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Does the Bible Teach Predestination?
An Exegetical Debate

 


Dr. James White vs Darryl Barksdale

[Note to all readers: In the following presentation Greek terms are presented using the Greek font designed and developed by Bill Mounce. This font is available for download and installation on your computer system by clicking on the following links: for Windows: download the Mounce font. If you use a Mac, or if the preceding link does not work for you, go to the following URL and download from there: http://www.teknia.com/fonts/grkfnt.html. Please note that this is the newest edition of the Mounce font, dated 10/98. Earlier editions of the font may not display properly in every instance. It may also contain Hebrew words. Click here to download a zip file containing the proper Hebrew font.]


Initial Rebuttal of Darryl Barksdale’s Opening Statement

James White


Debates are meant to focus attention upon a particular issue, and allow a full, fair examination of the arguments for both sides. To facilitate this, a thesis statement is used. In formal debate, any side that goes beyond the topic is penalized, or even disqualified. The reason for this is easy to understand: when faced with overwhelming factual argumentation, many tend to obfuscate by bringing in all sorts of irrelevant issues and arguments. Hence, in proper and meaningful debate, the side that sticks to the issues and presses home the argument wins.

Unfortunately, we are rarely in a position to have debate judges control the content of written debates such as this one. Such an unbiased and fair judge would be most welcome, indeed. But without one, you, the reader, are left to act as judge. You must hold the debaters to the thesis. You must recognize the introduction of irrelevancies, unfair argumentation, ad-hominem, etc. Since the ultimate decision lies with you, only you can make the proper decisions.

The thesis of this debate is simple: does the Bible teach predestination? This was to be an exegetical debate; i.e., one based upon the close examination of the text itself. All arguments presented that do not support, or deny, that thesis are, by definition, irrelevant. In my opening statement I provided a presentation based upon three passages of Scripture. It is now my duty to respond to, and rebut, Mr. Barksdale’s presentation in his opening statement. Unfortunately, this is most difficult to do, since Mr. Barksdale did not choose to present any meaningful exegesis of the biblical passages that specifically present the doctrine of predestination. However, he did present a defense of his position based upon the unique LDS doctrine of pre-existence, and we shall take the time to respond to those assertions, as they form the majority of Mr. Barksdale’s argument.

The Reformed Position

Mr. Barksdale began his presentation with a discussion of the Reformed doctrine of predestination. As long as he was quoting others, the presentation is accurate. However, his own summary, offered at the beginning, is woefully lacking, especially when, ignoring the citations he himself offers later, he writes, "Simply put, it is the belief that God chose those whom He wanted to save before the foundations of the Earth were laid, and the rest He simply "threw away," for no other reason than that He felt like it." The punishment of those who are left to God’s wrath will be based upon full and complete justice. Indeed, outside of God’s mercy, all people would face that wrath, for it abides upon all unbelievers (John 3:36).

Mr. Barksdale then, unfortunately, entered into a rather lengthy discussion of many other aspects of soteriology (justification, sanctification, eternal security, etc.) based upon, as he indicated, the work of Richard Hopkins in his book, Biblical Mormonism. Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Hopkins’ work to be the single worst example of LDS apologetics, and as a result, Mr. Barksdale’s presentation, too, completely misses the point with great consistency.

Since it is not the topic of the debate, I will simply note that Mr. Barksdale confuses justification and sanctification; he ignores Paul’s lengthy presentation of the grounds of justification, the role of saving faith, the concept of imputation, and the very nature of the righteousness which will avail before a Holy Judge. Falling into the same trap as Rome, Mr. Barksdale makes justification a subjective thing, rather than the forensic imputation of the righteousness of Christ that alone can give us true peace with God (Romans 5:1). This opens up the entire field of works-salvation, etc., and would take us far beyond the thesis statement of this debate.2

Jeremiah 1:5

Only a few passages exist in all of Scripture that can be read in such as way as to support the idea of the pre-existence of human beings prior to birth here on earth. This doctrine, taught in various Gnostic groups in the period of the early church, and found as well in Origen, is unknown to the vast majority of Christians down through the ages, and is much more at home among Greek philosophers than it is with those who find in the Scriptures their source of authority. Plato, for example, believed in the pre-existence of the human soul (and that the Demiurge had created the world out of pre-existing matter). It is ironic that while LDS apologetic writings are filled with assertions that Christian orthodoxy has been "Hellenized," it is LDS theology that finds itself dependent upon the Greek philosophers, for as we shall now see, there is no basis for this belief in the Scriptures.

