Truth, Understanding, Insight

Free will | Predestination

20th January 2013, hej


1) Free will? Predestination occurs

These two terms are often used in discussions of theology. Often there are arguments between the two positions which can represent opinions which are extreme opposites. Theology tends to take human theory and apply it to scripture, seeking evidence (and sometimes ignoring evidence which would eliminate the theory). We will take the reverse approach, and merely examine scripture.

The phrase 'free will' does not occur in scripture. We may therefore reject it. The term 'will' does occur. We have a will.

A mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. (Daniel 11:3)
So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. (Romans 9:16)

The term 'predestination' does not occur in scripture. We may also reject it. The term predestinate does occur. It is used only in one place by the Apostle Paul.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn 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. (Romans 8:28-30)

What is said is specific. For those who love God, there is a special case as God works in their lives for ultimate good in their end. Those who love God become “the called.” The order implies that loving God might come first. It does not say God works for good to everyone. Paul adds and speaks in context of Jesus (as the Hebrew and Greek is, Y'shua). But who at that time had been already glorified? Paul himself was called, and in being called was justified (forgiven for his great sins), and in giving the power to do works, glorified to an extent. In the same way as were many of the Apostles. But the use of the past tense indicates we might be wary of Paul's intended scope. At that time only Y'shua had been given eternal glory, as Paul makes it clear he is striving to not be cast away (1 Corinthinas 9:29).

To be also the more wary as the term is only translated that way here. It occurs also in a prayer in acts speaking of God's will.

they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. (Acts 4:24-28)

This states directly that those who thought they were free, did according to God's predetermined plan in that matter (cp. Acts 13:27).

The only other occurrence of the word in the Greek text also speaks of God's specific plan and the crucifixion,

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. But God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1Corinthians 2:7-10)

Paul was aligned with the princes of the world (Acts 8:3,9:1) before Y'shua was revealed to him alive. After that revelation Paul was able to understand what was previously hidden to him, though he knew his scriptures well. Paul says God had prepared things for those who love God, for their glory. Again we see a limited scope, as the things ordained or pre-destined are prepared 'for those who love' God.

The scriptures can be very precise with each word in the original text being important. Hence the Hebrews preoccupation with counting words. The mistake of philosophers and theologians might be to take something applied specifically to certain people and apply it, without justification to others, generally. But before making up your mind, some examples might speak better.

2) Famous Examples

Joseph was disliked by his brothers as he saw visions and the brothers thought to kill him. But by Providence (God's arrangement) Ishmaelites came along and he was sold to them be a slave in Egypt. We can see the truth of Joseph's statement to those brothers who did this,

And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:7-8)

The will of the brothers was manipulated at that time by the range of choices being increased by an opportunity. We might wonder, with little profit, how and why the Ishmaelite traders were sent to achieve that goal to raise Joseph to lord in Egypt.

The most famous example is a comment on how God works with rulers and is in relationship to the Pharaoh of Egypt at the time of the Exodus.

And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)

This is the apostle Paul's comment,

For he said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore has he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens. (Romans 9:15-18)

Note how specific the work was. In the whole nation only Pharaoh was hardened. The account reveals it was Pharaoh's own will to not let Israel go which may be determined by comparing Exodus 5:2 with when he is shown evidence and he is first 'hardened' (Exodus 7:13). But he hardens his own heart as he sees respite (Exodus 8:15).

Paul also speaks of Jacob and Esau,

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Rom 9:10-15)

Rebecca was barren (Gen 25:21) so Jacob and Esau were both children born by miracle. In context we can understand that God knew what type of person Esau was genetically. For many reasons, possibly including God's will to shape Jacob, he made Esau. To Jeremiah it was said,

Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou came forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

There are instances, such as Isaac, Jacob (Hebrew, Yacov), Esau and Jeremiah where they were formed by Yahweh in the womb. In each case it was for a specific outcome. It does not mean every human is formed from the womb, though everyone is given life.


The scriptures indicate that rulers may be more subject to their will being moved,

"The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turns it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1)

Elihu, who is not rebuked, tells us some information we can know is correct.

For God speaks once, yea twice, yet man perceives it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.(Job 33:14-17)

Thus it is explained just how rulers and shakers have an idea in their head, which somehow achieves the purpose of God. The Hebrew name of Yahweh “He will be” expresses 'will', purpose and intent. None of the people or rulers are doing anything against their will. But there is an unseen player via a few instructions, a limiting of choice, or an increase of choice with an attractive option.

Jeremiah writes of a time where specific nations in that area become warlike after Jeremiah delivers a message to them in symbol.

"For thus saith the LORD God of Israel unto me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it. And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them.(Jeremiah 25:15-16).

Daniel is shown some working of the Angels, and how the will of leaders might need to be worked with,

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me [the Angel] one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13)

In a few cases leaders are directly influenced by God, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel.

The book of Esther records that on a critical night when the Jewish people are in danger, King Ahasuerus cannot sleep (Esther 6:1). Because of this Mordecai is remembered and honoured, and in this way begins a rise to political power, and aids the deliverance of his people.

In each case we see divine ad-hoc intervention to human will. In each case whether in sleep or lack of sleep, the ruler's course is changed by changing their will to achieve Divine will.

Possibly the most important understanding is revealed in creation.

