Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Westminster Confession As It Pertains to Foreordination

Some people believe that God foreordains all that comes to pass--including the ungodly acts of those not serving him. The Westminster Confession of Faith (III.1) states:

"God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

So God evidently foreordained the Edenic Fall and he ordained (eternally) the violent death of his Son and so many other historical atrocities. Yet God is not the Author of sin. How does this kind of reasoning logically work? I also wonder how this view comports with scripture.

Two points for now:

1) Why foreordain the Fall, yet warn Adam and Eve what would happen if they disobeyed and took fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden? Why sentence them to death if they were simply doing what had been foreordained? What would you think about me giving an assignment to my students, and telling them there would be a penalty for failure to do it, but then make the assignment undoable by dint of its design? I would probably not win professor of the year for such a move. And I can't help but wonder how God's name would be magnified by the foreordination of evil.

2) James 1:13-17 seems to contradict the Westminster Confession. God does not tempt (try) us with evil. He is perfect, just and good in all his ways. God did not foreordain the treacherous act of Judas Iscariot; nor did he bring to pass chattel slavery or the Holocaust. Each one is tried or enticed by his own sinful desire. As for the Edenic Fall, it occurred because of two humans who chose to misuse the free will granted them by our God and sovereign. He did not bring that event to pass.


Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

I may not be the best person to answer these, but i'll take a stab at it anyway. The questions you asked are great questions, but very commonly addressed in reformed writings going at least back to Calvin. I'm assuming you've read these responses, so my answers probably won't be anything you haven't heard before.

1. It would be the same reason why God would ordain any sinful event to take place, and yet punish the one committing the sin. According to Acts 4:28, they did "whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." Yet, I think we can agree that the Jews and Romans responsible were punished. So was God's name magnified by this "foreordination of evil?" In one sense yes and in another sense no. At this point, i'm not trying to prove that ALL evil actions are part of God's decree (though I think it can be proven). I'm just trying to show how there's not logical or theological problem in showing how God can decree something sinful and yet punish the one committing the sin itself.

2. God hardened Pharaoh's heart, yet Pharaoh was surely hardened for his sins against the Hebrews. God didn't "entice" Pharaoh. That is, he wasn't holding a gun to his forehead and forcing Pharaoh to do something against his will. Instead, Pharaoh acted in full accordance with his sinful desires. But is this fair? Shouldn't God then be blamed for sin? I think these are the very challenges Paul is addressing in Romans 9.

Mike Felker said...

Need to correct a statement (that's the problem when you're using your phone to type these things out):

"God hardened Pharaoh's heart, yet Pharaoh was surely punished (not hardened) for the sins against the Hebrews."

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

1. Thanks for addressing my questions. I'm sure you would agree that there's a difference between permitting an event (E) and actively causing E. It does not seem just for me to cause someone to do E--then punish them for performing the action. Let's imagine that God caused David (brought it to pass) to commit adultery with Bathsheba. Would it have been just for Jehovah to then punish David for his sin?

1b. God foreordained the death of his beloved Son. Acts 4:28 does not have to mean that God actively caused men to execute his Son or to mercilessly beat him. God permits such acts but does not cause them.

2. The Hebrew idiom used in Exodus likely means that Jehovah permitted Pharaoh's heart to harden; he did not personally harden the Egyptian ruler's heart.

Edgar Foster said...

The Complete Word Study: New Testament also makes this observation on Rom 9:17:

"It is not that Pharaoh was 'beyond' the help of God's mercy, nor that God made him wicked, but simply that God withheld his mercy and left him to his
own wickedness" (page 522).

Ex 8:15, 32; 9:34 show that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

Ralph Earle also argues that Paul does not say Esau or Jacob or Pharaoh were predestined to life or eternal damnation. God only foreknew that Jacob would take precedence over Esau or He knew aforetime that Judas would betray
Jesus. But God did not predestine Judas' actions or those carried out by Pharaoh.

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

Thanks for the thoughtful responses!

1. I do agree that there is a difference between permitting an event and causing it (though the causality i'm referring to is much more indirect).