When God called Jeremiah to the office of a prophet in Israel, He did so with these words:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

And before you were born I consecrated you;

I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Jeremiah 1:5 (NASB)

Mr. Barksdale makes the following assertions about the passage: 1) This passage "clearly" has Jehovah telling Jeremiah that He (Jehovah) "knew him in a premortal existence." 2) The passage presents an "actual process of ordination." 3) "There is no reason within the boundaries of sound hermeneutics that Jer 1:5 should be interpreted figuratively. The prophet Jeremiah, like all of us, lived with His heavenly Father as a spirit child for an unknown duration before being born on this earth."

Unfortunately, Mr. Barksdale only offers us these claims: he never touches the text itself. We must do so before evaluating the claims made.

Jeremiah 1:5 presents God’s calling of Jeremiah to the prophet office. It presents four actions on the part of God: He formed Jeremiah, He knew Jeremiah, He consecrated Jeremiah, and He appointed Jeremiah a prophet. Mr. Barksdale assumes (without proving his point) certain meanings for each of these terms. But, is he correct?

Yahweh formed (rc'y" , yazer) Jeremiah in the womb. rc'y" refers to creative activity, much as we see in Psalm 139:13-16, where the Psalmist refers to the time when Yahweh looked upon his "unformed substance" (a term that can refer to the embryo or fetus). This is Jeremiah’s Creator—the one who creates the spirit of man (Zechariah 12:1). Joseph Smith denied to God the power to create the spirit of man. God, in Mormonism, begets the spirits of men in a pre-existence. Note that nowhere does Yahweh say to Jeremiah, "I begat you as a spirit before you were born." We must remember that in Mormonism, Yahweh is the Son, one of the very spirits of men that Yahweh is said to create in Zechariah 12:1. Hence, in the LDS view, this is merely the spirit-brother of Jeremiah saying to Jeremiah that they knew each other in the pre-existence. But surely that is not what "formed you in the womb" means.

rc'y" is one of a group of terms used of God's creative activity. The best known is )rfbf, bara. This term is used only with God as the subject: only God truly creates.3 The other common synonym is h#&f(f (asah), to make. These terms are used in parallel with each other numerous times, especially with reference to God's creative activity in Isaiah.

So how would Jeremiah have understood this revelation from God? What is Yahweh saying when He says he "formed" Jeremiah in the womb? Note briefly the semantic range of the term indicated by the following considerations. The term is often used in the Qal participial form and is translated simply as "Creator" as in Isaiah 27:11, or, in the story of the Potter and the clay, it is rendered "Potter" (Jeremiah 18:2-11, especially significant in our context). This is especially striking in two contexts that are directly relevant to the LDS view of God, Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9:

You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, "He did not make me"; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, "He has no understanding"? (29:16)

"Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker -- An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?' Or the thing you are making say, 'He has no hands'? (45:9)

In Isaiah 44:9-12, the term is used of "fashioning" an idol. In Isaiah 45:7, God is described as the one "forming light and creating darkness." In Psalm 95:5 the "dry land" is "formed" by God. The same use of rc'y" is found elsewhere in Jeremiah's work: 10:16, 33:2, and 51:19. In every single one of these instances rc'y" is used of creative activity.

