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An Affirmative and
of years ago I found myself locked in an intense conversation with a young
Mormon man on the sidewalk outside the LDS Temple in Mesa, Arizona. He had
asked me initially why I thought there were so many churches, and part of my
reply had been that I believed many people do not believe all of
Scripture, but instead pick and choose what parts they will, or will not,
believe. He did not seem overly impressed, but we continued on, and very
soon came to the issue of the gospel of Godís grace. He immediately sensed
that I was presenting a very strong view of grace, and asked, "So, are
you saying that God saves only by His grace? That we donít have anything
to do with it?" "Yes," I replied. He looked amazed, and said,
"So, you donít believe in predestination, do you?" Rather than
respond immediately, I opened my Bible to Ephesians 1:11, and read it in his
hearing: "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being
predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after
the counsel of his own will" (KJV). My LDS friend replied, "So,
you are sayingÖ." I stopped him in mid-sentence and re-read the
passage. He said, "So, you believeÖ." I again stopped him, and
again re-read the passage. At this point he looked over the top of my Bible,
found the passage (outlined in yellow), pointed to it and said, "That
passage is wrong, and I feel good saying that." I closed my Bible,
looked at him, and said, "Sir, when you first came up to me, you asked
why there were so many different churches. I told you that it was because
people will pick and choose what they will and will not believe. Sir, no one
has ever given me a better example of that than you."
in October of 1998 I entered a chatroom in AOL and engaged Darryl Barksdale
in a discussion on the subject of salvation. I was not using my normal
screen name at the time. When the issue of predestination came up, I pointed
to Ephesians 1:11. At that time Mr. Barksdale offered to give me a
"lesson in exegesis." I gladly accepted the invitation, and we
began to look closely at the text itself. Out of that interaction has come
this debate on predestination in Scripture.
keeping with Mr. Barksdaleís kind offer to give me a "lesson in
exegesis," I hope that this debate will, in fact, focus upon just that:
the meaningful, fair, scholarly exegesis of the text of Scripture. Indeed,
for my part, I shall do all I can to keep the focus where it needs to be. I
firmly believe that the close, fair, honest exegesis of the text of the
Bible will yield only one truth, and that truth is that God is sovereign in
all things, including the matter of salvation, and that He has an elect
people, chosen specifically by Him, who are the heirs of eternal life. This
is not the teaching of Mormonism, to be sure, nor is it the teaching of a
large portion of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Yet, the Scriptures
biblical passages can be cited that plainly teach the divine truth that God
predestines men unto salvation. John 6:35-45, Romans 9:10-24, and 2 Timothy
1:8-10 all teach this truth. But I shall focus first upon the classicus
locus, Ephesians 1:3-11, for my initial exegetical defense of this
divine truth. As space permits, I will then briefly address Romans 9 and
John 6. I invite the interested reader to follow along. I shall use as my
base text the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek New
Testament. English translations are my own.
begins this tremendous introduction to his letter1
with a word of blessing addressed to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
(1:3). All of salvation comes from the Father, its source, and its end. It
is the Father who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the
heavenly places in Christ. Immediately we encounter three vital truths: 1)
God is the one who has blessed us (we did not bless ourselves); this is seen
in recognizing that oJ
to the Father specifically; 2) that Paul is not speaking of all mankind
here, but specifically of the redeemed, for he uses the personal pronoun hJma'" (us)
when speaking of the scope of the blessing of the Father; we will
see this is continued throughout the text; and 3) the phrase ejn Cristw' (in Christ)
or its equivalent in Him, is central to Paulís thought. All of
salvation takes place only "in Christ."
is central to our subject: "just as He chose us in Him before the
creation of the world so that we should be holy and blameless before
Again the Father is in view, for He is the one who chose us (hJma'",
accusative, indicating direct object of "to choose"). This choice
is exercised only in Christ
(there is no salvation outside of the Son). It is vital to recognize the personal
aspect of this choice on the part of God the Father. The passage says that we
were chosen by God the Father, not that a mere "plan" was chosen,
or a "process" put in place. The choice is personal both in its
context (in the Son) and in its object (the elect). Next, the time
of this choice by the Father is likewise important: before the creation of the world.
