Predestination, in theology is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others.[1] Explanations of predestination often seek to address the so-called "paradox of free will", that God's omniscience is seemingly incompatible with human free will.


Contrasted with other kinds of determinism

Predestination is the Divine foreordaining or foreknowledge of all that will happen; with regard to the salvation of some and not others. It has been particularly associated with the teachings of John Calvin. Predestination may sometimes be used to refer to other, materialistic, spiritualist, non-theistic or polytheistic ideas of determinism, destiny, fate, doom, or adrsta. Such beliefs or philosophical systems may hold that any outcome is finally determined by the complex interaction of multiple, possibly immanent, possibly impersonal, possibly equal forces, rather than the issue of a Creator's conscious choice.

For example, some may speak of predestination from a purely physical perspective, such as in a discussion of time travel. In this case, rather than referring to the afterlife, predestination refers to any events that will occur in the future. In a predestined universe the future is immutable and only God's ordained set of events can possibly occur; in a non-predestined universe, the future is mutable. In Chinese Buddhism, predestination is a translation of yuanfen, which does not necessarily imply the existence or involvement of a deity. Predestination in this sense takes on a very literal meaning: pre- (before) and destiny, in a straightforward way indicating that some events seem bound to happen. The term, however, is often used to describe relationships instead of all events in general.

Finally, antithetical to determinism of any kind are theories of the cosmos that assert that any outcome is ultimately unpredictable. The ludibrium of luck, chance, or chaos theory have determinist implications, as a logical consequence of the idea of predictability. But predestination usually refers to a specifically religious type of determinism, especially as found in various monotheistic systems where omniscience is attributed to God, including Christianity and Islam.

Predestination and omniscience

Discussion of predestination usually involves consideration of whether God is omniscient, or eternal or atemporal (free from limitations of time or even causality). In terms of these ideas, God may see the past, present, and future, so that God effectively knows the future. If God in some sense knows ahead of time what will happen, then events in the universe are effectively predetermined from God's point of view. This is a form of determinism but not predestination since the latter term implies that God has actually determined (rather than simply seen) in advance the destiny of creatures.

Within Christendom, there is considerable disagreement about God's role in setting ultimate destinies (that is, eternal life or eternal damnation). Christians who follow teachers such as John Calvin generally accept that God alone decides the eternal destinations of each person without regard to man's choices, so that their future actions or beliefs follow according to God's choice (Romans 9:14-16). A contrasting Christian view maintains that God is completely sovereign over all things but that he chose to give each individual self-determining free will through prevenient grace. Classically, this view is called Arminianism, which holds that each person is able to accept or reject God's offer of salvation and hence God allows man's choice to determine salvation (John 3:16-18).

Judaism may accept the possibility that God is atemporal; some forms of Jewish theology teach this virtually as a principle of faith, while other forms of Judaism do not. Jews may use the term omniscience, or preordination as a corollary of omniscience, but normally reject the idea of predestination as being incompatible with the free will and responsibility of moral agents, and it therefore has no place in their religion.

Islam traditionally has strong views of predestination similar to some found in Christianity. In Islam, Allah knows what choices humans are going to make and allows the actualization of the consequences of those choices based on his attributes of justice and mercy. Muslims believe that Allah is literally atemporal, eternal and omniscient.

In philosophy, the relation between foreknowledge and predestination is a central part of Newcomb's paradox.

Predestination and time

A number of speculative ideas have appeared that attempt to explain the relationship between time and eternity, which have bearing on the subject of predestination. Some regard all speculation about predestination and its implications as all alike, pernicious, and offensive to God.

A common pre-Kantian idea of time and eternity, describes "eternity" as a trans-temporal mode of being - such that all the moments of time are in some sense present in eternity. God looks into the realm of temporal reality from outside of it, as though it were a surface or a line stretched out: the edges or ends of which are fully "visible" to God, so that He is in a somewhat spatial sense "omnipresent" with regard to time. In such a speculative view, the past, present and future are all in some sense simultaneously present in the eternal perspective of God. From a temporal point of view, the past seems to disappear and the future doesn't yet exist, and God always appears to act from moment to moment. But from an eternal perspective, there is nothing temporal about time. Non-determinism is not possible on such a view, but predestination may be excluded if the belief system does not permit the direct interference of the non-temporal God and the temporal plane of existence.

Some belief systems allow for the possibility that only God and the present moment are the sum of what is "real". The past persists only in its effects, and the future does not yet exist, and thus only the present is directly knowable. Further, the "eternity" of God is presumed by some not to be accessible to understanding, and therefore no speculation can be meaningfully based upon it.

Nevertheless, these belief systems may retain an idea of God's decision eternally determining the present or future, in the sense of God's decision being logically prior, or "transcendentally necessary" to all existence. Time is not a "thing", but rather, a succession of the intersections of God's manifold purposes being revealed in the creation. Time is the succession of events, identified as moments by an intentional, mental act of setting one event apart from another and noticing their relation to one another - but, otherwise time does not exist as irreducible, discrete moments. Time is coherent, because God consistently acts according to his own character.

