Of all the doctrinal statements presented in the New Testament, the subjects of predestination and election are among the most confusing to believers. One of the reasons for this is that we have been conditioned by the teaching and viewpoint of Reformed Theology. We need to examine the subject as it is presented in Scripture, not in light of the writing of the church fathers or as set forth by an organized system of theology.
To understand the meaning of predestination we need to distinguish it from other Bible terms, principally election and foreknowledge.
The term election (ekloge Strong’s G1589) in the New Testament means “those who are chosen out or selected,” and is always viewed as being unto divine blessings. Paul, speaking of those of this Church age who are “chosen in Christ,” says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). As William Kelly states, election is the “choice of saints for heavenly blessedness.”
Foreknowledge (proginosko Strong’s G4267) means “to know before” and speaks to us of God’s prescience. The word is used to denote divine prescience concerning the person and work of Christ (1Peter 1:20), God’s knowledge of Israel (Rom 11:2), and of believers (Rom 8:29). It is also used of those who knew Paul and his manner of life before conversion (Acts 26:5). This is the word Peter uses to warn believers to be prepared beforehand for the error which will be presented by false teachers (2Peter 3:17).
Predestination (proorizo, Strong’s G4309) is distinct from both election and foreknowledge, and is derived from two Greek words pro, meaning “before,” and horizo, meaning “to mark out a limit.” Thus the word carries the idea of something beforehand and something at the end or termination. Predestination is God marking out a limit, boundary, or terminus in advance. Our English word is derived from the Latin praedestino, which was used by the translators of the Latin Vulgate. The Greek word occurs six times in the New Testament (Acts 4:28, Rom 8:29, 30, 1Cor 2:7, Eph 1:5, 11).
The length of this article limits the extent to which we can deal with the references from Acts 4:28 and 1 Corinthians 2:7. The passage in Acts makes it clear that even though the political and religious powers were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, it was God in His divine counsel Who had determined beforehand the death of our beloved Lord. The purpose of God can also be seen in 1 Corinthians 2:7. God determined the epoch in which His wisdom would be known, He marked out this boundary before all the ages.
When considering the subject of predestination, our first response is to ask “who will be predestinated?” A careful consideration of the other three passages of Scripture shows that the emphasis in predestination is not on persons, but to that to which they are predestined. W. E. Vine, commenting on the distinction between foreknowledge and predestination, writes: “Foreknowledge has special reference to the persons foreknown by God; predestination has special reference to that to which the subjects of His foreknowledge are predestinated.”
As we consider these three important passages we learn that to which God has predestinated us. We are predestinated unto the position of sons. Paul states, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph 1:5, NASB). As we read the letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that we were “sons of disobedience”(Eph 2:2, NASB). When the New Testament uses the word “sons” it is emphasizing character. We were once marked by disobedience as we served sin and Satan. God has marked out that those who have trusted Christ will be placed as His sons; what honor and dignity is ours.
The same chapter indicates that our position as sons marks us out for an inheritance: “In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). Our position “in Christ” links us to an eternal inheritance. Once we had only hell and the lake of fire as our portion. The purpose of predestination is that we will be “to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:14).
Paul also reminds us, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). Those who are being referred to in this text are “them that love God.” God has marked out or determined the boundaries for these people, He has purposed that they will be conformed to the image of His Son. John Nelson Darby caught the spirit of the passage in his beautiful hymn,
And is it so? we shall be like Thy Son!
Is this the grace which He for us has won?
Father of glory, thought beyond all thought,
In glory, to His own blest likeness brought.
O Jesus Lord, who loved us like to Thee?
Fruit of Thy work, with Thee, too, there to see
Thy glory, Lord, while endless ages roll,
Thy saints the prize and travail of Thy soul.
God’s ultimate purpose is that His Son will be first in rank, honor, and dignity, as firstborn among many brethren.
Schools of Systematic Theology present the subject of predestination as being the divine decree of God marking out particular people unto salvation and eternal life. Those who are not the subjects of this electing choice are predestinated to everlasting punishment. As we have already considered, this is not how the Bible presents this doctrine. The Biblical portrayal of predestination has nothing to do with sinners and eternal life. It has, rather, to do with God’s purpose of future blessings for those who are His saints. God has marked out that those who accept Christ by faith will be placed as His sons; as such we are heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17), and will ultimately bear the image of the heavenly (1Cor 15:49).