A Quick Study Of Calvinism's Favorite Words
I am going to do a quick study of several of Calvinism’s favorite words – sovereign, predestined, elect, chosen, whosoever, and hardens - looking them up in the Bible (in context) and in the concordance to see what we can learn about them.
Despite the fact that Calvinists heavily build their theology on their idea that being “sovereign” means that God has to control every detail, every sin, every choice we make, every speck of dust or else He can’t possibly be God … this word NEVER shows up in the King James Bible or in the concordance. (Strong’s concordance uses the King James.)
And when it is used in, say, the NIV, it's used as a title (Sovereign Lord), not as a description about how God has to act. Sovereign is about the position God holds, being the Top Dog, the High King, the One over and above all, the One who has the final say in all matters.
“Sovereign” is about the position of power and authority that God holds. But God Himself gets to decide how He will act in that position. And the Bible shows us time and time again that God has decided to restrain His use of power/authority to give men the right to make real choices that affect the outcome (Genesis 1:26, Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15), the right to do things He doesn’t want us to do (examples: Jeremiah 19:5, Hosea 8:4) and to not do things He does want us to do (example: 1 Kings 20:42). And in His sovereign power, He decides how to weave it all together into His plans – our choices, our sins, our obedience, our disobedience, our prayers, etc..
But Calvinists go outside of the definition of “sovereign.” Instead of defining it correctly (being about the position God holds), they make it about how they think He must operate within that position, how He has to use His power and authority. They essentially decided that the only way God can be a sovereign God is if He’s always using His power all the time to control everything, even our thoughts, choices, and actions. Or else He can’t be God! (See "Do Calvinists Really Believe God Causes Sin? Let Them Speak For Themselves!")
[And they try to suck you into Calvinism by presenting you with false dichotomies like this: “Either God is in control or man is. Either God is sovereign or man is. Either God controls everything or God controls nothing. Either God chooses who gets saved or man is more powerful than God because we save ourselves. So which one is it?”
They present you with two bad options: an absurdly wrong one and the Calvinist one, forcing you to reject the absurd one and accept the Calvinist one.
But the problem is that they left out the biblical one from the beginning and that they start with bad definitions of things like “sovereign/in control, etc.” The biblical option would be that God is sovereign and in control, but He has chosen to not actively control everything. He has chosen to give man the right and responsibility to make real choices, not because He’s weak or not in control (which is what Calvinists will accuse you of saying) but because He wanted it to be that way so that men willingly and voluntarily choose to love Him and worship Him instead of being “forced” to. Because He wanted it that way. The biblical option is not that God determines who gets saved or that man saves himself but that God has made salvation possible for all people and offers it to all people, but He left it up to us to decide to accept or reject that offer. Never let a Calvinist define the words or give you the options you must choose between.
And always be critical of their illustrations, too. Such as the one about “There are 100 men on death row and God walks in and graciously frees 10 of them. Now, He didn’t have to free any of them because they all deserved death, but He chose to free 10 of them, showing how loving and gracious He is. And He let the other 90 stay on death row as they deserved, showing how just He is.”
And they try to make it sound like this shows how loving, gracious, good, generous, and just God is. Like it’s a perfectly reasonable illustration of what God is like.
However, the part they don’t tell you is that the men were only on death row to begin with because Calvi-god caused them to be the wicked, murderous criminals they were, never giving them a chance to be any different. So Calvi-god didn’t “graciously” save 10 of them who deserved their death sentence; he first caused them to do the crimes that got them on death row. And he didn’t simply pass over the other 90, letting them pay the penalty they deserved; he caused them to be murderers and then decided that they would pay the penalty for what he made them do.
That is not loving, gracious, good, generous, or just! And it's a deceptively bad illustration! But it’s one that sucks many good, humble Christians into Calvinism nonetheless. (Also see: "When Calvinism’s “Bad Logic” Traps Good Christians.")]
Anyway, Calvinists say that if there’s one thing He doesn’t control – one speck of dust floating around that He’s not actively controlling – then He can’t be God. (Show me the verse for this!)
Telling God how God has to act in order to be a “sovereign” God is a dangerous thing indeed!
And yet, “sovereign” isn’t even in the King James Bible or the concordance anywhere!
