God's Predetermined Plan and Foreknowledge of the Cross

Referring to the Cross event and, in particular, Jesus as the central figure and His Father's involvement, at least with regard to His planning the occasion, St Luke records: "This man [Jesus], who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles." (Acts 2:23 NET, emphasis added) In his gospel account, Luke uses the same terminology, "The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!" (Luke 22:22 NIV, emphasis added) In both passages we discover the sovereignty of God and the free will of people.

Elsewhere Luke records: "But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer." (Acts 3:18 NIV, emphasis added) Jesus concurs: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27; cf. Acts 17:2, 3) The actual blame for the crucifixion is clearly laid not upon God the Father but upon sinful and rebellious people, as is also demonstrated in the following passage:
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. (Acts 3:13-15 NRSV, emphases added)
Regardless of sinful people being responsible for the death of Christ, Luke concludes the matter thusly, "They did what your [God's] power and will had decided beforehand should happen." (Acts 4:28 NIV) We have clear affirmation that the crucifixion of Christ was not merely permitted by God the Father but, in actuality, pre-planned, pre-determined, according to His foreknowledge (Acts 2:23; 4:28; cf. Luke 22:22; Acts 3:13-15, 18).

This truth hardly needs belaboring: ὡρισμένῃ βουλῇ translates "predetermined will," while προγνώσει refers to God's foreknowledge. (Acts 2:23) One might deduce that God determined beforehand the Cross event according to His will, or counsel, βουλῇ referring to "that which one thinks about as possibility for action, plan, purpose, intention," "that which one decides;"1 as well as His foreknowledge, προγνώσει attributing knowledge prior to an act, even a predetermination "of God's omniscient wisdom and intention."2 No credible scholar, in the opinion of any well-reasoned Arminian, would deny that the Cross event was God's predetermined plan.

Some intend to anchor this predetermined act to eternity past, as though Jesus' crucifixion is framed in the past, citing an oft-misused passage of Scripture: "All who dwell on the earth will worship him [Antichrist], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Rev. 13:8 NKJV, emphasis added) That is a most unfortunate translation, and one that misleads the student of Scripture. The referent "from the foundation of the world" properly belongs to the names written in the Lamb's Book of Life. St John repeats this mantra elsewhere:
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (Rev. 17:8 NKJV, emphasis added)
Thus, a proper translation of Revelation 13:8 reads as follows, "and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it [Antichrist], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered." (Rev. 13:8 NRSV, emphasis added; cf. ASV, CEB, CEV, Darby, ESV, HCSB, LEB, NABRE, NASB, NCV, NET, RSV, The Voice, WEB) The Lamb was not slain from before the creation of the universe. However, there is a very real sense in suggesting that the Cross event was, in fact, a predetermined reality in the mind of the Godhead from eternity past since God has never learned any fact nor has any concept ever occurred to Him.

Jesus was crucified in real time, not from eternity past, yet the event itself was pre-planned. But St Luke insists that both "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, gathered together against your [God's] holy servant Jesus, whom you [God] anointed, to do whatever your [God's] hand and your plan had predestined to take place." (Acts 4:28 NRSV) Does this imply that God decreed and thus rendered certain the sinful actions of these people mentioned? For example, Jesus Himself said, "The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!" (Luke 22:22 NIV, emphasis added) Did God decree and thus render certain for Judas to betray Christ?

Note carefully Jesus words, lest we conflate two separate events into one predetermined act. Jesus very clearly states, "The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed." (Luke 22:22a) What, here, was decreed was the going -- in other words, the Cross event itself was decreed, and Jesus was headed to that event just as the Trinity had ordered the occasion. What Jesus does not suggest, however, is that Judas' betrayal was also decreed. The crucifixion was decreed but the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was not strictly decreed.

What I mean by "strictly" decreed is a rendering certain that Judas betray Christ, the betrayal not being derived from the sinful state of Judas himself, but originally from the predetermined plan of God. If God decreed and rendered certain that Judas betray Christ then God is the worst kind of trickster in the known universe. Why? Because He deceives people into thinking that the choices they make truly derive from their own mind when, in fact, they really originate from His eternal mind in the meticulous and exhaustive decreeing of all events without exception. If Calvinists are correct in stating that God influences our desires and decisions3 then God is the most crafty deceiver in the known universe. If God renders certain and influences or brings about our wickednesses then we have need neither of depravity nor a devil.

The truth of the matter regarding Judas is that he freely rebelled against Christ, demonstrating that he never did follow Him with a true heart, but opened himself to demonic possession. (cf. Matt. 26:14-16; Luke 22:3-5; John 6:66-71; 12:1-8; 13:2, 27)4 Still, as Arminius insists, "God does [or allows] nothing in time which He has not decreed from all eternity to do."5 But we must properly explain and understand what is meant by an insistence that God has already decreed all events.

St Luke, addressing God in prayer, states: "They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen." (Acts 4:28 NIV) Here we discover evil people behaving wickedly, and doing so within the framework of God's power and will, that which He had decided beforehand should happen. God's power, χεῖρ, is often translated as "hand," denoting "the instrument a person uses to accomplish their purpose." (link) BDAG lists this reference as referring to God as a "ruler, helper, worker of wonders," or a "regulator of the universe."6 Hence all events -- particularly events occasioned by the acts of free agents -- are enacted under the shadow of God's providence and sovereignty.



