Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Supralapsarianism? What's that?

Laurence Vance writes: “If God has ordained everything for his glory then the reprobation of the wicked is his ‘determinate counsel’ (Acts 2:23) and takes place ‘according to the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. 1:11) no matter which lapsarian system one adheres to.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.298)

The contention is whether or not there is any real difference between Supra-lapsarianism vs. Infra-lapsarianism, or whether the purported distinction is merely a false dichotomy, where a system of jargon is invented for the sole purpose of Special Pleading. In other words, the charge is essentially whether any Calvinism inevitably boils down to the hyper Calvinism of Supra-lapsarianism.

First, what is Supra-lapsarianism?

To begin, I will first define the Calvinistic lapsarian terms, and then I will cite a couple of quotes, and then ask you three simple (Yes/No) questions.

The word “lapsarian” comes from the Latin word lapsus, which means the “doctrine of the Fall.” The prefix supra means above, while the prefix infra implies below. So the perspective of the former is “before the Fall” while the perspective of the latter is “after the Fall,” or in lieu of the Fall.

1) Supra-lapsarianism: The damnation of the [alleged] “non-elect” is according to the secret purpose of God, without regard to their sin. Creation, the Fall, and sin must all be the manifestation of the secret counsel of God, having created the [alleged] “non-elect” by necessity. This is also known as Double Predestination or Unconditional Reprobation. Its logical order is:

1. Election and Reprobation

2. Creation

3. Fall

4. Atonement for the elect

5. Salvation for the elect

Here is a statement of Supralapsarianism:

John Calvin writes: “...God has chosen to salvation those whom He pleased, and has rejected the others, without our knowing why, except that its reason is hidden in His eternal counsel.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.53)

Calvin explains: “When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. It is therefore wrong to say that the reprobate are worthy of eternal destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.120-121)

In other words, Reprobation is just as unconditional as Election.

Calvin adds: “If what I teach is true, that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121)

In other words, the Unconditional Reprobation of the wicked is not in lieu of their sin, but in lieu of God’s alleged decree, which establishes their “lot” in life:

Calvin writes: “…the reason why God elects some and rejects others is to be found in His purpose alone. … before men are born their lot is assigned to each of them by the secret will of God. … the salvation or the destruction of men depends on His free election.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.203)

Calvin writes: “There are some, too, who allege that God is greatly dishonored if such arbitrary power is bestowed on Him. But does their distaste make them better theologians than Paul, who has laid it down as the rule of humility for the believers, that they should look up to the sovereignty of God and not evaluate it by their own judgment?” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, pp.209-210)

Calvin adds: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred to the will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208)

2) Infra-lapsarianism: The damnation of the [alleged] “non-elect” is strictly according to the sin of man. This is called Single Predestination, and closely associated with Preterition, which conveys the meaning that the [alleged] “non-elect” are simply “passed by” and left out of the will of God. It rejects the idea that God creates sinners by “necessity,” and to ultimately damn them for the glory of God.

1. Creation

2. Fall

3. Election and Reprobation

4. Atonement for the elect

5. Salvation for the elect

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, explains: “If any of you want to know what I preach every day, and any stranger should say, ‘Give me a summary of his doctrine,’ say this, ‘He preaches salvation all of grace, and damnation all of sin. He gives God all the glory for every soul that is saved, but he won’t have it that God is to blame for any man that is damned.’ That teaching I cannot understand. My soul revolts at the idea of a doctrine that lays the blood of man’s soul at God’s door. I cannot conceive how any human mind, at least any Christian mind, can hold any such blasphemy as that.” (Jacob and Esau)

So it seems that according to John Calvin, the sentiment expressed by Chares Spurgeon is nothing more than an example of how “the flesh rages” against the “arbitrary power” of the “sovereignty of God.”

3) Sub-lapsarianism: As a close relative of Infra-lapsarianism, the prefix sub also implies below or after. This designation accommodates the atonement views of the 4-Point Calvinists, so that Election and Reprobation are placed in a logical order which follow the atonement:

1. Creation

2. Fall

3. Atonement for all

4. Election and Reprobation

Salvation for the elect

4) Conclusion: Now we come to the conclusion, which is the question of whether any of these designations are legitimate distinctions, or merely worthless jargon used to confound, confuse and obfuscate:

Calvinist, G.C. Berkouwer, states: “We cannot speak of before and after in God’s eternal decrees as we do in time, hence the difference between supra and infra can be called imaginary because it implies the application of a temporal order to eternity.” (Divine Election, p.261)

Berkouwer adds: “The fall must ultimately have been part of God’s counsel and therefore it ‘rests’ in God’s sovereign pleasure. But in that case the infra concept says the same as the supra.” (Divine Election, p.261)

5) Question:

A) Based upon the reasoning provided, do you believe that John Calvin was a Supra-lapsarian? (Yes/No?)

B) Based upon the reasoning provided, do you believe that G.C. Berkouwer was a Supra-lapsarian? (Yes/No?)

C) Does Berkouwer’s argument violate any principle of logic? (Yes/No?)

No answer will be permitted, unless it first answers all three of these simple (Yes/No) questions.


Stephen Garrett said...

Dear brother:

A well written article. And this coming from a supralapsarian.

The answers to your question.

1. Yes, Calvin, based on the statements you cited, was a supra.

2. Berhouwer probably could be classed as a supra.

3. No, it does not.

God does not have temporal thoughts, nor "logical" in the sense that one thought is made to depend upon another. I believe this and also believe it is what Berkouwer was saying and would be what Calvin would also affirm.