Calvinists also make a lot out of this word: predestined. Their whole theology is built on it, on the idea that God predestined who goes to heaven and who goes to hell because, well, remember that He has to control our choices or else He can’t be God.
But do you know that this word only shows up 4 times in the King James? And according to the concordance, it simply means that something is determined beforehand. But it doesn't say what is determined beforehand or how it is determined beforehand. Nor is there any indication in the definition that it's talking about salvation. And so you have to look at the word in context to see what it says. And here it is, in context:
Romans 8:29-30 (KJV): “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son … Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Notice that God “predestined” those whom He “foreknew.” And whom does He “know”?
Well, according to Matthew 7:21-24, He doesn’t know those who simply act like they are Christ-followers but who aren’t really Christ-followers in their hearts. And according to John 6:44, Jesus knew from the beginning who would not believe in Him. Therefore, I would say that those God knows – foreknows – are those who truly believe in Him, who are true Christ-followers. And those are the people He predestines.
And what does He predestine them for? Eternal life? Salvation?
No! It says that those whom He foreknows are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. This is not a verse about God predestining certain “elected” sinners to salvation. It’s about God predestining true believers (anyone who chooses to believe in Him) to be conformed to Jesus’s image. It’s about God predestining the destination of a believer’s path, the direction our path heads after we choose to believe in Jesus – to grow to be more like Jesus and to eventually be glorified. (This verse is about the truth that a true believer cannot lose their salvation. The path of a true, Spirit-filled believer is predestined to end in glorification.)
Ephesians 1:5, 11-12 (KJV): “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself … In him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
Does this say certain sinners are predestined to salvation/eternal life?
No. To know what “adoption of children” means (the NIV words it “adoption as sons”) go to Romans 8:23 (NIV): “… we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“Predestined for adoption” is not about certain sinners being predestined for salvation/eternal life. It’s about the promise that God will redeem the bodies of all believers, that we will reach that “glorification” talked about in Romans 8:30, eventually acquiring the full benefits of being a child of God.
Even Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV) confirms this when it says that “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”
Notice that those believers were not included in Christ until after they believed. And after they believed, they were given the Holy Spirit as a promise that they will be redeemed. This contradicts Calvinism on at least three points:
First, it confirms that predestination is not about certain sinners being preselected for heaven, but it’s about believers being predestined for redemption. Second, it contradicts Calvinism’s idea that the elect are “in Christ” (essentially “saved”) from the beginning of time, because Scripture shows they were not in Christ until after they believed. And third, it contradicts Calvinism’s view that the elect have to get the Holy Spirit first, that He causes them to believe in Jesus, because it shows that they didn’t get the Holy Spirit until after they believed, as a result of believing.
And notice also that the second “predestinated” doesn’t say anything about being predestined for salvation/eternal life either. It says that we who are “in Him” (as a result of choosing to believe in Him) are predestined to be “for the praise of his glory.” True believers are destined to bring God glory.
This is not about individual people being pre-chosen for salvation, but it’s about the destiny of anyone who chooses to believe in Jesus. All those who choose to put their faith in Jesus will have their bodies redeemed and will be for God’s glory.
In the New Testament, there are 3 uses (definitions) of it, according to Strong’s concordance:
Strong’s 1588 (elect/elect’s) - There are 16 times this definition is used. A selection of the most relevant verses for our topic would be Matthew 24:31, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:33, 2 Timothy 2:10, and Mark 13:20,27. The definition of this word has to do with being “chosen out, selected.” But it doesn’t say for what.
Strong’s 1589 (elected) is used 1 time: 1 Peter 5:13. Once again, “a picking out, choosing.” But it doesn’t say for what.
Strong’s 4899 (election) is used 6 times: Romans 9:11, 11:5, 11:7, 11:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 2 Peter 1:10. It means “chosen with, elected together,” but it doesn’t say for what.
There is no implication in any of these definitions that these words inherently and necessarily refer to being chosen for salvation. Nor does it say how they were chosen. The use of “elect” in any passage could simply refer to a generalized idea of those people God has “chosen/selected.” But how did He choose them? Notice in Romans 11:4-5 that God chose those who did not bend a knee to Baal. The people chose first, then God chose those who did not choose against Him. Whether He chose them or not was based on their choice for or against Him. If “elect” simply means a generalized “chosen people,” is it not possible that God chose those whom He knew would choose Him?
