A Very Brief New Testament Survey
R. A. Ferguson
To understand the Bible doctrine of predestination, the first thing we need to do is see that it is a word, and a concept that the Bible itself uses. It’s not an invented idea by man, though, some have taken the doctrine far beyond what the Scripture teaches. So here, it seems best if we confine ourselves to the places it is used in Scripture alone, so that we can see what exactly the Bible means when it uses the word.
First then, we need to look at the word itself. The word which we have translated “predestined” in our English Bibles is the Greek word προορίζω (pronounced – pro-or-id’-zo). It is used six times in the New Testament, and in each of those places it plays a vital role in helping our understanding of how God works within His universe, both spiritually and naturally.
According to Vine’s dictionary of New Testament Words, we see that the Greek word (and thus the English equivalent) means: 1) to predetermine, decide beforehand; 2) in the NT of God decreeing from eternity; 3) to foreordain, appoint beforehand
Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives us this entry: “PREDESTINATION This word is properly used only with reference to God’s plan or purpose of salvation. The Greek word rendered “predestinate” is found only in these six passages, Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29, 30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11; and in all of them it has the same meaning. They teach that the eternal, sovereign, immutable, and unconditional decree or “determinate purpose” of God governs all events.”
Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies gives us this: “Predestinated (προώρισεν). Revised Version = foreordained. From προ before, and the word for – to define, the latter word being from a boundary. Hence, “to define or determine beforehand.”
Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says: “This comparatively rare and late word is used in the Greek Bible only 6 times in the NT sense to “foreordain,” “to predestinate”. Since God is eternal and has ordained everything before time, προορίζειν is a stronger form of ὁρίζειν [to set a boundary]…
The simple meaning of the word is then, that to predestinate is, to ordain things beforehand.
With that basic and uncontroverted definition in hand, we need to go to the six texts where it is found so that we can understand just how the Holy Spirit used it in communicating to us what He wanted us to know.
1 – Acts 4:27, 28 / The first time the word is used is in Acts 4. It is used in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus. The scene is a familiar one. Peter and John had been arrested for healing the paralytic on the steps of the Temple. After their release, they return to the rest of the Believers, and then enter into prayer. It is in this prayer that they make the following statement in verses 27 & 28: “For truly in this city 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 had predestined to take place.”
This is an important passage not only because we see the word used here first, but because in its use we find that there was nothing accidental or unplanned concerning the events surrounding Christ’s death. It demonstrates first, that even the lost are used in the unfolding of God’s plans. This is a powerful revelation of God’s sovereignty. We tend to think of the unsaved as such loose canons that we might be their victims at any time. But Jesus was certainly no victim (in the sense of helplessness) in His death. This confirms what we read in John 10 where Jesus speaks of His impending death with these words: “17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.”
10 Things to observe about this passage:
1 – “this city” / An appointed city. God determined ahead of time WHERE Jesus would die.
2 – “were gathered together” / An appointed gathering. There was an astounding confluence of peoples, groups and circumstances which had to interact in certain ways to carry this out.
3 – “against Thy holy servant Jesus” / An appointed target. Jesus was the appointed one to die.
4 – “Herod” / An appointed King. Wicked King Herod acted by his own wicked will. He was not forced.
5 – “Pontius Pilate” / An appointed governor. Pilate and his relationship with Herod factored into his sinful will allowing this to happen.
6 – “the gentiles) / An appointed geo-political structure. Not only the Jews were involved, but there were a host of details within the Roman occupying government which had to mesh with the Jewish leaders to bring it all to pass.
7 – “the peoples of Israel” / An appointed race. Fulfilling OT prophecy, the Jews themselves as a broad coalition of disparate leadership had to conspire together.
8 – “to whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose” / An appointed task. The crucifixion event itself and those that had to surround it in all of its details had to be woven together.
9 – “Thy hand” / By God’s power exerted – His will to provide the atoning sacrifice for human sin in Jesus was carried out.
10 – “Thy purpose” / According to God’s plan. Nothing transpires in a vacuum, and especially not this. But we must never forget this was God’s plan, and not something He simply co-opted in response.
