Calvinism vs. Predestination

Over at this dead blog, the writer has mistakenly confused the historic concept of predestination with the Calvinist concept of predetermination. According to the historic concept of predestination, God has set forth a plan for all human beings to fill them with happiness. In addition to that, he wants all to be saved. So now that we have that cleared up, what the blogger over at anatheistbiblestudy seems to be confusing and conflating is the doctrine of predetermination with predestination. Predestination is not the same thing as predetermination. That said, let’s look at the context of each of the verses they use to support this teaching of predetermination which historic Christianity has classically denounced as heretical (sorry Calvinists, you’re heretics).

“It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Romans 9:16-18

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.’” —Exodus 4:21

Nor should you take away from Pharaoh free will, because in several passages God says, I have hardened Pharaoh; or, I have hardened or I will harden Pharaoh’s heart; for it does not by any means follow that Pharaoh did not, on this account, harden his own heart. For this, too, is said of him, after the removal of the fly-plague from the Egyptians, in these words of the Scripture: And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go. Exodus 8:32 Thus it was that both God hardened him by His just judgment, and Pharaoh by his own free will. (Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 45)

The blogger does not site the Bible translation they used to put this together but I will mostly be using the NRSV Catholic Edition, the RSV Catholic Edition, and the New American Bible. We see from St. Augustine’s commentary that Romans 9:16-18 is not meant in any way to strip away Pharaoh’s free will but on the contrary it was God’s judgment and Pharaoh’s free will that hardened his heart. God just hardened it by putting the judgment on him. It would be like a parent and a college-aged student. The student wants to binge drink and the parent knows that’s bad for them. Nevertheless, the parent makes a just judgment to allow the student to have what they want. Hence, the parent hardened the student’s heart by their just judgment, and the student by their own free will.

We should also focus on the crux of Paul’s argument as well. Paul is actually repeating himself in Romans 9.

Romans 3:5-7 But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? (NRSV Catholic Edition)

And then Paul says…

Romans 9:20-22 But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; (NRSV Catholic Edition)

Thus the Calvinist interpretation is actually a reading into the text on this one. We don’t interpret “Jacob have I loved, Esau has I hated” as dealing with God actually hating Esau (or what was represented by Esau – Edom) for the same reason we don’t interpret Jesus’s telling us to hate our parents as literally hating our parents. The word “hate” in many contexts actually meant to them “to love less”. This is why the NAB footnote on Romans 9:13 reads

[9:13] The literal rendering, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” suggests an attitude of divine hostility that is not implied in Paul’s statement. In Semitic usage “hate” means to love less; cf. Lk 14:26 with Mt 10:37. Israel’s unbelief reflects the mystery of the divine election that is always operative within it. Mere natural descent from Abraham does not ensure the full possession of the divine gifts; it is God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow this fullness upon, or to withhold it from, whomsoever he wishes; cf. Mt 3:9; Jn 8:39. The choice of Jacob over Esau is a case in point. (New American Bible)

So there is no predetermination there. Onto the next objection.

“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” —Mark 4:11&12 (Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9&10)

This also shows up in Matt. 13:13 and St. Chrysostom comments on this passage saying…

Do you see the prophet likewise, accusing them with this same accuracy? For neither did He say, You see not, but You shall see and not perceive; nor again, You shall not hear, but You shall hear and not understand. So that they first inflicted the loss on themselves, by stopping their ears, by closing their eyes, by making their heart fat. For they not only failed to hear, but also heard heavily, and they did this, He says,

Lest at any time they should be converted, and I should heal them; describing their aggravated wickedness, and their determined defection from Him. And this He says to draw them unto Him, and to provoke them, and to signify that if they would convert He would heal them: much as if one should say, He would not look at me, and I thank him; for if he had vouchsafed me this, I should straightway have given in: and this he says, to signify how he would have been reconciled. Even so then here too it is said, Lest at any time they should convert, and I should heal them; implying that both their conversion was possible, and that upon their repentance they might be saved, and that not for His own glory, but for their salvation, He was doing all things.

For if it had not been His will that they should hear and be saved, He ought to have been silent, not to have spoken in parables; but now by this very thing He stirs them up, even by speaking under a veil. For God wills not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn unto Him and live.

For in proof that our sin belongs not to nature, nor to necessity and compulsion, hear what He says to the apostles, But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear; Matthew 13:16 not meaning this kind of sight nor hearing, but that of the mind. For indeed these too were Jews, and brought up in the same circumstances; but nevertheless they took no hurt from the prophecy, because they had the root of His blessings well settled in them, their principle of choice, I mean, and their judgment.

Do you see that, unto you it is given, was not of necessity? For neither would they have been blessed, unless the well-doing had been their own. For tell me not this, that it was spoken obscurely; for they might have come and asked Him, as the disciples did: but they would not, being careless and supine. Why say I, they would not? Nay, they were doing the very opposite, not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all He said: which He brings in the prophet laying to their charge, in the words, They heard heavily.

But not such were these; wherefore He also blessed them. And in another way too He assures them again, saying, (Chrysostom, Homily 45 on Matthew)

This is also a case where it is vital to follow the rule of thumb – “A text without a pretext is a context”. So let’s review what the next verse says.

Mark 4:13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? (RSV Catholic Edition)

Indicating that it was not because they were predetermined to not hear but rather that they shut themselves down with their own wickedness.

