[This post has been excerpted with permission from Richard Coords, Calvinism Answered Verse by Verse and Subject by Subject, © 2020.]
Is Judas proof that God predestines some people to Hell? The Scriptures foretold plenty about Christ’s crucifixion, such as Psalms chapter 22 and Isaiah chapter 53, including by how much silver He would be valued. (Zechariah 11:13) The real issue comes down to whether prophecy demands predestination. Non-Calvinists believe that God can know things that He does not cause. Moreover, Judas was a single person, rather than a class of people, such as a class of allegedly “non-elect” people predestined to Hell.
What do Calvinists believe?
Erwin Lutzer: “Scripture explicitly teaches that God actually ordains the evil choices of men. In the case of Judas, for example, God allowed (or used) Satan to put the idea of the betrayal in his heart. ‘The devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon to betray Him’ (John 13:2). That Judas had to betray Christ is clear from repeated statements that say this happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Even in such cases, however, it is reasonable to suppose that Judas had made many prior deceitful decisions so that the activity of Satan was quite compatible with his own inclination and desires. The same applies to the many instances in the Bible in which God says the wicked do what he predetermined would happen.”1
Calvinists believe that if God knows something will happen, and if His foreknowledge is perfect, then it must therefore happen. However, non-Calvinists believe that if God had foreknown that Judas would not have betrayed, such as chickening out and just fleeing, then God’s perfect foreknowledge would have reflected that, instead. So, non-Calvinists do not believe that omniscience demands determinism, and that’s the pivotal issue. For instance, when Jesus informed Peter that he would deny Him three times that evening (Matthew 26:34), non-Calvinists do not believe that Jesus’ revelation caused Peter to do anything. Jesus was simply letting Peter know what was in his heart and what he would self-determine to do.
As for people like Judas, God can providentially place them in certain positions in which He knows how they will act, in order to accomplish His own purposes, such as Calvary. So when Jesus chose Judas to be one of His disciples, He knew exactly who Judas was, and what was in his heart:
John 6:64: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.”
John 6:70: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’”
Even John Calvin agreed that prophecy is not the same thing as predestination:
John Calvin: “I acknowledge that nothing happens but what but has been ordained by God, but the only question now is whether their being foretold or prophesied makes people do things, and I have already shown this is not so.”2
Non-Calvinists are free to deny John Calvin’s belief in exhaustive determinism while still citing him as a “hostile witness” to point out a mutual agreement that omniscience does not require determinism.
1 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 190-191.
2 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: John (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 397.