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Predestination is a religious concept, which involves the relationship between God and his creation. The religious character of predestination distinguishes it from other ideas about determinism and free will. Those who believe in predestination, such as John Calvin, believe that before the creation God determined the fate of the universe throughout all of time and space.

Contrasted with other kinds of determinism

Predestination is the Divine foreordaining or foreknowledge of all that will happen; with regard to the salvation of some and not others. It has been particularly associated with the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and of John Calvin. Predestination may sometimes be used to refer to other, materialistic, spiritualist, non-theistic or polytheistic ideas of determinism, destiny, fate, doom, or adrsta. Such beliefs or philosophical systems may hold that any outcome is finally determined by the complex interaction of multiple, possibly immanent, possibly impersonal, possibly equal forces, rather than the issue of a Creator's conscious choice.

For example, some may speak of predestination from a purely physical perspective, such as in a discussion of time travel. In this case, rather than referring to the afterlife, predestination refers to any events that will occur in the future. In a predestined universe the future is immutable and only one set of events can possibly occur; in a non-predestined universe, the future is mutable. In Chinese Buddhism, predestination is a translation of yuanfen, which does not necessarily imply the existence or involvement of a deity. Predestination in this sense takes on a very literal meaning: pre- (before) and destiny, in a straightforward way indicating that some events seem bound to happen.

Finally, antithetical to determinism of any kind are theories of the cosmos which assert that any outcome is ultimately unpredictable, the ludibrium of luck, chance, or chaos theory have determinist implications, as a logical consequence of the idea of predictability. But predestination usually refers to a specifically religious type of determinism, especially as found in various monotheistic systems where omniscience is attributed to God, including Christianity and Islam.

Predestination and omniscience

Discussion of predestination usually involves consideration of whether God is omniscient, or eternal or atemporal (free from limitations of time or even causality). In terms of these ideas, God may see the past, present, and future, so that God effectively knows the future. If God in some sense knows ahead of time what will happen, then events in the universe are effectively predetermined from God's point of view. This is a form of determinism but not predestination since the latter term implies that God has actually determined (rather than simply seen) in advance the destiny of creatures.

Within Christendom, there is considerable disagreement about God's role in setting ultimate destinies (that is, eternal life or eternal destruction). Christians who follow teachers such as St. Augustine and John Calvin generally accept that God does decide the eternal destinations of each person, so that their future actions or beliefs follow according to God's choice. A contrasting Christian view maintains that God is completely sovereign over all things but that he chose to give each individual free will, which each person can exercise to accept or reject God's offer of salvation and hence God's actions and determinations follow according to man's choice.

Judaism may accept the possibility that God is atemporal; some forms of Jewish theology teach this virtually as a principle of faith, while other forms of Judaism do not. Jews may use the term omniscience, or preordination as a corollary of omniscience, but normally reject the idea of predestination as being incompatible with the free will and responsibility of moral agents, and it therefore has no place in their religion.

Islam traditionally has strong views of predestination similar to some found in Christianity. In Islam, Allah both knows and ordains whatever comes to pass. Muslims believe that Allah is literally atemporal, eternal and omniscient.

In philosophy, the relation between foreknowledge and predestination is a central part of Newcomb's paradox.

Types of Predestination

Predestination may be described under two types, with the basis for each found within their definition of free will. Between these poles, there is a complex variety of systematic differences, particularly difficult to describe because the foundational terms are not strictly equivalent between systems. The two poles of predestinarian belief may be usefully described in terms of their doctrinal comparison between the Creator's freedom, and the creature's freedom. These can be contrasted as either univocal, or equivocal conceptions of freedom.

In terms of ultimates, with God's decision to create as the ultimate beginning, and the ultimate outcome, a belief system has a doctrine of predestination if it teaches:

  • God's decision, assignment or declaration concerning the lot of people is conceived as occurring in some sense prior to the outcome, and
  • the decision is fully predictive of the outcome, and not merely probable.

There are numerous ways to describe the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination in Christian thinking. To some extent, this spectrum has analogies in other monotheistic religions, although in other religions the term predestination may not be used. For example, teaching on predestination may vary in terms of three considerations.

  • Is God's predetermining decision based solely on a knowledge of His own will, or does it also include a knowledge of whatever will happen?
  • How particular is God's prior decision: is it concerned with particular persons and events, or is it limited to broad categories of people and things?
  • How free is God in effecting His part in the eventual outcome? Is God bound or limited by conditions external to his own will, willingly or not, in order that what has been determined will come to pass?

Furthermore, the same sort of considerations apply to the freedom of man's will.

  • Assuming that an individual had no choice in who, when and where to come into being: How are the choices of existence determined by what he is?
  • Assuming that not all possible choices are available to him: How capable is the individual to desire all choices available, in order to choose from among them?
  • How capable is an individual to put into effect what he desires?

