Predestination – Part 1

by Oct 30, 2019Apologetics, Theological Musings0 comments

- ...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17 NRS) -

Understanding Predestination

The following quote from R. C. Sproul was posted on Facebook recently: “We talk about predestination because the Bible talks about predestination. If we desire to build our theology on the Bible we run head on into this concept. We soon discover that John Calvin did not intent it.” – R. C. Sproul

Predestination certainly is a Biblical concept. The primary word used for this is the verb προορίζω (PROORIZŌ) which literally means “decide upon beforehand, predetermine” (BDAG). Therefore, the term does denote a determination ahead of time for something that is to occur.  The word comes from ὁρίζω, with the preposition prefix προ, meaning “before. The word ὁρίζω has several uses. It comes from the basic meaning, “to separate entities and so establish a boundary,” and the derived meaning is the “determine, appoint, fix, set” (BDAG).

PROORIZŌ is not the only word we have that infers a kind of predetermination, but certainly it is primary and the one I want to focus my attention on here to stay within a limited space. To simplify reading, I am going to switch to an English transliteration of the term (PROORIZŌ).

We do run into this word or its root several times in Scripture and we need to understand how it is being used and what it means. The question of meaning, of course, is dependent not on the bare word, but on the context where the word is used. So an examination of its is certainly proper. As such, we will examine the passages where it is used to determine two things.

  1. What is being predetermined?
  2. What is the reference by which “predetermination” is being understood?

The second point is important theologically. There is an assumption in Sproul’s statement above that the use of the Reformed understanding of predestination is inherent in the Bible and that is used to denote the election of individuals.

PROORIZŌ is found in four passages in the New Testament. The verses where the term is used are in parentheses.

  • Acts 4:24-30 (4:28)
  • Romans 8:28-39 (8:29, 8:30)
  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-10 (2:7)
  • Ephesians 1:3-14 (1:5, 1:11)

We shall examine each in turn. I will examine the first (Acts 4:24-30) here and provide each of the next in separate posts. That will make the text more readable and allow people to choose which text to examine. I want to keep these posts relatively short for the sake of readability.

Acts 4:24-30 (4:28)

The first is a prayer found in Acts 4:24-30

24 When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them,
25 it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’
27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed,
28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness,
30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:24-30 NRS)

In reading verses 27-28, many see God predestining Herod and Pilate to kill Jesus Christ. For them, this is an example of the predestination of individuals to perform a specific act of sins.

There are two key points that we can draw from the context. First, while Herod and Pilate are certainly actors in this drama, the statement in 27 is virtually universal in character. It includes the Gentiles and the people of Israel. If we look at the bare words, there literally is no one excluded from this event. The statement is generalized and certainly not every Gentile or every Jews was at the crucifixion of Jesus. So why call out Herod and Pilate? Why not the Sanhedrin or the crowd?

The answer seems to be found in verses 25-26, where Psalm 2:1-2 is being quoted. Herod and Pilate (the representative of the Emperor) represent the “kings of the earth” and the rulers found in this Messianic Psalm.

If this is the case, then the “predestination” or foreordination (which might be a better way of saying it) is not found in a pretemporal setting, but in the expression of Psalm 2, a Messianic psalm, treated as prophecy. This fulfills in a new way the Gentiles raging and the people imagining vain things.

The second point has to do with what is predestined. The easiest way to see this is to map the prayer in a series of parallels with alternating A-B sections, beginning at the quote from Psalm 2 (4:25b).

A1 – “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together,
B1 – against the Lord and His Anointed”

A2 – for truly in this city there were gathered together
B2 – against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed

A3 – both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel ,
B3 – to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

In Psalm 2, the kings and the people set themselves against God and his anointed. God does not set them against the anointed (4:25b-26). This directly parallels the events of the Crucifixion (4:27-28). Acts 4:29-30 brings this text to the present circumstances of the apostles with a similar parallel.

The Greek actually has the A3-B3 section in a slightly different order than the NRS translation, which can be seen with the ESV with our outline references in parentheses:

27 (A2) for truly in this city there were gathered together (B2) against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, (A3) both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
28 (B3) to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.   (Acts 4:27-28 ESV)

While this order is closer to the Greek, Greek often orders sentence fragments and clauses for emphasis. What is predestined verse 28 can be tied to either the gathering of people against Jesus, or on the anointing of the servant for a specific purpose. While the clause “both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” is closer in proximity to verse 28, it seems to me that this is a parenthetic explanatory reference to define those who are gathered against Jesus, with an allusion to Psalm 2:1-2. The closest verb is “anointed” (CHRIŌ), which the BDAG defines as “anoint in our literature only in a [figurative] sense of an anointing by God setting a [person] apart for special service under divine direction.” With respect to Jesus in this verse, it refers to his work and mission (BDAG).  This seems to correspond more closely with the definition of ORIZŌ (see above).

If this is the case, then the “predestination” is focused on the anointing and the mission, not on the people who killed Jesus.

The cross as the sacrifice for sin certainly was the intent of sending the son. That is the anointing and it is that anointing that is ordained. You can see this in the mapping of the parallels above. This means that the prayer is saying that the cross was ordained by God. Those who crucified him are “bit players” in the drama of redemption. When we speak of predestination in this passage, we are not looking at individuals who perpetrated it, but at the act of God in redemption through Jesus Christ.

Yet there is clearly an evil act that is being done here. How are we to understand that? The intention of the cross, the sacrifice of God serves a purpose that is greater than the evil act that accompanied it.  God’s action here transcends the evil perpetrated by others.  While others might have intended evil, God first and foremost is the creator and has the creative ability to turn darkness to light, or to bring light into darkness.