On Christian Fatalism and the Phrase, “That it Might be Fulfilled”

I was speaking to a friend recently who expressed her frustration with a common  “Christian” belief. She volunteers for an organization that helps families with sickly children. These are children with defective immune systems. If their current illness does not cause their deaths, then the next one is likely to do so. In addition to help with the catastrophic medical bills, the families also often benefit from counseling regarding the current trauma as well as the potential dramatic loss. She expressed her frustration with the Christian parents she deals with who proclaim that the will of God will be done. By this they do not mean that they will see deliverance, but that whatever happens is the will of God. This view holds that whatever happens in life, it is all part of God’s “master plan” for the universe.

Let’s consider the ramifications of such a view. First, it denies the existence of evil. If all that happens is because God wants it too, then no matter how horrendous an event may appear, it is really good in disguise. It is part of God’s plan. Logically, if God is all good, and He is bringing these things to pass, then these apparently horrible events are not really evil. The only other way a person of the “master plan” view can reasonably account for evil in the world is to conclude that God is not all good, that He is at times complicit with evil, using it to bring to pass His purposes. Both of these views are repugnant to Scripture.

Another ramification of the “everything happens for a reason” view is that it negates freedom of will. Did you turn the wrong way down a one-way street and get in an accident for a reason? Well, actually, yes. You weren’t paying enough attention. The fact that God can at times in answer to prayer, bring to pass some good in the midst of a dire situation, does not show that He caused the situation for that purpose.

I agree that everything happens for a reason. The reasons, however, vary. The “reason” might be the law of probability. You flip a coin 45 times; it is going to come up heads at least once in a while. If you step off a cliff, you will fall. It is called, “the law of gravity.” It works equally well for saint and sinner alike. It rains on your parade. It isn’t God’s judgment against you or an attack of the adversary. It is simply the reasonably predictable laws of nature at work. Is it possible for God, in spite of probability, or gravity, or whatever, to step in and bring about deliverance when we go to Him and trust Him? Yes, of course, but “EVERYTHING” does not happen for some spiritual reason. God obviously gave Adam and Eve and all of their descendants the freedom to make choices. That freedom did not come with an automatic shield that protects us from the consequences of those choices, and the choices we make are not necessarily what God would have us to do. Thus, bad things happen, and these things are actually bad, not just things that look bad but are really all a part of God’s plan.

God does indeed have a master plan, but perpetrating evil to bring about good is not part of it. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from sin. He will one day send Jesus Christ back to raise those who have “fallen asleep in Christ” and rescue from this evil world those who are yet alive. Later, we will return with Jesus when he kicks butt and establishes paradise. The thousand-year reign ensues and so on. That’s God’s plan, not using evil for good.

All this having been said, there is a phrase in the Scriptures that as translated in nearly every English version, indicates that God oversteps freedom of will to bring to pass the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. God knows ahead of time what people will do, but He doesn’t make them do it. People have freedom of choice. We are not mere puppets carrying out what God foreordained that we would do. The phrase “that it might be fulfilled” as it appears in our English versions, however, would seem to indicate otherwise. Let’s take an example:

John 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.

24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.

Did the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ coat so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled? They were in the process of crucifying Jesus. They didn’t care anything about fulfilling Scriptures. They were just gambling for a coat. If there was purpose involved with this act, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, then it would have had to have been God’s purpose, not theirs. So were the soldiers carrying out their freedom of will to gamble for the coat or were they puppets, being manipulated by God to do so? The common translation offered indicates the latter, but I do not believe this translation communicates correctly.

“Might be fulfilled” is translated from one Greek word, pleroo (play-ro-o), in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive is used when the verb is dependent on something else rather than standing on its own as a plain statement of fact. If we were to say that it rains a lot in Seattle, that would be the indicative mood, an independent statement. If we were to say that we use our umbrellas when it rains, that would be the subjunctive mood, a dependent statement. “Fulfilled” above follows from what the soldiers did. It isn’t an independent statement, thus the use of the subjunctive. Forget the word, “might” in the expression. It has nothing to do with “might” in the sense of “maybe” or “should be.” This is just the way the King James Version translators (as well as the translators of many other versions) chose to indicate the presence of the subjunctive in the Greek text. I understand why they did it, not wanting to translate a verb in the subjunctive mood as though it were indicative, but adding the word “might” in this phrase clouds the meaning. The idea of dependence is apparent from the meaning of the sentence so translating as “that the Scriptures were fulfilled” would not be misleading and, in my opinion, would be more clear.

Even more significant to the meaning of this phrase is the meaning of the word translated “that.” It is hina, and it means “that,” but is it in the sense of “so that,” (indicating purpose) or is it in the sense of “to the end that” (indicating result)? There is a big difference. Did the soldiers do what they did so that the Scriptures were fulfilled or did they do what they did with the result that the Scriptures were fulfilled? Unless we negate the existence of evil (or say that God is complicit with it) and deny freedom of will, it must be the latter.

Most people when reading that something happened “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” will automatically think “so that…” but this is not necessarily hina’s meaning. It can be employed to introduce a result clause.

Thayer’s lexicon gives a short definition of hina, “that, in order that, so that.” Strong’s lexicon acknowledges each possibility, “in order that (denoting the purpose OR THE RESULT)….” E. W. Bullinger, in his “A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the Greek New Testament” also allows for hina with the subjunctive to be the introduction of either a purpose clause or a result clause, though both lexicons put more emphasis on the idea of purpose. A review of the hina clauses with a subjunctive verb reveals that the “purpose” meaning is the most common, but it is not exclusive.

Below is a partial list of references (all the ones relevant to the fulfillment of prophecy) with hina and pleroo in the subjunctive for your review.

Matthew 1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [looks like purpose here as well as result]

Matthew 2:14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. [just endeavoring to keep Jesus safe from Herod, not setting out to fulfill prophecy]

Matthew 4:12 Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;

13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:

14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,

15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;

16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

Matthew 21:1 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,

2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.

3 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.

4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

Matthew 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

55 In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.

56 But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

Matthew 27:35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.

Mark 14:49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must [hina] be fulfilled.

John 12:37 But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:

38 That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?

John 13:18 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.

John 15:24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

25 But this cometh to passthat the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

John 18:7 Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.

8 Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:

9 That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.

John 18:31 Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:

32 That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.

John 19:24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.

John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:

34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.

36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.

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