Reprobation in Jude?

Jude 4 in the KJV reads, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to this translation of οἱ πάλαι προγεγραμμένοι εἰς τοῦτο τὸ κρίμα, Jude 4 seems to support some form of the doctrine of reprobation. Most Reformed theologians of the past and many of the present have made used it in support of the doctrine (e.g., Calvin; Brakel, 1:120; C. Hodge, 2:346; A. Hodge, 222; Dabney, 273; Shedd, 336; Grudem, 685).

Back in the early days of seminary during the discussion on election and reprobation, my Systematic Theology professor was quick to tell us that the word translated “before of old ordained” (προγεγραμμένοι) simply meant “written before,” and that the KJV had mistranslated it. He pointed out that the etymology of the word indicates that that’s all it means: προγράφω is the combination of the prefix προ-, meaning before, and the verb γράφω, meaning to write. Of course, etymology is not a reliable foundation for exegesis, but even the three other NT occurrences of the word don’t support the notion of predestination. Rather, they seem to convey the simple idea of writing before (Rom 15:4; Eph 3:3) or symbolically of portraying (Gal 3:1)—before here being used in a spatial rather than a temporal sense. Even BDAG doesn’t suggest foreordaining as a possible meaning for προγράφω. So the evidence wasn’t looking good for Jude 4 as a reference to reprobation.

However, I was never quite convinced. With such a small number of occurrences in the NT, it’s quite difficult to speak dogmatically about what words can and cannot mean. And where did the KJV translators get the idea of predestination for προγράφω? Surely they didn’t just make it up! The few occurrences in Josephus are suggestive, especially Ant 11:283 where προγράφω seems to carry the idea of appointed (see also 12:30, 33). Philo has no occurrences. And the two occurrences in the LXX (1 Mac 10:36; Dan 3:3) are of little help. But I think there’s something else in the NT that suggests that it could mean foreordained.

There’s an interesting synoptic parallel, where Matthew and Mark use one word and Luke uses another word, that I think may shed some light on the possible meanings of προγράφω. When Jesus eats the Passover with his disciples for the last time and tells them that one of them will betray him, He says, “The Son of Man goes as it has been written of Him” (ὁ μὲν υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑπάγει καθὼς γέγραπται περὶ αὐτοῦ, Mat 26:24; Mark 14:21). The parallel in Luke 22:22 reads, “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined” (ὁ υἱὸς μὲν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου κατὰ τὸ ὡρισμένον πορεύεται). The word in Matthew and Mark is γράφω (προγράφω without the before prefix). The word in Luke is ὁρίζω. The common word for predestine or foreordain is προορίζω—the only different being the em>before prefix.

It seems fairly clear that γράφω and ὁρίζω are capable of being roughly synonymous. At the very least they can be so closely connected that two people can recount the exact same story (translating/quoting the words of Jesus, by the way) with almost identical language and accurately use either word. Matthew and Mark could be referring to the OT predictions of Jesus’ death, or it’s possible that they have in view that which is “written” in God’s eternal plan (cf. 1 Pet 1:20). Regardless of which is correct, both can be referred to in terms of determining, destining, or ordaining. Both God’s eternal plan and God’s prophetic Word create a divine necessity so that the events must come to pass. It is in this sense that what is written is also ordained. It seems at least possible, then, that, since γράφω and ὁρίζω can overlap in meaning and be roughly synonymous, προγράφω and προορίζω can as well. This is not a defense of reprobation in Jude 4; rather, it’s a defense of the exegetical plausibility of finding reprobation in Jude 4.

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