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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Decree

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This word occurs only three times in the NT, once in the singular (Luke 2:1), where it is the decree of Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, and twice in the plural (Acts 16:4; Acts 17:7), the reference in the one case being to the decisions of the Apostolic Church at Jerusalem, and in the other to the decrees of the Roman Emperors against treason.

The word in its technical or theological sense of the Divine decree of human salvation, or of the decrees of God comprehended in His eternal purpose whereby He foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, is therefore not found in the NT at all. The Greek word which it most nearly represents is πρόθεσις, which describes the purpose of God in eternity for the salvation of men. ‘They that love God’ are ‘the called according to his purpose’ (οἱ κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοί, Romans 8:28). ‘The purpose of God according to election’ (ἡ κατʼ ἐκλογὴν πρόθεσις τοῦ θεοῦ, Romans 9:11) is to stand, not of works but of His own sovereign grace who calls them that believe. Christians are ‘allotted their inheritance, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will’ (προορισθέντες κατὰ πρόθεσιν τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐνεργοῦντος, Ephesians 1:11). The Divine purpose is ‘a purpose of the ages’ which God fulfilled in Christ (Ephesians 3:11) as He had purposed it in Him (προέθετο, Ephesians 1:9). God’s eternal decree depends upon the counsel of His own will, for it is ‘not according to our works but according to his own purpose (κατὰ ἴδιαν πρόθεσιν) and grace given in Christ Jesus before times eternal’ that ‘he saved us and called us with a holy calling’ (2 Timothy 1:9). See articles Call, Election, and Predestination.

The decree of God, however, is not to be conceived in the same way as that of Darius or Nebuchadrezzar, who could say, ‘I have made a decree: let it be done with speed’ (Ezra 6:12). God’s decree has no constraining effect on the things to which it is directed, because it is not promulgated to the world, but is really His secret plan for the regulation of His own procedure. It is not the proximate cause of events, yet the objects which it contemplates are absolutely certain, and are in due time brought to pass. Whilst the decrees of God are ‘his eternal purpose whereby he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass,’ yet He accomplishes His ends by the means proper thereto, and even when men are moved by Divine grace to embrace the gospel offer, they do so in the exercise of their liberty as free agents. As St. Paul says; ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

T. Nicol.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Decree'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/d/decree.html. 1906-1918.

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