In our last study, we began studying the topics of election and predestination. Many hold to Calvinistic doctrines that teach that these words mean that God determines beforehand who will be saved. We have been examining these words in the Bible to see if there is any justification for this belief.
In our last study, we examined the word “elect.” From examining its occurrences, we find that it always means “the chosen.” Yet this choice is not to salvation, but to special service for God. For example, we saw that Judas Iscariot was chosen to such service, and he was in no way saved. Thus we saw that election has nothing to do with salvation. This brings us to the next relevant word in this study, “predestination.”
In a way, predestination will be a much easier study than election. This is because it only occurs in six places in the Bible, only four of which are translated as “predestined.” Notice that the NKJV uses this form, “predestined,” whereas the old KJV used “predestinated.” These words basically mean the same thing, and are just different ways of shortening “predestination.” The NKJV is taking it as similar to “combined” and “combination,” whereas the old KJV takes it as similar to “terminate and “termination.” Both kinds of words exist in English, so really it doesn’t matter which form we use. Since I am using the NKJV, I will use the form “predestined” in this study rather than “predestinated.”
Let us consider all six passages that contain “predestined” in order.
Acts 4:28. “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined to be done.”
These words are part of a prayer of praise made by the apostles upon the occasion of their having been released by the Sanhedrin after they had been questioned about the healing of the lame man. The verse before (verse 27) gives us the context. They are speaking of “both Herod and Pontius Pilot, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel.” These people did what their own selfish and wicked purposes suggested. Yet all the while they were carrying out a plan God had determined (predestined) beforehand. That plan involved Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf. His death is what was predestined in this passage. This passage has nothing to do with the salvation of sinners.
Romans 8:29-30. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
In this passage we have the next two occurrences of “predestined.” A quick look at the context will help clarify this passage. In the previous verse (verse 28,) we read, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Thus this passage is talking about those who love God and are “called according to His purpose.” Further on we read in verse 33, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God Who justifies.” Who are those who are called? Are all believers called?
I believe that this verse is speaking of those “elect” believers who were specially called to certain positions, like the apostles, prophets, and teachers. These people were believers who were called to specific positions by God. They were already those who “love God” before God ever predestined them. Then, once He chose them, they were “predestined,” then “called” or chosen for special service, then justified, then glorified. No one could bring a charge before God concerning His chosen apostles, prophets, and teachers. These people were justified by the God Who gave them the power to carry out their tasks. And God glorified them through the working of miracles and the inevitable respect that such power would bring. This passage is not talking about people being chosen to be saved. Rather, it is talking about people who were being chosen by God at that time to serve Him. They were chosen beforehand by Him. An excellent example of this is Paul, who was chosen by God in spite of His persecution of the believers! Another example is the twelve, who were chosen by Christ long before they received their commission. Such people were “predestined” to their positions. Then, later, they were called, justified, and glorified. Yet none of this had anything to do with their salvation or being predestined to it.
I Corinthians 2:7. “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,”
We learn what the “wisdom” God is talking about here is by looking back at verse 2 of this same chapter. “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This was the great wisdom of God that they were speaking. Christ’s death on the cross was the culmination of God’s wisdom, yet it was couched in a mystery. To many in the world this wisdom seemed to be foolishness. Even to those disciples who knew the Lord the best this wisdom was hidden in a secret. Yet now Paul and his companions were speaking this secret wisdom freely to lead men to Christ.
It is the word “ordained” here that is the Greek “predestined.” God predestined this wisdom, that is, Christ’s death on the cross, “before the ages for our glory.” What does “before the ages” mean? We will discuss this next after finishing our study of “predestined.”
