Predestination in its broadest conception is the doctrine that because God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely sovereign, he "from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass," (Westminster Confession). "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).


Predestination in the OT

The OT doctrine of predestination is most vivid in God's choice of Israel to be a light to those around them (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). Moses, speaking of Israel, says of them,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:6-8

It is important to note that God chose them to be a "treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth," not because they "were more in number than any other people" but because the LORD loved them and is keeping the oath that he swore to his fathers. Also, from the context, it is clear that Israel was involved in God's plan, but so was Egypt. God hardened Pharoah's heart so that he would refuse to let them go (Exodus 3:19; 7:13; 14:13). Thus, from the beginning of history, the predestined plan of God is evident in the redemption of his people.

The OT writers viewed history as occuring in God's sovereign and predestined plan. The entire idea of prophecy rests upon this truth. If God does not sovereignly control and predestine whatever comes to pass then how he could make statements that are predictive and expect specific results in the future?

Predestination in the NT

The NT in no way differs from the OT teaching of predestination. The coming of Jesus, his death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, all fulfilled God's eternal plan and purpose (1 Peter 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Acts 2:23). Scripture clearly says that,

"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 plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28 ESV). Some are uncomfortable with the fact that the work of Jesus Christ was in fact predestined, however, this is clearly what Scripture teaches. Furthermore, Paul teaches that Christians have "have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will," (Ephesians 1:11 ESV). Predestination is thus according to the purpose of God, or his will.

In other places in the NT, predestination has to do with those who were chose(n) (Mark 13:20), including Jesus (Matthew 12:18). Elsewhere, it is summed up in such passages as Romans 8:28-30, chapters 9-11, and Ephesians 1:1-12. In these statements, Paul is clear that God ordains all acts, even in the case of Pharaoh, sinful acts of humanity. In Paul's mind, everything exists and happens in accordance with God's predetermined plan and sovereign purpose -(Ephesians 1:11). Lastly, in Romans 9:17-23, Paul anticipates the expected question, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? (v. 19). He then provides the answer, "But who are you O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?" (vv. 20-22). For many, this is not the answer they are looking for. Yet, this is the answer that Scripture supplies. The doctrine of predestination cannot be completely understood, for it is an act that resides in the mind of an infinite being, and we, as finite humans, cannot understand this (see knowability of God).

Predestination and salvation

Calvinists and Arminians agree that only some are chosen for salvation, and that those who are elect will come to faith and believe until the end. Further, both viewpoints agree that those who turn from sin to follow Christ are saved. The question is this: On what basis did God predestine people? Did God predestine some because He knew they would believe of their own free will, or did He predestine without regard to human choices? Was God's choice based on man's choice, or is man's choice itself a result of God's choice?

According to John Calvin,

"Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself, what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal death for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestinated either to life or to death." Institutes, Book III, Ch. XXI, Sec. 5.

Double predestination

The term double predestination has been used to refer to the dual concepts of election and reprobation in Reformed theology. This is largely a pejorative term which leads to misconceptions of the Calvinist (or Reformed) doctrine. It has been used as a synonym for a "symmetrical" view of predestination which sees election and reprobation being worked out in an equally parallel mode of divine operation.

The distortion of double predestination suggests a parallelism of foreordination and predestination by means of a positive symmetry, which may be called a positive-positive view of predestination. This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation; and in the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.

This distortion makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly moves man to do. This is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified with what is often loosely described as Hyper-Calvinism and involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically rejected by Reformed thinkers.

The classic position of Reformed theology views predestination as double in that it involves both election and reprobation but not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather predestination is viewed in terms of a positive-negative relationship.

In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives. Thus, the mode of operation in the lives of the elect is not parallel with that operation in the lives of the reprobate. God works regeneration monergistically but never sin.

The above is an extracted excerpt from Double Predestination by R. C. Sproul


"Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know. Therefore we must guard against depriving believers of anything disclosed about predestination in Scripture, lest we seem either wickedly to defraud them of the blessing of their God or to accuse and scoff at the Holy Spirit for having published what is in any way profitable to suppress... But for those who are so cautious or fearful that they desire to bury predestination in order not to disturb weak souls - with what color will they cloak their arrogance when they accuse God indirectly of stupid thoughtlessness as if he had not forseen the peril that they feel they have wisely met? Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the Church. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.xxi.3, 4


  • ISBE: Predestination
  • Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology s.v. "Predestination" (Baker, 2001)


See also



Double Predestination