When discussing a contested issue — you know, like predestination — there’s often a tendency to say things like, “Let’s just go back to what the Bible says.” But it’s not always that simple. There are a couple reasons for this; but for now, let’s highlight one.
All of us read with a filter — a set of presuppositions that color what we read and how we interpret it.
For example, most people reading this are the product of a Western culture that prizes the individual above all else. We’ve drunk deeply from the font of individualism, without even realizing it.
If you grew up in America, you’ve gotten a double dose. The virtue of “rugged individualism” (it’s taken for granted that it’s a virtue) courses through our veins. It’s woven into our national mythology.
And so we tend to think of our faith, like everything else, in primarily individual terms. We read the Bible as if it were written to each of us personally. (There’s even a website selling personalized Bibles with your name inserted into over 7,000 verses.) We talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. We invite others to accept him as their personal savior.
There’s just one problem. The Bible doesn’t talk like this, because it’s not a Western book.
It never characterizes Jesus as our “personal savior.” When it does speak of a relationship with God, it’s usually in the context of a community. To have a relationship with God is to be part of a redeemed community — the covenant people, the body of Christ, etc.
We sometimes talk about “walking with God” as if it’s just me and Jesus strolling down the beach. The Bible imagines it in very different terms:
I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. (2 Corinthians 6, where Paul quotes several OT passages)
When we come across the pronoun “you” in our Bibles, we assume it means each of us individually. But more often than not, it’s plural, not singular. It’s you the community, not you the individual.
Here’s an example:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3, NRSV)
Paul’s not describing each believer as their own little temple here. He’s saying you the community are God’s temple. God’s Spirit dwells in you as a community. (The NIV does a better job in this case by using the phrase “you yourselves.”)
So what does all this have to do with predestination? Everything.
Is it possible we’ve simply assumed the Bible has individuals in mind when it talks about predestination? In doing so, is it possible we’ve imported our Western cultural assumptions into the text, without even realizing it?
Next up, predestination in the Old Testament.