My Question: Election vs free will

It gives me much encouragement that at least 2 folks here have found agreement with the concept presented in the above posting. I see it as revealing a much more righteous God than many of us have been taught – by His Standards, not just ours. Yet many Believers have not yet seen this possibility/probability as reality. Yet.

I too have heard William Lane Craig, whose wisdom I admire, speak about this concept. If I understand it correctly, his view is that anyone who would be saved under some set of conditions will providentially encounter those conditions necessary to win them. And all those who die in their sins would not have repented and believed under any other circumstances anyway.

But while it certainly has an appeal (who likes the idea of the blood of the unwarned lost on their hands?), I think it is hard to reconcile with Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:21-24 that if the mighty works done in the cities in His day had been done in ancient Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Therefore, they who rejected greater light would receive greater judgment. But how sad that the best witness Sodom had was Lot!

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That’s an interesting thought, but I’m not sure I see the contradiction. Could you help me out?

Most of the studies and commentaries I’ve read over this seem to think Jesus is using religious hyperbole rather than expressing a literal truth. And, that would be consistent with the entirety of the chapter.

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I’m not sure about religious hyperbole - but the point I was making was that the idea of God tailoring the right circumstances to guarantee that everyone who could be reached would be, and those who remained lost could not have been saved under any other circumstances anyway seems inconsistent with Christ’s statement that the people of Sodom actually could have been won after all if they had been exposed to the light that Capernaum rejected.

I hope that makes sense. I don’t think I can do any better. The whole concept is, after all, a bit tricky!

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John Lennox in his book ‘Determined to believe’ mentions this Matthew passage and refers to Gods middle knowledge. This is from chapter 5.

In several of the passages cited the concepts of foreknowledge and predestination occur close together.

One of the main questions that arises from this is: if God knows something beforehand, or if God predestines it, what implication does this have for the involvement, responsibility, and moral status of those people affected by the happening?

Is God’s foreknowledge causative – i.e. does the fact that God knows that something will happen cause it to happen, and therefore relieve any participant from responsibility? Surely the answer is: not necessarily; if for no other reason than the fact that the Bible itself does not regard God’s foreknowledge or predestination as diminishing human responsibility.

The very first quote under “foreknowledge” (which is the same as the second quote under “predestination”) says that Christ’s crucifixion was both foreknown and predestined, but that the men involved in it were wicked and therefore morally responsible.

One could add to this that the death of Christ was actually predicted in Scripture centuries before it happened. However, Scripture itself tells us that this fact does not diminish the culpability of those involved in crucifying the Lord. Also, the first quote under “predestination” says that the betrayal of Jesus was predestined, yet woe unto the betrayer. This is clearly implying that the betrayer was morally culpable and therefore accountable. Once again the implication of this is that, however we understand the terms, we may not interpret them in such a way that they negate human moral responsibility.

Of course on the human level foreknowledge – knowing something in advance – is not necessarily causative. If I see a horse rushing out of control, pulling a carriage across a field towards a cliff that the horse cannot see, I know in advance that there is going to be a disastrous accident. But the fact that I know in advance does not cause the accident. That said, it would of course be wise to be cautious with human analogies, since for the Creator and Sustainer of all things to know something in advance is hardly likely to be exactly the same as our knowing something in advance.

At the higher level there is another consideration. The idea that, because God knows about an event beforehand it must be predetermined, may rest on the assumption that God’s relationship with time is the same as ours; that he sits, as we do, on a time line that stretches from the past to the future.

However, Scripture indicates that God’s relationship to time is not at all like ours. Jesus said, before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58 ESV). It could be, for instance, that God knew beforehand that I would trust Christ simply because he sees it in an eternal perspective, so that the issue of causation does not even arise. We need, however, to be cautious here. Time is not an easy concept – indeed, no one admits to understanding what it actually is. It would therefore be wise to be sceptical of interpretations of God’s foreknowledge that deny the freedom that, according to Scripture elsewhere, is possessed by the men and women God has created.

However, Scripture has more to say on the nature of God’s knowledge. On one occasion Jesus denounced the cities where he had done many mighty works: Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.

“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:20–24.)

This statement makes it clear that our Lord knew not only what did happen in Tyre and Sidon in his day, and in Sodom centuries before, but what would have happened had they been presented with different evidence. And that knowledge will be used at the Day of Judgment. This kind of knowledge was called “middle knowledge” by the Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535–1600), and arguments based upon it have (inevitably) produced yet another “ism” – Molinism.

Let me remind the reader that our approach is not to proceed from “isms” but from Scripture, as there is a danger (and it lurks here once more) that the moment we use the “ism” our attention is likely to be drawn to a whole package of ideas and be diverted from the fact that Scripture actually teaches that God has knowledge of what “would happen if” – a kind of knowledge we may find it very hard to grasp. The implications of this statement by our Lord are profound.