Univocal concept of freedom

The univocal conception of freedom holds that human will is free of cause, even though creaturely in character. These belief systems hold that the Creator (or, in the scientific perspective, Nature/Evolution) has fashioned a system of absolute freedom: human volition that features a free and independent nature.

On the other end of the spectrum is the position that the Creator (or a foreign Being, object, etc.) exercises absolute control over human will and/or that all decisions originate with some outside cause, leaving no room for freedom.

Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom

At the other end of the spectrum are analogical conceptions of freedom. These versions of predestination hold that individual choice is not excluded from the fashioning work of the Creator. Man's will is free because it is determined, boundaried or created by God. In other words, apart from God's will determining man's will in a divine sense, only chaos or enslavement to mindless and impersonal forces is possible. Man's will may be called free and responsible, but not in an absolute sense; the choice of good or of evil must be uncoerced in order to be free, but it is never uncreated or uncaused. The likeness of creaturely freedom to divine freedom is analogical, not univocal.

It is important to note that among predestinarians there is no significant representation for the idea that human choices are unreal, merely the direct expression of the Creator's will. The analogy implied here means that however else human and divine freedom may be comparable, there is an unlikeness between the free will of the Creator and human freedom which is dependent upon the Creator for both, existence and power. With no significant exception, when predestinarians deny that man has freedom of will, it is in order to deny that man's will is free in the same sense as the Creator's will, or to affirm that man's choices are entirely subject to divine causation. Men are responsible without being absolutely original. This is particularly true in these systems, if they acknowledge a doctrine of Original Sin, whereby every person is understood to be born into a condition of helplessness under the power or the effects of sin; for whom, either through inherited guilt, or the inherited consequences of guilt, a purely free choice of the good is not possible without the aid of God's undeserved grace.

Traditional Islam holds to the powerlessness of human will, apart from the aid of Allah, and yet without a doctrine of Original Sin. Thus, Islam has a simpler version of predestination, viewing all that comes to pass as the will of Allah. And yet, the Qur'an affirms human responsibility, saying for example: "Allah changeth not the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts". There is no significant view of predestination that entirely relieves man of responsibility for his own choices.

Therefore, all significant versions of predestination account for the differences between people (perhaps in life or, in death, or both) by reference to the will of the Creator. Also, all versions of predestination incorporate into the doctrine various concepts of human responsibility, which differ from one another in terms of the kind of volitional freedom possible for the creature.

Described in terms of Augustinianism

In the intellectual and doctrinal history of the Christian Church, a useful reference point, to distinguish the differences, is Augustine of Hippo, whose career is prominently marked by his writings against the non-predestinarian views of Pelagius.

In these terms, The Eastern Orthodox Church tradition has never adopted the Augustinian view of predestination, and formed a doctrine of predestination by another historical route, sometimes called Semi-Pelagianism in the West. The Western Church, including the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations, are predominantly Augustinian in some form, especially as interpreted by Gregory the Great and the Council of Orange (a Western council that anathemitized Semi- Pelagianism as represented in some of the writings of John Cassian and his followers). This council explicitly denies double predestination.

In Roman Catholic doctrine, the accepted understanding of predestination most predominantly follows the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, and can be contrasted with the Jansenist interpretation of Augustinianism, which was condemned by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation. The only important branch of Western Christianity that continues to hold to a double predestination interpretation of Augustinianism, is within the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Reformation. The meaning of this term is discussed under the subsection on Calvinism, below.

In broad Christian conversation, predestination refers to the view of predestination commonly associated with John Calvin and the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Reformation; and, this is the non-technical sense in which the term is typically used today, when belief in predestination is affirmed or denied.

Controversy concerning Calvinism

In this common, loose sense of the term, to affirm or to deny predestination has particular reference to the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election. In the Calvinist system, this doctrine normally has only pastoral value related to the assurance of salvation. However, the philosophical implications of the doctrine of election and predestination are sometimes discussed beyond these systematic bounds. Under the topic of the doctrine of God (theology proper), the predestinating decision of God cannot be contingent upon anything outside of Himself, because all other things are dependent upon Him for existence and meaning. Under the topic of the doctrines of salvation (soteriology), the predestinating decision of God is made from God's knowledge of his own will, and is therefore not contingent upon human decisions (rather, free human decisions are outworkings of the decision of God, which sets the total reality within which those decisions are made in exhaustive detail: that is, nothing left to chance). Calvinists do not pretend to understand how this works; but they are insistent that the Scriptures teach both the sovereign control of God and the responsibility and freedom of human decisions (see "Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom " above).

This view is commonly called double predestination, although within a Calvinist system this term is usually accepted only with qualifications, and many reject the term altogether as being incompatible with the pastoral use of the doctrine of election.

