This study is a “Readers Digest” version of a longer paper that addresses the topic in a fuller context. Hopefully, nothing of critical importance will be lost as a result of this reduction. I ask the reader to carefully read the preceding chapters (chapters 1-7) before considering the text in question.
The controversy over predestination versus free-will has continued since the early centuries of Christianity. John Wesley and his followers were responsible in a large degree for reviving and developing the doctrine of Arminius. Arminians regard election as conditional upon repentance and faith. Whereas, Calvinists, those that follow the teachings of John Calvin, hold that the election of individuals to salvation is absolute, unconditional, by virtue of an eternal divine decree. The controversy surrounding the doctrine of predestination principally is based upon two passages of scripture: Romans 8:29, 30 and Ephesians 1:5, 11.
In trying to ascertain the truth about predestination, I am reminded of Paul’s statement concerning the “simplicity” of the gospel message. Too often, in our efforts to dissect the scriptures for further examination, we make our specimens too small. It is almost like taking a fragment of a brick and examining it for the purpose of determining the design and type of building from which the brick was removed. Theologians, oftentimes, in their zeal for detailed exegesis, cannot “see the forest for the trees.” Therefore, we must keep this premise in view as we begin our study of this controversial term.
I am afraid that we have been guilty in the past of not considering the Romans passage in its fuller context. When I read any of Paul’s writings, I am mindful of the man and his calling. In Acts 9:15, the Lord declared to Ananias the calling of Paul: “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles…” Later, Paul acknowledges his calling when he stated: “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles.”
Again, if we are to understand Paul’s use of the term predestination as used in chapter 8, we must consider the entire letter to the Romans.
The church in Rome was composed mostly with gentiles (Romans) and, of course, with a few Jews. We conclude this, since the Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius’ edict in 49 A.D., and this epistle was written in approximately 57 A.D. The Jews were allowed to return after the death of Claudius. These Jews were a constant problem for Paul. Many insisted on the gentile converts to adhere to certain Jewish laws. Paul spends much of his time in his letter to combat this teaching. He also goes through much effort in establishing the call of the gentiles to the gospel. He takes great pains to prove that the gentiles are just as much sons of God as the Jews.
In the first chapter of Romans, Paul declares that “obedience to the faith” is “among all nations (Gentiles)”. He further states that the Romans are “the called” of Jesus Christ. In verse 16, he proclaims the universality of the Gospel by the use of the phrase “to everyone that believeth”. There are no stipulations.
In Romans 2, Paul criticizes the Jews (verse 4) because they were indignant over the fact that the Gentiles were being received as heirs of salvation equally with the Jews. They were boasting of their heritage and making judgmental and condescending remarks to the Gentile believers.
Paul, more or less, puts this boasting to rest in chapter 3, when he tells those Jews that they were just as much sinners as the Gentiles even though they had the law committed to them. Paul shows that the Old Testament privileges, though giving to the Jews a certain superiority over the Gentiles, did not give them any advantages in escaping the Divine condemnation.
“What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.”
“Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.” Paul continues with this same thought in chapter 4, when he proves that Abraham was not only the father of the Jews (and that only of the believing Jew), but he was also the father of the Gentiles.
“…but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all. As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations, before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” (vss. 16,17)
There is a play on words in verse 17. The Jews frequently referred to the Gentiles as “things which be not” and to themselves as “things which be”. Observe the similar wording and thought as found in First Corinthians 1:28.
“And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.”
Paul addresses the Gentile believers in chapters 5 and 6 assuring them that they are fully justified before God because of the provision of Christ. He admonishes them to walk in the light of the Gospel and not according to their former way of life.
In chapter 7, Paul turns his attention to the Jewish believers. He explicitly states this in the first verse where he says, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law)”. Paul proves that the law was but for a season. The law ceased with the coming of Christ.
The problem at Rome was that the Judaizers were condemning (8:1) the Gentile believers because they did not regard the Jewish laws such as circumcision (Rom.2:28,29), eating unclean animals (Rom.14:14), and observing the Sabbath and other feast days (Rom.14:5). Paul, in order to abort this false teaching, established the calling of the Gentiles, proved to the Jewish believers that the law was fulfilled in Christ, and firmly maintained the equality of all believers both Jew and Gentile.
Paul continues his thesis in chapter 8 stating that the law is dead and, consequently, there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (whether Jew or Gentile). He admonishes the Jews, and to those Gentiles who were being persuaded by this Jewish heresy, that as long as they put their confidence in Jewish circumcision (see Phil.3:3), then they will never be able to please God (verse 8).
Paul has almost the identical message when writing to the church in Galatia in order to combat this same Jewish heresy.
“Howbeit then, when ye (Gentiles) knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggardly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal.4:8,9)
Starting with verse 17, Paul begins a discussion about the consequence of becoming a Christian. He does so by introducing the cross of the Christian, namely, suffering. We will now consider a passage found in Romans 8 which has greatly been misinterpreted and misunderstood by many students of the Bible.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his promise.” (Rom.8:28)
Many people interpret this to mean that every circumstance in life, whether good or evil (from a human perspective), originates from the predetermined will of God. This, however, was not Paul’s intention nor his theological position. When Paul uses the phrase “all things”, he does so in the context of what he had previously discussed, namely, suffering (persecution/tribulation). In verse 18, Paul says that the sufferings which the Christian endures is completely overshadowed by the hope of the believer of eternal life with Christ. Paul further clarifies the phrase, “all things”, in vss.35-39.
Instead of God being the causative agent for the believer’s suffering, Paul declares that God’s eternal purpose is not thwarted by these events. On the contrary, the Christian remains firmly secure in the hope of eternal life. In 2Cor.4:15-18, Paul again addresses this topic.
