When Calvinists want to use a verse that shows God decreeing or predestining evil for His good purposes, they often turn to Genesis 50:20. This is peculiar because Classical theologians for the most part reject the descriptions of God found in Genesis. It is only when they want to proof text do they advocate using the text. But those who take Genesis seriously still need to answer the Calvinist nonetheless.
In Genesis 50, Joseph is recounting the events of his brothers kidnapping him and selling him to Egypt:
Gen 50:20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
The Calvinist point in trying to quote this verse is to claim that God causes evil to bring about His will. There are several problems with using this verse to do so:
1. The biggest problem is that a casual reader will quickly object that the most natural understanding of this is that God can repurpose evil actions of man for His purposes. This would be just like God using the Assyrians’ evil to bring about Israel’s punishment.
2. God could have got Joseph to Egypt and in the court of Pharaoh in incalculably many other ways, none of which involve “evil”.
3. Assumedly, if God predestines everything, the most straightforward way to get Joseph into the Court of Pharaoh is to make Joseph walk to Egypt and into the court of Pharaoh and then Pharaoh just instantly grants him a job. That God uses evil to position people is powerful evidence that everything is not predestined. God uses cunning to carry out His will.
4. No predestination, coercion, or foreknowledge is necessary for this verse. Those concepts, if present, are forced onto the text in an unnatural way.
What is most telling about Calvinists using Genesis 50:20 is the intellectual bankruptcy of Calvinism. They use, as evidence, an easily debatable point from a book of the Bible they mostly ignore. They force onto the text concepts not derived from the text, and then just assume their understanding is the natural understanding. It is as if they refuse to read the text from a different point of view, especially not the point of view of a reader that takes Genesis 6 or Genesis 18 seriously. And this is a standard Calvinist proof text, meaning the entire Bible must be bankrupt of Calvinist proof texts if they have to resort to such shoddy arguments as this.
Genesis 50:20 is Joseph saying that God used his brother’s evil to work amazing events. No Open Theist would reject that God could do so.