Predestination History

Kurt Dahlin December 30, 2004

In the Jewish world at the time of Jesus, there were three major factions or denominations: Sadducees, Essenes and Pharisees. Each group had a distinctive understanding of God’s sovereignty, predestination and human will. Josephus, a Jewish historian living during the NT period, defined the differences in his account: The Antiquities of the Jews. The Sadducees did not believe that God had any part to play in human affairs. The Essenes believed that fate, Providence or destiny governed all things. The Essene view would be known as monergism. The Pharisees believed that the sovereignty of God incorporated the free choices of men. God works with, around and through the free actions of men to complete his purposes. This would be a synergistic worldview. Paul, the author of the epistle to the Romans, was an educated Pharisee. Therefore, Paul as a trained Pharisee would not and could not compose the epistle to the Romans from a Sadducean or Essene perspective. The synergistic view of predestination would be the foundation for Paul’s understanding of God and salvation.

·       synergism: coordinates divine grace and the human will as cooperating factors in the work of conversion. God works with us.

·       monergism: God sovereignly acts to save only those he chooses. God works alone, irresistibly and unconditionally.


   1. Sadducees: All man, no God
   2. Essenes: All God, no man
   3. Pharisees: Some God, some man

The first view would include Humanists, Deists, Atheists and the Open God.

The Second view would include Stoics, Astrologers, Augustine and Calvin.

The Third View would include Jesus, the apostles and the early church Fathers.


   1. The Sadducean view is easily rejected since we know from the Bible and personal experience that God personally interacts with humanity.
   2. The Essene view makes God responsible for both good and evil.
   3. The Pharisaic view retains the sovereignty of God yet allows for true human choice, responsibility and reward.


Josephus Antiquities of the Jews. Book 13. 5.9

9. (171) At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes.  (172) Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate.  But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination.  (173) And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly.  However, I have given a more exact account of these opinions in the second book of the Jewish War.


Josephus Antiquities of the Jews. Book 18. 1.2-3

2.  (11) The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now.

3.  (12) Now, for the Pharisees, they live meanly, and despise delicacies in diet; and they follow the conduct of reason; and what that prescribes to them as good for them, they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe reason’s dictates for practice.  They also pay a respect to such as are in years; nor are they so bold as to contradict them in anything which they have introduced; (13) and, when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it hath pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done, but so that the will of men can act virtuously or viciously.

Josephus War of the Jews. Book 2. 8. 14

14.  (162) But then as to the two other orders at first mentioned: the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect.  These ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, (163) and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does cooperate in every action.  They say that all souls are incorruptible; but that the souls of good men are only removed into other bodies, — but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.  (164) But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil; (165) and they say, that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men’s own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every one, that they may act as they please.  They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades.  (166) Moreover, the Pharisees are friendly to one another, and are for the exercise of concord and regard for the public.  But the behavior of the Sadducees one towards another is in some degree wild; and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them.  And this is what I had to say concerning the philosophic sects among the Jews. [1]

Will Durant wrote about the Stoic definition of predestination,

the chain of causes and effects is an unbreakable circle, an endless repetition. All events and all acts of will are determined; it is as impossible for anything to happen otherwise than it does as it is for something to come out of nothing; any break in the chain would disrupt the world. God, in this system, is the beginning, the middle, and the end (Will Durant. The Life of Greece, The Story of Civilization: Part II. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1966 653).

The Stoic definition of fate or predestination is identical to the Essene view as described by Josephus. If the early church Fathers inherited an Essene monergistic doctrine of predestination from the apostles, it would have been easy for them to Christianize the Stoic, secular philosophy.  Yet, the Fathers universally and collectively, with one unanimous voice, rejected the Stoic definition of predestination. For example Justin Martyr wrote about A.D. 150 in The Second Apology, Chapter 7,

But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins;...The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both (virtue and vice). And this also is shown by those men everywhere who have made laws and philosophized according to right reason, by their prescribing to do some things and refrain from others. ...For if they say that human actions come to pass by fate, they will maintain either that God is nothing else than the things which are ever turning, and altering,... and to have looked on God Himself as emerging both in part and in whole in every wickedness; or that neither vice or virtue is anything; which is contrary to every sound idea, reason, and sense.

