AskDefine | Define predestination

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1 previous determination as if by destiny or fate
2 (theology) being determined in advance; especially the doctrine (usually associated with Calvin) that God has foreordained every event throughout eternity (including the final salvation of mankind) [syn: foreordination, preordination, predetermination]

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  1. The doctrine that everything has been foreordained by a God, especially that certain people have been elected for salvation, with others destined for reprobation.
  2. destiny or fate.

Related terms


religious doctrine

Extensive Definition

Predestination (also linked with foreknowledge) is a religious concept, which involves the relationship between God and His creation. The religious character of predestination distinguishes it from other ideas about determinism and free will. Those who believe in predestination, such as John Calvin, believe that before the creation God determined the fate of the universe throughout all of time and space.

Contrasted with other kinds of determinism

Predestination: The Divine foreordaining of all that will happen; with regard to the salvation of some and not others. It has been particularly associated with the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and of John Calvin. Predestination may sometimes be used to refer to other, materialistic, spiritualist, non-theistic or polytheistic ideas of determinism, destiny, fate, doom, or karma. Such beliefs or philosophical systems may hold that any outcome is finally determined by the complex interaction of multiple, possibly immanent, possibly impersonal, possibly equal forces, rather than the issue of a Creator's conscious choice.
For example, some may speak of predestination from a purely physical perspective, such as in a discussion of time travel. In this case, rather than referring to the afterlife, predestination refers to any events that will occur in the future. In a predestined universe the future is immutable and only one set of events can possibly occur; in a non-predestined universe, the future is mutable. In Chinese Buddhism, predestination is a translation of yuanfen, which does not necessarily imply the existence or involvement of a deity. Predestination in this sense takes on a very literal meaning: pre- (before) and destiny, in a straightforward way indicating that some events seem bound to happen.
Finally, antithetical to determinism of any kind are theories of the cosmos which assert that any outcome is ultimately unpredictable, the ludibrium of luck, chance, or chaos.
All conceptions of an ordered or rational cosmos have determinist implications, as a logical consequence of the idea of predictability. But predestination usually refers to a specifically religious type of determinism, especially as found in various monotheistic systems where omniscience is attributed to God, including Christianity and Islam.
It is also the concept of destiny in a path to religious freedom.

Predestination and omniscience

Discussion of predestination usually involves consideration of whether God is omniscient, or eternal or atemporal (free from limitations of time or even causality). In terms of these ideas, God may see the past, present, and future, so that God effectively knows the future. If God in some sense knows ahead of time what will happen, then events in the universe are effectively predetermined from God's point of view. This is a form of determinism but not predestination since the latter term implies that God has actually determined (rather than simply seen) in advance the destiny of creatures.
Within Christendom, there is considerable disagreement about God's role in setting ultimate destinies (that is, eternal life or eternal destruction). Christians who follow teachers such as St. Augustine and John Calvin generally accept that God does decide the eternal destinations of each person, so that their future actions or beliefs follow according to God's choice. A contrasting Christian view maintains that God is completely sovereign over all things but that he chose to give each individual free will, which each person can exercise to accept or reject God's offer of salvation and hence God's actions and determinations follow according to man's choice.
Judaism may accept the possibility that God is atemporal; some forms of Jewish theology teach this virtually as a principle of faith, while other forms of Judaism do not. Jews may use the term omniscience, or preordination as a corollary of omniscience, but normally reject the idea of predestination as being incompatible with the free will and responsibility of moral agents, and it therefore has no place in their religion.
Islam traditionally has strong views of predestination similar to some found in Christianity. In Islam, Allah both knows and ordains whatever comes to pass. Muslims believe that God is literally atemporal, eternal and omniscient.
In philosophy, the relation between foreknowledge and predestination is a central part of Newcomb's paradox.