Double predestination is the eternal act of God, whereby the future of every particular person in the human race has been determined beforehand, by God. Whatever the individual wills or does, for good or for evil, is conceived as performing a functional part, or outworking of that ordained purpose. This prior determination applies to both, the elect and the reprobate. This idea is formed on an interpretation of various Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments. Romans 9 is frequently quoted in explanation of the doctrine.

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory - KJV

Calvinist groups use the term "Hyper-Calvinism" to describe Calvinistic systems that assert without qualification that God's intention to destroy some is equal to His intention to save others. Some forms of Hyper-Calvinism have racial implications, against which other Calvinists vigorously object (see Afrikaner Calvinism). The Dutch settlers of South Africa claimed that the Blacks were members of the non-elect, because they were the sons of Ham, whom Noah had cursed to be slaves, according to Genesis 9:18-19. The Dutch Calvinist theologian Franciscus Gomarus also argued that Jews, because of their refusal to worship Jesus Christ, were members of the non-elect. According to I John 2:22-23, anyone who refuses to believe that Jesus is the Christ is an antichrist. This is what I John 2: 22-23 says: "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also." Martin Luther published in 1543 On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he denounced the Jews for their failure to convert to Christianity.

Expressed sympathetically, the Calvinist doctrine is that God has mercy or withholds it, with particular consciousness of who are to be the recipients of mercy in Christ. Therefore, the particular persons are chosen, out of the total number of human beings, who will be rescued from enslavement to sin and the fear of death, and from punishment due to sin, to dwell forever in His presence. Those who are being saved are assured through the gifts of faith, the sacraments, and communion with God through prayer and increase of good works, that their reconciliation with Him through Christ is settled by the sovereign determination of God's will. God also has particular consciousness of those who are passed over by His selection, who are without excuse for their rebellion against Him, and will be judged for their sins.

By implication, and expressed unsympathetically, the number of the elect subtracted from the total number, leaves an exact number of those who are consciously passed over by the mercy of God, who will dwell forever away from His presence, without regard to anything that otherwise distinguishes people from one another. All are believed to be undeserving, whether they are rich or poor, male or female, murderers or philanthropists, or any other difference. In other words, God determines the exact numbers of the damned and the saved, and these numbers are consciously known and indeed, decided upon by God, before any of these individuals have begun to exist.

Thus, Calvinists may acknowledge with qualifications that, double predestination is a legitimate position, logically deduced from any form of single predestination that does not include universal salvation.

Calvinists typically divide on the issue of predestination into infralapsarians (sometimes called 'sublapsarians') and supralapsarians. Infralapsarians believe that God chose his elect considering the situation after the Fall, while supralapsarians believe that the Fall was ordained by God's decree of election. In infralapsarianism, election is God's response to the Fall, while in supralapsarianism the Fall is part of God's plan for election. In spite of the division, many Calvinist theologians would consider the debate surrounding the infra- and supralapsarian positions one in which scant Scriptural evidence can be mustered in either direction, and which at any rate has little effect on the overall doctrine.

Some Calvinists decline from describing the eternal decree of God in terms of a sequence of events or thoughts, and many caution against the simplifications involved in describing any action of God in speculative terms. Most make distinctions between the positive manner in which God chooses some to be recipients of grace, and the manner in which grace is consciously withheld so that some are destined for everlasting punishments.

Debate concerning predestination according to the common usage, concerns the destiny of the damned, whether God is just if that destiny is settled prior to the existence of any actual violition of the individual, and whether the individual is in any meaningful sense responsible for his destiny if it is settled by the eternal action of God.

In Arminianism

Arminians similarly hold that God does not so much choose, but instead infallibly predicts, who will believe and, persevering, be saved. Although God knows from the beginning of the world who will go where, the choice is still with the individual. The Dutch Calvinist theologian Franciscus Gomarus strongly opposed the views of Jacobus Arminius with his doctrine of supralapsarian predestination, which says that the all-knowing God knows since eternity who will be among the saved and the damned.

Karl Barth's view

Barthians espouse a view of predestination that attempts to circumvent the antithesis between Augustinianism and Pelagianism. In the Barthian scheme, predestination only properly applies to God Himself. Thus, humanity is chosen for salvation in Jesus Christ, at the permanent cost of God's self-surrendered hiddenness, or transcendence. Thus, the redemption of all mankind is a devoutly hoped-for possibility, but the only inevitability is that God has predestined Himself, in Jesus Christ, to be revealed and given for human salvation.

In Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox view was summarized by Bishop Theophan the Recluse in response to the question, "What is the relationship between the Divine provision and our free will?"

