Several passages in the Bible seem to suggest that certain individuals are predestined (or chosen) by God to have eternal salvation. Conversely, several other biblical passages indicate that anyone can have salvation by trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. If the Bible is the infallible Word of God, the true meanings of its passages cannot be in conflict (i.e., every biblical passage must be compatible with every other biblical passage). So, how can these apparent contradictions be reconciled?
With regard to the term predestined, Strong’s Concordance of the Bible states that the Greek word denotes “to mark out beforehand, to determine before, foreordain.” Webster’s Dictionary indicates that, in this context, foreordain means “to ordain beforehand” and that to ordain means “to put in order; arrange; prepare; to decree; order; establish; enact.”
The term predestined doesn’t specifically refer to foreknowledge of what will occur, although such knowledge may be inferred. The two terms may complement each other, but they are essentially distinct; they are not synonyms for each other. Foreknowledge suggests a passive role with regard to what will occur, whereas predestined indicates an active role in determining what will occur.
Scriptures that Indicate Those Who Receive Eternal Salvation Are Predestined or Chosen
Let’s consider several biblical passages that specifically mention the term predestined or the term chose, or both. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless noted otherwise. When words in a quoted scripture passage are emphasized in bold print, the emphasis is our own.]
Matthew 20:16b and 22:14: In both of these verses, Jesus Christ states, in reference to the kingdom of heaven, “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.” However, with regard to Matthew 20:16b, this clause is omitted from at least several of the newer translations of the Bible, because there is uncertainty as to whether or not it was included in the earliest manuscripts.
As for Matthew 22:14, a footnote in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible provides the following comments: “God invites ‘many’ (perhaps ‘all’ in view of the Semitic usage of ‘many’) to be part of his kingdom, but only a ‘few’ are chosen by him. This does not mean that God chooses arbitrarily. The invitation must be accepted. . . .” In other words, this verse indicates that God chooses (i.e., saves) only those who accept His invitation to receive eternal salvation. The prior verses in Matthew 22, which pertain to the parable of the wedding feast, support this viewpoint.
Romans 8:28-30: In this passage, Paul says, in reference to God,
[W]e know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
With regard to the term foreknew in this passage, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible says, “Does ‘whom He did foreknow,’ then, mean ‘whom He foreordained’? Scarcely, because both ‘foreknowledge’ and ‘foreordination’ are here mentioned, and the one as the cause of the other.”
And, People’s New Testament asserts with regard to the same passage,
To foreknow and to predestinate are not the same thing. One is an act of foreknowledge, or knowing something before it occurs; the other is to decree something. We only have knowledge of the past, but God foresees the future even as he sees the past; foresees it, not because he has decreed it, but because there are no limitations on his knowledge. Augustine says: “There can be no predestination without foreknowledge; but there can be foreknowledge without predestination.” Whom does God foreknow? Those who shall love God. As he looked into the future these were present to his mind; foreknown. What did he predestinate of them? Not that they should love God. Not that they should believe; nor that some should be saved and others damned; but that those who he saw beforehand would love God, should be conformed to the image of his Son. The only thing predestinated, or foreordained, is that those who love God as revealed in Christ shall become Christlike in life, and like Christ in eternity. This is the only decree in the passage.
So, God foreknew who would love Him, and He predestined that they would “be conformed in the image of His Son. It can be inferred that “those who love God” are genuine Christians. Thus, genuine Christians are predestined to be conformed in the image of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:28-30 does not say that God has predestined (or chosen) who will become a Christian.
Ephesians 1:4-5: Paul, in reference to God, asserts in his letter to the Christians in the church at Ephesus, “He chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. . . .”
People’s New Testament says with regard to this passage,
Chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. This does not affirm that God chose some individuals and rejected others, but that before the world was, before there was Jew or Gentile, God chose to have a people for himself, the whole church of Christ, a covenant people confined to no one earthly race. . . . Having predestinated us. Foreordained that we, the church of Jesus Christ, should be adopted as his children. The whole line of argument is general instead of particular. God foreordained a church which should be composed of those adopted as his children.
Ephesians 1:11-12: Continuing his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul writes in reference to Jesus Christ, “[I]n whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”
This passage does not state that those “who first trusted in Christ” (i.e., the earliest Christians) were predestined to have eternal salvation. Instead, it states that these early Christians were predestined to “be to the praise of His [Christ’s} glory.” What this means is not absolutely clear, but it seems to suggest that God intended for these early Christians to bring Him praise. It is not necessary to interpret this passage to mean that God predetermined that these people would have eternal salvation.
2 Thessalonians 2:13: In his letter to the Christians in the church at Thessalonica, Paul declares, “[W]e are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. . . .”
Strong’s Concordance of the Bible suggests that the term translated as “chosen” (or “chose”) in this passage can mean “preferred.” Certainly, God has shown preference (or favoritism) toward certain people (see our article entitled “Are Favoritism and Jealousy Alright for God but Not for Us?”). However, there is a distinction between being preferred and being chosen. Although someone may be preferred, that does not mean they will be chosen.
Scriptures that Indicate Anyone Can Receive Eternal Salvation
A number of other biblical passages, including the following, indicate that anyone can receive eternal salvation, if they trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior:
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Stated another way, anyone who truly believes in (i.e., has faith in, or trusts in) Jesus Christ will have eternal salvation.
Romans 10:13 and Acts 2:21 (quoting from Joel 2:32): “[W]hoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In other words, anyone who earnestly calls on (i.e., invokes) Jesus Christ to be their Savior shall have eternal salvation.
Acts 10:43: “To Him [Jesus Christ] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Thus, anyone who sincerely believes in (i.e., has faith in, or trusts in) Jesus Christ will receive remission (i.e., forgiveness or pardon) of sins.
1 Timothy 2:4: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This means that God prefers that everyone (women and children, as well as men) would have eternal salvation.
2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Stated differently, God desires that everyone should authentically repent to prepare their heart and mind to genuinely trust in Jesus Christ in order to receive God’s gift of eternal salvation. Authentic repentance involves more than being sorry for having sinned or done wrong. Webster’s Dictionarystates that “repentance implies full realization of one’s sins or wrongs and a will to change one’s ways.”
God does predestine (or choose) certain people to receive eternal salvation, but they are the ones who accept His invitation to receive eternal salvation. Those who reject God’s invitation will not receive eternal salvation, but that is their choice. It should also be noted that God has predestined that those who love Him (i.e., genuine Christians) will be His adopted children, that they will praise Him, and that they will be conformed to the image of His Son.