What is predestination?

This is an awe-inspiring subject because it concerns the mind of God and the purpose which God had with man before He even began the work of creating the heavens and the earth, as recorded in Genesis 1. If we search the Scriptures, we will find a number of passages which take us back before the creation week. This study will take us into areas which will stretch our finite minds and expand our vision of God and His eternal purpose.

The English word “predestination” does not appear in the text of the Authorised Version. The Greek word, proorizo (Strong’s G4309) which is translated as “predestinate”, occurs twice in Romans 8 and twice in Ephesians 1 where it is translated as “predestinated”. This Greek word also occurs in Acts 4:28 (“determined before”) and 1 Corinthians 2:7 (“ordained”). This study will not be consulting human opinions; it will simply examine how the word is used in the Scriptures, along with their contexts.

In Acts 4:23-28 the apostles cite Psalm 2 as being partially fulfilled in the trials of Jesus. In this passage we learn that Jews and Gentiles did “whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before (proorizo) to be done”. This short passage teaches a number of fundamental truths:

  • Firstly, the apostles, by inspiration, tell us that Psalm 2 is a psalm of David.
  • Secondly, the words in the psalm are God’s words, but they came out of David’s mouth.
  • Thirdly, this quotation draws attention to the fact that Psalm 2 has multiple fulfilments[i].
  • Fourthly, we learn that God knew all of this before the psalm was written because He had determined [it] before. He predestined all of these events in His mind before he gave David the words which are recorded in the psalm. In Acts 2:23 Peter said that Jesus was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” but the Jews had taken him and “by wicked hands had crucified and slain” him. God’s purpose was fulfilled—but the men who carried it out were held responsible! Each behaved in the drama according to his own will—but God knew beforehand exactly what they would do! This is the scriptural doctrine of predestination—nobody was forced to do anything—but God knew how they would respond in the circumstances in which He placed them.

In 1 Corinthians 2:7 we read: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained (proorizo) before the world (Gk aion = age) unto our glory”. The wisdom of God ordained or determined beforehand the mystery, the hidden wisdom, contained in the gospel—even before creation. This is witnessed by Proverbs 8:22-35 which speaks of wisdom being with God before creation: “…I was set up…from the beginning, or ever the earth was…While as yet he had not made the earth…When he prepared the heavens, I was there…when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him…”

How much more do we know from the Scriptures about this time before the “beginning” of Genesis1:1? One way to answer this question is to study the phrase “the foundation of the world”.

The foundation of the world

The phrase “the foundation of the world” occurs ten times in the New Testament and is a translation of two Greek words katabole (Strong’s 2602) and kosmos (Strong’s 2889). The first occurrence of the phrase is in Matthew 13:34-35 where Jesus quotes Psalm 78:2, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world”. Thus, things not previously revealed were now made known in the teaching of Jesus.

The next occurrence of this phrase is in Matthew 25:34, “…inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. This teaches us that the Father’s purpose from the beginning was to establish a kingdom. He has been making ready for it from the very beginning, as will be seen.

In John 17:24 Jesus, in his prayer, says to his Father “…for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world”. Jesus did not exist as a person before Genesis 1:1, but he was in the mind of the Father who, “…when the fulness of the time was come…sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal 4:4). More than this, in the mind of God, he was “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). He was not only known but, in the mind of God, he was sacrificed from the beginning. God’s mind not only encompassed the sacrifice, but also those who would be redeemed by it. Thus, Revelation 17:8 speaks of “… the book of life from the foundation of the world”.

Now the most amazing occurrence of all is in Ephesians 1:3-4 which states: “…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [who] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love”. Before God began the work of creation described in Genesis 1, He knew every saint who would exist and chose them to be in Him. All the faithful of Old Testament and New Testament times, as well as those who have lived since, were known of Him before!

But even this is not the full depth of the matter! Katabole is translated ten times as “the foundation of the world”, but there is one other occurrence of the word where it is translated entirely differently. In Hebrews 11:11 we read: “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive (katabole) seed”. If we use this concept of conception and transfer this thought back into the other passages, we have the idea of “before God conceived the world”. Before He even thought about creating our world, He knew every saint in Christ. He knew the details of the kingdom into which He would bring them, and the means by which their redemption would be wrought. He knew and loved the Saviour whom, in the fullness of time, He would send. Thus, the amazing work of creation is but the framework within which God is fulfilling His spiritual purpose of bringing many sons unto glory. This is the foundational background we need to grasp as we consider predestination in the Scriptures.