Strong predestinarian views are basically undisturbed by these assumptions, because strong predestination is based upon God's knowledge of Himself and of His own purposes. The effect of these new views of time are more clearly seen among those who reject strong predestinarian views, because those views classically share a comparable conception of the relation between time and eternity.

Predestinarian version: God, in comparison to temporality, always is. Temporal things however, exist from each fleeting moment of being to the next, only in the present. Such a conception of reality may be thoroughly predestinarian, if God is the personal cause of continued existence and the orchestrator or determiner of the relationship between each present event and each subsequent present event; but, it is only predestination if in this conception God acts with absolute freedom and entire knowledge of Himself. God brings to pass each moment in its turn by a continuous, timeless act of self-revelation. God sustains the effectiveness of all secondary causes and choices, and so on. Thus, each moment is a disclosure of God's character. The meaning of time and experience is disclosed not in the subjective relation of the present to the past and the future, but rather, because of the relation of all created things, in every aspect, to the will of God. As a logical consequence, the meaning of history is known only through the knowledge of God (an idea similar to this can be found in the speculations of Augustine of Hippo and some Calvinist philosophers, such as Herman Dooyeweerd).

Anti-predestinarian version: If the idea of absolute freedom and entire self-knowledge is absent from this kind of idea of God's acts in time, then God Himself is (to express the idea anthropomorphically) becoming something new, or discovering something new about Himself with each new moment, just as we are. It's as though God is waking up to the possibilities that are inherent in temporally limited acts, and like an artist developing his ideas in dynamic interaction with an ever-changing medium, He is making new discoveries about himself every day. A summary of such a view might be that, the present is an encounter "in God" with new possibilities (where "God" is sometimes not understood "theistically", in the sense of a "person"), and the past is thus a record or remembrance "by God" of the experiences of existent beings. Or, put another way, the past is what God has thus far become in the process of all experience, and the future is pure possibility. Predestination is completely excluded from such a system, except possibly in the most broad outlines of God's intentions. God's decision, on such a view, is an inventive experience, almost precisely equivalent to the unfolding process of historical events (thinking like this can be found in modern process theology and open theism).

There are other types of Christian or Christian-influenced belief, which exclude the personality, or the volitional aspect of the personality of God, so that even if they express some form of determinism, it is not predestination in a theistic sense.

Types of predestination

Predestination may be described under two types, with the basis for each found within their definition of free will. Between these poles, there is a complex variety of systematic differences, particularly difficult to describe because the foundational terms are not strictly equivalent between systems. The two poles of predestinarian belief may be usefully described in terms of their doctrinal comparison between the Creator's freedom, and the creature's freedom. These can be contrasted as either univocal, or equivocal conceptions of freedom.

In terms of ultimates, with God's decision to create as the ultimate beginning, and the ultimate outcome, a belief system has a doctrine of predestination if it teaches:

  • God's decision, assignment or declaration concerning the lot of people is conceived as occurring in some sense prior to the outcome, and
  • the decision is fully predictive of the outcome, and not merely probable.

There are numerous ways to describe the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination in Christian thinking. To some extent, this spectrum has analogies in other monotheistic religions, although in other religions the term "predestination" may not be used. For example, teaching on predestination may vary in terms of three considerations.

  • Is God's predetermining decision based solely on a knowledge of His own will, or does it also include a knowledge of whatever will happen?
  • How particular is God's prior decision: is it concerned with particular persons and events, or is it limited to broad categories of people and things?
  • How free is God in effecting His part in the eventual outcome? Is God bound or limited by conditions external to his own will, willingly or not, in order that what has been determined will come to pass?

Furthermore, the same sort of considerations apply to the freedom of man's will.

  • Assuming that an individual had no choice in who, when and where to come into being: How are the choices of existence determined by what he is?
  • Assuming that not all possible choices are available to him: How capable is the individual to desire all choices available, in order to choose from among them?
  • How capable is an individual to put into effect what he desires?

Univocal concept of freedom

The univocal conception of freedom holds that human will is free of cause, even though creaturely[clarification needed] in character. These belief systems hold that the Creator (or, in the scientific perspective, Nature/Evolution) has fashioned a system of absolute freedom: human volition that features a free and independent nature.

On the other end of the spectrum is the position that the Creator (or a foreign Being, object, etc.) exercises absolute control over human will and/or that all decisions originate with some outside cause, leaving no room for freedom.

Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom

At the other end of the spectrum are analogical conceptions of freedom. These versions of predestination hold that individual choice is not excluded from the fashioning work of the Creator. Man's will is free because it is determined, boundaried or created by God. In other words, apart from God's will determining man's will in a divine sense, only chaos or enslavement to mindless and impersonal forces is possible. Man's will may be called free and responsible, but not in an absolute sense; the choice of good or of evil must be uncoerced to be free, but it is never uncreated or uncaused. The likeness of creaturely freedom to divine freedom is analogical, not univocal.