First of all, it supports our contention above that God’s foreknowledge is not causative, in the sense that it removes neither human freedom of response nor human accountability. It is interesting that it is in this very context that our Lord talks about revealing to little children the things that are hidden from the wise:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No-one knows the Son except the Father, and no-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25–30.)

Christ claims to be the sole source of knowledge of the Father, revealing him to those he chooses. But that choice is far from arbitrary, for in the very next sentence he shows that he chooses to give rest to those who come to him – the presumption being that they are capable of doing so freely. The phrase “the doctrine of predestination” is usually taken as shorthand for the view that some are predestined to salvation without any reference to their future co-operation, even if foreseen by God. This often leads to the assumption that the word predestination always refers to salvation. This, however, is not the case. Indeed, only three of the fourteen references listed above are even arguably related to the matter of salvation.

They are repeated for convenience below: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29–30.) … he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… (Ephesians 1:5*.) 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 order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11–12*.)

We shall look at the Ephesians passage under our next heading, and the Romans passages later when we consider God’s dealings with Israel. But before we move on we should notice something rather striking. The list of Scriptures in which the Greek terms related to predestination occur is short and the topics are few. Three have to do with the death of Christ, two with his resurrection, two with his appointment as judge, one with God’s determination of our places of habitation, three in connection with believers, and one in connection with social help.

In light of this it seems well-nigh incredible that the doctrine of predestination has been extrapolated to become an all-encompassing divine determinism that knows no bounds – as in the view of R. C. Sproul cited earlier:

The movement of every molecule, the actions of every plant, the falling of every star, the choices of every volitional creature, all of these are subject to his sovereign will. No maverick molecules run loose in the universe beyond the control of the Creator. If one such molecule existed, it could be the critical fly in the eternal ointment.82 3.


I say a huge Amen! to his observation that the word predestination is not used in connection to salvation primarily, or even arguably at all. The word occurs four times in the Bible - twice in Romans 8, twice in Ephesians 1 - and each time it is talking, not about any lost people predestined to salvation, but about what those who are already saved are predestined for - to be conformed to the image of His Son in Romans 8, and to be heirs of His glory as we’re restored to our original purpose of praising His glory in Ephesians 1:11-12. But verse 12 explicitly says that this is meant for those “who first trusted in” Christ.

Some may reason that Ephesians 1:5 says we’re predestined to the adoption of sons, so surely this means God forechose who would be adopted into His family. But all three times that adoption is used (Romans 8, Ephesians 1 and Galatians 4), it is used in connection with New Testament believers being treated as adult children who can enter into their inheritance - never does it mean lost people entering God’s family - for the simple reason that no one enters God’s family by adoption - we all must be born into it by the new birth of the Spirit (John 3:3).

As Inigo Montoya said - “You keep using that word - I do not think it means what you think it means!”


@Maureen_Miletics, I’m so sorry I never replied to you after you answered my question about which verses you were thinking about. I missed seeing that you posted a reply. I want to read what other people have said before commenting myself. Right now I just want to apologize for being four months late. :frowning:


Maybe i am not thinking clearly, so please straighten me out as needed, but i believe in God’s sight the new birth and the adoption are the same event. We are “adopted-as-born-anew”, in a sense.

I am also reminded that in ancient Roman empire times, a wealthy father, especially if he was going off to war somewhere, would give his son into the care of a “mentor/tutor” as if the tutor were then the legal father and had all the paternal rights and responsibilities of the real father.

When the son had grown up, and the father returned, there was an adoption ceremony in which the actual father adopted his son back from the care of the tutor/temporary-father. But the father had the right to refuse to receive his son back in adoption if he had been disgraced somehow. Anyone know more about that aspect of Roman life?

Back to my theory related to the topic. If all people to some degree “suppress” the knowledge of God, which He makes available to all people if they will only pay attention, then He would know which people have the weakest ability to withstand His inspiration/attraction/revelation. And such people would be “predestined” to be His forever kids.

The weakest (in themselves) shall be first (to surrender to Him) but the strongest (in themselves) will resist Him until their death. And, in order for us to be saved from eternal destruction, there must be some folks who will be allowed to choose that “destiny of damnation”, which we all deserve apart from Christ, but we Believers have been too weak to withstand His gentle, humble approach with Arms held out wide, saying “Come to Me, and be My child”.

So, then, could God be faulted because He created people with the ability to suppress His reaching out to them, and gave them the full opportunity to reject His eternal presence, without “forcing” them to do so?

Once again “election” would be true, and “free will” would be true, and the Creator is justified in His empowerments and selection of the weakest of the rebels (all of us) to be His constant companions in eternity as they grow in their trust in His love.

Not real philosophical, but seems quite righteous and fair. Yes?

I’m just going to confine my response to your queston about adoption.