Ephesians 1

For Israel under the Law, the blessings listed in Deuteronomy 28:1-13 were almost wholly material. For those in Christ, “God…hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph 1:3). That we are now “in the heavenlies” is shown by Ephesians 2:4-7: “God … hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” He chose us that we should be holy and without blame before him in love (1:4). We, on our part, should be eternally grateful that we have been chosen: “having predestinated (determined before Acts 4:28) us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will” (1:5). His will was to adopt us as his children. Is this our will? Do we want to be adopted by the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Do our lives show our willingness?

We are to be “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (v6). The Greek word translated “made…accepted” only occurs in one other place, namely Luke 1:26-28 where Gabriel said to Mary “Hail thou that art highly favoured”. Mary was chosen out of a multitude of women to bear God’s Son. We have been similarly chosen by God to be His adopted sons. The process by which He has done this is expounded in verses 7-9 where we learn that we have been redeemed through the blood of Christ; our sins have been forgiven and the will of God has been made known to us—all according to His will and purpose. Verses 10-12 then reveal what God will yet do for us—He will gather all of us in one in Christ; giving us the promised inheritance, for He has “predestinated” each one of us to this end in accordance with His will and purpose. The question which we have to address and the issue which each one of us has in our own hands is: will we be found to the praise of His glory in that day?

Romans 8

Romans 8:28 is an oft quoted passage: “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.” But of whom speaketh the prophet? Look at the context! “For whom he did foreknow” (v29). The only other occurrences of this word (Gk proginosko) are:

  • Acts 26:5 which speaks of the Jews’ prior knowledge of Paul;
  • Romans 11:2 where we learn that God knew the Jews beforehand;
  • 1 Peter 1:20 where Christ was known by God before the foundation of the world, and
  • 2 Peter 3:17 where we can foreknow future events because of prophecy.

In Romans 8:29 it is God who knew each one of us from the beginning, who did predestinate or determine before who would be His saints in the kingdom. All such (v30) were called and justified (ie: accounted righteous in God’s sight) that they might be glorified. Note that this glorification is written in the past tense in Romans 8:30, because in the mind of God all of the saints are already in the kingdom!

Ezekiel 18

We have seen that God knows from the beginning who will be in the kingdom. We, of course, do not. The Scriptures make it very clear, however, that how we react to God’s calling determines our future. Thus, in the opening verses of Ezekiel 18, God is teaching Israel that each individual is responsible before Him: “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (v4). We sometimes use this passage to disprove the false teaching that man has an immortal soul, but there is much more in the chapter than that. In verses 5-20 God argues his case through three scenarios. First, that the man who does that which is right before Him will live. If his son does evil, he will die. If his grandson learns from the bad example of his father and does none of the evil things which his father did, but does that which is right—he will live!

God then presents two more examples in verses 21-28. Firstly, the wicked man who turns from his sins and becomes obedient to God—he will live—for God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He desires the wicked man to turn and live. Then we are informed that the righteous man who turns and commits iniquity and abominations—he will die in his sins, his righteousness will not be remembered.

Hence, in the New Testament, once the prodigal son had “come to himself” and returned, the father welcomed him and feasted him.

Thus, the Scriptures teach that we are in control of our destiny. Predestination does not supersede our will. God does not force us to do good or evil even though He knows beforehand which way we will go. He has told us what He wants us to do, He has given us the example of His Son. We have also the examples of other men and women—both faithful and wicked—to encourage and warn us. But, for us, everything is dependent on how we think, how we speak, how we act. Those things will determine whether we will be manifested as those who God has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—or not. “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev 22:10-12). The day of judgment is coming and God knows the outcome, but we, in our lives now, determine what that outcome will be. In the words of Brother Islip Collyer: “we make the answer now!”


  1. The first fulfilment of Psalm 2 was when God set David on his holy hill of Zion – Saul appears to have had no interest in the place. The second fulfilment is seen in the trials of Jesus as set forth in Acts 4. The third is Constantine – Rev 12:5. The fourth, Jesus – Rev 19:15. The fifth, the saints – Rev 2:26-27.