This is a blog in response to ‘Not So Polite Dinner Conversation’ blog. In the blog the author claimed that the Bible doesn’t support the concept of free will. As a Catholic, I’d obviously disagree.
To support the claims, the author copies several passages that were put forward by ‘biblestudytools.com’ that supposedly suggest free will, and then sets out to point out that these verses don’t help in suggesting that. I will copy the exact words as to show that my response is honest. The author’s words will be italic, mine will be plain text.
A fellow I’ve corresponded with on Facebook gave me a link to bible verses he claimed supported the idea of free will. I’m bored, so I went through and looked at all of them. My usual readers will recognize quite a bit of this, no reason to waste your time again.
Okay, let’s look at these verses that are claimed to support free will. They may even do so, but then they contradict all of the verses that have this god interfering with human action, destroying free will.
First of all, intervention doesn’t take away free will, it could just simply help us with the outcome that came from using free will; i.e I freely choose to sin, and then ask for God’s help. That doesn’t mean I’m not free to sin, only that I need help with the repercussions of that sin. Why would intervention take away free will? We have societal constructs that intervene every day, but that doesn’t take away freedoms. Law intervenes when there’s been a crime, but man still has to, and can still, freely break the law.
There’s nothing in the Bible (that I can think of) that suggests God stopped man from doing something, only that He responds to the action after. But even if God were to stop man from doing something, it doesn’t do away with free will; we were still going to do something of our own choice. An analogy would be a police officer stopping a bank robber as he walked into the bank: the man has still freely chosen to steal, even if he isn’t able to go through with the act.
I’ve added some of the context to some of these if appropriate. One has to wonder about the Biblestudytools.com staff if they think all of these verses support the idea of free will. They do list some of those verses that indicate predestination but not all. In my opinion, one can get a far more comprehensive listing of verses by subject out at openbible.info
1 Corinthians 10:13
“13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Nothing in this about free will. It’s also a great verse to show how this bible lies when it says that this god won’t test people beyond their strength. Christian suicides show this to be false. Of course, Christians will always blame the victim to excuse their god.
I will deal with the suicide comment first. Yes, Christians commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t provided a way out from the situation that led to the suicide. What it means is that the cannot accept the way that has been provided, because tragically they are overcome with despair. The harsh truth is that a way out is provided, but some freely reject it because they can’t see past today. Another words, the act of suicide seems a lot more appealing than taking the way out without certainty of the outcome.
I would agree that this verse doesn’t aid or hinder the Christian belief in free will, so yes, this verse is pretty useless in regards to the context of the topic. The author goes on:
Unsurprisingly, a little earlier in the chapter, in context, has Paul claiming that the Israelites were just examples made for Christians. “6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. “ This destroys free will when someone was forced to do something for someone else’s benefit as part of a plan. This matches what Paul states in Romans 9 that pots are used to be examples and to be destroyed.
I had a quick check of the passage, just to make sure that I am understanding the entire context. St Paul is writing to the Church in Corinth, reminding them of Israel’s past acts of idolatry. The Israelites had complained that God had brought them from slavery, and led them to the desert. In an act of rebellion, the people of Israel had built an idol, complaining that God had abandoned them.
In response, God sent poisonous snakes to punish them for their lack of gratitude. Paul concludes that these things happened as a warning to us, not to grumble against God when things become difficult.
The writer suggests that if God ’caused’ Israel to grumble so that the Church could learn from her error, then God had taken away free will. But when reading the verse, I found the author had made a mistake; there’s nothing in the verse that tells us that God had caused the act of rebellion, only that He responded to it and used it as a teachable moment for His Church.
2 Chronicles 9:7
“7 Happy are your people! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom!”
Nothing in this about free will. Servants are under control. This is the queen of Sheba speaking to Solomon. No evidence that Solomon ever existed or that this story is true. The amounts of gold and other precious things are quite ridiculous (42 tons of gold? aka 666 talents), and funny how they all simply vanished. For the world’s wisest man, the kingdoms in that area contributed nothing of note to the knowledge of the sciences.
Not doing so well so far
I think the author may seem to be conflating ‘wisdom’ with ‘knowledge’, but that’s neither here nor there. Just to be clear, wisdom can mean knowledge, but it also means ‘the quality of having experience, good judgement’. Also, I don’t see why wisdom would be measured by contributions to the sciences; did Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Gandhi contribute to the sciences? Yes, they contributed to society in other ways, but remember that the author is only measuring wisdom by how much a society contributes to the sciences. When we think of other great men, we understand that we measure contribution to the world beyond the scope of what they did for science.
