Are all things predestined? Are all things already predetermined? Did God create some sort of cosmic “blueprint” that already has every minute detail planned out from beginning to end?
Or are some things able to be changed by the choices of free moral agents? Are people really free to make choices that have any kind of effect on their lives, their surroundings, and their future?
In this post I want to examine what the Bible has to say about predestination.
Words and Definitions
In the Bible, “predestine” is the English word that translators often choose to translate the Greek word “proorizo.” Proorizo is a word in the Greek language that means “decide beforehand, predetermine, pre-apppoint.” One way to think about is it to recall a time where you made a decision in advance about something that was coming in the future for you. This is an action that anyone can do. For example, I can decide in advance what I am going to order when I go to my favorite restaurant. Or, I can predetermine what Christmas gifts I am going to buy for someone before I go to the store to buy the gifts. It means that you decided something in advance.
Before I go any further I would like to point out something important. In the Greek, “proorizo” is not a religious word. It just means to that you decide something in advance. Greek speakers used this word as part of their every day language. It didn’t have to be used only to talk about God. Plain old regular people can “proorizo” or “predestine” things.
Depending which language tools you use to research Greek word definitions, you may come across some definitions of this word that could only apply to God. Those definitions are often times the result of preconceived doctrinal influence. These kinds of definitions should be used with care, because their accuracy may be questionable.
This principle is something to be aware of when you use dictionaries and language tools that are written by Christians. Sometimes definitions in these kinds of resources are influenced by the doctrine of the author, and this fact must be taken into account when reading his or her definitions. This is not always easy to spot, but whenever you see theological terms that are specific to Christianity included as a part of a definition of a Greek word, then it is a good practice to question the accuracy of that definition before you completely accept that it is correct.
When I use the word “predestine” in this post, this is the definition I am using: to decide beforehand, to predetermine, to pre-appoint. That is the concept I am trying to communicate when I say “predestine.”
All, Some, or None
Now that I have made clear what I mean by “predestine,” let us examine the three different options we have to to choose from to form our view of God and predestination:
1 – God predestines all things
2 – God predestines some things, but not all things.
3 – God predestines nothing.
I believe those three statements cover all of the possibilities, just simply from a logical standpoint. The statements are mutually exclusive. Exactly one of them must be true, and the other two must be false.
Right away we can eliminate #3 as a possibility. This is because “proorizo” is used in reference to God several times in the Bible (Rom 8:29, Rom 8:30, 1 Cor 2:7, Eph 1:5, Eph 1:11). There are, at the very least, some things that God predestines. So #3 is clearly not a valid option.
All or Some
That leaves us with two remaining possibilities. Either God predestines all things….or…God predestines some things but not all things.
If God predestines all things, then verses such as Isaiah 46:10 fit very well:
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
From this we know, like I mentioned earlier, that there are at least some things that God predestines. But if we take these individual instances of God and predestination, and turn them into a universal truth that states God predestines everything, then that introduces some very serious problems and contradictions. Here are just three broad examples of what I mean:
1 – We know without question that God is not the author of sin. God does not sin, nor does He tempt people to sin (James 1:13). But sin does occur. If God predestines all things, and since sin does occur in the world, then that would mean that God predestines sin..making God the author of all the sin that ever happened. That is clearly inconsistent with the Bible.
2 – Many, many things happened in the Bible that God did not want (Genesis 6:5-6, Jeremiah 32:35, Luke 7:30, etc). If God predestines all things, but some things happen that God does not want, that would mean that God predestined things to take place that were against His own desire and character. But God is not double-minded, and God is not divided against Himself, so this is also inconsistent with the biblical revelation of God’s character.
3 – There are more than a few occasions in the Bible where God changed His plans based on actions taken by created beings (Jeremiah 18:8, Jeremiah 18:10, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 13:13, Exodus 32:10-14, etc). If God predestines all things, then this gets very confusing. It would mean that God made a plan, and then predestined someone to disobey His will, causing His plan to change, and resulting in Him making a new plan. That becomes very bizarre and difficult to even articulate.
