Predestination [N] [E]

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.

Francis Foulkes

See also Elect, Election; Foreknowledge

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.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[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 Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Predestination'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Predestination [N] [B]

This word is properly used only with reference to God's plan or purpose of salvation. The Greek word rendered "predestinate" is found only in these six passages, Acts 4:28 ; Romans 8:29 Romans 8:30 ; 1 Corinthians 2:7 ; Ephesians 1:5 Ephesians 1:11 ; and in all of them it has the same meaning. They teach that the eternal, sovereign, immutable, and unconditional decree or "determinate purpose" of God governs all events.

This doctrine of predestination or election is beset with many difficulties. It belongs to the "secret things" of God. But if we take the revealed word of God as our guide, we must accept this doctrine with all its mysteriousness, and settle all our questionings in the humble, devout acknowledgment, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight."

For the teaching of Scripture on this subject let the following passages be examined in addition to those referred to above; Genesis 21:12 ; Exodus 9:16 ; 33:19 ; Deuteronomy 10:15 ; 32:8 ; Joshua 11:20 ; 1 Samuel 12:22 ; 2 Chr 6:6 ; Psalms 33:12 ; 65:4 ; 78:68 ; 135:4 ; Isaiah 41:1-10 ; Jeremiah 1:5 ; Mark 13:20 ; Luke 22:22 ; John 6:37 ; 15:16 ; John 17:2 John 17:6 John 17:9 ; Acts 2:28 ; 3:18 ; 4:28 ; 13:48 ; 17:26 ; Romans 9:11 Romans 9:18 Romans 9:21 ; 11:5 ; Ephesians 3:11 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ; 2 th 2:13 ; 2 Tim 1:9 ; Titus 1:2 ; 1 Peter 1:2 . (See DECREES OF GOD; ELECTION .)

Hodge has well remarked that, "rightly understood, this doctrine (1) exalts the majesty and absolute sovereignty of God, while it illustrates the riches of his free grace and his just displeasure with sin.

  • It enforces upon us the essential truth that salvation is entirely of grace. That no one can either complain if passed over, or boast himself if saved.
  • It brings the inquirer to absolute self-despair and the cordial embrace of the free offer of Christ.
  • In the case of the believer who has the witness in himself, this doctrine at once deepens his humility and elevates his confidence to the full assurance of hope" (Outlines).

    These dictionary topics are from
    M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
    published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

    [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Predestination". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .


    pre-des-ti-na'-shun (prothesis, prognosis proorismos):

    1. Predestination as a Biblical Question

    2. Its Fundamental Importance

    3. The Nature of Predestination

    4. The Doctrine in Scripture

    5. Historic Rise and Development of the Doctrine

    6. The Doctrine in the Middle Ages

    7. Predestination in the Reformed Theology

    8. Predestination in Lutheranism

    9. The Arminian View

    10. Wesleyanism on Predestination

    11. Present Needs and Values of the Doctrine


    1. Predestination as a Biblical Question:

    Predestination can be, and has sometimes been, regarded as a philosophical question rather than a Biblical one. It is with predestination as a Biblical question, however, that we are here mainly concerned. It is possible to urge, and it has been urged, that the philosophical question--whether all that occurs is foreordained--is not discussed and decided by Scripture. Theology, starting from God in its interpretation of all things, has arrived at universal foreordination by a species of deductive reasoning. But we must not argue the matter from any abstract principles, but deal with the actual facts as set forth in Scripture and as found, inductively, in the experience of man.

    2. Its Fundamental Importance:

    It must first be asserted, however, in view of much loose modern thinking, that predestination is a category of religious thought of fundamental importance. No category of religious thought could go deeper, for it reaches down to the Infinite Will in relation to the universe of finite wills, and lays stress on will as the core of reality. The philosophy of our time may be said to have received, from the time of Schopenhauer, an impact toward will-emphasis, alike in respect of will in the universe and in man. But the relation of the Absolute Will to the universe, and to mankind, is precisely that with which we are concerned in predestination.

    3. Nature of Predestination:

    Predestination is that aspect of foreordination Whereby the salvation of the believer is taken to he effected in accordance with the will of God, who has called and elected him, in Christ, unto life eternal. The divine plan of salvation must certainly be conceived under this aspect of individual reference. To understand and set forth the nature, and ethically justifiable character, of such a foreordaining to life eternal, is our purpose. For doctrine has need to be purged of the historic inconsistencies, and fatal illogicalities, with which, in its older forms of presentation, it was often infected. This, especially, in order that the doctrine may appear as grounded in reason and righteousness, not in arbitrariness and almighty caprice.