It is important to note that among predestinarians there is no significant representation for the idea that human choices are unreal, but merely that they are the direct expression of the Creator's will. The analogy implied here means that however else human and divine freedom may be comparable, there is an unlikeness between the free will of the Creator and human freedom, which depends on the Creator for existence and power. With no significant exception, when predestinarians deny that man has freedom of will, it is to deny that man's will is free in the same sense as the Creator's will, or to affirm that man's choices are entirely subject to divine causation. Men are responsible without being absolutely original. This is particularly true in these systems, if they acknowledge a doctrine of Original Sin, whereby every person is understood to be born into a condition of helplessness under the power or the effects of sin; for whom, either through inherited guilt, or the inherited consequences of guilt, a purely free choice of the good is not possible without the aid of God's undeserved grace.

Traditional Islam holds to the powerlessness of human will, apart from the aid of Allah, and yet without a doctrine of Original Sin. Thus, Islam has a simpler version of predestination, viewing all that comes to pass as the will of Allah. And yet, the Qur'an affirms human responsibility, saying for example: "Allah changeth not the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts". There is no significant view of predestination that entirely relieves man of responsibility for his own choices.

Therefore, all significant versions of predestination account for the differences between people (perhaps in life or, in death, or both) by reference to the will of the Creator. Also, all versions of predestination incorporate into the doctrine various concepts of human responsibility, which differ from one another in terms of the kind of volitional freedom possible for the creature.


Christians understand the doctrine of predestination in terms of God's work of salvation in the world. The doctrine is a tension between the divine perspective in which God saves those whom he chooses from eternity apart from human action and the human perspective in which each person is responsible for his or her choice to accept or reject God. The views on predestination within Christianity vary somewhat in emphasis on one of these two perspectives.

Biblical support of predestination

Some Biblical verses often used as sources for Christian beliefs in predestination are below. Note that most of these verses do not distinguish between the conditional election (Arminian) and unconditional election (Calvinist), but are simply evidence of some type of election.

"For many are called, but few [are] chosen." (Matthew 22:14, KJV)
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV)
"As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven." (Mark 4:10-12, NASB)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,..." (Eph. 1:3-5, NASB)
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom. 8:28-30, NASB)
"... but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; ..." (1Co. 2:7, NASB)
"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 purpose predestined to occur." (Act. 4:27-28, NASB)
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psa. 139:16, NASB)
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." (Romans 9:15-18, NIV)
"The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go." (Exodus 4:21, NIV)
"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:22-24, NIV)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJ)
"And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48, ESV)

Biblical support of free will

Examples of Biblical passages used to argue for free will:

Deuteronomy 30:19 "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,"
Joshua 24:15 "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Ezekiel 18:32 "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD. Repent and live!"
I John 4:8 "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." NKJ
Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
Romans 10:9 "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
Matthew 9:29 "Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you."
1 Thessalonians 4:14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus."
John 3:16 "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."
2 Corinthians 5:15 "He died for all, so that those who might live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." NAB
Jeremiah 18:7-10 "The instant I speak concerning a nation, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, and if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it." NKJ
I Timothy 2: 3-4 "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." NKJ
II Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." NKJ

Note, however, that II Peter 3:1 and 3:8 address the "beloved," which are assumed to be the elect, or Christians. Therefore, the context may determine that II Peter 3:9 means "...but that all 'the elect' should come to repentance." This could mean that God will not lose even one of those he has chosen for salvation. This concept may be supported in John 10:28: "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."

Furthermore, Martin Luther wrote in his book "Bondage of the Will" that the "imperative does not imply the indicative." In other words, just because God commands us to believe does not indicate that we are capable of it.

History of the doctrine

Church Fathers on the doctrine

The early church fathers consistently uphold the freedom of human choice. This position was crucial in the Christian confrontation with Cynicism and some of the chief forms of Gnosticism, such as Manichaeism, which taught that man is by nature flawed and therefore not responsible for evil in himself or in the world. At the same time, belief in human responsibility to do good as a precursor to salvation and eternal reward was consistent. The decision to do good along with God's aid pictured a synergism of the human will and God's will. The early church Fathers taught a doctrine of conditional predestination.[2] A list of quotations by the Early Church Fathers regarding free will and predestination can be found here.[3]

Augustine of Hippo marks the beginning of a system of thought that denies free will (with respect to salvation) and affirms that salvation needs an initial input by God in the life of every person. While his early writings affirm that God's predestinating grace is granted on the basis of his foreknowledge of the human desire to pursue salvation, this changed after 396. His later position affirmed the necessity of God granting grace in order for the desire for salvation to be awakened. However, Augustine does argue (against the Manicheans) that humans have free will; however, their will is so distorted, and the Fall is so extensive, that in the postlapsarian world they can only choose evil.

Augustine's position raised objections. Julian bishop of Eclanum, expressed that Augustine was bringing Manichee thoughts into the church.[4] For Vincent of Lérins, this was a disturbing innovation.[5] This new tension eventually became obvious with the confrontation between Augustine and Pelagius culminating in condemnation of Pelagianism (as interpreted by Augustine) at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The British monk Pelagius denied Augustine's view of "predestination" in order to affirm that salvation is achieved by an act of free will.

