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The Doctrine of Predestination and Romans 8:29-30

Salvation in Christ stands at the center of the Pauline corpus. As such, it has received significant attention by both ancient and modern commentators. As a result of this, a number of different interpretations emerged. One of them is the teaching of predestination. The central point of this teaching, as can be concluded from its name, is that the salvation of an individual is predetermined or predestined by God. The doctrine of predestination, according to its proponents, finds its basis in Romans 8: 29-30: For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. Such an understanding of salvation emerged very early in the Christian history. One of the first Christian writers who proposed this teaching was Augustine. Later on, this teaching was taken up and further developed by a Reformation theologian Martin Luther. Although Luther drew heavily on Augustines teaching, both Luther and Augustine developed their own specific position on predestination.1

This teaching is not limited to Augustine and Martin Luther, but can be also found in the works of another and Protestant theologian, John Calvin, as well as in Thomas Aquinas and among the Pelagians. However, there are three distinct types of predestination. According to the first, held by the Pelagians, foreknowledge of God is the basis of predestination. God predestined for salvation those whose future merits he foreknew. The second, commonly found in Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, is based on the belief that God had chosen those to whom He will give his unmerited grace and therefore predestined them for salvation. The third, found in the works of John Calvin, is the most extreme of the three. In Calvins understanding, God predestined some for salvation and the others for damnation, regardless of their faith and merit, or lack thereof.

For this reason, the first part of this paper will focus on determining the exact positions of the aforementioned theologians in regards to the doctrine of predestination. This is to be accomplished through an examination of their understanding of Romans 8:29-30 given in their writings related to the topic. The second part of the paper evaluates the doctrine of predestination in light of the Orthodox understanding of Romans 8:29-30, as seen in the works of St. John Chrysostom, St. John Cassian and one modern commentator, Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi. In doing this, this paper proposes that the passage in question cannot be used to support the doctrine of predestination. Augustines teaching on predestination came about as a reaction to Pelagianism, a heresy that denied the universality of original sin and believed in the perfect free human will.2 Some of Augustines earlier works, such as Expositions of Certain Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans, show no trace of any predestinationalist doctrines. The emergence of this doctrine can be seen in the works Augustine wrote in the latter stage of his theological activity. Augustines arguments in favor of predestination come through most strongly in his work On the Predestination of the Saints, a part of the larger project consisting of four anti-Pelagian writings. In the earlier stage of his theological work, Augustine held a view that faith, the first initiative in the salvation of man, belongs to man himself and that all the works that come out of faith are given to us by God, who bestows the Holy Spirit on the believers.3 However, in the later stage of his theological development, Augustine radically adjusted this opinion, stating that both faith and the good works are given to us by God, regardless

Augustine, Predestination of the Saints in: The Fathers of the Church 86, John A. Mourant and William J. Collinge, trans. ( Washington, D.C.: The Catholic university of America Press, 1992):21-270, at 240. 3 Augustine, Expositions of Certain Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans, Patrologiae Cursus Completum, Series Latina 35, J.P. Migne, ed. (Paris, 1844-1865) , 60.

of our merit. This means that we can never deserve the gift of faith, but God chooses to grant it to us as grace. Faith is the first gift of God, out of which all other gifts of God come. In Augustines reasoning, if faith came as the consequence of our merits, it wo uld cease being given according to grace. Rather, it would be a recompense for merits and not a gift.4 Augustine supports his opinion on this question by quoting 1 Corinthians 4:7: What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? The receiving or gift mentioned here, judging by the way in which Augustine understands the context in which the passage in question is set, cannot be anything else but faith given to man by God. For Augustine, this passage from St. Paul disallows anyone to say that even the beginnings of faith, even less the perfected faith belongs to man. 5 However, faith and other gifts of God that follow it are not given to everyone, but only to those God has elected according to the purpose (Romans 8:28). The word of truth is preached to many, but some will to believe and others not to believe. This will to believe or not to believe comes from God and in some persons it is prepared by Him, while in others it is not.6 Human will, being affected by original sin, is not able to desire what is good, but instead chooses what is evil. The preparation of the human will consists of God granting grace to His elect, which raises up the fallen human nature and enables it to choose what is good and accept God. In this sense, the predestination of God

