouse? No, it says in verse 4, we were chosen by God "that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." That's justification! That's not salvation!
Our predestination, as we saw earlier, was one step in a progression where God chooses whom He will call in this life. And the predestination mentioned here is not to the resurrection, but to being called, so that we can be holy and blameless before Him. How do we do that? Through repentance and baptism. And those are voluntary attributes. We make the final decision on those things.
Verse 5: "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself." Does this mean we were ordained beforehand to be in the resurrection? Not necessarily. It depends on what "adoption" means. The word "adopted" is translated from the Greek word huiothesia (hwee-oth-es-ee’-ah, Strong's #5206), which the lexicons define primarily as adoption, but also as "the nature and condition of the true disciples in Christ, who by receiving the Spirit of God into their souls become sons of God."
So the Greek word carries the meaning of coming into God’s Family, but the "sonship" in this life is still technically an adoption. This verse carries the meaning that God, at some point previous to today, destined us to join His Family, which we have done if we are members of the Body of Christ today. At this point, we can look on ourselves as being adopted, just as Paul uses the analogy about grafting branches onto a tree in Romans.
Later on, at the resurrection, we will become actual children of God, actually born into the actual family. That's what it's talking about here in verses 5-10.
Then in verse 11-12, "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory."
Again, it's not talking about being predestined to be successful in "making it" to the resurrection. In this verse, it's talking about how we, who first trusted in Christ -- that is, the first fruits, or the ekklesia of the present era -- were destined ahead of time to "be to the praise of [God’s] glory."
Many other scriptures show that God is glorified in us because of our willingness to live according to His Way, and His teachings. That's why we were predestined to be to God’s praise and glory, because He foreknew us and was able to select the right people for the job!
In Contrast -- Foreknowledge!
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words contains this entry under "Predestinate": "This verb [proorizo -- predestinate] is to be distinguished from proginosko, 'to foreknow'; the latter [to foreknow] has special reference to the persons foreknown by God; proorizo [predestinate] has special reference to that to which the subjects of His foreknowledge are predestinated."
What does all that mean? Vine's tells us that the Greek word meaning "foreknowledge" has to do with people. The word meaning "predestine" has to do more with what it is we are predestined to do, or to become. This implies that the biblical references to predestination do not refer to any particular human at all, other than Yeshua Himself, as we saw earlier in Acts 4:27-28.
Let's look at those verses which use the Greek word proginosko (Strong's #4267). Notice how these verses all deal with foreknowing something about people.
Acts 26:5, Paul speaking: "They knew me from the first [they foreknew me], if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee."
Romans 8:29: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."
Romans 11:2: "God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,"
1 Peter 1:20: "He [Yeshua] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you."
2 Peter 3:17: "You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked."
In these verses, we can see that foreknowledge has to do with people, not whether someone is saved. None of these verses that talk about foreknowledge talks about predestination -- except one!
Romans 8:29 contrasts foreknowledge with predestination, showing that the two are not the same thing! We are seeing more evidence that predestinarianism is not the correct interpretation of scripture!
What About These Scriptures?
There are a number of scriptures that are used in an attempt to substantiate predestinarianism. If we look at a few of these, we may be able to see less of predestinarianism, and more of what predestination is all about!
Isaiah 44:6-8 (NASB): "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides me. And who is like me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’"
This is talking about the panoply of ancient history and the prophecies of the future, as God envisions them. This is similar to when God was chastising Job, saying, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (see Job chapter 38). The primary idea behind the passage in Job, and this passage in Isaiah, is that God is pretty big, and we are pretty small, and it's God who calls the shots.
But there's nothing here that would indicate that every person is known and planned out in advance, but rather that the events of history are pretty well laid out in the overall scheme of things.
Acts 13:46-49: "And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first. Since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For thus the Lord has commanded us, "I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth."’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region."
Yes, many in the crowd were appointed to eternal life. We would say it was God’s intention to call them into the ekklesia. But there's nothing here that would point to each of these people being known and scheduled to be called clear back into eternity.
