Specifically with respect to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)...

Chapter 3, paragraph 3 and 4, where it states:

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

Why or how would they justify that by using the scriptures? Having justified that, why are only some people predestined for certain salvation and some others for certain damnation, with presumably the rest being left for fate or whatever choice those people decide to make (A concession for Arminianism)?

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Thanks for your excellent question. I am eager to see if anyone can answer the second part to your question: why God would design some for eternal torment while designing others for eternal bliss. (To me it seems completely contrary to His nature.) Anyway, I hope you stick around and continue to contribute as you are able! Ciao. – Jas 3.1 Jul 21 '12 at 21:23
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    To be more precise in the question, the position in question is predestination, which holds that ALL are predestined--some are predestined to heaven and others are predestined to hell. – Narnian Mar 22 '13 at 15:21
  • None of these answers really answer the question of how such a monstrous doctrine is defended by the Scriptures in view of the numerous references to Christ's universal atonement. Thus, the real issue here is not predestination but limited atonement! – user43409 Jan 16 '19 at 20:22

Note that this response has been divided into two parts: the first is the original response, and the second tries to elaborate based on a comment from the OP.

Part 1

Great question. This response includes a very brief description of some of the basic points of predestination/election, and some references with in-depth, historic information.

Here are a few main points of predestination/election, which it sounds like you may already be aware of. Again, these points are part of Reformed/"Calvinist" theology, and there are many that would disagree.

  • Reformed theology emphasizes God's motivation to glorify himself, to "bring glory to his name." Note that, according to reformed theology, this does not make him selfish, because man was designed and created to worship God, so glorifying God is what is best for man. (See John Piper, & what is sometimes called "Christian Hedonism." Resources at DesigingGod.org).
  • All are considered guilty in Adam, and therefore "deserve" the torment of hell (see the doctrine of "original sin").
  • Because God is sovereign, he does not "owe" salvation to anyone, and would be justified in sending all of humanity to hell.
  • God is glorified in the greatness of his mercy by electing some to salvation, which they cannot earn.
  • God is glorified in the greatness of his wrath, by sending others to hell -- either those who are "not elect" or who are "elected to damnation" (see the doctrine of "double predestination").

Again, from the perspective of reformed theology, it is important to note that those who are predestined for salvation are in no way "deserving" of God's mercy, and there is no way to "earn" or "merit" redemption. (See the doctrines of "monergistic" vs "synergistic" regeneration).

How God has decided specifically which individuals will go to heaven is explained either as "random" or as one of the "mysteries" not revealed to man.

Some brief history and additional reference material. Your question is about the Westminster Confession and what it says about predestination; the Confession was published in 1646, but the question of predestination had been ongoing for sometime. One important document where it is addressed directly is the Canons of Dordt (sometimes "Dort"). Several followers of Arminius published a "Remonstrance" in 1610 in Holland, refuting some elements of reformed doctrine, and the Synod of Dordt was created to respond to their assertions. The Synod published their conclusions in a document called the Canons of Dordt in 1618. It is generally considered the source of the "five points of Calvinism," or "T.U.L.I.P." -- Calvin himself never actually outlined the five points in that form -- and addresses predestination in some detail, with scripture proofs. Here are two links to the Canons of Dordt, with scripture proofs: Reformed.org; CCEL. See here for a quick explanation of the history of the five points of Calvinism.

As to your question about "[w]hy or how would they justify that by using the scriptures," the Westminster Assembly included extensive scripture proofs that, in their interpretation, justified all of the statements in the Standards. A full copy of the Confession, with the original proofs, can be found on the Reformed.org page linked in your question.

Note also that you can find an in-depth, detailed discussion of the creation of the Westminster Standards in the History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, published in 1853 by William Maxwell Hetherington.

There is also a very detailed chapter on the Westminster Standards in Philip Schaff's "Creeds of Christendom," published 1876.

Schaff's Creeds is a widely regarded, historically important book, one that is likely to be found on the bookshelves of many historians and theologians. Hetherington's work is new to me, but I see that it is linked alongside other important historical titles by sources I have found to be credible.

Part 2

In the OP's comment on 'Part 1' of this response, he gives an analogy to further clarify the question, which I'll paraphrase here: 'if, for example, 1/3 of the people on earth are predestined for heaven, why are the other 2/3 not predestined?' I've added this "Part 2" in an attempt to better address the question.

As a preface, please note that I don't claim to be an expert on predestination, but I'll try to share what I've learned.

There is what could be described as a 'subtle' difference in two basic forms of the doctrine of predestination, with the variant being described as 'double predestination,' or 'reprobation.' This doctrine says that God has predestined some to go to heaven, and others to go to hell, and that all people are predestined for one or the other. Another version is that God has predestined some to go to heaven, and has simply "passed over" the others, leaving them to be condemned by their own guilt, which they inherited from Adam and compounded through their own actions, since "all have sinned" (Rom 3:23). The end result is the same, from the perspective of the individuals and where they spend eternity; anyone who is not elected to salvation doesn't make it to heaven, according to the doctrine of predestination. Also, note that in neither case is there a "third category." In predestination, every person is either elected to salvation, or "passed over." In double predestination, every person is elected to either salvation or reprobation. Here's a work from John Bunyan that examines the doctrine of reprobation in detail.

I realize that you've stated that your question is not about predestination, but, since these matters are all intertwined, a thorough understanding of it may help to resolve your question. This C.SE post by Caleb does a great job of explaining things, and I think it's relevant to our discussion here. He also does a good job of explaining the role of substitutionary atonement, in a very concise manner -- that is, how God can offer salvation to guilty sinners who are deserving of punishment, without being unjust, although you may already understand all of that.

The question of why God has chosen a certain number of people to be saved is a matter of his sovereign will. Since he doesn't owe salvation to anyone, and no one besides Christ is capable of "earning" salvation, God can choose to have mercy on as many or as few as he chooses -- it's a free gift that he is not required to offer. An interesting reference here is Matthew 7:13-14, which tells us that "many" [ESV] will go to hell, and "few" will go to heaven, although I haven't checked the original languages on that verse. OTOMH, that's the only reference that I know of that suggests the numbers/ratios involved in who will go to heaven and who won't, although I expect there are likely references to be found in Revelation.

You might enjoy a read of Romans 9, esp. v. 19-29, and Romans 8:29.

I suppose God could have chosen to apply Christ's atonement to everyone. (Edit: See 1 Tim 2:3, a verse sometimes seen as complicating defenses of predestination). No doctrinal references that discuss the matter come to mind, and I generally seek to avoid providing my own exposition. I do know that there is nothing that would obligate him to apply Christ's atonement to all people, and that the consistent teaching is that God did not create sin, and that he remains perfectly holy and free of all guilt in choosing to bar unforgiven sinners from his paradise. Christ's atonement is sometimes described as being "sufficient" for all, but "efficient" only for the elect -- so, the infinite merit of Christ's sacrifice means that God could justly elect to salvation as many as he willed, and he chose to save a certain number, which is not disclosed to us.

This might seem to conflict with many people's understanding of God's character. It is important to remember that Reformed theology, in an effort to accurately reflect the teachings of the bible, emphasizes God's sovereignty, as well as his motivation to glorify himself.

I hope this response doesn't seem unnecessarily complicated; your question, as I understand it, seems fairly simple at first, but it actually addresses some very contentious areas of theology that have been debated for centuries. Countless sermons, treatises, and expositions have been written on the matter. I encourage you to consult some of the sources I've linked to, especially those in the second section of part 1; I'm sure they can explain things more clearly than I can, though I suppose I could still try to revise -- and hopefully shorten! -- this answer. Cheers.

