Predestination & ‘Free Will’ and Calvinism & Arminianism
This is an ‘essay’ I wrote when I was studying the Bible on the topic of election. While I studied the Bible, I studied passages to answer questions I had, then wrote down what I found. Afterwards I tidied it up and made it more readable. This is a far from complete study on this topic. It is just a study I did so as to reassure myself about what the Bible taught on this topic. I have since done some further studies which I have posted on this site also. Click here to read how I thought about Calvinism and Original Sin before writing this.
It is guaranteed that some readers will disagree with what is written in here, I take no shame in stating my views, especially when many disagree with me. If there are inconsistencies in my arguments, or I have overlooked some passages in the Bible I desire to know them, so I can correct or strengthen my views. (I will note that not all passages I found I have used). If these cannot be shown to be wrong through (as Luther put it) Logic and/or Scriptures, then I will continue to believe that my views are correct and all others are wrong in whole or in part, this at least seems logical to me. I have I will note been proven to be wrong before (c/f Original Sin). Yet I hope I can accurately explain what Scripture teaches on this complex topic.
Calvinism is named after John Calvin, the main proponent of the doctrine that those saved by God are chosen by Him. That nothing passes on this earth, indeed in all of creation, without His ‘permission’, without Him choosing them to. This raises issues and apparent contradictions, which will be discussed later. Aspects of this doctrine in varying degrees were around before John Calvin. It has its forms in the history of the Catholic Church. Thomists (and also Augustines, Jansenists and most Scotists) teach what could be equated with Calvinism, ‘Absolute Predestination’.
Arminianism is named also after its apparent main proponent (who also had his own followers), Jacobus Arminius. It teaches that God’s predestination is conditional on His foreknowledge of our choices (made freely). He chose those for eternal life those who would freely accept Him and react appropriately to His grace. So it is a predestination conditioned by God’s foreknowledge. Objections raised to this will be discussed as well as evidence for it. The Catholic Church also has its history with this doctrine, before and after the Reformation. Catholics who follow this doctrine are often called ‘Molinists’ after Molina, who opposed the Jansenists.
With regards to the foreordaining and foreknowledge of God, there are three main areas, which are debated here. First is the discussion on God’s foreordaining and/or foreknowledge of those who will receive eternal life, and those who won’t. The second of the actions of all people. The third of all happenings in history.
Scripture is clear that God is Sovereign over all. There are numerous accounts of God showing how He will act in the future history of Israel (Isaiah, Habakkuk etc). Many passages declare the power and glory of God. Jeremiah 31:35 describes His power over nature as a whole:
“This is what the Lord says,
He who appoints the sun
to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars
to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea
so that its waves roar—
The Lord Almighty is his name” (NIV)
It is argued that since God is sovereign over all of creation, He must have complete control over all that happens in it, for Jeremiah 31:35 shows He controls nature. But it is subsequently asked if this is all the time, and not just at certain times. From Scripture the answer must be of course! All of creation is His (Ps 24:1). He created it for His pleasure (Rev 4:11), and it manifests His divine qualities (Rom 1:20). He acts in nature as He pleases (Ps 135:6). He calls people for His glory (Is 43:7, Is 63:14, 1Pe 2:9). His plan of salvation He is carrying out, and He ensures that His will and plan will come to pass. As it says, He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Eph 1:11 NIV, cf Prov 16:4) For His plan to be fulfilled He will not let anything slip by. He has complete sovereignty over creation.
God ordained all of history to pass so as to show His mercy and glory.
God’s ordaining of those who will be saved (Pt. 1)
How do those who are to receive eternal life come to accepting God? They must turn to Him, but is it that simple? Deuteronomy 30:19 commands us to “choose life” but Romans 3:11 declares that “there is none who seeks for God”(NASB). The whole passage shows that it is impossible for us to carry out this commandment to choose God. There is no-one who will turn from their sinful ways and accept God. So the Athenian belief that God chose those who would accept His gift of grace (like the Jewish belief that God chose Israel because it accepted/would accept Him – See Appendix) must be false. For if that were so, God would foreordain no-one, because He would know that no-one would react appropriately to His gift of grace.
