The problem of predestiny

When I decided to write about predestiny, my first thought was that proponents of predestination would be sending me comments.  

Stephen Hawking - paraphrase - even believers in predestiny look before crossing the street.My second thought was maybe not – because do they have a reason to even be looking for anything on the topic – and to what end if their destiny is already set? My next thought was – I can’t believe I’m using a quote from Stephen Hawking.  But hey – it fits.

I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.
     Stephen Hawking

The problem of predestiny is article #1 in the series: Predestiny versus Free Will. Click button to view titles for entire series

This is a touchy subject.  Folks feel strongly on both sides.

So let’s look at it.  See what the Bible has to say.  And, let’s since we believe that God is “Love” – lets see how loving this doctrine really is.

Nothing like giving away the ending right from the start, is there?


Let’s start off with “foreknowledge”. defines it as

knowledge of something before it exists or happens.

What exactly does before it exists or happens mean to God, who exists outside of time?  

All sorts of books exist on this subject.  There are arguments that God predetermined the people who would accept Jesus.  There are others that argue that God predetermined the rewards for those who accepted Jesus – but not who those people would be.  And I don’t intend to re-argue the case for them.  You can go check out the books on both sides of this issue if you care to.  

No – I think there’s an easier way.  

To be honest, I was shocked when I first learned about predestination meaning that God had predetermined who would accept His Son.  The concept was so far away from what I had come to believe , maybe naively, by taking God at His word for what was in the Bible.  Kind of “childish” – no?  

Mk 10:13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Yeah – kind of childish.

What did God have to say about this “predestiny” thing?

The Shepherds and the Angels (Luke 2:8-20)

Lk 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Lk 2:13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
Lk 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

This seems like it could be somewhat ambiguous.  “for all the people” versus “on whom his favor rests“.

The Greek word translated as people – λαός – can be translated as –

1.   a people, people group, tribe, nation, all those who are of the same stock and language.
2.   of a great part of the population gathered together anywhere. [1]Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

so it’s not really definitive.  It could be everyone.  Or it could be a specific group of people based on some characteristic.

The Greek word translated as on whom his favor rests – εὐδοκία- can be translated as –

1. will, choice. 1A good will, kindly intent, benevolence.
2. delight, pleasure, satisfaction.
3. desire. 3A for delight in any absent thing easily produces longing for it.  [2]Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

 again – not really definitive.  

Having said that – I think the real question is the meaning of the first word –  λαός – and whether it means literally all the people, or only some subgroup of all the people.

Let’s hold onto that thought – and keep going.

Jesus, speaking to the people (John 8:12)

Jn 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Greek word translated as whoever – ὁ – can be translated as –

who (also which, the things. This word is an article, and as such has no inherent reference as to whether it refers to a person or an object)

so there’s no ambiguity here.  There are no conditions – no prerequisites to being included in a subgroup.  It’s whoever.  Plain and simple.

Jesus, speaking of the Shepherd and His flock (John 10:1-21)

Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

If we were to take only verse 14, one could make an argument that the sheep – those who will follow Jesus – are predetermined.  I know my sheep and my sheep know me. However – that seems to go out the window with the addition of verse 16.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. So if there was some level of predetermination – like maybe the descendants of Abraham / Isaac / Jacob (Israel) – verse 16 makes it clear that there are other “sheep” besides them.

The case for this original group of sheep can be made from when Abram was first called in Genesis 12:1-9 –

The Call of Abram

Ge 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
Ge 12:2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
Ge 12:3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

One could argue that the original group of sheep could be the Jewish people of Jesus’ time.  However, going back to the original promise to Abram, it would seem that selecting just the Jewish people for that original group would be incomplete.  The blessing was given to those who bless Abram – and there’s the possibility for all the peoples of the earth to be blessed through him.

There’s no ambiguity here either.  The words really do translate to all the people.

So even back in Genesis – we see a blessing to all who bless Abram – with a possibility for blessing to all the people.

Jesus, before the Passover Feast (John 12:44-50)

Jn 12:44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Jn 12:47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

The Greek word translated as When a man (or whoever) – ὁ – is the same word we already looked at – and has no ambiguity.  It is everyone / anyone.

Regarding Jesus’ blood (John 6:53-59)

Jn 6:53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Again – the Greek word translated as whoever is ὁ.  It does mean everyone.

Regarding Jesus’ blood – the Last Supper (Mark 14:22-25)

Mk 14:22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Mk 14:23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.
Mk 14:24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

Poured out for many.  Clearly – this is a subgroup of all the people.  How did we get from everyone / anyone to only a subgroup?

