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Predestination (from Latin 'praedestinare,' "fore-ordain") is a religious idea especially among the monotheistic religions, and it is usually distinguished form other kinds of determinism such as fate, karma, doom, and scientific determinism. So, predestination concerns God's decision to create the world and to govern it, and the extent to which God's decisions determine ahead of time what the destiny of groups and individuals will be. Conflicts over this topic have concerned various schools of religion. The disagreement many Christians have especially is between those affirming God's sovereign rule and those affirming human freedom. Also, a lot of different theories have been proposed to address the difficult issue of how divine omnipotence and human free will are compatible.

Given the difficult nature of the tension of omnipotence and free will, a careful study of these theories, especially those suggested by St. Thomas Aquinas and Alfred North Whitehead, could lead to a new definition of divine omnipotence, which is not so much a coercive kind of power as a profound power of love grounded on God's true desire of love. This way, omnipotence could more easily accommodate free will because love by nature cares for and recognizes others while at the same time being more effectively powerful than anything else.

Predestination and Other Kinds of Determinism

Predestination usually refers to a specifically religious type of determinism, especially as found in monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam, wherever omnipotence and omniscience are attributed to God. Thus, its religious nature distinguishes it from discussions of determinism with strictly philosophical, historical, or economic interpretations.

Predestination may sometimes be used to refer to other materialistic, spiritualist, non-theistic or polytheistic ideas of determinism, destiny, fate, doom, or karma. Such beliefs or philosophical systems may hold that any outcome is finally determined by the complex interaction of multiple, possibly immanent, possibly impersonal, possibly equal forces rather than simply by the reliance of the Creator's conscious choice.

Judaism believes in that human beings have free will and are held responsible for their actions by God. This is very strong theme is the Torah. The pagan world that surrounded tended to believe in fate, destiny or karma. The idea of a predestined elect was a gnostic idea. It has been suggested that as Christianity expanded and found many non-Jewish adherents it absorbed and was influenced by gnostic ideas such as predestination and determinism.[1] The same could be said of Islam.

Predestination and Omniscience

Discussion of predestination usually involves consideration of whether God is omniscient, eternal, or atemporal (out of the flow of time in our universe). In terms of these ideas, God may see the past, present, and future, effectively knowing the future. If God in some sense knows ahead of time what will happen, then events in the universe can be effectively predetermined from God's point of view. This divine foreknowledge is not predestination in itself, although Arminians and Molinists in Christianity used both interchangeably when they were trying to argue for free will's compatibility with predestination through foreknowledge. Predestination implies that God will determine ahead of time what the destiny of creatures will be.

Judaism may accept the possibility that God is atemporal; some forms of Jewish theology teach this virtually as a principle of faith, while other forms of Judaism do not. Jews may use the term "omniscience" or "preordination" as a corollary of omniscience, but normally outright reject the idea of predestination.

Islam traditionally has strong views of predestination similar to some found in Christianity. In Islam, Allah both knows and ordains whatever comes to pass.

Christian Views

The New Testament

The word predestination is translated from the Greek verb proorizo which appears six times in the New Testament to say that God predetermines or preordains people or events for his purpose.

  1. "whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (Acts 4:27).
  2. "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" (Romans 8:29).
  3. "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 8:30).
  4. "but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7).
  5. "In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will" (Ephesians 1:3-5).
  6. "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11).

The predestination of people is election (elektos in Greek), which means to choose. This Greek word appears 25 times in the New Testament as in Ephesians 1:4: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."

At the same time, the New Testament also seems to teach that humans have free will: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7); "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you" (John 15:6-7).


Saint Augustine's (354-430) view of predestination is somewhat complex, for in his earlier days as a newly converted Christian he had to address the problem of fatalism in Manichaeism, of which he used to be a member. Opposing it from his new vantage-point as a Christian, he defended the existence of free will in human beings created by God. Later in life, however, he refuted the libertarian position of Pelagius by emphasizing the importance of God's sovereign grace.

It was in this latter context that Augustine developed a theory of the two phases of human growth in his Anti-Pelagian treatise on "Grace and Free Will" written in 426 or 427 C.E.[2] According to this, in the first phase the human will is still "small and weak" due to the Human Fall; it is thus unable to do God's commandment. Hence, God's grace takes the initiative in its operation within us. In this initial phase God's grace is called "operating grace" (gratia operans), and it is gratuitous and even irresistible. In the second stage, however, the human will becomes "great and robust"; so, God's grace works together with us cooperatively. In the second phase, therefore, God's grace is termed "cooperating grace" (gratia cooperans). These two types of divine grace were also called by Augustine "prevenient grace" (gratia praeveniens) and "subsequent grace" (gratia subsequens), respectively. The theology of Augustine influenced both Catholicism and Protestantism, but while Catholicism accepts both phases of his theory, Protestantism rejects the second phase.

