Take Another Look at Predestination

Sometimes we easily and quickly dismiss ideas and concepts we are unfamiliar with. This is the case especially if we have not given adequate study to the matter at hand. I share this type of guilt as well. Obviously, posts on this blog portray a view of the rapture that is post-tribulational. Yet, I did not always take this position. For years, I believed and taught the pre-tribulational view and thought it a mark against those who held otherwise. Then, I read something that caused me to think, and more importantly, to examine the biblical text. I hope this is what you will do with this post here. Let it cause you to think and then go and examine the biblical text.

1. One theme that defines theology for me is that of divine election and reprobation. This theme I see in Romans 9-11 and it shows how Israel's rejection of Christ is not outside of God's plan. Israel's rejection is not "because the word of God has failed" (v. 6), it is not that God's promises to Israel have failed, but that the salvation of God has always been a small group chosen out of the whole. Verse 6 tells us this: "they are not all Israel who are from Israel." When we consider Israel as a people we should consider the subjects of God's salvation as the remnant.
2. There are also examples of this in the text. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau "before they were born and had not done anything good or bad" (v. 11). This is an example of point #1. This was so "God's purpose according to election might stand, not because of works but of Him who calls" (v. 11 b). For God says that "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on whom He will have compassion" (v. 15). Then I think the conclusion can be drawn as Paul does. Salvation "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (9:16 NASB). It does not depend on man's will or man's effort but it depends on God mercying (verbal in Greek).
3. This fits the whole context, which is about Israel's salvation, or lack thereof. Paul is grieving because Israel is "accursed, separated from Christ" (9:3) and Paul's "heart's desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation" in 10:1 (contra the national election view). But his explanation is that this is how God works and has always worked (Isaac, Jacob, and Moses over Pharoah). God has the right over his creation as the potter has all rights over the clay to make one vessel for noble use (salvation) and another for common use (reprobation) in 9:21. God has "mercy on whom He wills and He hardens whom He wills" (9:18).
4. Why would God do this? The best answer I found was this, a quote from Jonathan Edwards: "It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent [=radiant], that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . .
Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect." (Jonathan Edwards, "Concerning the Divine Decrees," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 528)
5. John Piper would say the mystery of how God's sovereignty and responsibility remain is in how God finds fault when it is he who hardens (verse 17). He also notes that there is no objection in the text to verses 22-23 (which there is one in 14) which says "If God willing to to show his wrath and to make known his power known, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory." That is to say, what if God wanted to harden certain ones in order that the elect might better appreciate His salvation, would that be wrong? What if He wanted to do that? There is no objection in the text.
6. With all this said, I see the great pain which Paul felt in light of Israel's rejection of Christ. Romans 9:2 tells us that he had "great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart" for them (NASB). We should grieve for the lost and desire their salvation. And if they come to faith we should realize that it is because God had desired to save them and show mercy on them before "they were born and done anything good or bad (9:11)." We should also realize that this is the only reason we possess eternal life at all and gratefully worship our Creator.


  1. man was created to have fellowship with God, man chose to go his own way, God so loved the world He gave his Son, that who so ever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, God did not sent his Son to condemn the world but to save the world thru Him,...whoever believes in Him is not condemned but whoever does not believe is condemned already...Jn 3: 16-18,...Acts 2:21 who ever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,...1Tim. 2:4 God desires that all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. I say all this because at some point man has to have free will to choose God's way of salvation, otherwise why go thru the whole thing and just make us love Him in the first place...He wants us to choose Him. with that said I also do not fully understand His ways because I see where you are coming from as well and I for one do not fully comprehend God which is a good thing for if we did fully understand God Almighty, he would not be so Mighty. I have the choice to choose or reject Him although He knows the out come but what I do know is Matt.19:25 - 26 the disciples are asking who can be saved? answer in 26 says with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible. be very careful to swallow hook line and sinker what commentators say...they are just men and it is their opinion, the pharisees where in the scriptures constantly too, be sure to let the Holy Spirit guide you to the truth thru the Word of God

