Predestination and Jehovah’s Foreknowledge
“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”—Acts 15:18.
1. How do predestination and foreknowledge differ?
JEHOVAH has the power of predestination and the faculty of foreknowledge. What he predestinates takes place because he has foreordained that it shall, regardless of what any creature in the universe may do to hinder or halt it. What he foreknows takes place because of the infallibility of his power of perception into the future, the exercise of which in no way does violence to the free will of any creature. Generally, predestination has to do with classes or groups and with events, without foreordaining the specific individuals that will be involved in these classes or events. On the other hand, divine foreknowledge does not limit itself to groups or events but frequently indicates specific individuals that will be involved in them.
2. What was the nation of Israel?
2 Our preceding issue laid a solid basis for the position that when the Greek Scriptures speak of predestination or foreordination relative to those who will reign with Christ in heaven, they are referring to such ones as a class and not as individuals. The same is true when Jehovah expresses his purpose to have a holy nation. In ancient time Israel became the typical holy nation, for to it Jehovah said: “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” Again, “Thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” (Ex. 19:6; Deut. 7:6, AS) It was an elect or chosen nation, spoken of as “Israel mine elect”.—Isa. 45:4.
3. Though of an elect nation, individual Israelites might fail in what?
3 But the mere fact that it was an elect nation did not automatically include every individual Israelite as a finally chosen one. Jehovah himself destroyed many of them in the wilderness journeyings and thereafter, as well as allowing enemies to reduce their ranks because of unfaithfulness. When Christ came only a remnant of the Jews accepted him, and non-Israelites were brought in to complete the foreordained number of the “Israel of God”. (Gal. 6:15, 16; Eph. 2:11-22, NW) It was not enough to be a Jew outwardly, in a fleshly way. Members of the “Israel of God” must be Jews inwardly, in a spiritual way. (Rom. 2:28, 29; 9:6, NW) When too few natural Israelites accepted the Messiah, “God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.” When natural Israelite branches refused to bear godly fruitage they were broken off and heretofore wild Gentile branches were grafted in to take their place. Thus did God, when the sensibilities of many in natural Israel were dull to their duty, bring in Gentiles to complete the foreordained number of spiritual Israel, or the “Israel of God”: “A dulling of sensibilities has happened in part to Israel until the full number of people of the nations has come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved.”—John 15:1-8; Acts 15:14; Rom. 11:17-21, 25, 26, NW.
4. What shows spiritual Israel includes Gentiles, and where does the “great crowd” fit in in type and antitype?
4 That God’s typical holy nation, natural Israel, foreshadowed spiritual Israel, and that the latter would be made up in part by Gentiles, is shown by Peter’s application of Exodus 19:6 and Deuteronomy 7:6 to Christ’s body-members composed of both Jew and Gentile: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. For you were once not a people, but are now God’s people.” (1 Pet. 2:9, 10, NW) The complete number of those who reign with Christ is fixed at 144,000. (Rev. 14:1-4) At Revelation 7:4-8 this same number is apportioned among the twelve tribes of Israel, and since this is the complete number and includes Gentiles, the Israel referred to here must be spiritual Israel. The “great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” next seen could not be of the heavenly class, for that would swell the number far beyond the foreordained 144,000. (Rev. 7:9, NW) Actually, it makes the parallel complete. Just as when typical natural Israel left Egypt they were accompanied by a “mixed multitude” of non-Israelites, so in the antitype when spiritual Israel separates from this old world under Satan a great multitude, a Gentile crowd when compared with spiritual Israel, associates with them. Salvation they gain through Christ’s redeeming blood.—Rev. 7:10, 14.
5. What does all this disclose relative to predestination?
5 What does all this disclose relative to predestination? It shows that though natural Israel was elect as a nation, many of that nation fell away and only a remnant remained faithful. Being typical of spiritual Israel, it shows that spiritual Israel is elect as a class or holy nation, but not as to individuals comprising its numbers, for many individuals fell away and only a remnant of the total numbers once called, sanctified, justified, redeemed and of the election remains faithful. Moreover, the foregoing shows that not just the elect or chosen spiritual Israel that reigns with Christ in heaven are redeemed by Christ’s blood, but a great crowd with no fixed or predestinated number also come under the ransom’s saving benefits. Presbyterians, chief champions of predestination, deny this, saying: “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ . . . but the elect only.”a In contending that only the elect ones who reign with Christ are saved, the predestinarians pose another dilemma for themselves: Since the elect or chosen ones become a part of the Abrahamic seed, along with Christ Jesus, who are the families and nations of the earth blessed by this seed? (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Gal. 3:16, 29) Actually, it is an earthly class whose numbers are drawn from all nations, and the present-day part of which becomes the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9.
