(Eph. 1:5) Does this verse teach that some are “predestined” for heaven and others for hell? (see also verse 11 and 2 Thess. 2:13)

CLAIM: Some Calvinistic interpreters argue that this passage supports the doctrine of unconditional election, where God predestines some for heaven and others for hell. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Other interpreters read this passage differently.

First, God’s predestination is based on his foreknowledge of who would freely choose him. In Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” Notice the order: God predestines the ones whom he foreknew would freely accept him (c.f. 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Second, the purpose of predestination always refers to our destiny in the future—not in the past. Predestination never deals with how people came to Christ in the past. It always deals with what will happen to Christians in the future. That is, our “predestination” refers to our glorification. The thrust of this passage is referring to what we are saved for (“adoption as sons”), rather than who is saved. Forster and Marston write, “In any event, the most important point to grasp about predestination is that it concerns man’s future destiny. It does not concern who should, or should not, become Christians, but rather their destiny as Christians.”[1]

Some theologians capture our corporate election and predestination in Christ by using the illustration of an airplane that is “predestined” to travel to a certain location. Once we get on the plane, then we are signed, sealed, and delivered to go to that destination. For more on this subject, see our earlier article, “Calvinism and Arminianism.”

[1] Forster, Roger T., and V. Paul Marston. God’s Strategy in Human History. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1974. 93.