The beginning

The first interaction between God and man was in the creation of man. We will draw attention to the Hebrew word for 'God' and its literal meaning as it explains what might otherwise be a contradiction,

Elohim (Mighty Ones) said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So Elohim (Mighty ones) created man in his own image, in the image of Elohim created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

By inference we see the Elohim are male, yet encompassed also the female. Later they are called Angels, or Messengers. Angels look like humans in every instance (see here). Also we learn later that God is spirit (John 4:24), when shown to Moses the Holy One had no form, only glory, and also that people are condemned for representing God as a man (Rom. 1:23). The account in Genesis 2 gives some more detail and we see the name 'Yahweh Elohim', not just 'Elohim' and the description of the making of the female (v21-22). Every word has a precise purpose. Further detail is provided in a revelation to Job,

Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who has laid the measures thereof, if thou know? or who has stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of Elohim shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

At creation there were Elohim / Mighty Ones who shouted for joy. 'All the sons of Elohim' might indicate a large number. The picture is of Yahweh and all the sons of Elohim working together as one, with Yahweh as Spirit 'laying the foundations'. This also explains why it is important to remember Elohim 'rested' when Yahweh is said to work on the 7th day (John 5:17).

The humans, made in the image and likeness of Elohim, are given a task to have dominion over the fish, birds, cattle and creeping things. They are not given dominion over the sea or air, only the earth. We were created to do a specific job.

And Yahweh Elohim took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And Yahweh Elohim commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

The first humans had no choice in where they were to live. Each day might be varied but with in limited parameters of tending the garden. They were also given boundaries in terms of what they were to eat. The garden was made for man, and man was made for the garden.

If you did not have ideas of free will or predestination, it might be seen as the will of Yahweh, the work of Elohim and the willing acceptance by man of working within parameters of choices in an overall situation he has no control over. Adam is able to name the animals. He is able to shape the garden. He can eat certain things, and not others. But it seems he is not free to roam the earth. Indeed he was given the ability to make choices, or will, but it was never free.

3) New Testament to today

Is the same true of us today? That we may make choices among limited God-provided options? Paul proclaimed the state of all the world,

And has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: (Acts 17:26-27)

It is very specific to say that the bounds of where all humans live are determined. From the time of Babel, people were scattered. The prophet Amos wrote,

Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? (Amos 9:7)

This might be news to the Philistines and Syrians, but the Jews knew it was a truth, if not there was no point in saying it. Let us prove the point for our age. Can you freely chose to go to live in any nation on earth? No? Some nations cannot even be freely visited. You have instead a set of God-provided options.

Are our actions like Adams bound by laws? It is doubtful there is any left who are as free as Adam was, bound only by the law of the trees he could and could not eat. Most nations have many laws which structure an increasingly complex life. How is law everywhere maintained?

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shall have praise of the same: (Romans 13:3)

After the disciples are told to go into all the world to preach, the opportunity for those to love God to come from all a nations is increased. From these people come “the called” Paul speaks of. It is possible that many peoples scattered to the Isles in ancient times were given rain and general good (Matthew 5:45) but no direct Divine interference. Paul implies this.

The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent: Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)

God has willed and predestined a day of judgement. As Adam was commanded, likewise since the time of Paul and the Apostles, to all who have heard of Adam's children have a command. They may like Adam, obey or disobey. If they love God they will seek to obey. If they love Yahweh Elohim then they work with their lives for good.

We have will and we have some limited choices.

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
That thou may love the LORD thy God, and that thou may obey his voice, and that thou may cleave unto him:
for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou may dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

The evidence seems to indicate that to have one event predestinated, does not amount to predestination. Any theory is broken by one instance where is is proven wrong. The theory that all is predestined is broken by the evidence of the king who would do his will (Dan 11:3), of the struggle with the king of Persia (Dan. 10:13), that nations were 'winked at' (Acts 17) and not blessed or punished as Israel was due to the choices they made (Deuteronomy 38). To have choices, and the ability to chose, does not automatically correspond to free will, as the choices for some (whether they love God or not) may be loaded for outcomes. There is much evidence of this occurring above. Another case is how Pilate was constrained in the matter of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:19 and John 19:12,15). For those who love the God of the Bible, and seek him, the end of life shaped by Yahweh Elohim will be for their eternal good.

4) The Potter

The most relevant illustration is that of the potter.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?
Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath 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, (Romans 9:18-23)

All humans are made, originally from the clay but we become of no use if we cannot be used for the desired purpose from Creation.

Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. (Jeremiah 18:2-11)

To all nations and people, through the Bible which is now almost universally available, the God of the Bible, Yahweh, whose name means 'He will be', has spoken of his pre-destined or pre-determined plan, and what 'will be' or what will happen. All humans who hear, may chose, or exercise their will, either to turn from their evil way or not: both individually and nationally. Those who accept and love the God of the Bible will have their lives guided for good. Those who reject Yahweh's plan determine their own destiny.

Be wary of endless discussion of this issue and of extrapolation. Clearly there is considerable Divine intervention in the earth, but we cannot know. We might know it in our own lives, we may suspect intervention in the lives of the leaders of nations, but our attitude might be best shaped by David,

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. (Psalm 139:1-6)

Neither the premise of free will or pre-destination (also determinism) come from the Bible. These subjects are likely to engage philosophers. Though The Apostle Paul met many philosophers in Athens and as he journeyed, he did not engage with them or their ideas, rather he preached resurrection and judgement to them. He wrote also,

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colosians 2:8)

For more challenging thoughts How Jesus Saves