Once we settle the fact that God is sovereign, and that no act on earth among mortals occurs without either His knowledge, permission, or concurrence, then we properly understand the relation between the sovereignty of God and the free will of human beings. Properly apprehending the sovereignty of God is to accurately declare the divine perfections "of Wisdom, Goodness, Justice, Severity and Power," as well as the good of all, "especially of those [people] who are chosen or elected."7 This statement of Arminius is intended to rightly convey the issue of God's sovereignty, which he then states as the
solicitous [showing great attention or concern for another], everywhere powerful, and continued ... inspection and oversight of God, according to which He exercises a general care over the whole world, and over each of the creatures and their actions and passions, in a manner that is befitting Himself and suitable for His creatures, for their benefit, especially for that of pious [people], and for a declaration of the divine perfection.8 (emphasis added)
Note the emphasis: God's sovereignty should be properly framed as "a manner that is befitting Himself and suitable for His creatures." One could rightly intuit, then, that God would never decree, or render certain, or bring about that a person should think, say, or do anything wicked. A God of justice, holiness, and righteousness -- One who hates sin, nonetheless -- would never even think of decreeing that a person should behave wickedly (cf. Jer. 4:14; 5:23; 7:23, 30, 31; 19:5). God has explicitly informed us that He has not decreed for anyone to behave in a wicked and abominable fashion (cf. Jer. 7:31; 19:5). Since this is the truth of the matter, then how shall we understand St Luke's confession, that wicked people acted wickedly, with regard to the Cross event, and did so according to what God's "power and will had decided beforehand should happen"?

The answer is simple. Since in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and since He sustains our lives (our every heart beat), then when we sin we do so according to God's concurrent power and will. Dr. Roger Olson reminds us of Arminius' doctrine of God's sovereignty and concurrence: "God's concurrence is his consent to and cooperation with creaturely decisions and actions. No creature could decide or act without God's concurring power."9 Does this mean, then, that God governs His creatures in meticulous fashion, influencing our desires and decisions from an eternal decree, rendering certain our every thought, word, and deed? Absolutely not.

God's plan for the ages has always included the free and even rebellious actions of relatively free creatures. That Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the Israelites killed Jesus, the Author of Life, under the shadow of God's sovereign power and will is the very truth of God's word. But that we act wickedly under this Almighty shadow in no sense indicates that God is the Decretal One behind our wickedness, as Calvinists erroneously and deplorably view the matter. Our depravity and the influence of the devil is enough to secure any act of wickedness, including the crucifying of our Lord Jesus Christ, without any notion of God having decreed and thus brought about that wickedness.

No act throughout history occurs by chance. For Arminius, and Arminians, God, in his sovereignty, "preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things, and ... nothing in the world happens ... by chance."10 Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews could not have crucified Jesus Christ apart from the sovereign power and plan of God. Indeed, we can do nothing apart from the sovereign power and plan of God (Acts 17:28). We cannot breathe, eat, think or act apart from God's sovereignty. But we must not imagine that God decrees and renders certain, or brings about, our sinful acts. Arminius states:
"Nothing is done [so someone will insist] without God's ordination" [or appointment]: If by the word "ordination" is signified "that God appoints things of any kind to be done," this mode of enunciation is erroneous, and it follows as a consequence from it, that God is the author of sin. But if it signify, that "whatever it be that is done, God ordains it to a good end," the terms in which it is conceived are in that case correct."11
Dr. Olson concludes: "Arminius's account of God's providence could hardly be higher or stronger without being identical with Calvinism's divine determinism. For him, God is intimately involved in everything that happens without being the author of sin and evil, or without infringing on the moral liberty of human beings."12 God has "a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we [believers] have also obtained an inheritance, having been [predetermined] according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will" (Eph. 1:10, 11 NRSV). This plan includes what creatures will think, say, and do without any hint of suggesting that God has decreed and thus rendered certain what those creatures think, say, and do.

Yes, wicked people came together and crucified Christ under the shadow of God's sovereign power, predetermined plan, and will. We acclaim our glorious, sovereign God, who loves justice and despises injustice. Our God delights in righteousness and shuns wickedness. In His sovereignty He has predetermined to weave the free actions of mortals into His providential plan for all the ages.

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1 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, third edition (BDAG), revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 181.

2 Ibid., 866-67.

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), I.18.1; see also Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30; Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

4 The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 979.

5 The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:235; cf. 2:227; 2:368.

6 BDAG, 1083. Charles Finney suggests that God's plans "must, in some sense, include all actual events. He must foreknow all events by a law of necessity. This is implied in His omniscience. He must have matured and adopted His plan in view of, and with reference to, all events. He must have had some purpose or design respecting all events that He foresaw. All events transpire in consequence of His own creating agency; that is, they all result in some way directly or indirectly, either by His design or sufferance, from His own agency. He either designedly brings them to pass, or suffers them to come to pass without interposing to prevent them." See "Lecture 33: Purposes of God," in Finney's Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1994), 488.

7 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XXVIII. On the Providence of God," Works, 2:368.

8 Ibid., 2:367.

9 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 117. Here, Arminius is not suggesting that God, in some sense, is sinning along with the sinner when he or she sins; rather, God is actively sustaining the sinner when he or she sins, permitting the sinner to sin in the manner in which he or she desires to sin; and will hold the sinner accountable for the sin he or she commits.

10 Ibid., 120.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., 121.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.