Is predestination linear or non-linear?

Posted: 21st December 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

baloo-predestination.jpgI’ve been trying to follow discussions of predestination on a number of blogs recently, notable Soul deSaenz and Undeception, but still haven’t been able to get my head around the concept that the salvation that we believe in only finds full fruition in some number of elect people, who were predetermined before the world was created.

Ephesians 1:3-14 (Revised English Bible):

[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has conferred on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. [4] Before the foundation of the world he chose us in Christ to be his people, to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love; [5] and he predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ. This was his will and pleasure [6] in order that the glory of his gracious gift, so graciously conferred on us in his Beloved, might redound to his praise.

[7] In Christ our release is secured and our sins forgiven through the shedding of his blood. In the richness of his grace [8] God has lavished on us all wisdom and insight. [9] He has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ, [10] to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ.

[11] In Christ indeed we have been given our share in the heritage, as was decreed in his design whose purpose is everywhere at work; for it was his will [12] that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, should cause his glory to be praised. [13] And in Christ you also — once you had heard the message of the truth, the good news of your salvation, and had believed it — in him you were stamped with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; [14] and that Spirit is a pledge of the inheritance which will be ours when God has redeemed what is his own, to his glory and praise.

Revelation 13:8 (REB):

All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it [the beast], all whose names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb, slain since the foundation of the world.

Am I thinking about this too linearly? My mind reads the passage from Ephesians and constructs a sequence where God more-or-less picked names out of a hat, wrote them down in a big book, then created the world. As the selected names appear in history, events are manipulated so that they hear and believe the gospel. Once all the names have believed, what? The world ends…

Or is this a Jew/Gentile thing? The elect (“us”, “we”) were the Jews, set apart by God, but now the Gentiles (“you”) are saved by believing the gospel? That seems to fly in the face of the argument for salvation by faith in Hebrews…

Or, perhaps, since God is timeless, should we think of this in a non-linear way? That is, as people hear the message of the gospel and believe in it, their names are written down in the book before the world is created. Thus, we are predestined because our names are written down from the start, but they only were written down once we believed in Christ and were sealed with the Holy Spirit.

If Christ can be said to have been slain before the foundation of the world, when the historicity points to an event 2000 years ago, cannot our names be written down before the foundation of the world, even as history continues linearly?

I’m not trying to find a “free will” loophole here. I’m just having a hard time understanding whether Christian salvation is truly universal or not, in the sense of applying equally to all peoples if they hear and believe. And whether God created some human beings to be adversaries of his elect, either by design or neglect.


  1. Rich Shields says:

    Howdy. As a Lutheran, I find the key in the Ephesians passage (in particular) to be that predestination is always “in Christ” (used 37 times in the letter, or a variant of it). Thus, (naked) predestination (apart from Christ) is indeed kind of a guessing game, hence no comfort or assurance. However, when one is “in Christ” (one is “in Christ” when one believes), the predestination is assured, which brings comfort and assurance. Another way to state it: we always look to Christ for confirmation of predestination, never to ourselves.

  2. Each of the alternatives you propose has been proposed in the past in any number of books and articles, and in turn has been accepted by some and rejected by others. The Jew/Gentile explanation of Ephesians 1 has its attractive points, but in the end, as you note, it’s too problematic. For myself, I note (also with many others) that the Scriptural language of election is overwhelmingly corporate (both for Israel and for the Church), and I thus prefer to think of it in those terms. But of course, this doesn’t satisfy everyone, and like every other explanation, has weak points.

    As for Rev. 13:8, there is a good grammatical case to made to the effect that the clause “before the foundation of the world” is connected to “written” rather than to “slain”–so the ASV, the NASB, the RSV, the NRSV, the ESV, the NLT and the HCSB.

  3. Steve says:

    Foreknowledge is not prescriptive but descriptive: God’s “book of life” is a timeless compendium of those known by God that would accept His salvation. The “non-linear” fashion you describe is therefore how I would take this. As for the vessels of destruction: if God creates people in full knowledge of what good or evil they will do, if He chooses the “hardware” with which they will make their decisions, it’s hard not to see that God is predestining certain ones one way or another. That He is said to not be willing that any should perish implies that He supplies most with “hardware” that could go either way, although I think He may at times have stacked the deck for or against some for His own purpose.