Anyway, let’s look at some of those verses to see what else the Bible says (these are all KJV), to see if they can be understood in any other way than “elect = predestined for salvation”:
Matthew 24:31: “… and [the angels] will gather his elect from the four winds …” (Also included here are other “tribulation” passages such as Mark 13:20,23: “And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days... But false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.”) This is during the tribulation, and there is a point where the angels will come and gather the believers. Since this word simply means “chosen out, selected,” the most obvious implication is that “elect” could simply mean that these are the people who are selected to be gathered up by the angels. It’s not that certain sinners are chosen to get eternal life, but that certain people are marked out as the true believers, those who will be selected when God sends the angels to gather all the believers.
(Side note: It seems that lots of Calvinists do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture because they can’t figure out why there would be believers in the tribulation if all the “elect” are supposed to be taken out in a rapture before the tribulation. In Calvinism, the elect are technically “saved” way before the beginning of time, so no elect should be left behind. Therefore, they do not believe there can be a pre-trib rapture because there are still believers (the elect) on earth during the trib. However, biblically, people do not become saved until they choose to believe. Therefore, there will be those who believe before the rapture and there will be those who do not come to faith until after the rapture. And that’s why there are still believers on earth during the trib. There is no “predestined to be saved before the beginning of time.” Tribulation believers didn’t get saved until after they believed, after the rapture. That’s why they are on earth during the tribulation instead of being taken up in the rapture.)
1 Peter 1:1-2: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered through [certain cities], elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…” If you read this carefully, you’ll see that it says nothing about those believers being elected (chosen) for salvation, but that they were elected (chosen) to be obedient and sprinkled with Jesus’s blood. This isn’t about being chosen for salvation, but about true believers being chosen (destined) to be obedient and to be covered by Jesus’s blood because they accept Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus’s sacrifice is available for all people because He died for all men’s sins. But only those who accept His death on their behalf will be covered by His blood.
[Side Note: Calvinists make the mistake of inferring things the verse doesn't say. Like if I told a Calvinist "I love chocolate ice cream," they would infer that it must mean I hate vanilla ice cream. If I said that I bought bananas at the store, they would infer that I only bought bananas and nothing else. But I never said anything like either of those things. They inferred it.
And so when a verse says something like "[God] called you out darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9), they would infer that it must mean that God didn't call anyone else, only "us." When a verse says "In his great mercy he has given us new birth ..." (1 Peter 1:3), they would infer that it must mean He didn't offer mercy/new birth to anyone else, that He created them for a merciless death because He only gave "us" mercy and new birth. But that's not what the verse says.
If I bought a candy bar for 50 people in a room and offered one to each person but only 5 took it, those 5 could say that, in my generosity, I gave them a candy bar. But in no way does it imply I only offered those 5 people a candy bar or that I deliberately withheld candy from the others.
1 Peter 1:3 simply says that they got new birth because God gave it to them, not that the offer wasn't given to anyone else also. Be careful when listening to Calvinist interpretations of verses. Listen for when they add things or infer things the verse isn't saying.]
Back to 1 Peter 1:1-2: Also note that this generation was the one chosen to be the first to get the Holy Spirit and to be saved through Jesus’s death, whereas the generations before were saved through the Law. “Elect” could also have to do with God choosing that generation to be the first to get saved the new way: through the Holy Spirit and believing in Jesus.
Romans 8:33: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” There is nothing here to imply God decided who would be saved, just that believers are justified by God. It’s basically saying that if God says someone is “not guilty” (because they chose to believe in Jesus and put their faith in Him), then they are not guilty, no matter what anyone else says. If God accepts them, they are accepted for sure. He accepts those who believe in Him and rejects those who reject Him (Romans 10:11,13 and 11:20).
2 Timothy 2:10: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Salvation is "in Christ Jesus," and remember that according to Ephesians 1:13 we are included "in Him" when we believe. When we believe, we become one of the elect. But if being elected means God predestined them for heaven, why would Paul need to “endure” anything to make sure they obtain salvation? How can Calvinist election be secure/assured if it hinges on what other people do or don’t do?