Ephesians 1:5. “Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”
We are predestined to be adopted as sons. The King James here has “children,” but the word in Greek is “huiothesia,” which comes from “huios,” which means “son,” not “child.” These words are often reversed in the old KJV, so that we have “children” when we should have “sons” and “sons” when we should have “children.” As I explained in my message on “Sonship,” to be a son is not at all the same thing as being a child. A son is a representative of his father and takes on his father’s character. So what this verse is teaching us is that we are predestined to be adopted as sons by Jesus Christ. That is, we are predestined to take on His character and His attributes. That is far different than us being predestined to become His children. This would not be true. We become His children by grace through faith. We are not predestined to this. This passage is again talking about believers, and telling us that we are predestined to take the place of representative sons of God in the future. This passage has nothing to do with anyone being chosen in advance to be saved.
Ephesians 1:11. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
This passage speaks of being predestined to obtain an inheritance. This inheritance is the portion we will receive from God in resurrection life. This has to do with our rewards and gifts from God. But it again is something that we receive after salvation, not before. We who are believers are predestined to receive this inheritance. Yet this does not mean that we were in any way predestined to receive it before we believed. Before we believed our only inheritance was death in punishment for sin. It is only now that we are believers that we are predestined to receive an inheritance from God.
So we have examined all six occurrences of the word “predestined.” We have seen that none of these passages are talking about being predestined to be saved, but rather, when they speak of believers at all, they all speak of predestination to special service or special gifts after salvation. There is no evidence from Scripture that God ever chose anyone to be saved. That is a choice that we all have to make on our own.
From (Before) the Foundation of the World
Another phrase used by many to attempt to prove that our salvation is determined in advance is this phrase “from the foundation of the world” or “from before the foundation of the world.” Many make much of these two phrases, and use them to prove that we were already chosen to be saved before God ever created the earth. Let us quickly examine these passages, starting with the phrase “from (or since) the foundation of the world.”
Matthew 13:35. “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
The parables revealed things kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Matthew 25:34. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:’”
The kingdom is prepared for the righteous from the foundation of the world.
Luke 11:50. “That the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation.”
The guilt of the blood of all the prophets killed since the foundation of the world will be required of that wicked generation. Why? Because they received prophets greater than any of those, yea, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and yet they rejected and killed Him. Thus they would have rejected and killed any of the other prophets, and so are as guilty as if they had killed them all!
Hebrews 4:3. “For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
This speaks of the beginning of Israel as a nation and those who disobeyed God at that time. It tells us that the works done then, although these men have been dead and their works have been finished since Israel as a nation began, will determine whether or not these men will enter God’s rest. These works have not been finished since the creation of the earth, you will notice, but since the foundation of the nation of Israel. This shows that this term “from the foundation of the world” is not referring to the same thing in every instance, for clearly it cannot mean the same thing here as it did in the previous verse, for that verse went back to before the death of Abel.
Hebrews 9:26. “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
If the sacrifice Christ made was similar to the sacrifices that the high priest made, then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of Israel and the Israelite priesthood. Notice that this verse again is referring to the beginning of Israel, not the beginning of the earth. It seems that this phrase takes on this special meaning in both its occurrences in the book of Hebrews.
Revelation 13:8. “And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
Here we see the basic problem that many face in dealing with this phrase, “from the foundation of the world.” We all know that Christ was slain around 33 AD. How could this be referred to as “from the foundation of the world”?
Many have invented wild explanations to try to explain this verse. Yet none of them seem plausible. Most of them revolve around God having determined that Christ would die “from the foundation of the world,” and thus it was as if He already had died. But this is not what the passage says. It says that He WAS slain from the foundation of the world, not that it was determined that He WOULD BE slain. Yet how else can this passage be explained? Was Christ slain sometime before He died on the cross? Or can the cross somehow have been “from the foundation of the world”?
