This post was originally published on A Clay Jar. It is the sixth in a series on Arminian soteriology. Any comments to this post can be left there at Arminianism: Foreknowledge, Predestination and Election.
One of the challenges when studying theology is the terminology; for instance the three words in the title to this post. Foreknowledge, election and predestination are all biblical words, but not everyone interprets them the same way. This is particularly true in the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism. Both sides believe in foreknowledge, election and predestination, but they mean something quite different when they use the terms. This post is written primarily to describe how an Arminian would use them, but will also contrast that usage with Calvinism.
The word translated as foreknowledge has both noun and verb forms. According to Bullinger’s Critical Greek Lexicon, the verb foreknow means “to know, perceive, learn or understand beforehand, to take note of.” This word is used in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” and Roman 11:2, “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. ” And, according to Bullinger, the noun foreknowledge means: ‘a perceiving beforehand’. This word is used in Acts 2:23 where Jesus “was handed over to you [the Jews] by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” and in 1 Peter 1:20 where we find that we “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
As you can see from the definitions, both variations of the word are expressing that something is known or perceived before it happens, and in the Scripture it is applied to God; that God knows beforehand what will happen in the future. Furthermore, God does not just know it shortly before it happens, but his foreknowledge of the universe extends to eternity past. God has always known what will happen during the course of our history.
How does God know the future; how can he have foreknowledge? The Calvinist would say that God knows the future because he decreed it, the universe and everything in it is operating according to God’s deterministic plan. For the Calvinist foreknowledge is based on foreordination.
But Arminianism, while agreeing with Scripture that God has a plan for the universe that he is working out, denies determinism. The biggest flaw with determinism, and the primary reason it is rejected by Arminians, is that it logically makes God the author of evil. If everything is happening just the way that God planned it, then it is hard for us not to see him as being responsible for sin and evil. Many Calvinists deny that God is the author of evil, but it is hard to avoid it in a deterministic universe.
Arminians believe that God knows the future without causing it, or at least all of it. There have been several explanations developed to express how God knows the future. Determinism is one of these, Molinism is another one that some, but by no means all, Arminians accept. It is currently beyond me to adequately describe Molinism but if you are interested you can find a description of it here. For myself, it is enough to recognize that the omnipresent omniscient God is everywhere in time; our past, present, and future are all now for him. I wrote more extensively on this in an earlier post, if you are interested in my musings on the subject.
In the above four verses that deal with foreknowledge, the Calvinist assumes foreordination because of their deterministic outlook; an example of interpreting Scripture to support your theology. But if you are not bound to determinism, then these passages simply read that God knew beforehand who would be saved, as well as the choices people would make, and he acted accordingly. That is after all what foreknowledge means: a perceiving beforehand.
Another similar word is proorizō, translated in the NIV four time as predestined, once as ‘decided beforehand’, and once as destined. Bullinger defines this word as “to set bounds, decree or ordain beforehand.” This word could easily be thought of as foreordain, expressing that God has predetermined something that will happen in the future.
The first two uses of this word are in Romans 8:29-30 where “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” and “those he predestined, he also called.” In both of these usages the predestination is based upon God’s foreknowledge. God has chosen to do something based on what he sees in the future. In Ephesians 1:5 Paul says that “in love he [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” This is similar to the usage in Romans with this passage describing God as foreordaining some to be adopted as sons. In this passage the reason given for his foreordination to sonship was his love, in contrast to the Romans passage where it was his foreknowledge.
This word is used again in Ephesians 1:11 where Paul says that “In him [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” In this passage the foreordination is based on the plan of God. While this passage can easily be used to support determinism, the question must be asked; how detailed is the plan of God? Has God laid everything out in exquisite detail? Or is his plan to save all who will believe? Or somewhere in between? If you accept that the plan is in great detail, then you need to be willing to credit God with all of the evil that happens in the world, something that most Arminians are unwilling to do. It seems better to me to somehow include the actions of free moral agents in the development and execution of God’s plan; agents who are responsible for their own sin.