·       The Stoics maintain that all things take place according to fate.

·       Justin argues that freewill is our true condition and necessary for just punishment.

·       Human choices are not controlled or determined by fate.

·       The fact that men everywhere understand certain actions to be virtuous and worthy reveal the power we retain to choose virtue or vice.

·       If all human actions are the products of fate, God himself is an accomplice in every wickedness.

·       If all is fate, then virtue or vice are nothing. This is contrary to sound reason.

·       In rejecting the Stoic understanding of predestination, Justin also rejects the Sadducean and the Essene theology of God’s interaction in history.

When and where did Stoic fatalism or monergism as an interpretive paradigm for scripture become introduced to the Church? Historians agree that Augustine bishop of Hippo first championed strict monergism. However, the Church for 400 years prior to Augustine had rejected the very foundation his doctrine of absolute predestination as rooted in Qumran, Gnosticism and Stoicism. Neither the Western church nor the East fully embraced Augustinianism. The Church universal also rejected Augustine’s theology of predestination subsequent to him. The Council of Orange A.D. 528 only approved a modified Augustine. His doctrine of double predestination was condemned at the Council of Mainz A.D. 848 and at the Council of Quiercy in A.D. 849 (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Gottschalk”). It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that John Calvin was successful in popularizing Augustine’s discarded perceptive on sovereignty and predestination. Only John Calvin has been triumphant in proliferating Augustine’s views. Calvin is indebted to Augustine for his Reformed theology of God’s sovereignty and predestination. Fatalism, determinism and monergism as a worldview can be traced back to the Essenes and the Greek philosophical school of Stoicism. Monergism as a hermeneutical paradigm in the church history can be traced back to Augustine.

John Calvin: The Definition of Sovereignty (c. A.D. 1536)

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will (Calvin, Inst. III. ch. 23. 5).

He foresees the things which are to happen, simply because he has decreed that they are so to happen, it is vain to debate about prescience, while it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment  (Calvin, Inst. III. ch. 23. 6).

Belgic Confession: Article 13: Of Divine Providence (A.D. 1561)

We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment: ...that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when devils and wicked men act unjustly . . . This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded, that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us. . . .

Heidelberg Confession: X. The Lord’s Day (A.D. 1563)

Question 27. What dost thou mean by the providence of God?

Answer. The almighty and everywhere present power of God; [a] whereby, as it were by his hand, he [b] upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain [c] and drought, fruitful [d] and barren years, meat and drink, [e] health and sickness, [f] riches and poverty, yea, and all things [g] come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

Westminster Confession of Faith: chapter 5.1 (A.D. 1646)

I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

Summary: The Calvinistic Definition of Sovereignty

God orders, decrees, rules, governs, upholds, executes and appoints all things in heaven and earth by his immutable will. Nothing happens by choice or chance. Even devils and wicked men act by the direction of our heavenly Father. Drought, barren years, sickness and poverty come by his Fatherly hand. God foresees all things because he has decreed all things from eternity. God has created, decreed, and willed endless multitudes expressly for the torment of eternal hell. Why he willed it is not ours to ask.

TULIP is a popular acronym for the five points of Calvinism:

T- Total Depravity

U- Unconditional Election

L- Limited Atonement

I- Irresistible Grace

P- Perseverance of the Saints


1. Monergism = Stoicism

2. Predestination = Stoicism

3. Total Depravity = Tatian/Gnosticism

4. Secret Election = Gnosticism

5. The Corruption of Nature = Gnosticism

6. Sex in Marriage is Lust = Gnosticism

7. The Loss of Freewill = Gnosticism


[1]Josephus, Flavius, The Works of Josephus, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.