Second, we see the divine mystery that His plan is executed by men even when they are acting out of their fallen and depraved wills. This is an amazing truth. No man took Jesus’ life from Him, He laid it down. They didn’t know that. They thought they were doing what they wanted to do – never imagining that they were working out God’s pre-ordained plan. This is why they remain morally responsible, and this is why predestination is different than fatalism. This is the nature of predestination. What God had predetermined to take place, did. He was taking no chances concerning the work upon which the salvation of the elect depended. Just as there was no chance that Christ would not come and die for our sins, so, there was no chance that His eternal plan would not be worked out – because He predestined it.
Most of us have little problem when it comes to something like the central event of all of human history, Jesus’ death. It seems fitting that God predestining all the details should be the case with something like this. But the question arises as to whether or not this same predestination has anything to do with the life of the Believer above and beyond the guaranteeing of redemption through the crucifixion. The remaining passages give us much light on that very thing.
2 – 1 Corinthians 2:7 / “but we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed (same word as predestined here) before the ages for our glory;”
In this passage, Paul remarks that the wisdom which is not of this world – the wisdom he had preached among the Corinthians, was a wisdom which God had all along determined would be a source of the glory of the Church. That God had predestined the Church to find a measure of its glory in that the truth it preaches does not come from men, but from above. This, God has predestined to be the case.
Here, the predestination is of something quite general in nature and wide spread. It is not so much applicable to the individual, nor even so much to salvation itself, as much as the fact that this is the means that God predestined to be used in evangelization. It says nothing of what response(s) (if any) would be expected. Only that this “wisdom” would be preached, and that God designed the Church to receive glory as the voice of this preaching. The glory of the Church is wrapped up in the proclamation of the Gospel she preaches.
3 & 4 – Romans 8:29 & 30 / “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And whom He predestined He also called; and whom He called He also justified; and whom He justified He also glorified.”
Now we move into a use of the word which is far more restrictive and directly related to the salvation of individuals. Here we have a chain of logic which the Apostle Paul is unfolding, and which relates the salvation of individuals directly to the concept of predestination.
Note first in verse 29, that those whom God “foreknew”, these He also predestined (determined before hand) that they would eventually be “conformed to the image of His Son.” Predestination in this verse speaks to this one aspect of salvation – the end of those who are redeemed. In fact, this speaks more to the concept of the preservation of the saints, than to how the saints actually become saints. The saints have a sure destiny, and that destiny is to be finally made like Christ.
If Paul had stopped there, we might still have an argument over what it means to “foreknow.” Does it mean simply to have some concept of beforehand, or something else? This gives rise to a question which is sometimes couched in terms of saying “God saw beforehand who would believe, and elected them.” Which of course is no form of predestination at all – but is merely God reacting to something. If such is the case, then He neither caused it, influenced it, nor foreordained it, but simply observed it and went along with it. This actually is Fatalism. In this scheme, God too is just a player in what is just “going to happen.” But the following verse makes that question moot by asserting what is often called the ordo salutis, or the “order of salvation.” Here then is the scheme of things as Paul presents it: Those whom God predestined, are the ones whom He called; and those whom He called, are the ones He justified; and the ones He justified, are the ones who are glorified – or conformed to the image of Christ. God predetermines, and then the chain of events required to fulfill what He purposes is set in motion. What we must not do here is overstate the case. Yes, this is the process whereby all who are His actually become His. But we are also told in Acts 17:30 that God “commands all men everywhere to repent”, and in Mark 16:15 that the “whole creation” – that all are called to believe. It is in fact the duty of every human being to believe God and to be saved. God’s predestination has not prevented any FROM being saved, it is the good news that at least SOME will be saved even though so many will refuse. It is the astounding news that some will be saved, even tho if left to ourselves, none of us would desire to be saved, but would prefer to be our own god and live according to our own dictates.
Note too, that each step inevitably leads to the other.
This then brings us to the fifth mention of predestination.
5 – Ephesians 1:5 / “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”
Now we are looking at a verse that even more directly links the notion of how it is that saints become saints, with predestination. But in truth, like the passages immediately above – here, predestination is to adoption. The question is, is adoption just a synonym for salvation? We must be careful here. We must not go beyond what the passage is actually saying – and compare it with other passages. This is especially true when the topic of adoption enters the picture.