FOREKNOWLEDGE CONCERNING INDIVIDUALS
6. Do the cases of Samson, Jeremiah and John the Baptist support predestination?
6 In trying to prove their point that individuals generally are predestinated, devotees of that doctrine will cite as cases in proof such individuals as Samson, Jeremiah, Cyrus, Esau and Jacob, John the Baptist, Judas, and also Jesus. It is true that before their birth Jehovah foreknew that Samson would begin to deliver Israel, that Jeremiah would be a prophet to the nations, and that John the Baptist would perform a work like Elijah’s in preparing the people for Messiah’s coming. (Judg. 13:3-5; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:13-17) However, these cases do not match the doctrine of predestination. That doctrine requires that the final destiny of individuals be inflexibly ordained from before the time of Adam and Eve; but there is no evidence of that in these cases. There is nothing to indicate that God’s foreknowledge as to these specific individuals existed much before the time of conception. Moreover, that foreknowledge seemed to concern their activities rather than final destinies; whereas predestination concerns final destinies, and that “without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature”.b The divine foreknowledge shown in these cases is something quite different from predestination.
7. Why does not the case of Esau and Jacob support predestination, and why did Jehovah handle it as he did?
7 The pronouncement concerning the twins Esau and Jacob was not made before Adam and Eve’s creation, but while the babes were in their mother’s womb; neither was it concerning final destiny, but was, “the elder shall serve the younger.” It meant the younger, in contrast with the usual procedure, was to get the birthright that ordinarily went to the first-born son and which made him, upon the death of his father, head of his father’s household and made his other brothers subservient to him. And all this was “when they had not yet been born nor had practiced anything good or vile, in order that the purpose of God respecting the choosing might continue dependent, not upon works, but upon the One who calls”. One of these twin boys would get the birthright, which in this case carried with it the Abrahamic promise. While making the selection before birth, before either had done good or bad, Jehovah showed that the choosing of those sharing in the Abrahamic promise was not dependent upon works. This was a contrast with the Law covenant, which caused the Jews to stress works. It highlighted undeserved kindness or grace, and the spirit. It left the selection entirely up to the one who calls candidates for these blessings, namely, Jehovah God. His free choice in this matter, completely unbound by customs or usual procedures according to men’s expectations, such as giving the birthright to first-born sons, is further emphasized by his selection of the younger son instead of the older one. So Jehovah was clarifying his purpose concerning his covenant, not indulging in a whim, by acting as he did in the case of Esau and Jacob.—Gen. 25:23-26; 27:29, 37; 28:13, 14; Rom. 9:11, NW.
8. Why was this no eternal condemnation of Esau, and yet how did he turn out in vindication of Jehovah’s foreknowledge?
8 Jehovah’s decision to give the birthright to Jacob or his allowing the older Esau to be a temporary slave to the younger one did not predestinate Esau to eternal condemnation, as predestinarians must contend. Being in a subservient position did not prohibit Esau from gaining God’s approval. Did not some of the Canaanites, even though under an inspired curse to serve the descendants of Shem, attach themselves to Israel and gain Jehovah’s blessing? (Gen. 9:25-27; Josh. 9:27) And as for the birthright, receiving it is not a requirement for salvation. If so, then only first-born sons would be saved and all others automatically condemned. And what about Jehovah’s statement: “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau”? (Mal. 1:2, 3; Rom. 9:13, NW) The record does not specifically state that this judgment was entered while the babes were in Rebekah’s womb, that it did not await their subsequent conduct as a basis for it. But regardless of that possibility, Jehovah’s power of foreknowledge could disclose to him the course each twin would take and provide all the needed basis for loving one and hating the other. His power to read the inherent dispositions of unborn babes cannot be doubted. Certainly Esau had such a disposition, and it persisted despite the good religious training he received from his parents. In contrast with Jacob’s faithfulness, Esau was an irresponsible hunter, sought out the accursed heathen women as wives, showed contempt for the Abrahamic promise by selling his birthright to Jacob, and yet later tried to cheat Jacob out of the birthright that was Jacob’s by both purchase and God’s gift. Of his own free will Esau did all this and earned Jehovah’s hatred.—Gen. 25:27-34; 26:34, 35; 27:34-36, 46; 1 Sam. 16:7; Job 31:15; Eccl. 11:5.
9. Why cannot the cases of Judas, Peter and Cyrus prove predestination?
9 Jehovah God prophesied that one of the apostles of Jesus would betray Jesus, but the specific one is not named. (Ps. 41:9; 109:8) There is no evidence for saying that Jesus knew when he chose Judas Iscariot that this was to be the betrayer. However, Jesus’ power from Jehovah enabled him to perceive the thoughts and intents of the human mind and heart, and as soon as Judas began drifting in that direction Jesus was aware of it. To demonstrate that he was the Messiah he spoke of this coming betrayal in advance: “From this moment on I am telling you before it occurs, in order that when it does occur you may believe that I am he.” (John 2:24, 25; 6:64, 70, 71; 13:11, 18-30; Rev. 2:23, NW) The predictions made that identified Judas personally as the betrayer came after he was grown, after he was an apostle. The same may be said for those involving Peter personally, as to his denial of Christ, his recovery afterward, and the way he would die. (Mark 14:30; Luke 22:31, 32, 34; John 21:17-19) None of this could be called predestination, the fixing of individuals’ destinies before the original world’s foundation. As for Cyrus, it was by Jehovah’s prophetic power of foreknowledge that he was named as the one to overthrow Babylon and release Israelite captives, and this some two hundred years before the event occurred. But Presbyterian or Calvinist predestination is not involved. It did not fix Cyrus’ final destiny. He did not become a true worshiper of Jehovah, but served many false gods, and never became of Jehovah’s elect class.—Isa. 45:1-4.