A common element of Hebrew poetry (and Jeremiah 1:5 is poetic in form) is parallelism. By placing phrases and words in parallel, the writer can expand upon the meaning he is communicating. Note the form of the passage:

Temporal Clauses

Actions

Explanation

Before I formed you in the womb

I knew you

 

before you were born

I consecrated you

 
 

I have appointed you

a prophet to the nations

As we can see, the parallel to being "formed in the womb" is "born." Given the meaning of rc'y" in the above passages, and its parallel here, we can see that Yahweh is 1) Jeremiah's Creator (not his spirit-brother); 2) speaking of the time before Jeremiah came into existence. B. Otzen, writing from a liberal viewpoint far removed from my own, confirms the obvious meaning of the text and the use of rc'y". Speaking of the use of terms with rc'y" that refer to calling and election, Otzen writes in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament:

If we then compare the passages from the Servant Songs with Jer. 1:5 and Ps. 139:16 (both of which use yasar), we gain the impression that the notion of creation has yet another function in these texts: election actually precedes creation, so that Yahweh's sovereign elective authority is emphasized. We may also interpret the Servant passages in this sense: just as Jeremiah was "known" and "consecrated" even before being created by Yahweh, so too was the Servant.4

Now the next item to address is Mr. Barksdale's eisegetical assumption that the statement "I knew you" (K1yt@i(;day;) must mean that Yahweh had intellectual knowledge of the existence of Jeremiah in a pre-mortal existence. We have already seen that the temporal frame of reference is prior to Jeremiah's creation. Nothing in the text even hints at the idea of a pre-mortal existence. So what does (dayf (yada) mean in this passage?

There are a specific group of passages that bear very directly upon this concept. From the very beginning of the Bible, (dayf carries with it a meaning beyond the mere intellectual knowledge of things. When Adam "knew" Eve, she conceived and bore a son (Genesis 4:1). In Jeremiah 9:6 we find the use of (dayf in the context of people refusing to "know" God, that is, refusing to acknowledge Him and worship Him as God. Obviously, the dimension of "know" here is far beyond mere knowledge of God's existence: they refuse to enter into relationship with Yahweh. In the same way, in 24:7 Yahweh says, "I will give them a heart to know (t(adalf, qal inf. const.) Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart." Again, (dayf here refers to relational knowledge, not mere intellectual apprehension of a fact. And in 31:34 the effect of the New Covenant is seen in that all who have been given that new heart will know (w1(d;y', qal imperfect) Him. Hence, the usage is clearly found in Jeremiah. But it exists elsewhere. In Hosea 13:15 the KJV speaks of God "knowing" Israel in the wilderness. The NASB more accurately captures the meaning of (dayf by rendering it, "I cared for you in the wilderness." The personal aspect of (dayf is again seen.

But most important for our purposes is the parallel use of (dayf in Amos 3:2, where in the KJV we read, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." But again the NASB (and NIV) correctly catches the meaning: "You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth." The concept of sovereign choosing in (dayf ends up coming into the New Testament via the Septuagint's translation of (dayf as ginwvskw, and then to proginwvskw (Romans 8:29).5

Now, why take the time to demonstrate this element of the meaning of (dayf? Because as we see in the above chart, (dayf is here paralleled with two other terms: to consecrate and to appoint. So, we can put these terms together and see the clear indication of what Yahweh is saying when we see how know can, and does, mean "to choose." Yahweh chose, consecrated, and appointed Jeremiah as a prophet before Jeremiah came into existence. That is, God, in His sovereign power, determined that Jeremiah would function as His prophet in Israel at a particular time in history. Just as God raised up Pharaoh for His own purposes, so He chose and appointed Jeremiah. There is no need to eisegetically insert the foreign concept of pre-mortal existence into this passage: the eternal God of the Bible is simply informing His servant that He chose and appointed him to the role of prophet before Jeremiah had come into existence. Botterweck, again writing from a liberal perspective far removed from my own, notes many of these same concepts, and writes in TDOT:

We find yd' in Am. 3:2 as an expression for the special relationship between Yahweh and Israel or election to service. . . . Yahweh entered into a special relationship of selection and election with Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and David. . . . In Jer. 1:5, the appointment of Jeremiah to prophetic office is characterized by is characterized by yd' par. qds hiphil; long before his birth (ys par. ysr), Jeremiah had been chosen as a prophet (5:468).