So how is it we have faith, a response to God’s mercy and grace. It is a gift from God, for it says:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. …. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.”(Rom 12:3,6 NIV)
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit…”
(1Cor 12:7-9 NIV)
All reject God and actively disobey Him, and no-one will accept Him until He draws us to Him (Jn 6:44). These few are chosen by God by His grace (Rom 11:5), an undeserved gift (Isa 45:4). “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” (Jas 1:18 NIV) God has chosen a few and hardened the rest (Rom 11:7,8,) He allows and ordains them to be deceived (1Ki 22:19-23, 2Sam 24:1 with 1Chr 21:1), and condemned (Jude 4). Yet God does not do the deceiving. (Jas 1:13-14) It is pointed out that Paul says to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Php 2:12 NIV), yet verse 13 says that “it is God working in (us) to will and to act according to his good purpose.”(NIV) So we are to choose God, turn to Him, yet this act is God acting in us as we are unable to do this by ourselves.
Ephesians 1 describes it as:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
(Eph 1:3-10 NIV)
Here I must turn to passages, which have been put forward to counter my arguments on faith above, and show how they do not contradict other verses in the Bible. The main passages put forward against ‘absolute assurance’ (i.e. the argument that there are some who are guaranteed salvation) that I have encountered are:
1 Cor 9:27, 10:12; Gal 5:1,4; Phil 3:11-14; 1 Tim 4:1, 5:15; Heb 3:12-14, 6:4-6; 2 Pet 2:15,20-21.
I shall focus on 1 Timothy 4:1 and Hebrews 3:12 which will cover all relevant verses:
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” (1 Tim 4:1 NIV)
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (Heb12:3 NIV)
The argument often is that the people alluded to above that fall/turn away from God have lost their salvation. This implies that they once were saved, and now they aren’t or soon they won’t be. But salvation is a gift of eternal life. So this gift from God will last for all eternity. But still, can you lose this gift? This gift is promised to those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart God raised Him from the dead. (Rom10:9) So for the gift to be taken away from someone, I conclude that God must break His promise – something He never does! Paul said of righteousness that “the promise comes by faith” (Rom 4:16 NIV) and “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Rom 3:28 NIV).
To be justified (and receive eternal life) you must have faith. So I’d conclude that those who don’t receive eternal life have never had any faith. For 1 John 5:4&18 say that those with faith in God (born of Him) will not be overcome by the world (lose faith etc) and will be kept safe. James 1:12 complements this saying that he who does not lose his faith will receive eternal life. Galatians 3:11 says you are righteous if you live by faith, so with 1 John I would conclude that if you lose faith you were not righteous, and to get to heaven you need to be righteous. Also as shown above, our faith is a gift from God (Rom 12:3, 1 Cor 12:8-9). It is asked that if you 'lose your faith' has God given you faith, then taken it away? But why would God do this? As said, those with faith will not be overcome by the world, and if someone has his faith taken away from him, he will surely be overcome.
So what of 1 Timothy 4:1 and Hebrews 3:12? Well Hebrews 12:3 suggests to me that the type of person the author of Hebrews is warning his readers not to be is one who already has an unbelieving heart (which, by the way, can be changed by God). So in this passage, the type of person talked of already has no faith. Now in 1 Timothy 4:1 there are (as is expected) slight variations in translation between versions of the Bible. Other translations give what I believe is a clearer translation of the Greek of part of this verse. Where the NIV says “..abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits..”, other translations say something like “..abandon the faith following deceitful spirits..”. The meanings are the same but this is clearer. What this verse is saying is that there are people who will be drawn away from believing in Christ by evil spirits. For the word translated “the faith” is pistew" which is an inflection of pisti" meaning objectively: ‘that which is the object or content of belief’. Translated as ‘the faith’, it is meaning, I believe, the personal system of beliefs the person held, not the faith possibly given to him by God. So (especially in light of 1 John 5:18) this verse is not saying that some will lose their faith in Christ (given by God), but they will lose ‘The Faith’, their beliefs. I would conclude here that they had never had faith in Christ, despite any beliefs they may have held.
