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Arminius and Arminianism

Updated: Mar 28, 2023


Jacob, or as he has been frequently identified, James Arminius (1559–1609), was born at Oudewater, near Rotterdam, probably in 1559—although some sources indicate 1560. On his father’s death, he left home for Marburg, where he lived and studied with Rudolf Snellius, who was then a well-known philosopher and logician. In 1576, Arminius returned to the Netherlands and began his studies at the University of Leiden. After six years, the burgomasters of Amsterdam presented him with a stipend to enable him to attend the universities of Geneva and Basle. Apart from a brief academic stay in Padua to hear the famous Aristotelian logician Jacopo Zabarella, Arminius’s theological education was under Reformed tutelage.[1]


He immersed himself in the study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. He first directed his attention to Romans 7 and the problem of the will. He moved away from the traditional *Augustinian pattern of the Reformers and argued that the inward struggle of Paul was a pre-conversion, not a post-conversion, struggle. Here are hints of a synergism in which humans will take the first step toward grace. He then addressed the problem of predestination in Romans 9 and engaged in a detailed and exceedingly cordial epistolary debate on that doctrine with Franciscus Junius. Arminius argued that Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau are not individuals but types, and Romans 9 did not refer to individual predestination.[2]


That Roman 7 chapter, which Arminius calls the problem of the will, and the Apostle Paul’s inward struggle was a pre-conversion, not a post-conversion, struggle. I will argue just the opposite, that this has everything to do with the Apostle Paul applying his illustration of a marriage to a believer and the Law. He said, You also died (lit., “you were put to death,” as was true of Jesus) to the Law. Just as a believer “died to sin” (6:2) and so is set free from sin (6:18, 22), so he also died to the Law and is separated and set free from it (6:14; cf. Gal. 2:19). As a wife is no longer married to her husband when he dies, so a Christian is no longer under the Law. This separation was through the body of Christ, that is, because of Christ’s death on the cross.” [[3]


As Arminius states, I would argue that humans will not take the first step toward grace because only God or Jesus Christ can extend grace to us. We have no power over Grace regarding Jesus Christ developing such to us. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we know God’s grace does not consume us. It is the other way around; the human will does not take the first step because God, in his infinite wisdom, had already taken the first step when He sent Jesus to die for our sins, past, present, and future.


I argue that Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau are individuals and are not types. They were real people who lived and had offspring. All we need to do is research their lineage and examine their lives.


The most crucial document left by Arminius concerning his doctrine of predestination is this Declaration he offered before the Estates of Holland at The Hague in 1608. Here, Arminius finally published his views on the doctrines of predestination, providence, free choice, grace, assurance of salvation, the divinity of the second Person of the Trinity, justification, and the revision of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.[4] Of all the topics treated in the Declaration, predestination receives the lengthiest exposition—and it is here also that Arminius also states his divergence from the Reformed theology of his contemporaries.[5]


Rather than describe a single eternal decree and its objects, Arminius’s doctrine of the rule and its execution outlines four decrees and an order of priorities in the mind of God. The first is a general decree to appoint Christ as a mediator of salvation, made without reference to individual people and expressing an antecedent gracious will of God to save and to save generally. The second decree says the divine will to save specifically those who will repent and believe, thus resting salvation entirely on divine foreknowledge of human choice. The third divine decree determines the means of salvation. Here Arminius speaks of the establishment of preaching, sacraments, and the instrumental order of grace, as sufficient and efficacious for salvation. However, this sufficiency and efficacy are qualified by human choice, drawing on Molina’s doctrine of divine ‘middle knowledge’ (scientia media). Finally, God provides the conditions for the future contingent acts of individual human beings and actions based on his foreknowledge of the result. Only in the fourth and final decree does the decision of God relate to individual human beings: God decrees to save those whom he has foreknown will respond to and persevere in his offer of grace and damn those he knows will not. Arminius does speak of prevenient and cooperating grace—but the former can be rejected, and the latter only serves to reinforce.[6]


Arminius believed that God provides the conditions for the future contingent acts of individual human beings and actions based on his foreknowledge of the result, in that the decision of God relates to the individual human beings; God decrees to save those whom he has foreknown will respond to and persevere in his offer of grace and to damn those whom he knows will not. I would argue that God is all-knowing and knows in advance who will heed his call of salvation, but to damn those who will not go against scripture because God desires that none should perish but all come to repentance.


Arminius’s declaration defines predestination as the eternal purpose of God in Christ to save those who believe and to damn those who reject the gospel and the grace of God in Christ. Again, I would argue that God desires that all be saved and not perish. Omniscience is God’s infinite knowledge and understanding of past, present, and future things.7

The scripture supports that God desires all to repent and be saved 2 Peter 3:9.




[1] Müller, A. Richard. 2000. “Arminius and Arminianism.” In The Dictionary of Historical Theology, 33. Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press. [2] Müller, A. Richard. 2000. “Arminius and Arminianism.” In The Dictionary of Historical Theology, 33. Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press. [3] Witmer, John A. 1985. “Romans.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 2:465. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. [4] Müller, A. Richard. 2000. “Arminius and Arminianism.” In The Dictionary of Historical Theology, 33–34. Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press. [5] Müller, A. Richard. 2000. “Arminius and Arminianism.” In The Dictionary of Historical Theology, 34. Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press. [6] Müller, A. Richard. 2000. “Arminius and Arminianism.” In The Dictionary of Historical Theology, 34. Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press. 7 Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. 1988. “Omniscience.” In Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 2:1588. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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