Can we get into the mind of the "Potter" of Romans 9, and talk about the thoughts in his mind, and the relation of one thought to another?

In Ephesians 3: 9, 10 Paul says, I believe, that God created all things for the purposes of redemption.

Again, if infralapsarianism is true, and argues for a necessary logical and chronological "order" to these divine thoughts and purposes, then he is forced to make salvation and the new creation an accident, a chance event. He must also affirm that God's purpose to reveal and glorify his Son, the Christ, was also an accident. He must affirm that God had rather there had never been the need for the second Adam. The coming of the second Adam was what God would rather had not occurred. God had rather none know what it means to show mercy, to know forgiveness, etc. God had rather none knew anything about his wrath against sin.

Anyway, these are my thoughts and reactions to your questions and topic.

In Christ's name,


Richard Coords said...

Hello Stephen,

Thanks for answering the questions. Yes, I’d like to hear what you have to say about “the Potter” of Romans 9, but first, read through Jeremiah 18:1-13 first. Read the commentaries. Get a feel for the heart of that passage. The reason why is because I feel that Paul is extrapolating the “Potter” principles from that passage.

Also, let me give some background, and I’d also like to touch on a point that you made about God not having temporal thoughts.

When I was a Calvinist, I was a Supra-lapsarian. I believed in a kind of “free will” where God shaped events in such a way, so as to design the means by which to efficaciously bring to salvation, those of the eternal flock of the Father, whom He alone purposed to save, so that their salvation was never the product of a random, chance accident, but the result of a specific design. Thus, the entirety of the created order, that is, the creation of the non-elect, having been created by necessity, as well as the Fall of the elect and non-elect, was for the sole purpose of the experiential growth and edification of the eternal flock of the Father. It’s the concept that someone like Goliath was not born by accident, but was created for the sole purpose of the growth and edification of someone like David. The fall of my Calvinism was that I couldn’t accept the “secret will” interpretation of John Calvin at 2nd Peter 3:9 and Matthew 23:39 (Calvin didn’t use the ‘of the elect’ argument that is often used today). That, and my discussions with my Calvinist brother in law regarding John 3:16, was the end of my Calvinism. So that’s my background.

You wrote: “God does not have temporal thoughts, nor ‘logical’ in the sense that one thought is made to depend upon another. I believe this and also believe it is what Berkouwer was saying and would be what Calvin would also affirm.”

As a 4-Point Arminian, nothing is more difficult for me to explain than God’s foreknowledge, which is because God is an eternal being. From the Arminian standpoint, I can no more rationalize His foreknowledge, than I can rationalize His eternal nature. On the basis of His eternality, I can accept that His perspective is an “eternal now,” as proposed by C.S. Lewis, but that still does not explain how an eternal being could relate to temporal creatures.

You wrote: “He must affirm that God had rather there had never been the need for the second Adam. The coming of the second Adam was what God would rather had not occurred. God had rather none know what it means to show mercy, to know forgiveness, etc. God had rather none knew anything about his wrath against sin.”

Actually, the last sentence may be incorrect, because you still have the demonstration of God’s wrath against the fallen angels. But, you’re right that if God had never made man, who would have known about God’s mercy, other than God Himself? It does seem that man was set to fail, when God tested man in the Garden of Eden, since God 1) could have forbidden that the tree even be in that Garden, 2) could have forbidden that Satan even be allowed to enter it, and 3) could have allowed the presence of an angel to counter the temptation of Satan. So, in a sense, God didn’t necessarily need to cause the Fall. If God wished to demonstrate His mercy through the redemption of man, He could have simply allowed the free will of the individuals to cause their own fall, just as (from the Arminian perspective), Satan and the fallen angels caused their own fall as well.

Chris said...

Great post.

I have endorsed a lot from Spurgeon's sermon on Jacob and Esau in my article on Romans 9, where he makes similar statements.

Good explanations of big technical words which only cloud the issue. I've heard some Calvinists say "God does not predestine anyone to hell as we are all condemned already by our own sin" but then undermine that by saying "God ordained the fall to happen". Thus they just go back to where they started.

Richard Coords said...

Hello Chris,

I believe the issue is with the word "ordain." Yes, it's in the Bible, but it's still a tricky word. Check the strongs, and notice the various meanings. I visited a thesaurus, and here is what it pulled up:

Definition: establish, install

Synonyms: anoint, appoint, bless, call, commission, consecrate, constitute, deal, deal with, decree, delegate, destine, dictate, elect, enact, enjoin, fix, frock, impose, institute, invest, lay down the law, legislate, nominate, order, prescribe, pronounce, put foot down, rule, set, walk heavy, will.

My opinion is that a Moderate Calvinist may infer "ordain" differently from a High Calvinist.

Chris said...


If they say "God intended the fall" and it was "in his sovereign will" this sounds like he intended it to happen and therefore God is responsible for the doom of every lost sinner.

I take your point that moderate Calvinists may differ. I'm getting more confused.

Richard Coords said...

Hello Chris,

I want to start a new post on this. It will be called, "James White and the purpose of sin." I was re-reading the debate between White & Hunt (Debating Calvinism) and also re-reading portions of "Why I am not a Calvinist" and I reviewed a youtube clip from James White regarding the purpose of sin, and something has become apparent to me, regarding the "purpose of sin." I would like to share a couple of quotes, and then sugggest a point that I have not yet heard articulated.