Predestination in Christianity

Christians understand the doctrine of predestination in terms of God's work of salvation in the world. The doctrine is a tension between the divine perspective, in which God saves those whom he chooses from eternity apart from human action, and the human perspective, in which each person is responsible for his or her choice to accept or reject God: see main article on Free will in theology. The views on predestination within Christianity vary somewhat in emphasis on one of these two perspectives.
In terms of ultimates, with God's decision to create as the ultimate beginning, and the ultimate outcome, a belief system has a doctrine of predestination if it teaches:
  1. God's decision, assignment or declaration concerning the lot of people is conceived as occurring in some sense prior to the outcome, and
  2. the decision is fully predictive of the outcome, and not merely probable.
There are numerous ways to describe the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination in Christian thinking. To some extent, this spectrum has analogies in other monotheistic religions, although in other religions the term predestination may not be used. For example, teaching on predestination may vary in terms of three considerations.
  1. Is God's predetermining decision based solely on a knowledge of His own will, or does it also include a knowledge of whatever will happen?
  2. How particular is God's prior decision: is it concerned with particular persons and events, or is it limited to broad categories of people and things?
  3. How free is God in effecting His part in the eventual outcome? Is God bound or limited by conditions external to his own will, willingly or not, in order that what has been determined will come to pass?
Furthermore, the same sort of considerations apply to the freedom of man's will.
  1. Assuming that an individual had no choice in who, when and where to come into being: How are the choices of existence determined by what he is?
  2. Assuming that not all possible choices are available to him: How capable is the individual to desire all choices available, in order to choose from among them?
  3. How capable is an individual to put into effect what he desires?

Predestination in the Bible

Some Biblical verses often used as sources for Christian beliefs in predestination are below.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would 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, [...]" (Eph. 1:3-5, NASB)
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom. 8:28-30, NASB)
"[...] but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; [...]" (1Co. 2:7, NASB)
"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." (Act. 4:27-28, NASB)
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph. 2:4-9, NASB)
"[...] 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, [...]" (2Ti. 1:9, NASB)
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them. (Psa. 139:16, NASB)
"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. [verse 17 omitted] So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Rom. 9:16-18, NASB)

History of the doctrine

Church Fathers on the doctrine

The early church fathers consistently uphold the freedom of human choice. This position was crucial in the Christian confrontation with Cynicism and some of the chief forms of Gnosticism, such as Manichaeism, which taught that man is by nature flawed and therefore not responsible for evil in himself or in the world. At the same time, belief in human responsibility to do good as a precursor to salvation and eternal reward was consistent. The decision to do good along with God's aid pictured a synergism of the human will and God's will. The early church Fathers taught a doctrine of conditional predestination.
Augustine of Hippo marks the beginning of a system of thought that denies free will and affirms that salvation needs an initial input by God in the life of every person. While his early writings affirm that God's predestinating grace is granted on the basis of his foreknowledge of the human desire to pursue salvation, this changed after 396. His later position affirmed the necessity of God granting grace in order for the desire for salvation to be awakened. Augustine's thoughts thus took a more determinist (or "unconditional") direction as he wrestled with the implications of the writings of the Apostle Paul.
Augustine's position raised objections. Julian bishop of Eclanum, expressed that Augustine was bringing Manichee thoughts into the church. For Vincent of Lérins, this was a disturbing innovation. This new tension eventually became obvious with the confrontation between Augustine and Pelagius culminating in condemnation of Pelagianism (as interpreted by Augustine) at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The British monk Pelagius denied Augustine's view of "predestination" in order to affirm that salvation is achieved by an act of free will.
The influence of Augustine also then showed in translations of the bible from that time on. Variations which are not in themselves visible in the syntax or grammar of the New Testament Greek text. Perhaps the best example of this in the Vulgate is the addition of 'prae' to 'ordinati' in Acts 13:48 which is there only to give the idea this was God who did this. Later translations show this influence of the doctrine by the additions of the word 'his' in Romans 8:28 and 11:22 all suggesting an interpretation consistent with unconditional election.
Augustine's formulation is neither complete nor universally accepted by Christians. But his system laid the foundation onto virgin ground for the then later writers and innovators of the Reformation period.