I will note a translation I found of this verse that has a different word order to the main translations. Think of it what you wish.
“Here is the Spirit expressly declaring, “In the latter times some people, who dote on seductive spirits and demonic doctrines, will apostatize from the faith.”
(Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, P290)
This translation says that those who apostatize had always been attracted to false doctrines, so consequently always had no faith. This translation shows a parallel with Titus 1:14.
God’s ordaining of all human actions (Pt. 2)
To discuss the second point raised at the start of this section, God’s ordaining of man’s actions, I shall begin with the topic of freedom. The question is, how much freedom do we really have, and do we really have ‘free will’? It is clear from the Bible that we cannot live in both righteousness and sin. Romans 6 describes how we can be either slaves to sin or righteousness. Before a person becomes a Christian, and is given the Spirit he is a slave to sin (vv 6, 12, 16, 17 etc). Romans 7:14-24 describes the control that sin has over Paul’s body, how he is “sold as a slave to sin”(7:14 NIV). Before receiving the Spirit (conversion, not Baptism in the Holy Spirit) we are dead, “instruments of wickedness”, sin is our master (6:13-14 NIV). Paul teaches that we can only live under sin or righteousness:“(W)hen you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” (Rom 6:16 NASB) Without the Spirit we are unable to obey God, with it we are free to do His will. We are not free to do what we want, because then due to our sinful nature we will sin, get sucked in and not be free. There is a clear conflict in us (described in 7:14-24) between our sinful nature and the Spirit of God. Because we have the Spirit we want to obey God, and often do. We pray to Him, we worship Him, we obey His will, yet we still sin. We are able to make decisions and choices, yet the above applies. We have ‘free agency’, some control, but we are slaves. (Sounds contradictory? Read on…)
That topic I have only mentioned briefly as it is one, which can be covered, in an entire book or more. I mentioned it so it can act as a background to everything else I am going to say. Having established that God is sovereign over nature and ordains who will be saved (my first and third points above), I will now discuss my second point, which encompasses both (especially the first), that God ordains all human actions.
The bible is full of passages, which show God’s providence over man’s actions. It says in Proverbs about kings that:
“The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD;
He directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (21:1 NIV)
But of course God’s providence is not confined only to kings as shown in passages such as another in Proverbs:
“In his heart a man plans his course,
But the LORD determines his steps.” (16:9 NIV, cf Jer 10:23, Lam 3:37)
But the bible also teaches us that God “does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men.” (Lam 3:33 NASB). Even so “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?” (Lam 3:38 NASB)
“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2Thess 2:1-12 NASB, italicized – vv 11-12)
That passage, and many others (standing alone, or together with the many), shows that God is absolutely sovereign and ordains all that happens in His creation, but humans are still responsible for their actions. As Donald A. Carson put it:
“The Bible as a whole, and sometimes in specific texts, pre-supposes or teaches that both of the following propositions are true:
1) God is absolutely sovereign, but His sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized or mitigated.
2) Human beings are morally responsible creatures – they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.” (D.A. Carson, How Long, Oh Lord? P201)
This is not a contradiction or nonsense. It is a ‘compatibilism’ (as D.A. Carson put it) that the Bible teaches and pre-supposes. The Bible upholds that both these points are true simultaneously, that they are “mutually comparable” (Ibid). But how is this so? This is a mystery and not a contradiction (as said before). I shall attempt to explain why there is this mystery, and why it isn’t a contradiction. But I am unable to explain exactly how these fit together, that is part of the mystery which may have to remain so till we see the Lord face to face.
