The Concept. Divine predestination means that God has a purpose that is determined long before it is brought to pass. It implies that God is infinitely capable of planning and then bringing about what he has planned, and Scripture speaks of him as doing this ( Isa 14:24-27 ; 22:11 ; 37:26 ; 44:7-8 ; 46:8-10 ). Prophecy in its predictive mode is to be understood accordingly. God plans and makes his plans known, as he chooses, to his servants the prophets ( Amos 3:7 ). God's purpose is one of love and grace ( Deut 7:6-8 ; Isa 41:8-9 ), above all because in love he predestined what should come to pass in his plan to save and to restore sinful humanity through Christ ( Eph 1:5 ). Colossians 1:26 speaks of this purpose as "the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but now is disclosed." This implies that all that is in God's good purpose for us, individually or as part of the people of God, is by God's initiative and thus is a work of grace, something that we could never instigate or deserve ( Deut 9:4-6 ; 2 Tim 1:9 ).
God's Predestining Purpose. From the call of Abraham ( Gen 12:3 ) his descendants, in particular the progeny of Jacob/Israel, are predestined to fulfill the purpose that God has for them ( Psalm 105:5-10 ). They are to be seen in the world as his people ( Deut 7:6 ; Psalm 33:11-12 ), holy and obedient to him, living to his praise ( Isa 43:21 ), a priestly nation bringing the knowledge of God to other nations ( Exod 19:5-6 ). The New Testament bears witness also to this purpose and foreknowledge of God concerning Israel ( Rom 11:2 ).
It is also made clear in the Old Testament in a number of ways that the purpose of God embraces all nations. He has foreordained it when a nation is used to chasten Israel and then when a Gentile ruler sets them free ( Isa 10:5-6 ; 44:28-45:1 ). Yet irrespective of Israel Yahweh has a plan determined for the whole world as his hand is stretched out over all nations ( Isa 14:27 ). God "determined the times set" for the different nations "and the exact places where they should live" ( Acts 17:26 ). In relation to the nations the word of the Lord in Isaiah 46:10 is, "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please."
Predetermined also, and thus mentioned variously in the prophets, is the purpose of God to be fulfilled in a Messiah of the house of David ( Isa 9:6-7 ; 11:1-9 ; Jer 23:5-6 ; Ezek 34:23-24 ; 37:24-28 ). It is also planned and foreordained that through Israel the knowledge of God should go out to the nations that they might be drawn to the worship of the Lord, a purpose to which the New Testament in turn bears witness ( Gal 3:8 ; Col 1:27 ). In the New Testament it is stressed repeatedly that the divine plan to be fulfilled in Christ was predestined. Paul speaks of the purpose in him as "God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began" ( 1 Cor 2:7 ). "God's eternal purpose" it is called in Ephesians 3:11. Although there was a human responsibility for the death of Jesus, all that happened was by "God's set purpose and foreknowledge" ( Acts 2:23 ). So also was the resurrection of Jesus ( Acts 2:31 ), and furthermore he is "appointed as judge of the living and the dead" ( Acts 10:42 ).
The people of God in the New Testament, like Israel in the Old Testament, have a destiny to fulfill. They are appointed to have an inheritance ( Matt 25:34 ), to receive God's kingdom ( Luke 12:32 ), to have "the hope of glory" ( Col 1:27 ), which is "eternal life" ( Acts 13:48 ). This appointed destiny for God's people can also be spoken of as their being chosen to be born anew ( James 1:18 ), to gain salvation ( 2 Thess 2:13 ), and to be adopted as children of God through Christ ( Eph 1:5 ). In terms similar to those applied to Israel, the people of God in the New Testament are chosen to be holy, to be obedient, to live to God's praise ( Ephesians 1:6 Ephesians 1:11 Ephesians 1:12 Ephesians 1:14 ; 2 Tim 1:9 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ), and, going beyond anything in the Old Testament, "predestined to be conformed to the likeness" of God's Son ( Rom 8:29 ). In practical terms Ephesians 2:10 says that "we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Both Old and New Testaments also speak of individuals being predestined to fulfill a divine purpose. Jeremiah ( 1:5 ) is spoken of as being set apart before he was born to be a prophet to the nations. The servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 49:5 is conscious of being "formed in the womb to be his servant." In Genesis 25:23 a statement is made concerning the destinies of Jacob and Esau before they were born. In the New Testament Paul speaks of himself as set apart from birth to know God's Son and to make him known ( Gal 1:15-16 ).
A final question that has concernedand dividedChristian people down through the ages is whether some are predestined to life and salvation and others predestined to condemnation ("double predestination"). On certain things Scripture is clear: (1) we all, because of our sinfulness, deserve only God's condemnation; (2) our salvation is entirely because of God's grace and God's initiative; (3) the dominant emphasis is not on the fact that some are chosen by God and some are not, but on what is the purpose of God for those chosen: "to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" ( Rom 8:29 ), or, "adoption as his children through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace" ( Eph 1:5-6 ; NRSV ). What, then, should be said of Paul's argument in Romans 9-11? In those chapters much is said in positive terms of God's purpose, grace offered in turn to Jews and to Gentiles. Much also is said of human responsibility in the rejection of God's grace on the part of many in Israel and thus their failure to obtain God's salvation. The only verse that can be and is often taken to speak of predestination to condemnation is in the form of a hypothetical question (and one capable of very diverse interpretations, as the commentaries indicate): "What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrathprepared for destruction?" ( Rom 9:22 ). It would be hard to fit together a predestination to judgment and the operation of human free will and our responsibility. The failure to find the salvation offered to humankind by a gracious and loving God seems more wisely assigned to the way men and women "reject God's purpose for themselves" ( Luke 12:30 ) rather than to a prior, unalterable rejection by God.
Bibliography. G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election; P. Jacobs and H. Krienke, NIDNTT, 1:692-97; J. I. Packer, NBD, 1:435-38; 3:1262-64; H. H. Rowley, The Biblical Doctrine of Election.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Predestination'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".