A Recent and Notable Dissertation on Memory and Jesus Research

Tuomas Havukainen, “The Quest for the Memory of Jesus: A Viable Path or a Dead End?” (Ph.D. diss., Åbo Akademi University, 2018) 319 pp.

It is available at the following link for download: http://www.doria.fi/handle/10024/149211

From “The Purpose of the Dissertation,” pp. 14-15:

The main purpose of this dissertation is to investigate whether the memory approach constitutes a methodologically coherent school of thought in historical Jesus research. In other words, this dissertation explores how the basic tenets of the memory approach differ from earlier scholarship and whether one may speak of a new beginning in the field of historical Jesus research. The focus of the dissertation is on research-historical developments. In order to meaningfully approach the question of the methodological school of thought in historical Jesus research, the research-historical discussion is focused on the debate on the nature and the processes of the transmission of the Jesus traditions in early Christianity, which is a central topic to both earlier historical Jesus research and the methodological formation of the memory approach. Rather than attempting to discuss the whole history of historical Jesus research, in other words, all the ‘Quests’ for the historical Jesus with regard to this debate, the scope of this research is limited to a few significant viewpoints from approximately the last one hundred years, as this period is specifically relevant for the rise and development of the memory approach.



Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 5: Predestinarian Election in Paul


Having mapped out the Jewish debates about the relationship between divine sovereignty and human agency in Paul’s Jewish world, we are now in a position to compare some of his language to what we have seen so that we might draw some conclusions about his thinking on these questions. Having spent the last couple of years focused on this particular set of questions, I am convinced now more than ever that Paul’s thinking is closest to the strong emphasis on divine providence that we have observed, particularly in the Dead Scrolls, but also in Sirach 33. We can see this in a number of themes that Paul shares in common with these sources, but we will focus here on his clearest expressions of predestination in order to highlight the striking similarities between his language and that of other Jews who described election in terms of the predestination of individuals for covenant membership and final salvation.


Before discussing the positive parallels between Paul and the sources, it is important to note one difference with some of them. In a previous post, I noted examples of explicit affirmations of freewill in Sirach, Wisdom, and Psalms of Solomon. However, one looks in vain for anything comparable in Paul. Instead, there are a number of passages that reveal what scholars have identified as an “anthropological pessimism” which seems to minimize human freedom in Paul’s thinking. Thus, in Romans 8:7–8, Paul says that those who are “in the flesh,” and therefore lack God’s empowering Spirit, are unable to obey God’s law or do what pleases him. In Ephesians 2:1–10, God’s people were formerly “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1) and under the domain of the “the spirit that is now at work on the sons of disobedience” (v. 2). This necessitates a work on God’s part that amounts to a new creation (v. 10; cf., Rom 6:3–4; 2 Cor 4:6; 5:17; Titus 3:5), for such cannot be effected by lifeless human beings. Scholars, such as Jason Maston (Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul: A Comparative Study [WUNT 297; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010]), have noted that Paul shares much of this negative anthropological language in common with the Thanksgiving Hymns of the DSS. It was this negative estimation of humanity that led the Essene community (as attested in the DSS) to posit an explicit dual predestination, without which they could not explain their own existence. Fundamentally, therefore, Paul’s strong and explicit anthropological pessimism places him in company with those Jews who explained covenant membership and salvation in terms of individual predestination, even before we consider the passages that address the subject directly. We can confirm this by considering the most explicit mention of human will in Paul. In Romans 9:15, after rehearsing God’s choices in election and exclusion in biblical history, Paul deduces the theological conclusion that “it [election] does not depend on human will or exertion, but on the God who does mercy” (my translation). Categorically, therefore, Paul is at odds with those Jewish authors mentioned above who affirm the importance of human volition in election and salvation, choosing instead to hold up divine free will as the standard (v. 18).


This brings us to the positive statements in Paul’s letters that seem to affirm the kind of predestination we observed in Sirach 33 and the DSS. Although there are other texts and themes that we might discuss, I have focused here on the clearest instances in Paul’s letters that display remarkable overlap with Jewish predestinarian sources. I will list and briefly explain the four clearest texts in order of the value I believe they have in explaining Paul’s theology of predestinarian election.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

 “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (ESV)

This verse comes at the end of a letter that Paul wrote to a church that was troubled with matters of eschatology. Based on the two Thessalonian letters, it seems that some in this church had come to believe in an over realized eschatology and were concerned that those who died prior to Christ’s return would not be able to participate in the resurrection. After explaining that at “the day of the Lord” Christ would resurrect all of his people, both dead and alive (4:13–18), Paul concludes the letter by reminding the audience that the hope of this coming day should be a cause for joy, not fear (5:1–11). God’s people, armed with the knowledge that Jesus will return to vindicate his people by raising them from the dead, are to continue to encourage and edify each other as they patiently wait (5:6–11). In 5:9 Paul introduces the theological grounds (ὅτι, “for”) that he wants his audience to stand on as they await the Lord’s return. Because God has not destined (ἔθετο) his people to experience wrath when the Lord returns, they need not live in fear in this age. Instead, he has positively appointed for them to receive salvation.

There are two interesting parallels we can observe here. First, in 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Paul says that his audience are “children of light” and “not…of the darkness.” Read along with v. 9, this sounds remarkably like the Treatise on the Two Spirits from the Community Rule (1QS 3–4), where God is said to have assigned his covenant people the “spirit of light” and those who are destined to experience wrath, “the spirit of darkness.” Coupling this light/darkness dualism with Paul’s language of divine appointment to wrath or salvation makes perfect sense if Paul shares the perspective reflected in the Treatise on the Two Spirits. Second, we find a direct verbal parallel in the Thanksgiving Hymns. In 1QH 15.37–38, the hymnist gives thanks to God because he has “not cast my lot in the fraudulent assembly, nor have You set my portion in the council of the pretenders. But you call me to Your mercies, to [Your] forgiveness [You have brought me,] and in the abundance of Your compassion…” The context of thanksgiving is likewise important in 1 Thessalonians. Paul begins the letter by thanking God for his election of the people, which was evidenced by the effectiveness of his gospel ministry there (1:2–5). Moreover, the Greek that Paul uses to speak of God having not appointed his audience for wrath is nearly a perfect translation of the Hebrew the hymnist uses — “You have not set my portion…” (לא שמתה הוקי). The hymn goes on to describe how this appointment results in his receiving insight and being established for salvation through the covenant community, just as Paul knows that God has chosen the believers in Thessalonica because his preaching was received by faith. Paul’s language of election and appointment to wrath or salvation makes good sense when read in light of the similar language used in the DSS.

2 Thessalonians 2:11–13

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but has pleasure in unrighteousness. But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification of the spirit and belief in the truth.”

This translation is essentially my modification of the ESV based on my decisions regarding some exegetical problems in the text. I will have to be content to provide a very brief explanation of this complex text, which cannot possibly do justice to all that could occupy us here.

This passage comes on the heels of the most detailed explanation of the events leading up to the Lord’s return in Paul’s writings (and Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians is debated). According to the previous chapter, when Jesus returns he will destroy Satan and those who have followed him. However, 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12 says that they “believe what is false” because God causes them to, so that they may be condemned. The language of “a strong delusion” from God that leads to their rejection of the truth sounds similar to the “spirit of falsehood” described in the Treatise on the Two Spirits. This connection finds additional support when we look carefully at the Greek Paul uses in v. 13, which can be translated woodenly as “by the sanctification of the spirit” (ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος). Since Paul uses a verbal noun—“sanctification”—the genitive “of the spirit” that follows could either be subjective, referring to the Holy Spirit’s sanctification of the believer, or objective, referring to the human spirit that is sanctified. Both readings would have parallels in Paul and would place heavy emphasis on God’s agency in salvation. However, in this context where we have a contrast between those who receive a strong delusion that results in one believing falsehood and those chosen for salvation, I believe the objective reading makes better sense. If so, we have Paul using language parallel to the “spirit of truth” described in the Treatise on the Two Spirits.