All of these examples tell us there are things that take place in the human experience that God did not cause or initiate. These things come as the result of people’s choices rather than some kind of coercive power from God . We would have to have a very strange view of God’s character to believe that God predestined sin. Sin, wickedness, and evil cannot be blamed on God because God repeatedly told people not to do those things. Since He told people not to do them, but they happened anyway, we can be certain that He did not predestine them.
Therefore, option #1 “God predestines all things” cannot be true. God did not predestine people to participate in things like sexual immorality, child abuse, idolatry, witchcraft, etc. Those are not things that God approves of. But yet those things still happen. Since, we know that God is not the author of sin, we know without any doubt that God absolutely does not predestine all things. There are many things that happen that God did not initiate, will, or desire. See my post on “God’s Will” for more on this.
Get on the Right Bus
God did not predestine all things, but there are things that God did/does predestine. We would be in error if we chose to view predestination as a universal concept that applies to all things throughout eternity. But we would also be in error if we chose to reject predestination altogether. The answer lies in between those two extremes.
So, what things does God predestine? Before I answer that, let me give a analogy that will help this make sense.
Imagine that you are at a bus station, and there are several buses in the station that are about to depart. You read the signs on the buses. One of them says “New York.” One of them says “Miami.” And one of them says “Dallas.” If you choose to get on one of those buses, then that bus will take you to the destination. Your destination is predetermined by which bus you choose to board. You are predestined to arrive in one of those three cities based on what bus you choose. But you get to choose your destination…your destiny.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This is how predestination works in the Bible. For anyone that has chosen to put their faith in Jesus, God has a predetermined destination for them. The “faith in Jesus” bus has a destination of “eternal life.” That is where that bus goes if you choose to get on it…the destination for that bus was predetermined by God long ago. But God did not predetermine who would make this choice…He did not select certain individuals and force them to “get on that bus,” and conversely, He did not select other individuals to turn away from Jesus. God allows everyone to choose their own destiny…to decide for themselves what bus to get on. God predetermined the available options, but He did not decide in advance and coerce or force people into any of those choices. (See also my post on Election for more on this:
Predetermined “Destinations” for the Believer
In Ephesians chapter one, the apostle Paul is telling us about some things that God had already decided that He would do for those who believe in Jesus. The letter is addressed to believers, and it tells us that since you believe in Jesus, God has already decided what will happen to you.
1 – You will be considered holy and blameless in God’s sight (Eph 1:4)
2 – You will be adopted into God’s family (Eph 1:5)
3 – You will be claimed as God’s own possession and receive an inheritance (Eph 1:11)
…and so on.
These “destinations” are only available to those who have chosen to believe. Remember….it does not say that individuals were predestined to believe…it only says what will happen to those who did chose to believe. It is up to each individual to choose to believe, and those who have chosen to believe will reach the destination that God decided for those who put their faith in Jesus.
Likewise, in Romans 8, God is also talking about people that believe in Jesus when says that they are “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:30). Notice that it does not say that God predestined anyone to believe. Instead, it tells us the “destination” that awaits everyone who made the choice to believe. These some of are the amazing benefits that come to all passengers on the “Jesus bus.”
So to summarize, God predestines some things, but He does not predestine all things. He does not predestine whether or not you will believe in Jesus. But He did predetermine….decide beforehand….what will happen to people that choose to put their faith in Christ. God predetermined the boundaries, parameters, results, and ramifications that our free will can operate inside of. But He did not predetermine all of the choices we would actually make inside of those boundaries.
You get to choose your ultimate destiny from a small set of available choices. The available choices were predetermined by God long ago before creation, and because of His great love for us, He is actively working to draw us to choose Jesus. Once you make your choice, God will guarantee that you reach your destination.