Anyway, onto the response. Control doesn’t negate free will, at least not the control that is wielded over a servant. The verse clearly states that the happiness of these servants is due to the fact that they serve Solomon, and so get to hear his wisdom. It doesn’t suggest that these servants are happy in spite of their circumstance, but because of it.
2 Peter 3:9
“9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
Ah, we’re getting closer now. There still is the problem of the claim of a plan by this god, which requires no free will since with free choice the plan cannot be assured of coming to fruition. 2 Peter is a pseudepigraph, falsely attributed to the apostle Peter 2 Peter (earlychristianwritings.com) That it contradicts other parts of the bible isn’t surprising considering that many scholars see gnostic influences in it, showing it was written long after any supposed Jesus events.
I don’t think we need to get into the source of this Epistle; it’s not the purpose of this response.
The author’s issue with this verse comes from a lack of understanding is regards to Christian Theology. The writer supposes that we believe ‘if God wishes ‘x’ to occur, then ‘x’ must occur.’ Put simply, if God wishes all to come to repentence, then all must come to repentence. I think (I can only guess) that the author believes that all of God’s wishes must be carried out, due to the fact that God is omnipotent. So, to put simply:
“God wishes all men to believe. God is all powerful. All men must believe.”
Not at all, let me explain why. God has certain attributes that are always in effect, we can all these ‘passive attributes’, because God need not ‘do’ anything for them to be in effect. A human example would be breathing, we’re not actively choosing to breathe.
But there are attributes of God that are ‘active’, in that God must actively put that attribute to use. I will give examples. God is all knowing, it is a passive attribute that requires God to ‘do nothing’ in order to know. God is all powerful, but this is a potential quality- it doesn’t mean that God is constantly displaying that power, but He has the potential to do all things according to His will and nature. This ‘omnipotence’ is active; God isn’t always displaying His power, He must actively do something that denotes power.
In regards to this verse, yes God wishes that all men come to repentance, but that doesn’t mean that God is taking away our free will to ’cause us’ to repent.
The writer speaks of a plan, and I’m not sure if they are speaking about the plan of salvation, or just the divine plan in a general sense. If it is about the plan of salvation, I don’t see how it requires no free will. The plan was that man be afforded the opportunity of salvation, not that all men will be saved. The offer is there, it isn’t a demand on God’s part.
“13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
Again, nothing about free will. This reflects Paul’s claims that believers were already chosen by this god and allowed to accept it, having been called. Earlier in the chapter, in context, Paul mentions grace again, where we know from Romans that grace is what Paul means when he says this god already chose who could accept it and then damned the rest as an object lesson. “4 You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
This verse has to do with freedom from sin, not free will. Yes, these topical websites are useless. The author assumes that God’s calling must be responded to by our belief, that there is no other option. While it’s true that no one can believe unless first called, it doesn’t follow that all who are called must believe. The Bible also never suggests that only a certain number are called.
On to the word ‘grace.’ The Greek word used for ‘grace’ in this text is ‘charis’. In Greece and Rome, charis was a system in which one person gave something of value to another, and the receiver gave service, thanks, and lesser value back to the giver. The Church has always defined ‘grace’ as:
“favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life”
“17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
The verse differs a little from the one I see in the NRSV.
“17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.”
In this again, we don’t see free will, especially in the second version where it has believers already knowing
about what JC says. We see that believers are already able to know teachings, which again indicates that what JC says in Matthew 13 that only certain people are allowed to accept this god and again is reflected in what Paul claims. Small changes in translation make big theological differences.
Some strange leaps here. Jesus is claiming that if man is actively seeking God, they will be able to deduce whether His words are from God or not; the verse doesn’t say ‘how’ they deduce that. I’m not going to read into this next- neither should the author.
In ‘Matthew 13’ Jesus tells us the ‘Parable of the Sower’. A man goes out to sow seed:
- some falls on rocky ground and never takes root. This alludes to the hardness of man’s heart, leading to a rejection of Jesus
- some fall on places with little soil, and because of a lack of root, they grow quickly but are scorched by the sun. This alludes to people who believe at first, but don’t take the time to develop knowledge in the faith, and so allow themselves to be deceived.
- other seeds grow but thorns choke them. This is a warning to those who allow earthly worries to distract them, and lead them away from God.
- and then we have the good seed, which are those who believe and endure to the end
The parable doesn’t talk about being ‘allowed to believe’, it deals with what may happen to those people after they have already begun to believe, or have actively chosen to reject the Gospel. In fact, the parable has the seed/Gospel being poured out on all kinds of ‘soil/people.’ If Jesus really wanted to suggest a lack of free will, it would make more sense for the Gospel to only be preached to a select few, the seed being thrown onto a certain soil only.