10. Despite its exceptionalness, what about Jesus’ case?
10 As for Jesus, his earthly course and final destiny as the Seed of God’s woman and King of the new world were not predestinated before the foundation of the original world. It was after the fall of the first pair that prophecies began to be given concerning Christ Jesus. (Gen. 3:15) The Hebrew Scriptures do identify him as Jehovah’s elect or chosen One. (Isa. 42:1) He was foreknown before the new world’s foundation at the time of his death, and was “one delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God”. (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8, NW) Without predestinating the specific individuals to act against him when on earth, the prophecies did predict many of the events that occurred: “Even so, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with men of nations and with peoples of Israel were in actuality gathered together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you made Christ, in order to do what things your hand and counsel had determined beforehand to occur.” (Acts 4:27, 28, NW) But whether Jesus’ case be called predestination or foreknowledge, it was highly exceptional and does not prove individual predestination for all persons from before the time of Adam and Eve.
11. Why was divine foreknowledge exercised in the foregoing cases?
11 In fact, all the foregoing cases involving the exercise of divine foreknowledge relative to the course of individuals are very exceptional. These persons were concerned in special ways in Jehovah’s purposes, being types or patterns or fulfillments of prophecies, or in some other way being used to contribute to the enlightenment of Jehovah’s people or to show forth Jehovah’s power. Jehovah can and does maneuver events in their affairs so that all works out for the fulfillment of his foreknowledge. But these few exceptional cases that did involve Jehovah’s foreknowledge cannot be used to successfully prove he has exercised a similar degree of foreknowledge in the case of every human creature.
12 In an endeavor to prove such a complete exercise of foreknowledge some quote Acts 15:18: “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” The New World Translation renders Ac 15 verses 17 and 18 as follows: “Jehovah, who is doing these things which he has known from of old.” A marginal reading is, “who has been making these things known from of old.” Regardless of the version used, it is clear that Jehovah is here showing that he foreknew his works. It does not say that he foreknows the works of every person. Nor may Romans 8:28 be properly used to prove God foreknew all events or acts of men: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” More accurate translation shows it is the works of God, not the deeds of men who may persecute, that are for the good of his servants: “We know that God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God.” (NW) Jesus showed that when men fall victims to violence or accidents it cannot rightly be attributed to fatalism or predestination, but that it is more in line with the fact that “time and chance happen to all of them”.—Eccl. 9:11, AT; Luke 13:1-5.
13. Why can we not say Jehovah foreknew the fall of the covering cherub and Adam and Eve?
13 Can it be said that Jehovah foreknew that the covering cherub placed over Adam and Eve in Eden would turn rebel? Or that Jehovah foreknew that Adam and Eve would succumb to that rebel’s temptings? Neither Scripturally nor logically can it be maintained. The Bible shows that Jehovah’s foreknowledge is exercised regarding his works, but the cherub’s rebellion and Adam and Eve’s transgression were not works of Jehovah. He did not intrude his powers of foreknowledge into the affairs of these creatures. He is not a suspicious God, always suspecting his creatures, seeking to find flaws in their mind and heart, looking for trouble. He waits and allows them to manifest their failures. A man may go straight until some special temptation faces him, and then flaws in his integrity show up. So it apparently was with the cherub. After being assigned to his position and after Adam and Eve were created, the situation became a temptation to the cherub. Not a temptation from Jehovah, but one that the improper thoughts and desires of the cherub created for himself. (Jas. 1:13-15; 1 John 2:15-17) He saw the human pair, knew of their power to multiply, the divine command for them to do so, and envisioned the earth filled with human creatures. He wanted their worship, and proceeded to alienate this first pair from Jehovah’s worship. But all that Jehovah had foreordained in these matters was that obedience would mean life and disobedience would mean death, and he so informed Adam, and through him Eve.—Gen. 2:16, 17.
14. Why would Jehovah not need to foreknow their rebellion to cope with it?
14 In the face of absolutely no Scriptural evidence that Jehovah foreknew this trio’s transgressions, on what basis can it be argued that he did? No sound basis. He would not have to foreknow the rebellion of these three in order to cope with it. Nor need he foreknow the works of demons and men at this time in order to accomplish his purposes. No more so than would a man, intending to cut the weeds from a plot of ground to make a garden, have to foreknow the acts of insects dwelling in the jungle of weeds and which constitutes their home. Regardless of what the insects might do, they could no more prevent the man from cutting the weeds than man could prevent God from accomplishing the divine works. God needs to foreknow man’s opposing efforts no more so than the man needs to foreknow the insect’s. (Isa. 40:22) In either case the intended purpose can be carried out regardless of the opposition, since it is so insignificantly feeble in comparison with the power of the purposer.—Isa. 46:11; 55:11.
a The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Chapter III, Section 6, page 17.
b Id., Chapter III, Section 5, page 16.