This is a choice that is timeless. It was made before we were created,3
and therefore cannot possibly be based upon anything that we ourselves do or
"choose."4 This is sovereignty--free
nothing without a purpose. Both the means, and end, are in view. God chooses
the elect to the end that they should be "holy and blameless before
Him." God is redeeming for Himself a people, and no power in heaven or
earth can stop Him from accomplishing His intention.
continues to expand upon the nature of the Father's choice: "In love He
predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself,
according to the good pleasure of His will" (v. 5). This is the first
appearance of the word "predestined" in the text. The exact same
is used in verse 11 as well. The meaning of the term is not ambiguous, no
matter how hard some might try to avoid its impact. It means "to choose
beforehand" or "to predestine."5
In this context, it is unquestionably personal in its object, for
again we find hJma'" as
the direct object of the action of predestination. This is truly the key element of this debate,
for grammatically there is no escape from the plain assertion here made: God
the Father predestined
us. He did not predestine a plan, He did not merely predestine a general
conclusion to all things, but He chose us and predestined us.
The "us" of Ephesians 1:5 is the "we" of Ephesians 1:11
and the "elect" of Romans 8:33 and those who are "given"
by the Father to the Son in John 6:37.
are asked "upon what basis does God choose one person, and leave
another in their sins?" Paul answers in 1:5b-6, "according to the
good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace which he
freely gave us in the Beloved One." We note that there is nothing
whatsoever here about man doing
anything. Instead, we have the good pleasure of God's will, nothing more.
And this is perfectly logical, for, as Paul says, this is to result in the
praise of His glorious grace. If salvation were the result of man's choosing
God (rather than God choosing man), then God's grace would not be the sole and sufficient
basis for salvation, and it would not, therefore, be the object of our
praise in eternity to come. But Paul here sums it all up for us, indicating
that the basis is solely God's will, and therefore all praise and honor and
glory will go to God's glorious grace, that grace whereby the elect of God
are saved, and will persevere into the eternal state. Such a truth is
utterly shattering to human pride, and to all systems of works salvation.
But it is the truth nonetheless. And note as well: again hJma'"
appears, this time as the direct object of the free giving of God's grace.
This is saving grace, efficient grace, that actually
accomplishes the salvation of its object. And hence, it is given to the
redeemed, to the elect, and they alone.
This is no mere "common grace" given to all: this is specific,
saving grace. And, as is his constant strain throughout this opening passage
of Ephesians, Paul emphasizes once again the fact that this saving grace is only
in Christ, here described as "the beloved One."
mentioned Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, Paul goes on to assert that
it is in Him alone that we (again the elect, this time found in the first
person plural ending of e[comen)
have, present tense, redemption through His blood (literally, the
redemption), which Paul then re-describes appositively6
as "the forgiveness of our sins." The standard of Godís
forgiveness is said to be "according to the riches of His grace,"
which surely means that there is no limitation to the scope, nor power, of
Christís redeeming blood.7 This
grace, verse 8 goes on to say, was "lavished" on us, or
"super-abounded" toward us (the now almost ubiquitous hJma'" once
again); obviously, it has not so abounded toward all, hence, again,
the specificity of Christís work of salvation, including His work of atonement,
next phrases (1:8b-10), Paul explains the centrality of Christ, both in the
work of redemption as well as in the revelation of Godís intention, will
and purpose. All is summed up in Christ, Paul says. The Fatherís will is
that everything be done in Christ. This "mystery of His will" He
has made known to us
dative, because of gnwrivsa").
then, far too quickly, to the eleventh verse, wherein we again see plainly
the outcome of our debate: "In Him (that is, in Christ) also we have
been claimed as Godís own possession,9 having
been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the
council of His own will."
this passage functions as a "bookend" to sum up the preceding
Fatherís work of salvation takes place exclusively in the realm of the
Son, "in Him." It is in Christ that we have "been claimed as
Godís own possession," that is, have received the promised
inheritance, though the emphasis is upon the God-ward side of this
transaction, not the human side. The concept of "Godís own
possession" comes up again in verse 14. The elect are Godís people,
"a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus
who are Godís people are so because they were "predestined."
Again, no ambiguity exists in the meaning of the term, nor its use in the
passage. Mr. Barksdale, in our discussion of this passage in AOL, indicated
that he believed that God had predestined a plan in this verse. I
pointed out to him that proorisqevnte"
is an aorist passive participle, 1st
person plural. A "plan" would call for a singular form,
not a plural form. Why is it plural? Because is it referring back to "we
have been claimedÖ." The subject of the participle is found in the
plural ending of ejklhrwvqhmen.