“14 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
This is the strongest verse to indicate free will in the bible. Considering how Christians are never sure if they want to admit that OT is in play or not, this presents them a problem since the NT doesn’t mention free will as a possibility and many Christians try to claim that there is a new covenant that they follow, not having to pay attention to the inconvenient laws in the OT.
There is also the problem that earlier in Joshua we see this god destroying free will for humans “20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” Joshua 11
If this god destroys free will here, that causes a ripple effect where any event coming from this one was interfered with too.
Not sure if I would agree that this is the best evidence for free will in Scripture. There is only one aspect of the Old Testament that is not ‘in play’- the Mosaic Law. Christians are not bound by this Law, since Christ fulfilled it on the Cross. We are still bound by the moral law, which is written on the hearts of all men. Just to clear that up.
In regards to the ‘hardening of people’s hearts’- this happens a lot in the Bible; it’s not what people think. If we read the verse, the people whose hearts are hardened were:
Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Ach′shaph, 2 and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chin′neroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Per′izzites, and the Jeb′usites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.
And they came out, with all their troops, a great host, in number like the sand that is upon the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces, and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel.
These people had already set out to destroy Israel, because they were terrified that Israeal was coming to take their country. The force of Israel was huge, and so when the kings saw the force they were facing, there was a good chance they would’ve had second thoughts! It was then that God hardened their hearts, but the initial choice to attack Israel was their own; God just solidified that choice. This verse doesn’t do away with free will, it demonstrates consequences that we can’t always escape from.
“The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”
Again, nothing about free will and it shows that this god moves people around like chess pieces. We also have this earlier in the chapter “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Again supporting JC and Paul in the claims of how this god does not allow free will. Here’s another verse from the same chapter, and this god still imposes its will on others “When the ways of people please the Lord, he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.” And finally “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone.”
Nobody is being moved like chess pieces in this verse. The planner is man, the director is God; this would mean that man has to make the plan or decision, and God directs us on how to put that plan into motion. I’d also point out that if a person is given directions, they’re not obligated to follow them, even if those directions are from God!
As for the other verse, yes all things are made for a purpose, including evil men. But that doesn’t track that God made men to be evil, since that contradicts verses that say God cannot do or cause evil, and God would no longer be good. Rather God created men knowing that some would be evil, and uses that to demonstrate His power.
I don’t understand why the writer quotes Proverbs 16:7, that’s odd. When man works the will of God, things go well for us. By following God’s command’s we can have peace with enemies, but it is us following the commands, and our enemies response to that, that is the cause of peace, not an active move by God.
“ 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me. “
Nothing about free will. Per JC and Paul, no one will be able to hear JC if they aren’t already chosen.
This verse is clearly an example of free will. Imagine you are talking to your kids, and you say
“if you clean your room, then you can have ice cream.”
To deal with the idea of being ‘chosen’ first. As I’ve said, no we cannot believe if we are chosen, but not all who are chosen have to believe. Therefore, it doesn’t limit all who are called, it only suggests that not all who are called will believe. Put simply, the idea that only the ‘chosen can believe’, doesn’t mean that the chosen are of a certain number, and that they ‘must believe’.
The sentence clearly implies that they have the option to not open the door. The word ‘if’ denotes a movement/circumstance/event that can go either way. Therefore, when Christ says ‘if you open the door’, those who hear the knock can certainly choose not to answer the door. Otherwise, the wording makes sense; for the author’s point to be accurate, Christ would’ve said:
“when you hear my voice, and when you open the door.”
The author then goes on to list every verse that openbible.info suggests on the topic of free will, then says they have nothing to do with the topic. I’ve already said that this site produces verses that have nothing to do with the subject, we’re in agreement.
Galatians 5: 16-17
“16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
This differs again a bit with theological implications:
“16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.”
The list returns to Galatians and still it has nothing about free will. Indeed, it says that there is no free will since this god has arranged it that there is something to prevent people from doing what they want.
Notice how the author chooses to refute the translation that supposedly takes away free will, but doesn’t state that the other translation supports it?
God hasn’t arranged that there be something that prevents us from doing what we want; the verse states that what the Holy Spirit desires for us is contrary to what we desire for ourselves. If St Paul directs us to not ‘gratify the flesh’, logic dictates that the option to gratify the flesh must be there for us. I think the issue comes when Paul uses the word ‘prevent’, in the case of ‘preventing us from doing what we want.’ Read carefully. Paul never states that we can’t sin as we choose, only that if we are truly living by the Spirit we would not choose to, as the first translation implies.