Answer: The fact that the Kingdom of God is "taken by force" presupposes personal effort. When the Apostle Paul says, "it is not of him that willeth," this means that one's efforts do not produce what is sought. It is unnecessary to combine them: to strive and to expect all things from grace. It is not one's own efforts that will lead to the goal, because without grace, efforts produce little; nor does grace without effort bring what is sought, because grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to the goal. (God's) foreknowledge is unfathomable. It is enough for us with our whole heart to believe that it never opposes God's grace and justice, and that it does not infringe man's freedom. Usually this resolves as follows: God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly. Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination.

In Lutheranism

Lutherans believe that the elect are predestined to salvation.[1] Lutherans believe Christians should be assured that they are among the predestined.[2] However, they disagree with those that make predestination the source of salvation rather than Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. Unlike Calvinists, Lutherans do not believe in a predestination to damnation.[3] Instead, Lutherans teach eternal damnation is a result of the unbeliever's sins, rejection of the forgiveness of sins, and unbelief.[4] Martin Luther's attitude towards predestination is set out in his On the Bondage of the Will, published in 1525. This publication by Luther was in response to the published treatise by Desiderius Erasmus in 1524 known as On Free Will. Luther based his views on Ephesians 2:8-10, which says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

Schools of thought

Speculation related to predestination

A number of speculative ideas have appeared that attempt to explain the relationship between time and eternity, which have bearing on the subject of predestination. Some regard all speculation about predestination and its implications as all alike, pernicious, and offensive to God.

Time is a line or plane of being within the unlimited field of eternity

A common pre-Kantian idea of time and eternity, describes "eternity" as a trans-temporal mode of being - such that all the moments of time are in some sense present in eternity. God looks into the realm of temporal reality from outside of it, as though it were a surface or a line stretched out: the edges or ends of which are fully "visible" to God, so that He is in a somewhat spatial sense "omnipresent" with regard to time. In such a speculative view, the past, present and future are all in some sense simultaneously present in the eternal perspective of God. From a temporal point of view, the past seems to disappear and the future doesn't yet exist, and God always appears to act from moment to moment. But from an eternal perspective, there is nothing temporal about time. Non-determinism is not possible on such a view, but predestination may be excluded if the belief system does not permit the direct interference of the non-temporal God and the temporal plane of existence.

Some belief systems allow for the possibility that only God and the present moment are the sum of what is "real". The past persists only in its effects, and the future does not yet exist, and thus only the present is directly knowable. Further, the "eternity" of God is presumed by some not to be accessible to understanding, and therefore no speculation can be meaningfully based upon it.

Nevertheless, these belief systems may retain an idea of God's decision eternally determining the present or future, in the sense of God's decision being logically prior, or "transcendentally necessary" to all existence. Time is not a "thing", but rather, a succession of the intersections of God's manifold purposes being revealed in the creation. Time is the succession of events, identified as moments by an intentional, mental act of setting one event apart from another and noticing their relation to one another - but, otherwise time does not exist as irreducible, discrete moments. Time is coherent, because God consistently acts according to his own character.

Strong predestinarian views are basically undisturbed by these assumptions, because strong predestination is based upon God's knowledge of Himself and of His own purposes. The effect of these new views of time are more clearly seen among those who reject strong predestinarian views, because those views classically share a comparable conception of the relation between time and eternity.

Predestinarian version: God, in comparison to temporality, always is. Temporal things however, exist from each fleeting moment of being to the next, only in the present. Such a conception of reality may be thoroughly predestinarian, if God is the personal cause of continued existence and the orchestrator or determiner of the relationship between each present event and each subsequent present event; but, it is only predestination if in this conception God acts with absolute freedom and entire knowledge of Himself. God brings to pass each moment in its turn by a continuous, timeless act of self-revelation. God sustains the effectiveness of all secondary causes and choices, and so on. Thus, each moment is a disclosure of God's character. The meaning of time and experience is disclosed not in the subjective relation of the present to the past and the future, but rather, because of the relation of all created things, in every aspect, to the will of God. As a logical consequence, the meaning of history is known only through the knowledge of God (an idea similar to this can be found in the speculations of Augustine of Hippo and some Calvinist philosophers, such as Herman Dooyeweerd).

Anti-predestinarian version: If the idea of absolute freedom and entire self-knowledge is absent from this kind of idea of God's acts in time, then God Himself is (to express the idea anthropomorphically) becoming something new, or discovering something new about Himself with each new moment, just as we are. It's as though God is waking up to the possibilities that are inherent in temporally limited acts, and like an artist developing his ideas in dynamic interaction with an ever-changing medium, He is making new discoveries about himself every day. A summary of such a view might be that, the present is an encounter "in God" with new possibilities (where "God" is sometimes not understood "theistically", in the sense of a "person"), and the past is thus a record or remembrance "by God" of the experiences of existent beings. Or, put another way, the past is what God has thus far become in the process of all experience, and the future is pure possibility. Predestination is completely excluded from such a system, except possibly in the most broad outlines of God's intentions. God's decision, on such a view, is an inventive experience, almost precisely equivalent to the unfolding process of historical events (thinking like this can be found in modern process theology and Open Theism).