At this point Mr. Barksdale gives us a tremendous example of eisegesis. He asserts that Yahweh here raises the issue of ordination to a particular calling via the laying on of hands! Mr. Barksdale, limited to the English text, does not seem to realize that the KJV used the term "ordain" in a much more mundane, non-specific sense, merely that of "making" or "appointing." The Hebrew term used by Yahweh is Ntanf, the standard term for "to give, set, appoint, make, constitute" etc.6 It is used a scant thirteen verses later: "Now behold, I have made (Ntanf) you today as a fortified city...." Obviously, God did "ordain" Jeremiah a fortified city. The term simply does not carry the connotation in this passage that Mr. Barksdale inserts into it.7

In conclusion, then, we find that a thorough examination of the text (which Mr. Barksdale did not even attempt to offer) reveals a much different concept than that offered by my opponent. No basis for a "pre-mortal existence" has been found, and none of the three assertions made by Mr. Barksdale can be substantiated by real exegesis of the text.

More on "Pre-Existence"

Mr. Barksdale goes on to make a number of unfounded and undocumented assertions regarding the Bible and the concept of "pre-existence." Again, while never offering a shred of exegesis, my opponent weaves together a thread of texts, unrelated to one another, with concepts provided to him not by the Bible, but by LDS teachings. Taking as a basis his unsubstantiated (and exegetically contradicted) understanding of Jeremiah 1:5, he posits the entire concept of God's "spirit children," and says that this "solves a great mystery about the origin and nature of the spiritual host referred to in scripture as angels. These servants and messengers of God are none other than the spirits of men, God's spirit children." What substantiation does Mr. Barksdale offer for this sweeping conclusion? "The early saints understood this truth and referred to the spirit of Peter as 'his angel.'" He cites a single passage: Acts 12:15, which reads, "They said to her, 'You are out of your mind!' But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, 'It is his angel.'" While the Bible tells us that angels are ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14), it never says that angels are spirit-children of a theomorphic man in heaven. God creates angels; He does not beget them (Psalm 104:4, h#&e(& translated by oJ poiw'n in the LXX). They are created as men are created, but the Bible does not confuse them. As Dr. A.T. Robertson points out in reference to Acts 12:15:

It is his angel ( ~W aggelo" estin autou). This was the second alternative of the disciples. It was a popular Jewish belief that each man had a guardian angel. Luke takes no position about it. No scripture teaches it.

The men were not saying that Peter’s spirit was standing outside. Angels had already been involved in rescuing believers (Acts 5:19). The fact is, the New Testament never confuses men and angels the way Mr. Barksdale does.

Having fabricated a context, my opponent then goes to Job 38:7 which speaks of a time when "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy." He notes that "sons" is the Hebrew term Nb'@ "which literally means 'offspring.'" Yes, Nb'@ can mean that. However, is Mr. Barksdale suggesting that it can only mean that, and, is he prepared to demonstrate on the basis of this text that it must mean that here? All we are given is his assertion, "The term "sons of God" is a reference to the spirits of Men in the preexistence, and this verse tells of their joy at the prospect of Earth's creation." No exegesis is offered in support of this assertion outside of the singular assertion noted above concerning Nb'@. No lexicons are cited, no grammar presented, no context considered. Later a rather interesting assertion will be made concerning the term "star," but as for any truly meaningful exegesis, we are offered nothing.

But we need not expend a tremendous amount of energy here. Mr. Barksdale provided a number of citations regarding the need to examine context and allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves in his first rebuttal presentation. We both, obviously, feel that the other is violating the canons of sound hermeneutical interpretation. We both believe the other is ignoring context. But, while Mr. Barksdale may assert that I ignore context, I can demonstrate that Mr. Barksdale is the one doing so. And this citation of Job 38 is an excellent example. You see, when you back up and simply read the passage, its import is clear. God is asking Job rhetorical questions. The whole point of each question asked by God in this section is simple: Job can't answer, because Job wasn't there. Job has gone too far in his questioning of God, so God puts Job in his place. Job never answers God (though, if the LDS position is correct, he could!), but instead says: "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth" (40:4). Job knows there are no answers to these questions. They are meant to show him his creatureliness, that he is the pot, God is the Potter.