    As for Ephesians 1, I think there’s a good argument that the “us” and “you” comments aren’t meant to be fully contrastive. This is because Paul never delimits “us” to any particular group, and so the natural reading for the audience would have assumed that Paul was including them. With this in mind, kai humeis (commonly translated “you also”) in verse 13 would more naturally be translated “even you” (a perfectly legitimate treatment of kai), specifically pointing out the surprising grace of God toward the Gentile Ephesians. Regardless, I think those who “first believed” refer not to the Jews who served God under the Mosaic Covenant, but are those who James said were “a kind of first fruits of all creation” (James 1:18) who received the promise of the New Covenant while the Old was still passing (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3:11); whether one sees this group as comprising the first century believers in toto or simply the original believing Jews (e.g. the Apostles), it depends on if one buys the “we/you” unity I mentioned above.

    Regardless, the election Paul refers to in Ephesians and Romans served the purpose of extending God’s redemption: the hardening of Israel meant for the purpose of grafting the Gentiles into the tree of faith described in Romans 9-11 is described as God’s method of offering salvation to more than simply the original believers. From Jacob and Esau to Pharaoh to the “first fruits” Christians, God’s purpose for election, to advance His plan of redemption, was fulfilled at the time of the revelation of the true sons of God (Romans 8:14-19) and the casting out of the bond-slave (Gal. 4).

    So my understanding is that we can’t equate Paul’s and Luke’s “elect” with modern Christians, although I in no way preclude the possibility that God may continue to “elect” here and there in order to advance His purpose in redemption. I think the majority of humanity lies somewhere in the middle ground between the vessels of honor and vessels of destruction whom He has weighted in one way or the other for the purpose of wooing those vessels for whom free will remains virtually untethered.

  4. Bryan says:

    As the url of my blog shows, one could probably guess where I stand on the subject. Though I blog about my views sometimes, I tend to shy away from talking about it in comments because it usually digresses into an internet shouting match. As such, I’ll simply say that I hold to a reformed view of predestination. My advice to you is to read, read read! Make sure to read all sides of the issue and prayerfully read and consider (first and foremost!) the Biblical text.

    I was also going to point out the textual issue of Rev 13:8. John writes unmistakeably in Rev 17.8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astounded when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present [again].” (HCSB) I think that John means the same thing in both, and has the word order in 13.8 as emphasis. Though if John is writing in such a way to convey nonlinear election, both 13.8 and 17.8 are correct as written. Being that I think chapter 17 is a recapitulation of 13 (6th vision cycle and 4th vision cycle respectfully) I would say that John is saying the same thing in both: names written in the book before the foundation of the world. Of course you know my bias. 🙂

    God bless you in your studies

  5. Jesus Saenz says:

    For me, a good starting point was with the accomplished work of Christ. Did He die to save perfectly or did he die to make salvation a possibility? What was the extent of the atonement? Was salvation accomplished at the cross or when believes? These are questions that I had and am working through. I never expected anybody to read my blog and so I was only writing for my own benefit, a way of working things out on my own.

    Wether one holds to the points of the Remonstrance or those of the Synod of Dort(Arminianism, Calvinism), they (the points) follow each other logically.

    As far as God wanting all men to come to repentance or to be saved, thats just not so. Pro. 16:4-5, Psalm 5:5, John 6:65-66, 1 Peter 2:8, Jude 1:4

    The verses that people use to designate this notion, when taken in context do not actually say that God wants all men to be saved. For example 2 Peter 3:9. This part of scripture is not teaching on salvation but rather it’s an eschatological passage. But, the topic of verse 9 is “you”, who then is “you”? In verse 8 the subject of the sentence is “beloved” so the “you” of verse 9 is the “beloved” of verse 8. In verse 1 of ch.3, Peter noted that this is his second letter to the beloved, who then are the beloved? Going back to 1 Peter 1:1 the letter is addressed to the “elect”, going back to 2 Peter 3:9, God is patient towards the elect not wishing that any of the elect perish.

