8 Foreknowledge vs. Foreordination

The notion that God willed and organized the fall of mankind into sin is a troubling thought. For many Calvinists, it is too much to accept. Consequently, they attempt to maintain in their doctrine that God predestined all things from eternity past and controls all things to ensure that only His will is accomplished, but they also try to remove the Fall of Adam and Eve from the list of things that God has predestined. The contradiction is obvious. God cannot predestinate and control all things and, at the same time, not have predestinated the fall of mankind.


Within Calvinism, there are two primary ideas regarding God’s predestination and election:

1)  Supralapsarianism—God predestined all things from eternity past and actively works to ensure that these things happen in exactly the way He has predestinated them. Because God’s will and foreordination was established prior to the fall of mankind into sin, God also predestinated the fall of Adam and Eve. Sin and the Fall were a necessary part of God’s plan.

2)  Infralapsarianism—God predestinated all things from eternity past and actively works to ensure that these things happen in exactly the way He has predestinated them. Because the fall of mankind into sin occurred after God’s will and foreordination was established, and because God cannot be the cause of sin and the fall of mankind, God must have established His will and predestination based on His foreknowledge. God foreknew that Adam and Eve would fall into sin, and God predestinated all things based on this foreknowledge. However, Adam and Eve had genuine freedom to choose to obey God or to sin, so God’s foreknowledge of the Fall was not responsible for the Fall and does not mean that God predestinated or decreed the Fall.


The first idea—supralapsarianism—undergirds the teachings of John Calvin.*[1] Recall his declaration, “I, at the same time, witness as my solemn confession that whatever happened to, or befel, Adam was so ordained of God.”[2] Regarding the role of God’s foreknowledge in the Fall, John Calvin says:

If God merely foresaw human events, and did not also arrange and dispose of them at his pleasure, there might be room for agitating the question, how far his foreknowledge amounts to necessity; but since he foresees the things which are to happen, simply because he has decreed that they are so to happen, it is vain to debate about prescience, while it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment.[3]

Additionally, supralapsarianism was the doctrine of many foundational Calvinist theologians and teachers. Indeed, “supralapsarianism is the original position of Calvinism.”[4]


The second idea—infralapsarianism—is the common Calvinist position today. Loraine Boettner speculates, “At the present day it is probably safe to say that not more than one Calvinist in a hundred holds the supralapsarianism view. We are Calvinists strongly enough, but not ‘high Calvinist.’ By a ‘high Calvinist’ we mean one who holds the supralapsarian view.”[5]


In other words, only one in a hundred Calvinists today believe that John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and most of the founding fathers of Calvinism are correct on such a key doctrine as that of God’s decree and predestination. Whereas John Calvin ardently rejects the suggestion that any part of God’s decree could rest upon His foreknowledge, Loraine Boettner informs us that most modern Calvinists do accept God’s foreknowledge as the basis for His decree.


Infralapsarianism maintains that God established His decree and predestinated all that was to happen based upon His foreknowledge that Adam and Eve would choose to disobey and fall into sin. God only foreknew the Fall; He did not predetermine the Fall. Thus, everything God predestinated and decreed depended upon the accuracy and certainty of God’s foreknowledge. However, God’s foreknowledge was based only upon His omniscience and not upon His foreordination.


Infralapsarian Calvinists would vehemently deny the charge that their understanding of God’s predestination and election rests upon God’s foreknowledge. They cannot acknowledge such a statement because they have denigrated their opponents who believe that God foreknows who will and who will not accept His offer of salvation without compelling and overwhelming their will with His irresistible grace. In their minds, they wrongly believe that God cannot foreknow something unless He first foreordains it. Lewis Sperry Chaffer explains:

The Arminian approach to the solution of this problem assigns to God no relation to the advent of sin into the universe other than that He foreknew that it would eventuate. This view is wholly inadequate, since foreknowledge on the part of God carries with it, of necessity, all the force of a sovereign purpose. A thing cannot be foreknown that is not certain, and nothing is certain until God’s sovereign decree makes it thus.”[6]


All Calvinists—both supralapsarian and infralapsarian—steadfastly hold to the idea that God’s foreknowledge is a synonym for God’s foreordaining. Nothing can be known by God to be certain unless it was established in eternity past by God’s predestinating it to be so. This is a well-established teaching among Calvinists. Arthur W. Pink affirms this, “[D]ivine foreknowledge is based upon the divine purpose—God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be.”[7] Also, “Foreknowledge of future events then is founded upon God’s decrees, hence if God foreknows everything that is to be, it is because He has determined in Himself from all eternity everything which will be.”[8] Likewise, Forrest Keener explains, “Defined Biblically, foreknowledge refers to a loving relationship which God foreknew, and it always has to do with foreordination, not foresight.”[9] Similarly, Grover Gunn says, “The idea that God knows the future without having planned it and without controlling it is totally foreign to Scripture.”[10] Finally, John Calvin says, “God foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place.”[11]


In an attempt to absolve God of willing and decreeing the Fall, infralapsarian Calvinists have strayed from the original position of Calvinism. Ultimately, they have found themselves relying on the same argument their opponents use … God’s foreknowledge. Thus, infralapsarian Calvinists have embraced a two-fold definition of “foreknowledge.” Concerning all things except the fall of mankind into sin, foreknowledge is based upon God’s foreordination. God foreknows it because He foreordained it. However, concerning the fall of mankind into sin, foreknowledge is based solely upon God’s omniscience. God knew it to be true in advance, but God did not cause it to be true.