But it is just this basic, obvious consideration that utterly refutes the LDS use of this passage! For if Job is one of the spirit children of God the Father, did he not exist prior to his birth here on this planet? Is he not one of the very "sons of God" that rejoiced to see the founding of the earth? This shows that Job did not think for a moment that he existed as one of the "sons of God" who are poetically described as rejoicing at the creation. Instead, the meaning, in context, is crystal clear: the passage is not presenting a discussion of pre-existence, the nature of man's soul, or anything of the kind. Instead, the Lord was quite clear:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

[2] "Who is this that darkens counsel

By words without knowledge?

[3] "Now gird up your loins like a man,

And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!

[4] "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell Me, if you have understanding,

(Job 38:1-4)

The point is that Job wasn't anywhere when God laid the foundation of the earth. Job did not yet exist. Hence, Job is in no position to question God's providence. And, therefore, to make such a passage teach pre-existence is to engage in the very act of eisegesis: reading into a text that which would never have crossed the mind of the original writer and audience.

Refocusing

My initial presentation mentioned only briefly the tremendous words of Jesus in John 6:35-45. Mr. Barksdale did not engage in any meaningful rebuttal of my comments on the passage, choosing instead only to cite a secondary source (a Roman Catholic commentary on the passage). So I would like to expand upon my comments, and ask Mr. Barksdale to attempt to demonstrate why the following is in error. But I ask that he do so on the basis of the text. I am well aware that there are those who disagree with my beliefs. We are not debating that. We are supposed to be debating whether the Bible teaches predestination, and that in an exegetical fashion.

First, I would ask my opponent to explain the words of Jesus, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me" (John 6:37). Who are these who are given by the Father to the Son? We know it is not all people, because of other things Jesus says. He tells the Jews (John 8:48) that they do not believe because they are not ejk tou' qeou', they do not "belong" to God or, literally, they are not "from God." Many invert the order given by Jesus, insisting that your act of believing makes you one of God’s own. Yet, Jesus’ order is the opposite: if you are one of God’s, you will believe. Salvation, biblically, is always God-oriented, not man-oriented. That is, it is God’s work, not man’s work. It focuses upon what God does, not what man does. In the same way, Jesus said to the Jews, "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep." Christ’s sheep hear His voice. They believe because they are His sheep. They do not become His sheep by believing. Christ determines the make-up of His flock, not the sheep. In His High Priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus specifically says, ""I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours" (John 17:9). Obviously, each of these passages introduces a distinction between those who are God’s, Christ’s sheep, who are given by the Father to the Son, and the "world" of unbelievers. So, I ask Mr. Barksdale: who are these who are given by the Father to the Son? How is it that Christ can promise that ALL who are so given WILL come to Him, without fail? How does "free agency" fit into such an assertion? Indeed, where does this passage, or any passage, mention "free agency"? Mr. Barksdale speaks of our "free agency" and says that God "never took away our ability to choose between good and evil." No one claims He did. If Mr. Barksdale would familiarize himself with Reformed literature he would find that man’s sin enslaves him (as Jesus taught, John 8:34), so that there is no "God seeker" (Romans 3:11). Just as the drunkard has no excuse for his actions while drunk before the law, so man is not excused from his guilt simply because he has a sinful nature.

Next, I wish to direct our attention to the will of the Father for the Son in salvation revealed in John 6:39, "this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day." To be raised up on the last day is to receive eternal life.8 It is the Father’s will for the Son that He be a perfect Savior. It is the Father’s will that the Son lose none of those the Father has given to Him. How can this be, if, in fact, salvation is determined by a cooperative effort between the Savior and the saved? How can the Father expect perfection on the part of the Son if, in fact, the Son’s work of salvation can be thwarted by the mere will of the creature, man? So I ask Mr. Barksdale: who are these who have been given to the Son by the Father? And how can the Father hold the Son accountable for the complete salvation of all who are so given?