Even without this conceptual parallel in the Treatise on the Two Spirits we would still have a clear affirmation of individual election unto salvation. Paul presents humanity at the Lord’s return in clearly dualistic terms, with both groups created as the result of God’s activity. There is a textual critical issue in v. 13 that impacts the meaning of the verse. It is very difficult to determine whether Paul originally wrote that God chose his people “as first fruits” or “from the beginning.” The evidence in the manuscripts themselves is essentially a stalemate. Most commentators, however, have pointed to parallel Pauline passages to show that Paul regularly uses pre-temporal indicators when discussing election (e.g., Rom 8:29; Eph 1:4), which inclines them to take “from the beginning” as original. The reading “from the beginning” obviously fits well with the predestinarian theology I am suggesting Paul intends to communicate here. Additional support for this is Paul’s use of the verb αἱρέω (“to choose”), meaning “to take” or “to pick out,” instead of the usual verb for election. This verb is arguably more vivid in expressing the subject’s deliberation and the effectiveness of his choosing. This makes the attempt of some scholars to reduce Paul’s election theology here to merely a corporate concept untenable. Moreover, Paul expresses clearly that God’s choice results in the salvation of the one chosen (εἰς σωτηρίαν), as we saw in 1 Thessalonians 5:9. They are not chosen because they are saved by choosing freely to join the covenant community, as in the corporate election scheme. The grammar employed here suggests instead that their being chosen precedes their salvation and ultimately results in it. Thus, I was shocked when reading Thornhill’s treatment on this passage that he spends much time dealing with the textual critical problem while ignoring that Paul explicitly says God’s election is for the salvation of those chosen. This is remarkable because he makes the bald claim in the book that Paul never couches election in terms of individual predestination to salvation. This verse alone, without the benefit of the exegesis provided here, does not prove Thornhill wrong; but it was an oversight not to interact with syntactical significance of the prepositional phrase εἰς σωτηρίαν. As it stands, I believe there is much in this passage to show that Paul affirmed the kind of predestination attested in Essene sources I surveyed in my last two blog entries.

Ephesians 1:3–14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (ESV)

If you have had the opportunity to study the Greek used here, you will know that it is lamentable to simply quote an English translation, since the meaning of virtually every phrase has been the subject of debate. However, we will have to be content with an imperfect translation here, since I want to keep this as to-the-point as possible. Moreover, I will not be able to validate all that I say here. Those who read the previous entry where I discussed the Thanksgiving Hymns may notice that Paul’s introductory words here—“Blessed be the God and Father…”—are really a translation of the Hebrew used in the introductions of the hymns. In fact, apart from the distinctly Christian elements in this text, this entire passage would be right at home among the Thanksgiving Hymns that were discovered among the DSS, and this includes some remarkably distinct theological ideas. I believe a detailed study of the many parallels between Ephesians and the DSS provides the clearest evidence that suggests that Paul had significant theological interaction with the Essenes who believed what is reflected in the DSS.

For my purposes here, I want to pay careful attention to Paul’s language in vv. 4–5 and the emphasis throughout this praise hymn on God’s desire as the basis for what he has done in redeeming his people in Christ. Verse 4 describes God’s election has having taken place “before the foundation of the world.” This temporal phrase rules out a reductionistic corporate view that excludes predestinarian ideas. For it is God’s people (“us”) who are the objects of his choosing before creation, and not a plan or a faceless community of people who happen to join the church. Election here is not described as entering the community of the chosen, but as a gift passively received by the elect person, with God as the explicit subject who acted before the elect person even existed. The purpose of this pre-temporal election is said to be “adoption”—a covenantal category—which is effected in time through God’s predestining super intention (v. 5). The certain result of being elected and predestined is “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (v. 7) and participation in ultimate glory (e.g., v. 14). As mentioned above, Paul’s language is strikingly similar to what we read in the Thanksgiving Hymns: “You have determined before ever You created him…You alone have [creat]ed the righteous one, and from the womb You established him to give heed to Your covenant at the appointed time of grace…for an eternal salvation and everlasting peace without want” (7.27–29); “in the wisdom of Your knowledge You determined their destiny before they came into existence and according [to Your will] everything come[s to pass], and nothing happens apart from You” (9.21–22).

When Paul tells us on what basis God does all that he is credited with doing here, he tells us repeatedly that it was simply God’s desire and plan to do so—“according to the purpose of his will” (v. 5); “according to his purpose” (v. 9); “having been predestined accordingly to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (v. 11). These parallel phrases employ the exact Greek expression—κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν αὐτοῦ— we saw in Sirach 33:13. Likewise, in the Treatise on the Two Spirits, we read that God ordains all things according to “His glorious plan” (כמחשבת כבודו, 1QS 3.16). Moreover, throughout the Thanksgiving Hymns there is heavy emphasis placed on God’s sovereign foreordination according to his “good pleasure” (רצון, see esp. 9.10, 12, 17), which is translated in the Greek OT with just the same language Paul uses here. Read in this context, it seems difficult to deny that Paul described election in terms of individual predestination to salvation, as did the Essene community who authored the DSS.

Romans 8:28–11:36

Due to the length of this section I will not quote this text in full. As sad as it was not to treat everything we encounter in Ephesians 1, what will have to suffice in our discussion of this passage is an absolute tragedy! In my thesis, the chapter dealing with this section took up 46 pages, and that barely scratched the surface as far as I’m concerned. For my purposes here, I want to discuss just four topics that especially highlight the predestinarian elements in Paul’s argument, which he shares in common with the Jewish sources that espouse predestinarian election: (1) Paul’s “Calling” Language; (2) The Meaning of Foreknowledge; (3) The Background to the Potter/Clay Imagery; (4) Israel’s Hardening and its Future Reversal.

Paul’s “Calling” Language

Up to this point I have not discussed the meaning of Paul’s language of the divine call. This concept becomes especially important in Romans 8:28–30, where we read,

“And we know that, for those who love God, he causes all things to work together for good, for those who are called according to [God’s] purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be confirmed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many siblings. And those whom he predestined, these he also called, and those whom he called, these he also justified, and those whom he justified, these he also glorified.” (my translation).

The predestinarian notions are obvious with Paul’s use of the verb “predestined” (προορίζω). All that Paul says God does here, he tells us he does for “those who are called according to [God’s] purpose.” In Paul’s writings, there is no distinction between being called and coming to faith. You will look in vain in Paul’s letters for an example of someone being called by God and fail to come to faith. God’s call is always effective for Paul, and therefore, he is happy simply to refer to Christians as those who are “called,” since those who are not in the faith have not been the beneficiaries of such a call. This text before us is the strongest evidence in Paul that he believes in an infallibly effective divine call. He tells us in no uncertain terms in v. 30 that all who are called are also justified by God and glorified. There is no room in Paul’s language to posit the category of someone who was called but failed to be justified and eventually glorified, which, according to this context, refers to eschatological salvation through resurrection (vv. 16–23). Earlier in Romans 4:17, God’s calling is described explicitly as his creation ex nihilo in fulfilling his promise that Sarah would bear Abraham’s heir. God’s calling, therefore, effects new creation. For Paul, God’s calling cannot be reduced to an invitation, since all those God calls he also justifies and glorifies.

This is reminiscent of the effectiveness and creative power of God’s “Word” that we saw when discussing Sirach on a previous post. In Sirach 16.28, we are told that nothing in creation disobeys God’s word, and in 42.15 we read that God creates by his word and this results in the obedience of his creatures. It is no surprise that in the Thanksgiving Hymns  15.37–38 we find the author praising God for having called him (ותקראני) resulting in his receiving mercy and forgiveness. The OT background to this notion can be found in Isaiah 43:1 and 7, where God’s creation (ברא), forming (יצר), and calling (קרא) of Israel are presented in synonymous parallel. God’s call is no simple invitation—it is his powerful word that creates his covenant people. Therefore, for Paul, as for Isaiah and the DSS, God’s calling is not a summons that the one called may or may not obey. God’s calling is his life-giving creative decree which infallibly effects what it intends, namely, the justification and glorification of those called. For these reasons, Paul can state categorically in Romans 9:6 that it is impossible for God’s word to Israel to fail, since his calling creates his people (9:24–26). By focusing on Paul’s calling language, we see that we cannot reduce his election theology to the exclusion of determinism, since God’s calling of individuals, in Paul’s thought, effects his desired result in election, which is the full salvation of those called.

