Predestination and Election: The New Testament Data
The biblical and theological issues of predestination and election are a stumbling block to some folks. I have had various Christians, including not a few Catholics, say that they just cannot believe in these things. Sadly, this is normally because they do not understand what Scripture actually teaches on these matters.
Indeed, if they are Catholics, they likely know little about Protestantism in general, or Calvinism in particular. They may just have a knee-jerk reaction whenever they hear the “P” or “E” words, and move on from there without any careful reflection and biblical interaction.
This is a pity since this is indeed fully biblical teaching. The truth is, predestination and election are taught throughout Scripture, so those who claim they cannot or will not accept this are effectively saying they refuse to believe God and his Word at this point.
That predestination is a fully biblical truth cannot be denied, but of course how we are to understand it is the next matter. Indeed, how we put together concepts like divine sovereignty and his electing purposes, divine foreknowledge, and the doctrine of human accountability and moral responsibility is a major theological toughie.
There are plenty of verses dealing with a sovereign God who is in charge and chooses and elects things and people, while there are plenty of verses dealing with our moral accountability and the need to make right choices for which we are responsible.
How these two seemingly incompatible truth sets go together has been the stuff of theological discussion and debate for the last two millennia. One thing we know for sure is it will not be fully solved and reconciled on my site any time soon! My take on it is partially this: Let God be God and he can deal with the sovereignty bit, and let men be men and we can deal with the personal responsibility bit.
So what then is the biblical evidence for predestination and election? I realise that simply listing every instance of the words as they appear in Scripture is not the best way to deal with this, but it is a start. So let me share some of these passages, and only those found in the New Testament.
I will then need to pen some more articles to seek to make some sense of these texts, and to make some broader theological points in the debate. Here then is what the New Testament has to say – at least in part – on the issue of God’s choice, election, and predestination:
Matthew 12:18 Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
Matthew 24:31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mark 13:20-22 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Luke 2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against
Luke 18:7 Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?
John 6:37-39 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
John 6:44-45 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
John 13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
John 17:2 Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
John 17:6 I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
Acts 2:23 This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 2:39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.
Acts 4:28 To do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Acts 13:48 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 15:17-18 ‘So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.
Acts 17:26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.
Acts 22:13-14 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth.
Romans 1:6 Including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
Romans 8:28-30 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.
Romans 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Romans 9:6-33 (too lengthy to post here, but let me offer a few parts of it below)
Romans 9:10-13 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Romans 9:15-16 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Romans 11:1-36 (too lengthy to post here, but let me offer a few parts of it below)
Romans 11:1-8 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that could not see
and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.”
1 Corinthians 1:24-26 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
1 Corinthians 2:7 But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
Galatians 1:15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace.
Ephesians 1:1-23 (too lengthy to post here, but let me offer a few parts of it below)
Ephesians 1:1-6 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
Ephesians 1:9-12 Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 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, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Colossians1:27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
2 Timothy 1:9 Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,
James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
1 Peter 1:2 According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.
1 Peter 1:20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.
1 Peter 2:6-8 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 John 1:1 The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—
2 John 1:13 The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.
Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Revelation 13:8 And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Revelation 17:14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.
This is not an exhaustive list, but a fairly representative one. And as mentioned, it is one thing just to list a bunch of these passages. It is another thing to try to get a proper understanding of them. That will have to be the stuff of another article or two. So stay tuned.
20 Replies to “Predestination and Election: The New Testament Data”
Grace is only grace if it is electing grace.
Let me be the first to comment. Needless to say, this may not be the place to start WWIII over these topics. Some people hate these concepts and some people think they are the most important ones around. Both may want to go to war over this, but both will have to wait. Please restrain yourselves until I pen a few more articles actually unpacking all this a bit first. All that I sought to do here is demonstrate that these concepts are indeed fully biblical. How we run with them and understand them remains to be discussed. So allow me time to pen a few of those articles thanks. Then you can unleash your theological angst and aggression!
Ah, you just beat me to it Peter! I was not fast enough! See my comment just above.
Did life get a bit boring Bill?
As should be perfectly clear by now Adrian, I am just a glutton for punishment!
Thank you for sharing the TRUTH.
Pondering Election recently, I have been thinking; If someone says to me they fully believe in election, I would ask, “Well are you one of the elect”? (surely their answer will be -yes).
And my follow up question would be, “How do you KNOW you are predestined for salvation =one of the elect?”
The answer CANNOT be based on what they believe or what they do, as that is works which every Calvinist knows is no basis for salvation.
So the only answer such a Christian can give is, “I don’t KNOW if I am one of the elect. I hope I am…”.
It seems to me there is no assurance of salvation for a Calvinist as the only one who knows if they are saved is God himself. And I am assuming here that God does not personally inform the Calvinist that he has been elected for salvation.
I am not denying that scripture indicates God has some role to play in salvation, but surely the above questions are valid to ask of any ardent Calvinist.
So happy there is the doctrine of predestination and election, or I’d live a living hell while on earth and for eternity for the concerns over the souls I failed to give proper evangelism to. Praise the Lord for His sovereignty!!
I always thought this was such a huge non-issue and that fact that people would war and kill each other over the pretense that this was important when the real issue was actually political, was always absurd and extremely wrong. As far as I can tell, Catholics do not teach that we are saved by works and if we are predestined, which admittedly you would expect we would be given that God is omniscient, then we are not privy to that information anyway and so it should not, in the slightest, affect our behaviour. If you look at the Episcopalian church in the U.S. and now the Church of Scotland we can see that the majority of the people in these churches appear to not be predestined to salvation. Their behaviour has revealed that they do not love the truth and clearly do not trust in nor rely on the one true God. They hypocritically pray “let thy will be done” and then go about doing the opposite of God’s will. Clearly the “Jesus” they preach is a different Jesus. Whether people think they are saved or not is irrelevant as the separating of the sheep and the goats demonstrates very clearly. We should never forget Peter’s warning (2Pe 2:4) “For if God did not spare sinning angels, but thrust them down into Tartarus, and delivered them into chains of darkness, being reserved to judgment….”
Thanks for the article, Bill! There are many Catholics who do not really know what the Catholic Church teaches officially about predestination. Here are two things the Catholic Church teaches, and and these two things are what we call “de fide”, of the faith, i.e. to be a Catholic implies belief in these things: 1. “God, by His Eternal Resolve of Will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness.” (Council of Trent), 2. “God, by an Eternal resolve of His Will, predestines certain men, on account of their forseen sins, to eternal rejection.” (The Synod of Valence, 855AD) More detail see Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr Ludwig Ott.
Hmm, thanks guys, but as is often the case, my plea in my comment above to hold off on major theological debate on all this until I have first written a few introductory articles on the topic (not just listing the relevant texts as above) may have fallen on deaf ears! Oh well. But as I say, stay tuned for more on this.
The terrific Jerry Bridges in “Trusting God even when life hurts” Touched on this subject and quoted the following statement made by a certain Richard Fuller (third president of the Southern Baptist Convention). “It is impossible for us to reject either of these great truths (ie free choice / God’s sovereignty) and it is equally impossible for our minds to reconcile them”
Jerry then goes on to quote Deuteronomy 29 v 29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
Jerry encourages us to obey the “things revealed” (God’s revealed will) and learn to trust God with His sovereign will ie in the areas of subjects such as election / predestination etc.
There are certain things that are way beyond our understanding and we are to be humble before almighty God and admit we do not, and will not have all the answers we want; after all His ways are not our ways
Just my “take” on this and by the way I recomemed Jerry Bridges to all – I never tire of reading this great man of God’s books
And apologies Bill for commenting ahead of time!
Election is a really serious scriptural concept.
It is difficult to understand and to comfortably put into the total scheme of Christian doctrine.
It is a really serious scriptural concept; therefore we need to work on what this revelation means.
We need also to avoid reducing it or explaining it away.