  • This may answer the question, I will have to read the westminster document in more detail and also check out your references, however could I clarify that my confusion with the paragraphs I pointed out was not the theory of predestination... But only that some are. For instance, lets suppose that of the 6 billion people we have on this planet, suppose that "some" are predestined, so lets suppose that there are 2 billion people who are predestined for either salvation or eternal damnation. Why aren't the remaining 4 billion people predestined? – Arafangion Jul 22 '12 at 2:58
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    @Arafangion: Thanks for the clarification. Your question seems very simply at first, but it looks like it actually goes to the heart of Reformed theology. I've added a "Part 2" in an effort to better address the question, with apologies that it's grown so verbose. – Philip Schaff Jul 22 '12 at 7:30
  • @JBunyan the customary format for expanding on answers, is to edit and expand, just like you did – wax eagle Jul 23 '12 at 13:37
  • @waxeagle: Thanks. Looks like there's a great community here. – Philip Schaff Jul 24 '12 at 17:30
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    @Arafangion: Great! And if your reading stirs up any additional questions, I hope you'll consider posting some more questions that we can all work on. I, for one, find this stuff really interesting. Cheers. – Philip Schaff Jul 25 '12 at 18:40

I found a great explanation by John Piper on why some people are "predestined" to hell:



As preface to the question, he makes the following qualifying points:

  • Nobody is in hell that doesn't deserve to be there, and isn't in active rebellion to God. The idea that there could be someone who genuinely loves God and is still in hell is foreign to the Bible.

  • The Bible portrays God as saving sinners, not making good people to be really bad.

He then says, with those in mind, how is God glorified by creating a universe where, whether by his design or by his permission, people will end up in hell justly?

  • God's goal is that the full range of his perfections would be known, including his wrath and his power, as well as his love and his mercy. To do that, there is a dark backdrop of the fall of man, and grace shines more brightly because it's against the backdrop of sin.

As is common, the verse cited is Romans 9:22-23 (ESV):

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

  • Welcome to Christianity S.E.! While I'm not a Calvinist, this is a really good answer. – Narnian Mar 22 '13 at 15:10

I don't think we're going to resolve the whole predestination vs freewill debate here, so I'm not going to go into the arguments for either side.

But let me try to clarify the debate. The whole idea of predestination is that God has determined in advance who will be saved and who will not. As Arafangion points out in his comment, a Calvinist would not say that someone who is predestined to be saved will therefore go to Heaven regardless of his beliefs and actions and vice versa. That is, Calvinists do not say that if God chooses Al and not Bob that that means that Al will be saved even if he rejects Christ and is a serial killer and a rapist, etc, etc, while Bob will be condemned even if he is the most holy person in the world. Rather the Calvinist says that God decides who will turn to him and who will not. Those whom God has chosen will accept Christ and try to serve him; those whom he has not chosen will reject Christ and have no desire to follow his commands. Thus, if you had some list of who is saved and who is not, and you compared this list to what you could observe about people's lives, this would give NO EVIDENCE one way or the other about whether predestination is true.

That said, the Calvinist would also say that it is not a matter of some are chosen to be saved, some to be condemned, and "the rest left to fate or whatever choice those people make". Rather, everybody is predestined either to be saved or to be condemned. There is no third category. Those who are predestined to be saved will accept Christ. Those who are predestined to be condemned will reject him. There is no third possibility: you do or you don't.

As to scriptural justifications, the most obvious is Epehesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Your faith is a "gift of God". The Calvinist says that God decides who will have faith and who will not. Or Romans 8:29-30, "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." Again, God predestined certain people, these people he "called", and then they responded.

A key scripture for Calvinists is Romans 9:10-21, "... But when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! ... You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"

If you're not a Calvinist -- or maybe even if you are -- this is a tough passage.

