God's work in ordaining salvation for people without their prior knowledge.
Biblical Materials The English noun, predestination, does not occur in the Bible. The Greek verb translated predestinate occurs only four times in two passages of the Bible (Romans 8:29-30;
Ephesians 1:5,Ephesians 1:11). It is used in
Acts 4:28 of human determination. The word means to determine before or ordain. On these minimal facts entire systems of doctrine have been built.
The word predestinate (proorizo) is closely related to three other more frequently used biblical words: 1. to determine; 2. to elect; 3. to foreknow. Each of these represents several Greek and Hebrew words. Study of these words shows that for a study of predestination the key passages are
Ephesians 1:1; and
1 Peter 1:1. One of the appropriate things to notice in this biblical survey is that Acts refers to the purpose of God as determined (Acts 2:23;
Acts 17:26); refers to Jesus as God's previously chosen One (Acts 2:23;
Acts 10:41-42); to the early church as those previously taken in hand by God (Acts 22:14). A wise plan is to examine the major passages keeping the verses in Acts in mind.
Romans 8 Although the word predestinate is used only in
Acts 22:29 and
Acts 22:30 of this chapter, we must explore the entire chapter to understand the use of the word.
Romans 7-8 form Paul's famous battle of the flesh and of the spirit.
Romans 7:1 speaks of the place of law in shaping life. Law makes requirements, but it has no power to help people keep them. Sin is a constant struggle and an overwhelming experience (Romans 7:23-24).
Romans 8:1 is life in the Spirit. God's Spirit aids our spirit in the struggles of life and helps us to conquer all things through His Spirit. God purposes for His people a victorious, overcoming life. Such a life is not possible when we go it alone. God chooses and determines that it will be otherwise for His people.
The references to predestination in
Romans 8:29 and
Romans 8:30 come in the midst of a section of Scripture on salvation and spiritual struggle. Was Paul saying that all of his experience, before becoming a Christian and after, God decided in such a way that Paul had nothing to do with it and no decision in it? These passages could be seen that way, but they need not be. They also can be seen as the struggle of human willfulness and divine purpose and guidance. I see these passages, especially in the light of Paul's other writings, as a real struggle in which Paul realized that God's purpose for us is good and that God's determination to help us is prior to all of our struggles. In Jesus Christ, God has set the pattern. Believers are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. God's determination is particularly and eternally expressed in what Christ is. He is like what we are supposed to be like. God's Spirit will help us to be like Jesus.
In a discussion of election and predestination, questions about Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:13) arise, as do questions about God “hardening Pharaoh's heart” (Romans 9:17-18). These verses could be interpreted to mean that God beforehand had planned things out without any regard for human response. The worst scenario would suggest that God had taken a nice young Egyptian prince and turned him into a monster.
Romans 9:13 could mean that God really hated Esau and played favorites among His children. I do not believe this is the proper way to understand these passages. Paul, their human author, is looking back. Interpretations are easier after the fact. Whereas God is no respecter of persons whom He has created, He does not violate the free will He gave to humankind. God works with it. A better interpretation of these passages is to say that God used what Esau and Pharaoh had become. Esau, a compulsive man who sought instant gratification of his desires, would not be the kind of person who becomes a patriarch. Pharaoh, a ruthless man, God confirmed and judged as an oppressor; Pharaoh's harsh and cruel acts were punished. In that punishment God received glory to Himself, even out of Pharaoh's disobedience.
Ephesians 1 The first chapter of Ephesians is first and foremost about Jesus Christ. Christ contains, expresses, and effects God's purpose. When people hear the gospel message and believe that message (Romans 9:13,Romans 9:15), they live on earth under the leadership of Jesus Christ as Head of the body.
