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What does the Bible say about predetermination?

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In theology, predetermination is the act of God by which He foreordained every event throughout eternity. Everything, from the flight of a sparrow to path of a hurricane, was destined to occur by God in eternity past in the exact manner in which it occurs. As a leaf falls off a tree, it follows the exact course God planned for it to take from branch to ground when He created the universe; when a duck glides across the surface of a pond, the height and spacing of the ripples it makes were all foreordained by God. The One who holds the universe together (Colossians 1:17) has a plan, and His plan is being accomplished.

Predetermination is also called causal determination; when God is the determiner, it can also be called theological determination. Predetermination is related to predestination, although the latter term is usually specific to God’s choice of who would be saved (see Romans 8:30).

All prophecy reveals the fact of predetermination. Daniel 11, for example, contains dozens of detailed prophecies concerning future events in Persia, Greece, Egypt, and other nations. Three times, the phrase at the appointed time is used (Daniel 11:27, 29, 35). So, all these things will happen (it’s a certainty), and they will happen at the appointed time—appointed by whom? By God in His predetermination.

Also in Daniel 11 we have the “willful king” prophecy about the Antichrist: “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place” (verse 36). Note the last clause: what has been determined must take place. The events that Daniel sees must happen. Why must they happen? They have been determined (by God) to take place.

Some argue that prophecy simply reveals the foreknowledge of an omniscient God without implying His determination. In other words, God can see the future without choosing it. The counter-argument is that, if God sees a future event and states that it will happen, then that event has essentially been predetermined because, if it fails to happen or if something else happens instead, then God is either unknowlegeable or a liar. If God prophesies it, it will occur; the course is set; the destiny is sealed. Also, Daniel 11:36 clearly speaks of predetermination concerning the “time of wrath.”

An obvious problem that arises regarding predetermination is the idea of man’s free will. If God has predetermined all things, then are humans nothing but passive game pieces moved about by the Divine Hand? No, the Bible also teaches human responsibility, which implies free will. Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7). When Jesus says that sins “must come,” He speaks of predetermination. When He pronounces a woe on those through whom sins come, He speaks of personal responsibility. In some incomprehensible way, God’s predetermination does not negate our accountability in the choices we make. God is sovereign, yet our choices are real.

Acts 4:27–28 is another passage that reflects the predetermination of God. The early church in Jerusalem prays, “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” There are several remarkable statements in this prayer: God’s “power” and “will” were involved in “deciding beforehand” what would happen. That’s predetermination. Jesus is the “anointed” or “chosen” one. That’s predetermination. Even more mind-boggling is what was predetermined: the wicked conspiracy of Herod and Pilate and the mob to murder Jesus. The Son of God was crucified, yet that wicked act is covered by God’s predetermination. It’s no wonder that the prayer begins with “Sovereign Lord” (verse 24).

Joseph acknowledged the predetermination of God in Egypt when he forgave his brothers of their wickedness toward him: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Man’s intention is directly contrasted with God’s intention regarding the same event.

A belief in predetermination lets God be God:
“I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God.
Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people,
and what is yet to come—
yes, let them foretell what will come.
Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?”
(Isaiah 44:6–8)

Part of what identifies God as the Sovereign Ruler is the fact that He proclaimed “long ago” what will happen.

Scripture teaches that God’s predetermination results in God’s glory. God predetermined the crucifixion of Christ, with the result that salvation is possible and God is glorified. God predetermined the abuse of Joseph, with the result that many lives were saved (and God was glorified). God predetermined that Jonah preach in Nineveh, and, despite Jonah’s ideas to the contrary, he preached there, with the result that the whole city repented (and God was glorified). God has predetermined the events of your life, too, and He will be glorified in you.

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What does the Bible say about predetermination?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022