Supralapsarianism

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Supralapsarianism is the doctrine that God decreed both election and reprobation before the fall. Supralapsarianism differs from infralapsarianism on the relation of God's decree to human sin. The differences go back to the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius. Before the Reformation, the main difference was whether Adam's fall was included in God's eternal decree; supralapsarians held that it was, but infralapsarians acknowledged only God's foreknowledge of sin. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were agreed that Adam's fall was somehow included in God's decree; it came to be referred to as a "permissive decree," and all insisted that God was in no way the author of sin. As a result of the Reformers' agreement, after the Reformation the distinction between infra - and supralapsarianism shifted to differences on the logical order of God's decrees.

Theodore Beza, Calvin's successor at Geneva, was the first to develop supralapsarianism in this new sense. By the time of the Synod of Dort in 1618 - 19, a heated intraconfessional controversy developed between infra - and supralapsarians; both positions were represented at the synod. Francis Gomarus, the chief opponent of James Arminius, was a supralapsarian.

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The question of the logical, not the temporal, order of the eternal decrees reflected differences on God's ultimate goal in predestination and on the specific objects of predestination. Supralapsarians considered God's ultimate goal to be his own glory in election and reprobation, while infralapsarians considered predestination subordinate to other goals. The object of predestination, according to supralapsarians, was uncreated and unfallen humanity, while infralapsarians viewed the object as created and fallen humanity.

The term "supralapsarianism" comes from the Latin words supra and lapsus; the decree of predestination was considered to be "above" (supra) or logically "before" the decree concerning the fall (lapsus), while the infralapsarians viewed it as "below" (infra) or logically "after" the decree concerning the fall. The contrast of the two views is evident from the following summaries.

The logical order of the decrees in the supralapsarian scheme is:

The logical order of the decrees according to infralapsarians is:

Infralapsarians were in the majority at the Synod of Dort. The Arminians tried to depict all the Calvinists as representatives of the "repulsive" supralapsarian doctrine. Four attempts were made at Dort to condemn the supralapsarian view, but the efforts were unsuccessful. Although the Canons of Dort do not deal with the order of the divine decrees, they are infralapsarian in the sense that the elect are "chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction" (I,7; cf.I,1). The reprobate "are passed by in the eternal decree" and God "decreed to leave (them) in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves" and "to condemn and punish them forever...for all their sins" (I,15).

Defenders of supralapsarianism continued after Dort. The chairman of the Westminister Assembly, William Twisse, was a supralapsarian but the Westminister standards do not favor either position. Although supralapsarianism never received confessional endorsement within the Reformed churches, it has been tolerated within the confessional boundaries. In 1905 the Reformed churches of the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church in 1908 adopted the Conclusions of Utrecht, which stated that "our Confessional Standards admittedly follow the infralapsarian presentation in respect to the doctrine of election, but that it is evident...that this in no wise intended to exclude or condemn the supralapsarian presentation." Recent defenders of the supralapsarian position have been Gerhardus Vos, Herman Hoeksema, and G H Kersten.

F H Klooster
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
L Berkhof, Systematic Theology; H Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics; H Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics; G H Kersten, Reformed Dogmatics; B B Warfield, "Predestination in the Reformed Confessions," in Studies in Theology.


Also, see:
Infralapsarianism

Canons of Dort
Westminster Confession of Faith

Sanctification
Justification
Conversion
Confession
Salvation

Soteriological Ordering. Various Attitudes
Arminianism
Amyraldianism


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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