The Reformers on the doctrine

The Belgic Confession of 1561 affirmed that God "delivers and preserves" from perdition "all whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without respect to their works" (Article XVI).

Various views on Christian predestination

Conditional predestination

Conditional Predestination, or more commonly referred to as conditional election, is a theological stance stemming from the writings and teachings of Jacobus Arminius, after whom Arminianism is named. Arminius studied under the staunch Reformed scholar Theodore Beza, whose views of election, Arminius eventually argued, could not reconcile freedom with moral responsibility.
Arminius used a philosophy called Molinism (named for the philosopher, Luis de Molina) that attempted to reconcile freedom with God's omniscience. They both saw human freedom in terms of the Libertarian philosophy: man's choice is not decided by God's choice, thus God's choice is "conditional", depending on what man chooses. Arminius saw God "looking down the corridors of time" to see the free choices of man, and choosing those who will respond in faith and love to God's love and promises, revealed in Jesus.
Arminianism sees the choice of Christ as an impossibility, apart from God's grace; and the freedom to choose is given to all, because God's prevenient grace is universal (given to everyone). Therefore, God predestines on the basis of foreknowledge of how some will respond to his universal love ("conditional"). In contrast, Calvinism views universal grace as resistible and not sufficient for leading to salvation--or denies universal grace altogether--and instead supposes grace that leads to salvation to be particular and irresistible, given to some but not to others on the basis of God's predestinating choice ("unconditional"). This is also known as "double-predestination."

Temporal predestination

Temporal predestination is the view that God only determines temporal matters, and not eternal ones. This Christian view is analogous to the traditional Jewish view, which distinguishes between preordination and predestination. Temporal matters are pre-ordained by God, but eternal matters, being supra-temporal, are subject to absolute freedom of choice. J. Kenneth Grider


Infralapsarianism (also called sublapsarianism) holds that predestination logically coincides with the preordination of Man's fall into sin. That is, God predestined sinful men for salvation. Therefore according to this view, God is the "ultimate cause", but not the "proximate source" or "author" of sin. Infralapsarians often emphasize a difference between God's decree (which is inviolable and inscrutable), and his revealed will (against which man is disobedient). Proponents also typically emphasize the grace and mercy of God toward all men, although teaching also that only some are predestined for salvation.
In common English parlance, the doctrine of predestination often has particular reference to the doctrines of Calvinism. The version of predestination espoused by John Calvin, after whom Calvinism is named, is sometimes referred to as "double predestination" because in it God predestines some people for salvation (i.e. Unconditional election) and some for condemnation (i.e. Reprobation). Calvin himself defines predestination as "the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. Not all are created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.".
On the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination, Calvinism is the strongest form among Christians. It teaches that God's predestining decision is based on the knowledge of His own will rather than foreknowledge, concerning every particular person and event; and, God continually acts with entire freedom, in order to bring about his will in completeness, but in such a way that the freedom of the creature is not violated, "but rather, established"
Calvinists who hold the infralapsarian view of predestination usually prefer that term to "sublapsarianism," perhaps with the intent of blocking the inference that they believe predestination is on the basis of foreknowledge (sublapsarian meaning, assuming the fall into sin). The different terminology has the benefit of distinguishing the Calvinist double predestination version of infralapsarianism, from Lutheranism's view that predestination is a mystery, which forbids the unprofitable intrusion of prying minds.
Calvinists seek never to divide predestination in a mathematical way. Their doctrine is uninterested, in the abstract, in questions of "how much" either God or man is responsible for a particular destiny. Questions of "how much" will become hopelessly entangled in paradox, Calvinists teach, regardless of the view of predestination adopted. Instead, Calvinism divides the issues of predestination according to two kinds of being, knowledge, and will, distinguishing that which is divine from that which is human. Therefore, it is not so much an issue of quantity, but of distinct roles or modes of being. God is not a creature nor the creature God in knowledge, will, freedom, ability, responsibility, or anything else. Calvinists will often attribute salvation entirely to God; and yet they will also assert that it is man's responsibility to pursue obedience. As the archetypal illustration of this idea, they believe Jesus in his words and work humanly fulfilled all that he as part of the Trinity had determined from the Father should be done. What he did humanly is distinguishable, but not separate, from what he did divinely.