In Acts 4:28 Peter, talking about the crucifixion of Jesus, tells the other believers that “They [the Jews] did what your [God] power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” The Jewish religious leaders, as well as Pilate and Herod, had operated to accomplish God’s purpose in having Jesus crucified. What was it that God had decided should happen? That Jesus would be crucified, or that the Jews would have Jesus crucified with Pilate and Herod as accomplices? It would seem that the most logical reading of this passage is that what God had decided beforehand to accomplish was Jesus atoning sacrifice on the cross. And that God, in his foreknowledge, knew that Pilate, Herod and the Jews would choose to accomplish God’s purpose.
In 1 Corinthians 2:7 Paul, speaking of the mystery of God, tells the Corinthian church, “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” While Paul does not explicitly define what the mystery is that God had hidden, it does include Jesus crucifixion and the significance of it for us. This fits with what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18-20, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” Christ was chosen before the creation to redeem us; a choosing that was hidden, or a mystery. God had foreordained that Christ would be crucified to redeem us from sin, prior to the creation of the world.
Election is a word that is frequently used with predestination, but it does have a distinct meaning. The adjective eklektos means ‘chosen out, preferred, selected’ and is translated in the NIV as chosen 12 times and as elect 10 times. The noun eklogē means ‘a picking out, selection, that which is chosen’, and is translated in the NIV as chosen 3 times, as election 3 times, and once as elect. Generally the words are used to refer to those that God has chosen to be his people; God elects the elect. For both Arminian and Calvinist, God does the electing and those he has elected become the elect. It is worth pointing out that not everyone agrees on just who the elect are. Dispensationalists will argue that in the gospels the elect are Jews while in the rest of the New Testament the elect are Christians. The rest of us generally see the elect as being believers throughout the New Testament.
The big difference in how Arminians and Calvinists understand election lies in what the elector, God, and the elect, humans, contribute to the election. Calvinists are monergistic, believing that the Holy Spirit is entirely responsible for regeneration, including choosing who will be regenerated. There is no human effort involved in regeneration, nor is the selection for regeneration based on anything the person might do or choose. This is generally known as unconditional election; God does everything.
Arminians, on the other hand, are synergistic, holding that regeneration is a cooperative effort between the elector and the elect. Arminians acknowledge the total inability of humanity to participate in regeneration, but believe that God’s prevenient grace enables us to be able to submit to the work of God, or to refuse it. The human part in this synergy is to submit to the working of the Holy Spirit, not really contributing anything to the effort. The synergistic approach to election is generally called conditional election; election is conditional on our submission to the working of the Holy Spirit.
So what does the Scripture say about election? For the most part the passages referring to election do not really shed any light on this question, simply referring to those who are God’s elect. But there are two passages that I find helpful in understanding election. The first is in Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding banquet. In this parable everyone that can be found gets invited to the banquet, but many do not come, and one who does come is incorrect garbed and thrown out. At the end of the parable Jesus says that “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” The call went out to the whole population, but only those who respond appropriately are chosen, or elect. This parable would support the Arminian view of election. But the next one is much more challenging.
In the ninth chapter of Romans Paul is discussing God’s sovereignty in election. In this chapter Paul is focused on Israel, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. In verses 6-9 he points out that just being a descendant of Abraham does not make you a part of God’s elect. And he makes that even more clear in verses 10-13 using Esau and Jacob.
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:10-13 NIV
This passage would seem to support the Calvinist view of election, especially if taken alone. But if God loves the whole world (John 3:16), does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and wants everyone to be saved (2 Tim. 2:4), then this passage cannot simply mean that God arbitrarily chooses some to salvation and some to reprobation. So how can this passage be understood in light of the rest of the Bible?
What was/is God’s purpose in election; what is his purpose for choosing people? 1 Peter 2:9-10 gives at least a partial answer to that.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV
We are a chosen, or elect, people so that we can declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his light. In the parable of the wedding banquet, who was it that would be praising the king who had invited them? It was the chosen ones. But would they praise because they were chosen, or were they chosen because they were the ones who would praise him? It is likely that it is the later; the ones not chosen couldn’t be bothered to come and were likely not inclined to praise the king.
