‘SUPRA’ AND ‘INFRA’ LAPSARIANISM – (for dummies)
Compiled by Michael Jeshurun
The terms “SUPRALAPSARIANISM,” and “INFRALAPSARIANISM” (sometimes called “sublapsarianism”) have to do with the logical order of God’s eternal decrees of salvation.
The question, basically, is this: did God’s decree to save a certain people come BEFORE (supra) or after (infra) his decree to permit the fall (laps). Infralapsarians argue that, in order not to charge God with injustice or sin, it is necessary that God’s election of men to salvation be made from a field of men who are sinners already; hence, the decree to ordain the fall must logically come BEFORE the decree to elect men to salvation. Otherwise, in ordaining to destruction men who had not yet fallen, the charge could be made against God that he was responsible for their sin and rebellion, which his eternal plan demanded of them. But no, the supralapsarian responds, God’s eternal plan to redeem some and not others from the outset, while requiring sin and the Fall, does not logically make God culpable, and furthermore, it better fits the biblical evidence of God’s prerogative to use evil for the accomplishment of his prior designs.
God’s ultimate purpose for creation and redemptive history is the triumph of the Lamb both in the destruction of his enemies and the salvation of his people; and this plan logically requires the existence of sin, and also of God’s triumph over that sin through righteous judgment and sovereign mercy. If God’s ultimate purpose in history is the display of his glory in the person and work of Christ; and if the manifold glory of Christ includes righteous wrath against sin; then God’s eternal purpose of redemption necessitated the Fall, and did not just respond to it.
The basic schema of infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism may be displayed as follows:
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
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
These lists display the traditional understandings of the lapsarian question. However, recent theologians have noted that neither list accurately depicts the logical way in which all reasonable creatures pursue their goals: first, they determine what they ultimately and primarily want, and then they walk backwards, as it were, through all the steps necessary to get there. If God’s ultimate goal is the glory of the Lamb in sovereign mercy and righteous judgment, then there is a need for sinners; if there are to be sinners, there must be a fall; if there is a fall, there must be a world created in righteousness; hence, the logical order of God’s decrees would be a modified supralapsarianism, as follows:
1. the election of some 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
In any discussion of the lapsarian debate, it should be emphasized what all the views have in common: and that is, that God decreed all the events of his eternal redemption from before the creation of the world. Logically, perhaps, the last scheme is the most defensible; however, no position should be so heartily embraced as to be made binding upon men’s consciences; the scriptures do not address the topic clearly enough for so firm an adherence. Perhaps a story from the life of Martin Luther would be instructive here: when some inquisitive theologian asked him what God was doing before he created the world, Luther quipped, “He was busy creating hell for foolish theologians who pry into such questions”. The response is a little tongue-in-cheek, of course, but perhaps there is some wisdom in it, particularly when we are addressing the lapsarian question.
[All of the above lists are taken from Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), pp. 479-489.] Quoted from monergism.com
Now for those who are still scratching their heads in confusion, let us set this forth in very simple terms. Among those who believe in the Absolute Predestination of God, there are TWO parties –Infralapsarians and Supralapsarians.
Lapsarianism is the set of Calvinist doctrines describing the theoretical order of God’s decree (in his mind, before Creation), in particular concerning the order of his decree for the fall of man and reprobation. The name of the doctrine comes from the Latin lapsus meaning fall.
Supralapsarianism (also antelapsarianism) is the view that God’s decrees of election and reprobation logically preceded the decree of the fall while infralapsarianism (with a minor variant, sublapsarianism) asserts that God’s decrees of election and reprobation logically proceeded the decree of the fall.
[It must be noted here that even the most hardcore Supralapsarians usually preach the gospel from an ‘Infra’ standpoint notwithstanding their ‘Supra’ position!]
The doctrine of election always appears harsh and unjust sometimes even to regenerate souls. However the Infralapsarian view always appears less harsh than the Supra view. Because in the Infra view God is dealing with a ‘fallen’ mass that does not deserve anything but Hell, while in the Supra view God is dealing with an un-fallen ‘innocent’ mass!
But the truth is the ‘lump’ is God’s whether fallen or un-fallen and He can do what He wants with His own, and no man or angel can or dare say, what doest Thou?!
“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou”? [Dan 4:35]
It must be remembered that the objects of predestination are not only men, but all the rational creatures of God, including angels.
Let those who decry and reject Supralapsarianism as one that is too harsh and even implicates God to be unjust consider the predestination of angels. Yes, for those reading this who may not be aware of the election of angels, God DID ELECT all the angels that stood and kept their first estate as opposed to the third that rebelled with Lucifer and fell! [see 1Timothy 5:21]
Did God elect the angels that stood from a fallen mass or an unfallen mass? The angels that stood were elected from an unfallen mass for they needed no ‘redeemer’ or ‘redemption’. The Scriptures describe God as one who changes not! [Malachi 3:6]. If it seemed just for God to use the Supralapsarian scheme to elect a certain number of angels from an unfallen mass and keep them from iniquity while passing by others, why should it be considered illogical or unjust for him to deal thus with rational creatures created in His own image?!
To say that God chose or predestinated some men to salvation is to say that He loved them. “IN LOVE having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” [Eph 1:4,5] (note: this is the way the verse should have been divided. In fact the chapter and verse divisions came later and are not inspired, only the verses themselves are)
So WHEN did God love His elect or ‘choose’ them? After the fall?! No the fall occurred much later. But God loved and chose His elect long before the fall . . . . . even from eternity!
He says – “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”! and the result and consequence of that love . . . “therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee”! [Jer 31:3]
The Master in His High priestly prayer prayed –“that the world may know that thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, AS THOU HAST LOVED ME”. [John 17:23]
If God loved us as He loved Christ then He loved us long before there was a fall!
The Scripture testify that Christ as the Eternal Son was also God’s ‘elect’!
“Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; MINE ELECT, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles”. [Isa 42:1]
“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but CHOSEN OF GOD, and precious”. [1Pet 2:4]
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, ELECT, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded”. [1Pet 2:6]
In what sense the Lord Jesus Christ was ‘elect’ we cannot fully tell, but this we know that that if He was ‘elect,’ then He was elect from all eternity!
Not only do the Scriptures assert that He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him [Eph 1:4], but they emphatically say that He was slain for us as a Lamb, and prepared a Kingdom for us, and even wrote our names down in the Lambs book of life; all BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD! [see – Rev 13:8, Mat 25:34, Rev 17:8]
If Christ was elect as the Scriptures say He is, and we were elected in Him, then it must have been BEFORE THE FALL!
“Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight”! [Mat 11:26]
Many prominent early Protestants were Supralapsarian, such as (some argue) Martin Luther, John Knox, Theodore Beza, Huldrych Zwingli, Jerome Zanchius, Franciscus Gomarus, William Twisse, and William Perkins.
And more recently – A.W. Pink, Gerhardus Vos, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Hoeksema, David J. Engelsma, Gordon Clark etc
If all of this still doesn’t make sense to you, don’t let it bother you. You do not need to know any of this to be saved! As great hymn writer and theologian John Newton said on his death bed – “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour!”
And friend, THAT IS ALL you need to know to be saved! Thank God!
And the jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house! [Acts 16:30,31]
Praise the Lord!