God pre-ordains all things, so He must ordain both good and evil (Lam 3:38). He ordains evil in a different way to how He ordains good. He ordains good within His sovereignty, and He directly takes the credit for the good, and the person who ‘did the good’ only secondarily takes the credit. Yet God also ordains evil within His sovereignty, but He does not take the blame for it, He is not morally responsible for it. The secondary agents (e.g. us) are morally responsible for the evil. This is the God of the Bible, the only God. It may seem a convenient way to describe Him, but it is how the infallible God describes and shows Himself.
All this (including my discussion on Romans 6 above) shows that any discussion on the topic of ‘freedom’ from a biblical angle is difficult. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." (Jn 3:34 NASB) As said above in my brief discussion on Romans 6, true freedom is the freedom to obey God, do His will, without any reserve or holding back. So the only human to have had true freedom was Jesus Himself, God Incarnate. He is the only person to ever have had ‘free will’.
The problem with ‘compatibilism’ is tied to the mystery of God. He is transcendent and yet personal. Our relationship with Him is tied to both of these qualities. Our sin is a breaking of this relationship and made extremely evil by the going against of both of these qualities of God. We know that God is transcendent, yet we can’t see how He can be this and also personal. In the same way the Bible shows that God’s sovereignty leaves nothing out. This includes His causing of evil deeds. In describing God’s causing of sins the Bible insists that He is good and the secondary agents are evil. We cannot see how he uses these people in this way. This is related to who He is, to the choices He makes and His sovereignty’s nature. But how he does it is beyond our understanding.
As Carson put it:
“The mystery of providence is in the first instance not located in debates about decrees, free will, the place of Satan, and the like. It is located in the doctrine of God.” (D.A. Carson, How Long, Oh Lord? P218) It is a mystery because it is about God, and God is above us, and we cannot completely view, describe or understand Him. For God said: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Is 55:9 NASB)
Browse through in a logical order:
Browse through the order I made them:
The Rabbis of the Talmud were confident of Israel’s close relationship with God its Father. For example it says that God told Israel that after He had stood on Mt. Sinai and given them the Torah He wrote of Israel that He loved her as children; and because of this, how can he hate her? (Exod. R. 32:2) Their election by God is part the special relationship between them. The belief in Israel’s election is explained most clearly in the Jewish prayer: “Thou hast chosen us from all peoples; thou hast loved us and taken pleasure in us, and hast exalted us above all tongues; thou hast sanctified us by thy commandments and brought us near by thy service; O our King, thou hast called us by thy great and holy name.” (Based on, among others, the verses: Deut 10:15, 14:2; Ps 149:2)
To answer the question why God chose Israel, the Talmud describes God telling Israel He chose them “Not because you are greater that other nations did I choose you, nor because you obey my injunctions more than the nations; for they follow my commandments, even though they were not bidden to do it, and also magnify my name more than you, as it is said ‘From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name is great among the Gentiles’ (Mal 1:11)” (Tan., bq[, 2)
The Rabbis give different answers to these questions, some hold a number of those given as some are compatible:
1) Some say Israel’s election was predestined and sanctified unto God’s name before creation. (Gen. R., 1:4)
2) Israel existed before creation, is in existence now, and will exist forever because she is attached to God: (Tan., jn, 12)
“The matter is to be compared to a king who was desiring to build; but when he was digging for the purpose of laying the foundations, he found only swamps and mire. At last he hit a rock, when he said ‘Here I will build.’ So, too, when God was about to create the world, he foresaw the sinful generation of Enosh (when man began to profane name of the Lord), and the wicked generations of the deluge (which said unto God, ‘Depart from us’), and he said, ‘How shall I create the world whilst these generations are to provoke me (by their crimes and sins)?’ But when he perceived that Abraham would one day arise, he said, ‘Behold I have found the petra on which to build and base the world.’” Their calling of Abraham a rock (petra) came from Isaiah 51:1-2. Israel are called the rocks (Exod. R., 15:17).