“For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Here, verses 15-17, Paul reveals that all these things are working together to strengthen the inner man. In verse 18, he teaches us that the strengthening and uplifting does not come from the circumstances themselves (things which are seen), but rather, it comes from what the believer does through these periods of despair. If he keeps his eyes on Jesus and his faith (things which are not seen— Hebrews 11:1) in God, then he truly is like a man who “built his house upon a rock” and remained safe through the storms of life.
Returning now to the second phrase in Rom.8:28, “the called according to his purpose (will)”, Paul forcefully and unambiguously revealed in the preceding chapters of this epistle that God’s elect was both Jew and Gentile. It was in God’s plan and foreknowledge before the creation of the world that the “calling” was going to be to “whomsoever will” both Jew and Gentile. God did not limit himself to be the God of the Jews exclusively. The synopsis of Paul’s message thus far is found in Rom.8:29,30.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
In verses 29 and 30, Paul uses the word “predestinate” in a two-fold way. In an encompassing view, it refers to the recipients of God’s grace. As is evident from Paul’s foregoing discussion, the idea of predestination is used in the collective sense and not in the individual sense as many have presumed. This is the very crux of Paul’s message and the very truth which he endeavored to proclaim, that is, both Jew and Gentile have been called (predestined) by God. (Remember Peter’s vision in Acts 10 and Paul’s calling in Acts 19).
Primarily, though, the word as used in these two verses entails purpose and provision. The purpose was that the believers (both Jew and Gentile) would be “conformed to the image of his Son”. As regards provision, Paul stated in Rom.7:18 that while under the law he did not have the ability nor power “to perform that which is good”. However, in verse 25 of that chapter, he joyfully proclaims that the answer (provision) is found in Jesus Christ.
In order to follow Paul’s line of reasoning in Rom.8:29-30, we must of necessity start with verse 28. In this verse, he states that God is using all things to bring about that good which he has ordained (Eph.2:10) for all believers to possess. In actuality, Paul says the very same thing in verse 29, only in a different way. The phrase, for whom he did foreknow, is the same as to them that are called in verse 28. He predestinated or willed (purpose—vs.28) that believers should be Christ-like.
In verse 30, Paul sums it up this way: God has predestined (foreordained) that all should be saved (2Peter 3:9; John 3:15,16). In order for all to be saved, he calls them to repentance by the preaching of the gospel (Rom.10:8-17). If they believe the gospel message and accept Christ into their hearts, then God justifies them (Rom.5:1; 1Cor.6:11). He then glorifies them by filling them with His Spirit (Rom.8:11; 2Cor.4:6,7).
Before we consider the Ephesian passage where the word predestinated is used, I would like to cite just a few more passages in Romans. I do this to emphasize to the reader the thoughts of Paul as regarding the predestination or calling of the Gentiles to the gospel as well as the Jews.
“What is God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath (see 1Thess.2:14-16) fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory. Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the gentiles?” (Rom.9:22-24)
“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the gentiles; how much more their (Israel’s) fullness? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom.11:1,2,5,7,12,25,26)
In Rom.9:22-24, Paul uses the phrases “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy” to refer to the Jews and gentiles, respectively. Notice how he uses the pronoun us, thereby associating himself with the gentiles. Again, we see the same thought how that God has predestined (afore prepared) both Jew and Gentile to share in the glories of Christ.
Romans 11 has proven to be a most controversial passage, especially verse 26. The dispensationalists have interpreted this chapter as proof of a national conversion of Israel. However, this is not the teaching of Paul at all. He states in verse 2 that God foreknew Israel after the flesh according to the covenant made to them (verse 27). This covenant was valid, however, only to those believing Jews (vss.5,7). The believing remnant became the election. Paul taught that the believing Jew and the believing Gentile (Rom.2:28,29) together composed the completed olive tree having both natural branches (Jews) and grafted branches (gentiles). This is the context in which Paul uses the phrase all Israel in verse 26. The door of salvation to the Jews would remain open until the day that God would proclaim that “time should be no more”. This would end the “times of the gentiles” and, of course, that of the Jews also. Therefore, the “all” of verse 26 refers to both the believing Jew and the believing Gentile.
We will now turn our attention to the Ephesian letter, where Paul makes it even more clear to us how that God has predestined both Jew and gentile to be partakers of the gospel. We will see even better how Paul uses this word in a collective sense and not in an individual sense.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Eph.1:4-11)
If one were to read this passage without denominational prejudice or prior theological bias, then the truth about predestination becomes self-evident. In this passage, Paul clearly shows that it was the Gentiles collectively that were predestined by God to share in the gospel message, so that, both Jew and Gentile would be gathered together in one. In the very next chapter, Paul again reiterates his dominant theme about this “mystery.”
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:” (Eph.2:11-16)
As I have previously stated in this paper, the controversy over predestination would become greatly mitigated if Paul’s wording as found in Romans 8:29,30 and Ephesians 1:5,11 would be read and interpreted in its greater context, and in the context of the calling of the Apostle Paul. The predestination, or calling, of both the Jew and the Gentile was not a message which was unique to Paul as is evident from Jesus’ own teaching in John 10:16.
“And other sheep (Gentiles) I have, which are not of this fold (Jews): them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
Peter, also, received a revelation of this mystery as recorded in Acts 10. If you carefully read the two epistles of Peter, you will find that he is addressing the Gentile believers. Notice what sublime words Peter uses in describing the Gentile Christians in his first epistle.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
In conclusion, I would like to make one final quote from Ephesians 3:1-6, so that, we may again emphasize the fact that Paul speaks in the collective sense when referring to the eternal purpose of God’s predestined plan for man, both Jew and Gentile.
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if you heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ). Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:”