The influence of Augustine also then showed in translations of the bible from that time on—variations that are not in themselves visible in the syntax or grammar of the New Testament Greek text. Perhaps the best example of this in the Vulgate is the addition of 'prae' to 'ordinati' in Acts 13:48, which is there only to give the idea this was God who did this. Later translations show this influence of the doctrine by the additions of the word 'his' in Romans 8:28 and 11:22 all suggesting an interpretation consistent with unconditional election.

The Eastern Orthodox Church tradition has never adopted the Augustinian view of predestination, and formed a doctrine of predestination by another historical route, sometimes called Semi-Pelagianism in the West. The Western Church, including the Catholic and Protestant denominations, are predominantly Augustinian in some form, especially as interpreted by Gregory the Great and the Council of Orange (a Western council that anathemitized Semi- Pelagianism as represented in some of the writings of John Cassian and his followers). This council explicitly denies double predestination.

In Catholic doctrine, the accepted understanding of predestination most predominantly follows the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, and can be contrasted with the Jansenist interpretation of Augustinianism, which was condemned by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation. The only important branch of Western Christianity that continues to hold to a double predestination interpretation of Augustinianism, is within the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Reformation. The meaning of this term is discussed under the subsection on Calvinism, below.

In broad Christian conversation, predestination refers to the view of predestination commonly associated with John Calvin and the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Reformation; and, this is the non-technical sense in which the term is typically used today, when belief in predestination is affirmed or denied.

Augustine's formulation is neither complete nor universally accepted by Christians. But his system laid the foundation onto virgin ground for the then later writers and innovators of the Reformation period.

Various views on Christian predestination

Conditional predestination

Conditional Predestination, or more commonly referred to as conditional election, is a theological stance stemming from the writings and teachings of Jacobus Arminius, after whom Arminianism is named. Arminius studied under the staunch Reformed scholar Theodore Beza, whose views of election, Arminius eventually argued, could not reconcile freedom with moral responsibility.

Arminius used a philosophy called Molinism (named for the philosopher Luis de Molina) that attempted to reconcile freedom with God's omniscience. They both saw human freedom in terms of the Libertarian philosophy: man's choice is not decided by God's choice, thus God's choice is "conditional", depending on what man chooses. Arminius saw God "looking down the corridors of time" to see the free choices of man, and choosing those who will respond in faith and love to God's love and promises, revealed in Jesus.

Arminianism sees the choice of Christ as an impossibility, apart from God's grace; and the freedom to choose is given to all, because God's prevenient grace is universal (given to everyone). Therefore, God predestines on the basis of foreknowledge of how some will respond to his universal love ("conditional"). In contrast, Calvinism views universal grace as resistible and not sufficient for leading to salvation—or denies universal grace altogether—and instead supposes grace that leads to salvation to be particular and irresistible, given to some but not to others on the basis of God's predestinating choice ("unconditional"). This is also known as "double-predestination."

Temporal predestination

Temporal predestination is the view that God only determines temporal matters, and not eternal ones. This Christian view is analogous to the traditional Jewish view, which distinguishes between preordination and predestination. Temporal matters are pre-ordained by God, but eternal matters, being supra-temporal, are subject to absolute freedom of choice.


Infralapsarianism (also called sublapsarianism) holds that predestination logically coincides with the preordination of Man's fall into sin. That is, God predestined sinful men for salvation. Therefore according to this view, God is the "ultimate cause", but not the "proximate source" or "author" of sin. Infralapsarians often emphasize a difference between God's decree (which is inviolable and inscrutable), and his revealed will (against which man is disobedient). Proponents also typically emphasize the grace and mercy of God toward all men, although teaching also that only some are predestined for salvation.

In common English parlance, the doctrine of predestination often has particular reference to the doctrines of Calvinism. The version of predestination espoused by John Calvin, after whom Calvinism is named, is sometimes referred to as "double predestination" because in it God predestines some people for salvation (i.e. Unconditional election) and some for condemnation (i.e. Reprobation). Calvin himself defines predestination as "the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. Not all are created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.".[6]

On the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination, Calvinism is the strongest form among Christians. It teaches that God's predestining decision is based on the knowledge of His own will rather than foreknowledge, concerning every particular person and event; and, God continually acts with entire freedom, in order to bring about his will in completeness, but in such a way that the freedom of the creature is not violated, "but rather, established"[7]

Calvinists who hold the infralapsarian view of predestination usually prefer that term to "sublapsarianism," perhaps with the intent of blocking the inference that they believe predestination is on the basis of foreknowledge (sublapsarian meaning, assuming the fall into sin).[8] The different terminology has the benefit of distinguishing the Calvinist double predestination version of infralapsarianism, from Lutheranism's view that predestination is a mystery, which forbids the unprofitable intrusion of prying minds.

Calvinists seek never to divide predestination in a mathematical way. Their doctrine is uninterested, in the abstract, in questions of "how much" either God or man is responsible for a particular destiny. Questions of "how much" will become hopelessly entangled in paradox, Calvinists teach, regardless of the view of predestination adopted. Instead, Calvinism divides the issues of predestination according to two kinds of being, knowledge, and will, distinguishing what is divine from what is human. Therefore, it is not so much an issue of quantity, but of distinct roles or modes of being. God is not a creature nor the creature God in knowledge, will, freedom, ability, responsibility, or anything else. Calvinists will often attribute salvation entirely to God; and yet they will also assert that it is man's responsibility to pursue obedience. As the archetypal illustration of this idea, they believe Jesus in his words and work humanly fulfilled all that he as part of the Trinity had determined from the Father should be done. What he did humanly is distinguishable, but not separate, from what he did divinely.