I believe that the basic problem we have here is assuming that “foundation” is the same thing as “creation” and “world” is the same thing as “earth.” Both assumptions are not true. First of all, “world” does not at all mean the same thing as “earth.” “World” is the Greek word “kosmos,” and refers to a system or order. We use world the same way in English. When we say “our world has fallen away from God,” we do not refer to the planet, but rather to the system or order of people upon it. This order in general has fallen away from God. A world is a system or order of men upon the earth. We speak of our “own little worlds,” which are the spheres of people and places in which we live our lives. Our school might be one world, our job another, our church another, and our family life another. Then there is the “world” that exists in a specific state or country. This world has its own laws and traditions and culture. Then there is the entire world of men consisting of all who live upon earth interacting with each other in various ways. All of these are systems or orders in which men live and act out their lives. These all exist upon the earth, but they are not the earth itself.
Thus when the Bible speaks of a world, it is not speaking of the planet on which we live. Rather, it is speaking of some system or order of men upon it. Thus, it can mean the world of men that began with Adam and Eve, as it did in Luke 11:50. It can mean the foundation of the specific world that God set up in the nation of Israel, as it does in the two occurrences in Hebrews. Or it can refer to the world that God will found in the future on the earth, that is, His Own Kingdom.
Then there is the word “foundation.” You can found something long after its component parts are created. For example, when 3M Company was founded, those who were its members did not at that instant come into existence. Rather, they had been born years before. In the same way, the world does not have to have been founded at creation. Things would already have to have been created in order for a world to be founded. The world of men was not founded until after Adam was created. The nation of Israel was not founded until thousands of years later. Our own world of the United States of America was not founded until 1776. All these worlds were founded at some time later than creation.
Thus we can see what is meant by “from the foundation of the world” in this verse. It cannot be referring to the mixed-up world of men founded by Adam. Nor can it mean the world that God created in Israel, for that too was founded long before Christ died. Rather, it must refer to the foundation of that future world that God will create on earth, the most wonderful world system of all, the Kingdom of God. Christ’s death was the essential ingredient for founding that world. Thus, His death was the marker that signified its foundation. He was indeed slain from the foundation of that world. That is what is meant by this passage.
Revelation 17:8. “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”
This again refers to the founding of God’s Kingdom, which takes place before this great event.
Now let us consider the similar term, “before the foundation of the world.”
John 17:24. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
God indeed loved Christ long before the foundation of the world, whichever world you may be speaking of. His love for Christ is truly eternal.
Ephesians 1:4. “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
Some dispensationalists make much of the use of this phrase here. These try to make a distinction between the previous dispensation, which supposedly was planned “from the foundation of the world,” and our current dispensation, which was planned “before the foundation of the world.” Of course, they assume that “foundation” means “creation” and “world” means “earth.” Others simply use this passage to try to show that we were chosen to be saved before the earth was created.
Yet when we understand what “foundation” and “world” mean, we can easily see that the foundation and the world referred to here are the world that God will found in the future. The Kingdom has now been delayed to some far-future date from the time this was written, and so its final foundation, begun by Christ’s death, is nevertheless still future. Thus we who are saved are chosen by Him to be holy and without blame before Him in love. This choice is made in the time we live before the foundation of His Kingdom world. Yet this choice is not made before we believe. Rather, it is made afterwards, when “we” who are saved are “chosen” to experience this in the future. By grace based on our faith we become one of these chosen. Yet we were not destined to become one of these chosen before the earth was created. That is not what this passage means!
I Peter 1:20. “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”
It was foreordained what Christ would do long before the foundation of God’s Kingdom world. In fact, it was foreordained since Genesis 3:15, when God spoke of “her Seed.” But it was not foreordained before the creation of the earth. At that point, Adam had not fallen, and so the necessity of Christ’s death was not yet ordained. When we understand that the “world” is the Kingdom and not creation, we can understand this. Yet if we make the “world” to be the earth, we can be led astray into thinking that Adam had no choice but to sin. This is simply not true.