And yes, it would be just for Jehovah to punish the ones committing the crimes even if they are doing it in accordance with God's plans. As mentioned in my initial comment, this is very similar to what Paul is responding to in Romans 9:

"So then he has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?' On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (9:18-20)

That would be my answer to the challenge. Just one more example. In Isaiah 10, Assyria is described as "the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation." (10:5). Isaiah goes into detail as to how God has one purpose and Assyria another (compare to Genesis 50:20 with God's purpose vs. Joseph's brother's purpose). Yet, the action is the same: judge Jerusalem (10:11). Yet, isn't it interesting that God uses Assyria to accomplish His purpose in judging Jerusalem, yet He in turn judges Assyria for "completing all His work." (10:12) Why? Because of the king's arrogant heart and haughtiness.

1b. I'm not suggesting that God somehow caused the Jews and Romans to do something against their will. On the contrary, the Jews and Romans were fully acting in accordance with their evil desires. But at the same time, the actions themselves were predestined by God. I would see this as going beyond simply permitting an event. Was not the crucifixion Jesus' plan from the beginning? And doesn't Jesus fulfill the Father's will perfectly? Therefore, was not the crucifixion God's will?

Notice too that Jesus was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." (Acts 2:23) Does this not speak of more than merely permitting something to take place?

2. If you have a source for this, i'd be interested in seeing it explained. But regardless, isn't the text clear that the hardening was a part of God's plan? Isn't this how Paul interpreted it in Romans 9:17?

I do agree that Pharaoh hardened his own heart since this is what several texts explicitly say. But I think we have to take both into account; that is, Jehovah hardened his heart and so did Pharaoh (Compare: God predestined the crucifixion, yet the Jews/Romans carried it out). I believe this helps in sustaining my position in that God doesn't force men to do things against their will. Pharaoh did exactly what he wanted to do, yet he was fulfilling God's plan in the process. I see no indication in the text that God had a plan and Pharaoh kept thwarting it. Instead, Ex. 4:21 tells us quite clearly what Jehovah had in mind before any hardening took place.

As far as your last few points, I think Romans 9 says something completely different. But I think we'd be venturing into something too detailed for discussion here. I'd highly recommend John Piper's lesser known work, based on his Ph.D thesis: "The Justification of God." Most detailed exegesis of Romans 9 out there as far as I know.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

Your thoughtful replies are also appreciated. When time permits, I want to do your remarks justice. For now, allow me to make some brief comments.

When the Bible speaks of Jehovah hardening Pharaoh's heart, it likely means that God permitted his heart to be hardened. To reason on this point, let me ask you--do you think that Jehovah has ever brought to pass or foreordained (predestined) one man to rape another man's wife?

Secondly, I believe that Jehovah foreordained that his Son would be sacrificed for our sins, but that does not mean God planned that humans would reject the Son of God, spit upon him or put him to death. Neither the language in the OT or NT require such an interpretation. There is a substantive difference between foreordaining (predestining) an event and foreknowing an event. On most theological accounts, foreknowing that something will occur does not cause an event to occur.

Regards and more later.

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

I'll look forward to your more detailed reply. To answer your question directly: yes, along with every other event that has ever happened. But God has decreed something far worse than rape: the crucifixion. Yet, I think all Christians are thankful that this event took place.

I'm not sure I understand your point about God foreordaining the crucifixion, yet not "planning" that Jesus would be rejected, insulted, killed, etc. Didn't Jesus know that all of this would happen since the beginning of his ministry in fulfillment of the Father's will?

I agree that there's a difference in foreknowing and foreordaining. But the Bible speaks of both and especially in relation to the suffering and death of the Messiah (Acts 2:23, 4:28).

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

To rape, we could add the Holocaust too. So if you hold this position, maybe we need to unpack what "bring to pass" or foreordain means to you, since I don't think you want to say that Jehovah causes men to rape women or that he caused the Holocaust or caused men to kill his Son.

Some definitions of plan are

To formulate a scheme or program for the accomplishment, enactment, or attainment of.

To have as a specific aim or purpose; intend.