Single predestination

Drawing on Luther's "Bondage of the Will" written in his debate over free will with Erasmus, Lutherans hold doctrinally to a view of single predestination. That is to say, desiring to save all fallen human beings, God sent his Son Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of the whole world on the cross. Those God saves have been predestined from eternity in Christ. Those who are condemned are condemned because of their fallen will. While these statements may seem like they contradict each other, this is what Luther saw as THE major story-line within scripture and didn't attempt to systematically or logically "fix" it. The underlying question here is, of course, if God wants all to be saved and Jesus died for everyone, why doesn't God convert the fallen will of all? This is a question that Lutherans, following Luther, put into the category of the "hidden God", the God "behind the cross" whom we don't know everything about. The answer to the question lies within God's "hidden counsel" that we are to have nothing to do with. If we doubt our own predestination, we should look for it in the God who has revealed himself in the wounds of Christ on the cross and there see a God who loved us enough to die for us. For Lutherans, systematic treatment of predestination follows the Gospel (What God has done for us in Jesus Christ) rather than being a topic discussed prior to the Gospel. As such, the sole purpose of predestination is to reinforce "Justification by Grace through Faith solely on account of Christ". Believers are reminded "you didn't choose God, God chose you in Christ!"


Supralapsarianism is the doctrine that God's decree of predestination for salvation and reprobation logically precedes his preordination of the human race's fall into sin. That is, God decided to save, and to damn; he then determined the means by which that would be made possible. It is a matter of controversy whether or not Calvin himself held this view, but most scholars link him with the infralapsarian position. It is known, however, that Calvin's successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, held to the supralapsarian view.

Open theism

Advocates of open theism, like most who affirm conditional predestination, understand predestination to be as corporate. In corporate election, God does not choose which individuals he will save prior to creation, but rather God chooses the church as a whole. Or put differently, God chooses what type of individuals he will save. Another way the New Testament puts this is to say that God chose the church in Christ (Eph. 1:4). In other words, God chose from all eternity to save all those who would be found in Christ, by faith in God. This choosing is not primarily about salvation from eternal destruction either but is about God's chosen agency in the world. Thus individuals have full freedom in terms of whether they become members of the church or not. Corporate election is thus consistent with the open view's position on God's omniscience, which states that the outcomes of individual free will cannot be known specifically before they are performed since who becomes a Christian is a matter of free will and not knowable.



Lutherans believe that the elect are predestined to salvation.[9] Lutherans believe Christians should be assured that they are among the predestined.[10] However, they disagree with those who make predestination the source of salvation rather than Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. Unlike some Calvinists, Lutherans do not believe in a predestination to damnation.[11] Instead, Lutherans teach eternal damnation is a result of the unbeliever's sins, rejection of the forgiveness of sins, and unbelief.[12] Martin Luther's attitude towards predestination is set out in his On the Bondage of the Will, published in 1525. This publication by Luther was in response to the published treatise by Desiderius Erasmus in 1524 known as On Free Will. Luther based his views on Ephesians 2:8-10, which says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."


The Belgic Confession of 1561 affirmed that God "delivers and preserves" from perdition "all whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without respect to their works" (Article XVI).

Controversy concerning Calvinism

In this common, loose sense of the term, to affirm or to deny predestination has particular reference to the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election. In the Calvinist interpretation of the Bible, this doctrine normally has only pastoral value related to the assurance of salvation and the absolution of salvation by grace alone. However, the philosophical implications of the doctrine of election and predestination are sometimes discussed beyond these systematic bounds. Under the topic of the doctrine of God (theology proper), the predestinating decision of God cannot be contingent upon anything outside of Himself, because all other things are dependent upon Him for existence and meaning. Under the topic of the doctrines of salvation (soteriology), the predestinating decision of God is made from God's knowledge of his own will (Romans 9:15), and is therefore not contingent upon human decisions (rather, free human decisions are outworkings of the decision of God, which sets the total reality within which those decisions are made in exhaustive detail: that is, nothing left to chance). Calvinists do not pretend to understand how this works; but they are insistent that the Scriptures teach both the sovereign control of God and the responsibility and freedom of human decisions (see "Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom" above).

This view is commonly called double predestination, although within a Calvinist system this term is usually accepted only with qualifications, and many reject the term altogether as being incompatible with the pastoral use of the doctrine of election.