    4. The Doctrine in Scripture:

    To begin with, it must be said that there seems to be no evading the doctrine of an election by grace, as found both in the letter and the spirit of Scripture. The idea of predestination is set forth, with great power and clearness, in Romans 8:29,30, and with its elements or parts articulated in natural and striking form. The idea recurs in Ephesians 1, where it is finely said (1:4,5) that God hath chosen us in Christ "before the foundation of the world," having predestinated or "foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ"; and where it is said, further, that our salvation imports "the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure" (1:9), which He purposed in Christ. This "eternal purpose" to save men through Christ is again referred to in Ephesians 3:11. This helpful mode of viewing predestination as in Christ, and never outside Him, had a place in religious thought at the Reformation time, as the famous "Formula of Concord," to be referred to below, shows. The predestined certainty of God's gracious work in Christ was not meant to perplex men, but to encourage and reassure all who trust in His grace. In Romans 9:14-25, the absolute sovereignty of God is put in a form whereby election is made to originate in the divine will apart from all human merit, whether actual or foreseen. But from this assertion of God's free supremacy we can derive no concrete theodicy, or do more than infer that God is just and wise in His exercise of free grace, even when His doings are most perplexing to us.

    5. Historic Rise and Development of the Doctrine:

    The needful thing is to understand, so far as may be, the nature of the cooperation that takes place between the divine and the human factors or elements, which latter factors include natural capacity, disposition and development, working under grace. It must be carefully observed that nothing in Scripture points to any personal and inexorable predestination to reprobation, in any sense corresponding to the personal election to salvation just spoken of. A non-election there may be, of course, but not in any sense that annuls full personal responsibility for coming short of life everlasting. The appeal of Scripture from first to last is to men as free. Calvin's strange way of putting the matter was, "Man therefore falls, God's Providence so ordaining, but he falls by his own fault." This idea of reprobation was first introduced by Gottschalk, a monk of the 9th century, long after the predestination doctrine had received its first full and positive exposition by Augustine. Augustine, following upon the indecision shown by the fathers in the first three centuries of the church, made the doctrine of a special predestination his foundation for special grace, in opposition to Pelagius. Augustine gave new prominence in his theory to the absolute will of God:

    he made divine grace the only ground of man's salvation; it was to him the irresistible power working faith within the heart, and bringing freedom as its result. It was to him God's absolute predestination that determined who were believers. But Augustine held predestination as an inference from his conception of the Fall and of grace, rather than as a metaphysical principle.

    6. The Doctrine in the Middle Ages:

    In the Middle Ages, Anselm, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas, followed the Augustinian views only to a certain extent. Aquinas admits that predestination implies a relation to grace, but holds that grace is not of the essence of predestination. Predestination is, to Aquinas, a part of Providence, and it presupposes election in the order of reason. Though divine goodness in general be without election, Aquinas thinks the communication of a particular good cannot be without election. Predestination has, for him, its foundation in the goodness of God, which is its reason. Aquinas thinks predestination most surely takes effect, but not as from necessity; the effect takes place under the working of contingency. From such views we are recalled to the idea of a rigorous predestination, by Thomas Bradwardine and John Wycliff, in pre-Reformation times. We are thus brought up to the decretal system--so called from Calvin's making predestination consist of the eternal decree of God--which became, in its metaphysical principle, the fundamental position of the whole Reformed theology after the Reformation.

    7. Predestination in the Reformed Theology:

    The theology of the Reformed church adopted the Calvinistic doctrine of the decree of predestination and election. Calvin, however, simply carried the Augustinian theory to its logical and necessary conclusion, and he was the first to adopt the doctrine as the cardinal point or primordial principle of a theological system. Zwingli, it must be remembered, was, even before Calvin, of consistent deterministic leanings, as part of his large speculative views, which were not without a tendency to universalism. Salvation was, to Calvin, the execution of a divine decree, which was supposed to fix the extent and conditions of such salvation.

    (1) Calvin's Definition.

    Reprobation was, for Calvin, involved in election, and divine foreknowledge and foreordination were taken to be identical. Calvin's mode of defining predestination was as the eternal decree of God, by which He has decided with Himself what is to become of each and every individual. For all, he maintains, are not created in like condition; but eternal life ordained for some, eternal condemnation for others. Calvin confesses that this is a "horrible decree," and it is not surprising to find competent theologians in our time denying such a form of predestinarianism any place in the teachings of Paul, who never speaks of reprobation.

    (2) Theology Advanced by Calvin.

    It is generally overlooked, however, that theological advance registered by Calvin is to be seen by study of the views of the Middle Ages, and on to the Reformation, not by viewing Calvinism in our post-Reformation lights. It was love--"the fatherly love of God," as he terms it--the efficiency of saving love--which Calvin insisted upon, above all, in his teaching about God. But Calvin also heightened men's ideas as to the certitude of personal salvation. It is but fair to Calvin to remember--for superficial acquaintance with his teachings is far from rare--that he, in the strongest manner, maintained divine sovereignty to be that of divine wisdom, righteousness, and love, and expressly rejected the notion of absolute power as, in this connection, a heathenish idea. The Calvinistic doctrine was not absolute, but mediated in Christ, and conditioned upon faith.