If it is reasonable to believe that God could act with certainty based upon His foreknowledge of the fall of man without causing the Fall, then is it not equally reasonable to believe that God can act with certainty upon His foreknowledge of who will choose to accept His offer of salvation without causing man to irresistibly accept it? Why then do Calvinists so vehemently reject and denigrate their opponents’ suggestion that God foreknows who will choose to accept Him, based not upon His foreordination, but upon His omniscience?


In an attempt to absolve God of the responsibility for causing the fall of mankind into sin, infralapsarian Calvinists have undermined the core ideology of Calvinism as a whole—including their own infralapsarian views. If Adam and Eve had genuine freedom to choose to obey God or to choose to sin, then they could have, theoretically, lived their entire lives without ever sinning. Consider what the implications of this would mean to the doctrine of Calvinism. If Adam and Eve had used their free will to not sin, then everything else that God had predestinated would not be necessary. Christ’s death on the cross would not have been necessary. God’s election of some to salvation would not have been necessary. God’s reprobation of the many would not have been necessary. In fact, every aspect of life would be dramatically different from the predestinated plan of God if Adam and Eve had used their free will to obey God instead of sin.


A decision must be made. Both sides of the opposing argument between supralapsarian Calvinism and infralapsarian Calvinism cannot be true. Yet again, we see that Calvinists claim that both sides of an argument are true even though those sides are inherently contrary to each other. Either God can foreknow the certainty of an event or decision without being responsible for that event or decision, or God’s foreknowledge of the Fall means that God foreordained and caused the fall of mankind into sin. Only one of these arguments can be true.


If God can foreknow the certainty of an event or decision without being responsible for that event or decision, then why is the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and election necessary? The argument of God’s foreknowledge would be a sufficient answer for the Calvinist’s questions. Thus, we can see that John Calvin is correct in his belief that Calvinism depends upon a universal understanding that “foreknowledge” is synonymous with “foreordained.” John Calvin would not consider infralapsarian Calvinists to be true Calvinists because their argument is contradictory to original Calvinism and contradictory and disingenuous to even their own doctrine of infralapsarian Calvinism.


  1. “The system of supralaparianism is not hyper-Calvinism and neither does it go beyond the teachings of John Calvin. In spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, some have claimed that Beza and others distorted ‘Calvin’s Calvinism’ in promoting the supralapsarian view [Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, 349, 358; Sell, The Great Debate, 1]. Custance claims that Calvin started out ‘supra’ but softened his position in later years [Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace, 159–160]. He calls Beza the ‘most ultra-Calvinist of the time’ [Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace, 159–160]. Best insists that ‘Calvin could be classified as neither infralapsarian nor supralapsarian. He leaned more toward infralapsarianism’ [Best, God’s Eternal Decree, 10]. Schaff contends that Calvin ‘carried the doctrine of the divine decrees beyond the Augustinian infralapsarianism’ to ‘the very verge of supralapsarianism’ [Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1., 453]. Some maintain that Calvin never held this belief at all, [Kent Kelly, Inside the Tulip Controversy, 12; Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, 185; Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1, 409] while others that Calvin did not express himself clearly or consistently on this matter [Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace, 75; Leith, Introduction to the Reformed Tradition, 114]. While consistency was not one of Calvin’s greatest attributes, neither is it to be found in the majority of other Calvinists. Most Calvinists, including A. A. Hodge and Berkhof, who disagreed with Calvin on this point, as well as non-Calvinists, recognize that Calvin did hold to the ‘supra’ position [Hodge, The Atonement, 389; Fisher, History of Christian Doctrine, 300; Shank, Life in the Son, 345; Berkhof, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 110; Arminius, Works of Arminius, vol. 1, 92; Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Ed. McNiel, lviii; Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, 310; Jewett, Election and Predestination, 89; Neve, A History of Christian Thought, vol. 2, 16]. The only reason that there is some question is, like Limited Atonement, the issue had not reached such prominence in Calvin’s day that it required its own vocabulary to understand it. A factor in the determination of Calvin’s position is, as stated by the Dutch Reformed theologian, Klaas Dijk (1885–1968), that ‘the supra presentation is the one of the Reformation’ [Klass Dijk, Source: Berkouwer, Divine Election, 260–261]. Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer being prime examples, with Bullinger and Melanchthon dissenting. Therefore, supralapsarianism is the original position of Calvinism.” (Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, 285–286.)
  2. Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism, 93.
  3. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. 23, Sect. 6.
  4. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, 285.
  5. Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 129.
  6. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, 228.
  7. Pink, Doctrine of Election, 160.
  8. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 110.
  9. Keener, Grace Not Salvation, 93.
  10. Gunn, The Doctrines of Grace, 13.
  11. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. 23, Sect. 7, Source: Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, 288.


Is God the Author of Sin? Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Zebell. All Rights Reserved.


Comments are closed.