Double predestination is the eternal act of God, whereby the future of every particular person in the human race has been determined beforehand, by God. Whatever the individual wills or does, for good or for evil, is conceived as performing a functional part, or outworking of that ordained purpose. This prior determination applies to both, the elect and the reprobate. This idea is formed on an interpretation of various Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments. Romans 9 is frequently quoted in explanation of the doctrine.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 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?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— Romans 9:19-23 (ESV)

Calvinist groups use the term "Hyper-Calvinism" to describe Calvinistic systems that assert without qualification that God's intention to destroy some is equal to His intention to save others. Some forms of Hyper-Calvinism have racial implications, against which other Calvinists vigorously object (see Afrikaner Calvinism). The Dutch settlers of South Africa claimed that the Blacks were members of the non-elect, because they were the sons of Ham, whom Noah had cursed to be slaves, according to Genesis 9:18-19. The Dutch Calvinist theologian Franciscus Gomarus also argued that Jews, because of their refusal to worship Jesus Christ, were members of the non-elect. According to I John 2:22-23, anyone who refuses to believe that Jesus is the Christ is an antichrist. This is what I John 2: 22-23 says: "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also." Martin Luther published in 1543 On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he denounced the Jews for their failure to convert to Christianity.

Expressed sympathetically, the Calvinist doctrine is that God has mercy or withholds it, with particular consciousness of who are to be the recipients of mercy in Christ. Therefore, the particular persons are chosen, out of the total number of human beings, who will be rescued from enslavement to sin and the fear of death, and from punishment due to sin, to dwell forever in His presence. Those who are being saved are assured through the gifts of faith, the sacraments, and communion with God through prayer and increase of good works, that their reconciliation with Him through Christ is settled by the sovereign determination of God's will. God also has particular consciousness of those who are passed over by His selection, who are without excuse for their rebellion against Him, and will be judged for their sins.

By implication, and expressed unsympathetically, the number of the elect subtracted from the total number, leaves an exact number of those who are consciously passed over by the mercy of God, who will dwell forever away from His presence, without regard to anything that otherwise distinguishes people from one another. All are believed to be undeserving, whether they are rich or poor, male or female, murderers or philanthropists, or any other difference. In other words, God determines the exact numbers of the damned and the saved, and these numbers are consciously known and indeed, decided upon by God, before any of these individuals have begun to exist.

Thus, Calvinists may acknowledge with qualifications that, double predestination is a legitimate position, logically deduced from any form of single predestination that does not include universal salvation.

Calvinists typically divide on the issue of predestination into infralapsarians (sometimes called 'sublapsarians') and supralapsarians. Infralapsarians interpret the biblical election of God to highlight his love (1 John 4:8; Ephesians 1:4b-5a) and chose his elect considering the situation after the Fall, while supralapsarians interpret biblical election to highlight God's sovereignty (Romans 9:16) and that the Fall was ordained by God's decree of election. In infralapsarianism, election is God's response to the Fall, while in supralapsarianism the Fall is part of God's plan for election. In spite of the division, many Calvinist theologians would consider the debate surrounding the infra- and supralapsarian positions one in which scant Scriptural evidence can be mustered in either direction, and that, at any rate, has little effect on the overall doctrine.

Some Calvinists decline from describing the eternal decree of God in terms of a sequence of events or thoughts, and many caution against the simplifications involved in describing any action of God in speculative terms. Most make distinctions between the positive manner in which God chooses some to be recipients of grace, and the manner in which grace is consciously withheld so that some are destined for everlasting punishments.

Debate concerning predestination according to the common usage, concerns the destiny of the damned, whether God is just if that destiny is settled prior to the existence of any actual violition of the individual, and whether the individual is in any meaningful sense responsible for his destiny if it is settled by the eternal action of God.


Arminians hold that God does not predetermine, but instead infallibly knows who will believe and perseveringly be saved. This view is known as Conditional Election, because it states that election is conditional on the one who wills to have faith in God for salvation. Although God knows from the beginning of the world who will go where, the choice is still with the individual. The Dutch Calvinist theologian Franciscus Gomarus strongly opposed the views of Jacobus Arminius with his doctrine of supralapsarian predestination.

Critics of the Arminian belief might also believe it supports the concept that God actually created evil. If God knows from the beginning of the world who will go where, why did he bring into existence those he knows will be condemned? So, if he knows person A's 'choices' will ultimately lead him to be lost, then why bring person A into existence?

Karl Barth's view

Barthians espouse a view of predestination that attempts to circumvent the antithesis between Augustinianism and Pelagianism. In the Barthian scheme, predestination only properly applies to God Himself. Thus, humanity is chosen for salvation in Jesus Christ, at the permanent cost of God's self-surrendered hiddenness, or transcendence. Thus, the redemption of all mankind is a devoutly hoped-for possibility, but the only inevitability is that God has predestined Himself, in Jesus Christ, to be revealed and given for human salvation.

Comparison between Protestants

This table summarizes the classical views of three different Protestant beliefs.[13]

Topic Lutheranism Calvinism Arminianism
Election Unconditional election to salvation only Unconditional election to salvation and damnation Conditional election in view of foreseen faith or unbelief

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox view was summarized by Bishop Theophan the Recluse in response to the question, "What is the relationship between the Divine provision and our free will?"

