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).
PREDESTINARIAN ELECTION IN THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
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.