The Meaning of Foreknowledge

In traditional theological debates, much hangs on how one understands God’s foreknowledge described in Romans 8:29. Those who reject the kind of divine determinism I am suggesting that Paul embraced tend to understand the verb “foreknew” (προγινώσκω) as suggesting that God took into consideration the foreseen faith of individuals before predestining them. The problem with this reading is that it makes the mention of God’s predestination and calling redundant. If they were already going to believe of their own accord, why must God create new life through his effectual call that we discussed? What is the point of God predestining what he already foresees is going to take place? Moreover, as I mentioned above, this is problematic in light Paul’s anthropological pessimism. Earlier in this very chapter Paul said that apart from the gift of God’s Spirit it is impossible for someone to please God (vv. 6–8). It is also important that Paul uses the verb “foreknew” again in reference to Israel in 11:2. There, because God has foreknown Israel, even though she is currently hardened in unbelief, God has not abandoned her, but will eventually reverse Israel’s condition of unbelief and bring them to salvation (11:26, 30–31). Therefore, foreknowledge is not what God learns when he peaks into some future that he did not create. Rather, it is God’s covenantal love set unconditionally on those whom he promises to save through his sovereign work. As most commentators recognize, “foreknew” here essentially means “fore-loved” or “chose before.”

We find some interesting and informative parallels to this way of speaking about God’s foreknowledge in the DSS that support this reading of Paul. At the end of the Treatise on the Two Spirits, God’s foreknowledge is the same as his deciding the fate of humanity at creation (1QS 4.25–26). In the Thanksgiving Hymns, we read, “[For apart from You no]thing is done, and without Your will nothing is known” (1QH 9.10). Here, God’s knowledge logically follows from his works as creator. The future is a reflection of God’s prior knowledge. God does not learn when he peers down the corridors of time, since the future takes the shape it does because of his prior creative activity. God’s knowledge is an aspect of his creative power. The view espoused by Paul is clearly in line with that presented in the DSS, which is different from what we saw in Jubilees, wherein, God chose Abraham and his sons because he foresaw that they would obey. This latter notion is completely foreign to Paul, and, as we will see, is flatly contradicted by Paul’s affirmations in Romans 9 and 11.

The Background to the Potter/Clay Imagery

Following Paul’s use of the case of Pharaoh’s hardening (Rom 9:14–18, narrated in Exod 4–14), Paul acknowledges the offense that his affirmation of absolute divine freedom would cause for some (v. 19). In response, he employs the metaphor of a potter’s freedom to do as he wills with clay (vv. 20–24). This is a metaphor which is used in diverse ways by Jewish authors. For this reason, some interpreters have asserted without validation that the background to Paul’s use of the imagery is Jeremiah 18. In that text, Jeremiah is encouraging the people of Judah to repent before they are taken away into exile. Although they deserve the covenant curse of exile, if they repent, God can repurpose them, in the same way a potter can start over with a piece of clay and mold it into something different. This example illustrates that the potter metaphor need not speak of divine determinism. However, observing this use of the imagery falls short of demonstrating that this is what Paul means by the image in Romans 9. In fact, this use of the potter/clay metaphor is completely out of place in Romans 9, and therefore, it is doubtful that Paul was alluding to this text.

As it turns out, Paul does not quote Jeremiah 18, but Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9. These texts use this “forming” imagery to make the point that the potter’s purpose cannot be scrutinized by the thing he creates. This fits far better with Paul’s use of the metaphor, which should be our default interpretation since these are the OT passages he is making reference too. We find some important parallels to Paul’s use of this metaphor in the DSS and Sirach 33. In 1QS 11.21–22 we read:

Who can Your glory measure? Who, indeed, is man among Your glorious works? As what can he, born of a woman, be reckoned before You? Kneaded from dust, his body is but the bread of worms; he is so much spit, mere nipped-off clay—and for clay his longing. Shall clay contest, the vessel plumb counsel?

Additionally, in the Thanksgiving Hymns there are several references to God “forming” his people’s destinies, using the same Hebrew verb (יצר) found in Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9 (1QH 7.35; 9.10, 17; 11.24–25; 19.6; 20.27–37), which evokes this same potter/clay imagery we find here in Paul. Perhaps the clearest parallel to Paul’s argument among the Thanksgiving Hymns can be seen in 1QH 20.30–34, where the author is clearly making the same point that Paul is, following Isaiah, that the thing molded cannot question the one who made it:

And what shall the dust answer […and what] shall it understand…? And how shall it stand its ground before the one who rebukes it…? For You are righteous and there is not to compare with You. So what then is the one who returns to its dust?

However, the passage which contains an argument most like Paul’s is Sirach 33.7–15, which we treated on in a previous post. In fact, it has been argued cogently by several scholars that Paul is dependent on Sirach 33 at this point in Romans 9. Like Paul, Sirach 33 describes human beings as vessels that God has formed “as he pleases” and according to “whatever he decides” (v. 13). Some are blessed by being brought into the covenant and others are cursed (v. 12), both as God sees fit. In this text, as in Romans 9, the author attributes these choices to the freedom and right of God as creator to do what he desires with his creation. Paul tells us in Romans 9:22–23 that this was God’s intention so that he could make known the full range of his attributes, including his “power,” “wrath,” and “mercy.” This is precisely the conclusion the author of the Thanksgiving Hymns draws following in perhaps the most overtly predestinarian passage in our sources:

…You have prepared them in order to execute great judgements among them before Your creatures that they might be a sign […] eternal, so that all might know Your glory and great power. (1QH 7.32–33)

While it may not be palatable to some, the view of Paul, following other Jews with deterministic theology, was that God is free to create people with fates as he sees fit. Some he creates to endure judgment and others he creates to experience his mercy and receive glory. God’s revelation is the greatest good, therefore, according to Paul, God is justified in doing as he desires with his creation. While it may be natural for humans to be offended, Paul and some of his contemporaries believed that human beings are like clay vessels attempting to scrutinize the potter. The emphasis on absolute determinism cannot be overlooked here without vitiating Paul’s intention in this magisterial passage.

Israel’s Hardening and its Future Reversal

Finally, we will consider briefly what Paul says about Israel’s hardening and future salvation in Romans 11. To begin with, Paul tells us that God has not reneged on his promise to Israel, since “at present there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ λεῖμα κατ᾽ ἐκλογήν χάριτος γέγονεν, v. 5, my translation). That is, God has remained faithful to the promises made to Israel by preserving a number of Israelites, as he had done with the seven thousand in the days of Elijah (v. 4). In vv. 7–10, we read that those Israelites who have not been preserved as part of the remnant were “hardened”—as Pharoah was in ch. 9—and given “a spirit of stupor” as their eyes were “darkened,” which reminds one of the “spirit of darkness” in the Treatise on the Two Spirits. Moreover, Paul goes on to say that “God has consigned all to disobedience” (συνέκεισεν γὰρ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς πάντας εἰς ἀπείθειαν) in order to one day reverse their condition (v. 32). That is, Israel’s current state of unbelief is the result of God’s design, so that the Gentiles would be brought into his covenant dealings in this age—“a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (v. 25). However, since “God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable” (v. 29), at a time determined by God, their current condition will be reversed, so that their disobedience will be transformed into obedience and salvation. For Paul, Israel’s salvation awaits God’s sovereign intervention, which unmistakably implies God’s determination of the salvation of those individual Jews who in this age have been hardened and consigned to disobedience. Paul does not try to justify these truths. Instead, he praises God for his surpassing wisdom and the truth that all things have their telos in him and for his glory:

Oh, the depth of the riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God! His judgments are unfathomable and his ways inscrutable! “For who has known the Lord’s mind, or who has been his advisor?” “Or who has given to him so that he would be repaid?” For from him, through him, and to him are all things! To him be glory for ever! Amen! (vv. 33–36, my translation)


In this series, we have seen that Judaism in the Second Temple period was not monolithic on the subjects of election, predestination, and human volition. As Josephus tells us, some emphasized human freedom in such a way that God’s determinism is reduced. Others, as Sirach 33 and the Dead Sea Scrolls testify, understood that whatever takes place in time is ultimately the result of God’s decree in advance. By examining this language, we saw that this included the election of individuals and their being predetermined to become members of the covenant community, and thereby, to receive ultimate salvation. By comparing the language these sources use to Paul’s language in the passages with the strongest election and predestinarian language, I believe I have shown that Paul evidently favored this Essene outlook on election. The clearest parallels to Paul’s language in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11–13, Ephesians 1:3–14, and Romans 8:28–11:36 are found in these Essene texts. At some points the correspondence is quite remarkable, making it difficult to avoid the conclusion, based on a nuanced historical reading, that Paul did believe election includes the divine predestination of individuals to membership in the new covenant in Christ and eschatological salvation.

Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 4: Election as Predestination (part 3)


The last post reviewed the evidence of predestinarian election in Sirach, focusing especially on ch. 33, which made this point emphatically. In this post, we will consider more evidence of such beliefs expressed in the sectarian literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). I cannot say all I’d like to say about the many relevant passages in the DSS. Therefore, what follows will be a review of the most explicit evidence of belief in divine predestination effecting covenant membership and eventual salvation. The English translations of the DSS are those of Michael O. Wise, Martin G. Abegg Jr., and Edward M. Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (New York: HarperOne, 2005).


Since the discovery of the DSS, scholars have recognized a distinctive note of determinism that was important for how the community at Qumran understood themselves. This community believed themselves to be the faithful remnant of Israel and that the rest were lost because of their hope in a corrupt temple cult that was no longer effective in providing atonement and covenant maintenance (e.g., Damascus Covenant [CD] 1.3–5). The community itself was thought of as the locus of election. This led to questions about why relatively few of the elect nation Israel had joined this community. While they strongly emphasized personal repentance and adherence to their distinctive practices, they grounded this theologically in a rigorous individual predestination that was thought to effect one’s repentance and membership in the covenant community. This emphasis on divine providence has been a major factor in persuading the vast majority of scholars that the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls were part of the larger Essene movement, as Josephus describes them.

The Damascus Covenant

A good place to start is in CD 2.5–13, which reads:

But Strength, Might, and great Wrath in the flames of fire 6with all the angels of destruction shall come against all who rebel against the proper way and who despise the law, until they are without remnant 7or survivor, for God had not chosen them from ancient eternity. Before they were created, He knew 8what they would do. So He rejected the generations of old and turned away from the land 9until they were gone. He knows the times of appearance and the number and exact times of 10everything that has ever existed and ever will exist before it happens in the proper time, for all the years of eternity. 11And in all of these times, He has arranged that there should be for Himself people called by name, so that there would always be survivors on the earth, replenishing 12the surface of the earth with their descendants. He taught them through those anointed by the holy spirit, the seers of 13truth. He explicitly called them by name. But whoever He had rejected He caused to stray.

This covenantal text was known to us before the discovery of the DSS since a copy was discovered in the Cairo Geniza. Therefore, strictly speaking, this document does not reflect the distinctive theology of the community at Qumran in every particular. Nevertheless, they clearly valued it and considered it to be of the same spirit with what they continued to believe. This document has played a crucial role for scholars in understanding the origins of the community who produced the DSS.

This passage emphatically makes the point that the community alone is the true and faithful remnant of Israel. Those who do not embrace their teachings and practices are guilty of apostasy and will be destroyed by God’s wrath. This is explained in terms of their non-election from eternity: “for God had not chosen them from ancient eternity” (line 7). The translation of line 8 may be a bit misleading. The verb translated “he rejected” (תעב) is better rendered “he hated” or “he abhorred.” The translation “so he rejected their generation…” reads as though the author intends to suggest that their being hated is a result of God foreknowing their evil deeds. However, this is not required by the grammar employed in the Hebrew and I think it is somewhat out of touch with the previous line, which speaks of God’s pre-temporal election. God’s foreknowledge is not introduced as the grounds of his election. As we will see later, God’s knowledge is thought to be creative in the DSS, not his learning by peering down the corridors of history in advance. Thus, in line 11 we read that God has providentially ensured that he will always have a faithful people “called by his name.” This occurs by his special calling, according to line 13, and the rest are “caused to stray.”

The Treatise on the Two Spirits

A later covenantal text, the Community Rule (1QS), which in the form we have is likely more representative of what the Dead Sea community came to believe, contains a passage that most scholars of Second Temple Judaism believe is the clearest systematic expression we have of belief in individual predestination resulting in covenantal membership and eventual salvation. In columns 3 and 4 there is a text known as the Treatise on the Two Spirits. Although this passage is long, it is worth reading in full, since we want our focus to be on the primary sources, instead of my comments on them. The text in full reads:

13A text belonging to the Instructor, who is to enlighten and teach all the Sons of Light about the character and fate of humankind: 14all their spiritual varieties with accompanying signs, all their deeds generation by generation, and their visitation for afflictions together with 15eras of peace.

All that is now and ever shall be originates with the God of knowledge. Before things come to be, He has ordered all their designs, 16so that when they do come to exist—at their appointed times as ordained by His glorious plan—they fulfill their destiny, a destiny impossible to change. He controls 17the laws governing all things, and He provides for all their pursuits.

He created humankind to rule over 18the world, appointing for them two spirits in which to walk until the time ordained for His visitation. These are the spirits 19of truth and falsehood. Upright character and fate originate with the Habitation of Light; perverse, with the Fountain of Darkness. 20The authority of the Prince of Light extends to the governance of all righteous people; therefore, they walk in the paths of light. Correspondingly, the authority of the Angel 21of Darkness embraces the governance of all wicked people, so they walk in the paths of darkness.

The authority of the Angel of Darkness further extends to the corruption 22of all the righteous. All their sins, iniquities, shameful and rebellious deeds are at his prompting, 23a situation God in His mysteries allows to continue until His era dawns. Moreover, all the afflictions of the righteous, and every trial in its season, occur because of this Angel’s diabolic rule. 24All the spirits allied with him share but a single resolve: to cause the Sons of Light to stumble.

Yet the God of Israel (and the Angel of His Truth) assist all 25the Sons of Light. It is actually He who created the spirits of light and darkness, making them the cornerstone of every deed, 26their impulses the premise of every action. God’s love for one spirit Col. 4 1lasts forever. He will be pleased with its actions for always. The counsel of the other, however, He abhors, hating its every impulse for all time.

2Upon earth their operations are these: one enlightens a man’s mind, making straight before him the paths of true righteousness and causing his heart to fear the laws 3of God. This spirit engenders humility, patience, abundant compassion, perpetual goodness, insight, understanding, and powerful wisdom resonating to each 4of God’s deeds, sustained by His constant faithfulness. It engenders a spirit knowledgeable in every plan of action, zealous for the laws of righteousness, holy 5in its thoughts, and steadfast in purpose. This spirit encourages plenteous compassion upon all who hold fast to truth, and glorious purity combined with visceral hatred of impurity in its every guise. It results in humble deportment 6allied with a general discernment, concealing the truth, that is, the mysteries of knowledge. To these ends is the earthly counsel of the spirit to those whose nature yearns for truth.

Through a gracious visitation all who walk in this spirit will know healing, 7bountiful peace, long life, and multiple progeny, followed by eternal blessings and perpetual joy through life everlasting. They will receive a crown of glory 8with a robe of honor, resplendent forever and ever.