Answer: The fact that the Kingdom of God is "taken by force" presupposes personal effort. When the Apostle Paul says, "it is not of him that willeth," this means that one's efforts do not produce what is sought. It is necessary to combine them: to strive and to expect all things from grace. It is not one's own efforts that will lead to the goal, because without grace, efforts produce little; nor does grace without effort bring what is sought, because grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to the goal. (God's) foreknowledge is unfathomable. It is enough for us with our whole heart to believe that it never opposes God's grace and truth, and that it does not infringe man's freedom. Usually this resolves as follows: God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly. Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination.[14]

Roman Catholicism

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Predestination says,[15]:

"[...] God, owing to His infallible prescience of the future, has appointed and ordained from eternity all events occurring in time, especially those that directly proceed from, or at least are influenced by, man's free will."

Pope John Paul II wrote[16]:

"Salvation in Christ Is Offered to All
The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all."
"[...] [G]race comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation."

The Catholic Catechism says:

"God predestines no one to go to hell"[17]

In short: Every person is predestined to salvation, yet all have the free will to sin and, thus, fall.


In Hinduism, predestination is called Vidhi or Vidhi niyama. Though the future is believed to be dependent on karma, Vidhi has predestined as to what karma the being does. Thus the decision a being makes to do good or bad is predestined. It is said that even God cannot alter the flow of Vidhi. In the Dvaita school of Vaishnavism, the philosopher Madhvacharya believed in a similar concept.

For example, Madhvacharya differed significantly from traditional Hindu beliefs in his concept of eternal damnation. He divides souls into three classes, one class that qualifies for liberation, Mukti-yogyas, another subject to eternal rebirth or eternally transmigrating due to samsara, Nitya-samsarins, and significantly, a class that is eventually condemned to eternal hell or Andhatamas, known as Tamo-yogyas. He has hypothesized (based on vedic texts and yukti) that souls are eternal and not created ex nihilo by God, as in the Semitic religions. Souls depend on God for their very "being" and "becoming." Madhva has compared this relationship of God with souls to the relationship between a source (bimba) and its reflection (pratibimba).


In Islam, "predestination" is the usual English language rendering of a belief that Muslims call al-qada wa al-qadar in Arabic. The phrase means "the divine decree and the predestination". Free will and predestination have always been conflicting topics in Islamic religious thinking.

This is a difficult concept to understand and translate. In Islam, God's omniscience doesn't suggest that humanity has no free will. God's advance knowledge of what each human will choose with his/her free will is said to not in any way negate the freedom granted to humans.[18] This simply means that God has the foreknowledge of all human action, however, this divine knowledge does not prevent humans from doing whatever they desire.

A few Muslims though suggest that free will doesn't actually exist in Islam. They argue that God is omniscient and so has the power to prevent or allow any action from occurring. Therefore, if God does not prevent an act from occurring, then that act is thought to be Allah's will. People can believe they have control over their lives, but they are not able to do anything without it being God's will first. Nothing is allowed to come to pass unless it is the will of God, hence the phrase Inshallah, Arabic for "if God wills". When referring to the future, Muslims frequently qualify any predictions of what will come to pass with this phrase. It recognizes that human knowledge of the future is limited, and that all that may or may not come to pass is under the control of God. A related phrase, mashallah, indicates acceptance of what God has ordained in terms of good or ill fortune that may befall a believer.

In summary, the main principles that govern the Sunni Islamic perspective on qadar are the following:

  • God's knowledge encompasses everything. This knowledge is perfect and was never preceded with ignorance. God always knew everything.
  • God wrote everything that will happen in the universe prior to its creation.
  • God is the one who allows a specific action to occur, as nothing happens without God's will. This however doesn't conflict with the idea that one's actions are based on his choices, since we are of limited foreknowledge.

This concept is reminiscent of the Free will theodicy of the problem of Evil. If God has precognition rather than predestination, then the evil deeds that occur in the world are caused as a price of us entertaining free will.[19][20]

Shia Islam

Shia Islam places a greater emphasis on free will and the importance of personal decisions, are recalled on the Day of Judgement.[21] Predestination is a way of thinking that is challenged by the Imams of Shia Islam in many speeches and letters. The main factor in determining how one's reality is processed has to do with his/her "nearness" to God. Therefore, the levels of relationship that one has with Allah is what determines what a person may be "allowed" to do. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin according to the religion of Islam (see Islam and alcohol). If a person who has "turned his back" on Allah decides to drink, there will be no obstacle between himself and the drink. Accordingly, a drink voids 40 days of prayers and supplication, which distances that soul "further" from Allah. However, if the person is a "pious" believer who has fallen to despair due to some difficulty and decides to have a drink to give up his state and position, there may be numerous obstacles in the universe between him and the drink, until he finally gives up on that endeavour and returns repentant. The hopelessness in human action is what is disputed by Shia philosophers with those who lean far toward predestination.[22]

This belief is further emphasized by the Shia concept of bada’, which states that God has not set a definite course for human history. Instead, God may alter the course of human history as is seen to be fit.