Augustine, Retractiones, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiastocorum Latonorum 36 (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1866-), 98-103. 5 Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 227-228, 243. 6 Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 231.

can be seen as preparation of grace, while grace is the gift itself (salvation effected through faith and good works), the effect of predestination.7 As a result of this, it comes that some people are elected by God to be saved, without it being earned by them in any way, and the others are blinded and receive judgment. In Augustines view, when one is saved, it is by Gods irresistible grace and His mercy. On the other side, when one is condemned, it is a consequence of their sinfulness. Since the entire human kind fell through one man (Adam), and it cannot be saved by its own efforts, but only through Gods mercy, there would be nothing to object to God even if He decided to save no one. Even less is anything to be questioned in Gods decision to save the ones He has elected.8 The way Augustine argues this from the Scriptures is by saying that All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth (Psalm 24:10), but they are also unsearchable (Romans 11:33). Therefore, the mercy by which he freely liberates and the truth by which he justly judges are both unsearchable.9 God, who cannot will anything unjust, decided to keep a secret as to why some are delivered and some not. 10 In Luthers understanding, the doctrine of predestination is closely linked to the freedom of human will. For him, human will is distorted by Adams sin. As a consequence of this, man is unable to choose what is good according to Gods standards, but instead seeks what is good according to his own judgments.11 Luther draws a sharp distinction between prudence of the Spirit and prudence of the flesh. The former

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Ibid., 241. Ibid., 238. 9 Ibid., 232. 10 Ibid., 238 11 Martin Luther, Luther: Lectures on Romans, The Library of Christian Classics, 15, Wilhelm Pauck, trans. (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1961), 218.

consists in observing the law of God, while the latter is undoing of anything God desires for us. To overcome prudence of the flesh we have to re-align our will with the will of God, since perfect will wills what God wills. Overcoming of prudence of the flesh is the achievement of the Spirit of God, and our own nature, due to its corruptness, is unable to effect this when left on its own.12 This weakness of the human will is what makes Luther reluctant to assign it any significant role in the salvation. Had salvation been dependent on our will, it would be based on chance, primarily because of the proclivity of the human will towards evil.13 Even though there are those who genuinely long to execute Gods will, those efforts always fall short due to the fact that we can never come to desire what is in accordance to the perfect will of God. Instead, Luther proposed that salvation is solely a divine act in which human will plays no part. However, human suffering that came about as a consequence of our falling away from God through rejection of His will is not without any weight in the matter of salvation. Although we are sinners, and unable to discern and do the will of God, we are still saved by his immutable love. In this case, frailty of human will and action serves as a proof that it is not our freedom of decision, but the inflexible


In his Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI:Kregel Publications, 1976), 118-119., Martin Luther writes: In vain some seek to exalt the light of nature and regard it as equal to the light of grace. In reality, the light of nature is total darkness and the very opposite of divine grace. Divine grace (working in man) places nothing above God. In all things it sees only Him, desires only Him, and strives only after Him. Everything else that intervenes between itself and God, it ignores, as though it did not exist. It is directed only toward God. (Corrupt) human nature, however, only seeks, desires and strives after itself. Whatever intervenes, even God Himself, it ignores as though He did not exist. It is directed only towards itself. Such is the wicked and forward heart, of which Psalm 104:4 speaks. 13 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, 247.

and firm will of his predestination that makes our salvation possible. It is Gods election and not personal merit that makes one saved.14 Luthers scriptural support for this statement comes from chapter nine of the Epistle to the Romans. For Luther, the apostle illustrates predestination by the two stories of Isaac and Ishmael, and of Jacob and Essau. He says expressly that these differed from one another only by election.15 Also, Luther uses Pauls treatment of the Exodus story and the Pharaoh of Egypt to support the doctrine of predestination. Pauls words So then, he has mercy on whom he will and whom he wills, he hardens (Romans 9:18), according to Luthers perception, undoubtedly point in the direction of the predestinationalist understanding of salvation. Even more, Luther sees the entirety of chapters ten and eleven as supportive of his thesis. As we have seen, Augustines and Luthers treatment of predestination have a lot in common. Most notably, they both hold that the divine grace is not based on merits of an individual, but it is ultimately a gift from God, given to those God had predestined. As opposed to salvation which they ascribe to God, divine reprobation is ascribed to mans sinfulness. However, there are some evident differences as well. While both hold that human will is affected by human sin, their opinions diverge when it comes to its role in salvation. The primary difference is that Augustine in his theology attempts to redeem the human will by stating that, after it had been perfected by God, it cannot but choose God