Romans 9:11: “… so that his purpose of election might stand …” This is about God choosing to bring Jesus into the world through a certain bloodline, not about certain individuals being chosen for salvation.
Romans 11:5: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” This is specifically about God choosing, out of grace, to save a remnant of the Jewish people (Romans 9:27). (And notice again how He “chooses” people: He chose those who did not bend a knee to Baal. God responded to man’s choice. It was not an arbitrary choosing where man could do nothing to affect whether he was chosen or not, which is what Calvinist election is.)
And Romans 11:7: “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” This is about God choosing to give the offer of salvation to the Gentiles, as a whole, because Israel rejected Jesus. Israel “earned” their blindness because they hardened their hearts to the truth and rejected Jesus, and so God turned His attention to the Gentiles. That’s what this means, NOT that certain people are chosen for salvation (But if election means predestined for heaven, why the warning to the Gentiles in Romans 11:20-22 that they could be “broken off” too if they turn from God? How can predestination be secure if it can be lost? If it can be lost, it wouldn’t be predestined then, now would it? That wouldn’t make sense. But the answer is that this passage isn’t about individuals being elected/predestined for heaven at all. It’s about God choosing to turn His attention from Israel who rejected Him and to focus on the Gentiles for the time being, offering them the salvation/Truth that Israel rejected. But it’s also a warning that God could choose to close the door to the Gentiles too, if they reject the Truth like the Jews did. This has nothing at all to do with Calvinist predestination/election of individuals.)
Romans 11:28: “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” This is about Israel being chosen as God’s special people. It’s God promise that He will not stay turned away from them forever, that someday He will turn again to them and restore them to Him.
1 Thessalonians 1:4: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” The NIV says “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you …”. Paul doesn’t mean “We know that God predestined you for salvation too,” just that “we know you are true believers also.” And how did they know this? How were they “chosen”? See 2:13: “… when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God …” They are not arbitrarily chosen by God to be part of the elected group. They became part of that group when they chose to believe the Gospel. Once again, God chooses those who choose Him.
2 Peter 1:10: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure…” This is simply telling them to test themselves to see if they are really in the faith, to live like the true believers they are. And if they do this, they will be rewarded for their faithfulness in heaven. But if being elect means that God decides who goes to heaven and if we can’t do anything to change it or affect it, then what good would being “diligent” about anything do? What affect would it have if everything has been predetermined and if we can’t affect anything anyway because Calvi-god controls it all?
Also note: If Calvinists say that “elect” (“chosen”) necessarily means that those people were chosen/predestined by God for salvation, then they must also say that the “elect angels” (1 Timothy 5:21) were chosen/predestined for salvation. And they must also say that Jesus (the “elected/chosen” cornerstone in 1 Peter 2:6) was predestined for salvation. Because all these passages use the same Greek word.
So, were angels and Jesus predestined to be saved too?
[As I've heard it best summed up: We are elected to service, not salvation. Election, in the Bible, is about believers being elected for service to God, not about certain sinners being elected for salvation. And so when anyone chooses to believe in Jesus, we become one of the elect, those who are of service to God. Election is not the same thing as Calvinist predestination, as Calvinists like to teach. My Calvi-pastor gave a sermon where he said that (almost word for word) "There is an important doctrine called the doctrine of predestination. The Bible calls it the doctrine of election. I use these terms interchangeably." This is a big, fat lie because nowhere in the Bible will you find the phrase "doctrine of election." And yet this Calvinist pastor basically says that the Bible itself clearly reports that there is a "doctrine of election" and that it's the same thing as predestination. Not true! And so deceptive! Predestination is about a believer (anyone who chooses to truly put their faith in Jesus) being predestined to be redeemed and glorified and to bring glory to God, and election is about believers being of service to God. Neither of these is about certain sinners being pre-chosen to be saved over others. But it's about what happens once we choose to believe in Jesus. Remember, even the angels and Jesus were elect. This doesn't mean they were chosen for salvation, just that God chose them for a particular service. This makes so much more sense than saying election means predestined to be saved.]
In the New Testament, there are 29 uses of this word.