In ancient Rome, the practice was not primarily to give a poor orphan a happy home - it was to give a patrician an heir to continue his name and inherit his titles and estates. For this reason, girls were rarely adopted. And even sons whose parents were very much alive and well (and even wealthy) could be given for adoption to a powerful Roman who needed an heir. Often, the adopted son was already a grown man - as Augustus was when Julius Caesar adopted him.

If you’re interested in a fuller discussion of this, here is the wikipedia article:

The point is, that Paul uses the new birth to focus on one entering God’s family by being born of the Spirit which produces the divine family resemblances in God’s children.

The adoption focuses on how believers in the New Testament era are treated as adult sons who are ready to inherit in ways that Old Testament believers could not until the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Hebrews 9:15).

At the moment one is born into God’s family, a number of things simultaneously happen as an immediate consequence. For example, his old man is crucified with Christ, he is made a citizen of heaven, he’s sealed with the Spirit, baptized into the Body of Christ, his heart is circumcised, he becomes part of a royal priesthood, etc., etc. - but he also becomes an heir of God through Christ, which is the point of adoption. All of these things are predestined to happen to anyone who is born again through faith in the gospel of Christ. They are not the same event, although they do all happen concurrently with salvation. But they are all logically dependent upon the sinner turning to Christ in the first place, which is the trigger for everything else that immediately follows.

So Paul is saying that a saved person is predestined to be adopted into an adult standing as an heir ready to inherit as Ephesians 1:11-14 goes on to elaborate. When Romans 8 talks about adoption, it too uses it in the context of being heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ in 8:15-17. And when Galatians 4:1-7 mentions adoption, it is again in connection with being an heir of God (verses 5-7). And those are the only three passages where adoption is mentioned in the Bible.

The point I was originally making was that predestination is not used in the New Testament to refer to some lost people being predestined for salvation, but for all saved people being predestined for such blessings as Christlikeness, being restored to our original purpose to praise and glorify God in our lives and to being joint-heirs with Christ prepared to reign with Him in the kingdom.

The confusion regarding this very commonly misunderstood concept is due to our natural tendency to think of adoption in the context of our culture, not in the context of the ancient Roman world.

I hope it helps!


Great answer, James. The article shows how complicated adoption had become in Roman times.

By the way, there is a fourth verse that mentions adoption, Romans 9:3-4:

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”

It looks like, to me so far, the children of Israel were adopted into His family of chosen people, but as you indicate adoption into His Eternal Family requires the “second birth”. Still, i don’t see that the adoption process for eternity is separate from the new creations in Christ that we are. The way we are adopted into the Family is by receiving the Spirit of Christ, and we cry out by that Spirit, “Abba, Father”, as in Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6.

It sounds like you are saying they can’t happen at the same time. If so, why not?

By the way, i noticed the Phillips’ translation/paraphrase has this:

“But you must realise that so long as an heir is a child, though he is destined to be master of everything, he is, in practice, no different from a servant. He has to obey a guardian or trustee until the time which his father has chosen for him to receive his inheritance. So is it with us: while we were “children” we lived under the authority of basic moral principles. But when the proper time came God sent his son, born of a human mother and born under the jurisdiction of the Law, that he might redeem those who were under the authority of the Law and lead us into becoming, by adoption, true sons of God. It is because you really are his sons that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts to cry “Father, dear Father”. You, my brother, are not a servant any longer; you are a son. And, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir of God through Christ.”

Yes, it is true that Romans 9 also uses the word adoption. I apologize for overlooking it. I just don’t ever think of it when discussing this topic, because, as you say, it is a “by the way” sort of observation. The national adoption of Israel in the Old Testament seems irrelevant to our discussion of how the word is used of individual believers in the New. Almost every commentator I’ve seen who has addressed this issue has been careful to point out that the two are not the same, and no commentator I’ve read has claimed that they are.

And, of course, OT believers could not enter into their inheritance until after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ – Hebrews 9:15-16. So the NT focus of adoption as becoming adult heirs who have “come of age” and are able to legally inherit is a radically different use of the word.

I think you well stated this difference between the adoption of Israel, and the New Testament need for the second birth – a concept that was so totally foreign to the OT that “Dr. Nicodemus” was completely confused when Jesus hit him with it.

As for the timing of one’s adoption relative to salvation – no, I’m definitely not saying they don’t happen at the same time. On the contrary, I tried to emphasize that this is one of several things that happen as an immediate consequence of the new birth.

If I could just tweak one sentence at the end of your post, I think it would help clarify my point. “The way we are adopted into” an adult standing within “the family is by receiving the Spirit of Christ…”

We’re born into the family… but we’re adopted into an adult standing which makes us finally able to inherit. The way Paul uses the word huiothesia, translated adoption, is more like a “coming of age” ceremony than how we usually think of adoption. Vine’s New Testament Greek Dictionary even goes so far as to call the word adoption “a mistranslation and misleading. God does not adopt believers as children; they are begotten as such by the Holy Spirit through faith.”