There are other types of Christian or Christian-influenced belief, which exclude the personality, or the volitional aspect of the personality of God, so that even if they express some form of determinism, it is not predestination in a theistic sense.

New England theology

Calvinist Jonathan Edwards expressed some ideas on free will and determinism that his successors further developed this into the New England theology.

Predestination in Christianity

Christians understand the doctrine of predestination in terms of God's work of salvation in the world. The doctrine is a tension between the divine perspective in which God saves those whom he chooses from eternity apart from human action and the human perspective in which each person is responsible for his or her choice to accept or reject God. The views on predestination within Christianity vary somewhat in emphasis on one of these two perspectives.

Biblical support of Predestination

Some Biblical verses often used as sources for Christian beliefs in predestination are below.

"For many are called, but few [are] chosen." (Matthew 22:14, KJV)
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV)
"At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants."(Matthew 11:25, NASB)
"As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." (Mark 4:10-12, NASB)
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. "(John 6:37,39, NASB)
"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you." (John 15:16, NASB)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,..." (Eph. 1:3-5, NASB)
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom. 8:28-30, NASB)
"... but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; ..." (1Co. 2:7, NASB)
"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." (Act. 4:27-28, NASB)
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph. 2:4-9, NASB)
"...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, ..." (2Ti. 1:9, NASB)
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psa. 139:16, NASB)
"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. [verse 17 omitted] So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Rom. 9:16-18, NASB)
"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:22-24, NIV)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJ)

Biblical support of free will

Examples of Biblical passages which support free will:

Deuteronomy 30:19 "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,"
Ezekiel 18:32 "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD. Repent and live!"
Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
Romans 10:9 "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
Matthew 9:29 "Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you."
1 Thessalonians 4:14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus."
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
John 15:7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."
1 Timothy 2:3-4 "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."
II Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
Revelation 22:19 "If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book."
Jeremiah 18:7-10 "If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would. On the other hand, If I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation, but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would."
Ephesians 1:13-14 "In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory." NAB
2 Corinthians 5:15 "He died for all, so that those who might live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." NAB

History of the doctrine

Church Fathers on the doctrine

The early church fathers consistently uphold the freedom of human choice. This position was crucial in the Christian confrontation with Cynicism and some of the chief forms of Gnosticism, such as Manichaeism, which taught that man is by nature flawed and therefore not responsible for evil in himself or in the world. At the same time, belief in human responsibility to do good as a precursor to salvation and eternal reward was consistent. The decision to do good along with God's aid pictured a synergism of the human will and God's will. The early church Fathers taught a doctrine of conditional predestination.[5]

Augustine of Hippo marks the beginning of a system of thought that denies free will and affirms that salvation needs an initial input by God in the life of every person. While his early writings affirm that God's predestinating grace is granted on the basis of his foreknowledge of the human desire to pursue salvation, this changed after 396. His later position affirmed the necessity of God granting grace in order for the desire for salvation to be awakened.

Augustine's position raised objections. Julian bishop of Eclanum, expressed that Augustine was bringing Manichee thoughts into the church.[6] For Vincent of Lérins, this was a disturbing innovation.[7] This new tension eventually became obvious with the confrontation between Augustine and Pelagius culminating in condemnation of Pelagianism (as interpreted by Augustine) at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The British monk Pelagius denied Augustine's view of "predestination" in order to affirm that salvation is achieved by an act of free will.

The influence of Augustine also then showed in translations of the bible from that time on; variations which are not in themselves visible in the syntax or grammar of the New Testament Greek text. Perhaps the best example of this in the Vulgate is the addition of 'prae' to 'ordinati' in Acts 13:48 which is there only to give the idea this was God who did this. Later translations show this influence of the doctrine by the additions of the word 'his' in Romans 8:28 and 11:22 all suggesting an interpretation consistent with unconditional election.

Augustine's formulation is neither complete nor universally accepted by Christians. But his system laid the foundation onto virgin ground for the then later writers and innovators of the Reformation period.

The Reformers on the doctrine

The Belgic Confession of 1561 affirmed that God "delivers and preserves" from perdition "all whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without respect to their works" (Article XVI).

Various views on Christian predestination

Conditional predestination

Conditional Predestination, or more commonly referred to as conditional election, is a theological stance stemming from the writings and teachings of Jacobus Arminius, after whom Arminianism is named. Arminius studied under the staunch Reformed scholar Theodore Beza, whose views of election, Arminius eventually argued, could not reconcile freedom with moral responsibility.

Arminius used a philosophy called Molinism (named for the philosopher, Luis de Molina) that attempted to reconcile freedom with God's omniscience. They both saw human freedom in terms of the Libertarian philosophy: man's choice is not decided by God's choice, thus God's choice is "conditional", depending on what man chooses. Arminius saw God "looking down the corridors of time" to see the free choices of man, and choosing those who will respond in faith and love to God's love and promises, revealed in Jesus.

