What is predestination?

What is predestination and election?

Predestination and election are both biblical teachings. The English "predestination" is translated from the Greek word proorizo which means 1) to predetermine, decide beforehand; 2) in the NT, of God decreeing from eternity; 3) to foreordain, appoint beforehand.1  Predestination, then, is the biblical teaching that God predestines certain events and people to accomplish what He so desires. The word proorizo occurs six times in the New Testament, each time demonstrating that God is the one who is foreordaining and bringing about certain events:

  1. Acts 4:28, "to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur."
  2. Rom. 8:29, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;
  3. Rom. 8:30, "and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
  4. 1 Cor. 2:7, "but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory."
  5. Eph. 1:5, "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will."
  6. Eph. 1:11, "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."

You must also note that God predestines people as Rom. 8:30, and Eph. 1:5, 11 demonstrate. There is, however, controversy as to the nature of this predestination. In the Reformed (Calvinist) camp, predestination includes individuals. In other words, the Reformed doctrine of predestination is that God predestines whom He wants to be saved and that without this predestination, none would be saved. The non-Reformed camp states that God predestines people to salvation, but that these people freely choose to follow God on their own. In other words, in the non-Reformed perspective God is reacting to the will of individuals and predestining them only because they choose God, where by contrast the Reformed position states that people choose God only because He has first predestined them.


The word "election," or "elect," comes from the Greek word eklectos and occurs about 25 times in the New Testament. It signifies "to pick out, choose, to pick or choose out for one's self, a choosing one out of many."1 The one who does the choosing, the electing, is God.

  1. John 13:18, "I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ˜He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me."
  2. Eph. 1:4,"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."
  3. 1 Tim. 5:21, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality."

Again, there is debate within Christianity as to the means and purpose of God's election. Some say that God elects individuals and others say He only elects nations and/or groups of people. If God elects individuals this means that God is predestining them, electing them into salvation and He is not electing others. This does not sit well with many Christians. On the other hand, some Christians state that God elects people based upon a foreknowledge of what an individual will do.

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.

Whichever position you believe, we must remember that predestination and election are biblical concepts. We must also remember that how you believe or not in predestination and/or election does not affect your salvation. Therefore, you should be gracious to other Christians who differ with you on this subject. However, we must also recognize that the non-Calvinist view gives people more credit for being able to choose God and to also choose not to sin - outside of God's help. 

This view tends to support a humanistic perspective in which people are not really considered as fallen and as depraved as the Bible would lead us to believe. This view leads to a completely different theological worldview known as Arminianism. This worldview tends to parallel the Enlightenment view of people. They are considered basically good and not hopelessly lost due to their sin nature. This view is held by the more liberal stream of Christianity which has a different approach to ethics and public policy. It is important to remember that there are ramifications to theological ideas. Christians need to search out these ramifications and use them as criteria to determine what they finally believe on this issue. 

  • 1. Strong, J., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, electronic ed., Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996, GK4309.