Islam and Christianity

Although comparable in broad terms, the differences between Christian and Islamic ideas of predestination are complex. These differences are due to the distinctives of each faith's belief system. In broad terms, the doctrine of predestination refers to inevitability as a general principle, and usually more particularly refers to the exercise of God's will as it relates to the future of members of the human race, considered either as groups or as individuals, with special concern for issues of human responsibility as it relates to the sovereignty of God. Predestination always involves issues of the Creator's personality and will; and consequently, the different versions of the doctrine of predestination go hand in hand with appropriately different conceptions of the contribution any creature is able to make toward its own present condition, or future destiny.[23]


Generally speaking Reform Judaism has no strong doctrine of predestination. Some critics[who?] claim that the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient didn't formally exist in Judaism during the Biblical era, but rather was a later development due to the influence of neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Some modern Jewish thinkers in the 20th century (for example, Martin Buber) have resolved the dialectical tension by holding that God is simply not omnipotent, in the commonly used sense of that word. These thinkers are primarily not Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jewish rabbis generally affirm that God must be viewed as omnipotent, but they have varying definitions of what the word omnipotent means. Thus one finds that some Modern Orthodox theologians[who?] have views that are essentially the same as non-Orthodox theologians, but they use different terminology.

One noted Jewish philosopher, Hasdai Crescas, resolved this dialectical tension by taking the position that free-will doesn't exist. Hence all of a person's actions are pre-determined by the moment of their birth, and thus their judgment in the eyes of God (so to speak) is effectively pre-ordained. However in this scheme this is not a result of God's predetermining one's fate, but rather from the view that the universe is deterministic. Crescas's views on this topic were rejected by Judaism at large. In later centuries this idea independently developed among some in the Chabad (Lubavitch) sect of Hasidic Judaism. Many individuals within Chabad take this view seriously, and hence effectively deny the existence of free will.

However, many Chabad (Lubavitch) Jews attempt to hold both views. They affirm as infallible their rebbe's teachings that God knows and controls the fate of all, yet at the same time affirm the classical Jewish belief in free-will (i.e. no such thing as determinism). The inherent contradiction between the two results in their belief that such contradictions are only "apparent", due to man's inherent lack of ability to understand greater truths and due to the fact that Creator and Created exist in different realities.

One does not have to be a Chabad Hassid to believe in this, however. It is enough to read the statement in Pirkei Avot: "Everything is predetermined but freedom of will is given." The same idea is strongly repeated by Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, Chapter 5).

Many other Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular) affirm that since free-will exists, then by definition one's fate is not preordained. It is held as a tenet of faith that whether God is omniscient or not, nothing interferes with mankind's free will. Some Jewish theologians, both during the medieval era and today, have attempted to formulate a philosophy in which free will is preserved, while also affirming that God has knowledge of what decisions people will make in the future. Whether or not these two ideas are mutually compatible, or whether there is a contradiction between the two, is still a matter of great study and interest in philosophy today.

In Rabbinic literature, there is much discussion as to the apparent contradiction between God's omniscience and free will. The representative view is that "Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given" (Rabbi Akiva, Pirkei Avoth 3:15). Based on this understanding, the problem is formally described as a paradox, perhaps beyond our understanding.

See also


  1. ^ "predestination." The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 13 Jun. 2011. <>.
  2. ^ George Park Fisher. History of Christian Doctrine. T&T Clark. pp. 165. 
  3. ^ On Man's Free Will: What the Early Church Believe
  4. ^ Henry Chadwick. The Early Church. Penguin. pp. 232. 
  5. ^ ibid. pp. 233. 
  6. ^ Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.21.5
  7. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch 3
  8. ^ [Here, sub- is opposed to super- or supra- in a sense related to volition and/or necessity. Cf., for relapse of same origin, : L. relapsus, p. p. of relabi to slip back, to relapse.]
  9. ^ Acts 13:48, Eph. 1:4–11, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article 11, Election, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 585–9, section "The Doctrine of Eternal Election: 1. The Definition of the Term", and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 124–8, Part XXXI. "The Election of Grace", paragraph 176.
  10. ^ 2 Thess. 2:13, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 589–593, section "The Doctrine of Eternal Election: 2. How Believers are to Consider Their Election, and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 127–8, Part XXXI. "The Election of Grace", paragraph 180.
  11. ^ 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article 11, Election, and Engelder's Popular Symbolics, Part XXXI. The Election of Grace, pp. 124–8.
  12. ^ Hos. 13:9, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. p. 637, section "The Doctrine of the Last Things (Eschatology), part 7. "Eternal Damnation", and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 135–6, Part XXXIX. "Eternal Death", paragraph 196.
  13. ^ Table drawn from, though not copied, from Lange, Lyle W. God So Loved the World: A Study of Christian Doctrine. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2006. p. 448.
  14. ^ St. Theophan the Recluse, An Explanation of Certain Texts of Holy Scripture, as quoted in Johanna Manley's The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox: Daily Scripture Readings and Commentary for Orthodox Christians, pg. 609.
  15. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia entry on entry on Predestination
  16. ^ the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, chapter 1, section 10
  17. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1037
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ "Verily this (The Holy Quran) is no less than a Message to (all) the Worlds; (With profit) to whoever among you wills to go straight, but ye shall not will except as God wills; the Cherisher of the Worlds." The Holy Koran; Section 81, Verses 27-29
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ [3]
  22. ^ [4]
  23. ^ Understanding the concept of Fate in Islam

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