Arminianism sees the choice of Christ as an impossibility, apart from God's grace; and the freedom to choose is given to all, because God's prevenient grace is universal (given to everyone). Therefore, God predestines on the basis of foreknowledge of how some will respond to his universal love ("conditional"). In contrast, Calvinism views universal grace as resistible and not sufficient for leading to salvation—or denies universal grace altogether—and instead supposes grace that leads to salvation to be particular and irresistible, given to some but not to others on the basis of God's predestinating choice ("unconditional"). This is also known as "double-predestination."

Temporal predestination

Temporal predestination is the view that God only determines temporal matters, and not eternal ones. This Christian view is analogous to the traditional Jewish view, which distinguishes between preordination and predestination. Temporal matters are pre-ordained by God, but eternal matters, being supra-temporal, are subject to absolute freedom of choice. J. Kenneth Grider


Infralapsarianism (also called sublapsarianism) holds that predestination logically coincides with the preordination of Man's fall into sin. That is, God predestined sinful men for salvation. Therefore, according to this view, God is the "ultimate cause", but not the "proximate source" or "author" of sin. Infralapsarians often emphasize a difference between God's decree (which is inviolable and inscrutable), and his revealed will (against which man is disobedient). Proponents also typically emphasize the grace and mercy of God toward all men, although teaching also that only some are predestined for salvation.

In common English parlance, the doctrine of predestination often has particular reference to the doctrines of Calvinism. The version of predestination espoused by John Calvin, after whom Calvinism is named, is sometimes referred to as "double predestination" because in it God predestines some people for salvation (i.e. Unconditional election) and some for condemnation (i.e. Reprobation). Calvin himself defines predestination as "the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. Not all are created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.".[8]

On the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination, Calvinism is the strongest form among Christians. It teaches that God's predestining decision is based on the knowledge of His own will rather than foreknowledge, concerning every particular person and event; and, God continually acts with entire freedom, in order to bring about his will in completeness, but in such a way that the freedom of the creature is not violated, "but rather, established"[9]

Calvinists who hold the infralapsarian view of predestination usually prefer that term to "sublapsarianism," perhaps with the intent of blocking the inference that they believe predestination is on the basis of foreknowledge (sublapsarian meaning, assuming the fall into sin).[10] The different terminology has the benefit of distinguishing the Calvinist double predestination version of infralapsarianism, from Lutheranism's view that predestination is a mystery, which forbids the unprofitable intrusion of prying minds.

Calvinists seek never to divide predestination in a mathematical way. Their doctrine is uninterested, in the abstract, in questions of "how much" either God or man is responsible for a particular destiny. Questions of "how much" will become hopelessly entangled in paradox, Calvinists teach, regardless of the view of predestination adopted. Instead, Calvinism divides the issues of predestination according to two kinds of being, knowledge, and will, distinguishing that which is divine from that which is human. Therefore, it is not so much an issue of quantity, but of distinct roles or modes of being. God is not a creature nor the creature God in knowledge, will, freedom, ability, responsibility, or anything else. Calvinists will often attribute salvation entirely to God; and yet they will also assert that it is man's responsibility to pursue obedience. As the archetypal illustration of this idea, they believe Jesus in his words and work humanly fulfilled all that he as part of the Trinity had determined from the Father should be done. What he did humanly is distinguishable, but not separate, from what he did divinely.

Single Predestination

Drawing on Luther's "Bondage of the Will" written in his debate over freewill with Erasmus, Lutherans hold doctrinally to a view of single predestination. That is to say, desiring to save all fallen human beings, God sent his Son Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of the whole world on the cross. Those God saves have been predestined from eternity in Christ. Those who are condemned are condemned because of their fallen will. While these statements may seem like they contradict each other, this is what Luther saw as THE major story-line within scripture and didn't attempt to systematically or logically "fix" it. The underlying question here is, of course, if God wants all to be saved and Jesus died for everyone, why doesn't God convert the fallen will of all? This is a question that Lutherans, following Luther, put into the category of the "hidden God", the God "behind the cross" who we don't know everything about. The answer to the question lies within God's "hidden counsel" that we are to have nothing to do with. If we doubt our own predestination, we should look for it in the God who has revealed himself in the wounds of Christ on the cross and there see a God who loved us enough to die for us. For Lutherans, systematic treatment of predestination follows the Gospel (What God has done for us in Jesus Christ) rather than being a topic discussed prior to the Gospel. As such, the sole purpose of predestination is to reinforce "Justification by Grace through Faith solely on account of Christ". Believers are reminded "you didn't choose God, God chose you in Christ!"