9The operations of the spirit of falsehood result in greed, neglect of righteous deeds, wickedness, lying, pride and haughtiness, cruel deceit and fraud, 10massive hypocrisy, a want of self-control and abundant foolishness, a zeal for arrogance, abominable deeds fashioned by whorish desire, lechery in its filthy manifestation, 11a reviling tongue, blind eyes, deaf ears, stiff neck, and hard heart—to the end of walking in all the ways of darkness and evil cunning.

The judgment 12of all who walk in such ways will be multiple afflictions at the hand of all the angels of perdition, everlasting damnation in the wrath of God’s furious vengeance, never-ending terror and reproach 13for all eternity, with a shameful extinction in the fire of Hell’s outer darkness. For all their eras, generation by generation, they will know doleful sorrow, bitter evil, and dark happenstance, until 14their utter destruction with neither remnant nor rescue.

Because this text is so distinctive in Judaism, there has been a great deal of ink spilled on this passage that seeks to explore the meaning and origin of the ideas we find expressed here. I can only offer brief comments here, but I recommend readers interested in more information see Philip Alexander’s essay “Predestination and Free Will in the Theology of the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Divine and Human Agency in Paul and his Cultural Environment, edited by John M. G. Barclay and Simon J. Gathercole and Markus Bockmuel’s essay “Grace, Works and Destiny: Salvation in Qumran’s Community Rule (1QS/4QS)” in This World and the World to Come: Soteriology in Early Judaism, edited by Daniel M. Guthner.

That this passage expresses crucial theological beliefs of the community is evident from the stated purpose in 3.13, which is “to enlighten and teach all the Sons of Light about the character and fate of humankind.” The passage served as a form of catechesis for members of the sect at Qumran, which required ascent to its teaching. The theological thesis of the text is found in 3.15–16: “All that is now and ever shall be originates with the God of knowledge. Before things come to be, He has ordered all their designs, so that when they do come to exist—at their appointed times as ordained by His glorious plan—they fulfill their destiny, a destiny impossible to change.” The destinies of individuals, whether to salvation or destruction, are predetermined at creation by God’s design. That which he ordains is fixed and cannot possibly be changed. The passage goes on to speak of two “spirits” created by God—“the spirits of truth and falsehood” (3.18–19) or “the spirits of light and darkness” (3.25). According to God’s assignment at creation, human fate is determined by which spirit one receives (4.15). The result for those who receive the spirit of truth will be “eternal blessings and perpetual joy through life everlasting” and a “crown of glory”  (4.7). But those assigned the “spirit of falsehood” will receive “everlasting damnation in the wrath of God’s furious vengeance, never-ending terror and reproach for all eternity… (4.12–13). This is not according to God’s foreknowledge, as some understand it, since we are told in 3.25–26 that every deed, whether good or evil, is the result of God’s creation and distribution of these two spirits. God’s covenantal love is given uniquely to those who receive the spirit of light, while his hatred abides on those who possess the spirit of darkness (3.26–4.1). Those who are granted the spirit of truth receive a special enlightening that leads them to join the community who will be saved (4.2–8), while the rest are left to sin and eventual judgment. The divine determinism in this text seems emphatic and beyond serious doubt.

The Thanksgiving Hymns

Finally, we will consider Thanksgiving Hymns (also known as the Hodayot [1QH]). Though I don’t always agree with the nuance expressed, Eugene Merrill has done a helpful study on predestination in this text that readers may refer to for further study (Qumran and Predestination [Leiden: Brill, 1975]). In leaving the rule texts we have considered above and moving on to the Thanksgiving Hymns, we are introducing the questions raised by the value of worship genres for gleaning theological insights. Since this text contains prayers and worship, some, including Thornhill, have objected to taking the predestinarian statements at face-value, since language in such writings is often hyperbolic. However, there is nothing found in these hymns that does not have a parallel in the texts we have already considered, which were written expressly to teach the theology of the community. Moreover, worship texts are often the clearest repository for the theology of the community who authored them. Worship has a teaching function for a community, as we use songs to teach children in churches. So, I agree D. A. Carson that, “hymns must not be divorced from doctrine, because they are often the most innocent expression of it” (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, p. 82).

Scholars have recognized that behind the heavy emphasis on divine determinism is the community’s unusually pessimistic anthropology (see esp. 1QHa 9.23–25 and 20.27–38). The community believed that sin and disobedience are unavoidable for humans, even covenant members. Therefore, apart from divine enlightening and enablement, no one is capable of obeying God’s commands and escaping this unfortunate condition. Thus, while repentance is prescribed as necessary, it is effectively viewed as the result of divine initiative on behalf of the individual (see Mark A. Jason’s Repentance at Qumran: The Penitential Framework of Religious Experience in the Dead Sea Scrolls [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015], 105-43). Predestination provides the solution to the perceived problem of human sinfulness and impotence.

These hymns are called Hodayot because the note of thanksgiving is emphatic throughout. The hymns generally open with “I give thanks, O Lord” or “Blessed are you, O Lord.” Therefore, the mood of thankfulness to God creates for the reader the expectation that what follows will place heavy emphasis on what God has done to bless the worshiper since it would be out of place to thank and bless God for what one has done of his/her own initiative. Thus, the context of worship already prepares and inclines the reader to find a theological scheme of monergism.

There are so many sentences and themes in the Thanksgiving Hymns that introduce ideas of predestination which could occupy us for a very long time. The two longest passages are found in columns 7 and 9. We get the notion that the community believed that God exercised meticulous sovereignty in 9.21–22, which reads: “in the wisdom of Your knowledge You determined their destiny before they came into existence and according [to Your will] everything come[s to pass], and nothing happens apart from You.” Again, God’s “knowledge” here is not his viewing history in advance, since the text speaks of God determining the destinies of individuals before they exist. This point is made explicit earlier in 9.10, which says, “[For apart from You no]thing is done, and without Your will nothing is known.” God’s knowledge, therefore, is not something he learns by viewing history in advance, but a reflection of what he wills to determine. His knowledge creates the future, not the other way around.

It is vital to note the emphasis throughout the Thanksgiving Hymns on God causing his desire to come to pass. The Hebrew term employed throughout (רצון) is regularly translated “will,” “pleasure,” or “desire.” This term is important for the author’s understanding of predestination in column 9 (lines 10, 12, 17). Merrill observes that when this term occurs in these hymns, “In each case…the context makes it crystal clear that the idea is that of sovereign grace and pleasure. God has done what He has chosen to do purely and simply because it was His desire to do so” (Qumran and Predestination, 17-8). In 9.12 and 17, we have the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek phrase “according to his good pleasure” that we saw in Sirach 33.13.

The most emphatic and clearest expression of a double predestination is found in 7.25–37. This text should be quoted in full and the reader will immediately see significant overlap with the texts we have already reviewed:

I know by Your understanding that it is not by human strength […] a man’s 26way is [not] in himself, nor is a person able to determine his step. But I know that in Your hand is the inclination of every spirit [… and all] his [works] 27You have determined before ever You created him. How should any be able to change Your words? You alone have [creat]ed 28the righteous one, and from the womb You established him to give heed to Your covenant at the appointed time of grace and to walk in all things, nourishing himself 29in the abundance of Your compassion, and relieving all the distress of his soul for an eternal salvation and everlasting peace without want. Thus You raise 30his glory above the mortal.

But the wicked You created for [the time of] Your [w]rath, and from the womb You set them apart for the day of slaughter. 31For they walk in a way which is not profitable, and they reject Your covenant [and] their soul abhors Your [truth.] They have no delight in all that 32You have commanded, but they have chosen that which You hate. All […] You have prepared them in order to execute great judgments among them 33before all Your creatures that they might be a sign […] eternal, so that all might know Your glory and great power. 34And what indeed is a mere human that it might have insight into […] how is dust able to determine its step?