Likewise, the true believer and follower of Christ today can be considered to be "appointed to eternal life"! As we saw earlier, there are several steps God takes us through on the road to the resurrection. We can understand that the time when we are "appointed to eternal life" is the time we are assigned our destiny, which is to be resurrected into the eternal Family of God! We are appointed to be there! How's that for predestination? You'd have to work really hard to not achieve your destiny!
You are appointed to eternal life! What are you worried about? Just settle into walking the difficult road to the narrow gate. It's your destiny. Go get it!
Here are other scriptures often used in an attempt to validate the concept of predestinarianism.
Acts 17:24-28: "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’"
We can see definite principles being taught that God predestined national groups, and where they would live, and when they would arise to world prominence. But there are no specific references to every individual person being known from antiquity, or that what all they would do in their lives would be known ahead of time. Notice also how God is not far from any of us at any time. Wouldn't that be the ultimate mockery, if God is so cruel that He would hide nearby and watch us as we struggle through our hopeless lives, finally to go to a bad end? Is that the kind of God you think we worship? Heaven forbid!
Matthew 25:34: "Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’"
Notice: It isn't the "you" who was prepared from the foundation of the world -- it was the kingdom!
2 Timothy 1:9: "[God] who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,"
That looks like a pretty clear statement that God granted us something from all eternity. If the punctuation is correct, I would have to agree.
But one problem with our English translations is that the translators had little in the way of punctuation to follow in the original language manuscripts. Sometimes they would have to guess at the correct punctuation in English. Sometimes they appear to have guessed wrong. In this case, the concept of "us" in relation to "all eternity" is debatable. However, I think we can all agree that "His own purpose and grace" has existed "from all eternity."
If this is the case, and the verse is punctuated incorrectly, then perhaps the verse could be better rendered, "[God] ... saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own eternal purpose and grace, which was granted us in Christ Jesus."
This may be one possible solution to a potential problem in this verse. But another solution presents itself if we simply view the verse in its context. Notice if we read all of the sentence, in 2 Timothy 1:8-11:
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,
9 who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,
10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.
Let's take the sentence apart and see what is being said here. We have the concept of God’s "purpose and grace" spread out over two verses. In verse 9, they were granted to us in Christ Jesus. In verse 10, they have now been revealed because Christ Jesus appeared! In verse 9, God’s purpose and grace are said to be "from all eternity." In verse 10, they are "now." Reading the verse in context makes the meaning plain, and makes it more difficult to force a debatable concept into an isolated verse.
With either one of these explanations, it becomes evident that what existed from all eternity was God’s purpose and grace. These verses don’t claim that we have existed from all eternity, or that our identities were known from all eternity. It seems very unlikely that Paul even had that in mind when he wrote these verses.
We need to touch just briefly on the subject of election. It would be difficult to have any serious discussion of predestination without examining the closely related concept of election. Being predestined is one step in becoming part of the elect.
The subject of election is very large. It covers being elect and being chosen. The two English words come from very similar Greek words. If we were to talk about election, we would talk about being in the ekklesia, and what all that entails. The subject of election touches on the topics of grace, justification, sanctification, reward, and eternity. Because of this complexity, we simply can't discuss election as a brief side issue.
Suffice it to say for now that, if predestination was simply walking through life according to a pre-ordained script, with the end of the story already determined, that would make a mockery of salvation, repentance, forgiveness, and, indeed, Christ's sacrifice itself. It would make God an evil and hideous monster. It would invalidate the entire subject of election, and of making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).
Being predestined is a very important part of election. We simply don’t have time to go into the subject of election here. But the idea that each of us was known, individually, billions of years ago, does not fit in with what the Bible teaches about the salvation process, and about being called as first fruits now rather than being resurrected in the great harvest of the general resurrection later.
No Predestined Condemnation
Now, if we take still another approach in our study of predestination, we should also realize that there is no "predestined condemnation."
Catholic and Protestant theologies have a concept that, when you die, your immortal soul will go to heaven or hell, based on your behavior in this life. This doctrine is not being held up as an example of predestination, but as an example of balance in a doctrine. According to this teaching, some will go to heaven, some will go to hell. Catholics have an additional step: Some will go to purgatory, where it will be decided if the person goes to heaven or hell. But there's a balance there.