    8. Predestination in Lutheranism:

    Luther and the Lutheran church at first shared the doctrine of predestination and election, Luther in his treatment of free will reproducing the Augustinian form of the doctrine in a strict manner. The predestination of Luther and Melanchthon proceeded, not from their conception of God, but rather from the doctrine of sin and grace. Melanchthon was less disposed than Luther to press the doctrine of absolute predestination, and, in his "synergistic" tendencies, laid increasing stress on human freedom, until he at length rejected the doctrine of absolute predestination. He was blamed by strict Lutheranism for yielding too much to Pelagianism. But the Lutheran "Formula of Concord," prepared in 1577, was not a very logical and consistent presentation of the case, for, opposed at points to Augustinianism, it fell back, in the end, on election in the Augustinian spirit. Or, to put the matter in another form, the "Formula of Concord" may be said to have held with Augustinianism, but to have differed by maintaining a Universal call along witha particular election, and it rejected the decree of reprobation. Later Lutheranism adopted a moderate form of doctrine, wherein predestination was often identified with prescience. But Lutheranism ought not, in strictness, to be identified, as is sometimes done, with the Arminian theory. The Lutheran doctrine of predestination was further developed by Schleiermacher, who emphasized the efficiency of grace, while adopting its universality in the Lutheran sense.

    9. The Arminian View:

    Arminianism, in its earliest assertion, maintained simply universal grace and conditional election. But in the five articles it formulated its opposition to Calvinism, although Arminius does not appear to have been more than moderately Calvinistic, as we would account it. Arminius gave grace supreme place, and made it, when welcome, pass into saving grace. He made election depend on faith, which latter is the condition of universal grace. Arminianism rejects the so-called common grace of the predestination theory, and its effectual grace for the elect, for, in the Arminian view, saving grace can in no case be missed save by resistance or neglect. Arminianism holds the awakened human will to cooperate with divine grace, in such wise that it rests with the human will whether the divine grace is really accepted or rejected. It is the claim of Arminianism to do more justice than Calvinism to faith and repentance, as conditions of personal salvation, and precedent thereto. The Arminian standpoint admits the foreknowledge of God, but denies foreordination, though it must seem difficult to reduce the foreknowledge of God to such a bare knowledge of the future. But it is, of course, freely to be granted that foreknowledge in God, simply as knowledge, does not carry any causal energy or efficiency with it. But it may still be doubted whether the prescience of God can be nothing more fruitful and creative than such a position implies, and whether its relation to predestination may not be a more necessary one. The theory seems to fail of giving satisfactory account of the divine activity in its relation to human activity, in the sphere of grace. The shortcoming of Arminianism lies in its failing also to do justice to the spirit of Scripture with its emphatic assertion of the doctrine of God as the one absolute will, which, in its expression, is the sole originative power of the universe.

    See also PROVIDENCE.

    10. Wesleyanism on Predestination:

    Wesleyanism, or Methodist Arminianism, maintains, like Calvinism, the will of God to be supreme. But it distinguishes between the desires and the determinations of God. It takes divine foreknowledge to precede the divine volitions. It makes God's prescience purely intuitional, and regards that which He knows as nowise necessitated by such knowledge, a conception of God which differentiates the Wesleyan type of thought from Calvinism. God is held to have left events in the moral sphere contingent, in an important sense, upon the human will. Hence, human probation is based upon this position, as to man's free choice. Influence of God upon man's will is postulated, for its right guidance and direction, but not in any coercive sense, as Augustinianism seems to Wesleyanism to imply. Thus, it is hoped to preserve just balance, and maintain proper responsibility, between the divine and the human factors in this spiritual cooperation.

    When we come to the present needs and values of the predestination doctrine, we have to remark the primal need of a thoroughly ethicized conception of God. The past few decades have witnessed a lessened interest in this doctrine, largely because of the increasingly ethical conceptions of Deity.

    11. Present Needs and Values of the Doctrine:

    That is to say, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God's will has ceased to be taken, as often in the older presentations, as mere almightiness, or arbitrary and resistless will. Calvin expressly taught that no cause or ground but God's unconditioned will was to be sought; but he feebly tried to save divine will from sheer omnipotence by saying that God is law to Himself; and the notion of sovereignty continued to be presented in ways quite absolute and irresponsible. But God we now regard as the absolute and eternal reason, no less than the supreme will, and as both of these in the one indivisible and absolute personality. We have passed from an abstract predestinationism to maintain God in living and ethical relations to the world and to man. Such an ethical sovereignty we hold to be necessary, over against that lax humanitarian spirit, which, in its recoil from the older Calvinism, invests the Deity with no greater powers of moral determination than may be implied in His love, when viewed as a mere golden haze of good will.



    The relative works of Augustine, Aquinas, Zwingli, Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, Arminius, Wesley, Rothe, Dorner, Luthardt; W. Cunningham, The Reformers, and the Theology of the Reformation, 1862; James Orr, article "Calvinism," in Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics; and the various Histories of Christian Doctrine.

    James Lindsay

    Copyright Statement
    These files are public domain.

    Bibliography Information
    Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'PREDESTINATION'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.