What Biblical Passages Hint at Determinism?

Full disclosure – I adhere to a theology known as Open Theism. This theology was a hot topic in the ’90s and early 2000s but its controversy has mostly settled down since then.

What does this have to do with determinism? Quite a lot actually. Some theologians put Open Theism and determinism on opposing ends of the same spectrum. That spectrum is God’s foreknowledge of the future and whether he wills things to pass or if we, as free agents, can execute on things apart from God’s will.

Super interesting stuff. Other than business and marketing, this is the stuff that gets me excited 😊

Why would an Open Theist want to write about determinism though? Well, because I want to be balanced. I want to be informed. I’m sure the Determinists have very well-researched reasons for why they believe what they believe. And I want you to be informed.

So, while I don’t believe determinism is biblical (I believe its roots are more informed from Greek philosophy and mythology) I do believe it is a theology. Especially, a theology worth exploring.

In this post, I’ll cover three areas…

  1. What is determinism?

  2. What biblical passages hint at determinism?

  3. Is determinism biblical?

Let’s jump on in!

What is Determinism?

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Theological determinism is the view that God determines every event that occurs in the history of the world.”

This would mean that God determines or has determined the absolute largest of details down to the most minor and seemingly insignificant of details. From the cross to the Holocaust, down to the way your hair is parted and where that toenail you just clipped landed. Every detail under deterministic theology has been settled by God. It has been determined.

Let’s break this definition down a little further…

God determines

God determines; we don’t determine. That is the biggest distinction that determinism has to offer from other theologies. God is almighty. We are not. God is sovereign, and he reigns over everything. We are not sovereign, and we reign over nothing – not even our own lives! In determinism, the choices that we think we make are ultimately dictated by God. He is the beginning, middle, and end of everything that happens. He is the instigator, the sustainer, and finisher of every will, decision, situation, and circumstance. This is what the deterministic viewpoint means when it says, “God determines”.

Every event that occurs

Every is an important word here. Not some or a few or most. Every. Every event that occurs is determined by God. Again, this would range from something as magnificent and glorious as the cross and resurrection to the Holocaust and genocides of Rwanda. There is no event that occurs that is not determined by God in deterministic theology.

In the history of the world

This means that every event – past, present, and future – has been or will be determined by God. Nothing that has been done or will be done has been/will be executed upon without God’s prior will to move forward. From everything as far-reaching as global events to things that happen on your very own street corner. God has determined every event that will take place (and has taken place) within our world, even to the most minute of situations within the view of determinism.

Now, after giving you a thorough description of what determinism is I want to turn to the biblical evidence to show what biblical passages hint at determinism.

What Biblical Passages Hint at Determinism?

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to share two of the most compelling pieces of Scripture that I believe act as evidence for determinism and expound on them a little from a deterministic point-of-view and then I’m going to list several more for further reading if you feel so inclined.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
— Ephesians 1:11-12 (NIV)

Many people get hung up on the word predestined here but I instead want to highlight the phrase “him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”. Him is referring to God and the author is saying that it is God who works everything out. Everything. This word would come into alignment with our definition that we covered earlier.

The author is also saying that God has a will and that he works with everything that happens to bring about that will. This would further support the deterministic viewpoint as there are human beings who conduct affairs in the world, but it is ultimately God’s will that they come into alignment with whether their actions are good, evil, or in-between. So, the point of this phrase within this Scripture is that God has a will, and he works everything out so that everything comes into alignment with his will. Seems eerily like our definition from the Philosophical Encyclopedia.

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.’ So, they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.
— Exodus 9:8-12 (NIV)

This is an incredibly controversial verse especially for Open Theists and Free Will Theists. Did we just read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Yes, we did. But where was Pharaoh’s free will? That’s a topic for another blog post…

While the first Scripture that I chose showed God’s will in the big picture of our world, I believe this Scripture does an excellent job at showing us God’s will and determinism in the microscopic picture – even down to our very heart motivations. Here the Scripture does indeed say that God is the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

While we like to believe that we have control over our own lives, we don’t have control over even over our own hearts according to Scripture. God has control of every situation and he can determine the course of events how he chooses. That’s exactly how we see things play out between Moses and Pharaoh as well. Despite Pharaoh’s best efforts to retain the Israelites as slaves, God ultimately has his way with him. Is this also the case with us? The determinist would say yes.