Supralapsarianism is the doctrine that God's decree of predestination for salvation and reprobation logically precedes his preordination of the human race's fall into sin. That is, God decided to save, and to damn; he then determined that the fall of man into sin would accomplish His purpose. It is a matter of controversy whether or not Calvin himself held this view, but most scholars link him with the infralapsarian position. It is known, however, that Calvin's successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, held to the supralapsarian view.

Open theism

In terms of predestination, Open theism represents a break from traditional renderings of the doctrine. In the open theist view, God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. This excludes the possibility that God has knowledge of individual persons who would be born and thus, the open theist avers, God does not predestine individuals, but a church.

Jewish views

Generally speaking Reform Judaism has no strong doctrine of predestination. The idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient didn't formally exist in Judaism during the Biblical era, but rather was a later development due to the influence of neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Many modern Jewish thinkers in the 20th century have resolved the dialectical tension by holding that God is simply not omnipotent, in the commonly used sense of that word. These thinkers are primarily not Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jewish rabbis generally affirm that God must be viewed as omnipotent, but they have varying definitions of what the word omnipotent means. Thus one finds that some Modern Orthodox theologians have views that are essentially the same as non-Orthodox theologians, but they use different terminology.
One noted Jewish philosopher, Hasdai Crescas, resolved this dialectical tension by taking the position that free-will doesn't exist. Hence all of a person's actions are pre-determined by the moment of their birth, and thus their judgment in the eyes of God (so to speak) is effectively pre-ordained. However in this scheme this is not a result of God's predetermining one's fate, but rather from the view that the universe is deterministic. Crescas's views on this topic were rejected by Judaism at large. In later centuries this idea independently developed among some in the Chabad (Lubavitch) sect of Hasidic Judaism. Many individuals within Chabad take this view seriously, and hence effectively deny the existence of free will.
However, many Chabad (Lubavitch) Jews attempt to hold both views. They affirm as infallible their rebbe's teachings that God knows and controls the fate of all, yet at the same time affirm the classical Jewish belief in free-will (i.e. no such thing as determinism). The inherent contradiction between the two results in their belief that such contradictions are only "apparent", due to man's inherent lack of ability to understand greater truths and due to the fact that Creator and Created exist in different realities.
One does not have to be a Chabad Hassid to believe in this, however. It is enough to read the statement in Pirkei Avot: "Everything is predetermined but freedom of will is given." The same idea is strongly repeated by Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, Chapter 5).
Many other Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular) affirm that since free-will exists, then by definition one's fate is not preordained. It is held as a tenet of faith that whether God is omniscient or not, nothing interferes with mankind's free will. Some Jewish theologians, both during the medieval era and today, have attempted to formulate a philosophy in which free will is preserved, while also affirming that God has knowledge of what decisions people will make in the future. Whether or not these two ideas are mutually compatible, or whether there is a contradiction between the two, is still a matter of great study and interest in philosophy today.
In Rabbinic literature, there is much discussion as to the apparent contradiction between God's omniscience and free will. The representative view is that "Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given" (Rabbi Akiva, Pirkei Avoth 3:15). Based on this understanding, the problem is formally described as a paradox, beyond our understanding.

