Predestination vs. Free Will - Is It One or the Other?
by Rich Deem


One of the major controversies among Christians is the extent of predestination that God has ordained. At the extremes are those who claim that God uses only one to the exclusion of the other. Either extreme is wrong, since the Bible clearly indicates that both predestination and free will are in operation.


Four Views on Divine ProvidenceIn order to fulfill His prophecies, God must predestine history to a certain degree. The Bible clearly indicates that God predestined redemptive history, specifically, the coming of the Messiah. Jesus clearly indicated that His coming was planned, including His death:

Redemptive history

Other verses indicate that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was "predetermined" and "foreknown" by God1 and fulfilled part of God's eternal purpose.2

The Bible indicates that God's role in redemptive history extends beyond the Messiah to God's role in the redemption of Israel. Isaiah and Jeremiah claim that God used foreign rulers to alter history and free the Jews from Babylonian captivity:

People chosen by God for salvation

The Bible indicates that certain people are chosen by God for His purposes. Examples include King David,3 the Levites as the priests of God,4 Abraham,5 and the tribe of Judah.6

The New Testament says that God has elected or chosen people for salvation. Jesus used the Greek word eklektos7 to refer to those who were chosen by God during the end times.8 Jesus indicated that He chose the apostles for God's work and that it was not their own choice.9

Paul also uses the term "elect" to describe those who follow Jesus Christ.10 Paul tells us that we were chosen "before the foundation of the world,"11 which is reaffirmed by John in the book of Revelation.12 Paul also tells us that we were predestined by God to follow Jesus Christ.13 In addition, good works were prepared for us "that we might walk in them."14 Jesus Himself indicated that He had chosen Paul as a minister of the gospel.15 James indicates that God has chosen the poor people of the world for salvation.16

Evil people chosen to fulfill God's purposes

Some Christians claim that God predestines people for hell. This concept is never stated directly, although the Bible indicates that God does use evil people to accomplish His purposes.17 Paul indicates in the book of Romans that evil Pharaoh was "raised up" to demonstrate God's power.18 Paul goes on to say that God chose Jacob over his brother Esau,19 and that He chooses to have mercy on some people over others.20 John says that God will give the kingdom of Israel to the beast to fulfill His word.21 

Jesus indicated that He chose the apostles, including the one who would betray Him.22 Even Judas, as a worker of evil, was fulfilling part of the redemptive purpose of God. Luke, in the book of Acts indicates that evil Herod and Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus, were serving God's purposes.23

Presumably, evil people who are predestined to serve the purposes of God through their evil will eventually go to hell. However, they still possessed free will and would have done evil under any circumstances. So, the Bible indicates that God placed them in history to fulfill His purposes, knowing that they would do evil. God did not cause them to do evil, since God is not the author of evil. James says not to blame God for temptation:

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. (James 1:13)

Free will

There are many verses that specifically state that people have free will to execute their own choices. In the book of Deuteronomy, God Himself tells the people to choose to follow Him to receive His blessings:

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Joshua tells the people to choose to serve God or the idols of their neighbors.

"And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)

Many other Old Testament verses tell us to choose to follow the Lord.24 Obviously, choice is not possible if everything is predestined.

Besides the verses that tells us directly to make choices, there are hundreds of verses that tell us how we are to live. Obviously, following this advice requires free will and the ability to choose. So, the Bible indicates pretty clearly that we are to make choices. If everything is predestined, then choice is not possible.

Christ died for some?

Some in the radical predestination camp claim that Jesus Christ died only for the elect. However, the Bible teaches quite clearly that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all people and wants all people to come to repentance. This does not mean that Jesus' death provides salvation for those who resist God's call.

Conclusion Top of page

I have tried to present a balanced examination of the issues regarding free will and predestination. It is obvious that the Bible teaches both concepts. Ultimately, I believe that God directs history. However, I do not believe that He micro-manages history. In other words, I think God places people in history so that His will is accomplished. This includes putting His followers, in addition to those who oppose Him, at strategic points in history. The Bible encourages us to use our free will to choose good over evil. for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)

La Predestinación Versus El Libre Albedrío - ¿Es Uno o el Otro?

References Top of page

  1. this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:23)
  2. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Ephesians 3:11)
    but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)
    but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you. (1 Peter 1:19-20)
    the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
  3. So David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate before the LORD. (2 Samuel 6:21)
    'Since the day that I brought My people Israel from Egypt, I did not choose a city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house that My name might be there, but I chose David to be over My people Israel.' (1 Kings 8:16)
    'Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of My servant David whom I chose, who observed My commandments and My statutes; (1 Kings 11:34)
    "Yet, the LORD, the God of Israel, chose me from all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever. For He has chosen Judah to be a leader; and in the house of Judah, my father's house, and among the sons of my father He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. (1 Chronicles 28:4)
    He also chose David His servant, And took him from the sheepfolds; (Psalm 78:70)
  4. Then David said, "No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of God, and to minister to Him forever." (1 Chronicles 15:2)
  5. "Thou art the LORD God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. (Nehemiah 9:7)
  6. But [God] chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. (Psalm 78:68)
  7. Thayer's Greek Definition:
    eklektos eklektox (Strong's G1588)
    1. picked out, chosen
      1. chosen by God
        1. to obtain salvation through Christ
          1. Christians are called “chosen or elect” of God
        2. the Messiah in called “elect”, as appointed by God to the most exalted office conceivable
        3. choice, select, i.e. the best of its kind or class, excellence preeminent: applied to certain individual Christians
    Part of Speech: adjective
    A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G1586
    Citing in TDNT: 4:181, 505
  8. "And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. (Matthew 24:22)
    "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24)
    "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matthew 24:31)
    "And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days. (Mark 13:20)
    for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray. (Mark 13:22)
    "And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth, to the farthest end of heaven. (Mark 13:27)
    now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? (Luke 18:7)
  9. Jesus answered them, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70)
    "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you. (John 15:16)
  10. Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; (Romans 8:33)
  11. just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, (Ephesians 1:4-5)
    Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
  12. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:8)
    "The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8)
  13. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
    also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (Ephesians 1:11)
  14. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
  15. 'But arise [Paul], and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;' (Acts 26:16)
  16. Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5)
  17. The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. (Proverbs 16:4)
  19. for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Romans 9:11-13)
  20. For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)
  21. "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled. (Revelation 17:17)
  22. Jesus answered them, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70)
  23. "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27-28)
  24. Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. (Psalm 25:12)
    Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the LORD. (Proverbs 1:29)
    Do not envy a man of violence, And do not choose any of his ways. (Proverbs 3:31)
    "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (Isaiah 7:15)
    For thus says the LORD, "To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, (Isaiah 56:4)
    I will destine you for the sword, And all of you shall bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight, And chose that in which I did not delight." (Isaiah 65:12)
    So I will choose their punishments, And I will bring on them what they dread. Because I called, but no one answered; I spoke, but they did not listen. And they did evil in My sight, And chose that in which I did not delight." (Isaiah 66:4)

We are what we think.

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Last Modified February 28, 2008


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