Unconditional Election-taking Calvin apart word by word-eternal

We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. (emphasis mine)

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion , trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 571-572. (III, 21,7)

Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις, the noun form of the verb ‘to lead out’) is a method of interpretation of a Biblical text. A typical analysis of a text is a word study into the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew words, an analysis of the syntactical use to the words and maybe some background into the customs and traditions behind the story or the context of the text. Modern theologians have expanded exegesis into the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. However, much of textual criticism is not historical or scientific but only reveals the prejudices of the exegete.

Foundational doctrines such as “Unconditional Election” requires a proper exegesis from Scripture. Calvin not only rarely exegetes Scripture, he prefers to add his doctrines to Scripture, a process called eisegesis. Beneath the background of this philosophical expression of “Unconditional Election” is a Neoplatonic interpretation, not fully expressed by John Calvin but readily admitted by Augustine, who is Calvin’s classical “mentor” and inspiration.

Calvin’s modus operandi is to use propaganda, question begging, and an appeals to incomprehensibility. Are these examples of exegesis or eisegesis? Without introducing any evidence he cites Scripture as a witness to his doctrine of “Unconditional Election”. His unsupported argument is then followed by tossing about Platonic notions of “immutable” and “eternal” then appealing to the free will of God. In the avid imagination of future Calvinists “free mercy and without respect to human worth” becomes “unconditional”.

Content with his propaganda and Greek philosophy, he then feels free to pronounce his doctrine of condemnation to the non-elect. However, since a normal thinking person would consider doctrine pernicious, Calvin, without justification, solely by fiat, declares the concept just and blameless.

After this passage, Calvin goes on to transfer the Platonic concepts of the attributes of the Platonic God, immutability and eternality (eternal now) to the counsel of God. One cannot truly understand this section of Institutes and the motivation behind the arguments without observing the strong hold that Platonism has over Calvin. This above quotation summarizes the whole doctrine and rationale of double predestination which is approached from a purely philosophical analysis. The important question to consider is: does double predestination make sense either philosophically or Scripturally? The evidence shows it does not.

Scripture clearly proves this much

The Institutes is littered with hundreds of such claims of Scriptural support. Ironically, such claims, are generally made in lieu of a scriptural argument; one can usually identify where Calvin lacks Biblical support in the very moments he claims Scripture vindicates him. Reading Calvin in isolation from the Biblical text, it would seem there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating his view of election. Although it is common for the author of the Institutes to quote liberally from Scriptures when there is support of his doctrines, he fails to do so for election. As will be demonstrated, the Scriptures used to support “Unconditional Election” are never on point and only inferentially related.

What Scripture clearly proves this much is that God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim 2:4)  The Lord does not wish that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) but that all should come to repentance.

(Modify this portion: Make an argument for what God’s general will is for the lost, then pose the question of how Calvin interprets this and show it is incoherent.) What Scripture clearly does not prove is that God so hated those who perishing that he condemn them to hell before the foundation of the world.  These are contradictory positions.  God predestined some to eternal destruction without hope of salvation and God desires all men to be saved.

Calvin appeals to incomprehensibility.  There are certainly some things that are not comprehensible by men.  For example, how the sequence of DNA molecules produces blue eyes instead of brown eyes.  Even if the gene sequence can be identified how does this pattern produce blues eyes?  The process may be so complex as the human mind is unable to retain all the information needed.  This is the incomprehensibility argument.

However this is not incomprehensible.  Does God programs each human being to certain actions or decisions or does each person have freedom to make certain choices?  Sometimes the argument is presented as absolute freedom or absolute predestination.  All persons are limited in their mental, social and physical settings.  Does God give each individual the innate ability to believe in him and obtain salvation?

