Supralapsarianism is the teaching that before God decreed to create human beings He first planned to elect and to reprobate. Millard J. Erickson gives the ordered decrees within supralapsarianism as: 1) God decreed to save (elect) some and reprobate others; 2) God decreed to create both the elect and the reprobate; 3) God decreed to permit the fall of both the elect and the reprobate; 4) God decreed to provide salvation only for the elect.1
“Where in the Bible is this explicitly taught?” you ask. Nowhere. “Then why do some people believe this?” you ask. Simple answer: because their system, in my opinion, demands that this be so (though not all Calvinists hold to supralapsarianism; most prefer infralapsarianism, which places the order of the decrees as: 1) God decreed to create and permit the fall; 2) God decreed to elect some and pass over the rest; 3) God decreed to provide salvation for the elect alone; 4) God calls the elect alone to salvation).
Erickson writes, “If, as supralapsarians and infralapsarians hold, God’s decision to save some (i.e., the elect) logically precedes his decision to provide salvation through Christ, the atonement is limited to providing salvation for the elect. If, on the other hand, the decision to provide salvation logically precedes the decision to save some and allow others to remain in their lost condition, then one is likely to hold that the death of Christ was unlimited or universal in its intention. This is the position of Arminians and sublapsarian Calvinists.”2
In my opinion, the most shocking aspect of supralapsarianism is the notion that God created human beings merely to carry out His decree to elect some and reprobate others. So, in this system, God did not create human beings, in His image by the way, in order to have fellowship, a personal, loving relationship with them, wherein they recognize God for who He is (an Awesome, Sovereign, Loving, Holy God), but in order to fulfill a prior decree to elect and to reprobate.
God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule [what does that do to your view of God’s sovereignty?] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1.26, NASB, emphases mine). Can God really be sovereign and at the same time let mankind “rule over all the earth”? Evidently so.
The Bible teaches that “God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115.3). Yet God didn’t even want king Saul in authority over Israel; God wanted to be Israel’s king. But the Israelites complained (1 Sam. 8.7), so God chose for them Saul (1 Sam. 8.10-9.16). Something similar happened in the time of Hosea. God told him, “Israel has rejected the good; the enemy will pursue him. They have set up kings, but not by Me; they have appointed princes, but I did not know it” (Hosea 8.3-4, emphasis mine). The Hebrew word for “know” is yada and means “to know, acknowledge, or choose.” Israel had rejected God and set up kings that the Lord had not appointed or chosen. What does that do to your view of God’s sovereignty?
If you are an Arminian, it does not shake your faith in God’s sovereignty whatsoever. Why is that? Because in the Arminian’s system God can still be sovereign while His creatures exercise their free will. How is He capable of such sovereignty? The Bible states that God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46.10). He is the Sovereign of the universe and is working out everything “after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1.11). Human free choices are no stumbling block to our omniscient God.
I think it is rather unfortunate that our Calvinist brothers and sisters have tripped themselves up by their view of God’s sovereignty, in that they end up denying two biblical truths: 1) mankind possesses a measure of freedom of the will (limited as it may be and tainted by sin); and 2) God cannot cause evil (James 1.13). By denying the former, they are obliged to embrace the latter, which libels God as the author of sin (though most Calvinists would deny that allegation).
Did God cause Adam and Eve to sin? Absolutely not. Could God have hindered Satan from tempting Eve? Absolutely. Then why did He not interfere? Here is a better question. Why should God have interfered? If God wants to test the hearts of His creatures, has He not the right? Should God have not let Adam and Eve make their own choices? If so, then where is the freedom which He granted them? If they were able not to sin, then why would God not allow them that choice?
That brings us back to the problem of supralapsarianism. If God’s first decree was to elect and reprobate (decide to save some and damn the majority), then who was He saving and damning? He hasn’t even decreed to create humans yet. This would then mean that God created human beings out of necessity. God, therefore, must first have decreed to create humans, and then He would have creatures to save and to damn.
What is the typical Arminian view of God’s decrees? It is called sublapsarianism. This is the order (again, given by Erickson): 1) God’s decree to create human beings; 2) God’s decree to permit the fall; 3) God’s decree to provide salvation sufficient for all; 4) God’s decree to save some and reprobate others.3
In case you were wondering about the Arminians’ sublapsarian view concerning point number four: God’s decree to save some and reprobate others is His predetermination to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1.21) and His predetermination to reprobate unbelievers (John 3:36). We believe this best represents the whole tenor of Scripture, God’s intention to save sinners through faith in His Son, the accomplishment for which Jesus died and rose again, and the role which the Spirit of God plays in His convicting power (John 16.8-11) through the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16).
1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, second edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2002), 842.
2 Ibid., 842-843.
3 Ibid., 843.