Paul’s Teaching

What were the views about predestination during the time of Paul? The Jewish historian Josephus, whom I mentioned in my article on Proving the Existence Jesus, discuses this topic:

“At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sects of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essens. Now the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essens affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determinations. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the causes of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly.” – The Antiquities, Book XIII, chapter 5, section 9

To summarize this quote, there were three main religious groups in Judea: the Essenes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. The Essenes believed in predestination, the Sadducees believed in free will, and the Pharisees believed in a middle ground. Paul knew about these three groups. Knowing all of this, take a look at what Paul says in Romans:

Romans 9:9-13 – for the word of promise [is] this; According to this time I will come, and there shall be to Sarah a son. And not only [so], but also Rebecca, having conceived by one – Isaac our father – (for they bring not yet born, neither having done anything good or evil, that the purpose of God, according to choice, might remain; not of works, but of Him who is calling,) it was said to her – The greater shall serve the less; according as it hath been written, Jacob I did love, and Esau I did hate. (YLT)

Genesis 25:23-25 – And Jehovah saith to her, Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two peoples from thy bowels are parted; and the [one] people than the [other] people is stronger; and the elder doth serve the younger. And her days to bear are fulfilled, and lo, twins [are] in her womb; (YLT)

So Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau to display God’s election. God pre-elected Jacob to be greater, and to be served by his twin brother Esau. Paul says that God did this election before either one did anything good or evil, and that this election was to serve God’s purpose. Paul continues on by giving the example of Pharaoh:

Romans 9:14-18 – What the, shall we say? unrighteousness [is] with God? let it not be! for to Moses He saith, I will do kindness to whom I do kindness, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion; so then – not of him who is willing, nor of him who is running, but of God who is doing kindness: for the Writing saith to Pharaoh – For this very thing I did raise thee up, that I might shew in thee My power, and that My name might be declared in all the land; so then, to whom He willeth, He doth kindness, and to whom He willeth, He doth harden. (YLT)

Just as God pre-elected Jacob and Esau before birth, He also pre-elected Pharaoh before birth to harden his heart. As I said earlier, this allowed people to see God’s glory, because He then had to send plague after plague, as opposed to just one plague. Now the Sadducees (who believed in free will) would argue that God cannot judge Esau or Pharaoh for their sins since He pre-elected them. Paul anticipates this in the next few verses:

Romans 9:19-24 – Thou wilt say, then, to me, Why yet doth He find fault? for His counsel who hath resisted? nay, but, O man, who art thou that art answering again to God? shall the thing formed say to Him who did for [it], Why me didst thou make thus? hath not the potter authority over the clay, out of the same lump to make the one vessel to honour, and the one to dishonour? And if God, willing to shew the wrath and to make known His power, did endure, in much long suffering, vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on vessels of kindness, that He before prepared for glory, whom also He did call – us – not only out of Jews, but also out of nations, (YLT)

Paul says that God is just because He has ownership and authority over His creation, just as a potter does over his clay. The Sadducees might continue to argue that this is unjust, because God condemns people to an eternal hell. However, Paul already mentioned in Romans 5 that everyone will eventually be restored to righteousness because of God’s grace. Paul was talking about the law of Jubilee and the lake of fire. God’s law of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 states that He must eventually forgive everyone of their sins. The lake of fire is a harsh purification that will restore everyone to righteousness so that they may enter heaven. So we can conclude that Paul believed in predestination and that he understood the arguments for both sides.

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