Instead of modifying his theology for the real contradictions, Calvin will insist on both contradictory statements being true. The only alternative to denying the law of non-contradiction is irrationality. Not only will he admit, to this contradiction, he offers a new contradiction: he mysteriously wills what now seems to be adverse to his will. A mystery is not an irrational statement. A mystery is a secret. Secrets are not irrational.

let us now see whether there be any inconsistency between the two things—viz. that God, by an eternal decree, fixed the number of those whom he is pleased to embrace in love, and on whom he is pleased to display his wrath, and that he offers salvation indiscriminately to all. I hold that they are perfectly consistent, …that though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold, yet he does not in himself will opposites, but, according to his manifold wisdom (so Paul styles it, Eph. 3:10), transcends our senses, until such time as it shall be given us to know how he mysteriously wills what now seems to be adverse to his will. (emphasis mine)

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 605. (III, 12,24)

Not only does Calvin offer weak evidence–at best–for double predestination. Apparently, he readily understands his argument is irrational; it “transcends our senses.” This appeal to transcending the senses or incomprehensibility is illegitimate.  Philosophers refer to this as the law of noncontradiction.  A thing cannot be and not be at the same time.  Is Jesus Christ the Son of God and not the Son of God?  Is salvation by faith alone or are there certain works which must be done to merit salvation?

This is a desperate situation for Calvin.  He is lacking any real proof of “unconditional election” and any real intelligible argument either.  He appeals to incomprehensibility as a defense for an argument that cannot be defended.

God by his eternal and immutable counsel-eternal

Although the Scripture uses “eternal,” the meaning is certainly everlasting. In order to clarify to the reader the difference between the eternal now and everlasting, the term everlasting will be used as the scripturally correct meaning of eternal. This is the definition of everlasting:

Revelation 1:4

Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come,

Everlasting is the meaning of the word “eternal” when used in Scriptures. The most common Greek word for eternal is some form or derivative of αἰών which means age or cycle of time. It never means outside or absence of time. Eternal does not mean, it does not mean (sic), God lives in the “eternal now.”  John Calvin believes God does see the future as he can see the present in the “eternal now.”

When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present… he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion , trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 568. (III, 21,5)

This Neo-platonic explanation is also the fallback explanation of many Arminians, the leading denominational representation of Arminius, the Methodists.

15. The sum of all is this: the almighty, all-wise God sees and knows, from everlasting to everlasting, all that is, that was, and that is to come, through one eternal now. With him nothing is either past or future, but all things equally present.

On Predestination, by John Wesley

Methodist, Wesleyans, and Calvinists have a lot in common including the Neo-platonic attributes of God; immutability and eternality (eternal now).   Due to their Platonic base, the Arminians are zero point Calvinists.

The concept of “Eternal Now” appears in the Enneads, was borrowed by Augustine and is cited as dogma by Calvin in the Institutes. (Third Ennead VII,4-5, City of God XI Ch. 21) The Scriptures never teach or hint about the eternal now. The Scripture clearly teaches God is everlasting. When the English term “eternal” is used in Scriptural translations, the words always mean everlasting and not “eternal now.” The pagan philosophers had fully developed the concept of “eternal now” before the Christian fathers adopted it.

Thus a close enough definition of Eternity would be that it is a life limitless in the full sense of being all the life there is and a life which, knowing nothing of past or future to shatter its completeness, possesses itself intact for ever.

Plotinus, The Six Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page III.7.5.13

Genesis is a derivative from the Ancient Greek word γένεσις genesis which means “origin.”  In biology genetics is a process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring. In philosophy or theology genesis is tracing the development of an idea or concept from the works of earlier philosophers or theologians.

Augustine was a student of Platonic philosophy. He used the concepts of Platonism to develop his Christian philosophy. Calvin was as student of Augustine and well versed in the philosophies of the Ancient Greeks. It is simple propaganda to deny the connection between Greek philosophy and classical theology.

Many Calvinist apologists would deny the connection arguing genetic fallacy. It is fallacious to condemn an idea based on its past or historical acceptance. For example is the earth flat or spherical? The flat earth was commonly accepted by many persons in the past. Whether the earth is flat or spherical should be determined based on present scientific evidence and not on past opinions.

However evidence based on testimony such as court cases or written documents e.g. the Bible. The origin of evidence is very relevant to the evaluation of whether an idea is a biblical or philosophical idea. In historical investigations or testimonies in judicial proceedings the origin of the testimony has tremendous weight in evaluating the credibility of the evidence. Is the evidence first hand, hearsay, or rumor?