35You Yourself have formed the spirit, and its activity You have determined, […] and from You is the way of all life. I know that 36no wealth compares with Your truth, and […] Your holiness. I know that You have chosen them above all 37and forever they shall serve You.

Lines 25–26 reject the notion that the eternal destinies of human beings are ultimately the result of their own choosing. Instead, we read that man’s “inclination” is in God’s hand, which is an expression that speaks of his creative and predetermining activity, as the passage goes on to make emphatic. Line 27 categorically denies the possibility that God’s word of decree at creation could ever be changed or reversed. Then we read that this ecbatic word causes “the righteous one” to heed the covenant (line 28). This means that those who repent and join the community are those whom God previously determined would do so. The ultimate result of the positive side of divine determinism is the gift of eternal life (lines 29–30). The wicked are likewise predetermined for judgment according to line 30. I disagree with the way line 31 is rendered here (as in nearly all translations I know). “Because” (כי) suggests that the author is giving the grounds for their rejection as their sinful actions and rejection of the truth. However, such a construal of the syntax is unnecessary and seems out of place in this context where God’s determination is so emphatic. Therefore, the sentence is better interpreted if we take it to express the result of God’s predetermination. In other words, the wicked walk in sin and reject the truth because God has determined that they would do so and eventually experience judgment (line 32). According to line 33, God determined to do this “so that all might know Your glory and great power.” In other words, God created the wicked and determined their fate in judgment as a means of revealing himself and displaying his power in creation.

The importance of divine effectual calling and election is seen in 15.37–38: “[I give thanks to Y]ou, O Lord, for you have not cast my lot in the fraudulent assembly, nor have You set my portion in the council of the pretenders. But you call me to Your mercies, to [Your] forgiveness] and in the abundance of Your compassion for all the [righteous] judgments.” For the author of this hymn, God could have determined his fate with the result that he was found among those who will eventually experience God’s judgment. Instead, God has called the hymnist into mercy, resulting in his forgiveness and experience of divine grace. Those whose portion is divine judgment are not the recipients of this special calling, which leads one to join the community and effects his eschatological salvation.


We have seen in these texts, as with Sirach 33, that some Jews, even if a minority, were willing to explain individual salvation and damnation in terms of divine predetermination. Those familiar with Paul may have detected the many noticeable parallels with much that we find in his letters. In what follows, I’m going to conclude this series by reviewing these numerous parallels in Paul’s epistles, hopefully demonstrating that his language is strikingly similar to the predestinarian stance we find in the Jewish sources that convey a belief in individual predestination.

Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 4: Election as Predestination (part 2)


Having set up a spectrum of belief regarding election and predestination in Judaism, we are now in a position to lay out some texts that express belief in election in terms of individual predestination to covenant membership and salvation. Since the most debated of these texts is Sirach 33.7–15, I’m going to devote this entire post to Sirach and the next will treat the key texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls. After this we will compare all this to some relevant passages in Paul’s letters. In this post, I’ll begin to provide a little more detail in the particulars of exegesis than I have up to this point in the series.


Scholars debate where in the spectrum of Jewish belief to place Sirach. The reason is, even though there are some strong statements about divine sovereignty, there are also a couple texts that seem to strongly affirm human freewill. The most explicit instance is found in the Greek text of Sirach 15.11–17:

Do not say, “It was the Lord’s doing that I fell away”; for he does not do what he hates. Do not say, “It was he who led me astray”; for he has no need of the sinful. The Lord hates all abominations; such things are not loved by those who fear him. It was he who created humankind in the beginning, and he left them in the power of their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. (NRSV)

There are a few things we ought to say about this text. (1) This author, as all who wrote wisdom literature, was concerned to encourage his audience to make wise choices based on God’s revelation in the Torah. Regardless of his theological understanding of predestination in relation to election, an author who affirms a strong theology of predestination may nevertheless include admonitions to make wise choices if it is appropriate to his rhetorical purposes, the historical situation, and the genre employed. (2) Some scholars have recognized that, historically, the problem that Ben Sira is addressing is the beginning of a kind of Jewish syncretism, which may well have included Hellenistic philosophical notions of fatalism. If this is the case, then the author may well affirm divine predestination (which I will argue below he does) while not wanting his audience to fall into the trap of believing they are not responsible to make wise decisions to obey God’s revelation.

(3) It is interesting that fragments of Sirach were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Evidently, the community there, who most scholars believe was the most explicitly predestinarian Jewish community of the period, did not find such statements in Sirach as problematic as we might today. Moreover, the Hebrew text reflected in a Medieval fragment containing this passage found in the Cairo Synagogue Genizah reads differently from the Greek text that stands behind the translation given above in some important ways. In v. 14 the relevant portion of this manuscript adds a gloss before the Hebrew term (יצר) that the Greek has translated “their own free choice” (διαβουλίου αὐτοῦ). With this additional material, the verse would read: “God from the beginning created humankind and placed him in the hand of his snatcher and placed him in the hand of his inclination.” This additional material suggests that God has placed humanity under the subjugation of hostile evil forces. Moreover, it leaves one with the impression that the “inclination” or human will is not neutral or free, but predisposed to disobedience and sin. If this reading is correct (and the textual history of Sirach is very problematic) then the apparent tension between this passage (and others like it) is greatly relieved. In the least, it shows how some Jewish groups (such as the Qumran community) interpreted this text in concert with the more deterministic statements we will survey below. This all demonstrates that it is not wise to play the author’s statements off against each other so that the deterministic tone in other passages is effectively excised from the author’s theology.


I mentioned above that Sirach is a book of wisdom. In this genre, humanity is often presented in the binaries of the “wise” and “foolish.” Wisdom is explicitly connected to the gift of God’s Torah in Deut 4:5–6, and thus, God’s special election of Israel out of all peoples. Wisdom literature also tended to include strong affirmations of God’s meticulous sovereignty. Proverbs 16:4 is a good example since it suggests that God creates all things for an express purpose, including evil people for the day of destruction. God’s absolute control over all that happens is strongly implied by Prov 16:33, which says that God decides the result when a lot is cast. Sirach contains several statements that affirm a doctrine of divine providence in concert with such verses. This is even extended to the election of the nation of Israel, including the individuals who make up the covenant people.

In Sirach 1.9–10, we read that God created Wisdom and distributed her as he saw fit, but especially “lavished” her on a particular group (“those who love him”). This speaks of a special dispensing of divine wisdom upon God’s covenant people to the exclusion of the non-elect. In 16.26–28, we read:

 When the Lord created his works from the beginning, and, in making them, determined their boundaries, he arranged his works in an eternal order, and their dominion for all generations. They neither hunger nor grow weary, and they do not abandon their tasks. They do not crowd one another, and they never disobey his word. (NRSV)

For this author, the doctrine of creation means that nothing created by God’s powerful word will transgress its decreed purpose (cf. 39.21). This extends to human beings as well—“all his creatures do his will” (42.15). The reason is that “[Yahweh] declares the things of the past and the things that will be brought to pass and reveals the traces of hidden things” (my translation). As Leo Perdue has summarized, Yahweh’s “declaration brings the future into reality.” (Wisdom & Creation, 280). That is, for Ben Sira, the future is not something that exists outside of God’s special creation into which he looks and learns. The future will take the shape it will as a direct and necessary result of God’s creative word determined and spoken in advance. Therefore, throughout Sirach we see a theology of divine determination that is effected through God’s creative word and not hindered by the actions of anything he has created.