In predestinarianism, there is a balance, because some people are (supposedly) already scheduled to be saved, while others are (supposedly) already scheduled to be lost. The worry arises from not knowing which category we might be in, and those with low self-esteem have a fairly good idea they're locked into the "lost" category.
However, when we look into the Bible for signs of predestinarianism, we can see indications that there may be some who have been destined for success. Some, but by no means all. But there are no references in the Bible to anyone being destined, from the moment of birth, to be sentenced to failure, Gehenna fire, and condemnation!
We must ask the question, simply from the standpoint of logic: Is the doctrine of predestinarianism fair? If some are irrevocably destined for the resurrection, is nobody irrevocably destined for Gehenna fire? Those who worry about such matters suspect that they might be the one scheduled for destruction. And if some are destined for one and others are destined for the other, does that mean everyone is already pre-selected? The Bible nowhere teaches these concepts!
Even if we try to apply predestinarianism only to the idea that we are the first fruits, does the Bible teach that all the first fruits were foreknown to be first fruits, clear back from eternity? Did God know that so-and-so would "leave the church," and go back into the world, millennia before God even called him? Clearly, the Bible answer is "no."
But if we use the predestinarian viewpoint, and state that some people were pre-selected to be called and chosen as first fruits, does that then mean that all the rest of the people throughout time were destined from eternity not to be called as first fruits?
Well, in fact, the answer here is "yes"! That part is according to God’s plan, as we understand it. The vast majority of mankind was predestined not to be called as first fruits, but they are predestined to be called later on.
And that's what the scriptures are talking about when they refer to God’s eternal plan, and how this was prepared from all eternity. We must not lose sight of that. All humans are predestined to be called at some point, whether in this life or the next. That's God's plan. God plans to call every human who ever lived to a knowledge of the truth and the grace that saves. Whatever spirit teaches anything else is not from God!
But the point being made here is that the doctrine of predestinarianism is incomplete. It doesn't "cover all the bases." Not everyone is accounted for. And God doesn't work like that.
The Bible gives no indication regarding the "flip side of the coin" -- that if there were some destined to eternal life "from the foundation of the world," there will also be some destined to eternal damnation "from the foundation of the world"! This is one of the weaknesses in the predestinarianism outlook -- it isn't balanced.
The Foundation of the World
We've already seen a number of scriptures referring to what has taken place "from the foundation of the world." What do these scriptures mean? Do they say that our names are written on a list in heaven compiled millions of years ago? Let's look at some of these scriptures:
Matthew 13:35: "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’"
Matthew 25:34: "Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’"
Notice here: it's the Kingdom, not the individual, that has been prepared from the foundation of the world!
Luke 11:50: "that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation."
John 17:24: "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."
Ephesians 1:4: "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."
Considering the testimony of the other scriptures we have seen, this passage, that "He chose us ... before the foundation of the world," is more likely a reference to the ekklesia as a whole, rather than to individuals. He chose us as a group before the foundation of the world, as part of His overall plan, but most likely He chose us as individuals much more recently.
Hebrews 4:3: "For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world."
This would tend to explain the previous verse we just read. God is doing a work on earth, choosing those He wishes to invite into His Family. The sense of this verse is that the plan was finished, and God was ready to "work His plan," before He even began creating the planet!
By the way, if He swore in His wrath that Israel should not enter into the land of rest, that shows that it wasn't foreordained, but the result of Israel testing God and making Him angry!
1 Peter 1:20: "He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you."
Messiah was foreordained to come as our Savior. He is the only human so foreordained.
The fact is, we are not able to see from any of these verses any clear picture that we, as individual names and faces, were known and preordained millions of years ago. Rather, we see that there were things kept secret since that time, such as the Kingdom being prepared for the New Covenant ekklesia.
We've also seen that the Father loved the Messiah from before the time the earth was made, yet He planned to send Him to die for us.
While these scriptures don’t exactly define predestination for us, they do give us some important information regarding what was and was not involved in the time reference, "from the foundation of the earth."
What, Then, Is Predestination?
The New Bible Dictionary says that the word "predestination" is used "only with God as subject [as the subject of the sentence], [and] expresses the thought of appointing a situation for a person, or a person for a situation, in advance (pro-)." It says the Bible "presents God the Creator as personal, powerful and purposeful, and assures us that as his power is unlimited, so his purposes are certain of fulfillment. ...