It cannot be a "plan" but is a people,
Godís people, the elect, who are here plainly seen to be the object of Godís
act of predestination.
basis for Godís choice is again removed from the human realm and placed
squarely and inalterably in the divine. God chooses on the basis of His own
purpose (not on the basis of what we do). When Paul speaks of Godís
purpose, He attaches a clause that describes his God. Literally, it would
read, "the all things working according to the council of His will
One." The emphasis in the clause is on ta; pavnta, "all
things." God works all things after the council of His will. Not some
things, not most things, but all things. This is true in all aspects of His
creation: the God Paul proclaims is sovereign over all things, is in control
of all things, and all things exist at His command, and for His purpose.
That is why the Psalmist could say, "Whatever the LORD pleases, He
does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps" (Psalm
applies this eternal truth to his immediate audience, those who were
"the first to hope in Christ." Thanks be to God that He has
continued to draw His elect over the ages, so that we living in our present
day can likewise join with them in hoping in Christ, and hence resound to
the "praise of His glory." But I hasten to emphasize: His glory is
only praised when His complete sovereignty in
salvation is plainly seen and proclaimed. Even saving faith in Christ
is a gift of God given to the elect.10 Men
dare not intrude upon Godís sole glory: and that is exactly what we see in
those systems that attempt to place man in control of God, and make God
dependent upon man and the puny creatureís will in the matter of
will demand a less in-depth look at my other two passages, Romans 9 and John
6. Both, however, will be seen to repeat the same concepts found in
relevance of Romans 9 is obvious upon the most casual reading. It comes on
the heels of a passage that again uses the specific term
"predestined" of the elect people of God (8:29-33). Paul begins by
illustrating Godís electing grace in the patriarchs of the Jewish people,
proving, thereby, that the Jews have no basis upon which to complain now
that God, in His grace, has chosen to extend His covenant mercies to the
Gentiles as well. Paul points to Jacob and Esau (9:10-13) as an example of
this: "before the twins were born or had done anything good or
bad" God said, "the older will serve the younger." Why does
Paul emphasize that this was said before
the birth of the twins, and before they had done anything good or
bad? The text is plain: "in order that Godís purpose according to
election would standónot on the basis of works, but on the basis of the
One calling." Godís purpose in election will stand,
infallibly. The choice of Jacob over Esau was not on the basis of
the actions of the twins (indeed, both showed themselves unworthy by their
sinful attitudes of any of Godís blessings). Instead, the basis is always
found in God, "the One calling." Because of this, it is written in
Scripture, "Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated."
fascinating to note that Paul had obviously heard all the objections against
the Gospel many times before. He includes an "imaginary objector"
in this section to voice all the common complaints about Godís absolute
sovereignty and manís complete dependence upon Him. Fallen man outside of
Christ hates the truth that God is the Potter, we are the clay. The
unregenerate heart rebels against such a truth. When we read, "Jacob I
loved, Esau I hated," we say, "that is not fair! That is
unjust!" And indeed, Paul immediately voices that objection, and then
answers it as well. But before looking at his answer, do remember this: the
amazing thing about the statement "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated"
is not that God hated Esau: Esau was a sinner, an enemy of God, and Godís
wrath abides upon anyone still in their sins. The amazing thing about the
statement is "Jacob I loved." That is grace undeserved.
will we say, then? There is no injustice with God, is there?" (v. 14).
As soon as sovereignty is seen, man cries foul. Paulís answer is quick:
"May it never be! For he said to Moses, ĎI will have mercy on whom I
have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.í
Therefore it does not depend on the one who wills, neither on the
one who runs, but on God, who shows mercy." The NET translates it,
"it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on the mercy of
God." In either case, the actions and will of man are utterly removed
from consideration by Paulís response. Godís choice is totally free.
Mercy and compassion cannot be demanded of the Righteous Judge of all. They
must be free. Rather than defending the "freedom of man," the
truly regenerate heart should be jealous for the freedom of God instead.
Scriptures go on to illustrate this truth in the life of Pharaoh. Paul
asserts (9:17) that God raised up Pharaoh for a specific purpose: that Godís
name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Again the rebellious heart cries
out in complaint, while the believer bows in humble adoration. "May I
be used only to bring honor and glory to the name of my God" is the cry
of the broken heart. So Paul goes on to press the point home in verse 18,
"Therefore He has mercy on whom He wishes; but He likewise
hardens whom He wishes." How much more plainly can it be stated? The
context is clearly personal: Pharaoh was a person, as were Jacob and Esau.
