Thursday, April 30, 2009


It may come as a surprise to some that those who hold to the doctrines of grace often called "calvinism" are not monolithic in their thinking. The subject of this blog deals with one of those differences. Supralapsarian is one of the classifications of the distinctions and is opposed to Infra or Sublapsarian. Infra and sub mean the same thing and are interchangeable but most non-supras prefer the term infra and so I will use this for the purposes of this blog. I do want to make note that sublapsarian is sometimes distinguished from infralapsarian by amyraldians or 4-point calvinists who utilize the sub for themselves. I do not intend to focus much on the amyraldians however and will deal with them in a future blog, Lord willing, and so am talking primarily to those who hold to the scriptural teaching of Definite Redemption.

Historically the focus of the debate between the two parties is over the logical order of God's decrees. While I will mention these different orders, I again do not intend on focusing on them as they are all speculations and not specifically laid out in scripture. The focus of this discussion is going to be on the question of equal ultimacy, the origin of the fall and sin and whether predestination is single or double. These issues are the crux of the debate.


Before charting out the views some definitions are in order. Both infra and sub mean below or after with supra meaning above and before. Lapsarian means fall. Supralapsarian therefore means above or before the fall and infra/sublapsarian means below or after the fall. Supras hold that God chose what would become of mankind before considering the fall whereas infras say God took into consideration the fall before deciding to either save or damn man.

I. The logical order often held by amyraldians such as Augustus Strong, Millard Erickson and Charles Ryrie amongst others is

1. the decree to create the world and (all) men

2. the decree that (all) men would fall

3. the decree to redeem (all) men by the cross work of Christ

4. the election of some fallen men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)

5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect.

II. The logical order often held by infras such as Charles Hodge, William G. T. Shedd, R. L. Dabney, J. Oliver Buswell Jr., Louis Berkhof, Benjamin Warfield, John Gerstner, R. C. Sproul and Bruce Ware amongst others is

1. the decree to create the world and (all) men

2. the decree that (all) men would fall

3. the election of some fallen men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)

4. the decree to redeem the elect by the cross work of Christ

5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect.

III. A. The logical order held historically by supras such as Theodore Beza, William Whitaker, William Perkins, William Ames,William Twisse, Francis Gomarus, Gisbert Voetius, Thomas Goodwin, Samuel Rutherford and John Gill amongst others is

1. the election of some men to salvation in Christ and the reprobation of the others

2. the decree to create the world and both kinds of men

3. the decree that all men would fall

4. the decree to redeem the elect, who are now sinners, by the cross work of Christ

5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to these elect sinners

B. A different proposal by supras such as Robert Reymond, Gordon Clark, Herman Hoeksema and possibly Jerome Zanchius and Johannes Piscator, according to Robert Reymond, is

1. the election of some sinful men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind in order to make known the riches of God's gracious mercy to the elect)

2. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect sinners

3. the decree to redeem the elect sinners by the cross work of Christ

4. the decree that men should fall

5. the decree to create the world and men

Of the positions listed above the supra positions are closer to the truth of scripture and so therefore are preferred but again the discussion is a little arcane as we are never given any particular order. I also want to say the proposal of Robert Reymond does leave itself open to the criticism that God in considering men as sinful must be after(infra) the fall and not truly before(supra) and so I lean to the historic supra view.


Typically when reading a theological work ,even by a calvinist, discussing sin, evil and the fall of man and angels the first thing you are told in bold letters is that God is not the author of sin and that He has a permissive will through which He (passively) just allows sin. They usually go on to say that evil is the absence of good as darkness is an absence of light and space an absence of material. The use of the word "author" is a little confusing. If one means by it a performer of sin then every Bible believer would agree God is not the author of sin(James 1:13). The ordinary use of the word however is a writer as of a book. In this case all Bible believers agree that God is the author of the Bible and yet it contains prophesies of all sorts of evils such as the betrayel and crucifixion of Christ(Acts 1:16-21), false Christs and prophets(Matt. 24:24) and the actions of the Beast in Revelation(Rev. 11:7). Isaiah 45:7 also explicitly informs us that God not only forms the light but he also creates darkness and then goes on to say that God not only makes peace but creates evil. Nothing happens by chance but by the predestined plan of God. Not even the wicked can look to God and boast of defying His predestined plan as "The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom."(Prov. 16:4) God has even appointed our death(Heb. 9:27) and so whether by cancer, murder, suicide or any other way we can be certain that this is one appointment we will not miss. God is the ultimate author of everything and as Gordon Clark aptly put in his excellent book God and Evil "In Ephesians 1:11 Paul tells us that God works all things, not some things only, after the counsel of His own will"(p27).


In his book Chosen By God R.C. Sproul includes a chapter called Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Is Predestination Double. In it Sproul makes the intriguing claim that he holds to double predestination all the while denying "equal ultimacy". He makes the claim using his wit and illogic that election is a positive(active) decree and reprobation is a negative(passive) decree. He bombasts equal ultimists as "hyper-calvinists" and other pejoratives. Let us look at scripture and see if he is correct. We have already seen from Proverbs 16:4 that God makes even the wicked for Himself. It would have been better for Judas and every other reprobate person if they had never been born as we learn in Matthew 26:24 but God creates them for Himself and has reserved them for the day of wrath(Job 21:30, Jude 4). God, we learn in Romans 9:22,23, wants to show His wrath and make His power known and does so by raising up leaders like the Pharaoh and hardening their hearts, blinding their eyes and deafening their ears to the truth(Rom. 9:17,18, Isaiah 6:9,10, 29:9,10, Mark 4:11,12). Hardening, blinding and deafening are actions and not passively just allowed. Sproul puts himself in the position of judging God as evil in doing this by not accepting the clear teaching of God's Word. Psalm 135 tells us "Whatever the Lord pleases He does" and goes on to say "He destroyed the firstborn of Egypt" and "slew mighty kings" and in Deuteronomy 28:63 we learn that "the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing". God has equally, ultimately, actively and doubly predestined everything that has ever happened and that will happen.
A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith by Robert L. Reymond-A systematic theology by a Presbyterian Supracalvinist who holds to Equal Ultimacy.
The History And Theology Of Calvinism by Curt Daniel-Essentially a systematic theology by an Baptistic Infracalvinist. It is very informative from the other side and has an excellent chapter, albeit inconsistent with his infra position, on the hardening of the reprobate.
God And Evil: The Problem Solved by Gordon Clark-A wonderful treatise on evil from a Presbyterian Supracalvinist Equal Ultimist perspective.
Chosen By God by R. C. Sproul- From a Presbyterian Infracalvinist perspective.
The Pleasures Of God by John Piper- From a Calvinistic Baptist perspective.
Perspectives On Election: 5 Views by Chad Owen Brand- See the chapters by Robert Reymond and Bruce Ware(InfraCalvinist Baptist).
A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism by Clendenen & Waggoner- See especially the chapter "A Molinist View of Election, or How to Be a Consistent Infralapsarian" by Molinist Ken Keathley which shows the fine line (if any) between Molinism and Infracalvinism.
Diversity Within the Reformed Tradition: Supra-and Infralapsarianism in Calvin, Dort, and Westminster by J.V. Fesko- A historical study advocating a Supracalvinist view while denying Equal Ultimacy by an Orthodox Presbyterian.
The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century Volume Two by Ligon Duncan- J. V. Fesko makes another attempt at formulating a Supracalvinism while denying Equal Ultimacy in his chapter "The Westminster Confession and Lapsarianism: Calvin and the Divines".

Soli Deo Gloria

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