Upon doing some research, I discovered a well-covered list of deterministic Scripture verses. You can find the list here if you’re interested in learning more about those verses and what they have to say.

Next, we’ll examine if determinism is a biblical concept and it’s at this point that I’m going to revert from my (attempted) objectivity and return to my natural Open Theist viewpoint. You’ve been warned.

Is Determinism Biblical?

Even after providing a compelling definition, rationale, and biblical evidence and exposition, I would like to say that I don’t find determinism to be biblical. Yes, it is a theology, one that has been adopted, refined, expounded, and preached for a long time, but I find quite a lot of problems with determinism, both on the theological and philosophical side. Here are some reasons why I don’t believe determinism to be biblical.

  1. If God determines every event to take place, then he is ultimately responsible for events like the Holocaust, divorces, abortions, the Fall, and other atrocities. How does this align with the biblical truth that God is good? I’ll tell you, it doesn’t, and this is my number one critique of determinism (and most atheist and agnostic critiques as well). We can’t say that God is good if he determines that these terrible things will happen. The ends do not justify the means no matter the scale of the event. God is not wholly good if he causes, wills, determines, or permits bad things to happen. If he does, then he can’t be called good.

  2. If God determines everything, then we have no opportunity to choose an alternative option. Meaning if God has determined that I will love him, then I am going to love him despite my best efforts to hate him. If God has determined that I will hate him, then I will hate him despite my best efforts to love him. In the case of my loving God, how would that align with the Scriptural theme to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12)? God has already determined that I will love him – why would I need to work out my faith? Or, on the other side, in the case of me hating God, how would that align with the Scripture that states that God “wants everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4)? If God has determined that I will hate him regardless of what I do, why would he waste time desiring that I be saved? Why would he will me to be saved knowing that I won’t be? Either Christianity is void of any real work because God will determine our faith for us or those of us who are not saved are entirely screwed and there’s nothing we can do about it. Very black and white theology.

  3. If determinism is true, then how does it align with Scripture that emphasizes obedience, choice, and free will? For example, Deuteronomy 28. This entire chapter is devoted to the Lord laying out blessings and curses for the Israelites. Blessings for their obedience and curses for their disobedience. If determinism were true, why did God feel the need to highlight the importance of choice to the Israelites? Wouldn’t it have been easier to skip over that or better yet encourage them on their long journey ahead knowing that they were going to disobey repeatedly? Furthermore, if events were already determined, why would Jesus have struggled so much in the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion? Jesus wouldn’t have encountered such turmoil, unless choice, free will, and obedience played a large part during his time in the garden. There are many more places of Scripture that highlight free will and downplay determinism but I’m not going to go into them right now. All I’m saying is that determinism leaves out one side of the important Scriptural story.

Conclusion

Phew, that was a long one! If you’ve made it this far, congrats. You’re a theological champion or something. To sum this up, determinism is “the view that God determines every event that occurs in the history of the world”. There are a lot of biblical passages that reference determinism. Some of which I’ve expounded on above and some of which I’ve linked to. However, just because the bible references deterministic Scripture, doesn’t mean determinism is a biblical theology. In fact, I would say it most certainly is not because it essentially makes God out to be responsible for all evil and it doesn’t square with parts of Scripture that emphasize free will and obedience. All-in-all, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. God determines somethings, we determine others. We both work together. It’s a happy world (or at least God’s version of it is). That’s the world I want to live in. God and man working together.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to talk more about theology with me feel free to reach out to me on social or get in touch with me via my contact page. I love to talk about this stuff over an iced vanilla latte 😊