  2. Dear Anonymous,
    I really appreciate your comment. It is very engaging and biblical. I agree that man was created to have fellowship with God, that man did choose to go his own way, and that God loves the world and that this resulted in Him sending Jesus to bring salvation to it. However, here is where I might see things differently. When I was preparing to teach on Romans 9:1-23, which I had done so in the past, I went through and studied the text, the words, the narrative in Exodus regarding Pharoah, underlining when "God hardened Pharoah's heart" and when "Pharoah hardened his heart," and when "Pharoah's heart was hardened," and so forth. Being aware of something beforehand, I began to see the narrative take a slightly different shape. What I was aware of was this verse: "When you [Moses] go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharoah all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go" (Ex. 4:21 NASB). So, before Moses even went to Pharoah it was determined that God was going to harden his heart. Please stay with me for a sec., God even tells Moses to say, "Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn" (Ex. 4:23c). If you recall, the death of the firstborn was the very last plague carried out by God and yet God includes it as if it were past and as if it were to happen. This is all before Moses has even gone to Egypt. Now, I concur with what you said, that man bears responsibility in rejecting God because in the middle of what I have just quoted, it says "but you [Pharaoh] have refused to let him [Israel-God's firstborn] go" (Ex. 4:23b) This is what I see in the narrative-that when Pharoah refuses to let the people go, he is the one who is blamed for disobeying. God does not bear the blame for sin but mankind does. However, dispersed throughout the story, when Pharoah's heart is hardened, or he hardens his heart, the words "as the Lord had said" appear (7:13,22;8:15,19;9:12 says "just as the Lord had spoken to Moses,";9:35). Why is this significant? I believe it is significant because the narrators (Moses and the Holy Spirit) want us to connect "as the Lord had said to Moses" with what He said to Moses in 4:21, before Moses even went to Egypt. And what was it that God said to Moses? "I will harden Pharoah's heart and he will not let the people go." God has a purpose in hardening Pharoah's heart, and He has the right to do so as the Potter, and that purpose is "to show you [Pharoah] my power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth" (Ex. 9:16). His name would be proclaimed throughout the earth even to the extent that Rahab, the prostitute, would hear about it and fear the Lord. Therefore God's purpose was a saving one for Rahab and for Israel (as a nation), but for Pharoah it was a judging one. Now when all the smoke clears, Pharoah will stand before God and his conscience will condemn him for not listening to God. He will be culpable for being stubborn and not letting the people go and he would have felt no compulsion by God in his actions but God was completely active in his plan of making his power and wrath known through Pharoah's will being hardened. Let me also say, that Pharoah, as a piece of pottery, cannot speak or object to the potter while he is being made. This is what Romans 9 says. "Shall the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me this way?" (v. 20). It says in that verse that we should not even answer back to God like that. I do believe that God determines who receives "mercy" and who is "hardened." Yet it is in accordance with humankind receiving the blame and guilt.

    God does, in one sense, desire that people would not die in their sins (Ezek. 18:23). He desires us to be obedient, to obey His laws. This is called His will of command. What God commands for His creatures to do. God would like to see none of His creatures to experience eternal damnation but this is different than what He actually does make/cause to happen.* Bear with me. We saw this in Pharoah. God commanded him to let the people go and yet He was behind the scene hardening the very heart He was commanding. We also see this in the death of Christ. Acts 4:27-28 say, ""For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
    to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (NASB). Scripture also teaches us that "many are called and few are chosen." It says that "the Son gives life to those whom He wishes" and "no one comes to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him" (John 6:44). I think through all of this we can affirm that God does not delight in the death of the wicked but that they turn and live (Ez. 18), but if someone does turn to Him it was God who "gave us repentance" (2 Tim 2:25).
    I do want to note, and I am sorry for the length of this comment, that I think that free-will is not really what we see emerging from Scripture. I think we see that man's will is "dead" spiritually (Eph 2:1), that he "cannot please God, for he is not able to do so" (Rom 8:7,8), and that "the inclinations of his heart are only evil all the time" (Gen 6:5). Because of the Fall, spiritual death has resulted so that "no one seeks God, not even one" (Rom 3:10). Our wills are not free, they are enslaved ("He who sins is a slave to sin"). This does not mean we are not responsible to do right and repent but that we are unable to do so aside from the Holy Spirit. It is best called an enslaved-will.
    -As far as John 3:16 goes, it is best rendered "all the ones believing will have eternal life." Rather than being an open appeal, it seems to be describing the response of those who end up receiving eternal life. This is one thing I learned in Greek even though the professor was not trying to prove Calvinism or election. It was how to take "all" or "everyone" (pas in Greek) as a participle in the text. Even from the context, John isn't saying anything about election, or to dispute it, but about belief in Christ, which was a major theme in his book.
    -1 Timothy 2:4 could also fall under God's general desire rather than His will of purpose, as mentioned earlier. It is interesting to note that in 2:1,2 Paul urges us to pray for "all men...for kings and those in authority." And then he goes on to say that God desires all men to be saved. I don't think that we would say Paul desired them to get the Ephesian phonebook out and pray for every single person (James White) but that all "kinds" of people should be prayed for, even "kings and those in authority" who were persecuting them. They are included in God's plan. In fact, if you briefly study the passages where "all" or "world" occur, you will see that it usually doesn't mean "every single person without exception." It says "all were baptized by John the Baptist" in Mk 1:5. Certainly, the Pharisees were not baptized by him as Luke 7:30 tells us...nor were all of the Roman soldiers, or Pilate, or Herod, but many were baptized by him. It is like saying, "Hey, you missed the party, everybody was there!" Well, was everyone there? No, of course not, but many were there who were in that sphere of existence. There are many other passages like this (Matt 10:22 "you will be hated by all"). This does not mean that every single person without exception will hate you. Will every believer hate you? Many times the word "world" means the unbelieving world (John 17), or the whole Roman world (1 Jn 2:1,2;Luke 2:1,3), or the entire creation (John 3:16).
    -There is more to be said. But I really thank you for commenting, it means a lot to me. Please comment in the future. Please feel free to comment again on this text or any other post. I am and will be careful with the commentaries, and I thank you for that reminder, that is why I tried to limit the commentary part to Points 4 and 5, and 1-3, and 6 were all text. I did the longer quote b/c I wanted to see why would God purpose the actions described in Romans 9 and I was excited to learn that we who receive salvation better appreciate it and the grace we have been given when we see it in light of the punishment others get. We are also happier as a result and we know God more fully!
    God bless you!

  3. To be fair, the * was for The Pleasures of God by John Piper quoting I. Howard Marshall regarding 1 Timothy 2:4. Marshall is not a proponent of Calvinism.