    I will continue with the topic of the atonement on my blog.

    Thanks, ElSheddai. May you and your family have a merry Christmas.

  6. Wow. Thanks all for the fast replies – there’s a lot there to unpack and think about (and read, read, read!) Not coming from a theologically informed background, it’s been both frustrating and interesting to learn about “church history”. My own views have organically evolved and it’s been interesting to find the theological labels that match.

    So far, after a quick read of Wikipedia, it seems I favor general atonement, total depravity, grace alone, conditional election and conditional continued salvation. That more or less puts me in the “Arminian” bucket, right? I suppose I should have known that from this poll back in June…

    @Esteban: It’s very interesting that you bring up the corporate perspective. A former Bible teacher would look at our class with raised eyebrows and a stern grimace whenever we would start talking about Paul’s writing from an individual perspective. Corporate, corporate, corporate! was his Pauline mantra.

  7. Bryan says:

    I took that same poll in the summer as well. I scored “Reformed evangelical” which was no surprise. My second place was “Wesleyan/Holliness” however… which is.. well… not reformed haha. Maybe I should be checked for multiple personalities… 🙂

  8. Ha! I just took it again, this time only answering extreme “Agree” or “Disagree” (though I had to leave the Bishop Spong question in the middle, no clue who he is). 100% Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan and 86% Reformed Evangelical. If you have multiple personalities, so do I…

  9. Jesus Saenz says:

    Bishop Spong is a liberal Episcopal leader. He is also a proponent of gay rights and universalism. You can go to and do a search for John Shelby Spong and you will get more than a few articles. Dr. White has also debated him, you can do a search on YouTube for either James White or John shelby Spong.

    I took the poll…

    You scored as a Fundamentalist
    You are a fundamentalist. You take the Bible as the foundation of your faith and read it very literally, and it shapes your worldview. Non-fundamentalist Christians have watered-down the Gospel in your view, and academic study of the Bible stops us from ‘taking God at his word.’ Science is opposed to faith, as it contradicts basic biblical truths.

    Fundamentalist 93%

    Neo orthodox 86%

    Reformed Evangelical 86%

    Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 29%

    Charismatic/Pentecostal 14%

    Classical Liberal 14%

    Roman Catholic 7%

    Modern Liberal 0%

    Emergent/Postmodern 0%

  10. Jesus Saenz, I ask you to consider the following about the verses you cited. They each basically say that certain kinds of sinners cannot enter God’s presence, and that is how God has it. However, consider that if Christ’s need to die is real, then these verses only speak of sins that are not covered by Christ’s blood… and the only people who fit that category are the unreprentent of heart, who do not accept Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf. King David was a murderer, but he will be in God’s presence. Peter was arrogant, but he will be in God’s presence. Moses was disobedient, but he will be in God’s presence… because they were repentent men whose sins were covered by Christ’s blood.

    El Shaddai: my old pastor addressed the pre-destination issue really for me. He showed where scripture tells us that God will choose certain people for salvation. Other scriptures tell us to choose Jesus, so that we may be saved. So then, how do you reconcile these? Whose choice is it really? Well, choose Jesus, and you will find that God chose you first.

    As for thinking linearly about it, I do and don’t simultaneously. I see time, as we experience it now, as a physical part of the universe that God created… putting Him outside not only space, but time as well. So, I imagine when I die, God will show me my life, from beginning to end. As I view it from outside the universe, there will be no past or future from that perspective, just “my life” from beginning to end, all there in front of me. Well, I think God sees my life in that way already, right “now” (so to speak). What that means in my opinion is that I wasn’t just His from the moment I repented, but I was His all along. My moment of “salvation”, if one must call it that, was really the moment when I realized I was His… turns out I was His all along… yet, the choice was genuinely mine… and His, too.