There are three ranks among the elect. The first rank, and least prefect, consists of those who content with Gods will, trust that they are elected and do not want to be damned. The second, more perfect than the fir st, are those who resigned themselves to Gods will to the level where they feel, or at least yearn to feel, at ease with it even if it does not include their election. The third and the highest rank are those who in actual reality resign themselves to hell, if God wills it. Such are fully cleansed of their own will and posses a perfect love towards God. (Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans., 255). 15 Ibid., 250.

and thus be saved. In this way, human will plays a role in salvation. Luther, on the other hand, completely dismisses the human will, and as a consequence he makes salvation fully an act of divine will. Salvation is ultimately an act of God, and both predestinatonalist and nonpredestinationalist factions within the broadly understood Christian community agree on this. The point of disagreement becomes evident on the grounds of whether the entire humankind has the same potential for salvation, as well as on the role human will plays in salvation. In his Thirteenth Conference, St. John Cassian examines the issue of the human will and divine grace in great detail.16 For him, it is evident that the human will, left on its own, is not capable of effecting salvation. Divine grace is necessary for both the beginning and the fulfillment of righteousness. The point where St. John Cassian departs from Augustines view is his assertion that Gods grace does not have an irresistible effect on ones will. A man is effectively capable of resisting Gods grace with a stiff neck and uncircumcised ears (Acts 7:51). Another point of divergence is Cassians insistence on Gods universal salvific will. For Cassian, God is primarily seen as the one who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4). Therefore, potential to be saved is present in all humans. Tying it in with the freedom of the human will, Cassian teaches that although unable to attain righteousness on our own, the human will is more than capable of rejecting Gods grace.

The argument to follow is draw from: John Cassian, The Conferences, Ancient Christian Writers 57, Ramsey Boniface, trans. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997)

However, even when man refuses Gods will, God does not withdraw His instructions. Gods grace does not cease to exist because man decided not to give heed to it. God, who says for Himself through His prophet: As surely as I live, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn away from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33,11), keeps calling out to those who have fallen from Him through any means necessary. To illustrate this, we can use an example from the prophet Hosea and his description of Jerusalem as a harlot, who gives herself to the service of other gods. According to the prophet, God puts obstacles and hardships in her way, so she might come to a realization of wherein real salvation lies:Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now (Hosea 2:67). Bearing this in mind, we can conclude that God indeed affects ones life with the intention of restoring them on His path, but not in a way that would leave the one who had fallen away without a possibility to accept or reject Gods exhortations. Countering Augustines claim of the total depravity of the human will, Cassian calls upon Romans 2:14-16:When the Gentiles, who do not have the law, naturally do the things of the law, they who do not have a law are a law unto themselves. They show the work of the law, written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them and their thoughts within them accusing or defending them, on the day God will judge the secrets of man. Adam, after he had fallen, gained knowledge of evil, but without losing the ability to know good, bestowed upon him by God who created him. The consequence

of the fall is not that Adam completely lost the ability to do good, but rather that he became capable of using the freedom given to him by God not to eat from the tree of life and live, but to do the opposite (Genesis 3,22). Summarizing Cassians position, one can say that divine grace is present in the process of salvation from beginning to end, in a different form and manner in each individual, depending on their disposition towards it. Sometimes it makes itself manifest by aiding the willing, leading them to perfection and sometimes by calling the unwilling, in both cases in accordance with Gods will to save all. St. John Chrysostom, similarly to St. John Cassian, holds that the human and divine will cooperate in the process of salvation. Of course, it is God that is the source of truth and righteousness, and man needs to conform to Gods will, but not at the expense of not being able to choose freely. Gods perfect will and the human will, characterized by freedom of choice, cooperate on two planes: external circumstances and Gods action in ones heart. To illustrate the way in which Gods grace cooperates externally with the human will, St. John Chrysostom uses the example of Jacob and Essau (Genesis, 27) , the same example Martin Luther used to justify the doctrine of predestination. 17 Exegeting this passage, Chrysostom emphasizes the twofold form in which divine will cooperated with Jacob in helping him take the birthright from his brother Essau. First, Chrysostom points out the ease with which Isaac was deceived not to recognize his own son and second, the fact that Essau did not return until it was too late for him to do anything to prevent Jacob