The article continues: "Sometimes Yahweh is pictured as reacting to developing situations in a way that might seem to imply that he had not anticipated them (e.g., when he repents, and reverses his prior action...)."
"That Yahweh governs human history ... to bring about his own predestined purpose for human welfare, is made clear in the Bible story. ...
"The NT writers take for granted the OT faith that God is the sovereign Lord of events, and rules history for the fulfilling of his purposes. ... A new development, however, ... is ... the idea of election, now applied, not to national Israel, but to Christian believers. ... The OT ... [likens] election to God’s historical ‘calling’ ... but the NT distinguishes the two things sharply, by representing election as God’s act of predestinating sinners to salvation in Christ ‘before the foundation of the world.’"
Finally, the article states, "The fullest elucidation of this principle is found in the writings of Paul. From all eternity, Paul declares, God has had a plan (prothesis) to save a church, though in earlier times it was not fully made known. ... The aim of the plan is that men should be made God’s adopted sons and be renewed in the image of Christ..., and that the church, the company of those so renewed, should grow to the fulness of Christ. ... Believers may rejoice in the certainty that as part of his plan God predestinated them personally to share in this destiny."
That's What It's All About!
This is the joy of our calling, and the hope of our salvation! As part of our calling to salvation, God, at some point, knew us ahead of time. Then He gave us the wonderful destiny we have -- our incredible human potential! We haven't achieved the fullness of that destiny yet. It is, at this point, a pre-destiny!
Then He called us. When we answered His call, He justified us in the waters of baptism. If we continue the life of an overcomer to the end, He will glorify us in the resurrection, and give us a reward according to our works in this life.
Our whole Christian life is meant to be a fulfillment, a promise, a challenge, and a joy! God has set an incredible destiny before us. Those who know the plan of God should never be fooled by the devil's cruel hoax of predestinarianism!
Ultimately, the entire human race will be called to join God’s Family, in the future. Those people will be faced with much the same choices then that we face today. But God has called us out of time, according to His plan, so that we may be ready when He needs us, to help Him in whatever way He needs us, when He invites the rest of mankind to join His Family.
However, our destiny is truly conditional. We can lose it. We can throw it away. We can re-crucify our Savior and put Him to an open shame. We can put our hand to the plow, but look back. Any number of scriptures show us that we won't achieve that destiny unless we really want it, and are willing to fight and overcome our human nature, and resist Satan.
God wants to give us our destiny. He's working with each person in the ekklesia every day to achieve that destiny. But He isn't going to force us to live a sinless life. And He isn't going to give His precious free gift of being among the first fruits to anyone and everyone.
We must participate in our own salvation. We must work out our salvation, because we can lose it! That's where the fear and trembling come in -- the fact that we can lose out, and see others enter into the Kingdom of God, while we ourselves are thrust out.
Scripture after scripture shows that our salvation is conditional. We have salvation now, but someone else could take our crown, and we can lose it!
Predestination is about the greatest possible gift God could give to mankind -- eternal life as sons of God!
Predestinarianism, on the other hand, becomes nothing more than a false doctrine of false hope and false futility. It robs us of our part in God’s plan. It makes growing and overcoming in our Christian lives seem totally unnecessary. It doesn't assure anyone that they will "make it" -- rather, it causes everyone to doubt and fear, and to suspect that God may be up to no good.
By this time, we should know enough about God’s plan for mankind to know that He is not unfair, harsh, cruel, unyielding, or monstrously evil, as the doctrine of predestinarianism paints Him to be. Rather, we know we have a loving Father in the heavens, who is near to us, who is interested in our lives.
We know that we have an older Brother giving us strength, who serves as our defender, our representative, our Mediator, who is pulling for us every step of the Way. We know we have God’s Spirit in us, with us, alongside of us, helping us at all times.
Even if we go through the valley of the shadow of all sorts of nasty things, if we keep our eyes on the goal before us, the wonderful future that God predestined us to have, we should not fear any evil, because of the many promises God has made us.
Let's look at one of those promises, in 2 Peter 1:1-11 (NKJV): "Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us [because of our own righteousness? No,] by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."