Before leaving this topic, let us examine the similar phrase I mentioned earlier in reference to I Corinthians 2:7. There the term was “before the ages.” God was talking about the wisdom that He had ordained just recently at that time. Yet He had ordained it “before the ages,” as it says here. Does this mean “before the earth was created”? No, most certainly not. We can see that this wisdom He ordained was wisdom that only recently had come into being, for only recently had Christ died. God had ordained this wisdom at that time, which was before the great kingdom ages that God was to bring about on earth. The time of the kingdom is often referred to as “the” time in many different contexts, whether it is “the” resurrection, “the” regeneration, “the” ages, or even “the” kingdom. That is similar to what is happening here. This wisdom they were now preaching was the wisdom God had currently predestined before the time of the kingdom ages.
Thus we see that “from/since the foundation of the world” can refer to several different worlds: the world of men since Adam, the world of Israel since they entered the land, or the world of the Kingdom that God will create in the future. “Before the foundation of the world,” however, seems to always refer to that great world of the future, the Kingdom world that God will found on the earth. Understanding these passages this way helps us to understand that we were not chosen before the earth was created any more than Christ was slain ever since the world was created. In both these cases the reference is to a world that God will found in the future, and not the world He created in Genesis 1.
But, some might still argue, isn’t God omniscient? Doesn’t He know everything that has ever been, everything that is, and everything that will ever be? And if so, if He knows what is going to happen, then isn’t it all inevitable? If God knows it, then it must happen, and nothing can change it. Thus, everything that occurs has already been determined in advance, and we are powerless to change it.
This sounds good to many, and has been taught as a doctrine for generations. Yet this teaching is based upon man’s reasoning about God, and not upon the evidence of Scripture. In Scripture, we clearly see examples of God choosing not to take knowledge of things. For example, God at first paid no attention to the rebellious men who were building the Tower of Babel. Yet the time came when He wished to learn of their actions, and He “came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.” (Genesis 11:5) When He saw it He passed adverse judgment upon it.
The same is true of the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, only there His lack of foreknowledge is even more plainly stated. In Genesis 18:21 the LORD Himself says, “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” It seems that He wanted to see it for Himself before passing judgment. Thus we see that the God of the Bible, although He is able to take all knowledge to Himself, does not choose to know everything at every moment.
The God of the Bible is indeed all-powerful, or omnipotent, and this power extends to what He knows. The fact is that God is able to know everything, both that has been, that is, and that will be. Yet God is not forced to know anything. We often wish to remember things that we have forgotten and to forget things that we cannot help but remember. Yet God is able to know exactly what He wants to know. He can indeed take foreknowledge of things. Yet He can also choose not to take foreknowledge of things. No one can force Him to know anything He does not want to know. Although He has the power to be omniscient if He should wish to be, He also has the power not to know anything He does not wish to know. Thus, He can choose not to know certain things, including the outcome of our choices. Therefore, He can and does truly leave things up to us. We are not “forced” to make any decision by His foreknowledge.
Before concluding this study, let me speak briefly to the modern idea called “open theology” or “an open view of God.” Some might read my views on omniscience and think it sounds similar to the open view. However, I would point out that the open view believes that God CANNOT know the future, and that His knowledge is simply limited. God almost seems to be wringing His hands over things He would never have expected to happen, or reacting to things He never thought could happen. I believe, however, that God can know exactly what He wants to know and not know exactly what He doesn’t want to know, whether it be about the future or any other topic. In other words, God has absolute control over what He knows and doesn’t know. It is my belief that what I teach makes God bigger. The open view, however, makes God smaller. I do not ascribe to the open view.
Thus we have seen that the evidence to support Calvinistic ideas of people having no choice but to believe or not believe does not exist in the Bible. People are not elected before they are saved, but rather afterwards they are elected to special service. Predestined people are not predestined before salvation to be saved but rather after salvation to receive special blessings. “Before/since/from the foundation of the world” does not mean “before the creation of the earth,” and so does not say anything about people being chosen at or before Creation. And lastly, God’s ability to know everything is tempered by His omnipotent power to only know what He wants to know. Thus, He does not have to know the outcome of our decision to believe or not to believe, and therefore we do indeed have a choice in the matter. This is what the Bible has to say on these topics, and we would do better to take Its word on them than the doctrines and teachings of men.