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Wednesday, February 02, 2011


There, I've said it ... a bad word to many. It's offensive and horrendous and ought never be even hinted at in polite company. The idea that God, who we all agree is good, would determine anything in advance, especially where Human Free Will is concerned, is just wrong ... just plain wrong.

"But," I ask hesitantly, "what is predestination?"

You see, I think we have some strange ideas about what it is and what it isn't and, most importantly, why the notion even comes up. So I'd like to see if we can (quickly) find some explanations.

A large number of people think of predestination as a synonym for election and use it in reference to who gets saved. The parallel notion of "double predestination", for instance, means nothing but who gets saved or not. When I use the term, I often use it in this common form because people tend to think of it that way. Let me point out, then, that this isn't biblical.

What is it and where does it come from? Well, it is first hinted at in Genesis 21:12-13 when God tells Abraham that, although he made a mistake fathering Ishmael, it was Isaac who would be the child of promise ... but Ishmael would also father a nation. Okay, too obscure? Well, then, let's leap to the New Testament. In Acts 2 Peter assures his listeners "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). There it is. God's "predetermined plan". "But," someone might protest, "that doesn't say 'predestine'!" Okay, fine. Let's try another. In Acts 4, Jesus's followers claimed that the leadership at the time was put in place "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (Acts 4:28). There's that word -- "predestined". And it's elsewhere. In Romans 8:29-30 we find that "those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." In 1 Cor 2:7 Paul says that the revelation of God's hidden wisdom was predestined. Ephesians 1 assures us that "He predestined us to adoption as sons" (Eph 1:5). The word is all over the place. The idea is even beyond that. Pharaoh was told that "the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about" (Gen 41:32). God warned through Isaiah that "A destruction is determined" (Isa 10:22). Jesus said, "The Son of Man is going as it has been determined" (Luke 22:22). These are determinations made in advance, or, "predeterminations", or, "predestination". So the idea comes from the Bible; it's not a Calvinist heresy. But what does it mean?

Hopefully the multiple references I've offered help provide a broader understanding than mere "election". In those references I've offered we have things predetermined like who will flourish, Jesus's death at the hands of the people, the following of God's purpose by the leadership, the conforming of those whom He foreknows to the image of His Son, adoption, future events ... well, that should give you a sense. "Wait ... that seems quite ... random." That's because the actual doctrine of Predestination goes something like this: "God has, from all eternity, freely determined whatsoever shall come to pass." If you examine Scripture on the subject, it covers everything. If you reason from the nature of God as Sovereign, it covers everything. Predestination is God Sovereignty over all that occurs. Or, to put it concisely as Paul did, God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). Thus, all things are predestined.

Now, I said at the outset that Predestination was not Election. I need to be clearer on that point. If Predestination is all things that come to pass and "Election" in whatever form you want to think of it comes to pass, then certainly Predestination is Election. However Election is only a small part of Predestination. Or, Predestination is not only Election; it's everything else as well.

One other necessary clarification. We get so tangled up sometimes in the term "destined" or "determined" that makes up the concept of Predestination. It is absolutely essential that you do not import a preconceived notion that "destined" or "determined" demands "directly caused". The word in both the Greek and in English is based on the concept of boundaries. It simply says "This will happen" without requiring "I will cause it." I can, for instance, determine that a ball will hit the ground by dropping it. I didn't make the gravity that pulls it. I didn't force the ball in any direction at all. But the pull of gravity will require that the ball, when released, hits the ground every time. I didn't cause it; I determined it by releasing it and letting it do what I knew it would do. So don't get caught in some false dilemma that "determined" means "caused" and, therefore, God caused sin (or whatever other unpleasant thing you might wish to consider). No need for that. On the other hand, don't buy into the false notion that Predestination is a man-made doctrine. To arrive at that you'll need to use your black Sharpie marker to highlight the verses I offered (and more).

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