Of those, seven have nothing to do with anything related to our topic at hand (Luke 10:42, 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (3 uses of “chosen”), 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Timothy 2:4, James 2:5).
Three are about Jesus (Matthew 12:18, Luke 23:35, 1 Peter 2:4).
And twelve are specifically about Jesus choosing His disciples or about specific Bible people being chosen for specific jobs (John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16, 15:19, Acts 1:2, 1:24, 9:15, 10:41, 15:22, 15:25, 22:14, Romans 16:13).
[Calvinists err when they take the verses about Jesus choosing His disciples and make it about us instead. That is NOT what the verses are saying or implying. Just because Jesus chose His disciples doesn’t mean God chooses who will be saved and who won’t be. Notice that John 6:70 says that Jesus chose a “devil” as one of His disciples, alongside the true believers. If Calvinism is right to apply Jesus “choosing” His disciples to God “choosing” who believes in Him then this would mean that God also chooses “devils” (reprobates) to be part of His “disciples.” And it would mean that the elect could turn out to be “devils.” Ultimately, it would mean non-elect people could be “chosen” and that elected people could turn out to be “non-elect.” But as I said, Calvinists err in applying the “Jesus chose His disciple” verses to the salvation of individual believers.]
This leaves only seven verses that are worth looking into for how they relate to salvation and Calvinism.
Matthew 20:16 (KJB) and 22:14: “ … many are called, but few are chosen …”
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV): “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Revelation 17:14 (NIV): “… and with [the Lord] will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
These four have the same Greek word (Strong’s 1588, same as “elect” above) for “chosen/chose” (and so most likely, it's generally about being chosen for service to God, just like "elect"). And the definition of this word is about being “chosen out, selected.” But it doesn’t say for what. (Also, it implies “favorite.”) So you have to look at the verses in context to find out.
First off, in 1 Peter 2:9, it’s also translated “chosen generation/nation” and it appears to be about the Jewish race being chosen as God’s people (Deuteronomy 7:6), in which believers are included when we are grafted in after we choose to put our faith in Jesus (Romans 11). This is not about individual people being chosen for salvation, but about Israel (true believers too) being chosen to “proclaim God’s praises.”
And Matthew 20:16 only has the “few are chosen” part in the King James. It says, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” The other translations leave off the last part. So I am not sure what to make of this one, other than the passage where this verse appears has nothing to do with God choosing certain people for salvation and others for damnation. It has to do with God’s right to pay all of His “workers” equally, to give all believers the same reward regardless of when they were “hired.” Therefore, I see nothing in this passage to support Calvinist predestination. More likely, it’s that all believers are called to be faithful and obedient, but only some are chosen to be rewarded abundantly because they actually did live faithfully.
In Matthew 22:14, we read the parable of the king inviting people to come to a wedding banquet, but the people refuse to come. And so the king tells his servants to go out and invite anyone and everyone they can find in the streets. But one guy comes in who isn’t dressed for the wedding, and they kick him out. And then we read, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
I would point out that, if this refers to salvation, the ones who the king invited at first refused to come. This contradicts a Calvinist’s idea of predestination, that God determines who will believe, that the elect have to believe, and that we have no real control over our own choices and cannot affect our eternity.
However, Dr./Pastor Tony Evans says in his study Bible that this is about believers losing spiritual rewards in the millennial kingdom for not living faithfully now (similar to the verse above). He says that while all believers are called to salvation, only a few faithful ones will be chosen to rule with God during the millennial kingdom. The rest will be denied that special reward because of their unfaithfulness, their lazy Christian walk.
I have to admit, I never considered it in this light before, but it makes a lot of sense.
Either way, this does not support Calvinism in any sense.
And in Revelation 17:14, I get the feeling that this isn’t about choosing who gets salvation but choosing who gets to come back with Him to do battle at Armageddon. He will bring with Him those who were faithful to Him.
Once again, the definition of “chosen” does not inherently relate to salvation. So Calvinists are wrong to insert “salvation” into it. And as I pointed out, Romans 11:4-5 shows us that God bases His choice on our choice. So if you want to read salvation into “chosen” (when it’s not inherently there) then I would do it with the Bible as your guide – God chooses those who choose Him. Anyone who receives Jesus and believes in His name has the right to be called a child of God (John 1:12). We are included in Him when we believe (Ephesians 1:13).
