Predestination and Salvation
The gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). If we do not study God’s word to come to an understanding of it, we cannot believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:17), and therefore, there is no salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). That is why it is important to rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). When studying God’s word, we must understand passages in terms of the immediate context, which are the verses before and after, the context of the chapter, the context of the book, and the overall context of the Bible. Additionally, we need to know the meaning of words and how they are used in the Scriptures. In this series of posts, I am dealing with the sovereignty of God and the will of man as they relate to God’s plan of salvation. I have discussed the importance of not allowing a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to contradict the basic principles of God’s character and man’s nature. The Calvinist view of concepts such as predestination and election is in opposition to the righteousness of God and the free will of man. It conflicts with the Scriptures due to an incorrect interpretation. One of the misinterpreted passages is Romans 9:20-24. These verses have been used to prove that certain individuals have been predestined to salvation, and others have been predestined to condemnation. The issue is that this belief is due to either not analyzing the verses within their context or completely misunderstanding the context. In this post, I will discuss Romans 9:20-24 and resolve the contradictions presented by Calvinist theology.
As I mentioned, it is important to understand the meaning of words used in the context of the Scriptures. The verb “to predestine” is used in several verses of the Bible (see Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11), but contextually, it has nothing to do with the Calvinist view of predestination. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it is a translation of the word proorizó, which is the combination of pró “before” and horízō “to establish boundaries”. That is, it means “to limit in advance” or “to determine beforehand”. Some synonyms found in different Bible translations are “to predetermine” or “to foreordain”. We could take 1 Corinthians 2:7 in three Bible translations as an example of the use of proorizó by Paul in discussing the plan of salvation that was determined by God before the beginning of time. These translations illustrate a clear meaning of the word – to determine before. No other definition can be derived.
King James Version: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory”
New American Standard Bible: “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory”
English Standard Version: “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory”.
The letter that Paul wrote to the Romans is rich with doctrinal topics that are outside the scope of this essay. However, it is important to keep in mind that one of the main issues that the early church dealt with was the fact that Jewish Christians were binding the Law of Moses on newly converted Gentiles. They taught that, in order to be saved, the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15). Paul responds to this false teaching in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Galatia by revealing to them the great mystery of the gospel (Rom. 11:25). He explains in Romans 1 – 3 that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin (Rom 3:9), and that they could not be freed from sin by works of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. The only means by which a man could be justified was through the death of Jesus Christ, which was offered by God as a gift and appropriated by man through faith (Rom. 3:21-26). Justification is attained by faith apart from works of the law because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 28-30). For this reason, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). As Paul continues his discussion, he focuses on the role of his kinsmen, the Jews, in the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:1-5 ESV):
1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
The Jews had rejected Christ and demanded his crucifixion (cf. John 19:6). Although Paul felt great sorrow for his race, the rejection of Christ and of the gospel by the Jews was part of God’s plan, which was spoken forth by the Prophets (cf. Isa. 53). God knew that the Jews would not accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and he used that rejection to offer salvation to the Gentiles (Isa. 56:8; cf. Jn. 10:16). The book of Acts reveals the fulfillment of God’s promise in the salvation of several Gentiles, such as Cornelius in chapters 10 and 11 and Lydia and the Philippian jailor in chapter 16, just to name a few. Paul then says in Romans 9:20-241:
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—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
The Calvinists use this passage to prove their view of predestination. Based on verse 22, they claim that God has prepared certain people for destruction and others for mercy, which is false according to the context. This passage refers to the fact that God used the rejection of the Jews in order to save the Gentiles. Verse 22 says that God “endured with much patience”. That is, he abstained from punishing the Jews (cf. Rom. 3:25), who were steeped in sin. Paul referred to them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”. The word “prepared” is used in the original Greek text as a verb that is expressed with the meaning of doing something to oneself (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Therefore, we understand verse 22 to mean that the Jews prepared themselves for destruction by hardening their own hearts. They stored up wrath for themselves (Rom. 2:5) by not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-4). In doing this, they served as God’s vessels in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which were not only the Gentiles but also the Jews who believed. Reading chapters 10 and 11 helps to further comprehend God’s plan.
The Jews were God’s chosen people. He always intended to save them, and he secured that promise by making covenants with their forefathers (e.g., Gen. 6:18, 15:18). However, he incited jealousy in them by turning to other nations, and he was justified in doing so because Israel was a disobedient people (Rom. 10:18-21). Paul then explains that, although they stumbled, it was not so that they would fall. That is, God did not predestine them to be completely destroyed or lost. These same vessels of wrath would still have the opportunity to be saved (Rom. 11:11-15):
11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
It is clear in this text that Israel’s trespass brought salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn, would make Israel jealous in order that they also would seek salvation. In this way, God grants salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, the whole world (11:25):
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved…
God was loyal to the covenant that he made with Israel’s forefathers (11:28-29): “28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” These verses teach us that God keeps his promise. He has not revoked the gift of salvation. All you need to do is accept it by being obedient (Rom. 16:26).
These chapters most certainly reveal the everlasting wisdom, love, and mercy of God (Rom. 11:30-36). They also show that he does not show partiality towards men and would never predestine specific individuals to be saved or lost. What he predestined, or determined beforehand, was a plan. His plan involves an election, which I will discuss in the fourth part of this series. I will argue that God’s election as taught in the Bible is different from the type of election taught in Calvinist theology.
1. Since it deals with election, Romans 9:6-19 will be discussed further in part 4 of this series. Predestination and election are closely related.