    A related observation regarding the unsaved: I see God doing for many unsaved people the very same things that He did (and does) for me. I see my atheist friends and family getting blessed by God… and I pray one day they will see it for what it is. They just might. But, they might not… and it will be their choice. I am not saying God chose them and they’re going to Hell, but that He wills for no one to go to Hell and will have done enough so that if they do not choose Him, He will be able to show them all the chances they had… chances they squandered, chances He knew they would squander, yet He gave them those chances regardless, out of love for them.

    And now, we get to the part that I do not like… the idea of people going to Hell at all. I do not want them to. But, you know what? I know that when I die and go to Heaven, my partial knowledge will be done away with, along with all my other partial gifts… that which is partial will be complete and I will know it all, finally. And whatever does not make sense now will make sense then. Finally. And that is what gives me peace. I need only be obedient, as those of us who will be in Heaven spend our lives serving God, and finding each other in the process. It’s like He wants us to know each other before we get there. Kind of cool if you ask me.

  11. Jim Swindle says:

    I’ve struggled over some of these same points. As a starter, note that the scripture teaches human responsibility and divine predestination. It does not teach that we have free will, as near as I can tell, though we cannot understand how responsibility can exist unless there is free will. What is very clear is that we need to trust Jesus and that in some way the Lord has predestined us.

    I wish you and yours blessings at Christmas.

  12. @Esteban and Bryan: Thanks for the insight on the Revelation passages. I note that the REB translates Rev. 17:8 as “All the inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life since the foundation of the world […]” (emphasis mine). It’s still slightly unclear to me whether the REB is clarifying the intent of other translations that use “written from the foundation of the world” or taking a different position, e.g. does “from the foundation” mean “since the foundation” (cf. REB) or “before the foundation” (cf. Ephesians)? I also note that the TNIV chose the same grammatical path as the REB in Rev 13.

  13. @Jesus: you asked, “Was salvation accomplished at the cross or when believes?”

    In my current understanding, I would say that the work of salvation was accomplished at the cross, but that the effect of salvation is accomplished when we believe through faith.

  14. Nate says:

    I know I’m a little late to the discussion, but I just found your blog. I’d like to weigh in on this topic a little with a point that I don’t think has been addressed on here yet.

    In my opinion, when the Bible speaks of predestination, it seems to be talking about a specific type of people, and not specific people themselves. In other words, I think Ephesians 1 is saying that God predestined Christians to be saved. I think that’s what he means by us being predestined to adoption in Christ. Basically, anyone who wants to be saved must come through Christ.

    It appears to me that the plan was predestined, not individuals. And that seems to fit in with passages like 2 Pet 3:9 (which I do take to be literal), Ezek 18, which says that those in sin will be punished, and those who seek righteouness will be rewarded. It also fits with Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and other passages that say there’s no partiality with God. Those passages are easier to understand than the ones on predestination, and I think predestination has to be understood in light of them.

    By the way, I’ve really enjoyed your blog so far. Good luck in your continual search for the truth!

  15. Nate, thanks for stopping by! I like your perspective on this issue. Unless I’m horribly misreading things, I think that your “type of people” is essentially what Esteban meant by the corporate election of Israel and the Church. It takes a lot of discipline to not read Paul’s writings from an individual Christian perspective.

  16. Nate says:

    Ah, I missed that! Thanks.

    And I agree that it’s not always easy to know how to look at some of those writings. Even Peter admitted that some of what Paul wrote was pretty difficult to understand.

  17. Nate… you neglected to mention that you’d posted a full article on this topic! I hope you don’t mind me sharing it here…

  18. Nate says:

    Oh, not at all. I hope it’s helpful!

  19. Jesus Saenz says:

    The passages that deal directly with predestination such as Romans 8:29, Romans 8:30, Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:11 are all personal verbs. There is no way while reading these passages in context that you can conclude that it was a plan being predestined and not people. (Those WHOM He foreknew, He also predestined)

    Geocreationist, the verses I cited DO NOT speak of “certain kinds” of sinners.

  20. Nate says:

    They’re personal nouns because the passages are talking about a group of people. Personally, I think the passages mean that this group of people were predestined to model themselves after Christ. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that individuals have been pre-selected to be members of that group.