We need to come to the place where we appreciate and rejoice in it and let it expand our concept of who God is and what and how He does salvation.
God, both knows what He is doing and what He has said to us.
The doctrine of election is part of His mystery and part of His glory.
There are more verses to add I’m sure, but I have spent some time meditating on
Rom 9:18 “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden”. NIV
Recently when I have come across people who quickly dismiss the “God talk” I have received a positive response when I replied “don’t harden your heart”.
Great topic for reflection and discussion. I’m looking forward to the follow up articles.
Bless you Bill.
Another one that I noticed the other day- John 1:12-13
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” NKJV
Neither the will of the flesh, nor our own will, but God’s.
I never struggled with this doctrine when I first heard it articulated. It rang true in my own experience as I grew up in a Christian household, regularly praying ‘the sinner’s prayer’, very much in earnest, but to no avail; given over to sin, until God converted me and I was able to experience for the first time a thirst for His righteousness, and knowing true forgiveness of sins and having redemption, rather than just a longing to be freed from the bondage of sin (though this longing must have been a part of His leading as well.) My understanding of many of the above scriptures was in line with this doctrine also.
One of my favourite hymns sums up my experience-
Thanks for writing this Bill- I will be following the series on this topic for sure.
A friend of mine is studying theology and posed an interesting argument for predestination, I recall he used the TULIP reference in Calvinism. I have not previously heard of this argument, so I went to your site for some guidance and biblical references to study it some more. I found this article, which was very helpful, thank you, but only left me with more questions. One being, if God predestined people to be in His flock, then it goes to say that He predestined those to eternal damnation. Although, I cannot yet theologically back my assertion, but it seems to not align with God’s character i.e. merciful, longsuffering, notwithstanding righteous, jealous and a hater of evil etc. My point is, could God predestine some to hell and predestine some to heaven? That seems harsh, almost like they had no choice, what happen to free will? I posed that it is up the individual to choose [free will] to follow Him, and from that choice, we become co-heirs in Christ, His elect. As God is outside time, He can see beforehand those who will truly follow Him and those who will not. Do you have a link to another article or author where this has been addressed? I’d appreciate your help on this topic.
Thanks Jonathan. But that is a massive topic which a short comment or even a short article – or five – could barely do justice to. So I will have to write much more on this before making proper comments. But let me just offer a few very quick points for now:
-One’s theology will of course largely determine how we proceed here. Most who are not Reformed will dismiss the concept altogether. And those who are will have differing views on it as well.
-We do have texts here that we must deal with, whether they make us uncomfortable or not. These would include: Romans 9:22 and 1 Peter 2:6-8.
-Most who promote the view speak about the biblical truth that we are all headed to hell, and God graciously saves some. The emphasis is on his grace on saving any – he is not under obligation to do so, but he shows grace.
-Thus even if there is something like double predestination, the two exist in an asymmetrical relationship. God passes by the unregenerate, who are responsible for their own fate.
-As to charges of God not being fair, we again have to deal with passages that speak directly to this, including Romans 9. See especially verses 14-15: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’.”
Much more must be said here. But as I say, I would need to write a number of articles to properly explain all this. And of course entire libraries have already been filled with books on this. So you will not find all you are looking for with this short comment I am afraid.
If you want more for now, I feature 45 books here looking at the various pros and cons of this and related issues: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/11/28/readings-in-divine-sovereignty-and-human-responsibility/
And I realise that some will want to go on the warpath here, because their pet theological views may have been trampled on. So I am tempted not to allow much commentary here on this until I pen some lengthy and detailed articles on this, to better lay out some of the issues involved, and how the debates have been formulated and carried out over the centuries.
Predestination: The Spiritual Logic of God’s Justice and Mercy (see Romans 9: 9-26, see also Romans 3: 10-11, 23, 6:23)
1. If only justice reigned, we would all be condemned to hell or extinction. That is what we deserve.
Therefore, it follows that…
2. God’s mercy, by definition, is a divine exception to the rule of perfect justice. Mercy is the special provision of the means for some of us to avoid getting what we deserve. To fulfill the requirements of both justice and mercy, Jesus paid with His own suffering and death on the Cross— but only for those whom God had chosen to receive it, that is, only those who believed in His only begotten Son.