3) Israel’s faith in God is described as not a shifting one, if they had an option of apostasy or crucifixion, they’d choose crucifixion (Exod. R., 42:9). This led to them being chosen by God.
4) Other Rabbis state that Israel was chosen because they declared on the Red Sea God as king.
5) Others say it was because they accepted the Law on Mt. Sinai. (P.K., 16b&17a) All other nations declared that the Torah was unfit and they refused to accept it, while Israel accepted it and God. (Num. R. 14:10)
6) There is also the view that it was because Israel was humble and meek that they were found worthy of becoming God’s chosen people. (Tan. B. 5:9a)
7) Connected is the opinion that because Israel are persecuted, and her patriarchs having all been persecuted, did God choose her. (Lev. R. 27:6)
8) Another possible view is that God chose Israel because of her holiness. (Sifre, 94a)
The Rabbis in trying to establish Israel’s election on her exceptional merits knew of the insufficiency of the reasoning. So they knew that the love of God is not given as a reward, but it is given freely.
Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta was challenged by a Roman matron: “Whomsoever your God likes he brings near unto him.” The Rabbi answered that God does know who to select, that whoever God sees good deeds in He chooses that man.
(Midrash Shemuel B., 8:2 and Num. R., 3:2)
Despite this most of the Rabbis put the election of Israel down to merely the act of grace and love by God, not merits.
The doctrine of election among the Rabbis was not as exclusive as is thought. Israel is given the privilege of the first born, they are the first in God’s kingdom. But the nations are not excluded. (See Mechilta 38b; cf Jer 10:7, M.T., 93:1). The Rabbis say that there is a double relation of God to the world as a whole, and to Israel in particular. He is the Lord of all the world, all nations, but His name is especially attached to Israel. This is said to explain the verses “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh” (Jer 32:27 NASB) and “the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel” (Jer 32:15 NASB).
The Talmud makes the statements:
“He is our God by making his name particularly attached to us; but he is also the one God of all mankind. He is our God in this world, he will be the only God in the world to come, as it is said, ‘And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name is one.’ (Zech 14:1)” (See Mechilita 102a and Sifre 73a)
“(I)n this world, the creatures, through the institutions of the evil inclination, have divided themselves into various tongues, but in the world to come they will agree with one consent to call only on his name, as it is said, ‘For then I will restore the people a pure language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.’ Zeph 3:9)” (Tan. hn, 19 and Tan. B., 1:28b)
The varying interpretations of the Rabbis require different evaluations. The eight listed being opposite to those mentioned afterwards.
The Eight Listed:
1) The predestination of Israel before creation is correct. As established, God pre-ordained all of His people and would have sanctified them to His name before creation. The nation of Israel would have clearly been planned by God before the beginning of time. Thos sanctified to His name would have been those who are ‘true Jews’ as Paul describes in Romans, which includes those grafted onto the tree (Rom 11). But being Jewish by birth (i.e. pre-ordained to be a member of Israel) does not necessarily mean being sanctified unto God’s name as many are grafted off the tree (Rom 11).
2) The first point from Tan., jn, 12 is correct, but the description of the king digging isn’t. It is similar to the Arminian view, saying God foresaw Abraham and his faith, so chose him.
3) The history of Israel is full of times when they turned from God, so ‘un-shifting’ is not a word I would use to describe Israel’s faith. The statement that God foresaw Israel’s faith and thus chose them is clearly Arminian and false.
4-8) This statement is also Arminian, and false.
Despite these views, the majority view that God chose Israel by grace alone, not at all due to her merits, is correct and in line with Biblical teaching (O.T. and N.T.). The final two statements are compatible and derived from Scripture.
(Info taken from Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, Solomon Schechter, 1998)
Copyright Steven Shaw, 2000