    You know, it’s kind of like our tax law: those who are married are “predestined” to get one deduction; those who are single are “predestined” to get another. But we all know the IRS isn’t aware of who will or won’t fit into those groups.

    Bottom line, I think that no matter how you look at it, the passages dealing with predestination are complicated. There are much plainer passages that tell us God wants us all to be saved, and Christ died for all men, that the gospel is for all, and that detail things God wants us to do to be pleasing to him.

    I guess it’s like Geocreationist said, whether predestination really talks about individuals or not, if we “choose Jesus” we can’t go wrong.

  21. Jesus Saenz says:

    Nate, it most certainly means that the individuals were predestined part of this group that in Romans 8 are called saints. It logically follows that God predestined His elect unto salvation, thus He foreknew those whom He predestined so that those WOULD be conformed to the Image of Christ because He called them, He justified them as well as glorify them. So if it is a group how did they become part of the group if not by the personal work of God doing the calling, predestinating, foreknowing, justifying and glorifying. The individual cannot do any of those verbs! That is an ontological difference that is fully shown later in Romans 9:20-21. Will the thing molded speak against it’s molder? One is the creature and the other the creator!

    Your IRS analogy makes a category error. The IRS is not omniscient, my Lord and Savior is.

    There are no passages that tell us that GOD desires all men to be saved. When looked at within the context all passages used to support such a view will either lead one to hold to universal salvation or to the biblical understanding of salvation of God’s elect.

  22. Nate says:

    I disagree. But then again, I also don’t believe that people have no bearing on their own salvation. I believe that God has offered us (all of us) salvation by his grace (Eph 2:8-9), but that he still requires us to have faith (Heb 11:6), to confess Christ is the son of God (Rom 10:9-10), to repent of our sins (2 Pet 3:9), and to be baptized for the remission of those sins (Acts 2:38, Rom 6:3-4). So it may be that you and I are coming from a completely different angle on this thing.

    You are right that none of us can do the calling, predestinating, foreknowing, justifying, or glorifying. Only God can do those things. But I believe his word teaches that he will only do those things when we’ve done the things he’s told us to do. Believing, confessing, repenting, being baptized, striving to serve God faithfully… those are all things that we can (and must) do.

    That’s why it’s hard for me to see the passages concerning predestination as having to do with individuals being locked into an eternal destiny regardless of their beliefs or actions. I just don’t see how that concept fits with the simpler teachings of the bible.

    I also disagree with your last statement. 2 Peter 3 seems to be saying that God has not brought the judgment sooner because he wants all men to take advantage of the extra time and turn to him before it’s too late. Matthew 23:37 seems to make the statement that Christ earnestly desired for the Jews to serve God faithfully, but they weren’t willing. Those statements sound to me like the ball’s in our court. And Ephesians 2:14-18 says that Christ abolished the Old Law so that both Jews and Gentiles could be saved — and everyone falls into one of those two groups. And Ephesians 3 tells us that it was God’s plan from the beginning to send Christ in order to accomplish that very goal: the salvation of Jews and Gentiles.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot about Paul’s writings that are complicated. I could easily be missing something. All I know is that the gospel won’t contradict itself.

  23. Jesus Saenz says:

    Nate, we are coming at this from different angles.

    The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that God only foreknows, predestines, elects, etc. only after we demonstrate a saving faith. That totally turns Romans 8 & 9 upside down, especially since in Romans 9:11, 9:16, 9:18 it states that election unto salvation is based on God’s actions!

    Eternal destiny? Does not God work all things according to the council of His will? Eph. 1:11. Was not His election, predestination, adoption made in eternity past, before the foundation of this world? Eph.1:4,5. God is immutable, unchanging. If He decreed that you and I be among the saved, are you saying that your will to rebel is greater than His will to determine your salvation? What is simpler than God being sovereign and us not?

    2Pet. 3:9, “… patient toward you…” who is the “you” that Peter wishes they not perish? In verse 9, the subject of the sentence is “you”, in verse 8 the subject is “beloved”. In verse 1 of chapter 3, Peter tells us that this is his second letter to the beloved. In 1 Peter 1:1, Pete is addressing this letter to the elect, which means that his second letter was also addressed to the elect which means that the “beloved” of 2 Peter 3 are the elect, which means that the “all” of verse 9 are the elect. This passage only proves my position of God only wanting His elect to be saved and not every individual.