Supralapsarianism is the doctrine that God's decree of predestination for salvation and reprobation logically precedes his preordination of the human race's fall into sin. That is, God decided to save, and to damn; he then determined that the fall of man into sin would accomplish His purpose. It is a matter of controversy whether or not Calvin himself held this view, but most scholars link him with the infralapsarian position. It is known, however, that Calvin's successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, held to the supralapsarian view.

Open theism

Advocates of Open theism, like most who affirm conditional predestination, understand predestination to be as corporate. In corporate election, God does not choose which individuals he will save prior to creation, but rather God chooses the church as a whole. Or put differently, God chooses what type of individuals he will save. Another way the New Testament puts this is to say that God chose the church in Christ (Eph. 1:4). In other words, God chose from all eternity to save all those who would be found in Christ, by faith in God. This choosing is not primarily about salvation from eternal destruction either but is about God's chosen agency in the world. Thus individuals have full freedom in terms of whether they become members of the church or not. Corporate election is thus consistent with the open view's position on God's omniscience which states that the outcomes of individual free choices cannot be known specifically before they are performed since who becomes a Christian is a matter of free will and not knowable.

Jewish views

Generally speaking Reform Judaism has no strong doctrine of predestination. Some critics claim that the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient didn't formally exist in Judaism during the Biblical era, but rather was a later development due to the influence of neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Many modern Jewish thinkers in the 20th century have resolved the dialectical tension by holding that God is simply not omnipotent, in the commonly used sense of that word. These thinkers are primarily not Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jewish rabbis generally affirm that God must be viewed as omnipotent, but they have varying definitions of what the word omnipotent means. Thus one finds that some Modern Orthodox theologians have views that are essentially the same as non-Orthodox theologians, but they use different terminology.

One noted Jewish philosopher, Hasdai Crescas, resolved this dialectical tension by taking the position that free-will doesn't exist. Hence all of a person's actions are pre-determined by the moment of their birth, and thus their judgment in the eyes of God (so to speak) is effectively pre-ordained. However, in this scheme this is not a result of God's predetermining one's fate, but rather from the view that the universe is deterministic. Crescas's views on this topic were rejected by Judaism at large. In later centuries this idea independently developed among some in the Chabad (Lubavitch) sect of Hasidic Judaism. Many individuals within Chabad take this view seriously, and hence effectively deny the existence of free will.

However, many Chabad (Lubavitch) Jews attempt to hold both views. They affirm as infallible their rebbe's teachings that God knows and controls the fate of all, yet at the same time affirm the classical Jewish belief in free-will (i.e. no such thing as determinism). The inherent contradiction between the two results in their belief that such contradictions are only "apparent", due to man's inherent lack of ability to understand greater truths and due to the fact that Creator and Created exist in different realities.

One does not have to be a Chabad Hassid to believe in this, however. It is enough to read the statement in Pirkei Avot: "Everything is predetermined but freedom of will is given." The same idea is strongly repeated by Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, Chapter 5).

Many other Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular) affirm that since free-will exists, then by definition one's fate is not preordained. It is held as a tenet of faith that whether God is omniscient or not, nothing interferes with mankind's free will. Some Jewish theologians, both during the medieval era and today, have attempted to formulate a philosophy in which free will is preserved, while also affirming that God has knowledge of what decisions people will make in the future. Whether or not these two ideas are mutually compatible, or whether there is a contradiction between the two, is still a matter of great study and interest in philosophy today.

In Rabbinic literature, there is much discussion as to the apparent contradiction between God's omniscience and free will. The representative view is that "Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given" (Rabbi Akiva, Pirkei Avoth 3:15). Based on this understanding, the problem is formally described as a paradox, beyond our understanding.

Islamic views

In Islam, "predestination" is the usual English language rendering of a belief that Muslims call al-qada wa al-qadar in Arabic. The phrase means "the divine decree and the predestination"; al-qadar derives from a root that means to measure out. Free will and predestination have always been conflicting topics in Islamic religious thinking.

This is a difficult concept to understand and translate. In Islam, Allah's omniscience doesn't suggest that we have no free will. Allah's advance knowledge of what each human will choose with his/her free will is said to not in any way negate the freedom granted to humans.[11] This simply means that God has the foreknowledge of all human action, however, this divine knowledge does not prevent humans from doing whatever they desire.

Some suggest that free will doesn't actually exist in Islam.[12][13] They argue that Allah is omniscient and so has the power to prevent or allow any action from occurring. Therefore, if Allah does not prevent an act from occurring than that act is thought to be Allah's will. People can believe they have control over their lives, but they are not able to do anything without it being Allah's will first. Nothing is allowed to come to pass unless it is the will of Allah, hence the phrase inshallah, Arabic for "if Allah wills". When referring to the future, Muslims frequently qualify any predictions of what will come to pass with this phrase. It recognises that human knowledge of the future is limited, and that all that may or may not come to pass is under the control of Allah. A related phrase, mashallah, indicates acceptance of what Allah has ordained in terms of good or ill fortune that may befall a believer.

