I was reading this question, What were the main doctrinal disagreements between Luther and Calvin?, and one of the differences between the two was Calvin believed in double predestination, while Luther believed in single predestination.

So according to my understanding:

  • Double Predestination – God mandates who goes to Heaven AND Hell,

  • Single Predestination – God mandates ONLY who goes to Heaven.

Could somebody give a Lutheran support for single predestination?

Related Question: What is the basis for Calvinist double predestination, as opposed to single predestination?

EDIT: I realize that my idea of Single predestination is, in fact, the definition of Calvinist Double predestination. Would the answer kindly provide a concise definition of Lutheran Single Predestination in addition to support?


2 Answers 2


I'll try to answer in two parts: first by summarizing the Lutheran belief concerning salvation, secondly by summarizing the Lutheran belief about who is saved.

First, the Lutheran belief concerning salvation is basically that we are saved by God's grace on account of Christ's sacrifice, and that nothing we do can gain us or earn us this salvation. We receive the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection through faith, and this faith itself is a work of God. Lutherans rely on passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 10:13-17. Note too, that salvation is broader than going to heaven; it is being bodily resurrected at Christ's return and being brought into the new, restored creation.

Second, Lutherans believe that Christ died for the sins of all people and that God wants all people to be saved (see, for example John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:4-6). However, not all people are saved. Why? Lutherans would say that we don't know why. That is, if my first sentence of this paragraph is true, then the logical question is "why is not everyone saved?" The Lutheran answer is, "we don't know, because God doesn't tell us."

This, then, leads into the concept of single predestination. That is, we are saved because God saves us. Why not everyone is saved we don't have the answer to, because God doesn't tell us why. Calvinism attempts to answer this question by "filling in the blanks," if you will, by stating that God chooses who will not believe and that Christ didn't actually die for the sins of everyone.

As a follow-on, Lutherans believe that - without Christ - we are actually condemned already, as Jesus states in John 3:18. This is because Adam and Eve's sin caused all of creation to be condemned, so we are born condemned. Thus, Jesus came to save us from the condemnation in which we already were. Therefore, it is not as if we were born into some neutral state where we could either "be saved" or "be condemned." Actually, we were condemned already, so Christ saves us from this condemnation.

  • So, Lutheran Predestination says, "God chooses who goes to heaven, but does NOT - by exclusion- condemn those he does not choose to Hell.", while Calvinist Predestination does make that leap of logic right? Additionally, you mentioned "Christ died for the sins of everyone." can you explain to me why this statement causes the difference between Calvinist and Lutheran predestination? Thanks
    – Jess L
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 3:34
  • Yes, exactly; God elects us for salvation, but does not elect us for condemnation. Regarding Christ dying for the sins of everyone, Calvinists believe in "limited atonement" which means that Christ only died for the sins of the elect (i.e. the "saved"), and that he didn't die for the sins of those who weren't saved. In contrast, Lutherans believed that Christ died for the sins of all people, but that not all people are saved because not all people come to faith (i.e. faith is a believing that Christ died "for me"). Why do not all people come to faith? Lutherans would say we don't know. Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 13:21
  • Also, there's a good summary of Calvinist belief at: calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 13:21
  • 1
    I'll also add that as a practical manner (speaking as a Lutheran pastor), because of what I said above, I can confidently tell people that Christ died for their sins. Strict Calvinists would have a harder time doing this because of their theory of limited atonement. Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 13:22

Luther didn't teach single predestination but double predestination in his book The Bondage of the Will. For instance in denying the existence of human free will and ascribing everything that happens to God he said:

“I will here bring this little book to an end, though I am prepared if need be to carry the debate farther. However, I think quite enough has been done here to satisfy the godly and anyone who is willing to admit the truth without being obstinate. For if we believe it to be true that God foreknows and predestines all things, that he can neither be mistaken in his foreknowledge nor hindered in his predestination, and that nothing takes place but as he wills it (as reason itself is forced to admit), then on the testimony of reason itself there can't be any free choice in man or angel or any creature.” page 293, The Bondage of the Will, Luther's Works, Vol 33.

"But if God is robbed of the power and wisdom to elect, what will he be but the false idol, chance, at whose nod everything happens at random? And in the end it will come to this, that men are saved and damned without God’s knowledge, since he has not determined by his certain election who are to be saved and who damned,...” page 171, ibid.

The Formula of Concord, which was drawn up after Luther's death and which Lutherans signed up to, didn't follow Luther on this. It argued that God only predestined people to heaven and not to hell, and that He didn't will that any should be damned.

Luther accepted that God according to His revealed will in Scripture willed to save everyone through Christ, but also taught that God has a hidden will of Majesty whereby everything that occurs can't happen without God willing it to happen since He is almighty, and if anything could happen against or outside of His will He wouldn't be omnipotent. Commenting on Christ's lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37) he wrote:

“It is likewise the part of this incarnate God to weep, wail and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, when the will of the Divine Majesty purposely abandons and reprobates some to perish..." page 146, ibid.

Luther argued that God's foreknowledge of all future events was based on the fact that He had willed the future to happen as it does and this was why He knew for certain what would happen. So since God didn't just foreknow who would be damned, but willed them to be damned, it followed He predestined them to be dammed. Lutherans who follow the Formula however argue that whilst God foreknows the future He doesn't determine who will be damned but only determines who will be saved and predestines only them. This of course leads them into the contradictory position of saying that one cannot say that God doesn't will to save the damned even though He doesn't predestine them to be saved. However Luther disagreed. If God only predestines some to be saved, it follows the reason He doesn't predestine everyone to be saved, is because He doesn't will to save everyone - this was Luther's position in The Bondage of the Will.

Lutherans take their position of single predestination from Bible verses which say God wills to save everyone, such as 1 Timothy 2:4, and use them as determinative in any understanding of God. Luther on the other hand understood such verses only within the context of God desiring through Christ to save everyone. However at the same time he held that, according to God's omnipotent will, everything that happens is governed and willed by Him to happen as it does. Luther interpreted Romans 9 as teaching predestination to both heaven and hell. Lutherans on the other hand try and interpret Paul in Romans 9 as teaching that God only predestines people to heaven.

  • Thank you for this answer presenting a different view. It would help if you could edit it to add quotes or at least references to The Bondage of the Will so that we can verify what you're arguing.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 14:09
  • 1
    curiousdanii I've done as you asked.
    – Eddie
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 18:54
  • Brian Mattson's 1997 paper Double Or Nothing: Martin Luther's Doctrine of Predestination confirms this view, that later Lutheran position diverged from Luther on predestination. Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 19:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .