October 22, 2008

Is Romans 8:29-30 an Ordo Salutis?

There are some who insist that Romans 8:29-30 represents a Calvinist ordo salutis. This question was brought to me by one of the members of SEA, who was wrestling with this text because of how some Calvinists had presented it to him. Well, what is an ordo salutis? It literally translates as ‘order of salvation’ and refers to the process which a person goes through as the turn from being condemned to being saved. Now what the Calvinist claims is that the order proposed by Romans 8 fits Calvinism better than Arminianism. Is this true?

No, and I can give a few reasons:

What’s So Calvinist About It?

Here is the proposed order
  1. We were foreknown by God
  2. We were predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son
  3. We were called
  4. We were justified
  5. We were glorified

Now how is this necessarily Calvinist? All Arminians believe that our predestination unto salvaton is conditioned upon faith which was foreknown by God. Therefore, according to the Arminian order of things, God foreknew our faith, then He predestined us unto salvation, and then the other things could come in really any order. Therefore, what is the point of quoting this as a Calvinist text?

But Is This Even an Ordo Salutis?

It is important to note what the text says, and what it doesn't say. An ordo salutis reading sees the text like this:

Romans 8:29-30 For whom He foreknew, He then predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, He then called; and whom He called, He then justified; and whom He justified, He then glorified.

But that's not was the text says. Instead it says:

Romans 8:29-30 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

All the text says is that the one's whom God did such and such to, He also did these things. For instance, I could say that I married my wife, and she whom I married, I also love, and she who I love, I am also devoted to. Now does this language imply that I married her, and then loved her, and then devoted myself to her? I don't really think so. And yet, that's the eisegesis that these Calvinists are pushing onto Romans 8:29-30. It represents a conceptual order, not a chronological order.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the context that suggests that Paul was concerned with an ordo salutis. Paul's point is that God does good things for us, and this is a list of those good things. Also, the list doesn't have a cause and effect flow to it, which is typical for an ordo salutis. How does being called flow naturally out of being predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son? How does justification flow out of calling? There are clearly some steps missing. The most glaring is faith. Where is faith? Isn't Paul's whole argument in the book justification by faith? If that's the case, why would he leave it out while describing the order of salvation.

The ordo salutis interpretation brings up more questions than answers, and doesn't seem to be based on the text at all but instead out of concern. It is more that it sounds like an ordo salutis because it is a list of soteriological events, and since some want an answer to the ordo salutis question, they made this text answer it. It's the overall problem of forcing the Scriptures to answer the questions that we are asking, rather than prioritizing our questions based off of the Scriptures' concerns.

Consider the thought process. Having been challenged with the theological idea of an ordo salutis, one begins to search the Scripture for where one is listed. In Romans one finds a list of soteriological events. Then, without analysizing the context or considering the actual language and list, the person concludes "I have found what I was looking for," and that is the problem. You will always find what you are looking for. This is why it is so important to base our questions on what the text says, rather than coming to the text, demanding it answer our questions.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"There are some who insist that Romans 8:29-30 represents a Calvinist ordo salutis."

They must be high on crack. Romans 8:29-30 clearly represents the Arminian ordo salutis:

1. We were foreknown by God
2. We were predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son
3. We were called
4. We were justified
5. We were glorified

The Calvinist ordo salutis goes like this:

1. God rolled the dice and we got an even number
2. We were predestined to be given faith
3. We were predestined to sin obstinately and certainly be the opposite of conformed to the image of the Son
4. We were called
5. We were justified
6. We were glorified

TJ Turner said...

I know this is an old post but I happened upon it and wanted to share a few thoughts. Let me first say that while Calvinists and Arminians will always disagree (I'm a Calvinist by the way), it's certainly not helpful to characterize each other in derogatory ways or to misrepresent each other's views. I know Calvinists are guilty of this often, and as a former Arminian who is now a Calvinist I hope to avoid this.

First I want to quickly comment to beowulf that no good Calvinist would ever say God rolled any dice. God sovereignly chose who he wanted to choose. It wasn't random, it was God's will.

That being said, the issue related to this passage is a very basic disagreement over the meaning of the word "foreknew." Arminians take that to mean that God fore-saw what we would choose and therefore elected those who would choose him. Calvinists believe that word means God "knew" us closer to the sense that Adam "knew" Eve. That is God fore-loved us and therefore chose those he loved, and enabled them to respond in faith. I think if we really want to come to any agreement or better understanding of the passage we have to look at what this word really means.

Jc_Freak: said...


I absolutely agree with you that characterizations benefit no-one. They only serve to distract from the conversation at hand. Indeed the comment which was deleted above was deleted for is mis-characterization of Calvinism. If you ever see me doing that, let me know.

Apart from that, I have heard the "fore-love" argument before. A couple of things on that. First, it is not the traditional Calvinist argument. It is relatively recent, as far as I can tell, and I think it was primarily developed to combat Arminianism.

Second, the argument is not on what the word means, but based upon a possible Hebrew colloquialism. "proegno" (the aorist 3rd person singular of "proginosko" primarily means "fore-know". Another other translation, though possibly suggested, cannot be insisted upon. That doesn't make it wrong, but it is not a strong case.

Third, I find the point rather moot. Either fore-knew or fore-loved can work in Arminian and Calvinist theologies. Personally, I don't believe it would mean that God fore-knew that we accepted Jesus Christ, but that He fore-knew us personally as children of God. I believe this is what most Calvinists mean by "fore-loved", though I do think that fore-knew is better. Additionally, seeing how God knows what He preordains in Calvinism, translating it as fore-knew does no real damage to Calvinism. Again, I see it as moot.

Your thoughts?