Does The Bible Teach Prevenient Grace? -- By: William W. Combs
DBSJ 10 (2005) p. 3
Does The Bible Teach Prevenient Grace?
The word prevenient comes from the Latin verb praeveni2 (prae, before3 + veni, come4 ). The Latin is the basis for the English word prevent, which used to have the meaning of “precede.” This archaic usage appears in the KJV rendering of 1 Thessalonians 4:15: “we which are alive…shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep.” Thus, prevenient grace has in the past been referred to as “preventing grace.” Literally, then, prevenient or preventing grace is understood to be grace that precedes or comes before salvation. More properly, it precedes any human decision in regard to salvation.
Augustine (354–430) used the term in his battle with Pelagius (354-after 418).5 Pelagius held that man is able to do God’s will apart from the grace of God because he is not depraved. Man is not born a sinner, and thus needs no special grace from God to be saved.6 Augustine argued that because man is a totally depraved sinner (including total inability), God must initiate the process of salvation. Thus God’s grace must precede any saving response toward God on the part of man.7 Augustine’s usage parallels what Calvinists would call special8 or electing grace since Augustine’s prevenient grace was
DBSJ 10 (2005) p. 4
only given to the elect.
In the modern day, however, prevenient grace is mostly identified with the views of Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and, especially, John Wesley (1703–1791). As used by them and modern day Arminians, prevenient grace is grace that enables depraved man to believe and be saved, but it goes not guarantee such since it may be rejected. Prevenient grace is sufficient for salvation but not efficacious (irresistible). What differentiates Calvinists from Arminians is that the former view “electing grace as given only to some (the elect) and insist that this grace cannot ultimately be resisted. The latter argue that prevenient grace is given to all people and that it can be resisted.”9 Calvinists could argue that they believe in prevenient grace since electing grace does come before any human decision in regard to sal...
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