July 08, 2021

What Is the Difference between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism?

Nathan W. Bingham & Derek Thomas
What Is the Difference between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism?

The doctrine of election raises many questions. How does God’s choice to save some people relate to His choice to permit the fall of humanity into sin? Today, Derek Thomas contrasts two ways that Reformed Christians have thought about this subject.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: We’re here at Ligonier’s 2021 National Conference, and I’m joined by Dr. Derek Thomas, one of Ligonier’s teaching fellows. Dr. Thomas, what’s the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism?

DR. DEREK THOMAS: Well, supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism are issues that were very prominent in the time immediately after Calvin, in the late 1500s and in the early 1600s. And people really did take sides. Now, even in our time there are those who would call themselves supralapsarian or infralapsarian. The terms refer to the logical order of the decrees, not the temporal order of the decrees as they work themselves out in space and time.

I think the easiest way is to imagine a scenario where we’re talking to a Christian, but not a Calvinist or maybe on the verge of discovering the Reformed faith, and we’re talking about election and reprobation. And this Christian says: “I don’t think that’s fair. Why should God elect some and reprobate others? I don’t think that’s fair.” And if my response to that would be to say, “If it’s fairness you want, we would all be in hell,” that’s an infralapsarian argument because you’ve logically taken into consideration the doctrine of sin. So election falls under the logical consideration of sin.

But if I’d have said instead: “What’s fairness got to do with it? God is God. Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated. Who are you to reply against God?”—Paul in Romans—that’s a supralapsarian answer because the doctrine of election and reprobation is logically above the consideration of the doctrine of sin and the fall.

NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Do you take a position on this, Dr. Thomas?

DR. DEREK THOMAS: I’m an infralapsarian, but in the classroom I take the supralapsarian position, only because a straw poll in a typical class, seminary class, of twenty-five to thirty people, there may be one person who’s a supralapsarian these days. But in the twenty-first century most people are infralapsarian by default, I think. And in order to understand why this issue was so important—and William Perkins wrote an eight to nine hundred-page volume on this entire issue—in order to understand what would consume someone with enough passion to talk about this, I really take the supralapsarian position just as a teaching point.