Category Archives: 2 – Traditional Theism

Passages Supporting God’s Foreordaining Everything

This is the last of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “What Is Open Theism?” In it I expand on this statement:

Other passages indicating that God knows the future are . . . those supporting the Calvinist view that God preordains all that is going to come to pass, such as Lamentations 3:37-38 and Romans 11:33-36.

John M. Frame’s No Other God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001) contains an excellent chapter presenting Biblical evidence for the Calvinist view, “Is God’s Will the Ultimate Explanation of Everything?” I’m going to look at the four passages in it that Frame claims explicitly teach that God foreordains everything–Lamentations 3:37-38, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 11:33-36. He considers them on pages 84-87.

Lamentations 3:37-38

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Read by itself, the passage seems to say that nobody can make anything good or bad happen unless God has commanded that it happen. However John Sanders observes that the verses immediately before the passage assert that the bad that has come upon Israel was a consequence of sin as had been forecast in Deuteronomy 28-30 and concludes that the passage just asserts that a specific historical calamity, not all calamity, was brought about by God (The God Who Risks, Downers Grove, IL, 1998, pages 83-84). Bruce A. Ware concedes that the passage refers to a specific historical situation but argues that the truth asserted transcends the situation (God’s Lesser Glory, Wheaton, IL: Crossawy Books, 2000, page 205).

Romans 8:28

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Although the passage just seems to say that whatever happens to God’s people He will bring good out of it, Frame interprets it as teaching that everything that happens is a part of God’s plan to bless His people.

Ephesians 1:11

“In him we have obtained an inheritance [OR we were chosen], having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Although the passage just seems to recapitulate the teaching of the preceding verses, which tell of God’s having chosen and predestined us and describe the blessings that we consequently have in Christ, Frame argues that in repetitively saying “the purpose of him who works all things” Paul is saying that our salvation is part of God’s overall control of the world.

Romans 11:33-36

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

In Romans 9-11 Paul sets forth the mystery of how the Jews’ rejection of the gospel opened the door for the Gentiles to be saved but that in the future God would save “all Israel” (11:26). He concludes with this doxology of praise to God. Frame claims that the “all things” in the final verse includes events, such as God’s judgment of the Jews and His blessing of the Gentiles, as well as material things.

Biblical Passages Containing Prophecies Later Fulfilled

This is the third of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “What Is Open Theism?” In it I expand on this statement:

Other passages indicating that God knows the future are those containing prophecies later fulfilled.

Prophecies about Cyrus and Josiah

In my last post, I referred to one such prophecy, God’s naming Cyrus as the one through whom He would later restore Jerusalem. The prediction is made in Isaiah 44:28 and its fulfillment is described in Ezra 1. Josephus records that when Cyrus read Isaiah’s prophecy he was so impressed by God’s power that “ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written” (Antiquities, XI, I, 2).

A similar naming and fulfilling is described in 1 Kings 13:1-3 (naming) and 2 Kings 23:15-17 (fulfilling):

“And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the LORD to Bethel. Jeroboam [the king of Israel] was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, ‘O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: <Behold a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places [unauthorized places of worship] who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.>’ And he gave a sign the same day, saying, ‘This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: <Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.>'” (1 Kings 13:1-4, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

“Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he [Josiah, the king of Judah, 300 years later] pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah [images of the Canaanite goddess, Asherah]. And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. Then he said, ‘What is that monument that I see?’ And the men of the city told him, ‘It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.'” (2 Kings 23:15-17)

God’s bringing this about involved using the apparently freewill choices of Josiah and others, providing support for the view of traditional theism that God foresees the whole future, not just what He intends to do.

More Examples of Prophecies That Were Later Fulfilled

“Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and they will come out with great possessions. . . . And they shall come back here'” (Genesis 15:11-15). Thus long before they occurred God told Abraham of the future captivity of the Israelites in Egypt and of their deliverance from there and return to Canaan.

“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14). Matthew 1:22-23 observes that the birth of Jesus fulfilled this prophecy made centuries earlier through Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. The Old Testament contains many such prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus.

“Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me'” (Luke 22:34). Each of the four Gospels contains this prediction made by Jesus to Peter while they were in the upper room before going to Gethsemane and records the fulfilment of the prediction when they were at the high priest’s house after Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane (Luke 22:54-62, etc.).

Traditional theists generalize from such examples that God knows the whole future beforehand. However open theists argue that although such examples may show that God is sovereign and can predetermine and thus foreknow whatever He wants to, they don’t justify the conclusion that He knows the whole future beforehand.

Biblical Passages Indicating that God Knows the Future

This is the second of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “What Is Open Theism?” In it I expand on this paragraph:

Two passages which indicate that God knows the future are:
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalms 139:4, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Psalm 139

Psalms 139:4, quoted above, makes clear that the Psalmist believed that God knew in advance all the words that he would speak. Even stronger support for God’s foreknowledge of the future is found in Psalms 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Clearly the passage indicates that the Psalmist believed that God had formed or ordained the days of his life before he was even born.

