Grace for All: Exploring Predestination in the Old Testament


David A. Clines, Emeritus Professor (link) at the University of Sheffield, has specialized in the Hebrew language and study of the Old Testament. In Grace for All, David seeks to summarize the predestinarian ideas found in the OT.

415xXkjORGLHe does this, not by focusing on a few passages, but by analyzing the larger themes found in four major collections of the Hebrew Scriptures.

  • Patriarchal histories in Genesis
  • Primeval histories in Genesis
  • Proverbs/Wisdom literature
  • Prophetic literature

In the essay Clines defends this approach and asks the reader to consider how they approach this topic in the Scriptures.

No doubt there are many reasonable inferences that may be made from biblical statements about predestination. But to be faithful to the Bible means in part to follow the Bible’s emphases and not erect mere inferences into essential biblical doctrine.

By looking first at the big picture, Clines concludes that the OT “knows nothing of a divine predestination that determines in advance the particular acts of an individual.” Rather,

Predestination in whatever form usually plays a role subsidiary to that of the full (and to all intents and purposes) undetermined relationship of God and man.

Clines does not see God as predestining individuals to salvation, nor determining all events in history. God is rather reacting to the decisions of people and working within history to accomplish His purposes.

Clines,does not rule out God providentially working, nor influencing people in history, as he cautions his readers.

To suppose that any [action] catches God by surprise, or even that all of these human decisions are merely human decisions which God has to make the best of now that they have happened would doubtless be contrary to the spirit of the Old Testament.

For Clines, the patriarchal histories in Genesis describe God making promises to Abraham and the nation of Israel that He will providentially bring about despite the many challenges they face and even in the face of the failings of the people. In the prophetic literature, Clines sees this theme continued. God’s election of Israel to be His people is the message the prophets urge the people to remember. But this election was for a purpose and “establishes their future destiny.” Despite messages of pending doom for their failures the prophets remind Israel that she will “become what she was called into being to become.”

In these two sections, which focus on Israel, the narratives show us nothing can stop God’s ultimate plans for Israel, nor cause Him to break His promises. This seems to align with how Cottrell described the election of Israel (back in chapter 5).

The primary element of God’s preparatory plan was the election of Israel who would produce the Christ. … The nation could serve its purpose of preparing for the Christ even if the majority of individuals belonging to it were lost.

In the section dealing with the primeval histories, Clines shows how these narratives  depict God as primarily reacting to the decisions of men. Some examples include Adam sinning, Cain’s murder of Able, and the building of the tower of Babel.

The primeval history itself has no interest in stressing God’s control of history, for its interest has been in God’s freedom to respond to human decision.

This idea is developed in further in the section on the wisdom literature. Proverbs describes the path of the fool and the wise. People are “destining their own future” when they choose the path they walk on.

It is not God who decides whether a man shall be counted among the righteous and the wicked; it is his own actions that determine that.

God does not determine the path one walks on. He provides both a path of life and a path of death. The destiny of each person is based on the path they choose to follow. The outcome for each person on a particular path is predestined, but the path that each person will follow is not.

the wicked man is on his way to his appropriate fate. However, this does not mean that his destiny is fixed and irreversible; iniquity can be atoned for, thus he need not remain wicked.

Throughout the essay Clines paints a picture in which God relates to people who have been given the gift of self-determination. The ability for people to determine their destiny is based on the path they choose to walk and the choices they make. Despite poor decisions, God is free to show people mercy and providentially act as He sees fit. The picture also describes God as powerful enough to insure that the plans to rescue creation and people through the Messiah will come to pass regardless of what people decide.

The broad themes that are given treatment here are interesting. It would be helpful to see these ideas more fully developed and explored beyond what was possible in an essay.

One thought on “Grace for All: Exploring Predestination in the Old Testament

  1. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | This Week in Arminianism

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