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis: Homily 53, The Fathers of the Church 87, Robert C. Hill, trans. ( Washington, D.C.: The Catholic university of America Press, 1992), 79-91.

from taking his birthright. However, for Chrysostom, the preparations carried out by Jacob and his mother Rebecca are an indication that God did not do everything on his own, but that He also expected Jacob and Rebecca to contribute some of their own effort. Indeed, in Chrysostoms view, it is neither the case that everything is due to help from on high (rather, we too must contribute something), nor on the other hand does He require everything of us, knowing as He does the extraordinary degree of our limitations; on the contrary, out of fidelity to His characteristic love and wishing to find some occasion for demonstrating His own generosity, He awaits the contribution of what we have to offer.18 Commenting on the way human and divine will work together on an internal level, St. John Chrysostom writes: All indeed depends on God, but not in such a way that our free will be hindered. It is both up to us and up to Him. For we must first choose the things that are good, and when we have chosen, then He brings in His own part. He does not anticipate our acts of will, lest our free will should suffer indignity; but when we have chosen, then He brings great assistance.19 Such a view, as we have seen in the case of Augustine, was seen in the Western theology as the semi-Pelagian heresy, since it clearly states that the initial action of any good deed lies within the human and not divine will, thus rendering divine grace obsolete to a certain degree. However, in my opinion, what Chrysostom was trying to point out is that God placed what is good in front of us, and in that sense He is the beginning of everything good, but it is up to us to decide whether or not we want to accept it.

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Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis: Homily 53, 82-83. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews: Homily 12, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 14 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 425.

We can find a similar position in Chrysostoms understanding of Romans 8:28. The phrase called according to purpose in this verse should not be taken to denote Gods purpose, but our purpose. 20 As opposed to Augustine who took this phrase to refer to Gods action of saving us by perfecting our will through grace, Chrysostom sees it as our action of accepting Gods universal call to salvation. In this sense, called according to purpose can be translated to mean: God called everyone for the purpose that they might believe freely. A similar trend can be found in some of the Western commentaries on Romans, 911, such as the one by Martin Luther. Here again, the passages in question were taken to deal with the salvation of individuals. However, that is not the case, especially in chapter 9. What the Apostle Paul is trying to resolve here is the seeming possibility that God abandoned His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in favor of the Gentiles. Pauls argument is that Israel is still a part of Gods salvific plan, but now the Gentiles were grafted in the place of the broken branches (those from Israel according to the flesh who refused to believe in Christ), as it is evident from Romans 11:19. In this sense, what is foreknown and predestined is not the salvation of individuals, but the grafting of the Gentiles to the tree of Israel. Another treatment of the issue of Roman 8:29-30 and its understanding in a predestinationalist sense comes from the pen of Fr. Paul Tarazi. In his book Romans: A Commentary, Fr. Tarazi approaches the exegesis of Romans 8:29-30 from two perspectives: scriptural, which determines the meaning of the passage based on its


Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans: Homily 15, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 453.