Mark 13:20 (NIV): “… But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen …”
Ephesians 1:4 (NIV): “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight …” (God “chose” those who are “in Him.” He didn’t choose who would be “in Him,” but He chose those who chose to be included “in Him” through their belief.)
These two have the same Greek word (Strong’s 1586). The definition, in this case, is about picking out, selecting. But once again, it doesn’t say for what. And it says that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the “not chosen” ones are rejected. This “choosing” carries with it the ideas of kindness, favor, love. [Note: It doesn’t carry the idea of “salvation” or “eternal life.”]
To me, the definition alone shows that this “chosen” isn’t about salvation, about God accepting certain people for heaven but rejecting others to hell.
I covered Mark 13:20 in the “elect” paragraph already (tribulation believers who are “selected” to be gathered by the angels), so let’s look at the Ephesians verse. Since the definition of “chosen” doesn’t say what they were chosen for, you have to look at the verse. And Ephesians 1:4 tells us what this “chosen” means.
If you read it in context, it isn’t saying anything about certain sinners being prechosen to be believers, to inherit salvation/eternal life. It says that those who are believers (those who are “included in [Jesus]” after they choose to believe in Him, as seen in Ephesians 1:13) are chosen “to be holy and blameless in his sight.” This isn’t about choosing certain people for salvation but about believers being chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight, because we accepted Jesus’s sacrificial death on our behalf, letting His blood pay for our sins and wipe our slates clean. Anyone who chooses to be “in Jesus” will be seen as holy and blameless in God’s sight.
When read in context, this is not a Calvinist verse. Once again, it’s about the destiny of those who choose to believe. The path of a believer (where we end up) has been predetermined, not whether or not we become believers.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NIV): “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
This one uses Strong’s 138, which explains it as “to take for oneself.” This could sound like it supports Calvinism (“chose you to be saved”) … until you look at what the verse is really saying.
First, it’s not talking about individual people being chosen for salvation, but it’s talking about that generation being chosen to be the first to be saved through the Holy Spirit and through belief in Jesus, as opposed to the generations before that were saved through the Law. It’s about God choosing the method of salvation that the generation gets, not about God choosing who gets saved.
Second, when you look up that word “saved” in Strong’s Concordance with Vine’s Expository Dictionary (Strong’s 4991, “salvation”), it isn’t even about eternal salvation, heaven and hell. It says it’s about the deliverance God will bring believers when Jesus comes again for His people, to spare us from the wrath He will pour out on the ungodly at the end of this age. Big difference!
This isn’t a Calvinist verse at all or a “predestined for heaven or hell” verse. It’s about God choosing to switch the method of salvation at that time from being through the Law to being through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And it’s about God choosing to spare true believers from His end times wrath.
Calvinists think they are clever when they come up with memes like this.
They say that John 3:16’s “whosoever believes shall not perish” really means “all the believing shall not perish.” They say that “whosoever” really means the “elect” – that the elect will not perish but have eternal life. Because, in Calvinism, the elect are the only ones who can/will believe in Jesus. And since “whosoever believes” sounds too much like anyone can believe, they re-interpret it instead as “all the believing/believers shall not perish.” (They think that knowing some Greek words shows how smart and reliable they are, as if we’re going to go “Well, they know the Greek word so they much be right! They’re so smart!”)
They back this up by saying that “whosoever” is made up of two Greek words (and this is accurate) – the first is the word for “all/any/every/whole” and the second is the word for “the/who.” And they pick the “all” and the “the” to get “all the believing” or “all the believers.”
But they are WRONG! This does not work because, according to the concordance, the word “believes” in this verse is a verb, not an adjective (as in “the believing people”) and not a noun (as in “the believers”). Therefore, neither of those is right. Because if “believes” is a verb, you can’t use the “the.” An article (“the”) does not go with a verb. And so you would have to use the “who” – “any who believe” (anyone, everyone, all who believe).
