What Is Predestination?

Predestination is never used in the sense of divine determinism, that all, or any, our actions are determined by God. Rather, God has predetermined that all who are in Christ would be conformed to the image of Christ and adopted as children of God.

Ed Jarrett
Blocks of stick people seen through a magnifying glass

Predestination is a topic that has widely disparate views, even among Christians. Some see predestination as essentially synonymous with divine determinism. That all your life choices and happenings are determined by God.

Others view predestination as non-existent. A non-biblical doctrine. Yet predestination is mentioned in Acts and in some of Paul’s writings, so it is biblical. But what does the Scripture mean by the use of this term?

Defining Predestination

The Greek work proorizō is used six times in the New Testament. In the NIV, it is translated as:

The word itself simply means to predestine or to decide beforehand. Of course, that raises the question of what it is that was predestined. And for that, it will be necessary to examine the biblical text where this term is used.

The Biblical Basis for Predestination

In Acts 4:28, Peter and John are reporting back to the church on their trial before the Jewish ruling body. And in this report, they mentioned that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jewish residents of Jerusalem had conspired against Jesus. And “they did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

What was it that God had decided beforehand would happen? At the very least, it refers to the crucifixion of Jesus. Did God’s predestination extend to the role that these other players would perform? Or was it limited to the act itself?

That is a question that divides scholars today. But I would understand it to be the narrower interpretation; that the predestination concerned Jesus’ crucifixion and not the specific actions of those conspiring against Jesus.

In Romans 8:29-30, Paul uses this term twice. In verse 29, he says that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Regardless of how one might understand the word foreknew in this verse, the matter of predestination is clear.

It is that the elect would be conformed to the image of Christ. God’s pre-determined plan is that those who are in Christ would become like him. Predestination in this passage is very narrowly defined. Not as relating to all my choices or actions. Nor even who would be saved. But that the saved would become like Christ.

Verse 29, in this passage, goes on to say that those who were predestined would be called, the called would be justified, and the justified would be glorified. So, the sequence is foreknown —predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ — called — justified — glorified.

We are not called, justified, and glorified because we have been predestined. Rather, we are predestined, called, justified, and glorified because we are foreknown by God. As mentioned above, what is meant by foreknow is hotly debated in some circles but is beyond the scope of this article.

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-7, Paul talks about a message of wisdom, God’s wisdom, that was hidden in the past. A message “that God destined for our glory before time began.” Here the predestination concerns the gospel message, that Jesus came to earth as God incarnate, died as an atoning sacrifice for our sin, and offered salvation to all who would believe.

This is similar in nature to the passage in Acts 4:28 that we looked at earlier. While the Acts passage looked at the crucifixion itself, this passage is referring to the message of the cross, the significance of the crucifixion. God predestined that the gospel message would be the means of bringing us to salvation.

The two passages in Ephesians 1 are a part of Paul’s description of the spiritual blessings that we have “in Christ.” And I believe that context is important. The things he describes are for those who are “in Christ.”

For many, myself included, this is a reference to corporate election. These blessings are bestowed on those who are a part of the body of Christ. They are given because of where we are, not the means of getting us there.

In Ephesians 1:5, Paul says, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” Without the context, it might seem like God has predestined us to salvation. But since the context repeatedly refers to these blessings coming to those “in Christ,” it would seem more likely that those who have come to faith, who have entered into Christ, are the ones predestined to sonship. God predestines that all who come into the body of Christ enter that family relationship as the children of God.

In Ephesians 1:11, Paul uses this term again saying, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” In this verse and the one that follows, Paul appears to be speaking of himself and the other early believers, the first to put their hope in Christ.

Within the body of Christ, Paul and the other early believers were chosen by God to proclaim the message of truth, the gospel. And by this proclamation, to bring others into the body of Christ.

So, here, predestination would seem to be limited to specific individuals within Christ for a specific purpose. By extension, you might see that each of us within the body of Christ is predestined to fill a specific role within the body.

What Does This Mean?

As you can see from the discussion of the above passages, predestination is never used in the sense of divine determinism, that all, or any, our actions are determined by God. Rather, it is used in a more limited sense. God has predetermined that all who are in Christ would be conformed to the image of Christ and adopted as children of God.

God also determined from the creation that Christ would be crucified and that the message of the cross would be the means to bring us to glory. Finally, God predestined a specific place for believers within the body of Christ.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Kenishirotie


Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.


Originally published September 16, 2020.