position within the broader context of Scripture; and linguistic, which examines the grammar behind the passage in question.21 Out of His love, God constantly calls us to give heed to His call and accept His plan for us. In Scripture, starting with Adam (Genesis 2-3), Gods plan fails every time we refuse to answer Gods love by submitting to his plan. Our love for God is expressed through our submission to his will. Explaining why it is necessary for us to submit to Gods love, Fr. Tarazi draws an example from daily life and says that love of a senior or a parent (in our case God) and a junior or a child (mankind) cannot be equated. This is because seniors love towards junior includes care for the junior which he cannot obtain on its own. Since seniors love includes this kind of care for junior, it would be beneficial for the junior to submit to it. Arguing form Romans 4: 11-12, Fr. Tarazi concludes that Gods plan is not limited to a certain group but encompasses all the children of Abraham, Gentiles as well as Jews (Rom 4)-in fact all the children of Adam (ch. 5) who were included even before they were born.22 Being the children of Abraham, we were pre-ordained by God to be conformed to His Son, whom He made the firstborn among those calling upon God as their Father. The conclusion Fr. Paul draws based on this is that Gods foreknowledge and pre-ordaining here are not to be equated with what came to be known as predestination. Rather it is to be understood as God carrying out his plan as consigned in Scripture. 23

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Paul Tarazi, Romans: A Commentary (St. Paul, MN: OCABS Press, 2010), 147-155. Ibid., 151 23 Tarazi, Romans: A Commentary, 152.

The linguistic argument of Fr. Tarazi against the predestinationalist view of Romans 8:28-29 lies in the way the aorist tense functions in the Greek grammar. Rather than referring to the aorist as a past action, Fr. Tarazi proposes that it should be understood to have modal, and not temporal meaning. This indicates that instead of locating the action in time, the aorist simply describes the action, without necessarily pointing to the time when it happened, which is supplied by temporal qualifiers. Applying the temporal meaning to the verbs glorified and justified found in 8: 30, would make it difficult to fit them in the broader context of the Epistle to the Romans. Such is especially the case with the verb glorified, since, according to Romans 2:7,10, glorification is something to come at the end of time. This decreases the probability that this verb refers to a completed action. Seen as modal, the aorist receives the meaning of assuredness and fullness of the action expressed by it. It is obvious from the previous pages that there are some fundamental differences between the ways in which the passage from Romans 8:29-30 was understood in the work of some Western and some Eastern theologians. In describing the Western attitude towards this passage I used the works of Augustine and Martin Luther. 24 Of the Eastern writers, I examined the writings of St. John Cassian and St. John Chrysostom, and, of the modern commentators, Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi. For Augustine, human will plays a very small role in salvation. Even then, it cannot choose what is good or in accordance with Gods will, but only after it had been


Augustine and Martin Luther, whose writings we examined in this paper, are some of the pivotal figures in the development of Western Christianity.

perfected by divine grace are humans able to choose what is good according to God. For Luther, human will, in the state it is found after the fall, plays no role in salvation. On the opposite end stand Chrysostom, Cassian and Tarazi. For them, scriptural evidence yields no ground for the doctrine of predestination. For all three of them, it is obvious that Gods call for salvation is of the universal character. Also, the human and divine will cooperate in the task of human salvation. God is the ultimate source of everything that is good, but salvation requires human willingness to accept the good gifts of God. In light of the evidence presented on the previous pages, one can conclude that, based on the exegetical perspective predominant in the East, Romans 8:29-30 cannot be used to support the doctrine of predestination.

Bibliography: Augustine, Predestination of the Saints. The Fathers of the Church 86, John A. Mourant and William J. Collinge, (trans). Washington, D.C.: The Catholic university of America Press, 1992.

Augustine, Expositions of Certain Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans. Patrologiae Cursus Completum, Series Latina 35, J.P. Migne, (ed.). Paris, 1844-1865.

Augustine, Retractiones. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiastocorum Latinorum 36. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1866-. Cassian, John. The Conferences. Ancient Christian Writers 57, Ramsey Boniface, (trans.). Mahwah, NJ:Paulist Press, 1997. Chrysostom, John. Homilies on Genesis, 53. The Fathers of the Church 87, Robert C. Hill, (trans.). Washington, D.C.: The Catholic university of America Press, 1992.

Chrysostom, John. Homilies on Hebrews, 12. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 14, Phillip Chaff, (ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.

Chrysostom, John. Homilies on Romans, 15. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 11, Phillip Chaff, (ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.

Luther, Martin. Luther: Lectures on Romans. The Library of Christian Classics, 15, Wilhelm Pauck, (trans.). Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1961. Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids, MI:Kregel Publications, 1976.

Tarazi, Paul Nadim. Romans: A Commentary .St. Paul, MN: OCABS Press, 2010.