Islamic views

In Islam, "predestination" is the usual English language rendering of a belief that Muslims call al-qada wa al-qadar in Arabic. The phrase means "the divine decree and the predestination"; al-qadar derives from a root that means to measure out.
This is a difficult concept to understand and translate. In Islam, God's omniscience doesn't suggest that we have no free will. God's advance knowledge of what each human will choose with his/her free will is said to not in any way negate the freedom granted to humans.
Some suggest that free will doesn't actually exist in Islam When referring to the future, Muslims frequently qualify any predictions of what will come to pass with the phrase inshallah, Arabic for "if God wills." The phrase recognises that human knowledge of the future is limited, and that all that may or may not come to pass is under the control of God.
Muslims believe that God is omniscient and so has the power to prevent or allow any action from occurring. Therefore, if God does not prevent an act from occurring than that act is thought to be God's will. Humans do not have control in making decisions in their life. There is no "free will" to choose to do certain things or not to do certain things. People can believe they have control over their lives, but they are not able to do anything without it being God's will first. Nothing is allowed to come to pass unless it is the will of God, hence the phrase "if God wills". A related phrase, mashallah, indicates acceptance of what God has ordained in terms of good or ill fortune that may befall a believer.

Shia Islam

In Shia Islam, there is a greater emphasis on free will, and the importance of personal decision which will be called back on the Day of Judgement Predestination is a way of thinking that is challenged by the Imams of Shia Islam in many speeches and letters. The main factor in determining how one's reality is processed has to do with his/her "nearness" to God. Therefore, the levels of relationship that one has with God is what determines what a person may be "allowed" to do. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin according to the religion of Islam (see Islam and alcohol). If a person who has "turned his back" on God decides to drink, there will be no obstacle between himself and the drink. Accordingly, a drink voids 40 days of prayers and supplication, which distances that soul "further" from God. However, if the person is a "pious" believer who has fallen to despair due to some difficulty and decides to have a drink to give up his state and position, there may be numerous obstacles in the universe between him and the drink, until he finally gives up on that endeavour and returns repentant. The hopelessness in human action is what is disputed by Shia philosophers with those who lean far toward predestination.

Islam and Christianity

Although comparable in broad terms, the differences between Christian and Islamic ideas of predestination are complex. These differences are due to the distinctives of each faith's belief system. In broad terms, the doctrine of predestination refers to inevitability as a general principle, and usually more particularly refers to the exercise of God's will as it relates to the future of members of the human race, considered either as groups or as individuals, with special concern for issues of human responsibility as it relates to the sovereignty of God. Predestination always involves issues of the Creator's personality and will; and consequently, the different versions of the doctrine of predestination go hand in hand with appropriately different conceptions of the contribution any creature is able to make toward its own present condition, or future destiny.

Predestination in Other Religions


In Hinduism, which consists of four schools, predestination does not play an important role, as most followers believe in karma, associated with free will. However, in the Dvaita school of Vaishnavism, the philosopher Madhvacharya believed in a similar concept. For example, Madhvacharya differed significantly from traditional Hindu beliefs in his concept of eternal damnation. For example, he divides souls into three classes, one class which qualify for liberation, Mukti-yogyas, another subject to eternal rebirth or eternally transmigrating due to samsara, Nitya-samsarins, and significantly, a class that is eventually condemned to eternal hell or Andhatamas, known as Tamo-yogyas.
He has hypothesized (based on vedic texts and yukti) that souls are eternal and not created ex nihilo by God, as in the Semitic religions. Souls depend on God for their very "being" and "becoming." Madhva has compared this relationship of God with souls to the relationship between a source (bimba) and its reflection (pratibimba).
predestination in Czech: Predestinace
predestination in Danish: Prædestination
predestination in German: Prädestination
predestination in Modern Greek (1453-): Απόλυτος Προορισμός
predestination in Spanish: Predestinación
predestination in French: Prédestination
predestination in Korean: 예정론
predestination in Icelandic: Fyrirhugun
predestination in Italian: Predestinazione
predestination in Hebrew: פרדסטינציה
predestination in Lithuanian: Predestinacija
predestination in Hungarian: Predesztináció
predestination in Dutch: Predestinatie
predestination in Japanese: 予定説
predestination in Polish: Predestynacja
predestination in Portuguese: Predestinação
predestination in Russian: Предопределение
predestination in Slovenian: Predestinacija
predestination in Serbian: Предодређење
predestination in Finnish: Predestinaatio
predestination in Swedish: Predestinationsläran

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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