Another Important Passage

Briefly, I wish to expand the exegetical basis of my position by pointing out the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:9, where the Father is described as the one "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" (NASB). We have here a summary of what we found in Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9. 1) God is the one who saves. 2) The object of His work of salvation is again specific: the same use of the accusative direct object "us" is found here as in Ephesians 1. 3) God is the one who calls. 4) His call to salvation is not based upon our works (kata; ta; e[rga hJmw'n). 5) The basis of His calling is His own purpose and grace (ijdivan provqesin kai; cavrin, the emphatic use of ijdivan contrasting strongly with the idea that man’s purpose is the deciding factor--compare Romans 9:16). 6) This grace, which brings salvation, was granted to us (again note the personal direct object) not when we decided to make it effective, but "from all eternity," and again, in only one place: in Christ Jesus. This passage simply re-enforces the lengthier explanation provided by Paul in Romans. He can summarize here simply because Timothy would already well know the truths of the gospel to which Paul refers.

So we can see that the thesis of our debate remains very clearly decided: the Bible does teach predestination. Mr. Barksdale may suggest other passages for consideration. That is fine. The fact remains that to successfully undertake his position, he must deal with these passages and demonstrate that they do not teach predestination. The passages he himself cites regarding the need to allow Scripture to speak for itself should force him to see the necessity of explaining these texts in their own context. I invite him to do so.


Notes:

1 I will gladly use the NASB as my translation of choice, as I am privileged to work as a Critical Consultant on this fine English translation of the Bible.

2 For those who wish to gain an accurate knowledge of the subjects raised outside of the topic by Mr. Barksdale, there are many excellent summaries: Justification by James Buchanon (Banner of Truth, 1991); Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray (Eerdman’s, 1955), R.C. Sproul’s fine works such as Chosen by God, Faith Alone, and Grace Unknown. Likewise, John MacArthur’s works in the field are excellent. I have addressed these issues extensively in print and in debate: God’s Sovereign Grace, Justification by Faith, Drawn by the Father, and The Roman Catholic Controversy all address the broad issues of soteriology. See also the debate with Fr. Mitchell Pacwa on justification (San Diego, 1991), and with Gerry Matatics (Boston College, 1993).

3 Mr. Barksdale provides a very brief, tremendously unbalanced article written against creatio ex nihilo on his website (/http://www.fair-lds.org/Research/Theology/th0103.html) that completely ignores any and all evidence to the contrary, including such works as Thomas Finley's article in Bibliotheca Sacra "Dimensions of the Hebrew Word for "Create" ()rfbf) (V 148 #592, Oct 91) as well as Paul Copan's valuable contribution, "Is Creation Ex Nihilo A Post-Biblical Invention?: An Examination of Ferhard May's Proposal," Trinity Journal 17NS (1996). No mention is made at all of the fact that )rabf is used only of God, and that the idea of "pre-existing matter" is not a part of the usage of the term at all in the OT.

4 6:263 (1990)

5 The LXX uses ejpivstamai rather than ginwvskw at Jer. 1:5.

6 BDB p. 678, Holladay, pp. 249-250.

7 Mr. Barksdale's citation of Numbers 27:22-23 regarding the setting apart of Joshua as the leader of Israel by the "laying on of hands" seems to be meant to connect this with the LDS practice of laying on hands to ordain to the priesthood. However, one will search in vain for any laying on of hands in the actual ordination of priests in the Old Testament law, aside, that is, from the laying on of hands on the head of an animal about to be sacrificed.

8 This is seen by noting the parallel use of the phrases ajnasthvsw aujto; ejn th'/ ejscavth/ hJmevra/ and e[ch/ zwh;n aijwvnion in John’s Gospel.

Word Count: 4906


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