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    From the OP: "Having justified that, why are only some people predestined for certain salvation and some others for certain damnation...?" – Jas 3.1 Jul 21 '12 at 19:59
  • @Jay: I see that I had misinterpreted the paragraphs I had pointed out - you will see how I misinterpreted them with the comments to J Bunyan. I am tempted to pick your answer because of your 3rd paragraph, however I do like J Bunyan's answer because it matches the particular focus I was after, and I will probably end up choosing that answer once I've checked the texts that were pointed out. Perhaps if you were to support your third paragraph with references? Additionally, as Jas 3.1 points out, I am also focusing on the /why/ part, and you will need references for those. – Arafangion Jul 22 '12 at 3:18
  • Hey, I'm not worried about accumulating points, just hoping that by participating in the conversation we all may learn something. – Jay Jul 23 '12 at 3:36

This is a bit of a long response -- please read it to the end as I realize I appear to be derailing from the original question at first.

In terms of who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell, Jesus made it very clear that it comes down to John 3:16.

John 3:16 (NLT): "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

In essence, it comes down to the following: Man chooses where they go based on their decision to believe in Jesus Christ and repent of his sins.

God has foreknowledge of all things, as he is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Therefore, he knows who will choose to pick up his cross and follow Christ, and who will not.

Biblically, there are verses that use the term 'predestined', however, it should be looked at more as 'foreknowledge'. God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and as such he has given everyone the ability to come to Jesus in repentance and accept him as their saviour.

That being said: There is no justification for those scriptures. While it's true that God has chosen key people in history to do his will, even those people had a choice. God did not bend their will to move them towards his will. Just as it's possible now, back in the biblical times there were people who said 'no' to God's plan for their life.

This isn't a matter of "I guess" or "in my opinion" -- the simple truth is that it's not written anywhere in the Hebrew and/or Greek biblical texts that God has explicitly created someone with the intent to send them to hell. We have 100% free will -- we can make any decision we want without him twisting our will. He may convict you and/or call you to do the right thing (he also may not), but he will never use his sovereign authority over us to bend our will. (As then it's no longer free will)

That being said, we are all born into sin and as such must seek out Jesus, or fall victim to our sin.

  • Hi Phil. Welcome to Christianity.StackExchange! Thank you for your answer, I found it very interesting. Does this position have a name, by chance? For future reference, here are some formatting tricks that you might find useful at some point. I hope you stick around and continue to contribute! – Jas 3.1 Jul 23 '12 at 0:40
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    -1 for presenting a particular soteriological interpretation as the "only correct understanding." Phil, you might disagree with the doctrines of election -- many, do, including some important, historic theologians -- but in some places the tone and tenor of your response is nearly reminiscent of bible-thumping. While I did downvote the answer for the benefit of the community, I still welcome you to C.SE. I hope you'll stick around, as we all strive to deepen our understanding of scripture. Cheers. 2 Timothy 2:22-27. – Philip Schaff Jul 24 '12 at 17:29
  • @JBunyan First off, thanks for the welcome! I'm glad to see that even though we may have our disagreements, we're still able to constructively commune here on C.SE. Now, I just want to point out that my comment is solely based on biblical facts. And when I say that, I mean that when a doctrine is brought up (such as the westminster doctrine), I always check my bible to see if it lines up with the texts. – Phil Elm Jul 25 '12 at 18:05
  • Basically, when I see "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.", I expect to see it written somewhere in the bible that he's actually explicitly planned the eternal damnation of certain people. The matter of the fact is that while there are verses that point out that he knows a souls fate as he is the alpha and the omega, this doctrine states that they are predestined (as in wilfully planned) to go to hell, which is not at all biblical. "By decree of God"? Not quite. – Phil Elm Jul 25 '12 at 18:10
  • This may almost sound arrogant, and I don't want it to, but I almost have trouble understanding why some people take the doctrine of man as more canon than the bible itself -- living life with God's word, not the doctrine of man, is the best way (I've found) to enjoy what God has for your life, without worrying about what man will say. It makes me sad that a lot of today's church gatherings are more of a country club than an actual gospel-based fellowship. (Including the one I was attending for a short while.) – Phil Elm Jul 25 '12 at 18:14

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