I'm saying that Jehovah did not formulate a scheme nor did he intend for men to reject his Son. Put another way, I'm denying that God caused the death of Jesus to occur. He simply foreordained that the means of salvation would be available, and he foreknew how wicked men would act. But God did not cause those men to act that way.

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

I like the definition of plan that you offered. But if you don't like the word "plan" (at least in terms of how you defined it), then how would you define it? Acts 4:28 actually uses the word "boule", which BDAG defines as "plan, purpose, intention; resolution, decision; council meeting." Specifically, regarding 2:23, 4:28, BDAG defines it as "of the divine will."

However, I would agree that God didn't directly "cause" these men to commit evil, as if God was tempting them or forcing them to do these evil things. But he did plan/purpose/predestine/foreordain it.

I'm happy to consider whatever language uses you propose, so long as it comports with the precise wording as used in Acts 2:23/4:28. So far, i'm not convinced it does insofar as you state that "Jehovah did not formulate a scheme nor did he intend for men to reject his Son." I'm convinced that Acts 2:23/4:28 describes that very thing, and does so even more explicitly.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

You said:

"Was not the crucifixion Jesus' plan from the beginning? And doesn't Jesus fulfill the Father's will perfectly? Therefore, was not the crucifixion God's will?"

What you call the "crucifixion," I refer to as the impalement of Christ. Either way, Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe God eternally decreed that Adam and Eve would sin (whatever "eternally decree" means) or that Christ would be offered as a sacrifice. The ransom of Jesus Christ became necessary after the Edenic Fall. The Messiah's coming was only foretold after the sin of the first human couple. See Genesis 3:15. So the "crucifixion" was only God's will after Adam and Eve sinned. And he only foreordained that Christ would be a sacrifice, people would receive him and others would reject him (etc). But as I've already pointed out, God did not actively influence, sway or efficiently cause humans to reject Christ.

My reply to the hardening of Pharaoh is that the language means God permitted the Egyptian ruler's heart to be hardened: he did not cause it. JB Rotherham makes this point in his Emphasized Bible if I remember correctly. Other works likewise offer this explanation. Please note this type of Hebrew idiom at Job 42:11 where the Bible says Jehovah did something that he really permitted to occur. Compare Jeremiah 8:10.

See also my blog post at http://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.com/2011/02/does-god-send-delusions-2-thess-211.html

Edgar Foster said...

Mike, here is a quote from the Insight book (1:851-860):

The apostle Paul’s discussion of God’s dealings with Pharaoh is often incorrectly understood to mean that God arbitrarily hardens the heart of individuals according to his foreordained purpose, without regard for the individual’s prior inclination, or heart attitude. (Ro 9:14-18) Likewise, according to many translations, God advised Moses that he would “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart.” (Ex 4:21; compare Ex 9:12; 10:1, 27.) However, some translations render the Hebrew account to read that Jehovah “let [Pharaoh’s] heart wax bold” (Ro); “let [Pharaoh’s] heart become obstinate.” (NW) In support of such rendering, the appendix to Rotherham’s translation shows that in Hebrew the occasion or permission of an event is often presented as if it were the cause of the event, and that “even positive commands are occasionally to be accepted as meaning no more than permission.” Thus at Exodus 1:17 the original Hebrew text literally says that the midwives “caused the male children to live,” whereas in reality they permitted them to live by refraining from putting them to death. After quoting Hebrew scholars M. M. Kalisch, H. F. W. Gesenius, and B. Davies in support, Rotherham states that the Hebrew sense of the texts involving Pharaoh is that “God permitted Pharaoh to harden his own heart—spared him—gave him the opportunity, the occasion, of working out the wickedness that was in him. That is all.”—The Emphasised Bible, appendix, p. 919; compare Isa 10:5-7.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

I'm trying to steal moments here and there to offer replies to your points. Our discussion is also helping me to understand the reformed claims better.

Concerning Acts 2:23; 4:28, I'm not saying that "plan" is wrong, but context must dictate what boule means in the relevant passages. The eminent Richmond Lattimore (whom I've learned to respect from Homeric studies) renders boule in Acts 2:23 as "plan." However, NWT translates it "will" and I believe the footnote says "counsel." A comparison with Wuest's NT shows that he opts for "counsel" to convey the idea behind boule.

The bottom line for me is that men acted freely (in a pretty much libertarian sense) when they rejected God's Son, heaped scorn upon him and put him to death. God may have foreseen how they would act and decided to work out his purpose through such lawless acts. However, God did not cause their actions nor did he foresee before the creation of Adam and Eve what humans would do. Jehovah would not have set life and death before Adam and Eve, and warned them not to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, if he already knew they were destined to sin. See my original comments respecting this issue.

To address the last statement you made, when I said that God did not plan for men to reject his Son, what I had in mind is that Jehovah did not formulate a scheme whereby men would reject his Son: they killed Jesus of their own accord (their own choosing). Secondly, God did not intend for humans to subject the Son of God to reproach and scorn. His will is that all men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:1-4). Jehovah does not want any to be destroyed, but desires that all humans repent (2 Pet 3:9). So he did not want men or intend for men to kill his Son. Yet he foreknew that they would, but also knew that he would achieve his purpose in spite of their lawless deeds. Jehovah permitted his Son to suffer and die, but it was not how he necessarily wanted things to go.

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

While I likewise will try to weasel in some time to respond, I just came a cross a recent post by James Anderson, who is a philosopher/theologian teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary. It really helps in showing how nuanced the language is when we talk about God's involvement or lack thereof in evil events:


Maybe an idea for a future post to respond if anything. He's most certainly a better representative of the reformed camp than me anyway. But i'm happy that this discussion is helping you better understand reformed theology, so with that i'll consider it a delight to continue discussing whether or not I convince you.

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

Just a few points of clarification here.

I'm really not sure how or why "counsel" would be the best choice for Acts 2:23. I seem to be in good company with most translaters and lexicons on this point, but correct me if i'm wrong on that. At any rate, I agree that men acted in accordance with their own wills to accomplish this act.

At this point, i'm not so much concerned as to when God predestined this event. Instead, i'm concerned with whether God planed and predestined/foreordained something that is evil. While I agree that God could foresee what evil men would do and then use that evil to accomplish something good, I don't think that goes far enough. This was God's predestined plan and used the evil actions of men to accomplish his will.

So at the end of the day, I don't find your original objection to be persuasive; namely, that God planning/determining/foreordaining something evil brings Him "blame" for that evil.

You also quoted 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Pt. 3:9 to substantiate that "God didn't want men to kill His son." I fully disagree with your interpretation of these verses, but I think a discussion of them would venture off into another area. But you are right in that there is a sense that God doesn't want men to kill his son. But then again, didn't God "plan and predestine" this to occur? This is exactly why Reformed theologians posit 2 wills on the part of God; a prescriptive and a sovereign will.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

I'm breaking my comments up into two parts because this is a long post.

1) On the subject of how βουλη should be translated in Acts 2:23; 4:28, please keep in mind that I'm not saying "plan" is wrong (per se). I just don't believe that way of translating the Greek is the optimal choice in this instance. LSJ (which I realize is a classical lexicon) offers these definitions:

"will, determination, esp. of the gods," "counsel, design," "generally, counsel, advice," and "deliberation" or "decree." But it's clear that context must determine which definition fits best.

You've already cited BDAG. I too consulted the entry for βουλη in that lexicon and it does not seem that BDAG is advocating "plan" for Acts 2:23; 4:28 either although the lexicon demonstrates that meaning is within the lexical range of the word. But the meaning "plan" just doesn't seem to fit the meaning for the verses in Acts. The translations "resolution, decision" or purpose are better when God is the subject of βουλη.

The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Rogers and Rogers) says that βουλη (Acts 2:23) evidently means (has the sense) "purpose, decision, counsel."

I have also posted a link from Joseph Alexander's commentary on Acts where he writes: "The word translated counsel properly means will, as appears both from etymology and usage" (p. 70). compare Job 38:2; 42:3 Isa 5:19; 9:6; 46:10 (LXX).

