What is predestination? (Is it foreknowledge?)

Predestination means foreordain, predetermine, decide beforehand, and appoint beforehand. This is different than foreknowledge (pre-knowing or prior knowledge). Almost all Christians agree with these 2 statements, but the biggest disagreement is what is predestined. It is a shame that Christianity has been so divided over the meaning of these words when used in 2 passages in the New Testament. Good, honest, God-fearing brethren in Christ have fought each other for centuries over these meanings. I do not pretend to be so deluded to think this one simple blog post will undo all this division in Christianity, but I hope it will increase your faith and help you grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord.

Predestination and foreknowledge are different words

One of the simplest resolutions to this division is to say predestinate really means pre-knowledge. However, this is very unsatisfying because the concepts are very different. Furthermore, there are 2 separate words for these 2 different concepts. If God had wanted to convey the thought of foreknowledge, he could have caused that word to be used.

4309 proorizó
(from 4253 /pró, “before” and 3724 /horízō, “establish boundaries, limits”) – properly, pre-horizon, pre-determine limits (boundaries) predestine. Since the root (3724 /horízō) already means “establish boundaries,” the added prefix (pro, “before”) makes 4309 (proorízō) “to pre-establish boundaries,” i.e. before creation.HELPS™ Word-studies
4267 proginóskó
(from 4253 /pró, “before” and 1097 /ginṓskō, “to know”) – properly, foreknow; used in the NT of “God pre-knowing all choices – and doing so without pre-determining (requiring) them” (G. Archer).HELPS™ Word-studies

God has the sovereign power of predestination

Jeremiah, the crying prophet, had the unenviable task of trying to turn an entire nation from evil idolatrous practices. Here is the essence of the message in a single conversation with the Lord.

Then the LORD gave me this message:  “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay?  As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem.  Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” 

But the people replied,  “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.”  (Jeremiah 18:5-12 NLT)

God has the sovereign power to decide in advance what he is going to do. He is not a man, that he should lie or repent (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). If the people continue sinning, God will perform the evil that he has predestined, but it the people repent, God will change his actions.

I will repent of the evil … I will repent of the good – All God’s dealings with mankind are here declared to be conditional. God changeth not, all depends upon man’s conduct.Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

Predestination: God’s plan or man’s conduct?

As we examine the 2 passages that describe predestination, we need to be careful to rightly divide the scriptures. What is predestined? Is it God’s plan or is it man’s conduct. The entire division of Calvinism hangs on this single question.

I don’t think any honest student of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges, the kings, or the prophets (such as Jeremiah, Jonah, Daniel, or Amos), can deny free-will by believing that God forces the conduct of mankind as a whole or individuals in particular. Jesus Christ wrapped this up in his plea to Jerusalem…

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee,  how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!  (Matthew 23:37)

But, God has always done everything according to the counsel of his own sovereign will.

“Can anyone teach God knowledge, In that He judges those on high? (Job 21:22)

With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40:14)

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” (Romans 11:34)

The predestination in Romans 8 is God’s plan of salvation, not man’s conduct.

Everyone who reads this passage has a bias. It is not possible to read it in a vacuum free from the influence of any doctrinal division. Every time we see the word “foreknew” it releases a flood of related concepts. Every time we see the word “predestined” it releases a different flood of different concepts. Our minds and thoughts are overloaded by our biases. Therefore, we predestine ourselves to see this paragraph in support of our familiar understanding of predestination. In an effort to look at this fresh, try to read it in various different translations, which use different words and phrases to convey the meaning. Sometimes this will help you understand God’s real meaning as opposed to man’s teaching. Consider this translation that’s not in widespread use today.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew [4267 proegnō] he also predestined [4309 proōrisen] to be conformed to the image of his Son,  in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined [4309 proōrisen] he also called,  and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:26-30 ESV)

Before we can understand what this means for us today, we have to understand what Paul was saying 2000 years ago. If we can’t understand what he said, there is no way we can make a legitimate application for us today. So let me ask a simple question.

What did Paul say is predestined in Romans 8:29?
  • to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29 NIV)
  • to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)
  • to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29 KJV)
  • to have the same form as the image of his Son. Therefore, his Son is the firstborn among many children (Romans 8:29 GWT)
What did Paul say is predestined in Romans 8:30?
  • And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:30 NIV)
  • And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. (Romans 8:30 NLT)
  • Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Romans 8:30 KJV)
  • and whom He did fore-appoint, these also He did call; and whom He did call, these also He declared righteous; and whom He declared righteous, these also He did glorify. (Romans 8:30 YLT)

In this chapter, Paul is contrasting the suffering of this present age with the glory that shall be revealed. In this paragraph, Paul is saying that God’s plan is for the humans to be conformed to the to the image of his Son. Paul is saying that this plan involves him calling the world to him. He is describing the predestined plan of salvation. Paul was not saying predestination means only some are predestined for salvation. Therefore, he was not saying predestination means others were predestined for damnation.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in him  should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,  will draw all men unto me.  This he said, signifying what death he should die. (John 12:31-33)

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:  That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ;  that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

The predestination in Ephesians 1 is God’s plan of salvation, not man’s conduct

Just like Romans 8, it is not possible to read this in a vacuum free from the influence of any doctrinal division. Every time we see the word “predestined” it releases a flood of concepts. Our minds and thoughts are overloaded by our biases. Therefore, we predestine ourselves to see this paragraph in support of our familiar understanding of predestination. Sometimes this will help you understand God’s real meaning as opposed to man’s teaching. Consider this translation that’s not in widespread use today.

