Predestination is not that interesting

Over the last couple years of studying Greek―three quarters at Fuller and then studying on my own since then―my vocabulary has reached the point where I know every word that is used at least ten times in the New Testament. 

So, when I translate, I tend to plug along until I come across a word or two I’m not familiar with, and then I hit up my old friend for help. Sometimes I translate merrily away on my own for several verses at a time (I see you, John―as far as New Testament authors go, he tends to be the easiest to read); sometimes there are several words within just one verse that I need to stop and look up (oh hello, Paul).

I share this just to give a bit of context for an observation that struck me recently as I translated the first chapter of the book of Ephesians. 

The observation is this: I was surprised to notice that I had to look up the meaning of the word προορίζω, often translated as “predestine.” As in, “in love [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5, NIV). 

(The “sonship” part doesn’t actually need to be gender-specific…but that’s another issue for another time. Thanks, NIV.)

I was surprised that I didn’t know the word―surprised that it’s used in the New Testament less than ten times (to be precise, it’s used a whopping total of six times)―because it’s kind of a crucial word in a lot of people’s theology. I wonder how much air time it gets in a lot of churches, seminaries, etc.―whether arguing for it or reacting against it―compared to how much it’s actually spoken of in Scripture.

In προορίζω’s six appearances in Scripture, the sense is that God has determined (at least some) things before they happen. Or, God has (at least in some cases) set some limits in place and holds what happens within those limits. Or that God, existing in eternity, not bound by the ways we think about time, has said that some things will or won’t happen, and that’s how it is.

This is a fairly innocuous way of putting it. I don’t think many people who believe in God would disagree with these things. It’s a fairly weak way of putting it, compared to what Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote about when he wrote about predestination, and what many churches staunchly believe today―but that’s the point. Why would we both speak of predestination more strongly than the apostle Paul does and put so much more emphasis on it than Paul does? 

Maybe this observation is just interesting to me because I’ve never been terribly interested in debating about predestination vs free will, or Calvinism vs Arminianism, or what have you. (I fit in really well in seminary…) 

It all seems like a lot of unnecessary distinctions, and perhaps sometimes an unwillingness to hold and honor the complexities and paradoxes of life as the complexities and paradoxes that they are.

So maybe I’m just reading my own biases and interests (or lack thereof) into the observation that προορίζω isn’t used very often in Scripture. But maybe it’s significant that the writers of the New Testament were perhaps not all that interested in it, either. 

Maybe Christians would be better off spending less time arguing about predestination and more time pursuing, with focus and urgency, the things the New Testament writers speak of many times more often―for example, justice (δικαιοσύνη, often translated righteousness, used 93 times) and peace (εἰρήνη, used 92 times). You know, the kind of words seminary students learn in first quarter Greek, because that’s how crucial they are to the message of God in the New Testament.

Here’s to getting more interested in the things the New Testament writers were interested in, and less interested in the things they found less interesting.

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