God shows mercy to individuals, and, likewise, whether we like it or not, He
hardens individuals as well. This is predestination, plain and clear.
course, immediately the creature rebels and cries out (v. 19), "Why
does He still find fault? Who has ever resisted His will?" The
clay attempts to demand of the Potter a reason for His actions. The creature
climbs onto the throne of the Creator and acts as if he has a right to be
there. Make no mistake: this response, natural as it is for the sinful
heart, is, itself, a symptom of sin, and is an act of rebellion. As Paul
will point out, it is as foolish as a cup demanding its Maker give an
account for its size, color, or shape. Cups have no such rights, and neither
does the creature, man. Of course, it is just here that I would assert that
the LDS faith has no way of even beginning to make sense of what Paul is
saying, or how he is about to respond. You see, the God Paul worshipped, the
God of Christianity, is the Almighty Maker of all things. He has
eternally been God, and anything that exists, anywhere and at any time, does
so at His will and command. Joseph Smith proclaimed in the King Follett
Funeral Discourse, "We have imagined and supposed that God was God from
all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you
may see." Hence, Mormonism simply does not have a concept of God that
can possibly undertake to make sense out of Paulís reply. As the NET
renders it, "But who indeed are youóa mere human beingóto talk back
to God?" More traditionally, "Who are you, O man, to answer back
to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ĎWhy did you make me
like this,í will it?" The answer is devastating, but only when, by
grace, your heart is "given ears to hear" what it is saying. It is
a shattering experience to really come to see yourself as you are: a
creature, formed and made by another for His own purposes (not yours!),
utterly dependent upon Him. There is no room for pride in such a truthóand
so the natural man rejects it, and indeed, in my experience, hates it.
the "thing molded." God is the molder. God is God, man is man. In
Mormonism, God and man are of the "same species," and God is, in
fact, an "exalted man," or as one LDS acquaintance of mine puts
it, "a theomorphic man." Therefore, this passage makes no sense in
the LDS context (because, I strongly assert, LDS theology is not biblical
theology, but its opposite). For Paul is not saying, "Who are you,
yet-to-be-exalted man, to talk back to the already-exalted man?" No,
there is no Potter/pot relationship in Mormonism, hence, there is no room
for this truth in LDS thinking.
presses onward to his conclusion: "Or does not the Potter have
authority over the clay, to make from the same lump of clay one
vessel for honorable use, and yet another for common use?" His
illustration is striking. Potters have full authority to do with a lump of
clay whatever they wish. It is irrational to insist that the potter has
to make from one lump of clay all honorable vessels or all
common ones. He can do what he wishes. But what bothers us so tremendously
here is the obvious fact that we are the vessels formed from clay!
And we have no say over the purpose for which we have been made: that is the
right of the Potter.
on in verses 22-23, "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His
wrath and to make His power known, has endured with much patience vessels of
wrath made for destruction, in order that He might make known the riches of
His glory upon vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for
glory?" Who are these vessels prepared beforehand for glory? The elect
of God, the people He has redeemed for His own nameís sake. It is hard to
see how Paul could have been any more clear, any more direct in his
presentation of the absolute sovereignty of God in election.
been my experience over the years that some people, especially Mormons, have
an implicit distrust in "things Pauline." Hence, it would be good,
very briefly, to demonstrate that the Apostle Paul was simply presenting the
same truths enunciated by the Lord Himself in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Here is the relevant passage, John 6:35-40, 44-45:11
said to them, "I am the bread of life. The one coming12
to Me will never hunger, and the one believing in Me will never thirst.
But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet you do not believe. All
that the Father gives to me will come to Me, and the one coming to Me I
will never cast out, for I have come down out of heaven not to do My own
will, but the will of the One who sent Me. This is the will of the One
who sent Me: that of all that He has given Me I lose none of it, but
instead raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father,
that everyone looking on the Son and believing in Him should have
eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. . . . No
one is able to come to Me unless the Father, who sent Me, draws him, and
I will raise him up on the last day. It stands written in the prophets: and they shall
all be taught by God. Every one who hears from the Father and
learns comes to Me."
word the Lord Jesus speaks is filled with meaning. He introduces Himself as
the bread of life, the only true source of spiritual nourishment. Yet, the
Jews do not believe. Why? The very incarnate Son of God was standing right
in front of them! Why would they not believe? Because, as Jesus explained in
John 10:26, they were not of His "sheep." They were not given to
Him by the Father, for all that the Father gives to the Son will,
without question, without failure, come to Him. Note that for the Father to
be able to give men to the Son we must be talking about the same Father of
Ephesians 1 and Romans 9: the sovereign God who is maker and creator of men,
not merely an exalted man. He has the sovereign right to give certain men to
Christ, but not others. Those who are given come: those who are not do not.