This “coming of age” concept is exactly what Paul is describing in Galatians 4:1-7.

And yes, you’re right – receiving the Spirit of Christ is exactly what makes God view His people as mature, adult sons – unlike OT believers who, as minor children, were kept under the oversight of tutors and governors and were treated very much like servants – Galatians 4:1-3. Infants are not in a position to inherit. But receiving the huiothesia of sons makes us legal adults and heirs of God through Christ who are no more treated as servants – Galatians 4:5-7.

The Spirit of Christ dwelling in us means we don’t need the law held over us. God treats us as adult sons who’ve come of age and can finally handle the privileges of the kingdom – so much so that He goes ahead and advances us the first fruits of our inheritance, the indwelling Spirit – Romans 8:23. Ephesians 1:14 calls it the “earnest”, or the advance payment, of our full inheritance which we will fully come into at the resurrection – Romans 8:23.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you!

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Thanks, James, good answer. One clarification, though, which i think you will agree with. You said,

“But receiving the huiothesia of sons makes us legal adults and heirs of God through Christ who are no more treated as servants.”

We are not in bondage as slaves (owned by another), but we willingly serve as “servant-sons” to our Savior/Brother and Heavenly Dad/Father. Serving freely in love, not from necessity or legal requirement.

And Israel was adopted as the people through whom the Written Word and the Living Word would come, to save us. In fact, Israel is called God’s “son” multiple times, like:

"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says YHWH, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

James, thanks for sharing the link with information about adoption in Rome. Seeing the connection between adoption and inheritance helps a lot in studying Romans and Ephesians.

I’m curious whether Paul wanted his readers to see a connection between Israel’s adoption and ours even though the commentaries don’t bring this out. Since there weren’t originally chapter breaks in Paul’s letter, wouldn’t the Romans have seen a relationship between the adoption in Romans 9:4 and the adoption in Romans 8:15 & 23?

Paul detailed in chapter 8 how Christians receive the adoption with future glory. His Jewish audience would have connected the idea of adoption with inheritance and probably thought, “Wait! God promised us the inheritance and glory,” (Deuteronomy 4:20-21, Exodus 40:34-35; Leviticus 9:6). So Paul pressed pause on his other thoughts and spent three chapters (Romans 9-11) explaining what happened to God’s promises to Israel.

Ephesians seems very similar. According to the Bible Background Commentary by Craig Keener, Ephesus had a “large, ancient and influential Jewish community.” In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul explained how the Gentiles became fellow citizens with the Jews and members of the household of God, and in Ephesians 3:6 he stated that the Gentiles are now fellow heirs.

Was he setting the stage in Ephesians 1? He listed certain blessings for the church that the Jews would have considered their special territory, blessings like being adopted to receive an inheritance (Ephesians 1:5, 11). Could Paul have used the word chose in Ephesians 1:4 like a code word to show we have equal status with God’s chosen people of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4:37)?

Would you agree that there is a strong Jewish flavor to these passages about adoption, or am I missing something in the broader context?

Yes, many passages do teach that our service is a service of love. But I’m not sure this is a good passage to seek that in. (But then, you might not have been meaning that it was - you might have been merely making a general observation, with which - you are right - I would agree.)

The point he’s making in verses 5-7 is that God’s people in the New Testament aren’t being dealt with as servants at all (loving or otherwise), but as adult sons who have outgrown the oversight of the school masters and disciplinarians of their childhood - which is how His people in the Old Testament were dealt with in verses 1-3. They were treated as servants, and it was meant to prepare them to come out from under the schoolmaster and to come under Christ (Galatians 3:24-25).

Perhaps you are suggesting that there is a parallel between the national adoption of Israel at the time of the Exodus to inherit the promised land, and the adoption of individual believers to inherit the kingdom - that the two cases seem to move in similar directions.

Fair enough - I can see how one could make that case. Food for thought - thank you!

And yes, Paul’s use of the word chosen (the same Greek root as elect) does remind us that salvation makes a Gentile a “naturalized Israelite” in the sight of God - as Ephesians 2:11-19 elaborates on.

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I like your 'style", James. Another way of saying what i meant to mean was this: as His adopted kids, we are “living extensions” of His Life/Love. And that was the underlying intention of the adoption of Israel as His “Son”.

No longer slaves to sin or to mortal mankind, we are yet eternally bound together with Him as “parts serving the Whole”. One Body, One Mind, One Spirit…Thus we are a new kind of “servant”, even as Christ serves the Father, and all of us.

I’m sure we have much agreement, but may be using slightly different shades of meaning in terminology.

I like your explanations very much, Jennifer. Oh, wait! I could have just done a “like” – but that doesn’t seem as personal, does it.

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