Finally, here's a quote from Robertson's Word Pictures on Acts 2:23

"By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (τηι ωρισμενηι βουληι και προγνωσηι του τεου — tēi hōrismenēi boulēi kai prognōsēi tou theou). Instrumental case. Note both purpose (βουλη — boulē) and foreknowledge (προγνωσις — prognōsis) of God and 'determined' (ωρισμενη — hōrismenē perfect passive participle, state of completion). God had willed the death of Jesus (John 3:16) and the death of Judas (Acts 1:16), but that fact did not absolve Judas from his responsibility and guilt (Luke 22:22). He acted as a free moral agent."

This post was mainly about translating βουλη. I would like to address the other issues in my next post.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi again Mike,

The language of divine "planning" generally seems vague to me. Just what does it mean to say that God plans an evil act, yet he is not the author of that act. The Westminster Confession, while denying the point, does in fact posit a strong sense of "bring to pass" and effectively makes God the author of sin. Of course, the advocates of that confession will not agree but I think they're wrong about the logical consequences of the "bring to pass" language found in that confession.

Coming back to your expressed views, if God did not cause evil men to reject his Son or if they acted freely (in a libertarian sense), then it does not make a whole lot of sense to me how we can say that God planned that evil (lawless) men would reject his Son.

Granted, God purposed that the Messiah would come, he would be rejected, reproached and scorned. The Christ would even die a painful and ignominious death. These things were foretold. So I'm not denying that God purposed or foreknew any of these events would transpire. But what Jehovah purposed (what formed part of his counsel) is that the Messiah would undo what Adam and Eve did (1 John 3:8). God also foreknew how Satan would work and how men would respond to the activities of God and the Devil (Genesis 3:15).

Therefore, why did Judas betray the Son of God? Who caused Judas to deliver up Christ to his captors? Please see John 13:2. It was not God who merely permitted the Son to be judged and executed. God also set events in motion that would ultimately lead to the death of his Son. Yet the responsibility for rejecting Christ ultimately should be attributed to humans, not God (John 15:22-25).

So, to sum up matters, men were not fated to reject the Messiah. They had the power to accept God's Son or reject him (the power to do A or not to do A); God was not the efficient cause of their sin. After the Edenic Fall, God arranged that his Son would deliver humanity from sin and death. The seed's heel would be crushed by the serpent, but God's seed would bruise the serpent's head. God would permit evil and he would accomplish his purpose in spite of wicked human actions. But what it means for Jehovah God to plan (moral) evil without causing it, merely permitting it or bringing good out of evil performed by others seems a mystery to me because of the vague language used.

Mike, you brought up the ransom. However, my original examples involved things like rape or offering one's children to a false God. Also, I referenced the original sin of Adam and Eve. It's even more mysterious how God plans these events without causing them. In effect, those who posit that God has planned all of these evil acts including the Fall do make God the author of moral evil. They do place the blame on God for 9/11, abortion, plane crashes, the Holocaust, slavery and all of the world's other ills.

Your final comments indicate why I think it's important to establish when God foreordained that his Son would suffer and die. For Witnesses, it's only after the Fall that Jehovah purposes to send the Messiah to undo the Devil's works. But originally, God purposed that the earth would be a paradise: he did not plan the Edenic Fall.

Mike Felker said...

Hi Edgar-

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. There's quite a bit I could say to this in response, but i'm afraid that most of it would consist of things i've already stated with only a few minor clarifications. Hopefully, I gave you a better understanding of what reformed thinkers believe on these issues.

But if there's something you would like me to respond to directly, please let me know and i'll be glad to.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mike,

I'm done blogging for today because of other responsibilities. Your comments have given me a better understanding of how Reformed thinkers might answer my questions/objections and I meant to thank you for the link to Anderson's site too. I will be posting more about the Westminster Confession and related matters. You might want to provide some feedback/comments on those posts. I hope that I've also delineated how the Witness position markedly differs from the Reformed when it comes to foreordination and divine planning versus divine purposing.