The divine order is clear: Godís giving of men to the Son precedes
and determines their coming to Christ. First comes the action of
God, and then the action of men. God acts, man responds, never the
other way around, in the matter of salvation.
security of the elect is plainly seen in this text: Christ will never cast
out the one who has been given to Him by the Father and has come to Him as a
result; indeed, it is the very will of the Father that the Lord Jesus lose nothing of
all that has been given to Him! What a wonderful promise to realize that the
Lord Jesus will never fail to do the Fatherís will, and hence, the
salvation of Godís people is as sure as the power, purity, and purpose of
the very Son of God Himself!
the final verses likewise present the utter sovereignty of God in
predestination. Jesus makes it clear: No one has the ability to come to Him unless
something else happens: the drawing of the Father. Now, many would say,
"Well, the Father draws everyone." That is untrue. The Father
draws the elect, including the elect of all nations and tribes and tongues
and peoples.13 Even this passage makes this
clear, as it is obvious that all who are drawn are also
raised up on the last day, a phrase that in John is equivalent to being
given eternal life.14
Hence, here we are told that God draws the elect to Christ, and outside of
that effectual drawing, there is no person who will come to Christ.
Indeed, as Paul said, "there is no God-seeker" (Romans 3:11).
thesis our debate is clear: does the Bible teach predestination? The answer
is obvious: yes, it does. It teaches the specific, personal, individual
predestination of the entire body of the elect people of God. God chooses
the objects of His mercy and grace, and others He leaves in their sin and
It is my
hope that my opponent will offer specific, meaningful exegetical responses
to these passages, so that the reader can do as Isaiah said long ago:
"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to
this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isaiah 8:20).
I believe the letter to the Ephesians was a circular letter, i.e., meant to
be read in all the churches in the Lycus River Valley (cf. Col 4:16).
There are a number of punctuation variants in this passage. At this point, I
think "in love" would go best with the following phrase, providing
the realm in which predestination itself takes place, that being God's
loving purpose. The NASB follows this understanding.
I reject the LDS doctrine of pre-existence, and there is nothing in Paul's
theology, or the Bible's teaching, that presents such a concept. Indeed, in
Romans 9:11 Paul speaks of the time before the birth of Jacob and Esau as a
time when "they had not done anything good or bad." It is basic to
that passage to see that Paul does not hold the LDS idea of pre-existence.
For a discussion of the common use of the term "foreknowledge,"
see Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1996,
pp. 532-534, John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans Eerdmans, 1997,
pp. 315-319, and White, God's Sovereign Grace, Crowne Publications,
1991, pp. 117-122.
See any standard lexical source, such as BAGD (p. 709) or Louw & Nida
Syntactically the accusative in simple apposition. This is important since
some groups separate redemption and the specific forgiveness of sins.
This would involve a denial of the LDS doctrine of "blood
atonement," that concept wherein there are certain "grievous"
sins for which the blood of Christ will not atone.
I refer here briefly to the biblical teaching on the specific
purpose of Christís atoning sacrifice: the redemption of the elect.
For more on this, seen John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied,
So NET (cf. 1:14); "we were also chosen" (NIV), "obtained an
inheritance" (NASB, NRSV).
See Colossians 1:3-4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Acts 3:16, Hebrews 12:2,
Philippians 1:29, Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 2:8-9.
For a fuller exposition of John 6:35-45, see my work, Drawn
by the Father, Crowne Publications, 1991).
Both "coming" and "believing" are present-tense
participles. Saving faith is a persevering faith, for it is the gift of God,
and it accomplishes what God intends it to accomplish, through grace.
John 12:32, Revelation 5:9-10.
There is no concept of "eternal lives," "exaltation,"
celestial, terrestrial, and telestial levels of heaven, etc., in Johnís
writings (nor anywhere in the Christian Scriptures) in the LDS understanding
of such terms. Hence, "eternal life" is the highest gift given by
God to His people.