Augustine developed his doctrine of predestination during and after the Pelagian controversy. It relates especially to the first of the above-mentioned phases of human growth, when the human will is very weak in front of the almighty God. God determines the destiny of humans, even choosing a certain number of people for salvation beforehand. Augustine said: "I speak thus of those who are predestined to the kingdom of God, whose number is so certain that one can neither be added to them nor taken from them."[3]

This does not mean that fallen humans have no free will at all; according to Augustine, they still have the ability to sin (posse peccare).

Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) tried to explain the meaning of Augustine's second phase of the cooperation between God and humans through a more general theory of primary and secondary causation. According to that theory, while God as "pure act" is the primary cause of what happens, nature itself as a composite of "act" and "potency" is the secondary cause. Among all creatures, humans have the highest grade of "act." So, While God is the first agent of actualization, humans are the second agent of actualization. One possible difficulty of this model would be that there hardly exists reciprocity in the divine-human relationship because God as "pure act" is perfect and immutable, thus not being able to be acted upon by humans. However, it is notable that Thomas' philosophical conceptuality was able to secure some level of human participation in what happens centering on God's will.


Protestants took seriously Augustine's view of God's operation during the first phase of human growth, which involves predestination. Some associate the doctrine of predestination with one name, John Calvin (1509-1564). Indeed, on the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination, Calvinism is the strongest. Calvin asserted that God's grace that leads to salvation is irresistible and given to some but not to others on the basis of God's predestining choice. Calvin reasoned further that since God is almighty, by predestining some to salvation ("election"), he is in the same act of predestining the others to hell ("reprobation"). In his own words,

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.[4]

This is usually referred to as "double predestination." Calvin taught that God's predestining decision is based on the knowledge of His own will rather than foreknowledge of every particular person and event. Additionally, God continually acts with entire freedom, in order to bring about His will in completeness, in an unfathomable way not accessible to scrutiny; hence the freedom of the creature is not really violated.

  • Supralapsarianism—Some of Calvin's followers believed that God decreed both election and reprobation even before the fall of Adam, and that the fall happened to facilitate this divine decree. This is called "supralapsarianism" or "antelapsarianism." Calvin himself is sometimes said to have had this position, although it is disputed.
  • Sublapsarianism—Less rigid than supralapsarianism was "sublapsarianism," "infralapsarianism," or "postlapsarianism," according to which God decreed election and reprobation after the fall of Adam. This position has been commonly accepted amongst Calvinists since the Synod of Dort in 1618.

"Moderate" Calvinists

There are "moderate" Calvinists such as Millard Erickson who try to explain the possibility of cooperation between God and humans even in the context of predestination. According to Erickson, the divine-human cooperation is possible, but it is only possible in the sense that a human choice is actually made through the will of God-given human personality. Human freedom is only within the limitations of what God created it to be. So, although a human could freely choose differently, he/she would not in reality.[5]


Arminians were named after Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch Reformed theologian (1560-1609). According to Arminians, all humans can use their free will to choose salvation, if they want, because they all are given "prevenient grace." So, whether they choose election or reprobation is up to them. Hence it is a conditional election. It is also completely compatible with God's sovereign will because the cooperation between God and humans can be explained through divine foreknowledge. While humans are genuinely free to do anything because of their free will, God foreknows what their decisions and actions will be in the end. So, while God's plan is virtually conditional upon human decision (i.e., virtual priority of human decision), it can still be said that God wills what he foreknows will happen. Therefore, God predestines on the basis of his foreknowledge of how some will respond to his universal love. Arminianism was condemned at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). Nonetheless, Arminian thinking maintained itself in the Church of England and the Methodist churches.


Molinists in Catholicism are equivalent to Arminians in Protestantism. They were named after Luis de Molina (1535-1600), a Jesuit theologian in Spain. Their explanation of the divine-human cooperation was very similar to that of Arminius. Molinists were strongly opposed by the conservative Dominican, Domingo Báñez (1528-1604), just as Arminians were strongly critiqued by Calvinists. It is interesting to note that Catholicism has tolerated the dispute between Molinism and the conservatism of Báñez, just as Calvinism and Arminianism have coexisted in Protestantism.