Therefore, it follows that…
3. Mercy exists (both logically and spiritually) partly because not all people can receive it. For if God were to have total mercy on everyone equally, mercy would no longer be mercy, it would be no big deal, like creating all of us with skin. Also, if mercy were given to all, it would disregard the requirements of justice; it would require an acceptance of evil as morally neutral, which would be manifestly unfair to victims of atrocity. Secondarily, if everyone received mercy equally, it would greatly reduce its value (and certainly it would be taken for granted, for example, how often do people thank God for the air we breathe?)
Therefore, it follows that…
4. In His wisdom and plan to save humanity, God has chosen to show mercy to some people but not to all.
Why has God chosen you and not others? His sovereign wisdom is beyond our capacity to know or understand. But we do know that there is nothing we can boast about— but the wonderful and amazing grace of our God! So forever we will be thanking Him, for we will know that there was nothing in us that merited eternal life.
Mysteries of the Lost. We know that Paul, in Romans 9 (and a few places elsewhere), taught the doctrine of predestination. Jesus Himself taught about the ultimate separation of the elect from the rest: the sheep from the goats, the true crop from the weeds, and the children of God from the children of the devil. These have been mutually exclusive groups from their very beginnings, and of course God has always known “who was who.”
Our God is the Great ‘I Am.’ He is a sovereign God who chooses, and being made in His image, human beings are also created to make choices— although without Christ and the Holy Spirit within, our choices are tainted by a sinful nature.
Through the parables and metaphors of sheep and goats, etc., Jesus revealed that those who will ultimately be separated out for destruction are not of the same species as those who are saved. What do I mean? We are all human beings biologically, and even spiritually we are descendants of Adam and Eve. But what makes us truly human cannot be so easily determined— as it is based on spiritual realities that only God can perceive. While we are all born into sin, with a sinful nature, some of us were created in the mind of God prior to being born— to hear the gospel and to believe, to be born-again to receive eternal life, to be children of God. So many were NOT born in this sense of being human, but were born to be (as indicated by the parables of Jesus) goats and not sheep, were created to be weeds and not the divine wheat, and thus, were always children of the devil. I expect that the difficulties in discerning the children of God from all the rest will become less difficult over time, as both the weeds and true crop mature and look increasingly different.
‘Elect’ is simply a word for those who do come to believe. From our position here in time, we cannot truly know who is a sheep and who is a goat; but from eternity where God perceives the beginning, the ending, and everything in between, the outcome for each of us is not in question. Paul calls this predestination, and this true idea absolutely does not diminish God’s grace and mercy (as universalists suggest), but quite the opposite. Not all will believe, so not all will be saved. Universalists hate this reality because they want to sin boldly, not submit to God, pretend to be their own little gods, and still somehow be saved. Not going to happen.
Perhaps this explains part of the mystery: The dignity of choice embedded in our being “created in the image of God” requires the option of eternal separation. Part of grace is the fact that God will not coerce anyone to be with Him who does not so desire. As it has been said, “God is a gentleman”—He makes the necessary sacrifice, He persuades in love, but He will not force anyone into heaven who does not want to go. No sinner (this includes all of us) can live in heaven without being transformed and perfected, and no one can be transformed without repentance and belief in Christ. Because many refuse to repent and believe, then they are keeping themselves from the necessary transformation and are thus are refusing eternal life in the Kingdom of God. God is not to blame for their choice. But God did know from before the foundations of the world which people would believe (and become His children) and which would not. So of course He chose the believers, facilitated their faith, and kept them from losing it— this we call grace.
Jesus: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)
Bill and readers will appreciated my fuller response in this article on Virtue Online. https://virtueonline.org/salvation-grace-and-faithor-it-ritual-and-works