Ask, Seek, Knock

Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Mt 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Again – we see Jesus talking about everyone.  This time the Greek word is – πᾶς – which is another article, translated as –

“all” 748 times, “all things” 170 times, “every” 117 times, “all men” 41 times, “whosoever” 31 times, “everyone” 28 times, “whole” 12 times, “all manner of” 11 times, “every man” 11 times, “no + 3756” nine times, “every thing” seven times, “any” seven times, “whatsoever” six times, “whosoever + 3739 + 302” three times, “always + 1223” three times, “daily + 2250” twice, “any thing” twice, “no + 3361” twice, not translated seven times, and translated miscellaneously 26 times.  [3]Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Conclusion on “predestiny”

So – we’ve looked at a lot of verses here.  I could add more.  Many more.  We’ve seen it go from salvation offered to all – to God’s favor resting on many (not all) and Jesus’ blood being poured out for many (not all).

And there’s the answer as to why sometimes it’s all – and sometimes it’s only some.

It has to do with the offer being made to all – but only accepted by some.

Let me ask a question here.
very important question.

Did God / Jesus lie when they said the offer was for all?

While proponents of predestiny would say the difference between offered to all and accepted by some is because God predetermined who would accept – does that not mean God / Jesus lied when they said the offer was for all?  Because if predetermination was really the correct doctrine –

If God had already chosen who would accept the offer and who wouldn’t – then the offer wasn’t really made to all.

This is a tough conclusion to justify as “Church Doctrine”.

Supposedly, at least a large part of the thinking behind predestination has to do with an all-powerful God.  Like maybe in order to be sure things come out the way He wants – He has to control everything.  

But does that not put God in the position of not only having predetermined who is saved – but therefore also, by exclusion if nothing else, who is damned!  That doesn’t appear to be a loving God.  No wonder atheists have a hard time with Christianity.

Then that, by extension, puts one in the position of saying that God must be performing evil acts.  There is one really huge difference between allowing evil things to happen and making evil things happen.  Again – is this an attribute of a loving God?  For more on that thought, please see The “knowledge of evil” versus actual “evil and But I was certain that evil existed.

What about Paul?

Those who believe in predestiny often point to Paul.  So, let’s look at what he wrote.

 Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

(Emphasis is mine)

To me – this is the key verse on the topic of predestiny in Paul’s letters.  Yes – there is mention of predestination in the Bible.  But the same is true of foreknowledge.

We have to take ourselves out of the time box.  As mentioned at the top, while we do operate in time, God does not.  We acknowledge this.  We say it over and over again.  But do we really believe it?  Do we act like we believe it?  Do we interpret the Bible like we believe it?

Why do any of us think that God can’t know ahead of time what choices we will make?  Why is it necessary to think that in order to “know” the outcome – that God must also “control” all the events leading up to that outcome?  

The Bible talks about God allowing things to happen.  Especially bad things.  Evil things.  Not that He caused them.  That He allowed them.  It’s a huge difference.  But do we believe that?  Do we really believe that God made Pharaoh do all those evil things to His people – or do we believe that God allowed Pharaoh to do those things?  (See God, The Father – Friend or Foe? A look at Pharaoh if you don’t believe it was God allowing it, as opposed to making it happen.)  Why then, do we think that God has to condemn some people to Hell in order to have certain other people saved?

Putting God in a box?

Why do some believe that God cannot allow us to make our choices – but still control how it ends up?

Rev 4:1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

We’ve already been told in Revelation that God, at some point, is going to take control of things.  This verse, to me, implies that God’s going to force things to happen at this point, in a way that He didn’t before.

Rev 13:5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. 6 He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

Do we believe this or not?  Do we believe that God can know ahead of time who will accept Jesus and who won’t?  Or do we think He has to control everything in order for Him to know what’s going to happen?  

Everything we read says that Satan has the power to corrupt us.  But if God is controlling everything – is it really Satan?  

Predestiny seems dangerous to me.  There’s no hope – except for those that were pre-chosen.  But who knows for sure they that were pre-chosen?

Under a predestination theology – what is the meaning of this passage, which starts with arguably the most famous verse in the Bible –

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

It doesn’t say anything about God so loving the one’s He pre-chose.  It says For God so loved the world.

Do we believe that?

Do you believe that?

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

What do you believe?


This article was originally written on Jan 29, 2015.  It’s being updated in January 2018, for use in a class.


1, 2, 3 Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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