Such believers are sealed by the Spirit (Romans 9:13); therefore, the power of God working in us can enlarge us, open our eyes, increase our faith, and enable us to believe. Does God do this without our own willing and cooperation, or are we free participants in what God is doing through the believing community under the headship of Christ and in the power of the Spirit? It seems to me that the believers addressed are welcomed to faith and encouraged to believe and enlarge their lives in Christ's church. The specific references in
Romans 9:5 and
Romans 9:11 fit in this context if we do not draw them out of place and ask first what it means that we were predestined before the foundation of the world according to God's will. Jesus Christ is first and foremost God's chosen. He is the agent of God's redemptive plan from eternity. Jesus Christ embodies the way, the will, and the good pleasure of God. By Jesus we know the Father; in Him God's will is effected in history. We are included as we are included in Jesus. We are included, predestined, and elected as we believe in Him by the power of the Spirit. God, working His way through us, determines us. Apparently, part of God's determination is that the Ephesians and ourselves should be participants in our limited human way with God in doing God's will. God's will is that people should have a will to exercise toward God. The painful personal experience reflected in
Romans 7:1 and the sinful corporate experiences of human divisions spoken of in the remainder of Ephesians lead us to believe that we can also exercise our wills in refusing to believe in God and in disobeying God. Predestination never eliminates human will.
1 Peter 1:2 is a part of the greeting of the author to the readers. He greets them and us in the name of the foreknowing Father, the sanctifying Spirit, and the sacrifice of the Son. The greeting is a kind of prelude under which exhortations to Christian living are given. The entire epistle presupposes both the guidance of God and the ability of people to cooperate with God in living the Christian life.
Luke 22:22 declares that Jesus died according to the plan of God in which He freely participated. So does
Acts 2:23, which adds human wickedness also entered into the betrayal of Jesus.
Acts 10:41 assures us that the eyewitness apostles were especially chosen of God. The disciples determined they would provide help to the needy (Acts 11:29). God determined the basic parameters of humanity (Acts 17:26). The gist of these references is that God works according to a plan and purpose and so should we, especially as we determine to do His will.
Two special problems that arise in relation to predestination are the place of Judaism (Romans 9-11) and of Judas (John 6:70-71) in the determination of God. Paul said that Judaism is God's preparation for the fulness of Christ, that they rejected God's fullest revelation of God in Christ, and that God confronts them with Christ inevitably and ultimately. Meanwhile, the task of the church is to confront all persons with Christ. The purpose of predestination is to be conformed to goodness and to bear witness to God in Christ. Judas was chosen by Jesus as were all of the disciples. As all disciples of Jesus, Judas had the capacity for betrayal—so did Peter. Judas exercised his will to betray. The evil one found in Judas a willing instrument (John 13:27). Jesus had to be betrayed. Judas did not have to do it, but he did.
Later Questions The above basic biblical facts were used to construct later doctrinal systems. Human logic and the desire for systematic conclusions and neat, packaged answers lead to hard solutions about freedom and destiny. Questions which lead to this development were: If God is sovereign, how can humans be free? If God knows about everything in advance, does that mean that He forces things to be the way they are? Does not God give grace to those who are to be saved and withhold it from those who are not? If God decreed that some are to be saved, does this not mean He has predestined others to be damned?
The problem with these later questions is that they go beyond Scripture in their desire to figure everything out. They ignore large portions of Scripture and Christian experience which assume human choice and the integrity of human freedom. In the last analysis, the way in which God's guidance of His creation interfaces with human freedom is unknown to us. I am convinced that God who made us with will and freedom woos us by His grace and condemns people only because of their own willfulness and unbelief. The only alternatives are to suppose that God is going to force all to be saved, whether they want to be or not; or that God, in a choosey way, is going to save some favorites but deliberately withhold salvation from others. I cannot find either of these views consistent with the full range of biblical teaching. Predestination is an assurance of God's redemptive love. There has never been a time, not even before creation, when God has not shown redemptive love for His creation. Whatever else predestination means, it assures us
that God takes the initiative in relation to creation and that God pursues us with redemptive love. See Election; Salvation.