There is no genetic fallacy if the conditions and arguments for the concept of the “eternal now” are not in Scriptures, the conditions and arguments are in the in Greek philosophy and the theologians promoting these ideas have a history using philosophical speculations in their theologies. The Calvinist is forced to find this argument in Scripture “that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present.” What is the source of this argument? It is not found in the Scripture? It is found in St. Augustine, a formers adherent of Neoplatonism, and in the Enneads.

Plato, indeed, was bold enough to say…For not in our fashion does He look forward to what is future, nor at what is present, nor back upon what is past; but in a manner quite different and far and profoundly remote from our way of thinking. For He does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time, the future, indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence.
Augustine, City of God, Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120111.htm&gt;. 11, 21

Augustine argues in the same manner as Calvin and Wesley, yet here he clearly links the supporting arguments of immutability for which Plato is famous (god cannot change for if he did that would be for the worse and god would not be perfect). Augustine is so bold as to imply God does not have transition of thoughts. If God had a transition of thought that would be a change in God, but God does not change. If there are some things is the future which God does not see until the event happens, then God’s knowledge must change. God would have to make some transition of thought perhaps seeing something as new. A corollary of the “eternal now” is God cannot learn anything new. He is trapped in an “eternal now.”

Augustine explains the link between the eternal now and immutability. In order to view all things with absolute unchangeableness, God must be in the eternal now. The ravages of past and future would change God’s perception of reality. This should be embarrassing to the Calvinist because the attribute of immutability triumphs over the attribute of God’s omnipotence.

If God sees the future as sure as he sees the present then he can predestined those persons he sees in the future who believe. The major distinction between Arminians and Calvinists is the cause of this predestination. Does God predestine those people he foresees will believe, as Arminians believe, or does God predestine everyone to belief as Calvin believes? To the Open Theist these differences are insignificant. Is the doctrine Biblical or not?

The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others toeternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, especially by those who make prescience its cause. We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion , trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 568. (III, 21,5)

Any logical or philosophical explanation of “unconditional election” must attach a foundational presumption of the “eternal now.”   There is nothing, absolutely nothing in Scriptures which mentions this concept of the eternal now. In order to believe in unconditional election a person must accept the whole package to bring some sort of coherence to the doctrine. This eternal now is part of that package.

Another integral defense of the “eternal now” is the concept of immutability. To the Platonist, their god, could not change. To be affected by such things as past and future would imply changes in their god. Calvin envisions a god outside of time. However, the Scripture always refers to God as working inside of time.

For example let us look at Ezekiel 16. The Lord commands Israel in the present time. He remembers the lewd events in Israel’s past and he plans to punish them in the future.

Ezekiel 16

35 ‘Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord! 36 Thus says the Lord God: “Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them, 37 surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers… 38 And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged;

God knows the past, the present and the future. He is able to discern the events as the past being set and not subject to change. The present is a warning to prevent bad behavior in the future. The judgment of Israel is not settled, if Israel does not change, Israel will be judged in the future. If Israel does change, God will repent of his judgment and save Israel. If the future is settled, why warn people in the present?

The concept of an immutable god, that is dependent on his immutability to guarantee his future existence is from the Platonist imagination. Scripture presents a very different God than the god of the Enneads.

it is something that abides in the same in itself and does not change at all but is always in the present, because nothing of it has passed away, nor again is there anything to come into being but that which it is, it is… Necessarily there will be no “was” about it, for what is there that was for it, and has passed away? Nor any “will be” for what will be for it? So there remains for it only to be in its being just what it is. That then which was not, and will not be, but is only, which has being which is static by not changing to the “will be”, nor ever having changed, this is eternity.[1]

Immutability is a Platonic doctrine not attested by Scripture.  The same arguments used to support immutability of the Platonist philosophy are the same arguments used by the Augustinian or Calvinist theologians supporting immutability as an attribute of God.  Neo-platonism is the fertile ground of the genesis of these concepts.


[1] Plotinus. Ennead III. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988. 442. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. P 303-305 (III,7,3)


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