Isaiah 40-48

Bruce A. Ware devotes over twenty pages (pages 101-121) of God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000) to the portrayal of God’s foreknowledge given in Isaiah 40-48, considering separately 41:21-29; 42:8-9; 43:8-13; 44:6-8; 44:24-28; 45:1-7; 45:18-25; 46:8-11; and 48:3-9. I’ll comment here on just two of those passages–the first of them (41:21-29) and the one that I quoted from in “What Is Open Theism?” (46:8-11).

In Isaiah 41:21-29 God challenges the gods of the nations to “tell us what is to come hereafter that we may know that you are gods” (verse 23) and goes on to give an example of how He did so “that we might say, ‘He is right'” (verse 26). In his classic Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God Stephen Charnock comments: “He [God] puts his Deity to stand or fall upon this account, and this should be the point which should decide the controversy, whether he or the heathen idols were the true God; the dispute is managed by this medium,–He that knows things to come, is God; I know things to come, <i>ergo</i>, I am God; the idols know not things to come, therefore they are not gods.”

In Isaiah 46:9-10 God clearly asserts that He had declared in the past things about the future and that they would come to pass. Open theists argue that the things that God declared about the future that would come to pass were just things that God intended to do and not the freewill actions of people. However they included “calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country” (Isaiah 46:11), probably a reference to Cyrus, whom God predicts in Isaiah 44:28 would restore Jerusalem (Ezra 1 describes the fulfillment of this prediction). God’s bringing this about involved using the apparently freewill choices of Cyrus and others, providing support for the view of traditional theism that God foresees the whole future, not just what He intends to do.

In response open theists agree that God foreknows that some things will happen because He has determined to bring about those things but argue that His doing so doesn’t mean that He has foreordained and/or knows everything that will happen. For example William Huget, head administrator of Facebook’s Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal group, made this comment on the original version of this post:

“There are alternate understandings to these proof texts that really do not support EDF [exhaustive definite foreknowledge]. Ps. 139 relates to present knowledge, not to exhaustive definite FK [foreknowledge] of all future free will contingencies. Is. 46; 48, etc. shows that God does declare some vs all things about the future and brings them to pass by His ABILITY, not a supposed prescience that sees the non-existent future.”

Calvinism and Arminianism

This is the first of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “What Is Open Theism?” In it I expand on this statement:

Traditional theism holds that God knows the future completely either because He preordains all that is going to come to pass (Calvinism) or simply because He knows what is going to come to pass (Arminianism).

Calvinism

Calvinism is based on the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564), a leader in the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland, and is often summarized by the acronym TULIP:
Total Depravity – Because of Adam’s sin, people are born enslaved to sin and thus are unable to choose to follow God.
Unconditional Election – Because people are unable to choose to follow Him, God has chosen by an eternal decree those whom He will bring to follow Him. This election is apart from any foreseen human merit or faith. Those not chosen will receive damnation.
Limited Atonement – Jesus’s death atones for the sins of only those chosen to follow God (the elect). Although it is sufficient for all, it is efficient for only the elect.
Irresistible Grace – When God calls the elect to follow Him, they cannot resist. Besides the external call that He gives to all to follow Him, He extends an internal call by the Holy Spirit to the elect, which they cannot resist.
Perseverance of the Saints – Those whom God has chosen to follow Him will never be lost but will persevere until the end.

Arminianism

Arminianism is based on teachings of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), an early Dutch Protestant theologian who believed that election is conditional rather than unconditional. Shortly after his death, his supporters issued a Remonstrance summarizing in five articles their divergence from Calvinism:
1. Conditional Election – God’s decree of salvation applies to all on condition that they believe on Jesus and persevere in faith and obedience. This article corresponds to TULIP’s U.
2. Unlimited Atonement – Jesus died for everyone, not just for the elect. However only those who believe obtain forgiveness. This article correspond’s to TULIP’s L.
3. Deprivation – People are incapable (deprived) of doing anything good and so must be helped by the Holy Spirit to receive God’s saving grace. This article corresponds to TULIP’s T.
4. Resistible Grace – God’s grace is free to all but can be resisted. This article corresponds to TULIP’s I.
5. Assurance and Security – The Holy Spirit can keep those who are Christ’s from falling away from him. Whether they are still able through negligence to fall away from him is uncertain. (Later Arminians thought that they could). This article corresponds to TULIP’s P.

Calvinism and Arminianism

In response to the Remonstrance, Dutch Calvinists held the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. It issued the Canons of Dort summarizing the orthodox position against Arminianism and commonly known as the “Five Points of Calvinism” or TULIP. Although condemned as heresy, Arminianism didn’t die and was later promoted by John Wesley (1703-1791) and the Methodists. (Calvinism was spread by the Reformed and Presyterian churches.) However despite the popularity of Arminianism, many Calvinists still view it as heresy.

Their Opposition to Open Theism

Similarly many Calvinists and Arminianists view open theism as heresy because it holds that part of the future is open and thus unknown to even God whereas Calvinists and Arminians hold that God knows the future completely. Not only do they think that the Bible indicates that God knows the future, but also they think that His being perfect implies that He knows the future. Moreover Calvinists think that He preordains all that is going to come to pass and thus must know what is going to come to pass.