As an Anglican, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) basically had an Arminian background. His philosophical understanding of the relationship between God and the world can be seen in his major work, Process and Reality, according to which God and each "actual entity" in the world cause each other and work together through the universal law of "dipolarity." God as well as each and every actual entity in the world has two poles: "mental" and "physical" poles. To apply the terminology of Thomas Aquinas here, the mental poles of God and each actual entity in the world are the primary and secondary causes, respectively, of what will happen. What distinguishes Whitehead from Thomas, however, is that Whitehead's God is dipolar, whereas Thomas' God merely as "pure act" is monopolar. Therefore, Whitehead's God can be acted upon by the world, whereas Thomas' God as the Unmoved Mover can't. This explains Whitehead's theory of the reciprocity of the harmonious relationship of God and the world.

This was applied to Christian theology, and a new school of theology, called process theology, was created. Many of the process theologians or Whiteheadians such as John B. Cobb, Jr. are Methodists. According to Whiteheadians, the power of God is not coercive but rather "persuasive" in consideration of the secondary causation of human beings in the world.

Many have criticized Whiteheadians of advocating a finite God who is not omnipotent. But, John B. Cobb, Jr. has addressed the criticism, by saying that the power of persuasion is more effective than, and superior to, the power of coercion implied in omnipotence:

He [Whitehead] emphasizes persuasion over against coercion. This is the kind of power that parents and teachers want to exercise in relation to youth. The resort to coercion reflects the failure of persuasion. Persuasion or influence empowers the one who is affected. Coercion disempowers…. Coercive power can kill and destroy, but it cannot bring life and wisdom and love into being. It is an inferior form of power.[6]

God's power of persuasion comes from his eternal desire or urge for the good, i.e., "the living urge towards all possibilities, claiming the goodness of their realization," and Whitehead called it God's "Eros."[7]

Jewish Views

Most Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and secular) affirm that since free will exists, then by definition one's fate is not preordained. It is held as a tenet of faith that whether God is omniscient or not, nothing interferes with mankind's free will. Some Jewish theologians, both during the medieval era and today, have attempted to formulate a philosophy in which free will is preserved, while also affirming that God has knowledge of what decisions people will make in the future. Whether or not these two ideas are mutually compatible, or whether there is a contradiction between the two, is still a matter of great study and interest in philosophy today.

Orthodox Jews generally affirm that God must be viewed as omnipotent, but they have varying definitions of what the word means. Thus some modern Orthodox theologians have views that are essentially the same as non-Orthodox theologians, who hold that God is simply not omnipotent, in the commonly used sense of that word.

Many Chabad (Lubavitch) Jews of Hasidic Judaism affirm as infallible their rebbe's teaching that God knows and controls the fate of all, yet at the same time affirm the classical Jewish belief in free will. The inherent contradiction between the two results in their belief that such a contradiction is only "apparent" due to our inherent lack of ability to understand greater truths. To most people outside of these Hasidic Jews, this position is held to be a logical contradiction, and is only sustained due to cognitive dissonance.

One noted Jewish philosopher, Hasdai Crescas (c.1340-1410/1411) denied the existence of free will based upon the determinism of the universe itself. According to him, all of a person's actions are predetermined by the moment of their birth, and their judgment in the eyes of God is effectively preordained. However, in this view, the determination is not a result of God's predetermining one's fate, but rather from the view that the universe is deterministic. Crescas's views on this topic were rejected by Judaism at large. In later centuries this idea independently developed among some Chabad (Lubavitch) Jews.

The staunch Calvinist Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985) made a lengthy appendix to his book Biblical Predestination, and it is a list of what he thought to be Old Testament passages on predestination.[8] Generally speaking, however, Judaism has no strong doctrine of predestination; it rather has a doctrine of human free will. Clark apparently treated the Hebrew Bible with a Calvinist bias. The idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient didn't formally exist in Judaism during the Tanakh era, but rather was a later development due to the influence of neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian philosophy.

Islamic Views

In Islam, "predestination" is the usual English rendering of a belief that Muslims call al-qada wa al-qadar in Arabic. The phrase means "the divine decree and the predestination"; al-qadar derives from a root that means "to measure out." The phrase reflects a Muslim doctrine that God has measured out and foreordained the span of every person's life, and their lot of good or ill fortune.

When referring to the future, Muslims frequently qualify any predictions of what will come to pass with the phrase inshallah, Arabic for "if God wills." The phrase recognizes that human knowledge of the future is limited, and that all that may or may not come to pass is under the control of God. A related phrase, mashallah, indicates acceptance of what God has ordained in terms of good or ill fortune that may befall a believer. So, God is understood to be omniscient and omnipotent. There is no free will on the part of humans.