Clearly, it is a mistranslation to say “all the believing/believers” (the “elect”, in Calvinism). It is not the case. It is exactly what it says: “Whosoever [anyone who] believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
And if that’s not convincing enough for you …
If the “whosoever” in John 3:16 is talking about the elect (“the believing/believers”) then these verses would also have to be talking about the elect because they use the same Greek word (sometimes translated as “anyone” or “everyone”):
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment …” (Matthew 5:22, NIV for all these)
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery …” (Luke 16:18)
“Everyone who falls on that stone [Jesus] will be broken to pieces …” (Luke 20:18)
“ … a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (John 16:2)
“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father …” (1 John 2:23)
Does it sound like “the elect/believers/believing” in these verses?
Then it can’t be said that the “whosoever” in John 3:16 means the elect believers either!
Despite Calvinist attempts to change it, John 3:16 means exactly what we think it does, that anyone can believe in Jesus and that those who do will not perish but have eternal life.
6. “Hardens” and “prepared”
“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (Romans 9:18, NIV)
Calvinists loves this verse and the word “hardens.” They say it means that God decides who will go to heaven and who won’t, and that He hardens those whom He’s predestined for hell so that they can’t believe in Him.
[This is strange, though, because if Calvi-Jesus never died for them anyway and if Calvi-god won’t give them Calvi-Holy-Spirit to “wake them up” and make them believe – if it’s already totally impossible for them to believe in Calvi-god from the beginning – why would he need to go the extra step of hardening their hearts too? And why would he cause Satan to try to steal the truth from the non-elect (Mark 4:15), to trick them to keep them from seeing the truth (2 Cor. 11:14), and to blind them to the truth (2 Cor. 4:4) … if they were never able to believe in the first place? It doesn’t make sense.]
Anyway, if you look up this Romans verse in context, you’ll see that it’s about God having the right to decide whom to use for special purposes and whom to use for common purposes. It’s about God having the right to choose Israel to be the bloodline that brings Jesus into the world. It’s about God having the right to extend the offer of salvation to the Gentiles. It’s not about God predestining the salvation of individual people. (Also notice in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 that believers can affect whether or not they are used for noble purposes or for ignoble purposes, based on whether or not they cleanse themselves from being “ignoble” – cleanse themselves. God doesn’t do it for them and hasn’t pre-decided it. He responds according to our choices.)
And if you look up “hardens” in the concordance, you see nothing about it being a decision God makes from the beginning of time to keep people from ever having the chance to believe in Him so that He can send them to hell. The concordance says that being hardened is basically a punishment from God for first hardening our own hearts, for continually resisting Him even though He has waited lovingly and patiently for us.
If we resist Him too long and set our hearts against Him, He might one day make it permanent, hardening our condition, making our decision permanent. That’s what “hardens” means. It’s God solidifying the condition we first chose.
This is what He did with Pharaoh. Pharaoh hardened his own heart for the first five plagues … and then God made it permanent and worked it into His plans. But make no mistake: Pharaoh chose it first, again and again. (And yet how did my Calvi-pastor explain Pharaoh’s hard heart? Something like this: “Well, I know it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but that’s not what happened. God hardened it first and then Pharaoh did it.” But is that what the Bible says? No! Shamelessly switching up what the Bible said to fit with Calvinism!)
[And since we are in Romans 9, let’s look at the phrase “prepared for destruction.”
Romans 9:22 (NIV): “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?”
This could definitely sound like God created certain people specifically so that He could destroy them, that He predestined certain people to hell. It could sound like that … until you look it up in the concordance.
In the concordance and King James, the word is not “prepared” but “fitted.” And it says that “fitted” indicates a strong correlation between someone’s character and their destiny. It’s written in such a way to imply that the objects of wrath prepared themselves for destruction. So it’s not that God made them that way; it’s that they made themselves that way by how they chose to live and be.
A little time in the concordance makes it so much clearer. And so much less Calvinistic!]
So let me ask … How much biblical support does Calvinism really have? Enough to justify how it destroys God’s trustworthy, loving, gracious character, how it minimizes Jesus’s sacrifice, and how it contradicts what God clearly, plainly said in His Word?
I hope you can see that Calvinism does not have nearly as much biblical support as it thinks it does. So remember this when you’re talking with a Calvinist who tells you that “Calvinism is the Gospel” and that you have to agree with them or else you’ll be disagreeing with and dishonoring God.
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserved.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NIV)