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” —Matthew 22:14

It might again be best to look at a commentary on this because the NAB reads…

[22:1–14] This parable is from Q; see Lk 14:15–24. It has been given many allegorical traits by Matthew, e.g., the burning of the city of the guests who refused the invitation (Mt 22:7), which corresponds to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. It has similarities with the preceding parable of the tenants: the sending of two groups of servants (Mt 22:3, 4), the murder of the servants (Mt 22:6) the punishment of the murderers (Mt 22:7), and the entrance of a new group into a privileged situation of which the others had proved themselves unworthy (Mt 22:8–10). The parable ends with a section that is peculiar to Matthew (Mt 22:11–14), which some take as a distinct parable. Matthew presents the kingdom in its double aspect, already present and something that can be entered here and now (Mt 22:1–10), and something that will be possessed only by those present members who can stand the scrutiny of the final judgment (Mt 22:11–14). The parable is not only a statement of God’s judgment on Israel but a warning to Matthew’s church. (New American Bible)

Thus, the full context of Matthew 22 is talking about the final judgment, not about how God picks and chooses who will enter. God’s judgments are always based on the human free will of the heart. There is also another point to be made which is in regard to the word “call”. I was reading Esther in Hebrew the other day and I stumbled upon Haman describing how he was called to the feast with the king by Esther.

Esther 5:12 – וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן אַף לֹא־הֵבִיאָה אֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה עִם־הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל־הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂתָה כִּי אִם־אֹותִי וְגַם־לְמָחָר אֲנִי קָֽרוּא־לָהּ עִם־הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃ (Westminster Leningrad Codex)

The word “call” takes on a meaning of “invite” in the languages used in the Bible. Thus, it could be better to translate this as something more like “Many are invited, but few are elect”. Where the “elect” are the ones who are faithful to the end and are dressed appropriately for the wedding feast. Even though the king invited absolutely everyone. This makes a lot more sense than the Calvinist predetermination interpretation in light of what comes first:

Matthew 22:11-13 – “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (NRSV Catholic Edition)

With respect to Jeremiah 1:5, I really think the blogger at anatheistbiblestudy was scholarly dishonest in inserting “chose” as a translation of the verb יָדַע (yada). The verb is the Hebrew word for “know”. Although this can refer to sexual intimacy in some cases, it most frequently just means “know” all throughout the Hebrew Bible. Psalm 139:16 reflects the divine and infallible foreknowledge of God. God’s book in regard to the life of the poet here was a biographical book about the poet’s life because he saw the poet’s life beforehand. This is because historically, God has always been viewed outside of time by Christians and thus, the future to him is like the past and present to us. Our knowledge of a past battle does not eliminate the free will decision that it took to engage in such a battle in the first place.

Acts 4:27-28 – Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do what your hand and [your] will had long ago planned to take place. (New American Bible)

Well now, what was God’s will?

Acts 5:30 – The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. (RSV Catholic Edition)

It was just the kings of the Earth that arose to carry out this duty (Acts 4:26). In all theologies of the atonement, one must hold that there was a necessity for the atonement, otherwise, Jesus ultimately willed to give his life for nothing. This is often times wrongly interpreted as meaning that God killed his own Son. He willingly gave up his Son, yes, and willed his Son to die, yes, but there was agreement between the two on this decision.

Acts 13:48 – The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, (New American Bible)

This reflects back on our understanding of predestination along with Ephesians 1:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 2:7 that anatheistbiblestudy also quotes. Remember, predestination is not the same as predetermination. Nor is it double-predestination. The forced interpretation on this verse is done primarily by Calvinists who are heretics. What the verse is not saying is that only a select few of these Gentiles who were predestined came to believing. The New Advent Bible has perhaps a better translation of this verse.

Acts 13:48 – The Gentiles were rejoiced to hear this, and praised the word of the Lord; and they found faith, all those of them who were destined to eternal life.

Thus, “all those of them who were destined to eternal life” found faith. All those of them include the Gentiles spoken about in this verse. The error in the Calvinist insistence is that they would have to assert now that God is only for the Gentiles. Which is a more strained reading on the text than the interpretation here. Ephesians 1:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 2:7 is not speaking exclusively of the Ephesians or the Corinthians being written to either. That would also be a strained reading.

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (RSV Catholic Edition)

What the Calvinist interpretation is actually forced to do on this verse is bump heads with God’s unlimited foreknowledge. If only “those whom he foreknew he also predestined” then God only foreknows those who believe. Which is bullet-holes in any attempt to reconcile the heresy of Calvinism with history or with the Bible for that matter. Instead, God foreknows every single human being and predestines them “to be conformed to the image of his Son” which is in harmony with the Catholic understanding of predestination. So regardless of what you believe, God’s ultimately plan is to bring you into communion with him. But if you don’t want this, he still honors your decision.

Some of the Greek words used in the last part can seem confusing since it seems at first justification and glorifying can only apply to Christians. But this is in an incorrect understanding of the terms. The word δικαιόω is better understood as vindicate. Vindicate means “to clear, as from an accusation, imputation, suspicion, or the like”. The word glorify is better understood as meaning “to cause to be or treat as being more splendid, excellent, etc., than would normally be considered”. Thus, what follows is how nothing can separate us from God’s love and Paul’s argument encouraging Christians that this is so. But this is only how Paul starts that argument. God will glorify those who go against him as well which is why Paul also declares that…

Romans 5:10 – while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (RSV Catholic Edition)

I would reckon that much of the Calvinist straining upon the interpretation of the Bible is actually based upon an heretical understanding of the atonement called “penal substitutionary atonement”. If one understands these texts in light of a ransom theory, in my opinion, one would see that the Calvinist straining is eventually forced to go away. If anatheistbiblestudy ever becomes interested again in the study of the theological debate on free will, the Eastern Orthodox Church recommends a book entitled Reconsidering Tulip linked to here. I think it’s a little bit unfair to St. Augustine, but nevertheless, a great source for everyone written by someone who comes from a Reformed tradition and has now rejected the Calvinist understanding. It details it from an historical analysis that most don’t look at it from.


About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
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