Those who are being regenerated by the Spirit of God, cry out “abba father?” If we use the language of John 1, we see the whole thing laid out before us in startling clarity: John 1:11 He came to His own, and his own people did not receive Him. 12 But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The first part we take in easily, that Jesus came to His own people, the Jews, and for the most part, they utterly rejected Him. “But” says John to those who did receive Him, Jesus gave authority to become “sons of God” – adopted into the family, with all of its rights and privileges. And how does that occur? First, by being regenerated, “born again”. Born “of God.” God having willed it, accomplished it.
But secondly, they are declared, or placed as sons in His family – adopted. We need to be born again – we absolutely need to be regenerated – such an act makes us alive again. It re-establishes our connection with God if you will – it lets the life of the Vine flow through the Branches again. But son-ship includes something more. Son-ship, also takes adoption. God has only ONE begotten (born) Son (John 3:16). The Believer, indeed receives the Spirit whereby we “cry abba” – even now. (Rom. 8:15 & Gal. 4:6) This is our present privilege by faith – to partake even now of what is not yet fully ours. But formal adoption still awaits us according to Romans 8:23 “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Adoption – full placement in the economy of God’s family still awaits the resurrection. In what ways? The Bible isn’t clear. But something more in an official capacity is at least hinted at here.
Paul’s point is not that predestination is the means whereby God elects some to salvation and passes over others. Election is true enough and can be discussed elsewhere. His point here is simply that God predestined the redeemed, to arrive at the fullness of our salvation which is our adoption through Jesus Christ – not according to OUR will, but according to the kind intention of HIS will. This is a most amazing reality for certain.
6 – Ephesians 1:11 / “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.”
Lastly, we come to this sweetly comforting verse in Ephesians 1, which follows close on the heels of the one we examined just above. In this passage, once again, the subject is not the Believer’s salvation per se, but the whole of what his salvation holds in promise for him, i.e. his inheritance.
Quite simply, the idea is this: God Himself is the One who determined before hand to make us His sons through Jesus Christ, adopting us ONLY according to the kind intention of His own will. But in doing so, He also foreordained that as sons, we should share in the Son’s inheritance. This is not a mere external relationship, but a familial one which makes us rightful heirs. Heirs of an inheritance of which the Holy Spirit Himself is the down payment (Eph. 1:14). And which, according to 1st Peter 1:4, is “reserved in heaven for you”, which is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away.”
To wrap it all up in terms of the Believer we can rightly put it this way:As sure as it was that Jesus would die when He did, how He did, where He did, and why He did – just so – the glory of the Church He died to redeem is wrapped up in the gospel she preaches to the world, and is comprised of those God intends to fully conform to the image of His only begotten Son by calling us, justifying us, glorifying us and preserving us unto the eternal inheritance He has laid up for us in Heaven.
But we must let this verse speak fully. And in doing so we must reckon with the statement that the One who predestines, is the One who “works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
Nothing happens in God’s universe but that God remains Lord over it. The will of man is free to make decisions within the scope of our created constitution. We cannot will not to be human for instance, or by mere will fly or breathe under water unassisted. Free will always has its limitations. Bound in sin, we cannot make ourselves desire holiness and hate sin, or love God above ourselves.
Like one who has leapt from an airplane without a parachute – they may well regret their decision and exert all of their will to reverse it – but the free act to jump, precludes the ability to make a free act to take the first act back. One act of a the free will can prohibit certain other acts from being obtainable. So it was in the Fall. Mankind chose to leap away from God, and no amount of human will or exertion can reverse that decision AND its effects upon us. This is why Paul (quoting Isaiah, the Psalms, and Jeremiah in Romans 3:10-18) can paint man’s condition this way: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Until freed in Christ, every human being lives to serve themselves first, to love themselves above God, and to want the right of self-determination. And unless God in His great grace so moves to free us from that, we remain in our lost condition. Praise God that through the preaching of the Gospel, truth takes root in the hearts of some – and by the Spirit of God bringing life out of it, produces a new creature in Christ.
If He did not predestinate any, then it is sure that none would be saved at all. We would not want Him.