So God’s purpose in election would seem to be to select for himself a people who would be responsive to him. Romans 12:11-12 makes clear that election is not based on works, for I can do nothing to be chosen; and an orthodox Arminian would agree with that. In fact, the only disagreement an Arminian would have with a Calvinist over this passage is that we disagree that the election is arbitrary. God wants everyone to be saved, even though in ourselves we are incapable of responding to his offer of salvation. But God enables us to respond, and all who do are chosen according to God’s purpose for us; the purpose of becoming God’s special possession who will declare his praises. I would argue here that Jacob was chosen over Esau, not because Jacob had done anything good or was better than Esau; but because God knew that Jacob would be responsive to God’s purpose and Esau would not.
One last thing in regards to election concerns God’s invitation to salvation. The New Testament is filled with passages that call on people to repent and to have faith in Jesus. And as believers we are called to share the good news with all people. But if only some are elected, and that independent of anything they do, then the global call to repent and believe would seem to be a sham. Why should God entice people with something he is unwilling to give to them? Among the many passages that call on all to repent is Romans 10:9-13, just a few verses after the passage discussed above. Verse 13 very clearly expresses that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Of course we cannot call on his name without the aid of God’s grace, but if that grace is not extended to all, then you have to ignore the clear meaning of what Paul is saying here. ‘Everyone’ would indicate that the offer is open to all, not just to the few. And, if unconditional election was true, why are people told to call on the name of the Lord? Wouldn’t that happen automatically when the Spirit irresistibly calls them?
Foreknowledge refers to God’s knowing the future, although it does not imply that God ordains or decrees the future. He can see it because he is omniscient. Predestination refers to God’s ordaining something to occur. Sometimes God only sees the future, and at other times God determines the future, and predestination refers to the later. And election refers to God’s choosing of certain individuals to be his special possession. God’s people are the elect.
What is the relationship between these three terms, all of which are using in connection with our salvation? I believe that foreknowledge logically comes first. In Romans 8:29 Pauls says that those God foreknew he also predestined, implying that predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge. I also believe that election fits between these two, that God elects those he foreknew and then predestines them. God, in his foreknowledge, knows who will respond to prevenient grace and his offer of salvation; he chooses those to be his special people; and then predestines them to be conformed to the image of Christ.
proginōskō – verb: to know, perceive, learn or understand beforehand, to take note of.
- Romans 8:29 – For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
- Romans 11:2 – God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel:
- 1 Peter 1:20 – He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
- 2 Peter 3:17 – Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.
prognōsis – noun: a perceiving beforehand.
- Acts 2:23 – This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
- 1 Peter 1:2 – who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
proorizō, – verb: “to set bound, decree or ordain beforehand.”
- Acts 4:28 – They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
- Romans 8:29-30 – For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
- 1 Corinthians 2:7 – No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
- Ephesians 1:5 – he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
- Ephesians 1:11 – In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
eklektos – adjective: “chosen out, preferred, selected”
- Matthew 22:14 – “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
- Luke 18:7 – And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
- Luke 23:35 – The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
- Romans 8:33 – Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
- Romans 16:13 – Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
- Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- 1 Peter 2:4 – As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him
- 1 Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
- 1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
- 2 John 1:1 – The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth
- 2 John 1:13 – The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.
- Revelation 17:14 – They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
- Matthew 24:22 – “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
- Matthew 24:24 – For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
- Matthew 24:31 – And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
- Mark 13:20 – “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.
- Mark 13:22 – For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
- Mark 13:27 – And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
- 1 Timothy 5:21 – I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
- 2 Timothy 2:10 – Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
- Titus 1:1 – Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—
- 1 Peter 1:1 – Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus,Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
eklogē – noun: “a picking out, selection, that which is chosen”
- Acts 9:15 – But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.
- Romans 11:5 – So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:4 – For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,
- Romans 11:7 – What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened,
- Romans 9:11 – Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:
- Romans 11:28 – As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
- 2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,