    Matthew 23:37 is about Jesus rebuking the Jewish elders who DID NOT gather the children together as a hen gathers her chicks. Who was it that killed the prophets and stoned those whom God sent?

    Those statements sound to me like the ball’s in our court.

    Ephesians 2 & 3 do not support your view of God wanting to save every Jew and every Gentile, only that he came to save His people from both the Jews and Gentiles

  24. Micky says:


    1. God knows all things, including those who will be saved (THE ELECT). 2. God’s foreknowledge does not destroy, but includes, free will. 3. God desires all men to be saved. 4. Jesus died to redeem all men. 5. God provides sufficient grace for all men to be saved. 6. Man, in the exercise of his free will, can accept or reject grace. 7. Those who accept grace are saved, or born-again. 8. Those who are born-again can fall away or fall into sin. 9. Not everyone who is saved will persevere in grace. 10. Those who do persevere are God’s elect. 11. Those who do not persevere, or who never accepted grace, are the reprobate. 12. Since we can always reject God in this life, we have no absolute assurance that we will persevere. 13. We can have a moral assurance of salvation if we maintain faith and keep God’s commandments (1 John 2:1-6; 3:19-23; 5:1-3,13).


    1. Predestination is not predetermination :

    “Predestination is nothing else than the foreknowledge and foreordaining of those gracious gifts which make certain the salvation of all who are saved.” (St. Augustine, Persever 14:35)

    Predestination is God’s decree of the happiness of the elect. God’s infallible foreknowledge (and thus predestination also) includes free will. God’s foreknowledge cannot force upon man unavoidable coercion, for the simple reason that it is at bottom nothing else than the eternal vision of the future historical actuality. God foresees the free activity of a man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it, predestination is not predetermination of the human will.

    2. Election is a consequence of God’s foreknowledge :

    By definition, the ELECT are those whom God infallibly foresees will be saved (Rom 8:28-30). By this definition, it is impossible for the elect to be lost, precisely because God foreknows who will not be lost. But since election depends on God’s infallible foreknowledge, we simply have no way of knowing whether or not we are in that category — God knows with certainty His elect, but we do not. The elect are predestined in the sense that God knows them, and enables them by grace, to be saved.

    3. Free will can resist and reject God’s grace :

    “You stiff-necked people…you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). The angels possessed grace and perfectly intact intellect, and yet many of them freely sinned and rejected God. Adam and Eve possessed grace and a perfectly intact nature, and yet they freely sinned. How much more so is it possible for the born-again Christian, who possesses grace but also a wounded nature and a darkened intellect, to sin also. Paul mentions sins which keep a man from the Kingdom of God: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, and so on (1 Cor 6:9-10).

    When Jesus was expressly asked what one must do to gain eternal life, he answered, “keep the commandments,” and went on to list the moral commandments of the Decalogue (Matt 19:16-21). Revelation describes those whose lot is the burning pool of fire and sulfur, the second death: “cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste” and so on (Rev 21:8). Aren’t born-again Christians capable of these sins? And if they die in these sins, how can they possibly inherit heaven? If Adam and Eve could fall from grace, surely we can fall from grace as well. Surely we can harden our hearts and resist the Holy Spirit.

    4. We cannot confuse Election with being “Born Again” :

    The set of those who are “born again” (in Catholic and historic Christian understanding those who have been regenerated “of water and Spirit” in the Sacrament of Baptism — John 3:3,5; Acts 2:38) is not necessarily co-extensive with the set of those who will persevere and gain eternal life. Born-again Christians can and (sadly) do fall away. Otherwise free will and (mortal) sin are merely fictitious for a Christian during this life of testing and pilgrimage. Otherwise all the language in Scripture of persevering to the end in order to be saved (cf. Matt 10:22; 24:13; Phil 2:12-13) makes no sense.
    MICKY –