Soon, however, a dispute between Kharijites and Murji'ites started over free will, with the former affirming it and the latter denying it. Later thinkers such as Al-Ash'ari (874-936) searched for ways to reconcile free will and God's jabr, or divine commanding power. Al-Ash'ari developed an "acquisition" or "dual-agency" form of compatibilism, in which human free will and divine jabr were both asserted, and which became a cornerstone of the dominant Ash'ari position.[9] In Shia Islam, Ash'ari's understanding of a higher balance toward predestination is challenged by most theologians. Free will, according to Shia doctrine, is the main factor for one's accountability in one's actions throughout life. All actions taken by one's free will are said to be counted on the Day of Judgment because they are one's own and not God's.

Creative Assessment: Omnipotence and Free Will

Augustine's theory that there are two phases of human growth seems to make sense. But, his assertion, in relationship to the first phase, that the number of the predestined elect is "certain" may not be acceptable to many, if it means to exclude the non-elect from salvation, given God is a God of love. Calvinism's double predestination may be similarly unacceptable to many, even though it is attractive to believe in God's omnipotence. Also, while human free will is not entirely ignored in the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrines of predestination, it is quite hard to comprehend.

Predestination is usually associated with divine attributes such as omnipotence and omniscience. Omniscience (or foreknowledge), of course, was a key term to Arminianism and Molinism, but omnipotence seems to be more prominent than omniscience in the overall discussion of predestination. So, the apparent tension between divine omnipotence and human free will has been a major issue which many schools in the monotheistic religions have tried to address. Many theologians and schools have suggested theories of how omnipotence and human responsibility are reconcilable and compatible, but those theories are quite difficult to comprehend as long as omnipotence has been understood to be God's unlimited power over human beings.

But, Thomas Aquinas' metaphysical explanation of Augustine's second phase of human growth, in which God's "cooperative" grace and our "great and robust" will can work together, seems to be a good first step towards clarification. Thomas attributed causation to both God and humans, although he did not see reciprocity between the primary and secondary causations. It seems, however, that in order to secure reciprocity between God and human beings Whitehead was able to make some breakthrough by applying the law of dipolarity to God as well. Of course, a usual criticism directed to Whiteheadians is that their God is no longer omnipotent. But, their response to this criticism is that the power of God is persuasive, and that it is realistically superior to the power of God as omnipotence or coercion.

If Whiteheadians are correct in saying that persuasion is superior to coercion, then we may wish to come up with a new definition of omnipotence by saying that persuasion is omnipotence newly understood, because it is realistically even more powerful than omnipotence as understood in classical theology. This newly defined omnipotence, of course, can easily accommodate human free will. More importantly, however, it can be understood to be an essential aspect of the love of God. The mystery of love is such that while nothing is more powerful than it, it also recognizes and respects others. Although Whiteheadians do not call it omnipotence, it is an eternal and irrepressible urge for goodness on the part of God. Jürgen Moltmann defines it as "God's longing for 'his Other' and for that Other's free response to the divine love."[10]


  1. Hans Jonas. The Gnostic Religion. (Beacon Press, 2001. ISBN 0807058017)
  2. Augustine, "On Grace and Free Will." newadvent. Retrieved January 16, 2008.
  3. Augustine, "On Rebuke and Grace" Chap. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II, 21, 5. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  5. Millard J. Erickson. Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 124-128.
  6. John B. Cobb, Jr., "Process Theology and the Bible: How Science Has Changed Our View of God." Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  7. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (Macmillan Company, 1956), 381.
  8. Gordon H. Clark. Biblical Predestination. (P & R Press, 1969).
  9. Montgomery Watt. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. (London: Luzac & Co., 1948); Harry Wolfson. The Philosophy of the Kalam. (Harvard University Press, 1976).
  10. Jürgen Moltmann. Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 106.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Berkouwer, G.C. Divine Election. Translated by Hugo Bekker. Eerdmans, 1960. ISBN 0802848133
  • Clark, Gordon H. Biblical Predestination. P & R Press, 1969. ISBN 0875521371
  • Erickson, Millard J. Introducing Christian Doctrine. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001. ISBN 0801022509
  • Farrelly, Mark John. Predestination, Grace, and Free Will. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1964.
  • Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion. Beacon Press, 2001. ISBN 0807058017
  • Moltmann, Jürgen. Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, Translated by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1993. ISBN 080062825X
  • Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. London: Luzac & Co., 1948.
  • Whitehead, Alfred North. Adventures of Ideas. Macmillan Company, 1956.
  • Wolfson, Harry Austryn. The Philosophy of the Kalam. Harvard University Press, 1976. ISBN 0674665805

External Links

All links retrieved November 30, 2022.


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