In summary the main principles that govern the Sunni Islamic perspective on Qadar (predestination) are the following: 1) That Allah's knowledge encompasses everything. This knowledge is perfect and was never preceded with ignorance. Allah always knew everything. 2) That Allah wrote everything that will happen in the universe prior to its creation by 50,000 years according to a tradition of the Prophet Mohammed. Everything was written in the preserved tablet that is with Allah in a way that only He knows 3) That Allah created everything - including people's actions. No one can do any action until Allah creates that particular action 4) That Allah is the one who allowed for the action to happen because nothing happens without Allah's will. As a natural consequence of this, nothing that happens in the world is considered absolute evil. This is because everything that Allah does has a wisdom behind it - even if that wisdom is painful for human beings to experience.

Shia Islam

In Shia Islam, there is a greater emphasis on free will, and the importance of personal decision which will be called back on the Day of Judgement.[14] Predestination is a way of thinking that is challenged by the Imams of Shia Islam in many speeches and letters. The main factor in determining how one's reality is processed has to do with his/her "nearness" to Allah. Therefore, the levels of relationship that one has with Allah is what determines what a person may be "allowed" to do. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin according to the religion of Islam (see Islam and alcohol). If a person who has "turned his back" on Allah decides to drink, there will be no obstacle between himself and the drink. Accordingly, a drink voids 40 days of prayers and supplication, which distances that soul "further" from Allah. However, if the person is a "pious" believer who has fallen to despair due to some difficulty and decides to have a drink to give up his state and position, there may be numerous obstacles in the universe between him and the drink, until he finally gives up on that endeavour and returns repentant. The hopelessness in human action is what is disputed by Shia philosophers with those who lean far toward predestination.[15]

Islam and Christianity

Although comparable in broad terms, the differences between Christian and Islamic ideas of predestination are complex. These differences are due to the distinctives of each faith's belief system. In broad terms, the doctrine of predestination refers to inevitability as a general principle, and usually more particularly refers to the exercise of God's will as it relates to the future of members of the human race, considered either as groups or as individuals, with special concern for issues of human responsibility as it relates to the sovereignty of God. Predestination always involves issues of the Creator's personality and will; and consequently, the different versions of the doctrine of predestination go hand in hand with appropriately different conceptions of the contribution any creature is able to make toward its own present condition, or future destiny.[16]

Predestination in Other Religions


In Hinduism, which consists of four schools, predestination does not play an important role, as most followers believe in karma, associated with free will. However, in the Dvaita school of Vaishnavism, the philosopher Madhvacharya believed in a similar concept. For example, Madhvacharya differed significantly from traditional Hindu beliefs in his concept of eternal damnation. For example, he divides souls into three classes, one class which qualify for liberation, Mukti-yogyas, another subject to eternal rebirth or eternally transmigrating due to samsara, Nitya-samsarins, and significantly, a class that is eventually condemned to eternal hell or Andhatamas, known as Tamo-yogyas.

He has hypothesized (based on vedic texts and yukti) that souls are eternal and not created ex nihilo by God, as in the Semitic religions. Souls depend on God for their very "being" and "becoming." Madhva has compared this relationship of God with souls to the relationship between a source (bimba) and its reflection (pratibimba).

See also


  1. Acts 13:48, Eph. 1:4–11, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article 11, Election, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 585-9, section "The Doctrine of Eternal Election: 1. The Definition of the Term", and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 124-8, Part XXXI. "The Election of Grace", paragraph 176.
  2. 2 Thess. 2:13, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 589-593, section "The Doctrine of Eternal Election: 2. How Believers are to Consider Their Election, and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 127-8, Part XXXI. "The Election of Grace", paragraph 180.
  3. 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article 11, Election, and Engelder's Popular Symbolics, Part XXXI. The Election of Grace, pp. 124-8.
  4. Hos. 13:9, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. p. 637, section "The Doctrine of the Last Things (Eschatology), part 7. "Eternal Damnation", and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 135-6, Part XXXIX. "Eternal Death", paragraph 196.
  5. George Park Fisher. History of Christian Doctrine. T&T Clark. pp. 165. 
  6. Henry Chadwick. The Early Church. Penguin. pp. 232. 
  7. ibid. pp. 233. 
  8. Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.21.5
  9. Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch 3
  10. [Here, sub- is opposed to super- or supra- in a sense related to volition and/or necessity. Cf., for relapse of same origin, : L. relapsus, p. p. of relabi to slip back, to relapse.]
  11. [1]
  12. [2]
  13. [3]
  14. [4]
  15. [5]
  16. Understanding the concept of Fate in Islam

External links

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