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 [4309 proorisas] us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself,  according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, [that is], the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.  In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined [4309 prooristhentes] according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,  to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of [God’s own] possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14 NASB)

As in Romans 8, we need to know what Paul was saying 2000 years ago before we can make application for us today.

What did Paul say is predestined in Ephesians 1:5?
What did Paul say is predestined in Ephesians 1:11?
  • we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined (Ephesians 1:12 NIV)
  • we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance. (Ephesians 1:12 NLT)
  • we did obtain an inheritance, being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who the all things is working according to the counsel of His will. (Ephesians 1:12 YLT)
  • God also decided ahead of time to choose us through Christ according to his plan, which makes everything work the way he intends. (Ephesians 1:12 GWT)

Remember, in Ephesians, Paul is trying to help this church deal with a deep division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. He starts by recounting the amazing plan of salvation. He describes the heavenly blessings of Christians versus the condemned nature of unrepentant human beings. Then, he goes on to rebuke their divisions and instruct them to work together in unity.

This passage is describing the order in God’s wonderful plan of salvation: to the Jew first and then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9-10). Paul describes God’s plan, which involves adopting believers into the family of God so that they obtain an inheritance from God. This was unheard of in ancient religions. It certainly was not true of Diana of the Ephesians. This is the plan of salvation. Paul was not saying we are predestined for salvation. Therefore, he was not saying others were predestined for damnation.

Predestination is God’s plan, not man’s response

Therefore the correlatives are these, Salvation is offered; the word is received: ch. Acts 2:40-41, “Save yourselves,—they—received his word.” The Lord adds many who believe, Acts 2:47 to Acts 5:14, “Believers were added to the Lord.” The hand of the Lord is with them that preach; many believe: ch. Acts 11:21. The Lord appoints Paul His minister; Paul obeys: ch. Acts 26:16Acts 26:19. “God sends; the Gentiles hear:” ch. Acts 28:28 : comp. Matthew 21:43Ephesians 2:8Php 2:13Php 2:12, etc. Bengel’s Gnomen

The predestination of God not willing that any should perish

It is anathema to God that any should perish. It is not God’s predestination. It is not in his nature. But, in his sovereign will, he has decided that man has the choice. Consider the parable of the ninety-nine sheep. One of the sheep could wander away. It could get lost. It might not be found. But, not because God was at fault.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 19:12-14)

Near the end of his life, Peter wrote his second letter to the Jewish Christians of the dispersion to help them grow in Christ’s grace and warn against false teaching. In his opening, he teaches Christians to apply the things they have learned in their life. He warns them of the impending Day of the Lord. He reminds them of God’s judgments. And, at the very end, he encourages them with these words…

  • The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
  • The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9 NLT)
  • The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 KJV)

But, Calvinist extreme predestination teaches that God is willing that some should perish. The word predestination means “to set bounds beforehand.” Calvinism teaches that God sets bounds on people’s behavior and conduct. But, this is contrary to the Bible, which says God sets bounds on the plan of salvation. It is his plan. He has determined the consequences. You determine the outcome. Have you accepted the gospel?

The predestination of God’s plan of preaching the gospel

In what the world regards as foolishness, God’s sovereign plan is for the creature to preach the gospel of salvation through faith in the finished work of creator on the cross.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom,  God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation,  to save those who believe. (Romans 1:21 NRSV)

it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; it was his purpose and decree within himself; it was his sovereign good will and pleasure; it was what he, without any motion from, or merit in the creature, resolved of himself from all eternity that he would “save”, not the wise man, the Scribe, the disputer of this world, the rationalist, the talker, nor the worker, but “them that believe” in his Son; that look unto him, venture on him, and commit the care and keeping of their souls to him, however weak, mean, and despicable they may otherwise be; or whether they believe with a weak, or a strong faith, so be it, it is but true: the Ethiopic version reads, “that believe in this foolish doctrine”; and this he determined to do, and did, “by the foolishness of preaching”; or by that sort of preaching, which both for the matter of it, Christ, that itself, and the manner of it, the world reckons foolishness; and which are the things of the Father’s grace in election, of the Son’s grace in redemption, and the Spirit’s in regeneration: so the wise men of the world, with all their wisdom, are left ignorant of God, and perish in their sins, whilst the Gospel they despise is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe in Christ; this, through efficacious grace, becomes the means of regenerating and quickening men, showing them their need of salvation, and where it is, and of working faith in them to look to Christ for it.Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

The predestination of God wanting men and women to turn from their evil ways

The Bible truth is consistent with God’s message through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges, the kings, and the prophets (such as Jeremiah, Jonah, Daniel, and Amos).

This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds:  “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow. 

 When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes.  Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:

“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God.  They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.” 

 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.  (Jonah 3)

Here is how Moses summed up all the teaching of the law and covenants at the end of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness…

Today I offer you life and prosperity or death and destruction. This is what I’m commanding you today: Love the LORD your God, follow his directions, and obey his commands, laws, and rules. Then you will live, your population will increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you’re about to enter and take possession of. But your hearts might turn away, and you might not listen. You might be tempted to bow down to other gods and worship them. If you do, I tell you today that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live for a long time in the land that you’re going to take possession of when you cross the Jordan River.  I call on heaven and earth as witnesses today that I have offered you life or death, blessings or curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants will live.  Love the LORD your God, obey him, and be loyal to him. This will be your way of life, and it will mean a long life for you in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Years later, Joshua reminded the people of this choice

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord,  choose this day whom you will serve,  whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living;  but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:14-15)

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