This brings us to the most important text for understanding Paul, since he appears to be directly dependent on it (or some tradition nearly identical to it) in Romans 9. In Sirach 33.7–15, we read:

Why is one day more important than another, when all the daylight in the year is from the sun? By the Lord’s wisdom they were distinguished, and he appointed the different seasons and festivals. Some days he exalted and hallowed, and some he made ordinary days. All human beings come from the ground, and humankind was created out of the dust. In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them and appointed their different ways. Some he blessed and exalted, and some he made holy and brought near to himself; but some he cursed and brought low, and turned them out of their place. Like clay in the hand of the potter, to be molded as he pleases, so all are in the hand of their Maker, to be given whatever he decides. Good is the opposite of evil, and life the opposite of death; so the sinner is the opposite of the godly. Look at all the works of the Most High; they come in pairs, one the opposite of the other. (NRSV)

There is a lot here that could occupy us, but we will have occasion to return to much of it when we look at Paul’s material later. For the sake of brevity, I will only highlight a few points that show the author believed divine determinism extends to the election of individuals by means of predestination. The author moves from special days to individuals. There is no innate reason some days should be valued more than others. Likewise, since all humans “come from the ground” by God’s special creation, there is nothing unique to the elect individual that creates the special status of election. That we are referring to election and covenant membership is clear from the language of “blessed and exalted” and “made holy and brought near,” which allude to the promises of the Abrahamic covenant and the Levitical priesthood. The election of the individual and his/her placement in the covenant is the result of God’s creative work, wherein he molds individuals as a potter working clay according to “whatever he decides” (lit., “according to his good pleasure,” κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν αὐτοῦ). The historical context mentioned above suggests that we are dealing with the special election of those Israelites the author sees as faithful Jews, over and against those who were compromising by embracing dangerous Hellenistic ideas and practices. It is individuals, not the nation of Israel as a whole, who are the objects of God’s forming in this text.

John J. Collins observes how “remarkably close” this passage is to the strongly deterministic language of some important texts from Qumran, as we will observe later (Jewish Wisdom in the Hellenistic Age, 84-5). This use of the potter/clay imagery is clearly different from the use of similar imagery in Jerermiah 18 to urge repentance on the part of Judah. In that text, the author does not appeal to the potter/clay imagery to detail God’s meticulous control of human fate, but his ability to rework Judah’s course so that she will not face covenant judgment if she repents. Sirach is much closer to the use of potter/clay imagery and “forming” language we find in Isaiah (e.g., 29:16; 43:7, 21; 45:7, 9–10) and later in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which all speak of God’s inscrutable right to do as he decides with his creation. Here in Sirach 33, the author uses this imagery to espouse a doctrine of creation wherein individual human beings are created for purposes in God’s free design, purposes for judgment and salvation that will certainly be realized in time because nothing can transgress his sovereign and creative word.


This, I believe, is clear evidence that election was couched in terms of divine predestination of individuals for covenant membership and eventual salvation by some Jewish writers of the time. With all this evidence from Sirach, it is surprising that Thornhill (whose work my thesis was largely a response to) barely interacts with this text and yet asserts that such notions were foreign to Jewish thought of the period. We will move on to the most forceful evidence next as we consider the Dead Sea Scrolls.



Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 4: Election as Predestination (part 1)


I haven’t been able to write for a while because I’ve been clocking a lot of hours at work, but I want to pick up where I left off in mapping the landscape of Jewish thinking about election in the Second Temple Period. In the last couple of posts, I reviewed some of the evidence for diversity among Jewish authors about the nature of election. We began by reviewing Josephus’ summary of the three main positions among Jews on the question of divine providence and human volition. We observed that from the get-go, before the primary sources are considered, we should expect to find a range of expressions on this perennially divisive theological question. We then reviewed some of the various ways authors in the OT and Second Temple literature employ election language. In this survey, I intentionally left out texts that speak of election in terms of predestination, since I will now be devoting the next couple of posts to focus on these passages.

When I was doing research on this topic, I soon discovered that even among Jewish sources that speak of election in terms of predestination, there is no uniformity. There are some texts that seem to describe God’s predestining activity in terms of his sovereign confirmation of what he foreknows will take place. Others, however, reveal a belief in predestination in terms of God’s authoring history in advance, which includes effecting the repentance and salvation of individuals. In this post, I want to review some evidence that reveals the existence of stronger forms of divine determinism, wherein human freewill is effectively nullified, by rejecting such notions or seeking to prioritize human volition over divine.


It is interesting to note that even if we lacked sources that positively present predestination as God determining individual salvation at creation, we would still have evidence of the belief in such stronger forms of predestination among Jews in the period we are considering in the form of apparent refutations of that notion. Or, stated positively, the strong and explicit apologetic affirmations of human freewill are indirect evidence that other voices expressed a belief that humans had less than absolute freedom, either due to anthropological pessimism, or higher views of determinism, or both. For example, Psalms of Solomon 9:4, we read, “Our works (are) in the choosing and power of our souls.” It makes sense that the author felt compelled to make such a blanket statement affirming freewill in light of differing opinions about the matter among his contemporaries. It’s important to note that Psalms of Solomon, part of the Pseudepigrapha, is one of the only documents that most scholars are confident is Pharisaic, helping us to see what kinds of views might have been opposed by the Essene materials we will consider later.

The strongest affirmations of freewill, however, come from The Wisdom of Solomon, part of the so-called Apocrypha. This evidence is especially important because many scholars have recognized some level of interaction with this text in Romans 9. The relevant section is worth quoting in full here:

For who will say, “What have you done?” or will resist your judgment? Who will accuse you for the destruction of nations that you made? Or who will come before you to plead as an advocate for the unrighteous? For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people, to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly; nor can any king or monarch confront you about those whom you have punished. You are righteous and you rule all things righteously, deeming it alien to your power to condemn anyone who does not deserve to be punished. For your strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all. For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power, and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it. Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. (Wisdom 12.12–18, NRSV)

Readers familiar with Romans 9 will see the significant overlap in vocabulary and themes. We will make some of these observations in a later post when interacting with the Pauline material. For now, it is important to note that this is a text intended to present an apologetic for God’s sovereignty. However, in so doing, the author seems intent on defending God by alleviating any responsibility for creating those who will eventually experience his judgment. The author is concerned to affirm God’s sovereignty, but not at the cost of allowing him to seem arbitrary or capricious by affirming a doctrine of absolute predestination wherein acts of disobedience and eventual condemnation are predetermined by God at creation. This again suggests that some of the author’s would-be readers likely held to or were familiar with the kind of predestinarian beliefs that Josephus ascribes to the Essenes, wherein everything that takes place is ultimately the result of God’s pretemporal creative activities.


In addition to texts which affirm the existence of belief in predestination by explicitly rejecting the concept, the book of Jubilees, part of the Pseudepigrapha and something of an apocalyptic rewriting of Gen 1 through Exod 19, appears to affirm a form of individual predestination grounded in God’s foreseen obedience. Thus, we read in Jubilees 2.20 that on the seventh day of creation God determined to separate Jacob (Israel) from the nations and he “sanctified him…forever.” Moreover, we are told on several occasions throughout the book of history having been prerecorded on heavenly tablets (5.13–14; 16.9; 23:32; 24.33; 31.32; 32.21–22). This reveals a strong belief on the part of the author that history is determined in advance by God’s authorship. And, because this document was apparently important to the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many scholars believe this document to have an Essene provenance, showing diversity between more moderate Essenes and others who held to a more absolute form of predestination as reflected in some of the sectarian literature we will discuss later (on this see Gabrielle Boccaccini’s, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis).

However, later in ch. 12 of Jubilees, Abraham’s story is rewritten in a way that seems to have been intended to explain why Abraham alone, of all people in the world, was chosen. The text makes no mention of his life as a pagan prior to God’s calling, since it is apparently intent in highlighting Abraham’s remarkable character as the cause of his election. In 12.19–24, we see that Abraham actually initiates the covenant with God. God’s election of Abraham, then, is effectively his response to Abraham’s proposal of the covenant relationship. We are also given some insight into the election and non-election of Abraham’s sons. In 15.30–32, we are told that God declined to elect Ishmael and Esau because he “knew them,” implying that his election was based on consideration of their character and foreseen disobedience. Thus, even in texts which affirm God’s prior authoring of history, absolute determinism does not always follow.


These texts illustrate the diversity that existed among Jews regarding the nature of predestination. Although Psalms Solomon, Wisdom, and Jubilees reveal some diversity amongst themselves, they are united in affirming that God’s sovereignty gives some basic priority to preserving human freedom. In the next post, I’m going to present the evidence that others flipped this model by prioritizing God’s freedom and effectively vitiating human freewill.

Karl Barth’s Adultery

Six years ago, I [Michael] was knee deep into Barthian studies. I found Barth’s work, though somewhat heterodox for my more conservative preference, a source of theological inspiration. Barth was doing TIS before it was cool. He had a Christocentric theological method. A novel and exciting view of theology as faith in Christ, and that theology was only done right when aligned with Christ in faith. He had a brilliantly novel take on several doctrines, including election, predestination, and revelation. His ability to engage the voices of past theological giants as though they were living voices, and his passionate presentation of doctrinal antinomies held in a careful and Christologically patterned dialectic of God and man — it was all that I was missing.

Barth had a way with words and doxological theological expression. It’s hard not to love the man I encountered and read in Church Dogmatics. But then, as is so often the case with our hagiographical impressions, I heard about some scandals concerning the man behind the legend. It not only stirred up feelings of disappointment, but on a couple of occasions, tears. I wanted a perfect Barth. But his cryptic entanglement with a younger woman at great expense to his family helped me learn an important lesson. Barth was just a man. A man used by God for sure, but a man.

Afterward, I had mixed thoughts about his theology not unlike the recent Christianity Today article. At first, it called into question his teaching, specifically his doctrine of salvation with its difficult equivocations on the antimony between the divine no and the response of the divine yes. His six-million word dogmatics also made me concerned that rather than passion for Christ driving his incredible literary feats, was it perhaps his stimulating time with a mistress? I heard he wrote, she typed and proofed, and that they frequently worked this way in a study room together. It’s conjecture. I don’t know anymore than Wikipedia on Barth’s dreadful failure here.

I have long turned to Carl F. H. Henry, whose equally impressive God, Revelation, and Authority, sharpened my understanding of divine revelation to a razor edge with his skillfully developed theses. Henry was a rigorously sharp evangelical who was equally Christocentric, although in a different manner from Barth’s neo-orthodoxy. Henry was sweet to my mind in a way Barth had captivated the theological wonder of my heart for the Word made flesh.

I still reference Barth. And my year or so studying his Church Dogmatics made me a better theologian for it. But the trust is gone. The inspiration has dwindled some, though he still amazes.

We would do well to hold Christ alone to the hagiographical sentiments that we too often give to men. Not because they can fail like Barth did, but because we can too. And because Christ alone should receive all the glory from theologians.

Faith and Reason


The discussion of faith and reason within the disciplined study of theology necessarily presupposes numerous truths. The first is God himself. The second is creation, specifically the creation of man, and man as made in God’s own image. Thirdly, man’s sinfulness and fall from divine favor. And lastly, but not nearly least in importance, God’s revelation of himself to man.

The anthropological constitution of created man is unitary. His will, intellect, and emotions are one, and should not be seen as distinct faculties within him. They are rather indivisible parts of his whole person. As a unitary individual, man’s giftedness to trust and reason cannot be neatly separated. When created man does one, he does so with all that it means for him to be a divinely created man, i.e., with his whole being inclusive of the will, the intellect, and the emotions, all together. This does not mean that trusting and knowing are the same acts, only that, within his unitary constitution, man cannot do one without necessarily involving the other. Already on the grounds of anthropology it becomes apparent that a contrast or antithesis between faith and reason will certainly lead to conflict, since a man may not trust in something he thinks not true.

Faith and Reason

Within evangelical theology, the approach to understanding truth has always been one of faith seeking understanding, which necessarily observes a complementary view of faith and reason. Faith seeking understanding was how Anselm began his Proslogion, forming a significant doxological context for his famous ontological argument, a point that natural theologies often neglect in their hurried treatment of the work’s treasured proof. Augustine, Calvin, and Luther also upheld the evangelical view of faith and reason together. Calvin held to a natural sense of the divine within every man, i.e., his sensus divinitatis, and saw no need to separate faith and reason in order to discover the truths of God as his scholastic predecessors had done. God implants the truth of himself within the conscience of every man.

The New Testament teaches that faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Faith is trusting in God’s promises. A person can be cognitively assured of God’s dependability to make good on his promises (i.e., reason) but this is not the same as having faith until the volition or will of the person is exercised by placing faith in God. That man can in fact place faith in God would obviously require knowledge of Him. So there is no dichotomy between faith and reason in the evangelical view.

While faith and reason are complementary, they are not entirely identical, and the question of how much of reason overlaps with faith is a difficult one to answer. Faith should always welcome the use of reason, since this is none other than being a good person by functioning according to God’s design and purpose.

Reason without Faith

Natural theology, as presented by Descartes and Locke, would be a form of (a) reason without faith. The problem with natural theology is it’s grounding of reason’s foundations in man’s own independent cognitive faculties. This exchange in foundations, however, fails to account for the truth that man is already made in God’s image, and while the image has been marred as a result of sin, it has not been lost, since the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s image includes both reason and volition. During the modern era, the rationalism of Descartes and Locke[2] became paradigmatic for thinkers championing reason over faith and dispensing with divine revelation. Descartes and Locke both, though in different ways, established a method of rationalism entirely dependent upon man’s own innate ability to think, and from this innatist position proceeded to ground faith upon the natural arguments of their predecessors, the famed proofs of the medieval ages. This displaced theology entirely from the realm of divine revelation and made it answerable to the innatist rationalism of man’s own mind. The Enlightenment was largely an anthropocentric turn as the realities of God and revelation were jettisoned. Alexander Pope crystallized man’s coming of age during the Enlightenment quite well with his words “Know then thyself, presume God not to scan The proper study of Mankind is man.” Much of the purpose for establishing this rationalistic foundation, at least for Locke was the desire to arbitrate between competing truth claims, specifically religious opinions, as Locke referred to them. Kant (who forms the subjective pivot in the history of philosophy), Hegel, and others could also be placed within the reason without faith category.

Faith without Reason

Tertullian (“what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”), Lessing’s ditch, as well as much of Protestant Liberalism (e.g., the religious feeling/consciousness of Schleiermacher; the existentialism of Bultmann, who followed Kierkegaard’s incipient existentialism in the form of his great leap of faith theology; and, to a degree, neoorthdox theologians such as Barth, though Barth surprisingly speaks of rationalism often in his Church Dogmatics), these would each be good examples of faith without reason. Among these thinkers, except for Tertullian and Lessing, theology becomes a kind of existential encounter, though not one deserving of the pejorative label of mysticism. Their work at a holistic level clearly betrays a faith without reason approach. God is not to be known cognitively but encountered. God is known only in faith, and faith must be expressed in the form of a leap across a big ditch or comparable means exclusive of reason.


From this brief taxonomy it can be seen that not only is reason without faith capable of placing the truths of Christian faith within an escapist realm which is secure from the canons of modern, anti-supernatural criticisms (e.g., the religious moralism of Kant), but faith without reason can do the same as well (e.g., the religious consciousness of Schleiermacher). Only the evangelical view of faith and reason together accounts for a faith that is at once trusting but also capable of expressing itself rationally in the form of creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. Christianity is an intellectual faith. Its beauty is unparalleled as captured by its teachings on atonement and faith, and its reason outmatched, as demonstrated by a rich, evangelical tradition of creeds.


Clark, Gordon Haddon. The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark. Edited by John W. Robbins. Volume 4 of Christian Philosophy. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004.


[1]The reader will recognize the author’s indebtedness to the philosophy of Gordon Haddon Clark concerning the relationship between faith and reason. See Clark, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, ed. by John W. Robbins, vol. 4 of Christian Philosophy (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), see esp. the section on “Faith and Reason,” pp. 126-81. This collection of Clark’s work includes the book by Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961; reprint 1995).

[2]Though Locke is primarily an empiricist, he is also a rationalist.